Posts Tagged truth

Secret Strength

I’ve been finding mornings exceptionally difficult lately. I’m not sure why, but since the turning into Winter Proper (ie when the clocks changed), I’ve been finding it harder to get myself together and get on first thing. I’ve been feeling far more myself come evening, with the sunset bringing calm, the darkening skies like a beautiful, cool blanket.

However, most of the world seems to function during the daytime, so this hasn’t been helpful. It’s been interesting to see what I’m pulled to do at different times, with more creativity and inspiration in the darker hours, but increasing challenges during the day.

Today, I’ve been feeling the difficult thoughts trying to rise as I go about my morning routine. I’m meeting a lovely couple about a Handfasting later, so have to sort myself, walk the dogs, and so on. But my mind is incessantly telling me how I simply can’t.

This is my depression in action, by the way. I’m not making it up or being difficult – the Voice of Depression really doesn’t have your own best interests at heart (despite the foundation of ‘fight or flight’ that it apparently comes from). Its’ demands are often deeply irrational and usually unhelpful. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but this is where I am – not just the regular ‘Monday blues’.

And there – see? I’m justifying myself. It was tough enough to even pull out the computer and write (because who wants to hear about this, shut up, stop, you’re just boring everyone with your whingeing). There it is again, in the background. I suspect this is familiar to some of you. It’s ok, I get it. In a way, I hope you don’t understand, as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

This morning, I’ve been reading about lovely friends and their adventures, seeing their happy pictures on Instagram, bouncing footage from concerts on Facebook, tiny Tweets of ‘good morning!’ I can feel that connection across the media that is so prevalent in our world.

Last night, the words of these friends made me so happy, I sent out my own image, a Selfie taken at Stonehenge. I don’t do selfies generally, but this one made me smile, and I wanted to share me looking out of the screen at all of you lovely folk around the world.

The voice was still going, mind you. ‘Don’t do that, nobody wants to see it. Urgh, look at you, you’re so tired and worn-looking.’ etc etc etc.

But people did enjoy seeing my smile, as much as I enjoy seeing theirs. I’m hopeful that you enjoy reading my words this morning – hello! Image a virtual wave as I raise my coffee cup to you.

Blogging on a Monday was initially a kick in my rear to get writing again, with a deadline of sorts, a commitment to do something to share each week. But it was also with the wish of wanting to send out words to help those who also have difficulties with these early hours, or even the regular working days.

I may sound like I’m whingeing, above; but I’m more trying to show what those voices within can sound like. I don’t really mean it, and wouldn’t say it aloud. They don’t need that kind of power.

I’m nervous about presenting this publicly, so I’m typing super-fast in order to get it out before the doubts stop me. Backspacing only for typos. So I hope this is ok.

Oops – there’s that justification again.

I know that banishing negative thinking is a modern industry, but it’s not in any way as easy as the self-help books would have you believe. It’s finding what trick works for you, and that may change from day to day. What buoys your mood, what gives you strength? Maybe me sharing my nonsense voices; maybe looking out of the window on your commute; maybe greeting workmates or neighbours with a smile and a friendly word.

And sometimes, the tactic is more subtle.

I’m slowly giving myself permission to dress in a manner that I want, as I did as a fearless youngster. Ignore the voices that tell me my arse is horrible, my hair all over the place, that I’m too old, too fat. I’ve been looking at my smile, my woman-curves, remembering the value of a hug or a hand taken with love. I hold on to the look on my husband’s face when he sees me and is happier.

I’m trying to wear or use an item each day to keep reminded of my strength. It’s difficult to even type this – but yes, my beauty too. We all have it, absolutely. It’s just hard to remember.

I’m sending shawls to folks today, for them to be comforted and pretty. Sometimes lip-balm or colour is a tonic, to remind me to be aware of what I say, and to keep smiling. I have particular rings that I can grip, boots to stand tall… weapons and armour that I choose to wear and work with to maintain my Self. Especially when the bad thoughts come knocking.

