Posts Tagged writing

Reconnection

Hello again!

It’s been the longest hiatus in the history of this blog, but I’m still here. Thank you for your patience, lovely Reader. Believe me, the wait could have been very much longer, but this post wants to be written. On we go.

The lack of blog pages recently has been a result of the finalising before deadline of my second book. Writing daily, polishing, preparing, reworking and repaginating, then editing… hard work, yes, but very enjoyable. I do love to write, and quite often would find myself going over my daily word target because I just got so caught up in what I was doing. Once ideas start to flow, there’s no stopping them – and that’s no bad thing.

However, this has meant that there was little room for other things. No problem, I thought – once things are submitted and in, I can get on with whatever comes next. And this has been true, up to a point. I’ve been working (equally hard) on my upcoming Druidry Course, to start in June. I’ve preparing for talks over the Summer, and upcoming Handfastings. Life doesn’t stop.

One thing I always forget, though, is how much this takes from me.

A while ago, I was chatting to my Mum about the talks that I give, and how tired I was at the end of them. She didn’t understand. “What do you mean? It’s just you, talking for a few hours.” And so it is, when all’s said and done.

But when I do something truly, properly, thoroughly and honestly, it’s putting in the whole of my being, focusing entirely on that task. It may be ‘just talking’, but that’s never been easy for me. I do my utmost to convey my meaning in my words, baring my soul for the benefit of those listening. I don’t think I could do less, nor would I want to. That dishonours both myself and my audience, those who’ve chosen to spend those hours listening to me.

In the same way, what I write takes time. I read back as I go, tweaking phrases here and there, telling the story that I want to tell, in fact and in tone. It might only take a few minutes to read, but hopefully it’s worth it. There’s too much out there that’s just a waste of time, frivolous and easily forgotten. I try to inspire, even a little. I am always grateful for your attention.

So this isn’t just a personal whinge about a late blog post because I’m tired – that’d be far too easy. This is, as in everything I write, a little piece of my truth.

Because what I forget is that when I give up part of myself, I am left depleted. Depending on how much I’ve put ‘out there’ to others, I’m exhausted, energies drained and often head-spinning into collapse. I’ve learned tricks to help with this – after all, it’s no different from overdoing it in any other way, from over-exertion in exercise to a strenuous exam. You prepare, you go the distance to complete the task, then you rest and recharge.

Writing a book isn’t accomplished in one mad burst. It takes time, over many months. By the end of it, I’m ready to submit the manuscript because frankly, I’ve said what I want to say, anything more would be excess, and I’m sick of it all. Time for the next thing, this one is done. Press ‘Send’.

But this topic was especially hard. Writing about darkness, depression, pain, challenge… what did I expect? Some parts flowed well, others were virtually ripped from me. Once that button had been pushed, the manuscript submitted, I was left adrift. What now?

I understand that this isn’t unusual for creative folk. When one project is finished, there can be a ‘cold turkey’ period of recovery, almost like a post-natal period. Some authors start their next book immediately, so that this lull is negated. I’ve some fiction begun and Book 3 in motion. Ideas are gestating, and I’m glad to say that I don’t think that will stop anytime soon.

This didn’t stop me from experiencing what appeared to be virtual exhaustion over recent weeks. Hardly the energy to function on the worst days, unable to answer emails or messages, too depleted to get on with much beyond the most basic household jobs. To be expected? Perhaps. Not pleasant to experience, though, and beyond frustrating from this side.

I admit, sometimes I push myself too hard. I want to be doing, getting on – I try to accomplish something every day, even if it’s small. A little more on my latest knitting project. A baked creation for the household. A few words written, even just ideas. Part of it is being self-employed; part just needing that challenge as a person.

When this isn’t possible, I grind a little more to a halt. Days of nothing are contagious, leading to more nothing. “You’re done, that’s it, you can’t do any more,” says the internal voice. “Might as well stop.” This blog post nearly didn’t happen for those reasons.

Put another way: if the exhaustion I’ve felt is proportionate to the energy put into Book 2, then it’s going to be a humdinger.

