Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.


Singing at the end of summer

Seasons seldom end in clear cut ways in the UK. We move from summer towards autumn and some parts of the day are significantly more autumnal than others. I noted recently about the way early mornings feel like autumn long before anything else does. Now the evenings are drawing in and the nights are colder, autumn is also here after dark.

In the daytime, it is still summery and can be quite hot. However, the days are much shorter than they were back in the summer, and this means we’ve reached the end of singing outside season. This has been an important part of summer for me both this year and last year. Amidst all the covid hazards and limitations, it’s been evident that meeting up outside is reasonably safe. I’ve run a singing circle in the park once a week.

When we started singing in 2020 the level of hazard presented by singing wasn’t clear, and there had been a lot of government restrictions on singing indoors. However, all the other evidence suggested that air flow seemed to be one of the biggest factors in people catching covid. In a well ventilated indoors space, the chances of catching it are low. A small group of people outside didn’t seem like a big risk, and we’re able to spread out and not sing into each other’s faces. We’ve all been covid-free around this.

Singing outside has been a major part of my social contact. It’s also not as demanding as socialising, because people can just bring the words for songs and take it in turns. Emerging from isolation, and most of us being either introverts or ominverts, it has been good to have that extra crutch and not need to figure out so much about how to talk to other people.

The evenings have been drawing in for some time. Darkness marks the end of the session, in part because the jackdaws come into roost and they aren’t quiet, and the key of jackdaw is challenging for human singers. Also it gets cold after dark. We’ve hit the point where this all happens too early in the evening to have a decent session, and it won’t be long before sitting out in the evenings is too cold anyway.

This autumn we may still be allowed to meet up inside. We may have some options for sheltered daytime singing sessions. I’m exploring the options. Singing has been a big part of how I’m sociable for a long time, and I hope I can keep it going through the winter without putting anyone at significant risk.


Nature, culture and healing

What makes you feel like yourself? What do you do that gives you a sense of being fully present, alive and acting from a place of authenticity? Conversely, how much time do you spend in spaces where you have to pretend to be other than you are? What do you do that robs you of identity and leaves you numb, disengaged and dysfunctional?

One of the truly great things about being outside and alone is that you don’t have to perform. The elements do not require you to be other than you are. If your sense of self has been crushed by pressures and expectations, this time alone might be your best hope of healing and finding yourself. We don’t lose ourselves anything like as much as we have our identities taken from us.

We can end up feeling that we are the roles we are obliged to perform. If our work, our usefulness, our family identity is the only thing anyone else sees and interacts with, the result can be lonely and demoralising. We all need the room to be more than the utility we provide to others.

Running off into the wilderness can be a tempting antidote to this. But, humans put a lot of pressure on what wild nature remains. It might be more productive to stop looking to nature to heal us and start looking to human culture not to ravage us in the first place. A better work-life balance would do a lot to restore many people to themselves. A kinder, more inclusive, supportive and spacious society would really help too.


Madness and language

For some years now I’ve been exploring my own language use to try and weed out inadvertent abelism. For example, like a lot of people, I’d been in the habit of using blindness to refer to things people refuse to see, are willfully oblivious to, or are unable to recognise because of cultural and personal biases. This brought up all sorts of interesting things as well for how often I default to writing ‘see’ rather than a more inclusive ‘perceive’ or ‘experience’. I’m keen to tighten up my language use so as to be more precise, and to avoid abelism.

I’m trying to be more alert to the way in which language that criticises people for low intelligence or lack of education is used to attack people who make deliberately bad choices. One of the things this does aside from demeaning people with learning difficulties is to draw attention away from deliberateness.

Madness is proving to be a tricky one to figure out. As a person with ongoing mental health problems, the only time I find madness language offensive is when a white man kills people and the media jump straight in with ‘he must have mental health problems.’ There are certainly issues around using the language of madness to flag up disagreement. It’s much more effective to call out a person’s reasoning if that’s the actual problem. It’s also important to be careful with people whose thinking has been distorted by gaslighting – there’s a lot of that out there right now. People with poor critical thinking skills who have been extensively exposed to lies can end up with a really distorted sense of reality. It’s important to talk about what that is – calling them mad makes it sound like a personal issue, not a deliberate thing that’s been done to them.

The difficulty with madness is that there’s a glorious side to it. It’s been part of our literary traditions for a long time, and overlaps heavily with religious experience. I have been told that the difference between shamanism and madness is that the shaman goes deliberately and comes back at the time of their choosing. Some of us actively seek madness in substances, in extreme activities that bring on different states of consciousness, perhaps even in meditation. I knew someone once who drove himself clinically mad with excessive meditation practices.

