Posts Tagged power

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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Changes

The year is turning. We approach Samhain. I’ve written about it before, but suffice to say, this time of year makes sense to me as a ‘New Year’, a time when the harvest is done, the latest season is concluded… and newness is on the horizon.

While life has still been busy for me recently, I’ve noticed more and more ‘writing on the wall’ – repetitive signs of what I need to be looking at, now and in the coming months. I get the feeling it’s a seasonal thing, as my connection with the wider world always flows strongly at this time of year. The spirit of Autumn, with its beautiful colours, scents and textures, has been my favourite since I was young. One of the first ‘tasks’ suggested to me as a baby Pagan was ‘get out there and roll around in the leaves!’

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While I’m being called to explore certain avenues in my personal practice, it’s been suggested (by a much respected, wise and (at times) extremely marvellous/silly friend) that I move this blog further as well. It’s been a few years now, and I agree: it’s time to move things deeper.

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of the wider world, both in the Pagan and secular communities, and am less inclined than ever to suffer fools gladly. This may signal that I’m getting older and turning into a grumpy Crone before my time, but I suspect it may just be that I’ve now reached some internal limit with bullsh*t, and want to dig my heels in – to actively challenge, to encourage change.

My constant mantra of ‘what are you doing’ now has the well-known addendum of toddlers (and, rather significantly, philosophers) everywhere: ‘Why?’ So much of what I’ve seen around has made absolutely no sense to me lately – alleged adults acting in ways entirely contrary to their wishes and wellbeing, with the sense of ‘I do it because I should’ still in control.

Look around. Never before have we needed to challenge outmoded ways of living. We fancy ourselves Modern and 21st Century, yet we act in ways that would make our ancestors cringe. Including those recent ancestors, still within living memory, who fought (sometimes with their lives) for the ‘rights’ we take for granted today. Somewhere in our comfortable lives we’ve become complacent, and in doing so, forgotten our own power.

Please remember, though, that there’s already a lot of positive out there. Mutual feeling, desire for united change, growing communities (tangible and online) – we can’t stop evolving, learning. We just have to check our motivations and methods as we go.

I’m sure you know this already, Preaching to the choir. So:

Why are we doing what we’re doing? And, to inspire action rather than cynical giving up: ‘What do I really want to do?’ This isn’t selfish. This is looking inside, to consider oneself as well as those around – to see where those connect, personal boundary to wider world, rather than being subsumed by the mythical societal ‘should’. What are our real priorities? How are we bringing them to fruition over the next year?

Let’s trust ourselves, and move forward. The New Year approaches. I can feel it in my blood and my guts, smell it in the woodsmoke, feel it in the hard ground of new frosts. I’m excited to see where the path leads as I walk forward, both alone and as part of this community.

Oh, and by the way – this is also the time of gathering around the fire and telling stories, to nourish and inspire. Do feel free: comments are there for sharing 🙂

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Photos by bish – used with grateful thanks

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Still Singing…

As the Autumn season truly moves in, I find myself at last at home again. My travels surrounding book events have finished. I’m preparing for new workshops, students and hunkering down with Book 2.

And yet, I feel as if somehow, I’m not doing enough. I’ve put myself ‘out there’, in the world, and people are responding – therefore, I’m clearly performing a function that’s needed. I’m very grateful for this, more than I can ever express.

But it’s still a question of balance. Boundaries need to be maintained. Where do my ‘Professional’ and ‘Personal’ lives intertwine, merge and then separate again?

I don’t know if this is a question that I’ll ever be able to truly answer; it may be one of those that changes over time as I do, and as my role and practice change. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s important.

Sometimes during this madly busy Summer, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost myself. My To-Do list has taken over, so many people asking questions, reminding me of things. As a former professional Organizer (read: Personal Assistant), the idea that I’ve let tasks, events or duties get away from me is appalling. This is both good and bad – bad in the panicked moments, good in the restraint, as I bring myself back to what I need to be doing. Nobody is intentionally forgotten, there’s just a lot going on.

