Posts Tagged learning

Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

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

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

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

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

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

Mercury was taking me deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dreams and Stories

An early one today. I’ve not long woken from a very engrossing and interesting dream, in which I became aware enough to properly take note of what was happening. It inspired me enough that I want to share.

In the dream, I was in a place similar to an American-style shopping mall… but it was clearly a little different. I went into a bookstore (naturally), which seemed like Borders. Except that every book was a Horror title. And not just ‘Horror’ in genre, but I could feel the dark energy flowing from the book, with blackness seeping from the pages. These were Horror books where the full origins and consequences of the story were very, very real. The terror was tangible, with that heartfelt (stomach-clenching) truth felt in dreams.

I looked around. The other customers were monsters. And not just simple cutesy monsters, in a nice, manageable sense – proper evil, roaming around me.

They looked at me, the tiny human standing among them. They acknowledged me, like any other person in the regular world while shopping. And they moved on.

Was I in a nightmare? The familiar world of the bookstore, which used to be a haven for me in the bustling corporate nastiness of a shopping centre, transformed into a trap? Should I start running?

I found my way outside and asked someone. He smiled at me.

“Well, it’s you, isn’t it. I mean, look at you!”

I looked at myself. Seemed normal. I explained that I couldn’t see what he saw in me. He smiled again, and showed me.

Slowly, a vision appeared, of myself… clad in smooth black armour, almost like an insectile carapace, flowing around me, holding gracefully around my limbs as I moved. It was as impossible as the rest of the surroundings – but I was fearsome. I felt strong.

The monsters left me alone, because I was prepared.

The lucid nature of the dream leads me to believe that it was rather more of a shamanic experience than I thought, at first. I woke feeling refreshed but also inspired, to investigate what I had learned.

I’ve always loved horror books. Even those that aren’t ostensibly horror, when I first started to explore the library – Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, or the slightly more subversive children’s books (before Young Adult became a genre). Roald Dahl knew that kids like to scare themselves silly. When you’re young, you’re in a world that seems insane, with irrational rules and unknowns around every corner. You learn to survive, a fact reflected in all of those stories of brave young heroes doing their best. Look at the Narnia stories, with each of the four children facing their own challenge (I was also disappointed that poor Susan finally succumbed in the last book, to boring adulthood).

At University, my dissertation thesis was on the American Horror Novel. I haven’t been able to read a Stephen King novel since, but that’s due to overload. I still love seeing where the genre goes, as it reaches out into the fears of a new generation. The exploration of how we can survive.

My knowledge of Horror as a ‘type’ seems to have armoured me – but it wasn’t a preventative, a physical block. My armour flowed with me, so that I could deal with what was to come on my terms. I was the reader; I was prepared (as best I could be). But there was also a certain advantage gained from the knowledge that I deeply, truly love the stories that I’m engaging with.

Those folk who want to ban or censor so-called ‘dangerous’ books have always rather misunderstood what they’re dealing with. If your favourite book is ‘Carrie’, you’re not going to emulate the events of the novel – the book is a catharsis, helping you to deal with bullying, for example, through the extreme conclusion of the story. It’s relatively simple, but still a fairytale (unless any readers have telekinesis, in which case we might be in trouble).

The man who shot John Lennon had been reading ‘Carrie’. What does that mean? Not a great deal, I’d say. Based on sales, he was one among many millions.

Genre fiction is often sneered at. ‘Horror’ is sidelined, never receiving any mainstream awards. As if we’re scared of it? Or we just don’t know what to do with it, in its extreme, fantastic nature? A little like ‘Metal’ music, if you don’t understand its passion, it’s easy to denigrate.

Stephen King knows this. In his wonderful book about horror, ‘Danse Macabre’, he suggests that each of us have our fears, genetically carried through our human/animal line from our ancestors since their cave days (I’ve seen this in psychological books as well, interestingly). That fear is like a gorilla – it can run rampant, sending us into rage or madness as we lash out. Most of us have learned to cage the gorilla, so we can function in society. Some haven’t, and they’re the ones who get locked away.

The danger, King says, is those people whose cage has become rusted shut. They haven’t let the gorilla out to play enough, or even acknowledged it, in a conscious manner. Those people believe that they have conquered their fears. They haven’t. The gorilla is just waiting for the right moment… but the sad thing is that by locking it away, they are missing out on – hiding – a part of themselves.

