Posts Tagged stories

Practical Druidry

Today has been busy. I’ve been working on the events surrounding my forthcoming book, updating handfasting ceremonies, planning tomorrow’s workshop, pondering Book 2…

Then I sat down to have a much-needed tea-break, and found this waiting to be watched:  ‘Chaplains: Angels of Mersey‘.

There really isn’t much about religion of any sort on television these days. With the need for equality, the media seems fairly nervous of even mentioning faith issues, for fear of offending somebody – which leaves very little in the way of information about any spiritual path (or the need for spirituality at all).

The stories of these chaplains, practical Priests in their communities, were absolutely inspiring.

I love hearing the tales of working priests. I’ve been almost assaulted in the past by lady vicars wanting to make friends, curious monks, confused academics – all with a story to tell, and eager to hear mine in turn. It’s a listening profession, after all, but with so much give and take, generosity and real heart, I feel quite privileged to be a subject of interest, and am fascinated by them in turn.

A lot of the stories are familiar. In these programmes, I’ve seen an Anglican vicar trying to engage students at a Freshers Fair; a hospital chaplaincy helping in a time of crisis; street pastors busy with Saturday night drunks.

I’ve got my own stories, of course. I’m sure they’d be of great interest to documentary-makers, but I’m only interested in media insofar as it allows me to show the wider public that Pagan Priests exist at all – that we’re there to help if needed. Certainly not to garner ‘fame’ (or notoriety) or pander to egos.

This makes me realize, every time, that my constant question is still there for me as well.

What Am I Doing?

Ultimately, I’m one person, sitting here, tapping away with a sleeping dog beside me, on the afternoon of Good Friday. A relatively quiet day. Yet busy with the list of tasks above, and more besides. Life is certainly interesting right now!

Please note: this is not (and never has been) about publicising myself. It actually occurred that I would probably be happy to give my book away for free to those who expressed interest – although my publisher would scalp me, and probably my bank manager too.

It’s about living as I promised. I’m out there, living my faith in my community (physical and virtual) in order to help others, whether Pagan, Christian, atheist, whatever.  That was my choice, and I stand by it.

However, I’ve noticed that Paganism generally seems to have become a very insular spirituality. While folk do seek others of like mind to meet up and chat, in pubs or at Camps, generally their practise is kept private, at home or in quiet places outside, alone. This may be due to fear of ridicule, actual need for secrecy because of misunderstanding, or just a preference for a solitary mode of worship; I’ve no problem with that at all. Ultimately, any conversation that you have with deity is just the two of you.

But is that doing us, as a faith-based community, a disservice? Is our self-imposed isolation stifling our spirituality, rather than allowing it to flourish in the real world?

I’m not suggesting we get out on the streets with leaflets, or knock on doors with copies of ‘Pagan Dawn.’ I’m asking how you express your faith outside of the safety of your own home/room/head-space. My Druidry lives in the places of darkness and difficulty as well as love and light.

For the last few months, I’ve been asking members of The Druid Network to send stories of any community projects they may be involved in. I’ve had very few replies.

I’ve asked local Pagan Federation members for ideas on meet-ups and events, to help our regional community. Again, virtual silence.

Yet my inbox has messages every day from people asking for information, meetings, events, a need for connection with others. It seems that everyone wants something provided for them as Pagans (Wiccans/Druids/Heathens/etc)… but nobody wants to be the instigator. Nobody is willing to stand up and live their faith publicly, to help others, or even just to inspire by their work or creativity. Apathy is easier than hard work.

Except, of course, for myself and the others who do. Some of whom slowly slide into the background again after a time, fed up of the politics of the wider Pagan world, with its egos and challenges; others who have been called ‘media tarts’ simply for standing up to represent their Paganism.

I have also noticed that those who shout others down, be it with anger or mockery, rarely stand up themselves to do the hard work. It’s easy to put on the appropriate garb and join in at a large gathering, or get vocal behind the veil of an internet group, but when a Priest is called upon to teach, minister a service or provide chaplaincy during a life crisis, those loud voices suddenly go quiet.

I know it’s difficult. Trust me, I know. Public Priesting is not at all for everyone.

But it’s not so difficult to get out and honour yourself and your Gods by quiet actions in the world. An allotment or orchard project to bring pleasure to others and food to your family. Litter-picking as you take the dog for a walk, or the kids to school. Even volunteering to help your local space, be it Neighbourhood Watch, local environmental groups or charity work. Consider how best to connect your faith to your life, and do it. Take responsibility, rise to a self-imposed challenge. Be adventurous, explore – find your own quest!

Both The Druid Network and The Pagan Federation exist because of and for their members. Neither is about hierarchical religion or dogmatic dictat; they’re simply there to help. There are local equivalents – get in touch, make contact, grow that community. If you don’t like it, tell why, instigate change, add your voice to the song.

