Posts Tagged witchcraft

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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Looking Forward

This weekend, my partner and I journeyed South(ish) to meet up with my fellow Trustees of The Druid Network at our Annual General Meeting. While wonderful to spend time socially with folk who have become good and true friends over recent years (despite being scattered around the country), it was a time for work, for focused intention and decision. Where would our Druidry take us over the coming year, and where do we see the Network going into the future?

Now as this is a personal blog, I won’t be going into too much detail about the organisation. Visit The Druid Network website for more information; members can see the Minutes and Actions from the meeting.

But suffice to say, my thoughts of recent weeks seemed to coalesce in this organised setting. This year is now starting to really move as the earth around us wakes up to Spring (in this hemisphere at least), and the energy is rising accordingly. A lot of ideas sprang forth as we inspired each other, with shared goals, motivations and awareness of representing a larger number of people.

However, as I call myself ‘Druid’, I cannot possibly represent everyone who does likewise. Nor can any group, however inclusive. This is why the Network appeals to me – each and every person involved, whether they call themselves ‘Druid’ or some other term (if any) brings their own unique individuality to bear as part of a larger whole. A book of many themes, a picture of many colours. Nobody will be told how to practise their own faith. Challenged and questioned, yes, but that comes as part and parcel of the Druid deal!

Both I and my colleagues have to maintain awareness of that larger community, and gauge the needs and restrictions of the wider world that we work within. While our own personal practice may (and should) be individual, Druidry includes an awareness of the currents in which we flow. The world is moving forward and so are we. How are we setting our course within that?

No faith can remain static, or it stagnates. Paganism especially, as a relatively ‘new’ practice (despite its heritage) is still finding its feet, working hard to be recognised in an increasingly secular and cynical world, but also determining practical purpose. It’s all very well to call for ‘world peace’, but how are we helping that? If we spend our lives arguing and complaining, we’re working against our own dream, right there. Loudly proclaiming what we are not doesn’t really help us find what we are.

We have to stand as examples of our faith, our belief, our truth, while constantly challenging it to ensure that it remains relevant as we and the world change and grow. As I’ve said, people are coming to those public Pagan figures more and more often, whether to just shyly ask a question or to outright ask to be helped. Those of us who stand up have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes from that.

So where are the tides of 2012 (and beyond) taking us? More people are becoming interested in what this ‘Druidry’ thing is, as they wake up to the need to question and explore in order to find a little personal meaning in a fast-paced and busy life that seems almost dictated: birth, school, work, marriage, children, death. There’s so much more than that, as we’re all finally realizing. The old systems are failing; those institutions that we relied on so much aren’t giving back what they promised. We’re driven to look deeper.

Druidry doesn’t offer ‘all the answers’. No religion does – or if it does, it may be embroidering the truth just a little (yes, science, I’m looking at you too). The answer is different for every person. A hard concept to grasp, but true.

How do you live your life? That’s up to you. But to live it with awareness of your own needs and those within a wider community, as part of a family, bloodline, group of friends, neighbours, citizens, species, ecosystem… there’s so much more than we are told. We’ve grown afraid, then selfish, insular. It’s time to be brave and step up.

The Druid is an explorer as well. One who knows that if there’s a map, it may be wrong, but that’s ok – we’ve got paper and pen. And this map won’t just be visual: it’ll encompass all the senses, including that mental and spiritual awareness that science hasn’t really explored yet.

The ancient Druids filled so many roles in their communities. Ultimately, us modern Druids do our best for those we serve – both those official ‘members’ and everyone else who comes asking. We do this with awareness of the flows of life, the wider world (geographical, social, political, historical), with our feet on the ground but also between the worlds, known and unknown. Our faith sustains us: in ourselves and those who stand and walk with us, human and non-human, past, present and future.

Ultimately, we are human too, of course. And this thing called ‘Druidry’ means that we recognise our shared humanity, our connection, our similarities and differences. And with that, we chart a course, establish our aims, and move forward. It’s not about ‘quick fixes’, it’s about evolution.

We don’t know what will come, but we’ll ride it, whatever it is, doing our best: to represent, to serve, to bear witness, to guide. To live with honour and truth, as individuals within a larger Universe.

We can’t know it all, but we can learn to laugh and dance (and pause for tears) as we undertake our journies, both alone and together.

That ‘second star to the right’ is closer than we think.

