Posts Tagged magic

Fantasy in Reality

I love fantasy. You might have guessed from previous posts, but I’ve always been an avid reader – stories fuel my life. Fantasy is a big part of this, be it the warped dystopian worlds of current ‘trendy’ fiction, the lost 1920s worlds of Agatha Christie, or (of course) Papa Tolkien. There are bandwagons and there are original writers who explore and subvert. All have something to say.

I’ve been seeing a lot of social media lately, however, in which people are looking at fantasy more and more as escapism. The world is a difficult place, and we need somewhere ‘safe’ to retreat to, somewhere better, just for a while.

This is completely fine. It’s an agreed function of those same stories, after all, from the fairytales of childhood to the myths of legend: to lose ourselves in the lives of others, to forget our problems, to imagine alternatives (potentially involving dragons). We need heroes when life seems just mundane, or when our own lives seem less than magical.

But it worries me a little when escapism becomes the sole function of fantasy, or fiction generally. It’s ‘just’ escapism, if you will. The story is denigrated, the humans experiences and lessons passed on as nothing more than fairytale… while missing the obvious truth that ‘fairytales’ are some of the most powerful stories of all.

Or we actively seek to live in such realms as an alternative to this one, like a reenactor who’s forgotten that he’s returned to work on a Monday and reaches for his sword… only to find a mobile phone.

Pagan folk speak of having ‘a foot in both worlds’ – meaning the world of spirit and this everyday realm – but that still requires a solid understanding and awareness of both. It’s advisable to not choose one over another, because that way lies madness. Perspective is crucial, but it can, of course, be easily forgotten with the wonder of spirit seems clearly preferable to the deluge of utility bills, or when the office seems more important than the home.

While recognising the (occasionally satirical) aspects of this world in those of fantasy, it’s certainly a good idea to notice the magical, fantastic parts of our everyday homelands. After all, these are what inspired the fantasy in the first place: London for Ankh-Morpork, perhaps, or Middle England for Middle Earth. We walk the streets of fantasy every day, in our own lives.

I’ve encouraged others to explore the heroic in themselves – and always receive the response ‘Oh, there’s nothing special about me’… followed by the most amazing story of something they’ve accomplished or felt.

We’re not encouraged to see the everyday as fantastic, because we take it for granted. Yet when telling our stories to another person, we’re surprised by their reactions, as they listen wide-eyed and ask questions in enthusiasm. Perspective again – everything seems normal from inside our heads, but may be absolutely marvellous to others. And certainly worth remembering and retelling.

We walk with a foot in both worlds every day. It’s just up to us to open our senses to see.

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What Am I Doing…

As many of you know, it’s been a hard few months. As we head towards Yule (tomorrow), I feel the long darkness in my bones, and the need for rest. However, this has been manifesting in rather scary ways.

(This is not intended to be a self-indulgent, whiny whinge of a post. Bear with me. Writing helps the thoughts work through.)

So many things have happened in the past 3/6/12 months (I lose track) that the need for rest is becoming a real need. I know that I’m not alone in this, but my inner balance feels like it’s tipping to the point where stopping to reassess is not just a nice indulgence when I get time – it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s what I mean.

Things are affecting me too deeply. Yes, I’m what some would call sensitive (others just a worrier), but some of the flotsam thrown at me lately has hit rather harder than it should. I feel very knocked back, which makes it hard to move forward.

It’s becoming more common that some days, I just don’t care. About anything. Every act is a slog, a battle, with no motivation. OK, that’s depression – but now it’s more often become not caring about myself, at all. That old question ‘What’s the point?’ – with its’ friends Hopelessness and Loneliness lurking in the background – stifle anything that I try to do, including basic necessities such as eating and looking after myself. This is scary.

This means that the stuff that fuels me, that bring me joy and inspiration, is missing. I’ve not been able to write much at all. Recent events have been great, but they’ve knocked me out for days with sheer exhaustion. I feel as if I’m letting people down by my inactivity, my lack of energy. The self-berating voices grow louder, making things worse.