Ecstatic experiences and insanity can be hard to tell apart. Inspiration, the fire in the head can feel like madness if it hits hard. To most people, belief in magic is itself madness. I find it problematic when other people use the language of madness to belittle spiritual experiences. The numinous is not rational.

I’m also aware that romanticising madness is really problematic. For many people experiencing mental health problems, the reality is hellish. Misery and the inability to act are more likely outcomes than literally or metaphorically being away with the fairies. The wild upswings of mania can seem fabulous while a person is experiencing them, but can prove life destroying. 

Madness is the state of not being engaged with consensus reality. We don’t really have a separate language for the people who have sought that deliberately. I am reminded of the bit in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell where a person seeking insight into fairy distills madness into the body of a mouse and then makes mouse water from the body, and drinks it. Choosing to drink the mousewater is a very different experience from falling apart organically, even if the look of it is similar.


Flower Spirit – fiction

Once there were magicians who made women out of flowers. They wanted women who were pure and innocent, and they understood neither womanhood, nor flowers. For in truth, flowers are promiscuous, happily opening their petals to one and all, welcoming insects, bats, birds, even the wind, depending on their nature. The magicians may have been clever, but they lacked for wisdom.

Why even did they crave purity? Well, the truth of it is that inexperience makes a person slower to detect the failings of others. The less you know, the more easily you may be persuaded that what you are experiencing is normal. Purity is no shield at all. But how can a woman made of flowers be innocent? Made of colour and joy and the exuberant sexual nature of the flowers themselves, the flower women were joyful, sexual, colouringful beings and not the meek creatures the magicians had hoped for.

Then there came a time when the land grew barren. With so many people and so few plants to feed them, the magicians wondered if perhaps they might make flowers out of women. They had learned the art that finds the seeds for all things inside all things, and so it was not difficult for them to make flowers in this way. They did not ask whether anyone wanted to be turned into flowers. However, it was a time of great sorrow and people who are in despair are not always careful of their own interests. 

But still their plans did not meet with great success. They had looked upon women and flowers alike merely as objects for use. It is impossible to truly understand the world if all you can think of is how you might make use of its various parts. For all that they had great magic at their command, they did not put an end to suffering. Because of them, you will still sometimes find women who are really flowers, and flowers that remember being women, and many other strange confusions that their meddling has caused.

(art by Dr Abbey, story may or may not turn out to relate to other projects – I’m not currently sure!)


External sources for internal viability

The advice around mental health is consistent. Don’t base your self esteem on external sources like approval or achievement. Don’t base your will to live on things outside of yourself, or other people. Don’t make your sense of self about how other people treat you. We’re encouraged not to be too focused on things we see as evidence of success or on the opinions of other people.

All of which assumes you have some kind of internal resource to draw on where you can realistically base those things. I blogged a while ago about what it’s like having nothing to reboot from, and this line of thought follows on from that. 

Internal resources are something most people will build during childhood. The experience of feeling secure – practically and emotionally – is a key experience. The child who grows up feeling loved and wanted, respected, valued and worthwhile will internalise those values. If you grow up without those experiences, all of your sense of self worth depends on the conditions you are in, and the conditions placed on you. The less-functional childhood doesn’t offer unconditional acceptance, instead the child learns the terms on which they might earn praise, approval and other affirmations.

For some children, there is never the experience of being good enough. This can particularly impact on children who show early signs of being talented, gifted or unusually clever and who are then burdened with high expectations and come to feel inadequate as a consequence. I hear from my neurodivergent friends about the ways in which not being able to do what the neurotypical kids did impacted on their childhood. It’s not always about deliberate cruelty, control or neglect – although it can be. Well meaning parental ambition can really mess a kid up. 

If you have nothing to reboot from, you may find it really hard as an adult trying to build a sense of self worth from scratch. But here’s the thing – happy children don’t actually do that by themselves. They develop self esteem from the supportive, encouraging feedback they receive from the people around them. Trying to grow confidence or a feeling that your life has meaning as a solitary, inner process is hard, perhaps impossible. The key is to find people who can help you with that.

Unconditional care isn’t something that only parents can provide to children. Your true friends will value you for who you are, and they won’t make you jump through hoops to win approval. There are many people out there who will treat you with respect and dignity simply because you exist. There are people who default to kindness. If you grew up without this, you may find it hard to trust or recognise, but that’s the inner work to focus on. Work out how to find the people who make you feel good about yourself. Start imagining that you are allowed to feel good and be happy, and that you don’t have to jump through hoops to earn that. Find the people who don’t want you to jump through ever more hoops.