Whether you deal with your fears by imagination (books, movies, video games) or extreme physical action (rollercoasters, bungee jumping), we have to face our fears sooner or later in life. And chances are, we’ll actually be able to manage. The fear of the fear is usually worse than the fear itself – so many stories tell us that. ‘Alien’ showed that the monster we couldn’t see was scarier than the physical creature that we could. Once the baddie appears in front of us, we can deal with it (somehow). Even if it seems insurmountable, we can do something, once we confront it with eyes open.

The baddies in story are often more interesting than the heroes – because there’s more to explore, more that we want to know. The recent Joker depiction by Heath Ledger was terrifying because his motivation was pretty much nil – that’s not a horror device, that’s sociological. That character could have existed in any genre of tale. The Destructive Force of Nature… who looks like one of us.

Our love of story is a very human trait, almost a need. We carry it from our ancestors, and use it to tell tales that would be familiar to them. The Vampire, the Werewolf, the Thing without a Name – each generation carries these on, finding its own Bards. But also the Hero and the Heroine (not at all in a submissive sense)… and Us. The reader, outside the tale looking in, but also so very much engaged with what’s going on. It’s just a matter of how we relate and understand.

How we tell our own stories. And how prepared we are to deal with the events that are yet to come – not hiding, but engaging, seeking understanding, and taking right action. On our own terms.

Sometimes we do need to hide, like our scared animal ancestors. But sooner or later, we have to stand. It’s good to know your own self, your strengths and your fears, when that time comes.

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Reconnection

Hello again!

It’s been the longest hiatus in the history of this blog, but I’m still here. Thank you for your patience, lovely Reader. Believe me, the wait could have been very much longer, but this post wants to be written. On we go.

The lack of blog pages recently has been a result of the finalising before deadline of my second book. Writing daily, polishing, preparing, reworking and repaginating, then editing… hard work, yes, but very enjoyable. I do love to write, and quite often would find myself going over my daily word target because I just got so caught up in what I was doing. Once ideas start to flow, there’s no stopping them – and that’s no bad thing.

However, this has meant that there was little room for other things. No problem, I thought – once things are submitted and in, I can get on with whatever comes next. And this has been true, up to a point. I’ve been working (equally hard) on my upcoming Druidry Course, to start in June. I’ve preparing for talks over the Summer, and upcoming Handfastings. Life doesn’t stop.

One thing I always forget, though, is how much this takes from me.

A while ago, I was chatting to my Mum about the talks that I give, and how tired I was at the end of them. She didn’t understand. “What do you mean? It’s just you, talking for a few hours.” And so it is, when all’s said and done.

But when I do something truly, properly, thoroughly and honestly, it’s putting in the whole of my being, focusing entirely on that task. It may be ‘just talking’, but that’s never been easy for me. I do my utmost to convey my meaning in my words, baring my soul for the benefit of those listening. I don’t think I could do less, nor would I want to. That dishonours both myself and my audience, those who’ve chosen to spend those hours listening to me.

In the same way, what I write takes time. I read back as I go, tweaking phrases here and there, telling the story that I want to tell, in fact and in tone. It might only take a few minutes to read, but hopefully it’s worth it. There’s too much out there that’s just a waste of time, frivolous and easily forgotten. I try to inspire, even a little. I am always grateful for your attention.

So this isn’t just a personal whinge about a late blog post because I’m tired – that’d be far too easy. This is, as in everything I write, a little piece of my truth.

Because what I forget is that when I give up part of myself, I am left depleted. Depending on how much I’ve put ‘out there’ to others, I’m exhausted, energies drained and often head-spinning into collapse. I’ve learned tricks to help with this – after all, it’s no different from overdoing it in any other way, from over-exertion in exercise to a strenuous exam. You prepare, you go the distance to complete the task, then you rest and recharge.

Writing a book isn’t accomplished in one mad burst. It takes time, over many months. By the end of it, I’m ready to submit the manuscript because frankly, I’ve said what I want to say, anything more would be excess, and I’m sick of it all. Time for the next thing, this one is done. Press ‘Send’.

But this topic was especially hard. Writing about darkness, depression, pain, challenge… what did I expect? Some parts flowed well, others were virtually ripped from me. Once that button had been pushed, the manuscript submitted, I was left adrift. What now?

