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My First Livestream!

So last night, I randomly decided to go live on Facebook for the Full Moon.

Why? Because I miss my friends. Because I wanted to reach out. Because I felt that I should.

I’ve done no public ritual this year, and very little private. Hopefully this would help inspire me.

I talked for just under an hour. The sky turned from the pale blue of sunset to black; the wildness of my garden filled with birdsong became full of flittering moths. People came and went, friends far and near.

Typically for a public ritual, things did not go exactly as planned. The Moon didn’t show up, for one! But the changing light showed me the movement of day into night, the gentle turning of the planet. Standing in place, yet moving. Alone, but connecting. Reaching out…

When I finished, I felt emotional. The house seemed so quiet! I absolutely do miss everyone, but I’m so grateful to the technology that we have, which allows us to connect in this way. Round a tiny single candle-flame instead of a bonfire in a field, but no less meaningful.

I’ve uploaded the stream to my YouTube channel here. Quite a few people who weren’t there live have said it was good company last night. Sometimes a voice reaching out, a face and even just fingers brushing a screen allows us to remember that we have friends in spirit as well as body.

Quite a few have asked for more – and if it helps during this crazy time, I’m absolutely glad to.

Let me know your thoughts, if any. What would you like in a livestream from me? I’m open to suggestions for topics and themes, not matter how unusual! What would you like to talk about? It’s just me talking, but everyone in the chat is involved too. I’ll hold the space if you want to come along and spend time.

Things are changing i nthe wider world, but it doesn’t hurt at all to take a moment with friends. I was so nervous, but I’m very glad that I did. That time last night was precious and will be remembered.

Much love to you all xx

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When Nobody’s Right

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly trying to find our Selves. Who We Are.

There’s entire industries making money from that quest. Advice comes from every angle, how to transform your mind, body and spirit to become… what? Your ‘Truest Self?’

I’ve come to believe that this is actually the journey that is our lifetime – and even then, some folks don’t get there. That’s what Reincarnation is for 😉

However, it’s always confused me why some people seem to invest so much of their energy in telling others that they’re wrong.

Sometimes this is well-intentioned. Children are taught what is socially right or wrong, for example, and so society is maintained.

But what if those guiding hands are themselves wrong? Or at least misguided.

We learn early on that we have to trust in order to find out what’s acceptable (or not). Ideally, we also learn who to trust. Or who’s unreliable.

The real challenge comes when we grow up… and discover that our foundation was itself warped or incorrect, perhaps from best intentions but poor knowledge.

There’s so many examples here. The ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’ argument will continue as long as humans can communicate. From international politics to having/raising children, everyone has an opinion. Read any philosopher’s works to see more.

Different points of view are absolutely fine, by the way – that’s part of what makes the world interesting and varied. The problems arise when opinion becomes absolute Fact, regardless of evidence.

I’ve seen recently how difficult it is for some people to acknowledge that they might – just a little! – be wrong. The governments of both the UK and the US, for example, will not admit error, even when the evidence is overwhelming and they may gain some positive credibility for holding hands up and simply apologising.

Which heads us into Blame. ‘I’m Not Wrong, this person told me so…’ And thus we have (again, well-intentioned) random strangers yelling at others for being outside during lockdown, for example. One glance = one conclusion = judgement and reaction. Which may very well be wrong.

I look around right now and see so many people doing their best. Our current world situation is crazy, and seeing the truth is like looking through a multi-faceted lense – there are many perspectives (not least the multiple medias through which we get our information). So what do you do, when it seems that nobody is Right?

My illness has taught me to take a look at those Right/Wrong absolutes. What someone says to me somehow warps in midair, being interpreted by my brain in an entirely different way.

But I’m sure you know the sort of thing. What’s your immediate reaction when someone gives you a compliment? Do you presume they’re just being polite, or lying, or want something from you? Stop. How disrespectful is that to the person in question? Did they, in fact, simply mean what they said, and wanted to tell you something true for them?

If those who helped build our moral foundation were acting from a warped standpoint, we may well have become suspicious of everything we’re told. I know I’ve been gaslighted many times in the past – told that my opinion or understanding was flat-out WRONG, no two ways about it! When in fact, that person could not accept that I might be right… because then they would have to be wrong.

And back we are to absolutes again.

We are having to learn right now that it’s not that simple. Life is not, communication is not; everyone has different perspectives, knowledge bases and motivations. What we need to learn is how to listen, to discern intention behind the words.

We also need to stop ourselves from jumping to conclusions. I absolutely do this too, by the way, especially when I’m in a fragile place. The inner depression voice takes any opportunity to jump on its favourite narrative, of How Awful/Useless/Ugly/Unwanted I am.

Instead of believing that path, of slinking away to hide and suffer, is it possible right now to hide away for a little while… and challenge? Not from anger, but from experience? From your own learned knowledge, valid opinion and validation from trusted others? Of what you sincerely and deeply feel to be true for you?