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Druidry of the Future

As the rate of technological advancement increases (while basic human understanding follows in its wake), we find ourselves looking increasingly to the future, the ‘what next’. We’re in the 21st Century, after all; doesn’t that milestone mean something?

Instead, we find ourselves caught on one hand with the result of that inevitable implosion of capitalist demand, wondering what happened when our desire for Stuff NOW outweighed our interest in how those were obtained, when our concern for mass media overtook any interest in basic democratic process (‘X-Factor’ versus elections, anyone?). And on the other, that ‘End of the World’ mentality surrounding mis-knowledge of the significance of 2012 as a date of universal significance, as we  combine our inherent search for meaning in life with muddled New Age misunderstanding – and end up running our lives by the fictional astrology of the tabloid press.

Yes, this post is going to challenge.

My constant question is ‘what are you doing?’ and ‘why?’ How often do we challenge ourselves, really? Not just when there’s a major decision to be made, but all the time. Why are you using that cleaning product with the warning on the back ‘Will cause damage to the water table?’ Why wash yourself in something that contains formaldehyde? Why take the media perspective on events in the world as entirely true and unquestionable?

We’ve somehow turned the important questions of everyday modern living into something that’s ‘boring’. Environmentalism is to be sneered at in favour of consumerism (who’s putting that idea out?). Cynicism allows us to shrug and turn away instead of probing more deeply. I’m hopeful that you’re still reading, rather than just rolling your eyes at yet another rant. Bear with me.

There is so much going on in the world today that it’s impossible to truly investigate or understand it all. This is why we have to really prioritise, to figure our where we are and what’s important to us – but in relation to the wider world, that we are part of (like it or not). This is a challenge that we will have to face moving forward, but which we are not trained for. It’s up to us to learn how best to do it

As the world changes, so we are starting to realize that previous ways of living and viewing don’t work anymore, that they don’t aid our understanding. We are looking deeper. But that requires us to take on a level of responsibility and understanding that some folk just aren’t ready (or equipped) to take on. That’s fully understandable – as I said, we can only process so much within our worldview as it evolves and as we grow.

So what is the role of the Druid in all of this? The Priest of the past, the ancient philosopher, law/lore-keeper, storyteller, intermediary… why is this still relevant?

The fact that people are still coming to me (and other ‘public’ Druid folk) in every-increasing numbers indicates that what we do is wanted. Initially yes, it’s often the idea that we have some sort of mystical ‘answer’ as to how to live (we do, but you might not like it, because it requires that you do active work too). But it’s the urge to understand how our spirituality creates a path for active living, connection, relationship, responsibility and understanding through constant challenge and awareness… that’s a big lifestyle change to assimilate. Being curious is an excellent start, though, and I am constantly glad that more and more people are overcoming their apprehensions and simply talking to me (and others who Druid).

But what, then, are we to become, moving forward?

A couple of years ago, I was part of a group that performed a divination ritual for Druidry in the coming years. Believe it or not, we identified the complacency that more Paganism has somehow arrived at, the inevitable shake-ups that will occur (within the Pagan faiths and the wider world) and the need for change to allow us to evolve and remain active and relevant.

That change? To work together.

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the blogosphere about what makes a ‘proper’ Druid. It’s good that folk are talking, but the difficulty for me comes at source. We as humans are drawn to both a need for community to reinforce our beliefs, and individuality – to be ‘special’ and unique. Yes, we all have our own subjective views on life, the universe and everything, and that’s wonderful. However, the challenge is bringing those together to make a cohesive pattern, rather than an argumentative mess.

Division in Druidry (and any other group based on belief) is inevitable. With the inherent urge to challenge, as stated, comes the unavoidable response of Pissing People Off. Not everyone will like what you have to say, or that you’re standing up to say it at all, but in speaking your own truth honourably, after much consideration and debate, not everyone will agree.

In the ancient poem ‘The Spoils of Annwyn’, one of the challenges to be faced by Arthur on his quest (and so the reader who works with the text) is facing down the ‘six thousand who stand atop the walls’ of Caer Goludd, those who prevent him from moving on with their shouts that drown out his words. He who stands up to speak/object most loudly runs the risk of getting his head shot off – the general ‘masses’ don’t understand and fear change or challenge, and so find it easier to settle back down into their comfortable rut (as above). We all know what this feels like.