And I know I’m not alone. The world is a hard place right now.

Why is all this happening? What can I do about it? Generally, it’s hard to know. But I’m getting ideas from various places.

The writings of friends, truthful and sincere, about their own ups and downs. Joanne and Nimue especially in recent weeks; just a few words in a brief post can strike such powerful chords. Or the silliness and beauty of Veronica Varlow. Provoking a sincere smile is a real blessing.

My students. The brightness of their work, the freshness of their ideas, the sheer inspiration… one fine example being the stalwart and brilliant Naomi. I cannot thank them enough for what they bring to my life (so I’m embarrassing them here instead). ;)

Randomness. Small things that catch my eye and make me pause, as reminders of what’s important. Re-Connection.

Here’s what inspired these thoughts and this post today, bringing together a LOT of randomness from this week:

The solstice is always a time of change, reset, release of the past, and a movement into a new cycle. This solstice is about anchoring in pragmatism your dreams and intentions.

Your desires should be given top priority. Remember you cannot fix or create intentions for anyone else. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you are still feeling the weight of what you have carried, changed, released, processed, started or created in these past months, release it somehow in a fire or other ceremonial way. Then take your vision and ground it in pragmatism and practicality.

A quick thought from a mailing list. But I read it, over and over, as other words have snagged in my head recently. This could be dismissed as selfish New Age witterings… or it could be explored. I could let it inspire.

My own ‘magic’ has always been grounded. While ‘escapist’ playing can be fun, when something is heartfelt and sincere, worked with honour and intention for practical effect… well, the difference is quite clear.

The next few weeks are relatively quiet in the calendar. Ideas have been quietly forming. I’m going to take time, to reestablish my own connection to my work, my practice – what used to energise me, make me smile and bounce and run to find a pen. I’m not entirely sure what will come out of this, but it clearly needs doing.

I’m going to start a journal again, longhand, in a notebook. It’ll probably hurt, physically – my hands aren’t what they used to be, and I’m long out of practice! But time has to be set aside for this, space made. The ideas are then invited as the marks are made on the page. And not so easily deleted.

Fires will be made, to warm the household and bring us together. Good food will be made to nourish us. The darkness won’t be a place to get lost in, but somewhere to seek out inspiration. Intellectually I know this – in practice, however, it can prove a tricky quest.

My old question: What am I doing? Actions are to be taken with intention, purpose. I’m holding on to my own magic, recharging it, reforging into something new. That old adage of ‘physician, heal thyself’ rings true – when the time comes again to minister to others, I’d better be ready.

What dreams do I have for the new year? Let’s find out. I’ve no idea where 2014 is going to find me – but I’d rather face it truly alive.

Icy Woods

From

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Words

Dyslexic friends have spoken to me in the past of their frustration with words. How their shapes change on the page, moving in a muddle that’s impossible to decipher. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard variations on this theme, so presume there’s something there.

This has made me wonder if I’m some sort of reverse-dyslexic. Ever since I could read, words have had their own particular patterns to me, each one a tiny shape with specific form, made up of the right combination of letters, forming sentences and thus phrases captured on pages. As a child, when I stared too long at a page in a book, the edges of paragraphs would become clear, dark ink against white paper, the movement of the word-groups moving up and down almost like musical notation, telling their stories from sigils to be deciphered.

And then, there’s the feeling of having lost your grip on language – typing or writing the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning, becoming just a jumble of letters. Water-torture in text, a metronome of repetition seeking a tune?

I’m reading a fantasy/futuristic science-fiction novel at the moment, with a character who can ‘feel’ the contents of books. She walks between the shelves in a library, fingers gently outstretched, touching the sense of story, the tales told, the experiences of the authors. I’ve seen a lot of this recently, the book-love. Trying to make a little sense out of the joy we find in words – sometimes verbal, but mostly literary, captured in print.

