Posts Tagged life

Outside

When people ask me what Paganism is, I always start with a baseline. Because (let’s face it) Paganism is hard to define in a soundbite. Any spiritual path is, due to inherent complexities of belief, subjective individual perspectives… stuff most people aren’t really interested in.

Interestingly, I was also asked years ago to help explain Christianity to a lovely couple of Muslim co-workers at a temp job. My friendly manager jumped in, and we ended up using a whiteboard to illustrate. The Muslims then did likewise – and it was both fun and pretty enlightening, as you try to explain something that’s by its nature pretty amorphous.

But anyway. Paganism, I tell people, is seeing the sacred in Nature. Baseline, as best I can determine. Do any Pagans not believe this? I haven’t met them yet, if so. And I’m not sure why they would call themselves Pagans, because this kind of is the foundation of the definition.

Then come the differences. What is ‘sacred’, what is ‘natural’, how do we view this, how do we practise… it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting, to me, because this is where we can explore. Why we do what we do, but also why others do it in their own particular manner. Not saying anyone’s wrong, just poking a bit to challenge and understand.

Lately, I’ve been considering the meanings behind words we use to describe spiritual connection (specifically, how they’re often misused – or is that just the word-meaning evolving? A topic for another day). And I realized how so many of our ‘modern’ ideas are almost binary: right/wrong, us/them,  black/white… Science/Nature.

Not to go into too much detail, as it’s all out there if you want to look it up, but the idea of Science VERSUS Nature seems to have come about during the Industrial Revolution. In order to understand the world better, thinkers, scientists and engineers decided to use a mechanical model. This meant that complex forms could be understood by looking at their component parts, with a view to potentially tinkering with those to help or enhance, to find answers to Why Things Are the way they are.

So came the idea of physical versus meta-physical. What is empirically real – provable by Science – as opposed to what is not.

But the answers failed to be found, as each discovery simply posed more questions. Shades of me and my whiteboard and pen, trying to define a religion within finite space and with a language that didn’t quite help.

And again… I don’t think this is a bad thing. But I can see the frustrations when the ideas of the world don’t fit into neat little boxes. We’re reminded we can’t know everything… but we can still connect with it. We have to, in fact, or we die.

We see the sacred in Nature. And not just see. We use every one of our senses – and more besides. We seek that connection… and when we get a taste/touch/glimpse of it, we realize how indefinable, immense and complex it is.

But that is ok. That’s one of the first steps on this journey.

Here’s a task for you today. Pagan or not, it doesn’t matter – if you’ve got this far, I’ll assume you’re still interested.

Step outside. Take a few minutes. Do it. No excuses. If you absolutely can’t (and I’m speaking to my lovely readers who may not be physically able here, not just those who are confined to office cubicles), then get to an open window. Trust me.

Feel the Outside, with every one of those senses. The air on your face, perhaps rain or breeze. Birds singing, people talking, dogs barking, vehicles, phones, music. The ground beneath your feet.

How does it all feel? Close your eyes if it’s safe to do so, and reach out a little. If folk give you funny looks, don’t panic – you won’t see them.

Now. Notice your thoughts. How’s your brain dealing with all of this? Feeling stupid? Looking at the time, at the commitments you have to get back to, worrying about things to do… just catch that internal monologue in the act. Tell it you’re Outside. Remind it that you’re Pagan. You’re Doing a Thing. Shut up. All of that noise can wait.

Then notice the world again. Go deeper. You’ve put aside the mundane concerns, you’re having a spiritual moment within the everyday. This is your own small ritual. Reach down, reach out… connect.

Because that binary reality isn’t an accurate depiction of life, not really. It’s a way that people chose to help them understand, and that’s fine – as a model.Not the Ultimate Truth.

You touch the natural world while hearing and feeling the human-made – concrete underfoot, tiny computer in your pocket, machined clothes, make-up, processed food.

