Archive for August, 2012

Flowing into Autumn

The year is turning. Fruit is heavy on the trees but leaves are starting to fall. There’s a scent in the air of Autumn, waiting to happen as the days slowly shorten. It’s Harvest-time.

The regular News programmes are beginning to tell of the difficulties of farmers this year, with the wide and varied extremes of weather that we’ve suffered clearly having an impact on crops (and so prices of food). However, some have fared better than others. The apple trees near me are groaning with fruit; the blackberry bushes are thick; that which grows on high seems to be ripening and ready.

It’s this balancing point which is becoming clearer to me these days. While grain and root crops may become more valuable through comparative scarcity, we still have the sweet and sharp fruits to nourish us freely. While very few of us have actual money to spend on easy frivolities, more of us are discovering the joy of personal creativity.

I’ve observed that there’s a sharp difference in the attitudes of people right now, as shown both in personal statements and media generalities. There’s slow-burning frustration, anger, impotence, powerlessness – and yet also great pride in accomplishment, ability and possibility. We have the confused relationship between Government and individual (in many countries, not just the UK). There’s the comparison of huge funds and corporate sponsorships for the recent London Olympics versus the sheer public awe at the achievements of athletes (and musicians, engineers and creatives) in the formulation of an event that will be remembered by so many.

The individual is striving to be heard; groups are forming, like-minded folk, wanting to bring ideas together to make powerful difference. And it’s not easy – but the sense of ‘maybe we CAN do it’ is gradually growing, overcoming past cynicism and doubt.

I do think that in this case, the macrocosm and microcosm reflect each other – ‘society’ and ‘local community’, Nature as a whole and the needs of a single species. We are having to become more aware of our relationships with each other. People are acting based on need, hope and drive – because complacency is just not an option any more. We have to do, or it won’t get done.

In recent years, I’ve actually been proud of how such considerate and mature attitudes have allowed growth. From a Pagan perspective, we have grown as an identifiable community and also achieved so much in the wider world. Our beliefs are heard, thoughts considered, voices noted as valuable. Those who remember when we were simply dismissed as ‘fringe loonies’ stand proudly, infectious smiles on their faces. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

I’ve been pretty shocked lately at the unwarranted bile, vehemence and sheer contempt shown by some community members to others. Specifically in the Pagan online community, but also in the wider world. Certain folk are not standing up as good examples of integrity, ethical strength or even common sense. But how far are they allowed to get away with it? Yes, they have the right to a voice – I firmly believe that we all do. But how far can sheer empty noise and volume prevail against considered thought, meaning, discussion and genuine caring? How far are we willing to challenge ourselves, to admit our faults and work for change? We might be full of anger, but without focus that rage is simply firing blindly… and unintentionally hurting those caught in the crossfire (and indeed ourselves).

We gather our Harvest and consider what will sustain us through the winter. I feel the flows of energy, both in the cooler breezes and the tones of voices raised to be heard. Mine is one of them, here, of course. I’m aware of the responsibility that this brings, in my small way. But I’m also aware of how my own practice must be strong in order to contribute well to the wider community song.

How much of what you say is actually true? How well do yours words reflect yourself, really? There’s a lot of meaningless chatter out there – phrases such as ‘oh, you know’ (no, I don’t, tell me) and well-meaning, merry but incoherent ‘it was, like, y’know, sort of, like, Stuff’… we can laugh and satirise, but there’s still a story trying to be heard amidst the jargon.

Shouting down those we don’t agree with through casually cruel insults or flippant remarks, ‘jokes’ that aren’t. The freedom of relative internet anonymity encouraging ‘trolls’. Words that achieve nothing except pain, sorrow and even more anger. Not listening before we retort. We’re all guilty of this, some more than others. A question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: ‘Is ignorance an excuse?’ Is it so hard to apologise and try again, to open ourselves up to learning and a different point of view? Or to stand firm, strong in our own beliefs, yet flexible enough to allow challenge, to laugh and share common ground?

As Pagans, we stand up to identify with a particular spiritual path – and the ethics, the responsibility, the impact of representing that. Would we be proud, if we were to see ourselves in the eyes of others? Or ashamed of foolish superiorities, paper-thin self-image, actions taken without true understanding? Why do you do what you do? When asked how you’re celebrating your Harvest, what will you say?

Poison and empty words don’t sustain us, nor those around. Some songs are more valuable than others, but all can be worth hearing if sung honestly. What nourishment do you bring to your community? How will you keep that fire burning through the winter ahead? We all have the capability; if that ‘family’ (whether blood or friendship) is to remain strong in its shared intention, what ingredients do you bring?

We stand together, made up of individuals. In shared reading of this little essay, written by my hands, inspired by so many others – our relationships move and flow forward.

