Posts Tagged challenge

Truths and Apologies

Memes are such a constant background noise these days, aren’t they? Cute little sayings, often with a pretty picture, to provoke or inspire. I once sat in an office with walls covered with ‘motivational posters’.

Sometimes that can be helpful. A quick, easily-digestible sentence or two, summing up a feeling or emotion. Validating something far more complex.

But as I love playing with words, sometimes I dig deeper… and find a less comfortable place.

For example: How are you? I’m fine.

This is a lie. Powerful images demonstrate this here (warning – challenging pictures). Many people don’t want to see. ‘Fine’ is enough.

I’ve not been fine for a while now; or rather, I’ve had good days and bad days. This is normal.

But I’ve not posted for far longer than I’d like, because… well… I’ve been battling. I’m sure many of you know those insidious thoughts. ‘You’re useless. Nobody cares. Nothing you say is worth hearing.’ And that most evil of all: ‘Just stop.’

I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. I’ve heard tell of several other contemporary writers who have such difficulties – from Scott Lynch to JK Rowling. Much has been written about the creative fire being linked to mental illness (eg this interesting essay).

But worst of all for me is that inner voice telling me how much I let people down. Because of those precursors to memes, the oversimplistic misunderstandings that we’ve been told all our lives. ‘You don’t think that.’ ‘Don’t be stupid.’ ‘You’re always making excuses.’

From frustrated family members to overbearing bosses, we’ve all heard it. Someone doesn’t want to look deeper, or listen to what’s really going on, so they lash out. Hey – we’ve all done it too, I’m sure.

This is part of the journey, however. As we stop – whether voluntarily or forced to by circumstance – so we realize how awful this is. How unhelpful, degrading and, frankly, wrong.

Nobody is worthless. Nobody is useless. Why can’t I do that? Why shouldn’t I? If there’s a reason, then so there is, but more often than not, the person throwing the demands around is projecting, trying to control, to fit you into their world.

And if you challenge those statements? Have you ever tried? I have, a couple of times. The expression on the person’s face (a teacher and a boss, as I recall) was priceless. It’s as if a disobedient pet suddenly spoke back.

We are often taught to keep quiet, for the sake of peace. As we grow older in this crazy world, though, we discover that while quiet can be nice, safe and cosy, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change things that are wrong. We need to speak up, to challenge, to look deeper.

I’ve had to take time in recent months. I’ve had no choice. Panic attacks, severe anxiety, what is now being called ‘major depressive episodes’. Some days, I haven’t trusted myself to put thoughts together enough to write anything.

Today, a dear friend sent me a meme that summed things up nicely, and inspired this post:

Some Days...

And this is true. Some days, more than others.

Then yesterday, another friend reminded me of my favourite phrase for my Druidry: ‘What are you doing?’

Am I trying? Really? OK. Reboot from Start. Let’s challenge those unhelpful voices within.

I’ve been told that before, by doctors, professional therapists and other ‘experts’. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So how best do I challenge them? The awful things that I tell myself – would I ever say such things to another person? Of course not. But they’ve been said often enough to me, surely I must deserve them. And so I’m dragged along with the flow of negative emotion.

A few nights ago, struck with insomnia, I found myself reading about deities who challenge. And I thought ‘Hey – I’m Pagan. Let’s ask one of those experts.’

So I quietly called upon that deity to help. To see if they’d listen.

And they did.

I sat for a while, pouring it all out, while that person sat quietly, just listening. Giving me their full attention. Understanding, sympathising. Not judging. Seeing deeper than the trite insults and demands, to the effect they had.

And when I was done, they were there with a hug. And so I let myself be held.

I do believe that as Pagans, we are blessed to have such methods to help us. Ancestors, helpful spirits, deities to call on. We are never truly alone, even when it feels like it. The tricky part is remembering that. And as with friends who are there for you, not being afraid to call them up and ask for a chat.

The key here is to speak your truth. Excuses won’t cut it (and are insulting, to them and you). This is the time for soul-truths, deep and painful. To be excised like infection from a wound. A scab can’t heal if it’s just covering a blockage of pus. Yes – that’s unpleasant. So is this process.

So here I am again, asking for your patience as I work things through. The medics are being helpful at least (another huge blessing!), and those of you who’ve offered help are valued more highly than any coin I can think of.

I am trying. I’m always sorry for letting folk down; I take pride in stepping up to keep my promises, and hate it when I can’t. Please know that if I can’t, I really can’t. It’s not an excuse. Those are the worst times.

But the flows rise and fall, and I work with them, as best I can. I battle through the storms and am so glad of the good days, of things I accomplish – even these wee words today. What I once took for granted, I now see as a huge gift. Perhaps that’s the latest lesson to take from this winter season.

Much love, dear ones. I am doing my best, with truth and sincerity. We move into Spring with tiny seeds planted. Gods willing, they will blossom and bring us joy in mind, body and spirit moving foward.

Onward.

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Judge Not…?

It’s interesting to see the Pagan community grow these days. We’re still young, as a faith – yes, I know about the ‘Old Religion’, but contemporary Paganism is still very much finding its place in the 21st century. This isn’t an idealized Summerisle-style community either, but rooted in the lives that we lead, here and now, in city and country, through good and bad.

And so we have to deal with difficulties.