But the role of the Druid is to continue to stand – and for those others who call themselves thus to stand together, to support each other and those who come to us, those we serve. Divided, we are just little groups (or individuals) talking – no bad thing in itself, as any words these days can have value if enough people listen. Together, however, united in common intention (if not the subtleties of individual practice), we can be recognised and, quite simply, accomplish more.

Not everyone is prepared to do this, and that’s understandable too. But those who do stand up to be recognised against those dissenting masses deserve to be listened to. Question or challenge, certainly, as this increases understanding on both sides. But do NOT dismiss out of hand, take for granted or simply ignore. For you will be left poorer for it.

I speak my words, from the cauldron of Inspiration

By the breath of nine maidens it is kindled

It will not provide the food of a coward, but a sword will be raised, flashing bright.

We move forward to the door, where a lamp is burning.

Save seven, none return.

Who’s with me?

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Faith and Funding

It can take a lot to make someone change their spiritual outlook, their faith – after all, it generally is what constitutes or provides a framework for their view of the world and their place in it. While as a child you accept what you are told as to Why Things Are, with your view of the world formed by the social and familial landscape that you are born into… then as you learn more about the wider world, you (hopefully) begin to ask questions. This can lead to strengthening or lapsing of belief in your worldview, depending on how well such a foundation suits your life as you take more active and personal responsibility in the construction of it.

Changes in faith can be momentous events, perhaps stemming from some form of loss or bereavement, or they can be relatively secretive, creeping up on you until you suddenly have that ‘aha!’ moment, that epiphany, realization that something has irrevocably changed in your personal explanation (and justification) for how the world works. So then what do you do?

Belief evolves – and so it should. Despite the apparent comfort and safety of routine, static = stagnation. As I’ve said before, personal beliefs that guide life should move with that life and the events you experience, otherwise how can it remain relevant and applicable?

Those ‘lightning bolt’ moments can happen anytime. When you’re ready to see, the answer will appear, even if it’s been staring you in the face for ages. But while such changes will hopefully be for the better, that doesn’t mean things will automatically get easier.

When I said my life was changing dramatically over the last month, I wasn’t kidding. I now am working actively as a Druid in my community – and the pace is ramping up. I’m busier than I ever was in a ‘normal’ salaried job, people are more than happy with what I’m doing, and the foundation is being very well set. This throws all of those ideas that this is just a ‘hobby’ very much out of the window!

My worldview has been forced to change. Rather than simply being a ‘spiritual volunteer’, in modern parlance I’m more of a ‘spiritual consultant’. I’ve had to consider insurance, self-promotion, target market, relative value of services. Faith-based actions are having to be quantified in the manner of the society in which I live and work. I may be a Priest, but I have no larger Church to back me up and provide wage and home. Others are watching to see how I do (generally with interest and curiosity, I’m happy to say!).

The most immediately issue, therefore, is survival – and that means money. I’ve always been told that asking about money is rude, and I’m waiting for the first person to suggest that I shouldn’t be charging for what I do (as seems to be the way with some of the more ‘intangible’ Pagans!), but I still have bills to pay, as do we all. Despite what one person once asked, I don’t live on a commune, in some sort of ‘Hobbiton’-style self-sufficient village! So how much do I value, in cash terms, what I do? What value do I place on my spirituality? It’s another challenge, another demand from my lived spiritual life to look deeper, to question its relevance and applicability, as it becomes not just personal but professional.

Ultimately, something that I was taught years ago is the importance of fair energy exchange. This isn’t some sort of cosmic light experiment, nor  sacrifice in the manner of offering up a goat to a deity – but it does mean giving something of value to you in exchange for something of (at least) equal value in return. Professional practitioners of energy healing have often told me how they must receive equal return on their ‘expenditure’, otherwise the healing work doesn’t ‘take’ as well; the value that the healee places on their energy makes it more effective.

So what’s the primary unit of exchange for energy, in this capitalist society? Money, of course. When you think of any monitary service, exchange the financial term for ‘energy’ and see how it sounds. Exchange of cash (energy) is to be expected if you want something of value.

You don’t expect something for nothing – and if you do, that ‘free’ service has no definable value and is therefore worth less. That’s another set of beliefs that has been instilled in us. So as  the ancient Druids may have been paid in food or fuel, I’m reimbursed with money to pay for those same items. Life moves forward.

