Posts Tagged knitting

Creativity and Mysticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawl

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

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Inspiration from A Bad Day

Last weekend, I had  the pleasure of attending Pagan Pride in Nottingham. I’ve been there every year since the very beginning ten years ago, and it’s always a joy. I’ve seen it blossom and grow, under the careful tending of hard-working volunteers, a community truly coming together in friendship and shared interests.

As is usual, I gave a talk – this time about mental health, and how my Pagan practice helps me to manage it. There were tears, and I felt myself falter several times as I struggled to put words to very amorphous feelings. But I think I helped.

Pagan Pride 2018

(Picture by Victoria Furminger)

The weekend was glorious. Dear friends stayed over, Pride was a full and fun day… but then came the inevitable fallout. I had called in credit on spoons, it seemed, and my inner overdraft had hit its limit.

I’m often asked how my life is, on a normal regular day. I suspect some people imagine me rising with the dawn, greeting the sun and then feeding the dogs and cats like some sort of Druid Snow White, before heading to my desk to crank out a novel or two… 😉 Not quite!

So. For those who’ve asked, and as a PS to last weekend’s talk… here’s what today has looked like.

Today was A Very Bad Day, in terms of health. Mentally, my brain was done. Out of energy. Unable to focus. But still believing that it could, it seemed to be careening all over the inside of my skull like a pinball – or rather, with ideas like multiple pinballs, not letting me catch one for long enough to do much. And then all the balls would fall to earth with the weight of The One Ring. And I would collapse.

Physically, this meant I was almost exhausted. Regular fits of tears (today has been a Three-Hankie Day, so far), feeling like an exposed nerve in terms of anything setting me off, headaches, tension, aching joints, having to force myself to eat. Unable to focus, remember?

I did call my local Community Mental Health Team at one point, by the way. But my regular (lovely) Doctor wasn’t there. A random CPN was less than helpful.

I know going for a walk may do me good. I know I have to work to get better. But in the depths of crisis… not an option. (I do wonder if these individuals, well-meaning though they are, have ever experienced such intense feelings. I suspect I’d know if they had, in the same way that I see the solidarity in the faces of those who come up to hug me after the aforementioned Talks.)

The thought of leaving the house was terrifying, daunting beyond belief. I should have been getting on with jobs – going to the Post Office, joining my husband at an event that he’s enjoying. No. Impossible. Which led to the inevitable guilt, that my illness was taking over my life, I’m useless to everyone, what’s even the point, I might as well stop… spiralling down, ever down…

This is the Darkness which I speak of, which I’ve written of. It begins quietly, like a small tug, but quickly becomes an undertow and then a vortex. The easiest metaphor is to ‘ride the waves’, but often it’s just keeping a head above water.

Tactics were tried. Knitting was a good one, with a special skein of beautiful, tactile yarn that had been saved for just such an occasion. Tea, of course, and cookies. Amusing podcasts or Youtube clips, to provide friendly voices. Ultimately, however, the blanket fort was needed. Bed, with a book.

Books have saved my life so many times. And duvets. Each should come with vouchers to obtain the other.

The sun is now setting.

I am still here. The window is open, and my little guardian who has stayed by me all day is busy hopping outside and then back in, to check all is well. She slept with me today, but always with an eye cracked if I moved. In case of fuss, you understand.

Ink August 2018

I sit, looking around, and just letting things be. Breathing. The trick is to keep breathing. To find the stillness that I know is here, in these late hours of this day. The tiny magics are the most important, right now.

I’m knitting, with yarn from a friendly local shop. A beautiful, simple pattern that will make a portable hug.

I’m breathing the fresh air from my garden, combined with sweet incense gifted by a dear friend. I can hear the blackbirds singing. The last few cars heading home.

Himself is away, busy with his Knights. I should have been with him, but am hearing stories from those who were there, having fun and sharing their pleasure.

Ultimately, I’m being kept afloat by the love and good wishes of others. Through gifts passed on, carefully-made items that make me smile (and often well up, but in a good way this time). Through stories, quick messages of understanding. Chatting to friends miles – and hundreds of miles – away, who get it and who give a virtual hand to hold. Cooking a lovely meal from something  Himself prepared a while ago and froze, for just such an occasion as this.

I have another event tomorrow. Part of me has been terrified at the prospect. But the louder part, which is now winning, is reminding me who it is that keeps me going.

I have friends. I have those who care, and for whom I care in turn. When those ‘brain weasels’ arrive to tell me how useless, awful and unloved I am, I can prove them wrong. As I said last weekend, the tears sometimes have to flow, to let that vileness out. The pressure will ease. I can breathe freely again.

And I write. Just to prove that today has not been a total loss. Things had to be moved around, yes, but that was ok. People understand.

