One of the fundamental things I've been trying to do with my spiritual practice is get out of the habit of oversymbolic ritual. What I mean by this is that the way Paganism and Witchcraft are taught it's easy to learn bland facts about what we're supposed to do and believe without ever fully realizing that the symbols, tools, and observances we recognize are informed by mundane facts. For instance, many Witches use small symbolic cauldrons on their altars, ignoring the fact that a cauldron is merely a cooking pot, and its magickal importance is directly attributable to the fact that it is a life-sustaining tool. How many Pagans have ever used a cauldron for cooking? We also associate West with Water, but rarely do we talk about why. Well... associating West with Water makes sense when you live somewhere with the Atlantic ocean in that direction! If I call Water from the West, I'm aiming in the direction furthest away from a substantial body of water... Lake Winnebago to the South, Lake Michigan to the East, Lake Superior to the North, nothing to the West! (Full disclosure... I don't actually call elements from the directions, usually.)
For me it's rather a worthwhile goal to look into things like this in order to personalize your practice to one that is meaningful to you and your area in an intimate manner rather than just doing what a book tells you is traditional. If we all worked like this, folks in the Southern Hemisphere would all be celebrating Yule in the middle of the summer! So I've been trying to deeply personalize my observances, and while I was doing that I happened upon this video about why our seasons don't make any sense:
This video explains how our concept of "seasons" being situated between solstices and equinoxes is largely based on the climate of one particular area... these astronomical observances relate to how much light we get, but the changes in temperature may or may not be congruent with them at all.
When I went paleo and a lot of the grain-based stuff in Pagan Sabbats stopped applying to me, I started forming different views of those observances to compensate based on a simplified calendar of hunting and gathering (with colder months being the "hunting" and warmer months being the "gathering"). Although the solstices and equinoxes (being phenomena I definitely experience here as well as a good way to schedule time with other Pagans) factor into my practice, a more meaningful calendar happens to be based on when and what I hunt, gather, garden, fish, or collect. These are not nicely divided seasons or singular dates, but overlapping observances of varying lengths based on things I actually do.
For instance, right now the leaves are just starting to turn, indicating that it is time to start collecting Shagbark Hickory nuts. It is also approaching the middle of the two-month American Ginseng season. Shortly after that is the nine day Whitetail Deer season. This leads us to December and January, dedicated to foods that can be foraged all year like Crabapples, Rosehips, Pine and other Evergreens as well as the important art of stockpiling and preserving food. Come spring, the melting of the snow will make way for beginning to harvest greens and roots like Dandelion and Burdock. In March the licensing year for fishing starts. In May, hunting for Morel mushrooms begins around Mother's Day. June is the first month of direct-sow planting in my garden, with most of the summer having plentiful gathering as well as planting/harvesting.
I haven't quite worked out the exact dates and natural signals for this yet, but it is the general way I honor seasonal cycles within my practice nowadays.
Interspersed with these natural occurrences are observances related to astronomical events. Full moons, new moons, eclipses, meteor showers, solstices, equinoxes, the rising of particular constellations and stars (such as Sirius and Orion), all factor in.
Of course, this is in addition to using and throwing out ideas and symbolism based on how personally meaningful it is. I already mentioned the use of a cauldron in food magick rather than as just a symbolic vessel to burn paper in. It also includes how I view and use ritual blades (throwing out that blasted "never cut with a ritual blade" nonsense was great), how I use brooms/besoms, and so forth.
This isn't exactly an instructional guide, but I hope that for anybody who feels particularly alienated from the way modern Paganism is put together this serves as inspiration that it really doesn't need to be that way. Our spiritual practices were not handed to us whole cloth, they were developed over millennia based on actual mundane experiences.
Until next time, Happy Trails!