Posts Tagged ritual

Layers and Labels

Years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study archaeology. Just for a couple of years, at ‘A’ Level, when a teacher volunteered to go off-timetable for the few who were interested. It was fascinating.

We learned about the layers of history that are visible as you dig downwards through the earth. From the concrete of the crust beneath our feet, through to the soil… but so much more besides. The strata of the ground we walk upon holds as much history as the rings within a tree, each gently layering one atop the other to finally reach the current time. What we see and take for granted – unless, perhaps, it is breached by excavation or earthquake.

Did you know that skin has a similar layering system? Despite archaeology being ‘an ology’ and so SCIENCE!!! (ahem), I know little about such things (so apologies to those who do) – but lately I happened upon this:

skin-strata

We carry this around with us constantly, and all unaware – again, perhaps until something goes wrong and we are forced to notice as these partitions are breached. People would often ask about my dermal piercing; you can see from the image above why it didn’t hurt, as the dermal layer and nerves are separate. Admittedly by mere fractions of millimetres, but even so. The mysteries of the human body in action.

I’m reminded of this recently as I’ve been progressing on my healing journey. Talking therapy has thrown up various thoughts and ideas, with previously very ‘normal’ foundations being rocked as I challenge them, discovering how fragile and sometimes even false they are.

I’m performing archaeology on the strata of my mind, right now. Layers are being peeled back, light is being shone on ideas that seemed as solid as concrete, but are in fact as easily penetrated as the membranes of our skin.

I’ve seen ritual undertaken to explore this idea, usually using external props such as masks that can be peeled away or used to represent different facets of ourselves. I’ve helped others break down the emotional or spiritual walls they’ve unconsciously put up around themselves, initially for survival but then becoming trapped within.

I’ve seen the layers of armour my husband and his battle-brothers strap onto themselves before taking the field at medieval tournaments. We all put on clothes each day to protect and warm ourselves, but also to represent who we are, from hidden undergarments to outer uniforms. But how often do we consider the strata of our minds? The layers that can only be seen when we stop to take notice – what we choose to show to others in terms of personality or persona, compared to the sub-layers of neuroses, fears, desires… all of those mysteries that the psychologists are still exploring.

Part of the realisation of this mental landscape is identifying each section, realizing what it is and why it is there, perhaps with an ‘aha!’ moment of remembering when it was put in place. As with the external masks and protections, internal walls go up in response to abuse, misunderstandings, trauma: scar tissue over the delicate breached skin.

In one sense, I was concerned at the idea of picking at these mental ‘scabs’, but then I saw that the excavation was more like rebreaking a bone to set it properly, or restitching a wound. We throw up our defences without much skill, often reflexively I think, and so it takes gentle care to see what happened and help the healing process.

All of this is done with acknowledgment and intention, and with the help and guidance of one who understands. It has to be, otherwise another false layer is simply being added to cover those wounds. I have various lovely friends who have tattooed their skin around external scars – not to cover and obscure, but to make those tears their own.

This is a process, and as I move forward in life, so it is part of the healing journey that I’ve been on this year. I know I’m not alone, and am so glad that I’m finally at this stage where I can undertake such difficult work.

But in the course of shining a light on old wounds and determining what is ‘real’ and what is ‘false’ – what is truly ‘me’, if you like, what feels like my truth versus implanted protective armour-mechanisms – I’m discovering just how many labels I’ve taken on.

This is something I’ve considered for years, ever since I started exploring my Paganism. Because there’s a label, eh?

As I took on the label ‘Pagan’, then ‘Druid’, then ‘Priest/ess’, so I considered what that meant to me. More and more, I wonder if these truly represent me, or if they’re for the benefit of others – verbal shorthand to give an idea of what it is that I do. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a mixture of both, but what any label means to one person may be completely different to someone else. That old Getafix idea of the white-bearded Druid, for example.

It always frustrates me that people seem to want to define others by those labels. What you should and shouldn’t do, because you are [insert title here]. ‘You can’t do that, you’re a —-‘. This is where the labels start becoming walls, traps, false foundations which identities are then built upon.

‘I have to do this because I’m that’ may be helpful sometimes, but what if it isn’t? I love messing with expectations (not being a white-bearded Druid, for example), but as I’ve said in the past, I also love to hear people’s stories. Nobody is defined by just one or two key words, but by many, many aspects of their personalities. As I get to know them, I see the ones they present to the world – the external strata, if you like – and then perhaps the deeper layers, if I’m permitted so far in.

