Posts Tagged ethics

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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Flowing into Autumn

The year is turning. Fruit is heavy on the trees but leaves are starting to fall. There’s a scent in the air of Autumn, waiting to happen as the days slowly shorten. It’s Harvest-time.

The regular News programmes are beginning to tell of the difficulties of farmers this year, with the wide and varied extremes of weather that we’ve suffered clearly having an impact on crops (and so prices of food). However, some have fared better than others. The apple trees near me are groaning with fruit; the blackberry bushes are thick; that which grows on high seems to be ripening and ready.

It’s this balancing point which is becoming clearer to me these days. While grain and root crops may become more valuable through comparative scarcity, we still have the sweet and sharp fruits to nourish us freely. While very few of us have actual money to spend on easy frivolities, more of us are discovering the joy of personal creativity.

I’ve observed that there’s a sharp difference in the attitudes of people right now, as shown both in personal statements and media generalities. There’s slow-burning frustration, anger, impotence, powerlessness – and yet also great pride in accomplishment, ability and possibility. We have the confused relationship between Government and individual (in many countries, not just the UK). There’s the comparison of huge funds and corporate sponsorships for the recent London Olympics versus the sheer public awe at the achievements of athletes (and musicians, engineers and creatives) in the formulation of an event that will be remembered by so many.

The individual is striving to be heard; groups are forming, like-minded folk, wanting to bring ideas together to make powerful difference. And it’s not easy – but the sense of ‘maybe we CAN do it’ is gradually growing, overcoming past cynicism and doubt.

I do think that in this case, the macrocosm and microcosm reflect each other – ‘society’ and ‘local community’, Nature as a whole and the needs of a single species. We are having to become more aware of our relationships with each other. People are acting based on need, hope and drive – because complacency is just not an option any more. We have to do, or it won’t get done.

In recent years, I’ve actually been proud of how such considerate and mature attitudes have allowed growth. From a Pagan perspective, we have grown as an identifiable community and also achieved so much in the wider world. Our beliefs are heard, thoughts considered, voices noted as valuable. Those who remember when we were simply dismissed as ‘fringe loonies’ stand proudly, infectious smiles on their faces. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

I’ve been pretty shocked lately at the unwarranted bile, vehemence and sheer contempt shown by some community members to others. Specifically in the Pagan online community, but also in the wider world. Certain folk are not standing up as good examples of integrity, ethical strength or even common sense. But how far are they allowed to get away with it? Yes, they have the right to a voice – I firmly believe that we all do. But how far can sheer empty noise and volume prevail against considered thought, meaning, discussion and genuine caring? How far are we willing to challenge ourselves, to admit our faults and work for change? We might be full of anger, but without focus that rage is simply firing blindly… and unintentionally hurting those caught in the crossfire (and indeed ourselves).

We gather our Harvest and consider what will sustain us through the winter. I feel the flows of energy, both in the cooler breezes and the tones of voices raised to be heard. Mine is one of them, here, of course. I’m aware of the responsibility that this brings, in my small way. But I’m also aware of how my own practice must be strong in order to contribute well to the wider community song.

How much of what you say is actually true? How well do yours words reflect yourself, really? There’s a lot of meaningless chatter out there – phrases such as ‘oh, you know’ (no, I don’t, tell me) and well-meaning, merry but incoherent ‘it was, like, y’know, sort of, like, Stuff’… we can laugh and satirise, but there’s still a story trying to be heard amidst the jargon.

Shouting down those we don’t agree with through casually cruel insults or flippant remarks, ‘jokes’ that aren’t. The freedom of relative internet anonymity encouraging ‘trolls’. Words that achieve nothing except pain, sorrow and even more anger. Not listening before we retort. We’re all guilty of this, some more than others. A question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: ‘Is ignorance an excuse?’ Is it so hard to apologise and try again, to open ourselves up to learning and a different point of view? Or to stand firm, strong in our own beliefs, yet flexible enough to allow challenge, to laugh and share common ground?