What item do you have today to keep you going? A necklace, a wedding ring, a favourite hat or coat? This is part of you. It makes you feel better, raises a smile when you catch sight of it. It may inspire others too, as they are actually pleased to see you. This is your magic in action. Really really.

We need our strength these days, folks. And know that when folk speak kindly to you, they do mean it. Tell those inner voices to sod off, or just laugh in their (not really there) faces. See, I can do it too!

This is me. I bid you a Happy Monday, and know that I will be stepping out of my door soon with determination. And excited puppy dogs, fearless and glad to see what the world holds today.

Much love, my friends.

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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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Shields – Front and Back

I’m often asked about Shields. Usually it’s in context of energy work, protection, personal defence against negativity. That’s fine, as this is something that we will likely encounter in our lives and so have to deal with.

But how often do we consider what’s keeping those shields up, or what’s behind them?

All my life, I’ve been told what to think. Society does that, after all – from marketing billboards, to advertisements on television and via social media. But also from teachers, bosses, friends and family. Everyone has their ideas and wants to share them. I’m sharing my opinion right now.

The difficulty comes when someone is determined that their opinion is better, truer or more valid than your own. You have to give in to their Truth, because they’re right. End of discussion.

I wrote of Trolls yesterday, and suspect this is a logical progression. How do we deal with those who cross that line between a thoughtful suggestion and a demand? Often the root is intention – genuine caring versus a wish to dominate or ‘win’. Sometimes the demand stems from an insecurity – others must agree with this person, or they are somehow insulting him/her by insinuating that they are actually wrong.

I’m not going to get into that again today – I’m sure you all have experience of this to some extent. But it can be hard to deal with, and this is where the request for shields comes in.

Overbearing co-workers, demanding relatives, pushy friends… these aren’t Trolls, are they? They’re usually just other people who genuinely feel that they’re doing their best, without realising how uncomfortable they make us.

Or is it actually a problem with Me? Is it that I’m being challenged in ways I’m not comfortable with, and so want to hide rather than deal with the issues?

We throw our shields up and back away. These can be psychic/energetic or physical – going home and closing the door is a good reaction, to claim your own space once again! But once we’ve done that, then what?

We can whinge about the Troll or the person forcing their opinion. They don’t understand me. Sometimes that’s true, and we must respond accordingly.

But as we stand behind our shields, taking time to think, so we can place our feet, take a breath and consider ourselves as well.

What about this is making me uncomfortable? Is it the manner in which the ideas are being pushed, or do I genuinely disagree? Can I articulate my thoughts now, in this safe place? Am I able to consider a response, or would I prefer to keep hiding? I could always just leave, or avoid the person altogether…

We fuel our shields from our selves. If the ground beneath our feet is uncertain, so the protection will crumble; but if we are able to identify our own personal Truths, then our foundation is firm.

I read of a simple exercise to find your own Truth, to see what it feels like. Give it a try:

State your name: eg ‘I am Cat’.
Now state a wrong name: ‘I am Bernard’.

Can you feel the difference?

Try other obvious lies. Play with this. ‘I’m the world’s best accordion player.’ ‘I really like cucumber.’ ‘My favourite singer is Justin Bieber’. You get the idea.

Now try stating your truths with this in mind. ‘I think that this won’t work’. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.’ ‘This might be a better option.’ ‘I don’t like that colour at all.’ Keep playing, with negative and positive angles, and levels of firmness. See what suits best.

Try stating some of the things you’ve been told so confidently. How do they feel? ‘I’m sure I can find time for that assignment.’ ‘I’d love to wear that outfit.’ Is it true? Were you just whinging, or do you genuinely disagree? Note how strongly you feel, see the difference in emotional tone.

Explore which of these statements is true to you. Each one can be a brick in your shield-wall (if it’s even needed now), but crafted with care. You are standing firm, but also remaining flexible – encouraging discussion and debate, connection and understanding, from within a place of safety that is held by you. You are standing up as equally valid, with a voice to be heard.

And you might start to notice the other person’s walls in turn. If your truths simply bounce off theirs, maybe it’s time to highlight that they’re not listening; or even to step away. Show people the truth of you, not an imagined version that they might be projecting – or which you have helped to build.