I understand that this isn’t unusual for creative folk. When one project is finished, there can be a ‘cold turkey’ period of recovery, almost like a post-natal period. Some authors start their next book immediately, so that this lull is negated. I’ve some fiction begun and Book 3 in motion. Ideas are gestating, and I’m glad to say that I don’t think that will stop anytime soon.

This didn’t stop me from experiencing what appeared to be virtual exhaustion over recent weeks. Hardly the energy to function on the worst days, unable to answer emails or messages, too depleted to get on with much beyond the most basic household jobs. To be expected? Perhaps. Not pleasant to experience, though, and beyond frustrating from this side.

I admit, sometimes I push myself too hard. I want to be doing, getting on – I try to accomplish something every day, even if it’s small. A little more on my latest knitting project. A baked creation for the household. A few words written, even just ideas. Part of it is being self-employed; part just needing that challenge as a person.

When this isn’t possible, I grind a little more to a halt. Days of nothing are contagious, leading to more nothing. “You’re done, that’s it, you can’t do any more,” says the internal voice. “Might as well stop.” This blog post nearly didn’t happen for those reasons.

Put another way: if the exhaustion I’ve felt is proportionate to the energy put into Book 2, then it’s going to be a humdinger.

What’s keeping me going, you see, is my Druidry. From the deeply personal meditations of wandering alone, to connecting with others who just want to share – the lived experience of my Path is both holding me up and moving my feet. Plans for ritual, study ideas, personal practice, tangible things; even looking forward to the eventual release of Book 2 in the Autumn (still an unbelievable idea!). While I have needed more time to myself to recharge  (usually spent reading or knitting), the getting out and exploring of ideas with others has been a joy.

It may have drained me more effectively (and more quickly) than it usually would. But that’s just something I’m having to learn to deal with, until I’m back up to ‘normal’ power again. A good part of my time is spent pushing against tiredness, that voice that tells me to stop, there’s no point, nobody’s really interested. Because I’M interested. I don’t believe I’ll ever have ‘reached the end’ of my Path, that it’s possible to know everything or have experienced every part of my spirituality – even with death. There’s always more.

I’m trying not to overdo it, to take things at my own pace. It’s difficult to work out what that is, sometimes. But pushing myself by simply grabbing the laptop and starting to type – as I am right now – helps. Stepping to the window and looking out – helps. Breathing in the fresh air, the hope of Spring (finally!) – helps. Seeing my own thoughts, reflected and reconsidered through the imagination of others – helps beyond measure.

I try to remember what brings me happiness and laughter, what fuels me. Stories, always – from Doctor Who to Shakespeare. Key phrases leap to mind at random moments, from the ‘winter of discontent’ (very true) to the dream of ‘when the hurly-burly’s done’. The exploratory weirdness of Steampunk is catching my imagination lately as well. We seem so caught up in lost cynicism as we wait for the overdue Spring to truly arrive that we forget what potential there is out there in our imaginations, what we just haven’t noticed yet.

When stuck inside, do we sit on the sofa and mindlessly lose a day – or do we make a fort? Do we take our own meagre scraps of energy and ability and create something, no matter how small, or do we moan and lash out, blaming others for our own lack of action?

The everyday world is full of news stories that may drag us down further, with apparent hopelessness and the difficulty of making any change at all. But I’m just trying to do my thing, here and now. When it all seems too much, I try to see beyond the fog of sheer negativity that all too easily can come down to block everything in/out. Reconnecting with the world around, those of like mind, those kindred spirits – this keeps me reminded of why I do strive on.

Bless you, my friends. Still moving forward.

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Blood Sacrifice

I’ve been a little lax in my posting of late. This isn’t for lack of ideas. I think it’s purely that winter is now beginning to bite: the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short days, the extra layers of clothing, the need to stockpile kindling and food in case of snow… and the urge to hibernate.

Life, of course, goes on. I’ve been out and about, less than usual perhaps, but still doing. A little Druidry here today, and a little slice of life, if I may.

Last week, a talk at Sheffield University Pagan Society; yesterday, a guest speaker to a Sociology lecture at the University of Derby. One informal, one formal, but both requiring me to get out there, put my professional hat on (metaphorically, before you ask) and tell my tale again…

Each time, it’s different. A different audience, a different flavour to my words. New challenges, new questions, new faces. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and will ever do – and yet, I love it. Connection, sharing, inspiration. And bearing all.

