In Sickness and…

A long overdue update. Spring is upon us (as the rain beats down on my window here!), and I feel like leaving this Winter is almost akin to clambering from a very deep, dark hole…

For the past two months, I’ve been pretty much confined to home. I’ve been very ill, both mentally and physically, and while I have a fabulous doctor looking after me, it’s been ridiculously hard. Not least because I’m a bad patient. If I’m not able to do something with my days, I get frustrated, which leads down the path to… well, bad thoughts. Spiralling down is an apt metaphor, but not fun to live.

So anyway. Today is the first day I’ve been back in my little office for quite a while, and I’m doing my best to do that something. Catching up with emails and marking; the phone is already going with meetings to sort out treatments and work. But my head is still fuzzy, so I’m having to remind myself to take things gently.

One thing which has struck me over and over throughout this is how much we drive ourselves in the world today. This is an old song and I won’t sing it again now, but I’m sure you understand.We don’t have time to be ill, what about deadlines, people to see, things to do… argh!

A huge aspect of my healing has been the voices of friends, reassuring me that it was actually OK to be out of action.They were still there, I could do this, everyone had faith and things would soon be well again. Thank the gods for social media again – all I had to do some days was to reach out a hand and have it grasped firmly across the virtual ether.

It’s hard to defend against such a barrage of loving optimism – and I quickly learned not to try! Seeing the torrent of kindness reaching from around the world touched me deeply, and tears flowed more than once.

I’ve written in the past of community, and this is the best aspect of that, I think. Sure, there’ve been some who sent brickbats – I’m lazy, making excuses, can’t be bothered, etc etc – but those who really saw the battle I’ve been fighting have really stepped up in arms alongside. (I love that image.)

This is the community that I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve met almost all of them through my work as a Public Druid (TM, heheh), and when I remember back years ago to that similarly awful time of unemployment, the prospect of even advertising as a ‘Druid Priest’, how ridiculous that sounded… But I did it. I moved off the map, the 9-5, pension and sick pay, lunch hours and annual leave. Beyond the border of ‘normal’ life, here there be dragons! And it has brought me so much joy. Difficulties, sure, but life is a very different place now because I stuck to those choices, followed the signs and trusted. I wouldn’t be part of this community otherwise.

Being Pagan, of course, teaches you to look for the reasoning behind things, the lessons that we can learn through the downs as as well as the ups. And so my sick time has taught me a few things. A big one is that mental illness hurts easily as much as physical. But sometimes stepping into those waves of madness (especially when you seem to have no choice), standing up and raising hands to others, having faith and just riding things can take you to marvellous, unexpected and wonderful places.

I have to trust that this time has held its own lessons – I’m too close to tell just yet. At its worst, I feared letting others down by my inactivity; but those others stepped up gladly to help me. Love and trust, those tenets of humanity as well as Paganism, genuine compassion, empathy and understanding. Friendship and community, worth more than any gem.

I’m still here.

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Reviving the Writing Spirit

Happy New Year, lovely people. It’s been a long while, but I’m still here! A busy year, many ups and downs… But now planning for 2016. Including tasks that I really want to be doing, rather than being tied down with obligation. 

Translation: I’m saying ‘No’ a little more often. Boundaries are being set. New energy is being found in the darkness of winter.

Writing is resuming, therefore, with both this blog, various articles coming up in publications and on websites, but also my daily Inspiration blog-ette, ‘Drops of Awen‘. Small words each day, but which both encourage me to write and to see something worth writing about each day.

Oh, and more ‘official’ books as well…

Raising a glass and moving forward.

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Daily Druidry – audio

A little treat today, folks! Some of you might know that I’m using Patreon to help support my work, as people have often expressed a wish to help. In return, I’m providing exclusive writings, plus audio and (hopefully!) video.

So here’s one of the new audio blogs, made available to everyone for your enjoyment! Please do support me if you can; either way, I’m not going to stop anytime soon, and more writings are on their way…

With thanks to you all for your interest. Every creative person is held up by their community, and I’m no different. Much love.

Click here to find the audio file on Patreon, and get more details.

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24/7 Priest

I saw an interesting story this morning. A lovely depiction of women, armed raised to the sky, dresses and hair flowing, entitled ‘A Gathering of Priestesses’. It relates to online classes and talks being held soon.

Lovely, I thought. I wish I was as glamorous as them!

Then I stopped. I looked at the recent pictures of myself at work that folk have posted to my Facebook – as I officiate at weddings, namings and public ritual. Good grief… I am doing this! Aren’t I?

