Druidry and Life

What does it mean to live a Druid life? For some people it’s all about the magical side, the ritual, the deities. For some years now, my main areas of focus have been eco-activism, living in harmony with the planet, and how we think about being human, and interacting with each other. I’m interested in relationships with the land, and I blog about the bard path a bit. Often, I’m not making explicit how I see what I write about as being connected to Druidry.

Part of the ‘problem’ is that if you internalise something, it becomes less a conscious choice and more the water you swim in. Making the space to explore whether the water you swim in is the water you intended to swim in is always time well spent. Making things deliberate can be a good learning process. So, I shall try and take a step back and look more deliberately at how the Druidry is manifesting in my life and what I want to do with that.

I feel at the moment that I’m paused before a time of change. I’ve been making forays with my intuition and making space to invite magic into my life. My relationship with magic, deity and ritual is a bit messy, and for many years I’ve tended towards the pragmatic and had a complicated relationship with enchantment. I crave feelings of enchantment and wonder. I know how I got here, and perhaps I do know at this point how to change things. So there may be notes on the journey as I go along.

I’m going to make a point of writing with more explicit connections between life and Druidry. I think it will give me a good way to review what I’m doing, and I think other people may find it useful. Where, exactly, is the Druidry in my life? How do I reclaim magical possibility? How do I re-enchant myself? I’m curious to see if how I feel changes if I start making the Druid side of life a bit more explicit – even if it is only in my head.


The Hidden Goddess – a review

The Hidden Goddess, by Laurie Martin-Gardner explores feminine divinity in Jewish and Christian tradition. It’s a book that looks at texts, historic practice and modern interpretations and in a small space covers considerable ground.

The book is written in a narrative style, and while there are enough references that you can get in and check things if you want to, this is not an academic text. It is immensely readable and ideal for someone who just wants to get in and explore the ideas. It’s not a book claiming to have exclusive insights or unique knowledge, but it is a bringing together of sacred femininity evidence from traditions that, superficially at least, seem to lack for that sort of thing.

For me there was a mix of the familiar and the wholly unknown here. One of the consequences of reading this book is that I feel inspired to try and read the Bible and look at this for myself. I have tried to read the whole Bible before (and failed) but to go in looking for these details might make a lot of odds.

I think this is the ideal read for anyone who has moved to Paganism from a Christian or Jewish background and who wants to find ways of balancing their old path and their new one. It will also be valuable for anyone whose ancestor work has felt difficult – seeing how the Goddess has always been present in these traditions may help bridge the divide between modern Pagans and our immediate ancestors. For Christian Druids I think it’s a must have (unless you’ve already covered this ground somewhere else!).

I found it an enjoyable read that expanded my knowledge and that may have set me on a reading adventure.

Read the first chapter here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/blogs/moon-books/the-hidden-goddess-chapter-one-the-quest-begins/


Performing your online identity

The internet, and social media especially, encourages us to perform. We record and perform our lives to a watchful audience that may judge us on a scale that most humans have never had to deal with before. The pressure to look good performing can have a distorting effect on what we do, what we value and what we think is useful. We’re all caught up in this and mostly need to be kinder to ourselves about it. However, here are some things I’ve noticed that I think need mentioning.

Performance activism puts the performer centre stage. Not the issue, or the afflicted people. It’s not about raising awareness or solving problems, it is a performance piece to show how good you are. It’s important to focus on what will help and make a difference, and to put the issues centre stage.

The performance ally works in much the same way – putting themselves centre stage. It’s important not to speak for or speak over the people you are supposedly helping. This is of course tricky when you’re not sure who else is present – so often the way of it online. There can be a lot of diversity in experiences and what helps one person feel supported may offend another.

Performance friendship. The fine art of making big claims, promises and declarations in public spaces. It might look good in the short term, but when you can’t follow through on it, the harm done is considerable.

