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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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.

Where, in the traditional wheel story, would you honour the oyster? Or the male seahorse who carries his young in a pouch? Where, in the cycle of the year do we talk about how most of the elm trees in the UK are probably descended from just the one tree, and spread asexually? Where are the stories that place our equally natural gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, not so gendered and asexual Pagan folk within the wheel of the year?

The straight, breeding and heterosexual narratives of the natural world are at best a simplification, but they leave out so many stories. How do you talk about the rise and fall of mountain ranges, if your rituals are pinned to this solar wheel? How do you talk about deep geology, and the ancient relationships between water and landscape? What the land and the water do to each other does not translate into a straight and reproductive story. The focus on reproduction and fertility misses out the other manifestations of nature; sun, wind, rock, hill, lake, snow... that just do not work that way. Nature is about more than sex.

In reclaiming other stories about what nature means, and moving beyond the wheel, we make more room for those of us who are not all about heterosexual reproduction. The Pagans who have decided not to have children, or who are unable. The Pagans whose minds and/or bodies don’t fit so neatly into gender identifications. Last year I was at an event where a small activity announced it would divide into men and women and each groups would do things. I felt totally alienated by that, despite being fairly straightforward in my female biology and mother status. I’ve found this in other ritual spaces too. Ask me to be maiden, or mother, and I feel lost and disorientated. I just want to be ‘person’. I suspect that for the many people who are more complicated than me, the experience is even more challenging.


So let’s start telling those other stories, about the strange sex lives of the mushrooms, the shifting nature of the oysters. Let’s open up our understanding of nature to get away from this reductive human story that focuses on reproduction, because there is so much more to discover.

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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.


  • Ilyssa Silfen
    Ilyssa Silfen Thursday, 03 April 2014

    Great post! This is exactly why I don't really focus on the God/Goddess story in my Sabbat celebrations and focus more on what's going on in Nature in general. It's much more inclusive that way. :)

  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Thursday, 03 April 2014

    Yes! Thank you so much for this blog. As a queer Pagan, I often find the experiences of people like me left out of the traditional Wheel of the Year cycle. Like Ilyssa above, that's why I choose not to focus on the Goddess/God at Sabbats, but on what's happening in Nature and how that's reflected in the lives of the people celebrating. (I also work almost exclusively with a Goddess, so the whole hetero reproduction metaphor doesn't work for me on multiple levels.)

  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan Thursday, 03 April 2014

    I think the mythic foundations of the pagan paths are bigger than an individual's gender, sexuality or lifestyle. They are extremely symbolic. Taking them literally is where limitations arise. Be proud of who and what you are, but I think creating the Gods in one's own image, or cherry-picking the myths for palatable and comfortable symbolism will create a spirituality that can retard personal growth rather than enhance it. The Wheel is far more complex than simple sexual procreation, and a 'battle' of dark vs light.

  • Anna Belle LaFae
    Anna Belle LaFae Friday, 04 April 2014

    Thank you for this article! After my child was stillborn and then subsequent infertility the reproductive emphasis of so many pagan holidays has been downright painful. It's been very hard to feel like I belong in any fertility celebration after failing at reproduction. I will be exploring other stories now to find a way of celebration that is peaceful for me.

  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown Saturday, 05 April 2014

    If we have three kinds of ancestors (blood, land and tradition) then we must also have three kinds of descendants. While that cannot begin to mitigate the tragedy of losing a baby, perhaps it might be a helpful way to think about the fertility issue. Right now, we have a desperate need for responsible future ancestors of land and as a Pagan you're already walking that path, and you are needed.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Saturday, 05 April 2014

    That's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm a heathen, specifically an Asatruar, because our ritual structure doesn't have heterosexuality in its ritual core like Wicca does. I'm not comfortable with the binary sexuality and heteronormativity of some Wiccan-style rituals I've gone to in pan-pagan events. We don't really do the sun god thing, either. Like a lot of our other gods, the sun and moon in heathenry is gender-reversed from the way it is in other pagan pantheons, with a sun goddess Sunna and moon god Mani. We celebrate some of the same holidays as Wiccanate pagans do, but in a different way.

  • marianne
    marianne Sunday, 15 March 2015

    great post , thank you

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