What’s keeping me going, you see, is my Druidry. From the deeply personal meditations of wandering alone, to connecting with others who just want to share – the lived experience of my Path is both holding me up and moving my feet. Plans for ritual, study ideas, personal practice, tangible things; even looking forward to the eventual release of Book 2 in the Autumn (still an unbelievable idea!). While I have needed more time to myself to recharge  (usually spent reading or knitting), the getting out and exploring of ideas with others has been a joy.

It may have drained me more effectively (and more quickly) than it usually would. But that’s just something I’m having to learn to deal with, until I’m back up to ‘normal’ power again. A good part of my time is spent pushing against tiredness, that voice that tells me to stop, there’s no point, nobody’s really interested. Because I’M interested. I don’t believe I’ll ever have ‘reached the end’ of my Path, that it’s possible to know everything or have experienced every part of my spirituality – even with death. There’s always more.

I’m trying not to overdo it, to take things at my own pace. It’s difficult to work out what that is, sometimes. But pushing myself by simply grabbing the laptop and starting to type – as I am right now – helps. Stepping to the window and looking out – helps. Breathing in the fresh air, the hope of Spring (finally!) – helps. Seeing my own thoughts, reflected and reconsidered through the imagination of others – helps beyond measure.

I try to remember what brings me happiness and laughter, what fuels me. Stories, always – from Doctor Who to Shakespeare. Key phrases leap to mind at random moments, from the ‘winter of discontent’ (very true) to the dream of ‘when the hurly-burly’s done’. The exploratory weirdness of Steampunk is catching my imagination lately as well. We seem so caught up in lost cynicism as we wait for the overdue Spring to truly arrive that we forget what potential there is out there in our imaginations, what we just haven’t noticed yet.

When stuck inside, do we sit on the sofa and mindlessly lose a day – or do we make a fort? Do we take our own meagre scraps of energy and ability and create something, no matter how small, or do we moan and lash out, blaming others for our own lack of action?

The everyday world is full of news stories that may drag us down further, with apparent hopelessness and the difficulty of making any change at all. But I’m just trying to do my thing, here and now. When it all seems too much, I try to see beyond the fog of sheer negativity that all too easily can come down to block everything in/out. Reconnecting with the world around, those of like mind, those kindred spirits – this keeps me reminded of why I do strive on.

Bless you, my friends. Still moving forward.

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Words

Dyslexic friends have spoken to me in the past of their frustration with words. How their shapes change on the page, moving in a muddle that’s impossible to decipher. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard variations on this theme, so presume there’s something there.

This has made me wonder if I’m some sort of reverse-dyslexic. Ever since I could read, words have had their own particular patterns to me, each one a tiny shape with specific form, made up of the right combination of letters, forming sentences and thus phrases captured on pages. As a child, when I stared too long at a page in a book, the edges of paragraphs would become clear, dark ink against white paper, the movement of the word-groups moving up and down almost like musical notation, telling their stories from sigils to be deciphered.

And then, there’s the feeling of having lost your grip on language – typing or writing the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning, becoming just a jumble of letters. Water-torture in text, a metronome of repetition seeking a tune?

I’m reading a fantasy/futuristic science-fiction novel at the moment, with a character who can ‘feel’ the contents of books. She walks between the shelves in a library, fingers gently outstretched, touching the sense of story, the tales told, the experiences of the authors. I’ve seen a lot of this recently, the book-love. Trying to make a little sense out of the joy we find in words – sometimes verbal, but mostly literary, captured in print.

The great Jasper Fforde satirises book-love in his ‘Thursday Next’ novels, with the ‘software’ of reading pinned down into programming language. BOOK 4.0 is to be released – that mysterious machinery which translates words from bits of print into images in our heads. Partly scientific, partly magical, nobody really understands how it works – and why, occasionally, it doesn’t (presumably as in text-speak, with its evolution of LOLs and ROFLs). Is this any stranger an understanding than our communication through the medium of Windows or Linux?

