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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Bad harvests

From Lammas (loaf mass) through the autumn, we tend to think about harvests and to reflect that in rituals. The normal procedure is to focus on the things we have grown and harvested in our lives because most of us aren’t intimately involved with growing and harvesting food.

However, bad harvests are very much part of nature. Too much or too little water, too much or too little sun, and your crops can fail. Insects, disease, people too ill to work the land, and other random natural acts can mean there is no harvest. This is a good time of year to look at the harvests you didn’t get to make because circumstances thwarted you. It can be oppressive having to be all joy and gratitude about life when life is not full of delight. If you are suffering, if you are restricted, if your scope to harvest has been denied you, it’s important to have space to acknowledge that. Gratitude is good, but not when it makes us ignore genuine injustice or go into denial about what isn’t working for us.

Sometimes, the bad harvests are of our own making. We did not sow seeds, or we sowed carelessly, or in the wrong place. We did not tend to our crops, we did not provide the necessary care needed for fruition. Perhaps we didn’t try hard enough. Perhaps we expected it to happen by magic, or be done for us by someone else. Perhaps we failed to recognise what was needed, or who our allies were. Perhaps we didn’t know enough to begin with. Perhaps we were misled, or mistaken, or too inexperienced.

The fruits of a bad harvest can seem bitter at first. It may be that we just have to gather them up, learn from them, and then try again. We may see in our bad harvest the need for further study, different resources, a better plan – and from this we can learn and go on to do better in the future. It may be that we have to square up to our own failures and shortcomings. If we do so, we can make changes and do something different next time.

The person who refuses to examine the reasons for their bad harvest is a person increasing their chances of future bad harvests. It’s important, too, to look around at other harvests, and see what is the consequence of effort, and what comes from privilege. What fails because people don’t try, and what fails because people are deprived of opportunities and resources? What changes would we have to make to level the harvesting field a bit?

We are all easily persuaded that our successes are the consequence of our efforts and that our failures are caused by things we had no control over. We may also be persuaded that certain people, or groups of people fail through lack of effort, not lack of opportunity. We may be persuaded to under-estimate the role of wealth and privilege in success – especially our own, and that of people we think are like us. Harvests are a good time to think about social justice, hunger, opportunity and institutional thwarting.


(Art by Tom Brown, taken from Hopeless Maine, The Gathering)

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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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