I’ve often been accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve, but as I undertake my mental archaeology, I realize how much has actually been lost over recent traumatic years. No – not lost, but subsumed. It might have been for my own wellbeing, but what have I actually been showing to people? I’d rather honour those who pay me attention by being the ‘real Me’, not some false front, and I think I have done that – but insofar as I’ve been able. When people have said ‘Oh, you don’t really mean that’ or ‘That’s not you though, is it?’ I’ve been confused, wondering if they know something I don’t. But no – they’re just objecting when I don’t fit into their image of me. That label isn’t enough, so I must be reminded to get back into the box!

I’m looking forward to exploring this more. Of course there’s trepidation, and inevitable pain as layers are stripped back… but also frustration that they had to be put in place at all. But that’s life, isn’t it? The key here is that I’m digging now, learning to my own self be true, to Know Thyself… all of those ancient truisms that are part of life’s journey.

It’s interesting that my dermal piercing recently removed itself after many years, popping free after a little pain and discomfort. Herein lies the parallel, of outer reflecting inner. I can only keep reminding myself that I would rather live truthfully than surrounded by nonsense. If I challenge the labels others place on me, or even simply ask ‘Why?’ then no insult is intended – just curiosity. Because what’s going on in here is a true excavation, but also a positive step in the ongoing battle of my own health.

And as I find myself, I find my smile again. Because that’s something I have always done easily and honestly.

Much love, my friends. Journeying onward.

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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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Constant Learning

One of the first things you learn when starting out in Paganism is ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Otherwise known as ‘Don’t take magic for granted.’

A lot of the Paganism 101 books say this, but as beginners, it’s easy to ignore. Ritual is fun, right? An excuse to dress up, cast spells for what we want… and other stuff we’ve seen on TV.

Easy to forget that even movies like ‘The Craft’ and ‘Practical Magic’ show why this is a bad idea.

Even if you don’t follow the ‘Rule of Three’ idea (that whatever you put out into the world is returned to you threefold), if you put something out into the world with energy behind it, don’t be surprised when you get a response. But it may not be quite how you expected.

This is always the learning curve. Complacency is not an option.

Last week, I performed several Spring Equinox rites, two with quite large groups. Generally speaking, we  were bidding farewell to the passing Winter and welcoming in the Spring, but also wishing to be rid of those things we had no further need to take forward with us into the coming months. Positive, gentle, affirming… good stuff.

Then the day after the first rite, I was hit with a ridiculously bad bout of depression. I don’t talk about it much publicly in terms of how bad, but this time it was… Well, let’s say my Dr (nervously) asked ‘Are you having those particularly bad thoughts?’ Hard not to laugh. Yes, yes I was. I got through it. I love my infinitely patient partner and supportive friends.

I got on. Gently, but determinedly.

Then (again) less than an hour after the final rite of the week, I was home and falling over. The next day, I was in considerable pain from the back/joint condition that I suffer from occasionally, plus exhaustion, plus the beginning of a cold (or so I thought). I suspect now it’s somewhere between cold and flu. Either way, virulent and nasty.

I’ve now been basically moving between sofa and bed for several days. Work has been cancelled. I’ve been in severe physical pain, plus mentally fuzzy as all hell. I’m being forced to stop. 

The first day or so involved frustration, then self-pity, then my usual ‘bad patient’ attitude of crossness that I can’t get on regardless. But then I realized something.

I was getting precisely what I needed from those rituals. I had to stop, to take stock and reassess. The deluge of emotion had been and gone – I don’t feel at all depressed right now. The physical sickness is removing any amount of yuk from my body, which is clearly not needed.

I’ve had to prioritise. I don’t have the strength to do much, so what needs doing? Certain tasks are being jettisoned or at least set aside. Wise advice from friends about setting boundaries is ticking around my head.

I must face what needs to be left behind with the Winter, as my body Spring Cleans. I’m already looking forward to being well again, but with awareness – as best I can – of not getting so complacent again, or running myself down so badly. It’s nice to be wanted, but I’m not invulnerable or indefatiguable. Where does the energy need to go?