Stories are tangible. Whether it’s breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of a book, with a reader being acknowledged as an active participant in the story (the 80s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books leap to mind), or the post-modernist idea of a literary character themselves reaching into a book to converse with the characters. The aforementioned Thursday Next book-jumps into ‘Jane Eyre’ to ensure that the ending is correct (Jane ends up with Rochester, not Rivers). Those of us who love that tale are certainly glad that this mistake was fixed! – and thus, we are part of the story too.

We cheer the heroes and boo the baddies in movies… but in books, the lines become a little more blurred. We have more time to get to know the characters and situations as the stories unfold. We ‘lose’ ourselves in a good book, eventually putting it down at the last page with a sigh and a racing heart. I frequently close a book and look around in confusion, wondering which reality is more ‘real’.

Stories make us who we are. Each of us has a story to tell – and very few are not worth hearing. We are the protagonist, which doesn’t mean it’s all about us. It’s about our journey, our understanding, our evolution.

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer. I never dreamed that my first book would be non-fiction (or semi-autobiographical) – the Internet wasn’t invented when I started scribbling in exercise books, let alone blogs. But my first love has always been fiction. When the words start to flow on a story, when characters step up into your mind wanting to tell their tale in their own voice… there is no feeling like it, to me.

This is the creative spark. This is the Awen. We all feel it, in our own way, with our own creative skills. The wonderful musician and Bard, Damh, wrote of it this week. I couldn’t stop smiling at the story of his journey – and cheering, in anticipation of what magical, musical words he’ll bring forth.

The inspiring Nimue has combined a literary idea with Druid practice on her blog, as a result of pondering the meaning of ‘Druid’ itself – slightly tongue-in-cheek, but reminding us of the importance of play, interaction, connectivity and creation. Her idea has already inspired me to write a first chapter in a ‘steampunk Druid’ story. Already, those who’ve seen it want to know what happens next.

And that, dear reader, is the deeper magic for me. When people want to hear more of your tales. When folk are inspired to go and explore themselves, to acknowledge their depths and what they have to bring forth. I love to hear it, and to see it. Such sharing is never a bad thing.

Stephen King spoke of books as a long love-affair between author and reader, requiring commitment on both sides, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Short stories were a kiss, a more focused expression of affection (but no less intense).

Most of my blog posts take an hour or two to write. This one has burst from me in about 15 minutes, at high speed, typing frantically and making my partner laugh at my enthusiasm. A friend told me last week that he loved reading my words, that they always flowed so well. That, I informed him, is because he doesn’t see all the deletions and changes. But here, today, there’s relatively few. A slice of writing life, as it comes. A flow of words, from my mind to yours.

So it’s my brief kiss to you, lovely readers. I always hope to inspire, even if just a smile.

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Blood Sacrifice

I’ve been a little lax in my posting of late. This isn’t for lack of ideas. I think it’s purely that winter is now beginning to bite: the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short days, the extra layers of clothing, the need to stockpile kindling and food in case of snow… and the urge to hibernate.

Life, of course, goes on. I’ve been out and about, less than usual perhaps, but still doing. A little Druidry here today, and a little slice of life, if I may.

Last week, a talk at Sheffield University Pagan Society; yesterday, a guest speaker to a Sociology lecture at the University of Derby. One informal, one formal, but both requiring me to get out there, put my professional hat on (metaphorically, before you ask) and tell my tale again…

Each time, it’s different. A different audience, a different flavour to my words. New challenges, new questions, new faces. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and will ever do – and yet, I love it. Connection, sharing, inspiration. And bearing all.

Because one of the questions that always seems to come up in some form or another is that of Sacrifice. I’ve spoken of it before on here, but while winter is the time of fire festivals, burning the old to make way for the new, it’s not really the time to get out in public and get naked (again metaphorically, but physically too!). You don’t want to bear your soul to total strangers. Stand up and say ‘listen to me, I’m interesting?’ Nope.

So… perhaps that is my sacrifice to this season? While crawling out from a cosy bed/home/sofa to work is something that we all have to do just to pay the bills, my work is so intrinsically tied up with my own personal story, my soul-truth, that to walk this path at all during this season is the most challenging thing. It’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.

