Posts Tagged magic

Review: The Burnt Watcher

The Burnt Watcher Cover

This book was recommended to me by Nimue Brown, which kindled a lovely friendship with the author! I would say that any bias is unintended, but…

This book is absolutely in my Top 10 Reads of 2020. For a first-time, independently-published novel, it caught me up in its tale and I found myself trapped within its pages late into the night.

‘Five hundred years ago the old world burned and the Fear rose from the ashes and the Glass. Watchers knew the Fear and found the ways of fighting it, enabling the world to be built anew.’

This may be the calmest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. It starts long after the Big Catastrophic Event, and reminded me at first of Ellis Peters’ ‘Cadfael’ books: a spiritual man, injured in the course of his work and seeking peace and quiet, pulled into a mystery from a world he’d left behind.

Master Grey is a Watcher, trained to fight The Fear which destroyed the ancient cities and drove all survivors into the countryside. This is recognisably England, albeit with slightly changed names (watch out for the dangers of the M4 motorway!), with technology that is something between medieval and steampunk, born of practicality and without using any concrete whatsoever.

I love how Master Grey leads us through his world. He assumes that those hearing his tale already understand the foundations of his society, so doesn’t go out of his way to explain them – there’s little exposition here. He remembers events and people as they’re important to him, and so the reader is able to build the world he moves through it.

The Fear hasn’t been seen in many years, so the Watchers are now few in number. However, we soon learn that it has certainly not disappeared, but is working subtly in the background while humanity starts to forget. Yes, magic is present here, but in a very practical manner… and scoffed at by the ‘educated, civilized’ folk. Until they have need of it.

The author uses his own interpretation of folk magic such as ley lines and runes to create a very grounded spiritual tradition that quickly seems very natural. I’d be intrigued to see how the society of the book formed post-event, but at the same time it’s tremendous fun to figure it out myself.

There’s a few influences here, I’d guess, but all combine to make a fascinating world. From Cadfael we move to the Swiftian bureacracy of middle England, then on to ‘The Wicker Man’ (or even ‘Deliverance’), with shades of ‘Rivers of London’ and ‘Neverwhere’. I use these as hints, by the way – the book is absolutely its own creature – but if you like any of the above, you’ll likely enjoy this.

Before you know it the gentle pace has ramped up, and by the end is hurtling along as we read faster and faster to see how Master Grey will discover what’s going on, defeat the Fear, and how even more  damaged he might be as a result.

I understand that there is a sequel (or two) in the works, and they can’t come fast enough!

I love being recommended new books, and this is one Find that I’m happy to sing the praises of. Absolutely do seek it out.

The Burnt Watcher‘ is available for Kindle and in paperback via Amazon.

 

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Three Little Words

Words are not coming easily to me right now.

I have reviews to write. Articles. Email replies. I open the file and…

I know it’s not just me. Other friends have spoken of feeling ‘blocked’. I see books delayed, proofreading problems – even social media misunderstandings.

Lockdown may be sending us a little stir-crazy, and the mixed messages coming from those who profess to ‘lead’ us don’t help.

I’m writing this spontaneously, in the hope that it helps to provoke my inspiration, but also that it makes sense.

Words are the tools we use to convey how we feel, our intentions and thoughts. Some of us are more skilled than others, but if we take the time to truly listen to the voice of the writer, that sense of them can be found.

Sometimes, those ideas take more than 140 characters, or a small blurt of ‘Status Update’.

I like the idea of Twitter being the sound of sparrows yelling at each other in a hedge. Lots of noise, but you can probably determine a conversation thread if you listen hard enough. But it’s easy to be sidetracked or mis-hear.

There can be connotations you’re not aware of. A particular word may be unintentionally insulting. A phrase may be new to you, but tired and over-used to others.

A journalist friend recently said to me that the sentence ‘That’s a really good [or ‘excellent’] question’ is so often used by politicians, it virtually translates in the hearing, becoming ‘Now I’m going to talk about something entirely irrelevant.’ I used that sentence in an interview – and I sincerely meant it, because the question was good and new to me. But due to unknown overuse, the way it was received was far different from my intention.

