by Theo Wildcroft
As pagans and druids, we worry and debate about the authenticity of our practices, our stories and songs, and our gods. We define ourselves by drawing boundaries around Northern Europe, or Celtic versus Saxon influence, or marker points in time. Forgive my bluntness, but I think we’re missing the point. We become overly influenced by concepts such as intellectual purity and social corruption, trying to fix our uniqueness, our difference, and our place in a world of indigenous faiths whilst another part of us reaches out instinctively to reclaim what we really need.
I think this pattern repeats itself all over, as physical practices bubble up out of the ground, taking on the names of other traditions as a way back into our lives. Mark Graham (http://www.druidcamp.org.uk/a-potted-history-of-druid-camp/) talks convincingly of how sweat lodges are just not the same in Britain as they are in the US – and I know he believes that this is a reclaiming, a bubbling up of an older British tradition.
When the much mourned Gabrielle Roth (http://www.gabrielleroth.com/) wrote passionately about her practice of ecstatic dance, she urged all of us to ‘sweat your prayers’. All across the world, the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic diaspora is expressing its love of life through theoretically foreign or brand new physical practices – practices of the body. I know that some of you use dances, songs and drum chants from other cultures; whilst others practice Nordic or East Asian martial arts. And I know why, because I’ve tried most of them too.
Some things that the body has to show and teach us may be universal, but I think that others are more specific to our environment or ancestry. In our own lifetimes, we are endlessly evolving and adapting. Due to the evolutionary accident that combines a narrow female pelvis and an oversized brain, we are each born months, if not years, immature. The human frame, brain and body is formed in response to experience. From the ages of both 0-3 and 10-13, your central nervous system blossoms, creating millions more synapses than you need, and then ruthlessly culling the ones you don’t use. But this process doesn’t end in mid adolescence. Instead, it continues at a slower rate throughout your life. What you repeatedly do, think and feel – what you practice – is who you become. You remake yourself every day.
And after all what we have inherited most clearly from our ancestors is our hearts, our hands and our voices. The legs we stand on were shaped by generation after generation walking this land. My hands just had to remember how to spin and knit and sew; how to wield a hammer or a saw; or how to pick up a child, because they were shaped by these acts a thousand times over, and that shape was written in my genetic code.
For many pagans, thousands of years of a natural, temperate, northern environment has done the most to shape your body – your nervous system, your digestion, your skin, and every other aspect of your physical existence, is still responding as if it lived in a shelter in the woods, feeling safe among the fires of your tribe. All this has changed in a historical heartbeat – in just a few generations. Are you aware that even the presence of artificial light in your evening environment can disrupt your sleep patterns so badly, it correlates to a statistically significant increase in rates of cancer?
Look at your hands right now, really look. Go ahead. Can you see just the tiniest fraction of all that they are asking to do; all that they are capable of – and all that has been handed down to you?
“Three drops of inspiration touch the tongue…
if the soul does not sing its song, the third is slow poison…” Emma Restall Orr
I want you to do something more for me. I want you to take off your shoes, if you’re wearing them. And your socks too, and place your feet in contact with the floor.
Some of you will be resisting the invitation. Just try, and stay with why it’s uncomfortable for you. Some of us will be worrying about whether the floor is safe, or warm enough, and whether the world is going to hurt us. Some of us will be worrying about whether our feet are ugly or smelly, or in other ways shameful and beastly; and unfit to be shared with others.
I spend a lot of time in alternative communities. Last summer I helped build the most beautiful hexagonal compost loo out of green larch wood at Monkton Wyld near Bridport (http://www.monktonwyldcourt.co.uk/). I’m finding that a good indicator of a person’s character is their attitude to waste – especially human waste.
And isn’t that interesting? How often do we cling on to a barrier between our physical self and the world; with all the other human and other than human people in it? There is a shame there that I share:
in my head, I criticise myself endlessly for my few extra pounds, my grey hairs and wrinkles, my scars and marks: for all the times my mind feels that my body has not been the perfect machine I somehow expect it to be. Part of me can’t stop doing it, even as I feel guilty about being so ungrateful. And yet…
I was taught, and I believe that the best offerings I can make to my gods, and to my world, are of my physical self. That this is a true sacrifice – not a grand offering crafted by another and bought with my money; no matter how finely wrought. This is an offering made out of my own hair and sweat and spit in the wind. First, foremost, this is who I am; this is Awen in its rawest form, incomplete, flawed, and therefore perfectly real.
In so many traditions, including our own is a linguistic link between breath and spirit. Each breath, tirelessly received and offered back is a tangible experience of exchange with the world. In each breath, we exchange gases, and warmth, and scent and moisture, and a thousand other subconscious intimacies. Your life depends upon each inhalation. Many other lives depend in return on the gift that you exhale.
How were we ever seduced as a culture into believing that humanity stands apart from a world Created for our dominion? In each breath we whisper the truth: that in this jewel of a world, there may be pain and violence and cruelty, but nothing is lost or wasted or irredeemably corrupted unless our thinking makes it so. And because this intimate relationship with the world our mother can never be truly broken, renewed as it is with each breath, and meal, and piss, with each life and death, this bond calls to us still to be healed.
Find Theo here… http://www.wildyoga.co.uk