Because one of the questions that always seems to come up in some form or another is that of Sacrifice. I’ve spoken of it before on here, but while winter is the time of fire festivals, burning the old to make way for the new, it’s not really the time to get out in public and get naked (again metaphorically, but physically too!). You don’t want to bear your soul to total strangers. Stand up and say ‘listen to me, I’m interesting?’ Nope.

So… perhaps that is my sacrifice to this season? While crawling out from a cosy bed/home/sofa to work is something that we all have to do just to pay the bills, my work is so intrinsically tied up with my own personal story, my soul-truth, that to walk this path at all during this season is the most challenging thing. It’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.

Sacrifice is giving up something that is valuable to you. At this point, that’s very much my Self. My time, my energy (not in abundant supply), even my smile some days. The black dog bites and holds on, and I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of crowded places. So standing up in front of crowds… you can probably imagine how nervous I get. Even answering emails is tricky right now. Writing this has involved a LOT of deletion and rewriting to get the tone precisely correct (and I’m still not sure I’ve quite managed it).

But it’s not all about my fear – that’s a constant, burning away in the background, to be overcome daily. My sacrifice is also giving up that sense of self, the very act of bearing all… but in a manner that can be understood. The balance of listening to what is asked of me, as a Priest, a teacher, a representative of my spirituality, and truly hearing. Going beyond the words of the question to see the eyes of the querent, what they want to know, what they can’t quite put into simple language but strain, hope, need me to understand.

I’ve promised, over and over again, to do my best, to walk my truth, to tell my story as honestly as I can, and to help for as long as I’m needed. I presume that if nobody were listening, then this blog wouldn’t get any hits, my inbox would just contact requests for money from overseas diplomats, and I could say what I liked because nobody would be listening… but currently, this isn’t the case. More and more people are asking. I’m amazed and awed that so many fellow Pagans, of any path, are rising to meet this growing group of seekers. I have no doubt that come Spring, my every weekend will be busy again. This is why I keep talking, writing, doing.

But in the meantime, sometimes it’s a battle day-to-day. I sacrifice and I survive.

A while ago, I told a good friend that I tried to do something creative every day. Even a tiny thing, but something, so that the day hadn’t been wasted. This is still true. Writing is best (when I haven’t written anything for a while, I think I’m unbearable to be around), but knitting, baking, some form of random creativity… all good.

This week, as well as the talks, I had more colour added to my right arm sleeve tattoo. Now this isn’t a very active creativity on my part – essentially, I lie there and let an artist draw on me with needles, paying him for the privilege of several hours of pain – but that ink will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Tattoo Equipment

(The preparation table. All of these colours went into one small area of skin, with those needles…)

 

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my tattoos over the years. When I was younger, I never dreamt I’d ever have so much of myself covered – but every single one has meaning. And much of it is to do with my Druidry.

My first tattoo was a triskele, in the safe, quiet, hidden base of my back. My second: surrounding it with silver birch leaves, hand-drawn by one of my oldest friends. The statement of my learning, my stepping into the woods, joining with the trees, indelibly feeling my own connection to the wild world.

Since then, I’ve an Awen hand-tapped into the top of my back (after dreaming that Bobcat was doing it – I think her hand was more drilling it into my head), and both arms covered with leaves, flowers, seeds… the old joke being that sooner or later, if you push me over in a field, you’ll lose me.

Although the tattooist chats happily as he works, with conversation a good distraction, the flow of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer physical reaction to the needle creates an interesting effect. I’ve not undergone ceremonial or ritual tattooing as such, but every single sitting could be considered to be that. Your inner self reacts to the battering that your skin is taking, and there is an inevitable effect.

The tattoo is a statement, certainly. But it could also be considered a sacrifice. The blood, the pain, the wearing of an image with a deep meaning behind it, honouring your own body through the act of pain for the goal of adornment. To me, it’s far more than vanity.

Every tattoo on my body (except the triskele, my initial ‘baby-step’) has been paid for with money earned from my Druidry. I used to be able to pay the bills with my day-job, thus allowing me and my partner to permanently mark the relationship between our public rites and ourselves with ink. Now, that money is needed for those bills – so this work was even more of a luxury… and a statement.

Reading this post back, my black dog friend is telling me that this post is full of whining, self-righteous, indulgent justification for my work, my decisions, my irresponsible frivolity of ink. Perhaps.