I see this a lot in Paganism, because spirituality is a topic which is deeply heartfelt to many people. Passions incite strong opinions, and often descend into all-or-nothing arguments. But they don’t necessarily need to.

I’ve been noticing those who listen versus those who don’t; individuals who seem to be seeking confrontation and argument, not discussion. Shields that are so inflexible, the person behind might not even know why they’re arguing at all – it’s just habit, or that sense of ‘because I should.’ Or fear of being exposed as ‘wrong’.

Take time to consider what’s behind your shields – and whether they work with you or keep you imprisoned.

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Life – a Tale Told…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cross-post this week, if I may – between here at my first blog ‘home’, and the wonderfully eclectic ‘Witches & Pagans‘ site (because if you can’t ‘moonlight’ as a Pagan, then who can?).

I am very aware that I haven’t written anything at either location for a couple of weeks. I could give excuses – ultimately, the days have flown past and life has been more important. I’m sure we all know how that goes. Instead, take a wander with me, if you will.

Regular readers know that one of my favourite places for inspiration is as I walk the dog across the hilltop where I live. This evening I wandered the streets, looking out at the fierce clouds parting after an intense rain and thunder-storm just a few hours ago, the remnants of a rainbow, and the slightly ‘stunned’ feeling of a normal, modern, country village after a violent and unavoidable incident of Nature. The grass is rich and green, the snails appear to have made a small bypass across the path outside one particular row of houses, and the occasional early bat is swooping overhead.

Most of my day has actually been spent in bed. I’ve been physically suffering from ‘cold turkey’ after reducing and finally ceasing a course of prescribed medication – I cannot justify taking such an addictive substance blindly, and am rather pleased to have found myself feeling so much better for having kicked it away. But there’s the inevitable fallout, which I’m riding as best I can.

This has also allowed a lot of time for thought. My constant question – What are you doing? – is before me. I’m coming to the end of the busiest period of my life so far as a Professional Druid and Author (I still can’t quite believe I’m saying that), and yet I’m challenged every day. There’s still more waves to ride, hills to climb, and (sadly) battles to fight.

Inevitably, when you stick your head above the metaphorical parapet to claim any sort of authority in an amorphous and random community such as Paganism, you’re going to have things thrown at you. Words, mostly – but despite the old adage, words absolutely can hurt.

I am walking my path. Mine. I can do no more – none of us can. But some of us are, it seems, called upon to challenge others in the manner of their practice. As if we don’t do that to ourselves enough. Perhaps those people are perfect already? Lucky them.

What am I doing? Organising handfastings and public rituals, moots and workshops. Representing Pagans and Druids as a public ‘leader’ for two national organisations. Working on my second (and third) book. Pondering blog posts. And that’s just off the top of my head.

I’m not asking for sympathy here, by the way – by and large, I love what I do, and am hugely grateful to be able to do it. I am outlining my current work schedule… because I’ve started to wonder if ‘Pagan Leader’ should come with a job description.

I am deeply aware from personal experience that The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network have a lot of volunteers who work incredibly hard, with their own energy, time and resources, in (to quote the TDN tagline) ‘inform, inspire and facilitate’ our spirituality. I’m sure most other Pagan organisations are the same. But I’m also becoming aware that the boundary lines are rapidly changing for our communities, be they Wiccan, Witch, Druid, Heathen or whatever term you prefer. And we all need to be aware of that, because we are all part of it.

The Pagan community, in whichever form you are a part of it – from a National Network to a tiny local coven – is evolving. This is, I believe, A Good Thing. Those who are now Elders have set the foundation. Youngsters, second and third-generation family Pagans, are up-and-coming with their own methods and ideas. This is a fantastic thing to witness. By the time I’m an Elder, I can’t imagine where we’ll be. Exciting times.

And yet, in a spirituality that depends on (and cannot avoid) challenging itself, we’re still sometimes scared to move those set goalposts that we have. Traditions, whether spiritual, social or political, are just too ingrained. Surely we can’t change that, whatever will happen?