The great Jasper Fforde satirises book-love in his ‘Thursday Next’ novels, with the ‘software’ of reading pinned down into programming language. BOOK 4.0 is to be released – that mysterious machinery which translates words from bits of print into images in our heads. Partly scientific, partly magical, nobody really understands how it works – and why, occasionally, it doesn’t (presumably as in text-speak, with its evolution of LOLs and ROFLs). Is this any stranger an understanding than our communication through the medium of Windows or Linux?

Stories are tangible. Whether it’s breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of a book, with a reader being acknowledged as an active participant in the story (the 80s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books leap to mind), or the post-modernist idea of a literary character themselves reaching into a book to converse with the characters. The aforementioned Thursday Next book-jumps into ‘Jane Eyre’ to ensure that the ending is correct (Jane ends up with Rochester, not Rivers). Those of us who love that tale are certainly glad that this mistake was fixed! – and thus, we are part of the story too.

We cheer the heroes and boo the baddies in movies… but in books, the lines become a little more blurred. We have more time to get to know the characters and situations as the stories unfold. We ‘lose’ ourselves in a good book, eventually putting it down at the last page with a sigh and a racing heart. I frequently close a book and look around in confusion, wondering which reality is more ‘real’.

Stories make us who we are. Each of us has a story to tell – and very few are not worth hearing. We are the protagonist, which doesn’t mean it’s all about us. It’s about our journey, our understanding, our evolution.

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer. I never dreamed that my first book would be non-fiction (or semi-autobiographical) – the Internet wasn’t invented when I started scribbling in exercise books, let alone blogs. But my first love has always been fiction. When the words start to flow on a story, when characters step up into your mind wanting to tell their tale in their own voice… there is no feeling like it, to me.

This is the creative spark. This is the Awen. We all feel it, in our own way, with our own creative skills. The wonderful musician and Bard, Damh, wrote of it this week. I couldn’t stop smiling at the story of his journey – and cheering, in anticipation of what magical, musical words he’ll bring forth.

The inspiring Nimue has combined a literary idea with Druid practice on her blog, as a result of pondering the meaning of ‘Druid’ itself – slightly tongue-in-cheek, but reminding us of the importance of play, interaction, connectivity and creation. Her idea has already inspired me to write a first chapter in a ‘steampunk Druid’ story. Already, those who’ve seen it want to know what happens next.

And that, dear reader, is the deeper magic for me. When people want to hear more of your tales. When folk are inspired to go and explore themselves, to acknowledge their depths and what they have to bring forth. I love to hear it, and to see it. Such sharing is never a bad thing.

Stephen King spoke of books as a long love-affair between author and reader, requiring commitment on both sides, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Short stories were a kiss, a more focused expression of affection (but no less intense).

Most of my blog posts take an hour or two to write. This one has burst from me in about 15 minutes, at high speed, typing frantically and making my partner laugh at my enthusiasm. A friend told me last week that he loved reading my words, that they always flowed so well. That, I informed him, is because he doesn’t see all the deletions and changes. But here, today, there’s relatively few. A slice of writing life, as it comes. A flow of words, from my mind to yours.

So it’s my brief kiss to you, lovely readers. I always hope to inspire, even if just a smile.

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Dreams of Space

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful turn of phrase. “You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming?”

Sometimes dreams are so vivid, you wake up not knowing where you are. The world’s turned upside down as you’re forcibly pulled from one world to another. Sometimes you fight to return to a wonderful dream; others, you’re fighting to escape.

Last night, I had a nightmare so vivid that I woke up utterly confused, the realness of it so complete that I was almost bereft – at the same time as feeling glad, in the way of children repeating ‘It was just a dream, it was just a dream.’

I was searching for a place – my place. In the dream, this was a room that I had the key for, but which I kept being misdirected to. Rather than trying to escape from anywhere, I was sent wandering in circles through many different places, continually questing to find my place, where I could rest. Frustrated and tired, I found the room, turning that key in the door. It was beautiful, I was awed. But there were others there. It wasn’t actually mine at all.

