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The Wheel of Changes

At first glance there seems to be little to connect the major festivals of the pagan calendar with the ancient Chinese "Book of Changes" or I Ching. Both systems are ancient and venerable, but there seems no reason for any fundamental connection between their underlying philosophies. Yet think for a moment of the bases of these two apparently disparate systems. The yearly circle of major festival days (be it expressed as the major and minor sabbats of wicca, the fire and solar festivals of the druids or however else) is an eight-fold expression of the continuous cycle of the seasons, of the interplay between darkness and light, yin and yang - a fitting description of the eight trigrams that underpin the I Ching.

By considering together the "Book of Changes" and the "Wheel of the Year" composed by the festivals, valuable new insights into each are obtained through knowledge of the other. Combined they form the "Wheel of Changes."

The Book of Changes (I Ching)

The I Ching is a Chinese book of wisdom and oracles whose precise age is open to debate, though its origins are certainly several thousand years old, dating back to pre-Confucian times. It has its roots in duality, regarding the universe as a manifestation of the interaction between a pair of polar energies, which are in turn expressions of ultimate unity, t'ai-chi. (It is useful to note here that considering these contrasting yet complementary energies as "goddess" and "god" yields the foundations of wicca, for example.) The strong, active, solar energy is called yang and is denoted by a solid line; while the weak, receptive, lunar energy is called yin and is denoted by a broken line.

The I Ching itself is primarily concerned with the 64 hexagrams obtained from all possible combinations of six yin/yang lines. However, each hexagram is considered as being the synthesis of two more fundamental units: trigrams. There are eight of these, constructed from all combinations of three yin/yang lines, and each represents an important phase in the interaction of the two energies.

The Fu Hsi TrigramsThe Fu Hsi Trigrams

The above diagram shows the trigrams arranged in the "Sequence of Earlier Heaven" which, according to tradition, was established by the legendary emperor Fu Hsi, who is also credited with the original construction of the trigrams from markings seen on a dragon-horse and a turtle. There are other possible arrangements of the trigrams, but Fu Hsi's correspondences with the cardinal points and the seasons (Summer - South; Autumn - West; Winter - North; and Spring - East) are the most cogent and symmetrical, offering great rewards when overlaid with the pagan festivals.

The Wheel of the Year

The eight major pagan festivals constitute an ever-turning, eight-spoked wheel of the year that marks the changing of the seasons and the ebbing and flowing of light and darkness, heat and cold, growth and decay, throughout the year. The eight are made up of four movable festivals tied to solar events (the two solstices, Yule and Litha, and the two equinoxes, Ostara and Mabon), and four fixed fire festivals on cross-quarter days between them. Each festival marks an important phase in the natural cycle of the year.

YuleSamhainMabonLughnasadhLithaImbolcOstaraBeltane
The Wheel of the YearThe Wheel of the Year

The clickable figure above shows the festivals arranged in sunwise order in a circle, the "Wheel of the Year." For the northern hemisphere, placing midwinter (Yule) in its characteristic position of north produces a natural ordering which gives an impressive correlation with the Fu Hsi arrangement of the eight trigrams.

The Wheel of Changes

Simply combining the circle of the trigrams with the wheel of the year gives the "Wheel of Changes," below. The accord between the two systems seems remarkable; yet it is also understandable, given that both elucidate the critical phases of a bipolar dynamic at eight points.

The Wheel of ChangesThe Wheel of Changes

With a form of equivalence between the systems established, the time-honored practice of occult correspondence can be employed, allowing knowledge of either system to be used to enhance understanding and appreciation of the other. For example, the trigram symbols themselves could be incorporated into festival observance, and their form and underlying philosophy used to enrich meditation upon the light-dark dynamic of each festival and how it stands in relation to the others in the wheel of the year. Conversely, knowledge of each festival's motivations and place in the natural cycle of the seasons may allow a richer, less abstract empathy with the continuous cyclical flowing of yin and yang, and consequently with the I Ching itself.

As a starting point for this synergy, let us end by considering briefly in turn each of the eight festival-trigram correspondences, starting arbitrarily with Litha - Ch'ien.

Litha - Ch'ien

Litha - Ch'ien

Litha is a celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In the druidic tradition the festival is called Alban Heruin, a name meaning "Light of the Shore" - an appropriate title for this turning point of the year, lying at the midpoint between "Light of the Earth" and "Light of the Water" (the druidic terms for the equinoctial observances). This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of the strong, active, solar force; sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, god of the waxing year. The trigram Ch'ien represents the apogee of the same force: it consists of three strong yang lines alone, and has the epithets creative, strong, heaven and father.

It is in the nature of the cyclical interaction of yin and yang that either force at its height contains the seed of the other, into which it will transform. So while yang reaches its utmost manifestation in Ch'ien, it can get no stronger and therefore must weaken. This truth is mirrored in the recognition that, at his crowning, the Oak King falls to his twin, the Holly King, god of the waning year: days will grow shorter from now on.