Success performance. When you only talk about the good things and paint your life as perfect, you can undermine your own wellbeing. It’s hard to ask for help if you keep telling everyone that everything is great. If we get into displaying our success through images of objects, this can fuel consumerism and doesn’t help the planet. The kind of performances we put on around health, weight and diet could often stand some scrutiny too. The idea that weight loss is success needs care and careful thinking.

Warrior performances. It’s easy to be an online warrior, to shout people down, pull them apart, pick holes in their work and criticise them. This achieves nothing. Making real change requires real work and a good deal more effort. A warrior performance may help you feel good about yourself and persuade you that you’re doing something useful, but the odds are that no real good comes of it at all.

Misery performances. If you know plenty of nice people then misery performances will win you care, support, warmth, affection and positive reinforcements. Now, I think it’s really important that we all have space to share our struggles and issues – it’s an important counter to those relentless success performances as well. However, if all you do is act out misery, it isn’t good for everyone else, or for you. It is better all round to try and find some small good to share as well. The odds are if you can get online that you have some resources and your life isn’t just shit, and focusing on the good bits when you can will help you.

None of us are real online. Being here is an act of creativity and construction. We all make deliberate choices about what we share and how we do it. But, because those choices are so deliberate, we all get chance to choose what kind of performances we will share. I believe that our most authentic selves are the ones we most deliberately and consistently choose to be. So, while no one is truly real online and everything we share is partial and performed, at the same time, anyone can consciously choose to be the person they want to be – and thus manifest their most authentic self.


The last time

Often, the last occasion of doing a thing passes by unnoticed and is only recognised with hindsight. For some time now, I’ve been in a process of honouring and checking off ‘last time’ events.

Partly this is because my son is in his A level year. We’ve ticked off a number of final rounds of school activities. This is the last winter of him cycling to school in the dark. Perhaps the last winter of my life when I’ll be obliged to get up in the dark of a morning. Definitely the last winter of me trying to get school clothes washed, dried and ironed every week. As we let go, week by week, we’re getting ready for massive changes this summer and the prospect of him heading out to university. It’s a good process.

Alongside this, I’m planning some major upheavals for myself next summer too. Preparing for this, Tom and I have started looking at what we need to do for the last time, or what we haven’t done and should do at least once. It hasn’t been a big list, and that’s a reflection of how well we’ve lived while we’ve been here.

This flat has always been too small. We don’t have any kind of separate studio or working space – just the one communal room. There is no garden. We’ve not had space for anyone to stay with us. We can’t stay in Stroud and have any of those things. Through the winter, we’ve talked to the people we’re close to about what happens next and how to do this well. I want to plant an orchard. I want a garden I can sit in – wrapped in blankets if needs be so that I can have time outside even when I’m ill. There is no way I can do this without moving somewhere more affordable. There is no work I could do that would bridge the gap between the value of the flat we own, and what it would cost to buy a small house.

It’s the last winter in this flat. It’s good to be doing this deliberately and with time to think it through, make plans and prepare. Previous rounds of moving home (including on and off a narrowboat) were done under time pressure and with limited resources. This will be different. No doubt there will be much to miss, but honouring the journey will certainly help.


The Emergency Tree Plan

The Emergency Tree Plan is The Woodland Trust’s plan to increase tree cover across the UK and tackle the climate and nature crises. The Committee on Climate Change states that the UK needs 1.5 million hectares of additional woodland by 2050 to help hit the net zero carbon emissions target.

Trees and woods can help to fight climate change by storing carbon, keeping it locked up for centuries. The trouble with seeing trees as a ‘magic bullet’ for climate change is of course that we could end up with something fairly sterile designed to benefit humans, but no good to wildlife, nature, ecosystems or the complex wellbeing of life itself. This plan doesn’t simply see trees as a commodity for human benefit, but is about integrating climate action with nature recovery.

Happily, the first priority expressed in this plan is to protect and expand existing woodland. Without a doubt, saving existing trees and helping woods naturally regenerate are the most useful things we can do. But, that won’t work everywhere.

