Poem: The Lesser Mystery

Most “modern pagans” “know” that there are Eight Great Days in the Wheel of the Year: Imbolc comes at the start of February, followed by Ostara/Equinox in mid-September, then May Day or Beltane, then Litha in mid June at solstice, followed by Lammas (mid-August), Mabon (mid-September), Samhain at the end of October or beginning of November, and Yule at the winter solstice. Round and round the wheel of the year goes, and one season must surely follow another as time goes on. As the Latin inscription from an altar at Herculaneum has it, Sol redit tempus nunquam — The Sun returns, but Time never.”

For several years now, I’ve been concerned with some holes in the Wheel of the Year. “Modern pagans” use eight public-facing festivals today. These were allegedly agreed to by a Druid and a Witch at a pub somewhere in the west of England (maybe Glastonbury), where they carved it out on a table, back in Ye Olden Days of the 1960s, sometime shortly after the Anti-Witchcraft laws were repealed in the UK. It’s obvious, right, that the days that the Sun appears to stand still (solstices) and the days when the nights and days are of equal length (equinoxes) should be four of the sacred days of the year… and then the days that are half-way between a solstice and an equinox should also be a festival. Eight. Duh.


Except, you see, that I can’t help but see what I call the “Four Holes” problem. The Solstices and the Equinoxes fall at the start of the Cardinal signs. In tropical astrology, these are Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. The moment the sun touches 0° Aries, it’s the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s the moment the season begins. The Sun moves about 1° a day, sometimes a little more or a little less. As a result it takes about 91 days for the Sun to move from a Solstice to an Equinox, or from an Equinox to a Solstice.

For odd reasons, though, the cross-quarter days usually fall on the last/first days of a month, not halfway through a month Imbolc usually comes on February 1-2, depending on whom you ask. Samhain falls sometime between October 30 and November 2… again, depending on whom you ask. As it so happens, this is usually pretty closely aligned with the moment that the Sun touches the 10° mark of the Fixed signs — that is, Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.

Four Holes

But this leaves us with four holes. There’s no festival at all in the Mutable signs: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces. And yet, while there’s a 91-day gap between a Solstice and an Equinox, there’s usually a forty day gap between the Solstice or Equinox, and the next Cross-Quarter day… and a fifty day gap between the Cross-Quarter day and the next Solstice or Equinox. This block of time is not split in half, 45 days before and 46 after. There’s a decided tilt in one direction, favoring one side of the equation more than the other.

In other words, There’s a hole in each season of the year, and four holes total in a year… and the obvious place for these holes, both astrologically (to match the logic of the other eight festivals) is at 20° Gemini, 20° Virgo, 20° Sagittarius, and 20° Pisces — the third ten-degree segment of the Mutable signs. This makes it forty days before the cross-quarter day, and forty days after the cross quarter day… and then a 10-day “window of mystery” between the start of the hole, and the Solstice or Equinox.

It’s true that a great deal of the ‘modern pagan calendar’ owes its existence to people referencing Celtic (and specifically Irish) sources. But it shouldn’t escape our notice that Greek myth and religion was another source for the modern pagan revival. And consequently, it shouldn’t escape our notice that two of these holes, the ones about 10 days before the equinoxes — the one occurring now, in early March, and the one occurring in early September — coincided with the celebration of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of Eleusis, and that other rituals celebrated at about the same time of year in other Greek city-states, used … ahem… agricultural myths … to affirm both the immortality of the soul and the temporariness of the miseries of mortal life in this world. The other two mystery rites of ancient Greece, the laughably badly-studied rites of Castor and Pollux at Thebes before the Summer Solstice, or the cheese-stealing rituals dedicated to Artemis at Sparta at the full moon before the Winter Solstice, are barely mentioned outside academic circles at all.

Some holes should make us wonder what’s missing, what was supposed to go there. There’s never a plinth for a statue, except that a statue has gone missing. There’s never a broken-down roller coaster, except where there used to be an amusement park. And, in this case, we have at least some archaeological evidence of the festival grounds, at Eleusis and Sparta (and sort of in Thebes) — but we ignore the festivals, because at least some people are worried about what they’ll find there. Yet… sometimes, you have only to look for the missing thing before it’s obvious what should have been there. So, I think, is the case here — the openings in the schedule are present, we only have to figure out what goes in them.

I like to think that’s true of these four mystery rites, the nature of which has never been fully understood — that they are the missing mysteries of the modern pagan year.

For the last few years, I’ve been engaging with the Decans — the ten-day/10-degree subdivisions of the Zodiac — with my supporters on Patreon. One of the things that’s grown out of this is an awareness, a magical focus, of using these four “holes in the calendar” for sacred work connected with preparing one’s self for initiation, for purification and forgiveness of mortal errors, for growing in confidence and daring, and for recognition of one’s immortal potential even while wrestling with the cares of mortal anguish.

