Posts Tagged story

Light in the Dark

This week has been particularly difficult for me (and many others, I suspect). Despite the lights appearing to signify the Yuletide season, it’s proving more difficult to penetrate the darkness within as the days we battle through grow shorter.

I’ve not been able to do much at all. Helpful medical voices ask ‘What do you normally do to make yourself feel better?’ To which I want to yell ‘DON’T YOU THINK I’VE TRIED ALL THAT?!’

But I haven’t really, have I? Because I can’t. The dark thoughts prevent me – from focusing on a pleasing book, finding a distracting movie, concentrating on complex creativity. Several times this week, I’ve been unable/unwilling to even move from my chair, for fear of what might happen.

Instead, I’ve found myself thinking of ‘safe’ places from my past. Like a child having nightmares, I’ve reached out to memories of refuge, which was often needed in years gone by.

I would spend many lunchtimes at school hiding under the watchful eye of that most dreadful of gatekeepers: The Librarian. A friend to me, none of those who wished to bully me would brave her door, and so I was safe with Anne McCaffrey, the Dragonlance heroes, or any number of other fantastic and wonderful worlds.

Years later, other lunch-hours were spent in warm cafes, soft jazz in the background as I lost myself in different books. Times had changed, but circumstances hadn’t: my bullying boss would never look for me there.

On trains, in tiny secret green spaces, even walking through the streets with audiobooks being read to me, I would find solace and security in tales of wonder and magic.

Years later (again), I found myself drawn to true stories of magic: Phyllis Currott, Starhawk, Margot Adler. Wonderful, strong women who taught through their own experiences of things never thought possible.

The magic began to spill from the books into reality, as I dove deep to explore the power within me. Words, yes, but whether spell or story, I could do this. I could do magic too!

Today, I opened a book that would ordinarily be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, perhaps. Magic, romance, battles, monsters… all those wonderful things that those who love ‘The Princess Bride‘ know make for the best stories.

At last, the words caught me. I was able to turn the pages, experience the thoughts of the protagonists, see the challenges that they faced and overcame.

As I paused, a thought occurred. This week, I had revisited the very depths of that black hole within me, of illness, fear and sorrow. I hadn’t been able to pull myself out, because I could not focus on my familiar lifeline. The tactics of that Black Dog, Depression, had cunningly found a chink in my armour. By drowning my brain with a morass of negativity, self-hatred and exhaustion, I hadn’t been able to access these otherworlds. Books remind me of what is good, what is worth living for. By preventing me from seeing the words, stymying that connection, I had no way to escape my own internal oubliette. Or even notice that such an escape was possible.

It may sound strange to one who has never felt the touch of mental illness, but it really does seem like a cunning monster – hence all of the personification names. I rather like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’, but lately I’ve also become fond of ‘brain weasels’ (with no disrespect to either of those real-world animals). Either way, the monsters within try innumerable methods of breaking down your defences, until they find a weakness to exploit.

GK Chesterton (and subsequently Neil Gaiman) famously said: “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

We find the weapons we need within the pages of magic. We see ourselves in the heroes and heroines, both old and new. We tell each other stories, as I do here, in my small way.

Because the power of the monsters within comes from convincing us that we have no power. We have no magic, are unable to stop ourselves from being overwhelmed, because we lack the ability to fight back. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the perpetual spiral down into the depths.

It doesn’t take much to think of stories that specifically focus on this. ‘The Neverending Story‘ is a battle against The Nothing. ‘Labyrinth‘ is a girl fighting to find her own power. Both feature disgusting swamps that drag you down and make you give up. As does the aforementioned ‘Princess Bride’.

Go back further. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has flowers of forgetfulness and an all-powerful Witch. Odysseus almost gives in to the song of the Sirens. The original Labyrinth of Knossos swallowed up many souls…

… until the protagonist remembered the way to get through. In each case, friends provided lifelines to help the hero dig deep, to remember what they were fighting for. To keep going, to endure, to make it. (Depression isolates us, remember – another of its tactics).