The last couple of nights have featured fever dreams, with interesting lessons. I’m being reminded of things I was taught years ago, but which I’d kind of forgotten – or rather, they’d been subsumed with the busy-ness. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately ‘do you do magic?’ And I’ve thought about it. Yes, yes I do. Perhaps not ‘spells’ as such (or at least, not often) but the causing change through will – yes, absolutely. We all do, to some extent. But it’s recognising what we’re doing with that, owning that intention, bracing for the consequences… we can’t anticipate everything, but we can trust that we get what we need, based on what we ask.

I’m riding the flow again now. As the nastiness leaves my body and mind, so those new shoots can bloom. I stepped outside this morning, barefoot, with the sun on my face. Just because.

I’m sure I’ll face this lesson again in future, in one form or another. But so we move forward. By noticing and acknowledging, so we can be part of those changes we are wishing for.

I do hope this post makes sense and isn’t just self-indulgent claptrap – my brain wanted to write it, so here it is. Now, if its all the same to you, I’m off to find more tea… šŸ™‚

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A Modern Druid

Last Monday, I greeted the dawn with my partner, as we called the Awen from within the circle at Stonehenge.

The sun was more of a rosy glow than a dramatic flaming sphere, but the atmosphere was tangible. Damp grass beneath us, the indescribable age and weight of the stones around. Dawn chorus loud in our ears, sheep and cows calling to each other from nearby fields. Security guards keeping watch, smiling, and tourists eagerly snapping away with their cameras. And the two people that we were ministering to, dressed so beautifully, nervously waiting to join hands and step forward.

It struck me later in the day that we ticked so many of the perceived ‘Druid’ boxes in that brief moment – Stonehenge, robes, Awen, sunrise, chanting… performance.

It was the last in a long month of travel, performing ritual for many, many people across the land, and while being honoured to do so, becoming aware of how very tired we now were.

But life doesn’t stop. My partner still has his day-job, and I have my own work. Self-employed means, I’ve found, working far longer hours than I ever did in an office, and for less pay. The perks are there, of course, but the life of a writer – as many others have remarked upon – can be a lonely one.

This is the balance which we are currently living: walking the line between the powerful energy of public ritual, and the private needs of two people. Bills still have to be paid, pets walked, housework done. But also articles written, talks booked, deadlines met… and of course the endless emails!

Please don’t think I’m complaining, by the way. This is the life I have carved out, so different from what I expected years ago when asked that awful question: ‘So, where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?’ Nobody can answer that, not really. Life is seldom that straightforward.

However, from the initial problems that I faced when starting out on this path – the combining of ‘real’ everyday life and my spirituality, finding time for ritual, questioning my ethics and challenging the integrity of my practice – I’ve come to realize that very little has actually changed. Although I now call myself ‘Druid’ publicly, those issues remain; they’ve just grown larger.

It’s less of an issue of finding time for ritual, more about finding time for personal work, private time. My way of life is constantly challenged, as now I often represent more than just myself, especially when standing up for The Pagan Federation or The Druid Network. As I told those who attended a recent talk, when you begin to identify publicly as a Pagan (Druid/Witch/etc), when you give yourself that label, people expect certain things – or they’ll be watching curiously, to see what that label really means. You’ll become that wee bit more accountable.

I’ve been challenged in person a lot recently as well. That tired old question, asked in terribly self-righteous tones, of ‘How can you call yourself a Druid?’ How dare you do what you do?

I feel as if I’ve answered this so many times. No doubt I’ll have to again. Sometimes the manner of the questioning hurts, deeply. But as my patience wears thin with lazy questions, backed up by ill-informed arguments, I’ve felt my pride in my work step up to answer.

See those stereotypes at the beginning of this post? Stonehenge, Druids, all that? I did that, yep. I will again. And not for me – for those who asked. My own practice was not at all a factor in that ritual, as it is not in any that I perform for other people. As Priest, I represent my path, my homeland, the Powers that Be as they are perceived… by and for those for whom the ritual is being conducted. I stand there in service to their need. My experience tailored to assist in the duty which I perform. If all you can see is the theatre, the robe and staff, then you need to look deeper.

I work bloody hard, every day, in service. My email box is full of questions, requests for help, tasks to fulfil. And so I am working – yes, in terms of hours of labour – for my Community, as a Druid. Because that’s what they want of me.