I try to speak honestly, in my verbal words and my writing. Some readers assume I have ulterior motives, but usually I genuinely do just want people to see what’s on my mind! We hear so many soundbites and political doublespeak, it’s hard to discern what’s really meant.

Let’s take an example that we all know: ‘I love you.’ Sometimes easy to say, sometimes not. But familiar from books, movies, chit-chat or intense moments.

I’ve always found it hard to say. Because when I do, I want to mean it.

The first person who was not family that I said this to kicked me to the curb a week later. I think these words made him run, but who knows.

I’ve had alleged ‘friends’ say them to me, before doing things that no caring person would. ‘Love you, babe’ – then cattiness behind my back.

People now say them to me, and I know they mean it. But it’s hard to respond, because of the fear of what might come, based on past bad experiences.

I never want to do my dear friends a disservice, ever. Family can be more than blood, as modern folklore says.

Again, if I say it, I want to mean it – and for that meaning to be understood.

‘I love you’ means that I’ll run to help if called. I’ll provide what’s needed, from hugs to food parcels. It means you can be safe with me.

There’s levels of relationship, of course, but this is a powerful statement. I can’t say it frivolously. It hurts when those who’ve said it to me act as if it means nothing.

Words hold power. They are basic communication, but also deep magic and connection (why do you think it’s called ‘spell-ing’?). I would be so glad if we could speak our truth to each other and be heard, rather than twisting the words in midair to mean something entirely different…

I can’t guarantee that, though, can I? Because of those connotations and associations I mentioned above. The ones I don’t necessarily know about.

We can only do our best to convey meaning through these squiggles of sound, pixels or ink. We have to trust that those listening hear our intention.

And we have to act – and keep acting – to prove that our words are true. No matter if only one person is listening, or the whole world.

Our words can be powerful, or they can be meaningless.

I hope you understand.

I send you the love of a writer for those who read through to the end.

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My First Livestream!

So last night, I randomly decided to go live on Facebook for the Full Moon.

Why? Because I miss my friends. Because I wanted to reach out. Because I felt that I should.

I’ve done no public ritual this year, and very little private. Hopefully this would help inspire me.

I talked for just under an hour. The sky turned from the pale blue of sunset to black; the wildness of my garden filled with birdsong became full of flittering moths. People came and went, friends far and near.

Typically for a public ritual, things did not go exactly as planned. The Moon didn’t show up, for one! But the changing light showed me the movement of day into night, the gentle turning of the planet. Standing in place, yet moving. Alone, but connecting. Reaching out…

When I finished, I felt emotional. The house seemed so quiet! I absolutely do miss everyone, but I’m so grateful to the technology that we have, which allows us to connect in this way. Round a tiny single candle-flame instead of a bonfire in a field, but no less meaningful.

I’ve uploaded the stream to my YouTube channel here. Quite a few people who weren’t there live have said it was good company last night. Sometimes a voice reaching out, a face and even just fingers brushing a screen allows us to remember that we have friends in spirit as well as body.

Quite a few have asked for more – and if it helps during this crazy time, I’m absolutely glad to.

Let me know your thoughts, if any. What would you like in a livestream from me? I’m open to suggestions for topics and themes, not matter how unusual! What would you like to talk about? It’s just me talking, but everyone in the chat is involved too. I’ll hold the space if you want to come along and spend time.

Things are changing i nthe wider world, but it doesn’t hurt at all to take a moment with friends. I was so nervous, but I’m very glad that I did. That time last night was precious and will be remembered.

Much love to you all xx

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A Listening Heart

Imbolc has passed. We’re still feeling the chill of winter, but the snowdrops herald the imminent Spring. The sun is with us for a few more minutes each day, and all around, I see projects slowly beginning to bud…

It’s been a long winter. I’m not going to recall the turbulent times we live in, but we’ve all felt the length of January like never before, it seems.

I’ve spent the winter months trying my best to survive, literally and figuratively. My health has been poor, and despite all of the urges from The Internet to seek the help that I’m apparent entitled to, I’ve been met with walls of silence – or at best, suggestions to ‘go for a nice walk’ and suchlike. Imagine eyerolls here. Then imagine the tears.

Over and over, each rebuff hurts. When it takes all of your strength to reach out, to be told you’re either not sick enough or that there isn’t anything to be done is crushing.

