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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Seasons of bare earth

Exposing the soil is, in temperate climates, something people do when farming or gardening. Drier lands that do not support many plants can have much barer earth.  Mountains and deserts can be something else again. I’ve seen small islands where the winter grazing of birds will take out all vegetation and bare the ground. There are all kinds of possible seasonal variations that might expose the soil. Where and when and why this happens is well worth a thought.

Left to its own devices, England is a green sort of place and manages this most of the year round. We lose the leaves from the trees in the winter, but not the green from the fields. Even in the hottest summers, we stay green rather than fading to the yellows and browns of hotter climates. If we don’t dig the soil, then the soil seldom stays bare for long.

I’ve noticed two bare earth seasons in the woods. Not all woods, but those where the canopy cover is continuous at the leafy part of the year. At the end of winter, there’s often a brief patch when last year’s leaves have pretty much broken down, and the spring flowers have yet to come, when the woodland floor lies bare. Now, in late summer, the leaves from bluebells and garlic are dying back, and once again the earth is exposed. When the leaves start to fall in autumn, this will change again.

The wheel of the year as Pagans celebrate it is very much definite by the practices of settled agriculture and the rearing of animals. We talk about the sowing and reaping, but not so much about the deliberate exposure of bare earth, or the effect on soil of tilling it. The process of settled agriculture changes landscapes, changes the ecologies of landscapes. The moors and fells, the seemingly wild places that are the consequences of thousands of years of human activity upon the soil. That doesn’t, to my mind make them unnatural spaces any more than I think an anthill is unnatural, but it has consequences.

In the woods however, the bearing of the soil happens twice a year, regardless of human intervention.



I picked that accompanying image because it’s very much not what happens in the normal scheme of things... at least... not round here.

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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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