I think there’s a great deal of good to be done here with urban tree planting. How many ‘parks’ are little more than big empty areas of grass? Good perhaps for the odd football game, but utterly boring and featureless the rest of the time. Not only would more trees help store carbon, but they would enrich such urban spaces with beauty and interest, and create urban habitats for wildlife.

The plan varies depending on which country you are in within the UK – here are the links.

Wales http://www.woodlandtru.st/jBtws

Northern Ireland http://www.woodlandtru.st/H2D33

England http://www.woodlandtru.st/dUfva

Scotland http://www.woodlandtru.st/qvqKE

 


Green-ish, but at what cost?

It would be better for the environment if more of us travelled by train. Does this mean that destroying pockets of ancient woodland for the sake of more trains is an environmental solution? HS2 offers us just that. Trains are better environmentally than cars, but trees are better environmentally than no trees and ancient woodland cannot be replaced.

I had similar arguments more than a decade ago with an MP who thought a Severn River barrage was a good idea. Save the planet with green energy! But at the price of destroying a unique habitat. She felt it was worth the trade-off. I didn’t.

Every time we get into one of these, what we’re really saying is that carrying on as normal is worth destroying something for. If we used less energy, we wouldn’t need to mess about with the Severn River. If we didn’t travel so much, there would be no justification for destroying woodland for the sake of trains. If we tell ourselves we’re making the more sustainable choice, it’s amazing what we can justify.

We need imagination. We need the willingness to make radical change. We need to recognise that we cannot keep consuming at our current rates. We have to use less. Sacrificing some aspect of the natural world so we can carry on as usual is not a sustainable choice.


Why we don’t always believe victims

It would seem a no-brainer, if you are a decent human being, that you would listen to and believe people who report abuse and bullying. But we don’t, and it is important to look at why if that’s ever going to change.

Bullies and abusers don’t go along with being called out. They deny everything, or they tell you that they are the real victim and the person who first clamed victimhood is really the bully. There are bullies who, as part of their routine, accuse their victims of attacking them. If two people are claiming to be victims of each other, the idea of always believing the victim doesn’t stand up very well, because you may not know who it is. More thoughts on this over here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/07/28/calling-out-abusers/

Most of us have a morality that depends to some degree on relationship. So we tend to believe the people we care about and disbelieve the people we don’t know or care about if that threatens someone we like. We also don’t want to believe that we love someone abusive, so we look for reasons to explain away claims of abusive behaviour.

Victim blaming is widespread. Many of us have internalised some of that.

Abusers know what they are doing, and around people who are not their victims, they act in ways that hide this. We are persuaded because they were always so nice to us. In public, they may have seemed like exemplary spouses and parents. They may tell us, with great love and concern how worried they are about the poor mental health and strange beliefs of their victim. We may sympathise, and go on to not believe the victim when they confide in us.

Victims are usually in distress. If they’ve suffered gaslighting, been blamed and made responsible, they may feel it is all their fault. If the bully has persuaded the victim that the victim is the bully, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out what to believe. I am inclined to take care of people who are afraid and distressed and seeking safety. I tend to disbelieve people who are angry and demanding retribution. I look at the power balances. I also figure, if I get this wrong, the angry person is probably better resourced to take care of themselves. It’s not foolproof. Nothing is.

An un-nuanced approach that goes ‘I always believe victims’ can be deeply threatening if you are someone whose abuser has cast them in the role of the bully. If you have had your reality dismantled in this way, this is such a hard thing to deal with. For a long time, I believed myself to be an awful person, deserving of any punishment that came my way. For some years now, I’ve lived in a strange, inbetween place where some days I think I have experienced gaslighting in the past, and some days I think I’m an awful person who deserves everything they get. On the good days, I dare to think I might get over having been made responsible in this way. I’m able to write this because today is a good day.

On a bad day, a flat statement about always believing victims can, and has panicked me. I think about the people (there were several) who were so loud and confident about being my victims, and how knocked down and powerless I felt in face of them. There is always the fear one of them will come back for another go and that they will be believed, and I will not. And the fear that no matter how hard I try, I am so inherently awful that I can only cause harm. On a good day, I think that’s the gaslighting impacting on me.