Paganism is incredibly diverse – that’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I may not understand everyone’s point of view, but I do my best to respect it, and not be afraid to ask to find out more. We all make up a kaleidoscopic picture, each working in their own way to represent themselves and their spirituality. How are you a part of that? How are you moving it forward – and how is it moving you forward?

I love to hear stories of these journeys too.

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Everybody Knows…

I’ve noticed that one of the most common conversation-starters recently is ‘You’re never going to believe this but…’ or ‘I’m not crazy but…’

When people find out that you may be even a little bit sympathetic or knowledgeable about ‘the supernatural’, the stories start flowing. Ghosts, strange experiences, things that you don’t talk about as a matter of normal life for fear of being mocked, embarrassed or locked up in a room with rubber walls and crayons.

This week, I heard some wonderful tales about a ghost kitten that plays with the living cats around a house, a policeman who still performs his duties in what is now a domestic residence, the comparative effect of personal energy levels based on the weather, crystals or other people… call it what you will, there are things in this world that are currently unexplainable, but commonly felt.

I’ve never studied science formally past GCSE level, but have become fascinated with quantum theory and the effect of energies as we discover more and more about this great universe. I once asked an online science forum whether there were any studies of human energies (eg auric fields and suchlike) with a view to investigating how they can affect and be affected by their surroundings. Given that we clearly produce energy – by being living beings – the response I received was rather surprising. “Why bother, what’s the point?” Basically, such theories would be ‘bad science’, and best left to the likes of Uri Geller.

And yet, the theory is clearly tacitly understood by most of us. The ‘Matrix’ movies openly suggest human bodies can be used as batteries. A unit of energy consumed and burned by every one of us every day is immediately familiar – the calorie. These are the same calories that can be quantified by burning any fuel: coal has a calorie content (bad news for those pregnant ladies out there).

One of the basic beginner lessons in most ‘magic’ or energy work texts is the simple game of rubbing your hands together fast, then separating them while still remaining aware of the charge between your palms. Once you become more skilled, you can become able to sense (or even see) the energies of others, or direct focused energy yourself. From using a wand, a staff or even your finger, most of us have been ‘zapped’ at one time or another – hence ‘grounding’ is also a crucial beginner lesson.

Short of being nervous of the unknown, I am puzzled as to why so many feel such familiar actions or mysteries are not worthy of study – perhaps because the empirical scientific method may not be able to accurately assign meaning and category easily. Surely Jung’s widely known theories of the collective unconscious are worth pursuing? If divination is bunkum, why is it still practised – and practised successfully? There are still many things to be discovered about both the world around us and ourselves in relationship – curiosity should be encouraged, not stifled!

As I said at the beginning,  a lot of people simply want to tell me about their experiences, with a look in their eyes that just hopes I understand. They’re not mad. They experienced something as real as a handshake, as solid as a wall, as visible and tangible as anything else around us. To be then told that this was somehow ‘not valid, not real’ is both disrespectful and, frankly, ignorant.

Why simply ignore another’s story? Dismissing someone without listening, without even attempting to understand, degrades them and prevents you from possibly learning something new. Even if it’s something so unusual, unfamiliar or frightening, I try my best to comprehend what they experienced, to listen to the tone beyond the words – why are they telling me? Do they expect me to have an explanation (sometimes), or just wanting to be heard (more usually)?

Yes, sometimes judgment is impaired. Sometimes there is misdirection going on, misunderstanding or simply assigning the unusual to a basic activity for the sake of excitement or a ‘wow’ factor. But still, it can make a good story! Very few tales are utterly worthless; there is always a reason behind the telling, as well as the ‘data’ involved. Is it worth exploring further? Maybe, maybe not – but we all know, inside, that everyone has experienced something unexplainable. It’s whether they are brave enough to look deeper, or not.

If you’re walking this path of modern paganism, you’ll have experienced so much unusual ‘stuff’ that it’s probably not even unusual anymore. That’s the next level – realizing that the ‘supernatural’ isn’t. Even if we can’t quantify it with statistics, what exists in nature is, by definition, natural. So our experience is immediately validated – let’s press on, try to see what it means.

We’re just starting to move clearly into the dark time of the year. People are starting to think about Halloween, ghost-walks are going on in town centres, the television is full of ‘alternative’ entertainment. Ultimately, we as society like a good story, and a ghost story around the campfire is a tradition as old as humanity. We come to learn about living with the unexplained because we have to – there’s not an easy answer to everything.

But as the scientist can explain the intricacies of a healing drug, the engineer the workings of technology, so the druid, shaman or priest can help with the stranger side of life. Yes, it can be silly or funny to hear about a ‘supernatural’ experience… but it can also be deeply disturbing. This is why most feel the need to share with an ‘specialist’. Why they come up to me and nervously stammer ‘you’ll probably think I’m nuts, but…’

No. I don’t. I’ll listen. And then we’ll see what next. We move on together, explore, work with that connection.

Life is full of magic and mystery, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s up to us what we make of it.

Keep exploring, friends. The fire’s burning over here, if you want to come and sit awhile.

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