Archive for November, 2018

Facing Dragons

I love walking in mud with no shoes. Because shoes weren’t really made for mud, were they? They get dirty so easily, and don’t really cling (unless they’ve got special soles). Toes were certainly made for gripping, holding us firm, telling us what’s underfoot and if it’s safe to proceed.

But we don’t walk barefoot in mud, do we. Pause now, think of all the reasons you’ve been told. You’ll get your feet dirty. Who knows what you’ll step in? It’s cold. It’s wet. Just the feeling of wet, dirty, squishy mud, full of horrors… urrrgh…

Have you ever tried? How about sand? Or grass? The worst surface to walk on barefoot, for me, is gravel or concrete. Hard, cold, with no grip. The natural earth is full of sensation, feeling, and it actually feels so much better. More natural, indeed.

Oh, and soap exists. We can wash our feet afterwards. It’s easy.

This thoughts came to me as I was navigating a tricky path this afternoon, walking the dogs. Yes, there was mud. Fields where cows had been. Slippery wooden stiles to climb over. Brambles.

Every step of the way, my shoes slipped and skidded, my coat caught in things… the very clothes I wore to keep myself warm and dry were actually impeding my progress. It was both funny and frustrating.

Yes, we do things a certain way for practical concerns. Of course we do. But it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the prison of what we ‘must’ do. Not because we decide, but because someone else has, and we obey unthinkingly.

It’s interesting to consider our own personal boundaries. Which ones have we put up, and why? Which ones did someone else build around us, which we might actually be curious to take down?

Not everyone likes bare skin on mud. But you could do it easily if you wanted to – that’s the example that came to my mind today.

I’ve also spun, arms thrown out wide, in a thunderstorm… on a busy high street, full of people scuttling past to find shelter. I’ve skipped down a London street with a friend, through falling snow, as people got out of our way. I’ve stood naked in a field in Oxfordshire, screaming at the sky.

For each of these, I either was (or would be) stared at. None are illegal. All are rather societally frowned upon. Not British, perhaps, or not done by ‘civilized’ people.

But oh, how freeing they were. To feel that urge within me and to follow through with it. To feel the fear-walls fall away: less like tumbling bricks, more like smoke, that faded as I pushed it, challenged it. Overcame it.

I think of close friends, and things they’ve done, which are marvellous to me. Walking alone through busy city streets on the far side of the world. Leaping from a plane, falling back to earth at the end of a thin rigging of cloth and rope. ‘Coming out’ – as a particular sexuality, gender or faith – in an unfriendly environment.

My little mischiefs seem trivial in comparison.

When I wrote my last post, I did worry. How many people would respond accusing me of ‘privilege’, of not knowing ‘how lucky I am’, of how I should ‘be grateful’. I was only talking about having photos taken, for goodness sake…

Words like that were the bars of my inner fear-cell as a child. Always being aware of how I appeared to others, and how I had to act. I always wondered why, how this sort of thing was known. I felt as if I’d been left out when the instructions on such things were being given out. My biggest mistake was often being honest. When I was, I usually got mocked, laughed at and ridiculed. I learned to stay quiet.

But the response that I actually got to my writing was wonderful. People thanking me for my honesty. For being so brave as to talk about such things. For putting into words what is so difficult to even feel, let alone express.

Whenever I let the words come. When I feel so full of emotion that I have to let it out, to express it in some way… people thank me. This confuses me – because as I said, that used to be precisely the wrong thing to do! But now I’m allowed to say it, somehow. Or rather, society has turned enough that we have learned to listen, both to the words being said and to the intention behind them.

I still see words being censored. I’ve had bosses tell me to ‘use different language’, that certain phrases are ‘too negative’. That’s because the situation is negative, perhaps? I see journalists fight in America to express bigger truths that need to be heard. I see everyone figuring out how to tell their own individual tale.

We can only share the stories as we live them. If this means identifying privilege as part of it, then so be it. I’m a white, cis-female, living in a wealthy country – of course my view is going to be limited to that. But this isn’t a prison either; it’s just a perspective. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s, and by sharing, we can open the doors to each other’s experiences too.

I may be using hard language here. I’ve often felt ‘imprisoned’ by societal demands, by the expectations of others, of that strange ‘map of life’ that I’ve somehow stumbled away from (you know the one: birth, school, job, marriage, kids, death). I’ve often said that I left that behind a while ago. I’m in the back pages of the atlas now, drawing in the blank space. As the medieval maps would say, Here Be Dragons.

I’d rather the dragons of my own experience and exploration than those snapping at my heels. The adventures and stories give me the power to fight them… or fly.

