Serbia – Last Day

(Again – previously published on Patreon. Please support for immediate access)

We’ve been very lucky with the weather this weekend – kind of. It’s been sunny and hot, which is great for the crowds, but not so much for the folks in armour.

Yesterday, though, the rain began. Gently, over the UK v France fight (cue lots of jokes about British weather helping us), but heavier overnight. Today, the site is rather muddy. Now the jokes are about Agincourt.

(Addendum: It got worse. Flooding-worse. Fortunately, all the fighting was done by then!)

I’m feeling philosophical. It’s our last day of the event, as we fly home first thing tomorrow. I’ve not been fighting, but Support is so important to the team. In the past, supporters were (briefly) treated like squires – but that was quickly knocked on the head. We’re not unpaid servants!

The (ex-Polish military) Team Coach took all of us Support crew aside last night and thanked us. This was really amazing, and I felt myself welling up – I was touched. It’s easy to forget the helpers, but without us, preparation and constant assistance would be much harder. Extra hands are needed for a knight to get into armour, and water is ALWAYS needed post-fight.

Back on the second day, the Team Captain asked if I could sew. A few minutes later, I was sat in his tent, his helmet between my knees (stop sniggering), stitching the cloth around the metal. Everything must be historically accurate to the eye, but the fabric collar was too thick and ungainly, getting in our Captain’s way.

When I’d finished, he was surprised how even it all was, much more comfortable and still looking good. Since then, it’s been noticed that when I’m asked to help with something, I get it done, quickly and well. It’s almost as if I’d been a PA for years… impossible tasks are my specialty 😂

What they didn’t see was my workarounds. I hadn’t expected to sew this week, so had no thimble. The material was thick linen with padding inside. So I found some fabric plasters, put them around my fingertips and – Tadaaa! Bodged thimbles. Also less blood, which is a bonus.

One fellow’s straps broke on his tabard. I ran for the needle and thread and was stitching things up before he had a chance to move. Again, surprise.

I’m Support. I help. From taking photographs for tourists with the knights in the marketplace, to fixing armour. Not glamorous, but necessary (and also kind of fun).

Each Team has also contributed to the overall running of the event, specifically an ‘Environmental’ charge. This means the toilet blocks are kept clean (not overflowing), litter-bins are emptied regularly… the site is cared for. As anywhere else, this is a tourist site of historical importance. Serbia is very proud of its history, and everyone here knows that they’re a part of that: medieval fighting with a 21st Century awareness and ethic.

I am writing this on my bench under some lovely trees, small leaves landing on me as I type. Team Israel is next to me, chatting and laughing. The rain has stopped, the sun is out and the mood is jovial.

It’s been a hard week spoon-wise, and we’ll both need serious rest when we get home. But again, I’m tired but proud.

Off to the traders now. I spied a small bronze Spoon pendant yesterday amidst the Heathen (and Witcher!) symbols for sale. Wonder if it’s still there…

Update: It wasn’t. But some beautiful acorn-tipped bronze pins were. Sewing accessory souvenirs! 😊

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Serbia – Day 4

(As previous, originally published on my Patreon. I’m at home right now 😊)

I have my first cup of tea since leaving England. A Yorkshire fighter brought dozens of Yorkshire teabags. And we found milk. I am happy.

Despite best intentions, blogging has not been possible in recent days, due to immense busyness and lack of wifi signal. I am currently sitting on a bench by Camp UK in the middle of Smederevo Fortress, typing this to upload later. Also listening to a multitude of languages and a group of minstrels playing not far away.

Life has been frenetic. Without all the modern gadgets we take for granted, Camp UK is incredibly focused on what it’s there to do – so at any moment, I see men working to clean their armour, work to repair dings with a small anvil and much-used tools, and women returning from fights, sweaty and either happy or frustrated.

I commented to one of the team that I can now see why Himself finds it so hard to sum up what happens at these events when he returns. Because EVERYTHING is happening, all the time.

I managed to find a quiet space, in a tent on a friendly squaddie’s cot. It’s been helpful to be able to retreat when things get overwhelming, but I’ve actually found the friendly atmosphere so lovely. Even if someone does badly in a fight, teammates are there. They may agree that Yes, You were shit – but get better and get back in there. (!)

One team has notably been losing, but perhaps not helped by their focus on 100% positivity. ‘You did great, that was fantastic!’… even when they haven’t. Flaws are ignored, mistakes glossed over. So they continue to lose and get angrier each time, crying ‘foul’ because it’s clear they ARE the best! Everyone else just doesn’t realize! Except they aren’t, and by missing that truth, they can’t get better. There is a very clear lesson there. Weakness is not failure. Be aware of and take responsibility for your flaws, and work to improve them – or they’ll remain, and you’ll be left wondering why.