I’ve spoken before of personal issues, the challenges of balancing the hard times and the good in life, as well as the inspiration which can come from darkness. But there are various aspects of life which we as a society still find so hard to deal with that we are happier to ignore them. Death is one such issue (although Kristoffer Hughes is writing about that well enough). Myself and others are looking at mental illness and isolation.

Today I’m pondering the issue of Judgement.

The media has been quick to wield the Stick of Truth (ahem) in the past, castigating the ‘evil Pagans’, weirdos who gather together in their ‘occult rites’. Many of us know how frustrating this is, to read about and to be represented in such a ludicrous and disrespectful way. The idea of a Pagan ‘caste’ system has always scared me – I’ve spoken before of idolizing and the creation of celebrity ‘gurus’, but this is the opposite side of that dangerous coin.

Because now in my work, I’m finding myself meeting and getting to know some of those ‘evil Pagans’. Those whom even the wider Pagan community seems happy to ostracize. Sometimes I’m ashamed of my community, as they act in no better manner than those torch-wielding mob-rousers that they profess to hate when on the receiving end. Love, light and peace? Not for all, it seems.

Sometimes issues can seem black and white. With its soundbite-nature, the media is content to let it be so. But life isn’t that clear-cut. We know that, right?

I’ve seen a Pagan man weep about how he was represented in the papers, with provably false words printed that were later retracted – but the lies were on the front page, and the apology hidden inside. Can you guess which ones his friends, those who knew him better than any journalist, believed?

I’ve seen repentance and apology, the quest for redemption. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the punishment – far greater than any Judge can bestow – of having to live with that for the rest of their days. Justified, perhaps? 

A movie summed it up well for me this week, actually: 

‘Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.’ 

(from ‘X-Man, Days of Future Past’)

I’m not saying that Pagans never do wrong. We all stumble; it’s the degree of stumbling, and the consequences, which need to be judged on their own individual cases. But we need to unite as a community, with maturity, honesty and bravery, to acknowledge that Bad Things Happen. What are we then to do about it? 

As Pagans, we find ourselves often tribal, in our own geographical areas of moods and social groups. That’s fine. The difficulty comes when someone strays from that, and is effectively ‘cast out’ from that tribe. 

I’m seeing calls today to ‘cast out’ someone from Paganism as a whole, for crimes committed. I’m shocked and saddened by this, because to me, it’s the mob mentality that’s so hateful to us in other circumstances. Not to mention a ludicrous idea – nobody has the right (or ability) to take another’s spirituality, and I would protest loudly if anyone tried. Perhaps this blog is that protest. I’m writing it in the hope that my words are read and understood, not knee-jerked and sound-bited. But I cannot stay silent, not today – that makes me complicit with that (scared, angry) mob, in my mind.

Yes, crimes are terrible, I’m not denying that. I absolutely cannot understand the mentality of some folk I meet, particularly those who do not (yet?) acknowledge their guilt  – but even though I can feel sick or scared, I still have to minister to them. I’ve chosen that path, and so I do my best. Not everyone can, and I know that too. It’s bloody hard. But so I raise my voice, because they are Pagans too. And human beings. Like it or not, we have commonality.

I’m suggesting that as Pagans, we need to act as an adult community, as a responsible tribe. We support those injured by the crimes, of course, but also acknowledge that sadly, such things will inevitably happen, and as a group we must deal with that, for all concerned. 

We’re human. Everyone has their issues, and some are expressed in ways so deeply socially unacceptable that it feels natural to kick out in response. The law of the land seems insufficient sometimes, and calls for death are easy to make on social media. But again, I’ve met those people whose heads are being demanded, spoken to them and looked into their eyes. They’re not the Devil (remember, he doesn’t exist in Paganism) – in fact, most are so confused, they cannot recognise themselves in those headlines, so sensational are the words.

As Pagans, it is part of our spiritual path that we are all responsible for our actions. The challenges there are part of our journey. So the wrongdoer must be responsible – and accept that he may have lost much of his life as a result. But is he then not allowed the opportunity of redemption? Is his community reduced to just me (a scary thought, I don’t mind admitting)? Or can we try to help him, should he ever return to those who called him friend?

A wise (and very realistic) Prison Officer once told me: ‘We can’t judge. The Judge did that. We just have to be there for them now.’ 

It’s not easy, I know that. I don’t know if we’ll ever find a solution. But as other faiths pray for those in pain, those lost and suffering, so I pray for those Pagans who’ve stumbled and fallen. Because if they hadn’t, I would possibly have once called them Friend.

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Seeking Sacred – A Challenge

Today, I was chatting with my partner about my current book projects. Which haven’t been moving very fast of late. Busyness, mental blocks, personal mood or external issues… ultimately, the words have just not been coming.

He suggested I take myself deeper into my own practice, diving into the topics I want to write about, to explore them more fully myself. I can see where this takes me, to give ideas for the work and also help with the overarching issue of Not Writing. The oldest trick in the book, really – Write What You Know.

So how can I do this, I thought? I’m not exactly Jack Kerouac, about to head out into the world to see what’s there (which I kind of do anyway, albeit in the course of my work!). Nor Edgar Allen Poe, locking himself in a garret to write from his madness. Hmm.

