Posts Tagged personal

24/7 Priest

I saw an interesting story this morning. A lovely depiction of women, armed raised to the sky, dresses and hair flowing, entitled ‘A Gathering of Priestesses’. It relates to online classes and talks being held soon.

Lovely, I thought. I wish I was as glamorous as them!

Then I stopped. I looked at the recent pictures of myself at work that folk have posted to my Facebook – as I officiate at weddings, namings and public ritual. Good grief… I am doing this! Aren’t I?

I often find myself pausing to consider the terminology we use to describe our ‘work’ – ie the tasks we do for others to support ourselves and our community. I call myself Priest, and have been both honoured and berated for it… despite the fact that I only took it on after enough people had referred to me as such, and I’d been working as one for long enough that I felt it to be an accurate title and descriptor. I don’t tend to use ‘Priestess’, not because I’m ‘denying my femininity’ (yes, really) but because I don’t see gender as part of the role, not really. I’ve often said that people can call me what they want, so long as it’s civil or polite!

But what does it really mean, to ‘Priest?’ Do we turn it on or off, like a 9-5 job? Is it reliant on certain clothing, place or attitude? Of course not. I’ve been reading a lot of work lately by priests of other faiths, and see the same thoughts again and again. A Priest is something you are, not something you do. It’s a role you take on, yes, but as a result of vocation, calling to service. Duty comes into it, but I find myself working almost anytime, anyplace. I have joked that my motto is the same as the 1970s British comedy show, ‘The Goodies’ – We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere!

Ultimately, I do what I’m called upon to do. Great. Priesting for others is identifiable. What about other times, then? In private, at home, out shopping, with family?

Nimue Brown wrote a thought-provoking piece that’s been in my head relating to this topic this week, on Gods. As with the title of Priest, being a Priest of [Insert Deity Here] can be used as a bludgeon almost, to give the title-wearer power, bolster their ego, increase their standing in the community… or it can mean what it truly means. 

If you take on the title – and subsequent responsibility – as a Priest of a Deity, then you are that all of the time. As a vicar might serve their community, a Priest of a God serves their Lord or Lady as needed, throughout their lives. Not just when it’s convenient. You don’t shut the door to the Powers that Be. So public Pagan Priests discover that they might be called upon all of the time, even when it might not be convenient to them.

And this includes all those in-between times as well. Which is what occurred to me today.

I made the decision to work from home today. I’ve dressed, sorted out the animal household residents, pinned my hair up and considered what needs doing. No makeup, no jewellery, no glamorous presentation! This idea popped into my head. It wanted out. I’m typing from my sofa, with a cup of tea at hand. That’s how writing works sometimes. So here I am.

Through the writing, I’m discovering thoughts, ideas, challenging myself. Am I a Priest when tapping away here? Or washing up, doing the laundry, walking the dogs? How about when I’m hidden under a blanket, crying my eyes out, having been overcome with emotion on those darkest days? 

Yes, I am. The truth seemed quite simple, as I pondered it. The stories tell us so, and from them – those myths that I return to for guidance – comes confirmation.

Demeter’s dark days are called ‘Winter’. Ereshkigal turned hers into determination. Odin suffered to find his truth. Athena (Wisdom) was born from Zeus’s headache!

Whether we see deity as literally existant or not, our ancestors went through the same life dilemmas as we do now, and retold the journeys in story. From peasant to King, they pondered, explored, screamed and wept. Others were there to help – public, accessible Priests – but part of the journey is questing inside, for that ‘Aha’ moment (yes, which Druids call Awen) of realization. Discernment, through piles of crap or huge social noise, to find your truth. 

Priests do this for others, but also for themselves. We all do, to some degree. While I suspect that the reason that Priests gained so much power is that others wanted to rely on someone else to sort their problems out for them, a good Priest will inspire, guide and encourage, not provide a quick fix (I never quite understood how absolution worked, but repenting a mistake instead of regretting it seemed clear). As spirituality is a life-choice, not just for convenient ‘holy’ days, so we live it. All of the time, good and bad, light and dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We take responsibility. We stand as Priests, guided by those we serve as much as we guide them. My Gods are patient, but give kicks when needed – as do I! Sometimes it is just a matter of allowing space for the realization. 

Priesting myself is no bad thing. Boundaries to allow for that are as necessary as in public ritual. Stories guide along the way. Moments of realization allow for internal ‘facepalms’, of ‘How did I not see that before?!’ – because only now am I ready, in a place to properly see.