I’ll see some of those friends tomorrow, and in weeks to come. No doubt there’ll be ebbs and flows of health again, but I am well-armed, by all of you. To those who stand with me, I am so very grateful. Know that I’m with you too.

Onward.

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Threads

Today – some Friday Fiction! A short story from me, in the world of ‘Hopeless, Maine’ (given life by the amazingly talented Tom and Nimue Brown, and endorsed by Neil Gaiman, amongst others).

Enjoy this little step into a strange and Otherworldly place…

Threads

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Rainshine

Spring is on its way here in the UK, but while the snowdrops struggle to force their heads above the ground, most of us are dealing with the near-constant rainfall of recent weeks. The ground is saturated, everything seems muddy, and where I live, that means the additional early-morning fun of inadvertent ice-skating on the dog walk…

This is the world, though, and so many places seem to be dealing with the unusual falling from the skies. England seems to have a standing international status as ‘perpetually damp’ – this time last year, we were snowed in for over a week. But as Pagan folk, we should be aware that of course we are subject to the elements. We have to ride their tides, and learn what is to be taught from the experience

I’ve found the constant wetness to reflect my emotional state recently – ebbs and flows, rushing waves and standing puddles. But as the Spring begins to approach, as I see the buds and hear the birds more frequently, there is a definite change in the air. Imbolc is upon us. Brigid is at the door.

Imbolc has been one of the more elusive festivals, for me. What is it about, really? It comes at a midpoint in seasons, during dark days which it’s hard to believe are growing lighter. As a creative person, I’ve always felt that I should be connecting to the Lady of Inspiration a little more strongly, but the gods of these islands have been tricksy as well. Distant Classical deities? No problem. So-called ‘Celtic’ (I really do not like that term!), however? There’s more to them than meets the eye.

Perhaps this is as it should be. These aren’t just archetypes, after all – these gods are real people, more than just their ‘duties’. They require you to investigate, get to know them, read the stories but also draw your own conclusions, reading between the pages to see what’s really going on. I’ve written before about folk who think the Morrigan is just ‘bad’ – a point of view which baffles me. So how can a deity of Inspiration be clear-cut and straightforward? It took Nine Muses for the Greeks to sort this concept out! This year, Brigid came to me in the form of a request.

I’ve been knitting prayer shawls for some time now, taking the idea of a ritualised act of creativity to help another and seeing where it takes me. Each shawl is entirely unique, its’ own personality almost, with the ‘spell’ of its undertaking beginning at conception of idea, through to final sewing up and wearing. A large and complex task, but tremendously fulfilling. Sometimes they just come to me as ideas; sometimes through the dreams of others.

A lovely lady, friends through the connectivity of the Internet, asked me to make her something special. Emails zoomed back and forth, ideas of concept and purpose, then texture and colour, yarn, beads… until this week, it was finally resolved. And in the manner of all the best rituals and magic, everything came together at the right time, as if we were guided – because we had our eyes open and were looking with purpose, yes, but I’ve absolutely no doubt that there was a hand at my shoulder.

The yarn is pure silk, delicate yet strong, hand-dyed by another talented creative at Solstice Yarns. It is called ‘Brigid’s Dream’. The shawl is begun at Imbolc. I’ve performed ritual to set intention and ask for guidance, but it’s almost as if I don’t need to. I know what I’m to do, because the Lady is there, smiling as I twist that first loop onto the needle.

Silk yarn Brigid

I’m sure some may sneer at this, as if I’m making more out of a simple knitting commission than I should. But the purpose here is key. This is a prayer shawl, to be valued for what it is as well as what it does. Practical – warm, enveloping, soft to touch and beautiful to the eye – but also blessed throughout its creation. This is real magic, flowing through my fingers. I’m one of those working to make it come to life.

I’ll be working on this as the days grow longer again, the buds burst into flower, the inspiration starts to flow again with the new life. This creation will blossom too, and I’ve no doubt that I’ll learn things along the way (including the likelihood of tinking back occasional mistakes, especially with beading!).

The water around us is not stagnant. We needn’t let ourselves drown in it. We work with it, learn from it. Without that flow, we would die. That is how I feel about my creativity. I’m the tool through which it is directed, to make something nourishing, warming… alive.

Oh, and the pattern? From (you guessed it) yet another creative lady, called Boo, who allows magic very much into her designs.

It’s called ‘Rainshine‘.

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Magic, Spells and Creation

From time to time, I’m asked for information on How To Do Things in a Druidy Way. And inevitably, the topic of magic comes up. But there’s often confusion as well: do Druids even do magic? Isn’t that the preserve of Witches?

