An Otherworldly View

The Autumn Equinox is upon us, and the world does feel like it’s turning, to me. The leaves are beautiful as they hold on for just a little longer, the fruit is ready for harvest, the fields are being prepared for winter…

But here at home, it’s change of a different sort. New challenges ahead, requests for work and projects, lots of ways to spend the days as they grow shorter and we look inside…

And I’ve been able to do none of it.

For the past few days, I’ve been unable to work, or do much of anything at all, due to a very bad reaction to some prescription medication. The doctors have been very helpful actually, encouraging me to stick with it and see if I can’t ride out the side-effects, while moderating them… with further medication.

Today, I agreed with another (lovely) medical professional that enough was enough. Alternatives must be found. We’re on the case.

But it’s been a true rollercoaster of a week, to coin an overused but apt metaphor. I’ve been unable to focus on much of anything for very long, but when I have, whatever that thing is receives my full attention. I’ve been devouring one book in a day, but then getting bored halfway through another. Unable to stand doing anything which my brain isn’t interested in, so – entirely involuntarily – I’m being told ‘No, you’re not going to be able to do that’. Or badness ensues.

My perspective is entirely off, my worldview skewed. Alice in Wonderland doesn’t quite cover it, but the analogy isn’t bad – I’m here, but the messages from my senses are being slightly misinterpreted by my brain. Even walking the dogs down the familiar streets is a challenge. Communicating with others… good grief. Let’s just say I’m taking my time and doing my best to understand. And avoiding the News, because that doesn’t always make sense at the best of times.

This evening, I’ve found a rather wonderful documentary about Viking storytellers. With my love of tale-telling, it truly grabbed me… and somehow, my mind began to consider how our ancestors would have dealt with the stories my mind has been telling me this week.

I’m often asked if Druidry is a kind of English Shamanism. I’m not getting into that here (although I agree, there are similarities). But one thing we don’t tend to do over in these little islands is induce trance through drugs. Not since the 1970s, at least, unless I’ve been going to the wrong parties.

But that’s essentially what’s been happening to me now. Unintentionally, I grant you, but my perspective on the world has been totally altered through artificial means. I’m not seeing the generally-understood ‘Pagan Otherworld’, but my connection to the real is more vague. I feel the land beneath my feet, but am not quite sure where the next step will take me, or even if gravity is to be relied upon. I’m walking in another world.

So what must I do? How do I interpret reality when the tried and tested traditions of my senses and physics are letting me down through unknown chemicals?

My appetite has almost completely gone… except for what my body tells me it needs. My attention is fractured… again, until my mind latches on to something it wants to know.

Until this wears off, I’m going to let this strangeness take its course and try not to be overwhelmed in too negative a manner. If the tears come, they do; if strange sights or sounds are encountered, then that’s fine. Like a child in a strange new world, I will do my best to pay attention, and see what is to be learned as I ride it out.

Because I’m finding that stripping back to the essentials is what’s getting me through. What do I need? What can I cope with? Who do I want with me? The barest of bones, necessities, priorities. Those I love and trust.

And so I write it out, because my mind is telling me that I should. I listened to the voices of those wonderful Scandinavians, with their storytelling tradition of so many thousand years, and despite my pounding brain, try to tell my tiny tale here. Because this is the most creative I’ve been for many days, and that’s been one of the most terrible things for me – as you may have gathered, I like to be doing.

I apologise if this post is a little odd. But that’s me, right now. The times are changing, and so this somehow seems to fit. I’m looking forward to the week ahead, to the Equinox itself, to see what strangeness it brings, both in the spiritual and the everyday worlds.

And one rather fun thing to bear in mind: these mad chemicals are considered ‘medicine’, even normal procedure for those who administer such things. I’m not reacting ‘as I should’, perhaps. But my body and mind don’t know that – and are simply responding. Positive and negative are in the eye of the beholder.

Moving forward, gently.

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Shields – Front and Back

I’m often asked about Shields. Usually it’s in context of energy work, protection, personal defence against negativity. That’s fine, as this is something that we will likely encounter in our lives and so have to deal with.

But how often do we consider what’s keeping those shields up, or what’s behind them?

