Returning to the labyrinth

My obsession with labyrinths started many years ago, at Gloucester cathedral. I was living on a boat at the time, and mooring in the Gloucester area sometimes. By chance, I visited the cathedral on several occasions when they had big canvas labyrinths out in the main body of the building. I was utterly enchanted.

Building labyrinths wasn’t an option for me until I landed in Stroud. I didn’t have the space on the boat to store suitable materials. Stroud has a number of public spaces where it is feasible to lay out something on this scale, and I’ve done that a number of times now in various locations.

For reasons, I haven’t built a temporary labyrinth in a little over two years. They take a lot of setting up so I’ve got to be in a pretty good place to be able to do it. Being able to just rock up and walk a labyrinth was a really welcome thing for me. On the downside there were children who were being allowed to treat it as a playground, and adults who walked right across it while others were using it – this has always been an issue with labyrinths in the cathedral and it frustrates me encountering people who don’t notice the beauty of what’s there and who undermine that with their carelessness.

I walked the Gloucester labyrinth twice. The first time I was grieving the lack of labyrinths in the last two years, and grieving what happened around the last one I built. I was remembering my first labyrinth experiences in the cathedral, and trying to manage my frustration around how other people were being disrespectful and disruptive.

My second journey was undertaken without disruption from others and allowed me the space to explore gratitude for the labyrinths in my life and for my relationship with Gloucester cathedral. There’s no active Christianity in my Druidry, but nonetheless, Gloucester cathedral is a sacred place for me and has been so my whole adult life. It’s a place of ancestry, of history, and of peace, and has been a place of solace for me during times of extreme difficulty.


How to try harder

The normal thing to do is to frame mental illness as something the person is going to recover from by making more effort.

Practice self care. Practice mindfulness. Practice gratitude. Challenge yourself to overcome your anxieties with a supportive CBT booklet. Talk to a therapist to get a plan in place for how you are going to do better. You know the drill.

No one is going to sit your abusive or neglectful family members down and explain to them what they should be doing to stop messing you up. No one is going to write a letter to your boss about how your toxic workplace is destroying you. The odds are that if you’ve suffered trauma, you’ve experienced nothing that was restorative. The odds of even experiencing any kind of justice around that are always slim.

It would be possible, through the medium of politics, to end the brutal toll that poverty and insecurity takes on people’s mental health. These are all situations that could be changed. Poverty is manufactured and is a deliberate aspect of capitalism. It isn’t natural, or necessary or unavoidable, but it does keep that system in place. Take away the massive stress caused by financial insecurity, work pressure, fear of losing your home and not being able to afford decent food, and a lot of mental illness would ease and disappear pretty quickly. Stress makes people sick.

From first hand experience, there is an extra layer of distress that comes from being made personally responsible for sorting out things you didn’t cause and can’t fix. There’s a weight to it, this a tough burden to shoulder on top of everything else. To have to try harder to be well and functional when something is gnawing on your guts, is a harsh thing to face. Your suffering is added to when there is no one willing to help you deal with the thing that is, metaphorically speaking, eating your innards in a slow and painful way. It doesn’t help to be told that you’d probably feel better if you could take a more positive approach to the thing that is destroying you.

Of course there’s no way of turning yourself into a happy and well person when the causes of your suffering are real and ongoing. Instead, you get to feel like a failure for not managing that impossible task. You get to feel like it’s your fault. I don’t think this is an accident. Misery makes it harder to push back and make change. The more of us there are feeling responsible, and useless and full of despair, the harder many of us will try to keep jumping through the unreachable hoops, and in so doing, continuing to be part of this toxic way of life.

If you are in more pain than you can bear it is probably because you are being asked to bear an inhuman load.


A vision

The Earth is always inside you. Every part of your self has lived before in other forms. You are the heat of a distant sun and the dust from long forgotten stars. The waters of the world flow through you and the wind is your breath.

You are six inches of topsoil. You are death feeding soil feeding life. A thousand fungi networks dreamed you into being, and when you die, they will remember you back into the soil.

Do not try to be pristine or separate. You are a colony, a cooperative, a collaboration of many different beings all held together by one skin. You are making and unmaking yourself at every moment. You are more than you could possibly imagine. You are an infinitesimal moment when countless fragments of the universe paused in the same place.

