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.
Celebrating the flowers
Imbolc, when the little snowdrops emerge from the earth, the first flowers, and the first sign that spring is on the way. Except if you’re dealing with floodwater just now, you probably won’t see them because they will be submerged. If you are a bit further north than I am, there will be no sign yet. People in colder climates can’t expect flowers at this time of year – my other half, who originated in Maine, continues to be perplexed by anything trying to grow at this time. Not everywhere has snowdrops, and not everywhere has winter.
There are no doubt a lot of Pagans out there who feel they should be celebrating Imbolc this weekend, because it’s the ancient Celtic festival marking the first signs of spring, and it’s here. Some will no doubt go out with scripts that talk of things which simply are not happening in their lives. I’ve done that myself. I stood in a hailstorm one year, trying to picture the gentle, generous spring maiden and her magical wild flowers, whilst getting cold, wet, miserable and confused. It was one of those key moments in my journey towards rejecting a dogmatic approach to dates and festivals.
As it happens, the catkins have been opening for a while now, and I saw my first snowdrops last week. The weather forecast is dire, and I do not fancy my preferred hilltop, in case we do get some of those predicted 150 mile an hour winds. I like to think the Druids of old had enough sense, and enough respect for the natural world not to be out in it unnecessarily when it might do them serious injury.
I find it difficult to celebrate the first signs of spring as an event. The birds have been behaving differently for a few weeks now. I’ve watched the shoots of first leaves and the fattening of tree buds. Every day the sunset is a little later, and I’ve been alert to those light shifts.
If there had been heavy snow, I would want to go out and celebrate the melt. I get excited about the first day I can go walking without needing a coat. That’s the true arrival of spring, for me. The first day I can manage to be barefoot again. My circulation is poor, and to avoid chilblains I need thick socks and shoes through the winter, even indoors. It reduces my sense of connection with the earth, so the first day I can go barefoot is a time of reconnection, and that one is important to me, too.
Honour the ancestors by recognising their festival, but keep in mind that not all of them celebrated it, and that the seasonal features underpinning it may make no sense where you are. If something else calls out to be honoured and recognised, then perhaps that would be the better focus for your seasonal celebrations.
Art by Tom Brown, from the graphic novel Hopeless Maine, reproduced here with permission.
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