As Pagans, we stand up to identify with a particular spiritual path – and the ethics, the responsibility, the impact of representing that. Would we be proud, if we were to see ourselves in the eyes of others? Or ashamed of foolish superiorities, paper-thin self-image, actions taken without true understanding? Why do you do what you do? When asked how you’re celebrating your Harvest, what will you say?

Poison and empty words don’t sustain us, nor those around. Some songs are more valuable than others, but all can be worth hearing if sung honestly. What nourishment do you bring to your community? How will you keep that fire burning through the winter ahead? We all have the capability; if that ‘family’ (whether blood or friendship) is to remain strong in its shared intention, what ingredients do you bring?

We stand together, made up of individuals. In shared reading of this little essay, written by my hands, inspired by so many others – our relationships move and flow forward.

Let us sing together as the nights grow longer. Let’s see what inspiration comes from single flames burning brightly in the dark.

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The Dark Paths

Quite a few readers have asked me when I’ll finally write a blog post that’s basically a rant. Because apparently that’s what you do on a blog.  😉

That’s not the purpose of what I’m doing here, and I wouldn’t really be interested myself to read such a thing. But while this may seem to be rant-y, I’m aiming for it to be (ultimately) constructive. Your patience is appreciated.

I’ve perceived in the past that folk appear to have an ideal image of a priest (of any denomination) or general faith-leader. They’re supposed to be endlessly forgiving, generous and loving, a virtual embodiment of God/dess on Earth, having attained Enlightenment and taken their vows to spread that joy. Or something.

I’ve also said that I don’t actually believe that ‘Enlightenment’ is either possible or something to realistically aspire to, not as it’s generally understood. My spiritual life is part of my everyday life. I really can’t see the point in removing yourself so completely from that in order to ‘ascend’ or somehow step outside the mundane, and yet expect to understand or influence it, even by example. To me, the Dalai Lama does the most good because he is human, and clearly fallible – and has a fantastic sense of humour.

Understanding is achieved by observing, listening, approaching life in a certain way, allowing your spiritual philosophy, ethics and so forth to affect your actions and thoughts. Through this, we learn. But by no means does this result in some sort of ‘perfect’ being. Rather better adjusted, perhaps, but life will, I firmly believe, always be a challenge (and otherwise, how dull would it be?).

Unfortunately, that’s quite a leap for some to make. I’ve said before that I’m privileged to have generally encountered only interested, curious and polite folk in the course of my work as Druid and Priest – I am aware that this is a blessing! I try to reflect my spirituality in myself as I live it, including skills and faults alike. I can’t really do otherwise without turning into some sort of walking caricature (which is both dishonourable, false and ludicrous).

This last month, however, has been a true time of challenge like no other. From basic rude actions, disrespect and outright threats, I’ve been faced with a wide spectrum of negative. I’m not sure what’s in the water to be causing it, but it has made me stop and pause.

When people don’t understand, they can kick out. My favourite analogy is taken from the (transvestite) comedian Eddie Izzard – as he walked down the street, when people shout “Man in a dress!” he replies “Yes?” Which results in complete confusion. The person shouting mockery or abuse has no frame of reference for the situation they’re in, and simply doesn’t know how to continue.

I’ve seen this often. It actually helps more than hinders – people see the woman in a robe and cloak, often with staff or drum, and stop dead. Thoughts visibly cross their mind: ‘No frame of reference! What do I say?!’ Which is when the daftest comments come out. That’s ok – I just smile and joke back, and we can resume normal conversation as they discover I’m actually a Real Human Being too…

Recently, however, I was actually flummoxed. It had to happen, sooner or later. Standing in circle, watching attendees gather, a small girl of around 12 walks up, looks at me, and simply says “What are you supposed to be, then?”

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the look on her face and her tone – both those of a disgusted, disapproving old lady. The sense that she was being forced to undergo something so deeply stupid and beneath her was staggering (especially as other young folk were clearly interested and excited).