I’ve been given many labels over the years, but ultimately, I regularly recommit to those that fit best – and so I move forward. This idea or identity is not finalised in this little blog post; it will evolve as I do, as I discover more on my journey. And so my own story unfolds.
Occasionally, I even dress to match.

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Druidry in the City

It’s always a challenge to combine your spirituality with your ‘regular’ life. This is one of the joys of Druidry, and a strong factor in what originally attracted me to it: that lack of dividing line. Something that would help when there’s an impossible deadline, a sardine-can of a train journey, another late night at the desk.

Druidry really isn’t a fair-weather path, something to do when you ‘get a minute’. It’s constant, lived, breathed, investigating your personal connection and relationship with the world around all the time. And let’s face it, if anywhere/one needs it, it’s the worker, the ‘wage-slave’, the office and the streaming multitude of lonely commuters.

Don’t believe me? OK. Do you really think your Gods are only present when you call them, wearing the right clothes and performing the correct rituals? Our ancestors saw the spiritual (in terms of real, named spirits) everywhere. From the water in the cooler to the energy in the computer wires. The natural world is where we live, even if it’s concrete, glass and granite.

I’ve written about it before, but wanted to just write something practical today for those of you out there with your noses at the grindstone (farmer or financier).

When you get the chance today, either get outside or at least to a window. Look around. Breath (yes, I know fumes aren’t fun, but use your judgment). Feel the air – natural or processed? Be aware of the light on your skin – sunlight or bulb? Notice the difference.

Ground yourself: feet on the floor. Listen to what’s around you, feel the buzz of people and activity. Then listen harder, to the undertones. Worry or enjoyment? Stress or happiness? Look inside, at yourself. Are you knotted up with the weight of expectations, or flowing with your tasks, your duties and responsibilities?

Notice the spirits around you. The lone tree planted in a pavement and ignored, save by the birds. And then the gods of modern life, that we bow down to: the Lord of Deadlines, the stern dictator of Commuter Etiquette. Eris is Lady of Computers, if anyone is! Make whatever offerings (coffee? chocolate? small symbols on the desk?) are appropriate, and ask them to be kind as you work with them.

Realize how blindness and ignorance threatens our awareness, as we walk past the homeless man, fail to help the crying girl lost on a roadside, or do nothing for the fellow apparently unconscious on a train platform. See the God of Fear that prohibits our actions, due to propriety or overruling awareness of How We Would Look.

This is not an exercise in guilt. This is an urge to Wake Up. Feel your spirituality as it runs through you, every minute of every day. What are you doing with it? How it is informing your awareness? Ultiumately, how is it helping?

Now. On Monday morning, from the moment you leave your home, walk with awareness. Really look around, at the land, the creatures, your fellow workers. Forget the MP3 player, even the book on the train or bus. Look around. See the land you walk through, natural and man-made. Don’t judge, just bear witness. Consider how you move within it. Let your spirituality inform your actions.

Try to carry this awareness through the day, putting perspective on your actions – especially if you ‘don’t have time.’ Why are you doing what you’re doing? Not in a negative sense – who will benefit from your efforts? See your link in the chain, from immediate co-workers to end users. Washing up may be a chore, but it allows clean utensils to enhance meals, to fuel others. Call centre conversations are immensely frustrating, but is this because one of those involved isn’t really listening? How are you helping, others you are beholden to help, and yourself?

Remember your connection. It’s always there, as are those who walk with you. Just stopping to take a deep breath and bring your true self back from panic or frenetic activity is a sacred act.

Your Gods, your ancestors – would they be proud of you for what you do, even if it’s just making it through the day? Thank them for the realization that ritual is possible wherever you are – and for their help in the daily battle.

You\re never alone. You just have to open your eyes.

Addendum: I’m now slightly late this morning, because I was compelled to write this piece. I’ve just completed the Greater Morning Ritual of the Coffee, however, and wanted to share – preparation with awareness and gratefulness, now taking a moment to sit and enjoy it. Before rushing off to get ready for work…

Enjoy your day, kind reader x

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Pagan Priesthood

It’s almost the Spring Equinox, and the world is waking up. We’re finally moving forward from that holding pattern between the colder nights and the lengthening days, and things are starting to happen.

Boy, are they.

The recent spate of interviews that I’ve undertaken have got me thinking all over again. Call it fortuitous coincidence, call it synchronicity, but whatever it is, certain topics have been coming up repeatedly, causing me to question myself and my own practice. All to the good, it keeps me aware and moving forward. So I thought I’d share.

Why am I doing this?

