Everyday Druidry

How might we make Druidry more of our daily lives? Do we need to insert more periods of meditation into the day? Does prayer need wrapping around the day’s activities, bringing sacredness to everything we do? Should we be looking for the service in all things? The opportunities to be more innately useful to our land, tribe and gods? How about bringing more beauty into the world by approaching every mundane daily task with grace, style, inspiration and a sense of wonder about the sheer amazingness of being alive and being able to launder the wondrous ancestral creation that is underwear…

Every word we say can be a prayer, an expression of our bardic creativity, a manifestation of integrity. That’s a hard thing to pull off, especially when you’re ill, struggling, tired, stressed, surrounded by idiots and otherwise not feeling much love and awen. There’s nothing like suspecting you ought to be feeling more love and awen to quietly build a sense of frustration and resentment. Other Druids are no doubt doing their dusting from a place of insightful enlightenment, and pick up what few groceries they do not grow themselves in a state of mindful calm that is at peace with other people’s screaming children and untroubled by long queues and the BO of strangers. You know who I mean, the *other* druids who have it all figured out. The ones we haven’t met.

It took me some hours of wakefulness to get this blog post started. Today I am tired. I don’t feel like being inspired or making beauty. My body is sore. It may be sunny but communing with nature takes effort, and I am woefully short of energy. Service – well, I’m writing stuff for people, I’ll try to be useful, but I feel a strong desire to be bloody selfish and lazy today. I’d like to sit somewhere warm and do very little. There are, if I am honest, more days when I feel like this than when I feel like gracefully dancing with the awen through everything I do. There are more days of wanting to be a grumpy hermit than there are times of wanting to get out there and experience the different songs of life, harmonising in all their… that stuff… you know… enthusiastic, poetic things animists say.

If I’m honouring nature, then I also need to honour that as it manifests in me. Today, my animal body is tired and sore. Doing anything is an effort. My concentration is shot, finding words for stuff is like… umm… trudging. Through something that does not lend itself to being trudged through. While carrying a heavy thing and wearing stupid shoes. This is not a day for grace and beauty, or for singing the songs of my ancestors and embodying the animist poetry of existence.

This is what I’ve got. I’ll push to do whatever must be done, and to assuage my tendency to feel guilty on the not productive days. Because I’m not made of clever, I have no idea what the answer is to how we do our Druidry on the days of feeling like a pile of poo. If you have insights and are moved to share, do pile in to the comments section.

Eating seasonal

There are a lot of advantages to eating seasonally. Often it’s cheaper, it’s definitely greener and it gives you a stronger connection with the seasons. Finding out what grows seasonally where you are, and what comes in seasonally from further afield is an education in itself.

One of the big seasonal issues for me is whether or not I cook. During the winter months, hot food is very much needed – we walk for transport, are out a lot and hot food makes a lot of difference to comfort and viability. I can’t claim that I love cooking. I do it from scratch most days, and there are days when that’s a bit of a grind if there are a lot of other things that need doing. What’s been a real sanity saver this winter, has been the slow cooker. A few minutes of throwing in whatever’s to hand, a few hours of it chuffing along, and some kind of veg heavy delight emerges.

Now we’re moving into salad season. When it’s warm, there’s something delightful about eating raw; there’s a freshness and immediacy to it. Better still if the food has come out of local soil, but not having a garden, that’s slightly trickier to do. There is a local food hub here, and I’m exploring windowsill growing –I have a few herbs on the go, and may try a few salad leaves. We’re a good area for foraging because not only is there a lot in the hedgerows (I know where my sloes are for next autumn) but also community orchards. The idea of making food plants accessible has some currency round here.

I’m eyeing up places where gorilla food planting might be an option. It’s something I’d like to explore if I can figure out how to do it – using sites that were part of the railway line, so aren’t any kind of pristine natural space, and are publically accessible. I don’t know whether edible plants put out would be respected or not – the only way to find out is by doing – but the apple trees that have been planted have all been treated kindly, so I’m hopeful.

I look around at the open spaces, the vast swathes of useless grass where very little lives, and I wonder why we devote so much space to rather sterile ornamentation, rather than letting habitats establish, or using spaces to grow food. Edible plants are not ugly, although I prefer not to have them in rows. Why have we settled on an aesthetic where only that which has little or no practical use to us or other native inhabitants, is deemed attractive? Wouldn’t it be better if we replaced lawns with gardens and had freely available seasonal food?

