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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Leaving the Nest

Generally speaking, modern Paganism seems to associate new beginnings with spring – often as early as Imbolc. Granted, in the northern hemisphere, by the second of February there are lambs and the sheep milk is flowing, and there are snowdrops in bloom, but it is the beginning of beginnings. Eggs aren’t laid until it is considerably warmer. If that early part of the year did not strike you as a good time to get moving, perhaps the nest-leaving season will.

For birds capable of flight, there are two ways of leaving the nest (aside from being eaten by a predator!). Water birds nest low, in reeds, on banks and are usually very close to the water. As soon as the chicks hatch, they are able to float about, and so it’s not unusual at this time of year to see tiny, day old ducklings on the water. When they are this tiny, ducklings have so little weight that they can run across the water’s surface, which is a lovely and strange thing to behold. Water birds become independent quickly, foraging their own food and getting about by paddling. It will be some time before they can fly.

Non-aquatic birds tend to nest higher up, although there are exceptions, like the lark, which nests in the grass. However, regardless of where it nests, a bird not designed for the water or purely to walk on land will not be able to leave the nest until it flies. It has to wait, calling for food, dependent wholly on its parents, until it has the feathers in place to get airborne. Leaving the nest is a big event. Unlike the water bird, a bird who has to fly cannot just waddle a few steps and float. They have a matter of seconds to transition from being something that has never flown, into something that can fly.

Do you have a nest to leave, this summer? Are there changes coming up? Will you be able to walk out independently and float along, fending for yourself as you go? If so, then celebrate your transition, because this summer you may be walking the path of the water bird, or floating it. Don’t let the apparent ease make you oblivious to predators though, as little chicks floating in the stream can be taken from beneath by large fish, or from above by hungry seagulls.

It may be that you know you are going to have to jump out of a nest sometime soon, with that alarmingly short time frame in which to not hit the ground. It is helpful to know that those dramatic leaps are very much part of nature, and part of life. Embrace your fledgling nature, and try to pick the optimal time for your jump. Birds forced out of the nest before they are ready can survive, but are vulnerable.

Perhaps there are no challenges on the horizon for you, and the narrative of the fledgling makes no sense. If you’re not busy with the solar narrative, or waiting for the oak and holly kings to fight, then you might be able to just get on with the quiet business of blossoming. Most flowering does not happen in February, after all. The fields and hedgerows are alive with colour now, the grasses are filling the air with pollen. The plant kingdom is busy putting out its most lovely colours and shapes. While that is part of a reproductive cycle, there’s no requirement to focus on that angle. We might just want to sit under the sun, open our petals and bask for a little while.

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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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