Posts Tagged magic

Making Inspiration

It’s the first Monday of 2019. Most people are going  back to work today, or school, or otherwise returning to ‘normality’ after the holiday.

This is not usually the most happy of occasions. The early start, the ‘presentable’ clothes, having to focus on things which are maybe not your first priority… perhaps the habits of late mornings in bed, comfortable ‘lounge-wear’ and doing what you want with your time are more attractive!

On many 9-5 (or equivalent) days, we feel the pressure of the season as it truly is now. Yuletide has passed. We’re into the dark, grey days of winter, with Spring months away. This is what the Yule celebrations were designed to help us through… but it’s not always so easy from this side of the calendar.

What is enticing is to let ourselves fall into that sense of drudgery. Of running behind, chasing an endless ‘To-Do’ list, wondering how to cope with weeks until payday. We can feel ourselves slipping, letting the grey clouds overwhelm us. But we don’t have to.

Times like this are precisely when we need our own magic the most. You may be rolling your eyes now, wondering how on earth we can do that when we feel so unmotivated, uninspired and generally unwilling. But that’s precisely it!

The brightness of Yule was to remind us of the good things we have, of the love of family and friends, good food and laughter. Even the quiet of peace, of the time to do your own thing, with the New Year full of plans and potential. That hasn’t gone away – that was setting the foundation from which we’re now working.

Even if the holidays were themselves difficult and returning to ‘normality’ is now a welcome relief – then let that fuel you. The season has turned, and with it the reminder that we’re still here, still moving forward. We have the power to make this year what we want (or need) it to be.

The trick of these dark days is not to succumb to the sleep of hibernation again. It’s natural to want this, as the morning are still dark and the sunlight in short supply. But we have to keep ourselves moving in both darkness and light. Hold on to the good feelings of recent weeks to keep yourself reminded of what’s possible, or what you’re dreaming of.

My December was not the best, and I won’t be remembering it fondly. Illness, severe mental health battles and general battling meant that I was generally surviving day-to-day. However, the bright spots stand out even more because of that.

Time snuggled up with my husband and animal family, warm and fed, together. Visiting family, laughter and silliness; pictures of distant folks enjoying themselves. Sharing stories of adventures during that Christmas week, which seemed both too long and yet over so quickly at the same time.

Now here we are, needing to get Back to Work – and we can use those happy moments to keep us going. We’re still working in the midst of winter, yes, but that means setting foundations for the year ahead. This is just as exciting, if not more so, as making those plans, dreams and wishes, because now we’re actually able to do something about them.

Our daily work may be hard to face, but it allows us to have the resources to use as we need. Even if (like me) work is scarce at this time of year, we try to use what we have and plan for the busier seasons on the horizon.

Inspiration may not be immediately apparent right now. It’s hard to see the magic in the January dampness, here in the UK. The news is full of difficulty and sadness. So even more, we need to dig deep and find that inner inspiration to keep ourselves moving.

I’m back at my desk today, and pondering what to write. I’ll do a blog post – that’ll get the creative juices flowing! Perhaps it will, perhaps not. That’s the dilemma of a writer: what to write that I will find interesting, while second-guessing how it will appear to my readers! That’s an endless wheel of worry, which can itself be a trap. As many other writers have said, put one word after another and keep going. That’s all you can do. So here I am.

I was also glad to be able to sit here and think straight, to write at all, after a week of being Very Ill. Yesterday saw me pondering my own ‘To Do’ list – and looking forward to the tasks on it, rather than feeling overwhelmed. I had to figure what method of planning worked best for me, without setting off my inner fears. Again, I can’t anticipate what every person will want this year. I can only do what I feel called to do. Hopefully, people will be interested and want to join in.

This is itself a small ritual. I set the space, in terms of ideas and plans. Then I gather the tools I need… and today, I’m starting to get things moving. Nothing tangible will be apparent yet, as we’re months from seeing some of these events happen. But… actually, no, even that’s not true. These words are tangible, right now, here on this screen. I’m reaching out to others to share my thoughts and ideas, and hopefully inspire you in turn. What can you do to make this year good? What are you doing right now to that end?

