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Today – some Friday Fiction! A short story from me, in the world of ‘Hopeless, Maine’ (given life by the amazingly talented Tom and Nimue Brown, and endorsed by Neil Gaiman, amongst others).

Enjoy this little step into a strange and Otherworldly place…

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Method

I’ve often been asked to describe how I ‘do’ my Druidry. How I live it, specific practices… suggestions for others on what can seem to be a very mysterious spiritual path. And it’s hard to put into words, yes – because a good part of it is practical, while the rest is pretty difficult to describe without actually showing. Druidry, after all, involves digging in and getting your (metaphorical and actual) hands dirty!

While I can largely only point people in the right direction and wait patiently for them to step forward (or not), I’m always pondering where this path is taking me too. Because if it’s done correctly – or, to be more precise, most effectively – then it’s a constant evolution. Life is not static, and nor should we be. Even if we pause for thought, time and space move on around us.

See? Practical reality. We are ‘cosmic’ animals, moving through time and space. Even when life seems boring, that’s still true. Magic is always happening; it’s just up to us to notice and connect with it.

That’s where I am right now, I think. What am I doing?

The year is moving forward, and I’ve accomplished nowhere near as much as I’d hoped back at the start. This is mostly due to my health, but even that is a lesson. Albeit one which I really wish would hurt a bit less.

The book I had planned has merged and mutated, becoming something completely different.

I’m having to look at how I work with students, again due to my health.

I’m pondering personal practice a good deal, in terms of relevance, meaning and how it helps me.

Ultimately, I’m having to pull back, to be a bit selfish. Because if I don’t, I can’t work effectively with others. However, this is leading to new ideas and ways of accomplishing things, which is rather exciting.

Everything that I’m doing is changing, because I cannot become complacent and simply coast along. I’m always being reminded of that: to move forward, to explore behind the next idea, to share and see if a theory works when held up to the light of other people’s perceptions. I love to share and bounce ideas, as many of you know!

I’m finding myself more and more becoming frustrated with labels. ‘Druid’ is the word most closely aligned to what I do, but I’m finding that it can be a bit binding. Because I’m not ‘just’ that. Plus, it means so many different things to different people.

I’ve been asked if I’m a Druid, a shaman, a mystic, a Witch (Good or Bad!). I think I’m all of those things, to some degree or another.

When I walk the dog, I connect with the land around me as a Druid. When I work public ritual, I connect shamanically. When I talk to my Gods, it’s as a mystic. When I step up to speak and conquer my fear (every time), it’s with Granny Weatherwax-style determination!

I’m all of these things. Each label describes a facet of an overall Spirit which is almost too big to comprehend – so we have to break it down into understandable chunks. But we can’t let ourselves be confined by them.

The practical ‘real-life’ side is intrinsically linked with the magical. Those of you who’ve seen me prepare see me breathing, trying to calm my frantic brain and heart, while also connecting ritualistically so that I may speak the best that I can. As I type this, I pause to consider which word-shapes work most effectively to convey my meaning.

And while I love wordplay, I know how much they are limiting. They can open new worlds, but also confine us – as is shown by those labels. We are more than a tag, so much more. I use words to explain, but as I said at the start, experience is key. Which we gain by doing.

So what am I doing? I’m trying to determine what’s next. What do I want to do, what makes my heart leap with excitement! What do I need to do, even if it’s tough. Where am I being pushed? What am I avoiding?

It’s a constant challenge. I suspect I’ve just described life for many of us! But we do our best. We allow our goals to be flexible, as we and they evolve and change. We connect with the flow around us, sometimes being swept along with it and sometimes swimming to cut our own current.

I’m finding inspiration as I speak to others right now, including here, speaking to you. I’m seeing collossal synchronicity, shared wishes and dreams across communities and groups. Over and over, I see brave folks stepping up to face their challenges – and I quietly applaud, knowing that they can do it! Even if we fall, we can take time to sit and regroup before moving on again, with slightly more care.

This post seems rather liminal, but it’s what I seem to want to say right now. Presented for you, before I get on with today’s work. What will I accomplish? I’m not sure! But I’ll do my best to do something. Making reality magical.

