Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about 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. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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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 feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.

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Elder and harebell

Lammas, Lugnasadh, the celebration of the grain harvest is a few days behind us. However, not all plant life corresponds with the grain, there are many things out there in the UK at different points in their life cycles right now so I thought I’d talk about those to offer some alternative takes on the wheel of the year for this month.

Lammas rituals often encourage us to focus on personal harvests and bounty, but there’s nothing in nature that says it is natural to be at the harvest stage at specifically this point in the year. If your life is not aligning you to the grain harvest, look around to see what you do connect with.

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  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    watermelons are a bit of an expensive treat here, I am imagining what an abundance would be like... :-)
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Watermelon is one of the few garden crops that I don't get tired of, even when everyone has too many and is giving them away. Othe
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    I live in the American South, and we've always done our own twist on Lammas. Early August is indeed harvest season here, but not f
Sunshine, cycles and the depressed mind

I’ve repeatedly run into wheel of the year narratives that encourage us to align our lives with the sun’s cycle. This, we are told, is more natural. We should dream and hibernate in the depths of winter, plant the seeds for our projects in the spring, watch them grow through the summer and take our harvest in the autumn. Never mind that many projects are not shaped like growing grain in the first place.

What do you do if the winter is a depressing time? What do you do if you need the warmth and comfort of sunny days to do your dreaming and planning? What do you do if you work best in the winter, locked away from the world? If your nature doesn’t align you to the solar wheel, how can forcing yourself to fit with it be natural?

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  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Good take on alternative thinking and way to go!
  • Courtney
    Courtney says #
    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. It was really helpful for me to read. I think it is good to keep in tune with the cycles of th

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Flying the nest

When we talk about flying the nest in human terms, what we mean is a sudden, dramatic exit from a place of comfort and safety to having to fend for ourselves. I find it interesting that this is not what birds do. As it is very much fledgling season right now, I thought it a good time to explore this.

Aquatic birds leave the nest not long after hatching. Fuzzy, excited and with no idea about anything much, they are led to water. Floating comes naturally to them, and momma duck, or in the case of swans, both parents, will get to work teaching them how to survive. Young swans will still be with their parents into the winter.

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Celebrating the rowan flowers

It is of course the rowan berry that most Pagans will think of when considering this tree. The bright, orangey red berries of the rowan or mountain ash have a traditional use in protective magic. However, you don’t get berries without flowers, and the flowers are out now.

It’s a good opportunity not just to celebrate this moment in the life of a rowan, but to also consider the beginnings of things whose ends we engage with. Many trees are in flower - as I write this post the horse chestnut outside my window is resplendent with bright candles of white flowers.

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  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    Mmm, that's an evocative sort of smell. I'll add the musky smell of fox wee to my list of good-stinky things! I realise there's mo
  • Claudia Priori
    Claudia Priori says #
    Yes! Sometimes it's the stinky things that remind us of the wildness of this earth. I love to walk along the beach where the seawe

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Celebrating the Dawn Chorus

Most usually people talk about the dawn chorus at midsummer – that’s when events to experience it seem to be organised. It is the case that the midsummer dawn chorus is the longest and loudest. However, you also need to be awake by four in the morning here in the UK, and that’s not easy, nor is it practical for some of us.

There is always a dawn chorus. In winter it’s brief, but even so I usually hear something. However, now in early spring is a great time for encountering and appreciating dawn bird song. Firstly it’s often warm enough to have the windows open a bit at night. If there are any trees in your vicinity, there’s a fair chance of birdsong, and of being able to lie in bed and hear it. Otherwise, it means being out at about six am, which is a good deal more feasible.

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  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    Thank you for sharing this, Deb, that's gorgeous.
  • Deb
    Deb says #
    Each day I am fortunate enough to hear the Dawn Chorus, living in central Florida in the USA the weather is fairly warm even in wi

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Celebrating Tree Flowers

Early spring brings the blossom – blackthorn, cherry, and other fruit trees. Suddenly, hedges and gardens erupt with scent and blossom, and it’s a sure sign that winter is behind and sunnier days are coming.

One of the great joys of seeing wild fruit trees in bloom is the promise of wild fruit later in the year. What you can see in the photos, are wild plum flowers. The photos in this blog are mine – I’ve recently become acquainted with a camera, so these are very much ‘learner shots’ but enough to give the idea... The flowers are on a wild plum tree that grows beside a cycle path. The cycle path in question used to be a railway line so I wonder if the plum trees (there are three) started life as stones thrown from a train.

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Celebrating blackthorn

Imbolc tends to be associated with snowdrops – which is reasonable enough because they do reliably turn up at this time. We don’t talk about blackthorn much, but for me it is the tree of the festival. Blackthorn can come into flower around this time of year, too (in my experience) and it’s an ogham tree as well.

The Woodland Trust site has blackthorn down as flowering between March and April so it may be in part about where you live. The Woodland Trust covers the whole of the UK, and I’ve never lived further north than the Midlands. There are significant regional differences. I’ve always seen blackthorn as one of the first flowerings in the year. There was a roadside tree on the way to my Midlands ritual place that always came into flower around the time of Imbolc rituals, which gave me the association. At present I’ve got a wild plum locally that flowers very early and is likely to open any day now. It points to the way in which tree events can be very specific and local, depending on microclimates, and the unpredictable nature of trees.

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Yes!

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