I saw her make similar statements throughout the day, and rather than being confused as to how to respond myself, began to see the sadness underneath. This girl, for some reason, was entirely closed off. Her reality was set, anything outside it wasn’t worth her time, and while the others were playing, dancing or laughing, she was sitting alone. Apparently entirely of her own volition, as she seemed to drive everyone else away.

My own confusion was due more to the fact that I would never have even thought to say such things to others, much less adults when I was a child. But some sort of cosmic floodgate was perhaps opened, as since then, there’s been a fair few comments that have actually made me stop with no frame of reference – because I can’t imagine making those statements, I cannot comprehend how best to reply.

Yes, I am standing up publicly as a Druid, and so will inevitably open myself up to slings and arrows. I’ve said this before, I’ve just been waiting. But lately I’ve been seeing the fear, sadness, anger and confusion boiling over, and it’s hard not to be affected. I’m not on some cosmic cloud, immune to pain. I don’t have infinite patience, and am certainly not made of stone.

Some days, part of me wonders whether to continue at all. This is a no-brainer – I get far more good responses than bad in my work, so it would make no sense to quit purely because of a couple of rotten apples.  But it’s difficult. I can’t even try to respond and help, because usually those doing the throwing aren’t interested in even starting a discussion. I’m wrong, or weird, or nuts, so that’s all there is to it. Their world is set.

Others use their negativity to fuel power games. I’ve seen this often in many communities, including the Pagan – no social group is exempt, it seems, even if they start out with best intentions. Uninformed gossip, ignorant opinion, Daily Mail-style rabble-rousing, all help to fuel a particular agenda, sucking others along with them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt that results, and choose to step out of such situations. I’d rather work quietly, letting others come to me. It’s never been about my ego, I’m not interested in ‘power over’. I will stand up for my friends and loved ones, absolutely, but that’s natural defence – the trick is not to get drawn in further.

But then this week, to be directly insulted and threatened as a result of my life choices… I’ve drawn back through necessity. Regrouping is needed, new plans are forming – I’m aiming to bring something good from the bad.

This is the time when my Druidry is called upon to sustain me. I’ve made my choices – and I stick by them. When questioned or challenged, I must respond appropriately, retaining my integrity and honour while trying to honestly convey my point of view. I do try to understand where the negative is coming from, but often in the moment that’s almost impossible. That’s the point where many kick back, seeing red or running away. Those responses I can understand, but neither is helpful.

We cannot make the nay-sayers go away through feeding them. We cannot lessen their power by giving them more. Laughter can puncture the pompous; a simple ‘No’ can bring abusive action to a screeching halt. Then comes the time to reflect – on what you are doing. Did the person’s words or actions have a basis in reality, or were they based on their own fears or issues? Do your own actions have to be moderated or changed? Or is it simply time to move away, defuse with quietness?

Those who go through life spoiling for a fight usually find one, after all. If nothing measures up to our standards, we miss so much of the joy around, but that’s our choice. If our walls are so high that yes, we’re protected, but we’re also blind and deaf, then what sort of life do we have? If we live as a caricature, as ‘expected’, do our ‘friends’ really know us, or are they just helping to sustain the illusion?

We have to look deeper, both at ourselves and others. We can’t fix the world, but we can explore our relationship with it, in the knowledge that we are held, supported. Our choices must be as true as we can make them, as we have to live with the consequences.

As I travel deeper into the darkest parts of the woods, I hold fast to what sustains me: loved ones, friends, ancestors, deities – and my own creativity. These things keep me going. If they don’t, they will fall by the wayside (and I’ve been noticing a fair bit of that happening lately as well).

So here I am. I’m not sure what’s ahead, but I will continue to walk forward. If (when) there’s monsters, I will face them. Darkness holds the most valuable lessons, after all – it’s just up to us to see them.

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Think!

Why are we not encouraged to think for ourselves, have you ever wondered? This isn’t the prelude to a vast Orwellian conspiracy theory, don’t worry. But in the interests of freely available media (and free will), when we are presented with nicely-packaged information every day of our lives, would it not make sense to actually encourage the understanding of it – and question it.