Lughnasadh - Sun

Lughnasadh - Sun

Lughnasadh marks the time of the first (grain) harvest, and is named after Lugh, a Celtic deity of light. Summer is still at its height, but the days are shortening and autumn is on its way. This is reflected in the trigram Sun, formed by the weakening of the bottom line of Ch'ien. The light (yang) is no longer all-powerful, though it still predominates. Sun has the epithets gentle, penetrating, wind and wood.

Mabon - K'an

Mabon - K'an

Mabon marks the autumnal equinox - the time of the second (fruit) harvest and the pivot between the light and dark halves of the year: day and night are of equal length. To the druids this is Alban Elued, "Light of the Water," and "water" is one of the main titles attached to the trigram K'an.

Now the top line of Sun has weakened too, forming K'an (appropriately one of only two symmetrical mixed trigrams, the other corresponding to the vernal equinox). Though symmetrically balanced, yin lines for the first time outnumber yang lines: autumn is here and winter is on its way - from now on nights will be longer than days. In keeping with the idea of ascendant darkness, K'an has the appellations abysmal, danger, water and moon.

Samhain - Ken

Samhain - Ken

Samhain marks the time of the third and final harvest when, in earlier days, cattle were slaughtered and their meat smoked or salted for winter. It is an occasion for divination and honoring the dead, for at this time the veil between the mundane and subtle realms is considered to be particularly insubstantial.

The trigram Ken is formed by the single strong line of K'an moving forward and blocking the two remaining weak lines beneath it. The winding down aspects of Samhain are expressed in the epithets of Ken: stillness, rest and mountain. And a mountain may bridge the gap between two worlds, between Heaven and Earth, just as Samhain does.

Yule - K'un

Yule - K'un

Yule is a celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This is Alban Arthuan, "Light of Arthur," in the druidic tradition - King Arthur being identified here with the sun god who is reborn on this day (from now on days will grow longer).

The midwinter nadir of the light is also the zenith of the dark, passive, receptive force; and this is perfectly reflected in Ken's transformation into K'un, which consists of three yin lines alone. K'un has appropriate epithets for this time of rebirth: receptive, yielding, earth and mother. As with Litha - Ch'ien, the complete supremacy of one half of a cyclical duality can only result in the decrease of itself and the increase of the other. Thus the bottom line of K'un must soon strengthen, just as the victorious Holly King falls to the reborn Oak King at Yule.

Imbolc - Chen

Imbolc - Chen

The waxing of light and the ascent towards spring are celebrated at Imbolc, which is considered to be the first of three spring festivals. Winter still has its grip on the land, but the days are lengthening: the darkness of the trigram K'un has been lightened by the strengthening of its bottom line to form Chen. The usual representation of Chen is thunder, which the Chinese consider to erupt from the depths in early spring to awaken the dormant seeds to new life. Yin lines still outnumber yang lines (nights are still longer than days), but now the bottom line is strong and able to move forward through the weak lines above it, giving Chen suitable titles for the earliest stirrings of spring: arousing, awakening, movement and thunder.

Ostara - Li

Ostara - Li

Ostara marks the vernal equinox and is the second of the spring festivals. It is the pivot between the dark and light halves of the year: day and night are again of equal length. The earth is beginning to come alive again, and to the druids this time is Alban Eiler, the "Light of the Earth."

Li is formed by the strengthening of the top line of Chen to give the remaining symmetrical mixed trigram (the other corresponding, as already seen, to the autumnal equinox). Though symmetrically balanced, yang lines now outnumber yin lines: spring is here and summer is on its way - from now on days will be longer than nights. In keeping with the idea of ascendant light, Li has the designations luminous, sun, lightning, fire and clinging.

Beltane - Tui

Beltane - Tui

The third and final spring festival marks the beginning of summer and is called Beltane, the "Good Fire" or "Bel-fire," named after the solar deity Bel. At this time, cattle were driven between Beltane fires and led out to summer pastures until Samhain. Fruitfulness in all its forms and the celebration of the ascent towards summer are the main themes of Beltane.

The trigram Li has become Tui - now only the top line is weak and cannot impede the two strong lines below. The celebratory and life-giving aspects of Beltane are expressed in the epithets of Tui: joyfulness, pleasure and lake.

And then the wheel turns once more, as Tui's remaining weak line is strengthened, the sun reaches its peak, and we again find Ch'ien in the light of Litha.

The Druid Renaissance The Druid Renaissance The Wheel of Changes was first published in revised form in The Druid Renaissance.

Publisher: Harpercollins Publishers

Publication Date: 01/07/1996

ISBN: 1 85538 480 9



The Mystical Calendar
The Eight Festivals:     Yule   -   Imbolc   -   Ostara   -   Beltane   -   Litha   -   Lughnasadh   -   Mabon   -   Samhain