Archive for July, 2018

Practical Magic

It’s interesting to see how the modern Pagan ‘labels’ translate in the minds of those who don’t know a Starhawk from a Sabrina.

I’ve had a lady come up so close to my face and demand urgently to know ‘Are you a mystic?!’

Hubby has been asked his opinion on angels. Repeatedly. By the same person.

We’ve both been asked for ‘love spells’.

Sometimes, being a public Pagan in the 21st Century can feel a bit like this:

Aunts

As if you’re an On-Call Witch (or Druid, or Wise Woman, or whatever). In the movie ‘Practical Magic’, the wonderful and talented ladies in the image above will perform spells on demand – we see dollar bills thrown onto a table, less important than the outcome of the magic. A dove is sacrificed, poppets made, herbs picked…

In the Real World, it’s a bit more complicated.

Some people, when they find out that Druidry is my ‘job’ (as is author and chaplain, but those seem less sexy somehow), want to ask what’s involved. Then they start asking what I can ‘do’. For them.

In itself, this isn’t a problem. I’m very flattered that folk trust me enough to share their lives, and also that they can ask me – a relative stranger – for help in some quite tricky personal matters.

A while ago, a lady asked me about love spells. She was very pretty, to my mind, but had apparently been having trouble finding the right man, and was starting to worry as time went on… a familiar story to many.

I did try to explain that I don’t perform ‘love spells’ as such, but I’d do what I could. In the meantime, I took her aside to make her promise me something. She was to light a candle by her bed each night, and consider love. Drawing love to her. Feeling love for herself. Really focusing on love surrounding her. Because like calls to like… and also, this was empowering her to take the action, to hold this in her mind and to perform transformative magic on herself. It was not me forcing others to do things against their will.

I don’t know if she did this or not. But that is how I plant seeds – by encouraging the querent to take some responsibility themselves. To focus and believe that they have the power to make change as well.

Mind you, I’ve had people come to me – either happening upon my website, or via word of mouth from friends – asking for help or advice, but with a clear cynicism, even as they say what they need. Like a child making a wish on a star as they grow older, they want their impressions of magic to be true, and yet cannot quite shake the Mature Adult who tells them it’s all nonsense.

Disney-style Magic, to me, is the fairytale. The true change comes about when you look deeper, see the story beneath the surface.

The aunts in ‘Practical Magic’ are beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted and rich (if single). They are societally acceptable. But they are also a modern archetype of the Wise Women, living at the edge of the township and helping those who sneak out to ask them for favours.

I see this quite often in contemporary media. The magic-user must be attractive if they’re a Good Witch, and so acceptable to approach. You don’t go near the crazy, wild-haired woman with the black cat. You never know what might happen.

So you may be able to see why it amuses me when folk come to me – the lady with uncontrollable Merrida-curls, who’s on antidepressant medication and has not one but two black cats. And makes gingerbread (if you ask nicely).

The last person to approach me actually did ask – very politely, mind – how I did ‘what I do’ when I wasn’t able to heal myself. I had to admire his honesty, and can understand why he would wonder this.

Because one thing magic is not is the waving of a wand and instant change. Prince into Frog (or Beast). All wishes granted. Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s aunts. Sadly/thankfully not.

Most of those I know who’ve walked this path for a while don’t perform ‘spells’ as such very often. We’ve learned that they don’t always give the results we ask for – or rather, they do, but not necessarily in the way we expected. These things also take time and consideration.

For me, it’s more a matter of seeing that story beneath the surface. Of discerning the flows and acting to work with them, so that our connection with the wider world allows events to continue in a favourable manner as we move together, rather than magnets set to poles which only push each other away.

This is not easy. Many modern Pagans are ill in one way or another, but it doesn’t mean they are terrible magicians. Fragile human beings, maybe, but that’s life.

We all face our challenges. We work with what we have: physically, emotionally and financially, societally. But we can work to help our situations. We can’t necessarily fix long-term chronic conditions, but we can ease symptoms. We can find solidarity in dark places and cast a light to see that the shadows contain wisdom that we needed.