It might just be about putting one foot in front of the other, or one breath after the next. That counts too. Every creation, event or rite starts with the spark of an idea, then the energy put into it, the pondering, the scribbling of notes, the calling for help from friends… Momentum can be sudden, like a lightning-strike, or quiet, a single snowflake that leads to an avalanche. Both have very real results!

I’m still feeling rather furry-brained today, but now I have some writing to share, to show that I Am Doing Things. I look to my list, to see what I can do next. I remember that there’s unlisted jobs too, such as household chores. I consider what music I can play to make those more fun.

I’ve planned a couple of rewards for myself, breaktimes with tea and some knitting, then some research later (reading rarely counts as work for me!), perhaps a movie tonight. Walking the dogs over the fields – still exhausting, as I’m not back to full strength yet physically, but the first snowdrops are starting to appear, the birds are singing and the land isn’t quite as asleep as it might seem.

The challenge of the dark months is to keep going. But we can do it, both alone and by connecting with supportive friends and the world around. Look at what motivates you, not what makes you sigh with frustration. Consider the potential of the year ahead. Imbolc isn’t far away – do you have any plans? What about small daily rituals to keep you smiling, holding on to who you are beneath the business suit or boring uniform?

I sit, the typical author alone at her desk… and thinking of how I reach out to others through my work. The words I write today may not be seen until (or if!) they’re published months from now, but these ones, right now, are certainly enough.

I raise my cup of tea to you, lovely reader. Go find something warm to share alongside me. We’ll keep working together, sharing virtual space through the magic of this electronic tale. My candle is lit here too, keeping me reminded.

We am still here. What are we doing?

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Light in the Dark

This week has been particularly difficult for me (and many others, I suspect). Despite the lights appearing to signify the Yuletide season, it’s proving more difficult to penetrate the darkness within as the days we battle through grow shorter.

I’ve not been able to do much at all. Helpful medical voices ask ‘What do you normally do to make yourself feel better?’ To which I want to yell ‘DON’T YOU THINK I’VE TRIED ALL THAT?!’

But I haven’t really, have I? Because I can’t. The dark thoughts prevent me – from focusing on a pleasing book, finding a distracting movie, concentrating on complex creativity. Several times this week, I’ve been unable/unwilling to even move from my chair, for fear of what might happen.

Instead, I’ve found myself thinking of ‘safe’ places from my past. Like a child having nightmares, I’ve reached out to memories of refuge, which was often needed in years gone by.

I would spend many lunchtimes at school hiding under the watchful eye of that most dreadful of gatekeepers: The Librarian. A friend to me, none of those who wished to bully me would brave her door, and so I was safe with Anne McCaffrey, the Dragonlance heroes, or any number of other fantastic and wonderful worlds.

Years later, other lunch-hours were spent in warm cafes, soft jazz in the background as I lost myself in different books. Times had changed, but circumstances hadn’t: my bullying boss would never look for me there.

On trains, in tiny secret green spaces, even walking through the streets with audiobooks being read to me, I would find solace and security in tales of wonder and magic.

Years later (again), I found myself drawn to true stories of magic: Phyllis Currott, Starhawk, Margot Adler. Wonderful, strong women who taught through their own experiences of things never thought possible.

The magic began to spill from the books into reality, as I dove deep to explore the power within me. Words, yes, but whether spell or story, I could do this. I could do magic too!

Today, I opened a book that would ordinarily be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, perhaps. Magic, romance, battles, monsters… all those wonderful things that those who love ‘The Princess Bride‘ know make for the best stories.

At last, the words caught me. I was able to turn the pages, experience the thoughts of the protagonists, see the challenges that they faced and overcame.

As I paused, a thought occurred. This week, I had revisited the very depths of that black hole within me, of illness, fear and sorrow. I hadn’t been able to pull myself out, because I could not focus on my familiar lifeline. The tactics of that Black Dog, Depression, had cunningly found a chink in my armour. By drowning my brain with a morass of negativity, self-hatred and exhaustion, I hadn’t been able to access these otherworlds. Books remind me of what is good, what is worth living for. By preventing me from seeing the words, stymying that connection, I had no way to escape my own internal oubliette. Or even notice that such an escape was possible.

