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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Time for melancholy

In theory Pagans honour the dark half of the year as well as the light, bright growing times. However, in practice we spend autumn talking about harvest, and while we do acknowledge the dead at Samhain, midwinter tends to be more about the return of the light than the deep darkness. There are many things the wheel of the year doesn’t give us much space to honour and explore. Loss, misery, nostalgia, regret, and despair don’t really find a place.

Of course it’s tempting to focus on the ‘good stuff’ in life – what seeds are you planting this spring, where’s your fertility for Beltain, what have you harvested, and lo, the sun is reborn and round we go again! However, if you don’t have a lover, and your health is poor or your plans aren’t working out, then these are tough things to celebrate and it can feel like there’s no room for your experiences amongst everyone else’s cheerful optimism. The wheel of the year encourages us to look forward in hope, not fear, and not to look back except when we can be pleased by the results.

It’s all too easy to assume that ‘negative’ emotions are problems to avoid and that a good life is free from them. This simply isn’t true. Light and dark only have meaning in relation to each other. Our love of what is behind us in our lives is only measured through the bitter sweetness of nostalgia. Our love for that which is around us is clarified by how we ache over absences – be those temporary or forever. It is reasonable to feel some anxiety about the future and it is in our regretting the past that we learn to do a better job of things. To be balanced and healthy, we need time to grieve and worry as well as time to rejoice and get excited.

Our species is busily destroying landscapes, habitats, eco systems and species at a rate that ought to terrify us. We urgently need to be unhappy about this. We need to be horrified and terrified and heartbroken by what is happening to our beautiful planet. Only in anguish and despair are we going to make the radical changes needed to stop the destruction. And let’s face it, the answers to this aren’t easy, we can’t have ever more goods, luxuries, ever bigger houses, ever faster cars and ever more aeroplane trips without there being an awful price. All of us have to slow down and consume less, and we’re only going to find the motivation to break out of consumer society if we let the destruction around us break our hearts and be unbearable to us.


So while Pagans are busy sharing Beltane images of love and fertility, I invite you to do something completely different. Take some time to think about all the species that aren’t here, and all the ones on the brink of extinction, and the plastic in the oceans, and the air pollution and all the rest of it, and let yourself hurt. Cry if you need to. Howl. We should be howling. And then, having let despair chew on you, make a change that will render you less of a problem and more of a solution. Any change. Whatever you can do, or do without. Cry, and act. Howl, and learn. Hurt, and make a difference. We have to stop this obsession with being insulated, oblivious and thus comfortable, and start taking better care of our home.

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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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