Posts Tagged community

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… πŸ˜‰

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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The Pagan & Heathen Symposium – and Me

A few years ago, an amazing thing happened.

A meeting was held in London with representatives of many Pagan (and affiliated) groups attending. The purpose of this event was to explore how to best work together on behalf of members and the wider Pagan community, both between themselves and to the ‘Muggle world’ (my words!).

I wrote about it here. It really was a great day. We honestly laughed at how surprised we all were to be in accord on every issue, contrary to popular opinion that Pagan groups could never get on!

Fast forward to now. More groups have joined in. Progress has been made on some matters; others are still being worked on. For details, visit the group website: The Pagan & Heathen Symposium.

Why am I writing about it again? Because during this time, I stepped back from ‘official’ work with the organisations I represented that day… but was told that my input and experience would still be welcome to the group.

This was a surprise, and I was very flattered to be asked to stay. But I needed a role, surely?

Former PF President Mike Stygal came up with a solution. I would henceforth be Representative of those Unaffiliated to Organisations.

Only in Paganism πŸ˜‚

This may seem crazy, but in our current community, there are many folks who do not wish to join established groups. This is for a variety of reasons, and they’re all fine. But these Pagans still deserve a voice.

So, until the position is no longer needed or you find someone better, I will continue in this role for the Symposium – and if you, as an Independent Pagan, wish your voice to be heard or an issue to be raised, please let me know.

Be you a solitary practitioner or just shy, your lack of group should not stop you connecting with the wider community. Your voice can be heard.

Obviously this is a new and unusual situation, but that’s the foundation on which the Symposium was founded! We need to have a voice in decisions that impact us. This is never more important than now, with the country-wide and worldwide changes going on.

I hope that I can help you to be heard.

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A Listening Heart

Imbolc has passed. We’re still feeling the chill of winter, but the snowdrops herald the imminent Spring. The sun is with us for a few more minutes each day, and all around, I see projects slowly beginning to bud…

It’s been a long winter. I’m not going to recall the turbulent times we live in, but we’ve all felt the length of January like never before, it seems.

I’ve spent the winter months trying my best to survive, literally and figuratively. My health has been poor, and despite all of the urges from The Internet to seek the help that I’m apparent entitled to, I’ve been met with walls of silence – or at best, suggestions to ‘go for a nice walk’ and suchlike. Imagine eyerolls here. Then imagine the tears.

Over and over, each rebuff hurts. When it takes all of your strength to reach out, to be told you’re either not sick enough or that there isn’t anything to be done is crushing.

For years, ever since a GP told me to ‘go away and cheer up’, I’ve managed. Recently, though, moving forward has felt next to impossible.

I’ve read all the books, tried all the techniques. Hell, I’ve written my own! What more can I do?

One evening, I found a secret stash of Bravery and reached out to a friend. Professionally and personally, tentatively and with slight fear of rebuttal (based purely on experience from every other quarter!).

I was heard. Such a small thing, but I was heard. Helpful suggestions were made, which I will follow up, but the main power came from the fact that someone heard my cries, understood, and listened.

This has made such a difference. A voice from outside my head, telling me truths that I was unable to tell myself. That’s all. It is ok – it really is. There is hope. I can do this.

Sometimes the battles we fight seem hopeless purely because of the weight of time, as we’ve been fighting for so long. I can understand how people give up.

The simple but profound gift of a listening heart made all the difference. Quiet invitations to shared healing events. Belief in me, when I had none in myself. Feeling seen, held, heard.

These are gifts that we can give to each other. Sometimes I can’t – which is when I know things are bad – but I try as often as I can, when called upon. I try to hear that mystic tap on the shoulder. Deep breath and…

I’m stepping up. Creating Things to help. Setting space, reaching out to like-minded folks. The Cauldron of Calm will be happening this year. Message me if you’d like to join in.

As the world stands confused and hurting, we need to come together to help each other. Every individual can make a difference. We can try.

There’s a lot of 2020 yet ahead, but I’m doing my best to stand up again – and find my own strength along the way. By reaching out with a hand to hold and be held.

Much love, my friends.

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Truth in Word and Deed

Recently, I’ve been rather quieter than usual. I realized today that this is since the recent UK Government Elections. With all the noise leading up to it, and then the fallout after, I didn’t really feel that I had anything to say.

No – that’s not quite right. I had a lot to say. It just felt rather like yelling into a void. A void of anger, disappointment, soundbites and oversimplification.

Today, Nimue Brown wrote about Truth in her blog, when spoken as part of a Druid’s role. I’ve also spoken recently about my doubts on the word ‘Druid’ as a label, as it doesn’t quite encompass what I do… but this Truth absolutely does.

I’ve been quiet because I’ve felt the need to pull back right now. The Yuletide season is full of light and noise, and I can’t engage with that this year. Physically, mentally and spiritually, it feels wrong for me.

