Archive for November, 2013

What’s Your Story?

[Note: I found this in my ‘Drafts’ folder today. I’m sure it’s been published somewhere, but I can’t remember where – and I rather like it, brief though it is. Stories have been on my mind a lot lately… so more on this topic may follow.]

Stories are such an intrinsic part of our lives. From tales around a campfire to soap operas, we define ourselves by our tales – whether moral fables to aid the understanding of wider issues, or simply the biography of another to compare ourselves against.

We often speak today of this ‘Age of Entitlement’ in which we currently live. That the wealthy Western world has certain expectations: of a home, family, health, standard of living, basic rights… as if we are, in fact, at the centre of our own story. Perhaps certain children are brought up to believe this, before reacting in fear and anger when they find out it’s not the case. Perhaps it’s just too much to take in, that so much of the world is out of our comprehension or control.

Either way, our stories are confused, uncertain, shouting to be heard. On Facebook, Twitter or in print, conflicting accounts and opinions are reduced to soundbites, muddying the issue even more. We don’t have time to listen to the full story, so we take what we can get and then act… becoming even more confused, scared and reactionary when the consequences reveal what we should have known all along (had we taken that time to listen).

One of the most contentious areas of learning in modern Paganism, I have noticed, is the Druid notion of the Bard. People don’t really know what to make of this idea, or even if it’s relevant in the 21st century. Is he a storyteller or a musician? Should he be contemporary or focusing on the ancient myths? Does the Bard necessarily have to be confined by gender, or even geography?

I’ve heard people say that modern musicians can’t be Bards, because… well… they’re modern! Do they have to be folk singers, like OBOD’s current Pendragon, Damh the Bard? Why not? But I would also ask for consideration of David Bowie with his concept albums, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana or Oasis as they reflect on the cultures in which they lived, or even Lily Allen or Lady Gaga satirisng that same society.

We’re nervous about setting racial boundaries, or ‘stealing’ the cultures of others through their beliefs – so many are cagey about even exploring the myths of their ancestors. The so-called Celtic myths are anathema to some, irrelevant to others. The tales of each land seem almost eager to be forgotten by their own people, from the British to the current Romans and Greeks… except as tourist attractions.

I maintain that while outwardly we may turn up our noses at our heritage, we still reach for the stories that are part of our human ancestry. We haven’t changed all that much over the centuries – Robin Hood is still spoken of as relevant, Merlin and Arthur still struggle on television with issues of love and war, and the Gods of many lands are now being transformed by cinema into superheroes.

We still need the Bards, the storytellers of our people, because we need someone to cut through all that noise of social media – even if just for a moment. 90 minutes of a movie; 4 minutes of a song; 400 pages of a novel. We pause, as our ancestors did, to pay attention. We read reviews, chat amongst ourselves, discuss relevance and deeper meaning. We take certain characters as favourites, then ask ourselves why this is so. Is it not telling that Loki, the ‘Avengers’ villain, is more popular than any of the heroes? Or that tales of fantasy and magic are seeing a surge in sales, from Pratchett back to Tolkien?

As Pagans, we can acknowledge this connection, this need for a Bard, to guide us and inspire us, to kick us and provoke us to think. No ‘X-Factor’ hero – the Bard is wild, unfettered, roaming where he (or she) pleases, uncaring of public opinion. Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Stephen King and Alan Moore carry on writing, through rise or fall, critical success or slate. I’ve no doubt that we can all name smaller, quieter names who perform, write or present their art regardless of ‘fame’ – monetary return helps, but they would still scribble, sing or paint, because they feel that call inside to do so. When the Awen flows, or the Muse calls, the Bard must respond.

I also firmly believe that we have this ability within us all. No matter what our creativity, we need to demonstrate our perception of the world somehow, getting it out onto page, canvas or musical vibration just to express our connection to the world with the world. We may be nervous of showing that innermost secret work… but if truly told, the spirit of the Bard is clear, creating understanding as others see their own thoughts in your creation. They may then even be inspired to make their own.

So, now, I ask you to consider your own story. Are you proud to tell it? Why – or why not? It’s your story, after all. Would you rather truth or a fable? Can the two not merge into something fantastic and memorable? When you take your place among the ancestors, how will your tale be remembered?

