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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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.

Birds whose diet involves picking things off other things will get their offspring foraging fairly quickly, and you’ll see a swelling of flock sizes. Birds using more specialist skills take longer – as for example with owls.

For creatures who stay in family groups, there’s no big drama around the transition from child to adult. Badgers take their time over it. Otters take a year at least to train cubs in all the things it takes to be an adult otter and go it alone. Outside of cub rearing, otters are pretty antisocial.

To me, this seems like the ideal time of year to celebrate coming of age in our young adults. For girls, we tend to do this around sexual maturity, evidenced by menarche. The means to create new life certainly needs respecting. With boys, the question of when seems to be a good deal more complicated. With creatures, it’s all about having a fighting chance of surviving on your own terms. Humans don’t really know what it takes to be a properly functioning adult of the species. What skills do we need? At what point are we able to take responsibility for ourselves and make key life decisions?

In the UK, you can have sex legally at 16, and therefore can become a parent at that age. You still can’t legally watch a film in which people are having sex though, and you can’t vote, smoke, drink or drive a car yet. You can’t own property, and you can’t marry without your parent’s permission. In terms of crime, it’s a bit vague about when you can be held accountable for what. However at twelve, your opinion about whether you want to see a parent will be taken seriously by a judge. Go figure.


We seem much more interested in the rules controlling behaviour than we do in the things necessary for adulthood. For most creatures it’s a case of do or die, where life itself is the only measure of success.

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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.


  • Ann Edwards
    Ann Edwards Saturday, 02 July 2016

    When I was young we had a number of family celebrations or events which recognised various stages of coming of age. The first one occurred when you were selected to take after a family member and learn from them. This usually happened round about the time of your first period and involved spending considerable time living with the relative and absorbing their skills, knowledge and relationships as well as a a series of "tests". Being chosen was a time of celebration. The next major celebration was when you chose and bedded your first man. This usually involved the entire female side of the family weighing up the boy in question and nodding and winking and asking whether he was "up to the job" - a highly embarrassing time for all young people. The boys were often seen to flee the house, red-faced. The third major celebration was when you completed your tests and this involved you being accepted as an adult and being accepted as your relative's heir. It was often the same time as the relative in question "retired" from their active role and you took over.

  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown Sunday, 03 July 2016

    What a brilliant way of doing things! And a good way of reinforcing the responsibilities we have to our communities in taking partners. A person who isn't ready to stand up to their family, or the other person's family, probably isn't ready for anything else...

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