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Overcoming Fear

A week ago, I had a call that should have made me happy and excited. I’d won a makeover and photoshoot with a local company, so Himself and me would be off to their studios to be looked after and made to feel like stars.

I was terrified. I was so close to saying ‘No, thankyou’ and hanging up the phone. Because the prospect of such a thing was almost too much for me.

I’ve always hated pictures of myself. I know this isn’t unusual, as we never quite look like we imagine from inside (I always think the ‘residual image’ of Neo in the ‘Matrix’ films would never be quite as effortlessly cool as they present it to be!). But years of mockery at school combined with the usual personal anxieties as an adult have not made me tremendously comfortable in my own skin.

But something in me seemed to rise up and silence those naysaying voices. ‘Nope. You’re doing this.’

For the last few days, it’s been an undercurrent of worry, rising to just under panic levels the night before. What do I take to wear? What will they ask me to do? How can I hide?

Ridiculous, perhaps. But so runs the track of irrational negativity.

Even on the morning we were due to set off, I sat for a while in a heap, not knowing what to do. Finally we both shoved some things in a bag and set off. Keep moving. We’re on the way now. I took knitting for the journey (yes, as passenger!), to calm myself as best I could. I know that my lovely husband was nervous too, but he seemed so calm, so ‘together’ and at ease. I was envious.

I’m so glad to say that I needn’t have worried. From the makeup lady to our host, to the merry and talented photographer, we were both put at our ease from the first. I was convinced to undertake what they called a ‘boudoir’ shoot, and throughout, the voice behind the camera kept telling me ‘beautiful, lovely, yes!’ The negative niggles kept telling me ‘she’s lying…’ but I gritted my teeth and kept smiling. Or looking moody. Or just gazing into the middle distance at a random stepladder out of shot.

Much fun was had when Himself was convinced to fetch his armour out of the car, by the way. In case you didn’t know, he does full-contact medieval combat (HMB) – so the sound of a cutlery drawer falling downstairs was in fact a real Knight stomping down the corridor. Everyone was impressed. Not your normal day in a photography studio, I imagine.

We were taken into a room and shown the results. Jaws dropped (ours). Smiles began… and grew. Laughter. Hugs. Stories shared with the photographer. She’d never guessed that I was so scared, nor that I fought depression, anxiety and panic every day.

I look now at the pictures we made, and the smile rises again. Ultimately, all I did was show up – the skill was all in those who crafted the images (and did the makeup). But stepping through the door was almost too much. Leaving my house was almost too much.

I’ve undertaken rituals to face my own darkness. I’ve been forced to look at myself, inside and out. This day may have been primarily fun, playing with props and clothes, guided by skilled hands. But it was no less a rite of passage, facing the unknown, overcoming my terror (I’m really not exaggerating there) and stepping forward.

I’m keeping copies of my favourite pictures handy, to remind myself when I’m feeling fearful. I left that studio feeling so brave, as if I could do anything. I want to hold on to that, to remind myself of what I can do when those negative voices rise. Because the deeper voice is remembering how to speak, to say ever more loudly ‘You can do it, you know.’ And here’s the proof.

Images and makeup by Chique Photography. Shawl is ‘Morticia’ by Boo Knits, yarn by Posh.

(I’ll be including a little more story and some additional images for my Patreon friends – please do hop over there and support me if you can!)

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Living Magic

I promised that I’d write about my Samhain ritual this year. It began with my last blog post here, actually, where I was pondering exactly what I’d do. Some planning began, but largely I let things happen as they would. Which led to interesting results.

Several days after writing that, I was very ill indeed. My depression attacked with full force. Medical professionals were called (and were helpful, insomuch as they could be), I battled hard to get through. And I did, for here I am.

Right in the middle of all that was the weekend before Samhain. Most people seemed to be celebrating it then, for some reason, and several journalists called to ask for chats. Honestly, this was the last thing that I wanted. But game face went on, and it was on the telephone at least. Chatting to many people from the comfort of my sofa. I could do that.

The usual questions came. ‘How did you become a Druid?’ ‘What does Halloween mean for you?’ ‘How will you be celebrating?’

The Sunday morning DJ was lovely. I was there on the phone, with a pagan friend present in the studio, and the host clearly wanted our discussion to go on for longer. The fascination in her voice was clear – she genuinely did want to know more.

I felt myself smile. I opened up, shared anecdotes of Samhains past, tried to convey some of the sense of magic that I’ve always felt at this time of year.

