Posts Tagged honour

Review: The Magpie Coffin

The Magpie Coffin Cover

I was kindly offered a review copy of this book by the publisher, but decided very quickly to buy it in order to support the author.

I rarely read Westerns. I’ve known many who do – often ex-soldiers, for some reason –  but while I enjoy the occasional Clint Eastwood movie, my experience with them is minimal.

I finished this book in two days. That’s only because I a) had other work to do and b) wanted to not consume it all in one quick gulp!

Salem Covington is an ex-soldier, having survived the American Civil War intact in body… but not in soul. We discover that he and his brother made a deal, and he has to follow through on that. His legend is notorious, and when he walks into a bar, the scar on his face means only fools challenge him (and of course, they do).

But that’s only part of the story. Salem spent a whole mess o’ time (yes, he speaks like that) learning what could be called ‘magic’ from his local Native tribe – and the tale begins when he learns that his esteemed teacher has been killed by A Right Gang of Bastards.

So because his deal means that he can’t be killed by any bullet except that from a particular gun, and as the titular Black Magpie he has to avenge his teacher’s murder, he grabs up the body (coffin and all), acquires a random sidekick, and sets off to fulfil his task.

This book has the subtitle of ‘A Splatter Western’, and yes, it’s gory in places. But I think that’s actually a misnomer. I’ve studied American history, and this book seems to nail the cynical attitudes and yet ‘interesting’ sense of honour held by folks in the (very) Wild West at that time. A war has ended that saw more people dead than any other in history, until World War One. People are doing their best just to get by. Violence is a familiar neighbour.

Salem tells the story, and while you sometimes get the urge to wince at his actions, it can’t be argued that he’s absolutely justified in what he does. He may be a Bad Man, but those he fights are so very much worse. By the end, I was cheering him on.

Given my limited knowledge of the fictional West, I admit to seeing parallels between this and the TV show Firefly. That carries an undercurrent of desperation as well, survival against the odds, and doing what has to be done, even when it seems foolish or dangerous.

The atmosphere, though – it’s akin to Silent Hill. The wilds of America are, to me, parallel in storytelling to the moors in Britain, or the forests of Europe. This place absolutely has its own character, and its own spirits.

Salem’s no hero, by his own admission. But he’s the one we’ve got – and by the conclusion, I was sad to see him ride off into the sunset. I very much want to know what he gets up to next.

The additional quirk of including Native tribal magic means you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Is the corpse talking to Salem, or is he imagining it? Does it matter? And if it didn’t, where did that bear come from?!

This is an excellent tale, engrossing and memorable. It deals respectfully with the spirits of the Old West, be they Blue, Grey or Red, and every character is well drawn. I was especially pleased to see some strong women arrive in the narrative, even if they weren’t always the most pleasant. Assume nothing about anyone in this book.

Absolutely recommended, and already looking forward to what this fine gentleman writes next.

‘The Black Magpie’ is published by Death’s Head Press, and is available from all the usual bookstores, in paperback and ebook.

 

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The Week After

(As before, previously published on my Patreon. I’m very much home now!)

I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since our Serbian adventure.

The days at once flew past and yet seemed so long. Cross-country friendships were kindled and I saw many move forward on their own individual journies.

One of the main things that has stayed with me was the process that Team UK went through while preparing to enter the arena to fight.

Initially, there was quiet. Just the sound of metal jingling as armour was buckled on, the odd request for help, but an absolutely intense atmosphere pervaded the Camp. I felt as if I was intruding initially, and retreated to my favourite bench to watch, close by if needed.

As the days went on, I was somehow absorbed into the activity. I helped Himself into his armour first; then another person, and another. As I’ve spoken of before, I was happy to work on odd jobs, but this was rather different – I quickly became aware that each piece of kit had to be positioned as its wearer wished. Too tight and movement would be impaired; too loose and injury could easily happen. Broken weapons demonstrated how hard each blow was, and the armour had to hold up against this.

