Archive for May, 2012

A Need for Magic

This topic really has snagged in people’s heads, hasn’t it… reading Nimue’s lovely words today, I’ve found myself pondering magic yet again.

Make the most of it. It means more blog posts, after all ;)

Today for me, it’s the reason why it’s so inspiring, why the idea of magic is tantalising to us all, in this technological, cynical modern age. Essentially this is a philosophical discussion, but one to which we can all relate at some level.

As I write this, I’ve been watching a documentary about Shakespeare. There’s a debate going on about magic in ‘The Tempest’, and how Shakespeare infused that play with tricks to draw the audience into his world, to break down barriers between the everyday and the mystical, to suspect disbelief and create wonder (and horror). Words, music, visuals, all combine with that intention – ingredients, the recipe for the tale. Shakespeare casts his spell very well indeed.

Inspiration struck. The light-bulb came on above my head, as the words of those who’ve written in the last few days combined with words spoken for the last 400 years (and I smile, feeling daft that this hadn’t occurred to me before).

We need magic. If not some ultimate, true ‘power’, then magic as an idea, a hope, an aspiration… in terms of something more, something to instil in us that joy of living, freedom to laugh honestly and truly, to really be ourselves.

Perhaps forgotten since we were children, we can be reminded of that feeling while immersing ourselves in a magical situation. Stories are a good example: I’ve certainly forgotten myself while watching a play, totally caught up in the action of those only feet away from me caught in a scripted tale, trapped by fate into their roles, telling so many messages and ideas in one overarching tale. Red works her magic with fingers and toes buried deep in the earth of her garden; Nimue in the flow of the water around her river-home. Connected with the magic as it is part of life.

We haven’t found the answers to our questions of life in the doctrines of religion, the codes of mathematics or the experiments of science. We can’t buy it, no matter how hard we may fool ourselves into thinking so. We are all seeking – and the idea of magic lets us believe, just for a moment, in tangible possibility.

I’m not disparaging any of those methods, by the way. As I said before, a holistic way of living incorporates whatever works to achieve a complete objective. Separate colours do indeed combine into a larger picture.

However, I think that this quest is one of the main reasons that folk are seeking Pagan paths these days, coming full circle through the innovations of technology and now looking back, realizing that some things were lost that may be needed.

While Pagan folk don’t have convenient and easy answers any more than anyone else, as in my last blog post, we learn, move forwards and guide as we go. The gradual openness of previously ‘occult’ (ie hidden) knowledge is encouraging exploration and investigation, meaning and potential. The reasons why we choose not to cast fireballs or have animals clean our houses.

Of course, as Red said, this can lead to ‘quick fix’ options, as much as any mode of thought that’s not fully understood. But some people don’t want to be priests; they’re just looking for something to help them day to day… as we all do, at one level or another. We all wish each other ‘good luck’, or ‘bless you’ after a sneeze – usually with a wink and a smile – and there’s superstition, finding connection and meaning in a casual verbal touch. It’s hard to put into words how you feel when you wish a feeling onto another, to elaborate your intention, but sometimes a simple ‘touch wood’ or ‘cross fingers’ speaks volumes of hopes and dreams. That’s a start.

Druidry does contain magic – to me, there’s no doubt of that. It has no intrinsic moral code, other than what we give it. The wildness of nature, the evolution of life, the verbal, emotional and tangible connections that we feel every day of our lives, each contains its own magic. It’s just up to us to open our eyes and truly see it – responsibly, with awareness but with that inspiration still bubbling up within our hearts and our souls.

We seek magic at a level that is appropriate to us. Then, as bloody-minded Druids, we challenge it and look deeper, into the creative pot. That’s where we start making our own.

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Magic – Continued

I love inspiration.

My previous post struck a chord with the lovely Red, in her post here, elaborating on her own views about magic and its practice as Druid. Beautiful words, wonderful to share.

In turn, the topic has stuck in my mind, as it wends its way onward, developing and growing in new and interesting ways.

I’ll elaborate on the original ‘germ’ ideas, which came together in my original post.

This week, as Red says, an enquiry was received by The Druid Network regarding Druid ‘spellbooks’. We don’t use them as such, but there was a bit of discussion as to how to reply in a way that the enquirer could easily follow. Their expectations probably weren’t quite what they got, but the answer was honest and hopefully useful.

