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 the snow

I’m no great fan of snow, I admit. It’s one of the things to celebrate where my first port of call is to absolutely hold up your right not to celebrate. For many of us, snow is hard work. Snow days can make getting to work a nightmare, and missed work isn’t fun if you can’t afford it.  Ice means isolation. Slippery surfaces mean real risk of injury. Cold weather kills people – usually the old and frail who cannot afford to heat their homes, and those who have no homes and are rough sleeping. Being able to enjoy the snow is a sign of privilege, and any celebration of it has to include recognition of that. It is not ok to shame or harass anyone who doesn’t enjoy it.

There is one particularly magical aspect of snow that is often overlooked by people who go out to play in it – and that’s footprints. Snow reveals who else has passed through, and if you can be out before human feet have obliterated all signs, snow can tell you stories about who was there and what they did.

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Celebrating the willows

Osier willows really come into their own during the winter. Their finer branches are a striking orangey red colour, and once the leaves are down, these are especially visible. In a grey, wintery landscape where most of the colours are washed out, osiers willows stand out, wild and flaming. They are all the more glorious because what’s around them lacks for colour.

When the leaves are down, many trees are harder to identify, especially for the tree novice. Osier willows are easier to identify at this time of year. Willows are generally tricky to tell apart from each other. According to The Woodland Trust there are some 60 hybrids of osier willow grown in the UK alone. There are many different kinds of willow, and many hybrids as well. They take some getting to know. Willows favour damp places, and have a very long history of use in human crafts and constructions.

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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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  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    Very well put, Nimue...thank you for so beautifully sharing a technically obvious but very frequently overlooked and unconsidered

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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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  • 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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