Archive for Personal

Bricks

A YouTuber that I enjoy, Caddicarus, has been prefacing his lockdown videos over recent months by screaming ‘What is going on?!’ – because The World is Made of Bricks and he’s trapped at home. A (rather dark) comedy way to visualise his feelings about these crazy times.

And now, the world is slightly less Made of Bricks. We can go out! But after a visit to our nearest town a couple of weeks ago, we’re nowhere near back to Life Before just yet.

The feeling in the air was one of fear. Masks everywhere, I’m glad to say, and people doing what they could – I’ve yet to see any anger or nasty words, thank goodness. That feeling of tautness in the air, though, as if something bad (worse?) is about to happen…

The last few weeks have still been very difficult for me, health-wise. I hate talking about this really, as there’s always the voices in my head nagging away: ‘Oh, she’s off again. What NOW? You know people are probably sick to death of it by now. Why can’t you write something normal?’

These are absolutely all phrases that have been said to my face in the past, by the way. Which doesn’t help.

I’ve been wanting to write, but the words haven’t been coming. The World is Made of Bricks, and bricks aren’t very inspiring.

Then I think about this.

Years ago, there was a Handfasting where the couple used a brick as their wedding Stone, the symbolic foundation of their relationship. It was a brick that was part of the batch that had built their house.

Bricks are heavy, but they are stones crafted by us. So many people put tremendous emphasis on the importance of stones in magic, but those are usually of the sparkly crystal variety. Either way, stones have been taken from the earth that is where they’ve been formed, and brought to fulfil a purpose in our lives.

I write this in a room with exposed brick walls and floor. I can feel them beneath my feet right now. I loved this house for its natural floors, as I’d rather go barefoot given half a chance.

I’ve been feeling trapped during lockdown, and that feeling only worsened when I ventured out. I’ve heard people speaking of being ‘stuck at home’ as a time for reflection, and that’s fine, but humans are generally social creatures. We need to reach out sooner or later, if only to assure friends that we’re not actually dead or to go find food shopping.

The bricks overwhelming my mind aren’t safe places for me to hide. They’re crushing me, like a medieval torture. They’re preventing me from Doing, holding me in with the thoughts that tell me how much I should be doing, and how much I CAN’T do. This is hiding like a fairytale creature, in the dark of a cave, the opposite of what Summer should be.

The World is Made of Bricks, and turned upside down at the same time. Instead of being at my busiest, I feel as productive as a brick. I remember another reviewer describing how a story flowed as easily as a river of bricks (yes, that slowly). And yet…

People have been reaching out to me. I’ve been answering. Before I know it, conversations are being had – admittedly via internet Messenger applications, but I’m hearing how friends are doing, helping professionally or just sharing enthusiasm about a good book or knitting pattern.

This year has come crashing down, but we are slowly building it back up. The bricks might not look the same as they did before, but they are still the foundation stones to our world. No matter where we fall, the ground will be there to catch us. We can make our space what we need it to be. It just takes one brick at a time.

I’m still here. My inspiration is finding its way, peeking through holes in the wall, and I’m tremendously sorry for being so quiet. I’m doing what I can, when I can.

The world is changing and the new path isn’t clear yet. I can feel it trying to form beneath our feet. One step at a time, gently… gently…

Here’s that floor, and Fen, whose Gotcha Day it is today. Ten years ago, he came home with us as a tiny puppy. This is his room too, his safe space as much as it is mine. This is him right now, keeping an eye on me as I work. The bricks are cool on a hot August day.

We build our lives. Some parts are brighter or stronger than others, but we are still here. Some days that feels like a miracle, and I’m glad of how solid a fact it is.

Fen 7-8-20

P.S. I was also reminded as I wrote this of a song from years ago that I rather loved. It’s a Christian band, but take the meaning as you will. This is ‘Let it Be‘, by Superchick – a song about bricks.

Stay strong, my friends.

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Monday

I’ve never been sure what Real Druids (or Pagans, Witches or whatever) are supposed to do on a daily basis.

I’m sure you’ve seen memes involving Getafix or Gandalf. I rather like this one from Living Liminally:

druid meme2

Even that’s not been possible for most of this year, alas. Looking over my garden is kind of my limit for outdoor contact – or walking the dogs close to home. That’s something, and it’s more than many, I know.

