Posts Tagged practice

Moving

I don’t know how to start this.

It’s been an age. I feel like I’ve been in a holding pattern for the last year. Lots to overcome or work through in life and health, but now feeling the determination again to move, to do, to speak up…

One of the worst aspects of being pretty much unable to cope with anything much of the time due to my mental and physical issues was the lack of ability to write. Obviously I could if I wanted… but I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t bring myself to even open the laptop. And if I did, the words didn’t flow. I felt like I’d be just banging a drum randomly, making noise but with no sense or feeling behind it.

Writing has always been my outlet, my creativity. To not have that was like having one of my senses go dark. Alone, unable to be heard, unable to connect… I’d lost something of myself.

Then at the end of last Summer, a wise friend told me that Spirit was telling me to write again. That I had to. She’d been told to tell me. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but hey – who am I to question?

So, like a cripple learning to walk again using battered and weak limbs, I began. Just notes here and there, but as I became absorbed in research for upcoming books, I felt the flame flicker and begin to burn brighter. It had never gone out completely, but had been smothered, almost, by a miasma of depression or (unhelpful) medication.

The fact that I’m pushing, doing, feeling the Awen again, is itself a huge inspiration. I’m forcing myself to reach for it, and it’s there, waiting. I’m still myself, at the bottom of the pit, a flare of bright amidst the darkness.

Yesterday, I started pushing in earnest. Emails were sent to restart projects, research continues… and I dared to share links to my books again. Resulting in ‘Facing the Darkness’ going back to #1 in its category on Amazon.

This is a relatively small thing, but to me, it’s huge. I’m in such august company on that list, and people are reading my words and hearing me… I’m able to reach out again. What I have to say is worth something. When in the worst low places, that’s impossible to believe, that you’re worth anything at all.

Today, I took a single picture while out walking the dogs. I’ve used that to restart my Inspiration blog, Drops of Awen. Just one post a day, no word limit, to share a little of what inspires me. Also, to kick me into actively seeking out decent inspiration that’s worth sharing!

It’s foggy outside today. We’re still mid-winter. But I’m seeing many articles about Brigit in the run-up to Imbolc. May that wise lady of inspiration guide me, as I move forward into the year ahead.

Much love, my friends. Thank you so much for your patience and help through this darkest of times.

Onward.

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Combined Healing

Good morning, lovely readers. It’s been the longest ever pause between posts… due to 2016. I’m sure few of you are surprised. It’s been a tough year for most of us.

I’m not going into details of my trials here (if you want information on that, it’s over on my Patreon page, as it’s somewhat more private). But what I’m wanting to do moving forward is to reboot this blog, talking about Druidry yes, but on a more regular basis.

On this particular Monday, I’m considering – as always – the connection between what is called ‘spiritual’ and what is called ‘everyday life’. And how the two really are connected, whether we like it or not.

I’ve been in a lot of physical and mental pain recently, which regular society suggests I handle via medication. My Doctor is great, as is my local pharmacy (hurrah for small village shops!), but ultimately it’s about pills to cure your ills.

This is fine, and I don’t want to disparage anything that works. However… I am questioning how much that is true.

Painkillers certainly work, and help hugely when I’m suffering from, say, a migraine last night. But they didn’t quite do the trick.

I was desperate. So I tried everything my frazzled brain could think of. The brain-pain was ultimately beaten back using a combination of forces: Ibuprofen for pain, tea and water for hydration and consolation… and ‘alternative’ remedies. Interestingly, it’s only when I started to apply these that change began to be tangibly felt.

I have a fabulous temple balm from Luna Levitas, ‘Witch Potion Headache Relief’. That’s her style, but in real terms it’s aromatherapy: peppermint, eucalyptus and bergamot, amongst other things. Entirely vegan and a pleasure to inhale and apply.