Otherwise, the sense of many nations coming together in shared sport is something I’ve never quite experienced before. Someone was saying that football has its own atmosphere, but this is so different, because of the nature of the fighting. Rugby’s the nearest thing that we could think of: fighting together with full awareness of risk, but absolute willingness to commit, body and soul, as an individual and as part of a team.

I was also chatting to the Chilean team Captain. Initially, his friends at home had said ‘You’ll come back in a coffin!’ Because everyone thinks that this sport is crazy! But year on year, they’ve improved, gained more support, and people are now congratulating him on doing this and representing them.

Yes, it’s scary. Real weapons and armour, real risk. But absolutely balanced by the unity and fulfilment of what is being done.

I’m very proud of these men and women. So glad to be able to be here and be a part of this, even as just a supporter. I think we’ll be returning home happy.

UPDATE: Night has fallen. I’m writing this looking over a field of dropped armour and campfires, singing and laughter.

Team UK has beaten France to win Bronze in the 30v30 fights! Guess who was sitting in the ‘supporters’ stands surrounded by French folks. But still managed to get a Serbian family cheering for England 😂

So much of this is about shared experience. There’s (obviously) aggression in the lists when fighting, but all of the supporters cheer each other as enthusiastically as their own. The sense of fun and shared good feeling is visibly (and audibly!) crossing borders, and I absolutely love it. We need not be defined by lines on a map. We can fight in sport and then help each other up to fight again tomorrow.

Only one sour note: I was chatting with an Argentine lady Marshall. She was watching from the stands because apparently the (Russian) organisers had forbidden all women from Marshalling. Her husband was waving to her from the field. It turned out she’d trained with Himself a few years ago, and was very proud of her job, being ‘Mother’ to the fighters.

I’ve noticed a certain attitude to women here, and it makes me both nervous and sad. Some places still have to move into the 21st century, it seems. But we battle on, with those wonderful men who stand as our allies.

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Serbia – Day 1

(Originally published on my Patreon, two weeks ago. Please follow me there if you’d like to see my Summer adventures as they happen!)

Here I am, miles away from home… and as always, seeing both the similarities and differences between Here and There.

I’m in Serbia this week, as Himself is part of Team GB for Battle of the Nations, the huge international medieval fighting event. DON’T call them reenactors.

We’re staying at a lovely (self-described) traditional hotel outside Belgrade, driving to Smederevo Fortress every day for the event.

This means that we (briefly) saw Belgrade on the way out of the city. A sharp contrast between Old and New, I suspect it’s what London may have looked like in the 1950s. Lots of building work going on.

Out here in the countryside, it’s beautiful. We’re close to some very dense forest, with enormous birds of prey swooping above, and so many crows everywhere!

We noticed that from above, the landscape looks like the English countryside, with its patchwork of fields and towns. Up close, it kind of still does… until you notice certain fields have been ploughed by animal, not machine.

Many houses are being constructed, and again, there’s a contrast between Cold War-esque bloks (ie apartments) and lovely new homes, often with several stories and unique features. One house is bright yellow, another has Grecian pillars… make it what you want it to be!

Also today is a Bank Holiday for May 1st. Shops shut, celebrations happening, and flowers garlanded over house fronts and gates. I woke up to the scent of incense floating in the window. Serbia has absolutely not forgotten its history.

One notable downside – as in a lot of mainland Europe, driving is a survival sport 😂

I’m hoping to take more pictures over the next few days, as there’s a lot of beauty to see. For now, here’s a familiar image. But look at the top, at the cast names.

This is how it feels. Similar to home… until you look closer.

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Adventures!

So as you may have seen from my Social Media, a lot is happening this year for me. Talks, weddings, travelling about to teach and generally help…

I’ve often been asked to write more about these adventures, so I’ve decided that I will. My Patreon supporters will get first look, but I’ll then repost certain pieces here about a week later for you all to see. (If you’d like to both support me and see what I’m doing as I’m doing it, please click on the link above.)

Last weekend, Himself and I were right in the middle of Hadrian’s Wall. This was for a quiet, private Handfasting, but coincidentally in a very meaningful place for me as well.

I came here years ago, when I was studying A-level Archaeology (our class had to do this on our own time, as it wasn’t generally part of the curriculum). So there’s photos of me (that I’ll try to find), aged Teenager, sitting on the Wall and in Roman Forts, in the January cold of the Far Frontier.

