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Steven Ash
from: Steven Ash
Category: Drumming

The Cross quarters of the Medicine Wheel

The Cross Quarters

The medicine wheel envelopes the circle of life from the shape of each breath, the rising and falling of the day, the chapters in a life, to the seasons of the year. On this circle of the year there are eight major times of celebration equally spaced apart by about six weeks, like eight spokes on a cart wheel, each has a character, shape and series of qualities that help us to shape our human behaviour in relationship to the world we are part of.

When I was growing up in Britain, I must have been around twelve there were a wonderfully funny series of “Carry On” films, one in particular I remember it was “Carry on Cleo” based upon Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Roman Britain. At one point in the film Mark Antony is leading a legion through the wild rough terrain of Western Cornwall. From the top of a windswept Tor a scout (also an amateur inventor) from a local tribe is hurtling, banging and jolting down the slope on his latest creation, a wooden bicycle made from hazel sticks with square wheels. He lands at the bottom stuttering, very shaken and bruised to give news and welcome for the guests. This is a wonderful metaphor for the incomplete state of the medicine wheel when we only use the cardinal directions, by squaring the curve of the horizontal we see the sacred directions as a series of sharp edges, facts and relationships that maybe make no sense; but when we explore the cross quarters filling in the gaps, we soften the edges of experience and begin to really see the bounty of life and its teachings as a complete and living whole spiralling around us.

We are going to start this adventure in the south east at Beltane so that when we are complete we can close the circle by facing the golden doorway of the east, where everything begins; from here we can go to the centre and draw the below to meet the above, finding our centre within the beating drum of the heart.

Beltane is the cross quarter between spring equinox and summer solstice and held on May the 1st or Mayday. This is the celebration of fertility, it is a riot of spring, abundance, love making, freedom and sexual expression. Life, expression and growth are unstoppable. We are at our best, handsome men and beautiful maidens are looking to the future. Nests are being filled with eggs and mating, song and flirtation are welcomed. This is the time of the horned god where the primitive call of lust and sex are venerated. This is the eternal dance in all life to procreate and to pass down to the future generations our individual genetic message of power. It is the celebration of the wild, a breaking boundaries and inhibitions, secret liaisons and conceptions. The goddess is a maiden. This is where the children become warriors, and can run wild with raw energy, the dance is sensuous and unguarded, mysterious and uncensored. Relationships are random and exciting with future consequences, but who cares! This is the planting moon of beaver, eagle, coltsfoot and dandelion, with citrine that brightens the invitation of sunlight and light heartedness.

Key words: freedom, attraction, copulation, dance and song, random, strangers, primitive, warriors, promoting new projects and ideas, seduction and touch.

Summer Solstice of around June 21st and marks the climax of summer in the northern hemisphere. This is the longest day and shortest night. We celebrate the glory of the light, honoured with flowers and fruits of the summer. This is the time of the sacred marriage between the sun and earth, between man and woman. A time of feeling and commitment, the goddess is married to the sun. All the rising of life, expansion of growth, varieties of green in the herbs, grasses and trees has reached its maximum and expansion seems to come to a stop. The riot and excitement is over, life is sobering up, reason and fulfilment abound. Life is complete and steady. This is the drying up moon where the heat of summer dominates over the cool nature of water representing yin. Healing and relationships, foundations of family life become important.

Key words: warming sun, ultimate yang, completion, youth, fire, children, abundance, flowers, sacred marriage and herios gamos, masculine domination, ultimate physical manifestation.

Lammas is the cross quarter between summer solstice and autumn equinox and is celebrated on August 2nd. This festival hails the death of the king, summer is waning and the damp and yin of autumn and winter are rising and readying to grow. Calling of the rains, rain dance, reaping of the corn are the Lammas rituals. The goddess is pregnant with the sun drenched crops and the king of the summer is fading away ever so slowly with browns and yellows in the fields. Storing grain, long sunny afternoons and John Barleycorn being cut down in the harvest. Loss of youthful life, the paradox of young soldiers being sacrificed for the sake of a stable future. Lammas reveals the essence of things. In the wheel of life this is the time of families growing, parents working like slaves, midlife crisis, divorce and stress. This cross quarter is the breaking apart of structure and a time of pursuing your visions and dreams. Unrealistic dreams being cut down, reality strikes home and a part of us is waking up. Our attractive personality has faded and this is the time of stripping away illusion and the testing of our true character. 

