the Seasons of Life:
TWPT: Your new book is called Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara, let's start with an obvious question what motivated you to write a book about the seasons instead of some other topic?
AO: The publisher invited me to write this book -- these books, really, 'cause there are two of them; and I was pleased to accept.
TWPT: Tell me about your approach to the material that makes it different than some of the other books that have been published about Wiccan/Pagan celebrations.
AO: Well, of course I like to think my style is unique ... but apart from that, and this addresses your next question, too, one difference is that this set of books takes the old perspective on the year, dividing it into two halves, Winter and Summer. Beyond that, rather than focusing exclusively on old lore or trying to talk about a wide variety of Pagan celebrations, these focus on modern interpretations of the Sabbats' significance, and on Anglo-Celtic celebrations. These are also the first books, as far as I know, to talk about Druidry and Asatru and their relationship to Wicca and their perspectives on Wicca's Wheel of the Year.
TWPT: This book is different in another way, it only covers half the year, why did you choose to break the material up into two books with one published now and the other one to be published in October of this year?
AO: In "the old days," people divided the year in half: Winter began at what we call Samhain, and Summer began at what we call Beltane. Marking Spring and Fall is a more recent thing, and the full eight Sabbats that Wiccans celebrate actually represent a combination of agricultural and astronomical calendars. It's important to acknowledge that our relationship to the seasons continues to develop, and one way to appreciate that is to respect the ancient ways; that's what giving each half of the year its own book helps us to do.
TWPT: Even though the seasonal calendar of the Wiccan/Pagan year is cyclical an author still has to give glimpses of each celebration individually, is it difficult for you to be able to explain one season/celebration without including the preceding or the following season as a reference point?
AO: Our culture has trained us well to see the seasons and events of our lives as isolated, so in some ways it's easy to think about each Sabbat individually, and in some ways, remembering that we do need to relate each Sabbat to those that precede and follow it, and to its complement across the Wheel, is the tricky bit. Writing these books was really a refreshing experience for me, one that let me re-emphasize for myself as well as for my readers the cyclical nature of our calendar, and of our lives. ~Now~ it's much more difficult for me to explain one Sabbat without referring to the others, and I consider that a blessing.
TWPT: Was there a reason for starting with Samhain through Ostara instead of the other way around?
AO: Samhain is our new year, so it made sense to us to start there.
TWPT: What kinds of research go into creating a couple of books like Celebrating the Seasons of Life?
AO: The research I did falls into three broad categories.
First, there's what you might call "market research," checking to see what other books there are about Wiccan Sabbats, how they're organized and what approach they take, what material they include. That kind of research also involves getting a feel for what people think of the books already available, what they like about them, and how they'd like them to be different. The next kind of research is more or less cultural, and ranges through Wicca's history and heritage. I got to review a lot of folk material, and because Wicca shares a cultural heritage with Asatru and Druidry, I got to learn more about those two religions. Finally, I did some broader religious and psychological research, scholarly material that is relevant to the study of any religion.
TWPT: Were these books written with a particular reader in mind? Advanced, beginner or just an introductory level study of the seasons.
AO: Because these books take a slightly different perspective than most books about Wiccan Sabbats, I think they'll interest a wide range of readers. They're good for beginners because they include practical material -- Samhain to Ostara, for instance, has complete directions for casting and conducting a Circle, instead of talking about an unreferenced "usual way." They're good for experienced Wiccans because they include material and perspectives that you don't find in other books, so no matter how much you already know, you'll find something interesting, to make you think or enhance your practice. And they're good for people who are just curious because they put what Wiccans do in context, not only historically but culturally.
TWPT: Do you feel that modern Wiccans/Pagans are as in touch with the cycles of life as they should be? How could someone use your books to help them reestablish some connections to the Earth in their lives?
AO: The impression I have is that a lot of people would like to explore new and additional ways of being in touch with the cycles of life. Whether that's because they're looking for more ways to express the connections they already feel, or because they want to connect in more meaningful ways than they do, they'll find some ideas in Celebrating the Seasons. There are ideas ranging from profound to playful, and all of them can be adapted to a variety of circumstances, from urban to wild.
And I hope that my great joy in the relationship I have to the Earth --as physical planet and as spiritual entity -- is something that readers can share in these books, and something that will spark a similar joy in their hearts and minds.
TWPT: Do you feel that a person who belongs to a group or coven has more opportunity to celebrate the seasons than someone who functions as a solitary and has to rely on him or herself to be the sole motivator for observing the seasons?