All my life, I’ve been told what to think. Society does that, after all – from marketing billboards, to advertisements on television and via social media. But also from teachers, bosses, friends and family. Everyone has their ideas and wants to share them. I’m sharing my opinion right now.

The difficulty comes when someone is determined that their opinion is better, truer or more valid than your own. You have to give in to their Truth, because they’re right. End of discussion.

I wrote of Trolls yesterday, and suspect this is a logical progression. How do we deal with those who cross that line between a thoughtful suggestion and a demand? Often the root is intention – genuine caring versus a wish to dominate or ‘win’. Sometimes the demand stems from an insecurity – others must agree with this person, or they are somehow insulting him/her by insinuating that they are actually wrong.

I’m not going to get into that again today – I’m sure you all have experience of this to some extent. But it can be hard to deal with, and this is where the request for shields comes in.

Overbearing co-workers, demanding relatives, pushy friends… these aren’t Trolls, are they? They’re usually just other people who genuinely feel that they’re doing their best, without realising how uncomfortable they make us.

Or is it actually a problem with Me? Is it that I’m being challenged in ways I’m not comfortable with, and so want to hide rather than deal with the issues?

We throw our shields up and back away. These can be psychic/energetic or physical – going home and closing the door is a good reaction, to claim your own space once again! But once we’ve done that, then what?

We can whinge about the Troll or the person forcing their opinion. They don’t understand me. Sometimes that’s true, and we must respond accordingly.

But as we stand behind our shields, taking time to think, so we can place our feet, take a breath and consider ourselves as well.

What about this is making me uncomfortable? Is it the manner in which the ideas are being pushed, or do I genuinely disagree? Can I articulate my thoughts now, in this safe place? Am I able to consider a response, or would I prefer to keep hiding? I could always just leave, or avoid the person altogether…

We fuel our shields from our selves. If the ground beneath our feet is uncertain, so the protection will crumble; but if we are able to identify our own personal Truths, then our foundation is firm.

I read of a simple exercise to find your own Truth, to see what it feels like. Give it a try:

State your name: eg ‘I am Cat’.
Now state a wrong name: ‘I am Bernard’.

Can you feel the difference?

Try other obvious lies. Play with this. ‘I’m the world’s best accordion player.’ ‘I really like cucumber.’ ‘My favourite singer is Justin Bieber’. You get the idea.

Now try stating your truths with this in mind. ‘I think that this won’t work’. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.’ ‘This might be a better option.’ ‘I don’t like that colour at all.’ Keep playing, with negative and positive angles, and levels of firmness. See what suits best.

Try stating some of the things you’ve been told so confidently. How do they feel? ‘I’m sure I can find time for that assignment.’ ‘I’d love to wear that outfit.’ Is it true? Were you just whinging, or do you genuinely disagree? Note how strongly you feel, see the difference in emotional tone.

Explore which of these statements is true to you. Each one can be a brick in your shield-wall (if it’s even needed now), but crafted with care. You are standing firm, but also remaining flexible – encouraging discussion and debate, connection and understanding, from within a place of safety that is held by you. You are standing up as equally valid, with a voice to be heard.

And you might start to notice the other person’s walls in turn. If your truths simply bounce off theirs, maybe it’s time to highlight that they’re not listening; or even to step away. Show people the truth of you, not an imagined version that they might be projecting – or which you have helped to build.

I see this a lot in Paganism, because spirituality is a topic which is deeply heartfelt to many people. Passions incite strong opinions, and often descend into all-or-nothing arguments. But they don’t necessarily need to.

I’ve been noticing those who listen versus those who don’t; individuals who seem to be seeking confrontation and argument, not discussion. Shields that are so inflexible, the person behind might not even know why they’re arguing at all – it’s just habit, or that sense of ‘because I should.’ Or fear of being exposed as ‘wrong’.

Take time to consider what’s behind your shields – and whether they work with you or keep you imprisoned.

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The Sacred and Me

Years ago, I came across a beautiful prayer in a Pagan book (I believe by Francesca de Grandis, but I’ve sadly not been able to find it since).

