Sunday, March 25, 2012

Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere

Hawthorn Berries that were used in today's Autumnal Equinox Ritual

Here in New Zealand it is currently autumn heading towards winter, I have just celebrated the Autumnal Equinox, with a bunch of local pagans up at The Woolshed, a local pagan place where the Sabbats are generally held.  The next Sabbat will be Samhain, which is at the end April beginning of May.  The southern hemisphere wheel has turned to the dark side of the year where the nights are longer than the days.  In the northern hemisphere they have just celebrated the Vernal Equinox, spring is Spruning and their wheel has turned towards the light half of the year where the days are longer than the nights.  Do you get where I am going here?  In essences our seasons are in reverse of the seasons in the northern hemisphere.  

It seems simple enough to transpose the dates of the Pagan seasonal Calendar, which was cobbled together in England, six months and hey presto you have a southern hemisphere sabbatical calendar.   All good right?   Right?    Well actually no.  There are a few other things to take into account when living in a country where the original seasonal calendar did not originate, and more so when it is in a different hemisphere, Not only are the seasons reversed here in the southern hemisphere, so too is the direction of how we cast our circles, which here in the New Zealand is anti-clockwise.  Our sun rises in the east as it does all over the world, but tracks north in the sky and sets in the west, rather than tracking south as it does in the northern hemispheres. And as a point of interest, if you happen to live near the equator, you will find that the sun tracks both north and south, depending on the time of the year.  It is that squiggly line you sometimes see around globes, the path of the sun.  However here in the southern hemisphere the fact the sun tracks north,  also means the ‘traditional’ correspondences for north and south are also reversed, with northing being fire, and south being earth.  but that is a topic for another post.  this post is about seasons.

These Sabbats that were cobbled together by Gerald Gardner and Ross Nicolas while hanging about sans clothes at Fiveacres Nudist club, in England, where made for English Witches who lived in England.  These where not necessarily put together with other countries in mind, so to speak.  Sure here in New Zealand we have 4 distinct seasons, however we are further away from the South Pole than England is from the North. There is a variation between the ‘traditional’ seasonal correspondents that if often found in Pagan books and what is actually happening on the ground here in New Zealand.  There is also quite an interesting variation of seasonal growth and temperatures from one end of the country to the other, and I presume that this is the same for England, however my point here is that your seasonal wheel should be something more than just transposing the dates by six months, it should be shaped to the seasonal norms for the land you are living. 

Now this is all very good and well but here in New Zealand the British Settlers did not alter their various British traditions such as Christmas, New Years and Easter to the reversed seasons of New Zealand, and recently Halloween has become a thing in New Zealand, but it is celebrated at the end of October rather than the more seasonally appropriate end of May.  So this causes some interesting conundrums for Pagans and Witches here. What this means is that while the rest of New Zealand is gearing up for Easter,  a Spring themed celebration, as it currently is the Kiwi Pagans are celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.  As I mentioned in my first post I have found this to be quite difficult to consolidate in my head and something that I am constantly working on? With? Hm.   I can remember when I was a small child communing with the Christmas Tree, which was a pine tree my uncles had gotten, with its lights and shiny decorations, it was one of the first magical experiences that I can remember.  However I have had difficult over the years consolidating the distinct winterness of Christmas decorations and trimmings, with the fact that here in New Zealand it is the summer solstice.  Not however mid summers, as the Summer Solstice marks the beginning of summer here and not the middle.  Our hottest times of the year or what I would consider mid summers is generally January and February.  The duality of mainstream celebrating new life, and the season turning towards harvest and the end of life makes for some very interesting contemplation.  Maybe this year I will make Easter eggs with skulls on them and try to get past the disgruntled feeling I get when the mainstream is celebrating the wrong thing in the wrong season. 

The other interesting thing about seasonal Sabats here in New Zealand is that while on the one hand we have four distinguishable seasons, they are not quite the same as in Britain, where they originated.   As I mentioned above Britain is closer to the north pole that we are to the south pole.  This means that we have in relation quite a temperate climate.  Here in Wellington it does not often fall below zero degrees, during the winter and we only have snow in very small quantities in the city every bazillion years or so.  Actually we had snow last year.  And during the summer it does not often get above 30 degrees

But then to my mind celebrating and honouring a Pagan seasonal calendar not just about the dates and their ascribed meaning, but also about celebrating seasonally in the land you live, which will often deviate from the prescribed description found in books.  This also means that your seasonal celebrations and times may differ from year to year. 
After spending a year gardening for other people I became a lot more observant about my environment around me.  I paid more attention to plants and trees and have come to rely on them to tell me what the seasons are doing.  

Actually this year I felt the death of summer in quite distinctly in early March as I mentioned in previous post.  Also I have noticed as mentioned above the prescribed seasonal Sabbat dates, for the southern hemisphere  more mark the beginning of any given season rather than the middle, and that the cross quarters Samhane, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Brigid are more fluid than the equinoxes and solstices which mark the passage of the sun

Luckily on 1995 updated and re-released in 2005, Juliet Batten wrote one of New Zealand’s only Pagan books, Celebrating the Southern Seasons, which is an excellent guide on New Zealand seasons and the various customs and suggestions on how to celebrate season here in New Zealand  It is a book that I have found myself going back to again and again as my understanding of the cyclic year deepens, something Juliet wrote I agree with and other things I don’t but I always find things of interest.

So for those of you who are interested here are the Southern Season Sabbat Dates starting from the current one
Autumnal Equinox             March 20-23rd
Samhane                  April 31st – May 1st
Winter Solstice                   June 20-23rd
Brigid                                   August 2nd
Vernal Equinox           September 20-23rd
Beltane                       Oct 31st – Nov 1st 
Summer Solstice         December 20-23rd
Lughnasadh                    February 2nd   

Todays colourful Sunset


  1. Very informative post, even though I know there are seasonal differences worldwide I don't always make the connections.
    I liked what you said here: After spending a year gardening for other people I became a lot more observant about my environment around me. I paid more attention to plants and trees and have come to rely on them to tell me what the seasons are doing. As a gardener in the Southern US I have had to relearn how to garden as my mindset was still in the northern state I moved from. Observing what and how things grew around me has helped, thanks for a great post, and please disregard if you get another comment from me I lost 2 trying to leave a comment.

  2. yes gardening teaches a log about seasons, i have a friend from around Brisbane Australia where during the hight of summer over there the plants stop growing and many die due to the harsh in that aspect like Samhane in the northern hemisphere.. I have often wondered what the seasons would be like the closer to the equator you live.. *ponders this*..

    now of course i am pondering the differences in seaons in a huge country such as the US.. gosh, there is a lot of ground and a lot of different environments.. *ponders this to*

    thank you for you comment it has give me much to ponder. and given that you lost two more thank you's.. *beams*