Inspiration for a Greener World

On Friday night I went to the book launch for Storytelling for a Greener World. Having loved the book, it was fascinating to get to see and hear some of the people who contributed to it. Having had some encounters with Forest Schools via the boy, I was really excited to get to meet Jon Cree, one of its founders. I’d not heard Anthony Nanson storytelling before, so that was lovely, and Jonathan Porritt, with his imagined future historian, talking about how we saved the world, was really inspiring. There were many other participants and great moments, but name checking everyone and talking about everything I liked would take up a whole blog.

What touched me most over the evening came from Alida Gersie. Alida was an editor for and significant contributor to the book, and I had not heard her speak before. She talked about her work with terminally ill children, and the importance of thinking about what we do now. Thinking too much about the future, doesn’t work, she pointed out.

Lights came on in my head. I’ve taken a few days to really sit with this and think about it. I spend a lot of my time on how we get there. Politically, especially, but also practically, there seems to be an alarming amount that needs to happen to get us from this mess of greed and climate change, to a compassionate and sustainable future. The right wing around the world seems to be getting ever more crazy and psychotic in its pronouncements and activities. This scares me.

I could spend every waking hour of my whole life doing everything I can think of to make a greener world, and still not make enough difference. This haunts me. It gnaws at my guts in the early morning. It eats into my hope, and undermines my faith in my own work. Got to try harder, got to do more, got to make changes, got to push towards getting there… what happens? I get ill, exhausted, demoralised, as do a lot of other activists.

I wish I could quote Alida word for word, but I was so busy being struck by what she said that I did not manage to commit it to memory. There is no point focusing on the future. What we have to do is focus on now. What can we do today? What can we do in the next ten minutes? How can we change the small, day to day things for the better?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few days, much of it yesterday afternoon on a hilltop in the quiet company of other Druids. How would I be living if we were there already? If the political and social changes had been made, to change our collective direction. If we had already transitioned to a more viable, sustainable, compassionate way of life, what would I be doing with my time? Not working and worrying myself sick, for a start.

I made a decision. I do not know how it’s going to work in practice because figuring this out is going to be a day to day sort of process. As I find out more about how it works, I’ll come back and talk about it. What I’ve decided is to live like we’re already there. To imagine the life I would have in a post-transition, rational, politically sane, carbon neutral bio-regional economy of the necessary future, and then to live that as best I am able. One thing I am certain about is that it involves days off and changing my relationship with money. The rest, is going to be an adventure.

Hard working families

The government loves hard working families, and puts those three words together every chance it gets. To be a good person in the UK is to be part of a hard working family. Neatly disenfranchising those who can’t find work, aren’t well enough to work, aren’t allowed to work (asylum seekers), who are too old to work, or not working to raise children, or not part of a regular family unit. They don’t say it explicitly but we all know that no single mum is part of the Tory ‘hard working families’ vision.

What we are to understand is that if you work hard, you will be ok. Never mind that the minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, and that one working class wage will not buy a house in many places. Never mind the food banks and the pay day lenders, the young people who have no choice but to stay in the parental home, we are to believe that working hard will save us. Even if it doesn’t. Even though the loss of a job would put most households on their knees in all too short a time frame.

The thing about working hard, really hard and raising a family while you do it, is that there’s not much chance to think. School, after school care, food and laundry, work, commuting, shopping, paying the bills… You run around frantically from when you wake up to when you fall into bed, trying to make ends meet, and to get everything done. There’s not much time to notice how you aren’t winning. If you’re tired, you don’t work smart, or efficiently, you just stumble on as best you can.

There are things that reliably lower and wipe out self-esteem. Having no time for rest and leisure is one of those. Make people work all the time, give them no quality of life and day by day you grind down their sense of self worth. A person with no sense of self worth has a hard time defending themselves, standing up for their interests or even feeling entitled to fight their own corner. I think this may be deliberate.

So we have schemes to keep the unemployed busy and stressed, jumping through hoops so that they don’t have time to think either, and we’re maybe going to extend school hours and get those kids broken in sooner. Work hard enough and you’ll never have the time or energy to ask why you still can’t pay the bills, and why the prices are rising, and why you keep being asked to do more whilst being paid less for it.

That’s why I wrote this blog on Friday. I’ve been working seven day weeks for ages. I’m not doing it any more. I’m taking some time out to think about things, and to decide what would work, and how best to do things – not running flat out all the time, but working smarter, and having days off. Whole days. Regularly. I am not going to be part of a hard working family. I want a decent quality of life, and I’m going to make that happen.