It may sound strange to one who has never felt the touch of mental illness, but it really does seem like a cunning monster – hence all of the personification names. I rather like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’, but lately I’ve also become fond of ‘brain weasels’ (with no disrespect to either of those real-world animals). Either way, the monsters within try innumerable methods of breaking down your defences, until they find a weakness to exploit.

GK Chesterton (and subsequently Neil Gaiman) famously said: “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

We find the weapons we need within the pages of magic. We see ourselves in the heroes and heroines, both old and new. We tell each other stories, as I do here, in my small way.

Because the power of the monsters within comes from convincing us that we have no power. We have no magic, are unable to stop ourselves from being overwhelmed, because we lack the ability to fight back. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the perpetual spiral down into the depths.

It doesn’t take much to think of stories that specifically focus on this. ‘The Neverending Story‘ is a battle against The Nothing. ‘Labyrinth‘ is a girl fighting to find her own power. Both feature disgusting swamps that drag you down and make you give up. As does the aforementioned ‘Princess Bride’.

Go back further. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has flowers of forgetfulness and an all-powerful Witch. Odysseus almost gives in to the song of the Sirens. The original Labyrinth of Knossos swallowed up many souls…

… until the protagonist remembered the way to get through. In each case, friends provided lifelines to help the hero dig deep, to remember what they were fighting for. To keep going, to endure, to make it. (Depression isolates us, remember – another of its tactics).

I have talismans that help remind me of my own power. Sometimes they’re inspiring quotes; other times, comforting blankets, or gifts from friends. Whatever works to help me remember my connection to my own magic, to the life that exists in me and the world around.

Other physical, real-world people may seek (intentionally or not) to take that power away. But this is only possible to long as we allow it. That seems hard to believe, but it’s true.

Last night, my husband said to me something both simple and profound. ‘You know, you are allowed to say No to things you don’t want to do.’

This struck my exhausted brain surprisingly hard. I can do that? Really? Because the Black Dog had been using examples from the past to show me that this is precisely what I could not do. I had to keep my Chin Up and Soldier On. Other people, Authority People, said so.

No.

I sought comfort today, not just the urge to hide. Recharge, not just regroup. Remember that there was always power within me. Stories had always been my lifeline to that: my breadcrumb trail, my ball of yarn (as well as real balls of yarn, of course, but those arrived in more recent times!).

I thought back to those tales of true magic, from modern-day witches, bards and magicians. Every one spoke at one time or another of fighting ‘demons’ – almost like a computer game, through which we access the ‘next level.’ Stories reflecting real-world experience, and so inspiring progress. An upward spiral…

By simply surviving, by refusing to give up that last flicker of power, we win. By stepping forward, by raising our own voice, we share that power with others who may need the reminder. We can be the inspiration, the spark of Awen, the flame in the dark. Someone will hear, you can depend on that.

Sometimes, the Black Dog overwhelms and makes us forget this. Part of my battle is fighting to remember, to hold on and to Stand.

I think now of that modern fairytale, of Keanu Reeves reaching out to gently stop the bullets aimed at his heart, plucking them out of the air with that same realization as Dorothy, Sarah and Bastian.

And so on this tiny page amidst the myriad words on this InterWeb, I share this. As a reminder.

Go rekindle your candles, my friends. Inside and out. May they warm you and help you to remember your stories.

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Finding Magic

One of the most common questions that I get asked is ‘How did I get into Druidry?’

Now, for me, this is like asking a writer where they get their ideas. It seems a reasonable question, but the answer just isn’t as simple as ‘It came in a flash of inspiration from the heavens!’ There’s always a much larger story… which those asking may or may not want to hear. But I’m happy to share portions of it.

One of the first things I did when I discovered that Witchcraft and Druidry existed was to head to my local bookstore (fortunately I lived in London at the time, so this was a gigantic branch of Borders on Oxford Street). Books were acquired relatively easily, and I soon began to find what suited me – or not.

I’ve spoken about this before. I wasn’t keen on Wicca for its proscribed, almost dogmatic rituals and emphasis on gender binaries (yes, I was reading the Farrers). Scott Cunningham struck a louder chord, but after trying some of his words for myself, I quickly realized that a huge part of any spiritual practice for me would be formulating my own workings. I don’t really like having someone else’s words in my mouth (how unpleasant does that sound?!).