I have talismans that help remind me of my own power. Sometimes they’re inspiring quotes; other times, comforting blankets, or gifts from friends. Whatever works to help me remember my connection to my own magic, to the life that exists in me and the world around.

Other physical, real-world people may seek (intentionally or not) to take that power away. But this is only possible to long as we allow it. That seems hard to believe, but it’s true.

Last night, my husband said to me something both simple and profound. ‘You know, you are allowed to say No to things you don’t want to do.’

This struck my exhausted brain surprisingly hard. I can do that? Really? Because the Black Dog had been using examples from the past to show me that this is precisely what I could not do. I had to keep my Chin Up and Soldier On. Other people, Authority People, said so.

No.

I sought comfort today, not just the urge to hide. Recharge, not just regroup. Remember that there was always power within me. Stories had always been my lifeline to that: my breadcrumb trail, my ball of yarn (as well as real balls of yarn, of course, but those arrived in more recent times!).

I thought back to those tales of true magic, from modern-day witches, bards and magicians. Every one spoke at one time or another of fighting ‘demons’ – almost like a computer game, through which we access the ‘next level.’ Stories reflecting real-world experience, and so inspiring progress. An upward spiral…

By simply surviving, by refusing to give up that last flicker of power, we win. By stepping forward, by raising our own voice, we share that power with others who may need the reminder. We can be the inspiration, the spark of Awen, the flame in the dark. Someone will hear, you can depend on that.

Sometimes, the Black Dog overwhelms and makes us forget this. Part of my battle is fighting to remember, to hold on and to Stand.

I think now of that modern fairytale, of Keanu Reeves reaching out to gently stop the bullets aimed at his heart, plucking them out of the air with that same realization as Dorothy, Sarah and Bastian.

And so on this tiny page amidst the myriad words on this InterWeb, I share this. As a reminder.

Go rekindle your candles, my friends. Inside and out. May they warm you and help you to remember your stories.

Advertisements

Comments (2)

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.

Comments (2)

Writing

I stare at the white screen. Type a few sentences, delete them. Nothing seems to fit. Just write what comes, I tell myself (an old tactic, which I remember first trying in University one frustrated afternoon).

This blog post has been rustling around my brain for a while, but for some reason, has been tricky to get out. But you know when something needs to be ‘birthed’ creatively into the world when your subconscious essentially tells you to PUT DOWN WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GET ON WITH IT. Now.

The germ of these thoughts didn’t start the other week in Glastonbury, but it was crystallised there. Glastonbury is a lovely place, but as you may know, the High Street is a beacon for all things ‘New Age’ and alternative. No bad thing in itself, but there is a lot of Stuff there. Crystals, wands, drapey clothing, pretty statues, cauldrons, pentagrams everywhere… and of course, the books.

Of course, I have no problem with bookstores. I love them with a passion, I would spend so much time (and money) in them if I could, and I really do wish that the most interesting little ones would stop having to close down. I even loved Borders, because it had more than just the heavily marketed publisher-pushed Trendy Books that everybody else had. Reading was accessible. Plus, of course, the feel of a bookshop. The scent of the pages and bindings, the feeling of stories all around just waiting for cover to be cracked… nothing like it.

And indeed, I spent time in the Glastonbury bookshops, buying a few gems, which I’m still enjoying.

But I stepped out of their doors also feeling rather sad. Because of the sheer overwhelming amount of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love information, and the variety of opinion that goes along with learning. I’ve always been against censorship (which has got me in trouble in the past). This was more personal.

There is so much Stuff out there on Paganism, Witchcraft, Druidry, all of that… what can I possibly contribute without just adding to the pile?

Things have been very quiet for me in recent months on the writing front. I’ve been exploring the idea of inspiration as a result, and will continue to do so in my ‘Drops of Awen‘ blog. I’ve been researching ideas that I don’t know much about and would like to explore. Generally speaking, though, I’ve been suffering a little from a ‘dry spell’. Writers block? Perhaps, but I’ve still been proud of what has been produced, so maybe not exactly that.