To me, my life is currently filled with sacrifice. The sheer standing up each day to live my life, my spirituality, my job, with integrity and responsibility. Overcoming the ‘oh Gods, you can’t do this, why are you even trying’ voices. The sense that I’m not as strong as I think I am. Yet the beauty of my path is there, indelibly marked into my body. Present in the messages of thanks from those who hear my words.

I stood before my Gods in a crowded classroom and called to them, sincerely – and they listened. I honour them in my actions, my decisions, even my cock-ups (provided I learn from them). I honour them in my moving forward, not giving up, even when the black dog urges me to take that ultimate step and just give up, stop. My life is my sacrifice at this time, my giving up of self when I really do not feel able.

Things will calm down, of course. The season will turn, the light will start to join us more frequently, and I’m certain that I’ll be reminded regularly that I’m actually doing ok. I walk this path because I’m called to, and that’s by real people as well as spiritual entities – both of whom keep me moving in the right direction, kicking me if I stray or stay still too long.

So. My challenge again. What am I doing?

Moving forward. Slowly, in the dark, sometimes painfully, but moving.

Tattoo Nov 2012

All art here was inscribed by the founder and creative genius that is Andy Bowler of Monkido Tattoo Studio, in Belper, Derbyshire.

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Life – a Tale Told…

Sometimes it’s all about the words. And sometimes, words just aren’t enough.

It’s part of our makeup as humans to communicate, to convey our experiences to others, both as a validation and to make sense of them to ourselves. We journal as an act of personal psychiatry and historical record. We blog to tell our stories to others, and to throw ideas out into the wider world, entirely unknowing of who will read them.

The paradox of what could be called Contemporary Pagan Practice (or 21st Century Magic, if you want to be glamorous) is that so much of it is hidden behind words. So many books, websites, so much talking, setting down traditions in stones of words mortared with vague ideas… and yet not much of it actually containing much that helps. So many secrets… or are they, really?

Since my last post, I’ve been pondering those Pagan ‘absolutes’, those key tenets that we are taught to work from. Each theory came from another after all, like any philosophy, those stones building on the work of others, tested by new readers/practitioners for strength and relevance, and built on in turn.

But how lazy have we become, with our ready supply of electronic information? Remember when to find something out you had to actively seek it? Go to libraries, order books from far away, write letters to pick the brains of others. Now the dilemma (and skill) is sifting through the overload of data, the ‘fact’ from opinion, the truth from fiction. Isn’t it just easier to pick the ‘facts’ that we like and work from them, without testing them to see if they actually fit our own needs, worldview, life?

And that in itself is another paradox. How can any spiritual ‘truth’ truly be true? Surely every spiritual experience is subjective, open to interpretation… and when turned into words, pinned down like a butterfly in a presentation frame, losing so much of its reality as to be useless – or at best, a story.

I know that the irony here is my writing of such things itself being so limiting, as I try to pin down concepts that are just too amorphous to be adequately portrayed in language. But that’s the rub for me – that’s the mystery itself.

The ancient Bards told stories to convey meanings, human truths that exist beyond ages, passed down through generations. Life is hard, but we’ve lived it – here’s part of the map that might help. Stories worth telling and re-telling. The value of fiction is lost, found, lost again, repackaged, hidden in marketing jargon… but when the words themselves convey Truth, you read or hear them and feel the difference. Compare a daily newspaper story with a much-loved tale that you know so well, you could almost quote it. Or imagine it so vividly that you could describe the landscape, how the wind feels as it blows across moors in Middle Earth, the stink of smoke in Victorian London, the fear in the heart of a lost hero.

True words are more than just swirls on pages (or pixels on screens). Words told well can go deeper, past the intellectual, the grammatically correct, the Award-winning. Enduring words pierce the heart, the soul, conveying experiences that we all know at some level, or want to know, actively seeking out again to feel for ourselves.

This is the heart of the Bardic mystery, for me – where words resonate as experiences.

Paganism (ancient or modern), as it is understood as seeing the sacred in the world around, conveys in words what has been called a ‘mystery religion’. In other words – ahem – you need to understand the mystery to gain the knowledge. It’s experiential. Books can guide, but only you can get out there and really do.

And that, dear reader, is the laziness we so often see. People want the books to give them answers, which they can learn and parrot back without true understanding. We all do it, there’s no shame – that’s how we’re taught these days. 2+2=4 (allegedly). Or the simpler alternative: the soundbite. Look deeper? Why should we, the story’s right there in the headline! But then as a young practitioner, someone will ask you a question about those rote-beliefs and over-simplistic statements… and you’ll realize how little you truly to know.