As you stand outside, your brain may want to go back in. This isn’t right, people will think you’re weird, there’s stuff to be getting on with! Or perhaps… as they look, seeing someone who has simply stopped, pausing to breathe… they might be envious? How many have the courage to ask you what you’re up to? How many more would want to join you? Would they be able to let themselves? Just smile.

The difference between Outside and Inside is a closed portal – a door or a window. You have the power to move through it (doesn’t that sound magical, just by thinking in those terms?). Civilization creeps outside, while the natural world effortlessly sits inside: earth, air, water, fire…

If you are Pagan, seeing the sacred all around, you can step outside to better connect. But you then take that with you as you move forward with your day. As your senses have opened, your awareness has been reminded of what is there all the time, just waiting to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated. It’s all combined, part of life. City or country, wild or tame, sacred or profane… we engage through taking the time to witness it, to be part of it. Any time, any place. We should not be afraid to do this. It’s not about ‘finding time’.

And it’s up to us what we do with that, ultimately. I’ve tried to turn a huge and almost indefinable feeling into words here, to convey my thoughts and understanding. We can let it inspire us, channelling through our own personal creativity in whatever way suits us best – prose, poetry, art, music, computer code, pottery or Lego… we use the technology (as I use this laptop right now) to pin down feelings, just for a moment. There’s that model again, something that allows our human brains to come to terms with cosmic reality.

We can’t see air, but it’s there and we use it. We may not understand electricity, but it we know how to harness it. I’ve always known in my heart that flying in a huge, heavy metal box above the clouds is a very particular form of magic that I’ll never comprehend, but I’ve done it.

And so I know that feeling the particular energy of the night-time is not strange. Joy at a sunrise, the primal pleasure of a fire in my hearth… or the warmth of a nourishing drink in my hands, sharing laughter with friends or witnessing someone else’s tale on screen or page. Our ancestors have done every one of these, using whatever technology they had. We reconnect with the world and we reconnect with our selves, our families, friends, stories… the wild and the tamed, intertwined.

As Pagans, we notice. And we are grateful and glad. Marking Nature as sacred in our lives, as they are lived.

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Really Real

It seems a common topic of conversation these days that the world is pretty chaotic. We find so many things hard to understand – from violence in the name of peaceful religion, to laws which seem to increase suffering for some in the ‘best interests’ of others, or just decisions to which we can only stammer ‘But… but… that’s just wrong!’ At heartfelt level, become intellect and rationality, we know this and are flummoxed that the other person cannot even grasp the possibility.

The craziness of ‘everyday’ life is brought home to me often, largely because of my work as a Professional Priest. This brings two worlds colliding in a very real sense. The secular, normal, nuts-and-bolts life that generally allows for the concept of spirituality but with an undercurrent of nervousness, unsure how to engage with it for fear of offending – and the spiritual, soul-deep understanding that we are actually all humans muddling through some greater journey together, albeit with a similar suspicion that the 9-5 family-and-day-job is mad in its own way. Is one more important than another? Is one more real than another?

Both worlds do acknowledge that we need help sometimes (though even asking for that can be a challenge in itself). We know that the ancients combined the roles of Support Staff – the Druid or Shaman could be a doctor, a teacher, a priest, a midwife. They were educated to do so, and saw those roles as interconnected.

So this compartmentalisation of life is perhaps helpful to organise the chaos in a general sense, but less so when trying to gauge how these parts come together within us, in fully understanding – going beyond a soundbite or simplification (including my brief descriptions here).

As I say, in my work as Priest, I see this line blurring between the Real and the Cosmic (yes, I know, both words are wildly inaccurate, but bear with me). I’ve been researching Mysticism for a while now, as well as Spiritual Crisis, and come across many tales where someone’s intense mystical experience – that is, engaging at deep level with Spirit – transforms their understanding of life to the extent that what is perhaps called madness ensues. This is a relatively new theory, whereby psychoses or neuroses are not in fact negative or harmful, but ways of processing experiences that our society does not allow for, understand, teach about or even acknowledge (except as ‘illness’).