Tabloids such as The Daily Mail give the illusion of challenge, by presenting a certain perspective on any given story, while virtually wearing its own agenda on its sleeve. Yet people lap it up and gulp it down, no questions asked, even when the information given is so clearly biased it’s virtually fiction.

Liberal media does this as well. Stories presented in a matter of fact manner, so that the reader is encouraged to see their point of view as the only possible manner in which a normal, common-sense person would think.

This morning, I was reading Mark Townsend’s excellent forthcoming book, ‘Jesus Through Pagan Eyes‘. His writing is absolutely brilliant, conversational, engaging and inspiring – yet the subject matter was, for me, initially quite difficult. As a Pagan, why should I be thinking about Jesus? Surely the two paths are incompatible, even conflicting. It seemed almost sacriligious, in its way.

Then I caught myself. Where on earth had these thoughts come from? Why should I be blocking out an entire religion, with its deep and valuable stories, ethics and modes of thought, just because my own beliefs were considered ‘alternative’ (and that’s not even getting into that lovely misquote about not suffering witches)?

The difficulty in modern life is that we may be taught to believe one particular ideology, or way of living, is correct to the exclusion of all others. Then, when we are old enough to look elsewhere, we find alternatives… and become resentful of those perceived ‘lies’ that we were originally fed.

Is this irrational knee-jerk disregard not as bad as those ranting, obsessive right-wing extremists (of whatever faith)? We’re ignoring something entirely on the grounds that our own beliefs are different. Not because we have explored all sides… when we might begin to notice that there are in fact as many (if not more) similarities than differences.

Those who kill in the name of deities who taught love. Those who condemn children to hell because they aren’t baptised. Those who prefer to preach ultimate truths rather than encourage free will. These will only drive folk away from the doctrines they dictate.

I would love to learn about the historic Jesus, the man who walked his land telling stories and encouraging unity. It’s certainly about time someone threw the bankers out of the temple! And yet seeking such knowledge is considered heretical. In the same manner as Jesus’ teachings caused him to be killed to a political system that could not bear his challenges. Faith and society are constantly evolving in their paradox.

It’s human nature to be curious. Look at children. Then consider how many times we get tired of their constant questioning, and tell them to stop. We’re told to just accept what is, from teachers, priests, family members, the media – Those Who Know Better. Newspapers seek gossip, telling us it’s in our interests to find ‘the truth’… when that truth isn’t really relevant (celebrity secrets, scandals and so on). When real events, passionate life-affecting events are happening, they stay silent (notably the recent Occupy Wall Street protests). Those who inform us are themselves biased.

Currently, church and state are combined in the UK by law and (interestingly) tradition. Yet this is preventing the ethics of certain actions to be questioned, while the overly-secular ‘society’ is being encouraged to disregard moral thinking and philosophical questioning as irrelevant or pointless. At worst, faith-based ethics are a ‘fairytale’ rather than a cautionary tale.

As Mr Townsend says in his book, we’ve become too literal. It’s a fact that life is not black and white, right or wrong, and yet we try to force the belief that it is. How often do we hear of people taking action because they are right on moral grounds, yet because of a generalised law or policy, they cannot live as they wish? Everything is being considered in terms of ultimate truth, which is itself a lie. George Orwell was prophetic.

One word I’ve been thinking about lately, but which has somehow sneakily avoided being used in recent blogs is ‘integrity.’ Personal honour has been mentioned, but where does the limit of your integrity lie? What are your ethics, your moral code? Do you even have one, or is this like the religious fervour with which atheists tell us not to believe?

We do not teach or encourage philosophy (how to think), ethics (why we think) or even effective communication of those thoughts. Even analysis of the thoughts of others (English literature/language) is confined to a set level of understanding. Go beyond that and you fail the exam, so don’t get too clever. Don’t think, don’t be inspired – just copy what’s in front of you.

How brave would it be to emulate Jesus, Gandhi and all those others who were killed for standing up for their beliefs, to challenge the establishment because of your own personal integrity? How necessary is it becoming, as we see the world changing in ways that we do not agree with?