Today I’m wondering what I should be doing, according to others. Because when I woke up, my brain decided to regale me with all of the demands made by others who clearly Know Better.

(They don’t. Some folks just love to critique based on a glimpse of the person they think they know.)

The softest target is my health. Lately this has been a real bone of contention, and apparently a problem for others as well as me.

Every time I post something about my health (read: my depression, anxiety, what have you), I feel bad. The voices gleefully squeal ‘Oh, she’s off again! What is it now? They don’t care, you know.’ Or, that biggest of guns: ‘She just wants attention.’

I don’t. I really don’t. I want to talk about how I’m feeling because every time I do, I get quiet messages telling me that being honest and up-front about it is helpful. I’m not actually whingeing; I’m striking a chord with someone stuck in their own dark hole.

A lot of what I do is invisible, thinking about it – meaning that it happens, but can’t easily be seen. Battling my illness. Working with energy, connecting with the world around, chatting to spirits or deity. Or – gasp! – writing.

Writing is sorting ideas somehow in your head, transmitting those coherently through my fingers onto this page. Broadly speaking.

But there’s also the jump to simply do the work. To get up, find the writing tool – laptop, pen and paper – and make the words happen. That can be as difficult as putting on running gear to head out of the door. Especially when feeling low, because the Brain wants to convince you that you can’t do it. You don’t need to. Nobody cares, anyway.

Shut up, f*ck off, I’m doing it.

A common piece of advice from writers is to Just Write. Neil Gaiman put it so well when he said something akin to ‘Put one word after another and keep going.’ Yep. Like running – one step, then another, repeat.

It is at once that simple and at the same time so much more difficult!

Here I am, then. Wittering on. Hoping that these words strike that note to inspire.

This Druid does indeed have Things to do today. They are Good Things. Reading through my students’ work; reading review books and preparing my ideas on them, answering messages – and seeing what happens as they day goes on! Last week, I worked on the upcoming issue of Pagan Dawn. New things come along all the time. Druid Life is interesting.

Normally at this time of year, I’d be so busy with public rituals, talks, camps and suchlike. This year is quiet, generally at home. But I’m still doing my best.

Try not to judge. It’s likely you can’t see everything about a person from just a glance or a Twitter status. Look deeper into the story if you’re interested; you might find something you like.

Let’s try to keep inspired, eh? Your story is just as valid as anyone’s. I’m telling my frustrating brain that today – now with an added topping of ‘Look, you wrote something! Not useless after all!’

Solidarity and love in these difficult times, my friends.

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Three Little Words

Words are not coming easily to me right now.

I have reviews to write. Articles. Email replies. I open the file and…

I know it’s not just me. Other friends have spoken of feeling ‘blocked’. I see books delayed, proofreading problems – even social media misunderstandings.

Lockdown may be sending us a little stir-crazy, and the mixed messages coming from those who profess to ‘lead’ us don’t help.

I’m writing this spontaneously, in the hope that it helps to provoke my inspiration, but also that it makes sense.

Words are the tools we use to convey how we feel, our intentions and thoughts. Some of us are more skilled than others, but if we take the time to truly listen to the voice of the writer, that sense of them can be found.

Sometimes, those ideas take more than 140 characters, or a small blurt of ‘Status Update’.

I like the idea of Twitter being the sound of sparrows yelling at each other in a hedge. Lots of noise, but you can probably determine a conversation thread if you listen hard enough. But it’s easy to be sidetracked or mis-hear.

There can be connotations you’re not aware of. A particular word may be unintentionally insulting. A phrase may be new to you, but tired and over-used to others.

A journalist friend recently said to me that the sentence ‘That’s a really good [or ‘excellent’] question’ is so often used by politicians, it virtually translates in the hearing, becoming ‘Now I’m going to talk about something entirely irrelevant.’ I used that sentence in an interview – and I sincerely meant it, because the question was good and new to me. But due to unknown overuse, the way it was received was far different from my intention.

