Posts Tagged community

Farewell to This Year

It feels as if this is a moment we’ve all been working towards for so long. 2020 has been A Year unlike any other that we’ve known. Time itself has seemed tenuous and changeable, whether elastic or like wading through thick mud. Very little has been certain, day-to-day.

We’re stepping into a new calendar year with even more trepidation than usual, and (perhaps) greater awareness of the weight of what might lie ahead. But also with hope – because that is what keeps us moving on.

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions, as that’s always been a Samhain thing for me. But after some extremely fallow writing weeks, ideas have tapped on my brain to be noted and shared; maybe even looked back on next December.

Moving into 2021, I hope…

To keep rediscovering my strength. Ditto bravery. Fear and weakness can have their time, and then be overcome.

To explore my creativity. Be it fiction in places that I’ve not explored before, or new and intriguing skills. Also…

To allow myself to make mistakes. To mess up, trip up and then pick myself up. It’s all part of the journey. Blame and guilt are not helpful.

To keep speaking my truth, and digging deep when necessary to see what that means.

To allow myself to share more without shame.

To learn to love myself as I am, here and now.

To make and share my own personal magic.

To not give up.

Step, step, step…

Stay safe, friends. Thinking of you all. We’ll see each other again soon.

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Permission to Try

A while ago, I was chatting to a friend and happened to mention that I loved horror movies, especially when I was feeling low. She looked at me in horror. ‘Why?!’ she gasped.

I honestly didn’t know how to reply, because I couldn’t quite understand the question.

I don’t know if it’s still true (I suspect it is), but when I was younger, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be really passionately into something. Be it a hobby, interest or whatever struck your fancy in a big way, it seemed that unless that topic was currently ‘trendy’ – and therefore permissible – you could expect to get mocked for it. So you quickly learned to keep it quiet.

A classic example is Dungeons and Dragons, which was widely derided for many years after launch (despite its popularity), but is now ‘cool’ because those nerdy kids grew up and are still enjoying themselves. Thus others are finally drawn in though curiosity rather than put off by derision.

I’ve never understood why someone being really keen on a subject should have to push that down for the sake of their ‘image.’ When do we learn to mock others for things they enjoy? I think the nearest I came was having a laugh at my brother for his football-madness, but our whole family had that – I always took a book (or two) wherever I went, unless I wanted to sit with them watching two groups of men chase a ball around a field for 90 minutes. Fun for many, not for me.

I still joke with him about ‘Doing A Sport’, by the way. It’s not malicious at all, as I love seeing my nephews enjoying it as they get older. I really wouldn’t want to tell anyone what they can and cannot like! My technically-correct explanation of the Offside Rule (‘that man’s in front of that other one and he shouldn’t be’) shows how daft I am, if anything.

It’s interesting to take a step back to consider why some things are permissible and others not. So many social rules fly around gendered roles, for example: historically, women were looked down upon for reading, because they might Get Ideas. Let alone Playing a Sport (still true).

I love that we’re now starting to really dig into the irrationality of such invisible laws, which seem to originate in the schoolyard. At some point (hopefully by adulthood) an individual can stop, think to themselves ‘Hang on…’ and realize that the thing they love is for a valid reason.

I mention my ribbing of my brother and his football because he has been known to do similar to me about my Paganism. He used to call it ‘That stuff you do’, until he came to my Handfasting and saw what the Stuff was for himself. It’s not for him but he gets it, and I’m glad.

At every single such event I’ve ever attended, regular folks have approached me to tell me how lovely the ceremony was, and how they’d never realized. I do wonder what they imagine Pagan Ritual to be, but it’s always lovely to share The Stuff I Do with others in an open way, so they can see for themselves. Not with a view to recruiting at all – people can make up their own minds about that! Just demonstrating.

If people ask me for introductory information about something I love, I try to help them understand and hopefully inspire a little. It’s always a true pleasure to hear others speak on such topics. Personal passion is a wonderful thing.

I’m writing this today because allowing myself to feel deeply about certain things is something that’s been on my mind recently. What I am allowing myself to have or to do. What’s permissable – and if not, why not?

I’ve been reviewing books to share my opinion and also help authors and small publishers. Genre fiction isn’t always ‘cool’, but if I liked it, I’ll say so. It’s up to those reading the review if they pick up the book themselves or not.

