Posts Tagged cat

Labels

This is my dog, Fen:

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He has an amazing vocabulary. He knows his name, certainly, also ‘dog’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ (plus numerous toy and food words). But he knows that ‘Fen’ = HIM.

He also knows that he’s my dog. And I’m his human. He knows mine and Himself’s names, so he can find us when asked.

As an English graduate, I was taught about words as a linguistic tool. The image above = Dog. Then, perhaps, Border Collie. You wouldn’t know his name until told, so you might ask for that information. But you’ve got enough to communicate about him from the image.

When we see Things, our brain throws up words to denote them, to fit them into our worldview so that we can understand. Different languages may be used. ‘Dog’ in English, other variations for other localities – but all describe a four-legged animal with a waggy tail.

We also use language to find familiarity. You might not look at me and think ‘human’, but your subconscious knows that. I’m female, according to my dress and body type. Initial greetings determine that I’m English (language), from a certain area of Great Britain (accent). Then we move to names and jobs…

Ah.

This is where we can go off the map and into unknown territory. Because my job isn’t ‘usual’, you see. ‘Druid’ is not a traditional working practice.

OK, It might be super-traditional in that it’s been going on for centuries, but in the 21st century, I doubt Druid Vacancies would appear on most job websites and unemployment agencies. It’s not what I put on my tax return.

Because I have to use conventional labels for Government documents. Author, Priest, Chaplain… understanding is achieved quickly by those words. And I am labelling myself, describing what I do for a living in a very simplistic manner. But it’s good enough, serving its purpose.

Labels are a necessary part of language, to aid understanding, to create a picture in your head. ‘Dog’ might not throw up the correct picture of Fen, but you’d be in the right area. You’d associate ‘Dog’ with the canine friend most familiar to you.

I know that some people, when they say ‘Druid’, think of me. This is lovely – but again, I’m perhaps just the Druid they know best. There are so many types, we might have to start using ‘breeds’ (as Fen is a Border Collie)! Wicca already does this, with its lineages. To an everyday person, however, Gardnerian or Alexandrian – what’s the difference? Understanding has been lost, because there’s no frame of reference.

And as with asking about Fen’s name and who he is, we have to enquire, to dig deeper. Some are fine with that, curious and genuinely interested; others less so. Druid might equate to ‘fluffy New-Ager’, for example (as ‘dog’ might equal ‘dangerous’). I’ve no way of knowing. ‘Priest’ can have any number of associations, positive and negative.

I’ve described myself as a ‘Druid’ for many years now. Recently, I’ve started saying that it’s the label that best describes my personal spiritual practice. I’ve been called a Dru-Witch in the past, because I sometimes cross those boundary lines. I’ve worked with Heathen deities. Does this matter?

To me, no. I do what I’m called upon to do. But to others, it can matter very much. Those labels are important, and we must stick to them.

The trouble is, that I personally find that impossible. We are so much more than just one single label. When I was told off for not calling myself a ‘PriestESS’ (I was ‘denying my femininity’, apparently), I had to laugh. Once a month, my womb reminds me how female I am, and my bosom does the same every time I go for a run! And this was a man telling me off…

I’ve seen some Pagans who cry out for Pagan Prisoners to be stripped of their ‘Pagan’ title. Who has the right to take our labels away? I would never claim that, just as I wouldn’t tell someone what label they should or shouldn’t be using. But I understand that some do not want to share a name (or any association) with a ‘criminal’. Because that’s a negative label.

‘Witch’ was a negative label too, for a very long time. ‘Druid’ as well. We can even get into the secular world – ‘homosexual’, for example. And going further back, ‘Christian’. All of these were criminal offences at one time or another.

‘Druid’ is the closest word to define quickly what it is that I do. But it is not the ultimate definition. In researching my next book(s), I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the limitations of Just One Word. So here’s a few more for me, in spiritual terms:

Pagan – follower of a recognised nature-based spiritual path

Druid – the specific tradition within Paganism, which I narrow down to ‘Priest of my homeland’

Witch – worker of magic to bring about a particular result

Mystic – someone who seeks a very deep connection with their god(s)

Psychometric – someone who gets impressions from the physical touch of particular items (since I was 14 or so). See also Empath

Seer – someone who receives images or visions of future events (again, since my teens)

Didn’t know all of those, did you?

I don’t wave them around, because it all lumps together into ‘me’, into ‘what I do’. Plus I’m still aware of that awful ‘closet’ status (ie it makes me want to run back into Narnia), whereby people challenge my experience because they can’t quite believe it.

I’ve been called a Shaman before. I agree that a lot of the above terms come under Shamanism, but I’m not sure it sits right with me.

I’m an honorary Wiccan (according to a third-generation Gardnerian friend!), but that REALLY p*sses off the traditional folk. So I keep that one quiet, because it requires a little humour.

And thereby comes the issue, really. Which labels are we comfortable using? Are others willing to engage enough to discover that I’m not a dangerous, scary Witch, just as Fen isn’t a dangerous, scary Dog?

Labels can be the gateway to understanding. Or they can be a prison. Let people explain what their words mean for them, before you start telling them what they can and can’t be.