The ancient Druids were killed for maintaining their beliefs, their lands, against lethal opposition. Yet now, those calling themselves ‘Druid’ are sought out, as others are curious. We know that we need something more than what we’re told – and I’m overjoyed that people are having the quiet strength in themselves to really look. But at the same time, we too have to be aware of our personal integrity. Some modern Pagans are teaching their own ways as doctrine, with Christians as ‘ultimate evil’. While we may need security in ultimate truths, such goals are impossible, castles built on sand.

I consider this every time I sit down to write, or stand up to speak. My words are listened to, so what am I saying? I’m wondering now if this post will be considered inflammatory. That doesn’t make it any less my own truth. I try to use my worry, my anger, to look deeper, to consider the multiple truths involved in every tale, in each of our lives.

Some words need to be spoken. Our ancestors knew that, even if we have forgotten. Let’s seek the wisdom in the stories, not the literal text. Question the media. Remember that the systems that support us were set up by us – so we can change them. Question motivations – your own, and those of others. And once again…

What are you (not) doing – and why (not)?

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Faith and Funding

It can take a lot to make someone change their spiritual outlook, their faith – after all, it generally is what constitutes or provides a framework for their view of the world and their place in it. While as a child you accept what you are told as to Why Things Are, with your view of the world formed by the social and familial landscape that you are born into… then as you learn more about the wider world, you (hopefully) begin to ask questions. This can lead to strengthening or lapsing of belief in your worldview, depending on how well such a foundation suits your life as you take more active and personal responsibility in the construction of it.

Changes in faith can be momentous events, perhaps stemming from some form of loss or bereavement, or they can be relatively secretive, creeping up on you until you suddenly have that ‘aha!’ moment, that epiphany, realization that something has irrevocably changed in your personal explanation (and justification) for how the world works. So then what do you do?

Belief evolves – and so it should. Despite the apparent comfort and safety of routine, static = stagnation. As I’ve said before, personal beliefs that guide life should move with that life and the events you experience, otherwise how can it remain relevant and applicable?

Those ‘lightning bolt’ moments can happen anytime. When you’re ready to see, the answer will appear, even if it’s been staring you in the face for ages. But while such changes will hopefully be for the better, that doesn’t mean things will automatically get easier.

When I said my life was changing dramatically over the last month, I wasn’t kidding. I now am working actively as a Druid in my community – and the pace is ramping up. I’m busier than I ever was in a ‘normal’ salaried job, people are more than happy with what I’m doing, and the foundation is being very well set. This throws all of those ideas that this is just a ‘hobby’ very much out of the window!

My worldview has been forced to change. Rather than simply being a ‘spiritual volunteer’, in modern parlance I’m more of a ‘spiritual consultant’. I’ve had to consider insurance, self-promotion, target market, relative value of services. Faith-based actions are having to be quantified in the manner of the society in which I live and work. I may be a Priest, but I have no larger Church to back me up and provide wage and home. Others are watching to see how I do (generally with interest and curiosity, I’m happy to say!).

The most immediately issue, therefore, is survival – and that means money. I’ve always been told that asking about money is rude, and I’m waiting for the first person to suggest that I shouldn’t be charging for what I do (as seems to be the way with some of the more ‘intangible’ Pagans!), but I still have bills to pay, as do we all. Despite what one person once asked, I don’t live on a commune, in some sort of ‘Hobbiton’-style self-sufficient village! So how much do I value, in cash terms, what I do? What value do I place on my spirituality? It’s another challenge, another demand from my lived spiritual life to look deeper, to question its relevance and applicability, as it becomes not just personal but professional.

Ultimately, something that I was taught years ago is the importance of fair energy exchange. This isn’t some sort of cosmic light experiment, nor  sacrifice in the manner of offering up a goat to a deity – but it does mean giving something of value to you in exchange for something of (at least) equal value in return. Professional practitioners of energy healing have often told me how they must receive equal return on their ‘expenditure’, otherwise the healing work doesn’t ‘take’ as well; the value that the healee places on their energy makes it more effective.