I was asked about recipes for remedies, possible Druid methods for healing. This I can provide, up to a point – modern medicine is a wonderful thing, after all – but as others have said before me, ‘alternative’ methods often need more regular actions to help them along. There’s no point in saying a spell to cure toothache without visiting the dentist. But again, advice is given, openly and honourably.

This is small but potent Druid magic, to me. This is someone reaching out, and a response given with intention to help. We can’t fix things for people, but we can establish connection, gauge the truth behind the worries, the emotional maelstrom, and assist. Sometimes this is difficult. But we focus our intention, guide the querent and move forward together. I’m never going to laugh at someone for asking a genuine question.

I’ve also been told that people don’t want to learn about ‘involved Druid practice’ as such. They want to learn about ‘magic and spells’, as nobody’s got enough time or money to invest in the deeper learning. OK – I understand that many people are tightening their belts these days. But on reflection, I personally can’t just teach ‘magic and spells’, because to me, that would be selling snake oil. That’s the ‘magic wand’ method, where the majority of ‘students’ would want quick fix remedies to sooth their worries and give hope with minimum effort. That’s the magic that the Daily Mail reviles, that of £300 glass wands masquerading as quartz.

I’m probably really pissing people off with this statement. I speak only for myself here, from my experience. But you don’t give someone a tool without explaining how to use it properly. Even ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ taught that.

As I said, magic is focusing intention. It’s a tool, to help us. Absolutely, it can be used for good or ill – to control, to manipulate, and so forth. Such actions have consequences. As Druids, we make ourselves aware, as best we can, of the reasoning behind each step, each decision. If a choice causes harm, then that is weighed against benefit, and perhaps discarded. Perhaps not. But those choices are made in full awareness. The connection and relationship, the rootedness that Red speaks of, gives a ritual act its ‘oomph’, its direction, its power. And it’s not power over, but power with. None of us truly act alone when other things, people, humans and other living creatures, are affected.

Method is very personal. I’ve little experience with Ceremonial Magic, but personally could not be that precise and mathematical in practice without feeling like a total idiot. My work would lack sincerity, and therefore impact, because I don’t believe in what I’m doing. But if it suits the more scientifically-minded of us, then great – go for it! If a tool helps you to achieve the right focus and frame of mind, wonderful. Just don’t get too dependent on it, would be my advice. Inspiration has to chime in your heart and soul.

My ‘magic’ can be as simple as answering a question, or as elaborate as full robed ritual. Both involve a certain mindset, rooting myself, being aware, having that connection with land and those upon it. And both involve emotion – joy and sorrow, tears and laughter. Sincere, true ‘working’ is not something that is functional, learned by rote to scientific method – the Universe just isn’t that ordered, certainly not in a way that’s understandable by a little human brain.

Our small rituals connect us, every hour of every day. As we learn and grow, that awareness helps us in our practice, our choices – and from there, to help others. Magic helps us to join with something larger, more mysterious but entirely worth exploring… the wider world.

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Magic, Spells and Creation

From time to time, I’m asked for information on How To Do Things in a Druidy Way. And inevitably, the topic of magic comes up. But there’s often confusion as well: do Druids even do magic? Isn’t that the preserve of Witches?

Now, belief titles aside, if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? Without will, no tasks would ever be accomplished – the will to do the washing up, the will to go to work… it’s degrees of ‘will’, commitment and enthusiasm that make a job Magical.

To me, magic is the setting of intention and focus to accomplish a task using every means at our disposal. This means that folk of certain belief systems (including Witches and Druids) have different methods of accomplishing this to, say, a carpenter, bricklayer or vicar. A Pagan’s relationship to the wider world encourages practice in particular perspectives, enhancing focus in certain ways, creating definite ‘spells’ with specific tools and ingredients for a defined purpose.

However, that description could be used to illustrate me using my creativity to do a lot of things. Cooking, for example: if I set my intention, use the correct tools and focus, my cake/bread/fish and chips will be far better than if I just threw random ingredients (or pre-frozen meals) into the oven. Magic is therefore in the eye of the beholder, to some extent – a ‘magical’ creation versus something thrown together in five minutes without a care. Even the mundane or functional, if created with the right intention and effort, can still shine with its own particular magic. The mass-produced, however, does not.

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time knitting. I enjoyed it as a youngster, taught by my Nan (of course), and now getting involved in it as a creative adult. At base level, it passes the time, keeps my hands and mind busy… and results in something lovely.