Perhaps a challenge that I can write about as I go, to find that flow again and also open myself to ideas from others – those who like the writing and themselves provide inspiration. Actively seeking the sacred each day, reconnecting with deity if that is the form it chooses; going beyond inspiration into the deep roots of my spirituality within my life.

As I type this, I find myself actually rather daunted. It sounded like a great idea in my head, but is no small thing in actuality. But if I want to write from experience, something true and valid that’s worth reading, I owe both myself and my readers the courtesy and honour of putting in that effort.

So here we go, then. I’ll be cross-posting with my Drops of Awen blog, as that seems an appropriate place for random inspiration bursts, but also here for considerations specific to my Druidry. I’ve no idea where this will end up, but I will, as always do my best. I’ve no doubt I’ll have tough days, but I will do my best to keep to that truth and not be self-indulgent or – horrors! – boring…

As always: onward.

 

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‘Drops of Awen’

Hello, lovely Catbox followers!

A small thing that may be of interest. Encouraged by many of you, I’ve started a small additional WordPress site for a challenge in daily inspiration. ‘Drops of Awen‘ starts today, but won’t be publicised on the social media – it’s purely for ‘followers’ who subscribe to join the journey.

Do pop over and take a look, if you fancy some small bursts of thought each day from me! Meantime, the main blog here will continue, of course, with the usual ‘in-depth’ ponderings as and when they arise…

With thanks, as always, for reading.

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A Modern Druid

Last Monday, I greeted the dawn with my partner, as we called the Awen from within the circle at Stonehenge.

The sun was more of a rosy glow than a dramatic flaming sphere, but the atmosphere was tangible. Damp grass beneath us, the indescribable age and weight of the stones around. Dawn chorus loud in our ears, sheep and cows calling to each other from nearby fields. Security guards keeping watch, smiling, and tourists eagerly snapping away with their cameras. And the two people that we were ministering to, dressed so beautifully, nervously waiting to join hands and step forward.

It struck me later in the day that we ticked so many of the perceived ‘Druid’ boxes in that brief moment – Stonehenge, robes, Awen, sunrise, chanting… performance.

It was the last in a long month of travel, performing ritual for many, many people across the land, and while being honoured to do so, becoming aware of how very tired we now were.

But life doesn’t stop. My partner still has his day-job, and I have my own work. Self-employed means, I’ve found, working far longer hours than I ever did in an office, and for less pay. The perks are there, of course, but the life of a writer – as many others have remarked upon – can be a lonely one.

This is the balance which we are currently living: walking the line between the powerful energy of public ritual, and the private needs of two people. Bills still have to be paid, pets walked, housework done. But also articles written, talks booked, deadlines met… and of course the endless emails!

Please don’t think I’m complaining, by the way. This is the life I have carved out, so different from what I expected years ago when asked that awful question: ‘So, where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?’ Nobody can answer that, not really. Life is seldom that straightforward.

However, from the initial problems that I faced when starting out on this path – the combining of ‘real’ everyday life and my spirituality, finding time for ritual, questioning my ethics and challenging the integrity of my practice – I’ve come to realize that very little has actually changed. Although I now call myself ‘Druid’ publicly, those issues remain; they’ve just grown larger.

It’s less of an issue of finding time for ritual, more about finding time for personal work, private time. My way of life is constantly challenged, as now I often represent more than just myself, especially when standing up for The Pagan Federation or The Druid Network. As I told those who attended a recent talk, when you begin to identify publicly as a Pagan (Druid/Witch/etc), when you give yourself that label, people expect certain things – or they’ll be watching curiously, to see what that label really means. You’ll become that wee bit more accountable.

I’ve been challenged in person a lot recently as well. That tired old question, asked in terribly self-righteous tones, of ‘How can you call yourself a Druid?’ How dare you do what you do?

I feel as if I’ve answered this so many times. No doubt I’ll have to again. Sometimes the manner of the questioning hurts, deeply. But as my patience wears thin with lazy questions, backed up by ill-informed arguments, I’ve felt my pride in my work step up to answer.

See those stereotypes at the beginning of this post? Stonehenge, Druids, all that? I did that, yep. I will again. And not for me – for those who asked. My own practice was not at all a factor in that ritual, as it is not in any that I perform for other people. As Priest, I represent my path, my homeland, the Powers that Be as they are perceived… by and for those for whom the ritual is being conducted. I stand there in service to their need. My experience tailored to assist in the duty which I perform. If all you can see is the theatre, the robe and staff, then you need to look deeper.

I work bloody hard, every day, in service. My email box is full of questions, requests for help, tasks to fulfil. And so I am working – yes, in terms of hours of labour – for my Community, as a Druid. Because that’s what they want of me.

By this, I do actually feel the appropriateness of the word, as it ties to our ancestors. Of course we don’t know what the ancient Druids did, not in any detail. But we know that throughout human history, people have lived, loved, been born and died. Rites of passage have been crafted to mark important events. Support has been needed in times of crisis. Our ancestors did this, and so do I.

This world in which I live is so far removed from that of those ancestors that I doubt they’d recognise it – from the construction of my home to the food that I eat. The Britons have moved forward, after all: in our learning, our technology, our philosophy, our way of life (and our named identity). The specific acts of the ancient Druids would likely be irrelevant now, if they were transplanted wholesale into modern life. Modern Druids don’t forget, but we must remain relevant.

