I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's April 1, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the importance of observing a spiritual year cycle, what it means to grow within your spiritual path, and how to know when your spiritual year begins and ends. Are you ready to grow your soul?
If you’ve not listened to all the previous episodes of this podcast, today’s topic fits into a larger framework. Everyone has three year-long cycles in their lives that impact and are part of their spiritual practice, whatever their spiritual practice looks like.
I encourage you to go back and listen to those episodes – Episode 8 on calendar year cycles and Episode 13 on your personal year cycle – but you don’t need those to make sense of this one.
Basically, everyone has these cycles and observes them in some way, and it doesn’t matter what order you learn about them in. But to just kind of put this in context, the calendar year cycle has to do with larger external forces and the cycle they go through as it corresponds to how your energy matches up with that cycle, and the personal cycle is from birthday to birthday and has to do with your spiritual growth and maturity.
So what is the spiritual cycle?
In the neopagan world, for most people it would be the Wheel of the Year, and I think that’s in some ways the best example to understand what this is. It’s a way not just of marking the passing of time, but a way of living out the cosmology, the workings of your worldview in your own life.
This is one of those things that was really appealing to me when I first took steps into the whole neopagan world, this idea of marking the seasons and progressing through the whole sowing and reaping and harvesting and celebrating the natural cycles of growth. Especially in the way where it involves regular celebrations, regular holidays. ‘Cause I love holidays.
But also it’s this idea that the concepts that are underpinning my spirituality become something I live through, not just believe. It’s what you do, not just what you believe – there’s that again, right? But the thing where you take the foundational beliefs and make it something that’s part of your daily experience, it’s something woven into your life so you’re living it, acting it out, that’s a really key part of a spiritual life that maybe gets a bit neglected or skated over.
But the wheel of the year is not the only example of what a spiritual year cycle looks like. My brain also goes to the Christian spiritual year cycle. Easter. Christmas. Lent. It’s not just about doing the holidays, but it’s mapping the fundamental cosmology underneath all the doctrines to a year long cycle which becomes part of your life. It’s kind of walking through the birth and crucifixion and resurrection over and over again year after year. It reinforces that vision of the universe by making it relevant to your day to day life, integrating it into what you do.
And there’s this element here that’s core to this cycle, which is that what we celebrate is a window into what’s important to us. Even if that’s the only way you really engage in a spiritual path, like people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter, that’s a window into what’s important. If you don’t really engage deeply with that cycle, just observe it because that’s your family culture or societal culture, it means that being part of that culture and observing that culture is important to you.
So even if you don’t have a set spiritual tradition whose cycle you follow, so you’re not shaping your year around the Wheel of the Year and the harvest cycle, you’re not doing the Christian holidays or Jewish holidays or Hindu holidays or whatever, that doesn’t mean you can’t create or cobble together your own spiritual year cycle because it’s really about what’s important to you and what your spiritual world view is. How you imagine the universe and your place in it.
How that gets formed if you want to create your own is something I’m going to get to later in this episode. Because the other two cycles are really important when it comes to growing and evolving, but we have to be rooted somewhere, right? As we grow, I’m going to go with a plant metaphor here, as we grow we have to be pulling from something, drawing from something, and spiritually that means having some kind of understanding of how the universe works and how we fit inside it.
So that’s what this cycle is for us. Whether it’s centered around relationships with a pantheon and a cosmology and a grand view of spiritual ascendance or if it’s centered around a culture and your ties to an ancestral tradition or if it’s rooted in your own worldview and your own philosophy about being human and what that means, this cycle is about repeating and reinforcing and integrating those beliefs by living them out and walking that walk.
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There’s a few reasons why it’s important to observe this cycle along with the others, not the least of which is that if you’re developing a strong spiritual life you have to have a strong relationship with the core of that spiritual way of believing.
And jumping off from that, since belief is just the foundation, the framework for a spirituality, having a way to regularly engage actively in your spirituality is important. Because there’s the stuff that we do because of our spiritual beliefs, and then there’s the stuff we do to celebrate and embody our spiritual beliefs. And both are important.
When we act on our spiritual beliefs and shape our day to day choices and behaviors according to our ethics as shaped by our spiritual beliefs, it’s about externally demonstrating that spiritual worldview. It’s about making those beliefs, that cosmology or whatever mean something in realty, making it impactful rather than just a nice idea in our heads. But when we act out those spiritual ideas, making a regular practice of engaging directly with those beliefs and concepts and such by literally going through a sequence of events over and over that trace those ideas, that’s about internally reinforcing that spiritual worldview. It’s making the foundational beliefs and ideas stronger.
So this is one of those things I realized by going a long time without engaging in spiritual ritual, not really participating in any observances, and finally realizing that I was becoming disconnected from my spiritual life. For a while, my wife and my sister and I had made a habit of observing the solstices and equinoxes by taking a spa day, getting massages, having a nice day out. I had things I did on a regular basis, ways of celebrating Samhain and Yule and such. And then I got kind of lazy about it. We started having trouble scheduling spa days at our regular day spa, and instead of finding an alternative plan we just kind of stopped doing it. Holidays came and went and sometimes I didn’t even realize until later that I’d missed one. And I honestly didn’t really think anything of it for a while until I realized that not only had I stopped observing the Wheel of the Year, I’d pretty much stopped doing anything of any consequence in a spiritual sense.