I’ve been watching makeup videos on YouTube, and debating playing with colours again. The greater part of a year spent in lockdown means I’ve been making do with basic primping, but I want to remember how fun it is to dress up. I love my dark red lipstick, and will have to wear it at home for a while… but that’s ok.

What do we allow ourselves to do, or not do? Why avoid things that we love for the sake of what others think, or what we feel we ‘should’ be doing? Those awful social expectations, codes and rules…

This isn’t about anarchism or chaos. This is simply about pausing to ask ‘do I really want to do this?’ when you know the answer is Yes.

Because right now, we need to give ourself permission to enjoy what we love. Explore new languages, cultures, topics, genres, games, pastimes. What can we do to brighten the days during lockdown? Bake, read, play, craft, dress up. Even play D&D with friends across Zoom, which Himself and I will be doing tonight.

I feel as if sometimes I’m relearning what I love all over again, because the depression brings back those playground voices that tell me I can’t, shouldn’t, will look stupid, etc etc.

But what if I try?

Wintry blessings, my friends.

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Wishes at Samhain

Years ago, when I was a first-year University student in London, a friend and I travelled into the city to explore. Most of the day was spent in the magical otherworld of Camden Market, but then we decided to head out to Highgate Cemetery.

We were disorganised Goths, though, and in those pre-Internet days, had no way to check times… so when we arrived, it was closed.

To this day, I have never been closer to it than this:

Years later, I’m working at home during a time when the world seems utterly crazy, and I think back to that day.

I think of those people stuck at home due to lockdown – or physical illness, social anxiety, any number of social ills. 2020 has been a year of confusion and fear. Those innocent happy days have been a pleasant memory.

I find myself wondering if/how I can recreate such times. I’m older and (possibly) a bit wiser. The world is still out there. We must tread with more awareness, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’m pondering what I can do, if/how I can overcome the challenges of 2020.

Samhain is imminent, so this seems timely. ‘Pagan New Year’ means looking back, but also forward, for me. I feel – I hope – that I’m moving from what can I do to combine again with what do I want to do. And then how can I achieve that?

Those University days were lessons in themselves, as we tested our boundaries, away from home for the first time in a strange, new place. I feel as if we’re doing that again this year, but within the new confines of safety measures. This isn’t play; this is serious. We’re isolated for the sake of the wider community (and news reports show how difficult many people find that).

I’ve always been aware of the needs of others, often to the detriment of my own (that’s another story). Testing my own wants, putting toes into the water of ‘Yes, this is something that I genuinely would like to do’ seems revolutionary, and immensely freeing.

I’m actively battling the depression, armed with recent hospital treatment and backed my loving family and friends. I feel hopeful and determined. Even in this year like no other, steps can be taken to move forward.

I would like to go walking in the woods. To explore the secret places, down tiny roads and hidden tracks.

I would like to spend time with those past, in cemeteries or historic buildings. Perhaps the catacombs under Nottingham or the stone circles of Derbyshire Peaks.

I would like to find a decent camera to record these moments, and practice my photography to capture and share.

And back home, as the cold days draw in, I would like to explore my creativity. Maybe to design something with yarn, to actually learn to sew…

I would very much like to add more words to the beginnings of my fiction. To write, so that I can take up challenges that come my way.

I would like to not be scared to do. To be as nervous but excited as I was on that long-ago day. To see where my feet – and my mind – take me.

Let’s make our wishes on this 2020 Samhain. Apart, yet together across the technological community. A deep breath, acknowledgement of limits but still honouring our dreams.

What are We Doing?

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Bricks

A YouTuber that I enjoy, Caddicarus, has been prefacing his lockdown videos over recent months by screaming ‘What is going on?!’ – because The World is Made of Bricks and he’s trapped at home. A (rather dark) comedy way to visualise his feelings about these crazy times.

And now, the world is slightly less Made of Bricks. We can go out! But after a visit to our nearest town a couple of weeks ago, we’re nowhere near back to Life Before just yet.