Also I love the term ‘temple balm’. Yes, it’s the temples on your head, so you’re essentially stroking your brain back to health. But it also makes me think of religious temples, peaceful and quiet, the scent of the balm mixing with the spirit of a magical place… definitely therapeutic.

Then I remembered a sari scarf acquired from Wrapunzel (I’ve been exploring ritual head-wrapping recently, but more on that in another post). So a deep purple wrap was gently tied around my aching noggin, and I rested myself back and closed my eyes…

In a short while, the pain began to ease. Not just the physical pain, but the mental tension beneath it. I began to breathe more freely again, feeling the flow of everything combining in my intention to heal myself.

This is a huge part of what I’ve been going through in recent months. NHS medication (which has never really worked) has given way to proper talking therapy. Self-care has become necessary – whatever works, from rest to exercise, engrossing stories (movies and books) to meditation or journeying.

By combining the spiritual with the ‘mundane’ (which really isn’t!), my mind, body and spirit are coming together to do what needs to be done.

Opening my laptop this morning to write has also been a huge challenge. The pain has made creativity so difficult, which in turn makes my mood plummet – writing is what I do, and not having done that has also been painful! So here I am. Again, setting intention, for both myself and sharing with those who are interested.

My work is about inspiration and connection. I’m reforging those skills as life turns into a new phase – I really do feel that’s what 2016 is pushing us to do. We step up, learn and move forward. But through growing knowledge of who we are, what we’re doing, and seeing that we do it for ourselves in order to step ‘outside’ and honestly connect with others.

I’m still here. That’s a blessing. As is the healing. I’ll be continuing to explore, and look forward to seeing what I find as the journey moves forward.

Much love, my friends. Happy Monday x

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Daily Druidry – audio

A little treat today, folks! Some of you might know that I’m using Patreon to help support my work, as people have often expressed a wish to help. In return, I’m providing exclusive writings, plus audio and (hopefully!) video.

So here’s one of the new audio blogs, made available to everyone for your enjoyment! Please do support me if you can; either way, I’m not going to stop anytime soon, and more writings are on their way…

With thanks to you all for your interest. Every creative person is held up by their community, and I’m no different. Much love.

Click here to find the audio file on Patreon, and get more details.

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Medicine

Today I’m pondering a rather controversial topic, which I thought interesting enough to share here. These are solely my thoughts and opinions, feel free to discuss or comment (as always). But please do read to the end and understand my words as they are presented. Reasoned arguments are always preferred to internet rantings šŸ˜‰

I was recently given a short course of tablet medication by my GP, with the instruction to ‘try this and see how it goes’. No explanation for precisely what it was or what it was expected to do, just that it would somehow help me, make me better in some way, based on my symptoms.

For the past two weeks, therefore, I have been dutifully taking these tablets. One side-effect is that of a sedative – which will apparently help to ‘make me better’, through a restful night. And beyond, it seems: I have found myself virtually fighting to get through each day through the fug of tiredness and general odd-feeling brought on by these pills. It’s been a trial.

Now, as some of you may know, I’ve worked for the NHS (in an administrative capacity, not clinical). I’m prepared to acknowledge that doctors have access to a wide range of information on ailments and the treatment thereof, and are trained to administer these appropriately. I’m also aware of the opinionsĀ  of some regarding those treatments – from the motivations of international drug companies to those of the NHS itself as it deals with increasing numbers of demanding patients.

I’ve seen consultants who’ve forgotten to put the patient’s name on a form, and just a one-word scribbled diagnosis/treatment. I’ve known doctors who work 24/7 to the exclusion of all else, to be there for those in need. I’ve heard patients in need ashamed to call for help. I’ve seen drunks in A&E shouting for drugs.

Much of society is sick. There are good people and bad on both sides of the counter. It’s hard to see the ‘bigger picture’ when not all of those involved are actually aware of it – not always through selfishness, but often through simple human fear as their body (or mind) fails them.

