Posts Tagged awen

Creativity and Mysticism

One of the things I love about my own path is that I cannot help exploring new ‘branches’. Key words or topics snag in my head and I have to follow where they lead – or they stick around, niggling me until I pay them appropriate attention! This is where most blog posts come from too, by the way. It’s why I’m sitting here right now.

One big example of this is my next book, the foundation of which has been around for a while. I want to look at connection to the wider world, the greater forces that we are intrinsically part of, and those which we choose to join with – or which choose us, if you prefer.

(Amusingly, as I typed that, my laptop let me know that my Wifi had dropped and I needed to manually reconnect. Thankyou, Powers that Be!)

Deep relationship with deity has its own word, as a recognised phenomena: Mysticism. Which I see used all the time in the context of anything remotely ‘cosmic’ or New Age, but which has actually been used for centuries in most of the major faiths of our world. When I first began exploring, I discovered a book that I’ve returned to often, as it speaks eloquently of both connection to God and the trials women have had to face in doing so in anything other than a secret manner: ‘Enduring Grace‘, by Carol L. Flinders.

I’m not going into this in too much detail here, as that’s for my book itself. Rather, I want to talk about how I’m working with sacred connection at the moment.

As creativity is so intrinsic to my Druidry, inspiration is a huge part of what fuels my work. I try to listen for interesting perspectives or taps on the shoulder – as I said, those ‘branching paths’ that call me. By this point in life, if I ignore those nudges for the sake of, say, busyness with other things, I should know that a kick in the rear to focus!! will be in my immediate future.

For years, I never thought of myself as a person who was any good with their hands. Now I’m a confirmed Knitter, this makes me smile – the old Goth bookworm working with colours and patterns, textures and shapes, using a skill mostly thought of as for grandmothers… I have no problem with shaking up any stereotypes!

There are patterns used by, I believe, mostly Christian folk to create ‘prayer shawls’ – usually gifts for others in need, but in a regular pattern in order to share spiritual good wishes and physical snuggles. I looked at this idea briefly, and… well… I can see how it works as a meditation, due to its repetitiven nature. But after a couple of rows of that, I was actually quite bored.

(I’m not sure if it’s me that’s just awkward or if I’m hitting on something here. Traditional prayer shawls are dull to me. As are the bland ‘Moon Cookies‘ used in some Wiccan rituals, and even the drone of neo-traditional Pagan chants! Not disparaging these in any way, but I need something more to fire me up and make me feel inspired.)

So I kept exploring. Ravelry is a greater resource for all sorts of pattern ‘recipes’, and my first attempt was a shawl with beautiful flow, cables and colours. Despite my lack of experience with sacred shawls, from the first this one appeared to be for Oshun. She kept appearing around me in pictures, tv shows and books, with the same colours and shapes, so there we were.

This was a ‘test’ case, of sorts, to see how the project evolved from thought to finished item, but once the shawl was complete, I knew it wasn’t for me. So I took it about with me, letting other people take a look and have a feel of its softness. But it still hasn’t found a home. It will one day, I’m certain.

Then I dug a little deeper. Playing with form and function – should this be crisp wool or smooth silk? Is it to hold safe like a hug, or provide shielding and protection? Quite a few interesting results happened, and I was pleased (as were a few recipients!).

Recently, a friend asked for a particular design that I’d worn in the past, but now dedicated to Freya. I hardly had to do anything, as this mostly came together itself! Wool arrived, the design was set, I had the person in my mind. This wasn’t feathers, interestingly, but more flowing shades of gold. I wasn’t quite sure it would work at first, but it has. It’s almost complete, but I’m now looking for some gold beads to finish it off – that seems appropriate.

For myself, as I’ve been exploring for the book, I’ve wanted to get closer to certain deities, as it seems they’ve wanted to get close to me. Dreams have been interesting worlds right now, and I’ve been looking for ways to express those in reality. Traditional colours and shapes (like Freya’s wings) didn’t seem right. Why follow paths already trodden many times? This was to reflect my relationship with Them.

Then once again, things started to come together. A pattern appeared, suitable for the form and purpose that I wanted. Wool was found, which worked together (again, somewhat unexpectedly – put together with a hope and a prayer!). It’s in progress now.

I hadn’t wanted to work on the Freya shawl in recent weeks, as I’ve been having difficulties in myself which I didn’t want to impress into the work. So this alternative seemed natural. It’s keeping me going through the tough times, as is its purpose now and when complete.

These things are literally evolving. Books to do this too – Book 3 seemed to be one thing, and has now combined with other ideas to transform into something at once larger and more focused. When writing fiction, sometimes characters seem to speak up and let me know what they want to do – to hell with my plans! I know for a fact that this isn’t just something that happens to me. This makes me feel very much like a conduit for the creativity itself, to the Awen happening, active and alive.

When making anything, a key focus of the magic is intention. What is your goal? Even if you’re not sure what you’re quite needing to do, you have an idea. Part of the process is giving yourself up to that, letting the evolution happen. For me, this is entirely correct… and definitely shows me how our ancestors believed the Muses guided their hands, pens and brushes.

So this is me exploring. What can I do on any given day, physically and mentally? What do I need to do? Where do those requirements meet? I like to be busy, but also know that I have to rest. This is one way of connecting, focusing with every stitch on the intention in what I’m doing. Not quite sure where the path will lead, but letting my subconscious (and any external messages) guide the way.