I try to speak honestly, in my verbal words and my writing. Some readers assume I have ulterior motives, but usually I genuinely do just want people to see what’s on my mind! We hear so many soundbites and political doublespeak, it’s hard to discern what’s really meant.

Let’s take an example that we all know: ‘I love you.’ Sometimes easy to say, sometimes not. But familiar from books, movies, chit-chat or intense moments.

I’ve always found it hard to say. Because when I do, I want to mean it.

The first person who was not family that I said this to kicked me to the curb a week later. I think these words made him run, but who knows.

I’ve had alleged ‘friends’ say them to me, before doing things that no caring person would. ‘Love you, babe’ – then cattiness behind my back.

People now say them to me, and I know they mean it. But it’s hard to respond, because of the fear of what might come, based on past bad experiences.

I never want to do my dear friends a disservice, ever. Family can be more than blood, as modern folklore says.

Again, if I say it, I want to mean it – and for that meaning to be understood.

‘I love you’ means that I’ll run to help if called. I’ll provide what’s needed, from hugs to food parcels. It means you can be safe with me.

There’s levels of relationship, of course, but this is a powerful statement. I can’t say it frivolously. It hurts when those who’ve said it to me act as if it means nothing.

Words hold power. They are basic communication, but also deep magic and connection (why do you think it’s called ‘spell-ing’?). I would be so glad if we could speak our truth to each other and be heard, rather than twisting the words in midair to mean something entirely different…

I can’t guarantee that, though, can I? Because of those connotations and associations I mentioned above. The ones I don’t necessarily know about.

We can only do our best to convey meaning through these squiggles of sound, pixels or ink. We have to trust that those listening hear our intention.

And we have to act – and keep acting – to prove that our words are true. No matter if only one person is listening, or the whole world.

Our words can be powerful, or they can be meaningless.

I hope you understand.

I send you the love of a writer for those who read through to the end.

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(Lack of) Routine

Years ago, when I lived in London and was a Proper Commuter, I had a routine.

I would get up, have breakfast while watching BBC News (my boss would often ask me about it), then head off to the train and bus to the office. Twickenham to Southwark.

The day would zoom past, always frenetic and full with a laundry-list of tasks, then back home again to prepare tea and try to relax before doing it all again the next day.

Things started to change when I began to look at Druidry.

Instead of bussing from Waterloo to Southwark, I’d walk along the Thames Bank. It was beautiful, from the stories painted on the underpass to the wildlife alongside the Thames. This and the train journey, when I lost myself in a book, were my havens from the madness of the working day.

Then came lunch-hours, spent wandering the streets nearby. Blackfriars Bridge, St Pauls, Paternoster Square, up to Pudding Lane once. Or, if the boss was away, a quick zoom into the West End.

I grew to appreciate the spirit of London. I don’t think I ever became A Londoner, but I appreciated the history living alongside the brand new, modern world.

Life events began to move faster – and I was caught up in them. A literal move, Up North to Derbyshire. And I find myself here, now, working from home as a Professional Pagan, unable to go out much because of an international pandemic.

That escalated quickly!

I’ve been thinking about how that constant routine, which lasted for several years, changed so quickly. My current day is much less structured, working around what needs to be done more than sticking to a clock. Dogs need playing/walking, everyone needs food, household chores and Proper Work.

The latter, with the move to mostly online, can happen from the first few minutes of waking up into just before bed (not constantly, thank goodness!). But I never know what’s going to appear.

That, and my own illness, which sometimes forces me to throw any plans to the wind and take an Enforced Rest Day. In which priority work can be done, but no more. Sometimes not even that.

I’ve had to change my routine to be fantastically flexible, in a way that would have seemed unbelievably luxurious to my old commuter self. I get things done, but juggling more than listing.

No physical spoons? Reading review books. No mental spoons? Yarn work, or gentle rest and distraction until something pops up to grab my attention and allow me to focus.

And yes, a fair bit of guilt over not being able to do The List and be working constantly as I used to.

I had an external office for a while, which helped. I now have a little office area at home – but am typing this on my laptop on the sofa. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

A good part of life now is allowing myself to go with that flow, of seeing what is possible combined with what is necessary.

I see it in the world around. What we can do, what is needed. Everything is changing dramatically, and long overdue. We have to allow ourselves that change, to try new things and see what works best.