Now, I have no doubt that psychologist-types out there will be making of that what they will. But the sense of that dream stayed with me long after I’d awoken. How often are we searching for our own space in life, whether this is a quest for freedom or just safety? Can any physical place be truly ‘ours’ – or is this just a state of mind? Or even nothing more than a dream?

The question of whether we can truly be ‘free’ is a philosophical debate that has run for many years, and will no doubt run for many more. Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ (from ‘No Exit‘) deals with it in terms of society and claustrophobia; the modern thriller movie ‘The Cube‘ unpacks the question of why we are here at all. Both are nightmarish, forcing the audience to face difficult concepts, but ones that we live with every day.

‘Freedom’ may be subjective, but I’m thankful for the fact that in the society in which I live at this time, I have enough freedom to be living more or less as I wish, with those I love, in a home of my own. And that I’m free to be writing this without fear of censure. Each of those things is a gift, which it’s easy to take for granted.

But our own ‘space’ is a little harder to define – for me, anyway. For some folk, it’s simple – demarcate with your ‘Stuff’, preferred decor, clear boundaries. Yet if you live cheek by jowl with family members, in a small apartment, in a loft, on a boat, or even in prison, personal space is brief and precious. It can be as necessary as locking oneself into the bathroom for a few minutes, or closing a door while housemates have gone out for a while. But such space is temporary. Energies inevitably ebb and flow, like strong-smelling cooking or loud music through a thin wall. That physical area may be ‘yours’, but others will intrude (knowingly or involuntarily). This may drive us to varying levels of crazy, but it still happens and we have to deal with it.

Being aware of boundaries is fairly crucial to Druidry. Where ‘you’ end and someone/thing else ‘begins’ – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, politically, energetically…

The ground inside a ritual circle is approximately of the same composition as the ground outside – except when we set the intention of that space through our work. And that circle isn’t just a circle at all: it’s a sphere, demarcating ground above, ground beneath and air around. Within which we stand – alone, and/or working with the combined energies and presences of others. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, yet that’s one of the basics of Pagan practice. No wonder beginners get overwhelmed easily.

But this, I think, illustrates personal and shared space. I may have ‘cast’ the circle, but that space is not truly ‘mine’ in terms of possession. I don’t ‘own’ the earth or the creatures in it, the trees around, birds, insects. Those innocently passing by have no idea what I’m doing. One fellow blithely wandered right through a ritual circle I was working on recently – with a cheery “hello”, but entirely ignorant. I had to laugh and carry on, factoring this in. No space can truly be ‘yours’ (nor truly ‘clean’), nor should such an impossibility be attempted.

But the space can be set for purpose. If that purpose is peace, safety, security, somewhere you can breath out and rest; or a workplace, designed to inspire thought and ideas. You cast your intention, pattern it with physical items that help (including such sensory tricks as incense or lighting), and voila – a cosy living room, inviting kitchen or sensual (yet restful) bedroom.

As humans, as individuals, we need to express ourselves and feel comfortable in places where we spend our time. Notably, our workplaces: a Dilbert-style office cubby-hole can be made personal and inviting (despite the best efforts of Health & Safety!). Our cars reflect our music tastes, or even our spirituality with rear-view mirror ornaments. I have a tiny Hedwig soft-toy under the dash, given to me as a ‘safe travel’ blessing.

And of course, there’s our bodies themselves, adorned with chosen clothing and jewellery, tattoos and perfumes. Exactly the same as our ancestors did, and our future ancestors will. We set our bodies as our own space, yes – but even this can be ‘shared’ (as anyone who’s allowed themselves to be ‘ridden’ by Deity will confirm). We rarely face the world naked; when we do, that in itself is a powerful statement, of both vulnerability and strength.

