Posts Tagged faith

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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Creativity and Mysticism

One of the things I love about my own path is that I cannot help exploring new ‘branches’. Key words or topics snag in my head and I have to follow where they lead – or they stick around, niggling me until I pay them appropriate attention! This is where most blog posts come from too, by the way. It’s why I’m sitting here right now.

One big example of this is my next book, the foundation of which has been around for a while. I want to look at connection to the wider world, the greater forces that we are intrinsically part of, and those which we choose to join with – or which choose us, if you prefer.

(Amusingly, as I typed that, my laptop let me know that my Wifi had dropped and I needed to manually reconnect. Thankyou, Powers that Be!)

Deep relationship with deity has its own word, as a recognised phenomena: Mysticism. Which I see used all the time in the context of anything remotely ‘cosmic’ or New Age, but which has actually been used for centuries in most of the major faiths of our world. When I first began exploring, I discovered a book that I’ve returned to often, as it speaks eloquently of both connection to God and the trials women have had to face in doing so in anything other than a secret manner: ‘Enduring Grace‘, by Carol L. Flinders.

I’m not going into this in too much detail here, as that’s for my book itself. Rather, I want to talk about how I’m working with sacred connection at the moment.

As creativity is so intrinsic to my Druidry, inspiration is a huge part of what fuels my work. I try to listen for interesting perspectives or taps on the shoulder – as I said, those ‘branching paths’ that call me. By this point in life, if I ignore those nudges for the sake of, say, busyness with other things, I should know that a kick in the rear to focus!! will be in my immediate future.

For years, I never thought of myself as a person who was any good with their hands. Now I’m a confirmed Knitter, this makes me smile – the old Goth bookworm working with colours and patterns, textures and shapes, using a skill mostly thought of as for grandmothers… I have no problem with shaking up any stereotypes!

There are patterns used by, I believe, mostly Christian folk to create ‘prayer shawls’ – usually gifts for others in need, but in a regular pattern in order to share spiritual good wishes and physical snuggles. I looked at this idea briefly, and… well… I can see how it works as a meditation, due to its repetitiven nature. But after a couple of rows of that, I was actually quite bored.

(I’m not sure if it’s me that’s just awkward or if I’m hitting on something here. Traditional prayer shawls are dull to me. As are the bland ‘Moon Cookies‘ used in some Wiccan rituals, and even the drone of neo-traditional Pagan chants! Not disparaging these in any way, but I need something more to fire me up and make me feel inspired.)

So I kept exploring. Ravelry is a greater resource for all sorts of pattern ‘recipes’, and my first attempt was a shawl with beautiful flow, cables and colours. Despite my lack of experience with sacred shawls, from the first this one appeared to be for Oshun. She kept appearing around me in pictures, tv shows and books, with the same colours and shapes, so there we were.

This was a ‘test’ case, of sorts, to see how the project evolved from thought to finished item, but once the shawl was complete, I knew it wasn’t for me. So I took it about with me, letting other people take a look and have a feel of its softness. But it still hasn’t found a home. It will one day, I’m certain.

Then I dug a little deeper. Playing with form and function – should this be crisp wool or smooth silk? Is it to hold safe like a hug, or provide shielding and protection? Quite a few interesting results happened, and I was pleased (as were a few recipients!).

Recently, a friend asked for a particular design that I’d worn in the past, but now dedicated to Freya. I hardly had to do anything, as this mostly came together itself! Wool arrived, the design was set, I had the person in my mind. This wasn’t feathers, interestingly, but more flowing shades of gold. I wasn’t quite sure it would work at first, but it has. It’s almost complete, but I’m now looking for some gold beads to finish it off – that seems appropriate.

For myself, as I’ve been exploring for the book, I’ve wanted to get closer to certain deities, as it seems they’ve wanted to get close to me. Dreams have been interesting worlds right now, and I’ve been looking for ways to express those in reality. Traditional colours and shapes (like Freya’s wings) didn’t seem right. Why follow paths already trodden many times? This was to reflect my relationship with Them.

Then once again, things started to come together. A pattern appeared, suitable for the form and purpose that I wanted. Wool was found, which worked together (again, somewhat unexpectedly – put together with a hope and a prayer!). It’s in progress now.

