Archive for mental health

Images of Paganism

What does a Real Druid look like? Or a Real Witch? Or… insert keyword/label here.

I’ve spoken before about my frustration about labels, and the limitations that they bring (especially when you don’t conform to someone’s ideas about what that label means).

Lately, however, I’ve seen so many images of Pagan People generally, being shared on Instagram and other social medias, usually to sell products but also because it seems a certain style change is happening across the Pagan world.

Lots of ‘barbarian’ looks, such as thick makeup, runes on the face, matted dreadlocks and animal fetishes tied in hair. Pagans are going back to the woods, but having taken a long time in front of the mirror first!

Let me state: This isn’t a bad thing. It’s always been fun for me to see the different trends in social groups, be it the fondness for crushed velvet, particular colours, hats or size of pentagram on display. Whatever makes you happy, or whatever you find fun to represent you.

The difficulty comes when the insidious little subtext sneaks in, saying ‘You’re not a Proper Pagan if you don’t look like that.’ You need to be… whatever the current trend is. Thin or curvy, pale or dark, flaunting wealth or preferring peasant looks; this can be anything.

I love people-watching at events, because these tend to show that the majority of Real Pagans – you know, those Out in the Wild of The Real World – generally are just having fun. At Pride, at conventions or big meetups, it’s all an excuse for glad-rags and adornments, because it’s so very different from the everyday-wear. For most people, anyway; I have both seen and been an Office Goth/Pagan.

What scares me a little is when the image becomes more important than the reality.

I’m happy to say that in my experience, Paganism doesn’t suffer a great deal from clique-iness. This isn’t about peer pressure; folks are more likely to say ‘Oh, I love your outfit/jewellery/makeup/hair!’ than put anyone down for what they look like.

This is a more internal battle, I suspect.

A while ago, I posted a video on my Youtube channel in which I was in bed. Because a) we all can relate to that, and b) sometimes it’s the best place to be!

I absolutely don’t look like I’ve dressed up for the occasion. This video is not ‘pretty’. So… I do wonder how many people disregard it.

I don’t tend to dress up for my Instagram pictures like many of the younger Pagans. I like to show me. But I am also aware that image is increasingly important in these times of visual social media over most other methods.

On my lower-mood days, this does worry me. Makeup is not always possible, but it helps my mood if I look nice to myself – that’s a dilemma. Dressing up and going out in public can be daunting. Self-image is tough.

If everything goes to plan, it can be huge fun, as I said. Walking from my hotel to Witchfest last year, dolled up because I wanted to be, it was hilarious to see the looks on the faces of regular folks!

I’ve run down the street after cosplayers to tell them how great they look. The same goes for dressed-up Pagans, goths, LGBT folks at their Pride… it doesn’t take much to compliment someone, especially if their happiness and display of plumage is infectious.

So while I’m glad to see this out and about, what stops me from putting in the effort every day? Simply: I can’t. I don’t have the spoons. It does take effort, and confidence, and money. I do it when I can, and that does make such occasions that bit more special.

But thinking that you have to be a certain way, display yourself correctly or judge others for appearances is a path that leads only downwards. Because you won’t always be able to hit that mark. Because that mark is amorphous, constantly changing and ultimately, not always reflecting who you are.

Paganism is a spiritual path. The act of putting on robes, or particular jewellery or makeup, can be a powerful ritual act.

Paganism is also a lived path. Sometimes the ritual is to prepare ourselves for the workaday world, as armour for a commute, as tools to get us through something challenging. Sometimes getting dressed is the achievement on a bad-pain day.

We present ourselves according to what is needed, but also as reflections of who we are. Trying to base ourselves on others cannot work… but being inspired by others can.

We cannot buy our spirituality. The size of the pentagram does not make for a better ritualist! Perhaps that was one of the motivations for skyclad ritual: that we are all naked beneath our robes.

I try to remember that as I walk through each day. I’ve been involved in naked ritual, and the first time (for a sweat lodge) it was absolutely terrifying – and a hugely powerful rite of passage. Everyone looked Themselves, and everyone was beautiful in their own way. Curves, scars, hair or tattoos, each person was just who they were. And because we weren’t worrying about presentation (not after that initial panic of disrobing, anyway!), we were able to laugh more freely, hug and dance. The wildness, playfulness and physical removal of social restraints was amazing, in ways I’d never thought. The judgement was gone.