Sacrifice is giving up something that is valuable to you. At this point, that’s very much my Self. My time, my energy (not in abundant supply), even my smile some days. The black dog bites and holds on, and I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of crowded places. So standing up in front of crowds… you can probably imagine how nervous I get. Even answering emails is tricky right now. Writing this has involved a LOT of deletion and rewriting to get the tone precisely correct (and I’m still not sure I’ve quite managed it).

But it’s not all about my fear – that’s a constant, burning away in the background, to be overcome daily. My sacrifice is also giving up that sense of self, the very act of bearing all… but in a manner that can be understood. The balance of listening to what is asked of me, as a Priest, a teacher, a representative of my spirituality, and truly hearing. Going beyond the words of the question to see the eyes of the querent, what they want to know, what they can’t quite put into simple language but strain, hope, need me to understand.

I’ve promised, over and over again, to do my best, to walk my truth, to tell my story as honestly as I can, and to help for as long as I’m needed. I presume that if nobody were listening, then this blog wouldn’t get any hits, my inbox would just contact requests for money from overseas diplomats, and I could say what I liked because nobody would be listening… but currently, this isn’t the case. More and more people are asking. I’m amazed and awed that so many fellow Pagans, of any path, are rising to meet this growing group of seekers. I have no doubt that come Spring, my every weekend will be busy again. This is why I keep talking, writing, doing.

But in the meantime, sometimes it’s a battle day-to-day. I sacrifice and I survive.

A while ago, I told a good friend that I tried to do something creative every day. Even a tiny thing, but something, so that the day hadn’t been wasted. This is still true. Writing is best (when I haven’t written anything for a while, I think I’m unbearable to be around), but knitting, baking, some form of random creativity… all good.

This week, as well as the talks, I had more colour added to my right arm sleeve tattoo. Now this isn’t a very active creativity on my part – essentially, I lie there and let an artist draw on me with needles, paying him for the privilege of several hours of pain – but that ink will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Tattoo Equipment

(The preparation table. All of these colours went into one small area of skin, with those needles…)

 

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my tattoos over the years. When I was younger, I never dreamt I’d ever have so much of myself covered – but every single one has meaning. And much of it is to do with my Druidry.

My first tattoo was a triskele, in the safe, quiet, hidden base of my back. My second: surrounding it with silver birch leaves, hand-drawn by one of my oldest friends. The statement of my learning, my stepping into the woods, joining with the trees, indelibly feeling my own connection to the wild world.

Since then, I’ve an Awen hand-tapped into the top of my back (after dreaming that Bobcat was doing it – I think her hand was more drilling it into my head), and both arms covered with leaves, flowers, seeds… the old joke being that sooner or later, if you push me over in a field, you’ll lose me.

Although the tattooist chats happily as he works, with conversation a good distraction, the flow of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer physical reaction to the needle creates an interesting effect. I’ve not undergone ceremonial or ritual tattooing as such, but every single sitting could be considered to be that. Your inner self reacts to the battering that your skin is taking, and there is an inevitable effect.

The tattoo is a statement, certainly. But it could also be considered a sacrifice. The blood, the pain, the wearing of an image with a deep meaning behind it, honouring your own body through the act of pain for the goal of adornment. To me, it’s far more than vanity.

Every tattoo on my body (except the triskele, my initial ‘baby-step’) has been paid for with money earned from my Druidry. I used to be able to pay the bills with my day-job, thus allowing me and my partner to permanently mark the relationship between our public rites and ourselves with ink. Now, that money is needed for those bills – so this work was even more of a luxury… and a statement.

Reading this post back, my black dog friend is telling me that this post is full of whining, self-righteous, indulgent justification for my work, my decisions, my irresponsible frivolity of ink. Perhaps.

To me, my life is currently filled with sacrifice. The sheer standing up each day to live my life, my spirituality, my job, with integrity and responsibility. Overcoming the ‘oh Gods, you can’t do this, why are you even trying’ voices. The sense that I’m not as strong as I think I am. Yet the beauty of my path is there, indelibly marked into my body. Present in the messages of thanks from those who hear my words.