Oh, and the deity that I’m working with for me right now… did I forget to mention who it was? That seems appropriate too. But here’s a picture of where it is today.

Shawl

Like my writing, like my relationship with the deity in question, like my life… all a work in progress. And I do my best to keep inspired and enjoy the journey.

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24/7 Priest

I saw an interesting story this morning. A lovely depiction of women, armed raised to the sky, dresses and hair flowing, entitled ‘A Gathering of Priestesses’. It relates to online classes and talks being held soon.

Lovely, I thought. I wish I was as glamorous as them!

Then I stopped. I looked at the recent pictures of myself at work that folk have posted to my Facebook – as I officiate at weddings, namings and public ritual. Good grief… I am doing this! Aren’t I?

I often find myself pausing to consider the terminology we use to describe our ‘work’ – ie the tasks we do for others to support ourselves and our community. I call myself Priest, and have been both honoured and berated for it… despite the fact that I only took it on after enough people had referred to me as such, and I’d been working as one for long enough that I felt it to be an accurate title and descriptor. I don’t tend to use ‘Priestess’, not because I’m ‘denying my femininity’ (yes, really) but because I don’t see gender as part of the role, not really. I’ve often said that people can call me what they want, so long as it’s civil or polite!

But what does it really mean, to ‘Priest?’ Do we turn it on or off, like a 9-5 job? Is it reliant on certain clothing, place or attitude? Of course not. I’ve been reading a lot of work lately by priests of other faiths, and see the same thoughts again and again. A Priest is something you are, not something you do. It’s a role you take on, yes, but as a result of vocation, calling to service. Duty comes into it, but I find myself working almost anytime, anyplace. I have joked that my motto is the same as the 1970s British comedy show, ‘The Goodies’ – We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere!

Ultimately, I do what I’m called upon to do. Great. Priesting for others is identifiable. What about other times, then? In private, at home, out shopping, with family?

Nimue Brown wrote a thought-provoking piece that’s been in my head relating to this topic this week, on Gods. As with the title of Priest, being a Priest of [Insert Deity Here] can be used as a bludgeon almost, to give the title-wearer power, bolster their ego, increase their standing in the community… or it can mean what it truly means. 

If you take on the title – and subsequent responsibility – as a Priest of a Deity, then you are that all of the time. As a vicar might serve their community, a Priest of a God serves their Lord or Lady as needed, throughout their lives. Not just when it’s convenient. You don’t shut the door to the Powers that Be. So public Pagan Priests discover that they might be called upon all of the time, even when it might not be convenient to them.

And this includes all those in-between times as well. Which is what occurred to me today.

I made the decision to work from home today. I’ve dressed, sorted out the animal household residents, pinned my hair up and considered what needs doing. No makeup, no jewellery, no glamorous presentation! This idea popped into my head. It wanted out. I’m typing from my sofa, with a cup of tea at hand. That’s how writing works sometimes. So here I am.

Through the writing, I’m discovering thoughts, ideas, challenging myself. Am I a Priest when tapping away here? Or washing up, doing the laundry, walking the dogs? How about when I’m hidden under a blanket, crying my eyes out, having been overcome with emotion on those darkest days? 

Yes, I am. The truth seemed quite simple, as I pondered it. The stories tell us so, and from them – those myths that I return to for guidance – comes confirmation.

Demeter’s dark days are called ‘Winter’. Ereshkigal turned hers into determination. Odin suffered to find his truth. Athena (Wisdom) was born from Zeus’s headache!

Whether we see deity as literally existant or not, our ancestors went through the same life dilemmas as we do now, and retold the journeys in story. From peasant to King, they pondered, explored, screamed and wept. Others were there to help – public, accessible Priests – but part of the journey is questing inside, for that ‘Aha’ moment (yes, which Druids call Awen) of realization. Discernment, through piles of crap or huge social noise, to find your truth. 

Priests do this for others, but also for themselves. We all do, to some degree. While I suspect that the reason that Priests gained so much power is that others wanted to rely on someone else to sort their problems out for them, a good Priest will inspire, guide and encourage, not provide a quick fix (I never quite understood how absolution worked, but repenting a mistake instead of regretting it seemed clear). As spirituality is a life-choice, not just for convenient ‘holy’ days, so we live it. All of the time, good and bad, light and dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We take responsibility. We stand as Priests, guided by those we serve as much as we guide them. My Gods are patient, but give kicks when needed – as do I! Sometimes it is just a matter of allowing space for the realization. 

Priesting myself is no bad thing. Boundaries to allow for that are as necessary as in public ritual. Stories guide along the way. Moments of realization allow for internal ‘facepalms’, of ‘How did I not see that before?!’ – because only now am I ready, in a place to properly see.

I’ve been given many labels over the years, but ultimately, I regularly recommit to those that fit best – and so I move forward. This idea or identity is not finalised in this little blog post; it will evolve as I do, as I discover more on my journey. And so my own story unfolds.
Occasionally, I even dress to match.

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Really Real

It seems a common topic of conversation these days that the world is pretty chaotic. We find so many things hard to understand – from violence in the name of peaceful religion, to laws which seem to increase suffering for some in the ‘best interests’ of others, or just decisions to which we can only stammer ‘But… but… that’s just wrong!’ At heartfelt level, become intellect and rationality, we know this and are flummoxed that the other person cannot even grasp the possibility.