(Image by Dr Abbey, text by me.)


New Goddess books

Pagan Portals Abnoba is one of those books I had the opportunity to read way ahead of it being published, and so a few words of mine have ended up inside it: “Ryan McClain shares his exploration of the Gaulish Goddess Abnoba. It’s a fascinating insight into both the historical Celtic deity, and modern Pagan practice. The author offers up his own experience not to create dogma but to empower the reader to trust in their own journey.”

I’m not aware of any other books exploring this deity. There are of course a lot of Celtic deities, many of whom exist as an inscription or two – tantalising glimpses of a past that is largely lost to us. But, if you start from the premise that the Gods are real and present, then reconnecting with them is entirely possible.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-abnoba-celtic-goddess

Pagan Portals Demeter –

I was surprised by just how much I didn’t know about Demeter, and by how much there is to know. This is a tightly packed book full of history, legend and possibilities for modern devotion. I read it as someone interested in all of those things but not an actively deity-seeking person.

This would no doubt be a great book for anyone interested in Demeter but who knows nothing more than the story about Persephone. It would be a good read for anyone primarily interested in Persephone or anyone connecting with the Greek Gods as a group, as it reflects in interesting ways on many members of that pantheon.

I often struggle with the Greek stuff because there’s so much patriarchal crap in the mix. This book gives a sense of how Demeter and Persephone might have existed in earlier, more inclusive cultures. I found it led me to thinking about Laura Perry’s work on the related Minoan culture, and how these deities might relate to each other.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-demeter


Anxiety and offering

On my recent post about offering rather than waiting for people to ask for help, Potia made an important comment about how hard that can be, too. Anxiety can make it incredibly hard to step up, and that can often be a consequence of having been knocked down for trying to help. I’m much more uneasy talking about this because it is far more exposed and takes me into areas of personal discomfort.

I have anxieties around offering. It comes up with every blog post and every comment on social media – am I saying the wrong thing? Will I hurt someone? Will someone get angry with me? It’s not an irrational fear, this sort of thing happens. I’ve had periods when anxiety has left me unable to work out what to say on other people’s posts, and that’s a real barrier to offering help.

I go through it every time I write a book, and every time I put content on Patreon. I feel like I’m imposing on people by even suggesting someone pay attention to what I’ve done. Partly this is because I got told off a lot as a child for being attention seeking, partly because there has been a lot of unpleasantness around online Pagans getting cross about people sharing their work, and especially when that work is for sale.

I have fears about being overwhelmed and taken advantage of if I offer help. It’s not irrational. I’ve been pressured and worked to burnout more than once. Sometimes it’s easier to do boundaries by not offering in the first place. I’m an easy person to guilt trip.

I have fear about encountering weirdness and resentment, or being treated like I’m trying to take over, or control people and shit of that ilk. Again, this isn’t irrational, I’ve had some serious problems around how other people have understood my desire to help, and it has made me a lot more cautious.

These days I’m more likely to show up for individuals than I am for groups, because the dynamics are less complicated. There are a few people I am dedicated to helping and supporting. There are some people who get my help conditional on not pushing any of my buttons but I will cut and run at the first signs of threat.

I think some of this is cultural – that we don’t collectively know how to value what’s given for free, and that there is an expectation that female-seeming people should supply emotional labour on demand, for free. People who can only think in terms of power, control and manipulation are bound to interpret help as a power move and act accordingly. It’s also an issue that sorting things out can be threatening. Maintaining problems can be a power-over move. Keeping people trapped without the help they need can be a way of controlling them. If you try and fix that, you can be met with all kinds of nastiness. Occasionally there are people who are so invested in victimhood and helplessness that help is the last thing they really want, which is also complicated.

Small acts of stepping up can make a lot of odds. I’m mostly too tired now for the grand, heroic gestures, but there are people I check in with and check up on and perhaps if we all did a bit of that, the people who have no idea how to ask for help would have an easier time of it.


Economic Democracy

One of the key places where social justice and climate justice meet, is around the issue of work. The work that exploits and exhausts the workers, only to then exploit people as customers as well, is toxic to the planet. Capitalism means that essential things – like taking proper care of vulnerable people – don’t happen because there isn’t enough profit in it. This is why we don’t have rural bus services, and our shit ends up in the rivers.

