Posts Tagged witchcraft

Freedom

I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Paganism.’ It was in my early twenties via my (now ex-) husband, who showed me some of his Crowley books, told me about the Farrers and how this really was a Thing that People Did. Off I went to Borders, because this is how I operate – point me at a topic and I’ll be off to find books about it! And so things began to move.

I remember reading ‘The Witches’ Bible’ and being a little confused. There were notes here that rang true, but the form seemed wrong to me, somehow. A bit too Dennis Wheatley (given my limited frame of reference at the time).

American witchcraft books were just starting to hit the shelves back then. Of course, I found Starhawk and Margot Adler, then Silver Ravenwolf and that sort of thing. Which convinced me that while it had its good side, Wicca (especially early American Style Wicca, full of lists of Stuff and correspondences) was not for me. Likewise Ceremonial Magick.

Amusingly, some years later, I got to meet and become friends with some first and second generation Gardnerians. Their perspective was much more in tune with mine than the more ‘modern’ Famous Witches. But the difference between the reality and the books made us all smile.

Then came the different ‘flavours’ of Paganism. Pretty quickly, Druidry rose to the top of the pile of Interesting Texts, and upon joining some online forums, I soon found like-minded people, a local Grove and my practice began to pick up speed.

I mention this because recently, I’ve been speaking to friends encountering new situations in their personal practice, and we’ve joked about ‘Levelling Up’. Separate friends, on separate occasions, on very distant continents. But the same feeling.

I find myself thinking about this tonight, as I consider the ebb and flow of my own development – both private and public – and how it continues to evolve. The times are indeed changing, inside and out.

As far as I can see, no truly-felt spiritual path is ever ‘finished.’ We don’t reach some distant finish line and get a medal. Your first Initiatory experience (again, whether private or public/shared) is a huge deal, but it won’t be the only time it happens. We are constantly exploring, moving forward, occasionally nipping back to go over something again, then proceeding in a slightly different way… but we’re never ‘done.’

Every year, I’ve felt different ‘pausing’ points, where I have to stop and take stock before continuing what I’m doing. Usually this is enforced – something will happen to make me stop and think, review and consider. What am I doing?

Lately, the question has changed slightly. What can I do?

Because many years have passed since that first step onto this path. I’ve grown older, more experienced, but my health has also gone down interesting and unexpected routes. In many ways, life is better; in others, it’s more difficult.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Constantly changing. So I sit here again, pausing to think.

When I’m in the low places, without much energy to think or do, the ‘brain weasels’ of depression tell me that I’ve done as much as I can do. I’m published! That was a goal I’ve reached. What more can I do? There’s so many Pagan books out there, how can I possibly say anything new? Those voices are encouraging me not to pause, but to stop altogether.

Yes, that means what you think it means. When I say dark places, I mean it.

So the challenge has been to grab my brain by its bootstraps (which is an actual visual I’ve had, almost like a cartoon – anything to raise a smile, which is a prime weapon against those weasels!) and do anything. Write, knit, engage with a book or movie, run, clean, make some nice food… whatever it takes. Moment to moment, day to day. Keep living.

Then I notice that despite feeling like survival, these days actually link together. The writing becomes a story. The knitting becomes a blanket. I am actually still doing. Even when lying in bed, unable to do much besides think, those thoughts can be turned to good ideas.

My practice is having to evolve to accommodate my bad days – not giving in to them, but working around them. While I am older and less energetic than I used to be, life is by no means done. Of course I’m not still 20, I can’t do what I could then. But I’m in a very different place, and have new skills and options to try instead.

I spoke of pausing for thought. At various times, those ‘STOP’ signs have felt almost like a trap – I can’t escape my situation, no matter how I try. A bad job, a failing marriage, lack of money… familiar problems to most people. How can anyone do Magic(k) with all the Real World issues weighing them down?

These are the times when we need to reach for that energy, the spirit within us. It’s relatively simple to access on the good days, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; but can you grab it and use it during the difficult times too? That’s always been a factor in my work, because it’s been important and necessary to me.

