The Eight-fold Year – Reconnecting with Nature

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Follow the science. It’s the catchphrase of the 2020s so far. Used to both espouse one set of views and ideologies and dismiss another set.

Following the science has been seen as the remedy to so-called quackery and woo-woo notions, despite the fact that it often depends ‘who’s’ science one follows.

Here at Wild Life we like to walk on the fringes on conventional wisdom. ‘Hippies, anarchists and weirdos’ are just some of the names we’ve been called. And quite frankly, all are relevant and well placed.

But for all the tree hugging, barefoot, mindfulness bell ringing antics that I’m known for, and I hope loved, my background was as a scientist. Like a real one. You know, like the ones who wear lab coats and stare at test tubes.

Okay, so my lab coat was tie-dyed and I nearly got expelled from university for turning wine into brandy in the laboratory water distiller. Hey! It was an experiment and in all honesty I didn’t know they cost that much.

But science backed research is something that I feel is very important when it comes to our health. The interwebs are teeming with snake oil salespeople who care more about your money than they do your health.

Just like the idea of the Meathead Philosopher we can also embrace the persona of the Tree Hugging Boffin.

And speaking of trees…

The “biophilia hypothesis” posits that humans have evolved with nature to have an affinity for nature. Basically, we are a natural creature and nature is our habitat. We are nature. We need nature to express ourselves as optimally healthy human beings.

This is why we include Nature as part of the Community aspect of our 5 Circles of Health philosophy.

“Now hang on, Glenn. This is starting to sound like some hippy-dippy, kaftan-wearing bullshit”

I get you. But remember, a kaftan is just an oversized lab coat.

The science is pretty clear that nature exposure has a very obvious and positive effect on health. This includes physical health, reduction of certain diseases, mental health, cognitive improvement, and healing. Check out this review of some of the data.

We’ve been banging the Vitamin N(ature) drum for a long time now, whether it be foraging, outdoor movement practices, or even what adding a little wildness into your health practice looks like.

Adding some deliberate nature exposure into your life is an obvious win. But we are also realists here at Wild Life HQ (some of the time), and we understand that, while these things are hugely important, they can easily be overlooked and forgotten about.

If only there was a system that reminded us to take a moment out of our hectic lifestyles and reconnect, if only briefly, with the rest of Nature.

Enter the Eight-fold Wheel of the Year

Cover of the book ‘The Wheel of the Year by Fiona Cook and Jessica Roux. I’ve not read the book but love the cover.

Some people believe that the Eight-fold Wheel of Year, dates back thousands of years to our neo-lithic ancestors.

The probable reality is that it is a relatively modern amalgamation of two ancient systems of the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. Each split the year into quarters, or so the belief goes.

bonfire during evening

The Celts favour the fire festival days of Samhain (November eve/Halloween), Imbolc (February Eve), Bealtaine (May eve) and Lúnasa (August eve). These dates are very much associated with the seasonal, agricultural cycle of the year.

The Anglo-Saxons were said to favour more solar oriented festival: Winter and summer solstice, and the spring and autumn equinoxes.

sunset over snow covered mountains

Both systems gained favour with emerging new religious movements during the last century, most notably the earth-based spirituality of modern Wicca and Druidry. The Wiccans favoured the solar festivals, the Druids the fire festivals.

It seems that at some point during the 1950s, the heads of each group came together and decided to combine the two systems to increase the number of the celebration days.

The bestest thing about this interaction is that it was likely conducted in the nude at a naturist site. And the even betterest thing is that that naturist site may well have been a camp site in the New Forest called ‘Sandy Balls‘. Yes, it does exist. I promise!

Some people poo-poo new ideas and traditions as inauthentic, just because they lack the pedigree of age. But all traditions have to start somewhere.

In fact, nature observation was a simple act of life for our ancestors. I’d argue that this tradition is even more important now than ever before.

We are not suggesting that you need to change your spiritual belief. Not at all. If you feel the need, then have at it.