The feeling in the air was one of fear. Masks everywhere, I’m glad to say, and people doing what they could – I’ve yet to see any anger or nasty words, thank goodness. That feeling of tautness in the air, though, as if something bad (worse?) is about to happen…

The last few weeks have still been very difficult for me, health-wise. I hate talking about this really, as there’s always the voices in my head nagging away: ‘Oh, she’s off again. What NOW? You know people are probably sick to death of it by now. Why can’t you write something normal?’

These are absolutely all phrases that have been said to my face in the past, by the way. Which doesn’t help.

I’ve been wanting to write, but the words haven’t been coming. The World is Made of Bricks, and bricks aren’t very inspiring.

Then I think about this.

Years ago, there was a Handfasting where the couple used a brick as their wedding Stone, the symbolic foundation of their relationship. It was a brick that was part of the batch that had built their house.

Bricks are heavy, but they are stones crafted by us. So many people put tremendous emphasis on the importance of stones in magic, but those are usually of the sparkly crystal variety. Either way, stones have been taken from the earth that is where they’ve been formed, and brought to fulfil a purpose in our lives.

I write this in a room with exposed brick walls and floor. I can feel them beneath my feet right now. I loved this house for its natural floors, as I’d rather go barefoot given half a chance.

I’ve been feeling trapped during lockdown, and that feeling only worsened when I ventured out. I’ve heard people speaking of being ‘stuck at home’ as a time for reflection, and that’s fine, but humans are generally social creatures. We need to reach out sooner or later, if only to assure friends that we’re not actually dead or to go find food shopping.

The bricks overwhelming my mind aren’t safe places for me to hide. They’re crushing me, like a medieval torture. They’re preventing me from Doing, holding me in with the thoughts that tell me how much I should be doing, and how much I CAN’T do. This is hiding like a fairytale creature, in the dark of a cave, the opposite of what Summer should be.

The World is Made of Bricks, and turned upside down at the same time. Instead of being at my busiest, I feel as productive as a brick. I remember another reviewer describing how a story flowed as easily as a river of bricks (yes, that slowly). And yet…

People have been reaching out to me. I’ve been answering. Before I know it, conversations are being had – admittedly via internet Messenger applications, but I’m hearing how friends are doing, helping professionally or just sharing enthusiasm about a good book or knitting pattern.

This year has come crashing down, but we are slowly building it back up. The bricks might not look the same as they did before, but they are still the foundation stones to our world. No matter where we fall, the ground will be there to catch us. We can make our space what we need it to be. It just takes one brick at a time.

I’m still here. My inspiration is finding its way, peeking through holes in the wall, and I’m tremendously sorry for being so quiet. I’m doing what I can, when I can.

The world is changing and the new path isn’t clear yet. I can feel it trying to form beneath our feet. One step at a time, gently… gently…

Here’s that floor, and Fen, whose Gotcha Day it is today. Ten years ago, he came home with us as a tiny puppy. This is his room too, his safe space as much as it is mine. This is him right now, keeping an eye on me as I work. The bricks are cool on a hot August day.

We build our lives. Some parts are brighter or stronger than others, but we are still here. Some days that feels like a miracle, and I’m glad of how solid a fact it is.

Fen 7-8-20

P.S. I was also reminded as I wrote this of a song from years ago that I rather loved. It’s a Christian band, but take the meaning as you will. This is ‘Let it Be‘, by Superchick – a song about bricks.

Stay strong, my friends.

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(Lack of) Routine

Years ago, when I lived in London and was a Proper Commuter, I had a routine.

I would get up, have breakfast while watching BBC News (my boss would often ask me about it), then head off to the train and bus to the office. Twickenham to Southwark.

The day would zoom past, always frenetic and full with a laundry-list of tasks, then back home again to prepare tea and try to relax before doing it all again the next day.

Things started to change when I began to look at Druidry.

Instead of bussing from Waterloo to Southwark, I’d walk along the Thames Bank. It was beautiful, from the stories painted on the underpass to the wildlife alongside the Thames. This and the train journey, when I lost myself in a book, were my havens from the madness of the working day.

Then came lunch-hours, spent wandering the streets nearby. Blackfriars Bridge, St Pauls, Paternoster Square, up to Pudding Lane once. Or, if the boss was away, a quick zoom into the West End.

