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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Celebrating the Poppies

Poppies are magical flowers. They bloom in the summer, and are probably best known for the opiates we extract from them. However, poppies are magical in other ways too, especially around how and where they grow.

Poppies grow when the soil is disturbed. They are a natural response to damage, turning disaster into beauty. It’s for this reason that they became an emblem of the First World War. In the shelled and ravaged landscapes of conflict, the poppies grew.

They don’t just appear when we kill each other in official conflicts. When the destruction comes from construction – as with road building, the poppies still show. There’s a half remembered 20th century folk song in my head about poppies blooming where the navies died. We don’t talk much about the cost of infrastructure, and the deaths that go with building. I did once, in a history book, run into the suggestion that a meter of canal represented a death. I don’t know how many people died building roads and railways – often itinerant workers with no one much keeping track of them.

Poppies are beautiful, extravagant and full of life, and yet they also have a relationship with death, especially the violent, premature deaths of working class men.

The poppies in this photo have come up in ground disturbed by restoration work. Teams of volunteers have been working on stretches of my local canal. Unlike the original canal builders, these are teams with hard hats and high viz jackets, who are not considered expendable. Beauty and death are not inevitable companions.

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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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