I think that my dream was reflecting my current concern about my work-life balance – or lack thereof. While I have set out ‘office-space’ in my home, what I do necessitates long hours, which is wonderful when inspiration hits in the small hours of morning or evening. But it’s very hard to walk away from. Conscientiousness goes too far – I find myself fretting over jobs not done, making it difficult to switch off and truly relax. My energy suffers, and I end up easily depleted and fatigued.

Ultimately, I need to reaffirm my boundaries. This does not mean panicking when others ‘invade my space’, whether physically or via telephone or email. I love what I do. But I need to reclaim my own space to recharge, reconnect, remember. Or I won’t be any use to anyone at all, let alone myself.

We can’t lose our sense of selves if we wish to be effective energy-workers – or workers at all. If we are truly aiming to help others, we need to be strong and fuelled, yet flexible and ready for anything. Because the Universe will throw it at us, if it thinks we need that wake-up challenge.

So I woke up. I will again tomorrow. With those I love, in my home, working within my community. I have the key to my space. Now to honour myself as I honour you all.

Questing & Magic: Painting inspired by my book (copyright Kenneth Walker 2012, may not be reproduced without permission)

 

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The Raven’s Eye

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the topic of ‘Sacrifice’. It’s been taken down now, for various reasons, but mainly that it was perhaps too ambiguous – a large topic either needs a broad area for discussion, or something simpler, more personal.

But I’ve been thinking, deeply, on both that subject and the wider aspects of communicating such amorphous concepts. Which is, essentially, what this blog does. I’ve made it my duty to do it as well as I can.

So this is just one tiny page of one person’s thoughts. Challenged to write from my heart, to sing my own song, I call on the Awen to flow once again…

As a Druid, I’m often asked about ‘making the sacrifice’. It’s something people ‘know’ about our ancestors, that image of the robed figure with knife held high above a stone table. That may be the story, but what’s the reality?

To me a Sacrifice is a sacred gift, given to reflect and maintain balance. Offered with love and some regret, it should be missed – and therein lies the value. The relationship between given and giver, the connection, the story told in the history of that act and its future consequences: a sacrifice is neither simple, nor isolated. Responsibility and intention are presented and received in turn. And we move forward.

The first, or last, taste of food or drink – the gift of Life.
Time and energy – the gift of Knowledge.
Tears – Strength.
Life – Love.
Blood – Life.
Pain – Healing.

I give my words to you all, here. My efforts, time, thoughts and integrity, sacrificed on the altar of free information – not ultimate truth, in any way, but my own truth. I can do no more.

I learn from what comes as a result of these words, as others read and respond. It’s not about ego, not at all, but about inspiration, sharing, adding one voice to an overarching melody. I work hard to make that sound true, with so much discordant squawking out there. The topic becomes less important, as I struggle to make the words reflect my thoughts, to create understanding, not confusion. I have no idea who will read these words – the sheer audacity of believing that it will be of interest at all is huge, but I can’t think about that. It’s a challenge, but I can’t be overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s just me, here, typing my intention.

I make my own sacrifices daily, feeling it become more difficult as I get older. To my loved ones, my Gods, my ancestors, family of blood and spirit – and to complete strangers, those who approach me to simply ask. These words are just one example.

We’re all human, reluctant to give up what we’ve worked for, to expose ourselves to ridicule. But we have to make that connection, to do what matters – or we’re simply isolated, alone and confused, and fooling ourselves, refusing to feel, blocking our own senses. We receive as we give (as a wiser person said).

What sacrifices do you make in life? Not necessarily through obligation, but voluntarily – not always easily, but willingly?

The cost and reward of Sacrifice? Love, bravery and honesty. A Druid Triad, perhaps – or it could be just my mutterings…

Dedicated, with love, to that Son of Odin whose wisdom I hold dear. The Raven’s song may be harsh, but it always carries meaning x

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A Need for Magic

This topic really has snagged in people’s heads, hasn’t it… reading Nimue’s lovely words today, I’ve found myself pondering magic yet again.