A topic I was looking at recently for my book was that of ‘medicine’ – its definition and meaning, as we understand it. Here’s what I found on the Internet (the first result brought up by Google):

Medicine

  1. The science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. A drug or other preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease.

Interesting. This truly is a scientific definition, based on current best clinical practice – and that’s fine, so far as it goes.

Finding an older, more ‘traditional’ definition is somewhat harder. After all, medicine existed before Pasteur and his colleagues, from Imhotep and Hippocrates onwards, and those effects are still felt in modern ‘medicine’ as defined above.

(This is a loaded discussion, and I’m not going to go into it in any more depth here. My own best conclusion is that a good deal of exploration is still needed on the relationship between us as patient and identification of illness (cause and symptom), even before treatment is prescribed. Sheer numbers (of people and sicknesses) in the system make this difficult. However, interesting investigation still goes on – such as the recent discovery of exactly what was in frontier ‘snake-oil’.)

It’s hard to find an older definition of ‘medicine’ that stands up to scrutiny (ie what exactly is meant by the term). Shamanic ‘medicine’ is an idea that many of us know about as a concept, but not exactly what it does.

One definition: ‘Shamanic medicine is a merging of the seen and the unseen; the conscious and the subconscious; and a harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. It is a healing practice which integrates the natural and spirit world, calling on the relationships the medicine person has forged with her allies to gain insight, wisdom and energy to return to the client.’ (From ‘Dimensions in Healing‘)

Or: ‘ShamanicĀ Medicine is soul work.Ā  It takes us straight into the root cause of unrest and heals at the deepest levels.Ā  When something is healed through Shamanic Medicine it stays healed, because we have asked soul directly what needs to be done.’ (From ‘Misha Hoo’s blog, Shamanic Medicine‘)

OK. Neither of these are ‘ancient’ definitions (and certainly not scientific), but I’m not sure that adds any particular validity anyway, so let’s go with what we have.

Shamanic medicine as it is practiced in today’s society generally seems to work on the principle that all of life is connected. Through exploring our relationship with each other – as individuals, connected species sharing space, lived environment and so forth – we can investigate the root cause of a given ailment and actively engage with our own treatment. This tallies marvellously with my principles as Druid; such connectedness is undeniable to me, as lived practically and spiritually (body and soul, you might say). And it does not exclude modern medicine.

Sure, some ‘shamanic’ practitioners may be as superior or elitist (and full of hot air) as some doctors. Authority figures with SECRET MAGICAL HEALING KNOWLEDGE are as old as humanity, I’d guess. And yes, it’s difficult to describe, let alone quantify scientifically, exactly what goes on in what would be called ‘traditional medicine’. The argument for holistic practice goes on. Both modern and ‘traditional/alternative’ doctors may sneer at each other.

But what we seem to have lost is that sense that we, ourselves, are actively involved in our own treatment. Of course we are – we’re the ones suffering and seeking a cure, after all. A common reason that more people are seeking ‘alternative’ treatments is simply because regular, scientific medicine has failed.

Some ‘experts’ have lost the simple ability to relate to those whom they are supposed to be caring for. Medicine begins from the moment you pluck up the courage to step into a doctor’s office – thereby admitting weakness and/or fear. Sometimes a smile, a caring thought and listening ear are the best start to any treatment. Bedside manner counts (despite the deliciously apt satire of Dr Gregory House).

I have no idea what was in the medicine that I was taking, even after looking it up. I took it for long enough to determine that there was no positive effect – on the contrary, the negative was deeply outweighing any positive healing that it was supposed to be providing.

I will report this back to my doctor and see what he says. I am loathe to take any more random pills on the off-chance that they will work – I will suggest finding alternatives.

If ‘medicine’ is finding health through identifying the source of a malady and working towards a solution, I will gladly do so – with a sense of personal responsibility and awareness.