I recently ran into the term economic democracy, and I love it. I think it’s hugely important to talk about alternative ways of living. Part of our problem at the moment is that so many people believe capitalism is natural, necessary and unavoidable. It’s an exploitative, planet killing, soul destroying thing and we could ditch it.

What does economic democracy mean? Well, imagine if the work done was decided by the people doing it. What would we choose? Who is going to choose to work long hours for little pay doing things that are pointless or destructive? Obviously we’d start by making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met. We’d share out that work as fairly as we could, with everyone doing some of the essentials, and essential work being valued because it’s essential. Once we’d got that in place, we’d all be looking for nice things.That would mean having the time and resources to devote to whatever brings us joy, and having enough people working on the joyful stuff to enable it. Leisure, entertainment, health, sport, looking good… 

An economic democracy would share out the good things more evenly. It would not support exploitation. The whole point of democracy is that it is supposed to put us all on an equal footing, but capitalism prevents that. Capitalism creates poverty, requires a struggling underclass, and enables an affluent, leisured class who contribute little or nothing to humanity while overconsuming to the detriment of the planet. Capitalism means we have people who can use their extreme wealth to corrupt democracy to serve them. In an economic democracy we would share responsibility, while all having more time to enjoy ourselves and we would not accept massive wealth gaps.


The hideous lawn massacre

Lawns in the UK are yellow and dead. If the heat goes on for long enough, the grass won’t survive to reboot. Lawns that are not all grass are doing slightly better, as are areas of grass that haven’t been kept desperately short. Grass under trees is having a far better time of it, thanks to both the shade and the way trees redistribute water.

The UK loves its tidy lawns. Except right now they don’t look tidy, they look awful. They are awful. They’re also far too easy to set fire to, which is not an attractive quality.

Lawns are awful. The shorter and neater they are, the more awful they are. Nothing lives in them. The more you do to treat and control them, the more harmful they become. We urgently need to get over lawns, they do no good at all. It is my hope that the current death of lawns will encourage people to rethink them and replace them with something that can both survive and support other kinds of life.

Partly what makes a lawn attractive is that they are expensive and hard work to maintain – all that cutting and tending and poisoning doesn’t come for free! So having a big green lawn with only grass in it is just the sort of thing to show off what an affluent member of the landed gentry you are, as you pay a few peasants to do all the hard labour for you! Except now we do it to ourselves, voluntarily, for reasons. It’s amazing what it’s possible to persuade people is good, desirable and an appropriate use of their time and money.

Meanwhile the astro turf is probably melting. However unpleasantly the grass might burn, I’m prepared to bet that astro turf going up is going to be considerably worse.

The people who did not mow and the people who grow trees have much more hope of a pleasant garden this summer, as their reward for having done less. I just hope it catches on.


Asking for help

A great deal of mental health advice out there encourages people who are suffering to ask for help. This fails to recognise all of the things depression and anxiety do that make it difficult to ask for help. Here are some lists, I doubt I’ve covered everything.

Anxiety makes you feel like you’re making a fuss and there’s no reason for anyone to take you seriously. You are afraid that people may be annoyed with you, or react in other ways that make things worse. You think it may be obvious to them that this is all your fault and you are desperately afraid that everything happening is both entirely your fault and wholly your responsibility. You are afraid people will hate you and push you away. You are afraid you will hurt and harm people who already have more than enough problems of their own, you are afraid you are being unreasonable.

Depression tells you that you don’t deserve help. You don’t deserve love, or care, or support or kindness. Everything going wrong for you is going wrong because it is exactly what you deserve, so why should anyone want to help you fix that? They almost certainly have much more important things that they need to be doing instead. Other people are in far more trouble than you and are far more deserving of help. Other problems are far more serious than your problems. Depression will have you believing the people who tell you that you should just snap out of it, try harder, stop the self pity. Depression will persuade you that it really is all your fault for not trying harder and that it would be totally reasonable if everyone hated you for your failures.

Asking for help is easier if you don’t have a history of being bullied or abused. Ask for help in those circumstances and you’re putting weapons into the hands of the people who mean you harm. It’s also easier to ask for help if you don’t have a history of being ignored, shamed, or humiliated, if you haven’t had your issues minimised, and if you’ve not been told off and emotionally punished for making a fuss. 

