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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Celebrating Colour

The grey skies and the angle of the sun in a British January often conspire to wash the colour out of the landscape. Whatever colour remains, that is, after the leaves come down, and the grass dies back. Sometimes we get frost and snow – pretty at first but rapidly greying as well. Our winters tend to lack visual drama. What we get instead is drab, and demoralising. This is why celebrating colour in January is so very important.

There are of course brighter days, when the lower angle of the sun can produce surprising effects. Intensely bright blue skies are always possible. I walked on Christmas day this year, and the combination of cloud and low light conspired to create soft light, filling the woods with unexpectedly warm tones. When there’s any kind of decent daylight, it is important to get out there and experience it, especially if you are someone prone to winter blues.

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Celebrating winter trees

For those of us who live in landscapes with deciduous trees, winter creates opportunities to appreciate them in different ways from summer. The loss of leaves means that tree shapes become truly visible. This is especially true of field trees, whose solitary positions make them easier to appreciate. Field trees have much rounder forms than their woodland counterparts, but in the woods, winter reveals the patterns of branches and the sky above.

Trunks and bark become more visible in the winter – and there’s such an array of textures, subtle colours and surfaces. Fungi on trees are more present at this time of year, and resident moss and lichen is easier to spot. I’ve blogged over at Druid Life about my favourite winter tree exposure.

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Celebrating the first frosts

Here in the UK, the first frosts can turn up any time in the autumn, but represent a significant shift towards the winter. In terms of being something to celebrate, I admit to mixed feelings. The coming of the frost is an important part of the wheel of the year, but it means moving into cold and hardship.

 Frost is of course beautiful. It sparkles on grasses, leaves and spiderwebs, creating delicate beauty and catching the first light of the day. Today, with the first frost in my little corner of the world, the fields were iced at first light, giving them a sheen of mystery and otherworldliness.

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  • Sue
    Sue says #
    What a refreshing change to see another viewpoint! I sympathise very much with your thoughts on the first frost. I have an elderly

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Celebrating Collaboration

It’s getting towards the end of the harvest season – quite a sensible time to be thinking about collaboration. For most of settled human history, harvesting was a big job that required the work of entire communities. Before that, survival for our ancestors certainly depended on working together. Modern technology has ‘liberated’ us from the apparent need to fit in and work alongside others, but the truth is that our ‘freedom’ also means loneliness and isolation for many people.

Any Pagan ritual or celebration is an opportunity to come together and make something. One of the reasons I especially like improvised ritual is that it creates the scope for everyone to be equal participants, crafting something in the moment.

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Spider Season

One of the joys of autumn is the finding of webs, dew decked and glinting in the early morning light.

Spider webs are amazing constructions, and the whole spidering business is fascinating – all spiders produce 8 or more kinds of thread, and they only don’t get caught in their own webs because they remember where to stand.

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Holidays, Holy Days and Harvests

Right now it’s the summer holidays, and in many places, the young people are home from school, and families are off doing the holiday thing. Or trying not to kill each other. It’s worth noting however that the origin of the summer holidays has nothing to do with having a good time, and everything to do with needing the young people to help get the harvests in. The norms of our school systems pre-date the combine harvester and other such devices.

You don’t have to be much of an etymologist to spot that ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and for many of our Christian ancestors, the holy days were the only days off, if you were lucky. Servants tended to have to work on Sundays and over Christmas etc, but religious celebration has provided our ancestors with much needed opportunities to down tools and socialise. The pilgrimage is the ancestor of the tourist industry, and holy journeys and holidays have a great deal to do with holidays.

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Coming of Age, in Fur and Feather

This is the time of year when many of the young things born in the UK’s spring will become independent. Inevitably it means this is also a time when a lot of them will die, through accident and inexperience.

The transition from dependant to independent varies from species to species, and part of why it varies is the complexity involved in being an adult. You can spot newly fledged birds, because they’re often waiting around making a racket, with parents coming back to feed them regularly even though they’re now out of the nest. They look like teenagers.

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  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    What a brilliant way of doing things! And a good way of reinforcing the responsibilities we have to our communities in taking part
  • Ann Edwards
    Ann Edwards says #
    When I was young we had a number of family celebrations or events which recognised various stages of coming of age. The first one

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