Let us sing together as the nights grow longer. Let’s see what inspiration comes from single flames burning brightly in the dark.

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Working Spirituality

A cross-post this week, if I may – between here at my first blog ‘home’, and the wonderfully eclectic ‘Witches & Pagans‘ site (because if you can’t ‘moonlight’ as a Pagan, then who can?).

I am very aware that I haven’t written anything at either location for a couple of weeks. I could give excuses – ultimately, the days have flown past and life has been more important. I’m sure we all know how that goes. Instead, take a wander with me, if you will.

Regular readers know that one of my favourite places for inspiration is as I walk the dog across the hilltop where I live. This evening I wandered the streets, looking out at the fierce clouds parting after an intense rain and thunder-storm just a few hours ago, the remnants of a rainbow, and the slightly ‘stunned’ feeling of a normal, modern, country village after a violent and unavoidable incident of Nature. The grass is rich and green, the snails appear to have made a small bypass across the path outside one particular row of houses, and the occasional early bat is swooping overhead.

Most of my day has actually been spent in bed. I’ve been physically suffering from ‘cold turkey’ after reducing and finally ceasing a course of prescribed medication – I cannot justify taking such an addictive substance blindly, and am rather pleased to have found myself feeling so much better for having kicked it away. But there’s the inevitable fallout, which I’m riding as best I can.

This has also allowed a lot of time for thought. My constant question – What are you doing? – is before me. I’m coming to the end of the busiest period of my life so far as a Professional Druid and Author (I still can’t quite believe I’m saying that), and yet I’m challenged every day. There’s still more waves to ride, hills to climb, and (sadly) battles to fight.

Inevitably, when you stick your head above the metaphorical parapet to claim any sort of authority in an amorphous and random community such as Paganism, you’re going to have things thrown at you. Words, mostly – but despite the old adage, words absolutely can hurt.

I am walking my path. Mine. I can do no more – none of us can. But some of us are, it seems, called upon to challenge others in the manner of their practice. As if we don’t do that to ourselves enough. Perhaps those people are perfect already? Lucky them.

What am I doing? Organising handfastings and public rituals, moots and workshops. Representing Pagans and Druids as a public ‘leader’ for two national organisations. Working on my second (and third) book. Pondering blog posts. And that’s just off the top of my head.

I’m not asking for sympathy here, by the way – by and large, I love what I do, and am hugely grateful to be able to do it. I am outlining my current work schedule… because I’ve started to wonder if ‘Pagan Leader’ should come with a job description.

I am deeply aware from personal experience that The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network have a lot of volunteers who work incredibly hard, with their own energy, time and resources, in (to quote the TDN tagline) ‘inform, inspire and facilitate’ our spirituality. I’m sure most other Pagan organisations are the same. But I’m also becoming aware that the boundary lines are rapidly changing for our communities, be they Wiccan, Witch, Druid, Heathen or whatever term you prefer. And we all need to be aware of that, because we are all part of it.

The Pagan community, in whichever form you are a part of it – from a National Network to a tiny local coven – is evolving. This is, I believe, A Good Thing. Those who are now Elders have set the foundation. Youngsters, second and third-generation family Pagans, are up-and-coming with their own methods and ideas. This is a fantastic thing to witness. By the time I’m an Elder, I can’t imagine where we’ll be. Exciting times.

And yet, in a spirituality that depends on (and cannot avoid) challenging itself, we’re still sometimes scared to move those set goalposts that we have. Traditions, whether spiritual, social or political, are just too ingrained. Surely we can’t change that, whatever will happen?

We shouldn’t charge for spiritual services. We can’t call ourselves ‘Priests’ (because we’re not confirmed or accredited by some training school). We have to abide by an authoritative text or written rule-set, to be recognised in law. Paganism is just a bunch of fringe nutters, left-over hippies wearing purple crushed velvet and far too many crystals; what’s the point of even trying to be recognised as serious spiritual voices if that’s how we represent ourselves? I have seen all of these as actual discussions on Pagan Facebook groups in the last month, just as a cross-section of examples.

Pagans, and those who feel affinity for the Pagan path, are so varied and diverse that it’s almost impossible to categorise an us. This is the first hurdle when being recognised by ‘officialdom’ (as The Druid Network found out when it applied for Charity status). Soundbites in the media are almost immediately irrelevant – how do you sum up a subjective spirituality? We’re given titles, roles, pinned down, confined to how we ‘should’ behave.

(I’m still intrigued to see what my car insurance company will say when renewal time comes around and they ask my job. Priest or Author? Or just ‘Druid?’ 🙂 )

To me, this pigeonholing is the antithesis of Paganism, with its wonderful diversity and anarchy. But then, we ourselves don’t seem to know what else to do. Those same Pagan organisations, which have been set up by and for practitioners themselves (volunteers all) to benefit their fellows in the wider community, are often sneered at, slated for being authoritative, for not representing me accurately in my path. Some become overloaded with egos, mad Crowley-wannabees on power trips. Because, as we know, in these days of instant social media, whinging is far easier than actually doing something to change a situation or solve a problem. It’s easy to set yourself up as a Big Pagan Leader with robes and a fancy name. But then you realize that there’s actually a job to do. You take on the role, you have to walk the path – and publicly.