The craziness of ‘everyday’ life is brought home to me often, largely because of my work as a Professional Priest. This brings two worlds colliding in a very real sense. The secular, normal, nuts-and-bolts life that generally allows for the concept of spirituality but with an undercurrent of nervousness, unsure how to engage with it for fear of offending – and the spiritual, soul-deep understanding that we are actually all humans muddling through some greater journey together, albeit with a similar suspicion that the 9-5 family-and-day-job is mad in its own way. Is one more important than another? Is one more real than another?

Both worlds do acknowledge that we need help sometimes (though even asking for that can be a challenge in itself). We know that the ancients combined the roles of Support Staff – the Druid or Shaman could be a doctor, a teacher, a priest, a midwife. They were educated to do so, and saw those roles as interconnected.

So this compartmentalisation of life is perhaps helpful to organise the chaos in a general sense, but less so when trying to gauge how these parts come together within us, in fully understanding – going beyond a soundbite or simplification (including my brief descriptions here).

As I say, in my work as Priest, I see this line blurring between the Real and the Cosmic (yes, I know, both words are wildly inaccurate, but bear with me). I’ve been researching Mysticism for a while now, as well as Spiritual Crisis, and come across many tales where someone’s intense mystical experience – that is, engaging at deep level with Spirit – transforms their understanding of life to the extent that what is perhaps called madness ensues. This is a relatively new theory, whereby psychoses or neuroses are not in fact negative or harmful, but ways of processing experiences that our society does not allow for, understand, teach about or even acknowledge (except as ‘illness’).

While a new theory, it’s not a new concept. Many historic mystics suffered from physical and mental illness, and it could be argued that this affected artists and other creative folk too (Van Gogh leaps to mind, as well as Virginia Woolf, Byron, Sylvia Plath and any number of others). The Druid expression of the ‘Fire in the Head’ that affected the Bard in the grip of Awen/Inspiration also rings true here.

However, I’ve also been fortunate enough to see this from an entirely new perspective lately – in an enclosed community with its own rules and ways of life, outside of the regular everyday that most of us are used to.

Since December, I’ve been working as a Prison Chaplain. Even in this short time, the dramatic difference between the world inside the bars and that ‘on the outside’ has struck home to me, and I’ve no doubt that it will continue to do so. I am constantly learning from those I minister to and with. But one remarkable fact keeps raising its head.

Within this contained society of hard-core criminals, respect and understanding is given to the spiritual in an entirely different manner to that which I’m used to. I’m often approached by prisoners and asked what I’m doing, as a woman in a man’s world; I reply that I’m the Pagan Chaplain. I’ve noticed that this is met with an expression of wonder, more questions (as is normal) but also a far greater willingness to engage, to discuss spiritual matters and personal problems. While social masks are often still in place (for survival if nothing else), my being present as a Spiritual Professional is respected and appreciated. I’m welcomed in a refreshing manner, as virtually everyone acknowledges that my job is needed, and they’re glad that I’m there.

This does happen on the outside, but it is far rarer. It might be political correctness or simply not being sure how to ask what’s on your mind, but this is one of my main reasons for working hard to be approachable, down-to-earth and Real (as I’m often described!) – because for me, that line between the secular and the spiritual is pretty much pointless. And in the prison environment, I’m able to actually breathe more freely, because those around – without even conscious awareness – feel the same.

This week, a good friend asked about the viability of Pagan enclosed communities (almost like convents or monasteries), to more freely explore the spiritual and mystical in a safe environment without all the noise of the everyday world. This would be voluntary isolation, but I had to smile, seeing interesting parallels. Do we need to separate ourselves to really engage with our spirituality?

What works to get you through life? What do we honestly feel and believe? Why shouldn’t we talk about it, figure it out with others, share and connect? Why are we so afraid?

Perhaps it is these perceived boundaries which are the true bars, resulting in the mental illness, confusion or unhelpful isolation – because we don’t know how to process true experiences that we have within the ‘real life’ around us. Perhaps this is why the Priest is becoming even more relevant and necessary, rather than less.

The Priest might not have all the answers, but they are at least honest enough to listen and walk alongside to find the way forward through the chaos together. And so they are doctor, teacher and so much more stiill, here in this 21st century world.

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Writing

I stare at the white screen. Type a few sentences, delete them. Nothing seems to fit. Just write what comes, I tell myself (an old tactic, which I remember first trying in University one frustrated afternoon).

This blog post has been rustling around my brain for a while, but for some reason, has been tricky to get out. But you know when something needs to be ‘birthed’ creatively into the world when your subconscious essentially tells you to PUT DOWN WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GET ON WITH IT. Now.

The germ of these thoughts didn’t start the other week in Glastonbury, but it was crystallised there. Glastonbury is a lovely place, but as you may know, the High Street is a beacon for all things ‘New Age’ and alternative. No bad thing in itself, but there is a lot of Stuff there. Crystals, wands, drapey clothing, pretty statues, cauldrons, pentagrams everywhere… and of course, the books.