I hadn’t wanted to work on the Freya shawl in recent weeks, as I’ve been having difficulties in myself which I didn’t want to impress into the work. So this alternative seemed natural. It’s keeping me going through the tough times, as is its purpose now and when complete.

These things are literally evolving. Books to do this too – Book 3 seemed to be one thing, and has now combined with other ideas to transform into something at once larger and more focused. When writing fiction, sometimes characters seem to speak up and let me know what they want to do – to hell with my plans! I know for a fact that this isn’t just something that happens to me. This makes me feel very much like a conduit for the creativity itself, to the Awen happening, active and alive.

When making anything, a key focus of the magic is intention. What is your goal? Even if you’re not sure what you’re quite needing to do, you have an idea. Part of the process is giving yourself up to that, letting the evolution happen. For me, this is entirely correct… and definitely shows me how our ancestors believed the Muses guided their hands, pens and brushes.

So this is me exploring. What can I do on any given day, physically and mentally? What do I need to do? Where do those requirements meet? I like to be busy, but also know that I have to rest. This is one way of connecting, focusing with every stitch on the intention in what I’m doing. Not quite sure where the path will lead, but letting my subconscious (and any external messages) guide the way.

Oh, and the deity that I’m working with for me right now… did I forget to mention who it was? That seems appropriate too. But here’s a picture of where it is today.

Shawl

Like my writing, like my relationship with the deity in question, like my life… all a work in progress. And I do my best to keep inspired and enjoy the journey.

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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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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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Unity

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

Still with me? Lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working Spirituality

A cross-post this week, if I may – between here at my first blog ‘home’, and the wonderfully eclectic ‘Witches & Pagans‘ site (because if you can’t ‘moonlight’ as a Pagan, then who can?).

I am very aware that I haven’t written anything at either location for a couple of weeks. I could give excuses – ultimately, the days have flown past and life has been more important. I’m sure we all know how that goes. Instead, take a wander with me, if you will.

Regular readers know that one of my favourite places for inspiration is as I walk the dog across the hilltop where I live. This evening I wandered the streets, looking out at the fierce clouds parting after an intense rain and thunder-storm just a few hours ago, the remnants of a rainbow, and the slightly ‘stunned’ feeling of a normal, modern, country village after a violent and unavoidable incident of Nature. The grass is rich and green, the snails appear to have made a small bypass across the path outside one particular row of houses, and the occasional early bat is swooping overhead.

Most of my day has actually been spent in bed. I’ve been physically suffering from ‘cold turkey’ after reducing and finally ceasing a course of prescribed medication – I cannot justify taking such an addictive substance blindly, and am rather pleased to have found myself feeling so much better for having kicked it away. But there’s the inevitable fallout, which I’m riding as best I can.

This has also allowed a lot of time for thought. My constant question – What are you doing? – is before me. I’m coming to the end of the busiest period of my life so far as a Professional Druid and Author (I still can’t quite believe I’m saying that), and yet I’m challenged every day. There’s still more waves to ride, hills to climb, and (sadly) battles to fight.

Inevitably, when you stick your head above the metaphorical parapet to claim any sort of authority in an amorphous and random community such as Paganism, you’re going to have things thrown at you. Words, mostly – but despite the old adage, words absolutely can hurt.

I am walking my path. Mine. I can do no more – none of us can. But some of us are, it seems, called upon to challenge others in the manner of their practice. As if we don’t do that to ourselves enough. Perhaps those people are perfect already? Lucky them.

What am I doing? Organising handfastings and public rituals, moots and workshops. Representing Pagans and Druids as a public ‘leader’ for two national organisations. Working on my second (and third) book. Pondering blog posts. And that’s just off the top of my head.

I’m not asking for sympathy here, by the way – by and large, I love what I do, and am hugely grateful to be able to do it. I am outlining my current work schedule… because I’ve started to wonder if ‘Pagan Leader’ should come with a job description.

I am deeply aware from personal experience that The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network have a lot of volunteers who work incredibly hard, with their own energy, time and resources, in (to quote the TDN tagline) ‘inform, inspire and facilitate’ our spirituality. I’m sure most other Pagan organisations are the same. But I’m also becoming aware that the boundary lines are rapidly changing for our communities, be they Wiccan, Witch, Druid, Heathen or whatever term you prefer. And we all need to be aware of that, because we are all part of it.

