Archive for Media

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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Druidcast!

An exciting moment – I’m on ‘Druidcast!’ OBOD’s wonderful Poet Laureate Pendragon, Damh the Bard interviewed me a while ago, and finally it’s out there in the world.

I’ve been listening to this Podcast since episode 1, and it truly is the finest Druid broadcast out there. Enjoy! 🙂

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Faith, Truth and Media

I’m really not cut out to be a celebrity. I’ve never sought fame, and am still rather uncomfortable with people looking to me as an authority on anything. But I’ve stepped up, and here I am – from peeking my head above the parapet, to then standing proudly in the knowledge that what I’m doing is helpful in some way. Bracing for brickbats (verbal and otherwise).

But it’s not always the case with modern Paganism. Certain individuals seek out the ‘leadership’ roles, seeing it as a quick route to fame/notoriety, with the added bonus of an automatic fanclub (coven). I’ve heard of ‘High Priests’ getting their covenmates to do their housework for them. Integrity is unlikely to be part of their syllabus of study.

This week, Druidry was in the news again, with both a biased Daily Mail piece (you can imagine the sort of thing; I’m not linking to it as I don’t want to give it the attention) and a stunningly ill-informed and childish op-ed article in the Daily Telegraph. There has subsequently been responses, including some discussion regarding how far we as a Druid community should respond to such publicity.

The subject of the Telegraph piece, Emma Restall Orr, mentioned at this year’s Druid Network AGM that she was glad times had changed; there was now no longer a need to court every journalist who came calling for a quote, as unlike in recent decades, Druidry is now better known and understood. Myself and my colleagues subsequently turned down some of the sillier requests – again, refusing to acknowledge childish questions that would never be asked of any more ‘acceptable’ faiths (‘do your family think what you do is weird?’). When those apparently educated journalists saw no problem with tabloid-level sensationalist reporting, they were then surprised to end up with a simple ‘no, thankyou.’

Not everyone seeks out the ‘X-Factor’ 15 minutes, losing ourselves, our values and our dignity to the altar of brief fame. Some of us simply want to get on and do what we do, in this case practising our faith quietly at home, and (as for myself and other public celebrants/priests) teaching about it when called upon.

After my last post, I had a wonderful comment, noting that a fair number of Pagans and Druids may be living entirely ethical lives as Pagans and Druids… just without those particular labels. They’re ‘getting on and doing’. So personal and connected, they don’t even realize they may have earned a description of their practice – it’s just life!

I think this is where the balance lies. It’s a tough line to walk, but at what point do we go beyond our quiet lives to stand up for our faith when challenged? From a loud public statement on a march (Pagan Pride) to writing ‘Pagan – Druid’ on a Census form, our voices are being heard. We’re forming the foundation of a new type of spirituality/religion/worship: no doctrine, just personal, individual belief and method. This must then be brought together to form a louder voice when needed, for the sake of that personal freedom for both ourselves and others. It’s not trying to lump us all in as one entity, an ‘organised religion’ seeking converts. It’s forming something new, full of potential that should be explored, with the power to challenge through our difference.

It’s all very well to criticise those who are still ‘in the closet’, but sometimes remaining silent is necessary. The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network (amongst others) are there to assist those who experience actual physical, mental or emotional difficulty in their practice, but it’s still easier to stay hidden than to shout about something perceived as so ‘niche’ – and yes, still compared with Satanism *sigh*.

However, it’s the challenge of speaking up that’s itself an initiatory experience. It’s a big step to write ‘Pagan/Witch/Druid’ on a form, to request a day off from work for a festival, or to suggest to a school that they might include Paganism in their lessons. It’s an even bigger step to volunteer yourself as an example.

As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I do this is because I’ve seen it done so damned badly that I at least want to represent my Druidry with honesty and understanding. It’s far easier to find common ground on which to start a discussion than turn up in yards of purple velvet, dripping with pentagrams and demanding respect ‘or else’. Many people have told me that they’re grateful for this approach, glad that someone is doing what I (and many others) do. They don’t see the nerves beforehand, my sheer confusion at some of the questions I’ve been asked, or what’s behind my smile. Often it’s just an inner voice wondering ‘How on earth can you ask someone that?’ But I still do my best to answer. Never be afraid to ask questions; just remember I’m human too!