Key words: sacrifice, diminishing yang, visions and dreams, harvest, purpose, change, beginning of contraction, beyond fertility, decrease and getting smaller, realisations and tipping points.

Autumn Equinox is around September 22nd This is the season of going within, hibernation and preparation for winter. The goddess is fully pregnant and awaiting the time of a future birthing. This is the season of gratitude for the abundance of summer and a time of balance as we move from life to death. We are returning into the dark and looking towards the dark goddess and the crone. We become the white haired and elders. This is the ripening moon of autumn, water and west winds.     

Black bear and purple berries, feasting and preparation for winter. The colours of blue and black correspond to the shortening days and cooler lengthening nights.

Key word: hibernation, death, water, fall, balance, return, yin rising, breaking down.

Samhain is celebrated on October 31st. The nights are truly lengthening and we return indoors, we go inside, we look within. This Halloween and all saints and all souls days follow on, and is the time seriously facing the ugly truth of decay, of the crone and witch, a place of unwelcome truth and honesty. A time facing the inevitable truth of old age, loneliness and being forgotten. The goddess has become the crone and yet she is pregnant, a child deeply hidden is awaiting next seasons cycle. The ancestors come as the next generation of those yet unborn and they seem to be close and available, it is where the veils are thin and we can journey between the worlds seeing their faces in our memories. We turn our heads and look back at where we have come from trying to figure out what we are composed of. Death is near and we acknowledge the people who have died. This is a bewildering time of memory, regret and looking back with self judgement, facing truth and letting go of dreams and concepts.This is the harvest moon of the coyote trickster, the white ash tree and smokey quartz giving us protection.

Key words: memory, death, ancestors, regret, life, decay, crone, truth

Winter Solstice of December 21st marks the still point of winter where the day is shortest in the northern hemisphere. It marks the north of the medicine wheel where we are each alone looking into ourselves, this is the place of the ascended masters and spirit guides, mystery and the yet to be manifest, total energy and unknown, and who knows what the experience is after death. This is the moon of hard freeze, element earth, white buffalo, hazel and granite. The goddess is being born. Here we celebrate the coming of the light because from this point the days will be stretching out and the dark light will diminish. Six weeks or so later we arrive at Imbolc.

Key words: winter, totally contracted, loneliness, taste and smell, ascended masters and mistresses, mystery, yin, cold darkness, un-manifest, energy, potential, unknown, white, cold, endurance, ancestors, hope, seeds, feminine domination. 

Imbolc is the cross quarter between winter solstice and spring equinox on February 2nd. In the coldest point of winter the lambs are born, out from the warmth of the ewes womb they land into the cold iron hard earth of early spring. It is for the ewe the fatty richness of her milk the colostrom containing the maximum nutrients that ensures her vulnerable child’s survival. This is an uncertain time of the year and trust is key during this unknown and frigid time. The goddess is being fed with the richest nutrients. This theme of the “natural law” where those that are weak die, seeds planted to shallow do not germinate, the cycles of life are what they are and we have to move with natures laws in order to survive until the snows melt. We make blessings on ribbons to tie to trees, as hopes for the future. Stirrings of new life, breeze and the soils awakening. This in north American tradition is the moon of the deep snows.

Key words: Looking to the future, dawn, trust, natural law, vulnerability, hope, seeds, nest building, birthing, breaking out, preparation, deliverance, buds, adventure, trying new experiences, blue jay, amethyst, poplar, violet, winter flowers, and sap rising stirred by the sun.

Spring Equinox comes around the 23rd of March, this is where spring is on the move rushing forward towards summer warmth, in TCM it is rising yang. This is the golden door opening having gone around the circle and now we can go to the centre knowing that the power of the circle is made whole. Winds are bringing freshness in the air and change is happening, expansion and safety are certain, the cold frosts have gone and now we have new beginnings, all around life is in celebration. The goddess is a child. This is the moon of fast water flowing, of the hawk and eagle, red clover and clear quartz, with the colours of yellow and red. tender leaves and sprouts.

Key words: balance, rising yang, forward movement, transformation, living teachers, thaw, equal day and equal night, eagle, birth and growth, sun rise, baby, seeking attention, sight and vision.

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