I’ve no doubt that the phrase ‘Do I look OK?’ will continue to loom large for me when presenting in future. That’s just who I am.

But I will try to let my outer self reflect the inner, working together as needed. Be that giving a talk, surviving a shopping mall expeditation, or recording a video from my bed!

I’m Pagan in all of those situations. As within, so without. We can admire those who present themselves well online, but then also see how their words and actions represent as well.

We all explore who we are, and this is part of the process. Let’s just be a little more conscious of that as we move forward, and have fun with it, rather than letting it define us.

Now, I just need to practice my eye makeup before the next Witchfest… 😉

By the way, I’m not including a picture of me in this post. Instead, have a think of what comes to mind when you think of me. Know that I’ll be doing that for you too, if you comment or Like. What we hold of a person is so much more than how they look on just one day.

Much love, my friends.

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A Listening Heart

Imbolc has passed. We’re still feeling the chill of winter, but the snowdrops herald the imminent Spring. The sun is with us for a few more minutes each day, and all around, I see projects slowly beginning to bud…

It’s been a long winter. I’m not going to recall the turbulent times we live in, but we’ve all felt the length of January like never before, it seems.

I’ve spent the winter months trying my best to survive, literally and figuratively. My health has been poor, and despite all of the urges from The Internet to seek the help that I’m apparent entitled to, I’ve been met with walls of silence – or at best, suggestions to ‘go for a nice walk’ and suchlike. Imagine eyerolls here. Then imagine the tears.

Over and over, each rebuff hurts. When it takes all of your strength to reach out, to be told you’re either not sick enough or that there isn’t anything to be done is crushing.

For years, ever since a GP told me to ‘go away and cheer up’, I’ve managed. Recently, though, moving forward has felt next to impossible.

I’ve read all the books, tried all the techniques. Hell, I’ve written my own! What more can I do?

One evening, I found a secret stash of Bravery and reached out to a friend. Professionally and personally, tentatively and with slight fear of rebuttal (based purely on experience from every other quarter!).

I was heard. Such a small thing, but I was heard. Helpful suggestions were made, which I will follow up, but the main power came from the fact that someone heard my cries, understood, and listened.

This has made such a difference. A voice from outside my head, telling me truths that I was unable to tell myself. That’s all. It is ok – it really is. There is hope. I can do this.

Sometimes the battles we fight seem hopeless purely because of the weight of time, as we’ve been fighting for so long. I can understand how people give up.

The simple but profound gift of a listening heart made all the difference. Quiet invitations to shared healing events. Belief in me, when I had none in myself. Feeling seen, held, heard.

These are gifts that we can give to each other. Sometimes I can’t – which is when I know things are bad – but I try as often as I can, when called upon. I try to hear that mystic tap on the shoulder. Deep breath and…

I’m stepping up. Creating Things to help. Setting space, reaching out to like-minded folks. The Cauldron of Calm will be happening this year. Message me if you’d like to join in.

As the world stands confused and hurting, we need to come together to help each other. Every individual can make a difference. We can try.

There’s a lot of 2020 yet ahead, but I’m doing my best to stand up again – and find my own strength along the way. By reaching out with a hand to hold and be held.

Much love, my friends.

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Everyday Bravery

Many times in the past decade, I’ve been stared at. I’ve been asked why I’m dressed in a certain way, heard some (frankly ridiculous) jokes and generally been on the receiving end of some very visible confusion.

Mostly this is because I’m Out in Public wearing my ‘work clothes’ – robe, cloak, staff etc. But sometimes it’s when folk see my tattoos, or a particular t-shirt statement.

Going back even further, I was sometimes stopped when out and about because I was dressed all in black, including hair and trenchcoat. Apparently this was fine when one is a teenager, less so when an adult.

I have never understood how some people can accost a random stranger in public and berate them for how they look. Even light mockery. I learned to have a small smile on standby, so that I didn’t reply with something rude; that way, at least one of us is being polite.

But then years ago again, I quickly learned what was acceptable and what was not, through being openly laughed at and ridiculed when I failed to conform. I vividly remember wearing an outfit that I absolutely loved (a long hippy skirt and top, nothing too shocking) and rushing back to my room to change, blushing wildly, because of that terrible laughter before I even left the house.