I stood before my Gods in a crowded classroom and called to them, sincerely – and they listened. I honour them in my actions, my decisions, even my cock-ups (provided I learn from them). I honour them in my moving forward, not giving up, even when the black dog urges me to take that ultimate step and just give up, stop. My life is my sacrifice at this time, my giving up of self when I really do not feel able.

Things will calm down, of course. The season will turn, the light will start to join us more frequently, and I’m certain that I’ll be reminded regularly that I’m actually doing ok. I walk this path because I’m called to, and that’s by real people as well as spiritual entities – both of whom keep me moving in the right direction, kicking me if I stray or stay still too long.

So. My challenge again. What am I doing?

Moving forward. Slowly, in the dark, sometimes painfully, but moving.

Tattoo Nov 2012

All art here was inscribed by the founder and creative genius that is Andy Bowler of Monkido Tattoo Studio, in Belper, Derbyshire.

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Birth and Creativity

I’ve often said that being a mother is the bravest thing that I could ever imagine doing. From the process of pregnancy to birth, to the ensuing life of an entirely new being (with all its ups and downs), it’s hardly surprising that many mothers – yes, including mine – appear a bit bonkers. A young mother friend of mine once said that you either have a nervous breakdown the first time you lose sight of your child in a shop, or you get over it and get on. I heard a story this week of a poor child being bullied in school because at age 10, his over-protective mother still won’t allow him to look after himself. It’s a tricky balance, and despite the amount of advice on the bookshelves, I doubt there’s really a ‘How To’ manual that’s actually relevant or useful. And I love those reports that come out periodically along the lines of ‘if Wife/Mother was a job, its salary would this much.’ We can never value those hard-working ladies enough.

The image of the Mother, both in life and in Paganism, has been on my mind lately. My 36th birthday looms (vast dotage indeed), and many of my friends and family members have youngsters in various stages of schooling or upbringing. My sister-in-law queried a while ago whether I intended to have kids, enthusing about how wonderful it is, fulfilling etc – before having to deal with my screaming 3-year old nephew and demanding 1-year old niece. My brother has asked for ‘piece and quiet’ for Christmas; possibly ‘a lie-in’.

I’ve never felt myself to be the mothering type. I’ve still yet to feel those mysterious urges of ‘broodiness’. Not having children with my now-ex husband was an extremely wise decision, but my views haven’t changed. Despite others telling me often that I’d make a good mother, I just have never felt brave enough to undertake the staggering life change that having children involves. Also, there’s surely enough children out there who need a good home? Who am I to add to that, when I could surely help those without?

Yesterday, I found an rather odd article in ‘The Independent‘ (also of the type that is reproduced periodically depending on the level of newspaper pages to fill) that brought this to mind again. Is it society’s fault? Is it an outdated religious ethic, that as animals we must breed, to perpetuate the species? Surely not. Are we not free enough to make our own decisions, as individuals and couples?

Yet I’ve heard the comments as well. ‘You’re not a proper woman unless you have children.’ ‘Oh, you’ll regret it when you’re older.’ Or the assumption that there’s something wrong biologically.

I fully understand and agree that parenthood is a difficult job. Yet, given that it prides itself on its return to traditional ways of life, diversity and eclectic practices, how far does Paganism support the societal view that to be a Mother is a natural – if not essential – step in a woman’s life?

(Apologies to the chaps out there reading this; I’m hopeful that you’ll consider my words as they are meant. I’m absolutely in favour of equality, so bear with me – I’m pretty sure you’ve been short-changed here too…)

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Is that it? The wonderful SageWoman magazine printed an article a while ago about ‘The Queen‘, filling in the space between Mother and Crone, noticing that it’s a time when much can still be accomplished – you’re not just stuck at home with the housework anymore. But what if you don’t want to be a biological Mother?

