Posts Tagged movies

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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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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What’s Your Story?

[Note: I found this in my ‘Drafts’ folder today. I’m sure it’s been published somewhere, but I can’t remember where – and I rather like it, brief though it is. Stories have been on my mind a lot lately… so more on this topic may follow.]

Stories are such an intrinsic part of our lives. From tales around a campfire to soap operas, we define ourselves by our tales – whether moral fables to aid the understanding of wider issues, or simply the biography of another to compare ourselves against.

We often speak today of this ‘Age of Entitlement’ in which we currently live. That the wealthy Western world has certain expectations: of a home, family, health, standard of living, basic rights… as if we are, in fact, at the centre of our own story. Perhaps certain children are brought up to believe this, before reacting in fear and anger when they find out it’s not the case. Perhaps it’s just too much to take in, that so much of the world is out of our comprehension or control.

Either way, our stories are confused, uncertain, shouting to be heard. On Facebook, Twitter or in print, conflicting accounts and opinions are reduced to soundbites, muddying the issue even more. We don’t have time to listen to the full story, so we take what we can get and then act… becoming even more confused, scared and reactionary when the consequences reveal what we should have known all along (had we taken that time to listen).

One of the most contentious areas of learning in modern Paganism, I have noticed, is the Druid notion of the Bard. People don’t really know what to make of this idea, or even if it’s relevant in the 21st century. Is he a storyteller or a musician? Should he be contemporary or focusing on the ancient myths? Does the Bard necessarily have to be confined by gender, or even geography?

I’ve heard people say that modern musicians can’t be Bards, because… well… they’re modern! Do they have to be folk singers, like OBOD’s current Pendragon, Damh the Bard? Why not? But I would also ask for consideration of David Bowie with his concept albums, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana or Oasis as they reflect on the cultures in which they lived, or even Lily Allen or Lady Gaga satirisng that same society.

We’re nervous about setting racial boundaries, or ‘stealing’ the cultures of others through their beliefs – so many are cagey about even exploring the myths of their ancestors. The so-called Celtic myths are anathema to some, irrelevant to others. The tales of each land seem almost eager to be forgotten by their own people, from the British to the current Romans and Greeks… except as tourist attractions.

I maintain that while outwardly we may turn up our noses at our heritage, we still reach for the stories that are part of our human ancestry. We haven’t changed all that much over the centuries – Robin Hood is still spoken of as relevant, Merlin and Arthur still struggle on television with issues of love and war, and the Gods of many lands are now being transformed by cinema into superheroes.

We still need the Bards, the storytellers of our people, because we need someone to cut through all that noise of social media – even if just for a moment. 90 minutes of a movie; 4 minutes of a song; 400 pages of a novel. We pause, as our ancestors did, to pay attention. We read reviews, chat amongst ourselves, discuss relevance and deeper meaning. We take certain characters as favourites, then ask ourselves why this is so. Is it not telling that Loki, the ‘Avengers’ villain, is more popular than any of the heroes? Or that tales of fantasy and magic are seeing a surge in sales, from Pratchett back to Tolkien?

As Pagans, we can acknowledge this connection, this need for a Bard, to guide us and inspire us, to kick us and provoke us to think. No ‘X-Factor’ hero – the Bard is wild, unfettered, roaming where he (or she) pleases, uncaring of public opinion. Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Stephen King and Alan Moore carry on writing, through rise or fall, critical success or slate. I’ve no doubt that we can all name smaller, quieter names who perform, write or present their art regardless of ‘fame’ – monetary return helps, but they would still scribble, sing or paint, because they feel that call inside to do so. When the Awen flows, or the Muse calls, the Bard must respond.

I also firmly believe that we have this ability within us all. No matter what our creativity, we need to demonstrate our perception of the world somehow, getting it out onto page, canvas or musical vibration just to express our connection to the world with the world. We may be nervous of showing that innermost secret work… but if truly told, the spirit of the Bard is clear, creating understanding as others see their own thoughts in your creation. They may then even be inspired to make their own.

So, now, I ask you to consider your own story. Are you proud to tell it? Why – or why not? It’s your story, after all. Would you rather truth or a fable? Can the two not merge into something fantastic and memorable? When you take your place among the ancestors, how will your tale be remembered?

Dare to listen more deeply to the stories around you. And then, please, be brave enough to add your own.

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