This is the point where many step away, returning to something a little safer, more easily quantified and understood. Those who continue are essentially readying themselves for the next step – moving into the story, becoming the hero, aiming to take part in the journey to understand where the writer is coming from. And, in due course, having their own story to tell, being a guide themselves, with all of the hard-won scars they earned along the way.

So what’s the point of the words? As I said, maps are handy, guidebooks, stories from those who’ve been there before. Every journey is unique (ask any explorer), but it’s always nice to set off with a rough idea of where you’re going and what you’re going to get into.

To me, Pagan/Druid (whatever label-word you wish) practice is tangible. Proper practice, that is – real work. Feeling the change in the seasons, the different tastes of energy in a crowded room, woodland, seashore or street. The deeper knowing that goes past the regular sensory input – seeing the relationships, the meanings, the motivations, the undercurrents. Going beyond the directions and out the other side of the map book: blank page, ‘Here be Dragons’.

The difference, for example, between casting a circle as per the instructions in your first guidebook and truly doing it truly, your way, when needed. The worry in the back of your mind that you’re ‘doing it wrong’, something bad may happen, you’ll feel stupid, it’s all just playing about anyway. Then the achievement of actually feeling that connection as you work with spirit, energy, however you wish to define it. Gained by practising, getting it wrong a few times, stumbling and carrying on anyway.

That’s what helps you build your own map. Describe it with words if it helps, but the memories of those experiences become familiar with practice, even with their subtle differences based on time, location and situation. Then you know what you’re aiming for, the goal, the circuitous route to it from the initial idea of ‘I want to perform a rite for this reason’ to standing there, at the focal point of that journey, almost at the summit and prepared to truly do

When it’s no longer about having the right coloured candles or the Very Expensive Altar Tools. Your Gods will know what you mean – step forward with honour and trust (in ritual and in life… because what’s the difference, anyway?).

This post was inspired by reading the story of a City magician, scrawling his runes in spray-paint on walls, recognising the power that we give to simple symbols – the Apple, the Golden Arches – and the simple transport magic of waving a Travelcard in the right place. The protection rite of a Lollipop Man, with his gilded robe and staff. The magical web of social media sites. We take so much for granted, that this is appropriate, that is not. What works for us, personally, ourselves? What stories do we live in, every day?

When the Bard tells his story, listen to the words. Listen deeper. See the look in his eyes, the smile on her lips. For a tale to truly be told, it must be known inside and out, otherwise the discordance is audible. The note struck true, the poetry of inspiration, Awen, muse, conveyed through a skilled traveller, is no substitute for your own experience – but if it inspires you in turn, it has fulfilled its purpose.

Sometimes a metaphorical lightbulb over the head; a cosmic kick in the rear; an ‘oh yeah, silly me’ moment when something clicks into place. The words get us there… if we let them. Learn to listen, but then be brave enough to explore for yourself. Have no doubt that someone will listen to your tale in future, to chart their own course.

As I’ve said before, you’re never alone.

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Unity

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

Still with me? Lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still Singing…

As the Autumn season truly moves in, I find myself at last at home again. My travels surrounding book events have finished. I’m preparing for new workshops, students and hunkering down with Book 2.

And yet, I feel as if somehow, I’m not doing enough. I’ve put myself ‘out there’, in the world, and people are responding – therefore, I’m clearly performing a function that’s needed. I’m very grateful for this, more than I can ever express.

But it’s still a question of balance. Boundaries need to be maintained. Where do my ‘Professional’ and ‘Personal’ lives intertwine, merge and then separate again?

I don’t know if this is a question that I’ll ever be able to truly answer; it may be one of those that changes over time as I do, and as my role and practice change. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s important.

Sometimes during this madly busy Summer, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost myself. My To-Do list has taken over, so many people asking questions, reminding me of things. As a former professional Organizer (read: Personal Assistant), the idea that I’ve let tasks, events or duties get away from me is appalling. This is both good and bad – bad in the panicked moments, good in the restraint, as I bring myself back to what I need to be doing. Nobody is intentionally forgotten, there’s just a lot going on.

However, like many workaholics that I’ve seen over the years, the one thing that is forgotten on the To Do list is ‘Be Yourself’. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but without personal integrity, sense of self, constant challenging and discovering, then how valid is anything that I say? In this sense, it’s far too easy to forget that YOU are the main, primary constant in your life, as Living becomes subsumed by Doing.