Even so, as a beginner, I kept looking for inspiration. As a bookworm, I was deeply interested in other people’s practices, and how they Did Things. But back then, there was relatively little in the way of pagan biographies or histories. Ronald Hutton wasn’t about yet, and the majority of the stories were from Gardnerian Wiccan points of view (still fascinating, but not quite me).

This week, I found myself looking through some of Rachel Patterson‘s work. And I felt that old urge within me once again: that wish to actively seek out inspiration through the work of others Pagan folk… only now, they were those I could call contemporaries, peers or friends.

I was reminded of how magic must be relevant. It must be sincere, without doubts or worries. It isn’t dependent on a particular place, and the tools used are only as good as the person wielding them.

Kitchen Witchcraft: Spells & Charms‘ has Rachel chatting amiably about her own practice, in the manner of a kind but determined Witch. She knows her stuff and is happy to share it, but you need to put the work in if you expect results.

I felt the shade of that beginner inside me stir. How long is it since I actually worked any magic for myself? I shared a ritual just last week at a local gathering, but with the turning of the year to Samhain, maybe this is the kick I need to clear space for whatever the winter holds.

But there again – that phrase sounds pretty complacent, doesn’t it? Witches definitely don’t sit back and do nothing, waiting for whatever they want to land in their lap! This is about connection as well. With the wider world, with those who guide, and with those who stand with you.

This week, then, I will be pondering what magic I intend to work on Samhain. No matter how busy I am professionally (and having fun with local Trick or Treaters!), I always keep time for what needs to be done that night. For the first time in many years, Himself is working Samhain night shift, so our family ritual will be the following evening. On the night itself, it’ll be just me.

The spell has begun now, in fact. I’m sharing my thoughts: what I do to prepare. First of all, I’ll be looking at intention: what am I hoping to achieve with my working? Then, how best can I form that into being? What ingredients might I need, tools and tactile objects – no more, nor less than is necessary.

What do I need to do beforehand – and afterwards? Cleaning before, grounding myself with appropriate food and drink after!

I feel like I’m making something that’s a cross between a Nigella Lawson recipe (complete with innuendo) and a Haynes car manual. Purpose, intention, visualisation, action, outcome… all of which I have to set up, instigate and then carry out. The latter can often go on far beyond the time of the specific ritual itself, of course, as I work within the momentum which I’ve started by throwing this tiny snowball downhill.

Also, I’m not just doing this for the sake of it. This actually feels as if it’s overdue. That I need to spend time with myself, my personal practice, the ritual aspects of my spirituality that have been somewhat lost in the amount of group work that I do. Something I’ve not been doing because of Life evens, lack of spoons… any number of reasons/excuses. So.

I get my thoughts together. Here they are. Now it’s up to me to metaphorically crack my knuckles and get on with it.

I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on. Do share your own plans (and results) likewise, eh? It’s a good time of year to get in touch with our magic.

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Stripping Back

As some of you know, many years ago I worked as a PA (Personal Assistant) to high-level executives in London. Every day, I would be up and out the door, sometimes to the gym first at 6am before heading into the office for 8ish. I’d be home around 7pm, all being well, after a day of fairly flat-out Assisting. Helping others to get things done.

I was good at it. PAs run so many businesses from behind the scenes, and I have many interesting stories…

But the ones that I remember aren’t the professional moments. They’re the personal ones.

Grabbing a brief sit-down at an event (Vienna listed building, string quartet, canapes) and finding myself chatting to a friendly older gentleman as we both wonder why we can’t wear comfortable shoes with suits to these posh do-es. Turned out he ran a company, which ran a company, which owned various household name utility companies you will have heard of. But right then, he was a man who was tired, with aching feet, missing his family.

Another day, I received a surprised look, followed by a genuine smile when I asked a CEO how his wife was doing after a recent illness.

Taking the hand of someone at a bus stop outside the office, because there was a thunderstorm right overhead and she was scared. She fell into my arms, sobbing. We were both wearing suits, but that didn’t matter.

Every day, I would see my fellow commuters at the station, on the train and then the bus, gearing themselves up for the working battle. We’d all signed up for it, we all knew what we were doing (mostly). But in order to survive, we had to put on the appropriate clothing, the makeup or accessories. Displaying our professionalism through our plumage.

