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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Sunshine, cycles and the depressed mind

I’ve repeatedly run into wheel of the year narratives that encourage us to align our lives with the sun’s cycle. This, we are told, is more natural. We should dream and hibernate in the depths of winter, plant the seeds for our projects in the spring, watch them grow through the summer and take our harvest in the autumn. Never mind that many projects are not shaped like growing grain in the first place.

What do you do if the winter is a depressing time? What do you do if you need the warmth and comfort of sunny days to do your dreaming and planning? What do you do if you work best in the winter, locked away from the world? If your nature doesn’t align you to the solar wheel, how can forcing yourself to fit with it be natural?

For some people, depression is a seasonal activity, and it means you have to do all the stages of a thing in the bright half of the year. For some of us the monthly hormonal cycle can produce low phases that impact on what we can do. For some of us, depression has its own ebbs and flows that bear no resemblance to any other tide. When you can work, and when you can’t will depend on these factors.

If you’re depressed, then hearing that you’re supposed to be at an energy peak around midsummer can just add to the misery. It can increase the feeling of failure, of disengagement from the world, of not being a good enough Pagan. A wheel of the year that focuses on celebrating can be punishing if you live in the bottom of a hole and have no innate joy.

Nature is what we’ve got. It’s what we live, day to day. For some of us, what nature has provided is despair. For some of us it’s the body that can’t get out and dance with the spirit of any season. Any dogmatic narrative about how we’re supposed to engage with the seasons can be toxic to people who just can’t bend themselves into that shape. It’s not ok to Pagan-shame anyone who can’t work on these terms.


If you’re struggling with sun cycles, energy levels and how to fit into the wheel of the year narrative, I hope what I’ve said helps you put it down and explore more widely. Nature has far more stories in it than just those of sun and grain.

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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.


  • Courtney
    Courtney Tuesday, 04 July 2017

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. It was really helpful for me to read. I think it is good to keep in tune with the cycles of the natural world, but I think the human mind and experience are so much more complex than the grain cycle! (As you so nicely put it.) Near the equator there are dry seasons and rainy seasons, so maybe some people could take meaning from that. My husband says he "wakes up" when winter comes; he can't take the summer heat, so I don't think it would be a time of great growth for him. I myself struggle a lot with mental illness and I definitely have my own unique high and low times. I think especially as Pagans there are so many stories and ideas to draw from that we don't have to have a one-fits-all narrative.

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Wednesday, 05 July 2017

    Good take on alternative thinking and way to go!

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