A Druid in normal clothes is far more startling, in my experience, than one in robes. The robes are a uniform, I find, indicating that you are performing a public role. The everyday clothes are the truth, the familiar, the comfortable… and the starting point. Yes, I’m just another person. We both live on this planet, there’s far more to it than meets the eye… whatever connection you find, it’s there. Even the most hardline right-winger (whinger?) can sometimes be surprised out of their secular complacency.

So how are your ‘normal clothes’ inspiring others? How does your Pagan practice merge with your everyday life to provide a good and honest example of yourself and your fellow practitioners to the Muggle world?

I’ve usually found folk to be more curious than antagonistic about ‘alternative spirituality’. It’s easy to hide behind The Internet when making fun of something (especially in ignorance or fear) – but I’m out there in person too, talking face-to-face. It’s a lot harder to make childish statements when looking at the subject of the joke (although it does happen), but then it’s equally easy to smile and laugh at yourself rather than take offence. Then engage the person in conversation gently, find that common ground and see where the discussion goes.

We are Druids. We try to inspire, to rekindle the magic. You get a lot more accomplished with friendly chat than with flaming argument.

And incidentally, regarding the actual topic of the aforementioned articles? I do think that religion should be taught in schools, but with equal weighting as other subjective and evolving information, such as history or science (controversial?).

I’m very much against censorship, but do firmly believe that students should be given the tools with which to disseminate and understand the information they are given, rather than simply learning it to a set agenda, or (as the current ‘A’ levels are in the UK) as memory tests. Freedom of information means having the skills to utilise that information, rather than knee-jerk. Philosophy should be taught once again, potentially causing the furore that it did in Ancient Athens – imagine if schoolchildren were encouraged to question, to dig deep for meaning and comprehension, to have the mental equipment with which to make their own choices…

Perhaps if there were greater urge to seek truth, understanding and more than just a soundbite – and for journalists to inform and inspire rather than rabble-rouse – those articles would have been written very differently.

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Book Launch – 30th June 2012

Do let me know if you’d like to come, or get tickets here. Cost is to cover food and drink – this really is a mutual celebration! And feel free to circulate this flier however you’d like.

Exciting times… 🙂

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It’s Official…

… I have an Amazon page 🙂

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1780991134/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_u4BDpb0RQHY5H

Kindle pre-orders to follow, I understand. But if you want a signed one direct from me, click via the book page on the right here –>

Exciting times!

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Think!

Why are we not encouraged to think for ourselves, have you ever wondered? This isn’t the prelude to a vast Orwellian conspiracy theory, don’t worry. But in the interests of freely available media (and free will), when we are presented with nicely-packaged information every day of our lives, would it not make sense to actually encourage the understanding of it – and question it.

Tabloids such as The Daily Mail give the illusion of challenge, by presenting a certain perspective on any given story, while virtually wearing its own agenda on its sleeve. Yet people lap it up and gulp it down, no questions asked, even when the information given is so clearly biased it’s virtually fiction.

Liberal media does this as well. Stories presented in a matter of fact manner, so that the reader is encouraged to see their point of view as the only possible manner in which a normal, common-sense person would think.

This morning, I was reading Mark Townsend’s excellent forthcoming book, ‘Jesus Through Pagan Eyes‘. His writing is absolutely brilliant, conversational, engaging and inspiring – yet the subject matter was, for me, initially quite difficult. As a Pagan, why should I be thinking about Jesus? Surely the two paths are incompatible, even conflicting. It seemed almost sacriligious, in its way.

Then I caught myself. Where on earth had these thoughts come from? Why should I be blocking out an entire religion, with its deep and valuable stories, ethics and modes of thought, just because my own beliefs were considered ‘alternative’ (and that’s not even getting into that lovely misquote about not suffering witches)?

The difficulty in modern life is that we may be taught to believe one particular ideology, or way of living, is correct to the exclusion of all others. Then, when we are old enough to look elsewhere, we find alternatives… and become resentful of those perceived ‘lies’ that we were originally fed.