For years, ever since a GP told me to ‘go away and cheer up’, I’ve managed. Recently, though, moving forward has felt next to impossible.

I’ve read all the books, tried all the techniques. Hell, I’ve written my own! What more can I do?

One evening, I found a secret stash of Bravery and reached out to a friend. Professionally and personally, tentatively and with slight fear of rebuttal (based purely on experience from every other quarter!).

I was heard. Such a small thing, but I was heard. Helpful suggestions were made, which I will follow up, but the main power came from the fact that someone heard my cries, understood, and listened.

This has made such a difference. A voice from outside my head, telling me truths that I was unable to tell myself. That’s all. It is ok – it really is. There is hope. I can do this.

Sometimes the battles we fight seem hopeless purely because of the weight of time, as we’ve been fighting for so long. I can understand how people give up.

The simple but profound gift of a listening heart made all the difference. Quiet invitations to shared healing events. Belief in me, when I had none in myself. Feeling seen, held, heard.

These are gifts that we can give to each other. Sometimes I can’t – which is when I know things are bad – but I try as often as I can, when called upon. I try to hear that mystic tap on the shoulder. Deep breath and…

I’m stepping up. Creating Things to help. Setting space, reaching out to like-minded folks. The Cauldron of Calm will be happening this year. Message me if you’d like to join in.

As the world stands confused and hurting, we need to come together to help each other. Every individual can make a difference. We can try.

There’s a lot of 2020 yet ahead, but I’m doing my best to stand up again – and find my own strength along the way. By reaching out with a hand to hold and be held.

Much love, my friends.

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Images of Druidry

It’s Monday morning. I’ve been idly wandering through social media as I drink my coffee, seeing what the world is up to.

A thought strikes me. I check again, more specifically. Hmm. Interesting.

Despite the millions of images out there of Pagans, Witches and Druids, I don’t see myself anywhere.

This isn’t an ego thing. I don’t literally mean images of myself!

I don’t see what I do in any of the airbrushed beauties standing in woodland in impractical clothing. Nowhere is there any mud, even smudges of dirt on fingers. Plenty of face makeup, pseudo-tribal markings – that seems ‘in’ right now.

It’s all too clean. Ok, not everything requires muckiness. But there’s very few images that require the spirit behind the visual. That’s absolutely a skill, usually caught in a spontaneous shutter-click or behind a lense-flare.

So much of our lives and stories these days is shared around the world in a second via the wires – and wire-less – mediums that impact us every day. I’m not a huge fan of posed pictures (as many professional photographers will grumble!), preferring to be caught unaware, and so unselfconscious.

I do wonder how many of those growing up in this environment believe that if it’s not captured and shared, it’s not ‘valid’ somehow. In so doing, those images lose their power, their reality, through their staged nature.

There’s many pictures of me at work performing public ritual, robed and (hopefully) smiling. There’s far fewer of me in quiet contemplation, deep ritual or otherwise Doing My Thing.

Yet I’m a little sad to see such a lack of images of anyone in such moments, given the abundance of pictures floating around.

Perhaps I’ve caught a paradox. Such moments cannot be truly caught, because they are rare – the subject and those around are caught up in what they’re doing, not worrying about how they look.

But every so often, you catch a glimpse of the real magic, caught by the camera.

This was ritual, creating sacred space with a handful of sage leaves and a piece of windfall birch bark. I wasn’t even aware of the camera. I presume the person was using a special lense from the edge of the trees.

This is what I was looking for today, I think. Those tiny moments of magic, expressing more than just makeup and pose.

These are my ponderings only, by the way. Others may feel differently. Life is not reflected by a series of still images.

But as we share what we do, try to convey our stories in words and pictures, I hope to see a little more realism amidst the theatre.

Because the magic that we do is absolutely Real. I’d like that to be seen, to create smiles, wonder and inspiration, as well as the thought ‘Maybe I can do that…’

Go make your own magic, my friends. Let’s share our stories, and our truth.

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A Sudden Sense of Liberty

A while ago, I was seeking an image, for a deity who had been poking me. Nothing seemed to ‘click’, until…

I cannot draw well, but this was a start.

Fast-forward to yesterday. Through lots of upheaval and a near-cancellation, I sat to have the final version tattooed onto my wrist, by Saz from Human Canvas.