Make the most of it. It means more blog posts, after all ;)

Today for me, it’s the reason why it’s so inspiring, why the idea of magic is tantalising to us all, in this technological, cynical modern age. Essentially this is a philosophical discussion, but one to which we can all relate at some level.

As I write this, I’ve been watching a documentary about Shakespeare. There’s a debate going on about magic in ‘The Tempest’, and how Shakespeare infused that play with tricks to draw the audience into his world, to break down barriers between the everyday and the mystical, to suspect disbelief and create wonder (and horror). Words, music, visuals, all combine with that intention – ingredients, the recipe for the tale. Shakespeare casts his spell very well indeed.

Inspiration struck. The light-bulb came on above my head, as the words of those who’ve written in the last few days combined with words spoken for the last 400 years (and I smile, feeling daft that this hadn’t occurred to me before).

We need magic. If not some ultimate, true ‘power’, then magic as an idea, a hope, an aspiration… in terms of something more, something to instil in us that joy of living, freedom to laugh honestly and truly, to really be ourselves.

Perhaps forgotten since we were children, we can be reminded of that feeling while immersing ourselves in a magical situation. Stories are a good example: I’ve certainly forgotten myself while watching a play, totally caught up in the action of those only feet away from me caught in a scripted tale, trapped by fate into their roles, telling so many messages and ideas in one overarching tale. Red works her magic with fingers and toes buried deep in the earth of her garden; Nimue in the flow of the water around her river-home. Connected with the magic as it is part of life.

We haven’t found the answers to our questions of life in the doctrines of religion, the codes of mathematics or the experiments of science. We can’t buy it, no matter how hard we may fool ourselves into thinking so. We are all seeking – and the idea of magic lets us believe, just for a moment, in tangible possibility.

I’m not disparaging any of those methods, by the way. As I said before, a holistic way of living incorporates whatever works to achieve a complete objective. Separate colours do indeed combine into a larger picture.

However, I think that this quest is one of the main reasons that folk are seeking Pagan paths these days, coming full circle through the innovations of technology and now looking back, realizing that some things were lost that may be needed.

While Pagan folk don’t have convenient and easy answers any more than anyone else, as in my last blog post, we learn, move forwards and guide as we go. The gradual openness of previously ‘occult’ (ie hidden) knowledge is encouraging exploration and investigation, meaning and potential. The reasons why we choose not to cast fireballs or have animals clean our houses.

Of course, as Red said, this can lead to ‘quick fix’ options, as much as any mode of thought that’s not fully understood. But some people don’t want to be priests; they’re just looking for something to help them day to day… as we all do, at one level or another. We all wish each other ‘good luck’, or ‘bless you’ after a sneeze – usually with a wink and a smile – and there’s superstition, finding connection and meaning in a casual verbal touch. It’s hard to put into words how you feel when you wish a feeling onto another, to elaborate your intention, but sometimes a simple ‘touch wood’ or ‘cross fingers’ speaks volumes of hopes and dreams. That’s a start.

Druidry does contain magic – to me, there’s no doubt of that. It has no intrinsic moral code, other than what we give it. The wildness of nature, the evolution of life, the verbal, emotional and tangible connections that we feel every day of our lives, each contains its own magic. It’s just up to us to open our eyes and truly see it – responsibly, with awareness but with that inspiration still bubbling up within our hearts and our souls.

We seek magic at a level that is appropriate to us. Then, as bloody-minded Druids, we challenge it and look deeper, into the creative pot. That’s where we start making our own.

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Magic – Continued

I love inspiration.

My previous post struck a chord with the lovely Red, in her post here, elaborating on her own views about magic and its practice as Druid. Beautiful words, wonderful to share.

In turn, the topic has stuck in my mind, as it wends its way onward, developing and growing in new and interesting ways.

I’ll elaborate on the original ‘germ’ ideas, which came together in my original post.