Much love, my friends.

 

 

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Truths and Apologies

Memes are such a constant background noise these days, aren’t they? Cute little sayings, often with a pretty picture, to provoke or inspire. I once sat in an office with walls covered with ‘motivational posters’.

Sometimes that can be helpful. A quick, easily-digestible sentence or two, summing up a feeling or emotion. Validating something far more complex.

But as I love playing with words, sometimes I dig deeper… and find a less comfortable place.

For example: How are you? I’m fine.

This is a lie. Powerful images demonstrate this here (warning – challenging pictures). Many people don’t want to see. ‘Fine’ is enough.

I’ve not been fine for a while now; or rather, I’ve had good days and bad days. This is normal.

But I’ve not posted for far longer than I’d like, because… well… I’ve been battling. I’m sure many of you know those insidious thoughts. ‘You’re useless. Nobody cares. Nothing you say is worth hearing.’ And that most evil of all: ‘Just stop.’

I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. I’ve heard tell of several other contemporary writers who have such difficulties – from Scott Lynch to JK Rowling. Much has been written about the creative fire being linked to mental illness (eg this interesting essay).

But worst of all for me is that inner voice telling me how much I let people down. Because of those precursors to memes, the oversimplistic misunderstandings that we’ve been told all our lives. ‘You don’t think that.’ ‘Don’t be stupid.’ ‘You’re always making excuses.’

From frustrated family members to overbearing bosses, we’ve all heard it. Someone doesn’t want to look deeper, or listen to what’s really going on, so they lash out. Hey – we’ve all done it too, I’m sure.

This is part of the journey, however. As we stop – whether voluntarily or forced to by circumstance – so we realize how awful this is. How unhelpful, degrading and, frankly, wrong.

Nobody is worthless. Nobody is useless. Why can’t I do that? Why shouldn’t I? If there’s a reason, then so there is, but more often than not, the person throwing the demands around is projecting, trying to control, to fit you into their world.

And if you challenge those statements? Have you ever tried? I have, a couple of times. The expression on the person’s face (a teacher and a boss, as I recall) was priceless. It’s as if a disobedient pet suddenly spoke back.

We are often taught to keep quiet, for the sake of peace. As we grow older in this crazy world, though, we discover that while quiet can be nice, safe and cosy, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change things that are wrong. We need to speak up, to challenge, to look deeper.

I’ve had to take time in recent months. I’ve had no choice. Panic attacks, severe anxiety, what is now being called ‘major depressive episodes’. Some days, I haven’t trusted myself to put thoughts together enough to write anything.

Today, a dear friend sent me a meme that summed things up nicely, and inspired this post:

Some Days...

And this is true. Some days, more than others.

Then yesterday, another friend reminded me of my favourite phrase for my Druidry: ‘What are you doing?’

Am I trying? Really? OK. Reboot from Start. Let’s challenge those unhelpful voices within.

I’ve been told that before, by doctors, professional therapists and other ‘experts’. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So how best do I challenge them? The awful things that I tell myself – would I ever say such things to another person? Of course not. But they’ve been said often enough to me, surely I must deserve them. And so I’m dragged along with the flow of negative emotion.

A few nights ago, struck with insomnia, I found myself reading about deities who challenge. And I thought ‘Hey – I’m Pagan. Let’s ask one of those experts.’

So I quietly called upon that deity to help. To see if they’d listen.

And they did.

I sat for a while, pouring it all out, while that person sat quietly, just listening. Giving me their full attention. Understanding, sympathising. Not judging. Seeing deeper than the trite insults and demands, to the effect they had.

And when I was done, they were there with a hug. And so I let myself be held.

I do believe that as Pagans, we are blessed to have such methods to help us. Ancestors, helpful spirits, deities to call on. We are never truly alone, even when it feels like it. The tricky part is remembering that. And as with friends who are there for you, not being afraid to call them up and ask for a chat.

The key here is to speak your truth. Excuses won’t cut it (and are insulting, to them and you). This is the time for soul-truths, deep and painful. To be excised like infection from a wound. A scab can’t heal if it’s just covering a blockage of pus. Yes – that’s unpleasant. So is this process.