I grew to appreciate the spirit of London. I don’t think I ever became A Londoner, but I appreciated the history living alongside the brand new, modern world.

Life events began to move faster – and I was caught up in them. A literal move, Up North to Derbyshire. And I find myself here, now, working from home as a Professional Pagan, unable to go out much because of an international pandemic.

That escalated quickly!

I’ve been thinking about how that constant routine, which lasted for several years, changed so quickly. My current day is much less structured, working around what needs to be done more than sticking to a clock. Dogs need playing/walking, everyone needs food, household chores and Proper Work.

The latter, with the move to mostly online, can happen from the first few minutes of waking up into just before bed (not constantly, thank goodness!). But I never know what’s going to appear.

That, and my own illness, which sometimes forces me to throw any plans to the wind and take an Enforced Rest Day. In which priority work can be done, but no more. Sometimes not even that.

I’ve had to change my routine to be fantastically flexible, in a way that would have seemed unbelievably luxurious to my old commuter self. I get things done, but juggling more than listing.

No physical spoons? Reading review books. No mental spoons? Yarn work, or gentle rest and distraction until something pops up to grab my attention and allow me to focus.

And yes, a fair bit of guilt over not being able to do The List and be working constantly as I used to.

I had an external office for a while, which helped. I now have a little office area at home – but am typing this on my laptop on the sofa. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

A good part of life now is allowing myself to go with that flow, of seeing what is possible combined with what is necessary.

I see it in the world around. What we can do, what is needed. Everything is changing dramatically, and long overdue. We have to allow ourselves that change, to try new things and see what works best.

Because that old system did not work. Well, perhaps for a while, but it was wearing me to death. I have no doubt that it’s done the same for many others, and changes are now being made as the traditional office 9-5 is no longer as essential as it was made to seem.

We’re questioning the structures that we fall into, or which are placed upon us. We are tentatively – or fiercely! – trying our own ways. Demanding to be heard, asking ‘how about this’, and considering our own well-being over that of a faceless corporation or state.

I have no idea where this is going. But I know what it’s like to listen to that flow, to be brave enough to go with it. Sometimes I mourn for my lost job, helping others. Then I remember how it helped send me into a breakdown. I would not be here now if I hadn’t walked away.

So no shame. No regret. No guilt. Each day is bringing something new, and we’re slowly coming out of the Great Pause of 2020 having had time and space to consider what’s important. Already seeing the results.

Time for change again, folks. From Commuter to Community… Let’s work together, support each other and make things better.

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Labels and Stories

I stare at the blank screen.

So much is going on in the world. What right do I have to ask your time to read my words? But the words want to be spoken.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved words and their power. Sounds, shapes, feel in the mind… so amazing.

And then I remember learning to Shut Up. That my opinion was stupid, laughable or just not worth hearing. People whose opinion I cared about deliberately turned away.

So I learned to stay quiet, to keep the words hidden in notebooks and boxes. To hide my tears, frustration and anger as it seemed others were allowed to speak – but not me.

Now, years later, I write for a living (sort of). I place these words with care, knowing that they might be helpful, interesting or inspiring for some, boring, difficult or annoying for others. That’s ok. I can’t control how my words are understood.

But I can control what I say. Tone, phrasing… and the ultimate point of Why I am Writing This.

Recently, the world has gone up a stage in madness. I believe it was inevitable – we really are in a Change Is Needed place right now, and such times are fuelled with passions. I understand (insofar as I can) and agree.

But our little individual lives go on. We try to help in our own ways, standing with our communities and hopefully acting honourably and with truth. Which is kind of what brings me here today.

I’ve often spoken about labels. How they’re more useful for the viewer than than labelled themselves; ‘Druid’ means something entirely different, for example, to me and then to a random stranger happening upon my work.

I’m seeing labels being used as weapons, as pigeonholes to box folk in, as titles to escape. Negative associations can be tough to remove. I see ‘protestor’, ‘looter’, ‘revolutionary’ being bandied about in the news, but each of those has an individual name – and a unique story.

Sometimes it’s easier to label someone and move on. If you’re not really interested, that’s your choice. But this casual laziness (and disrespect) means that you lose the chance to engage with something more than just a word.

It’s Pride Month right now, and I’m seeing so many different debates about relevance, meaning, identity and so forth. I’m glad people are still talking, sharing those stories and exploring their identities.