I’ve spoken before about the pressure on authors from readers to Write More, dammit! Many bestselling authors (notably Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) have responded with the reasonable retort that you might have to wait if you want something that’s going to be worth waiting for. Writing takes time. I understand that Scott Lynch (author of the ‘Gentleman Bastards’ series) suffers badly from depression, which caused a delay in his last book – but the fans were lovely and waited, glad when it finally arrived. I’m sure that knowledge helped.

The writing and production of ‘Facing the Darkness’ was not easy. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, given the subject matter, but it was challenging every step of the way. But the response has been beyond wonderful, and I cannot adequately express my thanks for that.

So what next, of course? What can I add to the pile?

Given the easy accessibility of pretty much anything these days, I see so many creative people giving up before they begin for this same reason. Why bother? There’s so many out there who are better than me, let’s leave it to them. And sometimes, simple (and deceptively complex) fear and self-doubt are enough to make that empty page absolutely unconquerable.

The thing to remember, I tell myself (right now, as a matter of fact), is that I love to write. I always have. Messing about with words on a page, telling a tale – truth or fiction (and the difference can easily blur) – and then that indescribably brave step of actually putting those words Out There, into the world, for Other People to read… I know many who don’t even get that far. I tell them they should try. It’s not about being The Best – it’s about letting your voice be heard, at the very least.

Writing can be lonely, masochistic, frustrating, depressing… but also beyond rewarding, so joyful, inspiring in the act of doing and just simply my own creative outlet. I do firmly believe that we all need/have one, it’s just about finding it. And then doing it. Even when you don’t want to. Especially then.

These blog posts usually take a while to write, as I go back and forth, tweaking and amending. I haven’t with this one. Stream of consciousness, here it is, flowing along. And it has, because it clearly needs to come out, to be said.

I have ideas. It’s just a matter of being brave enough to articulate them, to encourage understanding and inspiration. I don’t just write for the sake of it – I write because I have something to say, ideas to share and throw around with others, and because, quite simply, I love it.

I’m sorry for the dry spell. It will probably happen again. But I do try hard to overcome it and move forward, as always. Thank you so much for your patience, my lovelies.

On we go.

(And the knowledge that I have a third book, several articles and other blog posts to write isn’t frightening at all…!) 😉

Comments (5)

Fantasy in Reality

I love fantasy. You might have guessed from previous posts, but I’ve always been an avid reader – stories fuel my life. Fantasy is a big part of this, be it the warped dystopian worlds of current ‘trendy’ fiction, the lost 1920s worlds of Agatha Christie, or (of course) Papa Tolkien. There are bandwagons and there are original writers who explore and subvert. All have something to say.

I’ve been seeing a lot of social media lately, however, in which people are looking at fantasy more and more as escapism. The world is a difficult place, and we need somewhere ‘safe’ to retreat to, somewhere better, just for a while.

This is completely fine. It’s an agreed function of those same stories, after all, from the fairytales of childhood to the myths of legend: to lose ourselves in the lives of others, to forget our problems, to imagine alternatives (potentially involving dragons). We need heroes when life seems just mundane, or when our own lives seem less than magical.

But it worries me a little when escapism becomes the sole function of fantasy, or fiction generally. It’s ‘just’ escapism, if you will. The story is denigrated, the humans experiences and lessons passed on as nothing more than fairytale… while missing the obvious truth that ‘fairytales’ are some of the most powerful stories of all.

Or we actively seek to live in such realms as an alternative to this one, like a reenactor who’s forgotten that he’s returned to work on a Monday and reaches for his sword… only to find a mobile phone.

Pagan folk speak of having ‘a foot in both worlds’ – meaning the world of spirit and this everyday realm – but that still requires a solid understanding and awareness of both. It’s advisable to not choose one over another, because that way lies madness. Perspective is crucial, but it can, of course, be easily forgotten with the wonder of spirit seems clearly preferable to the deluge of utility bills, or when the office seems more important than the home.