Because that old system did not work. Well, perhaps for a while, but it was wearing me to death. I have no doubt that it’s done the same for many others, and changes are now being made as the traditional office 9-5 is no longer as essential as it was made to seem.

We’re questioning the structures that we fall into, or which are placed upon us. We are tentatively – or fiercely! – trying our own ways. Demanding to be heard, asking ‘how about this’, and considering our own well-being over that of a faceless corporation or state.

I have no idea where this is going. But I know what it’s like to listen to that flow, to be brave enough to go with it. Sometimes I mourn for my lost job, helping others. Then I remember how it helped send me into a breakdown. I would not be here now if I hadn’t walked away.

So no shame. No regret. No guilt. Each day is bringing something new, and we’re slowly coming out of the Great Pause of 2020 having had time and space to consider what’s important. Already seeing the results.

Time for change again, folks. From Commuter to Community… Let’s work together, support each other and make things better.

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Labels and Stories

I stare at the blank screen.

So much is going on in the world. What right do I have to ask your time to read my words? But the words want to be spoken.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved words and their power. Sounds, shapes, feel in the mind… so amazing.

And then I remember learning to Shut Up. That my opinion was stupid, laughable or just not worth hearing. People whose opinion I cared about deliberately turned away.

So I learned to stay quiet, to keep the words hidden in notebooks and boxes. To hide my tears, frustration and anger as it seemed others were allowed to speak – but not me.

Now, years later, I write for a living (sort of). I place these words with care, knowing that they might be helpful, interesting or inspiring for some, boring, difficult or annoying for others. That’s ok. I can’t control how my words are understood.

But I can control what I say. Tone, phrasing… and the ultimate point of Why I am Writing This.

Recently, the world has gone up a stage in madness. I believe it was inevitable – we really are in a Change Is Needed place right now, and such times are fuelled with passions. I understand (insofar as I can) and agree.

But our little individual lives go on. We try to help in our own ways, standing with our communities and hopefully acting honourably and with truth. Which is kind of what brings me here today.

I’ve often spoken about labels. How they’re more useful for the viewer than than labelled themselves; ‘Druid’ means something entirely different, for example, to me and then to a random stranger happening upon my work.

I’m seeing labels being used as weapons, as pigeonholes to box folk in, as titles to escape. Negative associations can be tough to remove. I see ‘protestor’, ‘looter’, ‘revolutionary’ being bandied about in the news, but each of those has an individual name – and a unique story.

Sometimes it’s easier to label someone and move on. If you’re not really interested, that’s your choice. But this casual laziness (and disrespect) means that you lose the chance to engage with something more than just a word.

It’s Pride Month right now, and I’m seeing so many different debates about relevance, meaning, identity and so forth. I’m glad people are still talking, sharing those stories and exploring their identities.

I hear them often, my rainbow friends. I see the slight nervousness as they speak sometimes, as if expecting a blow, or at least verbal abuse. The sadness, and then the joy as I continue to listen. Such a simple act, and yet so powerful – and I am honoured to be part of their tales.

Recently, though, it’s not been so much ‘they’ – as in, another person or group. I’ve been feeling more and more that it’s ‘we.’ That this is something I’m absolutely part of.

Years ago, I remember an elderly family member almost spitting at the television, they were so angry. Stephen Fry was speaking, and I wanted to listen. But to my relative… ‘Ooh, it’s that queer again, isn’t it.’

I stared. I quietly asked ‘What?’ He poured some more vitriol on The Gays and the channel was changed for the sake of peace. I felt sick.

I don’t understand that attitude. I want to know the person before I react to an amorphous group. And for this, I am myself a negative: a ‘wishy-washy liberal’. I’ve had similar bile thrown my way for standing up for friends who are somehow the wrong gender, colour, sexuality, nationality.

So many of us are standing up right now to protest this treatment. I can’t believe it still happens, but it is and we must. WE. Including me.

Difficult discussions are being had. Words have their meanings subtly changed and reclaimed. Understandings are being challenged. Normative thinking… may actually be a myth. And for those invested in it, that hurts.