I often find myself pausing to consider the terminology we use to describe our ‘work’ – ie the tasks we do for others to support ourselves and our community. I call myself Priest, and have been both honoured and berated for it… despite the fact that I only took it on after enough people had referred to me as such, and I’d been working as one for long enough that I felt it to be an accurate title and descriptor. I don’t tend to use ‘Priestess’, not because I’m ‘denying my femininity’ (yes, really) but because I don’t see gender as part of the role, not really. I’ve often said that people can call me what they want, so long as it’s civil or polite!

But what does it really mean, to ‘Priest?’ Do we turn it on or off, like a 9-5 job? Is it reliant on certain clothing, place or attitude? Of course not. I’ve been reading a lot of work lately by priests of other faiths, and see the same thoughts again and again. A Priest is something you are, not something you do. It’s a role you take on, yes, but as a result of vocation, calling to service. Duty comes into it, but I find myself working almost anytime, anyplace. I have joked that my motto is the same as the 1970s British comedy show, ‘The Goodies’ – We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere!

Ultimately, I do what I’m called upon to do. Great. Priesting for others is identifiable. What about other times, then? In private, at home, out shopping, with family?

Nimue Brown wrote a thought-provoking piece that’s been in my head relating to this topic this week, on Gods. As with the title of Priest, being a Priest of [Insert Deity Here] can be used as a bludgeon almost, to give the title-wearer power, bolster their ego, increase their standing in the community… or it can mean what it truly means. 

If you take on the title – and subsequent responsibility – as a Priest of a Deity, then you are that all of the time. As a vicar might serve their community, a Priest of a God serves their Lord or Lady as needed, throughout their lives. Not just when it’s convenient. You don’t shut the door to the Powers that Be. So public Pagan Priests discover that they might be called upon all of the time, even when it might not be convenient to them.

And this includes all those in-between times as well. Which is what occurred to me today.

I made the decision to work from home today. I’ve dressed, sorted out the animal household residents, pinned my hair up and considered what needs doing. No makeup, no jewellery, no glamorous presentation! This idea popped into my head. It wanted out. I’m typing from my sofa, with a cup of tea at hand. That’s how writing works sometimes. So here I am.

Through the writing, I’m discovering thoughts, ideas, challenging myself. Am I a Priest when tapping away here? Or washing up, doing the laundry, walking the dogs? How about when I’m hidden under a blanket, crying my eyes out, having been overcome with emotion on those darkest days? 

Yes, I am. The truth seemed quite simple, as I pondered it. The stories tell us so, and from them – those myths that I return to for guidance – comes confirmation.

Demeter’s dark days are called ‘Winter’. Ereshkigal turned hers into determination. Odin suffered to find his truth. Athena (Wisdom) was born from Zeus’s headache!

Whether we see deity as literally existant or not, our ancestors went through the same life dilemmas as we do now, and retold the journeys in story. From peasant to King, they pondered, explored, screamed and wept. Others were there to help – public, accessible Priests – but part of the journey is questing inside, for that ‘Aha’ moment (yes, which Druids call Awen) of realization. Discernment, through piles of crap or huge social noise, to find your truth. 

Priests do this for others, but also for themselves. We all do, to some degree. While I suspect that the reason that Priests gained so much power is that others wanted to rely on someone else to sort their problems out for them, a good Priest will inspire, guide and encourage, not provide a quick fix (I never quite understood how absolution worked, but repenting a mistake instead of regretting it seemed clear). As spirituality is a life-choice, not just for convenient ‘holy’ days, so we live it. All of the time, good and bad, light and dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We take responsibility. We stand as Priests, guided by those we serve as much as we guide them. My Gods are patient, but give kicks when needed – as do I! Sometimes it is just a matter of allowing space for the realization. 

Priesting myself is no bad thing. Boundaries to allow for that are as necessary as in public ritual. Stories guide along the way. Moments of realization allow for internal ‘facepalms’, of ‘How did I not see that before?!’ – because only now am I ready, in a place to properly see.

I’ve been given many labels over the years, but ultimately, I regularly recommit to those that fit best – and so I move forward. This idea or identity is not finalised in this little blog post; it will evolve as I do, as I discover more on my journey. And so my own story unfolds.
Occasionally, I even dress to match.

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Support

So… this has happened. I now have a Patreon page.

It’s come up a lot on social media over the years. How dare I ask for money to perform the work I do! Well… I need to live. Our ancestors supported their communities, from butcher and baker – to Druid or Priest. I’ve said it often: if I wasn’t able to make my way doing this work, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m grateful daily that I’m needed and valued in this way, both monetarily and in the thanks of the many kinds that I’ve received over the years!