I hear them often, my rainbow friends. I see the slight nervousness as they speak sometimes, as if expecting a blow, or at least verbal abuse. The sadness, and then the joy as I continue to listen. Such a simple act, and yet so powerful – and I am honoured to be part of their tales.

Recently, though, it’s not been so much ‘they’ – as in, another person or group. I’ve been feeling more and more that it’s ‘we.’ That this is something I’m absolutely part of.

Years ago, I remember an elderly family member almost spitting at the television, they were so angry. Stephen Fry was speaking, and I wanted to listen. But to my relative… ‘Ooh, it’s that queer again, isn’t it.’

I stared. I quietly asked ‘What?’ He poured some more vitriol on The Gays and the channel was changed for the sake of peace. I felt sick.

I don’t understand that attitude. I want to know the person before I react to an amorphous group. And for this, I am myself a negative: a ‘wishy-washy liberal’. I’ve had similar bile thrown my way for standing up for friends who are somehow the wrong gender, colour, sexuality, nationality.

So many of us are standing up right now to protest this treatment. I can’t believe it still happens, but it is and we must. WE. Including me.

Difficult discussions are being had. Words have their meanings subtly changed and reclaimed. Understandings are being challenged. Normative thinking… may actually be a myth. And for those invested in it, that hurts.

I do sincerely hope that we learn from what’s happening in these times. I hope that positive change is crafted. I do my best, from my own positive of (white, educated) privilege.

I want to raise my voice. I am afraid of the brickbats that may rain down in response… but that’s actually always been something lurking beneath everything I write. ‘Who does she think she is?’ ‘Crazy woman, nutter, New Ager…’

And the worst, the laziest, most contemptible, gaslighting and negating insult: ‘She’s just doing it for the attention.’

I write and speak my truth as best I can. I try to use the labels that are given to me, as well as intentionally claiming some. I prefer Priest, because even as a child, I knew I was more than an ‘-ess’ stuck like an afterthought onto a man’s word.

I am both Priest and Priestess. Author and authoress. But I’m aspiring for the one that needs no ‘-ess’ to be strong and still female: Queen.

I will keep exploring. I will do my best to stand, to listen to all the stories regardless of teller. I will work to maintain safe space for those who need it.

And I’m taking on a new label for myself that I feel is overdue. Sod The Fear of reactions.

This Pagan, Druid, white woman is also Queer. Actively standing.

Let’s all work to make our stories good ones, moving forward.

Much love, my friends.

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My First Livestream!

So last night, I randomly decided to go live on Facebook for the Full Moon.

Why? Because I miss my friends. Because I wanted to reach out. Because I felt that I should.

I’ve done no public ritual this year, and very little private. Hopefully this would help inspire me.

I talked for just under an hour. The sky turned from the pale blue of sunset to black; the wildness of my garden filled with birdsong became full of flittering moths. People came and went, friends far and near.

Typically for a public ritual, things did not go exactly as planned. The Moon didn’t show up, for one! But the changing light showed me the movement of day into night, the gentle turning of the planet. Standing in place, yet moving. Alone, but connecting. Reaching out…

When I finished, I felt emotional. The house seemed so quiet! I absolutely do miss everyone, but I’m so grateful to the technology that we have, which allows us to connect in this way. Round a tiny single candle-flame instead of a bonfire in a field, but no less meaningful.

I’ve uploaded the stream to my YouTube channel here. Quite a few people who weren’t there live have said it was good company last night. Sometimes a voice reaching out, a face and even just fingers brushing a screen allows us to remember that we have friends in spirit as well as body.

Quite a few have asked for more – and if it helps during this crazy time, I’m absolutely glad to.

Let me know your thoughts, if any. What would you like in a livestream from me? I’m open to suggestions for topics and themes, not matter how unusual! What would you like to talk about? It’s just me talking, but everyone in the chat is involved too. I’ll hold the space if you want to come along and spend time.

Things are changing i nthe wider world, but it doesn’t hurt at all to take a moment with friends. I was so nervous, but I’m very glad that I did. That time last night was precious and will be remembered.

