Posts Tagged paganism

What Do You See?

This morning, a lovely friend shared an image on his social media:

I remember being a very small child and seeing what would have been an Original Punk on the High Street. My parents pulled me away, saying that I shouldn’t go near Those People.

This must’ve been the 70s. And fair enough, some punks were… well… a bit mad.

But since then, I’ve often been the weirdo on the High Street. Whether it be a teenage goth in full drag (stopped traffic), or in my wedding dress (stopped pedestrians), or in robes and cloak for a Handfasting (both).

This taught me a few things.

1. Learn to dodge people who stop to stare right in your path.

2. Have a smile on. Because it confuses people.

3. Be aware that if you dress differently to ‘the Norm’, be prepared for people to react.

I’ve had car-horn beeps and cheers, children gently stroking the velvet of my cloak, and any number of questions or catcalls.

But you know what? It is always an adventure.

When people approach to ask something, they are both curious and brave. It takes guts to go up to the Strange Person and speak to them. After all, who knows what might happen?

I do wonder if people would believe some of the questions they ask, but it’s to be expected. Eddie Izzard has quipped about people staring at him:

‘Man in a dress!’

No frame of reference… oh god, what do I do…

That kind of sums it up.

In recent years, however, I’ve seen that bravery grow. I’ve never had insults thrown; the worst was ‘what are you supposed to be?’

I’ve been asked if I live in a commune, Hobbiton, if I always dress like this, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings quotes (usually spells, oddly).

I keep smiling. I stop and try to answer. I’ve a number of retorts to familiar questions, but keep it lightly humorous. Then, when people see that I’m an Actual Person and not about to bite their head off, we can engage in conversation.

If it’s younger people, I always have time to chat, to let them touch my cloak or staff (or tattoos), and generally to teach them that It Is OK.

This is about respect, in both approach and response. It’s about engaging at a level that encourages understanding. It’s about inspiring, showing people that there is magic in the world, even if it turns out to be a normal(ish) human being underneath.

This is about walking the talk. Not showing off, but being who you are in that moment, and reacting well when people engage with that image.

I often wonder what people see when they look at me, all dressed up. Do they then go home and say to someone else ‘Ooh, I met a real Druid today!’

What do I want them to then hold in that image of me? ‘I met a real Druid and…’

Ideally, that I was friendly and nice, not stuck-up or daft! That this is real, not just for show.

I have so much respect for those who go out into the world showing their plumage. Be it punks, goths, pagans, drag Kings and Queens…

It takes bravery to do that, too.

What image do we present to the world, in both outerwear and engagement? Are we staying in ‘protective’ mode today, or dressing up? And when people approach to ask – with genuine respect and desire to know – what do we say?

I’ve been mulling over what to wear to Witchfest this weekend. Do I glam up or stay everyday? I usually like to give talks in my civvies, because my Druidry isn’t actually dependent on outfit.

But perhaps a little bravery is required this time…

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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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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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In Sickness and…

A long overdue update. Spring is upon us (as the rain beats down on my window here!), and I feel like leaving this Winter is almost akin to clambering from a very deep, dark hole…

For the past two months, I’ve been pretty much confined to home. I’ve been very ill, both mentally and physically, and while I have a fabulous doctor looking after me, it’s been ridiculously hard. Not least because I’m a bad patient. If I’m not able to do something with my days, I get frustrated, which leads down the path to… well, bad thoughts. Spiralling down is an apt metaphor, but not fun to live.

So anyway. Today is the first day I’ve been back in my little office for quite a while, and I’m doing my best to do that something. Catching up with emails and marking; the phone is already going with meetings to sort out treatments and work. But my head is still fuzzy, so I’m having to remind myself to take things gently.

One thing which has struck me over and over throughout this is how much we drive ourselves in the world today. This is an old song and I won’t sing it again now, but I’m sure you understand.We don’t have time to be ill, what about deadlines, people to see, things to do… argh!

A huge aspect of my healing has been the voices of friends, reassuring me that it was actually OK to be out of action.They were still there, I could do this, everyone had faith and things would soon be well again. Thank the gods for social media again – all I had to do some days was to reach out a hand and have it grasped firmly across the virtual ether.

