Archive for November, 2011

The Need for Protection

Pagan Basics: Shielding. Why, How, and What From?

You wouldn’t go out in the snow (or sun, or rain) without the appropriate clothing to protect you. Nor tap into a live current, or handle a blazing fire. So why should working with any other sort of energy be different?

I’ve found a lot of practising Pagans tend to be rather blase about shielding. It’s like stretching before a run – those who know, do. Those who don’t… hurt afterwards (and accomplish less).

Why do we assume ‘oh, it’ll be all right’, and then skip it to get to the ‘good’ bits? Because, quite honestly, that assumption stems from the vague idea that what you’re doing isn’t actually that important. A version of ‘it’s not really real, so it doesn’t matter.’

If that’s your point of view, stop with this path. It’s not for you. It requires someone who’s willing to put in the work at every stage, from the foundation upwards.

You’re here, so I’m presuming you’ve some knowledge of working with energy. Whether consciously in ritual or unconsciously in your daily life… because, after all, you have. From the nastiness of a crowded shopping¬† centre in the January sales, to the peace of a hilltop at sunset, you will have experienced the feeling of different energies impacting on your own. It’s just a matter of working in relationship to that.

This is a key skill within Druidry. If you follow this road, you will find yourself actively noticing those energies daily as you learn more of your connection to the world around. This isn’t just for formal ritual.

One of the first things that Paganism 101 teaches us is how to Cast a Circle. Why? Circles are cast to protect, from within and without, both individual or group. But (contrary to what the Ceremonial Magicians will tell you) your own personal circle can be any shape. It’s yours, after all. It’s a matter of focusing on your own energy to affect that around – in other words, magic. Or Quantum Physics, depending on your point of view.

And it’s not necessarily all about the correctly coloured candles in the correct places at the correct times. It’s about you, now, this moment, being able to look after yourself. A little like Pagan Self-Defence. Practice, and after a while, it becomes instinctive.

I’ve found a variety of ways of creating personal shields. From the slightly ritualised, based on the ‘Spoils of Annwn‘, to a quick visualisation from ‘Stargate‘, I’ve worked with ideas suggested to me, translated into a way that works for me. When I first started out, I was protecting myself from something both very physical and also intangibly threatening – so I envisaged myself armed with sword and shield. At other times, I surrounded myself with a net of beautifully crocheted thread, that catches those energies that may harm.

But even now, I can forget… and soon feel the overwhelming awareness of the world taking hold and attempting to drag me under. This isn’t necessarily negative or ‘evil’ – it’s just the sheer amount of energy that everything in the world gives off, again consciously or unconsciously.

Consider that crowded shopping centre. The screaming child, the harrassed mother, the worried unemployed person, the pain of the old lady in the wheelchair, the tiredness of the staff. Multiplied by the number of people. Every curse is a physical blow, every internal sob felt in your own chest. And there’s no natural light, the very air is recycled, the ground under your feet concrete above a car park. Your roots can’t stretch that far, the natural world seems so far away…

It’s not about the formal fighting of mystical demons. It’s about using your own focus to protect yourself daily, when such onslaughts occur. They’re not necessarily directed at you (although they certainly can be), but you need to respond.

Yes, it’s difficult. This is one of those tasks that is constant ‘practise’, every time – because every time, it’s a subtly different situation. You still have to deal with it.

One of the quickest ways to protect yourself is to find a quiet place as best you can (a handy bench, a corner booth in a coffee shop, or even the stall of a public lavatory). Centre yourself. Root down, ground if you can. If you’re in plain sight, don’t worry – everyone else will pass by, thinking you’re just having a rest. Close your eyes a little if it helps and is safe to do so.

Imagine that circle surrounding you, coming from within to surround you. Visualise it however you prefer – a bubble, a web, a ball of light, even a circle of thorns. Feel the space inside as your own, protected from the outside hubbub. Breath. Use a talisman if you find it helps: a necklace pendant, telephone charm or tiny medicine pouch.

You aren’t disconnecting from the world. You’re standing in your own energy, within it. Know your intention, what you mean that ‘safe’ energy to be, what its’ purpose is. Let the¬† protective layer settle around you. Then stand up and go about your business. Finish your tasks, and when you’re in a place of safety, let yourself breath out… and the shields can relax. Ground once again, remember your connection. Then – and this is most important – find some solid food.