I’ve spoken before how I tended to wear a leather jacket (smart, not biker-style). It was my armour. I would spritz myself with perfume before I left the house, shrug on that coat and sally forth. I still have it. It looks rather like Christopher Eccleston’s costume as The Doctor now, but that just makes me smile more.

I’ve been pondering these basic survival tactics that used to be second nature to me, because I don’t think I have them any more. I somehow let them fall away when I moved out of London. Not that they’re not required anywhere else; I just couldn’t do it now. Which is perhaps why I’m where I am.

I sit here typing, in my small home office, with a home-made shawl around my shoulders. That’s enough protection, that wooly hug. But I have been wondering how much I still need when I head out into The World.

We all need our protections. I suspect some ladies may feel this more deeply, especially if they’ve ever walked home alone at night, but I mean simple daily disguises. Exploring the masks we wear is a common lesson in modern Pagan practice, but that’s only part of what I mean.

I’ve been researching and exploring the idea of connection with deity lately, as that’s what I’m going to focus on in my upcoming book. There’s no way to do that without diving deep, not for me. I’m not touching on the surface theory – I was to know why we seek such connections.

And I’ve been coming back to the idea of the masks we wear, the layers we cover ourselves with. What it takes to peel them back, or to have them fall away completely.

Thinking on those sudden connections in my old job, I see the simply humanity of basic connection. Looking someone else in the eye, or displaying simple care. That was rare, it seems.

We do it naturally, too. In public, many Pagans love to display their allegiance, from velvets and big hats to tiny symbols on their everyday wear.

But when we stand before our gods, what then? We might as well be naked, because all of that seems to fall away.

We use the masks to get through everyday life. I’ve been doing that less and less, and as a result have had trouble in busy places, tiring quickly and becoming overwhelmed easily. So do I add more armour, or just take smaller steps honestly? At the moment, it’s a little of both. I usually have a shawl about me, some tokens in my bag and yes, that symbolic jewellery.  But I’m still clearly me.

When I ‘work’ now in public ritual, I can be seen wearing robes and cloak – and some people are shocked to find out that I’m still a person underneath, happy to chat and able to joke about the difficulties of driving in a long, swirly outfit. I love to wear regular clothes when being a Public Pagan, but sometimes the ‘work attire’ is necessary. It’s not hiding me, but accentuating the role which I am performing. It’s not to display my ego.

As we move more deeply into our personal practice, I find these lines between roles blurs and moves. What is on the outside helps in many ways, but when we get down to it, the connection comes from within. Our heart and mind must be in accord, spirit connecting with body and inner world with outer. We must speak honestly: truth is key.

So as I speak those words in ritual, a tiny part of my mind is aware of those gods, watching and listening. I do my best for the people with me, but also for them, because even if their names aren’t spoken, I act for them. I represent my gods, my ancestors, my homeland…

And yet, when I need to pour out my soul at home, alone, my clothing offers no help whatsoever. Sometimes personal ritual is performed naked; sometimes (again), a shawl helps to put into the right frame of mind. But the masks must always complement, not hide… Because they will fail.

Those who stand up in public, in whatever role they take on, must do so truly. More people look, to see through the sham, the persona, the costume. We acknowledge why it is needed, but we want more. Those who want to be the Great High Ritualist must know how to be themselves for their congregations as well. We honour those who come to us for help by respecting them in turn, enough to share truths, to speak and listen.

I’m finding that by freeing my Self, by letting those accoutrements fall away, I’m able to connect more effectively; that is when I call, I receive an answer. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a great amount of cosmic ‘small talk’ – I can get straight to the point. And this works both ways. Sometimes, I’ll get a metaphysical ‘tap’ on the shoulder and I respond. I’ll probably figure out what’s going on in due course, but for now, just trust and do what’s needed.

As we move forward on our spiritual journey, those lines between the ‘magical’ and the ‘mundane’ really do fade. As we keep exploring, so we see more clearly what is needed and why. Then it’s up to us to have the strength and courage to respond accordingly. Even if we may look silly.

It is worth it.