While a new theory, it’s not a new concept. Many historic mystics suffered from physical and mental illness, and it could be argued that this affected artists and other creative folk too (Van Gogh leaps to mind, as well as Virginia Woolf, Byron, Sylvia Plath and any number of others). The Druid expression of the ‘Fire in the Head’ that affected the Bard in the grip of Awen/Inspiration also rings true here.

However, I’ve also been fortunate enough to see this from an entirely new perspective lately – in an enclosed community with its own rules and ways of life, outside of the regular everyday that most of us are used to.

Since December, I’ve been working as a Prison Chaplain. Even in this short time, the dramatic difference between the world inside the bars and that ‘on the outside’ has struck home to me, and I’ve no doubt that it will continue to do so. I am constantly learning from those I minister to and with. But one remarkable fact keeps raising its head.

Within this contained society of hard-core criminals, respect and understanding is given to the spiritual in an entirely different manner to that which I’m used to. I’m often approached by prisoners and asked what I’m doing, as a woman in a man’s world; I reply that I’m the Pagan Chaplain. I’ve noticed that this is met with an expression of wonder, more questions (as is normal) but also a far greater willingness to engage, to discuss spiritual matters and personal problems. While social masks are often still in place (for survival if nothing else), my being present as a Spiritual Professional is respected and appreciated. I’m welcomed in a refreshing manner, as virtually everyone acknowledges that my job is needed, and they’re glad that I’m there.

This does happen on the outside, but it is far rarer. It might be political correctness or simply not being sure how to ask what’s on your mind, but this is one of my main reasons for working hard to be approachable, down-to-earth and Real (as I’m often described!) – because for me, that line between the secular and the spiritual is pretty much pointless. And in the prison environment, I’m able to actually breathe more freely, because those around – without even conscious awareness – feel the same.

This week, a good friend asked about the viability of Pagan enclosed communities (almost like convents or monasteries), to more freely explore the spiritual and mystical in a safe environment without all the noise of the everyday world. This would be voluntary isolation, but I had to smile, seeing interesting parallels. Do we need to separate ourselves to really engage with our spirituality?

What works to get you through life? What do we honestly feel and believe? Why shouldn’t we talk about it, figure it out with others, share and connect? Why are we so afraid?

Perhaps it is these perceived boundaries which are the true bars, resulting in the mental illness, confusion or unhelpful isolation – because we don’t know how to process true experiences that we have within the ‘real life’ around us. Perhaps this is why the Priest is becoming even more relevant and necessary, rather than less.

The Priest might not have all the answers, but they are at least honest enough to listen and walk alongside to find the way forward through the chaos together. And so they are doctor, teacher and so much more stiill, here in this 21st century world.

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One Week

Last Monday, I wrote about the turbulence of recent weeks. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the days that followed, just seven small spans of hours… but during which, so much has happened.

I’ve driven over 400 miles, for those who’ve asked. To minister good times and bad, celebration and tragedy. To mark once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and to honour the passing of times we hope never to face.

I’ve invited those in need into my home, to tell their tale and be heard. The medicinal value of tea and a caring arm is so simple, yet beyond price.

I’ve connected over thousands of miles with others, to chat and laugh, and be amazed by their stories. Technology lets us be heard.

I’ve walked the streets near my home, seeing familiar landscapes change and evolve. I’ve seen history marked by local children, in the Derbyshire tradition of well-dressing.

I’ve felt the sacred, tangibly, with every sense. The grass beneath my feet, a deluge of rain on my face. Warm sunlight, cool breezes. Mist-wreathed mountains, impossibly blue waters.

I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve cheered and mourned. I’ve created, given every scrap of my energy where it’s needed, and then fallen into exhausted dreams.