The Pagan community, in whichever form you are a part of it – from a National Network to a tiny local coven – is evolving. This is, I believe, A Good Thing. Those who are now Elders have set the foundation. Youngsters, second and third-generation family Pagans, are up-and-coming with their own methods and ideas. This is a fantastic thing to witness. By the time I’m an Elder, I can’t imagine where we’ll be. Exciting times.

And yet, in a spirituality that depends on (and cannot avoid) challenging itself, we’re still sometimes scared to move those set goalposts that we have. Traditions, whether spiritual, social or political, are just too ingrained. Surely we can’t change that, whatever will happen?

We shouldn’t charge for spiritual services. We can’t call ourselves ‘Priests’ (because we’re not confirmed or accredited by some training school). We have to abide by an authoritative text or written rule-set, to be recognised in law. Paganism is just a bunch of fringe nutters, left-over hippies wearing purple crushed velvet and far too many crystals; what’s the point of even trying to be recognised as serious spiritual voices if that’s how we represent ourselves? I have seen all of these as actual discussions on Pagan Facebook groups in the last month, just as a cross-section of examples.

Pagans, and those who feel affinity for the Pagan path, are so varied and diverse that it’s almost impossible to categorise an us. This is the first hurdle when being recognised by ‘officialdom’ (as The Druid Network found out when it applied for Charity status). Soundbites in the media are almost immediately irrelevant – how do you sum up a subjective spirituality? We’re given titles, roles, pinned down, confined to how we ‘should’ behave.

(I’m still intrigued to see what my car insurance company will say when renewal time comes around and they ask my job. Priest or Author? Or just ‘Druid?’ 🙂 )

To me, this pigeonholing is the antithesis of Paganism, with its wonderful diversity and anarchy. But then, we ourselves don’t seem to know what else to do. Those same Pagan organisations, which have been set up by and for practitioners themselves (volunteers all) to benefit their fellows in the wider community, are often sneered at, slated for being authoritative, for not representing me accurately in my path. Some become overloaded with egos, mad Crowley-wannabees on power trips. Because, as we know, in these days of instant social media, whinging is far easier than actually doing something to change a situation or solve a problem. It’s easy to set yourself up as a Big Pagan Leader with robes and a fancy name. But then you realize that there’s actually a job to do. You take on the role, you have to walk the path – and publicly.

The Pagan community is changing. Those who are all mouth and no substance are falling by the wayside. Those who stand up and do are being recognised. As our paths change, so our wider systems change. People are actually listening. The wider world is being affected by what we are doing. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘No’ – or perhaps, more appropriately to open discussions, ‘Why?’

This is our challenge as Pagans. We are forging our paths daily, as we walk them. Our personal spirituality is becoming public, just by answering questions about what we do, engaging in chat, wearing a pentagram publicly. Pagan Pride, which took place once again in Nottingham early this month, would have been unimaginable for those original Elders (much as it was needed). Now we stand up proudly – and smiling, enjoying, sharing as a community. It’s not about the power or the titles – and certainly not about the money.

It’s living our spirituality. Work/life balance? Personal as Political? Absolutely. Truth, honour, joy and integrity. Being alive, and part of something larger. It’s a big planet, after all.

It’s not always easy, of course. The cat in me often balks at the ‘leadership’ roles, preferring instead to just practice alone in my back garden, or with my partner in the woods. Sometimes that’s needed. But then, what am I doing – and can I take time to share?

So my inspiration comes from my immediate surroundings, as I walk the excited border collie to do his business. I come back to housework, deadlines, demands. But I have to remember what I am doing too.

Most of us remember starting out. Finding books, websites, chat groups. Not really knowing how to talk about these strange practices we read about. What is ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ anyway? Do I need to use the right candles and incense? How did our ancestors cope before eBay?

I remember. That’s why I want to share – not to evangelise, ‘spread the good word’ or recruit. Just to help, to show that there are others out there doing this. And it’s not about rules, directives and absolutes – it’s about finding your way. Trust yourself. There are others out there who will too.

What am I doing? I’m walking with those who ask. I’m not infallible, and my resources aren’t infinite (nor is my patience, but that’s another story). But I’m here.

What are you doing?