My work as Druid, as Priest, has to reflect my tribe, those who call upon me. I love history and archaeology, but I can’t be worrying about the precise ‘authenticity’ of ritual, for example (which we can’t know anyway). My concern is acting with honour and integrity for those who do ask – whether it’s for practical, tangible help, or just information and teaching. My relationship with my community is not theoretical, with dogmatic dictates or Company Policies – it’s real! Each person, each situation, each ritual request is unique. I treat them as such.

Incidentally, this is not romantic or glamorous, idealised, all flowery language and floaty robes. It’s the ultimate in practical. My robes have to survive all conditions, but so do my mind and body. Weddings are beautiful, but they’re also times of enormous stress for those involved. As are funerals and births – rites of passage which we will experience in all their bloody glory. Those times of terrible crisis where spirituality is so very necessary but which cannot provide easy answers. I’ll still be there, when called. And I think that’s the line at which modern ‘clergy’ will rise or fall.

I stepped up to this task, forced by circumstance and not entirely sure how well I was going to succeed. I was aware (and have since been reminded!) that by standing up publicly, I would be exposing myself to all those slings and arrows of others, those who disagree, who hate, who have no wish to engage or understand. And so I do.

My work is like that of any other person, when undertaken willingly and conscientiously. It can be difficult and tiring, with long days (and nights), challenges and doubts. On other days, it might be full of laughter, utterly fulfilling, glorious and awe-inspiring. My ‘everyday’ life has merged with my ‘spiritual’ life – it’s up to me to maintain that, to keep my own integrity of practice so that I might share that within my work. If I become complacent, blase, egotistical, then it will show – and I’ll fall on my face. Then have to pick myself up and carry on. My Gods constantly challenge me, whether in the form of energetic overload and burnout, or through a grilling from a well-informed journalist!

My resolve always was to do my best. I mean that; it’s the cornerstone of what I do. The difficulty right now is doing my best for myself and my immediate family, as well as those who are calling on me – keeping that balance steady so that one side does not tip the other into chaos.

Those of you who’ve spoken with me know that I value honesty, realistic spirituality (no, not at all an oxymoron!) and truly living your own life. I do my best – that is my promise.

I want to respond to those who challenge me in turn. I love what I do, I’m honoured and proud to do it. Can you say the same? Are you trying to help, by your questions, to encourage and explore? Or just raise yourself up by bringing others down?

I try to help, to bring joy or resolution, to inspire and inform. So…

What is your work doing?

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Work and Self

I’ve written of this before to some degree, but it’s been relevant again to me lately, so I’m hoping that these words help to tease the thoughts out a little.

I’ve never been good at resting. I’m a terrible patient when ill, as well – I always want to be doing something. Knitting is a wonderful option, as it involves doing while (potentially) watching television or chatting to someone else. Reading has always been my drug of choice, and I’m never far from a book (or several).

But in terms of actually resting my mind, stopping the busy-ness of thoughts running through my head… that’s been harder, lately.

Some of it could be considered self-induced pressure. The difficulties and delays around Book 2, work and home life with their inevitable ups and downs… generally, life is good. I have been taking days out ‘for me’. But if anything, those times are worse – the feeling of ‘you should be doing‘ takes over, making my thoughts frenetic, desperate, seeking occupation: “You’re being lazy, you don’t have time to stop…” This, of course, makes things still worse, as then it’s impossible to focus. Not a pleasant experience.

Burning out from sheer doing is seen as a modern affliction. There are news stories about it all the time, plus an entire industry of self-help books telling people how to slow down. But, like anything of such importance (and intangibility), true rest isn’t something that you can buy.

From a Druid perspective, this lack of focus means lack of connection. You’re too frazzled to really engage with anything, which means that nothing gets done well. Your To-Do list might slowly be ticked off, but are the results really of value, or just ‘good enough?’ Has your doing really been the best that you can do? Is the Universe telling you something, but you just can’t hear over the noise of your own activity?

We all feel driven in some way, I think. We have families to care for, jobs to do, responsibilities and cares. None of these are bad, not at all. It’s when we lose ourselves in the morass of obligation and ‘To Do’ that things become difficult.

I was told years ago about the importance of separating Work time from Home time. This was when I worked essentially from 7.30am until 7.30pm (at least), with gym before and other commitments after. Home time was a bit of reading or television before bed.

Then I found tricks to help me change from one ‘mode’ to another. Shedding work clothes for my comfortable jeans. Stepping out into the garden, or getting my hands stuck into bread dough. Yes, I had time. See? My time.

Recently, working from home has made that difficult. I can’t really change clothes, but I’ve made space that is specifically ‘work’, which encourages that attitude and allows me to focus on writing, for example. But there’s no way I can hold a routine, a 9-5, because of my partner’s shift work, and the simple demands of what I do.

The error here, however, is something that I have to keep reminding myself of. You can’t really separate your time in this way. One hour may be for ‘work’, one for ‘family’… but you’re still you. The goal may be different, but you’re still using up your own energy, modifying your own perspective as needed but with the same subconscious thoughts going on. You’re still you.

As I said above, the difficulty is not losing your Self in whatever it is you’re doing. While putting your own needs aside for those you really care about is one thing, losing your life to lesser demands just makes you feel even worse.