The Pagan community is changing. Those who are all mouth and no substance are falling by the wayside. Those who stand up and do are being recognised. As our paths change, so our wider systems change. People are actually listening. The wider world is being affected by what we are doing. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘No’ – or perhaps, more appropriately to open discussions, ‘Why?’

This is our challenge as Pagans. We are forging our paths daily, as we walk them. Our personal spirituality is becoming public, just by answering questions about what we do, engaging in chat, wearing a pentagram publicly. Pagan Pride, which took place once again in Nottingham early this month, would have been unimaginable for those original Elders (much as it was needed). Now we stand up proudly – and smiling, enjoying, sharing as a community. It’s not about the power or the titles – and certainly not about the money.

It’s living our spirituality. Work/life balance? Personal as Political? Absolutely. Truth, honour, joy and integrity. Being alive, and part of something larger. It’s a big planet, after all.

It’s not always easy, of course. The cat in me often balks at the ‘leadership’ roles, preferring instead to just practice alone in my back garden, or with my partner in the woods. Sometimes that’s needed. But then, what am I doing – and can I take time to share?

So my inspiration comes from my immediate surroundings, as I walk the excited border collie to do his business. I come back to housework, deadlines, demands. But I have to remember what I am doing too.

Most of us remember starting out. Finding books, websites, chat groups. Not really knowing how to talk about these strange practices we read about. What is ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ anyway? Do I need to use the right candles and incense? How did our ancestors cope before eBay?

I remember. That’s why I want to share – not to evangelise, ‘spread the good word’ or recruit. Just to help, to show that there are others out there doing this. And it’s not about rules, directives and absolutes – it’s about finding your way. Trust yourself. There are others out there who will too.

What am I doing? I’m walking with those who ask. I’m not infallible, and my resources aren’t infinite (nor is my patience, but that’s another story). But I’m here.

What are you doing?

 

Addendum: I’ve actually set up a ‘Donations‘ page, if any would like to participate in the equal energy exchange. I’ve been recommended to do this by other authors, but have seen those who regularly contribute to the internet’s collective creativity get by on the kindness of their lovely readers… so it’s an experiment that I’m willing to try! Thank you, as always, for reading.

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The Dark Paths

Quite a few readers have asked me when I’ll finally write a blog post that’s basically a rant. Because apparently that’s what you do on a blog.  😉

That’s not the purpose of what I’m doing here, and I wouldn’t really be interested myself to read such a thing. But while this may seem to be rant-y, I’m aiming for it to be (ultimately) constructive. Your patience is appreciated.

I’ve perceived in the past that folk appear to have an ideal image of a priest (of any denomination) or general faith-leader. They’re supposed to be endlessly forgiving, generous and loving, a virtual embodiment of God/dess on Earth, having attained Enlightenment and taken their vows to spread that joy. Or something.

I’ve also said that I don’t actually believe that ‘Enlightenment’ is either possible or something to realistically aspire to, not as it’s generally understood. My spiritual life is part of my everyday life. I really can’t see the point in removing yourself so completely from that in order to ‘ascend’ or somehow step outside the mundane, and yet expect to understand or influence it, even by example. To me, the Dalai Lama does the most good because he is human, and clearly fallible – and has a fantastic sense of humour.

Understanding is achieved by observing, listening, approaching life in a certain way, allowing your spiritual philosophy, ethics and so forth to affect your actions and thoughts. Through this, we learn. But by no means does this result in some sort of ‘perfect’ being. Rather better adjusted, perhaps, but life will, I firmly believe, always be a challenge (and otherwise, how dull would it be?).

Unfortunately, that’s quite a leap for some to make. I’ve said before that I’m privileged to have generally encountered only interested, curious and polite folk in the course of my work as Druid and Priest – I am aware that this is a blessing! I try to reflect my spirituality in myself as I live it, including skills and faults alike. I can’t really do otherwise without turning into some sort of walking caricature (which is both dishonourable, false and ludicrous).

This last month, however, has been a true time of challenge like no other. From basic rude actions, disrespect and outright threats, I’ve been faced with a wide spectrum of negative. I’m not sure what’s in the water to be causing it, but it has made me stop and pause.

When people don’t understand, they can kick out. My favourite analogy is taken from the (transvestite) comedian Eddie Izzard – as he walked down the street, when people shout “Man in a dress!” he replies “Yes?” Which results in complete confusion. The person shouting mockery or abuse has no frame of reference for the situation they’re in, and simply doesn’t know how to continue.