Now, belief titles aside, if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? Without will, no tasks would ever be accomplished – the will to do the washing up, the will to go to work… it’s degrees of ‘will’, commitment and enthusiasm that make a job Magical.

To me, magic is the setting of intention and focus to accomplish a task using every means at our disposal. This means that folk of certain belief systems (including Witches and Druids) have different methods of accomplishing this to, say, a carpenter, bricklayer or vicar. A Pagan’s relationship to the wider world encourages practice in particular perspectives, enhancing focus in certain ways, creating definite ‘spells’ with specific tools and ingredients for a defined purpose.

However, that description could be used to illustrate me using my creativity to do a lot of things. Cooking, for example: if I set my intention, use the correct tools and focus, my cake/bread/fish and chips will be far better than if I just threw random ingredients (or pre-frozen meals) into the oven. Magic is therefore in the eye of the beholder, to some extent – a ‘magical’ creation versus something thrown together in five minutes without a care. Even the mundane or functional, if created with the right intention and effort, can still shine with its own particular magic. The mass-produced, however, does not.

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time knitting. I enjoyed it as a youngster, taught by my Nan (of course), and now getting involved in it as a creative adult. At base level, it passes the time, keeps my hands and mind busy… and results in something lovely.

But like any creative act, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Writing, baking, knitting… each of these is a ritual act. From identifying the need, choosing the tools, ingredients and method to actually getting on with the task of putting it all together in the right way, if you do it right, it’s a spell.

It doesn’t necessarily all work out perfectly first time, either. Things go wrong, substitute ingredients have to be found, interruptions, forgetting things… it’s all a learning curve, every time. We can write down what we did as a recipe to refer back to, but every situation is unique, with its own particular circumstances – we can’t be a slave to our spellbooks. My recipe books are the only ones that I ever let myself write in, with amendments, crossings out and notes everywhere.

If we find ourselves getting bored, becoming distracted, then something’s wrong. The result will suffer from our lack of focus/will. Do we give up and do something else, or find our determination and strive on? That intention and decision is one of the most crucial, as it determines the ultimate existence of the creation itself. Challenges exist for a reason.

Mary Poppins and Snow White had the right idea – using magic to create joy in the mundane act of cleaning the house. But Disney turned this into a wand-waving exercise in actually avoiding the work involved. That’s not magic, that’s lazy wish-fulfilment. (Of course I’d love Snow White’s animals to do my housework for me – but they’re not going to, and I’d actually never ask. It’s my job, not theirs!)

Having said this, I find that when you first start out as a Pagan, it’s all about the spells. You find books, look on the internet and so forth, questing for lists of ingredients and rhyming couplets to help you along in life. Then you learn to craft your own ways of doing things, and which parts of more important than others. Ethics enters the frame – to undertake work for another with their knowledge (could they not do it themself?), or without (would they appreciate it?).

In recent years, I’ve hardly used specific ‘spells’, preferring to make my own creativity. I’ve read books on writing, but have put my own work together as feels right to me. It’s infused with my energy, from start to finish.

However, being asked about spellwork has got me thinking, and investigating what’s out there these days for new Pagan seekers. From an ‘Encyclopaedia of Magic’ (good grief!) to the inevitable glut of Love Spells, there’s the usual mass-marketed rubbish.

But then I came across this: ‘Spells for Tough Times‘. Reading the introduction, a chord was struck. Why focus on all the Love and Money spells, when sometimes you just need something to help you focus on a particular problem, overcome a dark time or just rekindle the magic? It can’t always be Halloween around a bonfire, incense burning and robes flowing. Sometimes it’s just you, sitting amidst wreckage and feeling lost.

The intention of the writer is clear and brave, honestly stated. She tackles the hard stuff. She includes her own contact details. Her work and experience is put out into the world primarily to serve, to help where possible. As is my own, and that of many others

We all make our own magic. It’s the intention of living well, fully and honourably, putting our truth into each daily ritual, recognising the balance of the good and bad times as part of life. If the ancient Witches, Druids and Wise Folk had done a bad or half-arsed job, like any other providing a service, they would not have been called on very often. If books, recipes or workers do a bad job today, they’re left to gather dust or find another role.

If we want something to work especially well, that need infuses the intention and the creative act. Bread for ritual is very different to bread for everyday. A prayer shawl created as a meditation is different to a quick and functional scarf. All have a common link in usefulness, but the ‘magic’ is tangibly different.

How do we perform our everyday rituals? What about the ‘special’ ones, the dressing up for an event, the differences (wedding or funeral?) and feelings these evoke? That tiny act of lighting a candle and wishing someone well…

Magic infuses our lives, in the energy that allows us to live fully to how we use that for others. So today, not only ‘What are you doing’, but How, and Who/What for?

Go forth and create your own magic!

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