Posts Tagged community

The Power of Change

I’ve seen an increasing number of articles recently speaking about how the poor management of this country is leading folks to tighten their belts. People are worried, the future is uncertain. I’m sure most of you will know what I mean. Sadly, it’s not unique to the UK either.

But I’m also seeing something else… that started small, before all of the Brexit trouble. It’s now really picking up speed and developing in a good way. It’s exploring what we can do to improve lives, as individuals and small communities.

What started as a pastime or hobby has (often through necessity) become self-employment or a small business. I had to pursue my Druidry professionally after being forced out of my NHS job, but never has there been so much demand for what I do.

I’m so glad that people call on me for ministry, to perform rites of passage or speak and teach publicly. I’m often asked to be a guest on a media show or to write a magazine article. I’m especially touched that some friends look to own something that I’ve created! Life is busy.

I see so many people transforming their lives by taking on their passion projects and sharing them with others. Sometimes this is because there’s no other option; or it may just mean taking that leap into the unknown, beyond the ‘normal, everyday’ life that’s expected of us.

I wanted to write this as a gentle reminder. When you see a negative story about the world right now, seek out a positive one to balance it. Or try to look deeper into those stories – certain tabloids show a very slanted view, and tales aren’t always as simple as they may appear.

Support those independent businesses, be they friends or recommendations. Word of mouth has been the best marketing method for me! I do my best, and those I work with/for share that with others.

We work with our own communities at an immediate, local level, and we can make change there. But with the power of social media, we can plant seeds, make ripples, help actively improve lives.

I’ve often spoken about fair energy exchange – otherwise known as Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Don’t like a company’s practices? Don’t support them. Grateful for the work someone has done for you? Tell them – and then tell others!

One of the loveliest things about working with individuals is that you can see the changes. All authors love reading happy reviews for a book you’ve enjoyed; creative sellers will be touched by a positive piece of feedback for their services on a website. Even leaving a message of thanks for a helpful member of shop staff makes a difference.

And then? Relationships are born! I follow several makers who originally worked from their homes while trying to hold down a job and family. Now they’re internationally known! Still working hard, but doing what they love, because those who supported them in the early days have provided the foundation for them to do their work.

Of course, I hear many stories too, of bad buyers who rip off the good hearts of creatives. I’ve experienced piss-takery too. Entitlement is definitely A Thing. But the 99% of those who come to me are wonderful people, and it truly is those that make it worth striving on.

I write this post with gratitude for all of the friends who’ve helped me get this far… and looking forward to the paths which open up in the months (and years) ahead, for myself and all of us.

The larger world is changing. Let’s hold on to that 99% of goodness that I’ve seen; hold it and share it.

Ways to Support

If you’d like to help me personally, I have a Patreon page (where followers receive unique content just for them!). Alternatively, buy me a virtual coffee at Ko-Fi – a rather lovely idea! This is directly helpful, but also means I can offer greater support for those who can’t give much themselves.

If those aren’t viable options, links to my books are in the sidebar of this site, or they can be purchased anywhere that books are sold. Perhaps tell your local independent bookshop about me, and I can try to organise a visit with them?

Leave reviews! Like it or hate it, Amazon is far-reaching. Or why not start your own blog, where you can explore ideas that you’ve found along your own path?

Keep doing your thing. Get in touch with me and I’ll share your creativity. Working together is how strong foundations get built.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the world today, but we can all make positive change, every one of us – and that energy is definitely what I’d like to see more of in these difficult times.

Business Cards

Business card design by Catherine Winter-Hebert. Printed by Essential Print Services, Derby.

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A Idea…

A while ago, I was at the fantastic Enchanted Market Pagan event in Bracknell. About to present a talk, I was, as always, a bit nervous. So I sat down at the Colouring-In Table (for children, and children at heart) and took time to calm myself as best I could.

As those of you who’ve visited the Enchanted Market know, they have an area called Steampunk Alley. Lots of creativity and wonderment, with hugely friendly people – one of whom approached me, smiling widely. This was Duke Box, organiser and MC… and he showed me that Steampunks are indeed prepared for ALL eventualities!

Organized in Lincoln via the regular Steampunk events in that city, the Anxiety Auxiliaries are a group of volunteers who help out at large gatherings, assisting people who are a bit overwhelmed by it all. They have quiet space, tea and a listening ear should one be needed.

I was awed. What an incredible idea! Why haven’t I heard of such a thing before?

Then I realized that I had. A good friend had told me about a similar system organized by fans at conventions for the TV show ‘Supernatural’. A system of badges identifies helpers and those who are particularly vulnerable or delicate (for whatever reason). But either way, people are there to assist those in need, with care and without judgement.