By the final day, every time I made ready to go to my place in the audience, I was being grabbed multiple times for ‘just a quick bit of help?’ and I was carrying several peoples wallets, passports etc in my handbag. It feels peculiar how light it seems now I’m carrying just my own things!

I became incorporated into the busyness without force. I watched, respected each fighter’s preparation process, and took instruction (pointing out potential problems if I saw them). I was caring, efficient and – again, after years of PA work – able to do what was needed. They were patient with me, and (I hope) glad of the help.

The thing that has stayed with me, however, is that atmosphere. It wasn’t just about doing a job. The absolute focus was crucial. Every person had their own method for getting ready to face a team of other men or women, and each wanted to remain standing at the end.

I would imagine it to be similar to before an important sporting match, but with the added edge of higher potential for injury. Everyone saw and heard the little Serbian ambulances trundling on and off the field each day. Fortunately, nobody on Team UK suffered more than a concussion.

But I was honoured to be included in these rituals, and said as much to the Team Coach afterwards.

I’m reminded a lot of a line in the movie ‘The 13th Warrior’. Antonio Banderas’ Arab scholar is given a sword, like all the other warriors present. He protests, ‘I cannot lift this!’ One of the others smiles and yells ‘Grow stronger!’

That is my main take-home from this event. I saw so many fighters working to grow stronger, physically and mentally. I was very aware of my own weaknesses (likewise), but have been trying to figure out how to overcome them. I want to be better as Team Support in the future. I want to be as strong as I can.

Perhaps such inspiration will help mind as much as body. I saw much that I would call bravery, but which would be shrugged off as ‘normal’ to the fighters.

The members of Team UK are already looking to future events both at home and in Europe in the months ahead. Some I will be able to attend, some not. I was surprised how disappointed this made me.

I see parallels in recent thoughts and writings. What is important, what is not. How can I grow stronger, to do what I need to do in everyday life and its associated battles.

I hope my striving to be a Mental Health Warrior will be reflected in my physical spoons as well. Either way, I’ll do my best, for myself and those around me. I’m honoured to do so.

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Serbia – Last Day

(Again – previously published on Patreon. Please support for immediate access)

We’ve been very lucky with the weather this weekend – kind of. It’s been sunny and hot, which is great for the crowds, but not so much for the folks in armour.

Yesterday, though, the rain began. Gently, over the UK v France fight (cue lots of jokes about British weather helping us), but heavier overnight. Today, the site is rather muddy. Now the jokes are about Agincourt.

(Addendum: It got worse. Flooding-worse. Fortunately, all the fighting was done by then!)

I’m feeling philosophical. It’s our last day of the event, as we fly home first thing tomorrow. I’ve not been fighting, but Support is so important to the team. In the past, supporters were (briefly) treated like squires – but that was quickly knocked on the head. We’re not unpaid servants!

The (ex-Polish military) Team Coach took all of us Support crew aside last night and thanked us. This was really amazing, and I felt myself welling up – I was touched. It’s easy to forget the helpers, but without us, preparation and constant assistance would be much harder. Extra hands are needed for a knight to get into armour, and water is ALWAYS needed post-fight.

Back on the second day, the Team Captain asked if I could sew. A few minutes later, I was sat in his tent, his helmet between my knees (stop sniggering), stitching the cloth around the metal. Everything must be historically accurate to the eye, but the fabric collar was too thick and ungainly, getting in our Captain’s way.

When I’d finished, he was surprised how even it all was, much more comfortable and still looking good. Since then, it’s been noticed that when I’m asked to help with something, I get it done, quickly and well. It’s almost as if I’d been a PA for years… impossible tasks are my specialty 😂

What they didn’t see was my workarounds. I hadn’t expected to sew this week, so had no thimble. The material was thick linen with padding inside. So I found some fabric plasters, put them around my fingertips and – Tadaaa! Bodged thimbles. Also less blood, which is a bonus.

One fellow’s straps broke on his tabard. I ran for the needle and thread and was stitching things up before he had a chance to move. Again, surprise.

