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Power

People often ask me about power – in Pagan terms. This can mean any number of things, and I’ve written about some of them in the past, from spell-power to power-over… magic, ultimately. I suspect the question refers to magical power in a Harry Potter sense more than a neoPagan manner, but it’s still valid, and often hard to talk about without feeling embarrassed. So I’m happy to explore ideas.

Sometimes, though, the hardest power to recognise, learn about and hold on to is your own. Your own life-force, yes, but also your own unique energy.

We all have this. It’s what makes us ourselves, evolved from our own life experiences, skills and passions. Not just our basic energy to get up every day and do our thing, but what keeps our life worth living.

I realized a while ago that I had to take back my power, after illness, divorce, learned behaviour… so many negative experiences, in which I’d given so much of myself away. But then I somehow forgot this lesson, as my ongoing illness made it increasingly hard to believe. I let myself fall into powerlessness, as fear, anxiety, depression and general malaise pulled me back down.

Fortunately (I promise!), when you’re at your lowest ebb, the only way to go is up. But if you haven’t sat for a while in that dark place, it’s hard to learn what brought you there, and how to keep yourself climbing back.

I’m remembering lately how I practised playing with my ‘power’ back when I first started on this Pagan path. Little magics, such as doing my best to maintain a daily practice, set a great foundation. Reminders and tricks keep my mind aware that this power exists and that I can access it – thus helping me to reconnect with the world and stick one in the eye of the nasty thoughts that tell me I can’t!

As Pagans, as those who openly work with ‘magic’, we can certainly allow ourselves to play and see what works for us. There’s no need to feel foolish, or that it’s ‘not real’ – we know that it is, as we see the effects. Whether these be put down to psychological trickery or some other ‘rational’ explanation doesn’t really matter; the proof is in the result.

Daily practice is a lovely thing. I tell all my students to try and maintain it. But every single person has days when they forget, or when life gets in the way… and that’s ok! We just have to pick it up and start again.

Make little rituals to keep you reminded throughout the day, that you still have your power. A lot of this is dependent on mindfulness, pausing to really focus on these tiny spells, but that also helps bring you back to yourself. I’ve often done these in public, with a secret smile as my apparently ‘normal’ activities are actually far more.

So, small ideas:

  • Take ‘me’ time with your tea break. Stir your drink clockwise, honouring the restorative strength that it will bring to you, and then be aware of that as you drink it down.
  • Light a little candle and sit with it for a few minutes. Feel the warmth and light from this delicate flame. Feel the flame inside you.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Slow it down, or keep it regular – this is great to practice when exercising! Breath is your life energy, after all. It proves you’re still here and doing.
  • If you have a piece of special jewellery that you wear for luck, hold on to that as a reminder of what’s important to you. Remember why.
  • Be tactile. Feel your feet on the floor, or reach out to touch a tree as you pass by. The earth is always around us, holding us up. Pause to feel the air around you, the sun on your face… the elements that we hold within and around us.

A big aspect of taking back and holding on to your personal power is also doing things for you. What activities do you do that really fire you up? Not for anyone else (although loved ones may enjoy your shenanigans!), but purely and completely you? What makes you bounce with enthusiasm, inside and out?

I had a time of being told to ‘stop being silly’ or ‘that’s not really you’ with regard to certain activities I liked – but no, I did actually enjoy them! Naysayers or controlling folk can project themselves so hard that it’s difficult to tear your own truth away. Yes, I like a particular type of music – so I’ll listen to it, and dance around to express that! Cheesy movies that make me laugh, fun books that engross my mind, trivial computer games, creating in my own style… whatever it is that’s your thing.

Fear and shame pull power away. Stand still and breath, saying quietly but firmly: ‘NO’. Imagine a hand held up as a barrier. This can be an incredibly powerful act. Reaffirm your Self. And if you’ve forgotten quite what that is, feel free to explore, to try things out, see what feels good and what doesn’t work for you. Be honest. As you learn what’s yours again, you’ll find others love when you share that energy. You will, in turn, inspire them as you’re inspired.