It’s hard to defend against such a barrage of loving optimism – and I quickly learned not to try! Seeing the torrent of kindness reaching from around the world touched me deeply, and tears flowed more than once.

I’ve written in the past of community, and this is the best aspect of that, I think. Sure, there’ve been some who sent brickbats – I’m lazy, making excuses, can’t be bothered, etc etc – but those who really saw the battle I’ve been fighting have really stepped up in arms alongside. (I love that image.)

This is the community that I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve met almost all of them through my work as a Public Druid (TM, heheh), and when I remember back years ago to that similarly awful time of unemployment, the prospect of even advertising as a ‘Druid Priest’, how ridiculous that sounded… But I did it. I moved off the map, the 9-5, pension and sick pay, lunch hours and annual leave. Beyond the border of ‘normal’ life, here there be dragons! And it has brought me so much joy. Difficulties, sure, but life is a very different place now because I stuck to those choices, followed the signs and trusted. I wouldn’t be part of this community otherwise.

Being Pagan, of course, teaches you to look for the reasoning behind things, the lessons that we can learn through the downs as as well as the ups. And so my sick time has taught me a few things. A big one is that mental illness hurts easily as much as physical. But sometimes stepping into those waves of madness (especially when you seem to have no choice), standing up and raising hands to others, having faith and just riding things can take you to marvellous, unexpected and wonderful places.

I have to trust that this time has held its own lessons – I’m too close to tell just yet. At its worst, I feared letting others down by my inactivity; but those others stepped up gladly to help me. Love and trust, those tenets of humanity as well as Paganism, genuine compassion, empathy and understanding. Friendship and community, worth more than any gem.

I’m still here.

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Support

So… this has happened. I now have a Patreon page.

It’s come up a lot on social media over the years. How dare I ask for money to perform the work I do! Well… I need to live. Our ancestors supported their communities, from butcher and baker – to Druid or Priest. I’ve said it often: if I wasn’t able to make my way doing this work, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m grateful daily that I’m needed and valued in this way, both monetarily and in the thanks of the many kinds that I’ve received over the years!

Now, things are moving forward. I’m testing the water, to see if this is possible – to have a base for that work, rather than taking over my own kitchen table with laptop and papers. I had it once before, at the lovely White Rose Healing Rooms, and people would come to visit, to learn, to just find a comfy chair, a cup of tea and some sanctuary. This is needed again.

What I get on Patreon will be supplemented from my own earnings, of course. But the more I’m backed, the more I can do – and I will. I’ve often been told that I undervalue myself, but it’s more that I’m aware nobody has much in the way of spare finances these days. Ultimately, I’m there for those in need, and those don’t tend to be the affluent.

But if you can, know that your help is so very much appreciated. Updates will be regular, and surprise gifts are being planned! As always, I do try my best.

I’m hopeful that this will aid my writing and my work with others, as the next stage on this mad journey…

Onwards.

With love and thanks, as always xxx

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I Have Confidence…?

When I was little, one of the main background soundtracks to my life was ‘The Sound of Music’.

Don’t laugh. Bear with me, there is a point to this.

My Mum loves that film. Every holiday it was on (in the times before any form of recording device), and the songs played in the car as I learned the words and sang along. The ending was difficult to watch, but I loved the first half, of Maria the Nun bringing happiness to a rather repressed family unit.

As I grew up, this story fell by the wayside. Whereas once ’16, going on 17′ had seemed a world away, now it seems a world ago. But one of the songs has been looping in my head lately.

When Maria leaves her convent to go out into the world – after we, the audience, have been informed what a klutz she is – she sings of her hope for what’s ahead:

‘I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that Spring will come again – besides which you see I have confidence in me!’

But towards the end of the song, she falters. ‘I have confidence in confidence alone… oh help.’

She stops. Those last two words aren’t sung, but spoken, whispered. The mask of joy falls. She prays for help, for strength – for that same confidence to step up to the task she has been set. She knows how hapless she is, and how large a job she has ahead. Singing a happy song might not be enough.