Yes, my spirituality as I live it acknowledges that shamanic sense of connectedness with the wider world. I think that this opens up the potential for treatment to a new level, but it’s still a matter of exploring. Trying pills is part of this, but I’d prefer to undertake such experiments with awareness of what I’m doing. Hopefully my GP will agree.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of being brave enough to try – and that includes questioning the conventional. The relationship between doctor and patient and medicine and patient deserves to be explored, for the benefit of everyone. Human relationship is part of the wider connectedness spoken of above.

We are still learning.

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Reconnection

Hello again!

It’s been the longest hiatus in the history of this blog, but I’m still here. Thank you for your patience, lovely Reader. Believe me, the wait could have been very much longer, but this post wants to be written. On we go.

The lack of blog pages recently has been a result of the finalising before deadline of my second book. Writing daily, polishing, preparing, reworking and repaginating, then editing… hard work, yes, but very enjoyable. I do love to write, and quite often would find myself going over my daily word target because I just got so caught up in what I was doing. Once ideas start to flow, there’s no stopping them – and that’s no bad thing.

However, this has meant that there was little room for other things. No problem, I thought – once things are submitted and in, I can get on with whatever comes next. And this has been true, up to a point. I’ve been working (equally hard) on my upcoming Druidry Course, to start in June. I’ve preparing for talks over the Summer, and upcoming Handfastings. Life doesn’t stop.

One thing I always forget, though, is how much this takes from me.

A while ago, I was chatting to my Mum about the talks that I give, and how tired I was at the end of them. She didn’t understand. “What do you mean? It’s just you, talking for a few hours.” And so it is, when all’s said and done.

But when I do something truly, properly, thoroughly and honestly, it’s putting in the whole of my being, focusing entirely on that task. It may be ‘just talking’, but that’s never been easy for me. I do my utmost to convey my meaning in my words, baring my soul for the benefit of those listening. I don’t think I could do less, nor would I want to. That dishonours both myself and my audience, those who’ve chosen to spend those hours listening to me.

In the same way, what I write takes time. I read back as I go, tweaking phrases here and there, telling the story that I want to tell, in fact and in tone. It might only take a few minutes to read, but hopefully it’s worth it. There’s too much out there that’s just a waste of time, frivolous and easily forgotten. I try to inspire, even a little. I am always grateful for your attention.

So this isn’t just a personal whinge about a late blog post because I’m tired – that’d be far too easy. This is, as in everything I write, a little piece of my truth.

Because what I forget is that when I give up part of myself, I am left depleted. Depending on how much I’ve put ‘out there’ to others, I’m exhausted, energies drained and often head-spinning into collapse. I’ve learned tricks to help with this – after all, it’s no different from overdoing it in any other way, from over-exertion in exercise to a strenuous exam. You prepare, you go the distance to complete the task, then you rest and recharge.

Writing a book isn’t accomplished in one mad burst. It takes time, over many months. By the end of it, I’m ready to submit the manuscript because frankly, I’ve said what I want to say, anything more would be excess, and I’m sick of it all. Time for the next thing, this one is done. Press ‘Send’.

But this topic was especially hard. Writing about darkness, depression, pain, challenge… what did I expect? Some parts flowed well, others were virtually ripped from me. Once that button had been pushed, the manuscript submitted, I was left adrift. What now?

I understand that this isn’t unusual for creative folk. When one project is finished, there can be a ‘cold turkey’ period of recovery, almost like a post-natal period. Some authors start their next book immediately, so that this lull is negated. I’ve some fiction begun and Book 3 in motion. Ideas are gestating, and I’m glad to say that I don’t think that will stop anytime soon.

This didn’t stop me from experiencing what appeared to be virtual exhaustion over recent weeks. Hardly the energy to function on the worst days, unable to answer emails or messages, too depleted to get on with much beyond the most basic household jobs. To be expected? Perhaps. Not pleasant to experience, though, and beyond frustrating from this side.

I admit, sometimes I push myself too hard. I want to be doing, getting on – I try to accomplish something every day, even if it’s small. A little more on my latest knitting project. A baked creation for the household. A few words written, even just ideas. Part of it is being self-employed; part just needing that challenge as a person.