I’m having to consider what I can do, not what I’m prevented from doing. Because this trap is a lie, created by the mental illness to keep me from doing anything. ‘You can’t, you can’t’ is a common undercurrent in my thoughts. ‘Why not?’ is the retort.

OK – some days, I can’t, for valid reasons. But other days, I find ways to work things so that I can.

I’m looking at new methods for giving talks online as well as in person, to overcome the challenge of travel. I’m playing with fiction writing, to free me for a while from the More Important books (I don’t know how that perspective came about, but that’s what my brain tells me my work is! Fiction is important too). I’m going out, overcoming my fears to do things that I’ve never done before, and finding them glorious.

I am freer than I give myself credit for. I have a home, loved ones, friends, food. I may feel constrained by constant NHS waiting lists for medical help, but I’ve always found my own way in the meantime, because I’ve had to. I have a supportive publisher. I’m able to help and inspire others, as they inspire me.

I’m still connected to my practice enough to see the guideposts to the next stage of exploration. It’s exciting. Yes, scary too, but I have to trust that if I fall, I can pick myself up, learn and carry on.

Because sometimes, we are as free as we allow ourselves to be. Even when confined by circumstances, we have our Selves – it just can be tough to dig deep and find who we truly are (and who we are not).

I’m remembering the enthusiasm of those early days of magical study, of trying my first ritual (that’s a story in itself), of discovering what worked beyond the books for me specifically. And each time, the affirmation from the Powers that Be – yes, you’re doing it. See how the path opens up once you let go of the hang-ups that hold you back? Come on, we know you can.

Once we get out of our own way, we can accomplish so much. That’s a constant note to remember.

We pause. We nourish ourselves as appropriate. And we move forward.

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Unity

Right, be warned, folks. The following post contains jokes that may be seen as contentious. They aren’t intended as offensive, but to challenge and provoke thought. Comments are, as always, very welcome, but I’d rather have debate than argument. No abusive behaviour will be tolerated.

Still with me? Lovely.

Today, the lovely blogger Mrs B posted up her ‘Question of the Day’ on Twitter: ‘What’s the most frustrating part about being Pagan?’

I’m certain this received some colourful responses, but let’s face it, being a public (or even just ‘out’) Pagan is not all sweetness and light; nor should it be, especially if you’re living in the real world. Interesting to see what people say.

I responded in jest: ‘Surely the weekly requests for Guru-style teachings from those unwilling to make any effort whatsoever…?’

This is an old bugbear of mine, as some of you will know. It’s inevitably become worse since my book became popular and known, and it’s not actually something I object to – as I’ve often said, I’m happy to help and advise, and would rather questions be asked than suppressed because of fears of Appearing Stupid.

Frustration arises (as I’m sure any social, spiritual or psychological advisor will agree) when seekers appear seeking ‘quick fix’ teachings or help. When they discover they have to play an active and responsible hand in their own life-changes, they often then vanish quickly. The degree of time-wasting involved in such cases is variable, but this seems to be just something which happens – again, as a public/out Pagan.

‘Gerald Gardner’ (also a fairly ironic Tweeter) responded with a very thought-provoking reply: ‘Unfortunately modern Paganism still breeds these people because we lack unity in order to make progress.’

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

First off, is this an inevitable symptom or consequence of modern Paganism being the way it is? Is this over-simplifying, or describing with an overly-broad generalisation? Or is there a point here?

A while ago, I agreed to write an article about Pagan Leadership for a UK publication. It’s been germinating away, as I consider the evolution of this topic since Gardner himself first put pen to paper back in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way.

I said at Pagan Pride this year – while addressing several dozen people under a huge and beautiful tree in Nottingham’s Arboretum (surrounded by about a thousand more going about their business as public Pagans) – that such an event would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Out and proud or just local and curious, Pagans are a social group to be counted. The Census issue has proved this, as has the publicity surrounding The Druid Network‘s Charity status.