As we prepare to enter the season of Pisces III — the season of the Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, called “The Telling” or “The Instruction”, I share with you all a poem from behind the veil of my own Patreon, “the Lesser Mysteries”. It’s intended to be the opening to the astrological magic work of engaging with the ancient Greek spirits associated with the decans… the nature of which is, for me and my supporters, relatively secret.

I wrote it (and other pieces) because I was haunted by the four holes in the year. It’s my hope that you’ll get the good kind of haunting from reading about these holes, too… and that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find your own way to figure out just what needs to go in them in your life.

“The Lesser Mysteries”

I. I come to the Wheel of the Year knowing just what I am,
but — by the repute of this long-dead lore,  there’s more to have!
By word and deed, by poetry and by art, I dare think
this virgin mind of mine shall gain power, which I shall feel
in my soft skin like rushing red blood: true e purpose and will —
This magic defends me against darts of analysis.

II. Soon, neither mortal nor spirit shall cost me my balance.
By the gods, I shall have all that I long for and desire!
Heaven’s depths and the heights of Hell — both will I clearly see!
The priestly censer and the mage’s staff are mine to use;
the secrets of magic will be open to my knowing —
by the rage of these rites I’ll fend off all foes, I believe.

III. Come, Flame-Keeper — my inner flame ignite, and examine!
Can there be potential for growth, if know just what I am?
Can I spot the perfect moment to exercise my will?
Is there a physical object or abstract goal worth having,
more than being fully in touch with what I am feeling?
More than understanding my own weird, unconscious thinking?

IV. Come, Memory and Hope: re-shape what I believe,
as I play in Ocean’s currents and tides to gain balance,
and learn, by theurgic arts, to perceive what can’t be known.
Arcane secrets, hidden power, health and love I desire:
to gain them, I’ll turn to every mystic system, and use 
their methods to hold for myself, every last thing I see.

V. Come, mighty Twins! Wash me clean and clear my muddled thinking!
With fateful signs from poetry’s ocean, now analyz
emy ambition’s errors, and mother me with the feeling
heart of my soul, where I at last learn who and what I am!
Behead my mistakes, let me learn gratitude for what I have,
and guide me to be a living symbol of great good will!

VI. Come, Necessity! Empyrean power whom the gods see
as strength beyond strength, who molds the cosmos beyond belief:
heal me when I have sickness — unfold me, your bloom to use —
one who blossoms brightly, with dynamic, steady balance!
Each choice I make, demands that I turn from other desires;
Those untrod paths, the roads not walked, are beyond my knowing.

VII. The Lion’s throat roars! To be healthy and free is my will!
I shall craft great wonders, either in matter or my thought,
and every good gift of Earth’s broad lap I could surely have.
Yet to gain all things, requires self-examination:
I must perceive exactly who and what I truly am,
and accept both magic and abundance with full feeling.

VIII. So must I reside without fear in the laws I know,
and walk dream and waking in far-off kingdoms I observe,
living well in my truth, so I receive what I desire —
but living attuned to the great virtues, which I believe
preserve my soul eternal — give a generous balance
of grace to me, that may I also be of service and use.

IX. I gain Victory’s boon when injustice makes me feel
that I must resist it with full purpose and mighty will:
But thirteenth labor I’ll attempt, to sit and simply be,
and gain the secrets of verse and image, cycle and thought,
by which any problem at all may best be analyzed —
and, as from Dream —elegant, beautiful solutions grasped. 

X. Come, Healer, instruct me in the tradition: how to use,
with daring and clean purpose, the light of mundane knowledge
with crafty covert wisdom measured out in the balance,
to draw in health, and drive off any sickness I can see.
Wellness often blooms from what the patients themselves believe:
To be my own first cured patient — that is what I desire.

XI. Come, Bull of Heaven — petitions and prayers you may have,
graceful rites due in each season, performing with feeling 
ceremonies barely standing up to analysis:
As though I think thirty-six rituals in twelve months will
change me.  Curiously, though, it’s not about what I think,
but how I dedicate time to what I hope to become.

XII. Come, hosts of Muses — witness these oaths of my desire,
and prod me with notions of how I may be of good use
both to fellow mortals (who rarely know what to believe),
and to timeless gods, who have forgotten, if ever they knew,
what it is to smell and touch, imagine, taste, hear and see —
a sibling of the Powers that hold the world in balance.

What I am, shall become what I imagine and perform;
What I have, shall rise from the examined inner senses;
What I know, shall emerge from the balancing of my sight;
All I yearn for, shall blossom from faithful trust in my Art. 

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