Posts Tagged goddess

Speaking as a Woman

Today is International Women’s Day. This always gets me thinking. Much like Mother/Father/Secretary/Dog’s days, aren’t those every day?

Well, of course. But it’s worth taking a specific day out to think about that particular group.

(Yes, there is an International Men’s Day. That’s not what I’m looking at today).

From an early age, I learned that there were more male role models than female. In the late ’70s/early ’80s, Wonder Woman was my idol. The only superheroes I saw back then were on TV, so while I loved the lonely strength of the Hulk and the corny fun of Adam West’s Batman (where Catwoman always seemed to win, somehow), there wasn’t much else to choose from that I could relate to.

As any so-called minority knows, it’s tough when you don’t see yourself in the world around. You seek out something that reflects You, and hold on to it fiercely when you find it.

It seemed that a certain social group of straight, white men was the norm, the ‘default’. I ended up being somehow tomboy-ish, because the specified female roles weren’t in the least interesting to me. Then that one female leader, Margaret Thatcher… well, no. No, thank you.

I remember adult ladies around me making jokes about the bra-less, freedom-fighting women of Greenham Common and Newbury. Third-wave feminism seemed a long way away from me, and not at all aspirational.

I saw many female teachers, but led by a Head Master. I saw male bosses and female secretaries. Of course, in later life, I became a PA, and understood how deeply true it is that while men stand up to run things, they couldn’t do it without the strong women behind them, hiding their wits and brains behind their battle-armour of Wonderbra, heels and fierce makeup.

It’s often true that women have had to fight twice as hard to gain as much recognition as men do ‘normally’. Which is why on days like this, it’s both fun and necessary to catch ourselves in perpetuating those default norms. Feminism is about equality, for all. This is not about women above men, but asking for equal respect. Be we gay or straight, trans or cis, our stories are just as valid as anyone else’s. No matter our ancestry or current social role or job, we can find commonality, hear each other and stand up together. Our relationships, and the gendered language we use, is still evolving and maturing as it is required to represent new things.Pagans have a great deal of respect for women, given that it is a very female-led spirituality – but again, we still have room to grow. We stand with our brothers, fathers and sons, together in our power, unique and connected. This is the revolutionary act that we can demonstrate, each and every day, in ritual and regular life.We say that we see women as sacred – yet many are still taken advantage of, used or disparaged. In recent years, I’ve got into (rather pointless) arguments about how I call myself a Priest, not a Priestess. While I know that the suffix ‘ess‘ simply denotes the female of the word, once again, the default is male. That always annoyed me, as it seemed so arbitrary. Actress but not directress (or directrix). Many people have called me a Priestess, which I don’t mind at all, but it’s interesting to note that a Priestess is treated as if the title is an honorific, not derogatory (even if you need to be a High Priestess to carry any clout *grin*). That word appears to have been reclaimed, and I’m glad of this. Priest and Priestess, standing together as God and Goddess. And I am deeply grateful to those men who stand at our side.
Today and all days, I call on my lady-friends, women in body and/or spirit, to stand in who they are. Sometimes that’s the biggest battle of all, but know that there are so many others who have your back and love you for that honesty, integrity and bravery. Whether our weapon is a sword, pen, wand or knitting needle, know that we are all Wonder Women at heart.Wonder Woman

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Review: ‘Dark Goddess Oracle Cards’

Dark Goddess

I’ve been an explorer in the world of divination for a fair few years now, with my favourite Tarot decks usually nearby at home, as well as Norse Runes and Celtic Ogham. I’ve had a bit of a hit-or-miss relationship with ‘Oracle Cards’ in the past, though, as they sometimes seeem a bit random or difficult to connect with. So when I was asked to take a look at this deck, while I trust the creators as friends, I was a little nervous. Nobody likes to give a bad review!

I needn’t have worried. These beautiful cards seemed to jump out at me as I ‘tested’ them, pulling cards here and there for willing friends to see how well they ‘worked’.

Now the thing to remember with divination sets is that when I say ‘worked’, I don’t mean empirically: turn light-switch = bulb brightens, for example. I mean that the cards resonate with both seer and querent, connecting as required to provide effective and useful guidance.

