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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Celebrating the rowan flowers

It is of course the rowan berry that most Pagans will think of when considering this tree. The bright, orangey red berries of the rowan or mountain ash have a traditional use in protective magic. However, you don’t get berries without flowers, and the flowers are out now.

It’s a good opportunity not just to celebrate this moment in the life of a rowan, but to also consider the beginnings of things whose ends we engage with. Many trees are in flower - as I write this post the horse chestnut outside my window is resplendent with bright candles of white flowers.

From a distance, rowan flowers look much like elderberry blossom. Both trees produce clusters of pale blooms. They also have similar compound leaves. The rowan flower is more woolly looking, and the leaves have a serrated edge where ash and elder are smooth. The smell really sets them apart though. Elderflower is fragrant, heady, it is full of sunshine and happiness. You can make wine and cordials out of it. Rowan flowers smell a bit like cat wee, and do not suggest culinary applications! I sniffed a few so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.


But, this raises another interesting question about what we celebrate as Pagans, and why. The pretty things, the fragrant, tasty, or dramatic tends to attract our attention while less appealing things – or in this case, things at a less appealing stage – do not. Yet it is all nature. There’s nothing wrong in expressing preferences and honouring that which delights us, but it’s also good to stop now and then to appreciate the flowers that smell a bit like widdle, the things that don’t taste good to us but provide staples for other beings, the things we don’t have a use for and don’t find ornamental. It’s good to remind ourselves that nature is not here to make life sweet for us, and that we must make room for the less appetising bits, too.

The image for this blog post came from The Woodland Trust. You can see more images of rowans here - and there's elderberry images here for ease of telling them apart -

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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.


  • Claudia Priori
    Claudia Priori Sunday, 07 May 2017

    Yes! Sometimes it's the stinky things that remind us of the wildness of this earth. I love to walk along the beach where the seaweed gathers to dry in the sun. It's pungency makes me remember the cycles of life and death and rebirth.

  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown Monday, 08 May 2017

    Mmm, that's an evocative sort of smell. I'll add the musky smell of fox wee to my list of good-stinky things! I realise there's more to explore here, thank you for broadening this.

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