This week, as Red says, an enquiry was received by The Druid Network regarding Druid ‘spellbooks’. We don’t use them as such, but there was a bit of discussion as to how to reply in a way that the enquirer could easily follow. Their expectations probably weren’t quite what they got, but the answer was honest and hopefully useful.

I was asked about recipes for remedies, possible Druid methods for healing. This I can provide, up to a point – modern medicine is a wonderful thing, after all – but as others have said before me, ‘alternative’ methods often need more regular actions to help them along. There’s no point in saying a spell to cure toothache without visiting the dentist. But again, advice is given, openly and honourably.

This is small but potent Druid magic, to me. This is someone reaching out, and a response given with intention to help. We can’t fix things for people, but we can establish connection, gauge the truth behind the worries, the emotional maelstrom, and assist. Sometimes this is difficult. But we focus our intention, guide the querent and move forward together. I’m never going to laugh at someone for asking a genuine question.

I’ve also been told that people don’t want to learn about ‘involved Druid practice’ as such. They want to learn about ‘magic and spells’, as nobody’s got enough time or money to invest in the deeper learning. OK – I understand that many people are tightening their belts these days. But on reflection, I personally can’t just teach ‘magic and spells’, because to me, that would be selling snake oil. That’s the ‘magic wand’ method, where the majority of ‘students’ would want quick fix remedies to sooth their worries and give hope with minimum effort. That’s the magic that the Daily Mail reviles, that of £300 glass wands masquerading as quartz.

I’m probably really pissing people off with this statement. I speak only for myself here, from my experience. But you don’t give someone a tool without explaining how to use it properly. Even ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ taught that.

As I said, magic is focusing intention. It’s a tool, to help us. Absolutely, it can be used for good or ill – to control, to manipulate, and so forth. Such actions have consequences. As Druids, we make ourselves aware, as best we can, of the reasoning behind each step, each decision. If a choice causes harm, then that is weighed against benefit, and perhaps discarded. Perhaps not. But those choices are made in full awareness. The connection and relationship, the rootedness that Red speaks of, gives a ritual act its ‘oomph’, its direction, its power. And it’s not power over, but power with. None of us truly act alone when other things, people, humans and other living creatures, are affected.

Method is very personal. I’ve little experience with Ceremonial Magic, but personally could not be that precise and mathematical in practice without feeling like a total idiot. My work would lack sincerity, and therefore impact, because I don’t believe in what I’m doing. But if it suits the more scientifically-minded of us, then great – go for it! If a tool helps you to achieve the right focus and frame of mind, wonderful. Just don’t get too dependent on it, would be my advice. Inspiration has to chime in your heart and soul.

My ‘magic’ can be as simple as answering a question, or as elaborate as full robed ritual. Both involve a certain mindset, rooting myself, being aware, having that connection with land and those upon it. And both involve emotion – joy and sorrow, tears and laughter. Sincere, true ‘working’ is not something that is functional, learned by rote to scientific method – the Universe just isn’t that ordered, certainly not in a way that’s understandable by a little human brain.

Our small rituals connect us, every hour of every day. As we learn and grow, that awareness helps us in our practice, our choices – and from there, to help others. Magic helps us to join with something larger, more mysterious but entirely worth exploring… the wider world.

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Magic, Spells and Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go forth and create your own magic!

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Within the Cauldron

It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.

Then I considered her words more deeply.

These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).

Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).

I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.

So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.

Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.

Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).

For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.

At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.

Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.

And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.

I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.

But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.

And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.

I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.

In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.

Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.

I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:

My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.

And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.

In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.

I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.

 

As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.

Sunbathing in the Rain

Journeys with the Black Dog

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.

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Looking Forward

This weekend, my partner and I journeyed South(ish) to meet up with my fellow Trustees of The Druid Network at our Annual General Meeting. While wonderful to spend time socially with folk who have become good and true friends over recent years (despite being scattered around the country), it was a time for work, for focused intention and decision. Where would our Druidry take us over the coming year, and where do we see the Network going into the future?

