Archive for March, 2015

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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Spring – Madness and Stillness

The sun is rising on the Spring Equinox. The Supermoon is high above, to become visible soon as we witness an Eclipse. We stand at a time of balance, between the winter past and the warmer days that are almost here…

Some say that it’s been a hard winter. I hear that every year, but it’s at this time that we take stock, consider those dark months receding and what lessons we learned.

I’m very aware that for a good part of 2015 thus far, I’ve been pretty ill. In one way or another, it’s been hard to function, to get things done, and I feel that my work has suffered as a result. My own little internal Jiminy Cricket seems to delight in pointing this out to me, which doesn’t exactly help.

And there’s the external voices too, of course. Why haven’t you done this particular task? From the impossible – are you planning to run a marathon (after a tough run, where I struggled to reach a mile) – to the possible but difficult: when’s your next book out? And of course, the everyday: You haven’t answered my email, did you get it, is everything ok? (it was sent two hours ago). 

We all get this, I’m sure. Everyone sees only their connection, not realizing how much is going on as well. I don’t mind, actually (well, most of the time), as it’s nice to be wanted and have folk who care to reach out. But it can be difficult, especially when they only add to my own interior monologue of worry about What I Haven’t Done Yet. That cosmic To Do list might reach to the Supermoon by now.

But a few things this week have brought ideas together, creating this blog post to put my conclusions into words on the new Spring day.

Yesterday, a friendly journalist called to ask if I would speak this morning on radio about the events of today. She couldn’t reach me at home or on mobile, so asked my partner if she could call me at work. I’m utterly incommunicado while undertaking my Chaplaincy commitments, but she didn’t understand this: ‘Oh, its ok, I’ll call her at work to chat.’ No, no you won’t. This caused confusion. When I eventually spoke to her, she didn’t seem to quite understand that the Spring Equinox isn’t about High Festival, but smaller celebration, personal time to reconnect with our surroundings – or at least, it is for me. I got the impression that I wasn’t saying what she wanted, or expected.

This brought home to me how easy it is to get stuck in our own little worlds, our personal universe of expectations, and how easy it is to be brought up short when others don’t (or won’t) fit into them. I remember being like this, by the way – I worked in media, and in fast-paced London environments where things have to be done now or the world will end! Everything else is unimportant, except that immediate demand that you must fulfil. I do get it, and I do try to help her fulfil her requirement. Albeit with a small smile, as expectations meet reality.

Potentially, this is where my worrying voice comes from. Like a Microsoft ‘helpful’ application, why haven’t I done this, that and the other? Because things happen. External priorities come up. Personal ability makes it impossible. And it is really so important, or can it legitimately wait until later, when a proper job can be done? But we get caught up in ourselves, forgetting what’s outside the bubble of worry.

Everything is so fast-paced these days, I’m sure you all have versions of these thoughts and experiences. I’m sure you know the frustration too – ‘Why doesn’t this person understand how urgent it is?’ Impossible to even entertain the idea that the person understands… and doesn’t acknowledge that urgency. Because it’s not as important to them; if it’s even actually real. Tomorrow, it’ll be equally urgent, but something entirely different. 

Of course, there’s priorities; I’ve written of this before. But sometimes the pause is needed, to assess and consider. I love how the Pagan festivals allow this. I don’t really care if they’re a recent invention – we now have a day to celebrate Spring itself. How wonderful! The constant cycle, the movement, the time to look both back and forward. It’s not about Getting Stuff Done, or How We Celebrate. It’s about where we are, right now. Here.

I’ve been asked to present a talk later in the year, and am considering a look at Vocation, in a Pagan sense. That’s what’s on my mind at the moment. And it seems to be a good idea, because everything is coming together to add to it, to make it grow and develop. What am I doing as a Pagan Priest? How do I balance my duty to my Gods, my ‘flock’ (I have no idea what the collective term is for a Pagan Community, but I’m sure there’s many comedy options)… and to myself? What use am I if I don’t honour myself? How can I function for others if I don’t have the time, strength or energy to even walk down the road – as is required by my doggie family members every day? 

We feel the sap rising with Spring, the longer days, the joyful birdsong, the bright flowers… and we want to be Doing. But rather than zooming off and running into the floor – or causing inadvertent chaos for others in the process with our demands – perhaps today is a good time to pause. To celebrate, yes, to feel that warmth in our hearts as well as on our skin. But also to take stock, at this time of balance. 

Once we know which direction is best, we can step forward. Honouring ourselves and those around.

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Judge Not…?

It’s interesting to see the Pagan community grow these days. We’re still young, as a faith – yes, I know about the ‘Old Religion’, but contemporary Paganism is still very much finding its place in the 21st century. This isn’t an idealized Summerisle-style community either, but rooted in the lives that we lead, here and now, in city and country, through good and bad.