I’m Support. I help. From taking photographs for tourists with the knights in the marketplace, to fixing armour. Not glamorous, but necessary (and also kind of fun).

Each Team has also contributed to the overall running of the event, specifically an ‘Environmental’ charge. This means the toilet blocks are kept clean (not overflowing), litter-bins are emptied regularly… the site is cared for. As anywhere else, this is a tourist site of historical importance. Serbia is very proud of its history, and everyone here knows that they’re a part of that: medieval fighting with a 21st Century awareness and ethic.

I am writing this on my bench under some lovely trees, small leaves landing on me as I type. Team Israel is next to me, chatting and laughing. The rain has stopped, the sun is out and the mood is jovial.

It’s been a hard week spoon-wise, and we’ll both need serious rest when we get home. But again, I’m tired but proud.

Off to the traders now. I spied a small bronze Spoon pendant yesterday amidst the Heathen (and Witcher!) symbols for sale. Wonder if it’s still there…

Update: It wasn’t. But some beautiful acorn-tipped bronze pins were. Sewing accessory souvenirs! 😊

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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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Truths and Apologies

Memes are such a constant background noise these days, aren’t they? Cute little sayings, often with a pretty picture, to provoke or inspire. I once sat in an office with walls covered with ‘motivational posters’.

Sometimes that can be helpful. A quick, easily-digestible sentence or two, summing up a feeling or emotion. Validating something far more complex.

But as I love playing with words, sometimes I dig deeper… and find a less comfortable place.

For example: How are you? I’m fine.

This is a lie. Powerful images demonstrate this here (warning – challenging pictures). Many people don’t want to see. ‘Fine’ is enough.

I’ve not been fine for a while now; or rather, I’ve had good days and bad days. This is normal.

But I’ve not posted for far longer than I’d like, because… well… I’ve been battling. I’m sure many of you know those insidious thoughts. ‘You’re useless. Nobody cares. Nothing you say is worth hearing.’ And that most evil of all: ‘Just stop.’

I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. I’ve heard tell of several other contemporary writers who have such difficulties – from Scott Lynch to JK Rowling. Much has been written about the creative fire being linked to mental illness (eg this interesting essay).

But worst of all for me is that inner voice telling me how much I let people down. Because of those precursors to memes, the oversimplistic misunderstandings that we’ve been told all our lives. ‘You don’t think that.’ ‘Don’t be stupid.’ ‘You’re always making excuses.’

From frustrated family members to overbearing bosses, we’ve all heard it. Someone doesn’t want to look deeper, or listen to what’s really going on, so they lash out. Hey – we’ve all done it too, I’m sure.

This is part of the journey, however. As we stop – whether voluntarily or forced to by circumstance – so we realize how awful this is. How unhelpful, degrading and, frankly, wrong.

Nobody is worthless. Nobody is useless. Why can’t I do that? Why shouldn’t I? If there’s a reason, then so there is, but more often than not, the person throwing the demands around is projecting, trying to control, to fit you into their world.

And if you challenge those statements? Have you ever tried? I have, a couple of times. The expression on the person’s face (a teacher and a boss, as I recall) was priceless. It’s as if a disobedient pet suddenly spoke back.

We are often taught to keep quiet, for the sake of peace. As we grow older in this crazy world, though, we discover that while quiet can be nice, safe and cosy, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change things that are wrong. We need to speak up, to challenge, to look deeper.

I’ve had to take time in recent months. I’ve had no choice. Panic attacks, severe anxiety, what is now being called ‘major depressive episodes’. Some days, I haven’t trusted myself to put thoughts together enough to write anything.

Today, a dear friend sent me a meme that summed things up nicely, and inspired this post:

Some Days...

And this is true. Some days, more than others.

Then yesterday, another friend reminded me of my favourite phrase for my Druidry: ‘What are you doing?’

Am I trying? Really? OK. Reboot from Start. Let’s challenge those unhelpful voices within.