We shouldn’t charge for spiritual services. We can’t call ourselves ‘Priests’ (because we’re not confirmed or accredited by some training school). We have to abide by an authoritative text or written rule-set, to be recognised in law. Paganism is just a bunch of fringe nutters, left-over hippies wearing purple crushed velvet and far too many crystals; what’s the point of even trying to be recognised as serious spiritual voices if that’s how we represent ourselves? I have seen all of these as actual discussions on Pagan Facebook groups in the last month, just as a cross-section of examples.

Pagans, and those who feel affinity for the Pagan path, are so varied and diverse that it’s almost impossible to categorise an us. This is the first hurdle when being recognised by ‘officialdom’ (as The Druid Network found out when it applied for Charity status). Soundbites in the media are almost immediately irrelevant – how do you sum up a subjective spirituality? We’re given titles, roles, pinned down, confined to how we ‘should’ behave.

(I’m still intrigued to see what my car insurance company will say when renewal time comes around and they ask my job. Priest or Author? Or just ‘Druid?’ 🙂 )

To me, this pigeonholing is the antithesis of Paganism, with its wonderful diversity and anarchy. But then, we ourselves don’t seem to know what else to do. Those same Pagan organisations, which have been set up by and for practitioners themselves (volunteers all) to benefit their fellows in the wider community, are often sneered at, slated for being authoritative, for not representing me accurately in my path. Some become overloaded with egos, mad Crowley-wannabees on power trips. Because, as we know, in these days of instant social media, whinging is far easier than actually doing something to change a situation or solve a problem. It’s easy to set yourself up as a Big Pagan Leader with robes and a fancy name. But then you realize that there’s actually a job to do. You take on the role, you have to walk the path – and publicly.

The Pagan community is changing. Those who are all mouth and no substance are falling by the wayside. Those who stand up and do are being recognised. As our paths change, so our wider systems change. People are actually listening. The wider world is being affected by what we are doing. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘No’ – or perhaps, more appropriately to open discussions, ‘Why?’

This is our challenge as Pagans. We are forging our paths daily, as we walk them. Our personal spirituality is becoming public, just by answering questions about what we do, engaging in chat, wearing a pentagram publicly. Pagan Pride, which took place once again in Nottingham early this month, would have been unimaginable for those original Elders (much as it was needed). Now we stand up proudly – and smiling, enjoying, sharing as a community. It’s not about the power or the titles – and certainly not about the money.

It’s living our spirituality. Work/life balance? Personal as Political? Absolutely. Truth, honour, joy and integrity. Being alive, and part of something larger. It’s a big planet, after all.

It’s not always easy, of course. The cat in me often balks at the ‘leadership’ roles, preferring instead to just practice alone in my back garden, or with my partner in the woods. Sometimes that’s needed. But then, what am I doing – and can I take time to share?

So my inspiration comes from my immediate surroundings, as I walk the excited border collie to do his business. I come back to housework, deadlines, demands. But I have to remember what I am doing too.

Most of us remember starting out. Finding books, websites, chat groups. Not really knowing how to talk about these strange practices we read about. What is ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ anyway? Do I need to use the right candles and incense? How did our ancestors cope before eBay?

I remember. That’s why I want to share – not to evangelise, ‘spread the good word’ or recruit. Just to help, to show that there are others out there doing this. And it’s not about rules, directives and absolutes – it’s about finding your way. Trust yourself. There are others out there who will too.

What am I doing? I’m walking with those who ask. I’m not infallible, and my resources aren’t infinite (nor is my patience, but that’s another story). But I’m here.

What are you doing?

 

Addendum: I’ve actually set up a ‘Donations‘ page, if any would like to participate in the equal energy exchange. I’ve been recommended to do this by other authors, but have seen those who regularly contribute to the internet’s collective creativity get by on the kindness of their lovely readers… so it’s an experiment that I’m willing to try! Thank you, as always, for reading.