Mental health is not something that exists in  isolation. There’s always a context. How we treat each other has huge implications for our wellbeing. Some people grow up with the confidence to know that they deserve kindness and respect. Some people don’t start from there, and can struggle to imagine deserving to be treated well. No one can fix that on their own, but we can do a great deal together. 


Who will do the work?

Who will do the work if we just give people enough money to live on? It’s a question I see all too often around any kind of suggestion that welfare support should not leave people in abject misery.

No one imagines that people who would otherwise have been priests, musicians, doctors, politicians, teachers, actors, CEOs and so forth would just stay at home doing nothing if decent benefits were available. We recognise that some jobs have intrinsic value. Also no one imagines people would be motivated not to go after high paying jobs if offered adequate out-of-work support.

Who will do the awful work if they aren’t frightened into it by the greater horrors of abject poverty? Who will tolerate the ten and twelve hour shifts at minimum wage if the alternative isn’t worse? How do we make people accept tedious, dead end work where they will be treated with contempt? How do we make it attractive to be in physical pain because of the demands of the job? That’s what’s really going on when we suggest that adequate benefits might discourage people from seeking jobs. 

The alternative of course would be to make sure all jobs provide a living wage. We could reconsider shift lengths, and night work and other health-destroying job issues. We could try and reduce commutes and let more people work from home. If work was interesting, nicer, better paid, more rewarding, then being on benefits would be less attractive. But, how are we to extract value for the shareholders if we don’t exploit the workers? How can we maintain the hugely inflated salaries of the management if we don’t keep the cleaners in poverty? 

If we make being out of work as unpleasant and hazardous as possible, there’s every incentive for people to take any job they can get, no matter how awful. If, on the other hand, we assume that people have a right to decent standards of living, and that working yourself to death for a pittance isn’t acceptable, we create a situation in which companies have to make jobs more attractive – better pay, better hours, decent breaks, actual perks. 

A weak welfare state enables exploitation and puts the profits of the few ahead of the needs of the many. Decent welfare support pushes up standards, which in turn will reduce the number of people made ill by work, which is cheaper for the state. What if we stop using our tax money to facilitate exploitation, and use it more compassionately and efficiently to keep people healthier and improve quality of life for everyone? 


Cats and cars

Poking about on the internet, it looks like on the average day in the UK, 630 cats are hit by cars. As far as I know, cars are the major killers of cats in the UK. For the cat who goes out unsupervised, there’s also the risk of getting injured in fights with other cats, catching diseases from them, getting lost, getting stolen, getting mistreated by humans… a cat out alone is facing a number of risks.

Cats aren’t great for the local wildlife, killing birds, small mammals, amphibians, slow worms… I’ve lived with cats who hunted, and the amount of wildlife a young cat can get through, is troubling. Keeping cats inside at night really helps with this and means you will never face surprise entrails first thing in the morning.

The cat who goes out on a lead, with a person, is a lot safer than the cat who goes out alone. The cat on a lead also has very little scope for killing wildlife. It’s also a lot of fun, and gives you meaningful time with your cat. I don’t know why people assume cats want to be independent – in my experience, cats love attention and often like doing things with their people. If they aren’t bored, they aren’t so motivated to hunt or get in fights.

I routinely encounter people who tell me either their cat would never put up with a lead, or that they tried it once and it didn’t work. Cats are complicated creatures, but mostly it comes down to which one of you is most determined. Cats can be trained, because they can be persuaded that something is in their interests. Given how dangerous cars are for cats, I’m surprised there aren’t more people exploring leads for cats.

Cats of course are only a percentage of the number of creatures killed on roads every day. Cars take a terrible toll on wildlife and domestic creatures alike. The RSPB reckon cats kill 27 million birds a year in the UK, which is appalling, but they also say that there’s no real evidence these deaths contribute to bird population declines.  More over here if you want to dig in – https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/cats-and-garden-birds/are-cats-causing-bird-declines/

Cars also kill about 30 million birds a year, but these are likely to be healthy, active birds while there’s reason to think cats tend to take birds who weren’t so viable anyway. 

In both cases, these are causes of death that have everything to do with human choices and human behaviour. We could do a lot to reduce cats killing wildlife, and cars killing wildlife.

Speed is a major factor here. It always is when it comes to road accidents. At a slower speed, you stop in a shorter distance. You’ve got more time to notice and avoid hitting someone. At a lower speed you do less damage and the impact is more survivable. Cars kill and injure a lot of humans, too. 