This is most easily measured in the response to the image on the card – often a gasp, as relevance is immediately found (rather than ‘Well, I don’t understand that.’)

These cards hit the mark every time, without exception. That’s rare.

The images are lovely. Not necessarily all depicting each Lady as I’ve encountered Her, but you can certainly see the relevance – and how difficult is it to photograph a Goddess and capture every aspect of Her?!

Photo 23-08-2018, 12 09 19

Barbara and Flavia have used their considerable experience to create images to help inspire deep thoughts in those using the cards. Each also has a key word on the front… which I confess, I didn’t actually notice initially, as I was so caught up in all of the drama in each picture! I’ve found that my own experiences of each Lady has helped understand the connection for those coming to me with questions; the keyword is useful, but as it’s hard to capture a full image with every meaning of each Goddess, so one word can never do Her justice. The words are a useful guide, however, as is the handy and thoughtful book which is included in the pack.

I would say that this deck works at the level appropriate for the user. They may just be pretty pictures, with a word to help; or the images may spark something much deeper. It’s not simply about the figure, after all, but what’s going on within the picture, in context of you asking for aid or guidance.

I look forward to continue using this cards in the future, as and when they call to me. Although my main complaint is simply that Barbara and Flavia haven’t included themselves in the imagery! Two beautiful and clever witches who definitely deserve to be visited if you ever get the chance, either at events around the UK or at Arnemetia‘s in Buxton, Derbyshire.

This pack is available on Amazon or at most reputable book/alternative shops.

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24/7 Priest

I saw an interesting story this morning. A lovely depiction of women, armed raised to the sky, dresses and hair flowing, entitled ‘A Gathering of Priestesses’. It relates to online classes and talks being held soon.

Lovely, I thought. I wish I was as glamorous as them!

Then I stopped. I looked at the recent pictures of myself at work that folk have posted to my Facebook – as I officiate at weddings, namings and public ritual. Good grief… I am doing this! Aren’t I?

I often find myself pausing to consider the terminology we use to describe our ‘work’ – ie the tasks we do for others to support ourselves and our community. I call myself Priest, and have been both honoured and berated for it… despite the fact that I only took it on after enough people had referred to me as such, and I’d been working as one for long enough that I felt it to be an accurate title and descriptor. I don’t tend to use ‘Priestess’, not because I’m ‘denying my femininity’ (yes, really) but because I don’t see gender as part of the role, not really. I’ve often said that people can call me what they want, so long as it’s civil or polite!

But what does it really mean, to ‘Priest?’ Do we turn it on or off, like a 9-5 job? Is it reliant on certain clothing, place or attitude? Of course not. I’ve been reading a lot of work lately by priests of other faiths, and see the same thoughts again and again. A Priest is something you are, not something you do. It’s a role you take on, yes, but as a result of vocation, calling to service. Duty comes into it, but I find myself working almost anytime, anyplace. I have joked that my motto is the same as the 1970s British comedy show, ‘The Goodies’ – We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere!

Ultimately, I do what I’m called upon to do. Great. Priesting for others is identifiable. What about other times, then? In private, at home, out shopping, with family?

Nimue Brown wrote a thought-provoking piece that’s been in my head relating to this topic this week, on Gods. As with the title of Priest, being a Priest of [Insert Deity Here] can be used as a bludgeon almost, to give the title-wearer power, bolster their ego, increase their standing in the community… or it can mean what it truly means. 

If you take on the title – and subsequent responsibility – as a Priest of a Deity, then you are that all of the time. As a vicar might serve their community, a Priest of a God serves their Lord or Lady as needed, throughout their lives. Not just when it’s convenient. You don’t shut the door to the Powers that Be. So public Pagan Priests discover that they might be called upon all of the time, even when it might not be convenient to them.

And this includes all those in-between times as well. Which is what occurred to me today.

I made the decision to work from home today. I’ve dressed, sorted out the animal household residents, pinned my hair up and considered what needs doing. No makeup, no jewellery, no glamorous presentation! This idea popped into my head. It wanted out. I’m typing from my sofa, with a cup of tea at hand. That’s how writing works sometimes. So here I am.

Through the writing, I’m discovering thoughts, ideas, challenging myself. Am I a Priest when tapping away here? Or washing up, doing the laundry, walking the dogs? How about when I’m hidden under a blanket, crying my eyes out, having been overcome with emotion on those darkest days? 