But like any creative act, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Writing, baking, knitting… each of these is a ritual act. From identifying the need, choosing the tools, ingredients and method to actually getting on with the task of putting it all together in the right way, if you do it right, it’s a spell.

It doesn’t necessarily all work out perfectly first time, either. Things go wrong, substitute ingredients have to be found, interruptions, forgetting things… it’s all a learning curve, every time. We can write down what we did as a recipe to refer back to, but every situation is unique, with its own particular circumstances – we can’t be a slave to our spellbooks. My recipe books are the only ones that I ever let myself write in, with amendments, crossings out and notes everywhere.

If we find ourselves getting bored, becoming distracted, then something’s wrong. The result will suffer from our lack of focus/will. Do we give up and do something else, or find our determination and strive on? That intention and decision is one of the most crucial, as it determines the ultimate existence of the creation itself. Challenges exist for a reason.

Mary Poppins and Snow White had the right idea – using magic to create joy in the mundane act of cleaning the house. But Disney turned this into a wand-waving exercise in actually avoiding the work involved. That’s not magic, that’s lazy wish-fulfilment. (Of course I’d love Snow White’s animals to do my housework for me – but they’re not going to, and I’d actually never ask. It’s my job, not theirs!)

Having said this, I find that when you first start out as a Pagan, it’s all about the spells. You find books, look on the internet and so forth, questing for lists of ingredients and rhyming couplets to help you along in life. Then you learn to craft your own ways of doing things, and which parts of more important than others. Ethics enters the frame – to undertake work for another with their knowledge (could they not do it themself?), or without (would they appreciate it?).

In recent years, I’ve hardly used specific ‘spells’, preferring to make my own creativity. I’ve read books on writing, but have put my own work together as feels right to me. It’s infused with my energy, from start to finish.

However, being asked about spellwork has got me thinking, and investigating what’s out there these days for new Pagan seekers. From an ‘Encyclopaedia of Magic’ (good grief!) to the inevitable glut of Love Spells, there’s the usual mass-marketed rubbish.

But then I came across this: ‘Spells for Tough Times‘. Reading the introduction, a chord was struck. Why focus on all the Love and Money spells, when sometimes you just need something to help you focus on a particular problem, overcome a dark time or just rekindle the magic? It can’t always be Halloween around a bonfire, incense burning and robes flowing. Sometimes it’s just you, sitting amidst wreckage and feeling lost.

The intention of the writer is clear and brave, honestly stated. She tackles the hard stuff. She includes her own contact details. Her work and experience is put out into the world primarily to serve, to help where possible. As is my own, and that of many others

We all make our own magic. It’s the intention of living well, fully and honourably, putting our truth into each daily ritual, recognising the balance of the good and bad times as part of life. If the ancient Witches, Druids and Wise Folk had done a bad or half-arsed job, like any other providing a service, they would not have been called on very often. If books, recipes or workers do a bad job today, they’re left to gather dust or find another role.

If we want something to work especially well, that need infuses the intention and the creative act. Bread for ritual is very different to bread for everyday. A prayer shawl created as a meditation is different to a quick and functional scarf. All have a common link in usefulness, but the ‘magic’ is tangibly different.

How do we perform our everyday rituals? What about the ‘special’ ones, the dressing up for an event, the differences (wedding or funeral?) and feelings these evoke? That tiny act of lighting a candle and wishing someone well…

Magic infuses our lives, in the energy that allows us to live fully to how we use that for others. So today, not only ‘What are you doing’, but How, and Who/What for?

Go forth and create your own magic!

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Druidry in the City

It’s always a challenge to combine your spirituality with your ‘regular’ life. This is one of the joys of Druidry, and a strong factor in what originally attracted me to it: that lack of dividing line. Something that would help when there’s an impossible deadline, a sardine-can of a train journey, another late night at the desk.

Druidry really isn’t a fair-weather path, something to do when you ‘get a minute’. It’s constant, lived, breathed, investigating your personal connection and relationship with the world around all the time. And let’s face it, if anywhere/one needs it, it’s the worker, the ‘wage-slave’, the office and the streaming multitude of lonely commuters.