Much love to you all xx

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New Challenges for Paganism

Just over a week ago I posted a new video to my Youtube channel, as the start of an ongoing discussion/stream-of-consciousness-chat about the current state of the world.

A large part of me went into this not quite knowing what to say. Because the world is in a completely new place right now – or if not new for humanity, certainly new for this generation.

As I spoke, the ideas that had been cogitating and fermenting came out. From a little hopefully-motivational talk came more and more thoughts, to the extent that this one-off video demanded that it be the first part of a series. This was just Paganism is Isolation (pt1).

I had to focus, to keep on-topic. My mind wanted to wander off in any number of directions, about fears and worries, but no – this was about Paganism. How my Pagan beliefs, practice and lived spirituality were helping me right now. Or how they weren’t.

One huge thing that the lockdown/isolation life has forced me (and no doubt many others) to acknowledge is our priorities. What is important to us and our faith practice? This is something that’s been on my mind for many years, but as shown in the video, it feels as if the universe is physically forcing us to turn and LOOK at what we need to see. And then do it.

We had become complacent. As the pandemic news was starting to break, I saw many conversations about content for groups and publications, generally carrying on as usual. Let’s talk about Spring and all the new life, potential and brightness! What trees we feel affinity for, what crystals, whether spells should rhyme or not…

I sigh.

I know such things are interesting to some people, but as I watched… and then compared such chitchat to the news stories unfolding around me… how easily I could see why people dismiss Paganism as ‘fluffy’ or inconsequential.

I’ve spoken in the past about how we celebrate Harvest when it’s been a bad year. Right now, we’re looking at an Ostara season, and likely Beltane too, from a completely new place.

Yes, we need to celebrate life – because we’ve realised how valuable it is. Yes, we need to look at the trees – because going outside is no longer a right, but a privilege. (I’m not commenting on crystals or linguistic word-salad. Just no. Not my thing.)

Many of us have more time now than we’ve had before, but we can’t truly enjoy it because of the price. People are either confined to their homes or to a hospital bed. If working, they will have constant anxiety of what might happen in the next minute, hour or day, for those they meet and how such random strangers may affect – or infect – them.

We are being forced to realize just how much we have taken for granted. We are forced to see exactly what is important, and what can be left by the wayside.

I’ve also spoken in the past about a certain reluctance (or even dread) on the part of some Pagans to discuss or acknowledge ‘dark’ deities. Well, now we’re having to. Because that darkness is part of life. It’s not ‘evil’ or ‘bad’, it just is.

We celebrate every sunrise, because it’s another day. We sit with the darkness of potential death, unable to reach out a physical hand. Thinking on it, I see more connection with our ancestors than ever before: that sense of uncertainty, or lack of control, of the wish to pray for guidance, strength or hope. Of the need for community and shared experience.

This is what our Paganism can bring to us right now, if we’re finally brave enough to face it. The balance of our lives, our world… and so of our faith that is specifically based in Nature. We’re not playing any more. We are now required to open our eyes.

Yes, it’s difficult. I absolutely know this. Yes, so many of us have already walked this path (personally with my own mental health battles, but for all of those who have their own everyday challenges). ‘Normal’ is fluctuating constantly. Folks who have been physically confined due to difficulties getting out are now able to be better understood. We can look, truly see and so empathise, perhaps help more usefully.

This is not about guilt. Guilt isn’t helpful. This is about our shared humanity, life and doing what needs to be done.

I don’t have answers – that’s kind of the point, nobody does! But I have a hand, reaching out across the wires, and a voice to tell my story. So do you.

I’ve absolutely more to say on this, and will do in the weeks ahead. But for now, perhaps take time to sit and look out at the world, while looking inward to what your own deeper Pagan beliefs are. Is it time to adjust your practices? What can you do to make your outer world reflect and aid your inner (or vice versa)? What is no longer needed, and can be put aside? What fuels you, where does your motivation, your power, your strength come from?

What stories can you tell, and what stories call to you to teach or guide you? What makes you uncomfortable… and can you face that to see what is hidden behind the unease?

Yes, in my own hemisphere it’s Spring. I can see buds on the trees and hear birds singing. But I also know there’ll be chicks fallen from nests, crops left to rot due to closed eateries, and so many looking for help…

What are we doing? What can we do? Individually and slowly reaching outward.

