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.

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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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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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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Seasons of Mist

The character of autumn you experience will depend a lot on where you live. An autumn in New England is sharper, brighter, frostier and more resplendent with tree colours than the UK. In my corner of the world, damp, grey, misty conditions are common – although we do get other weather too. We may get frost, or a lot of rain, warm balmy days, or high winds, or combinations of any and all of these things.

Yesterday I walked over the hills, and found that the flood plain of the River Severn was full of mist. A great torrent of cloud had washed up the river valley, looking like a river in full spate, breaking against the hills in distinctive waves, ocean-like at times. Whole settlements vanished from sight beneath it, the hills across the river were entirely gone. The effect was uncanny, as though everything had been washed away. I do not have any images, and an image alone would not convey the effect, because without knowing what was hidden, the scene would lose much of its power.

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Mouldy grapes and the work after the harvest

Harvesting also means preserving. The traditional men’s work for the season – bringing it in – may be done, but the traditional women’s work of getting it to keep, is just starting. Drying, pickling, fermenting, jamming, canning, and storing are older methods, freezing and refrigerating more modern, but if you want your harvest to feed you until spring, you have to look after it.

I’m wine making this year, the ongoing work in the midst of which I have paused to blog. My mother’s grape harvest, of tiny, tart green grapes, must be plucked from stems, and the dodgy ones removed. It’s slow, fiddly, and throwing the right bits out is an important part of the proceedings.

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Seasons of Dreams

For some, winter is the time of dreaming. The long dark night, the glow of the fire, and much of nature seeming to be inactive or hibernating, can be suggestive of human sleep and resting. Winter can be the time of storytellers. It depends a lot on your way of life though, as it can also be a time of hunger, cold, struggle and death.

For others, spring is suggestive of dreams because it is the time of new beginnings. Everything is growing afresh, new life is coming into the world and this suggests possibilities. We can throw away the old, make something new and dream big.

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Seasons of bare earth

Exposing the soil is, in temperate climates, something people do when farming or gardening. Drier lands that do not support many plants can have much barer earth.  Mountains and deserts can be something else again. I’ve seen small islands where the winter grazing of birds will take out all vegetation and bare the ground. There are all kinds of possible seasonal variations that might expose the soil. Where and when and why this happens is well worth a thought.

Left to its own devices, England is a green sort of place and manages this most of the year round. We lose the leaves from the trees in the winter, but not the green from the fields. Even in the hottest summers, we stay green rather than fading to the yellows and browns of hotter climates. If we don’t dig the soil, then the soil seldom stays bare for long.

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