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The Dark Paths

Quite a few readers have asked me when I’ll finally write a blog post that’s basically a rant. Because apparently that’s what you do on a blog.  😉

That’s not the purpose of what I’m doing here, and I wouldn’t really be interested myself to read such a thing. But while this may seem to be rant-y, I’m aiming for it to be (ultimately) constructive. Your patience is appreciated.

I’ve perceived in the past that folk appear to have an ideal image of a priest (of any denomination) or general faith-leader. They’re supposed to be endlessly forgiving, generous and loving, a virtual embodiment of God/dess on Earth, having attained Enlightenment and taken their vows to spread that joy. Or something.

I’ve also said that I don’t actually believe that ‘Enlightenment’ is either possible or something to realistically aspire to, not as it’s generally understood. My spiritual life is part of my everyday life. I really can’t see the point in removing yourself so completely from that in order to ‘ascend’ or somehow step outside the mundane, and yet expect to understand or influence it, even by example. To me, the Dalai Lama does the most good because he is human, and clearly fallible – and has a fantastic sense of humour.

Understanding is achieved by observing, listening, approaching life in a certain way, allowing your spiritual philosophy, ethics and so forth to affect your actions and thoughts. Through this, we learn. But by no means does this result in some sort of ‘perfect’ being. Rather better adjusted, perhaps, but life will, I firmly believe, always be a challenge (and otherwise, how dull would it be?).

Unfortunately, that’s quite a leap for some to make. I’ve said before that I’m privileged to have generally encountered only interested, curious and polite folk in the course of my work as Druid and Priest – I am aware that this is a blessing! I try to reflect my spirituality in myself as I live it, including skills and faults alike. I can’t really do otherwise without turning into some sort of walking caricature (which is both dishonourable, false and ludicrous).

This last month, however, has been a true time of challenge like no other. From basic rude actions, disrespect and outright threats, I’ve been faced with a wide spectrum of negative. I’m not sure what’s in the water to be causing it, but it has made me stop and pause.

When people don’t understand, they can kick out. My favourite analogy is taken from the (transvestite) comedian Eddie Izzard – as he walked down the street, when people shout “Man in a dress!” he replies “Yes?” Which results in complete confusion. The person shouting mockery or abuse has no frame of reference for the situation they’re in, and simply doesn’t know how to continue.

I’ve seen this often. It actually helps more than hinders – people see the woman in a robe and cloak, often with staff or drum, and stop dead. Thoughts visibly cross their mind: ‘No frame of reference! What do I say?!’ Which is when the daftest comments come out. That’s ok – I just smile and joke back, and we can resume normal conversation as they discover I’m actually a Real Human Being too…

Recently, however, I was actually flummoxed. It had to happen, sooner or later. Standing in circle, watching attendees gather, a small girl of around 12 walks up, looks at me, and simply says “What are you supposed to be, then?”

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the look on her face and her tone – both those of a disgusted, disapproving old lady. The sense that she was being forced to undergo something so deeply stupid and beneath her was staggering (especially as other young folk were clearly interested and excited).

I saw her make similar statements throughout the day, and rather than being confused as to how to respond myself, began to see the sadness underneath. This girl, for some reason, was entirely closed off. Her reality was set, anything outside it wasn’t worth her time, and while the others were playing, dancing or laughing, she was sitting alone. Apparently entirely of her own volition, as she seemed to drive everyone else away.

My own confusion was due more to the fact that I would never have even thought to say such things to others, much less adults when I was a child. But some sort of cosmic floodgate was perhaps opened, as since then, there’s been a fair few comments that have actually made me stop with no frame of reference – because I can’t imagine making those statements, I cannot comprehend how best to reply.

Yes, I am standing up publicly as a Druid, and so will inevitably open myself up to slings and arrows. I’ve said this before, I’ve just been waiting. But lately I’ve been seeing the fear, sadness, anger and confusion boiling over, and it’s hard not to be affected. I’m not on some cosmic cloud, immune to pain. I don’t have infinite patience, and am certainly not made of stone.