Now, things are moving forward. I’m testing the water, to see if this is possible – to have a base for that work, rather than taking over my own kitchen table with laptop and papers. I had it once before, at the lovely White Rose Healing Rooms, and people would come to visit, to learn, to just find a comfy chair, a cup of tea and some sanctuary. This is needed again.

What I get on Patreon will be supplemented from my own earnings, of course. But the more I’m backed, the more I can do – and I will. I’ve often been told that I undervalue myself, but it’s more that I’m aware nobody has much in the way of spare finances these days. Ultimately, I’m there for those in need, and those don’t tend to be the affluent.

But if you can, know that your help is so very much appreciated. Updates will be regular, and surprise gifts are being planned! As always, I do try my best.

I’m hopeful that this will aid my writing and my work with others, as the next stage on this mad journey…

Onwards.

With love and thanks, as always xxx

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I Have Confidence…?

When I was little, one of the main background soundtracks to my life was ‘The Sound of Music’.

Don’t laugh. Bear with me, there is a point to this.

My Mum loves that film. Every holiday it was on (in the times before any form of recording device), and the songs played in the car as I learned the words and sang along. The ending was difficult to watch, but I loved the first half, of Maria the Nun bringing happiness to a rather repressed family unit.

As I grew up, this story fell by the wayside. Whereas once ’16, going on 17′ had seemed a world away, now it seems a world ago. But one of the songs has been looping in my head lately.

When Maria leaves her convent to go out into the world – after we, the audience, have been informed what a klutz she is – she sings of her hope for what’s ahead:

‘I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that Spring will come again – besides which you see I have confidence in me!’

But towards the end of the song, she falters. ‘I have confidence in confidence alone… oh help.’

She stops. Those last two words aren’t sung, but spoken, whispered. The mask of joy falls. She prays for help, for strength – for that same confidence to step up to the task she has been set. She knows how hapless she is, and how large a job she has ahead. Singing a happy song might not be enough.

This is the truth and pleasure I find in well-done musicals, by the way. That they are so absurdly happy one minute, but reflecting the deeper worries of life the next. If they’re done right, musicals don’t do half measures – they’re all or nothing, but still with the nuances of reality that we all know. Cunningly masked behind a veneer of merry song.

A lot of my time recently has been in that moment that Maria shows, that pause, that ‘oh help’. I’m stepping up to the next level in my work, it seems, both personally and professionally. I’ve always had confidence that my gods will present challenges that might seem insurmountable, but are always within my grasp – if I push myself. That’s the point.

I’m reading a lot of books that I never thought I would, discussing new topics, exploring deeply. Ministry, theology, even religious texts of other faiths (to the shock of one kind Imam!). I’m investigating new – and old – worlds, and it’s amazing. I know that it’s a gift that I even can. As a woman and a Pagan, those previously repressed ‘minorities’, I am now free to act publicly as Priest. That’s no small thing, and one that I hope I never take for granted.

This morning, I’m reading a book on Chaplaincy – specific Priesting within certain spheres of society, rather than to a geographical community (as I am now doing in prison). I’m almost in tears as I read of those Chaplains caring for the soldiers in Afghanistan. I recently finished a tale of nuns who work for women’s shelters in New York. This is faith on the ‘shop floor’ – and yet, apparently a lot of the ‘proper’ Churches view Chaplains as not ‘proper’ Priests.

Paganism has the opposite approach, I’m finding. Because our current methods of public Ministry are still very much finding their way, it’s still seen as miraculous that we can be included in the multifaith community, as professional Chaplains at all. We’re still a ‘fringe’ spirituality, but which is being recognised more and more, and respected accordingly.

Our Western society, by and large, is pretty secular, but I hardly ever receive sneers or derisive comments about my role. Most people are amazed and curious, bombarding me with questions and enthusiasm. Individually, people still feel a spiritual ‘pull’, the need for someone to chat to about what’s on their mind as a companion, but also to support them in tough times. The Priest in the community might have a wider remit than the Chaplain in their ‘bubble’ (army base, hospital, prison) but both are absolutely invaluable. We are appreciated, and that is glorious.

But I am so very aware that we are still finding our way. I love that I can speak to my fellow Chaplains about this – their churches have been doing it for longer, after all, so their experiences are inspiring to hear. Ultimately, though, I can easily feel like Maria sitting there, with the support of her church behind her, but very much alone in that moment. 

How on earth can I do this? God, what are you asking of me?