I’ve felt the pain of dishonour, frustration, broken promises, hurtful words. I’ve felt the joy of love, happiness, commitment, truth, inspiration. My breath has caught in my throat as words failed me. I’ve been both awed and angered at the actions of others.

I have born witness and held stories. Life is being lived – with all of its ups and downs. I walk my path.

This is my Druidry.

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Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

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

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

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

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

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

Mercury was taking me deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Living Connection

Perhaps it began with that British urge to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’. During the Second World War, I believe – when things were so bad that it was just beyond comprehension. How on earth were we doing these things to each other? How were we supposed to respond? Stiff upper lip. Keep buggering on. It’s almost a joke on the British, that stoicism and determination. A sign of strength.

Then, in the 1990s, I remember the concept of the ‘New Man’ began to creep in. It was now, apparently, allowed for men to cry, to take on ‘un-manly’ jobs – such as housework, or being a stay-at-home father. Post-natal stress was also found to be real.

As the Millennium turned, we suddenly realized what a mess things had become. And in the chaos and confusion, we still didn’t know how to handle things – what we’re doing to each other, and how to deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Buggering on was no longer an option… and statistics began to come out of how many people were on some sort of anti-depressant medication. Or children being treated for ADHD. We tried to deal with it by quantifying it with data, making goals for treatment to show that we’re doing something. Even if it wasn’t necessarily healing.

Lately, it seems that sneering is the next stage – denial, perhaps. Showing emotion is passe now, depression a ‘trend’, a band-wagon to jump on. That awful phrase, ‘just seeking attention’, used to trivialise another person’s pain. Physical ailments such as allergies are acknowledged as real, but then sniffed at by cynical non-sufferers – after all, the coeliac, asthmatic or epileptic is probably just being awkward. There’s a hint that the disabled are viewed in a similar manner (just consider the attitude of ATOS, or even public transport providers). But we can’t talk about that, because it would be Rude. Politeness leads to Political Correctness (not at all the same thing), which leads to disregard. Back to Stiff Upper Lip again – on both sides. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become a buzz-phrase.

None of these responses even gives a nod to investigation or understanding. Nobody really listens to the deeper story.

I’ve always been confused by this. Early in life, it was power-games – one person asserting themselves by abusing or taking advantage of another. Then it was the disregard for what certainly felt like a very real emotion or situation:

“I’m in pain, help me.” “Oh, no you’re not, pull yourself together.”

“I don’t understand.” “Well, you should, you must be stupid.”

I never understood what made one person’s opinion more valid than another; why one truth was somehow truer. And, for a long time, it seemed that I was always the one who was wrong, presumably because of this lack of understanding.

This isn’t self-pity, by the way. As a child (and a teenager) I spent a good deal of time just honestly confused. There appeared to be rules for life, and nobody had let me know what they were. School cliques, in particular, seemed to have the monopoly on ‘how to behave’. This then turned into ‘Workplace Policy’ – put in place, apparently, to help everyone… except those who needed it.

I’m aware, from my working life, that a lot of the Systems that are now in place were originally set up with good intentions. Doctors actually do want to make people better. Teachers want to instil joy of learning in pupils. Scientists want to explore and discover.

But the Systems have trapped us. Because we’re so aware of what we should be doing, what boxes we need to tick, what goals to hit… We’ve become an Orwellian or Swiftian nightmare; the satire has become real. Real People have been subsumed by dehumanising Systems.

What our hearts tell us is right is not considered important. Anything subjective, unquantifiable, emotional, is somehow invalid. How do you make a statistic out of happiness, health or pleasure? What is an appropriate level of inspiration or love? Too little isn’t sufficient; too much is inappropriate. I’d love to see how such things are charted.

As Orwell predicted, language is being turned against us. Forms must be filled in correctly, situations described accurately; if you can’t work those Systems, you’re practically useless, and so fair game. Punishment: benefits cut, medication increased, even home taken away. Never mind that you don’t have the skills (physical or mental) to even approach those Systems at basic level. Double-plus ungood – reject.