So here I am again, asking for your patience as I work things through. The medics are being helpful at least (another huge blessing!), and those of you who’ve offered help are valued more highly than any coin I can think of.

I am trying. I’m always sorry for letting folk down; I take pride in stepping up to keep my promises, and hate it when I can’t. Please know that if I can’t, I really can’t. It’s not an excuse. Those are the worst times.

But the flows rise and fall, and I work with them, as best I can. I battle through the storms and am so glad of the good days, of things I accomplish – even these wee words today. What I once took for granted, I now see as a huge gift. Perhaps that’s the latest lesson to take from this winter season.

Much love, dear ones. I am doing my best, with truth and sincerity. We move into Spring with tiny seeds planted. Gods willing, they will blossom and bring us joy in mind, body and spirit moving foward.

Onward.

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Labels

This is my dog, Fen:

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He has an amazing vocabulary. He knows his name, certainly, also ‘dog’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ (plus numerous toy and food words). But he knows that ‘Fen’ = HIM.

He also knows that he’s my dog. And I’m his human. He knows mine and Himself’s names, so he can find us when asked.

As an English graduate, I was taught about words as a linguistic tool. The image above = Dog. Then, perhaps, Border Collie. You wouldn’t know his name until told, so you might ask for that information. But you’ve got enough to communicate about him from the image.

When we see Things, our brain throws up words to denote them, to fit them into our worldview so that we can understand. Different languages may be used. ‘Dog’ in English, other variations for other localities – but all describe a four-legged animal with a waggy tail.

We also use language to find familiarity. You might not look at me and think ‘human’, but your subconscious knows that. I’m female, according to my dress and body type. Initial greetings determine that I’m English (language), from a certain area of Great Britain (accent). Then we move to names and jobs…

Ah.

This is where we can go off the map and into unknown territory. Because my job isn’t ‘usual’, you see. ‘Druid’ is not a traditional working practice.

OK, It might be super-traditional in that it’s been going on for centuries, but in the 21st century, I doubt Druid Vacancies would appear on most job websites and unemployment agencies. It’s not what I put on my tax return.

Because I have to use conventional labels for Government documents. Author, Priest, Chaplain… understanding is achieved quickly by those words. And I am labelling myself, describing what I do for a living in a very simplistic manner. But it’s good enough, serving its purpose.

Labels are a necessary part of language, to aid understanding, to create a picture in your head. ‘Dog’ might not throw up the correct picture of Fen, but you’d be in the right area. You’d associate ‘Dog’ with the canine friend most familiar to you.

I know that some people, when they say ‘Druid’, think of me. This is lovely – but again, I’m perhaps just the Druid they know best. There are so many types, we might have to start using ‘breeds’ (as Fen is a Border Collie)! Wicca already does this, with its lineages. To an everyday person, however, Gardnerian or Alexandrian – what’s the difference? Understanding has been lost, because there’s no frame of reference.

And as with asking about Fen’s name and who he is, we have to enquire, to dig deeper. Some are fine with that, curious and genuinely interested; others less so. Druid might equate to ‘fluffy New-Ager’, for example (as ‘dog’ might equal ‘dangerous’). I’ve no way of knowing. ‘Priest’ can have any number of associations, positive and negative.

I’ve described myself as a ‘Druid’ for many years now. Recently, I’ve started saying that it’s the label that best describes my personal spiritual practice. I’ve been called a Dru-Witch in the past, because I sometimes cross those boundary lines. I’ve worked with Heathen deities. Does this matter?

To me, no. I do what I’m called upon to do. But to others, it can matter very much. Those labels are important, and we must stick to them.

The trouble is, that I personally find that impossible. We are so much more than just one single label. When I was told off for not calling myself a ‘PriestESS’ (I was ‘denying my femininity’, apparently), I had to laugh. Once a month, my womb reminds me how female I am, and my bosom does the same every time I go for a run! And this was a man telling me off…

I’ve seen some Pagans who cry out for Pagan Prisoners to be stripped of their ‘Pagan’ title. Who has the right to take our labels away? I would never claim that, just as I wouldn’t tell someone what label they should or shouldn’t be using. But I understand that some do not want to share a name (or any association) with a ‘criminal’. Because that’s a negative label.