Of course, I have no problem with bookstores. I love them with a passion, I would spend so much time (and money) in them if I could, and I really do wish that the most interesting little ones would stop having to close down. I even loved Borders, because it had more than just the heavily marketed publisher-pushed Trendy Books that everybody else had. Reading was accessible. Plus, of course, the feel of a bookshop. The scent of the pages and bindings, the feeling of stories all around just waiting for cover to be cracked… nothing like it.

And indeed, I spent time in the Glastonbury bookshops, buying a few gems, which I’m still enjoying.

But I stepped out of their doors also feeling rather sad. Because of the sheer overwhelming amount of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love information, and the variety of opinion that goes along with learning. I’ve always been against censorship (which has got me in trouble in the past). This was more personal.

There is so much Stuff out there on Paganism, Witchcraft, Druidry, all of that… what can I possibly contribute without just adding to the pile?

Things have been very quiet for me in recent months on the writing front. I’ve been exploring the idea of inspiration as a result, and will continue to do so in my ‘Drops of Awen‘ blog. I’ve been researching ideas that I don’t know much about and would like to explore. Generally speaking, though, I’ve been suffering a little from a ‘dry spell’. Writers block? Perhaps, but I’ve still been proud of what has been produced, so maybe not exactly that.

I’ve spoken before about the pressure on authors from readers to Write More, dammit! Many bestselling authors (notably Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) have responded with the reasonable retort that you might have to wait if you want something that’s going to be worth waiting for. Writing takes time. I understand that Scott Lynch (author of the ‘Gentleman Bastards’ series) suffers badly from depression, which caused a delay in his last book – but the fans were lovely and waited, glad when it finally arrived. I’m sure that knowledge helped.

The writing and production of ‘Facing the Darkness’ was not easy. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, given the subject matter, but it was challenging every step of the way. But the response has been beyond wonderful, and I cannot adequately express my thanks for that.

So what next, of course? What can I add to the pile?

Given the easy accessibility of pretty much anything these days, I see so many creative people giving up before they begin for this same reason. Why bother? There’s so many out there who are better than me, let’s leave it to them. And sometimes, simple (and deceptively complex) fear and self-doubt are enough to make that empty page absolutely unconquerable.

The thing to remember, I tell myself (right now, as a matter of fact), is that I love to write. I always have. Messing about with words on a page, telling a tale – truth or fiction (and the difference can easily blur) – and then that indescribably brave step of actually putting those words Out There, into the world, for Other People to read… I know many who don’t even get that far. I tell them they should try. It’s not about being The Best – it’s about letting your voice be heard, at the very least.

Writing can be lonely, masochistic, frustrating, depressing… but also beyond rewarding, so joyful, inspiring in the act of doing and just simply my own creative outlet. I do firmly believe that we all need/have one, it’s just about finding it. And then doing it. Even when you don’t want to. Especially then.

These blog posts usually take a while to write, as I go back and forth, tweaking and amending. I haven’t with this one. Stream of consciousness, here it is, flowing along. And it has, because it clearly needs to come out, to be said.

I have ideas. It’s just a matter of being brave enough to articulate them, to encourage understanding and inspiration. I don’t just write for the sake of it – I write because I have something to say, ideas to share and throw around with others, and because, quite simply, I love it.

I’m sorry for the dry spell. It will probably happen again. But I do try hard to overcome it and move forward, as always. Thank you so much for your patience, my lovelies.

On we go.

(And the knowledge that I have a third book, several articles and other blog posts to write isn’t frightening at all…!) 😉

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Rainshine

Spring is on its way here in the UK, but while the snowdrops struggle to force their heads above the ground, most of us are dealing with the near-constant rainfall of recent weeks. The ground is saturated, everything seems muddy, and where I live, that means the additional early-morning fun of inadvertent ice-skating on the dog walk…

This is the world, though, and so many places seem to be dealing with the unusual falling from the skies. England seems to have a standing international status as ‘perpetually damp’ – this time last year, we were snowed in for over a week. But as Pagan folk, we should be aware that of course we are subject to the elements. We have to ride their tides, and learn what is to be taught from the experience

I’ve found the constant wetness to reflect my emotional state recently – ebbs and flows, rushing waves and standing puddles. But as the Spring begins to approach, as I see the buds and hear the birds more frequently, there is a definite change in the air. Imbolc is upon us. Brigid is at the door.

Imbolc has been one of the more elusive festivals, for me. What is it about, really? It comes at a midpoint in seasons, during dark days which it’s hard to believe are growing lighter. As a creative person, I’ve always felt that I should be connecting to the Lady of Inspiration a little more strongly, but the gods of these islands have been tricksy as well. Distant Classical deities? No problem. So-called ‘Celtic’ (I really do not like that term!), however? There’s more to them than meets the eye.

Perhaps this is as it should be. These aren’t just archetypes, after all – these gods are real people, more than just their ‘duties’. They require you to investigate, get to know them, read the stories but also draw your own conclusions, reading between the pages to see what’s really going on. I’ve written before about folk who think the Morrigan is just ‘bad’ – a point of view which baffles me. So how can a deity of Inspiration be clear-cut and straightforward? It took Nine Muses for the Greeks to sort this concept out! This year, Brigid came to me in the form of a request.