But Paganism is essentially still finding its way. It is made up of many disparate groups, with leadership based around those who stand up to take on the job. Paganism is inherently tribal. From the multitude of beliefs, to the shading within those faith paths, even different local characters – ‘Pagan’ will never be as simple and clear-cut a spirituality as one of the more mainstream religions.

I’ve seen full-on arguments about whether Paganism is even a religion (not getting into that today, thanks). What qualifies someone to be a Pagan Priest. How ‘valid’ is Paganism. All the old questions, that boil down to ‘who do you think you are?’ We aren’t taught philosophy these days; complex ethical questions can be tricky. It’s far easier to get passionate and kick out/back.

We are a generation that challenges, that has the confidence to speak out – and this is no bad thing. We are curious, willing to explore, to ask those questions that need asking. I’m a firm believer that any religion has to be able to stand up to scrutiny (and to have the strength to laugh at itself). My old Catholic RE teacher was quizzed by me on numerous occasions, and even the response of ‘ultimately, we don’t know – but I just have faith that it’s true’ is absolutely valid… and yet for some, that’s not enough. But that leads into fundamentalism, which is also not a topic for today.

I’ve been flamed online before for suggesting that faith paths have more in common than they do difference. To mel, this is because we are all humans, trying to make sense of the world. Again, those who follow the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ path don’t like that, because it stymies the ‘Us/Them’ arguments that hold them up, but I think I’m safe in that simple truth.

The difficulty with Paganism is that it’s a group with a label – which is made up of very individualistic people. Some wish to come together to learn, socialise, whatever, and that’s fine. They still retain their individuality. Others wish to remain solitary in their practice. Both will fight tooth and claw to do this (and rightly so). This all leads to the difficulty of a truly ‘Pagan’ unity or identity. We are a faith like no other. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this has been seen before: no doctrine or set text, no hierarchy… and an awful lot of unproductive bitching as personalities collide. But that’s humanity for you.

As I’ve said before, the issue of leadership seems to be one where Priest (as spiritual servant) clashes with Priest (as Power Tripper). Those willing to teach, to pass on skills and information, versus those seeking authority over others. Obviously this isn’t just a Pagan thing, but it’s there, a problem to be acknowledged and worked upon. How are we, as Pagans, represented – and how do we wish ourselves represented? The fact that we’re talking about it, having a public voice, means that we’re out there in the world, with no going back.

(I’m pretty sure that because I can string words together and speak about my spirituality openly, some do think that I have ultimate cosmic secrets that I can tell, which will then make their lives better. I have yet to encounter any way of life that holds such information. Sorry about that.)

While simplifying a little, Spiritual seekers – as I’ve seen them – are Genuinely Curious (willing to learn) versus Quick-Fix Answers (abdicating responsibility). Both are fearful; some are braver than others. Again, very human.

The positive thing about Paganism that I’ve perceived is that it takes all of these groups (good or bad) and challenges them. I’m not sure that any are ‘bred’ to act a certain way, but a decent Pagan path will make practitioners prove their worth, to their supporting spirits, ancestors, deities and immediate community. Why? Because unlike a lot of other faiths, we aren’t actually interested in converting anyone. We aren’t out for numbers. We’re just out to do our thing, our way. That’s enough, most days.

Every single life path requires you, as the one living it, to play an active part. This is a key tenet of my Druidry. If I were just paying lip-service to it, I’d be caught out in no time. I’m happy to admit things that I don’t know, and am always seeking out new and interesting information (hey, I’m a bookworm). I’m also entirely happy for others to live and practice in a way that best suits them – so long as they don’t mind questions either, should they be asked.

I doubt Paganism will ever have its figurehead, its ‘one true leader’ – we’re too individual, and yet too tribal as well. Eclecticism has become the norm. We have taken traditions and evolved, adding our own ideas, our particular shadings to the overall picture, our notes to the song. And this, I believe, is what makes Paganism so wonderful. We do (really!) have a unity… it’s just something we haven’t really quite got to grips with yet. Wild as nature, and as varied, after all, constantly fluctuating as we test its boundaries – and our own.