So what’s the primary unit of exchange for energy, in this capitalist society? Money, of course. When you think of any monitary service, exchange the financial term for ‘energy’ and see how it sounds. Exchange of cash (energy) is to be expected if you want something of value.

You don’t expect something for nothing – and if you do, that ‘free’ service has no definable value and is therefore worth less. That’s another set of beliefs that has been instilled in us. So as  the ancient Druids may have been paid in food or fuel, I’m reimbursed with money to pay for those same items. Life moves forward.

But now I’m being asked for more information on what it is that I do. Faith-based activities must again be quantified, so their value can be understood. Physical evidence of spiritual activity can be seen… but again, it requires work relative to the anticipated effect. So how do I specify what people ‘get for their money?’

I suppose I’m very aware of the potential for falsehood in working as a public Priest. Consider those American evangelists, asking for donations for prayer and healing (and very clearly living well as a result). There’s a good deal of cynicism now about how much the ancient Christian Church took from those who could ill afford it, with the clergy demanding ever more at the expense of others’ suffering. And yes, I’ve seen ‘alternative’ shops selling glass jewellery and wands as Real Quartz. Is a ritual tool somehow ‘better’ because it cost more? Or does that cost truly reflect the effort put into its creation?

I think that the key word here is ‘equal’. If I provide a bad service, I receive less in return, and thus cannot survive. So far, I am profoundly grateful that this is not the case! But I must therefore be constantly clear in what I am doing, conveying information and often highly experiential knowledge in a manner that can be understood and carried forward by others. I must be strong in my own beliefs if I am to represent them honestly and honourably, and flexible enough that I can continue to be challenged by new perspectives. I can’t get too proud either – no flowery titles, claims of superpowers or secret occult knowledge! My money is very literally where my mouth is (and I’m likewise glad of good friends and colleagues to keep me grounded and true to myself).

So it is that my faith is being challenged as to its increasing relevance with my life, as ‘work’ and ‘belief’ merge ever closer. I truly am living my Druidry all day, every day. Sometimes it wears me out, as I try to do too much – equal energy exchange is therefore also a reminder that I must not give everything that I have to the extent that I suffer. But nor can I travel long distances, to perform large rituals, for nothing. I won’t be able to give ‘complimentary’ books out to all and sundry. Ultimately consider what sort of world we would live in, if we truly expected such things? That honourable, equal energy exchange creates value and satisfaction to both sides of the equation, rather than any expectation that you are owed free goods and services.

I know that the challenges will continue as I move forward and learn, but I know too that I will do my utmost, as an active Druid, trying to help my community to the best of my ability. Spirituality merges with ‘everyday’ life… and isn’t that what we’re all truly seeking?

Let’s work together, to make ‘mundane’ life a little more magical.

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Our Sexual Nature

One of the things that always seems to be mentioned whenever Paganism is spoken of in the media is the… well, let’s say the ‘free love’ practises. The skyclad Wiccans, the Crowley-style orgiastic gatherings, the Dennis Wheatley bloody sacrifices… yes, it soon enters the realms of lurid fiction. Ignorant readers are titillated, genuine Pagans are frustrated.

I will say at this point, if you’re under 18, please feel free to read on. Because you will anyway, and I’m not going to be talking about anything particularly shocking (sorry, adult subscribers). Plus, censorship simply makes people look more keenly for whatever it is they’re being told not to look at – and frankly, there’s nothing here that shouldn’t be talked about. Quite the reverse.

Sex is important to pagans – in the same way that it’s important to humanity as a species. Family is at the root of community and connection, our ancestral lines would not exist without it, and an act that creates so much joy (if undertaken correctly) should be lauded, not stifled.

Aspects of Deity that are frequently incorporated into our lives and practices are the Great Mother, her Consort and her Son, amongst other archetypes. The fecundity of the land is represented well in the rampant enthusiasm of the priapic Pan and the engorged Sheela Na Gig; even the language is sensual, thick and intriguing, dripping with intention.