We are living in a very fearful environment right now. People are reactionary, knee-jerking and lashing out with blame. That’s not helpful – we can review later, when we have more information.

In the meantime, is it possible to not just speak before thinking? To take time, ponder and then offer an opinion? To start a dialogue, not an argument?

It’s easy to believe our words and thoughts aren’t valid when we are shouted down by louder voices. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong. But we can take time to review, to see where that person is coming from, and agree or disagree. Then, is a response possible? Are they open to other views? If not, perhaps the best response is to walk away.

None of us are right – or wrong – 100% of the time. Nobody is a bad person for misjudgements or mistakes. Or rather… only if they continue to compound their errors by ignoring other possibilities.

I’m doing my best to listen to the many notes that make up the (somewhat discordant!) music of life right now. I sincerely hope that it becomes more tuneful soon. In the meantime, I try to do my best, so that my own notes inspire and add to the song, rather than take over and drag others with me.

Take the days gently, my friends. We’re still moving.

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The Power of Change

I’ve seen an increasing number of articles recently speaking about how the poor management of this country is leading folks to tighten their belts. People are worried, the future is uncertain. I’m sure most of you will know what I mean. Sadly, it’s not unique to the UK either.

But I’m also seeing something else… that started small, before all of the Brexit trouble. It’s now really picking up speed and developing in a good way. It’s exploring what we can do to improve lives, as individuals and small communities.

What started as a pastime or hobby has (often through necessity) become self-employment or a small business. I had to pursue my Druidry professionally after being forced out of my NHS job, but never has there been so much demand for what I do.

I’m so glad that people call on me for ministry, to perform rites of passage or speak and teach publicly. I’m often asked to be a guest on a media show or to write a magazine article. I’m especially touched that some friends look to own something that I’ve created! Life is busy.

I see so many people transforming their lives by taking on their passion projects and sharing them with others. Sometimes this is because there’s no other option; or it may just mean taking that leap into the unknown, beyond the ‘normal, everyday’ life that’s expected of us.

I wanted to write this as a gentle reminder. When you see a negative story about the world right now, seek out a positive one to balance it. Or try to look deeper into those stories – certain tabloids show a very slanted view, and tales aren’t always as simple as they may appear.

Support those independent businesses, be they friends or recommendations. Word of mouth has been the best marketing method for me! I do my best, and those I work with/for share that with others.

We work with our own communities at an immediate, local level, and we can make change there. But with the power of social media, we can plant seeds, make ripples, help actively improve lives.

I’ve often spoken about fair energy exchange – otherwise known as Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Don’t like a company’s practices? Don’t support them. Grateful for the work someone has done for you? Tell them – and then tell others!

One of the loveliest things about working with individuals is that you can see the changes. All authors love reading happy reviews for a book you’ve enjoyed; creative sellers will be touched by a positive piece of feedback for their services on a website. Even leaving a message of thanks for a helpful member of shop staff makes a difference.

And then? Relationships are born! I follow several makers who originally worked from their homes while trying to hold down a job and family. Now they’re internationally known! Still working hard, but doing what they love, because those who supported them in the early days have provided the foundation for them to do their work.

Of course, I hear many stories too, of bad buyers who rip off the good hearts of creatives. I’ve experienced piss-takery too. Entitlement is definitely A Thing. But the 99% of those who come to me are wonderful people, and it truly is those that make it worth striving on.

I write this post with gratitude for all of the friends who’ve helped me get this far… and looking forward to the paths which open up in the months (and years) ahead, for myself and all of us.

The larger world is changing. Let’s hold on to that 99% of goodness that I’ve seen; hold it and share it.

Ways to Support

If you’d like to help me personally, I have a Patreon page (where followers receive unique content just for them!). Alternatively, buy me a virtual coffee at Ko-Fi – a rather lovely idea! This is directly helpful, but also means I can offer greater support for those who can’t give much themselves.

If those aren’t viable options, links to my books are in the sidebar of this site, or they can be purchased anywhere that books are sold. Perhaps tell your local independent bookshop about me, and I can try to organise a visit with them?

Leave reviews! Like it or hate it, Amazon is far-reaching. Or why not start your own blog, where you can explore ideas that you’ve found along your own path?

Keep doing your thing. Get in touch with me and I’ll share your creativity. Working together is how strong foundations get built.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the world today, but we can all make positive change, every one of us – and that energy is definitely what I’d like to see more of in these difficult times.

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Business card design by Catherine Winter-Hebert. Printed by Essential Print Services, Derby.

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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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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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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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Modern Druidry – A Talk

Last Summer, I was invited to speak at the LinDhu Gathering in Lincolnshire, UK, on the topic of Modern Druidry.