But now I’m being asked for more information on what it is that I do. Faith-based activities must again be quantified, so their value can be understood. Physical evidence of spiritual activity can be seen… but again, it requires work relative to the anticipated effect. So how do I specify what people ‘get for their money?’

I suppose I’m very aware of the potential for falsehood in working as a public Priest. Consider those American evangelists, asking for donations for prayer and healing (and very clearly living well as a result). There’s a good deal of cynicism now about how much the ancient Christian Church took from those who could ill afford it, with the clergy demanding ever more at the expense of others’ suffering. And yes, I’ve seen ‘alternative’ shops selling glass jewellery and wands as Real Quartz. Is a ritual tool somehow ‘better’ because it cost more? Or does that cost truly reflect the effort put into its creation?

I think that the key word here is ‘equal’. If I provide a bad service, I receive less in return, and thus cannot survive. So far, I am profoundly grateful that this is not the case! But I must therefore be constantly clear in what I am doing, conveying information and often highly experiential knowledge in a manner that can be understood and carried forward by others. I must be strong in my own beliefs if I am to represent them honestly and honourably, and flexible enough that I can continue to be challenged by new perspectives. I can’t get too proud either – no flowery titles, claims of superpowers or secret occult knowledge! My money is very literally where my mouth is (and I’m likewise glad of good friends and colleagues to keep me grounded and true to myself).

So it is that my faith is being challenged as to its increasing relevance with my life, as ‘work’ and ‘belief’ merge ever closer. I truly am living my Druidry all day, every day. Sometimes it wears me out, as I try to do too much – equal energy exchange is therefore also a reminder that I must not give everything that I have to the extent that I suffer. But nor can I travel long distances, to perform large rituals, for nothing. I won’t be able to give ‘complimentary’ books out to all and sundry. Ultimately consider what sort of world we would live in, if we truly expected such things? That honourable, equal energy exchange creates value and satisfaction to both sides of the equation, rather than any expectation that you are owed free goods and services.

I know that the challenges will continue as I move forward and learn, but I know too that I will do my utmost, as an active Druid, trying to help my community to the best of my ability. Spirituality merges with ‘everyday’ life… and isn’t that what we’re all truly seeking?

Let’s work together, to make ‘mundane’ life a little more magical.

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Our Sexual Nature

One of the things that always seems to be mentioned whenever Paganism is spoken of in the media is the… well, let’s say the ‘free love’ practises. The skyclad Wiccans, the Crowley-style orgiastic gatherings, the Dennis Wheatley bloody sacrifices… yes, it soon enters the realms of lurid fiction. Ignorant readers are titillated, genuine Pagans are frustrated.

I will say at this point, if you’re under 18, please feel free to read on. Because you will anyway, and I’m not going to be talking about anything particularly shocking (sorry, adult subscribers). Plus, censorship simply makes people look more keenly for whatever it is they’re being told not to look at – and frankly, there’s nothing here that shouldn’t be talked about. Quite the reverse.

Sex is important to pagans – in the same way that it’s important to humanity as a species. Family is at the root of community and connection, our ancestral lines would not exist without it, and an act that creates so much joy (if undertaken correctly) should be lauded, not stifled.

Aspects of Deity that are frequently incorporated into our lives and practices are the Great Mother, her Consort and her Son, amongst other archetypes. The fecundity of the land is represented well in the rampant enthusiasm of the priapic Pan and the engorged Sheela Na Gig; even the language is sensual, thick and intriguing, dripping with intention.

So it’s remarkable that when discussing sexuality in pagan life, there’s remarkably little information. Especially when we consider that according to the ‘Mind, Body & Spirit’ shelves in your local chain bookstore, the most popular spell that anyone could ever want is the Love Spell. That’s an industry in itself and not an entirely ethical one.

If love spells were used to the extent that they’re written about, the issue of ‘controlling’ others for the purpose of relationship can both be compared to – and result in – rape. The sheer invasiveness is precisely what modern Pagan practice is not about. If you’re playing with the lives and emotions of others in such ways, you need an entirely different kind of help.

If undertaken with clear intention between two informed and consenting partners, love magic can be a powerful thing. From setting the scene for a night of passion as an expression of love for your partner, to invoking the spirits of fertility with the goal of conceiving a child, these are fundamentally human experiences. By making the occasion sacred, almost ritualised, not only will you have a memorable time (I won’t say night, as this could happen at any hour), but you’ll both experience connection at a much deeper level.