No, what we like is the fact that the Eight-fold Wheel of the Year very handily splits up the year in 8 segments, about 6-7 weeks apart from each other, easily achievable to fit into ones schedule. Each of the festival days has a very different characteristic, seasonally speaking, at least here in our part of the world.

Having these seasonal milestones dotted throughout the year is a really nice way to reconnect with the natural world and it’s seasons.

Our relationship with the yearly cycle is probably as important physiologically as our need to experience the daily cycle of sunrise and sunset, the circadian rhythm.

Whereas our circadian rhythm tells our cells what to do when, our ‘circannual’ rhythm (yearly) alters hormone production based on the amount of daylight hours as it varies through the seasons. This creates a healthy ‘pulsing’ effect on our endocrine systems.

Within the various traditions, the eight festivals listed above have a plethora of symbolic meanings. This can be great to explore and to incorporate into your own personal development.

However, for the purpose of nature exposure it’s not necessary.

For me, I view these days as observation days, and special celebration days in their own right.

I make sure I set some time aside for these days. I like to get up and watch the sunrise. Yes, in this part of the world on the summer solstice that’s at stupid o’clock, but most of the other days are easier. And it’s just 8 days out of 365. You’ll cope.

I like to go for a walk at some point during the day, somewhere beautiful and natural, and just observe. What changes have occurred since the last festival day? What do the leaves look like? What’s the weather like? That kind of thing.

I also like to do a ‘sit spot‘ for about 20 minutes or so. Think of the sit spot as an outdoor, nature mindfulness session. Below is a detailed video of the sit spot practice that we use on our 5 Circles of Health: Revolution programme.

The sit spot challenge

Feel free to follow the challenge.

I then like to try and incorporate some wild, seasonal food into my day at some point, even if it’s simply a nibble on some blackberries during my stroll.

As the sun starts to set I like to get back outside and watch the day turn to dusk, and then I’ll pop out again when it’s properly dark and observe the night sky and the position of the stars. Or more often than not here in Ireland, I’ll observe the clouds.

You can be as involved and extravagant as you like. Maybe you’ll make a seasonal nature display, write a poem, create artwork with things you find, make it a photography project. Do what you like. The important thing is to get out there and interact with nature.

The Dates

So here are the common observed calendar dates for each of the eight festival days:

Samhain – 31st October/1st November

Winter Solstice – it varies year on year, but is around the 21st December

Imbolc – 31st January/1st February

Spring Equinox – between the 19th to the 21st March, again it changes.

Bealtaine/Beltane – 30st April/1st May

Summer Solstice – around the 21st June. Again, it shifts.

Lúnasa/Lammas – 31st July/1st August

Autumn Equinox – 21st-24th September

Remember, these dates relate to the northern hemisphere. For the southern hemisphere the wheel is switched 180 degree, i.e. summer solstice is in December, Samhain is in May, etc.

These dates are great if you are starting out on these seasonal observations, but as you become more attuned with your natural environment you’ll notice that nature doesn’t really give a shit about calendars.

The seasons are constantly in flux, each one affected by the previous one, and now being affected by human behaviour.

So a way of being even more in touch with your surroundings is to let nature tell you when each festival day begins.

selective focus close up photo of white petaled snowdrop flower

For example, rather than the calendar date, Imbolc might be when the first snowdrop appears. Bealtaine might be at the first sighting of the hawthorn blossom. Lúnasa when a particular crop or fruit has ripened. Samhain could be at the sight of the first proper frost.

And if you live in a region where these dates have very little relation to what is going on in nature near you then this observational approach is ideal.

The more you get to know your local nature, the greater your understanding of the seasonal cycles will be.

Getting out in nature, embracing the wild aspects of ourselves, and bearing witness to the cycle of the sun, our planet, and the changes around us have so many positive effects on so much of our life.

Observing the Eight-fold Cycle of the Year is a simple yet powerful way to keep us in touch, and one that we have followed for a very long time.

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