8 Seasons? Not 4? [Starstuff, Contemplating]

What, 8 seasons!?!  Our wonderful Earth makes each location unique, so there are thousands of different sets of seasons – but for many of us in temperate regions, maybe 8 makes more sense than 4?

Isn’t The Wonder podcast great?  It’s got so much help for new Pagans, and somehow still has new insights for those of us who’ve been doing this for years.  One of those new insights jumped out at me when I was listening to an episode of The Wonder a little while ago.  I’m not sure what episode it was, but Yucca mentioned that she personally uses 8 seasons in her Wheel of the Year, not just four.

Of course she’s right!!  That may help clarify the perennial “temperature vs. daylight” naming, as well being more accurate and helping us all be more in tune with the land which we live on!  But there is a lot here – let’s unpack this.

The Four Seasons

Let’s start with the regular four seasons.  These are most often defined by the temperature cycle, perhaps because it seems that people are more affected by the temperature than the hours of daylight(?).  These seasons are of course Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Looking at the diagram (where the temperature cycle is shown by the inner colors, with red as “hot” and blue as “cold”), the seasons are the coldest two sections (“Winter”), the hottest two sections (“Summer”), and the transitions between them (“Spring” and “Fall”).  The season boundaries are often the quarter Sabbats (on most calendars, it seems to me at least), as shown here.  But of course, the amount of daylight changes too – giving another cycle.

Interlocking Cycles

This is all closely related to the earlier post (Our Powerful Sabbats) about the two interlocking cycles which give us our 8 Sabbats.  These are the cycle of daylight and the cycle of temperature (the thermal cycle).  Each of these cycles will of course have a maximum and minimum (the -stices) and halfway or equal points (the equi-).  For the daylight cycle, the daylight maximum is the Summer Solstice, the minimum is the Winter Solstice, and the times of equal daytime and nighttime are the Equinoxes.  For the temperature cycle, the hottest (average) date is the Summer Thermstice, the date of minimum (average) temperature is the Winter Thermstice, and the dates with a temperature halfway in between are the Equitherms.  Both cycles are show in the diagram at the top of the post, with the inner colors showing the temperature cycle (with red for hot and blue for cold), and the outer shaded sections showing the daylight cycle (with white for the most daylight and black for the least daylight).  These are the two interlocking cycles which give us the 8 point Wheel of the Year.  Looking at that post, 8 seasons are described, but never called separate seasons.

The Eight Seasons

In fact, many of us prefer to have the seasons defined by that daylight cycle instead of the temperature cycle, with, for instance, Litha being “Midsummer” (halfway through summer) instead of the first day of summer.  With the eight seasons described earlier and in the diagram, we include both of these ways of seeing our Wheel!

But what to call them?  There are many options, so here are some ideas.  However, as often mentioned here and on The Wonder podcast, it’s important to make your Wheel and your seasons fit your local land.  So other names may work better for you, and that’s great!

Temperature as a Basis of the Main Seasons

If we stick with the naming of the four seasons based on temperature (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall), we can use those names, and add adjectives to make 8 seasons.  I think that the simple “First Winter, Second Winter, First Spring…..” or “Early Winter, Late Winter, Early Spring….” both misses a neat opportunity to provide deeper connection by being more clear about the daylight cycle, as well as being a little boring.  “Dark” and “Bright” seem to work pretty well as adjectives for the seasons by the Solstices – but the seasons by the Equinoxes are trickier.  Dusky? Light? (no, seems to imply less weight).  Gray?  Dim?  Sunlit?  Maybe.  OK, so maybe these 8 seasons? Notice the vertical straight line from Yule (the Winter Solstice) to Litha (the Summer Solstice) – the adjectives are symmetric across that.

Daylight as a Basis of the Main Seasons

Or, what if we define the four main seasons based on the cycle of daylight (as is done with terms like “Midsummer” and “Midwinter” for Litha and Yule)?  If so, then we’d add adjectives based on the temperature cycle.  Hot and Cold seem easy for the seasons adjacent to the Thermstices – but again, what about those adjacent to the Equitherms?  To me, “Warm” and “Cool” seem to work well, giving this set of 8 seasons.  Notice the straight line from Imbolc (the Winter Thermstice) to Lunasa (the Summer Thermstice) – the adjectives are symmetric across that.

Making it Work for You

Looking at these, the first wheel (with Dark Autumn in November and Bright Spring in May) seems to fit better, to me, than the second wheel (with Cool Winter in November and Warm Summer in May).  I think that’s simply because I am used to main four seasons being based on the temperature cycle, as most calendars show, etc.).  But that might not be the case for you.  Either way, how wonderful it is to have *both* our quarter Sabbats and our cross quarter Sabbats as gateways to seasons!

It’s cool that have this idea of 8 seasons, which was sneaking around the corners of my brain for years, has been pulled into the open!  Thanks Yucca!  Whether you like the first or second set, or tweak them to fit your area, or throw them out and make your own set entirely, I find it fulfilling to be thinking about our seasons and our world, as we approach the start of Bright Spring.  Blessed be!

The Author: Jon Cleland Host

Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.

Jon Cleland Host

Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997.  He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature.  He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University.  Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org).  Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality.  He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.

See Starstuff, Contemplating posts.

See all of Dr. Jon Cleland Host’s posts.

2 Comments on “8 Seasons? Not 4? [Starstuff, Contemplating]

  1. Yes! This has been lurking “around the corners of my brain for years” as well. Nicely done. Though I have to admit, the notion of summer solstice as “midsummer” strikes me as temperature-based, since that conception of summer presumably begins at the thermistice; conversely I’ve always regarded American-style seasons as daylight-based since they beginning on the solar holidays.

    I think my Wheel will need to include three summers, two winters, and only one spring and one fall, to reflect the local seasonality… only that adds up to seven. Egad.

    • Thanks! Hmmm….. Maybe there is another summer in there?
      And being used to Michigan Winters, I probably wouldn’t put two winters there (that’s just as many winters as I have!) : )

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