As we re-call our own power, it helps us to recognise when it falters, or when others try to push it down. There’s no need for anger, although such times can be frustrating – laughter can be a great deterrent.Recognising what drags you down also helps, as you work to find what protects against that.

Keeping hold of yourself can take practice, especially in such a busy world with so many demands on us, but it’s essential if we are to walk our own way, in our own truth, on our own adventures.

PS: Today, I actually have very little physical power, and a rather furry brain. But I wanted to prove that I could make something worth sharing – so here it is. Doing my best, in the knowledge that my readers can too x

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Layers and Labels

Years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study archaeology. Just for a couple of years, at ‘A’ Level, when a teacher volunteered to go off-timetable for the few who were interested. It was fascinating.

We learned about the layers of history that are visible as you dig downwards through the earth. From the concrete of the crust beneath our feet, through to the soil… but so much more besides. The strata of the ground we walk upon holds as much history as the rings within a tree, each gently layering one atop the other to finally reach the current time. What we see and take for granted – unless, perhaps, it is breached by excavation or earthquake.

Did you know that skin has a similar layering system? Despite archaeology being ‘an ology’ and so SCIENCE!!! (ahem), I know little about such things (so apologies to those who do) – but lately I happened upon this:

skin-strata

We carry this around with us constantly, and all unaware – again, perhaps until something goes wrong and we are forced to notice as these partitions are breached. People would often ask about my dermal piercing; you can see from the image above why it didn’t hurt, as the dermal layer and nerves are separate. Admittedly by mere fractions of millimetres, but even so. The mysteries of the human body in action.

I’m reminded of this recently as I’ve been progressing on my healing journey. Talking therapy has thrown up various thoughts and ideas, with previously very ‘normal’ foundations being rocked as I challenge them, discovering how fragile and sometimes even false they are.

I’m performing archaeology on the strata of my mind, right now. Layers are being peeled back, light is being shone on ideas that seemed as solid as concrete, but are in fact as easily penetrated as the membranes of our skin.

I’ve seen ritual undertaken to explore this idea, usually using external props such as masks that can be peeled away or used to represent different facets of ourselves. I’ve helped others break down the emotional or spiritual walls they’ve unconsciously put up around themselves, initially for survival but then becoming trapped within.

I’ve seen the layers of armour my husband and his battle-brothers strap onto themselves before taking the field at medieval tournaments. We all put on clothes each day to protect and warm ourselves, but also to represent who we are, from hidden undergarments to outer uniforms. But how often do we consider the strata of our minds? The layers that can only be seen when we stop to take notice – what we choose to show to others in terms of personality or persona, compared to the sub-layers of neuroses, fears, desires… all of those mysteries that the psychologists are still exploring.

Part of the realisation of this mental landscape is identifying each section, realizing what it is and why it is there, perhaps with an ‘aha!’ moment of remembering when it was put in place. As with the external masks and protections, internal walls go up in response to abuse, misunderstandings, trauma: scar tissue over the delicate breached skin.

In one sense, I was concerned at the idea of picking at these mental ‘scabs’, but then I saw that the excavation was more like rebreaking a bone to set it properly, or restitching a wound. We throw up our defences without much skill, often reflexively I think, and so it takes gentle care to see what happened and help the healing process.

All of this is done with acknowledgment and intention, and with the help and guidance of one who understands. It has to be, otherwise another false layer is simply being added to cover those wounds. I have various lovely friends who have tattooed their skin around external scars – not to cover and obscure, but to make those tears their own.

This is a process, and as I move forward in life, so it is part of the healing journey that I’ve been on this year. I know I’m not alone, and am so glad that I’m finally at this stage where I can undertake such difficult work.

But in the course of shining a light on old wounds and determining what is ‘real’ and what is ‘false’ – what is truly ‘me’, if you like, what feels like my truth versus implanted protective armour-mechanisms – I’m discovering just how many labels I’ve taken on.

This is something I’ve considered for years, ever since I started exploring my Paganism. Because there’s a label, eh?

As I took on the label ‘Pagan’, then ‘Druid’, then ‘Priest/ess’, so I considered what that meant to me. More and more, I wonder if these truly represent me, or if they’re for the benefit of others – verbal shorthand to give an idea of what it is that I do. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a mixture of both, but what any label means to one person may be completely different to someone else. That old Getafix idea of the white-bearded Druid, for example.

