Archive for December, 2011

Solstice Blessings!

This morning, I watched the sun rise over Nottingham City, from the beautiful grounds of Wollaton Hall. A friendly oak tree scattering leaves in my hair, ancient woodland with birds chasing, squirrels taking advantage of the unseasonable warmth (10 centigrade) to forage for food…

And me, with the lady from the BBC. I’m at 2:17 here, if you want to hear what I sound like!

I love those moments as the sky changes with the dawn (and dusk, later). The gradual realization that the deep blackness is being broken by shards of greyness, the clouds becoming limned with light, the stars fading as their place is taken by pink and orange beams. The world moves forward and the sun rises again.

So simple, the start of another day, and yet such a singular moment. Each one is unique – this day will never come again, this moment. And I bear witness, in the company of many others across the land.

Blessings of the season to you all, lovely readers. May you stay warm and safe with those you love through the dark and cold times, sharing the joy as light gradually returns to the land.

Merry Yuletide! x

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Wishes and Work

This week has been busy. I’m working (as in bill-paying work) full-time again for the next few months, but I’ve spent so long spent writing, teaching and generally Druiding semi-professionally since Spring that it’s pretty much combined with whatever else I’m doing. As I found when I was asked in the space of two days about preparing a public talk/rite for the Winter Solstice, and also an as-yet-unspecified activity for the Spring Equinox. Both requests from my workplace…

Plus, the inevitable chat with new colleagues about exactly what I do as a ‘Multifaith volunteer’, gently answering their (wonderfully¬† curious) questions. And the still-unbelievable fact of my book as a reality (now in the editing stages, after a mad rush to finish it on my last ‘free’ week before Proper Employment).

The madness of the working world has been brought home to me again forcibly, however. The 9-5, the insanity of so many meetings, there’s no time to do any actual work. Policies that appear to bear no resemblance to reality, nor those expected to enforce and be enforced by such doctrine. The frankly mad questions, demands and ways of spending the day that make me want to write a version of ‘Catch 22’ set in an office. I keep expecting a small elf to step out from behind a filing cabinet, scribbling notes and asking me to repeat something I’d just said, because I’m actually in a Terry Pratchett novel. Absurdity abounds.

It’s teaching me to value my time all over again. The icy mornings walking the dog as the sun rises, before returning home to put on smart clothes and makeup. The tired evenings, stuck in traffic as I watch the moon rise over the river, returning home to a few brief hours of nourishing food and company. before falling into bed… only to repeat the process again daily until the weekend.

But whereas before I knew no different, having been a commuter for most of my adult life, now I’ve experienced my time as truly my own for too long. And with that comes the realization that it still is. I’ve made the active choice to spent 7.5 hours a day in an office, plus travel, with everything that entails – so I can whinge about it, wishing myself somewhere else, or I can do it in my own way.

I’ve felt the battle between the ‘masked’ persona – the suited office professional, who knows the buzz-words and has a fixed smile on standby – and the ‘real’ person – the leafy tattoos that sneak an appearance from up my sleeve, the unusual knowledge that creeps into conversation… and the real, genuine smile that seems to be the most surprising thing of all. I’m living my truth, and people are seeing it. And liking it.

I was caught staring out of the window in the middle of transcribing a recorded conversation (so headphones on, full concentration on screen and keyboard, huge tiredness afterwards). But outside were the rolling hills that border Derby, leading away into the Peaks beyond Ashbourne, remote and wind-swept, birds soaring above, clouds threatening snow… and a workmate sighs next to me. “Lovely, isn’t it?”

But she’s not sighing because it’s unreachable – she’s happy that I’ve noticed it as well. We talk a little about how lucky we are to have such a beautiful view, moving on to the stories of how we came to live here. Her face lights up as she talks of her love for the land, the community, her friends here. And my smile can’t be anything but genuine.

That’s my Druidry, active and relevant amid the busy working landscape that we’ve built for ourselves, and which is considered the ultimate in ‘normal life’. I didn’t mention the word ‘Druid’, nor ‘pagan’, nor ‘faith’. I’m simply listening, responding, allowing the tale to unfold and bearing witness. Not from politeness (or concealed boredom), but genuine pleasure in what that other person had to say. Because they’re telling their truth as well, from inside, often a little shyly because it’s not the ‘cool’ thing to be talking about. But they’re clearly glad that they can. I do my best to set the space for us to really be ourselves – and that counts for a lot.

When I tell others what I do, some of the experiences that I’ve had, I quite often get the response of: “Oh, I wish I could do that. You do such amazing things with your life.”

I do know what they mean… and I want to laugh, to tell them about the sheer amount of (unseen) work that goes into those tasks well. But what I want to say is: “Why can you NOT? What’s stopping you?”

Because I know there’d be a list of excuses, reasons that act as walls to their dreams, insurmountable barriers put up to make the 9-5 into the entire reason for living. It’s that old story of “Why did you do/say that?” “Because I should.” Or “I have no choice.”

I know it sounds unbelievable but… there is always a choice.

Sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for the opportunity – but you can still move pieces into place to make your life more your own, setting things up in line with where you want to be. Simply waiting for goals to manifest won’t result in anything. I’ve found that you get back exactly what you put in.

And yes, it’s difficult. I’ve fallen lots of times, and have had to be picked up and put back to rights. I have to remind myself daily why I’m doing my tasks. Often, it’s simply perspective. Something small will happen to remind me, and I have to be aware enough to recognise it. Which quite often results in a smile as I realize how daft I’ve been.