I still don’t quite understand that, either. How wearing something that I absolutely love can cause such a negative reaction. How does this threaten people so badly? What harm does an unusual hair colour, period clothing or simply expressing yourself do?

Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction, with no malicious intent. That’s (relatively) ok. Other times…

Apparently it’s my fault, of course. For daring to Go Outside not looking like everyone else. For not aspiring to that societal goal of Being Normal (whatever that means).

Which leads me to the times that I have called out to others in public.

I’ve told random goths how beautiful they look. I’ve run down the street after reenactors to compliment their efforts. It can be as simple as ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you look fantastic.’

Nobody ever does mind this. There can be surprise, of course, at this unexpected woman complimenting them, but hey – it could be worse, right? See above for examples. And that’s not even mentioning when words become physical violence.

I see it on their faces as I approach. The mental ‘brace for impact’, the anticipation of a kick – and the surprise and pleasure when the interaction is actually safe and friendly.

I try to hold this in my mind when people approach me. I’ve often said how blessed I feel that the reactions to me are 99% positive (and 1% stupid). I’ve yet to be beaten up for my looks.

I know that I’m lucky in that respect. I hear the stories of trans folk who suffer by just being who they are in public. Goths beaten to death. Breastfeeding mothers verbally abused.

I see it all around, and feel it on my worst days. How dare I show my face. Anticipating that laughter again, the mockery, the judgement.

But I am trying to be brave as I grow older. To retort if safe to do so. Engaging with the speaker can be quite enlightening sometimes, as I explain what I’m about.

Other days, I don’t have the strength to do much except keep walking, with my head held up. That can be the hugest of victories. The naysayers didn’t win. The bastards aren’t grinding me down.

I actually feel it becoming paradoxically easier and more difficult as I grow older. Because while I care less what people think of me than I did as a youngster, I’m also aware that ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ is a Thing. Unfortunately. So I’m still exploring what I’m brave enough to do, day to day.

The world can be a scary place, of course. By walking my walk when I can, I try to shine a light for others. By affirming that folks look amazing just for being who they are and that I’m happier for seeing them doing their thing, can be a tremendously powerful act.

It’s not just about me, I know that. But when I’m stuck inside my head, with the world pressing loudly against me, standing up as Me, in my Truth, is a miracle. Sharing that validation with others is a gift that I hope I can always keep giving.

Go be You out there today, lovely friends. Know that I’m cheering you on.

This post is dedicated to all of those gorgeous people at Witchfest, with their finery and wonderful happy smiles, holding safe space for the community. I’m looking forward to wearing my new feathered hat in public too.

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The Week After

(As before, previously published on my Patreon. I’m very much home now!)

I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since our Serbian adventure.

The days at once flew past and yet seemed so long. Cross-country friendships were kindled and I saw many move forward on their own individual journies.

One of the main things that has stayed with me was the process that Team UK went through while preparing to enter the arena to fight.

Initially, there was quiet. Just the sound of metal jingling as armour was buckled on, the odd request for help, but an absolutely intense atmosphere pervaded the Camp. I felt as if I was intruding initially, and retreated to my favourite bench to watch, close by if needed.

As the days went on, I was somehow absorbed into the activity. I helped Himself into his armour first; then another person, and another. As I’ve spoken of before, I was happy to work on odd jobs, but this was rather different – I quickly became aware that each piece of kit had to be positioned as its wearer wished. Too tight and movement would be impaired; too loose and injury could easily happen. Broken weapons demonstrated how hard each blow was, and the armour had to hold up against this.

By the final day, every time I made ready to go to my place in the audience, I was being grabbed multiple times for ‘just a quick bit of help?’ and I was carrying several peoples wallets, passports etc in my handbag. It feels peculiar how light it seems now I’m carrying just my own things!

I became incorporated into the busyness without force. I watched, respected each fighter’s preparation process, and took instruction (pointing out potential problems if I saw them). I was caring, efficient and – again, after years of PA work – able to do what was needed. They were patient with me, and (I hope) glad of the help.

The thing that has stayed with me, however, is that atmosphere. It wasn’t just about doing a job. The absolute focus was crucial. Every person had their own method for getting ready to face a team of other men or women, and each wanted to remain standing at the end.

I would imagine it to be similar to before an important sporting match, but with the added edge of higher potential for injury. Everyone saw and heard the little Serbian ambulances trundling on and off the field each day. Fortunately, nobody on Team UK suffered more than a concussion.