When despair helps

Generally I’m pro-hope as a way of keeping going, staying sane and emotionally viable, and being able to get stuff done. Sometimes though, hope traps us and despair sets us free, and I thought it would be interesting to ponder that a bit.

Hope allows us to imagine that things will get better, that we can make a difference, that time will heal and wisdom will prevail. Hope is what enables you, day after day, to show up to the nigh on impossible and keep trying to move mountains. Without hope there can be no epic changes, no wild innovation and all the people who say it can’t be done get to be right. With hope, that apparently impossible task can turn into that which you have actually done. Hope is a powerful thing.

However, misplaced hope is not a helpful thing. If we hold onto the belief that it will get better, and that our staying and slogging away at it makes a difference, we can give a lot of time to achieving very little, or to staying in spaces that hurt us. Maybe one day he will value me and be kind to me… maybe this job will be better next year… maybe the neighbours will move and I won’t feel so intimidated… maybe this government won’t sell us out to the corporations… maybe once they see the evidence they’ll be reasonable… and on we go.

Many things only work if you’re dealing with sane and reasonable people. When you’re not, then hope becomes dangerous. Hoping that climate change won’t happen… hoping that politicians will see sense and do something about it – this does not work. It is misplaced hope, and we need to invest our belief and energy in changes we can make for ourselves and become the tidal wave that changes everything.

Despair can give us the push to move on. In giving up, we can become able to shake off what’s restricting us, kick it squarely in the shins and get on with our lives. Giving up on ideas, beliefs, hopes and people hurts like hell. It is a loss that can be as profound as a bereavement, but without the wider support because nothing visible died. What died was inside you, in your heart, in your head. We don’t do funerals for the loss of political ideals, although I suspect there are a lot of grieving and betrayed Liberals out there who could have done with just that. We don’t have funerals when we realise our idea of someone was imaginary and the real person is totally different. Our ideal is dead, but we have no means to honour it.

These private deaths and personal losses are deeply affecting, and agony to go through. However, on the far side of the death of hope, is a fresh start. A chance to rethink, do differently and find a better place to invest our hope.

Connecting with nature

I’ve spent time taking people into the woods, and when I’m in hides, I spend a lot of time pointing out the interesting stuff to random strangers. Connecting with nature can be a confusing business, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s easy to sit on the outside, feeling a bit alienated. Are those all ducks? How do I tell? What does it mean if they aren’t? Seeing the web of life as a meaningful set of connections, practical and spiritual, is tricky if you can’t see the individuals. If the landscape is so much background and all the trees look the same, where do you start?

The naming of nature, is a human process. Just having a name can feel like having some power and insight, but if you don’t go beyond that, there’s limited use. The process of being able to see other life forms as distinct individuals, is really exciting. With practice, it’s not just a case of being able to say ‘ah yes, a fox’ but to know this is an old dog fox and that one is probably a last year cub, and that fellow with a bit of white on his nose is the one who does unspeakable things to your dustbin bags.

A name is an opener to a story. With the name we are able to access a bit of information about who this is and what they do, and why they matter. The name is a bridge between the physical presence, and the story.

I was in a hide yesterday, watching the birds. A bunch of noisy kids came in, peering out of windows, seeing green stuff and stuff with feathers. Bored, tired, probably a bit alienated, it wasn’t enough to be looking out of the windows because none of it meant anything. So I went over to them, and pointed out the two wild cranes, and said a few things about what an amazing thing it is to see them. Awed hush descended, and by the time their responsible adults showed up, we had a group of excited birdwatchers pointing out the wild cranes and telling the story of what they were seeing.

I love it when I’m able to do things like that. It’s something I’d lost sight of, because so much of the work I do is at a distance. The immediacy of children in a hide engaging and being excited about what’s out there, reminded me how important it is to me to be able to help other people engage with nature. I’m not sure what to do with this right now, other than hold it as something that matters, and see what’s out there.

Religious rest days

I watch with interest the sporty folk who make a point of taking rest days, and sometimes even rest weeks from their fitness regimes. Walking for transport and doing a few other things the old fashioned way, I tend to do what’s needed, rather than having any kind of deliberate physical practice. However, the idea of rest days fascinates me. I admit, I haven’t had a proper total day off in months, and it is on my mind to change how I do things.

What about religious rest days, though? Not in the sense of setting aside a day each week for religion, but in having days off from religion.