Yes, I am. The truth seemed quite simple, as I pondered it. The stories tell us so, and from them – those myths that I return to for guidance – comes confirmation.

Demeter’s dark days are called ‘Winter’. Ereshkigal turned hers into determination. Odin suffered to find his truth. Athena (Wisdom) was born from Zeus’s headache!

Whether we see deity as literally existant or not, our ancestors went through the same life dilemmas as we do now, and retold the journeys in story. From peasant to King, they pondered, explored, screamed and wept. Others were there to help – public, accessible Priests – but part of the journey is questing inside, for that ‘Aha’ moment (yes, which Druids call Awen) of realization. Discernment, through piles of crap or huge social noise, to find your truth. 

Priests do this for others, but also for themselves. We all do, to some degree. While I suspect that the reason that Priests gained so much power is that others wanted to rely on someone else to sort their problems out for them, a good Priest will inspire, guide and encourage, not provide a quick fix (I never quite understood how absolution worked, but repenting a mistake instead of regretting it seemed clear). As spirituality is a life-choice, not just for convenient ‘holy’ days, so we live it. All of the time, good and bad, light and dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We take responsibility. We stand as Priests, guided by those we serve as much as we guide them. My Gods are patient, but give kicks when needed – as do I! Sometimes it is just a matter of allowing space for the realization. 

Priesting myself is no bad thing. Boundaries to allow for that are as necessary as in public ritual. Stories guide along the way. Moments of realization allow for internal ‘facepalms’, of ‘How did I not see that before?!’ – because only now am I ready, in a place to properly see.

I’ve been given many labels over the years, but ultimately, I regularly recommit to those that fit best – and so I move forward. This idea or identity is not finalised in this little blog post; it will evolve as I do, as I discover more on my journey. And so my own story unfolds.
Occasionally, I even dress to match.

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The Sacred and Me

Years ago, I came across a beautiful prayer in a Pagan book (I believe by Francesca de Grandis, but I’ve sadly not been able to find it since).

The prayer thanked the Goddess (if the speaker was female, God if male) by honouring Her/Him in every day life. Something like ‘I walk on Your body, with Your feet, and raise Your hands’…

I love playing with language, and this is just delicious. Boundaries are being pulled down, the binary of Me/You being removed. I am You. Goddess is Me.

It felt like that moment when you fully understand what walking on the body of the Goddess means – if you regard the Earth beneath us (and around us, and above us) as Her form. After contemplating this when first starting out as a baby Pagan, I was actually daunted to even take a single step. But I did, and I moved on. I felt a bit silly for worrying. She caught me, after all. Gravity’s a blessing too, and the Earth is pretty sturdy. Just don’t take it for granted (toddlers know this wisdom well).

Now, I know not everybody works with deity as a male or female form/idea – but many do, as it helps us to personify a very large concept in order to better understand it.

But you don’t have to acknowledge that personification to understand my point here: Your body is deity. Your hands are those of a Goddess or God. Your ideas have value, your words speak sacred truths, your spirit is immortal…

I can almost hear the doubt in you now. But bear with me.

I know we don’t regard ourselves as anything approaching deific, and the ego required to walk that path can perhaps be too monstrous to contemplate. But again, not quite what I mean. This is not about power or ego; this is about the sacred, value and intention.

Consider this idea for a moment. You are sacred. Your every word carries power, your touch is magical, your hugs are a blessing.

Isn’t that true? Even just a little bit? Certainly if you’re a parent to a young child – you are their universe, their guide and guardian. Best Mum/Dad Ever!

So if we walk in this truth, how do we honour ourselves as sacred? Do we dress well, in clothes of quality that suit us, or do we throw on a t-shirt and jeans? Do we nourish ourselves with well-cooked food or grab a pre-packed sandwich? Do we even notice as we clean ourselves in the morning, or just get done what needs to be done before rushing off to the next task?

I’m sure you see where I’m going now. This isn’t intended to be judgmental at all (I do all of those ‘lazy’ things above), but simply ask for consideration.

