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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Mouldy grapes and the work after the harvest

Harvesting also means preserving. The traditional men’s work for the season – bringing it in – may be done, but the traditional women’s work of getting it to keep, is just starting. Drying, pickling, fermenting, jamming, canning, and storing are older methods, freezing and refrigerating more modern, but if you want your harvest to feed you until spring, you have to look after it.

I’m wine making this year, the ongoing work in the midst of which I have paused to blog. My mother’s grape harvest, of tiny, tart green grapes, must be plucked from stems, and the dodgy ones removed. It’s slow, fiddly, and throwing the right bits out is an important part of the proceedings.

Of course being a good Pagan, I can hardly pass over the symbolism of this, and the wider life relevance. We don’t harvest everything. The under-ripe, the over ripe, the covered in bird shit, the diseased. Those are left. That which is rotting is pulled from the store to stop it ruining everything else as well. Ignored, rot tends to spread. These are lessons to learn for the rest of life.

At this time of year, northern hemisphere Pagans are often encouraged to think about the harvests in our lives. What did we achieve? What are we taking forward into the winter months? What are we proud of and what are we keeping? It’s certainly good to look at these things, but a good harvest also involves some very careful removing and letting go of that which will not serve. We may be more likely to talk about this around Samhain, reflecting on the ancestral practice of killing livestock at this time of year, deciding which animals can be supported through the winter, and which cannot, and how many are needed as food.

Taking the bad apples out of our life’s bucket is an ongoing process. It can happen at any point of the year, with any harvest – literal or figurative. All aspects of life have the potential to bring us bad apples as well as good ones, and any bad apple left to sit amongst the good ones can take everything of value with it.

It’s worth taking the time to sift through your life, picking out the bits that have gone off, or are full of caterpillars, or should never have got into your bucket in the first place. As I work on the grape harvest I remove stray leaves, the odd snail, money spiders, dried up grapes and rotten ones. I take out the sticks. The grapes will make good wine, but all the things that come along with grapes will make awful wine. In the rest of my life it’s a bit more challenging sometimes to see what should be treated like a grape and what is actually a twig and so forth. The pests in my life crop can be obvious, but not always.


Harvest, sift, discard, preserve what remains.

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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.


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