So it’s remarkable that when discussing sexuality in pagan life, there’s remarkably little information. Especially when we consider that according to the ‘Mind, Body & Spirit’ shelves in your local chain bookstore, the most popular spell that anyone could ever want is the Love Spell. That’s an industry in itself and not an entirely ethical one.

If love spells were used to the extent that they’re written about, the issue of ‘controlling’ others for the purpose of relationship can both be compared to – and result in – rape. The sheer invasiveness is precisely what modern Pagan practice is not about. If you’re playing with the lives and emotions of others in such ways, you need an entirely different kind of help.

If undertaken with clear intention between two informed and consenting partners, love magic can be a powerful thing. From setting the scene for a night of passion as an expression of love for your partner, to invoking the spirits of fertility with the goal of conceiving a child, these are fundamentally human experiences. By making the occasion sacred, almost ritualised, not only will you have a memorable time (I won’t say night, as this could happen at any hour), but you’ll both experience connection at a much deeper level.

The power of sex is an almost tangible energy – and not just the act itself. Sexuality as a practice is a much more familiar concept, in its way. We’re constantly being bombarded with images of it, and are tacitly aware of it in everything we do. Clothing and adornments are chosen to increase personal attractiveness, make-up exists in almost infinite variety to create human peacocks showing off on Friday nights in town centres. Without the subtle language of sex, many advertisements would be dramatically different. So how are we using that ourselves (and do we even realize)?

However, perhaps it’s our essential ‘British reserve’ or a holdover from the rules of the larger faiths, but it seems to me that the reality of sexual relationship is still rather taboo within Paganism. We’re all aware of the increased importance of woman (particularly in Dianic practice, for example), but the inclusive and comparatively open nature of the (wide range of) Pagan paths means that there are those from the entire sexual spectrum out there on Beltane. Heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, we all understand (to a greater or lesser degree) as a crucial part of our spirituality that our actions represent both our personal power and that of our gods… as we participate in what is, at heart, possibly the most natural of all acts.

And of course, this isn’t just the missionary position. A multitude of human experience can be brought to bear in the coital ritual, from the simple (!) expression of love to joining through a mixture of pleasure and pain or control games. Again done correctly, BDSM is not simply a dressing-up party, and it would be insulting to consider it so.

There are more ways of life, spirituality and relationship than I could possibly name here. Some Pagans are polygamous. Others abstain as a personal act of sacrifice. Many realize that gender itself is fluid, playing with the boundaries of clothing, identity and public image. The key word, again, is consenting. We should endeavour to understand, not judge.

As I’ve said before, when we act honourably in our lives on this path, we act with clear intention, knowledge and responsibility. If we surrender ourselves, that is a true gift to our lover. A candle-lit dinner is an act of worship.

And then, of course, there is the Great Rite… but that’s another topic for another day.

Suffice to say, we are almost duty-bound as practising Pagans to welcome the act of love, to explore it and revel in it, as our gods do. If you’re not enjoying it, why not? What can you do differently? Be curious, investigating together with your partner. The focus and goal is relationship, the  joining of forces, merging and separating in natural rhythm, like waves on the beach (both forceful and gentle).

This includes, of course, self-love. From confidence and presentation to personal, private pleasures – such lone rituals are likewise to be made memorable and enjoyable. You should hold no secrets from yourself, after all. If you are God/Goddess, take time to worship!

Not to forget, finally, that ultimate Pagan sexual experience. If you’re brave enough… get outside into the world! Wild nature is itself a sensual experience, from the feeling of sunlight on bare skin or wind through hair, to dancing in a torrential rainstorm or merging with the tickle of sand on a beach. Alone or with others, take time to open yourself and experience that fundamental relationship as you remember that whether wild or controlled, you are still an animal.

Live with awareness, live with joy, live with love. Especially on these long winter nights…

 

Further reading:

‘Love Spell, an Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening’ by Phyllis Currott

‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler

‘Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe’ by Christopher Penczak

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