I used to submit my annual holiday request form in January (for Druid Camp in July). Two weeks before Camp, my boss in London – a kind and generous man, but incredibly driven – would ask if there was any way I could put the holiday off, to stay in the office, because he needed me. I always said ‘No’ and tried to laugh it off – but it made me both sad, that he was asking, and guilty, because I said no. One year, I was actually on the field at Camp when a friend’s phone rang – it was her boss, asking for her help with something which he couldn’t do himself. That is life subsumed by work in the worst of ways.

When work is seen as more important than life – than your own well-being (expectations of coming in while sick), than that of others (sharing that sickness), or simply for the bottom-line – you are contributing to a system that is itself very sick. Sometimes saying ‘no’ it itself a revolutionary act. I remember my supervisor’s face when I told her that no, I couldn’t come in on that May Bank Holiday, because I was performing a wedding at Stonehenge. If I didn’t go, it didn’t happen. She gaped like a fish – there was simply no way to argue that office needs were more important. I was more than just another worker; I’d just marked myself out as an individual.

But I didn’t start by talking about ‘work’ (ie a salaried job), did I? That’s because doing – as in, doing something of value – is virtually synonymous with work. ‘Real’ work. Which, it was suggested recently, is not what I do. Is it?

Let’s leave aside the issue of remuneration. Let’s suggest that tasks undertaken, no matter what they are, have value concurrent to the effort put in. So, if you rush something and do a half-arsed job, the result won’t be as valuable/good as if you had given your all. The result may actually be indistinguishable, but you, in your heart, will know the difference.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I want my doing to be worth something – to others, maybe, but certainly to me. If I can’t do something properly, that’s the time to take a break. I need to resume the habit of realizing that focusing on my pleasurable activities is just as valuable as those big events on weekends.

Returning to focused daily practice. To times when the ever-present internet connection is put aside. To simply following the words on a page, or the clicking of needs, or kneading of dough. What do I have to show for those actions? Bread, a shawl, and inspiration. Food, warmth and ideas.

What am I doing, indeed.

I may have obligations and responsibilities. I will fulfil them, honourably rather than half-heartedly. I try my best. Those who truly know me will understand that. Those who criticise without thought or truly seeing, those who attempt to take advantage… well, yes, it hurts, but consider that lesson learned. Give and take has to be on both sides, and if I’m treated badly for my efforts, that will inevitably colour our relationship in future.

Part of this is fearlessness. Not feeling terrified of messing up, of getting something wrong, of missing deadline, of an anticipated look of disappointment (real or imagined). Part of it is rising to a challenge – to remember that what you are doing in life is for you as much as anyone else. Not selfishness, just personal truth.

At the end of the day (not metaphorical – actual bedtime), can you look back and be happy with what you did? Likely good things and bad, but that’s life. Can you sleep well with that? Because there’ll be more tomorrow.

Are we ready for whatever we’re doing next?

We step forward. A constant challenge.

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Listening

Yesterday, I was watching one of the nostalgia television shows that seem to be rife at this time of year. A children’s show of the 1990s had a phone-in game, where clues were given and a phrase had to be guessed by the young callers to win a prize. One rule: the phrase had to rhyme.

(Yes, those UK folk who remember such Saturday morning ‘wackiness’ may well know ‘Wonky Donkey’. Even if you weren’t there, does the name give you the idea?)

The presenter admitted that he would often go crazy into the camera lens, yelling at the audience, because each caller seemed not to understand that One. Little. Rule.  Kids called in and then just said anything, with no chance of winning because they just weren’t keeping to that simple statement. Were they not listening?!

It struck me then, just how apt this question is.

How often are we listening, really? We hear soundbites on the news and think we know the whole story. Someone tells an anecdote and we cast our own imprint onto it, subtly changing the tone, so that if we tell it in turn, it’ll be just that little bit different. Chinese Whispers in the everyday.

My partner is regularly frustrated by those who call Emergency Services demanding help, and yet on the basic request for their address, start shouting anything but – including ‘Why aren’t you here yet?’ Because they haven’t given the address, as asked. Such a little thing, subsumed by fear, lack of control, and sheer animal panic.

And yet, we always do know best, don’t we? It’s hard to shake the confidence of some people. You’re told a story that you know isn’t quite true, but when you try to correct the teller, it’s you who’s wrong (even if you were there at the time). The person who wouldn’t give their address may well report that the call-taker was stupid for not knowing (somehow) where he was, or what he wanted… despite this being impossible.

Modern technology doesn’t help. With the constant ‘What is your status?’ demand of social media, our interior monologue is constant, like the film noir voiceover as we narrate our own stories. We are the centre of our worlds, and therefore can’t comprehend data that we don’t understand, fitting it instead somehow into our worldview – even if that makes it very different to the truth. Despite the fact that the world is so complex, understanding any one tiny particle of it is a task in itself. Impossible to sum up in 140 characters.

It sometimes feels to me as if the world shifts with the telling (and mis-telling, and re-telling) of each story. Why does my recollection differ so drastically from what I’m hearing? Why is my knowledge of those ‘facts’ so different? Why does my side of a conversation seem to change in midair, as the response is so unrelated?