As I sat down, I heard the overhead music, and said deity singing along gently as they watched us, as the ink was drilled into me with a feeling like burning…

And I’ve been reminded of some fun with Photoshop that happened a while ago:

We discussed synchronicity as I was inked. This has absolutely been a journey of listening and moving forward. And I know that I’m not done yet.

Sharing just as much as I want to right now. But this is how my process works – inspiration, awareness and action.

Step, step, step.

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Sharing, Service and Gratitude

I want to say that this week has already been busy, but that’s not quite true. Saturday was busy. I spent the day at Witchfest Midlands, and from the moment I stepped out of my car, I was deluged with wonderful hugs, greetings, chat and updates from friends near and far (often known better via virtual ‘connection’ here!).

I gave a talk. It was… intense. Aware that I was surrounded by some very Big Name Pagans (all of whom I know and have spent crazy times with!), nonetheless I wanted to really give my all to those people who chose to sit and listen to me for an hour.

There was quite a few of them. Several dozen, in fact. As I talked, I noticed latecomers finding seats, and even sitting on the stairs in the little lecture theatre.

At the end, there was a deluge of lovely folks wanting to chat, buy books, share stories, get hugs… and say Thank you. I might’ve just made them cry, but I spoke truth, and I think most everyone heard.

I did intend to nip home and then return for the evening music, but by the time I was halfway to my hilltop, I was flagging. Loud music and song got me home, food had been prepared previously, and I fell over.

The day after had been set aside for Rest – but it turns out that wasn’t enough. Even today (Tuesday), I’ve been napping, because I’m still not quite recovered yet.

A lot of thinking has been going on, however. Such events always throw up their own wisdom, whether from other people’s talks or just chit-chat with like-minded folks. This time, there was so much synchronicity with recent lines of thought in my head… well, let’s say that it’s not so much Guidance from the Gods as a Good Kick in the Butt from Them.

I’ve started writing down ideas on what that’s all about offline, but don’t worry – it’ll be shared soon.

What I wanted to write about today was the more clear-cut synchronicity. The energy exchange of What I Do in very real form.

I gave my talk, yes. I spoke my truth, gave my all. Those who’ve seen me know that I don’t tend to hold back (sorry/not sorry). But I do not want, nor do I feel able to give half-measures. That’s always been my way. It has got me in trouble in the past (not often, and usually with folks who want to pick an argument!), but more often than not, it strikes chords with people and is both useful and needed.

I give hugs, gladly, and receive them just the same. I found glitter all over my cheek from a heartfelt kiss from a truly lovely lady, she of the fabulous crystal hairstick and wooly hair-falls!

I caught up with the amazing Cristina from Spirit of Artemisia, who provided some of her truly magical potions.

Myself and some creativity-loving friends made a small Yarn Corner in the restaurant, and shared much laughter.

I received the usual Very Squeezy Hugs and care from the Dagda, security without peer at most Pagan events these days!

I saw those I hadn’t met in person for years. I felt smiles light up as greetings were made, shy introductions and dirty jokes.

I sat quietly, observing more of this going on around, feeling the whirl of this, my community, dressed in its finery and free as it could ever be.

The space was held, across the rooms we used but in the little ritual space of the talks, the social bubbles of stalls and tea-tables, as social fears fell away. No matter how nervous you might be to join this gaggle of apparently crazy people, you quickly learned that It Is OK. You are safe here.

The tendrils of connection from that powerful day are still reaching out, even now. Folk have returned home, but inevitably reacquainted with new friends across the usual social media portals. I may be exhausted, but I’m smiling at every new picture and anecdote, and already have next year’s event in my 2020 calendar (a year which very much seems like The Future!).

It’s no secret that on Saturday morning, I was nervous too. The anxiety in me tried to stop me from taking those steps to get to the event, but I was determined, and I’m so glad that I did. I heard the same from others, too.

Never more have such loving communities been needed in this world, right here and right now. By which I mean as the news media is full of negativity and division, we have friends who selflessly help each other up, cheer us on and send support as needed. I always help if I can; and if I can’t, I always pass details on of others who are more qualified. Nobody is left out in the cold (I’ve been there, and it’s not fun).