When this isn’t possible, I grind a little more to a halt. Days of nothing are contagious, leading to more nothing. “You’re done, that’s it, you can’t do any more,” says the internal voice. “Might as well stop.” This blog post nearly didn’t happen for those reasons.

Put another way: if the exhaustion I’ve felt is proportionate to the energy put into Book 2, then it’s going to be a humdinger.

What’s keeping me going, you see, is my Druidry. From the deeply personal meditations of wandering alone, to connecting with others who just want to share – the lived experience of my Path is both holding me up and moving my feet. Plans for ritual, study ideas, personal practice, tangible things; even looking forward to the eventual release of Book 2 in the Autumn (still an unbelievable idea!). While I have needed more time to myself to rechargeĀ  (usually spent reading or knitting), the getting out and exploring of ideas with others has been a joy.

It may have drained me more effectively (and more quickly) than it usually would. But that’s just something I’m having to learn to deal with, until I’m back up to ‘normal’ power again. A good part of my time is spent pushing against tiredness, that voice that tells me to stop, there’s no point, nobody’s really interested. Because I’M interested. I don’t believe I’ll ever have ‘reached the end’ of my Path, that it’s possible to know everything or have experienced every part of my spirituality – even with death. There’s always more.

I’m trying not to overdo it, to take things at my own pace. It’s difficult to work out what that is, sometimes. But pushing myself by simply grabbing the laptop and starting to type – as I am right now – helps. Stepping to the window and looking out – helps. Breathing in the fresh air, the hope of Spring (finally!) – helps. Seeing my own thoughts, reflected and reconsidered through the imagination of others – helps beyond measure.

I try to remember what brings me happiness and laughter, what fuels me. Stories, always – from Doctor Who to Shakespeare. Key phrases leap to mind at random moments, from the ‘winter of discontent’ (very true) to the dream of ‘when the hurly-burly’s done’. The exploratory weirdness of Steampunk is catching my imagination lately as well. We seem so caught up in lost cynicism as we wait for the overdue Spring to truly arrive that we forget what potential there is out there in our imaginations, what we just haven’t noticed yet.

When stuck inside, do we sit on the sofa and mindlessly lose a day – or do we make a fort? Do we take our own meagre scraps of energy and ability and create something, no matter how small, or do we moan and lash out, blaming others for our own lack of action?

The everyday world is full of news stories that may drag us down further, with apparent hopelessness and the difficulty of making any change at all. But I’m just trying to do my thing, here and now. When it all seems too much, I try to see beyond the fog of sheer negativity that all too easily can come down to block everything in/out. Reconnecting with the world around, those of like mind, those kindred spirits – this keeps me reminded of why I do strive on.

Bless you, my friends. Still moving forward.

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Blood Sacrifice

I’ve been a little lax in my posting of late. This isn’t for lack of ideas. I think it’s purely that winter is now beginning to bite: the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short days, the extra layers of clothing, the need to stockpile kindling and food in case of snow… and the urge to hibernate.

Life, of course, goes on. I’ve been out and about, less than usual perhaps, but still doing. A little Druidry here today, and a little slice of life, if I may.

Last week, a talk at Sheffield University Pagan Society; yesterday, a guest speaker to a Sociology lecture at the University of Derby. One informal, one formal, but both requiring me to get out there, put my professional hat on (metaphorically, before you ask) and tell my tale again…

Each time, it’s different. A different audience, a different flavour to my words. New challenges, new questions, new faces. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and will ever do – and yet, I love it. Connection, sharing, inspiration. And bearing all.

Because one of the questions that always seems to come up in some form or another is that of Sacrifice. I’ve spoken of it before on here, but while winter is the time of fire festivals, burning the old to make way for the new, it’s not really the time to get out in public and get naked (again metaphorically, but physically too!). You don’t want to bear your soul to total strangers. Stand up and say ‘listen to me, I’m interesting?’ Nope.