Year on year, my life has become increasingly filled with my practice as a Druid. This has mainly been public, to the point where it has become my primary livelihood right now. I’ve no doubt that more challenges will come as I become better able to meet them.

But what has this meant for my personal practice? Am I maintaining a good balance between my public work and my private spirituality?

I encountered a lovely turn of phrase in a book I encountered recently that summed my thoughts up very well:

‘We might say that the best spiritual writers are entirely at home in both the world of words and the world of silence.’
(Philip Zaleski, writing in ‘The Best Spiritual Writing 2001‘ anthology).

Initially I disagreed, quite vehemently. I love language, communication, storytelling – it’s an intrinsic part of me. You might have noticed.

But then I considered. ‘Silence’ here indicates the time when the talking stops, when you put yourself (ie your ego, your internal narrator) aside and simply BE. Meditate, assess, take stock, review. Become as neutral as can be, nonjudgemental, not critical or proud.

This is necessary for me quite often. Call it the cat in me, but it’s become ever more necessary for me to take time for myself, to retreat to a quiet place and do something personal, quiet, that allows me to reflect without external pressure. Time to recharge.

This is often that golden time when the inspiration comes. From the darkness and the quiet comes the spark, which must then be fanned – thus requiring time and attention.

The fire that I use to keep myself going, to itself inspire and help others in my work, requires care. My own personal practice must be maintained. While I’m working actively as a Priest, I cannot let myself become subsumed in service to others 24/7. This is true of most jobs, but perhaps even more so for those whose work is a vocation. This is, after all, my life. What use am I if I have nothing left to work with, to give?

Time turns and the busier seasons are ahead as the world wakes. My working life grows and evolves, as the call for me as Priest increases. This is not and has never been an ego trip – I’m not in it for the power, prestige and (Lord knows) the money! I detest the political power-games of some ‘religious’ groups; that’s missing the point entirely.

Some have seen the hard work behind the scenes, and so my integrity is assessed by others and found to be intact. This means a lot to me, as I’m often too close to my work to be truly objective. I sometimes need to be pulled back to reality!

But I have to ask myself my deeper intention as Priest. The answer is that primarily, I am there when called upon by those in need. I am standing up publicly: as an example to others, a demonstration of what is possible, giving permission to practice as a Pagan in the world today. I’m a guide, by the actions of my own life. This holds tremendous implications and responsibility, and is certainly not simple. Every statement can potentially be analysed for fault (including this one). If I wasn’t called upon, though, I wouldn’t be doing it. I work to help, because I can, and because others want me to.

However, I would hazard a guess that it’s also rather different to the clergy of other faiths. I speak to other Priests regularly, if only to share stories and laugh together, but as Pagans, there’s always that underlying truth that ‘we are each our own Priest’. Even if we don’t serve others in our actions as such, we communicate with our deities and connect with our spirituality in our own unique ways. That’s usually a strong reason behind choosing a Pagan path in the first place: we don’t give the responsibility of our own belief to another person to look after. Our doctrine is our own personal, evolving story. We have no hierarchy.

So we have the dilemma, the balance to maintain, between our own individual Priesthood, and that of ‘public service’, of Ministry. Different and yet very similar. Are you a Priest when conducting public ritual, or just sitting before your own altar in your home? Does it count as ‘Priesting’ when you explain your Paganism to a work colleague or family member? When you console someone, or encourage them with true intention? I would say Yes, to all of these. You are expressing your spirituality. You are representing the sacred, standing in your faith, your own truth.

The question then becomes: ‘Are you a good Priest?’ I don’t mean in terms of knowledge – nobody can know everything, nor have a perfect reply for every question. But do you work on your personal practice, explore more deeply, live in curiosity and wonder in order to strengthen your own connection with Deity… in the form of the wider world and everything on/in it?

It’s no small task. Often, it seems insurmountable. But as I said, the challenges come when you are ready for them – even if it takes everything you’ve got.

While I’m being called upon, I’ll be here. By the fire, keeping it warm for you.

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Beyond ‘Paganism 101’

As most of us know, the vast majority of books on paganism out there are ‘101’ books. Beginner-level texts, full of charts and associations for anything you can imagine, from candles to clothing. Things must be done in this way, using these tools (themselves prepared appropriately) on this day – or it won’t work. Don’t even bother. Spells = chemistry exercises. Yes, they can be done by anyone with the proper training and knowledge, but you wouldn’t let a beginner work the Large Hadron Collider (I hope). Which is why those beginner textbooks exist.