The Children of Artemis work harder than most to make their events the best they can be. The Pagan Federation gladly offers support for all Pagans (not just members), and I see their Community Support Teams are really stepping up lately (particularly for Disabled and LBTQIA Pagans). The Police Pagan Association is working hard to have our voices heard, as are the Pagan & Heathen Symposium and personal, local representatives on various Multifaith Groups and Interfaith Councils.

I’ve had many volunteer and working titles over the years, but ultimately am just one person. I support those who have supported me, unreservedly and gladly. I’ve seen those who are ‘in it for themselves’ come and go. Those who give generously find themselves supported by those who see them and vote with their feet – hence this weekend’s event selling out well before the day itself!

Most of you know that I do this for a living. I have to do as much as I can, as I’m supported by this community; but also, everyone knows that I face my own challenges and need time for those as well.

So when I receive anything that helps. I’m often brought to tears by the generosity of those who freely offer.

At Witchfest, I was given lovely gifts, words and hugs. Since then, in my email Inbox I’ve received many messages of thanks, and still more stories. These all mean so much, and I am deeply grateful to those who share their tales with me.

Today, in my postbox, came a package from a friend. Amusingly, as I got up this morning, I realized that today I have No Spoons (for information on Spoon Theory, click here). Until…

I’m often gifted real spoons, and usually attach them to my desk or my knitting project bags. This one may be placed in the kitchen, to keep me reminded with its brightness, of the love and care of friends. So very, very touched.

Then this afternoon, it wasn’t spoons that were sent, but coffee! I’d all but forgotten about my page on Ko-Fi, a lovely site that allows you to send virtual coffee to friends – and something had been sent, from across the world. I’m still amazed that anyone outside of the UK knows me, but I always want to grab a handy TARDIS and zoom over to hug thanks in person!

I have a Patreon, which many writers, artists and general creative folks use to keep themselves going while we Do Our Thing. Again, it means so much, and more Special Posts will be going up there soon as personal thanks.

As we move forward into this new century, we are finding new ways to show our support and love, of how much we value those who work hard but in a manner that’s new, outside of the usual Working World. There’s no ‘Employment Ladder’ here (is that even a thing anymore?), but there is tremendous give and take.

I spoke on Saturday about energy. As I gave my words, I felt the connection with those I spoke to, of their understanding at a deeper level than at any mandatory Powerpoint Meeting I’d ever attended in an office environment! And I’d rather this path than that, on any day.

So long as I get a wee bit of time to recover before the next adventure…

Huge love, dear ones. We are all walking our paths, together.

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Small Magics

(Cross-posted with Drops of Awen).

To paraphrase many notable occultists, Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.

We all do this, all the time – but unconsciously. We let ourselves be influenced by outside forces, as our attention is moved from one thought to the next.

But when we take charge of our consciousness, with intentional and will-power, we can feel the change happen.

As I walk this path, I often say that Paganism is a constant practice (in the same way that we practice magic). We learn about ourselves and our connections with others, and create change with our thoughts, words and actions.

Today… perhaps a simple change, but to me, a profound one.

I felt myself beginning to slip, to spiral down into the depression. Quickly – time to take action.

Moving is the first step. Sometimes I don’t even get that far, which is why I usually have a book or a knitting project to hand.

Then Doing, something which brings me back to myself, usually through happiness, an activity I enjoy. Alter the negative feeling, grab onto something to stop the spiralling fall.

I distract myself with this, even though the anxiety-voices are telling me that I have things to do, I should be working! But no.

Right now, I’m spending this hour in an indulgent, sweet-smelling Bimble bath. I’m reading a book. I’m washing myself thoroughly, then using pleasant scented Lush oil afterwards. I wrap myself in a soft dressing-gown, and fuss the pups (who’re always glad I survived The Bath).

I can now feel mind and body relaxed. The tension has dissipated, the worried voices gone quiet. I was able to beat it (this time). It’s not always so simple, but I celebrate this victory.

Each win tells me that I can do it, and keep on doing it. Even on the worst days.

I’m now sharing this, cross-posting so that in these small words can themselves be a magic spell, to inspire in turn.

If you need it, feel my hand reaching out to you. We can get through it, dear ones.

Small magics, together.

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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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