 

Addendum: I’ve actually set up a ‘Donations‘ page, if any would like to participate in the equal energy exchange. I’ve been recommended to do this by other authors, but have seen those who regularly contribute to the internet’s collective creativity get by on the kindness of their lovely readers… so it’s an experiment that I’m willing to try! Thank you, as always, for reading.

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A Year Has Passed…

Beltane Blessings, lovely readers. A short post today, as I ponder the turning of the year once again and wanted to share my thoughts.

First of all, please visit here, for my post from this time last year.

Read it? Good.

I’m amazed, looking over it today. Just a short year ago, my life was so very different. I could see the changes on the horizon… now I’m the other side.

I have a copy of my soon-to-be-released first book. I’m self-employed, working professionally as a full-time Druid. I’ve met the most wonderful bunch of people – with more to come, with many rites and events this year ahead (including in other countries). People are interested in what I’m up to, and I’m able to help them in turn. My diary is now filling up into late 2013 (eek!).

I have a new niece, and see my nephew growing up (and my little brother growing into his role as Dad).  One member of my animal family is getting older, while the other still revels in his youth. And my partner is strong at my side, blessing me with his presence every day.

Life has changed so completely in many ways, and yet the principles of that original post remain the same. I work hard, to live my truth, to feel my spirituality as part of my life, to consider my actions. It’s not always easy; there are challenges along the way. But I keep moving forward.

Time has passed since last Beltane. What have you accomplished – and what is yet to come?

Oh, all right then. Because it’s Beltane – here’s Jonathan Coulton, celebrating the day. Go forth and enjoy!

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Faith, Truth and Media

I’m really not cut out to be a celebrity. I’ve never sought fame, and am still rather uncomfortable with people looking to me as an authority on anything. But I’ve stepped up, and here I am – from peeking my head above the parapet, to then standing proudly in the knowledge that what I’m doing is helpful in some way. Bracing for brickbats (verbal and otherwise).

But it’s not always the case with modern Paganism. Certain individuals seek out the ‘leadership’ roles, seeing it as a quick route to fame/notoriety, with the added bonus of an automatic fanclub (coven). I’ve heard of ‘High Priests’ getting their covenmates to do their housework for them. Integrity is unlikely to be part of their syllabus of study.

This week, Druidry was in the news again, with both a biased Daily Mail piece (you can imagine the sort of thing; I’m not linking to it as I don’t want to give it the attention) and a stunningly ill-informed and childish op-ed article in the Daily Telegraph. There has subsequently been responses, including some discussion regarding how far we as a Druid community should respond to such publicity.

The subject of the Telegraph piece, Emma Restall Orr, mentioned at this year’s Druid Network AGM that she was glad times had changed; there was now no longer a need to court every journalist who came calling for a quote, as unlike in recent decades, Druidry is now better known and understood. Myself and my colleagues subsequently turned down some of the sillier requests – again, refusing to acknowledge childish questions that would never be asked of any more ‘acceptable’ faiths (‘do your family think what you do is weird?’). When those apparently educated journalists saw no problem with tabloid-level sensationalist reporting, they were then surprised to end up with a simple ‘no, thankyou.’

Not everyone seeks out the ‘X-Factor’ 15 minutes, losing ourselves, our values and our dignity to the altar of brief fame. Some of us simply want to get on and do what we do, in this case practising our faith quietly at home, and (as for myself and other public celebrants/priests) teaching about it when called upon.

After my last post, I had a wonderful comment, noting that a fair number of Pagans and Druids may be living entirely ethical lives as Pagans and Druids… just without those particular labels. They’re ‘getting on and doing’. So personal and connected, they don’t even realize they may have earned a description of their practice – it’s just life!

I think this is where the balance lies. It’s a tough line to walk, but at what point do we go beyond our quiet lives to stand up for our faith when challenged? From a loud public statement on a march (Pagan Pride) to writing ‘Pagan – Druid’ on a Census form, our voices are being heard. We’re forming the foundation of a new type of spirituality/religion/worship: no doctrine, just personal, individual belief and method. This must then be brought together to form a louder voice when needed, for the sake of that personal freedom for both ourselves and others. It’s not trying to lump us all in as one entity, an ‘organised religion’ seeking converts. It’s forming something new, full of potential that should be explored, with the power to challenge through our difference.

