Review: Rounding the Wheel of the Year

Rounding the Wheel of the Year. Celebrating the Seasons in Ritual, Magic, Folklore and Nature
Lucya Starza
(Pagan Portals)
Moon Books,
 2023. 128 p. Paperback ISBN 978-1-78535-933-0, £9.99 / $12.95, or e-book ISBN 978-1-78535-934-7, £4.99 / $6.99

Rounding the Wheel of the Year. As soon as I saw the title of this book, I wanted to read it. For some years now I administer an unpretentious tiny email group of friends called ‘the Round’, in which we (from time to time) mention interesting myths, customs or beliefs we’ve read or heard about, as far as they relate to the day, month or season at hand. We tell each other what we are planning to do to reflect on this time of year; send photos of seasonal creations; share observations from our gardens or outside in nature; etc. Our group is not especially focused on the eight sabbats or festivals that form the Wheel of the Year for most Pagans and Witches, but based on a rather universal approach in which we look for both local traditions and customs, and festivities and other activities inspired by other cultures and various mythologies. Reading a description of this book, it seemed to me that Lucya Starza was doing something very similar, and I was curious to find out. I was not disappointed.

Lucya Starza has a Gardnerian background; she has also taken part in reconstructionist rituals, and these days she practises as an “increasingly eclectic” solitary witch. Of course the main focus of her book is England, as she lives there. She often refers to The English Year by Steve Roud, and The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton. But apart from sections on typical English customs such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance or Guy Fawkes Night, there are passages about more broadly observed ones like Valentine’s Day or April Fools’ Day, and about Roman and Greek myths and ceremonies. She writes about the historical background of the familiar eight Pagan/Wiccan festivals and manages to address the sometimes controversial theme of names for those days without getting polemical.

After an introduction, and followed by an afterword, the chapters follow the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar. The eight Wiccan/Pagan festivals of the Wheel of the Year (W and Y capitalized) are discussed, but Starza emphasises that our planet’s path around the sun “doesn’t clunk over eight bumpy cogs”: it is a smooth round (or spiralling) movement and there are other days in the wheel of the year (all in lower case) that are also worth celebrating or paying attention to. Days connected with goddesses and gods, with folklore and customs. Days in which you can write down, draw or take pictures of what’s going on in nature, and compare that to other days in the year, or to the same date in other years. Days to collect or study herbs and other plants (apparently some flowers are considered unlucky when brought indoors). Days to blow bubbles, bake a loaf, act for the environment, have a cup of tea and read the leaves, write a poem, play conkers, or honour Gaia, Diana, or Cybele…

The book is concise (just over 100 pages), but in this small space, Starza manages to put a lot of information, spells, recipes, and guided visualisations. Readers are encouraged to use her book as a starting point for further research and creativity. What foods are in season? Are there annual fairs or customs in your region? What is the history of those customs? Often they don’t date further back than Victorian romantic ideas. Does that bother you?

If you acquire a copy of the book not too long after this review is published, perhaps as a gift for Sinterklaas or Christmas, you can embark on the year 2024 by trying out an alternative for New Year’s resolutions. You can read about the Welsh custom of Mari Lwyd, or about the Roman god Janus. You can do the guided visualisation of the Frozen Garden. You can give thanks to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and its warmth.1 These are some of the things you’ll find discussed in the first month covered in this book, which is January. So that would be a straightforward starting point.

But you don’t necessarily have to depart from January, Lucya Starza assures the reader. If for instance, you start reading the book in October – as I did – it’s completely acceptable and much more logical to start your journey through the year with the chapter on October. In fact, that had been the first part I looked at. There I’d read how the author, within the context of the theme of this month: ‘Elders and the Dead’, proposed to pay attention to one’s ‘ancestors’ in the sense of ancestors of magical traditions, in this case, people who were born in October.2 She mentioned Arthur Edward Waite and Aleister Crowley… and therefore suggested honouring the ancestors by working with Tarot. This came as an amusingly pleasant surprise to me, for, coincidentally, concentrating on Tarot happened to be exactly what I was drawn to this month. Attuning oneself to the turning of the seasons and to the ways other people, or even other beings, relate or related to the seasons, means somehow being connected through time and space to those others, living and dead. It’s a meaningful experience, that indeed can express itself in funny little coincidences like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if other readers will find significant similarities as well in what they intuitively do throughout the year, and what is mentioned or hinted at in this book.

I consider this an enjoyable, interesting, and inspiring way to look at the turning of the seasons. Starza is clear about her sources, which should make it not too difficult to delve deeper into subjects you’d like to learn more about.

– A recording of the live book launch video, in which Lucya Starza talks about this book and how it came to be, on Facebook: Live Launch of Rounding the Wheel of the Year, or if you prefer, on YouTube: Rounding the Wheel of the Year

– Lucya Starza’s blog: A Bad Witch’s Blog. A Blog about Paganism, Witchcraft and the Day-to-Day Experiences of a London Witch

[1] Paying respects to Vesta is not restricted to January. In June, the Romans had a festival in her honour.

[2] In June, she combines Father’s Day with remembering “male ancestors of tradition, such as Gardner, Sanders, and Nichols” (who all were born in June).

Over Medeia

Een belangrijke, niet-christelijke basis van onze zgn. westerse beschaving is het oude, deels imaginaire, Griekenland. Medeia is een naam uit de Griekse mythen, waar zij echter werd beschreven als een sinistere snuiter uit het barbaarse Oosten. De spanning die voortkomt uit een denken in tegenstellingen, zoals erbij horen / een buitenstaander zijn, is in Medeia’s beleving een drijvende kracht in ‘de oude religie’. Uit de nalatenschap van de klassieke oudheid stamt ook het ideaal van de Kunst als toegang tot een andere dan de alledaagse werkelijkheid. Medeia schrijft sinds 2010 voor Wiccan Rede.
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