On the drive North, I looked out of the window to see miles of remote grass and farmland, with only sheep (and new lambs) for company. I can truly see why this was the End of the World for the Romans stationed here. The mountains rise up to meet the clouds, with snow visible in the distance.

For the rest of the day, we rested from the journey and prepared for the ritual. We also planned to visit parts of the Wall and the excavated fortifications (time permitting). An update on this will follow…

I’ll leave you with a picture of our beautifully English Afternoon Tea, as we were fussed over and generally looked after by an amazingly friendly B&B host.

Raising my cup to you all, lovelies. This feels exciting, to be sharing these parts of my journey.

xx

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Who Am I?

When asked who you are, what is your immediate response? Your name, your job, marital status, sexuality, hobbies… all the labels that make up that sense of Me.

In which case, my name is Cat, I’m a priest and author, married with two dogs and two cats, cis-female, into books and knitting. Also GSOH (Good Sense of Humour).

But that by no means tells you about who I am inside. The Me that looks out from my eyes, who writes these words and tries to convey (with varying degrees of success) what she means to all of you.

One of the things I’ve sought to actively explore in recent years is who I am. That’s a continuing mission in a way, one that we all share.

As children, our identities are malleable and mostly made up by our parents: those who buy our clothes, sort out our haircuts, tell us what we’re allowed to do and not do, and generally teach us about the world.

As teenagers, we may rebel against this, as we strike out more to find our own identities. We try on different looks, join social groups, follow musicians or sports teams. Community merges with personal identity, giving us a new sense of family through our friends, much of which is formed through schools (specifically, those we come into contact with every day).

When we reach adulthood – say, over 21 – we’re supposed to have figured it all out. Who we are, what we want to do. Job goals, relationships, family of our own. But it’s not that simple now, as the world changes and so many more options are open to us (or closed).

We have so much information now, it’s virtually impossible to remain disconnected from the events going on in the world. We may wish to actively engage, pushing for change, or quietly work behind the scenes on a local (or even familial) level.

As others listen to our opinions, we may find that we have more power than we ever knew before. What do we do with it? Even this blog may inspire someone – I see that in the comments and responses. My actions have weight, even if it seems right now that it’s just me tapping away on my laptop in my living room.

Lately, I’ve felt very disconnected. My new medications have made my thoughts fuzzy and unclear. I’ve made mistakes, got frustrated, stepped back a little. I’ve felt that I let folks down by being ill.

That’s not true, of course. I’ve stepped back because it’s been necessary. I’m still here, after all. Battling the annoyance that I can’t do everything I want to do right now!

We’re on the cusp of Spring. Which I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. The changeable weather has meant the turning of the year has crept up on me… but something inside has known.

I can’t help but think of the transformation that Spring ushers in. The seeds finally braving the world as they appear from the soil. New life arriving, with enthusiastic yells and insatiable curiosity. Stepping outside and feeling the sun’s warmth after a mad winter.

Working through my illness, I’m exploring who I am all over again. What my new abilities are, my new boundaries, needs and preferences. A good portion of it is relearning who I was before, at heart – elements of myself that have been lost or forgotten during traumatic times. A lot of what I find is new and exciting… and a bit scary.

I’m paying more attention to what is true for me. Yes, I do want to do that. No, I don’t like this. Not just giving way for the sake of others and becoming a shadow in the background.

I may not be able to do as much as I once could, but I Am Still Here. I’m passionate about words, both the writing of others and creating my own. I love seeing creativity in action and supporting creative folk. My spirituality encourages my curiosity, my desire to explore and to know Why.

Which means I have little time now for bullsh*t, for prevaricating and yoghurt weaving (look it up). I’d rather hear your stories than what you think I want to know. I’d like to see behind the everyday masks and make friends with the person beneath, warts and all.

I want to help others on their journeys, without judgement until I know the full picture. I want to know Why things are as they are. I want to poke complacency and foolhardiness, to encourage and applaud transformation, ideas, action and achievement.

The world is changing as we are. Much as it makes me want to hide sometimes, I know that opting out is not an option. I’d rather help, in my small way, to make and be the change I want to see. I can only do this by recognising my own truth, my own Self, but recognising that it’s constantly changing as I learn and move forward.

That’s what life is.

Once again: What Can I Do? What Can You Do?

Go on then. We’ll muddle through together, as we step forward into the new Spring.

Potential

(Desktop art: ‘Terrence the Badass Unicorn’, by MonkeyGhost)

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Speaking as a Woman

Today is International Women’s Day. This always gets me thinking. Much like Mother/Father/Secretary/Dog’s days, aren’t those every day?

Well, of course. But it’s worth taking a specific day out to think about that particular group.

(Yes, there is an International Men’s Day. That’s not what I’m looking at today).

