Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

Exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories.

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Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad ferral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.
Alternative wheels for a changing world

It’s June. It’s cold and raining, and everything outside my window says ‘climate change’ to me in ways that make me deeply uneasy. High winds, torrential downpours, and at the same time, an explosion of hawthorn flowers like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The wild garlic and the horse chestnuts have been exuberant as well.

What does it means for Pagans? The ancestral dates of festivals no longer relate reliably to what’s happening. We don’t know what’s coming, or how it will impact on us. Our world is changing. The seasons are changing, the climate is changing.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    I was struck when visiting the States by how very different the oak trees are.
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    They are so common around here that they are practically a weed. I must have dozens of seedlings on our property. This one usually
  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    That is huge for a hawthorn, if American ones are like the British trees, they are very slow growing, it may be really old.
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Funny you should mention hawthorn: our huge tree (30' tall) seems very abundant in this year's warmth (Oregon was QUITE warm, espe

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Grandmother Bluebells

I am more naturally conscious of ancestry around Beltain than I am at Samhain. Partly because there are so many traditional songs that start with someone roving out on a bright May morning. Usually to get laid, or to indulge in the kind of voyeurism intrinsic to folk music. And partly because of my grandmother, who loved the bluebells.

My grandmother was a keen walker for much of her life, having grown up with a mother who went walking on Sundays in preference to going to church. In old age, she could no longer climb the hills each spring to go looking for bluebells, and so this time of year became a source of grief to her. I have never driven a car, I was never able to take her out, but others did, and I’m not the only one to think of her when the bluebells are flowering.

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Celebrating the greening

In my part of the world the green returns somewhere between the standard Pagan festivals of the spring equinox and Beltain. It’s something I quietly celebrate, because the return of colour to the world, and the return of leaves is something I find uplifting. It’s not an event, and it’s impossible to ascribe a reliable date to it. The greening happens in response to light, temperature, and the mysterious whims of plants.

Underwood tends to leaf first – I’m seeing elder and hawthorn leaves. Weeping willows are in leaf, osier willows still have bare branches. Chestnut is underway, ash isn’t particularly. Each tree comes into leaf in its own time. Other plants all have their own unique relationship with the seasons – early spring flowers are going over, a new set of plants are flourishing, the woodlands are green with the leaves of garlic and bluebells, while the fields and hills brighten with new grass.

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Wake up calls for spring

In Pagan traditions, we tend to associate the winter with letting go of the old, and the spring with the coming of the new – it’s a tree based way of viewing things. Leaves fall off in the autumn, so we let go. New buds emerge in the spring, sap rises, catkins flower – we can make new plans.

However, there’s a longstanding tradition of spring cleaning, and it’s not just humans who do it. The return of the light shows up grime and cobwebs accumulated over the winter. With spring, it may at last be warm enough to open windows and air rooms. Other mammals will be clearing out the winter bedding to make fresh nests for new litters of young as well. New nests are built and old ones carefully refurbished.

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Pancakes for Pagans

Why would a Pagan want to talk about pancakes? Pancake day heralds the Christian Lenten fast. Where exactly Lent starts depends on when Easter is going to fall, which in turn depends on the moon because the date comes to us from the traditional Jewish calendar, which is lunar. Granted, most modern Pagans are always up for a bit of seasonal feasting, and pancake day is the kind of tradition we cheerfully borrow. But there is more to the pancake than meets the eye and it’s worth poking about in the whys and wherefores of this little feast, because it has much to tell us about our ancestors who lived closer to the land.

I was at the allotment yesterday. There were leeks to harvest, the last of the Jerusalem artichokes, and there’s still some kale. We’ll be planting potatoes soon. It’s been a mild winter so there’s more growing than usual. The grain harvest was months ago, the fruit you stored at the start of winter will run out, the root vegetables you stored will be running out. Even if you’re freezing and pickling and using all the modern storage methods, the last harvest is diminishing and there’s no sign of any decent new crops yet.

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Love this!!! Brilliant! Actually sharing this with my Christian friends!
  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    thank you!

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Winter Walking

For many people, walking is a seasonal activity – specifically it’s something to do in the summer when the weather is good, it’s dry underfoot and warm. My preferred time of year for walking is spring and autumn, when the cooler days can make the whole experience more comfortable, especially when climbing a hill!

That this is an unobvious time of year to talk about walking tempts me to do so – part of the point of this wheel of the year exploration is to be slightly perverse and flag up as many alternatives as I can think of.

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The time of birds

It’s the first day of December, and most of the leaves are now down from the trees where I live. There’s one little ash tree that is, somehow, still mostly green but the yellows are creeping in there, too. It’s been a matter of weeks since enough leaves fell from the horsechestnut to reveal the bird feeder I put there last year.

During the summer, bird watching is a difficult activity because there’s so much cover. Seeing a whole bird isn’t easy unless you can put up a bird table and lure them out into the open. In years when I’ve been able to do that, it’s still not been easy to see birds in summer because most of them prefer to be in the trees or out in the fields. I’ve noticed that birds tend to return to urban gardens in the winter, they’ve got wise to bird feeders.

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