This idea snagged in my head. I’m often at Pagan events, usually talking to people about mental health and ‘spoon‘ (energy) issues in general. If ever a group needed such support, it’s us Pagans…

I composed the beginnings of A Plan, and began to run it by some friends. Folk from the Pagan Federation liked it. Their Online Conference organisers liked it. The magical Lord of Spoons himself, artist Tom Brown, is pondering a recognisable logo.

And so, the Cauldron of Calm is being born!

I’m looking for a few individuals who attend Pagan gatherings, willing to volunteer to wear our lanyard and be available to hold quiet space or just provide a listening ear (and maybe medicinal tea) to those in need. This can be due to being overwhelmed by theĀ  crowds, overheated, nervous before a talk (!) or whatever – just someone to Be There. Because this is a community. I often assure people that they’re not alone – now I want to prove it.

I’m putting this plan into the world now at this early stage because I’ll be at the Pagan Pride events in Nottingham and Milton Keynes this month, as well as the Artemis Gathering. Please do find me and give me your thoughts and feedback on this! Ideas are very welcome as I bring it all together. All being well, the official launch will be later this year, probably to coincide with one of the PF Online seasonal festivals, so as to reach as many people as possible.

What do you think? Do you attend many events? Do you avoid them, due to the excess People? Would this sort of thing help?

Let’s make this Cauldron a place for inspiration – and for Calm.

PS – Do feel free to share this and get in touch here too!

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In Sickness and…

A long overdue update. Spring is upon us (as the rain beats down on my window here!), and I feel like leaving this Winter is almost akin to clambering from a very deep, dark hole…

For the past two months, I’ve been pretty much confined to home. I’ve been very ill, both mentally and physically, and while I have a fabulous doctor looking after me, it’s been ridiculously hard. Not least because I’m a bad patient. If I’m not able to do something with my days, I get frustrated, which leads down the path to… well, bad thoughts. Spiralling down is an apt metaphor, but not fun to live.

So anyway. Today is the first day I’ve been back in my little office for quite a while, and I’m doing my best to do that something. Catching up with emails and marking; the phone is already going with meetings to sort out treatments and work. But my head is still fuzzy, so I’m having to remind myself to take things gently.

One thing which has struck me over and over throughout this is how much we drive ourselves in the world today. This is an old song and I won’t sing it again now, but I’m sure you understand.We don’t have time to be ill, what about deadlines, people to see, things to do… argh!

A huge aspect of my healing has been the voices of friends, reassuring me that it was actually OK to be out of action.They were still there, I could do this, everyone had faith and things would soon be well again. Thank the gods for social media again – all I had to do some days was to reach out a hand and have it grasped firmly across the virtual ether.

It’s hard to defend against such a barrage of loving optimism – and I quickly learned not to try! Seeing the torrent of kindness reaching from around the world touched me deeply, and tears flowed more than once.

I’ve written in the past of community, and this is the best aspect of that, I think. Sure, there’ve been some who sent brickbats – I’m lazy, making excuses, can’t be bothered, etc etc – but those who really saw the battle I’ve been fighting have really stepped up in arms alongside. (I love that image.)

This is the community that I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve met almost all of them through my work as a Public Druid (TM, heheh), and when I remember back years ago to that similarly awful time of unemployment, the prospect of even advertising as a ‘Druid Priest’, how ridiculous that sounded… But I did it. I moved off the map, the 9-5, pension and sick pay, lunch hours and annual leave. Beyond the border of ‘normal’ life, here there be dragons! And it has brought me so much joy. Difficulties, sure, but life is a very different place now because I stuck to those choices, followed the signs and trusted. I wouldn’t be part of this community otherwise.

Being Pagan, of course, teaches you to look for the reasoning behind things, the lessons that we can learn through the downs as as well as the ups. And so my sick time has taught me a few things. A big one is that mental illness hurts easily as much as physical. But sometimes stepping into those waves of madness (especially when you seem to have no choice), standing up and raising hands to others, having faith and justĀ riding things can take you to marvellous, unexpected and wonderful places.

I have to trust that this time has held its own lessons – I’m too close to tell just yet. At its worst, I feared letting others down by my inactivity; but those others stepped up gladly to help me. Love and trust, those tenets of humanity as well as Paganism, genuine compassion, empathy and understanding. Friendship and community, worth more than any gem.

I’m still here.

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Support

So… this has happened. I now have a Patreon page.

It’s come up a lot on social media over the years. How dare I ask for money to perform the work I do! Well… I need to live. Our ancestors supported their communities, from butcher and baker – to Druid or Priest. I’ve said it often: if I wasn’t able to make my way doing this work, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m grateful daily that I’m needed and valued in this way, both monetarily and in the thanks of the many kinds that I’ve received over the years!