The prayer thanked the Goddess (if the speaker was female, God if male) by honouring Her/Him in every day life. Something like ‘I walk on Your body, with Your feet, and raise Your hands’…

I love playing with language, and this is just delicious. Boundaries are being pulled down, the binary of Me/You being removed. I am You. Goddess is Me.

It felt like that moment when you fully understand what walking on the body of the Goddess means – if you regard the Earth beneath us (and around us, and above us) as Her form. After contemplating this when first starting out as a baby Pagan, I was actually daunted to even take a single step. But I did, and I moved on. I felt a bit silly for worrying. She caught me, after all. Gravity’s a blessing too, and the Earth is pretty sturdy. Just don’t take it for granted (toddlers know this wisdom well).

Now, I know not everybody works with deity as a male or female form/idea – but many do, as it helps us to personify a very large concept in order to better understand it.

But you don’t have to acknowledge that personification to understand my point here: Your body is deity. Your hands are those of a Goddess or God. Your ideas have value, your words speak sacred truths, your spirit is immortal…

I can almost hear the doubt in you now. But bear with me.

I know we don’t regard ourselves as anything approaching deific, and the ego required to walk that path can perhaps be too monstrous to contemplate. But again, not quite what I mean. This is not about power or ego; this is about the sacred, value and intention.

Consider this idea for a moment. You are sacred. Your every word carries power, your touch is magical, your hugs are a blessing.

Isn’t that true? Even just a little bit? Certainly if you’re a parent to a young child – you are their universe, their guide and guardian. Best Mum/Dad Ever!

So if we walk in this truth, how do we honour ourselves as sacred? Do we dress well, in clothes of quality that suit us, or do we throw on a t-shirt and jeans? Do we nourish ourselves with well-cooked food or grab a pre-packed sandwich? Do we even notice as we clean ourselves in the morning, or just get done what needs to be done before rushing off to the next task?

I’m sure you see where I’m going now. This isn’t intended to be judgmental at all (I do all of those ‘lazy’ things above), but simply ask for consideration.

The intention of my challenge to myself was in the back of my mind as I began my day. I decided to get on with a reluctant job that I’d been putting off, and go through some old clothes (I’ve lost weight lately due to running). And I discovered the sheer value and appreciation of clothes which fit well and serve their purpose – whether that’s decent underwear, a sturdy coat or a fitted top. So many items ended up in the pile for charity because it didn’t fit as I’d physically changed, or – as I realized – it likely never had fit well, not really.

I don’t go clothes shopping for fun. It’s never been easy for me, as I do like things to look good, and am very aware of not fitting into the ‘trendy’ mould that society requires. But this means that sometimes I’ve had to make do. Being happy with how I present myself has had to be sacrificed to what I can afford and making do with the best I can find.

I’ve heard this from friends who are healers. We have to sacrifice decent cleansing and body products for those we can afford, regardless of what they contain. The same with food.

Again – this is not a guilt-trip. As I walk my day today, I am considering. If I am Goddess, how do I honour myself? If I wish to adorn myself, what fabrics, scents and colours do I use? Am I ‘making do’ or putting in effort? How much do I value myself, after all – would I treat friends or family this way?

And while I consider how I represent myself, how do I speak to others as I go about my day? Do I gossip and whinge, or share a smile and a happy story? Do I honestly seek help when needed, or hide in pain? Truth or falsehood, balance and power… inspiration and connection. The old song: What am I doing?

I honour my Goddess in my journey as I explore with good intention. Because by doing so, I am honouring my Self. I must remember, at heart, to care. To love.

I try my best. And I trust Her (Me) to catch me when I fall, and find the strength to try again.

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Seeking Sacred – A Challenge

Today, I was chatting with my partner about my current book projects. Which haven’t been moving very fast of late. Busyness, mental blocks, personal mood or external issues… ultimately, the words have just not been coming.

He suggested I take myself deeper into my own practice, diving into the topics I want to write about, to explore them more fully myself. I can see where this takes me, to give ideas for the work and also help with the overarching issue of Not Writing. The oldest trick in the book, really – Write What You Know.

So how can I do this, I thought? I’m not exactly Jack Kerouac, about to head out into the world to see what’s there (which I kind of do anyway, albeit in the course of my work!). Nor Edgar Allen Poe, locking himself in a garret to write from his madness. Hmm.