It always frustrates me that people seem to want to define others by those labels. What you should and shouldn’t do, because you are [insert title here]. ‘You can’t do that, you’re a —-‘. This is where the labels start becoming walls, traps, false foundations which identities are then built upon.

‘I have to do this because I’m that’ may be helpful sometimes, but what if it isn’t? I love messing with expectations (not being a white-bearded Druid, for example), but as I’ve said in the past, I also love to hear people’s stories. Nobody is defined by just one or two key words, but by many, many aspects of their personalities. As I get to know them, I see the ones they present to the world – the external strata, if you like – and then perhaps the deeper layers, if I’m permitted so far in.

I’ve often been accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve, but as I undertake my mental archaeology, I realize how much has actually been lost over recent traumatic years. No – not lost, but subsumed. It might have been for my own wellbeing, but what have I actually been showing to people? I’d rather honour those who pay me attention by being the ‘real Me’, not some false front, and I think I have done that – but insofar as I’ve been able. When people have said ‘Oh, you don’t really mean that’ or ‘That’s not you though, is it?’ I’ve been confused, wondering if they know something I don’t. But no – they’re just objecting when I don’t fit into their image of me. That label isn’t enough, so I must be reminded to get back into the box!

I’m looking forward to exploring this more. Of course there’s trepidation, and inevitable pain as layers are stripped back… but also frustration that they had to be put in place at all. But that’s life, isn’t it? The key here is that I’m digging now, learning to my own self be true, to Know Thyself… all of those ancient truisms that are part of life’s journey.

It’s interesting that my dermal piercing recently removed itself after many years, popping free after a little pain and discomfort. Herein lies the parallel, of outer reflecting inner. I can only keep reminding myself that I would rather live truthfully than surrounded by nonsense. If I challenge the labels others place on me, or even simply ask ‘Why?’ then no insult is intended – just curiosity. Because what’s going on in here is a true excavation, but also a positive step in the ongoing battle of my own health.

And as I find myself, I find my smile again. Because that’s something I have always done easily and honestly.

Much love, my friends. Journeying onward.

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Shields – Front and Back

I’m often asked about Shields. Usually it’s in context of energy work, protection, personal defence against negativity. That’s fine, as this is something that we will likely encounter in our lives and so have to deal with.

But how often do we consider what’s keeping those shields up, or what’s behind them?

All my life, I’ve been told what to think. Society does that, after all – from marketing billboards, to advertisements on television and via social media. But also from teachers, bosses, friends and family. Everyone has their ideas and wants to share them. I’m sharing my opinion right now.

The difficulty comes when someone is determined that their opinion is better, truer or more valid than your own. You have to give in to their Truth, because they’re right. End of discussion.

I wrote of Trolls yesterday, and suspect this is a logical progression. How do we deal with those who cross that line between a thoughtful suggestion and a demand? Often the root is intention – genuine caring versus a wish to dominate or ‘win’. Sometimes the demand stems from an insecurity – others must agree with this person, or they are somehow insulting him/her by insinuating that they are actually wrong.

I’m not going to get into that again today – I’m sure you all have experience of this to some extent. But it can be hard to deal with, and this is where the request for shields comes in.

Overbearing co-workers, demanding relatives, pushy friends… these aren’t Trolls, are they? They’re usually just other people who genuinely feel that they’re doing their best, without realising how uncomfortable they make us.

Or is it actually a problem with Me? Is it that I’m being challenged in ways I’m not comfortable with, and so want to hide rather than deal with the issues?

We throw our shields up and back away. These can be psychic/energetic or physical – going home and closing the door is a good reaction, to claim your own space once again! But once we’ve done that, then what?

We can whinge about the Troll or the person forcing their opinion. They don’t understand me. Sometimes that’s true, and we must respond accordingly.

But as we stand behind our shields, taking time to think, so we can place our feet, take a breath and consider ourselves as well.