People often ask me if I think more people are returning to the ‘Old Ways’ as a response to modern life. I’m not entirely sure. I can see what they mean – but, in all honesty, I think we’re looking back to the past now in an effort to find something that we feel we’ve lost, which contemporary life is not providing. We’re not literally seeking ‘Old Ways’ – modern conveniences are rather nice, especially hot food, clean water and flushing toilets. Nor are we seeking Secret Hidden Knowledge about the Absolutely Infallible Way to Live (although some are always claiming to have this). We’re seeking to reclaim our truths as human beings. Or even as animals, living creatures sharing a planet.

This is where my Druidry strikes a chord. For me, it’s always been about those truths, you see – things that I know to be right, both personally and at a fundamental human level. What works for me should work for you too – not in a fascist manner, but simply as the same species, part of a (theoretically) like-minded tribe, at the point where we connect. We’re all seeking the best way to live our lives, a fact that’s very easily forgotten when we start behaving as Us/Them. Our relationship with each other is being lost, and we need to find it again, to explore and to (re)learn.

Studying Environmentalism, I read about how eco-lawyers are seeking to recognise the rights of non-humans. How? Well, while we can’t understand them linguistically, we can safely presume that all living things have the desire to go on living. The next step is the quality of that life. Not luxuries – basics. Nourishment. Happiness. Love. You know, those unquantifiable things. Which some folk feel they have the right to take away or devalue.

OK. Now, presumably we, as living, (apparently) intelligent and articulate human beings, have those same desires? We all eat, sleep and breathe. We have more in common than we do difference.

Life can sometimes seem like a movie – but perhaps one where we’ve lost our script. Everyone else seems to know what to do, and we lose ourselves in the rush to keep up, find our place, do what we’re supposed to. We’re appalled by news stories about the world around, but don’t know how to react. We’re encouraged to have opinions, but not to actually take any action (beyond ticking ‘Like’ on a Facebook page). We feel that our power has been taken away.

Yet we’re still part of that world. We’re starting to see through the filters, the Systems. We don’t want to ‘bugger on’, we want to battle on, to change and to put right. We need to see clearly, to understand the individual stories that make up the general picture.

Remember – or reforge – your connectedness. Whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re looking at, imagine that they are a friend or close relative. Look more deeply into their story; sometimes the most important information is what the news, or the first impression, is not saying. See past the spin, the cynicism, the ‘appropriate level of understanding.’

We each live our story. We write our own script. We connect with everyone else, doing the same. What’s important to you is probably just as important to them. Ask ‘Why?’ Then, when you don’t agree, say ‘No.’ Find alternatives.

Every day has little victories, tiny acts of heroism. For some, just making it through is a huge achievement. Let’s stop the cynicism, the disregard. Let’s celebrate each other a little more, recognising and providing help when needed, congratulations when deserved, and questioning of what we’re told. See variety and potential in our different levels of ability. Be brave and battle on. Learn from our ancestors.

Live.

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Tis the Season…

December is a month of noise. Lights, songs… sheer stuff. Preparations for Christmas (or the midwinter festival of your choice), then the day itself, then the aftermath, into New Year… and of course we all know about the increased pressure, stress, busy-ness, etc. The silly season more than Summer ever is.

This weekend, I mentioned to a relative the importance of teaching her children the true meaning of the season. She agreed wholeheartedly – and her eldest knows all about the Nativity, although she’s had a terrible time finding him a camel outfit on eBay.

Today on the radio, the DJ read a message from a listener that bemoaned a fight between husband and wife over who had to take their children to a Carol Concert, when they’d actually rather stay at home.

And before any moral high ground is taken, I’ve heard Pagan folk bemoaning the lack of decent gifts to buy for their loved ones. ‘Create your own?’ I suggested… to be met with looks of outright horror.