Some days, part of me wonders whether to continue at all. This is a no-brainer – I get far more good responses than bad in my work, so it would make no sense to quit purely because of a couple of rotten apples.  But it’s difficult. I can’t even try to respond and help, because usually those doing the throwing aren’t interested in even starting a discussion. I’m wrong, or weird, or nuts, so that’s all there is to it. Their world is set.

Others use their negativity to fuel power games. I’ve seen this often in many communities, including the Pagan – no social group is exempt, it seems, even if they start out with best intentions. Uninformed gossip, ignorant opinion, Daily Mail-style rabble-rousing, all help to fuel a particular agenda, sucking others along with them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt that results, and choose to step out of such situations. I’d rather work quietly, letting others come to me. It’s never been about my ego, I’m not interested in ‘power over’. I will stand up for my friends and loved ones, absolutely, but that’s natural defence – the trick is not to get drawn in further.

But then this week, to be directly insulted and threatened as a result of my life choices… I’ve drawn back through necessity. Regrouping is needed, new plans are forming – I’m aiming to bring something good from the bad.

This is the time when my Druidry is called upon to sustain me. I’ve made my choices – and I stick by them. When questioned or challenged, I must respond appropriately, retaining my integrity and honour while trying to honestly convey my point of view. I do try to understand where the negative is coming from, but often in the moment that’s almost impossible. That’s the point where many kick back, seeing red or running away. Those responses I can understand, but neither is helpful.

We cannot make the nay-sayers go away through feeding them. We cannot lessen their power by giving them more. Laughter can puncture the pompous; a simple ‘No’ can bring abusive action to a screeching halt. Then comes the time to reflect – on what you are doing. Did the person’s words or actions have a basis in reality, or were they based on their own fears or issues? Do your own actions have to be moderated or changed? Or is it simply time to move away, defuse with quietness?

Those who go through life spoiling for a fight usually find one, after all. If nothing measures up to our standards, we miss so much of the joy around, but that’s our choice. If our walls are so high that yes, we’re protected, but we’re also blind and deaf, then what sort of life do we have? If we live as a caricature, as ‘expected’, do our ‘friends’ really know us, or are they just helping to sustain the illusion?

We have to look deeper, both at ourselves and others. We can’t fix the world, but we can explore our relationship with it, in the knowledge that we are held, supported. Our choices must be as true as we can make them, as we have to live with the consequences.

As I travel deeper into the darkest parts of the woods, I hold fast to what sustains me: loved ones, friends, ancestors, deities – and my own creativity. These things keep me going. If they don’t, they will fall by the wayside (and I’ve been noticing a fair bit of that happening lately as well).

So here I am. I’m not sure what’s ahead, but I will continue to walk forward. If (when) there’s monsters, I will face them. Darkness holds the most valuable lessons, after all – it’s just up to us to see them.

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Sacrifice

Note: I did originally take this down, for reasons previously discussed – but I’m re-posting it on request. Make of it what you will.

This post has been gestating for some time, on request from interested readers; it seems this topic has struck a chord with many (perhaps unsurprisingly). But before we start, it will NOT feature talk of goats, chickens, reading the future in intestines or other such bunkum.

You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked about that.

Druidry is a nature-based spirituality, with a focus on relationship and connection. Sacrifice is a natural part of this, as we ask ourselves what we can do to enhance our own life, knowledge, experience and worship/practice. This does not mean bowing down before anything in abasement, or making offerings as some sort of trade – I give this up, so please give me luck/money/love.

Sacrifice doesn’t work like that (except in stories – and look at how such requests often turn out). I respect myself, my gods and my ancestors more than to presume our relationship is nothing more than basic bartering.

I also get confused by the general assumptions about sacrifice as a faith-based action. Take Lent, for example. To remember Jesus’ wanderings in the desert, Christians give up something of value for 40 days (if folk even remember that this is the reason behind it). Very good… but to me, giving up chocolate or sweets as a gesture, which isn’t even very well kept or intentioned, is lip-service at best, insulting at worst.

In that scenario, Jesus gave up everything, to take himself away into the wilderness to be challenged. Such stories are not uncommon. Buddha went from Prince to ascetic in his quest for Enlightenment and meaning. In the Arthurian mythos, Merlin went totally mad and took himself away into the forest to face his darkness (both actual and internal).