Daily practice is something we talk about a lot. Creating and maintaining a daily practice is seen as a very good goal to have and a key part to an active religious life. Those who have a daily practice are clearly in a different place to those who only show up at festivals. Daily acts of devotion, meditation, prayer, connection with nature… these embed the spiritual into our lives so that there is no separation between us and our practice.

For as long as I can remember, my main aim as a Druid has been to bring the Druidry consciously to everything I do. This in turn requires me to think about everything, a lot. Things I say and do, how I live from moment to moment, deeper implications of pretty much everything. I am aware (because I’ve been thinking about this) that I may be over thinking, too self conscious, too analytical, too busy trying to develop the philosophy of living and not able as a consequence, to be peaceful within myself.

What would it mean to have religious rest days? To set aside time where I don’t let myself dwell on things and contemplate at length? What would it mean, practically, emotionally and spiritually to have days when I’m not trying hard to be a good Druid? And, while we’re pondering, what is this measure of ‘being a good Druid’ that I have settled on that is so very much about striving and working hard and having to improve all the time. Is that Druidry? Or is it just a way of manifesting insecurity? What am I trying to prove, and to whom am I trying to prove it? I don’t believe in the great score keeping god in the sky poised to hand out sweeties or smacks depending on how we did in his tests. So why am I still trying to fill in the score card?

Of course my response to this is to think about it a lot. But I may be going to make some changes.

Comfort or challenge?

How do we handle communal Druid situations? Do we tend towards the intellectually challenging approach, or the emotionally compassionate approach? I come into contact with both, and with critiques of both.

Online spaces tend to be more cerebral, inevitably. We’re dealing with words and often have little insight into the feelings of others. Spaces of challenge are great when you’re developing your philosophy and want to test ideas. They can be good places to get pointers for study, if the quality of information flowing about is good. This is my first issue with challenge spaces – any idiot can do it, and a lot do.

Knocking someone down requires neither skill nor knowledge. A willingness to shout abuse is all that’s needed. Where the aim is to win, to be right and to prove superiority, challenging spaces can breed misinformation and self-important rubbish. The more someone wants to shout their ultimate truth at you, the less helpful a space tends to be.

Safe spaces full of group hugs and warm, fuzzy noises tend to seem lovely, and nurturing, but are not without their critics. Accusations of people vamping energy off others by manufacturing distress, are common. Safe spaces, it is said, perpetuate fluffy nonsense and make it impossible to challenge stupid thinking and misinformation. If we aren’t allowed to challenge each other, how can we grow and learn?

Both approaches when undertaken well can make for excellent spaces, and either can be done badly. In both instances I think it comes down to care and respect. Challenge spaces all too easily become shouty spaces due to a lack of these two features. Challenge spaces tend to attract people who want to be listened to, and once you’ve got someone who cannot bear to be disagreed with, things can get nasty. Ironically, what the angry troll of the challenge space probably needs is a safe hug in a comfort space where everyone is nice to them.

Compassion is not essentially complicit. We can be gentle with each other without agreeing in all things and without creating spaces where the only way to get validated is to be bleeding. If we’re doing comfort spaces, it’s important to do that same warmth and compassion when there is no drama. If hugs are available without tears, you don’t get a culture of wound waving.

Often in challenge spaces, we do not challenge all out rudeness. I’ve seen sexism and other forms of prejudice demand a space because “they are entitled to their opinion” and challenge spaces can be curiously unwilling to tackle that kind of ‘diversity’. And yes, comfort spaces don’t always push people to make the changes that would solve problems, and that’s not actually a manifestation of care and respect, either.

We are all our own priests and priestesses. That means anyone who self identifies as a Pagan is responsible for their own path. We are not responsible for each other’s beliefs and ideas or for each other’s choices. The problems start, in comfort and challenge spaces alike when we try to transfer responsibility in some way. If I have to make you think the way I do, I’m claiming responsibility for your path. If you all have to be responsible for my emotional wellbeing, I’m abdicating responsibility. We interact as fine, interconnecting threads of influence, and the best thing we can do with this, most of the time, is to express our own beliefs and ideas through our actions. There’s no point shouting abuse at the person you find rude, or having a big, melodramatic meltdown at the person who you find over emotional. If we demonstrate how we want things to be, if we don’t feed the situations we claim to have problems with, and if we politely offer alternatives, many of the imagined problems will simply go away. That might make the real issues around those occasional genuine predators and actual bigots easier to spot and deal with, too.