The image I keep coming back to is actually from what may be considered a ‘seasonal’ movie – not because it’s set at Christmas (it really isn’t!), but because this series is traditionally shown at this time of year, as a fun adventure for all ages.

For the past few weeks, I’ve felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (Episode 4, the original film). Suddenly hit by something, he puts a hand to his head and totters across a room to sit down.

You know the quote, I’m sure. But it’s the whole image for me.

A little melodramatic, but the energy of sheer confusion, powerlessness and wanting to lash out… it’s been overwhelming.

And yet, it’s times like these that demand we speak up. It’s more important than ever, in fact. To stand, as Druid, Priest, human being; to console, protest, debate, find sense in the story that’s unfolding right before our eyes.

15 million people (estimated) didn’t vote in that recent Election. We are at once so disengaged from the process of running this country that we all have an opinion, but feel that our voices make no difference. Suddenly silenced – as on social media, when expressing an opinion and being shouted down. The one who wins is the one who shouts loudest.

I’m not sure how this will all unfold. I’m not sure that anyone could have ‘won’ the political game during this round. But – speaking as someone who is on medication to literally prevent the urge to do this very thing – I know that we cannot give up.

We must keep talking, and also listening. We must relearn empathy, consideration and motivation, why others act as they do. We must challenge, educate and inspire. We hope… but then we must move. Do. Step forward.

I’ve felt for a few days that I needed to write this – I just wasn’t sure how. I’d silenced myself. Then today, I was watching a man who is already considered a great storyteller, reflecting my feelings (and frustrations) perfectly whilst talking about another movie:

“Here you have this event – on the one hand, it’s a beautiful thing, right? We’re all going to get together, we’re going to hold hands, and somehow that’s going to cure hunger. The illusion that we’re contributing to something that actually is making change, at opposed to something that kind of makes us feel better, and absolves us of our responsibility to enact actual change.”

Jordan Peele, speaking about the duality of America as depicted in the 1980s ‘Hands Across America’ movement in the movie ‘Us’.

The noise of this season is coming together with the frustration of these times. We can’t make change while we’re busy worrying about our own problems: paying for gifts, sorting food, travel, the needs of relatives. Yes, community and sharing, but with more emphasis on image than truth.

We get together and talk about even more problems that we see: those in power, those without, immigration, homelessness, rich versus poor. And then we return to our lives and enter the next year. Back to ‘normal’, whatever that means.

Yes, such debates happen amongst those with privilege, to some extent. But that’s not helpful either. Guilt or blame gets us nowhere.

My Druid phrase comes back to me again, right now:

What am I Doing?

My husband is heading out tonight, working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to help those in need. I’m here at home, wondering what I can do.

I can speak. I can write. I can make things to help people. I can listen when called upon.

I’m honestly not sure what else I can do just yet, but I’ve no doubt I’ll find out as we enter 2020. The challenge, as always, is to stand up. To reach out. To engage.

It’s so very difficult right now. But I cannot stay silent. It’s knowing what to say – and then what to Do. It’s overwhelming, but I feel that I can’t stay silent any longer.

Season’s blessings, my friends. Stay strong, remember that you are loved and that you are more powerful than you think. Use your words well, moving forward.

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Everyday Bravery

Many times in the past decade, I’ve been stared at. I’ve been asked why I’m dressed in a certain way, heard some (frankly ridiculous) jokes and generally been on the receiving end of some very visible confusion.

Mostly this is because I’m Out in Public wearing my ‘work clothes’ – robe, cloak, staff etc. But sometimes it’s when folk see my tattoos, or a particular t-shirt statement.

Going back even further, I was sometimes stopped when out and about because I was dressed all in black, including hair and trenchcoat. Apparently this was fine when one is a teenager, less so when an adult.

I have never understood how some people can accost a random stranger in public and berate them for how they look. Even light mockery. I learned to have a small smile on standby, so that I didn’t reply with something rude; that way, at least one of us is being polite.

But then years ago again, I quickly learned what was acceptable and what was not, through being openly laughed at and ridiculed when I failed to conform. I vividly remember wearing an outfit that I absolutely loved (a long hippy skirt and top, nothing too shocking) and rushing back to my room to change, blushing wildly, because of that terrible laughter before I even left the house.

I still don’t quite understand that, either. How wearing something that I absolutely love can cause such a negative reaction. How does this threaten people so badly? What harm does an unusual hair colour, period clothing or simply expressing yourself do?

Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction, with no malicious intent. That’s (relatively) ok. Other times…

Apparently it’s my fault, of course. For daring to Go Outside not looking like everyone else. For not aspiring to that societal goal of Being Normal (whatever that means).

Which leads me to the times that I have called out to others in public.

I’ve told random goths how beautiful they look. I’ve run down the street after reenactors to compliment their efforts. It can be as simple as ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you look fantastic.’