A lot of my work is doing this for others. It’s not a quick fix. But I endeavour to show people that they can make changes for themselves. They aren’t alone; I’ll accompany them on the journey as far as they wish me to. Together, we’ll do our best to find the path through the forest.

And when we do, sometimes the Regular Person will smile, give a little laugh and say Thankyou – and then be off, on their way again. They can forget our brief time together; what nonsense it all is anyway, like newspaper horoscopes! Just some feel-good pseudo-therapy.

I smile too. I’d say my own particular form of Headology works, because I’m still here and working. And people are made happier for it. I know that I’ve saved lives. To successfully perform this role is a huge responsibility and privilege.

We all do what we can.

And right now, I have a black cat who’s come to sit across my lap and gaze at the screen as I type, purring loudly. The almost-full Moon shines outside. I think I’m doing something right.

Much love, my friends x

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Freedom

I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Paganism.’ It was in my early twenties via my (now ex-) husband, who showed me some of his Crowley books, told me about the Farrers and how this really was a Thing that People Did. Off I went to Borders, because this is how I operate – point me at a topic and I’ll be off to find books about it! And so things began to move.

I remember reading ‘The Witches’ Bible’ and being a little confused. There were notes here that rang true, but the form seemed wrong to me, somehow. A bit too Dennis Wheatley (given my limited frame of reference at the time).

American witchcraft books were just starting to hit the shelves back then. Of course, I found Starhawk and Margot Adler, then Silver Ravenwolf and that sort of thing. Which convinced me that while it had its good side, Wicca (especially early American Style Wicca, full of lists of Stuff and correspondences) was not for me. Likewise Ceremonial Magick.

Amusingly, some years later, I got to meet and become friends with some first and second generation Gardnerians. Their perspective was much more in tune with mine than the more ‘modern’ Famous Witches. But the difference between the reality and the books made us all smile.

Then came the different ‘flavours’ of Paganism. Pretty quickly, Druidry rose to the top of the pile of Interesting Texts, and upon joining some online forums, I soon found like-minded people, a local Grove and my practice began to pick up speed.

I mention this because recently, I’ve been speaking to friends encountering new situations in their personal practice, and we’ve joked about ‘Levelling Up’. Separate friends, on separate occasions, on very distant continents. But the same feeling.

I find myself thinking about this tonight, as I consider the ebb and flow of my own development – both private and public – and how it continues to evolve. The times are indeed changing, inside and out.

As far as I can see, no truly-felt spiritual path is ever ‘finished.’ We don’t reach some distant finish line and get a medal. Your first Initiatory experience (again, whether private or public/shared) is a huge deal, but it won’t be the only time it happens. We are constantly exploring, moving forward, occasionally nipping back to go over something again, then proceeding in a slightly different way… but we’re never ‘done.’

Every year, I’ve felt different ‘pausing’ points, where I have to stop and take stock before continuing what I’m doing. Usually this is enforced – something will happen to make me stop and think, review and consider. What am I doing?

Lately, the question has changed slightly. What can I do?

Because many years have passed since that first step onto this path. I’ve grown older, more experienced, but my health has also gone down interesting and unexpected routes. In many ways, life is better; in others, it’s more difficult.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Constantly changing. So I sit here again, pausing to think.

When I’m in the low places, without much energy to think or do, the ‘brain weasels’ of depression tell me that I’ve done as much as I can do. I’m published! That was a goal I’ve reached. What more can I do? There’s so many Pagan books out there, how can I possibly say anything new? Those voices are encouraging me not to pause, but to stop altogether.

Yes, that means what you think it means. When I say dark places, I mean it.

So the challenge has been to grab my brain by its bootstraps (which is an actual visual I’ve had, almost like a cartoon – anything to raise a smile, which is a prime weapon against those weasels!) and do anything. Write, knit, engage with a book or movie, run, clean, make some nice food… whatever it takes. Moment to moment, day to day. Keep living.

Then I notice that despite feeling like survival, these days actually link together. The writing becomes a story. The knitting becomes a blanket. I am actually still doing. Even when lying in bed, unable to do much besides think, those thoughts can be turned to good ideas.