Dare to listen more deeply to the stories around you. And then, please, be brave enough to add your own.

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Shades of Emotion

This is a Pantone chart:Pantone_Chart-2

It’s a basic version – a true Pantone book has many pages for each individual colour – but this single image shows some of the variations of colour that designers can use when choosing a particular shade of, say, yellow or green. No colour is simple; each subtle grade, each depth of saturation, makes it different… and so hints at a different response in the viewer. From cool blue to hot red, for example.

We rarely think of such things in our day-to-day lives (unless we’re professionally employed to do so – no disrespect to the hard-working artistic folks!). But we do all see those shadings around us constantly. From this:

LeavesTo this:

Sunset

From the yarn in my knitting to the shades of fur on my dogs, we are surrounded by varieties of colour. Even colour-blind people see the world vividly. Everything is shades – even grey. And yes, we are lucky to be able to see them.

This past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly aware of such shadings. It has mostly been in the skies that I love to look at as well as the natural world around, but paralleled in my own emotional state. Storm clouds dissipate into rainbows with the passing of so few breaths.

London Rainbow

It’s been an intense time in my world, rising from high mood to low with such speed that I’ve often been overwhelmed – seeing the world through the flickering images of an emotional zoetrope. The joy of seeing the happiness in the faces of those who’ve come to meet me for the first time after enjoying my work… to the sadness of pain and loss, over which I’m powerless.

It’s easy to feel out of control with one’s own emotions. They seem to come suddenly, in waves or bursts, with a thumping heart or chill in the blood. Physical and mental state are mirrored as both try to work out what’s going on, what is causing this reaction, what has to be done… and so the shadings are felt.

Pain – a sharp stab, perhaps, then fading to a dull throb, before numbness. Anger rising slowly, burning, before forcing itself to be expressed in a scream or hitting out. Happiness – from simple smile to uncontrolled laughter. We all have our emotional gradients.

I’ve read the Buddhist perspective, of simply observing emotions as they rise and fall within us, remaining unaffected. I’ve very rarely been able to achieve such a state, passionate lady that I am (born in the Year of the Dragon, in Sagittarius with Jupiter Rising, if you follow such things). I find myself caught up, forced to ride the waves – which has led me to get to know my own emotional Pantone chart pretty well.

I don’t often get angry, but when I do it’s with a hot rush of energy, which can be focused and directed if I catch it in time – before it flashes out to hurt. I feel tears welling within and know that they must be released… it’s being able to find a safe place first. Sometimes not possible.

We’re all expected to control our emotions to some degree, due to societal expectations (not laughing at an unexpected double entendre in church, for example), or simple politeness. For me, that awareness is another level of the shading – but more like a filter this time, through which others see my emotions. Behind which I still do my best to understand what they are and why I’m reacting in such a way. And, of course, what to do when that evil giggle wells up at an inappropriate moment.

I’m often shocked into gaping silence when others try to tell me how to react, how to ‘deal’. I have no idea how others understand or feel their own emotions, and so wouldn’t try to tell them how to act – at best, I can make a suggestion. But ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘oh, you don’t really feel that way, just calm down’ are guaranteed to have the opposite effect. Thus adding yet another societal filter.

Sometimes emotions just have to be felt. Like the brightness of a sunset, they can burn when focused on too intently, but by looking around, discovering how best to view them by the shades surrounding them, we gain perspective. By taking a deep breath and jumping into the sorrow, we can discover what we’re truly feeling, and where it may come from. Because the source of the emotion may not be what we expected. If we knee-jerk physically to that emotional stab, we may be kicking at the wrong target.

Look back over this post again, at those pictures. Leaves – simple. But what colour are they? Not green, not yellow, not brown. And the skies, full of clouds, so many shades of blue (and that quiet rainbow reaching down over London WC1). What emotions do they inspire in you? Pleasure, peace, annoyance, boredom… to what degree? And why?

We explore our emotions and discover more about ourselves. It might be fun or it might hurt, but it’s part of life, not to be blocked out or bottled up. I honour those mysterious forces inside me, even as I’m frustrated by them, or wish them away, or curse their bad timing. They’re all part of who I am, right now.

We experience, learn and move forward, as life goes on.

(All photos in this blog entry were taken by me – please credit me if used elsewhere)

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