(I just typed ‘magic’ as ‘majic’. I kind of prefer that :D)

I spoke of how we feel the presence of our ancestors at this time of year, but not at all in a scary way. These are our family, from those we knew who’ve passed recently to relative strangers only met in ritual. But those who are there care for us enough to come along, to see how we’re doing and share some time.

I felt my spirits begin to lift.

The day came. My husband was at work on night-shifts on Samhain Eve and Samhain itself, so he spent the day asleep before heading out. I was mostly on my own, or with the dogs and cats.

I woke up feeling terrible. The black dog was gnawing at my mind, questioning everything that I had thought to do. Could I even do this at all? Who was I to share thoughts on this when I couldn’t even sort myself out? The movie ‘Practical Magic’ was on – I felt like one of the leading witches, hiding under her blankets, worn out.

I thought of my ancestors. I didn’t want to let them down – a constant challenge in the back of my mind when I’m unwell. I want to honour them in my life, my work, to do my best.

And the sense of many grandmothers were at my shoulder. Not so much saying ‘You can do this’ as gently, encouraging a child. ‘Come on, you can do it. Let’s take the dogs out. Get yourself dressed, nice and warm. Remember hat and gloves!’

I wrapped up safely and walked out into the day. The darkness receded, as my ancestors walked with me. My eyes opened and my spirit too, as I truly felt the connection to the simple, everyday places that are my hilltop home.

I was reminded of the myth of the Cailleach in the light touch of frost on my cheek. It would get a lot colder, but for now I had a beautiful blue sky, sunlight occasionally peeping from behind white clouds, and crisp grass under my feet. Golden leaves surrounded us as the pups played. I looked out and saw the mist over the houses below. Always strange to be ‘above’ that, being so high up, especially when so much of my life was spent a mile or two from the south coast.

I felt my heart lift, and the depression stayed away. I kept seeing and hearing the same phrases around me – to see clearly, to see through the dark. I kept my eyes open, and my thoughts.

And sometimes, when what could be considered an ‘omen’ or synchronicity just whaps you in the face, you can’t ignore it. I realized that I had to see clearly that day – I had an opticians appointment at lunchtime!

The high street was full of seasonal decorations. I sat in the waiting area next to a beautiful little witch with a bag shaped like a cat. I listened to those around me talk and laugh about the things they’d seen (Spiderman had come into the shop ahead of me, to get his glasses fixed after he sat on them). Everyone was in a tangibly festival mood.

Not only was the eye test fine, but my eyes had actually improved. I could see more clearly. I need to change my reading glasses, but I could see more without them. I tried not to laugh.

All day, the mix of the mundane and the magical swirled around me. I never felt alone or overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the evening, though – what ritual to do. Hmm. Continue to let it come naturally?

Himself and I had a brief hour together before he left, and we saw the children on the street enjoying their monstering. Many houses were having parties, as it’s a school holiday week, and the parents were getting involved as well. The air was filled with subtle lights and woodsmoke.

I had spent much of the day baking – something I’d been unable to do before, due to mood and lack of energy. Now the house smelt of pumpkin cookies and cake.

I sat with my tea after the last small zombie had left. What to do, what to do…

And I walked the house. I started looking out over the garden, at first seeing nothing but the darkness… and then the reflected lights causing shapes to dance in the windows. The kitchen was still warm. The candles I had lit in the living room flickered, reflecting in the mirror.

The spirits of the house were there. The ancestors were there. Not just that evening, but always, should we choose to recognise or call upon them.

The lesson of the day truly was to ‘see’ – clearly and deeply. To cut through the dark, to look over the mists, to see shapes in the negative spaces. This wasn’t about casting a circle or formal words. This was about everyday practice, real and lived. Talismans, incense and special clothing may help, but I carry the magic within me, in every breath. In the words and feelings that I share. In my open heart.

I do my best. I live my practice, and my truth. Sometimes the darkness rises to overwhelm me, but I know it. I know that it can be beaten back or overcome.

I hold on to my faith – in my Self, in my ancestors, in my Gods (who were absolutely looking on and laughing as I came to each realization through the day). I share my stories, and smile as I hear the tales of others. We all move forward into the winter together, and we keep each other’s light burning to help guide us all.

What are we doing? Whatever we can.

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A small addendum. As we enter the ‘quiet’ months, I’m working more from home, but am still definitely here. I have a Patreon, which very much keeps me going when I’m not out and about ‘doing’ a lot – there will be more stories on there every week (as well as other unique creations!), as a thankyou to those who support me. Please do join in if you’re able, as every little really does help ($1 = 60p approximately!).

Samhain blessings, my friends xx

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