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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Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown

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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Celebrating the Lambs

In standard, wheel of the year, northern hemisphere Paganism, we talk about lambs at Imbolc. Or at least, we link the name of the festival to ewes’ milk. That may be all the sheepy goodness we get. Of course, how sheep relate to your landscape is a very local issue. In some places, they don’t feature much, while in others there may be a very long history of grazing. There are huge differences between vast, industrial flocks massively impacting on the local, environment, and small sustainable flocks. We can treat sheep and the environment well, or badly. Not all farming is created equal.

However you feel about farming animals for meat and/or wool, I think it’s important to acknowledge the role they have played, for thousands of years, in the lives of our ancestors. In the UK, grazing has shaped some landscapes. It’s important to know how ancestral use of land impacts on the landscape you now inhabit.

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Nature red in tooth and elf cap

I admit that I don’t watch a great deal of television, but I do get occasional exposure to nature programs. While there’s delight to be had in seeing things that would otherwise be unknown to me, the narratives of nature programs bother me intensely. There tends to be a focus on drama, and that means the four Fs – fighting, fleeing, feeding and reproductive activities. There’s a lot of death in most nature programs.

In the last eight years, while out and about, I have once seen a seagull snatch a coot chick. I’ve seen one rabbit caught by a buzzard, two rounds of a heron eating fish. I’ve seen a lot of fish eaten by kingfishers, and once saw an owl feed a rodent to a fledgling chick. I’ve seen sparrowhawks chase birds, twice. I’ve seen a lot of predators in the process of quietly looking for prey. Pigeons are the only things I’ve seen shagging, although in fairness they do a lot of it. Most days I spend time outside, and there’s a lot to be seen from my windows. There’s seldom much drama out there. Most of the time, most of the creatures I encounter are not fighting, fleeing or shagging. Many of them are feeding in a non-dramatic way. I see them resting, pottering about, and communicating with each other.

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Celebrating the buds

At this time of year in my corner of the UK, the tree buds change in a noticeable way, and for me this is something to celebrate.

Trees form their leaf buds during the winter. The idea that trees sleep through the winter is a misconception perpetrated by the Pagan community, depending entirely on never looking that closely at trees. If you only ever see trees from a distance then yes, those apparently bare branches may look like nothing is going on, but this isn’t so! Trees make their leaves, and their catkins during the winter months. In January here, the catkins start opening. Somewhere around Imbolc, buds fatten discernibly.

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  • Judith Shaw
    Judith Shaw says #
    Wise words - "New leaves on trees can seem like an event – a sudden arrival of bright new greenness to mark the beginning of the g

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Celebrating the catkins

The standard issue wheel of the year for the British isles has us celebrating the first flowers at Imbolc, when the snowdrops emerge. This is a bit awkward, because tree flowers – specifically catkins – emerge in January and open. They are also manifestly at odds with the standard issue notion that trees spend the winter sleeping. They don’t. Once the leaves are down, trees get busy making buds ready for the new year, and may also be making their catkins, which have been sat there hard and closed for some time now.

The thing about leaf buds and catkins is that they are small and you probably won’t see them if all you do is look at trees out of windows. Especially not if you are in motion and the windows are in a car. To spot buds and catkins, you have to be within a matter of feet of the trees and looking at them closely. When nature is an abstract concept that you celebrate from the safety of your living room, this is the kind of thing that gets overlooked.

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Celebrating the mistletoe

The normal association with mistletoe at this time of the year is the cut stuff we bring indoors to decorate with. However, there’s more mistletoe celebrating to be done than this!

Once the leaves are down from the trees, you have your best chance at finding mistletoe in the wild. It doesn’t grow everywhere – I used to struggle to see any at all when I lived in the Midlands, but Gloucestershire (south west UK) has loads. As you can see from the photo, mistletoe in trees isn't always that self announcing and you have to pay attention to spot it - which makes finding it all the more rewarding.

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November – a difficult time for celebrating

Last year I wrote about the first frosts as something to enjoy in November. http://witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel/celebrating-the-first-frosts.html

This is without a doubt the month I find hardest to be positive about. Samhain with all its spooky joys is now behind us. The winter stretches ahead. The cold has its teeth in and will likely keep chewing for months to come. The ground becomes slippery and treacherous, the days short and dark. Everything is harder. And I’m one of the lucky ones; I have a home, I can afford to heat it and I can afford to eat.

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For the love of leaves

I’ve known years when the trees were bare of leaves by the end of September. In recent years I’ve seen leaves still on trees during my habitual Christmas day walk to my mother’s house. No two autumns ever have quite the same shape, and what turns when has a lot to do with the shape of the land, and where exactly your land is, as well.

This year, some trees started showing autumnal colours fairly early in September. I write this blog at the beginning of October, with an array of yellow, copper and happily photosynthesising greens outside my window. The story of leaves is not one that fits tidily into the wheel of the year, not least because during the part of the winter when the trees are supposedly sleeping, they make their buds, all ready for next year’s growth. the falling of leaves is a process that can start before the autumn equinox and go through to midwinter.

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