I’ve been told that before, by doctors, professional therapists and other ‘experts’. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So how best do I challenge them? The awful things that I tell myself – would I ever say such things to another person? Of course not. But they’ve been said often enough to me, surely I must deserve them. And so I’m dragged along with the flow of negative emotion.

A few nights ago, struck with insomnia, I found myself reading about deities who challenge. And I thought ‘Hey – I’m Pagan. Let’s ask one of those experts.’

So I quietly called upon that deity to help. To see if they’d listen.

And they did.

I sat for a while, pouring it all out, while that person sat quietly, just listening. Giving me their full attention. Understanding, sympathising. Not judging. Seeing deeper than the trite insults and demands, to the effect they had.

And when I was done, they were there with a hug. And so I let myself be held.

I do believe that as Pagans, we are blessed to have such methods to help us. Ancestors, helpful spirits, deities to call on. We are never truly alone, even when it feels like it. The tricky part is remembering that. And as with friends who are there for you, not being afraid to call them up and ask for a chat.

The key here is to speak your truth. Excuses won’t cut it (and are insulting, to them and you). This is the time for soul-truths, deep and painful. To be excised like infection from a wound. A scab can’t heal if it’s just covering a blockage of pus. Yes – that’s unpleasant. So is this process.

So here I am again, asking for your patience as I work things through. The medics are being helpful at least (another huge blessing!), and those of you who’ve offered help are valued more highly than any coin I can think of.

I am trying. I’m always sorry for letting folk down; I take pride in stepping up to keep my promises, and hate it when I can’t. Please know that if I can’t, I really can’t. It’s not an excuse. Those are the worst times.

But the flows rise and fall, and I work with them, as best I can. I battle through the storms and am so glad of the good days, of things I accomplish – even these wee words today. What I once took for granted, I now see as a huge gift. Perhaps that’s the latest lesson to take from this winter season.

Much love, dear ones. I am doing my best, with truth and sincerity. We move into Spring with tiny seeds planted. Gods willing, they will blossom and bring us joy in mind, body and spirit moving foward.

Onward.

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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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Shields – Front and Back

I’m often asked about Shields. Usually it’s in context of energy work, protection, personal defence against negativity. That’s fine, as this is something that we will likely encounter in our lives and so have to deal with.

But how often do we consider what’s keeping those shields up, or what’s behind them?

All my life, I’ve been told what to think. Society does that, after all – from marketing billboards, to advertisements on television and via social media. But also from teachers, bosses, friends and family. Everyone has their ideas and wants to share them. I’m sharing my opinion right now.

The difficulty comes when someone is determined that their opinion is better, truer or more valid than your own. You have to give in to their Truth, because they’re right. End of discussion.

I wrote of Trolls yesterday, and suspect this is a logical progression. How do we deal with those who cross that line between a thoughtful suggestion and a demand? Often the root is intention – genuine caring versus a wish to dominate or ‘win’. Sometimes the demand stems from an insecurity – others must agree with this person, or they are somehow insulting him/her by insinuating that they are actually wrong.

I’m not going to get into that again today – I’m sure you all have experience of this to some extent. But it can be hard to deal with, and this is where the request for shields comes in.

Overbearing co-workers, demanding relatives, pushy friends… these aren’t Trolls, are they? They’re usually just other people who genuinely feel that they’re doing their best, without realising how uncomfortable they make us.

Or is it actually a problem with Me? Is it that I’m being challenged in ways I’m not comfortable with, and so want to hide rather than deal with the issues?

We throw our shields up and back away. These can be psychic/energetic or physical – going home and closing the door is a good reaction, to claim your own space once again! But once we’ve done that, then what?

We can whinge about the Troll or the person forcing their opinion. They don’t understand me. Sometimes that’s true, and we must respond accordingly.

But as we stand behind our shields, taking time to think, so we can place our feet, take a breath and consider ourselves as well.