It’s all very well to criticise those who are still ‘in the closet’, but sometimes remaining silent is necessary. The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network (amongst others) are there to assist those who experience actual physical, mental or emotional difficulty in their practice, but it’s still easier to stay hidden than to shout about something perceived as so ‘niche’ – and yes, still compared with Satanism *sigh*.

However, it’s the challenge of speaking up that’s itself an initiatory experience. It’s a big step to write ‘Pagan/Witch/Druid’ on a form, to request a day off from work for a festival, or to suggest to a school that they might include Paganism in their lessons. It’s an even bigger step to volunteer yourself as an example.

As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I do this is because I’ve seen it done so damned badly that I at least want to represent my Druidry with honesty and understanding. It’s far easier to find common ground on which to start a discussion than turn up in yards of purple velvet, dripping with pentagrams and demanding respect ‘or else’. Many people have told me that they’re grateful for this approach, glad that someone is doing what I (and many others) do. They don’t see the nerves beforehand, my sheer confusion at some of the questions I’ve been asked, or what’s behind my smile. Often it’s just an inner voice wondering ‘How on earth can you ask someone that?’ But I still do my best to answer. Never be afraid to ask questions; just remember I’m human too!

A Druid in normal clothes is far more startling, in my experience, than one in robes. The robes are a uniform, I find, indicating that you are performing a public role. The everyday clothes are the truth, the familiar, the comfortable… and the starting point. Yes, I’m just another person. We both live on this planet, there’s far more to it than meets the eye… whatever connection you find, it’s there. Even the most hardline right-winger (whinger?) can sometimes be surprised out of their secular complacency.

So how are your ‘normal clothes’ inspiring others? How does your Pagan practice merge with your everyday life to provide a good and honest example of yourself and your fellow practitioners to the Muggle world?

I’ve usually found folk to be more curious than antagonistic about ‘alternative spirituality’. It’s easy to hide behind The Internet when making fun of something (especially in ignorance or fear) – but I’m out there in person too, talking face-to-face. It’s a lot harder to make childish statements when looking at the subject of the joke (although it does happen), but then it’s equally easy to smile and laugh at yourself rather than take offence. Then engage the person in conversation gently, find that common ground and see where the discussion goes.

We are Druids. We try to inspire, to rekindle the magic. You get a lot more accomplished with friendly chat than with flaming argument.

And incidentally, regarding the actual topic of the aforementioned articles? I do think that religion should be taught in schools, but with equal weighting as other subjective and evolving information, such as history or science (controversial?).

I’m very much against censorship, but do firmly believe that students should be given the tools with which to disseminate and understand the information they are given, rather than simply learning it to a set agenda, or (as the current ‘A’ levels are in the UK) as memory tests. Freedom of information means having the skills to utilise that information, rather than knee-jerk. Philosophy should be taught once again, potentially causing the furore that it did in Ancient Athens – imagine if schoolchildren were encouraged to question, to dig deep for meaning and comprehension, to have the mental equipment with which to make their own choices…

Perhaps if there were greater urge to seek truth, understanding and more than just a soundbite – and for journalists to inform and inspire rather than rabble-rouse – those articles would have been written very differently.

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Practical Druidry

Today has been busy. I’ve been working on the events surrounding my forthcoming book, updating handfasting ceremonies, planning tomorrow’s workshop, pondering Book 2…

Then I sat down to have a much-needed tea-break, and found this waiting to be watched:  ‘Chaplains: Angels of Mersey‘.

There really isn’t much about religion of any sort on television these days. With the need for equality, the media seems fairly nervous of even mentioning faith issues, for fear of offending somebody – which leaves very little in the way of information about any spiritual path (or the need for spirituality at all).

The stories of these chaplains, practical Priests in their communities, were absolutely inspiring.

I love hearing the tales of working priests. I’ve been almost assaulted in the past by lady vicars wanting to make friends, curious monks, confused academics – all with a story to tell, and eager to hear mine in turn. It’s a listening profession, after all, but with so much give and take, generosity and real heart, I feel quite privileged to be a subject of interest, and am fascinated by them in turn.

A lot of the stories are familiar. In these programmes, I’ve seen an Anglican vicar trying to engage students at a Freshers Fair; a hospital chaplaincy helping in a time of crisis; street pastors busy with Saturday night drunks.