Knocked down, getting up

I start today tired, and wondering how on earth I’m going to manage the things that need doing – some of which are large and hard to make sense of. Some of which have floored me. Life is full of knock downs and we all get them. The rotten luck, the tragedies, the being crapped on from a great height. So here are the things I’ve learned.

Good friends are precious beyond words, and when you’re on your knees and life threatens to break you, friends are everything. Sometimes there’s insight, experience and perspective that can help turn a problem around. Sometimes it’s the sheer power of having people who believe in you and won’t give up and will sit with you and hold your hand and help you try to get up again, and support you when you wobble a bit. Friends who cheerlead. Friends who refuse to let you quit even when you’re so beaten it seems the only option. Friends who carry hope for you when you have none of your own.

Often what will keep me down once I’m knocked is the belief there is no point getting up again. That’s not always a depression issue. That’s for the days when three toxic things rolled in one after another and I can’t face another panic attack and there doesn’t seem to be any way of fixing things. There is no getting up unless you can work up some faith and hope things might get better. Belief like this can be wholly irrational – I’ve been through enough things I was told could not be done. Sometimes what it takes to get up is the skill to magic up irrational belief that it can get better.

I have to believe that I do not deserve the knock down. I do not belong on the floor. That’s been hard to get to grips with, and is not an easy thought to hold when things are bad.

Then there’s the decision about what sort of person I want to be. I don’t want to lie on the floor in a snotty heap, whimpering. I would rather die fighting. While there is breath, while I can act in any way, it is better to have the metaphorical sword or the actual pen in hand and to wield them. Thus far, every time I’ve thought I could not possibly bear any more, I have eventually managed to drag myself up for another round. I have taken beatings, emotional, psychological. I’ve been pasted physically by illness. I get up and I do it again. I won’t sit down, shut up and consent to being a victim. Never again.

The winding Druid path

When I first started to explore Druidry in a deliberate way, my path for the first few years was dominated by learning about what modern Druids do. I learned the wheel of the year and the conventions of ritual, explored some of the philosophy and spent a fair amount of time working out how what I already knew fitted in with that.

For a while my main focus became service – volunteering for several organisations, reviewing books, writing website articles, organising things. As circumstances changed, I found myself running rituals and teaching meditation. For some years the essence of my Druidry was helping other people along their path and most things I did were with an eye to how they might be helpful, not how they could deepen my practice or carry me forwards. But of course nonetheless, this did deepen my practice and carry me forwards.

I had a few years as a hermit – unplanned but necessary. With no community on hand that needed me, I started writing books and blogs. I went on an intense journey that changed my relationship with owning stuff and using resources. My Druidry became about this world and learning to live as lightly as I could. I started exploring prayer, developing a much richer and very private personal practice, totally different from anything I’d done before.

Returning to dry land, I’ve been exploring community again – not just Druid spaces. Finding places to be and struggling a bit with how and where I might fit. I’ve dedicated time in service to OBOD, which I’m really enjoying. A deepening relationship with my ancestors – which focused on ancestors of blood when it started nearly 4 years ago, has become a deep exploration of ancient ancestry. It involves a lot of physical journeys, walking ancestral ways in the landscape and exploring their places.

This summer I’ll be teaching ritual skills at camp. It’s a bit like going back to the things I was first doing – ritual comes easily and naturally to me, and always did. I come full circle in this one having learned a lot, and changed, and it will be a new journey. I know I learn most when I’m teaching.

At the moment I’m also finding that the call to express my Druidry has become a call to political activism. I see a lot of my friends responding in the same way. How can we talk about tribe, land, nature, relationship, without responding to the destructive political approaches that dominate right now. Badger culls, fracking, climate change and social injustice to name but a few make it difficult to waft about in the robes, ignoring the mainstream. We are needed more than ever, to act, and to speak up. As protestors, as commentators, as potential politicians ourselves, I’m seeing a lot of Druids and fellow travellers gritting their teeth and wading into the unlovely world of politics. Because we must.

My great longing at the moment is that the tide will turn. Hope will triumph over hate. Reason will triumph over delusion. The lying, cheating, stealing bastards around the world will be kicked out of positions of power, and a more functional set of people will take over. People with fair and sensible ideas who, for the majority of the time can be left to get on with it. But not all the time, because that makes them complacent. I dream of a future where there is no call to be political, and when the Druid path will bring me to some new place. Community resilience perhaps. Tree planting. Sitting on hills all night. A life where I can sing songs and make up stories, and not worry so much. Perhaps we can get there.


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