What about this is making me uncomfortable? Is it the manner in which the ideas are being pushed, or do I genuinely disagree? Can I articulate my thoughts now, in this safe place? Am I able to consider a response, or would I prefer to keep hiding? I could always just leave, or avoid the person altogether…

We fuel our shields from our selves. If the ground beneath our feet is uncertain, so the protection will crumble; but if we are able to identify our own personal Truths, then our foundation is firm.

I read of a simple exercise to find your own Truth, to see what it feels like. Give it a try:

State your name: eg ‘I am Cat’.
Now state a wrong name: ‘I am Bernard’.

Can you feel the difference?

Try other obvious lies. Play with this. ‘I’m the world’s best accordion player.’ ‘I really like cucumber.’ ‘My favourite singer is Justin Bieber’. You get the idea.

Now try stating your truths with this in mind. ‘I think that this won’t work’. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.’ ‘This might be a better option.’ ‘I don’t like that colour at all.’ Keep playing, with negative and positive angles, and levels of firmness. See what suits best.

Try stating some of the things you’ve been told so confidently. How do they feel? ‘I’m sure I can find time for that assignment.’ ‘I’d love to wear that outfit.’ Is it true? Were you just whinging, or do you genuinely disagree? Note how strongly you feel, see the difference in emotional tone.

Explore which of these statements is true to you. Each one can be a brick in your shield-wall (if it’s even needed now), but crafted with care. You are standing firm, but also remaining flexible – encouraging discussion and debate, connection and understanding, from within a place of safety that is held by you. You are standing up as equally valid, with a voice to be heard.

And you might start to notice the other person’s walls in turn. If your truths simply bounce off theirs, maybe it’s time to highlight that they’re not listening; or even to step away. Show people the truth of you, not an imagined version that they might be projecting – or which you have helped to build.

I see this a lot in Paganism, because spirituality is a topic which is deeply heartfelt to many people. Passions incite strong opinions, and often descend into all-or-nothing arguments. But they don’t necessarily need to.

I’ve been noticing those who listen versus those who don’t; individuals who seem to be seeking confrontation and argument, not discussion. Shields that are so inflexible, the person behind might not even know why they’re arguing at all – it’s just habit, or that sense of ‘because I should.’ Or fear of being exposed as ‘wrong’.

Take time to consider what’s behind your shields – and whether they work with you or keep you imprisoned.

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Dreams and Stories

An early one today. I’ve not long woken from a very engrossing and interesting dream, in which I became aware enough to properly take note of what was happening. It inspired me enough that I want to share.

In the dream, I was in a place similar to an American-style shopping mall… but it was clearly a little different. I went into a bookstore (naturally), which seemed like Borders. Except that every book was a Horror title. And not just ‘Horror’ in genre, but I could feel the dark energy flowing from the book, with blackness seeping from the pages. These were Horror books where the full origins and consequences of the story were very, very real. The terror was tangible, with that heartfelt (stomach-clenching) truth felt in dreams.

I looked around. The other customers were monsters. And not just simple cutesy monsters, in a nice, manageable sense – proper evil, roaming around me.

They looked at me, the tiny human standing among them. They acknowledged me, like any other person in the regular world while shopping. And they moved on.

Was I in a nightmare? The familiar world of the bookstore, which used to be a haven for me in the bustling corporate nastiness of a shopping centre, transformed into a trap? Should I start running?

I found my way outside and asked someone. He smiled at me.

“Well, it’s you, isn’t it. I mean, look at you!”

I looked at myself. Seemed normal. I explained that I couldn’t see what he saw in me. He smiled again, and showed me.

Slowly, a vision appeared, of myself… clad in smooth black armour, almost like an insectile carapace, flowing around me, holding gracefully around my limbs as I moved. It was as impossible as the rest of the surroundings – but I was fearsome. I felt strong.

The monsters left me alone, because I was prepared.

The lucid nature of the dream leads me to believe that it was rather more of a shamanic experience than I thought, at first. I woke feeling refreshed but also inspired, to investigate what I had learned.