So. Are we working together in our differences yet…? And how much do those seekers really want to be part of a spirituality that can be felt in its evolution as it’s happening?

Is it worth it? Well it’s hard some days, for sure. But that just makes life interesting. I’m still here, after all. Coming with me?

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Practical Druidry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Am I Doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love to hear stories of these journeys too.

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Ranting and Listening

After the personal and depth-plummeting previous post, it’s time for something a little lighter. I promised folk recently that I’d post up something I’d been wanting to rant about for a while, so… I’ll try and be balanced, here. Honest. 🙂

I often hear people say that if they won the Lottery, they’d love to organise a Pagan Communal Place. The general ideas seems to be something like a retreat/monastery, where those who wanted to could live and learn, while others just visited when they felt like it. In blissful unity, of course, all worshipping together without the problems of the Real World.

Think about that for a minute.

I think this really is one of those ideas that is far better in theory than in practice. Can you imagine what living at such a place would be like?

Consider. Those who clatter with crystals versus those who know where they came from (and which ones are beads). Omnivores versus vegetarians versus vegans. Witches, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens… while there’s the makings of a reality TV show, I really doubt such a thing could ever be done, for one very simple reason.

Pagans Are People Too.

Have you ever been in a Pagan chatroom, on a Pagan internet forum, a Pagan Facebook group? The arguments when hidden from each other behind a computer screen can be fairly epic, certainly heated and often irrational based on belief rather than fact. Again, idea is preferable to reality, and some folk like to think they live that way.

Have you ever been to a Pagan pub moot, a Camp or retreat? It’s never as smooth, peaceful and idyllic as you’d hope. Arguments fester behind smiles, passive-aggressive Heated Discussions go on in the queue for the bar, those who are aware of ‘communal space’ face off against those who treat the entire thing as an organised affair for their own personal benefit, and whinge accordingly afterwards, having not moved a finger to help…

I’m not saying these should stop, nor that they’re entirely as awful as I’ve said here. But sadly, it’s a truth at the moment that Paganism (of whichever path) tends to attract the needy, the broken and the socially unskilled. Or, as we know them, HUMAN BEINGS.

We all have our needs. We’ve all been broken. We all get confused by those around us holding different views. But for some, it’s easier to throw up barriers, stand your ground (no matter how unsteady) and argue, rather than… well, listen.

OK, some folks have views that I’d really have trouble accepting into my own worldview. The Fruitarian lady who screamed and ran from a ham on the dinner table. Those who require ‘special treatment’ when they are fully able-bodied and well-off enough to themselves be helping, but are The Chosen of the Goddess. Those with huge Magickal titles whose pedestals are so high that I hope they fall off. And, of course, those who attempt to ‘convert’ others to their way of thinking via guilt. I *know* about the poor ickle fwuffy bunnies, thanks. I’ve skinned them, and watched them get taken down by a hunting hawk.

To be honest, it’s as Eddie Izzard said. None of us suffer fools gladly, much as we might like to think so. None of us have infinite patience. But we can do our best to truly listen first.

I have truckloads of time for those who are truly passionate about their beliefs and is willing to share that (whether in story, song, art, whatever). Hearing someone speak their own truth, whether shy or nervous, is the most wonderful thing, and a true privilege. Please join me at my campfire, I’d love to hear your tale.

Seekers, too, are fully welcome. We are all on a learning journey called Life, and to admit it and settle down for a good discussion is fantastic. Especially when your own beliefs can be challenged, exercising both mental and spiritual faculties, but (hopefully) with enough humour that the light of inspiration is kindled.

However, hearing someone tell you how they personally caused a hurricane over a country in the far East because that country eats dogs makes me want to plant that person’s face into a wall. Yes, really.