My practice is having to evolve to accommodate my bad days – not giving in to them, but working around them. While I am older and less energetic than I used to be, life is by no means done. Of course I’m not still 20, I can’t do what I could then. But I’m in a very different place, and have new skills and options to try instead.

I spoke of pausing for thought. At various times, those ‘STOP’ signs have felt almost like a trap – I can’t escape my situation, no matter how I try. A bad job, a failing marriage, lack of money… familiar problems to most people. How can anyone do Magic(k) with all the Real World issues weighing them down?

These are the times when we need to reach for that energy, the spirit within us. It’s relatively simple to access on the good days, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; but can you grab it and use it during the difficult times too? That’s always been a factor in my work, because it’s been important and necessary to me.

I’m having to consider what I can do, not what I’m prevented from doing. Because this trap is a lie, created by the mental illness to keep me from doing anything. ‘You can’t, you can’t’ is a common undercurrent in my thoughts. ‘Why not?’ is the retort.

OK – some days, I can’t, for valid reasons. But other days, I find ways to work things so that I can.

I’m looking at new methods for giving talks online as well as in person, to overcome the challenge of travel. I’m playing with fiction writing, to free me for a while from the More Important books (I don’t know how that perspective came about, but that’s what my brain tells me my work is! Fiction is important too). I’m going out, overcoming my fears to do things that I’ve never done before, and finding them glorious.

I am freer than I give myself credit for. I have a home, loved ones, friends, food. I may feel constrained by constant NHS waiting lists for medical help, but I’ve always found my own way in the meantime, because I’ve had to. I have a supportive publisher. I’m able to help and inspire others, as they inspire me.

I’m still connected to my practice enough to see the guideposts to the next stage of exploration. It’s exciting. Yes, scary too, but I have to trust that if I fall, I can pick myself up, learn and carry on.

Because sometimes, we are as free as we allow ourselves to be. Even when confined by circumstances, we have our Selves – it just can be tough to dig deep and find who we truly are (and who we are not).

I’m remembering the enthusiasm of those early days of magical study, of trying my first ritual (that’s a story in itself), of discovering what worked beyond the books for me specifically. And each time, the affirmation from the Powers that Be – yes, you’re doing it. See how the path opens up once you let go of the hang-ups that hold you back? Come on, we know you can.

Once we get out of our own way, we can accomplish so much. That’s a constant note to remember.

We pause. We nourish ourselves as appropriate. And we move forward.

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Review: ‘Darkest Part’, by Madeleine Harwood

‘Darkest Part’ is the first album by Madeleine Harwood, an a-cappella folk singer from Gloucestershire.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Madeleine lately on social media, from friends in the Folk and Pagan scene, as well as on Folk radio programmes. I was therefore thrilled to receive a copy of her CD to review.

The art was the first thing to grab me. By Tom Brown, co-creator of ‘Hopeless, Maine‘, it hints at the musical tone within, but doesn’t give too much away.

This was an album unlike any I’d heard in a long time. I pressed Play, only to hear a deep intake of breath… before a beautiful voice soared from the speakers, like a bird’s first song breaking the silence of the morning. Madeleine’s vocals are absolutely breathtaking; her words rise and fall as a lone instrument, clear and strong. It’s easy to image these songs performed instrumentally by a flute, for example, but the poignancy of the words would then be lost – she needs no accompaniment. A-capella is one of the most difficult ways to perform, but every single note hits its mark.

The songs stand as individual pieces, while still flowing together to tell a tale: the journey of love, the ups and downs of life, deep emotion and touching encounters.

While she certainly stands alone in terms of style, her range reminded me of two other (very different) favourite vocalists of mine: Lady Gaga and Johnette Napolitano. I suspect she could lend her voice to pop, rock or country tunes, but the way that these songs are structured comes so deeply from the heart, I suspect she’s not interested in genre so much as conveying her story.

I hear the voices of thewandering ancestral bards in these songs, rising from the tiny speakers of my 21st century technology. And I forget where I am for a moment, as I’m swept up and away.

Please do check out this album, available now on Amazon, iTunes and all other good media outlets. If you get the chance to see Madeleine live (as I now hope to!), grab it. Her music is both inspired and inspiring.

Photo 11-07-2018, 09 17 55

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