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Review: ‘Dark Goddess Oracle Cards’

Dark Goddess

I’ve been an explorer in the world of divination for a fair few years now, with my favourite Tarot decks usually nearby at home, as well as Norse Runes and Celtic Ogham. I’ve had a bit of a hit-or-miss relationship with ‘Oracle Cards’ in the past, though, as they sometimes seeem a bit random or difficult to connect with. So when I was asked to take a look at this deck, while I trust the creators as friends, I was a little nervous. Nobody likes to give a bad review!

I needn’t have worried. These beautiful cards seemed to jump out at me as I ‘tested’ them, pulling cards here and there for willing friends to see how well they ‘worked’.

Now the thing to remember with divination sets is that when I say ‘worked’, I don’t mean empirically: turn light-switch = bulb brightens, for example. I mean that the cards resonate with both seer and querent, connecting as required to provide effective and useful guidance.

This is most easily measured in the response to the image on the card – often a gasp, as relevance is immediately found (rather than ‘Well, I don’t understand that.’)

These cards hit the mark every time, without exception. That’s rare.

The images are lovely. Not necessarily all depicting each Lady as I’ve encountered Her, but you can certainly see the relevance – and how difficult is it to photograph a Goddess and capture every aspect of Her?!

Photo 23-08-2018, 12 09 19

Barbara and Flavia have used their considerable experience to create images to help inspire deep thoughts in those using the cards. Each also has a key word on the front… which I confess, I didn’t actually notice initially, as I was so caught up in all of the drama in each picture! I’ve found that my own experiences of each Lady has helped understand the connection for those coming to me with questions; the keyword is useful, but as it’s hard to capture a full image with every meaning of each Goddess, so one word can never do Her justice. The words are a useful guide, however, as is the handy and thoughtful book which is included in the pack.

I would say that this deck works at the level appropriate for the user. They may just be pretty pictures, with a word to help; or the images may spark something much deeper. It’s not simply about the figure, after all, but what’s going on within the picture, in context of you asking for aid or guidance.

I look forward to continue using this cards in the future, as and when they call to me. Although my main complaint is simply that Barbara and Flavia haven’t included themselves in the imagery! Two beautiful and clever witches who definitely deserve to be visited if you ever get the chance, either at events around the UK or at Arnemetia‘s in Buxton, Derbyshire.

This pack is available on Amazon or at most reputable book/alternative shops.

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Practical Magic

It’s interesting to see how the modern Pagan ‘labels’ translate in the minds of those who don’t know a Starhawk from a Sabrina.

I’ve had a lady come up so close to my face and demand urgently to know ‘Are you a mystic?!’

Hubby has been asked his opinion on angels. Repeatedly. By the same person.

We’ve both been asked for ‘love spells’.

Sometimes, being a public Pagan in the 21st Century can feel a bit like this:

Aunts

As if you’re an On-Call Witch (or Druid, or Wise Woman, or whatever). In the movie ‘Practical Magic’, the wonderful and talented ladies in the image above will perform spells on demand – we see dollar bills thrown onto a table, less important than the outcome of the magic. A dove is sacrificed, poppets made, herbs picked…

In the Real World, it’s a bit more complicated.

Some people, when they find out that Druidry is my ‘job’ (as is author and chaplain, but those seem less sexy somehow), want to ask what’s involved. Then they start asking what I can ‘do’. For them.

In itself, this isn’t a problem. I’m very flattered that folk trust me enough to share their lives, and also that they can ask me – a relative stranger – for help in some quite tricky personal matters.

A while ago, a lady asked me about love spells. She was very pretty, to my mind, but had apparently been having trouble finding the right man, and was starting to worry as time went on… a familiar story to many.

I did try to explain that I don’t perform ‘love spells’ as such, but I’d do what I could. In the meantime, I took her aside to make her promise me something. She was to light a candle by her bed each night, and consider love. Drawing love to her. Feeling love for herself. Really focusing on love surrounding her. Because like calls to like… and also, this was empowering her to take the action, to hold this in her mind and to perform transformative magic on herself. It was not me forcing others to do things against their will.

I don’t know if she did this or not. But that is how I plant seeds – by encouraging the querent to take some responsibility themselves. To focus and believe that they have the power to make change as well.

Mind you, I’ve had people come to me – either happening upon my website, or via word of mouth from friends – asking for help or advice, but with a clear cynicism, even as they say what they need. Like a child making a wish on a star as they grow older, they want their impressions of magic to be true, and yet cannot quite shake the Mature Adult who tells them it’s all nonsense.