Ultimately, one crucial facet of the skill of listening is determining the motivation behind the story, the manner in which it’s told, the goal of the teller. What are they trying to achieve, what feelings do they want to evoke, reactions, emotions? As I said, each person colours their own tale to suit themselves. That’s part of the story. Different words carry different meanings to different people, after all.

We’re told (by Roman historians) that the ancient Bards used amazing mnemonic skills to recall verbatim the ancient sagas, passing on tales, family lineage and history, without tempering it in the slightest with their own personality, not even in the inflections of speech. This is a skill indeed (if true), and one which I think we have largely lost, despite our insistence sometimes on ‘proper’ versions of tales.

But then, I would question the value of such retelling. Is that not the other extreme? From randomly changing a story to not changing it at all? Everything changes, evolves, moves. Our understanding of history is coloured by our modern lives. Is anything we listen to truly neutral? And how valuable would it be if it was?

Part of my original Druid training was to simply listen. The simple part: to go out to a wild place in Nature, and do nothing. Sit and listen. Or walk and listen. Just hear – the birds, the trees, the small creatures, the shouts of children, aeroplanes far overhead. To feel myself in that picture of sound, my place within it, observing while being part of it.

Then the difficult bit: to listen when in the full flow of the everyday world. On train station platforms, in offices, on streets, in marketplaces, at home. The television, the radio, songs. What am I listening to? Why? What does it mean – no, really mean?

A child, screaming in a supermarket. Do you hear his words, what he wants? Or just the noise, as you will him to be quiet?

The simple phrase ‘I’m fine’ from a friend… who clearly isn’t. What are they trying to say, in the tones around the words?

A retelling of a much-loved story – Robin Hood, for example, or King Arthur. Are you hearing the flow of this story, or feeling it shaded by what’s gone before, your own experience of the tale, frustration at perceived errors?

This blog post, like most things I write, is in the hope of inspiring. Not guilt, not at all – we’re all guilty of the above faults, that’s just part of being a human in the world today. But without going back and re-reading, how much did you take in? How much of me did you ‘hear’, over the voice in your own head providing commentary? Were you judging my words, providing your own similar experiences, laughing or disagreeing? The tale is being told, here in black and white as I type. It’s being coloured by you, the reader, as you ‘listen’ to my virtual voice and make it your own.

Listen then, lovely readers, as you go about your life today. Feel the stories going on around you – and your part within that larger flow of time and space. Such a simple thing. Yet such a challenge.

What do you hear – and what do you understand?

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Unity

Right, be warned, folks. The following post contains jokes that may be seen as contentious. They aren’t intended as offensive, but to challenge and provoke thought. Comments are, as always, very welcome, but I’d rather have debate than argument. No abusive behaviour will be tolerated.

Still with me? Lovely.

Today, the lovely blogger Mrs B posted up her ‘Question of the Day’ on Twitter: ‘What’s the most frustrating part about being Pagan?’

I’m certain this received some colourful responses, but let’s face it, being a public (or even just ‘out’) Pagan is not all sweetness and light; nor should it be, especially if you’re living in the real world. Interesting to see what people say.

I responded in jest: ‘Surely the weekly requests for Guru-style teachings from those unwilling to make any effort whatsoever…?’

This is an old bugbear of mine, as some of you will know. It’s inevitably become worse since my book became popular and known, and it’s not actually something I object to – as I’ve often said, I’m happy to help and advise, and would rather questions be asked than suppressed because of fears of Appearing Stupid.

Frustration arises (as I’m sure any social, spiritual or psychological advisor will agree) when seekers appear seeking ‘quick fix’ teachings or help. When they discover they have to play an active and responsible hand in their own life-changes, they often then vanish quickly. The degree of time-wasting involved in such cases is variable, but this seems to be just something which happens – again, as a public/out Pagan.

‘Gerald Gardner’ (also a fairly ironic Tweeter) responded with a very thought-provoking reply: ‘Unfortunately modern Paganism still breeds these people because we lack unity in order to make progress.’

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

First off, is this an inevitable symptom or consequence of modern Paganism being the way it is? Is this over-simplifying, or describing with an overly-broad generalisation? Or is there a point here?

A while ago, I agreed to write an article about Pagan Leadership for a UK publication. It’s been germinating away, as I consider the evolution of this topic since Gardner himself first put pen to paper back in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way.

I said at Pagan Pride this year – while addressing several dozen people under a huge and beautiful tree in Nottingham’s Arboretum (surrounded by about a thousand more going about their business as public Pagans) – that such an event would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Out and proud or just local and curious, Pagans are a social group to be counted. The Census issue has proved this, as has the publicity surrounding The Druid Network‘s Charity status.

But Paganism is essentially still finding its way. It is made up of many disparate groups, with leadership based around those who stand up to take on the job. Paganism is inherently tribal. From the multitude of beliefs, to the shading within those faith paths, even different local characters – ‘Pagan’ will never be as simple and clear-cut a spirituality as one of the more mainstream religions.

I’ve seen full-on arguments about whether Paganism is even a religion (not getting into that today, thanks). What qualifies someone to be a Pagan Priest. How ‘valid’ is Paganism. All the old questions, that boil down to ‘who do you think you are?’ We aren’t taught philosophy these days; complex ethical questions can be tricky. It’s far easier to get passionate and kick out/back.