There’s something foundational about our spiritual year cycles and the events and observances that make them up. And if you think about it, when we turn away from a spiritual path, when we leave a religion or whatever, not celebrating those holidays is part of that. At the very least it’s a question we have to address. Do we want to still celebrate Christmas or Easter if we’re no longer Christian?
And if you’ve ever asked yourself that kind of question you understand that these holidays and observances aren’t just associated with a spiritual tradition like it’s a brand name or something, the significance is tied right in with doctrine. Celebrating them, observing them means engaging with and acting out those doctrines. Because remember, not all the things in a spiritual year cycle are fun time holidays. There might be times of fasting, times of obligation.
So in practice, for me, I know that this whole thing of the cycle of the seasons, the progression through the elements, that’s something important and fundamental to my practice and it’s a big part of what I think is important about the workings of the universe. Natural cycles. Circular progressions. So if I’m not observing that and participating in it, if that’s not what I’m celebrating and holding as the central framework of my practice, then I’m going to get detached from that. I’m going to feel disconnected from my spirituality. It’s going to feel less relevant in my life.
That’s the point of celebrations common to a spiritual path, to keep the faithful on that path, right? So part of building an authentic spiritual life is choosing or creating the cycle of observances that embodies and reinforces whatever it is that is foundational to your own spirituality. That celebrates what’s important to you. That gets you engaging regularly in things that mean something spiritually.
Even if you do practice within a framework of an existing tradition or faith which has its own cycle of observances, the ones you prioritize, the ways you choose to personalize the way you celebrate them, the things you add to the cycle or choose to skip over, those things are what makes the cycle authentic to you. Because those things reflect what’s personally vital to us, what resonates with our values. But more than that, those observances make those values real in our lives and relevant as something more than just something to believe in.
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The fun part of all this is that this is the one cycle that you choose and design and shape yourself.
Like I said before, even if you choose to observe the holidays as outlined by a cultural or religious tradition already, the way you do that, the parts you do and don’t prioritize, those are yours to design! And if you’re a listener here, I’m guessing that at some level you’re committed to this idea that your spiritual life and your spiritual tradition doesn’t have to fit anyone else’s expectations.
I follow the Wheel of the Year, not because I identify as neopagan and it’s an accepted thing and therefore I do it. I follow the Wheel of the Year because it makes sense to me, it fits perfectly with my view of the universe and what my spirituality is all about. And how I celebrate each spoke on the wheel is my own thing. For instance, it’s been a tradition in our framily group for several years now that on the winter solstice we gather for a dinner of breakfast foods, and that’s when we exchange our gifts and such as this friend group. How is that special? Well, you know, when you eat breakfast foods at dinner time, it’s called brinner. And it happens on the winter solstice, which is Yule. So, you know…. It’s Yule Brinner. Like the actor. It’s funny.
Or at least it is to us.
And because we do it every year, it’s significant to our annual cycle. It’s at least significant to my spiritual observances. It’s something I designed and chose for myself. Kind of like the solstice and equinox spa days that I used to do, or switching out the decor on my mantle as part of the celebrations of the cross quarter days.
The important part of all this is that the act of thinking about what’s spiritually important to you, what observances would best bring those things out in your yearly routine, and how to celebrate them that’s personally relevant, that act alone goes a long way to really connecting you to the core of your spiritual life. It doesn’t have to be deep and formal and whatever, it just needs to speak to you.
Of course, you can make this up completely from scratch, you can cobble it together from various traditional holidays, your spiritual year cycle can be entirely different and entirely unique, but one good starting place for figuring out what this looks like for you is determining the beginning and ending point. Your spiritual new year, if you want to think about it that way.
You can choose this in several ways. If there’s a cultural cycle of some kind that relates to planetary cycles, moon cycles, sun cycles, that’s a pretty easy way to pick that date. Something like the Chinese new year is a good example, celebrating the transition from Winter to Spring. The Wheel of the Year has various points which can be considered the same thing. I consider Samhain as the turning point, the beginning of Winter as the first season of my spiritual cycle. Some other neopagans consider Yule to be the spiritual new year. It depends on what progression makes sense based on your cosmology.
But it doesn’t have to relate to those cycles at all. Maybe your spiritual history involves a special date around which your cycle turns. For instance, let’s say you came into your path after a specific event, maybe something traumatic which shook your previous faith or maybe it was an encounter with a spiritual guide. Those dates make great additions to your spiritual cycle, and if it’s something really significant to your spiritual worldview it can be a great transition point for that cycle. You could pick a date that’s significant to some element of your spirituality, like the birthday of a key figure or a historical event that’s important to the history of your cultural heritage. There’s literally no wrong answer here.
But doing some thinking about what your spiritual life is built on conceptually and determining what makes the most sense, what has the most meaning as a spiritual new year, a turning point from one spiritual year to the next for you, that process is really revealing.
And then from there you can fill in the other elements of the cycle, the other observances and celebrations. And suggestions for that are what this episode’s download is about.
And one other thing to look at in all this, the part that I think is really really interesting, is how the three personal cycles fit together for you. What kind of phases that creates in your life.
For instance, for me, my birthday and Samhain are within a few days of each other, so my spiritual year cycle and my personal year cycle coincide. It means there’s this interesting transition period where my personal growth cycle and my spiritual cycle are in the beginning phase while the calendar cycle winds down.
But this is going to look different for everyone, and it’s going to mean different transitions and shifts of focus happen as the years turn over. And thinking about how your energy shifts with those cycles is a really interesting approach to thinking about the dynamic of your life.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.