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 buds

At this time of year in my corner of the UK, the tree buds change in a noticeable way, and for me this is something to celebrate.

Trees form their leaf buds during the winter. The idea that trees sleep through the winter is a misconception perpetrated by the Pagan community, depending entirely on never looking that closely at trees. If you only ever see trees from a distance then yes, those apparently bare branches may look like nothing is going on, but this isn’t so! Trees make their leaves, and their catkins during the winter months. In January here, the catkins start opening. Somewhere around Imbolc, buds fatten discernibly.

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  • Judith Shaw
    Judith Shaw says #
    Wise words - "New leaves on trees can seem like an event – a sudden arrival of bright new greenness to mark the beginning of the g

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Celebrating the catkins

The standard issue wheel of the year for the British isles has us celebrating the first flowers at Imbolc, when the snowdrops emerge. This is a bit awkward, because tree flowers – specifically catkins – emerge in January and open. They are also manifestly at odds with the standard issue notion that trees spend the winter sleeping. They don’t. Once the leaves are down, trees get busy making buds ready for the new year, and may also be making their catkins, which have been sat there hard and closed for some time now.

The thing about leaf buds and catkins is that they are small and you probably won’t see them if all you do is look at trees out of windows. Especially not if you are in motion and the windows are in a car. To spot buds and catkins, you have to be within a matter of feet of the trees and looking at them closely. When nature is an abstract concept that you celebrate from the safety of your living room, this is the kind of thing that gets overlooked.

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Celebrating the mistletoe

The normal association with mistletoe at this time of the year is the cut stuff we bring indoors to decorate with. However, there’s more mistletoe celebrating to be done than this!

Once the leaves are down from the trees, you have your best chance at finding mistletoe in the wild. It doesn’t grow everywhere – I used to struggle to see any at all when I lived in the Midlands, but Gloucestershire (south west UK) has loads. As you can see from the photo, mistletoe in trees isn't always that self announcing and you have to pay attention to spot it - which makes finding it all the more rewarding.

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November – a difficult time for celebrating

Last year I wrote about the first frosts as something to enjoy in November. http://witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel/celebrating-the-first-frosts.html

This is without a doubt the month I find hardest to be positive about. Samhain with all its spooky joys is now behind us. The winter stretches ahead. The cold has its teeth in and will likely keep chewing for months to come. The ground becomes slippery and treacherous, the days short and dark. Everything is harder. And I’m one of the lucky ones; I have a home, I can afford to heat it and I can afford to eat.

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For the love of leaves

I’ve known years when the trees were bare of leaves by the end of September. In recent years I’ve seen leaves still on trees during my habitual Christmas day walk to my mother’s house. No two autumns ever have quite the same shape, and what turns when has a lot to do with the shape of the land, and where exactly your land is, as well.

This year, some trees started showing autumnal colours fairly early in September. I write this blog at the beginning of October, with an array of yellow, copper and happily photosynthesising greens outside my window. The story of leaves is not one that fits tidily into the wheel of the year, not least because during the part of the winter when the trees are supposedly sleeping, they make their buds, all ready for next year’s growth. the falling of leaves is a process that can start before the autumn equinox and go through to midwinter.

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Searching for Owls

One of the things I love about this time of year, is that the evenings are often warm enough to be out and about at twilight, but it gets dark early enough that I can be out at night without overtiring myself. I’m not good at late nights, and around midsummer I often end up in bed before its properly dark. As someone who loves night creatures, this can be a less than perfectly happy state of affairs.

But now, early autumn is upon us, the dark comes earlier and I can be out in it. I go out to listen to the owls – we get little owls, barn owls and tawny owls around my home. They often start calling before the sun has set. Pipistrelle and noctule bats both come out a little bit before the sun sets, too. Most bat species need it to be properly dark, so the odds of seeing them are slim.

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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

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