Disney-style Magic, to me, is the fairytale. The true change comes about when you look deeper, see the story beneath the surface.

The aunts in ‘Practical Magic’ are beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted and rich (if single). They are societally acceptable. But they are also a modern archetype of the Wise Women, living at the edge of the township and helping those who sneak out to ask them for favours.

I see this quite often in contemporary media. The magic-user must be attractive if they’re a Good Witch, and so acceptable to approach. You don’t go near the crazy, wild-haired woman with the black cat. You never know what might happen.

So you may be able to see why it amuses me when folk come to me – the lady with uncontrollable Merrida-curls, who’s on antidepressant medication and has not one but two black cats. And makes gingerbread (if you ask nicely).

The last person to approach me actually did ask – very politely, mind – how I did ‘what I do’ when I wasn’t able to heal myself. I had to admire his honesty, and can understand why he would wonder this.

Because one thing magic is not is the waving of a wand and instant change. Prince into Frog (or Beast). All wishes granted. Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s aunts. Sadly/thankfully not.

Most of those I know who’ve walked this path for a while don’t perform ‘spells’ as such very often. We’ve learned that they don’t always give the results we ask for – or rather, they do, but not necessarily in the way we expected. These things also take time and consideration.

For me, it’s more a matter of seeing that story beneath the surface. Of discerning the flows and acting to work with them, so that our connection with the wider world allows events to continue in a favourable manner as we move together, rather than magnets set to poles which only push each other away.

This is not easy. Many modern Pagans are ill in one way or another, but it doesn’t mean they are terrible magicians. Fragile human beings, maybe, but that’s life.

We all face our challenges. We work with what we have: physically, emotionally and financially, societally. But we can work to help our situations. We can’t necessarily fix long-term chronic conditions, but we can ease symptoms. We can find solidarity in dark places and cast a light to see that the shadows contain wisdom that we needed.

A lot of my work is doing this for others. It’s not a quick fix. But I endeavour to show people that they can make changes for themselves. They aren’t alone; I’ll accompany them on the journey as far as they wish me to. Together, we’ll do our best to find the path through the forest.

And when we do, sometimes the Regular Person will smile, give a little laugh and say Thankyou – and then be off, on their way again. They can forget our brief time together; what nonsense it all is anyway, like newspaper horoscopes! Just some feel-good pseudo-therapy.

I smile too. I’d say my own particular form of Headology works, because I’m still here and working. And people are made happier for it. I know that I’ve saved lives. To successfully perform this role is a huge responsibility and privilege.

We all do what we can.

And right now, I have a black cat who’s come to sit across my lap and gaze at the screen as I type, purring loudly. The almost-full Moon shines outside. I think I’m doing something right.

Much love, my friends x

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Freedom

I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Paganism.’ It was in my early twenties via my (now ex-) husband, who showed me some of his Crowley books, told me about the Farrers and how this really was a Thing that People Did. Off I went to Borders, because this is how I operate – point me at a topic and I’ll be off to find books about it! And so things began to move.

I remember reading ‘The Witches’ Bible’ and being a little confused. There were notes here that rang true, but the form seemed wrong to me, somehow. A bit too Dennis Wheatley (given my limited frame of reference at the time).

American witchcraft books were just starting to hit the shelves back then. Of course, I found Starhawk and Margot Adler, then Silver Ravenwolf and that sort of thing. Which convinced me that while it had its good side, Wicca (especially early American Style Wicca, full of lists of Stuff and correspondences) was not for me. Likewise Ceremonial Magick.

Amusingly, some years later, I got to meet and become friends with some first and second generation Gardnerians. Their perspective was much more in tune with mine than the more ‘modern’ Famous Witches. But the difference between the reality and the books made us all smile.

Then came the different ‘flavours’ of Paganism. Pretty quickly, Druidry rose to the top of the pile of Interesting Texts, and upon joining some online forums, I soon found like-minded people, a local Grove and my practice began to pick up speed.

I mention this because recently, I’ve been speaking to friends encountering new situations in their personal practice, and we’ve joked about ‘Levelling Up’. Separate friends, on separate occasions, on very distant continents. But the same feeling.

