Posts Tagged celebration

One Week

Last Monday, I wrote about the turbulence of recent weeks. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the days that followed, just seven small spans of hours… but during which, so much has happened.

I’ve driven over 400 miles, for those who’ve asked. To minister good times and bad, celebration and tragedy. To mark once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and to honour the passing of times we hope never to face.

I’ve invited those in need into my home, to tell their tale and be heard. The medicinal value of tea and a caring arm is so simple, yet beyond price.

I’ve connected over thousands of miles with others, to chat and laugh, and be amazed by their stories. Technology lets us be heard.

I’ve walked the streets near my home, seeing familiar landscapes change and evolve. I’ve seen history marked by local children, in the Derbyshire tradition of well-dressing.

I’ve felt the sacred, tangibly, with every sense. The grass beneath my feet, a deluge of rain on my face. Warm sunlight, cool breezes. Mist-wreathed mountains, impossibly blue waters.

I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve cheered and mourned. I’ve created, given every scrap of my energy where it’s needed, and then fallen into exhausted dreams.

I’ve felt the pain of dishonour, frustration, broken promises, hurtful words. I’ve felt the joy of love, happiness, commitment, truth, inspiration. My breath has caught in my throat as words failed me. I’ve been both awed and angered at the actions of others.

I have born witness and held stories. Life is being lived – with all of its ups and downs. I walk my path.

This is my Druidry.

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Tis the Season…

December is a month of noise. Lights, songs… sheer stuff. Preparations for Christmas (or the midwinter festival of your choice), then the day itself, then the aftermath, into New Year… and of course we all know about the increased pressure, stress, busy-ness, etc. The silly season more than Summer ever is.

This weekend, I mentioned to a relative the importance of teaching her children the true meaning of the season. She agreed wholeheartedly – and her eldest knows all about the Nativity, although she’s had a terrible time finding him a camel outfit on eBay.

Today on the radio, the DJ read a message from a listener that bemoaned a fight between husband and wife over who had to take their children to a Carol Concert, when they’d actually rather stay at home.

And before any moral high ground is taken, I’ve heard Pagan folk bemoaning the lack of decent gifts to buy for their loved ones. ‘Create your own?’ I suggested… to be met with looks of outright horror.

It’s easy to laugh at the trivial, the ridiculous – ‘problems’ that we’d never even consider at any other time, but seem inflated somehow by the expectations of the season.

But it’s also easy to forget that the importance of a festival at the darkest time of the year is simply to keep ourselves moving. To remind ourselves that we’re still here, still alive (trivia and all).

Today, supermarkets are bustling with people filling their trolleys with goods, to eat and drink to excess over the season of cheer. Not too long ago, if our ancestors hadn’t harvested enough to survive, they’d be squirrelling (literally) away every grain and drop, in order to survive until Spring.

Yule is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. After that, we start the slow journey back towards the long-ago – and far ahead – days of Summer, but still with a fair amount of cold, wintry time until the snowdrops poke their heads into view, let alone the buttercups.

As Pagans, we’re (hopefully) aware of the need for balance. Light and dark, summer and winter…

As some of you may know, I worked for a while in End of Life Care within the NHS. This means, very basically, administrating the wishes of terminal patients, to ensure that they receive the care they wish in their last moments. Yes, this includes ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Orders. I’ve had heated discussions (read: keeping professional and biting my lip while being yelled at) with medical professionals, who insist that I’m endorsing euthanasia. I’m not: I’m endorsing individual responsibility. This is a real challenge in a system of policy, expectation, best intentions for the greater good, and potential litigation.

I’ve worked harder than ever on Christmas Eve, while my office partied around me, to ensure that terminal children had the best possible time with their families prior to their imminent demise. That dementia patients with no next of kin received a good standard of care. The basic respect of life from our fellow human beings, when we need it most, and in the Season of Giving.

And then they move on. And I’m perhaps the only one who remembers their name, who lights a candle, sheds a tear and says a prayer to the Lords of the Otherworld. Who helps them to move forward into that ultimate unknown. My roles merge and I learn.

Winter is a time of death. Peaceful? A simple grave covered with snow? Or becoming another statistic, an elderly person unable to survive the cold because they can’t afford food and heat? A heart attack brought on by too much rich food? Life and death, feast or famine…

We are humans. We battle on. There are always challenges, the most basic of which is to stay alive. In modern times, we have the strangest relationship with death – we avoid it, look away, try to pretend it isn’t happening. But then it may hurt all the more when it inevitably does. It leaves us confused, stumbling, unsure what to do. ‘That can’t have happened’… but it has.

Today, I was both honoured and saddened to be leading that most difficult of rites: a passing for an unborn child. Nature has no care for season, or appropriate timing. Some things just have to be.

Words were said. The little girl was passed into the care of her ancestors, to return again should the time be right. A single candle burns for her, before us and in the hearts of her family.

And then came the balance. Life goes on, laughter returned, as we celebrated the joy that was her brother enjoying his toys, witnessing his giggle as he fell down while practising that trick of walking upright that we’re all so good at. Decorations were hung up, by a heart that longed for simple peace and quiet. Time is finally found to just be a family together, to move, rather than just going through the motions.

The lights may be bright, the kitchen smells enticing, but the cold wind is only a window away. As Druid and Priest I walk this line, between the living and  the dead, seeing and drawing out the needs of both that are equally forgotten in all the noise, pomp and circumstance.

December is not about money, not about Things. It’s about relationship, about us, together. Surviving, moving forward, celebrating our time properly. Seeing into our hearts, and the hearts of those we love.

The year turns and we turn with it, telling our stories day by day. Some stories end; others are left to tell them. Remembering can be the highest honour, the most valuable gift.

Not all of us will make it to Spring. This is why we celebrate. Living is the miracle. Each of us is a light.

Hold to your loved ones this season, lovely readers. Hold your stories proudly. Remember what is true, in heart and soul. And practise those oldest of rites: raise a glass or light a candle… because you are still here to do so.

Know that you are honoured, and that you are never alone – in life or death.

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Within the Cauldron

It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.

Then I considered her words more deeply.

These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).

Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).

I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.

So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.

Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.

Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).

For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.

At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.

Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.

And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.

I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.

But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.

And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.

I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.

In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.

Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.

I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:

My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.

And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.

In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.

I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.

 

As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.

Sunbathing in the Rain

Journeys with the Black Dog

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.

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Solstice Blessings!

This morning, I watched the sun rise over Nottingham City, from the beautiful grounds of Wollaton Hall. A friendly oak tree scattering leaves in my hair, ancient woodland with birds chasing, squirrels taking advantage of the unseasonable warmth (10 centigrade) to forage for food…

And me, with the lady from the BBC. I’m at 2:17 here, if you want to hear what I sound like!

I love those moments as the sky changes with the dawn (and dusk, later). The gradual realization that the deep blackness is being broken by shards of greyness, the clouds becoming limned with light, the stars fading as their place is taken by pink and orange beams. The world moves forward and the sun rises again.

So simple, the start of another day, and yet such a singular moment. Each one is unique – this day will never come again, this moment. And I bear witness, in the company of many others across the land.

Blessings of the season to you all, lovely readers. May you stay warm and safe with those you love through the dark and cold times, sharing the joy as light gradually returns to the land.

Merry Yuletide! x

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