I firmly believe that spirituality is not incompatible with reality. But nor is it a crutch, or an excuse for certain behaviour. I may be fairly liberal-minded, but the level of criticism that some Pagans throw at other faiths leads me to think that while they’ve had bad experiences, I don’t blame those other faiths for yelling back. Nobody has ever been converted by others yelling at them. No, I’m not going to Hell. Yes, I have considered how God affects the world today. I’ll listen to you, if you listen to me…

And don’t even get me started on those who use a made-up title to play power games with others (especially the young). You’ll get what’s coming to you, sir or madam – maybe even times three. But allow me to help…

These views are entirely mine. The examples above are all absolutely real (scarily). We are all human.I have my faults too, Lord knows. (Yes, my Lord. He’s fully aware, thanks.)

But my path encourages connection and relationship. Responsibility and consideration. If your words aren’t helping, then what are you saying them for? If you’ve made a promise, why haven’t you kept it? We all do it, but learn from your mistakes.

I think, ultimately, while the old ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all’ adage can be useful (a simple ‘smile and walk away’ response works wonders), if we as Pagans – and humans – took a little more responsibility, lived the tenets of the faith we profess to follow, and had more awareness for others of our path, we’d be taken far more seriously by those others, as well as the wider world. True respect is a powerful thing.

I’m sure this post will piss some people off. It’s not really intended to, but it’s a possible and acknowledged consequence of not being as polite as I perhaps should be. But as I said at the start, it’s a rant – so a bit tongue in cheek, but which grew out of actions that genuinely pissed ME off. Sometimes, things need to be said, or you end up yourself being fluffy and tolerant to the point of ludicrous.

If you don’t like something, that’s fine – move away. Or challenge it. Challenge me, I’m here.

Fancy a discussion?

😉

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Within the Cauldron

It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.

Then I considered her words more deeply.

These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).

Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).

I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.

So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.

Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.

Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).

For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.

At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.

Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.

And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.

I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.

But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.

And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.

I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.

In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.

Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.

I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:

My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.

And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.

In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.

I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.

 

As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.

Sunbathing in the Rain

Journeys with the Black Dog

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.

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Pagan Priesthood

It’s almost the Spring Equinox, and the world is waking up. We’re finally moving forward from that holding pattern between the colder nights and the lengthening days, and things are starting to happen.

Boy, are they.

The recent spate of interviews that I’ve undertaken have got me thinking all over again. Call it fortuitous coincidence, call it synchronicity, but whatever it is, certain topics have been coming up repeatedly, causing me to question myself and my own practice. All to the good, it keeps me aware and moving forward. So I thought I’d share.

Why am I doing this?

Year on year, my life has become increasingly filled with my practice as a Druid. This has mainly been public, to the point where it has become my primary livelihood right now. I’ve no doubt that more challenges will come as I become better able to meet them.

But what has this meant for my personal practice? Am I maintaining a good balance between my public work and my private spirituality?

I encountered a lovely turn of phrase in a book I encountered recently that summed my thoughts up very well:

‘We might say that the best spiritual writers are entirely at home in both the world of words and the world of silence.’
(Philip Zaleski, writing in ‘The Best Spiritual Writing 2001‘ anthology).

Initially I disagreed, quite vehemently. I love language, communication, storytelling – it’s an intrinsic part of me. You might have noticed.

But then I considered. ‘Silence’ here indicates the time when the talking stops, when you put yourself (ie your ego, your internal narrator) aside and simply BE. Meditate, assess, take stock, review. Become as neutral as can be, nonjudgemental, not critical or proud.

This is necessary for me quite often. Call it the cat in me, but it’s become ever more necessary for me to take time for myself, to retreat to a quiet place and do something personal, quiet, that allows me to reflect without external pressure. Time to recharge.

This is often that golden time when the inspiration comes. From the darkness and the quiet comes the spark, which must then be fanned – thus requiring time and attention.

The fire that I use to keep myself going, to itself inspire and help others in my work, requires care. My own personal practice must be maintained. While I’m working actively as a Priest, I cannot let myself become subsumed in service to others 24/7. This is true of most jobs, but perhaps even more so for those whose work is a vocation. This is, after all, my life. What use am I if I have nothing left to work with, to give?