It’s important not to cut yourself off completely. Investing too much energy into those protections for too long can go too far, blocking out the world, so that you’re detached and unable to understand or truly see what’s going on around. You’re still part of the life on this planet – total disconnection is harmful in itself (worse, in its way, than returning to the ‘sleep of ignorance’ that most people are content to stay trapped within).

Working with your own energy (as well as that around you) is part of your Pagan practice. That’s another topic in itself, but the key word here really is ‘practice’. Learn your own power and stand in it. If you lose that connection, work to regain it. Exercise, gain strength in your energy.

It’s a constant task. But if we are to live in conscious relationship to the world around, we need to be able to recognise and ride the tides – and know how to help others when they start to sink.

 

Note: This is a very large and complex topic – if you require any further information, please feel free to message me privately.

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Beyond ‘Paganism 101’

As most of us know, the vast majority of books on paganism out there are ‘101’ books. Beginner-level texts, full of charts and associations for anything you can imagine, from candles to clothing. Things must be done in this way, using these tools (themselves prepared appropriately) on this day – or it won’t work. Don’t even bother. Spells = chemistry exercises. Yes, they can be done by anyone with the proper training and knowledge, but you wouldn’t let a beginner work the Large Hadron Collider (I hope). Which is why those beginner textbooks exist.

Interestingly, however, in the last few years, there has been growing investigation and active questioning of ‘what next?’ In an experiential faith, books can only take you so far before you have to get out there and do. So what sources do you go to with your questions about the results? And how do you advance in areas that take your fancy?

Ideally, you would then visit a pagan/New Age store and talk to people, look on the internet, follow up the advertisements in ‘Pagan Dawn‘ and suchlike, so you can actually meet some other like-minded folk. But again, that only takes you so far. It can be very hit and miss, as the diversity of this (and any) faith means that you might not necessarily encounter others who practise in the same manner. Or even follow the same ethical code.

I’m being nice here, as the majority of pagan folk I’ve met have themselves been welcoming and friendly. Yes, we don’t all think alike, but it’s actually pretty refreshing to get new perspectives – spiritual practise can all too easily become ‘stuck in your own head’ work. It’s just that as in every group, there are those whose worldviews are so dramatically removed from your own, that there’s just no talking to them. Or there’s the bad folk, the exploiters, the power-hungry; as mentioned famously in Isaac Bonewits’ wonderful document, ABCDEF. Humour is needed, but seriousness and sensibility too.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a teacher. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a teacher that you connect with, who speaks in terms that you can understand, who makes the magic (and the point of doing all this) real and applicable.

But then what? You’ve passed Paganism 101-110. What are you doing with it?

I’ve been practising for over ten years. I started out reading Scott Cunningham and the Farrer texts, Starhawk and Margot Adler, practising quietly in my own bedroom when I had a quiet moment, seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Realizing how much I hated reading ritual from a script. Learning how to really specify my meaning and focus after having the universe actually provide what I’d asked for… just not in the way I expected. Getting lost while pathworking. Meeting deity for the first time. Learning how to make a candle flame change colour.

Now, here I am. I’ve a popular blog, and am finalising my first book. I’ve spoken and worked publicly as a priest. This month, I held my first day’s training workshop. I’m living my path and learning so much from those who themselves are seeking me out.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that teaching isn’t for everyone. I’d love to be an actual schoolteacher, but I’m afraid I’d be a bit too ‘Dead Poets Society’ for OFSTED. And I prefer to address those who actually want to be in the room with me.

At the ‘Pagan Pride‘ event this summer in Nottingham, I remarked to my beautiful associate on the Druid Network stall that if another person asked for information in the local area about Druidry, I’d have to do something myself. Of course, I should have known better – the universe was listening, and another person did. Quite a few people, actually. And those who’ve left comments here. And contacted me privately.

People are interested. They’re asking. Am I stepping up to answer?

I’ve spoken elsewhere about how difficult this has been for me. But I finally plucked up the courage. Pieces have fallen into place, and it’s almost a month since just under a dozen people gathered in a historic building in Derbyshire to listen to what I had to say about Druidry.

I haven’t stopped being inspired since.

The questions, the challenges, the discussion… all flowed freely on the day, and have continued online after. The group came together far more easily than I ever could have hoped, and amazing things have already started to come from it.