It’s tickled me in the past in ritual or other such Pagan settings. ‘Oh, you know how kids are,’ happily chirped a young mother during some Reiki training that I was helping with. My reply – a simply ‘No’ – brought her up short so fast, I almost laughed at the shock on her face. Because she was in her mid-20s with a brood that would do a hen proud. Clearly something was wrong with me!

My Goddess is so much more than a biological Mother. Motherhood is the giving birth, the creative act as a whole – not just reproducing children, but the lives contained in the multitude of inspirational sparks of Awen. From art, to feeding others, to building a home, to maintaining a garden… every aspect of life that requires that first initial Go! is given birth.

So… surely I do this already, in my own way? I’m doing so right now, kind of: putting thoughts into words to inspire and provoke thought. I’ve run a household since I left University; I care for my partner and animal family as much as I would any others that I love and live with. The basic idea that leads to a book involves a writing process often compared to pregnancy, with all of its pains and joys.

And this is where the guys come in too. There is no Maiden/Mother/Crone for chaps – why not? Yes, I know, God = Male by default for so many years, they’ve apparently had their go. But that’s an equally daft assumption. I don’t want to go too far the other way – this is about balance and reality combined with spirituality. While I’m obviously a girly and therefore can’t speak from experience, I’m pretty sure that men go through life seeking direction, archetypes and ideas in the same way as women. While it may appear they’re endowed with God-given (ahem) knowledge – you know, how to lead nations, run companies, never cry and understand the offside rule – at puberty, that may actually be as ridiculous as women gaining knowledge of how to be A Good Mother and Keep House at the moment of succcessful insemination.

To me, Druidry is ultimately realistic. It’s a spirituality with its mysteries, yes, but those are experiential – necessary to explore if you wish to learn, and worth so much more as a result. Just simply accepting something because it’s ‘traditional’ (actually less than a century old, if we’re referring to Wiccan archetypes) is as ridiculous as mindlessly accepting any other given truth.

‘God created the world’ – how? Not to provoke argument, I just actually would like to know the explanation behind this. But let’s assume that such a creative act as The Big Bang happened (we’re here, after all) and life has been sparking into being ever since, in all its form and wondrous variety. Coming from both men and women – as we understand it, as limited human beings – often working together.

We have to question our roles in life, to challenge, to explore. If not relevant, then we can (hopefully) be free to discard and find alternatives. One size of life does not fit all, and nor should it – how boring would that be?

Perhaps Maiden, Creatrix/Lady, Crone or suchlike might be better? And Boy, Creator/Lord, Teacher? Just basic ideas from the top of my head here, but let’s step out of our boxes, or feel free to relabel our own.

Establishing Pagan Traditions is one thing. Settling into Pagan Ruts is quite another. How much do we take for granted… and how much do we create? That’s surely a core tenet of Paganism, right there.

 

NB: I have intentionally left homosexuality unmentioned here, as I do not have deep personal experience of this and so do not feel qualified to speak on it. However, I see no reason for male/male or female/female balance to be in any way less valid that any other sort (including parenthood), and have seen it work a fair bit better on occasion! For those who can speak on such a basis, please feel free to add your thoughts, as always  🙂

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Still Singing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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Magic, Spells and Creation

From time to time, I’m asked for information on How To Do Things in a Druidy Way. And inevitably, the topic of magic comes up. But there’s often confusion as well: do Druids even do magic? Isn’t that the preserve of Witches?

Now, belief titles aside, if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? Without will, no tasks would ever be accomplished – the will to do the washing up, the will to go to work… it’s degrees of ‘will’, commitment and enthusiasm that make a job Magical.

To me, magic is the setting of intention and focus to accomplish a task using every means at our disposal. This means that folk of certain belief systems (including Witches and Druids) have different methods of accomplishing this to, say, a carpenter, bricklayer or vicar. A Pagan’s relationship to the wider world encourages practice in particular perspectives, enhancing focus in certain ways, creating definite ‘spells’ with specific tools and ingredients for a defined purpose.