Thankfully we’re starting to establish that mental illness isn’t primarily a chemical imbalance issue. Mental illness is a consequence of trauma, stress, and abuse. It’s the fallout from gaslighting, poverty, insecurity and living in fear. The help that most people need is the help that deals with these issues and the legacies they leave. It’s also hard to ask for help when you know from experience that all you will be offered to deal with your gaping wound is a packet of sticking plasters.

If you can manage it, don’t wait for people to ask you for help. Offer it. Making helping people part of how you go through a day. A little kindness, patience and generosity can make a lot of odds, especially when no one has asked you to do that for them.


Druidry – how to learn

The internet is full of resources a student of Druidry can use, to broaden their knowledge of Druidry both historical and contemporary. There are courses you can pay for and teachers who will guide you and when you’re starting out, that can be hard to make sense of. Not all Druidry is the same – there are many different styles and flavours out there. Not all of those are going to suit you and you may not be lucky enough to land exactly where you need to be at the start – not least because at the outset you likely don’t know what your kind of Druidry is.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. This is a key thing for all kinds of learning. You don’t have to utterly invest in the first things you encounter – and if you do, it’s also fine to change your mind about that and move on. If you try things and they don’t work out for you, that’s not a failure on your part. It also doesn’t mean that Druidry itself is not for you, you’re just in the wrong bit of the woods at this point.

Give yourself permission to change your mind. Be open to being excited about things but don’t feel like you have to take up residence there forever. What works for you right now might not work at all in a year or two, and that’s not a problem. We change, we grow, our needs shift and so what we do has to adapt to that. 

No doubt the most difficult thing you might face around this is the possibility of having been wrong about something. The first things you encounter are likely to shape your ideas of what Druidry is, and not all Druid content is created equal. If you have run into fantasy takes on the Celts, or something laced with bigotry, or appropriation from other cultures, you might be in the uncomfortable position of having to admit that you’ve been doing it wrong. Druidry is generally non-dogmatic and inclusive of many approaches, but we’re not free from issues and it is so easy, in all innocence, to pick up some of that. 

Getting caught up in something dodgy is not a measure of you. The key thing is what you decide to do if it is suggested to you that you’re engaged with something problematic. The right answer here is to listen, read, learn – be open to what you’re hearing about the problems and scrutinise them. Listen to the people who are affected by things you didn’t realise were a problem. Be willing to change.

If what you are doing harms no one, then it’s your business, or it is between you and your Gods. If you’ve unwittingly entered into something harmful, that’s always going to be uncomfortable. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re young in our craft. Like a lot of people, I’ve got crystals of unknown provenance I bought when I didn’t know any better, and as a teenager I had one of those cheap, rip-off dream catchers. The key to proceeding with honour is to be able to own that kind of thing and act accordingly. Alongside this it is important to educate each other without shaming anyone for not having known, and to give each other opportunities to do better rather than knocking each other down.


Musical plots and plans

At the moment, a lot of my time and creative energy is going into a project called The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. We’re a four person singing group, doing a mix of original stuff, covers and folk.

This all started some years ago when the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel project was invited to participate in the local book festival. What do you do with a graphic novel on a stage? We put together a mix of stories and folk songs, because folk traditions have always been a big influence. James and I have been singing together his whole life. We added Susie to the mix and last year took our first Hopeless, Maine show out into the world, debuting it at Festival at the Edge, in 2021.

We’re gigging a lot – at Steampunk events, folk things and local stuff. We’re now in a conversation about recording an album in October, which is an exciting prospect.

This isn’t my first musical project – I played in a blues rock band in my teens, gigged as half a folk duo in my twenties and have been involved in assorted things that were mostly for fun. I love performing. I love how this group works – the balance of silliness and gothic, folk horror vibes, the getting to play with kit, and the ways in which we can increasingly do things by magic.

This is performance with no safety net. We sing unaccompanied, so there’s nothing to refer to for pitch. There are also quite a few songs that start with two of us singing in harmony, and we’ve got to a point where it just happens, we simply hit the notes. We’ve learned to breathe together, and to be able to make sense of what we’re each doing even when we are stood in a line far enough apart not to be able to easily see each other in peripheral vision. I get a massive kick out of this. It’s definitely magic, no two ways about it.