Time turns and the busier seasons are ahead as the world wakes. My working life grows and evolves, as the call for me as Priest increases. This is not and has never been an ego trip – I’m not in it for the power, prestige and (Lord knows) the money! I detest the political power-games of some ‘religious’ groups; that’s missing the point entirely.

Some have seen the hard work behind the scenes, and so my integrity is assessed by others and found to be intact. This means a lot to me, as I’m often too close to my work to be truly objective. I sometimes need to be pulled back to reality!

But I have to ask myself my deeper intention as Priest. The answer is that primarily, I am there when called upon by those in need. I am standing up publicly: as an example to others, a demonstration of what is possible, giving permission to practice as a Pagan in the world today. I’m a guide, by the actions of my own life. This holds tremendous implications and responsibility, and is certainly not simple. Every statement can potentially be analysed for fault (including this one). If I wasn’t called upon, though, I wouldn’t be doing it. I work to help, because I can, and because others want me to.

However, I would hazard a guess that it’s also rather different to the clergy of other faiths. I speak to other Priests regularly, if only to share stories and laugh together, but as Pagans, there’s always that underlying truth that ‘we are each our own Priest’. Even if we don’t serve others in our actions as such, we communicate with our deities and connect with our spirituality in our own unique ways. That’s usually a strong reason behind choosing a Pagan path in the first place: we don’t give the responsibility of our own belief to another person to look after. Our doctrine is our own personal, evolving story. We have no hierarchy.

So we have the dilemma, the balance to maintain, between our own individual Priesthood, and that of ‘public service’, of Ministry. Different and yet very similar. Are you a Priest when conducting public ritual, or just sitting before your own altar in your home? Does it count as ‘Priesting’ when you explain your Paganism to a work colleague or family member? When you console someone, or encourage them with true intention? I would say Yes, to all of these. You are expressing your spirituality. You are representing the sacred, standing in your faith, your own truth.

The question then becomes: ‘Are you a good Priest?’ I don’t mean in terms of knowledge – nobody can know everything, nor have a perfect reply for every question. But do you work on your personal practice, explore more deeply, live in curiosity and wonder in order to strengthen your own connection with Deity… in the form of the wider world and everything on/in it?

It’s no small task. Often, it seems insurmountable. But as I said, the challenges come when you are ready for them – even if it takes everything you’ve got.

While I’m being called upon, I’ll be here. By the fire, keeping it warm for you.

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Think!

Why are we not encouraged to think for ourselves, have you ever wondered? This isn’t the prelude to a vast Orwellian conspiracy theory, don’t worry. But in the interests of freely available media (and free will), when we are presented with nicely-packaged information every day of our lives, would it not make sense to actually encourage the understanding of it – and question it.

Tabloids such as The Daily Mail give the illusion of challenge, by presenting a certain perspective on any given story, while virtually wearing its own agenda on its sleeve. Yet people lap it up and gulp it down, no questions asked, even when the information given is so clearly biased it’s virtually fiction.

Liberal media does this as well. Stories presented in a matter of fact manner, so that the reader is encouraged to see their point of view as the only possible manner in which a normal, common-sense person would think.

This morning, I was reading Mark Townsend’s excellent forthcoming book, ‘Jesus Through Pagan Eyes‘. His writing is absolutely brilliant, conversational, engaging and inspiring – yet the subject matter was, for me, initially quite difficult. As a Pagan, why should I be thinking about Jesus? Surely the two paths are incompatible, even conflicting. It seemed almost sacriligious, in its way.

Then I caught myself. Where on earth had these thoughts come from? Why should I be blocking out an entire religion, with its deep and valuable stories, ethics and modes of thought, just because my own beliefs were considered ‘alternative’ (and that’s not even getting into that lovely misquote about not suffering witches)?