From an early age, I learned that there were more male role models than female. In the late ’70s/early ’80s, Wonder Woman was my idol. The only superheroes I saw back then were on TV, so while I loved the lonely strength of the Hulk and the corny fun of Adam West’s Batman (where Catwoman always seemed to win, somehow), there wasn’t much else to choose from that I could relate to.

As any so-called minority knows, it’s tough when you don’t see yourself in the world around. You seek out something that reflects You, and hold on to it fiercely when you find it.

It seemed that a certain social group of straight, white men was the norm, the ‘default’. I ended up being somehow tomboy-ish, because the specified female roles weren’t in the least interesting to me. Then that one female leader, Margaret Thatcher… well, no. No, thank you.

I remember adult ladies around me making jokes about the bra-less, freedom-fighting women of Greenham Common and Newbury. Third-wave feminism seemed a long way away from me, and not at all aspirational.

I saw many female teachers, but led by a Head Master. I saw male bosses and female secretaries. Of course, in later life, I became a PA, and understood how deeply true it is that while men stand up to run things, they couldn’t do it without the strong women behind them, hiding their wits and brains behind their battle-armour of Wonderbra, heels and fierce makeup.

It’s often true that women have had to fight twice as hard to gain as much recognition as men do ‘normally’. Which is why on days like this, it’s both fun and necessary to catch ourselves in perpetuating those default norms. Feminism is about equality, for all. This is not about women above men, but asking for equal respect. Be we gay or straight, trans or cis, our stories are just as valid as anyone else’s. No matter our ancestry or current social role or job, we can find commonality, hear each other and stand up together. Our relationships, and the gendered language we use, is still evolving and maturing as it is required to represent new things.Pagans have a great deal of respect for women, given that it is a very female-led spirituality – but again, we still have room to grow. We stand with our brothers, fathers and sons, together in our power, unique and connected. This is the revolutionary act that we can demonstrate, each and every day, in ritual and regular life.We say that we see women as sacred – yet many are still taken advantage of, used or disparaged. In recent years, I’ve got into (rather pointless) arguments about how I call myself a Priest, not a Priestess. While I know that the suffix ‘ess‘ simply denotes the female of the word, once again, the default is male. That always annoyed me, as it seemed so arbitrary. Actress but not directress (or directrix). Many people have called me a Priestess, which I don’t mind at all, but it’s interesting to note that a Priestess is treated as if the title is an honorific, not derogatory (even if you need to be a High Priestess to carry any clout *grin*). That word appears to have been reclaimed, and I’m glad of this. Priest and Priestess, standing together as God and Goddess. And I am deeply grateful to those men who stand at our side.
Today and all days, I call on my lady-friends, women in body and/or spirit, to stand in who they are. Sometimes that’s the biggest battle of all, but know that there are so many others who have your back and love you for that honesty, integrity and bravery. Whether our weapon is a sword, pen, wand or knitting needle, know that we are all Wonder Women at heart.Wonder Woman

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Small Magics

(Cross-posted with Drops of Awen).

To paraphrase many notable occultists, Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.

We all do this, all the time – but unconsciously. We let ourselves be influenced by outside forces, as our attention is moved from one thought to the next.

But when we take charge of our consciousness, with intentional and will-power, we can feel the change happen.

As I walk this path, I often say that Paganism is a constant practice (in the same way that we practice magic). We learn about ourselves and our connections with others, and create change with our thoughts, words and actions.

Today… perhaps a simple change, but to me, a profound one.

I felt myself beginning to slip, to spiral down into the depression. Quickly – time to take action.

Moving is the first step. Sometimes I don’t even get that far, which is why I usually have a book or a knitting project to hand.

Then Doing, something which brings me back to myself, usually through happiness, an activity I enjoy. Alter the negative feeling, grab onto something to stop the spiralling fall.

I distract myself with this, even though the anxiety-voices are telling me that I have things to do, I should be working! But no.

Right now, I’m spending this hour in an indulgent, sweet-smelling Bimble bath. I’m reading a book. I’m washing myself thoroughly, then using pleasant scented Lush oil afterwards. I wrap myself in a soft dressing-gown, and fuss the pups (who’re always glad I survived The Bath).

I can now feel mind and body relaxed. The tension has dissipated, the worried voices gone quiet. I was able to beat it (this time). It’s not always so simple, but I celebrate this victory.

Each win tells me that I can do it, and keep on doing it. Even on the worst days.

I’m now sharing this, cross-posting so that in these small words can themselves be a magic spell, to inspire in turn.

If you need it, feel my hand reaching out to you. We can get through it, dear ones.

Small magics, together.

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