Fen is a Dog. According to Baldrick from the TV show ‘Blackadder’, that means ‘Not a Cat’. But he’s happy sniffing (and being sniffed by) our new kitten. Dogs and cats can get along, and certainly wouldn’t try to tell each other what they can or cannot be. Because they know who they are, and are comfortable with that, while open enough to keep curious (until the claws come out when boundaries are breached!).

Perhaps as explorers of Nature-Based Spirituality, we can learn from Natural Reality as well.

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Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

The last week has been horrendous. Hellacious. A battle on every front, during which I could only seem to stand my ground, moving neither forward nor back. “If I can make it to Monday,” I would tell myself, “Then it’ll be ok.” ‘Make it to Monday’ was my mantra.

I’m sure we’ve all had times like this. Periods of difficulty, where each day seems to last at least a year, with so much thrown at us that we feel like simply giving up in the face of the deluge.

I’m no expert in astrology, but we’ve just come out of a period of Mercury retrograde – a time of pause and reflection. Because basically, if you try to do anything… forget it. It is not happening. Stars or not, this sums up the last few weeks. Mercury, God of travel and communication, was going backwards.

No matter what I did, I was stymied. Talks fell through, emails went unanswered (or receiving vague and unhelpful answers at best) – the world seemed to be moving, but just not the part I was in. Writing didn’t flow, any work was a challenge. So many pieces of technology broke or failed; even my shoes fell apart. Sometimes it felt as if I was bashing my head against a wall. What was I supposed to do with my time?! I do like to keep busy; even when relaxing, I like to be doing something, be is reading, knitting… whatever comes to hand. Even these simple activities couldn’t keep my attention.

And then last weekend, my first ever animal friend, who had been in my life since his ‘rescue’ from a local sanctuary, took himself out of the living room window with a brief final look at me… and vanished. He’s been ill for a while, had Harry the geriatric cat – an inoperable ear condition that meant he was fairly deaf (and so wonky enough that he missed when jumping at objects, which confused him no end), losing his sight, with no teeth and all the signs of senility.

He was scared of the mattress, because of how it felt underfoot – but he snuggled into bed with me when I was alone after my divorce. His loud purr from my lap was such a comfort. We’d play ‘licky/kicky’ games together on the stair (he grabbed and kicked at my fingers, I’d tickle his belly).

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

Lovely folk confirmed to me that ‘this is something cats do’ – they take themselves away to find a quiet place, where they won’t be found. In one sense, that hurts; but in another, I understand.

I found myself nodding. Because over these same past few weeks (months?), I’d been thinking the same. When the darkness seemed inescapable, with no way out… I’d considered taking myself away, for the sake of everyone.

Yes, I know – irrational. Depression does that. Things that would seem manageable, easy to deal with when perspective is ‘normal’ can be almost the end of the world when you’re down in the dark. Getting dressed is a challenge; leaving the house akin to scaling Everest. It may not be ‘all about me’, I may be selfish and inconsiderate… but sometimes there just isn’t anything outside your own head. That’s how it can feel. And it’s so very scary.

Last week, it seemed that knock came after knock. If I could just make it through… I kept telling myself, over and over. It wasn’t all about me. But feeling trapped and alone (even if I wasn’t) made it seem so.

I had to trust that Harry had done what he thought best. I had to trust myself, that I had the strength to survive (and that survival was, in fact, the right decision). This, too, will pass.

Mercury was taking me deep.

Years ago, when I first dipped a toe into Paganism, I sat in my bedroom and meditated, nervously asking for any deity who might like to take me on to make themselves known. I was curious, but had no real idea what I was getting into. But I had made my decision, and asked the question. I’m not sure what I expected, but certainly not who arrived.

A beautiful lady with the head of a cat stepped forward, shining and golden. I was taken on, as a kitten perhaps: a trainee priestess of Bast.

I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so staggered at the force of the experience, I resolved to simply (!) do my best.

Over the years since, my Lady has moved more into the background; a constant presence, but letting me learn what I have to. I’ve come to understand the fluidity of Deity, how personification is a human need, but which those forces which guide us can use to help us see what needs to be seen.

I’ve worked closely with other deities since, from Sekhmet to Hekate, Herne and Loki (not all at once!). I’ve learned. But She has been there, to be glimpsed when least expected. In no way separate from my life, but constant, present, in all Her aspects.

Harry was my friend, companion and guardian – but he was always his own person. I’m now in a house full of canines (all male). Life takes us on strange, winding routes.

I’ve made it to Monday. I’ve been reading the tales of others this morning, online and in print, the curling paths of life. Simple actions have taken on the importance of prayer – I’ve made it (this far).

We ebb and flow. Ourselves and those forces that we connect with – the stars, the gods, those living beings we share space with, larger forces of Nature that we are subject to. We touch and part. We learn and teach, inspire and are inspired.

I think back to the past week. To those shining lights which glowed all the more strongly for the hardness that they broke through. A call from a friend; a simple message. A request, a shared thought, a gift. A story can be the most powerful of connections, a smile the greatest achievement. A memory, held close.

Monday morning. The next week stretches ahead. My body is free from pain; my mind free from darkness. I honour what is past, promising not to forget. And step forward.

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