AO: Oh, I wouldn't say that the smell of jasmine or citrus blossoms in the spring, or the shapes we can see in clouds, or the refreshment of a rainstorm, or the warmth of a fire, motivates covens more than it does solitaries. I think we all observe the seasons in our own ways, consciously or subconsciously. I do think it's best to be conscious of what we hold holy, and of the ways we acknowledge what's sacred in our lives. I think a solitary has just as many opportunities to celebrate the seasons as a covener does; it's just that they're different opportunities. Unless s/he has a tape recorder, for instance, a solitary can't turn a chant into a round. On the other hand, coveners don't have the same freedom to depart from the planned ritual if the spirit moves them. In the two volumes of Celebrating, I've not only created rituals for covens and for solitaries, but I've talked a little about the ways that rituals can be modified for the number of people who're doing them -- because the essence of worship and celebration is the same for all of us.
TWPT: Your book takes a look at the history and original customs of all of the seasons you cover in your books, why is it important that we know about where these celebrations come from and how they used to observe them?
AO: In contrast to religions based on revelation, Wicca's a religion of experience. History ~is~ experience, experience that we can share in many ways. When we can become aware of the way our predecessors understood what they did, we can expand our own understanding of what we're doing. When we know -- and whether we know historically or romantically -- what a Sabbat celebration used to mean, its modern meaning has more depth, more richness, and we have more ways of feeling connected to our past and our present. If we know the old stories, we can turn them into new stories, stories about us that are still about our ancestors. In turn -- and that's what these books are about, the turning of the Wheel in the sacred spiral dance -- all of that creates more ways for us to connect with the future.
TWPT: How do you go about integrating something from the past in a meaningful way with the practices of the present?
AO: I try to understand the ... practical symolism, if you will, of older rituals, and see what current symbols correspond. Now that most of us have central heating, we don't need a real fire to stay warm through the Winter any more, and few of us need it to keep the predators away. But even if keeping people warm and safe were the most important things a fire did for our ancestors, they're not the only thing fire did for them, and it can do some of the same other things for us, too. We still like the way a fire looks and sounds, and you can still see well enough by a fire or glowing embers not to trip over the cat.
Many of us still like the way heat from flames feels better than we like the way hot air from a vent feels. You can't roast weenies or marshmallows over a heat vent, either, and telling stories around a heat vent isn't very cozy.
Life may have changed a lot since the old days -- and things are changing so fast now, the old days don't even have to be that long ago --but people haven't changed all that much. We still need food and shelter and companionship and we still need to know that we belong, that we're loved, and that our love matters to other people. We still want to know why we're here and what happens when we die. What we eat and where we live and our answers to those questions will differ according to our faith and culture, but we still depend on heat and light and rain and the ground being solid under our feet, on night and day and the turning of the Wheel, on the cycle of birth and growth and death and rebirth.
Staying aware of that is how we link the past to the present, and how the future will meaningfully integrate our time and ways. I think that's what celebrating the seasons is all about.
TWPT: One of your more recent books was called Raising Witches and was about teaching the Wiccan faith to children, in regards to Celebrating the Seasons of Life how is it that you include your children in the seasonal celebrations in a meaningful way?
AO: Appendix B in both books is about what children are ready to learn about each Sabbat. These appendices are based on the same five st/ages of growth that were featured in Raising Witches. We start with infancy and go through early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The suggestions offered are based on what I've learned over the years, and through research, about child development. Parents will know which of the ideas will work for their kids, where they live, and need to keep in mind that each age group covers several years; ideas you can use with a five year old need modification for the two-year-old who's in that same "early childhood" age group. In both books, though, I do stress that it's important to find your own way of involving your children in your religion. I understand that some families need to be cautious of their families' and community's responses to Paganism, but I think it's unconscionable to exlcude our children from our celebrations of what we hold sacred.
TWPT: As a way of summing up Celebrating the Seasons of Life what is it that you would like the reader to take away with them after they have finished your book? Any other thoughts about this book and the upcoming companion volume that you would like to share with our readers?
AO: Inspiring everything I write is the absolute certainty that we are all belovéd of the God/dess, that it takes all of us to turn the Wheel. It's not that the Earth wouldn't revolve around the Sun, not that Spring wouldn't follow Winter, if we don't get off our couches and out of our excuses and celebrate the seasons of life. It's just that --we do believe in reincarnation, but we never come back as someone we've already been --we are all the only one of us there'll ever be. We all belong here, dancing the spiral dance around the Wheel -- and there's nobody who can't find some way to celebrate the seasons of life.