While recognising the (occasionally satirical) aspects of this world in those of fantasy, it’s certainly a good idea to notice the magical, fantastic parts of our everyday homelands. After all, these are what inspired the fantasy in the first place: London for Ankh-Morpork, perhaps, or Middle England for Middle Earth. We walk the streets of fantasy every day, in our own lives.

I’ve encouraged others to explore the heroic in themselves – and always receive the response ‘Oh, there’s nothing special about me’… followed by the most amazing story of something they’ve accomplished or felt.

We’re not encouraged to see the everyday as fantastic, because we take it for granted. Yet when telling our stories to another person, we’re surprised by their reactions, as they listen wide-eyed and ask questions in enthusiasm. Perspective again – everything seems normal from inside our heads, but may be absolutely marvellous to others. And certainly worth remembering and retelling.

We walk with a foot in both worlds every day. It’s just up to us to open our senses to see.

Comments (1)

One Week

Last Monday, I wrote about the turbulence of recent weeks. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the days that followed, just seven small spans of hours… but during which, so much has happened.

I’ve driven over 400 miles, for those who’ve asked. To minister good times and bad, celebration and tragedy. To mark once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and to honour the passing of times we hope never to face.

I’ve invited those in need into my home, to tell their tale and be heard. The medicinal value of tea and a caring arm is so simple, yet beyond price.

I’ve connected over thousands of miles with others, to chat and laugh, and be amazed by their stories. Technology lets us be heard.

I’ve walked the streets near my home, seeing familiar landscapes change and evolve. I’ve seen history marked by local children, in the Derbyshire tradition of well-dressing.

I’ve felt the sacred, tangibly, with every sense. The grass beneath my feet, a deluge of rain on my face. Warm sunlight, cool breezes. Mist-wreathed mountains, impossibly blue waters.

I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve cheered and mourned. I’ve created, given every scrap of my energy where it’s needed, and then fallen into exhausted dreams.

I’ve felt the pain of dishonour, frustration, broken promises, hurtful words. I’ve felt the joy of love, happiness, commitment, truth, inspiration. My breath has caught in my throat as words failed me. I’ve been both awed and angered at the actions of others.

I have born witness and held stories. Life is being lived – with all of its ups and downs. I walk my path.

This is my Druidry.

Comments (3)

The Joy of Inspiration

I consider inspiration: what it means and how it’s key
To so much of our own heritage, to my own Druidry.
A tricky word, it holds so much, and yet hides so much too
Inspiration doesn’t rhyme well, so the old bards thought that through!

Inspiration is a joy because it tells us what to do…

Except…

It doesn’t really, does it? It’s a bit more of a guide
An incitement, an incentive – a sneak peak to look inside.
To go just a little deeper, really forage and explore
To ask ourselves those questions, to find what we’re looking for.

We call out to the Awen, those three rays that reach so far
From deep inside our tiny minds, out to the furthest star.
Go back through time, through stories, through the blood that holds our land
Inspiration is our joy because it helps us understand.

Except…

Well, no, that’s not quite true, is it? It’s as much a mystery
As any of those spirit paths, down which we hope to see.
Small words can only touch the song, the greater melody
And yet how potent is the tale, what is and what can be.

Inspiration is my joy because it sings TO and OF me.


(And sometimes, it flows out in a quick burst, formed in 20 minutes between household chores! A bit of doggerel to brighten your day, folks – hope it made you smile.)

Comments (2)

Listening

Yesterday, I was watching one of the nostalgia television shows that seem to be rife at this time of year. A children’s show of the 1990s had a phone-in game, where clues were given and a phrase had to be guessed by the young callers to win a prize. One rule: the phrase had to rhyme.

(Yes, those UK folk who remember such Saturday morning ‘wackiness’ may well know ‘Wonky Donkey’. Even if you weren’t there, does the name give you the idea?)

The presenter admitted that he would often go crazy into the camera lens, yelling at the audience, because each caller seemed not to understand that One. Little. Rule.  Kids called in and then just said anything, with no chance of winning because they just weren’t keeping to that simple statement. Were they not listening?!

It struck me then, just how apt this question is.