I’ve seen this often. It actually helps more than hinders – people see the woman in a robe and cloak, often with staff or drum, and stop dead. Thoughts visibly cross their mind: ‘No frame of reference! What do I say?!’ Which is when the daftest comments come out. That’s ok – I just smile and joke back, and we can resume normal conversation as they discover I’m actually a Real Human Being too…

Recently, however, I was actually flummoxed. It had to happen, sooner or later. Standing in circle, watching attendees gather, a small girl of around 12 walks up, looks at me, and simply says “What are you supposed to be, then?”

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the look on her face and her tone – both those of a disgusted, disapproving old lady. The sense that she was being forced to undergo something so deeply stupid and beneath her was staggering (especially as other young folk were clearly interested and excited).

I saw her make similar statements throughout the day, and rather than being confused as to how to respond myself, began to see the sadness underneath. This girl, for some reason, was entirely closed off. Her reality was set, anything outside it wasn’t worth her time, and while the others were playing, dancing or laughing, she was sitting alone. Apparently entirely of her own volition, as she seemed to drive everyone else away.

My own confusion was due more to the fact that I would never have even thought to say such things to others, much less adults when I was a child. But some sort of cosmic floodgate was perhaps opened, as since then, there’s been a fair few comments that have actually made me stop with no frame of reference – because I can’t imagine making those statements, I cannot comprehend how best to reply.

Yes, I am standing up publicly as a Druid, and so will inevitably open myself up to slings and arrows. I’ve said this before, I’ve just been waiting. But lately I’ve been seeing the fear, sadness, anger and confusion boiling over, and it’s hard not to be affected. I’m not on some cosmic cloud, immune to pain. I don’t have infinite patience, and am certainly not made of stone.

Some days, part of me wonders whether to continue at all. This is a no-brainer – I get far more good responses than bad in my work, so it would make no sense to quit purely because of a couple of rotten apples.  But it’s difficult. I can’t even try to respond and help, because usually those doing the throwing aren’t interested in even starting a discussion. I’m wrong, or weird, or nuts, so that’s all there is to it. Their world is set.

Others use their negativity to fuel power games. I’ve seen this often in many communities, including the Pagan – no social group is exempt, it seems, even if they start out with best intentions. Uninformed gossip, ignorant opinion, Daily Mail-style rabble-rousing, all help to fuel a particular agenda, sucking others along with them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt that results, and choose to step out of such situations. I’d rather work quietly, letting others come to me. It’s never been about my ego, I’m not interested in ‘power over’. I will stand up for my friends and loved ones, absolutely, but that’s natural defence – the trick is not to get drawn in further.

But then this week, to be directly insulted and threatened as a result of my life choices… I’ve drawn back through necessity. Regrouping is needed, new plans are forming – I’m aiming to bring something good from the bad.

This is the time when my Druidry is called upon to sustain me. I’ve made my choices – and I stick by them. When questioned or challenged, I must respond appropriately, retaining my integrity and honour while trying to honestly convey my point of view. I do try to understand where the negative is coming from, but often in the moment that’s almost impossible. That’s the point where many kick back, seeing red or running away. Those responses I can understand, but neither is helpful.

We cannot make the nay-sayers go away through feeding them. We cannot lessen their power by giving them more. Laughter can puncture the pompous; a simple ‘No’ can bring abusive action to a screeching halt. Then comes the time to reflect – on what you are doing. Did the person’s words or actions have a basis in reality, or were they based on their own fears or issues? Do your own actions have to be moderated or changed? Or is it simply time to move away, defuse with quietness?

Those who go through life spoiling for a fight usually find one, after all. If nothing measures up to our standards, we miss so much of the joy around, but that’s our choice. If our walls are so high that yes, we’re protected, but we’re also blind and deaf, then what sort of life do we have? If we live as a caricature, as ‘expected’, do our ‘friends’ really know us, or are they just helping to sustain the illusion?

We have to look deeper, both at ourselves and others. We can’t fix the world, but we can explore our relationship with it, in the knowledge that we are held, supported. Our choices must be as true as we can make them, as we have to live with the consequences.

As I travel deeper into the darkest parts of the woods, I hold fast to what sustains me: loved ones, friends, ancestors, deities – and my own creativity. These things keep me going. If they don’t, they will fall by the wayside (and I’ve been noticing a fair bit of that happening lately as well).

So here I am. I’m not sure what’s ahead, but I will continue to walk forward. If (when) there’s monsters, I will face them. Darkness holds the most valuable lessons, after all – it’s just up to us to see them.

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Interview – The Wiccan/Pagan Times

A rather nice interview with me out today! I’ve read this website for years and been impressed by it – never thought I’d be featured!

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