I do sincerely hope that we learn from what’s happening in these times. I hope that positive change is crafted. I do my best, from my own positive of (white, educated) privilege.

I want to raise my voice. I am afraid of the brickbats that may rain down in response… but that’s actually always been something lurking beneath everything I write. ‘Who does she think she is?’ ‘Crazy woman, nutter, New Ager…’

And the worst, the laziest, most contemptible, gaslighting and negating insult: ‘She’s just doing it for the attention.’

I write and speak my truth as best I can. I try to use the labels that are given to me, as well as intentionally claiming some. I prefer Priest, because even as a child, I knew I was more than an ‘-ess’ stuck like an afterthought onto a man’s word.

I am both Priest and Priestess. Author and authoress. But I’m aspiring for the one that needs no ‘-ess’ to be strong and still female: Queen.

I will keep exploring. I will do my best to stand, to listen to all the stories regardless of teller. I will work to maintain safe space for those who need it.

And I’m taking on a new label for myself that I feel is overdue. Sod The Fear of reactions.

This Pagan, Druid, white woman is also Queer. Actively standing.

Let’s all work to make our stories good ones, moving forward.

Much love, my friends.

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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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Challenging

*possible triggers for abuse*

This morning, in an activity that continued since yesterday, my brain decided to tell me all the things that have been shouted at me over the years. Often directly into my face. Sometimes wordless, just a deluge of vituperation (aren’t words great?).

‘Oh, stop being stupid.’ – too many to count.

‘You’ve got an answer for everything.’ – Mum.

‘Don’t think – just do what I tell you.’ – lecturer/boss (female), Derby University.

‘I think you’re disabled and shouldn’t be here.’ – boss (male), NHS.

*uncontrolled, mocking laughter* – too many to count.

‘You know the only way to get taken seriously is to *mimes cutting wrists*’ – on-call Doctor.

‘Just stop talking.’ – boss (male, not mine), previous workplace.

‘What were you thinking?!’ – boss (male, mine).

We’ve all got these lists. Key words fly out at me from where my subconscious has stored them: stupid, know-all, ungrateful, bitch, cunt…

A lovely friend summed up this negative-deluge as ‘the brain misfiring.’ Wires are crossed and a safety switch triggered, fight or flight become confused and you’re overwhelmed with noise, emotion, feeling, panic.

This is a symptom of anxiety and depression, mental illness generally. But… I think it’s a symptom of modern life as well.

I’ve never understood how someone can act in such a way. To cover up for themselves? To project power? What could I (or anyone) have possibly done to warrant such treatment?

Conclusion: I must have done something REALLY BAD.

For most of my childhood, I was quiet. Bullied regularly, scared to speak up, often the new girl, mocked and tricked. I learned defensive tactics, and hid inside stories – my own and mountains of books. Libraries and green spaces were my refuge.

At University, I learned to speak up, to stand up… but still found myself a target. Of course I wasn’t perfect, but it was as if I was never allowed to make mistakes. Taking responsibility and trying to fix things didn’t help – I was still WRONG.

In recent years, it seems as if a ‘last straw’ was somehow reached. Sometimes, when my mental state is at its lowest, I feel like an abused animal, cringing away from imagined blows about to fall. And hating myself for it.

I wish that I could summon my strength, that I know is inside, and return to those moments when I just took those words in. I wish I could raise a hand and simply say ‘No.’ Or turn and walk away.

So many of us have experienced such things; I know it’s not unusual, and I’m not seeking sympathy or pity. I know I got off comparatively lightly.

I’m asking that we learn and stand up moving forward. We stand for ourselves or with others who can’t, and say NO.

I’m so glad that young people these days have so many strong role models. I love that we’re being told to challenge. But of course, we know that it’s not always so simple – that a verbal threat can quickly become a physical one.

I try to stand, inside my own thoughts, imagining that ‘NO.’ Stop the misfiring. Mentally time-travel and silence the abuse. Challenge the thoughts.

And so be able to challenge the wrong when I feel or see it today.

This post was inspired by others, mostly from the #InternationalWomensDay tag on social media. It’s not confined to women, though, not at all.

To all my friends, be they male, female or any other shade of the rainbow, I will try to stand with you as best I can. Know that you are not alone.

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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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