By this, I do actually feel the appropriateness of the word, as it ties to our ancestors. Of course we don’t know what the ancient Druids did, not in any detail. But we know that throughout human history, people have lived, loved, been born and died. Rites of passage have been crafted to mark important events. Support has been needed in times of crisis. Our ancestors did this, and so do I.

This world in which I live is so far removed from that of those ancestors that I doubt they’d recognise it – from the construction of my home to the food that I eat. The Britons have moved forward, after all: in our learning, our technology, our philosophy, our way of life (and our named identity). The specific acts of the ancient Druids would likely be irrelevant now, if they were transplanted wholesale into modern life. Modern Druids don’t forget, but we must remain relevant.

My work as Druid, as Priest, has to reflect my tribe, those who call upon me. I love history and archaeology, but I can’t be worrying about the precise ‘authenticity’ of ritual, for example (which we can’t know anyway). My concern is acting with honour and integrity for those who do ask – whether it’s for practical, tangible help, or just information and teaching. My relationship with my community is not theoretical, with dogmatic dictates or Company Policies – it’s real! Each person, each situation, each ritual request is unique. I treat them as such.

Incidentally, this is not romantic or glamorous, idealised, all flowery language and floaty robes. It’s the ultimate in practical. My robes have to survive all conditions, but so do my mind and body. Weddings are beautiful, but they’re also times of enormous stress for those involved. As are funerals and births – rites of passage which we will experience in all their bloody glory. Those times of terrible crisis where spirituality is so very necessary but which cannot provide easy answers. I’ll still be there, when called. And I think that’s the line at which modern ‘clergy’ will rise or fall.

I stepped up to this task, forced by circumstance and not entirely sure how well I was going to succeed. I was aware (and have since been reminded!) that by standing up publicly, I would be exposing myself to all those slings and arrows of others, those who disagree, who hate, who have no wish to engage or understand. And so I do.

My work is like that of any other person, when undertaken willingly and conscientiously. It can be difficult and tiring, with long days (and nights), challenges and doubts. On other days, it might be full of laughter, utterly fulfilling, glorious and awe-inspiring. My ‘everyday’ life has merged with my ‘spiritual’ life – it’s up to me to maintain that, to keep my own integrity of practice so that I might share that within my work. If I become complacent, blase, egotistical, then it will show – and I’ll fall on my face. Then have to pick myself up and carry on. My Gods constantly challenge me, whether in the form of energetic overload and burnout, or through a grilling from a well-informed journalist!

My resolve always was to do my best. I mean that; it’s the cornerstone of what I do. The difficulty right now is doing my best for myself and my immediate family, as well as those who are calling on me – keeping that balance steady so that one side does not tip the other into chaos.

Those of you who’ve spoken with me know that I value honesty, realistic spirituality (no, not at all an oxymoron!) and truly living your own life. I do my best – that is my promise.

I want to respond to those who challenge me in turn. I love what I do, I’m honoured and proud to do it. Can you say the same? Are you trying to help, by your questions, to encourage and explore? Or just raise yourself up by bringing others down?

I try to help, to bring joy or resolution, to inspire and inform. So…

What is your work doing?

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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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Dreams of Space

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful turn of phrase. “You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming?”

Sometimes dreams are so vivid, you wake up not knowing where you are. The world’s turned upside down as you’re forcibly pulled from one world to another. Sometimes you fight to return to a wonderful dream; others, you’re fighting to escape.

Last night, I had a nightmare so vivid that I woke up utterly confused, the realness of it so complete that I was almost bereft – at the same time as feeling glad, in the way of children repeating ‘It was just a dream, it was just a dream.’

I was searching for a place – my place. In the dream, this was a room that I had the key for, but which I kept being misdirected to. Rather than trying to escape from anywhere, I was sent wandering in circles through many different places, continually questing to find my place, where I could rest. Frustrated and tired, I found the room, turning that key in the door. It was beautiful, I was awed. But there were others there. It wasn’t actually mine at all.

Now, I have no doubt that psychologist-types out there will be making of that what they will. But the sense of that dream stayed with me long after I’d awoken. How often are we searching for our own space in life, whether this is a quest for freedom or just safety? Can any physical place be truly ‘ours’ – or is this just a state of mind? Or even nothing more than a dream?

The question of whether we can truly be ‘free’ is a philosophical debate that has run for many years, and will no doubt run for many more. Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ (from ‘No Exit‘) deals with it in terms of society and claustrophobia; the modern thriller movie ‘The Cube‘ unpacks the question of why we are here at all. Both are nightmarish, forcing the audience to face difficult concepts, but ones that we live with every day.