But I was honoured to be included in these rituals, and said as much to the Team Coach afterwards.

I’m reminded a lot of a line in the movie ‘The 13th Warrior’. Antonio Banderas’ Arab scholar is given a sword, like all the other warriors present. He protests, ‘I cannot lift this!’ One of the others smiles and yells ‘Grow stronger!’

That is my main take-home from this event. I saw so many fighters working to grow stronger, physically and mentally. I was very aware of my own weaknesses (likewise), but have been trying to figure out how to overcome them. I want to be better as Team Support in the future. I want to be as strong as I can.

Perhaps such inspiration will help mind as much as body. I saw much that I would call bravery, but which would be shrugged off as ‘normal’ to the fighters.

The members of Team UK are already looking to future events both at home and in Europe in the months ahead. Some I will be able to attend, some not. I was surprised how disappointed this made me.

I see parallels in recent thoughts and writings. What is important, what is not. How can I grow stronger, to do what I need to do in everyday life and its associated battles.

I hope my striving to be a Mental Health Warrior will be reflected in my physical spoons as well. Either way, I’ll do my best, for myself and those around me. I’m honoured to do so.

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Who Am I?

When asked who you are, what is your immediate response? Your name, your job, marital status, sexuality, hobbies… all the labels that make up that sense of Me.

In which case, my name is Cat, I’m a priest and author, married with two dogs and two cats, cis-female, into books and knitting. Also GSOH (Good Sense of Humour).

But that by no means tells you about who I am inside. The Me that looks out from my eyes, who writes these words and tries to convey (with varying degrees of success) what she means to all of you.

One of the things I’ve sought to actively explore in recent years is who I am. That’s a continuing mission in a way, one that we all share.

As children, our identities are malleable and mostly made up by our parents: those who buy our clothes, sort out our haircuts, tell us what we’re allowed to do and not do, and generally teach us about the world.

As teenagers, we may rebel against this, as we strike out more to find our own identities. We try on different looks, join social groups, follow musicians or sports teams. Community merges with personal identity, giving us a new sense of family through our friends, much of which is formed through schools (specifically, those we come into contact with every day).

When we reach adulthood – say, over 21 – we’re supposed to have figured it all out. Who we are, what we want to do. Job goals, relationships, family of our own. But it’s not that simple now, as the world changes and so many more options are open to us (or closed).

We have so much information now, it’s virtually impossible to remain disconnected from the events going on in the world. We may wish to actively engage, pushing for change, or quietly work behind the scenes on a local (or even familial) level.

As others listen to our opinions, we may find that we have more power than we ever knew before. What do we do with it? Even this blog may inspire someone – I see that in the comments and responses. My actions have weight, even if it seems right now that it’s just me tapping away on my laptop in my living room.

Lately, I’ve felt very disconnected. My new medications have made my thoughts fuzzy and unclear. I’ve made mistakes, got frustrated, stepped back a little. I’ve felt that I let folks down by being ill.

That’s not true, of course. I’ve stepped back because it’s been necessary. I’m still here, after all. Battling the annoyance that I can’t do everything I want to do right now!

We’re on the cusp of Spring. Which I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. The changeable weather has meant the turning of the year has crept up on me… but something inside has known.

I can’t help but think of the transformation that Spring ushers in. The seeds finally braving the world as they appear from the soil. New life arriving, with enthusiastic yells and insatiable curiosity. Stepping outside and feeling the sun’s warmth after a mad winter.

Working through my illness, I’m exploring who I am all over again. What my new abilities are, my new boundaries, needs and preferences. A good portion of it is relearning who I was before, at heart – elements of myself that have been lost or forgotten during traumatic times. A lot of what I find is new and exciting… and a bit scary.

I’m paying more attention to what is true for me. Yes, I do want to do that. No, I don’t like this. Not just giving way for the sake of others and becoming a shadow in the background.

I may not be able to do as much as I once could, but I Am Still Here. I’m passionate about words, both the writing of others and creating my own. I love seeing creativity in action and supporting creative folk. My spirituality encourages my curiosity, my desire to explore and to know Why.

Which means I have little time now for bullsh*t, for prevaricating and yoghurt weaving (look it up). I’d rather hear your stories than what you think I want to know. I’d like to see behind the everyday masks and make friends with the person beneath, warts and all.