How often are we listening, really? We hear soundbites on the news and think we know the whole story. Someone tells an anecdote and we cast our own imprint onto it, subtly changing the tone, so that if we tell it in turn, it’ll be just that little bit different. Chinese Whispers in the everyday.

My partner is regularly frustrated by those who call Emergency Services demanding help, and yet on the basic request for their address, start shouting anything but – including ‘Why aren’t you here yet?’ Because they haven’t given the address, as asked. Such a little thing, subsumed by fear, lack of control, and sheer animal panic.

And yet, we always do know best, don’t we? It’s hard to shake the confidence of some people. You’re told a story that you know isn’t quite true, but when you try to correct the teller, it’s you who’s wrong (even if you were there at the time). The person who wouldn’t give their address may well report that the call-taker was stupid for not knowing (somehow) where he was, or what he wanted… despite this being impossible.

Modern technology doesn’t help. With the constant ‘What is your status?’ demand of social media, our interior monologue is constant, like the film noir voiceover as we narrate our own stories. We are the centre of our worlds, and therefore can’t comprehend data that we don’t understand, fitting it instead somehow into our worldview – even if that makes it very different to the truth. Despite the fact that the world is so complex, understanding any one tiny particle of it is a task in itself. Impossible to sum up in 140 characters.

It sometimes feels to me as if the world shifts with the telling (and mis-telling, and re-telling) of each story. Why does my recollection differ so drastically from what I’m hearing? Why is my knowledge of those ‘facts’ so different? Why does my side of a conversation seem to change in midair, as the response is so unrelated?

Ultimately, one crucial facet of the skill of listening is determining the motivation behind the story, the manner in which it’s told, the goal of the teller. What are they trying to achieve, what feelings do they want to evoke, reactions, emotions? As I said, each person colours their own tale to suit themselves. That’s part of the story. Different words carry different meanings to different people, after all.

We’re told (by Roman historians) that the ancient Bards used amazing mnemonic skills to recall verbatim the ancient sagas, passing on tales, family lineage and history, without tempering it in the slightest with their own personality, not even in the inflections of speech. This is a skill indeed (if true), and one which I think we have largely lost, despite our insistence sometimes on ‘proper’ versions of tales.

But then, I would question the value of such retelling. Is that not the other extreme? From randomly changing a story to not changing it at all? Everything changes, evolves, moves. Our understanding of history is coloured by our modern lives. Is anything we listen to truly neutral? And how valuable would it be if it was?

Part of my original Druid training was to simply listen. The simple part: to go out to a wild place in Nature, and do nothing. Sit and listen. Or walk and listen. Just hear – the birds, the trees, the small creatures, the shouts of children, aeroplanes far overhead. To feel myself in that picture of sound, my place within it, observing while being part of it.

Then the difficult bit: to listen when in the full flow of the everyday world. On train station platforms, in offices, on streets, in marketplaces, at home. The television, the radio, songs. What am I listening to? Why? What does it mean – no, really mean?

A child, screaming in a supermarket. Do you hear his words, what he wants? Or just the noise, as you will him to be quiet?

The simple phrase ‘I’m fine’ from a friend… who clearly isn’t. What are they trying to say, in the tones around the words?

A retelling of a much-loved story – Robin Hood, for example, or King Arthur. Are you hearing the flow of this story, or feeling it shaded by what’s gone before, your own experience of the tale, frustration at perceived errors?

This blog post, like most things I write, is in the hope of inspiring. Not guilt, not at all – we’re all guilty of the above faults, that’s just part of being a human in the world today. But without going back and re-reading, how much did you take in? How much of me did you ‘hear’, over the voice in your own head providing commentary? Were you judging my words, providing your own similar experiences, laughing or disagreeing? The tale is being told, here in black and white as I type. It’s being coloured by you, the reader, as you ‘listen’ to my virtual voice and make it your own.

Listen then, lovely readers, as you go about your life today. Feel the stories going on around you – and your part within that larger flow of time and space. Such a simple thing. Yet such a challenge.

What do you hear – and what do you understand?

Comments (8)

Older Posts »