Posts Tagged story

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 for 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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Still Singing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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To Live Your Story

Stories have always been at the heart of my life. From the earliest days of having them read to me, to learning to read myself… and then I was off and running! I’ve often been accused of being a ‘book addict’, but my argument is that it’s at least a non-lethal addiction, and certainly less expensive than some alternatives.

Image taken from here (used without permission but with grateful thanks).

As a species, we have always told stories. The camp-fire tale is one of the oldest, and most fundamentally thrilling fiction (maybe) out there. It developed into the ballad, the urban myth, the mass-marketed best-seller. And from time to time, great stories are told that really make an impact on the wider world – whether re-telling the Hero’s Journey (eg Harry Potter) or reflecting society back at itself in the form of entertainment: almost a subtle satire, as the Ancient Greeks knew.

The Druids were famed for their storytelling. The Bard, wandering the land carrying the tales of the tribes, as well as forming new histories based on current events. From intentionally formal anecdotes to mythological allegories, he (or she) held the secrets of land and people, and was valued accordingly. The Bard would be welcomed at hearth and table from ancient times up to the middle ages, until the advent of the printing press. And while books are my passion, an imaginative experience inside my head, nothing compares to having a tale told – as live theatre can/not compare to a movie. It’s a skill that is as rare in the modern world as it ever was – true inspiration cannot be taught, it must be experienced and developed.

The popularity of different themes in modern children’s storytelling comes in waves. The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books of the 80s, I recall, as well as  Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; Diana Wynne Jones in the ’90s. Then, of course, the aforementioned Potter deluge, itself performing the minor miracle of getting otherwise apathetic kids back into bookstores and libraries. Recently, however, an altogether different trend has been forming.

I’m not sure if it was the first, but when I encountered ‘The Hunger Games‘, I was, like so many others, both shocked and drawn in. From the ancient tale of Theseus, combined with the popcorn, throwaway soundbites of reality television, this story (and now movie) is no magical Potterverse. There seems to be a new wave of books for Young Adults (a relatively new genre in itself) looking at dystopian futures… and, in the process, performing the original role of a ‘viral’ story that passes from mouth to mouth: that of the learning experience.

An ancient tale is pushed into the future, by way of a satire on modern habits. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in a given situation – this is hardly a true children’s book, but it carries a clear moral, like any good fairytale. I do wonder if parents know what their youngsters are reading – and I’m amazed (and very glad) that the movie was made at all!

Because these books are teaching young people to THINK. They’re encouraging the ‘outsider’ to take pride in themselves, to use their skills to survive – something that every kid learns early on in the schoolroom, with its political cliques and strange ‘norms’. It may be considered escapist fiction, but these tales are actively encouraging the questioning of authority, the importance of individual thought, and the strength to speak up and act against a failed system. This is almost revolutionary. Not the punk kicking-out of the ’80s, but articulate and active anarchism, in its truest sense.

The news often speaks to us these days of young people in gangs, getting shot or stabbed for trivial reasons, but rarely goes into detail as to the reasons behind it. Far easier to blame ‘society.’ But writers – notably John Wyndham and Roald Dahl again – have always known that in each generation, adults who have distanced themselves from their children (not always by choice) can feel afraid, threatened by the strangeness of these curious, active, questioning strangers in their homes. The Childcatcher still scares us – that somehow warped adult whose specific function is to Shut Children Up (we never do find out what he does with those he’s caught, do we?).

Children challenge, in their quest to make sense of the world. Adults should, but many seem to forget how. Sometimes it may be easier to allow the television to become a nanny, but that won’t be enough. Censors have never understood that banning something, or allowing it to be omitted, simply encourages folk to go looking for what they’re not permitted to see.

Many parents I know today delight in teaching their youngsters, encouraging them to explore, read, play. If you’re old enough to ask questions, you’re old enough to hear answers – but they must be conveyed in a way that enables understanding. Television is a mass-market medium, and cannot always provide this.

But while advertisements and a certain type of children’s television seems to actively encourage being ‘one of the herd’ – having the latest style of clothes, make-up, trendy toys, shoes and so forth – there are these quietly subversive texts appearing. Very well written indeed (far removed from the insipid, unquestioning escapism of a certain glittering vampire series), their voices are being heard.