‘Freedom’ may be subjective, but I’m thankful for the fact that in the society in which I live at this time, I have enough freedom to be living more or less as I wish, with those I love, in a home of my own. And that I’m free to be writing this without fear of censure. Each of those things is a gift, which it’s easy to take for granted.

But our own ‘space’ is a little harder to define – for me, anyway. For some folk, it’s simple – demarcate with your ‘Stuff’, preferred decor, clear boundaries. Yet if you live cheek by jowl with family members, in a small apartment, in a loft, on a boat, or even in prison, personal space is brief and precious. It can be as necessary as locking oneself into the bathroom for a few minutes, or closing a door while housemates have gone out for a while. But such space is temporary. Energies inevitably ebb and flow, like strong-smelling cooking or loud music through a thin wall. That physical area may be ‘yours’, but others will intrude (knowingly or involuntarily). This may drive us to varying levels of crazy, but it still happens and we have to deal with it.

Being aware of boundaries is fairly crucial to Druidry. Where ‘you’ end and someone/thing else ‘begins’ – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, politically, energetically…

The ground inside a ritual circle is approximately of the same composition as the ground outside – except when we set the intention of that space through our work. And that circle isn’t just a circle at all: it’s a sphere, demarcating ground above, ground beneath and air around. Within which we stand – alone, and/or working with the combined energies and presences of others. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, yet that’s one of the basics of Pagan practice. No wonder beginners get overwhelmed easily.

But this, I think, illustrates personal and shared space. I may have ‘cast’ the circle, but that space is not truly ‘mine’ in terms of possession. I don’t ‘own’ the earth or the creatures in it, the trees around, birds, insects. Those innocently passing by have no idea what I’m doing. One fellow blithely wandered right through a ritual circle I was working on recently – with a cheery “hello”, but entirely ignorant. I had to laugh and carry on, factoring this in. No space can truly be ‘yours’ (nor truly ‘clean’), nor should such an impossibility be attempted.

But the space can be set for purpose. If that purpose is peace, safety, security, somewhere you can breath out and rest; or a workplace, designed to inspire thought and ideas. You cast your intention, pattern it with physical items that help (including such sensory tricks as incense or lighting), and voila – a cosy living room, inviting kitchen or sensual (yet restful) bedroom.

As humans, as individuals, we need to express ourselves and feel comfortable in places where we spend our time. Notably, our workplaces: a Dilbert-style office cubby-hole can be made personal and inviting (despite the best efforts of Health & Safety!). Our cars reflect our music tastes, or even our spirituality with rear-view mirror ornaments. I have a tiny Hedwig soft-toy under the dash, given to me as a ‘safe travel’ blessing.

And of course, there’s our bodies themselves, adorned with chosen clothing and jewellery, tattoos and perfumes. Exactly the same as our ancestors did, and our future ancestors will. We set our bodies as our own space, yes – but even this can be ‘shared’ (as anyone who’s allowed themselves to be ‘ridden’ by Deity will confirm). We rarely face the world naked; when we do, that in itself is a powerful statement, of both vulnerability and strength.

I think that my dream was reflecting my current concern about my work-life balance – or lack thereof. While I have set out ‘office-space’ in my home, what I do necessitates long hours, which is wonderful when inspiration hits in the small hours of morning or evening. But it’s very hard to walk away from. Conscientiousness goes too far – I find myself fretting over jobs not done, making it difficult to switch off and truly relax. My energy suffers, and I end up easily depleted and fatigued.

Ultimately, I need to reaffirm my boundaries. This does not mean panicking when others ‘invade my space’, whether physically or via telephone or email. I love what I do. But I need to reclaim my own space to recharge, reconnect, remember. Or I won’t be any use to anyone at all, let alone myself.

We can’t lose our sense of selves if we wish to be effective energy-workers – or workers at all. If we are truly aiming to help others, we need to be strong and fuelled, yet flexible and ready for anything. Because the Universe will throw it at us, if it thinks we need that wake-up challenge.

So I woke up. I will again tomorrow. With those I love, in my home, working within my community. I have the key to my space. Now to honour myself as I honour you all.

Questing & Magic: Painting inspired by my book (copyright Kenneth Walker 2012, may not be reproduced without permission)

 

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