So… perhaps that is my sacrifice to this season? While crawling out from a cosy bed/home/sofa to work is something that we all have to do just to pay the bills, my work is so intrinsically tied up with my own personal story, my soul-truth, that to walk this path at all during this season is the most challenging thing. It’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.

Sacrifice is giving up something that is valuable to you. At this point, that’s very much my Self. My time, my energy (not in abundant supply), even my smile some days. The black dog bites and holds on, and I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of crowded places. So standing up in front of crowds… you can probably imagine how nervous I get. Even answering emails is tricky right now. Writing this has involved a LOT of deletion and rewriting to get the tone precisely correct (and I’m still not sure I’ve quite managed it).

But it’s not all about my fear – that’s a constant, burning away in the background, to be overcome daily. My sacrifice is also giving up that sense of self, the very act of bearing all… but in a manner that can be understood. The balance of listening to what is asked of me, as a Priest, a teacher, a representative of my spirituality, and truly hearing. Going beyond the words of the question to see the eyes of the querent, what they want to know, what they can’t quite put into simple language but strain, hope, need me to understand.

I’ve promised, over and over again, to do my best, to walk my truth, to tell my story as honestly as I can, and to help for as long as I’m needed. I presume that if nobody were listening, then this blog wouldn’t get any hits, my inbox would just contact requests for money from overseas diplomats, and I could say what I liked because nobody would be listening… but currently, this isn’t the case. More and more people are asking. I’m amazed and awed that so many fellow Pagans, of any path, are rising to meet this growing group of seekers. I have no doubt that come Spring, my every weekend will be busy again. This is why I keep talking, writing, doing.

But in the meantime, sometimes it’s a battle day-to-day. I sacrifice and I survive.

A while ago, I told a good friend that I tried to do something creative every day. Even a tiny thing, but something, so that the day hadn’t been wasted. This is still true. Writing is best (when I haven’t written anything for a while, I think I’m unbearable to be around), but knitting, baking, some form of random creativity… all good.

This week, as well as the talks, I had more colour added to my right arm sleeve tattoo. Now this isn’t a very active creativity on my part – essentially, I lie there and let an artist draw on me with needles, paying him for the privilege of several hours of pain – but that ink will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Tattoo Equipment

(The preparation table. All of these colours went into one small area of skin, with those needles…)

 

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my tattoos over the years. When I was younger, I never dreamt I’d ever have so much of myself covered – but every single one has meaning. And much of it is to do with my Druidry.

My first tattoo was a triskele, in the safe, quiet, hidden base of my back. My second: surrounding it with silver birch leaves, hand-drawn by one of my oldest friends. The statement of my learning, my stepping into the woods, joining with the trees, indelibly feeling my own connection to the wild world.

Since then, I’ve an Awen hand-tapped into the top of my back (after dreaming that Bobcat was doing it – I think her hand was more drilling it into my head), and both arms covered with leaves, flowers, seeds… the old joke being that sooner or later, if you push me over in a field, you’ll lose me.

Although the tattooist chats happily as he works, with conversation a good distraction, the flow of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer physical reaction to the needle creates an interesting effect. I’ve not undergone ceremonial or ritual tattooing as such, but every single sitting could be considered to be that. Your inner self reacts to the battering that your skin is taking, and there is an inevitable effect.

The tattoo is a statement, certainly. But it could also be considered a sacrifice. The blood, the pain, the wearing of an image with a deep meaning behind it, honouring your own body through the act of pain for the goal of adornment. To me, it’s far more than vanity.

Every tattoo on my body (except the triskele, my initial ‘baby-step’) has been paid for with money earned from my Druidry. I used to be able to pay the bills with my day-job, thus allowing me and my partner to permanently mark the relationship between our public rites and ourselves with ink. Now, that money is needed for those bills – so this work was even more of a luxury… and a statement.