However, that description could be used to illustrate me using my creativity to do a lot of things. Cooking, for example: if I set my intention, use the correct tools and focus, my cake/bread/fish and chips will be far better than if I just threw random ingredients (or pre-frozen meals) into the oven. Magic is therefore in the eye of the beholder, to some extent – a ‘magical’ creation versus something thrown together in five minutes without a care. Even the mundane or functional, if created with the right intention and effort, can still shine with its own particular magic. The mass-produced, however, does not.

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time knitting. I enjoyed it as a youngster, taught by my Nan (of course), and now getting involved in it as a creative adult. At base level, it passes the time, keeps my hands and mind busy… and results in something lovely.

But like any creative act, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Writing, baking, knitting… each of these is a ritual act. From identifying the need, choosing the tools, ingredients and method to actually getting on with the task of putting it all together in the right way, if you do it right, it’s a spell.

It doesn’t necessarily all work out perfectly first time, either. Things go wrong, substitute ingredients have to be found, interruptions, forgetting things… it’s all a learning curve, every time. We can write down what we did as a recipe to refer back to, but every situation is unique, with its own particular circumstances – we can’t be a slave to our spellbooks. My recipe books are the only ones that I ever let myself write in, with amendments, crossings out and notes everywhere.

If we find ourselves getting bored, becoming distracted, then something’s wrong. The result will suffer from our lack of focus/will. Do we give up and do something else, or find our determination and strive on? That intention and decision is one of the most crucial, as it determines the ultimate existence of the creation itself. Challenges exist for a reason.

Mary Poppins and Snow White had the right idea – using magic to create joy in the mundane act of cleaning the house. But Disney turned this into a wand-waving exercise in actually avoiding the work involved. That’s not magic, that’s lazy wish-fulfilment. (Of course I’d love Snow White’s animals to do my housework for me – but they’re not going to, and I’d actually never ask. It’s my job, not theirs!)

Having said this, I find that when you first start out as a Pagan, it’s all about the spells. You find books, look on the internet and so forth, questing for lists of ingredients and rhyming couplets to help you along in life. Then you learn to craft your own ways of doing things, and which parts of more important than others. Ethics enters the frame – to undertake work for another with their knowledge (could they not do it themself?), or without (would they appreciate it?).

In recent years, I’ve hardly used specific ‘spells’, preferring to make my own creativity. I’ve read books on writing, but have put my own work together as feels right to me. It’s infused with my energy, from start to finish.

However, being asked about spellwork has got me thinking, and investigating what’s out there these days for new Pagan seekers. From an ‘Encyclopaedia of Magic’ (good grief!) to the inevitable glut of Love Spells, there’s the usual mass-marketed rubbish.

But then I came across this: ‘Spells for Tough Times‘. Reading the introduction, a chord was struck. Why focus on all the Love and Money spells, when sometimes you just need something to help you focus on a particular problem, overcome a dark time or just rekindle the magic? It can’t always be Halloween around a bonfire, incense burning and robes flowing. Sometimes it’s just you, sitting amidst wreckage and feeling lost.

The intention of the writer is clear and brave, honestly stated. She tackles the hard stuff. She includes her own contact details. Her work and experience is put out into the world primarily to serve, to help where possible. As is my own, and that of many others

We all make our own magic. It’s the intention of living well, fully and honourably, putting our truth into each daily ritual, recognising the balance of the good and bad times as part of life. If the ancient Witches, Druids and Wise Folk had done a bad or half-arsed job, like any other providing a service, they would not have been called on very often. If books, recipes or workers do a bad job today, they’re left to gather dust or find another role.

If we want something to work especially well, that need infuses the intention and the creative act. Bread for ritual is very different to bread for everyday. A prayer shawl created as a meditation is different to a quick and functional scarf. All have a common link in usefulness, but the ‘magic’ is tangibly different.

How do we perform our everyday rituals? What about the ‘special’ ones, the dressing up for an event, the differences (wedding or funeral?) and feelings these evoke? That tiny act of lighting a candle and wishing someone well…

Magic infuses our lives, in the energy that allows us to live fully to how we use that for others. So today, not only ‘What are you doing’, but How, and Who/What for?

Go forth and create your own magic!

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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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