Nobody ever does mind this. There can be surprise, of course, at this unexpected woman complimenting them, but hey – it could be worse, right? See above for examples. And that’s not even mentioning when words become physical violence.

I see it on their faces as I approach. The mental ‘brace for impact’, the anticipation of a kick – and the surprise and pleasure when the interaction is actually safe and friendly.

I try to hold this in my mind when people approach me. I’ve often said how blessed I feel that the reactions to me are 99% positive (and 1% stupid). I’ve yet to be beaten up for my looks.

I know that I’m lucky in that respect. I hear the stories of trans folk who suffer by just being who they are in public. Goths beaten to death. Breastfeeding mothers verbally abused.

I see it all around, and feel it on my worst days. How dare I show my face. Anticipating that laughter again, the mockery, the judgement.

But I am trying to be brave as I grow older. To retort if safe to do so. Engaging with the speaker can be quite enlightening sometimes, as I explain what I’m about.

Other days, I don’t have the strength to do much except keep walking, with my head held up. That can be the hugest of victories. The naysayers didn’t win. The bastards aren’t grinding me down.

I actually feel it becoming paradoxically easier and more difficult as I grow older. Because while I care less what people think of me than I did as a youngster, I’m also aware that ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ is a Thing. Unfortunately. So I’m still exploring what I’m brave enough to do, day to day.

The world can be a scary place, of course. By walking my walk when I can, I try to shine a light for others. By affirming that folks look amazing just for being who they are and that I’m happier for seeing them doing their thing, can be a tremendously powerful act.

It’s not just about me, I know that. But when I’m stuck inside my head, with the world pressing loudly against me, standing up as Me, in my Truth, is a miracle. Sharing that validation with others is a gift that I hope I can always keep giving.

Go be You out there today, lovely friends. Know that I’m cheering you on.

This post is dedicated to all of those gorgeous people at Witchfest, with their finery and wonderful happy smiles, holding safe space for the community. I’m looking forward to wearing my new feathered hat in public too.

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Lessons in Love

No, I’m not referring to the 80s song of that name πŸ˜‚

I believe that you reach a stage in spiritual practice when it’s not about the ‘special’ ritual moments – although those are important – but the lessons that you suddenly recognise in everyday life, happening all around you. Themes, coincidences (ahem), general synchronicities that you realize when you’re ready to see them.

My life really has been a rollercoaster lately, with lovely highs and deep lows. Some of it is about energy management, but a lot seems out of my control. I simply have to admit that I have to rest NOW – or I (literally) fall over.

I’ve also noticed that some aspects of my life are shining with inspiration – almost a ‘pick me, do this!’ spirit. Others are unbearable.

Clothing, for example. I have many items from back when I had to appear ‘office smart’… but despite not being worn for ages, they’re falling apart. Other things are physically disintegrating before my eyes.

But then I’m rediscovering old treasures that I’d forgotten about, or which had been hidden somehow. Interestingly, many of these were gifted to me: a battered leather jacket, for example, with many stories in its folds.

It’s almost as if what is no longer needed is removing itself from my life. Or I’m having good luck finding new things that suit me better now.

And who is this person? Well…

So many days see me wishing I could have my old life back, before I was ill. But that disintegrated too, and for a reason. I love being able to do what I do now, even if it means different priorities, ways of living and relationships.

I’m constantly staggered by the number of amazing friends telling me that they actually love me. You know who you are!

This was initially very bizarre to me – I was brought up to not be expressive in that way (or learned that it led to mockery), so friends openly stating their love was something I just didn’t know how to react to. ‘Errr… thankyou?’

Sorry for such a lame reaction. I blame being British. We get confused at Big Emotion.

I’m slowly learning to allow myself to accept this. What true Friendship-Love means – and that I’m even worthy of it. Because being the beneficiary of such a statement is a huge honour for me. It’s absolutely no small thing, to be loved.

My sense of ‘comfortably normal’ is being moved. My life is evolving. I’m having to own who I am and what I do, and this means what is no longer needed – be it attitudes or jackets – can be put aside or it will fall apart.

Sometimes it feels as if a gentle hand is pushing me along, making these lessons clear. I have to trust that. The worst that has happened so far is that I’ve carried on anyway and had jeans split in the middle of the road (fortunately just outside my house!).

My true friends are patient as they see this happening, and I love them for it. Others have fallen away, and perhaps that’s for the best.

I’m moving forward into the life I have now. Still doing my best. Occasionally messing up and getting a lesson out of it.

But I’m learning to hold on to love, both given by and to me. What is valued and reciprocated will stay. New things will appear. I will be surprised all over again. I am allowed to be rid of what I can no longer bear; it’s not worth my (limited) energy.

As the leaves fall outside, so do many aspects of life inside. I’m curious as to what this winter will bring.

Much love, my friends.

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