This is the truth and pleasure I find in well-done musicals, by the way. That they are so absurdly happy one minute, but reflecting the deeper worries of life the next. If they’re done right, musicals don’t do half measures – they’re all or nothing, but still with the nuances of reality that we all know. Cunningly masked behind a veneer of merry song.

A lot of my time recently has been in that moment that Maria shows, that pause, that ‘oh help’. I’m stepping up to the next level in my work, it seems, both personally and professionally. I’ve always had confidence that my gods will present challenges that might seem insurmountable, but are always within my grasp – if I push myself. That’s the point.

I’m reading a lot of books that I never thought I would, discussing new topics, exploring deeply. Ministry, theology, even religious texts of other faiths (to the shock of one kind Imam!). I’m investigating new – and old – worlds, and it’s amazing. I know that it’s a gift that I even can. As a woman and a Pagan, those previously repressed ‘minorities’, I am now free to act publicly as Priest. That’s no small thing, and one that I hope I never take for granted.

This morning, I’m reading a book on Chaplaincy – specific Priesting within certain spheres of society, rather than to a geographical community (as I am now doing in prison). I’m almost in tears as I read of those Chaplains caring for the soldiers in Afghanistan. I recently finished a tale of nuns who work for women’s shelters in New York. This is faith on the ‘shop floor’ – and yet, apparently a lot of the ‘proper’ Churches view Chaplains as not ‘proper’ Priests.

Paganism has the opposite approach, I’m finding. Because our current methods of public Ministry are still very much finding their way, it’s still seen as miraculous that we can be included in the multifaith community, as professional Chaplains at all. We’re still a ‘fringe’ spirituality, but which is being recognised more and more, and respected accordingly.

Our Western society, by and large, is pretty secular, but I hardly ever receive sneers or derisive comments about my role. Most people are amazed and curious, bombarding me with questions and enthusiasm. Individually, people still feel a spiritual ‘pull’, the need for someone to chat to about what’s on their mind as a companion, but also to support them in tough times. The Priest in the community might have a wider remit than the Chaplain in their ‘bubble’ (army base, hospital, prison) but both are absolutely invaluable. We are appreciated, and that is glorious.

But I am so very aware that we are still finding our way. I love that I can speak to my fellow Chaplains about this – their churches have been doing it for longer, after all, so their experiences are inspiring to hear. Ultimately, though, I can easily feel like Maria sitting there, with the support of her church behind her, but very much alone in that moment. 

How on earth can I do this? God, what are you asking of me?

I’m finding that stories about prayer are also pulling me lately. Another area which Pagans are only now starting to intellectually explore, what do we do when we are alone and needing help? Is this not a huge aspect of the Paganism that I convey to those I Minister to? How do you express the inexpressible in your heart, to and of beings that are beyond words…

Once, it helped hugely to know that I was part of a wider community, through the groups I volunteered for. This week, I resigned as Trustee of The Druid Network, and am stepping down as District Coordinator for The Pagan Federation. I’ll still be volunteering for both, but on a much smaller level.

I need to take the time to sit alone, in that ‘oh help’ moment. To speak with my Gods, to discern what’s next, as well as what I’m doing now. What am I doing? That old question, ever relevant.

I step on alone in one sense, therefore, but in actuality just with less titles. I know that I have a wonderful community behind and beside me, and that counts for so much. I’m listening for the tug that pulls me in the right direction, and know that I’ll be treading new paths. It’s bloody scary.

I’m not sure I have confidence; in fact, often I know I don’t. But I step forward, as promised. I do my best.

Onward, as always.

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The Dark Side

Years ago, I was quietly told that it was a tricky thing to be a ‘public’ Pagan. You raise your head above the parapet, you’re liable to get it shot at.

This is entirely true (and not just of Pagans, of course!). When you publicly identify as anything, there are those who will take umbrage at this, whether for your perceived audacity at doing so, or just that they think you’re wrong because they don’t like what you do.

In Paganism, there’s a practice that’s come to be known as ‘Bitchcraft’. This kind be genial – gossiping around campfire, for example, tipsy joking with no real malice – or nastier, more insidious talk. Words, as we know, are powerful things.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘How dare you’ diatribes before, generally for the reasons above. I try to be open to discussion and comment, and so must expect the negative with the positive. The difficulty comes when the muck-thrower is more interested in the throwing of muck than discussing something with a view to resolving the issue.