Interestingly, however, in the last few years, there has been growing investigation and active questioning of ‘what next?’ In an experiential faith, books can only take you so far before you have to get out there and do. So what sources do you go to with your questions about the results? And how do you advance in areas that take your fancy?

Ideally, you would then visit a pagan/New Age store and talk to people, look on the internet, follow up the advertisements in ‘Pagan Dawn‘ and suchlike, so you can actually meet some other like-minded folk. But again, that only takes you so far. It can be very hit and miss, as the diversity of this (and any) faith means that you might not necessarily encounter others who practise in the same manner. Or even follow the same ethical code.

I’m being nice here, as the majority of pagan folk I’ve met have themselves been welcoming and friendly. Yes, we don’t all think alike, but it’s actually pretty refreshing to get new perspectives – spiritual practise can all too easily become ‘stuck in your own head’ work. It’s just that as in every group, there are those whose worldviews are so dramatically removed from your own, that there’s just no talking to them. Or there’s the bad folk, the exploiters, the power-hungry; as mentioned famously in Isaac Bonewits’ wonderful document, ABCDEF. Humour is needed, but seriousness and sensibility too.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a teacher. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a teacher that you connect with, who speaks in terms that you can understand, who makes the magic (and the point of doing all this) real and applicable.

But then what? You’ve passed Paganism 101-110. What are you doing with it?

I’ve been practising for over ten years. I started out reading Scott Cunningham and the Farrer texts, Starhawk and Margot Adler, practising quietly in my own bedroom when I had a quiet moment, seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Realizing how much I hated reading ritual from a script. Learning how to really specify my meaning and focus after having the universe actually provide what I’d asked for… just not in the way I expected. Getting lost while pathworking. Meeting deity for the first time. Learning how to make a candle flame change colour.

Now, here I am. I’ve a popular blog, and am finalising my first book. I’ve spoken and worked publicly as a priest. This month, I held my first day’s training workshop. I’m living my path and learning so much from those who themselves are seeking me out.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that teaching isn’t for everyone. I’d love to be an actual schoolteacher, but I’m afraid I’d be a bit too ‘Dead Poets Society’ for OFSTED. And I prefer to address those who actually want to be in the room with me.

At the ‘Pagan Pride‘ event this summer in Nottingham, I remarked to my beautiful associate on the Druid Network stall that if another person asked for information in the local area about Druidry, I’d have to do something myself. Of course, I should have known better – the universe was listening, and another person did. Quite a few people, actually. And those who’ve left comments here. And contacted me privately.

People are interested. They’re asking. Am I stepping up to answer?

I’ve spoken elsewhere about how difficult this has been for me. But I finally plucked up the courage. Pieces have fallen into place, and it’s almost a month since just under a dozen people gathered in a historic building in Derbyshire to listen to what I had to say about Druidry.

I haven’t stopped being inspired since.

The questions, the challenges, the discussion… all flowed freely on the day, and have continued online after. The group came together far more easily than I ever could have hoped, and amazing things have already started to come from it.

And I found something that I’d read about, and knew intellectually, but now have properly felt for myself. The teacher is herself being taught.

Everyone in that room basically said that they were beginners, they had very little experience of paganism, and certainly not Druidry. But every one brought their own stories, their experiences, the way of seeing the world. Their goals and wish to truly listen and participate. They might even have been as nervous as I was.

Each perspective is challenging me, to explain more effectively how I follow my path, live my spirituality and connect to the world around. At the same time, I’m seeing through others how they want to live, to find their own way of working, to be informed and reinforced by a group that truly is like-minded, but at the same time, made up of truly unique individuals. Our truths, our honest sharing and relationship, is teaching and inspiring each other.

More workshops are being requested and planned, but not just the ‘beginner’ introductory sessions – now it’s more in-depth, focused work. Everyone is becoming involved, finding out for themselves that a spirituality which calls to them so persistently can translate from page to reality, from basic questioning to real, lived experience.

From beginner’s grounding to a small but very personal rite, we’re all discovering and learning, finding new questions and new ways to communicate, exploring new sensations that we somehow knew at soul-level, but are now actively working with. New tools for life.

I marvel at the paths we take, from that simple curiosity of picking up a ‘Paganism 101’ book all those years ago. To pinch the words of Douglas Adams, via one of those workshop attendees today: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

We move on down the path together.

And I wonder why it took me so long to step up.

So I ask again: Why are you here? And what do you hope to do with what you’re learning? Find your freedom and explore… who knows where you’ll end up.

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