The power of sex is an almost tangible energy – and not just the act itself. Sexuality as a practice is a much more familiar concept, in its way. We’re constantly being bombarded with images of it, and are tacitly aware of it in everything we do. Clothing and adornments are chosen to increase personal attractiveness, make-up exists in almost infinite variety to create human peacocks showing off on Friday nights in town centres. Without the subtle language of sex, many advertisements would be dramatically different. So how are we using that ourselves (and do we even realize)?

However, perhaps it’s our essential ‘British reserve’ or a holdover from the rules of the larger faiths, but it seems to me that the reality of sexual relationship is still rather taboo within Paganism. We’re all aware of the increased importance of woman (particularly in Dianic practice, for example), but the inclusive and comparatively open nature of the (wide range of) Pagan paths means that there are those from the entire sexual spectrum out there on Beltane. Heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, we all understand (to a greater or lesser degree) as a crucial part of our spirituality that our actions represent both our personal power and that of our gods… as we participate in what is, at heart, possibly the most natural of all acts.

And of course, this isn’t just the missionary position. A multitude of human experience can be brought to bear in the coital ritual, from the simple (!) expression of love to joining through a mixture of pleasure and pain or control games. Again done correctly, BDSM is not simply a dressing-up party, and it would be insulting to consider it so.

There are more ways of life, spirituality and relationship than I could possibly name here. Some Pagans are polygamous. Others abstain as a personal act of sacrifice. Many realize that gender itself is fluid, playing with the boundaries of clothing, identity and public image. The key word, again, is consenting. We should endeavour to understand, not judge.

As I’ve said before, when we act honourably in our lives on this path, we act with clear intention, knowledge and responsibility. If we surrender ourselves, that is a true gift to our lover. A candle-lit dinner is an act of worship.

And then, of course, there is the Great Rite… but that’s another topic for another day.

Suffice to say, we are almost duty-bound as practising Pagans to welcome the act of love, to explore it and revel in it, as our gods do. If you’re not enjoying it, why not? What can you do differently? Be curious, investigating together with your partner. The focus and goal is relationship, the  joining of forces, merging and separating in natural rhythm, like waves on the beach (both forceful and gentle).

This includes, of course, self-love. From confidence and presentation to personal, private pleasures – such lone rituals are likewise to be made memorable and enjoyable. You should hold no secrets from yourself, after all. If you are God/Goddess, take time to worship!

Not to forget, finally, that ultimate Pagan sexual experience. If you’re brave enough… get outside into the world! Wild nature is itself a sensual experience, from the feeling of sunlight on bare skin or wind through hair, to dancing in a torrential rainstorm or merging with the tickle of sand on a beach. Alone or with others, take time to open yourself and experience that fundamental relationship as you remember that whether wild or controlled, you are still an animal.

Live with awareness, live with joy, live with love. Especially on these long winter nights…

 

Further reading:

‘Love Spell, an Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening’ by Phyllis Currott

‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler

‘Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe’ by Christopher Penczak

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The Need for Protection

Pagan Basics: Shielding. Why, How, and What From?

You wouldn’t go out in the snow (or sun, or rain) without the appropriate clothing to protect you. Nor tap into a live current, or handle a blazing fire. So why should working with any other sort of energy be different?

I’ve found a lot of practising Pagans tend to be rather blase about shielding. It’s like stretching before a run – those who know, do. Those who don’t… hurt afterwards (and accomplish less).

Why do we assume ‘oh, it’ll be all right’, and then skip it to get to the ‘good’ bits? Because, quite honestly, that assumption stems from the vague idea that what you’re doing isn’t actually that important. A version of ‘it’s not really real, so it doesn’t matter.’

If that’s your point of view, stop with this path. It’s not for you. It requires someone who’s willing to put in the work at every stage, from the foundation upwards.

You’re here, so I’m presuming you’ve some knowledge of working with energy. Whether consciously in ritual or unconsciously in your daily life… because, after all, you have. From the nastiness of a crowded shopping  centre in the January sales, to the peace of a hilltop at sunset, you will have experienced the feeling of different energies impacting on your own. It’s just a matter of working in relationship to that.

This is a key skill within Druidry. If you follow this road, you will find yourself actively noticing those energies daily as you learn more of your connection to the world around. This isn’t just for formal ritual.