Remember what’s important. Be curious as to the reasons for things. Try to know your truth and live it as best you can. Not in a flighty, ‘New Age’ way – but in the sense of you, yourself, really knowing what’s true in your everyday actions, and what’s (frankly) bullshit. Why are you doing that? How can you change it into something better?

And are you brave enough to?

Step forward. You’re not alone.

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Our Sexual Nature

One of the things that always seems to be mentioned whenever Paganism is spoken of in the media is the… well, let’s say the ‘free love’ practises. The skyclad Wiccans, the Crowley-style orgiastic gatherings, the Dennis Wheatley bloody sacrifices… yes, it soon enters the realms of lurid fiction. Ignorant readers are titillated, genuine Pagans are frustrated.

I will say at this point, if you’re under 18, please feel free to read on. Because you will anyway, and I’m not going to be talking about anything particularly shocking (sorry, adult subscribers). Plus, censorship simply makes people look more keenly for whatever it is they’re being told not to look at – and frankly, there’s nothing here that shouldn’t be talked about. Quite the reverse.

Sex is important to pagans – in the same way that it’s important to humanity as a species. Family is at the root of community and connection, our ancestral lines would not exist without it, and an act that creates so much joy (if undertaken correctly) should be lauded, not stifled.

Aspects of Deity that are frequently incorporated into our lives and practices are the Great Mother, her Consort and her Son, amongst other archetypes. The fecundity of the land is represented well in the rampant enthusiasm of the priapic Pan and the engorged Sheela Na Gig; even the language is sensual, thick and intriguing, dripping with intention.

So it’s remarkable that when discussing sexuality in pagan life, there’s remarkably little information. Especially when we consider that according to the ‘Mind, Body & Spirit’ shelves in your local chain bookstore, the most popular spell that anyone could ever want is the Love Spell. That’s an industry in itself and not an entirely ethical one.

If love spells were used to the extent that they’re written about, the issue of ‘controlling’ others for the purpose of relationship can both be compared to – and result in – rape. The sheer invasiveness is precisely what modern Pagan practice is not about. If you’re playing with the lives and emotions of others in such ways, you need an entirely different kind of help.

If undertaken with clear intention between two informed and consenting partners, love magic can be a powerful thing. From setting the scene for a night of passion as an expression of love for your partner, to invoking the spirits of fertility with the goal of conceiving a child, these are fundamentally human experiences. By making the occasion sacred, almost ritualised, not only will you have a memorable time (I won’t say night, as this could happen at any hour), but you’ll both experience connection at a much deeper level.

The power of sex is an almost tangible energy – and not just the act itself. Sexuality as a practice is a much more familiar concept, in its way. We’re constantly being bombarded with images of it, and are tacitly aware of it in everything we do. Clothing and adornments are chosen to increase personal attractiveness, make-up exists in almost infinite variety to create human peacocks showing off on Friday nights in town centres. Without the subtle language of sex, many advertisements would be dramatically different. So how are we using that ourselves (and do we even realize)?

However, perhaps it’s our essential ‘British reserve’ or a holdover from the rules of the larger faiths, but it seems to me that the reality of sexual relationship is still rather taboo within Paganism. We’re all aware of the increased importance of woman (particularly in Dianic practice, for example), but the inclusive and comparatively open nature of the (wide range of) Pagan paths means that there are those from the entire sexual spectrum out there on Beltane. Heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, we all understand (to a greater or lesser degree) as a crucial part of our spirituality that our actions represent both our personal power and that of our gods… as we participate in what is, at heart, possibly the most natural of all acts.

And of course, this isn’t just the missionary position. A multitude of human experience can be brought to bear in the coital ritual, from the simple (!) expression of love to joining through a mixture of pleasure and pain or control games. Again done correctly, BDSM is not simply a dressing-up party, and it would be insulting to consider it so.

There are more ways of life, spirituality and relationship than I could possibly name here. Some Pagans are polygamous. Others abstain as a personal act of sacrifice. Many realize that gender itself is fluid, playing with the boundaries of clothing, identity and public image. The key word, again, is consenting. We should endeavour to understand, not judge.

As I’ve said before, when we act honourably in our lives on this path, we act with clear intention, knowledge and responsibility. If we surrender ourselves, that is a true gift to our lover. A candle-lit dinner is an act of worship.

And then, of course, there is the Great Rite… but that’s another topic for another day.

Suffice to say, we are almost duty-bound as practising Pagans to welcome the act of love, to explore it and revel in it, as our gods do. If you’re not enjoying it, why not? What can you do differently? Be curious, investigating together with your partner. The focus and goal is relationship, the¬† joining of forces, merging and separating in natural rhythm, like waves on the beach (both forceful and gentle).

This includes, of course, self-love. From confidence and presentation to personal, private pleasures – such lone rituals are likewise to be made memorable and enjoyable. You should hold no secrets from yourself, after all. If you are God/Goddess, take time to worship!

Not to forget, finally, that ultimate Pagan sexual experience. If you’re brave enough… get outside into the world! Wild nature is itself a sensual experience, from the feeling of sunlight on bare skin or wind through hair, to dancing in a torrential rainstorm or merging with the tickle of sand on a beach. Alone or with others, take time to open yourself and experience that fundamental relationship as you remember that whether wild or controlled, you are still an animal.

Live with awareness, live with joy, live with love. Especially on these long winter nights…

 

Further reading:

‘Love Spell, an Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening’ by Phyllis Currott

‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler

‘Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe’ by Christopher Penczak

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