What about this is making me uncomfortable? Is it the manner in which the ideas are being pushed, or do I genuinely disagree? Can I articulate my thoughts now, in this safe place? Am I able to consider a response, or would I prefer to keep hiding? I could always just leave, or avoid the person altogether…

We fuel our shields from our selves. If the ground beneath our feet is uncertain, so the protection will crumble; but if we are able to identify our own personal Truths, then our foundation is firm.

I read of a simple exercise to find your own Truth, to see what it feels like. Give it a try:

State your name: eg ‘I am Cat’.
Now state a wrong name: ‘I am Bernard’.

Can you feel the difference?

Try other obvious lies. Play with this. ‘I’m the world’s best accordion player.’ ‘I really like cucumber.’ ‘My favourite singer is Justin Bieber’. You get the idea.

Now try stating your truths with this in mind. ‘I think that this won’t work’. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.’ ‘This might be a better option.’ ‘I don’t like that colour at all.’ Keep playing, with negative and positive angles, and levels of firmness. See what suits best.

Try stating some of the things you’ve been told so confidently. How do they feel? ‘I’m sure I can find time for that assignment.’ ‘I’d love to wear that outfit.’ Is it true? Were you just whinging, or do you genuinely disagree? Note how strongly you feel, see the difference in emotional tone.

Explore which of these statements is true to you. Each one can be a brick in your shield-wall (if it’s even needed now), but crafted with care. You are standing firm, but also remaining flexible – encouraging discussion and debate, connection and understanding, from within a place of safety that is held by you. You are standing up as equally valid, with a voice to be heard.

And you might start to notice the other person’s walls in turn. If your truths simply bounce off theirs, maybe it’s time to highlight that they’re not listening; or even to step away. Show people the truth of you, not an imagined version that they might be projecting – or which you have helped to build.

I see this a lot in Paganism, because spirituality is a topic which is deeply heartfelt to many people. Passions incite strong opinions, and often descend into all-or-nothing arguments. But they don’t necessarily need to.

I’ve been noticing those who listen versus those who don’t; individuals who seem to be seeking confrontation and argument, not discussion. Shields that are so inflexible, the person behind might not even know why they’re arguing at all – it’s just habit, or that sense of ‘because I should.’ Or fear of being exposed as ‘wrong’.

Take time to consider what’s behind your shields – and whether they work with you or keep you imprisoned.

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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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Work and Self

I’ve written of this before to some degree, but it’s been relevant again to me lately, so I’m hoping that these words help to tease the thoughts out a little.

I’ve never been good at resting. I’m a terrible patient when ill, as well – I always want to be doing something. Knitting is a wonderful option, as it involves doing while (potentially) watching television or chatting to someone else. Reading has always been my drug of choice, and I’m never far from a book (or several).

But in terms of actually resting my mind, stopping the busy-ness of thoughts running through my head… that’s been harder, lately.

Some of it could be considered self-induced pressure. The difficulties and delays around Book 2, work and home life with their inevitable ups and downs… generally, life is good. I have been taking days out ‘for me’. But if anything, those times are worse – the feeling of ‘you should be doing‘ takes over, making my thoughts frenetic, desperate, seeking occupation: “You’re being lazy, you don’t have time to stop…” This, of course, makes things still worse, as then it’s impossible to focus. Not a pleasant experience.

Burning out from sheer doing is seen as a modern affliction. There are news stories about it all the time, plus an entire industry of self-help books telling people how to slow down. But, like anything of such importance (and intangibility), true rest isn’t something that you can buy.

From a Druid perspective, this lack of focus means lack of connection. You’re too frazzled to really engage with anything, which means that nothing gets done well. Your To-Do list might slowly be ticked off, but are the results really of value, or just ‘good enough?’ Has your doing really been the best that you can do? Is the Universe telling you something, but you just can’t hear over the noise of your own activity?

We all feel driven in some way, I think. We have families to care for, jobs to do, responsibilities and cares. None of these are bad, not at all. It’s when we lose ourselves in the morass of obligation and ‘To Do’ that things become difficult.

I was told years ago about the importance of separating Work time from Home time. This was when I worked essentially from 7.30am until 7.30pm (at least), with gym before and other commitments after. Home time was a bit of reading or television before bed.