What stories are we telling, then? With our cynical whingeing (look at any national News broadcast), sense of doom rather than optimism, lack of encouragement to do anything because everything is depressed – in mind, body, spirit and bank account.

Or are we following the example of these children who live in worlds far worse than we could ever realize (I hope)… and discovering our own skills, our priorities, what we need to know and do to actively survive? It’s not about greed, acquisition, consumption – it’s about discovery, true friendship, inner truth, and living life well against adversity.

The world may have gone mad, but the storyteller still walks among us. Are you listening? And what is your  tale adding to that of those around?

Further reading:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

The Mall, by S.L. Grey

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

And general dystopian fiction of the moment to choose from at Goodreads.

Image found on random search on pInterest (if source available, please let me know to update)

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A Need for Magic

This topic really has snagged in people’s heads, hasn’t it… reading Nimue’s lovely words today, I’ve found myself pondering magic yet again.

Make the most of it. It means more blog posts, after all 😉

Today for me, it’s the reason why it’s so inspiring, why the idea of magic is tantalising to us all, in this technological, cynical modern age. Essentially this is a philosophical discussion, but one to which we can all relate at some level.

As I write this, I’ve been watching a documentary about Shakespeare. There’s a debate going on about magic in ‘The Tempest’, and how Shakespeare infused that play with tricks to draw the audience into his world, to break down barriers between the everyday and the mystical, to suspect disbelief and create wonder (and horror). Words, music, visuals, all combine with that intention – ingredients, the recipe for the tale. Shakespeare casts his spell very well indeed.

Inspiration struck. The light-bulb came on above my head, as the words of those who’ve written in the last few days combined with words spoken for the last 400 years (and I smile, feeling daft that this hadn’t occurred to me before).

We need magic. If not some ultimate, true ‘power’, then magic as an idea, a hope, an aspiration… in terms of something more, something to instil in us that joy of living, freedom to laugh honestly and truly, to really be ourselves.

Perhaps forgotten since we were children, we can be reminded of that feeling while immersing ourselves in a magical situation. Stories are a good example: I’ve certainly forgotten myself while watching a play, totally caught up in the action of those only feet away from me caught in a scripted tale, trapped by fate into their roles, telling so many messages and ideas in one overarching tale. Red works her magic with fingers and toes buried deep in the earth of her garden; Nimue in the flow of the water around her river-home. Connected with the magic as it is part of life.

We haven’t found the answers to our questions of life in the doctrines of religion, the codes of mathematics or the experiments of science. We can’t buy it, no matter how hard we may fool ourselves into thinking so. We are all seeking – and the idea of magic lets us believe, just for a moment, in tangible possibility.

I’m not disparaging any of those methods, by the way. As I said before, a holistic way of living incorporates whatever works to achieve a complete objective. Separate colours do indeed combine into a larger picture.

However, I think that this quest is one of the main reasons that folk are seeking Pagan paths these days, coming full circle through the innovations of technology and now looking back, realizing that some things were lost that may be needed.

While Pagan folk don’t have convenient and easy answers any more than anyone else, as in my last blog post, we learn, move forwards and guide as we go. The gradual openness of previously ‘occult’ (ie hidden) knowledge is encouraging exploration and investigation, meaning and potential. The reasons why we choose not to cast fireballs or have animals clean our houses.

Of course, as Red said, this can lead to ‘quick fix’ options, as much as any mode of thought that’s not fully understood. But some people don’t want to be priests; they’re just looking for something to help them day to day… as we all do, at one level or another. We all wish each other ‘good luck’, or ‘bless you’ after a sneeze – usually with a wink and a smile – and there’s superstition, finding connection and meaning in a casual verbal touch. It’s hard to put into words how you feel when you wish a feeling onto another, to elaborate your intention, but sometimes a simple ‘touch wood’ or ‘cross fingers’ speaks volumes of hopes and dreams. That’s a start.

Druidry does contain magic – to me, there’s no doubt of that. It has no intrinsic moral code, other than what we give it. The wildness of nature, the evolution of life, the verbal, emotional and tangible connections that we feel every day of our lives, each contains its own magic. It’s just up to us to open our eyes and truly see it – responsibly, with awareness but with that inspiration still bubbling up within our hearts and our souls.

We seek magic at a level that is appropriate to us. Then, as bloody-minded Druids, we challenge it and look deeper, into the creative pot. That’s where we start making our own.

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