Is this irrational knee-jerk disregard not as bad as those ranting, obsessive right-wing extremists (of whatever faith)? We’re ignoring something entirely on the grounds that our own beliefs are different. Not because we have explored all sides… when we might begin to notice that there are in fact as many (if not more) similarities than differences.

Those who kill in the name of deities who taught love. Those who condemn children to hell because they aren’t baptised. Those who prefer to preach ultimate truths rather than encourage free will. These will only drive folk away from the doctrines they dictate.

I would love to learn about the historic Jesus, the man who walked his land telling stories and encouraging unity. It’s certainly about time someone threw the bankers out of the temple! And yet seeking such knowledge is considered heretical. In the same manner as Jesus’ teachings caused him to be killed to a political system that could not bear his challenges. Faith and society are constantly evolving in their paradox.

It’s human nature to be curious. Look at children. Then consider how many times we get tired of their constant questioning, and tell them to stop. We’re told to just accept what is, from teachers, priests, family members, the media – Those Who Know Better. Newspapers seek gossip, telling us it’s in our interests to find ‘the truth’… when that truth isn’t really relevant (celebrity secrets, scandals and so on). When real events, passionate life-affecting events are happening, they stay silent (notably the recent Occupy Wall Street protests). Those who inform us are themselves biased.

Currently, church and state are combined in the UK by law and (interestingly) tradition. Yet this is preventing the ethics of certain actions to be questioned, while the overly-secular ‘society’ is being encouraged to disregard moral thinking and philosophical questioning as irrelevant or pointless. At worst, faith-based ethics are a ‘fairytale’ rather than a cautionary tale.

As Mr Townsend says in his book, we’ve become too literal. It’s a fact that life is not black and white, right or wrong, and yet we try to force the belief that it is. How often do we hear of people taking action because they are right on moral grounds, yet because of a generalised law or policy, they cannot live as they wish? Everything is being considered in terms of ultimate truth, which is itself a lie. George Orwell was prophetic.

One word I’ve been thinking about lately, but which has somehow sneakily avoided being used in recent blogs is ‘integrity.’ Personal honour has been mentioned, but where does the limit of your integrity lie? What are your ethics, your moral code? Do you even have one, or is this like the religious fervour with which atheists tell us not to believe?

We do not teach or encourage philosophy (how to think), ethics (why we think) or even effective communication of those thoughts. Even analysis of the thoughts of others (English literature/language) is confined to a set level of understanding. Go beyond that and you fail the exam, so don’t get too clever. Don’t think, don’t be inspired – just copy what’s in front of you.

How brave would it be to emulate Jesus, Gandhi and all those others who were killed for standing up for their beliefs, to challenge the establishment because of your own personal integrity? How necessary is it becoming, as we see the world changing in ways that we do not agree with?

The ancient Druids were killed for maintaining their beliefs, their lands, against lethal opposition. Yet now, those calling themselves ‘Druid’ are sought out, as others are curious. We know that we need something more than what we’re told – and I’m overjoyed that people are having the quiet strength in themselves to really look. But at the same time, we too have to be aware of our personal integrity. Some modern Pagans are teaching their own ways as doctrine, with Christians as ‘ultimate evil’. While we may need security in ultimate truths, such goals are impossible, castles built on sand.

I consider this every time I sit down to write, or stand up to speak. My words are listened to, so what am I saying? I’m wondering now if this post will be considered inflammatory. That doesn’t make it any less my own truth. I try to use my worry, my anger, to look deeper, to consider the multiple truths involved in every tale, in each of our lives.

Some words need to be spoken. Our ancestors knew that, even if we have forgotten. Let’s seek the wisdom in the stories, not the literal text. Question the media. Remember that the systems that support us were set up by us – so we can change them. Question motivations – your own, and those of others. And once again…

What are you (not) doing – and why (not)?

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Interview and Reading

A quick post to let my lovely readers know that I’ve been interviewed by the excellent ‘Divine Community’ podcast on Druidry and my upcoming book!

To hear what I sound like, and with an excerpt from the introduction, please take a listen Divine Community Episode 5.

Exciting times!

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