Perhaps a challenge that I can write about as I go, to find that flow again and also open myself to ideas from others – those who like the writing and themselves provide inspiration. Actively seeking the sacred each day, reconnecting with deity if that is the form it chooses; going beyond inspiration into the deep roots of my spirituality within my life.

As I type this, I find myself actually rather daunted. It sounded like a great idea in my head, but is no small thing in actuality. But if I want to write from experience, something true and valid that’s worth reading, I owe both myself and my readers the courtesy and honour of putting in that effort.

So here we go, then. I’ll be cross-posting with my Drops of Awen blog, as that seems an appropriate place for random inspiration bursts, but also here for considerations specific to my Druidry. I’ve no idea where this will end up, but I will, as always do my best. I’ve no doubt I’ll have tough days, but I will do my best to keep to that truth and not be self-indulgent or – horrors! – boring…

As always: onward.

 

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The Pagan Symposium 2014

On an otherwise entirely normal Saturday in July 2014, a group of several dozen Pagans travelled from across the UK to join together in creating something which had never been attempted before.

The Pagan Symposium was a meeting in London of representatives from Pagan groups, organised from an idea by Mike Stygal, President of the UK Pagan Federation. The goals were kept deliberately vague, but at heart, the hope was that each group would be able to come together to share their experiences, skills and wishes to assist the wider Pagan community across the country.

The challenge of such ventures, of course, is that no single group can ever accurately represent all Pagans; also, the natural reluctance of many Pagans to affiliate with any group, when our paths contain such a strong core of individuality. In the past, strong egos have been an issue, or vastly differing ideologies. The analogy of ‘herding cats’ was mentioned, but with the happy conclusion that this had somehow now been achieved!

Because from the first moments as everyone arrived, the prevalent attitude was positive. Smiles and greetings, hugs between friends and new introductions – everyone was glad to be present, and tentatively hopeful that this might actually work!

As the day went on, the smiles grew wider and the laughter louder. So many ideas were shared, it was hard to get a word in sometimes, but there was no negativity or argument, simply discussion and extremely creative sharing of plans.

The many differing groups were introduced, to give an idea of the variety of voices to be heard. Druids, Witches, Heathens and simply independent Pagans, an extremely broad cross-section of the community in its differing forms.

The function of the group on this day was discussed: acknowledgement of the need to serve a diverse community, but without over-structuring or dictating. Even names for the group were suggested, before being discarded as unnecessary – we all are our own groups, and this gathering simply united us! There was no wish to create some sort of ‘Pagan Parliament’, but all agreed that it has been suggested for some time that the voice of Pagans in the UK needs to be heard, between each other and with the secular and non-Pagan world (notably English Heritage, Emergency Services and suchlike).

Since the discussions over the Census and the PaganDASH project, there has been a need for cohesive voices and a mature approach to the representation of Pagans across the country, as many of our international fellows are already doing. We would try to accomplish this, as individuals and within groups sharing identities and diverse beliefs under the Pagan umbrella. Even just for today, to see if it worked… these few hours would be a test, of sorts.

Many topics were discussed. The challenges presented by setting up Pagan facilities for public use, from private temples to public areas such as Moonhenge. The need for responsibility and awareness, but also the difficulty of obtaining backing and support, dealing with the media, and other effects of ‘public’ Pagan activities… but which could be extremely beneficial when approached effectively. If projects are undertaken successfully, they can inspire others to bring their dreams to fruition, and the support would be there from this wider community.

Recent achievements were mentioned, including the Blue Plaques placed for Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente by the Centre for Pagan Studies; also the continued success of Pagan Pride and the Children of Artemis‘ gatherings. The OBOD 50th Anniversary celebrations were mentioned, and the progress of Pagan workers within the Police and Prison Services.

A central News hub was suggested, to compile updates on what’s going on in our immediate community – a sort of ‘Pagan Reuters’ from which the national Media could then use information which had been confirmed as accurate, to avoid any misrepresentation. This was, of course, raised as a constant issue (notably recent coverage of the Stonehenge Solstice and litter problem), but what was not mentioned in the Press was the subsequent cleanup of the Stones by local Pagan groups. It was agreed that such work is certainly worth publicising, to demonstrate the wider story beyond the sensational headlines. Pagan Radio was also discussed as valuable potential resource.