We are a generation that challenges, that has the confidence to speak out – and this is no bad thing. We are curious, willing to explore, to ask those questions that need asking. I’m a firm believer that any religion has to be able to stand up to scrutiny (and to have the strength to laugh at itself). My old Catholic RE teacher was quizzed by me on numerous occasions, and even the response of ‘ultimately, we don’t know – but I just have faith that it’s true’ is absolutely valid… and yet for some, that’s not enough. But that leads into fundamentalism, which is also not a topic for today.

I’ve been flamed online before for suggesting that faith paths have more in common than they do difference. To mel, this is because we are all humans, trying to make sense of the world. Again, those who follow the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ path don’t like that, because it stymies the ‘Us/Them’ arguments that hold them up, but I think I’m safe in that simple truth.

The difficulty with Paganism is that it’s a group with a label – which is made up of very individualistic people. Some wish to come together to learn, socialise, whatever, and that’s fine. They still retain their individuality. Others wish to remain solitary in their practice. Both will fight tooth and claw to do this (and rightly so). This all leads to the difficulty of a truly ‘Pagan’ unity or identity. We are a faith like no other. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this has been seen before: no doctrine or set text, no hierarchy… and an awful lot of unproductive bitching as personalities collide. But that’s humanity for you.

As I’ve said before, the issue of leadership seems to be one where Priest (as spiritual servant) clashes with Priest (as Power Tripper). Those willing to teach, to pass on skills and information, versus those seeking authority over others. Obviously this isn’t just a Pagan thing, but it’s there, a problem to be acknowledged and worked upon. How are we, as Pagans, represented – and how do we wish ourselves represented? The fact that we’re talking about it, having a public voice, means that we’re out there in the world, with no going back.

(I’m pretty sure that because I can string words together and speak about my spirituality openly, some do think that I have ultimate cosmic secrets that I can tell, which will then make their lives better. I have yet to encounter any way of life that holds such information. Sorry about that.)

While simplifying a little, Spiritual seekers – as I’ve seen them – are Genuinely Curious (willing to learn) versus Quick-Fix Answers (abdicating responsibility). Both are fearful; some are braver than others. Again, very human.

The positive thing about Paganism that I’ve perceived is that it takes all of these groups (good or bad) and challenges them. I’m not sure that any are ‘bred’ to act a certain way, but a decent Pagan path will make practitioners prove their worth, to their supporting spirits, ancestors, deities and immediate community. Why? Because unlike a lot of other faiths, we aren’t actually interested in converting anyone. We aren’t out for numbers. We’re just out to do our thing, our way. That’s enough, most days.

Every single life path requires you, as the one living it, to play an active part. This is a key tenet of my Druidry. If I were just paying lip-service to it, I’d be caught out in no time. I’m happy to admit things that I don’t know, and am always seeking out new and interesting information (hey, I’m a bookworm). I’m also entirely happy for others to live and practice in a way that best suits them – so long as they don’t mind questions either, should they be asked.

I doubt Paganism will ever have its figurehead, its ‘one true leader’ – we’re too individual, and yet too tribal as well. Eclecticism has become the norm. We have taken traditions and evolved, adding our own ideas, our particular shadings to the overall picture, our notes to the song. And this, I believe, is what makes Paganism so wonderful. We do (really!) have a unity… it’s just something we haven’t really quite got to grips with yet. Wild as nature, and as varied, after all, constantly fluctuating as we test its boundaries – and our own.

So. Are we working together in our differences yet…? And how much do those seekers really want to be part of a spirituality that can be felt in its evolution as it’s happening?

Is it worth it? Well it’s hard some days, for sure. But that just makes life interesting. I’m still here, after all. Coming with me?

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The Raven’s Eye

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the topic of ‘Sacrifice’. It’s been taken down now, for various reasons, but mainly that it was perhaps too ambiguous – a large topic either needs a broad area for discussion, or something simpler, more personal.

But I’ve been thinking, deeply, on both that subject and the wider aspects of communicating such amorphous concepts. Which is, essentially, what this blog does. I’ve made it my duty to do it as well as I can.

So this is just one tiny page of one person’s thoughts. Challenged to write from my heart, to sing my own song, I call on the Awen to flow once again…

As a Druid, I’m often asked about ‘making the sacrifice’. It’s something people ‘know’ about our ancestors, that image of the robed figure with knife held high above a stone table. That may be the story, but what’s the reality?

To me a Sacrifice is a sacred gift, given to reflect and maintain balance. Offered with love and some regret, it should be missed – and therein lies the value. The relationship between given and giver, the connection, the story told in the history of that act and its future consequences: a sacrifice is neither simple, nor isolated. Responsibility and intention are presented and received in turn. And we move forward.

The first, or last, taste of food or drink – the gift of Life.
Time and energy – the gift of Knowledge.
Tears – Strength.
Life – Love.
Blood – Life.
Pain – Healing.

I give my words to you all, here. My efforts, time, thoughts and integrity, sacrificed on the altar of free information – not ultimate truth, in any way, but my own truth. I can do no more.

I learn from what comes as a result of these words, as others read and respond. It’s not about ego, not at all, but about inspiration, sharing, adding one voice to an overarching melody. I work hard to make that sound true, with so much discordant squawking out there. The topic becomes less important, as I struggle to make the words reflect my thoughts, to create understanding, not confusion. I have no idea who will read these words – the sheer audacity of believing that it will be of interest at all is huge, but I can’t think about that. It’s a challenge, but I can’t be overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s just me, here, typing my intention.