‘Witch’ was a negative label too, for a very long time. ‘Druid’ as well. We can even get into the secular world – ‘homosexual’, for example. And going further back, ‘Christian’. All of these were criminal offences at one time or another.

‘Druid’ is the closest word to define quickly what it is that I do. But it is not the ultimate definition. In researching my next book(s), I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the limitations of Just One Word. So here’s a few more for me, in spiritual terms:

Pagan – follower of a recognised nature-based spiritual path

Druid – the specific tradition within Paganism, which I narrow down to ‘Priest of my homeland’

Witch – worker of magic to bring about a particular result

Mystic – someone who seeks a very deep connection with their god(s)

Psychometric – someone who gets impressions from the physical touch of particular items (since I was 14 or so). See also Empath

Seer – someone who receives images or visions of future events (again, since my teens)

Didn’t know all of those, did you?

I don’t wave them around, because it all lumps together into ‘me’, into ‘what I do’. Plus I’m still aware of that awful ‘closet’ status (ie it makes me want to run back into Narnia), whereby people challenge my experience because they can’t quite believe it.

I’ve been called a Shaman before. I agree that a lot of the above terms come under Shamanism, but I’m not sure it sits right with me.

I’m an honorary Wiccan (according to a third-generation Gardnerian friend!), but that REALLY p*sses off the traditional folk. So I keep that one quiet, because it requires a little humour.

And thereby comes the issue, really. Which labels are we comfortable using? Are others willing to engage enough to discover that I’m not a dangerous, scary Witch, just as Fen isn’t a dangerous, scary Dog?

Labels can be the gateway to understanding. Or they can be a prison. Let people explain what their words mean for them, before you start telling them what they can and can’t be.

Fen is a Dog. According to Baldrick from the TV show ‘Blackadder’, that means ‘Not a Cat’. But he’s happy sniffing (and being sniffed by) our new kitten. Dogs and cats can get along, and certainly wouldn’t try to tell each other what they can or cannot be. Because they know who they are, and are comfortable with that, while open enough to keep curious (until the claws come out when boundaries are breached!).

Perhaps as explorers of Nature-Based Spirituality, we can learn from Natural Reality as well.

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Power

People often ask me about power – in Pagan terms. This can mean any number of things, and I’ve written about some of them in the past, from spell-power to power-over… magic, ultimately. I suspect the question refers to magical power in a Harry Potter sense more than a neoPagan manner, but it’s still valid, and often hard to talk about without feeling embarrassed. So I’m happy to explore ideas.

Sometimes, though, the hardest power to recognise, learn about and hold on to is your own. Your own life-force, yes, but also your own unique energy.

We all have this. It’s what makes us ourselves, evolved from our own life experiences, skills and passions. Not just our basic energy to get up every day and do our thing, but what keeps our life worth living.

I realized a while ago that I had to take back my power, after illness, divorce, learned behaviour… so many negative experiences, in which I’d given so much of myself away. But then I somehow forgot this lesson, as my ongoing illness made it increasingly hard to believe. I let myself fall into powerlessness, as fear, anxiety, depression and general malaise pulled me back down.

Fortunately (I promise!), when you’re at your lowest ebb, the only way to go is up. But if you haven’t sat for a while in that dark place, it’s hard to learn what brought you there, and how to keep yourself climbing back.

I’m remembering lately how I practised playing with my ‘power’ back when I first started on this Pagan path. Little magics, such as doing my best to maintain a daily practice, set a great foundation. Reminders and tricks keep my mind aware that this power exists and that I can access it – thus helping me to reconnect with the world and stick one in the eye of the nasty thoughts that tell me I can’t!

As Pagans, as those who openly work with ‘magic’, we can certainly allow ourselves to play and see what works for us. There’s no need to feel foolish, or that it’s ‘not real’ – we know that it is, as we see the effects. Whether these be put down to psychological trickery or some other ‘rational’ explanation doesn’t really matter; the proof is in the result.