Now, things are moving forward. I’m testing the water, to see if this is possible – to have a base for that work, rather than taking over my own kitchen table with laptop and papers. I had it once before, at the lovely White Rose Healing Rooms, and people would come to visit, to learn, to just find a comfy chair, a cup of tea and some sanctuary. This is needed again.

What I get on Patreon will be supplemented from my own earnings, of course. But the more I’m backed, the more I can do – and I will. I’ve often been told that I undervalue myself, but it’s more that I’m aware nobody has much in the way of spare finances these days. Ultimately, I’m there for those in need, and those don’t tend to be the affluent.

But if you can, know that your help is so very much appreciated. Updates will be regular, and surprise gifts are being planned! As always, I do try my best.

I’m hopeful that this will aid my writing and my work with others, as the next stage on this mad journey…

Onwards.

With love and thanks, as always xxx

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I Have Confidence…?

When I was little, one of the main background soundtracks to my life was ‘The Sound of Music’.

Don’t laugh. Bear with me, there is a point to this.

My Mum loves that film. Every holiday it was on (in the times before any form of recording device), and the songs played in the car as I learned the words and sang along. The ending was difficult to watch, but I loved the first half, of Maria the Nun bringing happiness to a rather repressed family unit.

As I grew up, this story fell by the wayside. Whereas once ’16, going on 17′ had seemed a world away, now it seems a world ago. But one of the songs has been looping in my head lately.

When Maria leaves her convent to go out into the world – after we, the audience, have been informed what a klutz she is – she sings of her hope for what’s ahead:

‘I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that Spring will come again – besides which you see I have confidence in me!’

But towards the end of the song, she falters. ‘I have confidence in confidence alone… oh help.’

She stops. Those last two words aren’t sung, but spoken, whispered. The mask of joy falls. She prays for help, for strength – for that same confidence to step up to the task she has been set. She knows how hapless she is, and how large a job she has ahead. Singing a happy song might not be enough.

This is the truth and pleasure I find in well-done musicals, by the way. That they are so absurdly happy one minute, but reflecting the deeper worries of life the next. If they’re done right, musicals don’t do half measures – they’re all or nothing, but still with the nuances of reality that we all know. Cunningly masked behind a veneer of merry song.

A lot of my time recently has been in that moment that Maria shows, that pause, that ‘oh help’. I’m stepping up to the next level in my work, it seems, both personally and professionally. I’ve always had confidence that my gods will present challenges that might seem insurmountable, but are always within my grasp – if I push myself. That’s the point.

I’m reading a lot of books that I never thought I would, discussing new topics, exploring deeply. Ministry, theology, even religious texts of other faiths (to the shock of one kind Imam!). I’m investigating new – and old – worlds, and it’s amazing. I know that it’s a gift that I even can. As a woman and a Pagan, those previously repressed ‘minorities’, I am now free to act publicly as Priest. That’s no small thing, and one that I hope I never take for granted.

This morning, I’m reading a book on Chaplaincy – specific Priesting within certain spheres of society, rather than to a geographical community (as I am now doing in prison). I’m almost in tears as I read of those Chaplains caring for the soldiers in Afghanistan. I recently finished a tale of nuns who work for women’s shelters in New York. This is faith on the ‘shop floor’ – and yet, apparently a lot of the ‘proper’ Churches view Chaplains as not ‘proper’ Priests.

Paganism has the opposite approach, I’m finding. Because our current methods of public Ministry are still very much finding their way, it’s still seen as miraculous that we can be included in the multifaith community, as professional Chaplains at all. We’re still a ‘fringe’ spirituality, but which is being recognised more and more, and respected accordingly.

Our Western society, by and large, is pretty secular, but I hardly ever receive sneers or derisive comments about my role. Most people are amazed and curious, bombarding me with questions and enthusiasm. Individually, people still feel a spiritual ‘pull’, the need for someone to chat to about what’s on their mind as a companion, but also to support them in tough times. The Priest in the community might have a wider remit than the Chaplain in their ‘bubble’ (army base, hospital, prison) but both are absolutely invaluable. We are appreciated, and that is glorious.

But I am so very aware that we are still finding our way. I love that I can speak to my fellow Chaplains about this – their churches have been doing it for longer, after all, so their experiences are inspiring to hear. Ultimately, though, I can easily feel like Maria sitting there, with the support of her church behind her, but very much alone in that moment. 

How on earth can I do this? God, what are you asking of me?

