Posts Tagged mysticism

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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Comments (3)

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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