I’ve been knitting prayer shawls for some time now, taking the idea of a ritualised act of creativity to help another and seeing where it takes me. Each shawl is entirely unique, its’ own personality almost, with the ‘spell’ of its undertaking beginning at conception of idea, through to final sewing up and wearing. A large and complex task, but tremendously fulfilling. Sometimes they just come to me as ideas; sometimes through the dreams of others.

A lovely lady, friends through the connectivity of the Internet, asked me to make her something special. Emails zoomed back and forth, ideas of concept and purpose, then texture and colour, yarn, beads… until this week, it was finally resolved. And in the manner of all the best rituals and magic, everything came together at the right time, as if we were guided – because we had our eyes open and were looking with purpose, yes, but I’ve absolutely no doubt that there was a hand at my shoulder.

The yarn is pure silk, delicate yet strong, hand-dyed by another talented creative at Solstice Yarns. It is called ‘Brigid’s Dream’. The shawl is begun at Imbolc. I’ve performed ritual to set intention and ask for guidance, but it’s almost as if I don’t need to. I know what I’m to do, because the Lady is there, smiling as I twist that first loop onto the needle.

Silk yarn Brigid

I’m sure some may sneer at this, as if I’m making more out of a simple knitting commission than I should. But the purpose here is key. This is a prayer shawl, to be valued for what it is as well as what it does. Practical – warm, enveloping, soft to touch and beautiful to the eye – but also blessed throughout its creation. This is real magic, flowing through my fingers. I’m one of those working to make it come to life.

I’ll be working on this as the days grow longer again, the buds burst into flower, the inspiration starts to flow again with the new life. This creation will blossom too, and I’ve no doubt that I’ll learn things along the way (including the likelihood of tinking back occasional mistakes, especially with beading!).

The water around us is not stagnant. We needn’t let ourselves drown in it. We work with it, learn from it. Without that flow, we would die. That is how I feel about my creativity. I’m the tool through which it is directed, to make something nourishing, warming… alive.

Oh, and the pattern? From (you guessed it) yet another creative lady, called Boo, who allows magic very much into her designs.

It’s called ‘Rainshine‘.

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The Joy of Inspiration

I consider inspiration: what it means and how it’s key
To so much of our own heritage, to my own Druidry.
A tricky word, it holds so much, and yet hides so much too
Inspiration doesn’t rhyme well, so the old bards thought that through!

Inspiration is a joy because it tells us what to do…

Except…

It doesn’t really, does it? It’s a bit more of a guide
An incitement, an incentive – a sneak peak to look inside.
To go just a little deeper, really forage and explore
To ask ourselves those questions, to find what we’re looking for.

We call out to the Awen, those three rays that reach so far
From deep inside our tiny minds, out to the furthest star.
Go back through time, through stories, through the blood that holds our land
Inspiration is our joy because it helps us understand.

Except…

Well, no, that’s not quite true, is it? It’s as much a mystery
As any of those spirit paths, down which we hope to see.
Small words can only touch the song, the greater melody
And yet how potent is the tale, what is and what can be.

Inspiration is my joy because it sings TO and OF me.


(And sometimes, it flows out in a quick burst, formed in 20 minutes between household chores! A bit of doggerel to brighten your day, folks – hope it made you smile.)

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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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Life – a Tale Told…

Sometimes it’s all about the words. And sometimes, words just aren’t enough.

It’s part of our makeup as humans to communicate, to convey our experiences to others, both as a validation and to make sense of them to ourselves. We journal as an act of personal psychiatry and historical record. We blog to tell our stories to others, and to throw ideas out into the wider world, entirely unknowing of who will read them.

The paradox of what could be called Contemporary Pagan Practice (or 21st Century Magic, if you want to be glamorous) is that so much of it is hidden behind words. So many books, websites, so much talking, setting down traditions in stones of words mortared with vague ideas… and yet not much of it actually containing much that helps. So many secrets… or are they, really?

Since my last post, I’ve been pondering those Pagan ‘absolutes’, those key tenets that we are taught to work from. Each theory came from another after all, like any philosophy, those stones building on the work of others, tested by new readers/practitioners for strength and relevance, and built on in turn.

But how lazy have we become, with our ready supply of electronic information? Remember when to find something out you had to actively seek it? Go to libraries, order books from far away, write letters to pick the brains of others. Now the dilemma (and skill) is sifting through the overload of data, the ‘fact’ from opinion, the truth from fiction. Isn’t it just easier to pick the ‘facts’ that we like and work from them, without testing them to see if they actually fit our own needs, worldview, life?

And that in itself is another paradox. How can any spiritual ‘truth’ truly be true? Surely every spiritual experience is subjective, open to interpretation… and when turned into words, pinned down like a butterfly in a presentation frame, losing so much of its reality as to be useless – or at best, a story.

I know that the irony here is my writing of such things itself being so limiting, as I try to pin down concepts that are just too amorphous to be adequately portrayed in language. But that’s the rub for me – that’s the mystery itself.

The ancient Bards told stories to convey meanings, human truths that exist beyond ages, passed down through generations. Life is hard, but we’ve lived it – here’s part of the map that might help. Stories worth telling and re-telling. The value of fiction is lost, found, lost again, repackaged, hidden in marketing jargon… but when the words themselves convey Truth, you read or hear them and feel the difference. Compare a daily newspaper story with a much-loved tale that you know so well, you could almost quote it. Or imagine it so vividly that you could describe the landscape, how the wind feels as it blows across moors in Middle Earth, the stink of smoke in Victorian London, the fear in the heart of a lost hero.