Reading this post back, my black dog friend is telling me that this post is full of whining, self-righteous, indulgent justification for my work, my decisions, my irresponsible frivolity of ink. Perhaps.

To me, my life is currently filled with sacrifice. The sheer standing up each day to live my life, my spirituality, my job, with integrity and responsibility. Overcoming the ‘oh Gods, you can’t do this, why are you even trying’ voices. The sense that I’m not as strong as I think I am. Yet the beauty of my path is there, indelibly marked into my body. Present in the messages of thanks from those who hear my words.

I stood before my Gods in a crowded classroom and called to them, sincerely – and they listened. I honour them in my actions, my decisions, even my cock-ups (provided I learn from them). I honour them in my moving forward, not giving up, even when the black dog urges me to take that ultimate step and just give up, stop. My life is my sacrifice at this time, my giving up of self when I really do not feel able.

Things will calm down, of course. The season will turn, the light will start to join us more frequently, and I’m certain that I’ll be reminded regularly that I’m actually doing ok. I walk this path because I’m called to, and that’s by real people as well as spiritual entities – both of whom keep me moving in the right direction, kicking me if I stray or stay still too long.

So. My challenge again. What am I doing?

Moving forward. Slowly, in the dark, sometimes painfully, but moving.

Tattoo Nov 2012

All art here was inscribed by the founder and creative genius that is Andy Bowler of Monkido Tattoo Studio, in Belper, Derbyshire.

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Life – a Tale Told…

Sometimes it’s all about the words. And sometimes, words just aren’t enough.

It’s part of our makeup as humans to communicate, to convey our experiences to others, both as a validation and to make sense of them to ourselves. We journal as an act of personal psychiatry and historical record. We blog to tell our stories to others, and to throw ideas out into the wider world, entirely unknowing of who will read them.

The paradox of what could be called Contemporary Pagan Practice (or 21st Century Magic, if you want to be glamorous) is that so much of it is hidden behind words. So many books, websites, so much talking, setting down traditions in stones of words mortared with vague ideas… and yet not much of it actually containing much that helps. So many secrets… or are they, really?

Since my last post, I’ve been pondering those Pagan ‘absolutes’, those key tenets that we are taught to work from. Each theory came from another after all, like any philosophy, those stones building on the work of others, tested by new readers/practitioners for strength and relevance, and built on in turn.

But how lazy have we become, with our ready supply of electronic information? Remember when to find something out you had to actively seek it? Go to libraries, order books from far away, write letters to pick the brains of others. Now the dilemma (and skill) is sifting through the overload of data, the ‘fact’ from opinion, the truth from fiction. Isn’t it just easier to pick the ‘facts’ that we like and work from them, without testing them to see if they actually fit our own needs, worldview, life?

And that in itself is another paradox. How can any spiritual ‘truth’ truly be true? Surely every spiritual experience is subjective, open to interpretation… and when turned into words, pinned down like a butterfly in a presentation frame, losing so much of its reality as to be useless – or at best, a story.

I know that the irony here is my writing of such things itself being so limiting, as I try to pin down concepts that are just too amorphous to be adequately portrayed in language. But that’s the rub for me – that’s the mystery itself.

The ancient Bards told stories to convey meanings, human truths that exist beyond ages, passed down through generations. Life is hard, but we’ve lived it – here’s part of the map that might help. Stories worth telling and re-telling. The value of fiction is lost, found, lost again, repackaged, hidden in marketing jargon… but when the words themselves convey Truth, you read or hear them and feel the difference. Compare a daily newspaper story with a much-loved tale that you know so well, you could almost quote it. Or imagine it so vividly that you could describe the landscape, how the wind feels as it blows across moors in Middle Earth, the stink of smoke in Victorian London, the fear in the heart of a lost hero.