The intention of my challenge to myself was in the back of my mind as I began my day. I decided to get on with a reluctant job that I’d been putting off, and go through some old clothes (I’ve lost weight lately due to running). And I discovered the sheer value and appreciation of clothes which fit well and serve their purpose – whether that’s decent underwear, a sturdy coat or a fitted top. So many items ended up in the pile for charity because it didn’t fit as I’d physically changed, or – as I realized – it likely never had fit well, not really.

I don’t go clothes shopping for fun. It’s never been easy for me, as I do like things to look good, and am very aware of not fitting into the ‘trendy’ mould that society requires. But this means that sometimes I’ve had to make do. Being happy with how I present myself has had to be sacrificed to what I can afford and making do with the best I can find.

I’ve heard this from friends who are healers. We have to sacrifice decent cleansing and body products for those we can afford, regardless of what they contain. The same with food.

Again – this is not a guilt-trip. As I walk my day today, I am considering. If I am Goddess, how do I honour myself? If I wish to adorn myself, what fabrics, scents and colours do I use? Am I ‘making do’ or putting in effort? How much do I value myself, after all – would I treat friends or family this way?

And while I consider how I represent myself, how do I speak to others as I go about my day? Do I gossip and whinge, or share a smile and a happy story? Do I honestly seek help when needed, or hide in pain? Truth or falsehood, balance and power… inspiration and connection. The old song: What am I doing?

I honour my Goddess in my journey as I explore with good intention. Because by doing so, I am honouring my Self. I must remember, at heart, to care. To love.

I try my best. And I trust Her (Me) to catch me when I fall, and find the strength to try again.

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Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

The last week has been horrendous. Hellacious. A battle on every front, during which I could only seem to stand my ground, moving neither forward nor back. “If I can make it to Monday,” I would tell myself, “Then it’ll be ok.” ‘Make it to Monday’ was my mantra.

I’m sure we’ve all had times like this. Periods of difficulty, where each day seems to last at least a year, with so much thrown at us that we feel like simply giving up in the face of the deluge.

I’m no expert in astrology, but we’ve just come out of a period of Mercury retrograde – a time of pause and reflection. Because basically, if you try to do anything… forget it. It is not happening. Stars or not, this sums up the last few weeks. Mercury, God of travel and communication, was going backwards.

No matter what I did, I was stymied. Talks fell through, emails went unanswered (or receiving vague and unhelpful answers at best) – the world seemed to be moving, but just not the part I was in. Writing didn’t flow, any work was a challenge. So many pieces of technology broke or failed; even my shoes fell apart. Sometimes it felt as if I was bashing my head against a wall. What was I supposed to do with my time?! I do like to keep busy; even when relaxing, I like to be doing something, be is reading, knitting… whatever comes to hand. Even these simple activities couldn’t keep my attention.

And then last weekend, my first ever animal friend, who had been in my life since his ‘rescue’ from a local sanctuary, took himself out of the living room window with a brief final look at me… and vanished. He’s been ill for a while, had Harry the geriatric cat – an inoperable ear condition that meant he was fairly deaf (and so wonky enough that he missed when jumping at objects, which confused him no end), losing his sight, with no teeth and all the signs of senility.

He was scared of the mattress, because of how it felt underfoot – but he snuggled into bed with me when I was alone after my divorce. His loud purr from my lap was such a comfort. We’d play ‘licky/kicky’ games together on the stair (he grabbed and kicked at my fingers, I’d tickle his belly).

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

Lovely folk confirmed to me that ‘this is something cats do’ – they take themselves away to find a quiet place, where they won’t be found. In one sense, that hurts; but in another, I understand.

I found myself nodding. Because over these same past few weeks (months?), I’d been thinking the same. When the darkness seemed inescapable, with no way out… I’d considered taking myself away, for the sake of everyone.

Yes, I know – irrational. Depression does that. Things that would seem manageable, easy to deal with when perspective is ‘normal’ can be almost the end of the world when you’re down in the dark. Getting dressed is a challenge; leaving the house akin to scaling Everest. It may not be ‘all about me’, I may be selfish and inconsiderate… but sometimes there just isn’t anything outside your own head. That’s how it can feel. And it’s so very scary.

Last week, it seemed that knock came after knock. If I could just make it through… I kept telling myself, over and over. It wasn’t all about me. But feeling trapped and alone (even if I wasn’t) made it seem so.