True words are more than just swirls on pages (or pixels on screens). Words told well can go deeper, past the intellectual, the grammatically correct, the Award-winning. Enduring words pierce the heart, the soul, conveying experiences that we all know at some level, or want to know, actively seeking out again to feel for ourselves.

This is the heart of the Bardic mystery, for me – where words resonate as experiences.

Paganism (ancient or modern), as it is understood as seeing the sacred in the world around, conveys in words what has been called a ‘mystery religion’. In other words – ahem – you need to understand the mystery to gain the knowledge. It’s experiential. Books can guide, but only you can get out there and really do.

And that, dear reader, is the laziness we so often see. People want the books to give them answers, which they can learn and parrot back without true understanding. We all do it, there’s no shame – that’s how we’re taught these days. 2+2=4 (allegedly). Or the simpler alternative: the soundbite. Look deeper? Why should we, the story’s right there in the headline! But then as a young practitioner, someone will ask you a question about those rote-beliefs and over-simplistic statements… and you’ll realize how little you truly to know.

This is the point where many step away, returning to something a little safer, more easily quantified and understood. Those who continue are essentially readying themselves for the next step – moving into the story, becoming the hero, aiming to take part in the journey to understand where the writer is coming from. And, in due course, having their own story to tell, being a guide themselves, with all of the hard-won scars they earned along the way.

So what’s the point of the words? As I said, maps are handy, guidebooks, stories from those who’ve been there before. Every journey is unique (ask any explorer), but it’s always nice to set off with a rough idea of where you’re going and what you’re going to get into.

To me, Pagan/Druid (whatever label-word you wish) practice is tangible. Proper practice, that is – real work. Feeling the change in the seasons, the different tastes of energy in a crowded room, woodland, seashore or street. The deeper knowing that goes past the regular sensory input – seeing the relationships, the meanings, the motivations, the undercurrents. Going beyond the directions and out the other side of the map book: blank page, ‘Here be Dragons’.

The difference, for example, between casting a circle as per the instructions in your first guidebook and truly doing it truly, your way, when needed. The worry in the back of your mind that you’re ‘doing it wrong’, something bad may happen, you’ll feel stupid, it’s all just playing about anyway. Then the achievement of actually feeling that connection as you work with spirit, energy, however you wish to define it. Gained by practising, getting it wrong a few times, stumbling and carrying on anyway.

That’s what helps you build your own map. Describe it with words if it helps, but the memories of those experiences become familiar with practice, even with their subtle differences based on time, location and situation. Then you know what you’re aiming for, the goal, the circuitous route to it from the initial idea of ‘I want to perform a rite for this reason’ to standing there, at the focal point of that journey, almost at the summit and prepared to truly do

When it’s no longer about having the right coloured candles or the Very Expensive Altar Tools. Your Gods will know what you mean – step forward with honour and trust (in ritual and in life… because what’s the difference, anyway?).

This post was inspired by reading the story of a City magician, scrawling his runes in spray-paint on walls, recognising the power that we give to simple symbols – the Apple, the Golden Arches – and the simple transport magic of waving a Travelcard in the right place. The protection rite of a Lollipop Man, with his gilded robe and staff. The magical web of social media sites. We take so much for granted, that this is appropriate, that is not. What works for us, personally, ourselves? What stories do we live in, every day?

When the Bard tells his story, listen to the words. Listen deeper. See the look in his eyes, the smile on her lips. For a tale to truly be told, it must be known inside and out, otherwise the discordance is audible. The note struck true, the poetry of inspiration, Awen, muse, conveyed through a skilled traveller, is no substitute for your own experience – but if it inspires you in turn, it has fulfilled its purpose.

Sometimes a metaphorical lightbulb over the head; a cosmic kick in the rear; an ‘oh yeah, silly me’ moment when something clicks into place. The words get us there… if we let them. Learn to listen, but then be brave enough to explore for yourself. Have no doubt that someone will listen to your tale in future, to chart their own course.

As I’ve said before, you’re never alone.

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Birth and Creativity

I’ve often said that being a mother is the bravest thing that I could ever imagine doing. From the process of pregnancy to birth, to the ensuing life of an entirely new being (with all its ups and downs), it’s hardly surprising that many mothers – yes, including mine – appear a bit bonkers. A young mother friend of mine once said that you either have a nervous breakdown the first time you lose sight of your child in a shop, or you get over it and get on. I heard a story this week of a poor child being bullied in school because at age 10, his over-protective mother still won’t allow him to look after himself. It’s a tricky balance, and despite the amount of advice on the bookshelves, I doubt there’s really a ‘How To’ manual that’s actually relevant or useful. And I love those reports that come out periodically along the lines of ‘if Wife/Mother was a job, its salary would this much.’ We can never value those hard-working ladies enough.

The image of the Mother, both in life and in Paganism, has been on my mind lately. My 36th birthday looms (vast dotage indeed), and many of my friends and family members have youngsters in various stages of schooling or upbringing. My sister-in-law queried a while ago whether I intended to have kids, enthusing about how wonderful it is, fulfilling etc – before having to deal with my screaming 3-year old nephew and demanding 1-year old niece. My brother has asked for ‘piece and quiet’ for Christmas; possibly ‘a lie-in’.