One of the first things that Paganism 101 teaches us is how to Cast a Circle. Why? Circles are cast to protect, from within and without, both individual or group. But (contrary to what the Ceremonial Magicians will tell you) your own personal circle can be any shape. It’s yours, after all. It’s a matter of focusing on your own energy to affect that around – in other words, magic. Or Quantum Physics, depending on your point of view.

And it’s not necessarily all about the correctly coloured candles in the correct places at the correct times. It’s about you, now, this moment, being able to look after yourself. A little like Pagan Self-Defence. Practice, and after a while, it becomes instinctive.

I’ve found a variety of ways of creating personal shields. From the slightly ritualised, based on the ‘Spoils of Annwn‘, to a quick visualisation from ‘Stargate‘, I’ve worked with ideas suggested to me, translated into a way that works for me. When I first started out, I was protecting myself from something both very physical and also intangibly threatening – so I envisaged myself armed with sword and shield. At other times, I surrounded myself with a net of beautifully crocheted thread, that catches those energies that may harm.

But even now, I can forget… and soon feel the overwhelming awareness of the world taking hold and attempting to drag me under. This isn’t necessarily negative or ‘evil’ – it’s just the sheer amount of energy that everything in the world gives off, again consciously or unconsciously.

Consider that crowded shopping centre. The screaming child, the harrassed mother, the worried unemployed person, the pain of the old lady in the wheelchair, the tiredness of the staff. Multiplied by the number of people. Every curse is a physical blow, every internal sob felt in your own chest. And there’s no natural light, the very air is recycled, the ground under your feet concrete above a car park. Your roots can’t stretch that far, the natural world seems so far away…

It’s not about the formal fighting of mystical demons. It’s about using your own focus to protect yourself daily, when such onslaughts occur. They’re not necessarily directed at you (although they certainly can be), but you need to respond.

Yes, it’s difficult. This is one of those tasks that is constant ‘practise’, every time – because every time, it’s a subtly different situation. You still have to deal with it.

One of the quickest ways to protect yourself is to find a quiet place as best you can (a handy bench, a corner booth in a coffee shop, or even the stall of a public lavatory). Centre yourself. Root down, ground if you can. If you’re in plain sight, don’t worry – everyone else will pass by, thinking you’re just having a rest. Close your eyes a little if it helps and is safe to do so.

Imagine that circle surrounding you, coming from within to surround you. Visualise it however you prefer – a bubble, a web, a ball of light, even a circle of thorns. Feel the space inside as your own, protected from the outside hubbub. Breath. Use a talisman if you find it helps: a necklace pendant, telephone charm or tiny medicine pouch.

You aren’t disconnecting from the world. You’re standing in your own energy, within it. Know your intention, what you mean that ‘safe’ energy to be, what its’ purpose is. Let the  protective layer settle around you. Then stand up and go about your business. Finish your tasks, and when you’re in a place of safety, let yourself breath out… and the shields can relax. Ground once again, remember your connection. Then – and this is most important – find some solid food.

It’s important not to cut yourself off completely. Investing too much energy into those protections for too long can go too far, blocking out the world, so that you’re detached and unable to understand or truly see what’s going on around. You’re still part of the life on this planet – total disconnection is harmful in itself (worse, in its way, than returning to the ‘sleep of ignorance’ that most people are content to stay trapped within).

Working with your own energy (as well as that around you) is part of your Pagan practice. That’s another topic in itself, but the key word here really is ‘practice’. Learn your own power and stand in it. If you lose that connection, work to regain it. Exercise, gain strength in your energy.

It’s a constant task. But if we are to live in conscious relationship to the world around, we need to be able to recognise and ride the tides – and know how to help others when they start to sink.

 

Note: This is a very large and complex topic – if you require any further information, please feel free to message me privately.

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Beyond ‘Paganism 101’

As most of us know, the vast majority of books on paganism out there are ‘101’ books. Beginner-level texts, full of charts and associations for anything you can imagine, from candles to clothing. Things must be done in this way, using these tools (themselves prepared appropriately) on this day – or it won’t work. Don’t even bother. Spells = chemistry exercises. Yes, they can be done by anyone with the proper training and knowledge, but you wouldn’t let a beginner work the Large Hadron Collider (I hope). Which is why those beginner textbooks exist.

Interestingly, however, in the last few years, there has been growing investigation and active questioning of ‘what next?’ In an experiential faith, books can only take you so far before you have to get out there and do. So what sources do you go to with your questions about the results? And how do you advance in areas that take your fancy?