I’ve got my own stories, of course. I’m sure they’d be of great interest to documentary-makers, but I’m only interested in media insofar as it allows me to show the wider public that Pagan Priests exist at all – that we’re there to help if needed. Certainly not to garner ‘fame’ (or notoriety) or pander to egos.

This makes me realize, every time, that my constant question is still there for me as well.

What Am I Doing?

Ultimately, I’m one person, sitting here, tapping away with a sleeping dog beside me, on the afternoon of Good Friday. A relatively quiet day. Yet busy with the list of tasks above, and more besides. Life is certainly interesting right now!

Please note: this is not (and never has been) about publicising myself. It actually occurred that I would probably be happy to give my book away for free to those who expressed interest – although my publisher would scalp me, and probably my bank manager too.

It’s about living as I promised. I’m out there, living my faith in my community (physical and virtual) in order to help others, whether Pagan, Christian, atheist, whatever.  That was my choice, and I stand by it.

However, I’ve noticed that Paganism generally seems to have become a very insular spirituality. While folk do seek others of like mind to meet up and chat, in pubs or at Camps, generally their practise is kept private, at home or in quiet places outside, alone. This may be due to fear of ridicule, actual need for secrecy because of misunderstanding, or just a preference for a solitary mode of worship; I’ve no problem with that at all. Ultimately, any conversation that you have with deity is just the two of you.

But is that doing us, as a faith-based community, a disservice? Is our self-imposed isolation stifling our spirituality, rather than allowing it to flourish in the real world?

I’m not suggesting we get out on the streets with leaflets, or knock on doors with copies of ‘Pagan Dawn.’ I’m asking how you express your faith outside of the safety of your own home/room/head-space. My Druidry lives in the places of darkness and difficulty as well as love and light.

For the last few months, I’ve been asking members of The Druid Network to send stories of any community projects they may be involved in. I’ve had very few replies.

I’ve asked local Pagan Federation members for ideas on meet-ups and events, to help our regional community. Again, virtual silence.

Yet my inbox has messages every day from people asking for information, meetings, events, a need for connection with others. It seems that everyone wants something provided for them as Pagans (Wiccans/Druids/Heathens/etc)… but nobody wants to be the instigator. Nobody is willing to stand up and live their faith publicly, to help others, or even just to inspire by their work or creativity. Apathy is easier than hard work.

Except, of course, for myself and the others who do. Some of whom slowly slide into the background again after a time, fed up of the politics of the wider Pagan world, with its egos and challenges; others who have been called ‘media tarts’ simply for standing up to represent their Paganism.

I have also noticed that those who shout others down, be it with anger or mockery, rarely stand up themselves to do the hard work. It’s easy to put on the appropriate garb and join in at a large gathering, or get vocal behind the veil of an internet group, but when a Priest is called upon to teach, minister a service or provide chaplaincy during a life crisis, those loud voices suddenly go quiet.

I know it’s difficult. Trust me, I know. Public Priesting is not at all for everyone.

But it’s not so difficult to get out and honour yourself and your Gods by quiet actions in the world. An allotment or orchard project to bring pleasure to others and food to your family. Litter-picking as you take the dog for a walk, or the kids to school. Even volunteering to help your local space, be it Neighbourhood Watch, local environmental groups or charity work. Consider how best to connect your faith to your life, and do it. Take responsibility, rise to a self-imposed challenge. Be adventurous, explore – find your own quest!

Both The Druid Network and The Pagan Federation exist because of and for their members. Neither is about hierarchical religion or dogmatic dictat; they’re simply there to help. There are local equivalents – get in touch, make contact, grow that community. If you don’t like it, tell why, instigate change, add your voice to the song.

Paganism is incredibly diverse – that’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I may not understand everyone’s point of view, but I do my best to respect it, and not be afraid to ask to find out more. We all make up a kaleidoscopic picture, each working in their own way to represent themselves and their spirituality. How are you a part of that? How are you moving it forward – and how is it moving you forward?

I love to hear stories of these journeys too.

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Pagan Priesthood

It’s almost the Spring Equinox, and the world is waking up. We’re finally moving forward from that holding pattern between the colder nights and the lengthening days, and things are starting to happen.

Boy, are they.