I’ve never felt myself to be the mothering type. I’ve still yet to feel those mysterious urges of ‘broodiness’. Not having children with my now-ex husband was an extremely wise decision, but my views haven’t changed. Despite others telling me often that I’d make a good mother, I just have never felt brave enough to undertake the staggering life change that having children involves. Also, there’s surely enough children out there who need a good home? Who am I to add to that, when I could surely help those without?

Yesterday, I found an rather odd article in ‘The Independent‘ (also of the type that is reproduced periodically depending on the level of newspaper pages to fill) that brought this to mind again. Is it society’s fault? Is it an outdated religious ethic, that as animals we must breed, to perpetuate the species? Surely not. Are we not free enough to make our own decisions, as individuals and couples?

Yet I’ve heard the comments as well. ‘You’re not a proper woman unless you have children.’ ‘Oh, you’ll regret it when you’re older.’ Or the assumption that there’s something wrong biologically.

I fully understand and agree that parenthood is a difficult job. Yet, given that it prides itself on its return to traditional ways of life, diversity and eclectic practices, how far does Paganism support the societal view that to be a Mother is a natural – if not essential – step in a woman’s life?

(Apologies to the chaps out there reading this; I’m hopeful that you’ll consider my words as they are meant. I’m absolutely in favour of equality, so bear with me – I’m pretty sure you’ve been short-changed here too…)

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Is that it? The wonderful SageWoman magazine printed an article a while ago about ‘The Queen‘, filling in the space between Mother and Crone, noticing that it’s a time when much can still be accomplished – you’re not just stuck at home with the housework anymore. But what if you don’t want to be a biological Mother?

It’s tickled me in the past in ritual or other such Pagan settings. ‘Oh, you know how kids are,’ happily chirped a young mother during some Reiki training that I was helping with. My reply – a simply ‘No’ – brought her up short so fast, I almost laughed at the shock on her face. Because she was in her mid-20s with a brood that would do a hen proud. Clearly something was wrong with me!

My Goddess is so much more than a biological Mother. Motherhood is the giving birth, the creative act as a whole – not just reproducing children, but the lives contained in the multitude of inspirational sparks of Awen. From art, to feeding others, to building a home, to maintaining a garden… every aspect of life that requires that first initial Go! is given birth.

So… surely I do this already, in my own way? I’m doing so right now, kind of: putting thoughts into words to inspire and provoke thought. I’ve run a household since I left University; I care for my partner and animal family as much as I would any others that I love and live with. The basic idea that leads to a book involves a writing process often compared to pregnancy, with all of its pains and joys.

And this is where the guys come in too. There is no Maiden/Mother/Crone for chaps – why not? Yes, I know, God = Male by default for so many years, they’ve apparently had their go. But that’s an equally daft assumption. I don’t want to go too far the other way – this is about balance and reality combined with spirituality. While I’m obviously a girly and therefore can’t speak from experience, I’m pretty sure that men go through life seeking direction, archetypes and ideas in the same way as women. While it may appear they’re endowed with God-given (ahem) knowledge – you know, how to lead nations, run companies, never cry and understand the offside rule – at puberty, that may actually be as ridiculous as women gaining knowledge of how to be A Good Mother and Keep House at the moment of succcessful insemination.

To me, Druidry is ultimately realistic. It’s a spirituality with its mysteries, yes, but those are experiential – necessary to explore if you wish to learn, and worth so much more as a result. Just simply accepting something because it’s ‘traditional’ (actually less than a century old, if we’re referring to Wiccan archetypes) is as ridiculous as mindlessly accepting any other given truth.

‘God created the world’ – how? Not to provoke argument, I just actually would like to know the explanation behind this. But let’s assume that such a creative act as The Big Bang happened (we’re here, after all) and life has been sparking into being ever since, in all its form and wondrous variety. Coming from both men and women – as we understand it, as limited human beings – often working together.

We have to question our roles in life, to challenge, to explore. If not relevant, then we can (hopefully) be free to discard and find alternatives. One size of life does not fit all, and nor should it – how boring would that be?

Perhaps Maiden, Creatrix/Lady, Crone or suchlike might be better? And Boy, Creator/Lord, Teacher? Just basic ideas from the top of my head here, but let’s step out of our boxes, or feel free to relabel our own.

Establishing Pagan Traditions is one thing. Settling into Pagan Ruts is quite another. How much do we take for granted… and how much do we create? That’s surely a core tenet of Paganism, right there.

 

NB: I have intentionally left homosexuality unmentioned here, as I do not have deep personal experience of this and so do not feel qualified to speak on it. However, I see no reason for male/male or female/female balance to be in any way less valid that any other sort (including parenthood), and have seen it work a fair bit better on occasion! For those who can speak on such a basis, please feel free to add your thoughts, as always  🙂

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Still Singing…

As the Autumn season truly moves in, I find myself at last at home again. My travels surrounding book events have finished. I’m preparing for new workshops, students and hunkering down with Book 2.

And yet, I feel as if somehow, I’m not doing enough. I’ve put myself ‘out there’, in the world, and people are responding – therefore, I’m clearly performing a function that’s needed. I’m very grateful for this, more than I can ever express.