Ideally, you would then visit a pagan/New Age store and talk to people, look on the internet, follow up the advertisements in ‘Pagan Dawn‘ and suchlike, so you can actually meet some other like-minded folk. But again, that only takes you so far. It can be very hit and miss, as the diversity of this (and any) faith means that you might not necessarily encounter others who practise in the same manner. Or even follow the same ethical code.

I’m being nice here, as the majority of pagan folk I’ve met have themselves been welcoming and friendly. Yes, we don’t all think alike, but it’s actually pretty refreshing to get new perspectives – spiritual practise can all too easily become ‘stuck in your own head’ work. It’s just that as in every group, there are those whose worldviews are so dramatically removed from your own, that there’s just no talking to them. Or there’s the bad folk, the exploiters, the power-hungry; as mentioned famously in Isaac Bonewits’ wonderful document, ABCDEF. Humour is needed, but seriousness and sensibility too.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a teacher. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a teacher that you connect with, who speaks in terms that you can understand, who makes the magic (and the point of doing all this) real and applicable.

But then what? You’ve passed Paganism 101-110. What are you doing with it?

I’ve been practising for over ten years. I started out reading Scott Cunningham and the Farrer texts, Starhawk and Margot Adler, practising quietly in my own bedroom when I had a quiet moment, seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Realizing how much I hated reading ritual from a script. Learning how to really specify my meaning and focus after having the universe actually provide what I’d asked for… just not in the way I expected. Getting lost while pathworking. Meeting deity for the first time. Learning how to make a candle flame change colour.

Now, here I am. I’ve a popular blog, and am finalising my first book. I’ve spoken and worked publicly as a priest. This month, I held my first day’s training workshop. I’m living my path and learning so much from those who themselves are seeking me out.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that teaching isn’t for everyone. I’d love to be an actual schoolteacher, but I’m afraid I’d be a bit too ‘Dead Poets Society’ for OFSTED. And I prefer to address those who actually want to be in the room with me.

At the ‘Pagan Pride‘ event this summer in Nottingham, I remarked to my beautiful associate on the Druid Network stall that if another person asked for information in the local area about Druidry, I’d have to do something myself. Of course, I should have known better – the universe was listening, and another person did. Quite a few people, actually. And those who’ve left comments here. And contacted me privately.

People are interested. They’re asking. Am I stepping up to answer?

I’ve spoken elsewhere about how difficult this has been for me. But I finally plucked up the courage. Pieces have fallen into place, and it’s almost a month since just under a dozen people gathered in a historic building in Derbyshire to listen to what I had to say about Druidry.

I haven’t stopped being inspired since.

The questions, the challenges, the discussion… all flowed freely on the day, and have continued online after. The group came together far more easily than I ever could have hoped, and amazing things have already started to come from it.

And I found something that I’d read about, and knew intellectually, but now have properly felt for myself. The teacher is herself being taught.

Everyone in that room basically said that they were beginners, they had very little experience of paganism, and certainly not Druidry. But every one brought their own stories, their experiences, the way of seeing the world. Their goals and wish to truly listen and participate. They might even have been as nervous as I was.

Each perspective is challenging me, to explain more effectively how I follow my path, live my spirituality and connect to the world around. At the same time, I’m seeing through others how they want to live, to find their own way of working, to be informed and reinforced by a group that truly is like-minded, but at the same time, made up of truly unique individuals. Our truths, our honest sharing and relationship, is teaching and inspiring each other.

More workshops are being requested and planned, but not just the ‘beginner’ introductory sessions – now it’s more in-depth, focused work. Everyone is becoming involved, finding out for themselves that a spirituality which calls to them so persistently can translate from page to reality, from basic questioning to real, lived experience.

From beginner’s grounding to a small but very personal rite, we’re all discovering and learning, finding new questions and new ways to communicate, exploring new sensations that we somehow knew at soul-level, but are now actively working with. New tools for life.

I marvel at the paths we take, from that simple curiosity of picking up a ‘Paganism 101’ book all those years ago. To pinch the words of Douglas Adams, via one of those workshop attendees today: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

We move on down the path together.

And I wonder why it took me so long to step up.

So I ask again: Why are you here? And what do you hope to do with what you’re learning? Find your freedom and explore… who knows where you’ll end up.

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