I want to help others on their journeys, without judgement until I know the full picture. I want to know Why things are as they are. I want to poke complacency and foolhardiness, to encourage and applaud transformation, ideas, action and achievement.

The world is changing as we are. Much as it makes me want to hide sometimes, I know that opting out is not an option. I’d rather help, in my small way, to make and be the change I want to see. I can only do this by recognising my own truth, my own Self, but recognising that it’s constantly changing as I learn and move forward.

That’s what life is.

Once again: What Can I Do? What Can You Do?

Go on then. We’ll muddle through together, as we step forward into the new Spring.

Potential

(Desktop art: ‘Terrence the Badass Unicorn’, by MonkeyGhost)

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Small Magics

(Cross-posted with Drops of Awen).

To paraphrase many notable occultists, Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.

We all do this, all the time – but unconsciously. We let ourselves be influenced by outside forces, as our attention is moved from one thought to the next.

But when we take charge of our consciousness, with intentional and will-power, we can feel the change happen.

As I walk this path, I often say that Paganism is a constant practice (in the same way that we practice magic). We learn about ourselves and our connections with others, and create change with our thoughts, words and actions.

Today… perhaps a simple change, but to me, a profound one.

I felt myself beginning to slip, to spiral down into the depression. Quickly – time to take action.

Moving is the first step. Sometimes I don’t even get that far, which is why I usually have a book or a knitting project to hand.

Then Doing, something which brings me back to myself, usually through happiness, an activity I enjoy. Alter the negative feeling, grab onto something to stop the spiralling fall.

I distract myself with this, even though the anxiety-voices are telling me that I have things to do, I should be working! But no.

Right now, I’m spending this hour in an indulgent, sweet-smelling Bimble bath. I’m reading a book. I’m washing myself thoroughly, then using pleasant scented Lush oil afterwards. I wrap myself in a soft dressing-gown, and fuss the pups (who’re always glad I survived The Bath).

I can now feel mind and body relaxed. The tension has dissipated, the worried voices gone quiet. I was able to beat it (this time). It’s not always so simple, but I celebrate this victory.

Each win tells me that I can do it, and keep on doing it. Even on the worst days.

I’m now sharing this, cross-posting so that in these small words can themselves be a magic spell, to inspire in turn.

If you need it, feel my hand reaching out to you. We can get through it, dear ones.

Small magics, together.

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Morning

Life changes.

Years ago, I learned how to be up at silly o’clock, to catch a train into London and start work. Sometimes I went to the gym by the office first, then ate breakfast at my desk.

I enjoyed it. Watching the sunrise time change as the year moved, enjoying the peaceful freshness before rush hour. I was awake and got a lot done before most people had started.

Mornings are difficult for me now.

Not so long ago, I had to pull over on my drive to work, because I was crying so hard. I couldn’t continue. I didn’t have the strength to face the day, let alone work with others. I had to return home. Defeated and ashamed.

My own inner sunrise was changing, I think. What had been possible before… now was not. A limit had been reached. I had to rest, regroup, figure out what next. I wasn’t sure how long that would take, or even how best to do it.

I still love watching the dawn. The fresh quiet over the fields when I walk the dogs before the school run begins on the street. I’m in a very different place, geographically and personally. Battles have been fought.

Sometimes those tears still come. I’ve rushed back from the walk and collapsed inside my gate. Or I’ve continued, wiping my eyes and trying to take solace from playing pups (who try to help as best they can). I always carry a handkerchief, just in case.

Mornings aren’t the start of the ‘potential’ of the day for me. What will I do today?

That potential can be overwhelming. Rushing thoughts of what I have to do get faster and faster, until I can do nothing except sit and shake. Himself sits with me if he’s there, caring and concerned. But my illness seems determined to list everything I must do, before berating me for not being able to do any of it. Spiralling chaos.

I try to take mornings gently now. As much routine as I can (things happen, after all). Allowing myself to pause to knit, or just sit and watch the birds run the Kitten Gauntlet in the garden (this is apparently A Thing).

I always have to move and do eventually. That is certainly daunting, and sometimes too much. I have to let the wave of Overwhelm pass. Once the flood ebbs, I may be worn, but then I can see what’s left – priorities remain.

I do what I can. Still exploring the healing process, what my body and mind need. Ups and downs are natural. It can be so very hard.

But it helps me to appreciate every sunrise that I see.

Still here.

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