This is a life-lesson. Despite what some New-Agers want us to believe and aim for, life is not intended to be all sweetness and light. But nor is it a time of bleakness, pain and darkness. Life is what we make it, and to fully live with awareness, we must walk that line of balance between light and dark, pain and pleasure, knowledge and ignorance.

At various points in our lives, we will be forced (whether voluntarily or not) to face our own darkness. We will be challenged. We cannot avoid our fears forever, nor should we try.

Sacrifice is an act of intention, removing ourselves in some way from our ‘comfort zone’ in order to learn and experience. It’s not just a daily or monthly detox, whether for mind or body. It is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly – because if you do it right, you will indeed be challenged as a result.

As with many things in Druidry (and life), you get back what you give out. If you give up chocolate, you may lose a little weight – but if your intention isn’t really present, the act of sacrifice may be ‘naughtily’ broken, or simply forgotten after a set period. As I said, this is both disrespectful and fairly pointless. Why bother, if you aren’t putting your all into it?

If you are truly, honestly and honourably facing your own darkness in order to sacrifice your fear… expect a life change. If you are making the decision to become a vegetarian for the rest of your life – another life change. Giving up sweets as part of a true decision to control your own impulses, experiencing that difference and questioning your own actions – a simple action, but with great effect because of the motivation behind it.

If you resolve to explore your relationship with your gods or ancestors, regularly and actively, you’re sacrificing your time, your own life. That’s immense. So do it right. This is a true sacrifice: difficult, yes, but absolutely worth it.

What is your relationship with the thing that you are sacrificing? If it’s of no real value to you, why should it be of value to the one you’re sacrificing to (including yourself)? Think of something that you can’t do without. Soap operas, coffee, cigarettes, medication… all different drugs, with different (side)effects. Giving up alcohol, after a certain point is reached, can be fatal. Explore your true needs. What can you really do without? What’s just cosmetic, what’s an indulgence? I wouldn’t recommend sacrificing an insulin dependency, but perhaps investigating the possibility of reducing prescription medication, exploring alternatives.

Sacrifice is a responsible act. We take responsibility for our choices as we make them – that’s a learning process in itself, in these days of throwaway decisions and unforeseen consequences. How do we honour ourselves and those who are connected to us (both human and non-human) by our daily lives? What do we take in, that others suffer due to lack of?

Sacrifice is difficult, often due to the unforeseen obstacles of modern life. A few years ago, I read about a charity that was seeking books for children in developing countries. These youngsters had never read the ‘Classics’, and likely never would get the chance to – but they were grateful for every real book that they could get hold of, just for the chance to experience those stories for themselves. Books were treasure – a fact that I’ve always believed, but now here, in an entirely new way.

I was deeply moved. Imagine the tales that I loved, the books around my house that are absolutely part of my life, and have been since before I could read. I had taken them for granted. Would I give them up for those children? Absolutely.

I started to make calls and write emails. Before long, the obstacles started. The charities that deal with getting books to those schools and homes didn’t actually want physical books – they wanted the money to buy them. Alarm bells started ringing in my head, as the countries in question are notorious for corruption. I wanted to send boxes of Wordsworth Classics (£1 editions of out-of-copyright works), thinking that I could afford to send more of those than a box of £5.99 paperbacks. I’m not rich, but want to do something.

Ultimately, it wasn’t possible to do this. I’ve since done charity work, actively giving up my time (and a lot of my own books!) in order to help from this side, but short of going to those countries to actually tell stories, there’s little way to go from intention to action.

But that was part of the step to exploring what my sacrifice was. My books; my stories; my ability to tell tales. I can work in my own community, and give up my own time. I can do my best to pass on the magic, to inspire and simply connect others to their own stories through my own words. I dove deeper. What was I doing?

And here I am. 🙂

What would your sacrifice be? It’s not a simple question, but I just ask you to consider it. What don’t you want to give up, that you need to? How ready are you to face change?

Sacrifice isn’t about death after all – it’s about life.

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