I’ve always loved horror books. Even those that aren’t ostensibly horror, when I first started to explore the library – Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, or the slightly more subversive children’s books (before Young Adult became a genre). Roald Dahl knew that kids like to scare themselves silly. When you’re young, you’re in a world that seems insane, with irrational rules and unknowns around every corner. You learn to survive, a fact reflected in all of those stories of brave young heroes doing their best. Look at the Narnia stories, with each of the four children facing their own challenge (I was also disappointed that poor Susan finally succumbed in the last book, to boring adulthood).

At University, my dissertation thesis was on the American Horror Novel. I haven’t been able to read a Stephen King novel since, but that’s due to overload. I still love seeing where the genre goes, as it reaches out into the fears of a new generation. The exploration of how we can survive.

My knowledge of Horror as a ‘type’ seems to have armoured me – but it wasn’t a preventative, a physical block. My armour flowed with me, so that I could deal with what was to come on my terms. I was the reader; I was prepared (as best I could be). But there was also a certain advantage gained from the knowledge that I deeply, truly love the stories that I’m engaging with.

Those folk who want to ban or censor so-called ‘dangerous’ books have always rather misunderstood what they’re dealing with. If your favourite book is ‘Carrie’, you’re not going to emulate the events of the novel – the book is a catharsis, helping you to deal with bullying, for example, through the extreme conclusion of the story. It’s relatively simple, but still a fairytale (unless any readers have telekinesis, in which case we might be in trouble).

The man who shot John Lennon had been reading ‘Carrie’. What does that mean? Not a great deal, I’d say. Based on sales, he was one among many millions.

Genre fiction is often sneered at. ‘Horror’ is sidelined, never receiving any mainstream awards. As if we’re scared of it? Or we just don’t know what to do with it, in its extreme, fantastic nature? A little like ‘Metal’ music, if you don’t understand its passion, it’s easy to denigrate.

Stephen King knows this. In his wonderful book about horror, ‘Danse Macabre’, he suggests that each of us have our fears, genetically carried through our human/animal line from our ancestors since their cave days (I’ve seen this in psychological books as well, interestingly). That fear is like a gorilla – it can run rampant, sending us into rage or madness as we lash out. Most of us have learned to cage the gorilla, so we can function in society. Some haven’t, and they’re the ones who get locked away.

The danger, King says, is those people whose cage has become rusted shut. They haven’t let the gorilla out to play enough, or even acknowledged it, in a conscious manner. Those people believe that they have conquered their fears. They haven’t. The gorilla is just waiting for the right moment… but the sad thing is that by locking it away, they are missing out on – hiding – a part of themselves.

Whether you deal with your fears by imagination (books, movies, video games) or extreme physical action (rollercoasters, bungee jumping), we have to face our fears sooner or later in life. And chances are, we’ll actually be able to manage. The fear of the fear is usually worse than the fear itself – so many stories tell us that. ‘Alien’ showed that the monster we couldn’t see was scarier than the physical creature that we could. Once the baddie appears in front of us, we can deal with it (somehow). Even if it seems insurmountable, we can do something, once we confront it with eyes open.

The baddies in story are often more interesting than the heroes – because there’s more to explore, more that we want to know. The recent Joker depiction by Heath Ledger was terrifying because his motivation was pretty much nil – that’s not a horror device, that’s sociological. That character could have existed in any genre of tale. The Destructive Force of Nature… who looks like one of us.

Our love of story is a very human trait, almost a need. We carry it from our ancestors, and use it to tell tales that would be familiar to them. The Vampire, the Werewolf, the Thing without a Name – each generation carries these on, finding its own Bards. But also the Hero and the Heroine (not at all in a submissive sense)… and Us. The reader, outside the tale looking in, but also so very much engaged with what’s going on. It’s just a matter of how we relate and understand.

How we tell our own stories. And how prepared we are to deal with the events that are yet to come – not hiding, but engaging, seeking understanding, and taking right action. On our own terms.

Sometimes we do need to hide, like our scared animal ancestors. But sooner or later, we have to stand. It’s good to know your own self, your strengths and your fears, when that time comes.

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Words

Dyslexic friends have spoken to me in the past of their frustration with words. How their shapes change on the page, moving in a muddle that’s impossible to decipher. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard variations on this theme, so presume there’s something there.

