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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Crazy season

This time of year is always a bit mad for me. My sleep patterns are light-affected, so as we race towards midsummer, I stay awake later into the evening, and surface earlier. That might not sound too insane, but I have the kind of mind that hallucinates once it gets sufficiently sleep deprived, so if around midsummer I’m exceedingly wakeful for a few days – as if often the case – my whole experience of reality gets rather interesting.

Knowing that I tend to do this, I approach the lightest days of the year with a degree of caution. Madness is really a measure of dysfunction. If you can take what you’ve got and turn it into something productive, you aren’t deranged. You’re probably an artist, an author or the like. Going out to the edges of human experience and bringing back useful and beautiful things is part of what many creative folk do.

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Naked for Beltain

I’ve read it so many times in books and blogs – now is the season for making love out of doors, jumping naked over Bel fires and generally doing your Paganism in a carefree, unclad sort of way. It is warm enough to be barefoot outside, I grant you, but far, far too cold for nudity. A traditional British summer brings more rain than it does cavorting options. The naked dancing Pagans are either far tougher than me, or don’t actually do as much of the cavorting out of doors as they imply.

As a species we obviously didn’t start out wearing clothes, but have got into the habit over thousands of years. It’s allowed us to extend our habitat far beyond the balmy zones our hairless and not that blubbery bodies could otherwise tolerate. So the trouble with viewing nudity as natural, and thus desirable, is that you aren’t budgeting in what we’ve been doing for a long time purely because we can and do wrap up.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you! Lovely and practical. I am one of those people who has gone barefoot enough to have "Hobbit soles" so I usually do mo
  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell says #
    Much like here in Southern New Mexico. [Grin]
  • Travis
    Travis says #
    In Texas, the weather is typically warm enough for this, but the mesquite thorns and rattlesnakes make skyclad ritual a sort of "a
  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia says #
    I like to try to get naked for Beltane if I can. But I live in Canada, so often I can't. I also light my candles with a Bic. I
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    If Gerald Gardner had not been a nudist, would nudism be part of contemporary paganism? I don't think we have to feel being nude

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How straight is your wheel?

Our usual solar stories about the turning of the year focus on the birth, maturing and death of a sun god who might fight his rival at midsummer and will probably father himself. Imbolc is all about pregnancy and birth. Beltain is all about impregnating. It’s a very heterosexual narrative, when you get down to it.

Nature is not exclusively about heterosexual reproduction. What we would understand as homosexual behaviour crops up in all creatures. If you’re part of a wolf pack or a bee hive, it’s about the group, not about spreading your own genes directly. Many plants have both male and female sex organs – if you insist on understanding them in those terms! On top of this, plants will also reproduce through suckers, bulbs and other ways of doing it for themselves without any need for pollination. Some creatures change gender. Oysters have all the kit, and effectively change gender every few years. Other life forms – fungi particularly, are asexual, and reproduce without any input from anyone else.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • marianne
    marianne says #
    great post , thank you
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    That's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm a heathen, specifically an Asatruar, because our ritual structure doesn't have heterosexual
  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    If we have three kinds of ancestors (blood, land and tradition) then we must also have three kinds of descendants. While that cann
  • Anna Belle LaFae
    Anna Belle LaFae says #
    Thank you for this article! After my child was stillborn and then subsequent infertility the reproductive emphasis of so many pag
  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan says #
    I think the mythic foundations of the pagan paths are bigger than an individual's gender, sexuality or lifestyle. They are extreme

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Times of balance

The spring equinox is only a few weeks away. It is part of the modern festival wheel, not because there’s any real evidence for it being celebrated historically, but because it balances things up nicely. It being the time when days and nights are the same length, we tend to talk a lot about balance around these two festivals. However, every lunar month offers two rounds of balance between light and dark in the shape of the moon, so there are other times we might feel directed to consider balance, too.

Are equinoxes really a time of balance? I do not feel that point of day and night in equilibrium especially. What I do notice a lot at this time of year, is the racing change in day length. Around the equinoxes, we have the greatest pace on the balance between night and day changing. Every day right now is a little longer than the one before it, and I’m intensely conscious not of balance, but of a sudden feeling of hurtling towards summer.

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Celebrating the flowers

Imbolc, when the little snowdrops emerge from the earth, the first flowers, and the first sign that spring is on the way. Except if you’re dealing with floodwater just now, you probably won’t see them because they will be submerged. If you are a bit further north than I am, there will be no sign yet. People in colder climates can’t expect flowers at this time of year – my other half, who originated in Maine, continues to be perplexed by anything trying to grow at this time. Not everywhere has snowdrops, and not everywhere has winter.

There are no doubt a lot of Pagans out there who feel they should be celebrating Imbolc this weekend, because it’s the ancient Celtic festival marking the first signs of spring, and it’s here. Some will no doubt go out with scripts that talk of things which simply are not happening in their lives. I’ve done that myself. I stood in a hailstorm one year, trying to picture the gentle, generous spring maiden and her magical wild flowers, whilst getting cold, wet, miserable and confused. It was one of those key moments in my journey towards rejecting a dogmatic approach to dates and festivals.

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The new Atlantis

It’s storm season. Storms have hit the UK this last week or so, and we’ve seen nightmarish weather conditions, high winds and flooding. People have died. Last year the lanes around Slimbridge, where I then lived, flooded such that some of them were impassable. We’ve been seeing a lot more of this, lately, especially in the winter months.

 

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. Brown, Thanks for sharing! I hope you and yours fare well with regard to the weather.

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The plans of trees

 

The deciduous trees stand, bare and apparently lifeless through the winter months. The popular take on this, is that they are sleeping. It is a perspective which depends on paying no attention or thought to what the trees are really doing. Those bare branches are a misleading focus.

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