Don’t believe me? OK. Do you really think your Gods are only present when you call them, wearing the right clothes and performing the correct rituals? Our ancestors saw the spiritual (in terms of real, named spirits) everywhere. From the water in the cooler to the energy in the computer wires. The natural world is where we live, even if it’s concrete, glass and granite.

I’ve written about it before, but wanted to just write something practical today for those of you out there with your noses at the grindstone (farmer or financier).

When you get the chance today, either get outside or at least to a window. Look around. Breath (yes, I know fumes aren’t fun, but use your judgment). Feel the air – natural or processed? Be aware of the light on your skin – sunlight or bulb? Notice the difference.

Ground yourself: feet on the floor. Listen to what’s around you, feel the buzz of people and activity. Then listen harder, to the undertones. Worry or enjoyment? Stress or happiness? Look inside, at yourself. Are you knotted up with the weight of expectations, or flowing with your tasks, your duties and responsibilities?

Notice the spirits around you. The lone tree planted in a pavement and ignored, save by the birds. And then the gods of modern life, that we bow down to: the Lord of Deadlines, the stern dictator of Commuter Etiquette. Eris is Lady of Computers, if anyone is! Make whatever offerings (coffee? chocolate? small symbols on the desk?) are appropriate, and ask them to be kind as you work with them.

Realize how blindness and ignorance threatens our awareness, as we walk past the homeless man, fail to help the crying girl lost on a roadside, or do nothing for the fellow apparently unconscious on a train platform. See the God of Fear that prohibits our actions, due to propriety or overruling awareness of How We Would Look.

This is not an exercise in guilt. This is an urge to Wake Up. Feel your spirituality as it runs through you, every minute of every day. What are you doing with it? How it is informing your awareness? Ultiumately, how is it helping?

Now. On Monday morning, from the moment you leave your home, walk with awareness. Really look around, at the land, the creatures, your fellow workers. Forget the MP3 player, even the book on the train or bus. Look around. See the land you walk through, natural and man-made. Don’t judge, just bear witness. Consider how you move within it. Let your spirituality inform your actions.

Try to carry this awareness through the day, putting perspective on your actions – especially if you ‘don’t have time.’ Why are you doing what you’re doing? Not in a negative sense – who will benefit from your efforts? See your link in the chain, from immediate co-workers to end users. Washing up may be a chore, but it allows clean utensils to enhance meals, to fuel others. Call centre conversations are immensely frustrating, but is this because one of those involved isn’t really listening? How are you helping, others you are beholden to help, and yourself?

Remember your connection. It’s always there, as are those who walk with you. Just stopping to take a deep breath and bring your true self back from panic or frenetic activity is a sacred act.

Your Gods, your ancestors – would they be proud of you for what you do, even if it’s just making it through the day? Thank them for the realization that ritual is possible wherever you are – and for their help in the daily battle.

You\re never alone. You just have to open your eyes.

Addendum: I’m now slightly late this morning, because I was compelled to write this piece. I’ve just completed the Greater Morning Ritual of the Coffee, however, and wanted to share – preparation with awareness and gratefulness, now taking a moment to sit and enjoy it. Before rushing off to get ready for work…

Enjoy your day, kind reader x

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A Year Has Passed…

Beltane Blessings, lovely readers. A short post today, as I ponder the turning of the year once again and wanted to share my thoughts.

First of all, please visit here, for my post from this time last year.

Read it? Good.

I’m amazed, looking over it today. Just a short year ago, my life was so very different. I could see the changes on the horizon… now I’m the other side.

I have a copy of my soon-to-be-released first book. I’m self-employed, working professionally as a full-time Druid. I’ve met the most wonderful bunch of people – with more to come, with many rites and events this year ahead (including in other countries). People are interested in what I’m up to, and I’m able to help them in turn. My diary is now filling up into late 2013 (eek!).

I have a new niece, and see my nephew growing up (and my little brother growing into his role as Dad).  One member of my animal family is getting older, while the other still revels in his youth. And my partner is strong at my side, blessing me with his presence every day.

Life has changed so completely in many ways, and yet the principles of that original post remain the same. I work hard, to live my truth, to feel my spirituality as part of my life, to consider my actions. It’s not always easy; there are challenges along the way. But I keep moving forward.

Time has passed since last Beltane. What have you accomplished – and what is yet to come?

Oh, all right then. Because it’s Beltane – here’s Jonathan Coulton, celebrating the day. Go forth and enjoy!

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