As the day went on, the potential contained within even just those groups represented in person was realized to be far-reaching. Meeting attendees had been limited due to the experimental nature of the event and size of the space, but other groups were remembered and achievements noted. While fund-raising to get things done is always important, the capacity within the Pagan community to share information, support, skills and knowledge is far wider than we might have supposed. And the key, of course, is that we are all willing. Repeatedly, it was remarked that the ‘time seems right’ – that we might be ready for this, as never before.

Even if individual Pagans are not actively part of the wider community, there will still be those working to help them, providing services, space and facilities that they might wish to use or call upon if ever needed. From event management to IT advice, mental health support and education, we are all members of this society, looking to aid others who share our spirituality. Even a mention of an event in a newsletter can mean so much, with very little effort.

Differences were mentioned, of course, particularly with those who chose not to identify specifically as ‘Pagan’, preferring their own path name – but such identity could still be recognised, certainly not rejected or ignored. Historic disputes needed to be put behind us and those differences acknowledged but allowed for. There really is no group like Pagans, after all, even when that word isn’t sufficient to cover activities and beliefs!

It’s been quite hard to sum up the day, as so much went on in those few hours. The key word that keeps coming back to me is ‘enthusiasm’. We were all so keen, so full of ideas – but not just dreams, real practical and achievable plans. From the basic hope to have Pagans working together, that spark ignited, and very tangibly so. We all felt the excitement, that history was being made right now… and our responsibility within that.

By the close of the meeting, the main question was ‘What next?’ – and arrangements have been made to continue the discussion via online communication, with future meetings to be planned that will hopefully include even more group members. Everyone present will be keeping in touch to support each other as needed, see how projects come to fruition and plans develop. Each group has its own priorities and needs, but a sense of shared community was inspiring as a foundation for those, to keep us supported (even in a ‘hands-off’ way), and allow Paganism in the UK to realize its potential as we moved forward into the future.

Mike Stygal opened the meeting with part of a similar introduction by Doreen Valiente, from the inaugural Beltane meeting of the ‘Pagan Front’ in 1971 (which only became the Pagan Federation in 1980). We were all struck by the continued relevance of her words:

‘Unity is strength, and I welcome the fraternal unity of all sincere people of goodwill who follow the pagan path. We may not always agree with each other, but we must support each other, in our struggle for our right to follow the religion and life-style of our choice in the modern world.’

Addendum. No one particular group claimed precedence over any other at this meeting, and all present were satisfied with the equal representation of their groups and paths. It was actively decided to work to positively promote group unity, and avoid unnecessary cynicism or dwelling on historical matters (fact or hearsay) which bore no relevance to the issues under discussion. Subsequently, no offence was intended to anyone, nor was any taken. I would suggest that this was a notable factor in making the day such a success.

On request, those groups in attendance/represented were (in no particular order):

The Pagan Federation (including Publications, Prison Ministry and International)

Glastonbury Goddess Temple & Associated Orchard Community

Moonhenge

The Centre for Pagan Studies/Doreen Valiente Foundation

The Dolmen Grove

UK Heathenry

Pagan Radio

Pagan Pride UK

Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids

Children of Artemis

Kith of Yggdrasil

Asatru UK

The Druid Network

The Police Pagan Association

Pentacle Magazine

The Fellowship of Isis

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Writing

I stare at the white screen. Type a few sentences, delete them. Nothing seems to fit. Just write what comes, I tell myself (an old tactic, which I remember first trying in University one frustrated afternoon).

This blog post has been rustling around my brain for a while, but for some reason, has been tricky to get out. But you know when something needs to be ‘birthed’ creatively into the world when your subconscious essentially tells you to PUT DOWN WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GET ON WITH IT. Now.

The germ of these thoughts didn’t start the other week in Glastonbury, but it was crystallised there. Glastonbury is a lovely place, but as you may know, the High Street is a beacon for all things ‘New Age’ and alternative. No bad thing in itself, but there is a lot of Stuff there. Crystals, wands, drapey clothing, pretty statues, cauldrons, pentagrams everywhere… and of course, the books.

