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 sun

Solar festivals are definite fixed points in the wheel of the year. Shortest day and longest day, and the two days when light and dark are equal. It all seems very straightforward, until you start trying to make sense of the details or work out what you, personally, want to do in response to all of this.

When do we celebrate? Is it the dawn, or the setting sun, or the sun at the height of its power at midday? When is the midpoint of true balance at an equinox? And in practice, Pagan groups are only sometimes able to gather and celebrate the day. Normal work patterns mean that we’re more likely celebrating the nearest weekend to a solar event. At which point it’s more about celebrating the idea than an immediate experience of connecting with the occurring solar festival.

For a person who is not involved with the natural world, these four solar compass points can be a point of checking in, a reminder to look out of the window. I notice that the wheel of the year big 8 festivals are a focal point for Pagan blogging. These are the times we are most consciously Pagan, most sure about what to say and what to celebrate. It’s part of why I chose to blog at the start of each month instead.

Today, the sun rose early. It was bright by the time I got up a little before 7am. At not yet 9am as I write this, it’s hot. We’re passed the solstice, but in terms of heat, this is the most powerful the sun has been this year. I may be writing on the hottest day we get. The solstice itself was much cooler, with greyer skies. For me, today looks a lot more like the sun at the height of its powers, even if the day itself isn’t quite as long.

Every day is subtly shorter or longer than the one before it. Around the solstices, the days pause, and around the equinoxes, the increase in difference from day to day is at its greatest. So the time of greatest balance creates the most change, and the time of greatest extreme creates the time of least change. There may be a lesson in that for anyone inclined to take it.


And of course the sun itself does not change in relation to the wheel of the year. It has its own tides and seasons on a far grander scale. It is the turning of the Earth that makes the seasons, the length of days, and even the solar festivals. What we’re celebrating is not exactly the sun, if you think about it, but the complex dance of the Earth around the sun that creates life as we know it. How we experience the sun has far less to do with the sun than it does with Earthbound conditions. Climate – especially cloud. The state of our ozone layer. Greenhouse gasses. Trees. Mother Earth dances life around the sun, and we mess with that at our peril.

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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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