I’m finding that stories about prayer are also pulling me lately. Another area which Pagans are only now starting to intellectually explore, what do we do when we are alone and needing help? Is this not a huge aspect of the Paganism that I convey to those I Minister to? How do you express the inexpressible in your heart, to and of beings that are beyond words…

Once, it helped hugely to know that I was part of a wider community, through the groups I volunteered for. This week, I resigned as Trustee of The Druid Network, and am stepping down as District Coordinator for The Pagan Federation. I’ll still be volunteering for both, but on a much smaller level.

I need to take the time to sit alone, in that ‘oh help’ moment. To speak with my Gods, to discern what’s next, as well as what I’m doing now. What am I doing? That old question, ever relevant.

I step on alone in one sense, therefore, but in actuality just with less titles. I know that I have a wonderful community behind and beside me, and that counts for so much. I’m listening for the tug that pulls me in the right direction, and know that I’ll be treading new paths. It’s bloody scary.

I’m not sure I have confidence; in fact, often I know I don’t. But I step forward, as promised. I do my best.

Onward, as always.

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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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Vocation

I may be the last of a generation who remembers the local village vicar. As familiar a sight as the local Bobby (policeman) walking his beat, the vicar was often about, visiting parishioners, helping in schools, generally being part of the community.

Now this is a sight only for fiction – Agatha Christie dramas, ‘The Vicar of Dibley‘ and suchlike.

And yet I’ve discovered that the roaming priest is still very much needed.

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This image is not a place where I have personally walked. But it is cookie-cutter similar to those I, and many others, do.

As I lock the heavy gate-door behind me and enter the prison wing, I always feel a little nervous. But it’s similar to the feeling before a public ritual, a Handfasting or even visiting a private house for a supportive chat.

Because you are ‘on’ – you are Priest, Minister, Chaplain, Celebrant… whatever you want to call me (as I often say, you can call me anything provided it’s nice!).

I minister to those who identify as Pagan – but I am often approached by others too. In the prison environment it’s first of all because I’m female, but then out of curiosity. Again, it’s similar at public events when I’m in robes. I’ve spoken of it before and I’m still glad that people are curious rather than fearful, able to approach and ask questions rather than cower or even be abusive.

I’ve discovered, too, that despite my nerves, I rather love it.

I got back to the Chaplaincy at the prison a few weeks ago, after spending quite a while on the wings, and commented on how good it was to do, how worthwhile. The Church of England Chaplain looked around and smiled. “It is, isn’t it?” he remarked. He’s often out and about, Bible in hand, huddled against the cold but always busy, out there with those who need him. The prisoners have told me of the friendly Imam as well, often there for a chat.

The Priest serves their community as they are needed and called upon. This is regardless of faith path, religious doctrine or even personal preference. We help because that is our role and our job, but also our calling as people. We want to make friends, to find that common ground, to share and connect with others.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Ministry, biographical accounts of women fighting to become priests in the Christian Church over recent decades, but also those taking vows to join monasteries or convents. The latter may seem to be removing themselves from their communities in order to better understand and work with their spirituality, but in fact they are often the busiest, getting out into the roughest areas to help those who the ‘regular’ world believes beyond help: the sick, dying, homeless… those in need.

I read of the ‘call’, vocational summons to live life for God. This is an interesting idea from a Pagan perspective, and one that I’m not sure has really been explored yet (not that I’ve seen, at least). Many of us live our lives with honour to our Gods, but giving everything up for Him/Her…?

And yet, I realize, perhaps I am doing this already. I mediate between the spiritual and the everyday, in my writing and my ‘walking the talk’. I represent deity (as named individuals and the wider Natural world) in public ritual. I end my day exhausted but glad, having worked as a Pagan for those who ask – and those who don’t, but who welcome me anyway.

I may not even mention ‘Gods’ to those who approach me as I walk the prison paths. But I do explain what my Paganism means, find common ground (often surprisingly easily!) and simply chat, as a visitor and potential friend. I’m not out to convert anyone, but respect those who step up to ask. The other day, as I locked those same barred gates behind me, I heard a (non-Pagan) prisoner commenting to a mate of how pleasant I was. The Pagan prisoner I’d come to see was beaming – proud at last that his spirituality was recognised and valued, rather than mocked. Just by my turning up and engaging.

So the Priest is still walking the streets, still needed. In traditional ways, but also exploring new ground – online, via social media and Skype – but where there are people who need companionship, help, just someone to hear them and be there. I suspect many ‘quiet’ or solitary Pagans do the same, in their small but meaningful way.

It might not be a job for all of us. I’m still often surprised that I’ve fallen onto such a path! Or perhaps… just perhaps… I answered that call.

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