I had to trust that Harry had done what he thought best. I had to trust myself, that I had the strength to survive (and that survival was, in fact, the right decision). This, too, will pass.

Mercury was taking me deep.

Years ago, when I first dipped a toe into Paganism, I sat in my bedroom and meditated, nervously asking for any deity who might like to take me on to make themselves known. I was curious, but had no real idea what I was getting into. But I had made my decision, and asked the question. I’m not sure what I expected, but certainly not who arrived.

A beautiful lady with the head of a cat stepped forward, shining and golden. I was taken on, as a kitten perhaps: a trainee priestess of Bast.

I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so staggered at the force of the experience, I resolved to simply (!) do my best.

Over the years since, my Lady has moved more into the background; a constant presence, but letting me learn what I have to. I’ve come to understand the fluidity of Deity, how personification is a human need, but which those forces which guide us can use to help us see what needs to be seen.

I’ve worked closely with other deities since, from Sekhmet to Hekate, Herne and Loki (not all at once!). I’ve learned. But She has been there, to be glimpsed when least expected. In no way separate from my life, but constant, present, in all Her aspects.

Harry was my friend, companion and guardian – but he was always his own person. I’m now in a house full of canines (all male). Life takes us on strange, winding routes.

I’ve made it to Monday. I’ve been reading the tales of others this morning, online and in print, the curling paths of life. Simple actions have taken on the importance of prayer – I’ve made it (this far).

We ebb and flow. Ourselves and those forces that we connect with – the stars, the gods, those living beings we share space with, larger forces of Nature that we are subject to. We touch and part. We learn and teach, inspire and are inspired.

I think back to the past week. To those shining lights which glowed all the more strongly for the hardness that they broke through. A call from a friend; a simple message. A request, a shared thought, a gift. A story can be the most powerful of connections, a smile the greatest achievement. A memory, held close.

Monday morning. The next week stretches ahead. My body is free from pain; my mind free from darkness. I honour what is past, promising not to forget. And step forward.

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Birth and Creativity

I’ve often said that being a mother is the bravest thing that I could ever imagine doing. From the process of pregnancy to birth, to the ensuing life of an entirely new being (with all its ups and downs), it’s hardly surprising that many mothers – yes, including mine – appear a bit bonkers. A young mother friend of mine once said that you either have a nervous breakdown the first time you lose sight of your child in a shop, or you get over it and get on. I heard a story this week of a poor child being bullied in school because at age 10, his over-protective mother still won’t allow him to look after himself. It’s a tricky balance, and despite the amount of advice on the bookshelves, I doubt there’s really a ‘How To’ manual that’s actually relevant or useful. And I love those reports that come out periodically along the lines of ‘if Wife/Mother was a job, its salary would this much.’ We can never value those hard-working ladies enough.

The image of the Mother, both in life and in Paganism, has been on my mind lately. My 36th birthday looms (vast dotage indeed), and many of my friends and family members have youngsters in various stages of schooling or upbringing. My sister-in-law queried a while ago whether I intended to have kids, enthusing about how wonderful it is, fulfilling etc – before having to deal with my screaming 3-year old nephew and demanding 1-year old niece. My brother has asked for ‘piece and quiet’ for Christmas; possibly ‘a lie-in’.

I’ve never felt myself to be the mothering type. I’ve still yet to feel those mysterious urges of ‘broodiness’. Not having children with my now-ex husband was an extremely wise decision, but my views haven’t changed. Despite others telling me often that I’d make a good mother, I just have never felt brave enough to undertake the staggering life change that having children involves. Also, there’s surely enough children out there who need a good home? Who am I to add to that, when I could surely help those without?

Yesterday, I found an rather odd article in ‘The Independent‘ (also of the type that is reproduced periodically depending on the level of newspaper pages to fill) that brought this to mind again. Is it society’s fault? Is it an outdated religious ethic, that as animals we must breed, to perpetuate the species? Surely not. Are we not free enough to make our own decisions, as individuals and couples?

Yet I’ve heard the comments as well. ‘You’re not a proper woman unless you have children.’ ‘Oh, you’ll regret it when you’re older.’ Or the assumption that there’s something wrong biologically.