We have technology that our ancestors didn’t. We are modern Pagans, with our own thoughts and ideas. Let’s stand together and use them.

Love and solidarity, my friends.

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Challenging

*possible triggers for abuse*

This morning, in an activity that continued since yesterday, my brain decided to tell me all the things that have been shouted at me over the years. Often directly into my face. Sometimes wordless, just a deluge of vituperation (aren’t words great?).

‘Oh, stop being stupid.’ – too many to count.

‘You’ve got an answer for everything.’ – Mum.

‘Don’t think – just do what I tell you.’ – lecturer/boss (female), Derby University.

‘I think you’re disabled and shouldn’t be here.’ – boss (male), NHS.

*uncontrolled, mocking laughter* – too many to count.

‘You know the only way to get taken seriously is to *mimes cutting wrists*’ – on-call Doctor.

‘Just stop talking.’ – boss (male, not mine), previous workplace.

‘What were you thinking?!’ – boss (male, mine).

We’ve all got these lists. Key words fly out at me from where my subconscious has stored them: stupid, know-all, ungrateful, bitch, cunt…

A lovely friend summed up this negative-deluge as ‘the brain misfiring.’ Wires are crossed and a safety switch triggered, fight or flight become confused and you’re overwhelmed with noise, emotion, feeling, panic.

This is a symptom of anxiety and depression, mental illness generally. But… I think it’s a symptom of modern life as well.

I’ve never understood how someone can act in such a way. To cover up for themselves? To project power? What could I (or anyone) have possibly done to warrant such treatment?

Conclusion: I must have done something REALLY BAD.

For most of my childhood, I was quiet. Bullied regularly, scared to speak up, often the new girl, mocked and tricked. I learned defensive tactics, and hid inside stories – my own and mountains of books. Libraries and green spaces were my refuge.

At University, I learned to speak up, to stand up… but still found myself a target. Of course I wasn’t perfect, but it was as if I was never allowed to make mistakes. Taking responsibility and trying to fix things didn’t help – I was still WRONG.

In recent years, it seems as if a ‘last straw’ was somehow reached. Sometimes, when my mental state is at its lowest, I feel like an abused animal, cringing away from imagined blows about to fall. And hating myself for it.

I wish that I could summon my strength, that I know is inside, and return to those moments when I just took those words in. I wish I could raise a hand and simply say ‘No.’ Or turn and walk away.

So many of us have experienced such things; I know it’s not unusual, and I’m not seeking sympathy or pity. I know I got off comparatively lightly.

I’m asking that we learn and stand up moving forward. We stand for ourselves or with others who can’t, and say NO.

I’m so glad that young people these days have so many strong role models. I love that we’re being told to challenge. But of course, we know that it’s not always so simple – that a verbal threat can quickly become a physical one.

I try to stand, inside my own thoughts, imagining that ‘NO.’ Stop the misfiring. Mentally time-travel and silence the abuse. Challenge the thoughts.

And so be able to challenge the wrong when I feel or see it today.

This post was inspired by others, mostly from the #InternationalWomensDay tag on social media. It’s not confined to women, though, not at all.

To all my friends, be they male, female or any other shade of the rainbow, I will try to stand with you as best I can. Know that you are not alone.

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Images of Paganism

What does a Real Druid look like? Or a Real Witch? Or… insert keyword/label here.

I’ve spoken before about my frustration about labels, and the limitations that they bring (especially when you don’t conform to someone’s ideas about what that label means).

Lately, however, I’ve seen so many images of Pagan People generally, being shared on Instagram and other social medias, usually to sell products but also because it seems a certain style change is happening across the Pagan world.

Lots of ‘barbarian’ looks, such as thick makeup, runes on the face, matted dreadlocks and animal fetishes tied in hair. Pagans are going back to the woods, but having taken a long time in front of the mirror first!

Let me state: This isn’t a bad thing. It’s always been fun for me to see the different trends in social groups, be it the fondness for crushed velvet, particular colours, hats or size of pentagram on display. Whatever makes you happy, or whatever you find fun to represent you.