The recent spate of interviews that I’ve undertaken have got me thinking all over again. Call it fortuitous coincidence, call it synchronicity, but whatever it is, certain topics have been coming up repeatedly, causing me to question myself and my own practice. All to the good, it keeps me aware and moving forward. So I thought I’d share.

Why am I doing this?

Year on year, my life has become increasingly filled with my practice as a Druid. This has mainly been public, to the point where it has become my primary livelihood right now. I’ve no doubt that more challenges will come as I become better able to meet them.

But what has this meant for my personal practice? Am I maintaining a good balance between my public work and my private spirituality?

I encountered a lovely turn of phrase in a book I encountered recently that summed my thoughts up very well:

‘We might say that the best spiritual writers are entirely at home in both the world of words and the world of silence.’
(Philip Zaleski, writing in ‘The Best Spiritual Writing 2001‘ anthology).

Initially I disagreed, quite vehemently. I love language, communication, storytelling – it’s an intrinsic part of me. You might have noticed.

But then I considered. ‘Silence’ here indicates the time when the talking stops, when you put yourself (ie your ego, your internal narrator) aside and simply BE. Meditate, assess, take stock, review. Become as neutral as can be, nonjudgemental, not critical or proud.

This is necessary for me quite often. Call it the cat in me, but it’s become ever more necessary for me to take time for myself, to retreat to a quiet place and do something personal, quiet, that allows me to reflect without external pressure. Time to recharge.

This is often that golden time when the inspiration comes. From the darkness and the quiet comes the spark, which must then be fanned – thus requiring time and attention.

The fire that I use to keep myself going, to itself inspire and help others in my work, requires care. My own personal practice must be maintained. While I’m working actively as a Priest, I cannot let myself become subsumed in service to others 24/7. This is true of most jobs, but perhaps even more so for those whose work is a vocation. This is, after all, my life. What use am I if I have nothing left to work with, to give?

Time turns and the busier seasons are ahead as the world wakes. My working life grows and evolves, as the call for me as Priest increases. This is not and has never been an ego trip – I’m not in it for the power, prestige and (Lord knows) the money! I detest the political power-games of some ‘religious’ groups; that’s missing the point entirely.

Some have seen the hard work behind the scenes, and so my integrity is assessed by others and found to be intact. This means a lot to me, as I’m often too close to my work to be truly objective. I sometimes need to be pulled back to reality!

But I have to ask myself my deeper intention as Priest. The answer is that primarily, I am there when called upon by those in need. I am standing up publicly: as an example to others, a demonstration of what is possible, giving permission to practice as a Pagan in the world today. I’m a guide, by the actions of my own life. This holds tremendous implications and responsibility, and is certainly not simple. Every statement can potentially be analysed for fault (including this one). If I wasn’t called upon, though, I wouldn’t be doing it. I work to help, because I can, and because others want me to.

However, I would hazard a guess that it’s also rather different to the clergy of other faiths. I speak to other Priests regularly, if only to share stories and laugh together, but as Pagans, there’s always that underlying truth that ‘we are each our own Priest’. Even if we don’t serve others in our actions as such, we communicate with our deities and connect with our spirituality in our own unique ways. That’s usually a strong reason behind choosing a Pagan path in the first place: we don’t give the responsibility of our own belief to another person to look after. Our doctrine is our own personal, evolving story. We have no hierarchy.

So we have the dilemma, the balance to maintain, between our own individual Priesthood, and that of ‘public service’, of Ministry. Different and yet very similar. Are you a Priest when conducting public ritual, or just sitting before your own altar in your home? Does it count as ‘Priesting’ when you explain your Paganism to a work colleague or family member? When you console someone, or encourage them with true intention? I would say Yes, to all of these. You are expressing your spirituality. You are representing the sacred, standing in your faith, your own truth.

The question then becomes: ‘Are you a good Priest?’ I don’t mean in terms of knowledge – nobody can know everything, nor have a perfect reply for every question. But do you work on your personal practice, explore more deeply, live in curiosity and wonder in order to strengthen your own connection with Deity… in the form of the wider world and everything on/in it?

It’s no small task. Often, it seems insurmountable. But as I said, the challenges come when you are ready for them – even if it takes everything you’ve got.

While I’m being called upon, I’ll be here. By the fire, keeping it warm for you.

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