Now as this is a personal blog, I won’t be going into too much detail about the organisation. Visit The Druid Network website for more information; members can see the Minutes and Actions from the meeting.

But suffice to say, my thoughts of recent weeks seemed to coalesce in this organised setting. This year is now starting to really move as the earth around us wakes up to Spring (in this hemisphere at least), and the energy is rising accordingly. A lot of ideas sprang forth as we inspired each other, with shared goals, motivations and awareness of representing a larger number of people.

However, as I call myself ‘Druid’, I cannot possibly represent everyone who does likewise. Nor can any group, however inclusive. This is why the Network appeals to me – each and every person involved, whether they call themselves ‘Druid’ or some other term (if any) brings their own unique individuality to bear as part of a larger whole. A book of many themes, a picture of many colours. Nobody will be told how to practise their own faith. Challenged and questioned, yes, but that comes as part and parcel of the Druid deal!

Both I and my colleagues have to maintain awareness of that larger community, and gauge the needs and restrictions of the wider world that we work within. While our own personal practice may (and should) be individual, Druidry includes an awareness of the currents in which we flow. The world is moving forward and so are we. How are we setting our course within that?

No faith can remain static, or it stagnates. Paganism especially, as a relatively ‘new’ practice (despite its heritage) is still finding its feet, working hard to be recognised in an increasingly secular and cynical world, but also determining practical purpose. It’s all very well to call for ‘world peace’, but how are we helping that? If we spend our lives arguing and complaining, we’re working against our own dream, right there. Loudly proclaiming what we are not doesn’t really help us find what we are.

We have to stand as examples of our faith, our belief, our truth, while constantly challenging it to ensure that it remains relevant as we and the world change and grow. As I’ve said, people are coming to those public Pagan figures more and more often, whether to just shyly ask a question or to outright ask to be helped. Those of us who stand up have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes from that.

So where are the tides of 2012 (and beyond) taking us? More people are becoming interested in what this ‘Druidry’ thing is, as they wake up to the need to question and explore in order to find a little personal meaning in a fast-paced and busy life that seems almost dictated: birth, school, work, marriage, children, death. There’s so much more than that, as we’re all finally realizing. The old systems are failing; those institutions that we relied on so much aren’t giving back what they promised. We’re driven to look deeper.

Druidry doesn’t offer ‘all the answers’. No religion does – or if it does, it may be embroidering the truth just a little (yes, science, I’m looking at you too). The answer is different for every person. A hard concept to grasp, but true.

How do you live your life? That’s up to you. But to live it with awareness of your own needs and those within a wider community, as part of a family, bloodline, group of friends, neighbours, citizens, species, ecosystem… there’s so much more than we are told. We’ve grown afraid, then selfish, insular. It’s time to be brave and step up.

The Druid is an explorer as well. One who knows that if there’s a map, it may be wrong, but that’s ok – we’ve got paper and pen. And this map won’t just be visual: it’ll encompass all the senses, including that mental and spiritual awareness that science hasn’t really explored yet.

The ancient Druids filled so many roles in their communities. Ultimately, us modern Druids do our best for those we serve – both those official ‘members’ and everyone else who comes asking. We do this with awareness of the flows of life, the wider world (geographical, social, political, historical), with our feet on the ground but also between the worlds, known and unknown. Our faith sustains us: in ourselves and those who stand and walk with us, human and non-human, past, present and future.

Ultimately, we are human too, of course. And this thing called ‘Druidry’ means that we recognise our shared humanity, our connection, our similarities and differences. And with that, we chart a course, establish our aims, and move forward. It’s not about ‘quick fixes’, it’s about evolution.

We don’t know what will come, but we’ll ride it, whatever it is, doing our best: to represent, to serve, to bear witness, to guide. To live with honour and truth, as individuals within a larger Universe.

We can’t know it all, but we can learn to laugh and dance (and pause for tears) as we undertake our journies, both alone and together.

That ‘second star to the right’ is closer than we think.

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