This has made me wonder if I’m some sort of reverse-dyslexic. Ever since I could read, words have had their own particular patterns to me, each one a tiny shape with specific form, made up of the right combination of letters, forming sentences and thus phrases captured on pages. As a child, when I stared too long at a page in a book, the edges of paragraphs would become clear, dark ink against white paper, the movement of the word-groups moving up and down almost like musical notation, telling their stories from sigils to be deciphered.

And then, there’s the feeling of having lost your grip on language – typing or writing the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning, becoming just a jumble of letters. Water-torture in text, a metronome of repetition seeking a tune?

I’m reading a fantasy/futuristic science-fiction novel at the moment, with a character who can ‘feel’ the contents of books. She walks between the shelves in a library, fingers gently outstretched, touching the sense of story, the tales told, the experiences of the authors. I’ve seen a lot of this recently, the book-love. Trying to make a little sense out of the joy we find in words – sometimes verbal, but mostly literary, captured in print.

The great Jasper Fforde satirises book-love in his ‘Thursday Next’ novels, with the ‘software’ of reading pinned down into programming language. BOOK 4.0 is to be released – that mysterious machinery which translates words from bits of print into images in our heads. Partly scientific, partly magical, nobody really understands how it works – and why, occasionally, it doesn’t (presumably as in text-speak, with its evolution of LOLs and ROFLs). Is this any stranger an understanding than our communication through the medium of Windows or Linux?

Stories are tangible. Whether it’s breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of a book, with a reader being acknowledged as an active participant in the story (the 80s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books leap to mind), or the post-modernist idea of a literary character themselves reaching into a book to converse with the characters. The aforementioned Thursday Next book-jumps into ‘Jane Eyre’ to ensure that the ending is correct (Jane ends up with Rochester, not Rivers). Those of us who love that tale are certainly glad that this mistake was fixed! – and thus, we are part of the story too.

We cheer the heroes and boo the baddies in movies… but in books, the lines become a little more blurred. We have more time to get to know the characters and situations as the stories unfold. We ‘lose’ ourselves in a good book, eventually putting it down at the last page with a sigh and a racing heart. I frequently close a book and look around in confusion, wondering which reality is more ‘real’.

Stories make us who we are. Each of us has a story to tell – and very few are not worth hearing. We are the protagonist, which doesn’t mean it’s all about us. It’s about our journey, our understanding, our evolution.

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer. I never dreamed that my first book would be non-fiction (or semi-autobiographical) – the Internet wasn’t invented when I started scribbling in exercise books, let alone blogs. But my first love has always been fiction. When the words start to flow on a story, when characters step up into your mind wanting to tell their tale in their own voice… there is no feeling like it, to me.

This is the creative spark. This is the Awen. We all feel it, in our own way, with our own creative skills. The wonderful musician and Bard, Damh, wrote of it this week. I couldn’t stop smiling at the story of his journey – and cheering, in anticipation of what magical, musical words he’ll bring forth.

The inspiring Nimue has combined a literary idea with Druid practice on her blog, as a result of pondering the meaning of ‘Druid’ itself – slightly tongue-in-cheek, but reminding us of the importance of play, interaction, connectivity and creation. Her idea has already inspired me to write a first chapter in a ‘steampunk Druid’ story. Already, those who’ve seen it want to know what happens next.

And that, dear reader, is the deeper magic for me. When people want to hear more of your tales. When folk are inspired to go and explore themselves, to acknowledge their depths and what they have to bring forth. I love to hear it, and to see it. Such sharing is never a bad thing.

Stephen King spoke of books as a long love-affair between author and reader, requiring commitment on both sides, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Short stories were a kiss, a more focused expression of affection (but no less intense).

Most of my blog posts take an hour or two to write. This one has burst from me in about 15 minutes, at high speed, typing frantically and making my partner laugh at my enthusiasm. A friend told me last week that he loved reading my words, that they always flowed so well. That, I informed him, is because he doesn’t see all the deletions and changes. But here, today, there’s relatively few. A slice of writing life, as it comes. A flow of words, from my mind to yours.

So it’s my brief kiss to you, lovely readers. I always hope to inspire, even if just a smile.

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