It’s easy to laugh at the trivial, the ridiculous – ‘problems’ that we’d never even consider at any other time, but seem inflated somehow by the expectations of the season.

But it’s also easy to forget that the importance of a festival at the darkest time of the year is simply to keep ourselves moving. To remind ourselves that we’re still here, still alive (trivia and all).

Today, supermarkets are bustling with people filling their trolleys with goods, to eat and drink to excess over the season of cheer. Not too long ago, if our ancestors hadn’t harvested enough to survive, they’d be squirrelling (literally) away every grain and drop, in order to survive until Spring.

Yule is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. After that, we start the slow journey back towards the long-ago – and far ahead – days of Summer, but still with a fair amount of cold, wintry time until the snowdrops poke their heads into view, let alone the buttercups.

As Pagans, we’re (hopefully) aware of the need for balance. Light and dark, summer and winter…

As some of you may know, I worked for a while in End of Life Care within the NHS. This means, very basically, administrating the wishes of terminal patients, to ensure that they receive the care they wish in their last moments. Yes, this includes ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Orders. I’ve had heated discussions (read: keeping professional and biting my lip while being yelled at) with medical professionals, who insist that I’m endorsing euthanasia. I’m not: I’m endorsing individual responsibility. This is a real challenge in a system of policy, expectation, best intentions for the greater good, and potential litigation.

I’ve worked harder than ever on Christmas Eve, while my office partied around me, to ensure that terminal children had the best possible time with their families prior to their imminent demise. That dementia patients with no next of kin received a good standard of care. The basic respect of life from our fellow human beings, when we need it most, and in the Season of Giving.

And then they move on. And I’m perhaps the only one who remembers their name, who lights a candle, sheds a tear and says a prayer to the Lords of the Otherworld. Who helps them to move forward into that ultimate unknown. My roles merge and I learn.

Winter is a time of death. Peaceful? A simple grave covered with snow? Or becoming another statistic, an elderly person unable to survive the cold because they can’t afford food and heat? A heart attack brought on by too much rich food? Life and death, feast or famine…

We are humans. We battle on. There are always challenges, the most basic of which is to stay alive. In modern times, we have the strangest relationship with death – we avoid it, look away, try to pretend it isn’t happening. But then it may hurt all the more when it inevitably does. It leaves us confused, stumbling, unsure what to do. ‘That can’t have happened’… but it has.

Today, I was both honoured and saddened to be leading that most difficult of rites: a passing for an unborn child. Nature has no care for season, or appropriate timing. Some things just have to be.

Words were said. The little girl was passed into the care of her ancestors, to return again should the time be right. A single candle burns for her, before us and in the hearts of her family.

And then came the balance. Life goes on, laughter returned, as we celebrated the joy that was her brother enjoying his toys, witnessing his giggle as he fell down while practising that trick of walking upright that we’re all so good at. Decorations were hung up, by a heart that longed for simple peace and quiet. Time is finally found to just be a family together, to move, rather than just going through the motions.

The lights may be bright, the kitchen smells enticing, but the cold wind is only a window away. As Druid and Priest I walk this line, between the living and  the dead, seeing and drawing out the needs of both that are equally forgotten in all the noise, pomp and circumstance.

December is not about money, not about Things. It’s about relationship, about us, together. Surviving, moving forward, celebrating our time properly. Seeing into our hearts, and the hearts of those we love.

The year turns and we turn with it, telling our stories day by day. Some stories end; others are left to tell them. Remembering can be the highest honour, the most valuable gift.

Not all of us will make it to Spring. This is why we celebrate. Living is the miracle. Each of us is a light.

Hold to your loved ones this season, lovely readers. Hold your stories proudly. Remember what is true, in heart and soul. And practise those oldest of rites: raise a glass or light a candle… because you are still here to do so.

Know that you are honoured, and that you are never alone – in life or death.

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