I make my own sacrifices daily, feeling it become more difficult as I get older. To my loved ones, my Gods, my ancestors, family of blood and spirit – and to complete strangers, those who approach me to simply ask. These words are just one example.

We’re all human, reluctant to give up what we’ve worked for, to expose ourselves to ridicule. But we have to make that connection, to do what matters – or we’re simply isolated, alone and confused, and fooling ourselves, refusing to feel, blocking our own senses. We receive as we give (as a wiser person said).

What sacrifices do you make in life? Not necessarily through obligation, but voluntarily – not always easily, but willingly?

The cost and reward of Sacrifice? Love, bravery and honesty. A Druid Triad, perhaps – or it could be just my mutterings…

Dedicated, with love, to that Son of Odin whose wisdom I hold dear. The Raven’s song may be harsh, but it always carries meaning x

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Looking Forward

This weekend, my partner and I journeyed South(ish) to meet up with my fellow Trustees of The Druid Network at our Annual General Meeting. While wonderful to spend time socially with folk who have become good and true friends over recent years (despite being scattered around the country), it was a time for work, for focused intention and decision. Where would our Druidry take us over the coming year, and where do we see the Network going into the future?

Now as this is a personal blog, I won’t be going into too much detail about the organisation. Visit The Druid Network website for more information; members can see the Minutes and Actions from the meeting.

But suffice to say, my thoughts of recent weeks seemed to coalesce in this organised setting. This year is now starting to really move as the earth around us wakes up to Spring (in this hemisphere at least), and the energy is rising accordingly. A lot of ideas sprang forth as we inspired each other, with shared goals, motivations and awareness of representing a larger number of people.

However, as I call myself ‘Druid’, I cannot possibly represent everyone who does likewise. Nor can any group, however inclusive. This is why the Network appeals to me – each and every person involved, whether they call themselves ‘Druid’ or some other term (if any) brings their own unique individuality to bear as part of a larger whole. A book of many themes, a picture of many colours. Nobody will be told how to practise their own faith. Challenged and questioned, yes, but that comes as part and parcel of the Druid deal!

Both I and my colleagues have to maintain awareness of that larger community, and gauge the needs and restrictions of the wider world that we work within. While our own personal practice may (and should) be individual, Druidry includes an awareness of the currents in which we flow. The world is moving forward and so are we. How are we setting our course within that?

No faith can remain static, or it stagnates. Paganism especially, as a relatively ‘new’ practice (despite its heritage) is still finding its feet, working hard to be recognised in an increasingly secular and cynical world, but also determining practical purpose. It’s all very well to call for ‘world peace’, but how are we helping that? If we spend our lives arguing and complaining, we’re working against our own dream, right there. Loudly proclaiming what we are not doesn’t really help us find what we are.

We have to stand as examples of our faith, our belief, our truth, while constantly challenging it to ensure that it remains relevant as we and the world change and grow. As I’ve said, people are coming to those public Pagan figures more and more often, whether to just shyly ask a question or to outright ask to be helped. Those of us who stand up have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes from that.

So where are the tides of 2012 (and beyond) taking us? More people are becoming interested in what this ‘Druidry’ thing is, as they wake up to the need to question and explore in order to find a little personal meaning in a fast-paced and busy life that seems almost dictated: birth, school, work, marriage, children, death. There’s so much more than that, as we’re all finally realizing. The old systems are failing; those institutions that we relied on so much aren’t giving back what they promised. We’re driven to look deeper.

Druidry doesn’t offer ‘all the answers’. No religion does – or if it does, it may be embroidering the truth just a little (yes, science, I’m looking at you too). The answer is different for every person. A hard concept to grasp, but true.

How do you live your life? That’s up to you. But to live it with awareness of your own needs and those within a wider community, as part of a family, bloodline, group of friends, neighbours, citizens, species, ecosystem… there’s so much more than we are told. We’ve grown afraid, then selfish, insular. It’s time to be brave and step up.

The Druid is an explorer as well. One who knows that if there’s a map, it may be wrong, but that’s ok – we’ve got paper and pen. And this map won’t just be visual: it’ll encompass all the senses, including that mental and spiritual awareness that science hasn’t really explored yet.

The ancient Druids filled so many roles in their communities. Ultimately, us modern Druids do our best for those we serve – both those official ‘members’ and everyone else who comes asking. We do this with awareness of the flows of life, the wider world (geographical, social, political, historical), with our feet on the ground but also between the worlds, known and unknown. Our faith sustains us: in ourselves and those who stand and walk with us, human and non-human, past, present and future.

Ultimately, we are human too, of course. And this thing called ‘Druidry’ means that we recognise our shared humanity, our connection, our similarities and differences. And with that, we chart a course, establish our aims, and move forward. It’s not about ‘quick fixes’, it’s about evolution.

We don’t know what will come, but we’ll ride it, whatever it is, doing our best: to represent, to serve, to bear witness, to guide. To live with honour and truth, as individuals within a larger Universe.

We can’t know it all, but we can learn to laugh and dance (and pause for tears) as we undertake our journies, both alone and together.

That ‘second star to the right’ is closer than we think.

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