The difficulty in modern life is that we may be taught to believe one particular ideology, or way of living, is correct to the exclusion of all others. Then, when we are old enough to look elsewhere, we find alternatives… and become resentful of those perceived ‘lies’ that we were originally fed.

Is this irrational knee-jerk disregard not as bad as those ranting, obsessive right-wing extremists (of whatever faith)? We’re ignoring something entirely on the grounds that our own beliefs are different. Not because we have explored all sides… when we might begin to notice that there are in fact as many (if not more) similarities than differences.

Those who kill in the name of deities who taught love. Those who condemn children to hell because they aren’t baptised. Those who prefer to preach ultimate truths rather than encourage free will. These will only drive folk away from the doctrines they dictate.

I would love to learn about the historic Jesus, the man who walked his land telling stories and encouraging unity. It’s certainly about time someone threw the bankers out of the temple! And yet seeking such knowledge is considered heretical. In the same manner as Jesus’ teachings caused him to be killed to a political system that could not bear his challenges. Faith and society are constantly evolving in their paradox.

It’s human nature to be curious. Look at children. Then consider how many times we get tired of their constant questioning, and tell them to stop. We’re told to just accept what is, from teachers, priests, family members, the media – Those Who Know Better. Newspapers seek gossip, telling us it’s in our interests to find ‘the truth’… when that truth isn’t really relevant (celebrity secrets, scandals and so on). When real events, passionate life-affecting events are happening, they stay silent (notably the recent Occupy Wall Street protests). Those who inform us are themselves biased.

Currently, church and state are combined in the UK by law and (interestingly) tradition. Yet this is preventing the ethics of certain actions to be questioned, while the overly-secular ‘society’ is being encouraged to disregard moral thinking and philosophical questioning as irrelevant or pointless. At worst, faith-based ethics are a ‘fairytale’ rather than a cautionary tale.

As Mr Townsend says in his book, we’ve become too literal. It’s a fact that life is not black and white, right or wrong, and yet we try to force the belief that it is. How often do we hear of people taking action because they are right on moral grounds, yet because of a generalised law or policy, they cannot live as they wish? Everything is being considered in terms of ultimate truth, which is itself a lie. George Orwell was prophetic.

One word I’ve been thinking about lately, but which has somehow sneakily avoided being used in recent blogs is ‘integrity.’ Personal honour has been mentioned, but where does the limit of your integrity lie? What are your ethics, your moral code? Do you even have one, or is this like the religious fervour with which atheists tell us not to believe?

We do not teach or encourage philosophy (how to think), ethics (why we think) or even effective communication of those thoughts. Even analysis of the thoughts of others (English literature/language) is confined to a set level of understanding. Go beyond that and you fail the exam, so don’t get too clever. Don’t think, don’t be inspired – just copy what’s in front of you.

How brave would it be to emulate Jesus, Gandhi and all those others who were killed for standing up for their beliefs, to challenge the establishment because of your own personal integrity? How necessary is it becoming, as we see the world changing in ways that we do not agree with?

The ancient Druids were killed for maintaining their beliefs, their lands, against lethal opposition. Yet now, those calling themselves ‘Druid’ are sought out, as others are curious. We know that we need something more than what we’re told – and I’m overjoyed that people are having the quiet strength in themselves to really look. But at the same time, we too have to be aware of our personal integrity. Some modern Pagans are teaching their own ways as doctrine, with Christians as ‘ultimate evil’. While we may need security in ultimate truths, such goals are impossible, castles built on sand.

I consider this every time I sit down to write, or stand up to speak. My words are listened to, so what am I saying? I’m wondering now if this post will be considered inflammatory. That doesn’t make it any less my own truth. I try to use my worry, my anger, to look deeper, to consider the multiple truths involved in every tale, in each of our lives.

Some words need to be spoken. Our ancestors knew that, even if we have forgotten. Let’s seek the wisdom in the stories, not the literal text. Question the media. Remember that the systems that support us were set up by us – so we can change them. Question motivations – your own, and those of others. And once again…

What are you (not) doing – and why (not)?

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