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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Signs of Spring

It’s December, and here in the UK that means grey skies, dampness, cold conditions, bare branches... it would seem like madness to be talking about signs of spring.

Except that I can see them.

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For the love of leaf snow

For perfect leaf snow, you need to be in a wood on a bright autumnal day with little wind. It’s magical to stand under the trees as the leaves fall softly around you, very much like large snowflakes. Different leaves interact with the air in different ways, so if you’re in mixed woodland you can see the differences in how leaves fall. It’s enchanting; a colourful, magical leaf snow that patters softly to the ground.

Like so many encounters with nature – seasonal and otherwise, much depends on being in the right place at the right time. You’ve got to have trees, and deciduous trees at that. You’ve got to be in amongst them – it doesn’t work to try and watch this from a distance. It may be pretty if you can see it, but it won’t be the same as being in the leaf snow.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Deborah Quartz
    Deborah Quartz says #
    Leaf snow is the one event that actually happens here in Florida, we have some lovely Oak and Sycamore trees and in the fall the s
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    So true, and so relevant for this time! Much of what you said echoes the Samhain/New Moon messages I received from Water & shared

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A carpet of leaves

For anyone who sees trees as part of their spiritual landscape, it’s important to think about trees specifically and not generically. It can be tempting to approach any aspect of nature as an archetype or an idea, but that means we can end up engaging with our ideas about nature, and not what’s really going on around us.

The process of deciduous trees losing their leaves is a slow one if you track it carefully, and this year I am tracking it carefully. I observed the first significant changes of colour in leaves a couple of weeks ago. Clearly different species of trees turn and shed at a different rate while the weather conditions and temperature affects how long leaves stay on trees. From what I recall of previous years, I think it likely that oak will be the last to go, while horse chestnut turned first and ash followed.

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Celebrating what falls away

Letting go is often hard, and clinging seems obvious. We cling to habits, to possessions and to people, long after they’ve stopped having a meaningful place in our lives. We cling because we like what’s familiar and because loss can make us feel vulnerable.

Autumn is the ideal time to celebrate the process of dropping away. At this time of year, deciduous trees shed their leaves so as to better deal with the winter. A weight of snow on leaves could damage a tree, and those leaves act like sails and make the tree more prone to damage in winter storms. Further, there’s not enough light in winter to make leaves worth the bother. Tress let them go, and start over. Further, they do it with a display of colour and beauty that is easily appreciated by us human onlookers.

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Bad harvests

From Lammas (loaf mass) through the autumn, we tend to think about harvests and to reflect that in rituals. The normal procedure is to focus on the things we have grown and harvested in our lives because most of us aren’t intimately involved with growing and harvesting food.

However, bad harvests are very much part of nature. Too much or too little water, too much or too little sun, and your crops can fail. Insects, disease, people too ill to work the land, and other random natural acts can mean there is no harvest. This is a good time of year to look at the harvests you didn’t get to make because circumstances thwarted you. It can be oppressive having to be all joy and gratitude about life when life is not full of delight. If you are suffering, if you are restricted, if your scope to harvest has been denied you, it’s important to have space to acknowledge that. Gratitude is good, but not when it makes us ignore genuine injustice or go into denial about what isn’t working for us.

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Celebrating Sloth

In truth, it wasn’t sloth that has me posting this late in the month. It was over-work, and tiredness and being too hot, and forgetting. But here we are, and what I crave more than anything else right now, is rest. Resting is what mammals do, given the chance. In humans, we celebrate activity and achievement, but the way we work is profoundly unnatural and terrible for mental health.

Here in the UK, it has been very hot for some weeks now. We’re not good at heat or snow, or high winds or any other kind of serious weather. We’re good at being damp, grey and temperate! Still we try to carry on with business as usual, busily doing all the things even as the heat melts our brains and saps our bodies. Too much heat can make you ill. It can kill you. Other mammals, faced with uncomfortable high temperatures, get into the shade and flop out.

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The season of second chances

We tend to think of nesting birds and cute fledglings as a spring thing. In practice, right now many birds are raising second clutches as we move into the summer. Some will raise three, even. This is the season of second chances.

The survival rate for cute, fluffy chicks isn’t great. A momma duck can start out with a dozen tiny bundles of fluff and be lucky to raise one viable duck to adulthood. The problem for chicks is that they are mouthfuls of protein with no scope to defend themselves or escape. They come into the world at just the point in the year when everything predatory is looking for neat bundles of protein to post into the mouths of their own cute and hungry young things.

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