And so we have to deal with difficulties.

I’ve spoken before of personal issues, the challenges of balancing the hard times and the good in life, as well as the inspiration which can come from darkness. But there are various aspects of life which we as a society still find so hard to deal with that we are happier to ignore them. Death is one such issue (although Kristoffer Hughes is writing about that well enough). Myself and others are looking at mental illness and isolation.

Today I’m pondering the issue of Judgement.

The media has been quick to wield the Stick of Truth (ahem) in the past, castigating the ‘evil Pagans’, weirdos who gather together in their ‘occult rites’. Many of us know how frustrating this is, to read about and to be represented in such a ludicrous and disrespectful way. The idea of a Pagan ‘caste’ system has always scared me – I’ve spoken before of idolizing and the creation of celebrity ‘gurus’, but this is the opposite side of that dangerous coin.

Because now in my work, I’m finding myself meeting and getting to know some of those ‘evil Pagans’. Those whom even the wider Pagan community seems happy to ostracize. Sometimes I’m ashamed of my community, as they act in no better manner than those torch-wielding mob-rousers that they profess to hate when on the receiving end. Love, light and peace? Not for all, it seems.

Sometimes issues can seem black and white. With its soundbite-nature, the media is content to let it be so. But life isn’t that clear-cut. We know that, right?

I’ve seen a Pagan man weep about how he was represented in the papers, with provably false words printed that were later retracted – but the lies were on the front page, and the apology hidden inside. Can you guess which ones his friends, those who knew him better than any journalist, believed?

I’ve seen repentance and apology, the quest for redemption. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the punishment – far greater than any Judge can bestow – of having to live with that for the rest of their days. Justified, perhaps? 

A movie summed it up well for me this week, actually: 

‘Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.’ 

(from ‘X-Man, Days of Future Past’)

I’m not saying that Pagans never do wrong. We all stumble; it’s the degree of stumbling, and the consequences, which need to be judged on their own individual cases. But we need to unite as a community, with maturity, honesty and bravery, to acknowledge that Bad Things Happen. What are we then to do about it? 

As Pagans, we find ourselves often tribal, in our own geographical areas of moods and social groups. That’s fine. The difficulty comes when someone strays from that, and is effectively ‘cast out’ from that tribe. 

I’m seeing calls today to ‘cast out’ someone from Paganism as a whole, for crimes committed. I’m shocked and saddened by this, because to me, it’s the mob mentality that’s so hateful to us in other circumstances. Not to mention a ludicrous idea – nobody has the right (or ability) to take another’s spirituality, and I would protest loudly if anyone tried. Perhaps this blog is that protest. I’m writing it in the hope that my words are read and understood, not knee-jerked and sound-bited. But I cannot stay silent, not today – that makes me complicit with that (scared, angry) mob, in my mind.

Yes, crimes are terrible, I’m not denying that. I absolutely cannot understand the mentality of some folk I meet, particularly those who do not (yet?) acknowledge their guilt  – but even though I can feel sick or scared, I still have to minister to them. I’ve chosen that path, and so I do my best. Not everyone can, and I know that too. It’s bloody hard. But so I raise my voice, because they are Pagans too. And human beings. Like it or not, we have commonality.

I’m suggesting that as Pagans, we need to act as an adult community, as a responsible tribe. We support those injured by the crimes, of course, but also acknowledge that sadly, such things will inevitably happen, and as a group we must deal with that, for all concerned. 

We’re human. Everyone has their issues, and some are expressed in ways so deeply socially unacceptable that it feels natural to kick out in response. The law of the land seems insufficient sometimes, and calls for death are easy to make on social media. But again, I’ve met those people whose heads are being demanded, spoken to them and looked into their eyes. They’re not the Devil (remember, he doesn’t exist in Paganism) – in fact, most are so confused, they cannot recognise themselves in those headlines, so sensational are the words.

As Pagans, it is part of our spiritual path that we are all responsible for our actions. The challenges there are part of our journey. So the wrongdoer must be responsible – and accept that he may have lost much of his life as a result. But is he then not allowed the opportunity of redemption? Is his community reduced to just me (a scary thought, I don’t mind admitting)? Or can we try to help him, should he ever return to those who called him friend?

A wise (and very realistic) Prison Officer once told me: ‘We can’t judge. The Judge did that. We just have to be there for them now.’ 

It’s not easy, I know that. I don’t know if we’ll ever find a solution. But as other faiths pray for those in pain, those lost and suffering, so I pray for those Pagans who’ve stumbled and fallen. Because if they hadn’t, I would possibly have once called them Friend.

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