One of the most beautiful lessons the natural world can teach us is that linear time is a human construct.
In nature, time is cyclical.
Around the world, people who know this use the symbol of the circle to show how time moves. Often times this circle is designed like a compass, thus combining the concept of time and place. The seasons are etched into the outer circle, while the inner circle— the center— is the place of spirit. This type of pictogram is called “wheel of the year” or, alternately, “the medicine wheel.”
You begin in the East where the sun rises.
You become in the South where light— that outward turning, always moving, yang energy— is strongest.
You learn to believe in the West, when you finally sink, like the sun, into yourself, coming to a bit of understanding.
And when the winter comes, when you curl around yourself like a wolf in its den, you face the North. Be still, the Earth whispers.
(Of course, all this gets turned on its head in the Southern Hemisphere.)
This wheel is a guide for any creative endeavor, showing us the arc of the experience of creating, actualizing, understanding, then resting so new seeds can germinate and we can create anew.
This same cycle is built into mythology. It’s the story of the Phoenix, burning to ash to rise again, and Persephone journeying yearly to the underworld and returning with the spring.
As I round the bend and come on yet another birthday, it’s beautiful to find myself in my personal North (a rest? Yes please!) with the promise of East shimmering on the horizon. I look around my office and the references are re-shelved after spending months stacked on the floor around my feet, the crystals are neatly stored, the latest book manuscript turned in. After a visit to my publishing house, new ideas are planted and I’m waiting to see which will germinate. The to-do list is getting shorter as the days get longer, and I know (soon!) I’ll be done for a spell…. And then Bestiary will be published, a new book contract will appear, Witch Camp will soar into my consciousness and I’ll eagerly face East, ready to begin again.
Turning East can be as subtle as the daily dawning of the sun or as jarring as a tree toppling unexpectedly. This particular cycle of my personal life— the shop, the teaching, the books— began with one of those rather extreme new beginnings. When I was thirty three years old, an age when many turn to the East and find their world is suddenly, drastically, shifted (I call thirty-three “the Jesus Year” because so many people I know go through a rebirth around that time), all that I knew came undone and I began again.
For me, that Jesus Year was time out of time. I faced East and the world remade itself. Everything was new. I was a single woman who had sold off the trappings of her previous life and planted herself in an isolated field in Ireland to see what she would become. I was unknown to the people around me… and to myself.
Now, days away from 50 (and I’m excited! Like my whole life has been building toward this glorious decade), I have community, a partner, a business to run. And yet, the wheel still turns. Dawn glimmers on the horizon. Life becomes about being both: the beginner and the teacher; the elder and the one who starts anew.
The closer we get to our own centers, the easier it is to hold space within for the teachings of all the directions.
We hold within us the Maiden, Warrior, Mother, and Wisdom Keeper, and in the course of a day, we might take a run through all of them. We head off to volunteer in the morning, the Warrior fighting for clean rivers or to keep animals safe, at noon we go far a long walk, facing East and seeing the world as new and unknown, at 2:15 we pull on the mother’s mantle to care for a sick friend or overwrought child, and by 6:30 we have donned the crone’s cloak to hold space for others to do their learning.
Over and over again, we walk the wheel. Rediscovering ourselves and creating our world anew.