Daily practice is a lovely thing. I tell all my students to try and maintain it. But every single person has days when they forget, or when life gets in the way… and that’s ok! We just have to pick it up and start again.

Make little rituals to keep you reminded throughout the day, that you still have your power. A lot of this is dependent on mindfulness, pausing to really focus on these tiny spells, but that also helps bring you back to yourself. I’ve often done these in public, with a secret smile as my apparently ‘normal’ activities are actually far more.

So, small ideas:

  • Take ‘me’ time with your tea break. Stir your drink clockwise, honouring the restorative strength that it will bring to you, and then be aware of that as you drink it down.
  • Light a little candle and sit with it for a few minutes. Feel the warmth and light from this delicate flame. Feel the flame inside you.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Slow it down, or keep it regular – this is great to practice when exercising! Breath is your life energy, after all. It proves you’re still here and doing.
  • If you have a piece of special jewellery that you wear for luck, hold on to that as a reminder of what’s important to you. Remember why.
  • Be tactile. Feel your feet on the floor, or reach out to touch a tree as you pass by. The earth is always around us, holding us up. Pause to feel the air around you, the sun on your face… the elements that we hold within and around us.

A big aspect of taking back and holding on to your personal power is also doing things for you. What activities do you do that really fire you up? Not for anyone else (although loved ones may enjoy your shenanigans!), but purely and completely you? What makes you bounce with enthusiasm, inside and out?

I had a time of being told to ‘stop being silly’ or ‘that’s not really you’ with regard to certain activities I liked – but no, I did actually enjoy them! Naysayers or controlling folk can project themselves so hard that it’s difficult to tear your own truth away. Yes, I like a particular type of music – so I’ll listen to it, and dance around to express that! Cheesy movies that make me laugh, fun books that engross my mind, trivial computer games, creating in my own style… whatever it is that’s your thing.

Fear and shame pull power away. Stand still and breath, saying quietly but firmly: ‘NO’. Imagine a hand held up as a barrier. This can be an incredibly powerful act. Reaffirm your Self. And if you’ve forgotten quite what that is, feel free to explore, to try things out, see what feels good and what doesn’t work for you. Be honest. As you learn what’s yours again, you’ll find others love when you share that energy. You will, in turn, inspire them as you’re inspired.

As we re-call our own power, it helps us to recognise when it falters, or when others try to push it down. There’s no need for anger, although such times can be frustrating – laughter can be a great deterrent.Recognising what drags you down also helps, as you work to find what protects against that.

Keeping hold of yourself can take practice, especially in such a busy world with so many demands on us, but it’s essential if we are to walk our own way, in our own truth, on our own adventures.

PS: Today, I actually have very little physical power, and a rather furry brain. But I wanted to prove that I could make something worth sharing – so here it is. Doing my best, in the knowledge that my readers can too x

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Moving

I don’t know how to start this.

It’s been an age. I feel like I’ve been in a holding pattern for the last year. Lots to overcome or work through in life and health, but now feeling the determination again to move, to do, to speak up…

One of the worst aspects of being pretty much unable to cope with anything much of the time due to my mental and physical issues was the lack of ability to write. Obviously I could if I wanted… but I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t bring myself to even open the laptop. And if I did, the words didn’t flow. I felt like I’d be just banging a drum randomly, making noise but with no sense or feeling behind it.

Writing has always been my outlet, my creativity. To not have that was like having one of my senses go dark. Alone, unable to be heard, unable to connect… I’d lost something of myself.

Then at the end of last Summer, a wise friend told me that Spirit was telling me to write again. That I had to. She’d been told to tell me. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but hey – who am I to question?

So, like a cripple learning to walk again using battered and weak limbs, I began. Just notes here and there, but as I became absorbed in research for upcoming books, I felt the flame flicker and begin to burn brighter. It had never gone out completely, but had been smothered, almost, by a miasma of depression or (unhelpful) medication.

The fact that I’m pushing, doing, feeling the Awen again, is itself a huge inspiration. I’m forcing myself to reach for it, and it’s there, waiting. I’m still myself, at the bottom of the pit, a flare of bright amidst the darkness.

