Posts Tagged integrity

A Modern Druid

Last Monday, I greeted the dawn with my partner, as we called the Awen from within the circle at Stonehenge.

The sun was more of a rosy glow than a dramatic flaming sphere, but the atmosphere was tangible. Damp grass beneath us, the indescribable age and weight of the stones around. Dawn chorus loud in our ears, sheep and cows calling to each other from nearby fields. Security guards keeping watch, smiling, and tourists eagerly snapping away with their cameras. And the two people that we were ministering to, dressed so beautifully, nervously waiting to join hands and step forward.

It struck me later in the day that we ticked so many of the perceived ‘Druid’ boxes in that brief moment – Stonehenge, robes, Awen, sunrise, chanting… performance.

It was the last in a long month of travel, performing ritual for many, many people across the land, and while being honoured to do so, becoming aware of how very tired we now were.

But life doesn’t stop. My partner still has his day-job, and I have my own work. Self-employed means, I’ve found, working far longer hours than I ever did in an office, and for less pay. The perks are there, of course, but the life of a writer – as many others have remarked upon – can be a lonely one.

This is the balance which we are currently living: walking the line between the powerful energy of public ritual, and the private needs of two people. Bills still have to be paid, pets walked, housework done. But also articles written, talks booked, deadlines met… and of course the endless emails!

Please don’t think I’m complaining, by the way. This is the life I have carved out, so different from what I expected years ago when asked that awful question: ‘So, where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?’ Nobody can answer that, not really. Life is seldom that straightforward.

However, from the initial problems that I faced when starting out on this path – the combining of ‘real’ everyday life and my spirituality, finding time for ritual, questioning my ethics and challenging the integrity of my practice – I’ve come to realize that very little has actually changed. Although I now call myself ‘Druid’ publicly, those issues remain; they’ve just grown larger.

It’s less of an issue of finding time for ritual, more about finding time for personal work, private time. My way of life is constantly challenged, as now I often represent more than just myself, especially when standing up for The Pagan Federation or The Druid Network. As I told those who attended a recent talk, when you begin to identify publicly as a Pagan (Druid/Witch/etc), when you give yourself that label, people expect certain things – or they’ll be watching curiously, to see what that label really means. You’ll become that wee bit more accountable.

I’ve been challenged in person a lot recently as well. That tired old question, asked in terribly self-righteous tones, of ‘How can you call yourself a Druid?’ How dare you do what you do?

I feel as if I’ve answered this so many times. No doubt I’ll have to again. Sometimes the manner of the questioning hurts, deeply. But as my patience wears thin with lazy questions, backed up by ill-informed arguments, I’ve felt my pride in my work step up to answer.

See those stereotypes at the beginning of this post? Stonehenge, Druids, all that? I did that, yep. I will again. And not for me – for those who asked. My own practice was not at all a factor in that ritual, as it is not in any that I perform for other people. As Priest, I represent my path, my homeland, the Powers that Be as they are perceived… by and for those for whom the ritual is being conducted. I stand there in service to their need. My experience tailored to assist in the duty which I perform. If all you can see is the theatre, the robe and staff, then you need to look deeper.

I work bloody hard, every day, in service. My email box is full of questions, requests for help, tasks to fulfil. And so I am working – yes, in terms of hours of labour – for my Community, as a Druid. Because that’s what they want of me.

By this, I do actually feel the appropriateness of the word, as it ties to our ancestors. Of course we don’t know what the ancient Druids did, not in any detail. But we know that throughout human history, people have lived, loved, been born and died. Rites of passage have been crafted to mark important events. Support has been needed in times of crisis. Our ancestors did this, and so do I.

This world in which I live is so far removed from that of those ancestors that I doubt they’d recognise it – from the construction of my home to the food that I eat. The Britons have moved forward, after all: in our learning, our technology, our philosophy, our way of life (and our named identity). The specific acts of the ancient Druids would likely be irrelevant now, if they were transplanted wholesale into modern life. Modern Druids don’t forget, but we must remain relevant.

My work as Druid, as Priest, has to reflect my tribe, those who call upon me. I love history and archaeology, but I can’t be worrying about the precise ‘authenticity’ of ritual, for example (which we can’t know anyway). My concern is acting with honour and integrity for those who do ask – whether it’s for practical, tangible help, or just information and teaching. My relationship with my community is not theoretical, with dogmatic dictates or Company Policies – it’s real! Each person, each situation, each ritual request is unique. I treat them as such.

Incidentally, this is not romantic or glamorous, idealised, all flowery language and floaty robes. It’s the ultimate in practical. My robes have to survive all conditions, but so do my mind and body. Weddings are beautiful, but they’re also times of enormous stress for those involved. As are funerals and births – rites of passage which we will experience in all their bloody glory. Those times of terrible crisis where spirituality is so very necessary but which cannot provide easy answers. I’ll still be there, when called. And I think that’s the line at which modern ‘clergy’ will rise or fall.

I stepped up to this task, forced by circumstance and not entirely sure how well I was going to succeed. I was aware (and have since been reminded!) that by standing up publicly, I would be exposing myself to all those slings and arrows of others, those who disagree, who hate, who have no wish to engage or understand. And so I do.

My work is like that of any other person, when undertaken willingly and conscientiously. It can be difficult and tiring, with long days (and nights), challenges and doubts. On other days, it might be full of laughter, utterly fulfilling, glorious and awe-inspiring. My ‘everyday’ life has merged with my ‘spiritual’ life – it’s up to me to maintain that, to keep my own integrity of practice so that I might share that within my work. If I become complacent, blase, egotistical, then it will show – and I’ll fall on my face. Then have to pick myself up and carry on. My Gods constantly challenge me, whether in the form of energetic overload and burnout, or through a grilling from a well-informed journalist!

My resolve always was to do my best. I mean that; it’s the cornerstone of what I do. The difficulty right now is doing my best for myself and my immediate family, as well as those who are calling on me – keeping that balance steady so that one side does not tip the other into chaos.

Those of you who’ve spoken with me know that I value honesty, realistic spirituality (no, not at all an oxymoron!) and truly living your own life. I do my best – that is my promise.

I want to respond to those who challenge me in turn. I love what I do, I’m honoured and proud to do it. Can you say the same? Are you trying to help, by your questions, to encourage and explore? Or just raise yourself up by bringing others down?

I try to help, to bring joy or resolution, to inspire and inform. So…

What is your work doing?

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Flowing into Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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