I’m finding that stories about prayer are also pulling me lately. Another area which Pagans are only now starting to intellectually explore, what do we do when we are alone and needing help? Is this not a huge aspect of the Paganism that I convey to those I Minister to? How do you express the inexpressible in your heart, to and of beings that are beyond words…

Once, it helped hugely to know that I was part of a wider community, through the groups I volunteered for. This week, I resigned as Trustee of The Druid Network, and am stepping down as District Coordinator for The Pagan Federation. I’ll still be volunteering for both, but on a much smaller level.

I need to take the time to sit alone, in that ‘oh help’ moment. To speak with my Gods, to discern what’s next, as well as what I’m doing now. What am I doing? That old question, ever relevant.

I step on alone in one sense, therefore, but in actuality just with less titles. I know that I have a wonderful community behind and beside me, and that counts for so much. I’m listening for the tug that pulls me in the right direction, and know that I’ll be treading new paths. It’s bloody scary.

I’m not sure I have confidence; in fact, often I know I don’t. But I step forward, as promised. I do my best.

Onward, as always.

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Constant Learning

One of the first things you learn when starting out in Paganism is ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Otherwise known as ‘Don’t take magic for granted.’

A lot of the Paganism 101 books say this, but as beginners, it’s easy to ignore. Ritual is fun, right? An excuse to dress up, cast spells for what we want… and other stuff we’ve seen on TV.

Easy to forget that even movies like ‘The Craft’ and ‘Practical Magic’ show why this is a bad idea.

Even if you don’t follow the ‘Rule of Three’ idea (that whatever you put out into the world is returned to you threefold), if you put something out into the world with energy behind it, don’t be surprised when you get a response. But it may not be quite how you expected.

This is always the learning curve. Complacency is not an option.

Last week, I performed several Spring Equinox rites, two with quite large groups. Generally speaking, we  were bidding farewell to the passing Winter and welcoming in the Spring, but also wishing to be rid of those things we had no further need to take forward with us into the coming months. Positive, gentle, affirming… good stuff.

Then the day after the first rite, I was hit with a ridiculously bad bout of depression. I don’t talk about it much publicly in terms of how bad, but this time it was… Well, let’s say my Dr (nervously) asked ‘Are you having those particularly bad thoughts?’ Hard not to laugh. Yes, yes I was. I got through it. I love my infinitely patient partner and supportive friends.

I got on. Gently, but determinedly.

Then (again) less than an hour after the final rite of the week, I was home and falling over. The next day, I was in considerable pain from the back/joint condition that I suffer from occasionally, plus exhaustion, plus the beginning of a cold (or so I thought). I suspect now it’s somewhere between cold and flu. Either way, virulent and nasty.

I’ve now been basically moving between sofa and bed for several days. Work has been cancelled. I’ve been in severe physical pain, plus mentally fuzzy as all hell. I’m being forced to stop. 

The first day or so involved frustration, then self-pity, then my usual ‘bad patient’ attitude of crossness that I can’t get on regardless. But then I realized something.

I was getting precisely what I needed from those rituals. I had to stop, to take stock and reassess. The deluge of emotion had been and gone – I don’t feel at all depressed right now. The physical sickness is removing any amount of yuk from my body, which is clearly not needed.

I’ve had to prioritise. I don’t have the strength to do much, so what needs doing? Certain tasks are being jettisoned or at least set aside. Wise advice from friends about setting boundaries is ticking around my head.

I must face what needs to be left behind with the Winter, as my body Spring Cleans. I’m already looking forward to being well again, but with awareness – as best I can – of not getting so complacent again, or running myself down so badly. It’s nice to be wanted, but I’m not invulnerable or indefatiguable. Where does the energy need to go?

The last couple of nights have featured fever dreams, with interesting lessons. I’m being reminded of things I was taught years ago, but which I’d kind of forgotten – or rather, they’d been subsumed with the busy-ness. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately ‘do you do magic?’ And I’ve thought about it. Yes, yes I do. Perhaps not ‘spells’ as such (or at least, not often) but the causing change through will – yes, absolutely. We all do, to some extent. But it’s recognising what we’re doing with that, owning that intention, bracing for the consequences… we can’t anticipate everything, but we can trust that we get what we need, based on what we ask.

I’m riding the flow again now. As the nastiness leaves my body and mind, so those new shoots can bloom. I stepped outside this morning, barefoot, with the sun on my face. Just because.

I’m sure I’ll face this lesson again in future, in one form or another. But so we move forward. By noticing and acknowledging, so we can be part of those changes we are wishing for.

I do hope this post makes sense and isn’t just self-indulgent claptrap – my brain wanted to write it, so here it is. Now, if its all the same to you, I’m off to find more tea…:)

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