The difficulty comes when the insidious little subtext sneaks in, saying ‘You’re not a Proper Pagan if you don’t look like that.’ You need to be… whatever the current trend is. Thin or curvy, pale or dark, flaunting wealth or preferring peasant looks; this can be anything.

I love people-watching at events, because these tend to show that the majority of Real Pagans – you know, those Out in the Wild of The Real World – generally are just having fun. At Pride, at conventions or big meetups, it’s all an excuse for glad-rags and adornments, because it’s so very different from the everyday-wear. For most people, anyway; I have both seen and been an Office Goth/Pagan.

What scares me a little is when the image becomes more important than the reality.

I’m happy to say that in my experience, Paganism doesn’t suffer a great deal from clique-iness. This isn’t about peer pressure; folks are more likely to say ‘Oh, I love your outfit/jewellery/makeup/hair!’ than put anyone down for what they look like.

This is a more internal battle, I suspect.

A while ago, I posted a video on my Youtube channel in which I was in bed. Because a) we all can relate to that, and b) sometimes it’s the best place to be!

I absolutely don’t look like I’ve dressed up for the occasion. This video is not ‘pretty’. So… I do wonder how many people disregard it.

I don’t tend to dress up for my Instagram pictures like many of the younger Pagans. I like to show me. But I am also aware that image is increasingly important in these times of visual social media over most other methods.

On my lower-mood days, this does worry me. Makeup is not always possible, but it helps my mood if I look nice to myself – that’s a dilemma. Dressing up and going out in public can be daunting. Self-image is tough.

If everything goes to plan, it can be huge fun, as I said. Walking from my hotel to Witchfest last year, dolled up because I wanted to be, it was hilarious to see the looks on the faces of regular folks!

I’ve run down the street after cosplayers to tell them how great they look. The same goes for dressed-up Pagans, goths, LGBT folks at their Pride… it doesn’t take much to compliment someone, especially if their happiness and display of plumage is infectious.

So while I’m glad to see this out and about, what stops me from putting in the effort every day? Simply: I can’t. I don’t have the spoons. It does take effort, and confidence, and money. I do it when I can, and that does make such occasions that bit more special.

But thinking that you have to be a certain way, display yourself correctly or judge others for appearances is a path that leads only downwards. Because you won’t always be able to hit that mark. Because that mark is amorphous, constantly changing and ultimately, not always reflecting who you are.

Paganism is a spiritual path. The act of putting on robes, or particular jewellery or makeup, can be a powerful ritual act.

Paganism is also a lived path. Sometimes the ritual is to prepare ourselves for the workaday world, as armour for a commute, as tools to get us through something challenging. Sometimes getting dressed is the achievement on a bad-pain day.

We present ourselves according to what is needed, but also as reflections of who we are. Trying to base ourselves on others cannot work… but being inspired by others can.

We cannot buy our spirituality. The size of the pentagram does not make for a better ritualist! Perhaps that was one of the motivations for skyclad ritual: that we are all naked beneath our robes.

I try to remember that as I walk through each day. I’ve been involved in naked ritual, and the first time (for a sweat lodge) it was absolutely terrifying – and a hugely powerful rite of passage. Everyone looked Themselves, and everyone was beautiful in their own way. Curves, scars, hair or tattoos, each person was just who they were. And because we weren’t worrying about presentation (not after that initial panic of disrobing, anyway!), we were able to laugh more freely, hug and dance. The wildness, playfulness and physical removal of social restraints was amazing, in ways I’d never thought. The judgement was gone.

I’ve no doubt that the phrase ‘Do I look OK?’ will continue to loom large for me when presenting in future. That’s just who I am.

But I will try to let my outer self reflect the inner, working together as needed. Be that giving a talk, surviving a shopping mall expeditation, or recording a video from my bed!

I’m Pagan in all of those situations. As within, so without. We can admire those who present themselves well online, but then also see how their words and actions represent as well.

We all explore who we are, and this is part of the process. Let’s just be a little more conscious of that as we move forward, and have fun with it, rather than letting it define us.

Now, I just need to practice my eye makeup before the next Witchfest… 😉

By the way, I’m not including a picture of me in this post. Instead, have a think of what comes to mind when you think of me. Know that I’ll be doing that for you too, if you comment or Like. What we hold of a person is so much more than how they look on just one day.

Much love, my friends.

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