I find myself thinking about this tonight, as I consider the ebb and flow of my own development – both private and public – and how it continues to evolve. The times are indeed changing, inside and out.

As far as I can see, no truly-felt spiritual path is ever ‘finished.’ We don’t reach some distant finish line and get a medal. Your first Initiatory experience (again, whether private or public/shared) is a huge deal, but it won’t be the only time it happens. We are constantly exploring, moving forward, occasionally nipping back to go over something again, then proceeding in a slightly different way… but we’re never ‘done.’

Every year, I’ve felt different ‘pausing’ points, where I have to stop and take stock before continuing what I’m doing. Usually this is enforced – something will happen to make me stop and think, review and consider. What am I doing?

Lately, the question has changed slightly. What can I do?

Because many years have passed since that first step onto this path. I’ve grown older, more experienced, but my health has also gone down interesting and unexpected routes. In many ways, life is better; in others, it’s more difficult.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Constantly changing. So I sit here again, pausing to think.

When I’m in the low places, without much energy to think or do, the ‘brain weasels’ of depression tell me that I’ve done as much as I can do. I’m published! That was a goal I’ve reached. What more can I do? There’s so many Pagan books out there, how can I possibly say anything new? Those voices are encouraging me not to pause, but to stop altogether.

Yes, that means what you think it means. When I say dark places, I mean it.

So the challenge has been to grab my brain by its bootstraps (which is an actual visual I’ve had, almost like a cartoon – anything to raise a smile, which is a prime weapon against those weasels!) and do anything. Write, knit, engage with a book or movie, run, clean, make some nice food… whatever it takes. Moment to moment, day to day. Keep living.

Then I notice that despite feeling like survival, these days actually link together. The writing becomes a story. The knitting becomes a blanket. I am actually still doing. Even when lying in bed, unable to do much besides think, those thoughts can be turned to good ideas.

My practice is having to evolve to accommodate my bad days – not giving in to them, but working around them. While I am older and less energetic than I used to be, life is by no means done. Of course I’m not still 20, I can’t do what I could then. But I’m in a very different place, and have new skills and options to try instead.

I spoke of pausing for thought. At various times, those ‘STOP’ signs have felt almost like a trap – I can’t escape my situation, no matter how I try. A bad job, a failing marriage, lack of money… familiar problems to most people. How can anyone do Magic(k) with all the Real World issues weighing them down?

These are the times when we need to reach for that energy, the spirit within us. It’s relatively simple to access on the good days, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; but can you grab it and use it during the difficult times too? That’s always been a factor in my work, because it’s been important and necessary to me.

I’m having to consider what I can do, not what I’m prevented from doing. Because this trap is a lie, created by the mental illness to keep me from doing anything. ‘You can’t, you can’t’ is a common undercurrent in my thoughts. ‘Why not?’ is the retort.

OK – some days, I can’t, for valid reasons. But other days, I find ways to work things so that I can.

I’m looking at new methods for giving talks online as well as in person, to overcome the challenge of travel. I’m playing with fiction writing, to free me for a while from the More Important books (I don’t know how that perspective came about, but that’s what my brain tells me my work is! Fiction is important too). I’m going out, overcoming my fears to do things that I’ve never done before, and finding them glorious.

I am freer than I give myself credit for. I have a home, loved ones, friends, food. I may feel constrained by constant NHS waiting lists for medical help, but I’ve always found my own way in the meantime, because I’ve had to. I have a supportive publisher. I’m able to help and inspire others, as they inspire me.

I’m still connected to my practice enough to see the guideposts to the next stage of exploration. It’s exciting. Yes, scary too, but I have to trust that if I fall, I can pick myself up, learn and carry on.

Because sometimes, we are as free as we allow ourselves to be. Even when confined by circumstances, we have our Selves – it just can be tough to dig deep and find who we truly are (and who we are not).

I’m remembering the enthusiasm of those early days of magical study, of trying my first ritual (that’s a story in itself), of discovering what worked beyond the books for me specifically. And each time, the affirmation from the Powers that Be – yes, you’re doing it. See how the path opens up once you let go of the hang-ups that hold you back? Come on, we know you can.

Once we get out of our own way, we can accomplish so much. That’s a constant note to remember.

We pause. We nourish ourselves as appropriate. And we move forward.

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