And I found something that I’d read about, and knew intellectually, but now have properly felt for myself. The teacher is herself being taught.

Everyone in that room basically said that they were beginners, they had very little experience of paganism, and certainly not Druidry. But every one brought their own stories, their experiences, the way of seeing the world. Their goals and wish to truly listen and participate. They might even have been as nervous as I was.

Each perspective is challenging me, to explain more effectively how I follow my path, live my spirituality and connect to the world around. At the same time, I’m seeing through others how they want to live, to find their own way of working, to be informed and reinforced by a group that truly is like-minded, but at the same time, made up of truly unique individuals. Our truths, our honest sharing and relationship, is teaching and inspiring each other.

More workshops are being requested and planned, but not just the ‘beginner’ introductory sessions – now it’s more in-depth, focused work. Everyone is becoming involved, finding out for themselves that a spirituality which calls to them so persistently can translate from page to reality, from basic questioning to real, lived experience.

From beginner’s grounding to a small but very personal rite, we’re all discovering and learning, finding new questions and new ways to communicate, exploring new sensations that we somehow knew at soul-level, but are now actively working with. New tools for life.

I marvel at the paths we take, from that simple curiosity of picking up a ‘Paganism 101’ book all those years ago. To pinch the words of Douglas Adams, via one of those workshop attendees today: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

We move on down the path together.

And I wonder why it took me so long to step up.

So I ask again: Why are you here? And what do you hope to do with what you’re learning? Find your freedom and explore… who knows where you’ll end up.

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Wasting Time

Tonight, I walked the hilltop where I live, watching the fog roll in and surround me. Total darkness over the fields, no visible stars or moon, just the occasional porch-light or streetlight to remind me that I still live in the modern world.

I’m on the edge of the Peak District – any extreme weather, from rain to snow, cuts us off from the main village and creates a true ‘otherworld’ just for us. It’s beautiful. And it teaches you to keep good stores of food and firewood.

I was walking the dog, so keeping an eye on him, traffic and runners (fortunately infrequent), and generally being safe and aware. When I drive home down the same roads, I’m still watching the traffic and pedestrians, as a good driver. But how many of us ‘tune out’ at such times? We’re performing a necessary task that has to be done… before we know it, we’re a mile down the road and unsure how we got there.

I read a story years ago, of a schoolboy who somehow made a wish – and in exchange, gave up all the time that he wasted. Wasted time, that’s fine, I can give that away. But that time was then gone. Daydreaming at his desk one second; the next, the bell rings. The day goes past frenetically, because the time taken to pause and think counts as ‘wasted’. (I’ve no idea what this book was, and would be quite glad to find out!)

How badly do we need that ‘wasted’ time? How often are we actually at our most creative, when our minds are busy focusing on something else, something so automatic that we do it without thinking? Driving is a good example. We’re hyper-aware in one way, of the multitude of tasks involved in steering a ton of metal through countless obstacles; but in another, we’re pondering what to have for tea, what the radio DJ is saying, or worrying about what will happen when we get to our destination. If on the way to work, potentially hoping that the journey takes longer… while knowing that we need to get there on time.

This is transitional time. Physically and metaphorically demonstrated in stories by that fog that was growing around me this evening, as gateways to the Otherworld, we’re neither here nor there, not at source or destination. We’re on our way. But isn’t that what life is? It’s us that divides it into smaller segments. Humanity invented the concept of ‘pinning down’ time. The rest of the universe couldn’t care less. We put value on different slices of time – why?

We drive ourselves hard in life, with an emphasis always on doing, accomplishing, achieving. There’s never enough time to get everything done. Wasting time is bad.

But if we truly think about it, as demonstrated in the story above, how terrible would it be to lose that ‘wasted’ time? What’s so wrong about considering how valuable these transitional moments are? Time for rest, time for thought, time to breath a little. We’re in our own space, free to act as we like (within reason!) – how many of us shout at the radio, or sing along to it, or dream secret dreams, tell ourselves little stories? Ideas can flow freely.

If we take the conscious decision to take note of our creativity at such moments, we can accomplish a lot – and this inspiration is of personal value, not just fulfilling some managerial demand. We need the time to remember who we are, what’s important and what we’re doing. We can challenge ourselves, make something amazing… or just stop and breath.

We’re living our lives. If it’s valued, it’s not wasted.

What are you doing?

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