However, like many workaholics that I’ve seen over the years, the one thing that is forgotten on the To Do list is ‘Be Yourself’. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but without personal integrity, sense of self, constant challenging and discovering, then how valid is anything that I say? In this sense, it’s far too easy to forget that YOU are the main, primary constant in your life, as Living becomes subsumed by Doing.

One thing that I knew would eventually appear after the book was published is The Troll. Regular internet users will know the sort – the person who seems to haunt public e-places purely to niggle, to pick, to make trouble. They start arguments but don’t engage with them – there’s no back and forth, just constant harangues, confused self-righteous logic and eventually, simple abuse.

Sure enough, one of these delightful individuals appeared a while ago. They put voice to my inner concerns and worries, grabbing on and worrying at the slightest perceived weakness, refusing to answer my questions but simply arguing around and around. How dare I say anything, I’m not an authority on their spirituality. I’m just standing up and posturing for attention. Who do I think I am. Etc etc etc. And of course, that ultimate teenage cry: You don’t understand me!

Frustrating. Hurtful (so far as I let it). But also pathetic and rather pitiful. With all the noise they were putting out, this person was entirely missing the point. Perhaps I do understand them – and that’s something they can’t bear. It’s far easier to cause trouble via the anonymity of the Internet than to face your demons… even if that’s (apparently) what you’re trying to do.

I’ve said many times, I can only tell my story – nobody else’s. I’m not saying mine’s better, nor that you should follow my way. There’s nothing wrong with your own story, after all. I’m sure it’s far more suitable for your life than trying to live someone else’s.

But the fury that comes out when you discover that nobody can live your life for you can be tangible over the massive electronic media communities that we all inhabit. The cries of abuse when misunderstanding is caused by almost incomprehensible, misspelled Tweets. A world of pain contained in such a small burst of text, with no back-story, context or truth. Those who mean well and try to help are firing blindly into this lack of story – resulting in the oh-so frustrating, general message of: ‘HUGS’.

A couple of weeks ago, my Inbox contained the polar opposites of these issues. One from the Troll, apparently angry at me for not sticking around to listen to their abuse, how dare I ignore them, that just proves them right all along, blah blah, bad grammar and more abuse. Oddly enough, I felt that enough time had been wasted on trying to engage with this person and receiving only bile. A line was drawn.

The other was from a total stranger, asking for advice (OK), telling me a little of their story (lovely)… and then asking me to be their guru, their teacher, their High Priestess. They may have had the word ‘Crystal’ in their online name. I replied politely, asking for more information on what they were looking for. And never heard from them again.

While these are opposites in opinions of me, there is a clear parallel to be seen. Both people need help, and are reaching out across the internet webs. The former cannot deal with admitting weakness, so any help will be rebuffed – yet they keep seeking. The other is opening themselves to a random stranger (me in this case) for help, perhaps through desperation or perception of what I am and can provide.

Neither is truly able to engage, to connect. I have no doubt that both will continue to seek, wandering the vast and echoing halls of cyberspace, looking for someone to understand them fully in 180 characters or less, and have the power to sort their lives out for them. I’m sure you can guess the outcome.

Then there are those who become friends. I’ve said often, I always try to help – no questions will receive a rude reply, even if they involve the word ‘naked’ or ‘sacrifice’ (honestly, are you surprised that I’ve been asked?). But those who are willing to have a conversation, those I’ve met at random events and shared laughter and tea with, those who know I’m human too… these are the ones I’ll be up at silly o’clock in the morning talking to. Those who remind me both who I am and why I’m doing this.  Reforging connection through relationship. In person and in spirit.

I can’t live up to a perception, a stereotype. If I wasn’t true to myself, it would be obvious to those of you listening, and my words would become worthless. Just another Internet Pagan, retreading the same old ground. It would become so easy to become a snake-oil salesman, peddling false hopes. I can’t do that. I just have to remember to take time for me as well, so that my truth remains… well, true.