One thing that I knew would eventually appear after the book was published is The Troll. Regular internet users will know the sort – the person who seems to haunt public e-places purely to niggle, to pick, to make trouble. They start arguments but don’t engage with them – there’s no back and forth, just constant harangues, confused self-righteous logic and eventually, simple abuse.

Sure enough, one of these delightful individuals appeared a while ago. They put voice to my inner concerns and worries, grabbing on and worrying at the slightest perceived weakness, refusing to answer my questions but simply arguing around and around. How dare I say anything, I’m not an authority on their spirituality. I’m just standing up and posturing for attention. Who do I think I am. Etc etc etc. And of course, that ultimate teenage cry: You don’t understand me!

Frustrating. Hurtful (so far as I let it). But also pathetic and rather pitiful. With all the noise they were putting out, this person was entirely missing the point. Perhaps I do understand them – and that’s something they can’t bear. It’s far easier to cause trouble via the anonymity of the Internet than to face your demons… even if that’s (apparently) what you’re trying to do.

I’ve said many times, I can only tell my story – nobody else’s. I’m not saying mine’s better, nor that you should follow my way. There’s nothing wrong with your own story, after all. I’m sure it’s far more suitable for your life than trying to live someone else’s.

But the fury that comes out when you discover that nobody can live your life for you can be tangible over the massive electronic media communities that we all inhabit. The cries of abuse when misunderstanding is caused by almost incomprehensible, misspelled Tweets. A world of pain contained in such a small burst of text, with no back-story, context or truth. Those who mean well and try to help are firing blindly into this lack of story – resulting in the oh-so frustrating, general message of: ‘HUGS’.

A couple of weeks ago, my Inbox contained the polar opposites of these issues. One from the Troll, apparently angry at me for not sticking around to listen to their abuse, how dare I ignore them, that just proves them right all along, blah blah, bad grammar and more abuse. Oddly enough, I felt that enough time had been wasted on trying to engage with this person and receiving only bile. A line was drawn.

The other was from a total stranger, asking for advice (OK), telling me a little of their story (lovely)… and then asking me to be their guru, their teacher, their High Priestess. They may have had the word ‘Crystal’ in their online name. I replied politely, asking for more information on what they were looking for. And never heard from them again.

While these are opposites in opinions of me, there is a clear parallel to be seen. Both people need help, and are reaching out across the internet webs. The former cannot deal with admitting weakness, so any help will be rebuffed – yet they keep seeking. The other is opening themselves to a random stranger (me in this case) for help, perhaps through desperation or perception of what I am and can provide.

Neither is truly able to engage, to connect. I have no doubt that both will continue to seek, wandering the vast and echoing halls of cyberspace, looking for someone to understand them fully in 180 characters or less, and have the power to sort their lives out for them. I’m sure you can guess the outcome.

Then there are those who become friends. I’ve said often, I always try to help – no questions will receive a rude reply, even if they involve the word ‘naked’ or ‘sacrifice’ (honestly, are you surprised that I’ve been asked?). But those who are willing to have a conversation, those I’ve met at random events and shared laughter and tea with, those who know I’m human too… these are the ones I’ll be up at silly o’clock in the morning talking to. Those who remind me both who I am and why I’m doing this.  Reforging connection through relationship. In person and in spirit.

I can’t live up to a perception, a stereotype. If I wasn’t true to myself, it would be obvious to those of you listening, and my words would become worthless. Just another Internet Pagan, retreading the same old ground. It would become so easy to become a snake-oil salesman, peddling false hopes. I can’t do that. I just have to remember to take time for me as well, so that my truth remains… well, true.

I’m looking forward to the winter, hugely. Me time, hibernation. I’m coming to understand why so many writers are solitary hermits, in a small office or shed at the end of the garden, tea and snacks at hand, scribbling away. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to create. But then you emerge: tired perhaps, but bright, happy, accomplished, fuelled by that connection, that Awen.

I can only tell my story. You can only tell yours. But that is life’s quest – both seeking out your true story, and discovering that it can actually be quite a good one. We’re all doing that, you and me.

Some might not like it. They’ll disappear, grumbling at perceived slights and misunderstood ideas. But those who truly know you… will know. And smile.

The kettle’s on. Make yourself comfortable – I’ll be back soon.

🙂

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