Then I found tricks to help me change from one ‘mode’ to another. Shedding work clothes for my comfortable jeans. Stepping out into the garden, or getting my hands stuck into bread dough. Yes, I had time. See? My time.

Recently, working from home has made that difficult. I can’t really change clothes, but I’ve made space that is specifically ‘work’, which encourages that attitude and allows me to focus on writing, for example. But there’s no way I can hold a routine, a 9-5, because of my partner’s shift work, and the simple demands of what I do.

The error here, however, is something that I have to keep reminding myself of. You can’t really separate your time in this way. One hour may be for ‘work’, one for ‘family’… but you’re still you. The goal may be different, but you’re still using up your own energy, modifying your own perspective as needed but with the same subconscious thoughts going on. You’re still you.

As I said above, the difficulty is not losing your Self in whatever it is you’re doing. While putting your own needs aside for those you really care about is one thing, losing your life to lesser demands just makes you feel even worse.

I used to submit my annual holiday request form in January (for Druid Camp in July). Two weeks before Camp, my boss in London – a kind and generous man, but incredibly driven – would ask if there was any way I could put the holiday off, to stay in the office, because he needed me. I always said ‘No’ and tried to laugh it off – but it made me both sad, that he was asking, and guilty, because I said no. One year, I was actually on the field at Camp when a friend’s phone rang – it was her boss, asking for her help with something which he couldn’t do himself. That is life subsumed by work in the worst of ways.

When work is seen as more important than life – than your own well-being (expectations of coming in while sick), than that of others (sharing that sickness), or simply for the bottom-line – you are contributing to a system that is itself very sick. Sometimes saying ‘no’ it itself a revolutionary act. I remember my supervisor’s face when I told her that no, I couldn’t come in on that May Bank Holiday, because I was performing a wedding at Stonehenge. If I didn’t go, it didn’t happen. She gaped like a fish – there was simply no way to argue that office needs were more important. I was more than just another worker; I’d just marked myself out as an individual.

But I didn’t start by talking about ‘work’ (ie a salaried job), did I? That’s because doing – as in, doing something of value – is virtually synonymous with work. ‘Real’ work. Which, it was suggested recently, is not what I do. Is it?

Let’s leave aside the issue of remuneration. Let’s suggest that tasks undertaken, no matter what they are, have value concurrent to the effort put in. So, if you rush something and do a half-arsed job, the result won’t be as valuable/good as if you had given your all. The result may actually be indistinguishable, but you, in your heart, will know the difference.

I don’t want to be doing that anymore. I want my doing to be worth something – to others, maybe, but certainly to me. If I can’t do something properly, that’s the time to take a break. I need to resume the habit of realizing that focusing on my pleasurable activities is just as valuable as those big events on weekends.

Returning to focused daily practice. To times when the ever-present internet connection is put aside. To simply following the words on a page, or the clicking of needs, or kneading of dough. What do I have to show for those actions? Bread, a shawl, and inspiration. Food, warmth and ideas.

What am I doing, indeed.

I may have obligations and responsibilities. I will fulfil them, honourably rather than half-heartedly. I try my best. Those who truly know me will understand that. Those who criticise without thought or truly seeing, those who attempt to take advantage… well, yes, it hurts, but consider that lesson learned. Give and take has to be on both sides, and if I’m treated badly for my efforts, that will inevitably colour our relationship in future.

Part of this is fearlessness. Not feeling terrified of messing up, of getting something wrong, of missing deadline, of an anticipated look of disappointment (real or imagined). Part of it is rising to a challenge – to remember that what you are doing in life is for you as much as anyone else. Not selfishness, just personal truth.

At the end of the day (not metaphorical – actual bedtime), can you look back and be happy with what you did? Likely good things and bad, but that’s life. Can you sleep well with that? Because there’ll be more tomorrow.

Are we ready for whatever we’re doing next?

We step forward. A constant challenge.

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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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