Of course, I have no problem with bookstores. I love them with a passion, I would spend so much time (and money) in them if I could, and I really do wish that the most interesting little ones would stop having to close down. I even loved Borders, because it had more than just the heavily marketed publisher-pushed Trendy Books that everybody else had. Reading was accessible. Plus, of course, the feel of a bookshop. The scent of the pages and bindings, the feeling of stories all around just waiting for cover to be cracked… nothing like it.

And indeed, I spent time in the Glastonbury bookshops, buying a few gems, which I’m still enjoying.

But I stepped out of their doors also feeling rather sad. Because of the sheer overwhelming amount of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love information, and the variety of opinion that goes along with learning. I’ve always been against censorship (which has got me in trouble in the past). This was more personal.

There is so much Stuff out there on Paganism, Witchcraft, Druidry, all of that… what can I possibly contribute without just adding to the pile?

Things have been very quiet for me in recent months on the writing front. I’ve been exploring the idea of inspiration as a result, and will continue to do so in my ‘Drops of Awen‘ blog. I’ve been researching ideas that I don’t know much about and would like to explore. Generally speaking, though, I’ve been suffering a little from a ‘dry spell’. Writers block? Perhaps, but I’ve still been proud of what has been produced, so maybe not exactly that.

I’ve spoken before about the pressure on authors from readers to Write More, dammit! Many bestselling authors (notably Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) have responded with the reasonable retort that you might have to wait if you want something that’s going to be worth waiting for. Writing takes time. I understand that Scott Lynch (author of the ‘Gentleman Bastards’ series) suffers badly from depression, which caused a delay in his last book – but the fans were lovely and waited, glad when it finally arrived. I’m sure that knowledge helped.

The writing and production of ‘Facing the Darkness’ was not easy. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, given the subject matter, but it was challenging every step of the way. But the response has been beyond wonderful, and I cannot adequately express my thanks for that.

So what next, of course? What can I add to the pile?

Given the easy accessibility of pretty much anything these days, I see so many creative people giving up before they begin for this same reason. Why bother? There’s so many out there who are better than me, let’s leave it to them. And sometimes, simple (and deceptively complex) fear and self-doubt are enough to make that empty page absolutely unconquerable.

The thing to remember, I tell myself (right now, as a matter of fact), is that I love to write. I always have. Messing about with words on a page, telling a tale – truth or fiction (and the difference can easily blur) – and then that indescribably brave step of actually putting those words Out There, into the world, for Other People to read… I know many who don’t even get that far. I tell them they should try. It’s not about being The Best – it’s about letting your voice be heard, at the very least.

Writing can be lonely, masochistic, frustrating, depressing… but also beyond rewarding, so joyful, inspiring in the act of doing and just simply my own creative outlet. I do firmly believe that we all need/have one, it’s just about finding it. And then doing it. Even when you don’t want to. Especially then.

These blog posts usually take a while to write, as I go back and forth, tweaking and amending. I haven’t with this one. Stream of consciousness, here it is, flowing along. And it has, because it clearly needs to come out, to be said.

I have ideas. It’s just a matter of being brave enough to articulate them, to encourage understanding and inspiration. I don’t just write for the sake of it – I write because I have something to say, ideas to share and throw around with others, and because, quite simply, I love it.

I’m sorry for the dry spell. It will probably happen again. But I do try hard to overcome it and move forward, as always. Thank you so much for your patience, my lovelies.

On we go.

(And the knowledge that I have a third book, several articles and other blog posts to write isn’t frightening at all…!) ;)

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‘Drops of Awen’

Hello, lovely Catbox followers!

A small thing that may be of interest. Encouraged by many of you, I’ve started a small additional WordPress site for a challenge in daily inspiration. ‘Drops of Awen‘ starts today, but won’t be publicised on the social media – it’s purely for ‘followers’ who subscribe to join the journey.

Do pop over and take a look, if you fancy some small bursts of thought each day from me! Meantime, the main blog here will continue, of course, with the usual ‘in-depth’ ponderings as and when they arise…

With thanks, as always, for reading.

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