Posts Tagged money

Tis the Season…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faith and Funding

It can take a lot to make someone change their spiritual outlook, their faith – after all, it generally is what constitutes or provides a framework for their view of the world and their place in it. While as a child you accept what you are told as to Why Things Are, with your view of the world formed by the social and familial landscape that you are born into… then as you learn more about the wider world, you (hopefully) begin to ask questions. This can lead to strengthening or lapsing of belief in your worldview, depending on how well such a foundation suits your life as you take more active and personal responsibility in the construction of it.

Changes in faith can be momentous events, perhaps stemming from some form of loss or bereavement, or they can be relatively secretive, creeping up on you until you suddenly have that ‘aha!’ moment, that epiphany, realization that something has irrevocably changed in your personal explanation (and justification) for how the world works. So then what do you do?

Belief evolves – and so it should. Despite the apparent comfort and safety of routine, static = stagnation. As I’ve said before, personal beliefs that guide life should move with that life and the events you experience, otherwise how can it remain relevant and applicable?

Those ‘lightning bolt’ moments can happen anytime. When you’re ready to see, the answer will appear, even if it’s been staring you in the face for ages. But while such changes will hopefully be for the better, that doesn’t mean things will automatically get easier.

When I said my life was changing dramatically over the last month, I wasn’t kidding. I now am working actively as a Druid in my community – and the pace is ramping up. I’m busier than I ever was in a ‘normal’ salaried job, people are more than happy with what I’m doing, and the foundation is being very well set. This throws all of those ideas that this is just a ‘hobby’ very much out of the window!

My worldview has been forced to change. Rather than simply being a ‘spiritual volunteer’, in modern parlance I’m more of a ‘spiritual consultant’. I’ve had to consider insurance, self-promotion, target market, relative value of services. Faith-based actions are having to be quantified in the manner of the society in which I live and work. I may be a Priest, but I have no larger Church to back me up and provide wage and home. Others are watching to see how I do (generally with interest and curiosity, I’m happy to say!).

The most immediately issue, therefore, is survival – and that means money. I’ve always been told that asking about money is rude, and I’m waiting for the first person to suggest that I shouldn’t be charging for what I do (as seems to be the way with some of the more ‘intangible’ Pagans!), but I still have bills to pay, as do we all. Despite what one person once asked, I don’t live on a commune, in some sort of ‘Hobbiton’-style self-sufficient village! So how much do I value, in cash terms, what I do? What value do I place on my spirituality? It’s another challenge, another demand from my lived spiritual life to look deeper, to question its relevance and applicability, as it becomes not just personal but professional.

Ultimately, something that I was taught years ago is the importance of fair energy exchange. This isn’t some sort of cosmic light experiment, nor  sacrifice in the manner of offering up a goat to a deity – but it does mean giving something of value to you in exchange for something of (at least) equal value in return. Professional practitioners of energy healing have often told me how they must receive equal return on their ‘expenditure’, otherwise the healing work doesn’t ‘take’ as well; the value that the healee places on their energy makes it more effective.

So what’s the primary unit of exchange for energy, in this capitalist society? Money, of course. When you think of any monitary service, exchange the financial term for ‘energy’ and see how it sounds. Exchange of cash (energy) is to be expected if you want something of value.

You don’t expect something for nothing – and if you do, that ‘free’ service has no definable value and is therefore worth less. That’s another set of beliefs that has been instilled in us. So as  the ancient Druids may have been paid in food or fuel, I’m reimbursed with money to pay for those same items. Life moves forward.

But now I’m being asked for more information on what it is that I do. Faith-based activities must again be quantified, so their value can be understood. Physical evidence of spiritual activity can be seen… but again, it requires work relative to the anticipated effect. So how do I specify what people ‘get for their money?’

I suppose I’m very aware of the potential for falsehood in working as a public Priest. Consider those American evangelists, asking for donations for prayer and healing (and very clearly living well as a result). There’s a good deal of cynicism now about how much the ancient Christian Church took from those who could ill afford it, with the clergy demanding ever more at the expense of others’ suffering. And yes, I’ve seen ‘alternative’ shops selling glass jewellery and wands as Real Quartz. Is a ritual tool somehow ‘better’ because it cost more? Or does that cost truly reflect the effort put into its creation?

I think that the key word here is ‘equal’. If I provide a bad service, I receive less in return, and thus cannot survive. So far, I am profoundly grateful that this is not the case! But I must therefore be constantly clear in what I am doing, conveying information and often highly experiential knowledge in a manner that can be understood and carried forward by others. I must be strong in my own beliefs if I am to represent them honestly and honourably, and flexible enough that I can continue to be challenged by new perspectives. I can’t get too proud either – no flowery titles, claims of superpowers or secret occult knowledge! My money is very literally where my mouth is (and I’m likewise glad of good friends and colleagues to keep me grounded and true to myself).

So it is that my faith is being challenged as to its increasing relevance with my life, as ‘work’ and ‘belief’ merge ever closer. I truly am living my Druidry all day, every day. Sometimes it wears me out, as I try to do too much – equal energy exchange is therefore also a reminder that I must not give everything that I have to the extent that I suffer. But nor can I travel long distances, to perform large rituals, for nothing. I won’t be able to give ‘complimentary’ books out to all and sundry. Ultimately consider what sort of world we would live in, if we truly expected such things? That honourable, equal energy exchange creates value and satisfaction to both sides of the equation, rather than any expectation that you are owed free goods and services.

I know that the challenges will continue as I move forward and learn, but I know too that I will do my utmost, as an active Druid, trying to help my community to the best of my ability. Spirituality merges with ‘everyday’ life… and isn’t that what we’re all truly seeking?

Let’s work together, to make ‘mundane’ life a little more magical.

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