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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Holidays, Holy Days and Harvests

Right now it’s the summer holidays, and in many places, the young people are home from school, and families are off doing the holiday thing. Or trying not to kill each other. It’s worth noting however that the origin of the summer holidays has nothing to do with having a good time, and everything to do with needing the young people to help get the harvests in. The norms of our school systems pre-date the combine harvester and other such devices.

You don’t have to be much of an etymologist to spot that ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and for many of our Christian ancestors, the holy days were the only days off, if you were lucky. Servants tended to have to work on Sundays and over Christmas etc, but religious celebration has provided our ancestors with much needed opportunities to down tools and socialise. The pilgrimage is the ancestor of the tourist industry, and holy journeys and holidays have a great deal to do with holidays.

For our ancient Pagan ancestors, ‘Holy Day’ had plenty of room in it for feasting, frolicking, and other cheerful activities beginning with the letter F. People of the earth tend to celebrate the earthy pleasures available as part of life, honouring existence by relishing the good bits. By contrast, belief systems that are all about overcoming worldly experience to graduate to some other state of being tend to encourage less debauchery and more sombre expression of the idea of holy days.

We don’t generally view the summer holiday as a religious experience. And yet, sun worship is often at the heart of summer choices. The desire to be beneath the sun, exposed to its radiance. The desire to strip down to minimal attire and offer the body to the elements. The drinking and feasting of the barbeque rituals, the picnic, the all inclusive package holiday. The human urge to celebrate, and to enjoy, is a powerful one, whether we frame it in religion or not.

Of course for the modern Pagan, there’s plenty of room to blur the lines between holidays and holy days. It’s an opportunity for Pagan pilgrimage to ancient sites in our own lands and beyond. We might go to a Pagan camp and connect with our communities. We might take the opportunity to commune with the sea, or live closer to the earth for a while, by camping or walking.


To my mind, blurring the lines is a good thing. A lot of our world’s problems derive from the human urge to divide things up. Sacred and profane. Important and disposable. Body and soul. You get a richer sort of life when mirth and reverence both have a place in it, when delight and dedication are both allowed. We’re more fully ourselves when playing and praying aren’t incompatible ideas, and when holidays and holy days can be much the same thing.

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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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