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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The year of trees

Of all life forms, the deciduous tree appears to be the one most in synch with the solar events of the year. Sleeping in winter, budding in spring, resplendent with leaves in the summer, fruiting in the autumn and then back to sleep. There are of course also an assortment of tree calendars (mostly owing to Robert Graves) which put different trees as being prominent at different times. Based on what, exactly, I am seldom sure.

The more time you spend with trees, the less this whole idea of a single wheel of the year narrative for trees holds up. For a start, it only works if you live somewhere that has the kind of climate that delivers summer and winter. You have to have deciduous trees, not pines or cacti. If your seasons are all about wet and dry, the solar year and the tree year are not going to be the same. The solar/tree year is fairly Eurocentric, and will fit anywhere with similar conditions, but not everywhere.

Individual tree species, even here in England, do not conform tidily to the narrative. Blackthorn blooms early in the spring, usually before any tree is in leaf. Elm puts out its seeds as we turn towards the summer. Oak has a second leaf flourishing around August. Soft fruits may ripen in late summer, and sloes seldom do before November. Each tree species has its own relationship with the solar year.

Within that, local climate, wind direction, soil type, when the tree is in sun and in shade and so forth will affect its personal cycles. A tree in a sheltered and sunny spot will leaf sooner than one of the same species in a dark corner, or on a windswept hilltop half a mile away. A tree surrounded by trees also grows very differently to one standing alone.

The more general and abstract our ideas about nature are, the more wrong they tend to be. We have to ignore a lot of details to keep simple narratives about what nature is and what it does. It’s very easy to put together ritual and seasonal activity based on these simpler narratives, and a lot harder once you start dealing with details. It’s not just devils that live in details. The truth, the lived truth, is individual. It is this tree, on this hillside. It is this year, when the spring was early and the frosts late. It is this soil. It’s not ‘spring’ either, it is today. Each sun turn brings subtle shifts and changes, and to be alert to that and engaged with it gifts us with a good deal more than those generalised narratives ever can.



(Strictly speaking that’s not a tree in the picture, it’s a spiney winy badger faced black bean, and they’re nothing but trouble, and have a growth cycle to be reckoned with. They’re part of the Tea Dragons project I’m doing with Tom.)

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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.


  • Claudia Priori
    Claudia Priori Tuesday, 02 June 2015

    Thanks for your post, Nimue. In Australia, our seasons are not typical, especially when some eucalypts drop their bark and branches at certain times of the year and it is always recommended not to set up your tent under eucalypts when camping. It also depends where in Australia you are. In Melbourne where I live, the indigenous people recognise 6 seasons of the year. For me there is always some tension between the actual seasons and the symbolic seasons we celebrate in sabbats. Thanks again. I always look forward to reading your insights.

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