A recording of the talk has finally been found – so here, for your entertainment, is a spoken blog post, so you can hear my actual voice and what I have to say… enjoy 🙂

 

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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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To Live Your Story

Stories have always been at the heart of my life. From the earliest days of having them read to me, to learning to read myself… and then I was off and running! I’ve often been accused of being a ‘book addict’, but my argument is that it’s at least a non-lethal addiction, and certainly less expensive than some alternatives.

Image taken from here (used without permission but with grateful thanks).

As a species, we have always told stories. The camp-fire tale is one of the oldest, and most fundamentally thrilling fiction (maybe) out there. It developed into the ballad, the urban myth, the mass-marketed best-seller. And from time to time, great stories are told that really make an impact on the wider world – whether re-telling the Hero’s Journey (eg Harry Potter) or reflecting society back at itself in the form of entertainment: almost a subtle satire, as the Ancient Greeks knew.

The Druids were famed for their storytelling. The Bard, wandering the land carrying the tales of the tribes, as well as forming new histories based on current events. From intentionally formal anecdotes to mythological allegories, he (or she) held the secrets of land and people, and was valued accordingly. The Bard would be welcomed at hearth and table from ancient times up to the middle ages, until the advent of the printing press. And while books are my passion, an imaginative experience inside my head, nothing compares to having a tale told – as live theatre can/not compare to a movie. It’s a skill that is as rare in the modern world as it ever was – true inspiration cannot be taught, it must be experienced and developed.

The popularity of different themes in modern children’s storytelling comes in waves. The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books of the 80s, I recall, as well as  Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; Diana Wynne Jones in the ’90s. Then, of course, the aforementioned Potter deluge, itself performing the minor miracle of getting otherwise apathetic kids back into bookstores and libraries. Recently, however, an altogether different trend has been forming.

I’m not sure if it was the first, but when I encountered ‘The Hunger Games‘, I was, like so many others, both shocked and drawn in. From the ancient tale of Theseus, combined with the popcorn, throwaway soundbites of reality television, this story (and now movie) is no magical Potterverse. There seems to be a new wave of books for Young Adults (a relatively new genre in itself) looking at dystopian futures… and, in the process, performing the original role of a ‘viral’ story that passes from mouth to mouth: that of the learning experience.

An ancient tale is pushed into the future, by way of a satire on modern habits. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in a given situation – this is hardly a true children’s book, but it carries a clear moral, like any good fairytale. I do wonder if parents know what their youngsters are reading – and I’m amazed (and very glad) that the movie was made at all!

Because these books are teaching young people to THINK. They’re encouraging the ‘outsider’ to take pride in themselves, to use their skills to survive – something that every kid learns early on in the schoolroom, with its political cliques and strange ‘norms’. It may be considered escapist fiction, but these tales are actively encouraging the questioning of authority, the importance of individual thought, and the strength to speak up and act against a failed system. This is almost revolutionary. Not the punk kicking-out of the ’80s, but articulate and active anarchism, in its truest sense.

The news often speaks to us these days of young people in gangs, getting shot or stabbed for trivial reasons, but rarely goes into detail as to the reasons behind it. Far easier to blame ‘society.’ But writers – notably John Wyndham and Roald Dahl again – have always known that in each generation, adults who have distanced themselves from their children (not always by choice) can feel afraid, threatened by the strangeness of these curious, active, questioning strangers in their homes. The Childcatcher still scares us – that somehow warped adult whose specific function is to Shut Children Up (we never do find out what he does with those he’s caught, do we?).

Children challenge, in their quest to make sense of the world. Adults should, but many seem to forget how. Sometimes it may be easier to allow the television to become a nanny, but that won’t be enough. Censors have never understood that banning something, or allowing it to be omitted, simply encourages folk to go looking for what they’re not permitted to see.

Many parents I know today delight in teaching their youngsters, encouraging them to explore, read, play. If you’re old enough to ask questions, you’re old enough to hear answers – but they must be conveyed in a way that enables understanding. Television is a mass-market medium, and cannot always provide this.

But while advertisements and a certain type of children’s television seems to actively encourage being ‘one of the herd’ – having the latest style of clothes, make-up, trendy toys, shoes and so forth – there are these quietly subversive texts appearing. Very well written indeed (far removed from the insipid, unquestioning escapism of a certain glittering vampire series), their voices are being heard.

What stories are we telling, then? With our cynical whingeing (look at any national News broadcast), sense of doom rather than optimism, lack of encouragement to do anything because everything is depressed – in mind, body, spirit and bank account.

Or are we following the example of these children who live in worlds far worse than we could ever realize (I hope)… and discovering our own skills, our priorities, what we need to know and do to actively survive? It’s not about greed, acquisition, consumption – it’s about discovery, true friendship, inner truth, and living life well against adversity.

The world may have gone mad, but the storyteller still walks among us. Are you listening? And what is your  tale adding to that of those around?

Further reading:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

The Mall, by S.L. Grey

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

And general dystopian fiction of the moment to choose from at Goodreads.

Image found on random search on pInterest (if source available, please let me know to update)

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