True words are more than just swirls on pages (or pixels on screens). Words told well can go deeper, past the intellectual, the grammatically correct, the Award-winning. Enduring words pierce the heart, the soul, conveying experiences that we all know at some level, or want to know, actively seeking out again to feel for ourselves.

This is the heart of the Bardic mystery, for me – where words resonate as experiences.

Paganism (ancient or modern), as it is understood as seeing the sacred in the world around, conveys in words what has been called a ‘mystery religion’. In other words – ahem – you need to understand the mystery to gain the knowledge. It’s experiential. Books can guide, but only you can get out there and really do.

And that, dear reader, is the laziness we so often see. People want the books to give them answers, which they can learn and parrot back without true understanding. We all do it, there’s no shame – that’s how we’re taught these days. 2+2=4 (allegedly). Or the simpler alternative: the soundbite. Look deeper? Why should we, the story’s right there in the headline! But then as a young practitioner, someone will ask you a question about those rote-beliefs and over-simplistic statements… and you’ll realize how little you truly to know.

This is the point where many step away, returning to something a little safer, more easily quantified and understood. Those who continue are essentially readying themselves for the next step – moving into the story, becoming the hero, aiming to take part in the journey to understand where the writer is coming from. And, in due course, having their own story to tell, being a guide themselves, with all of the hard-won scars they earned along the way.

So what’s the point of the words? As I said, maps are handy, guidebooks, stories from those who’ve been there before. Every journey is unique (ask any explorer), but it’s always nice to set off with a rough idea of where you’re going and what you’re going to get into.

To me, Pagan/Druid (whatever label-word you wish) practice is tangible. Proper practice, that is – real work. Feeling the change in the seasons, the different tastes of energy in a crowded room, woodland, seashore or street. The deeper knowing that goes past the regular sensory input – seeing the relationships, the meanings, the motivations, the undercurrents. Going beyond the directions and out the other side of the map book: blank page, ‘Here be Dragons’.

The difference, for example, between casting a circle as per the instructions in your first guidebook and truly doing it truly, your way, when needed. The worry in the back of your mind that you’re ‘doing it wrong’, something bad may happen, you’ll feel stupid, it’s all just playing about anyway. Then the achievement of actually feeling that connection as you work with spirit, energy, however you wish to define it. Gained by practising, getting it wrong a few times, stumbling and carrying on anyway.

That’s what helps you build your own map. Describe it with words if it helps, but the memories of those experiences become familiar with practice, even with their subtle differences based on time, location and situation. Then you know what you’re aiming for, the goal, the circuitous route to it from the initial idea of ‘I want to perform a rite for this reason’ to standing there, at the focal point of that journey, almost at the summit and prepared to truly do

When it’s no longer about having the right coloured candles or the Very Expensive Altar Tools. Your Gods will know what you mean – step forward with honour and trust (in ritual and in life… because what’s the difference, anyway?).

This post was inspired by reading the story of a City magician, scrawling his runes in spray-paint on walls, recognising the power that we give to simple symbols – the Apple, the Golden Arches – and the simple transport magic of waving a Travelcard in the right place. The protection rite of a Lollipop Man, with his gilded robe and staff. The magical web of social media sites. We take so much for granted, that this is appropriate, that is not. What works forĀ us, personally, ourselves? What stories do we live in, every day?

When the Bard tells his story, listen to the words. Listen deeper. See the look in his eyes, the smile on her lips. For a tale to truly be told, it must be known inside and out, otherwise the discordance is audible. The note struck true, the poetry of inspiration, Awen, muse, conveyed through a skilled traveller, is no substitute for your own experience – but if it inspires you in turn, it has fulfilled its purpose.

Sometimes a metaphorical lightbulb over the head; a cosmic kick in the rear; an ‘oh yeah, silly me’ moment when something clicks into place. The words get us there… if we let them. Learn to listen, but then be brave enough to explore for yourself. Have no doubt that someone will listen to your tale in future, to chart their own course.

As I’ve said before, you’re never alone.

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