But it’s still a question of balance. Boundaries need to be maintained. Where do my ‘Professional’ and ‘Personal’ lives intertwine, merge and then separate again?

I don’t know if this is a question that I’ll ever be able to truly answer; it may be one of those that changes over time as I do, and as my role and practice change. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s important.

Sometimes during this madly busy Summer, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost myself. My To-Do list has taken over, so many people asking questions, reminding me of things. As a former professional Organizer (read: Personal Assistant), the idea that I’ve let tasks, events or duties get away from me is appalling. This is both good and bad – bad in the panicked moments, good in the restraint, as I bring myself back to what I need to be doing. Nobody is intentionally forgotten, there’s just a lot going on.

However, like many workaholics that I’ve seen over the years, the one thing that is forgotten on the To Do list is ‘Be Yourself’. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but without personal integrity, sense of self, constant challenging and discovering, then how valid is anything that I say? In this sense, it’s far too easy to forget that YOU are the main, primary constant in your life, as Living becomes subsumed by Doing.

One thing that I knew would eventually appear after the book was published is The Troll. Regular internet users will know the sort – the person who seems to haunt public e-places purely to niggle, to pick, to make trouble. They start arguments but don’t engage with them – there’s no back and forth, just constant harangues, confused self-righteous logic and eventually, simple abuse.

Sure enough, one of these delightful individuals appeared a while ago. They put voice to my inner concerns and worries, grabbing on and worrying at the slightest perceived weakness, refusing to answer my questions but simply arguing around and around. How dare I say anything, I’m not an authority on their spirituality. I’m just standing up and posturing for attention. Who do I think I am. Etc etc etc. And of course, that ultimate teenage cry: You don’t understand me!

Frustrating. Hurtful (so far as I let it). But also pathetic and rather pitiful. With all the noise they were putting out, this person was entirely missing the point. Perhaps I do understand them – and that’s something they can’t bear. It’s far easier to cause trouble via the anonymity of the Internet than to face your demons… even if that’s (apparently) what you’re trying to do.

I’ve said many times, I can only tell my story – nobody else’s. I’m not saying mine’s better, nor that you should follow my way. There’s nothing wrong with your own story, after all. I’m sure it’s far more suitable for your life than trying to live someone else’s.

But the fury that comes out when you discover that nobody can live your life for you can be tangible over the massive electronic media communities that we all inhabit. The cries of abuse when misunderstanding is caused by almost incomprehensible, misspelled Tweets. A world of pain contained in such a small burst of text, with no back-story, context or truth. Those who mean well and try to help are firing blindly into this lack of story – resulting in the oh-so frustrating, general message of: ‘HUGS’.

A couple of weeks ago, my Inbox contained the polar opposites of these issues. One from the Troll, apparently angry at me for not sticking around to listen to their abuse, how dare I ignore them, that just proves them right all along, blah blah, bad grammar and more abuse. Oddly enough, I felt that enough time had been wasted on trying to engage with this person and receiving only bile. A line was drawn.

The other was from a total stranger, asking for advice (OK), telling me a little of their story (lovely)… and then asking me to be their guru, their teacher, their High Priestess. They may have had the word ‘Crystal’ in their online name. I replied politely, asking for more information on what they were looking for. And never heard from them again.

While these are opposites in opinions of me, there is a clear parallel to be seen. Both people need help, and are reaching out across the internet webs. The former cannot deal with admitting weakness, so any help will be rebuffed – yet they keep seeking. The other is opening themselves to a random stranger (me in this case) for help, perhaps through desperation or perception of what I am and can provide.

Neither is truly able to engage, to connect. I have no doubt that both will continue to seek, wandering the vast and echoing halls of cyberspace, looking for someone to understand them fully in 180 characters or less, and have the power to sort their lives out for them. I’m sure you can guess the outcome.

Then there are those who become friends. I’ve said often, I always try to help – no questions will receive a rude reply, even if they involve the word ‘naked’ or ‘sacrifice’ (honestly, are you surprised that I’ve been asked?). But those who are willing to have a conversation, those I’ve met at random events and shared laughter and tea with, those who know I’m human too… these are the ones I’ll be up at silly o’clock in the morning talking to. Those who remind me both who I am and why I’m doing this.  Reforging connection through relationship. In person and in spirit.

I can’t live up to a perception, a stereotype. If I wasn’t true to myself, it would be obvious to those of you listening, and my words would become worthless. Just another Internet Pagan, retreading the same old ground. It would become so easy to become a snake-oil salesman, peddling false hopes. I can’t do that. I just have to remember to take time for me as well, so that my truth remains… well, true.

I’m looking forward to the winter, hugely. Me time, hibernation. I’m coming to understand why so many writers are solitary hermits, in a small office or shed at the end of the garden, tea and snacks at hand, scribbling away. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to create. But then you emerge: tired perhaps, but bright, happy, accomplished, fuelled by that connection, that Awen.

I can only tell my story. You can only tell yours. But that is life’s quest – both seeking out your true story, and discovering that it can actually be quite a good one. We’re all doing that, you and me.

Some might not like it. They’ll disappear, grumbling at perceived slights and misunderstood ideas. But those who truly know you… will know. And smile.

The kettle’s on. Make yourself comfortable – I’ll be back soon.

🙂

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