So many drivers routinely treat getting there a bit sooner as more important than the risk of death or injury to themselves or others. I see it a lot as a pedestrian. No doubt sometimes this is because of the pressure people are under, and the dire implications of not being on time – lost jobs, benefit sanctions etc. But none of this is really necessary. So many road deaths and road injuries should be avoidable, if only we had a culture that put care first.


Exciting times!

Excitement is one of my favourite emotions. It’s the difference between lying in bed feeling apathetic, and actually wanting to get up and greet the day with an open heart and a desire to get stuck in. As someone who suffers a lot from depression, having any capacity for excitement marks being in a better place.

Of course being excited is risky. It means moving towards new and unfamiliar things, taking chances, caring, investing, trying… and when everything is awful, there can be little scope for that. It’s also a feeling that runs very close to anxiety, and a body exhausted by anxiety can’t afford excitement. Chemically, they’re much the same, and while my brain knows the difference between excitement and anxiety, I don’t think my body does.

Excitement is a future-facing sort of emotion, so it’s something that depends on living in relationship with time rather than being mostly focused on the present. It’s a call to action along with the inspiration and energy to move. To be excited is to be able to trust that things will be good, that I can get things right, that there is hope.

If I step into the feeling of excitement, and what it calls for, then there might also be joy. Excitement promises the opportunity to make good things. If I can act on that, there may be delight, satisfaction, pleasure, or feelings of justice and appropriateness. In making something better, I will feel better. 

This is a key emotion for me around creativity. I particularly relish opportunities to be excited about ideas, and to share that excitement with other people. It’s life enriching. I also note that its not enough for me to just be excited about ideas without acting on that in some way. I get really frustrated dealing with people who talk a good fight but have no interest in putting any of it into action. I also struggle dealing with people who want to be excited by things and for whom the state of excitement is itself the goal. I’m interested in it as the beginning of a process, not as a state to achieve for its own sake.

If I’m excited enough about something, that will carry me through the times when there’s just a hard slog of work to do. I’ve recently finished all of the colouring for our next graphic novel. Sometimes colouring is exciting, but often it isn’t and is simply about getting a job done to as high a standard as I can manage. Excitement around future projects and prospects helped me get through that.

And right now, I’m excited about what comes next!


The embodied Druid

About ten years ago I started running into the idea that we live too much in our heads and that Druidry calls for embodiment. Now, I’m very into the idea that we are nature and that we need to engage with nature as it manifests in our bodies. I’m as likely to seek out actual trees as the next Druid, but do I really need to get out of my head?

The thing is, I rather like the inside of my head. I like meditation and contemplation, philosophy and study. These are all things it is reasonable to associate with historical Druidry. I like to think. I reject all suggestions that thinking makes us less emotional or less authentic. I also, after some consideration, reject the idea that time spent in my head is disembodied, disconnected from nature or otherwise undesirable.

My brain is a squishy lump of biology full of blood and chemicals that are also part of the rest of my body. What happens in my brain affects my body. It’s also the key organ for responding to experiences of the natural world, the seasons and the numinous. I’m a thinking creature, that is my nature. I want to have a considered relationship with the natural world and that’s a head issue.

When ‘spiritual’ people talk about the ills of not being embodied, they are usually talking about other people, and how they read and interpret other people’s actions. It’s a perspective that doesn’t take into account the realities of many people’s lives. Rushing about, eating badly, not exercising enough – these things are all symptoms of a capitalist society that makes inhuman demands on the human body, and especially on the bodies of the poor and sick. It’s easy to sit back and judge other people, but it tends not to be kind or helpful. If you aren’t exhausted and time poor then you have privileges.

Being really present in your body isn’t a lot of fun if your body hurts. The ableism around this can be horrendous. I’ve been told that my physical pain is the result of me not being embodied enough – if only I paid more attention to my body, it would hurt less! It took me a while to recognise that this is cruel and unhelpful, and does not reflect my lived experience. Some days the best thing to do is try not to show up for the pain, and I’m hardly alone in this.

For the person who can, and who wants to follow a path centred on being embodied – excellent. The problems arise when we start to assume that one way of being in the world is superior to another, regardless of circumstance. Other people are making the best choices they can based on their circumstances. If you want other people to live embodied healthy(on your terms) lives, then campaign for better working conditions, better welfare support, more green urban spaces, better healthcare for chronic conditions and so forth. Don’t make individual people feel spiritually inadequate because of the systemic pressures they are experiencing.

We’re all embodied. We all have bodies. Some of us like to think more than others do. Some of us find joy in movement and for some of us that’s only ever going to hurt. There should be room for difference. It’s better to have diversity in how people approach their lives rather than to create hierarchies of spiritual superiority, and so often what’s put forward as spiritually superior turns out to be forms of privilege.