Together with other public Pagans, I’ve been accused of some ridiculous things, with arguments which go around for as long as they’re sustained, because the basic premise is incorrect and the person with a chip on their shoulder doesn’t actually want to discuss matters – they want to have an argument. Because they’re right, automatically, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. There’s no debate with such an approach. This is the time to ‘not feed the trolls’ (in internet terms) and just walk away; this fire will not burn without fuel.

However, situations can become even nastier. I’ve heard of people actively persecuted by Pagan-identified groups, with physical assault and damage being caused because the recipient does not practice in a way that the attackers consider ‘right’ or ‘proper’. I recently received a letter from someone who doesn’t want to identify publicly as Pagan – she’s still finding her way – and yet her local group are sending her threats, curses, physically damaging her property and generally assaulting her… because she won’t ‘come out’ as Pagan. This is, to my mind, wholly unacceptable on many levels.

A few months ago, I was asked at a Moot about the ‘Pagan Police’, and what to do if there was information about assaults occurring within a group or coven. I’d never come across such a thing myself, but presumed that the Pagan Police were actually the same as the real Police – if someone is acting illegally, that’s true no matter what their faith. There is the Pagan Police Association in the UK, who act for Pagan Police Officers, so it’s safe to presume that you won’t get mocked if the issue is a faith-based one (but you may need to push to find a representative in your area). Groups such as the Pagan Federation also have legal representation for Pagans as needed.

But it was then suggested that a ‘Pagan Police’ is somehow formed. A group which moderates behaviour within our ‘community’. I thought about this… would such a thing not be impossible at base, and vigilanteeism at worst?

Think about it. The Pagan Community is a very amorphous thing, made up of multitudes of different views. Those in authority are often regarded with suspicion, even when they are trying to help (see the point of this post); many groups who work hard to represent Pagans tirelessly and often thanklessly (the PF, TDN, OBOD, etc) can be on the receiving end of perceived ‘power-seeking’ or accused of taking ‘authority’ positions. This can be a real no-win situation. How can we have authority if we won’t accept authority, railing against it with suspicion – even though it’s made up of folk like ourselves?

So it’s up to us, in our individual communities, to moderate behaviour. Sometimes that does mean walking away. At other times, it may mean bravely taking a stand – retorting to the gossip or slanderer. A simple ‘That’s extremely rude’ perhaps, or ‘Actually, I don’t agree.’ ‘Why do you think that?’ is a great precursor to discussion. Sometimes the person is only whinging to make noise, and quiet down once challenged – or even be inspired to think about why they’re saying what they are.

Each situation is unique, I think, because each person is. Sometimes the nay-sayer is crying out because they’re been abused themselves, and need help or support. It can be a matter of ego too, the desire to be heard. We can listen to these people, then, and respond appropriately. The challenge here is not to becomes uncaring bullies in return.

However, greater difficulty comes when boundaries need to be set and proper behaviour has to be moderated. This isn’t ‘power-gaming’ – this is polite society, with respect for others. If you speak up, you will be heard, so expect to receive a response. You might not like that, but then it’s up to you to respond in turn. This is intelligent adult discussion. Sometimes it’s not as simple as ‘I’m right/you’re wrong’ – Paganism accepts shades of grey (doesn’t it)?

Issues such as those I’ve mentioned cannot always be solved with ‘love and light’. The peaceful nature of many Pagans makes conflict hard to deal with. But sometimes we need that maturity and strength, taking a stand to remind others that they cannot always get away with acting like children – or those whom they rail against.

And taking responsibility does not mean you’re seeking power; sometimes it’s just standing up for yourself and/or others. This is needed. We walk between worlds: our own perceived ‘Pagan’ society and the ‘Muggle’ world. We’re not playing, as we see that our words and actions have consequences.

I stand up and represent my Paganism, in my Druidry. I get challenged, and I’m glad of that – often the questions inspire me to think more deeply about a matter! But my way may not be yours, and occasionally you may need to be challenged as well. Great care must be taken that passion does not turn into denigration or abuse.

What are we doing… how are we listening and responding?

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