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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Pancakes for Pagans

Why would a Pagan want to talk about pancakes? Pancake day heralds the Christian Lenten fast. Where exactly Lent starts depends on when Easter is going to fall, which in turn depends on the moon because the date comes to us from the traditional Jewish calendar, which is lunar. Granted, most modern Pagans are always up for a bit of seasonal feasting, and pancake day is the kind of tradition we cheerfully borrow. But there is more to the pancake than meets the eye and it’s worth poking about in the whys and wherefores of this little feast, because it has much to tell us about our ancestors who lived closer to the land.

I was at the allotment yesterday. There were leeks to harvest, the last of the Jerusalem artichokes, and there’s still some kale. We’ll be planting potatoes soon. It’s been a mild winter so there’s more growing than usual. The grain harvest was months ago, the fruit you stored at the start of winter will run out, the root vegetables you stored will be running out. Even if you’re freezing and pickling and using all the modern storage methods, the last harvest is diminishing and there’s no sign of any decent new crops yet.

This is traditionally the hungry part of the year, in Europe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that Lent falls now – making a virtue out of necessity. For much of human history, this has been a time of going without, of going hungry. Might as well make a spiritual virtue out of it!

Pancake day, is the day when you use up the last of the luxuries in a big final blowout before the fast. The last of the flour, the last of whatever other good stuff you have around. It’s an act of faith that the new food supplies will show up before you starve.

These days, pancake day isn’t about the hard realities of the agricultural year. It’s a moment of excess in lives that are generally not short of luxury. An indulgence for the already indulged, which has no meaning for the vast majority of people participating in it. For most people now, Lent is not a dedicated period of fasting. It’s more normal to give up a small luxury – alcohol, chocolate – something you can perfectly well do without for the 40 days involved. When I was a child it was normal to have people giving up some small easy thing for Lent, but these days I see little sign even of that.

There’s much to be said for a smooth food supply with decent nutrition all year round. Here in chilly northern Europe, much of that depends on food imports, which in turn depends on transporting vast quantities of food from elsewhere, with a hefty fuel cost and a large environmental impact. Will this be feasible forever? Perhaps not. We may need to hang on to our abstinence traditions – not because suffering is good for the soul, but because when suffering is inevitable, a bit of religion in the mix can make it all easier to bear.



(That’s Gary in the accompanying image, with the apple, and you can hear his audio exploits at or follow Fast Food at the Centre of the World as text in Pendle Craft Magazine)

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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.


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 04 February 2016

    Love this!!! Brilliant! Actually sharing this with my Christian friends!

  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown Friday, 05 February 2016

    thank you!

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