I fully understand and agree that parenthood is a difficult job. Yet, given that it prides itself on its return to traditional ways of life, diversity and eclectic practices, how far does Paganism support the societal view that to be a Mother is a natural – if not essential – step in a woman’s life?

(Apologies to the chaps out there reading this; I’m hopeful that you’ll consider my words as they are meant. I’m absolutely in favour of equality, so bear with me – I’m pretty sure you’ve been short-changed here too…)

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Is that it? The wonderful SageWoman magazine printed an article a while ago about ‘The Queen‘, filling in the space between Mother and Crone, noticing that it’s a time when much can still be accomplished – you’re not just stuck at home with the housework anymore. But what if you don’t want to be a biological Mother?

It’s tickled me in the past in ritual or other such Pagan settings. ‘Oh, you know how kids are,’ happily chirped a young mother during some Reiki training that I was helping with. My reply – a simply ‘No’ – brought her up short so fast, I almost laughed at the shock on her face. Because she was in her mid-20s with a brood that would do a hen proud. Clearly something was wrong with me!

My Goddess is so much more than a biological Mother. Motherhood is the giving birth, the creative act as a whole – not just reproducing children, but the lives contained in the multitude of inspirational sparks of Awen. From art, to feeding others, to building a home, to maintaining a garden… every aspect of life that requires that first initial Go! is given birth.

So… surely I do this already, in my own way? I’m doing so right now, kind of: putting thoughts into words to inspire and provoke thought. I’ve run a household since I left University; I care for my partner and animal family as much as I would any others that I love and live with. The basic idea that leads to a book involves a writing process often compared to pregnancy, with all of its pains and joys.

And this is where the guys come in too. There is no Maiden/Mother/Crone for chaps – why not? Yes, I know, God = Male by default for so many years, they’ve apparently had their go. But that’s an equally daft assumption. I don’t want to go too far the other way – this is about balance and reality combined with spirituality. While I’m obviously a girly and therefore can’t speak from experience, I’m pretty sure that men go through life seeking direction, archetypes and ideas in the same way as women. While it may appear they’re endowed with God-given (ahem) knowledge – you know, how to lead nations, run companies, never cry and understand the offside rule – at puberty, that may actually be as ridiculous as women gaining knowledge of how to be A Good Mother and Keep House at the moment of succcessful insemination.

To me, Druidry is ultimately realistic. It’s a spirituality with its mysteries, yes, but those are experiential – necessary to explore if you wish to learn, and worth so much more as a result. Just simply accepting something because it’s ‘traditional’ (actually less than a century old, if we’re referring to Wiccan archetypes) is as ridiculous as mindlessly accepting any other given truth.

‘God created the world’ – how? Not to provoke argument, I just actually would like to know the explanation behind this. But let’s assume that such a creative act as The Big Bang happened (we’re here, after all) and life has been sparking into being ever since, in all its form and wondrous variety. Coming from both men and women – as we understand it, as limited human beings – often working together.

We have to question our roles in life, to challenge, to explore. If not relevant, then we can (hopefully) be free to discard and find alternatives. One size of life does not fit all, and nor should it – how boring would that be?

Perhaps Maiden, Creatrix/Lady, Crone or suchlike might be better? And Boy, Creator/Lord, Teacher? Just basic ideas from the top of my head here, but let’s step out of our boxes, or feel free to relabel our own.

Establishing Pagan Traditions is one thing. Settling into Pagan Ruts is quite another. How much do we take for granted… and how much do we create? That’s surely a core tenet of Paganism, right there.

 

NB: I have intentionally left homosexuality unmentioned here, as I do not have deep personal experience of this and so do not feel qualified to speak on it. However, I see no reason for male/male or female/female balance to be in any way less valid that any other sort (including parenthood), and have seen it work a fair bit better on occasion! For those who can speak on such a basis, please feel free to add your thoughts, as always  🙂

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Within the Cauldron

It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.

Then I considered her words more deeply.

These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).

Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).

I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.

So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.

Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.

Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).

For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.

At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.

Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.

And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.

I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.

But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.

And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.

I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.

In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.

Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.

I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:

My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.

And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.

In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.

I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.

 

As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.

Sunbathing in the Rain

Journeys with the Black Dog

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.

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