I’m looking forward to the winter, hugely. Me time, hibernation. I’m coming to understand why so many writers are solitary hermits, in a small office or shed at the end of the garden, tea and snacks at hand, scribbling away. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to create. But then you emerge: tired perhaps, but bright, happy, accomplished, fuelled by that connection, that Awen.

I can only tell my story. You can only tell yours. But that is life’s quest – both seeking out your true story, and discovering that it can actually be quite a good one. We’re all doing that, you and me.

Some might not like it. They’ll disappear, grumbling at perceived slights and misunderstood ideas. But those who truly know you… will know. And smile.

The kettle’s on. Make yourself comfortable – I’ll be back soon.

🙂

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Power

Some weeks ago, I came across this quote, from the inspiring writing of Rowan Pendragon:

‘Don’t be afraid of the word “power” or to call yourself powerful. If you’re not owning your power, someone else is!’

Short and sweet. But it stuck with me.

At the end of July, my partner and I took our annual trip to Druid Camp. I realized that I’d been going there for over ten years now, and every single year is different – usually with new things to learn, and experiences that push me forward (often in a quite undignified way). It’s a powerful time, as well as one of great community and friendship.

This year’s theme was the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the Tale of Taliesin. We were there to be inspired, after all, and for the duration of the week, a huge black cauldron was placed in the centre of the Camp, in the ritual circle that we created, into which we would place our offerings – as well as take time to guard it. This latter time became quite a social gathering as people came forward to talk, very much in the presence of the divine brew, words spilling forth and being heard. The rite culminated on Saturday in a great gathering of over 100 people, coming together to work with the Goddess, Cauldron, the Awen and what came forth from it.

Every evening, different groups were asked to perform ritual for the Camp as a whole, with my own Hearth undertaking the Friday night. What would be our focus? How would we tie in to this theme of inspiration, as well as facilitate a meaningful ceremony for what could well be quite a number of people of very varied shades of belief?

I suggested power. We invite those present to step forward, into the centre of the circle, and tell all present who they are, what they are doing, and what they promise to achieve in the next year – until we meet again at Camp 2012. Including ourselves.

And so we did. Around 50 people bravely stepped forward, making their vows, telling their tales, as the energy moved around the circle holding us together. Our community was strong, our inspiration flowed… and we all moved forward.

(Photo by William Camden Harding)

Last weekend was the annual Pagan Pride festival in Nottingham. Over 500 pagans, dressed in their finest, gathered in the centre of a modern Midlands city to march and declare their faith and unity. On a Sunday morning. Just as the shops were opening.

And again, we did it. So many people told me that it was their first ever pagan event… as we strode through the Marketplace and down the centre of the Boulevard! Police stopped traffic, Muggles lined the streets to stare and take photographs. Drums beat a compelling rhythm as we all shouted ‘We Are Pagan – We Are Proud!’

On both days, many people stood up publicly and proudly and declared themselves. All ages, all colours, all physical and mental ability. They claimed their own personal power, displayed their bravery in stating their words, proud in their resolve and determination. To quote a Druid phrase, ‘Heart to heart, hand to hand.’ Each time, the energy is tangible, active and potent.

Since then, the atmosphere in Britain has changed. Public displays of power are there for all to see: the anger of burning buildings, communities retaliating with brooms. Both groups joining on virtual networks before meeting in person. Everyone has something to say.

I sincerely hope that the displays of power that I have experienced this last month have been indicative of a growth in the sense of unity, joined community and like-mindedness. For too long, we have witnessed largely apathy, whingeing and unwillingness to take action. A change is in the air, it seems now, as people are starting to move, realizing the importance of our actions in life, taking a stand for their beliefs. Slowly, there is recognition of greater need for articulation, intelligent debate, asking questions.

We stand in our power, here, together. What do we do with it?

We move forward.

 

For more on Pagan Pride, visit organiser Esme Knight’s wonderful blog, or see more pictures c/o the BBC.

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