Yesterday, I started pushing in earnest. Emails were sent to restart projects, research continues… and I dared to share links to my books again. Resulting in ‘Facing the Darkness’ going back to #1 in its category on Amazon.

This is a relatively small thing, but to me, it’s huge. I’m in such august company on that list, and people are reading my words and hearing me… I’m able to reach out again. What I have to say is worth something. When in the worst low places, that’s impossible to believe, that you’re worth anything at all.

Today, I took a single picture while out walking the dogs. I’ve used that to restart my Inspiration blog, Drops of Awen. Just one post a day, no word limit, to share a little of what inspires me. Also, to kick me into actively seeking out decent inspiration that’s worth sharing!

It’s foggy outside today. We’re still mid-winter. But I’m seeing many articles about Brigit in the run-up to Imbolc. May that wise lady of inspiration guide me, as I move forward into the year ahead.

Much love, my friends. Thank you so much for your patience and help through this darkest of times.

Onward.

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Combined Healing

Good morning, lovely readers. It’s been the longest ever pause between posts… due to 2016. I’m sure few of you are surprised. It’s been a tough year for most of us.

I’m not going into details of my trials here (if you want information on that, it’s over on my Patreon page, as it’s somewhat more private). But what I’m wanting to do moving forward is to reboot this blog, talking about Druidry yes, but on a more regular basis.

On this particular Monday, I’m considering – as always – the connection between what is called ‘spiritual’ and what is called ‘everyday life’. And how the two really are connected, whether we like it or not.

I’ve been in a lot of physical and mental pain recently, which regular society suggests I handle via medication. My Doctor is great, as is my local pharmacy (hurrah for small village shops!), but ultimately it’s about pills to cure your ills.

This is fine, and I don’t want to disparage anything that works. However… I am questioning how much that is true.

Painkillers certainly work, and help hugely when I’m suffering from, say, a migraine last night. But they didn’t quite do the trick.

I was desperate. So I tried everything my frazzled brain could think of. The brain-pain was ultimately beaten back using a combination of forces: Ibuprofen for pain, tea and water for hydration and consolation… and ‘alternative’ remedies. Interestingly, it’s only when I started to apply these that change began to be tangibly felt.

I have a fabulous temple balm from Luna Levitas, ‘Witch Potion Headache Relief’. That’s her style, but in real terms it’s aromatherapy: peppermint, eucalyptus and bergamot, amongst other things. Entirely vegan and a pleasure to inhale and apply.

Also I love the term ‘temple balm’. Yes, it’s the temples on your head, so you’re essentially stroking your brain back to health. But it also makes me think of religious temples, peaceful and quiet, the scent of the balm mixing with the spirit of a magical place… definitely therapeutic.

Then I remembered a sari scarf acquired from Wrapunzel (I’ve been exploring ritual head-wrapping recently, but more on that in another post). So a deep purple wrap was gently tied around my aching noggin, and I rested myself back and closed my eyes…

In a short while, the pain began to ease. Not just the physical pain, but the mental tension beneath it. I began to breathe more freely again, feeling the flow of everything combining in my intention to heal myself.

This is a huge part of what I’ve been going through in recent months. NHS medication (which has never really worked) has given way to proper talking therapy. Self-care has become necessary – whatever works, from rest to exercise, engrossing stories (movies and books) to meditation or journeying.

By combining the spiritual with the ‘mundane’ (which really isn’t!), my mind, body and spirit are coming together to do what needs to be done.

Opening my laptop this morning to write has also been a huge challenge. The pain has made creativity so difficult, which in turn makes my mood plummet – writing is what I do, and not having done that has also been painful! So here I am. Again, setting intention, for both myself and sharing with those who are interested.

My work is about inspiration and connection. I’m reforging those skills as life turns into a new phase – I really do feel that’s what 2016 is pushing us to do. We step up, learn and move forward. But through growing knowledge of who we are, what we’re doing, and seeing that we do it for ourselves in order to step ‘outside’ and honestly connect with others.

I’m still here. That’s a blessing. As is the healing. I’ll be continuing to explore, and look forward to seeing what I find as the journey moves forward.

Much love, my friends. Happy Monday x

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