And I also know that for some people, any experience of being said no to, any criticism, any less than perfectly positive feedback counts as an attack. I know that several of the people in my history experienced me as a terrible person because I couldn’t give them what they needed. I did not prove kind, patient, generous, forgiving, understanding and co-operative enough for them and they experienced that insufficiency as abusive. They’re not making it up, it was their experience of me, and some of them I have seen go through similar issues with other people.

Abuse and bullying are really complicated. A superficial response that says ‘I will always believe victims’ and doesn’t dig into the mechanics and specifics of anything it encounters, is not a magic solution to the woes of the world.


Flowers in the ice

This point in January often combines the first signs of spring with some of the most intense manifestations of winter. And so we get flowers in ice.

Yesterday I noticed that the hazel catkins are opening. They’ve gone from small, tight green potential to open, yellow and active. The alder trees have catkins on too, and the tips of their branches are slightly reddened by the presence of those flowers. Trees have male and female (from our perspective) catkins. If you’re new to all this, have a look at this article – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/12/which-trees-have-catkins-and-how-to-tell-them-apart/

Yesterday I also saw my first snowdrops of the year, some daffodils in bloom, a primrose and I’ve seen a lot of bulbs putting up leaves in the last few days.

This morning the temperature was down to minus 3, and the frost that was on the ground yesterday is still here. Puddles have become ice sheets. The mud has frozen solid. This is the most wintery it’s been this season, and yet at the same time, the first flowers are appearing. That’s normal, and I might choose to read some significance into it.


The Book of Babalon – a review

I first encountered Anna McKerrow when I had the opportunity to review her Greenworld trilogy. That was a glorious YA series heavy on the Paganism. Her latest title, The Book of Babalon is not for younger readers – it is resplendent with sex magic, and also digs in with the kind of abuses modern women continue to face. It’s glorious, heartbreaking, rage-inducing, enchanted stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Goddess Babalon, this book would work as an introduction and may send you off on a journey. Do read the author’s comments at the end to see what is rooted in fact and what isn’t!

This is an unapologetically feminist book, telling a story that very much demonstrates why we still need feminism. It’s also full of the sorts of things angry patriarchs would like to shut down – sexual expression, the right to body autonomy, the right to say no. Lesbianism, witchcraft, divorce, abortion… all those things they tell us will happen if women either take up witchcraft or get into masturbation, or both!

This is a story where triggering content is handled with care. No punches are pulled, but none of the horrors are glorified or dwelt on too much. You know what’s going on. If you’ve been there… you know exactly what’s going on. Too many of us have been there. All the things women are not encouraged to talk about – the blood, and the miscarriages, the shame, the stigma, the desires and the dissatisfaction are in these pages. These are stories we need to tell each other.

It’s a powerful piece of writing, and I read it in large, intense bursts because I did not want to put it down.

The story then… Woven through this novel is text in here from an imaginary Book of Bablon, written by Scarlett Woman, founder of an organisation called Bablon. The book within the book explores her history with Bablon, and anyone whose read any 20th century occult stuff will find this familiar, especially around how women can be both ‘goddess’ and totally objectified at the same time. The story itself follows several Bablon members using magic, activism and other avenues to fight oppression and get some control of their own lives. The characters are engaging, and between them they capture a broad range of female experience.

It’s a powerful story, underpinned by substantial philosophy. If you’re already into smashing the patriarchal structures we live in, this is for you. If you think we don’t need feminism any more, this book is especially for you. We’ve got a long way to go on the road to equality.

Buy the book – https://www.amazon.com/Book-Babalon-Anna-McKerrow/dp/1890399698 


Druid roles – voicing the voiceless

What does it mean to practice Druidry during the climate emergency? What should we be doing? What is the role of a Druid right now?

One of the roles we can take on is to give a voice to the voiceless. All the non-human life of this world, and all the people who do not speak the languages of dominant western cultures need hearing. The land needs a voice. Future generations need a voice. Someone must speak for the oceans and rivers, for the droughts and the fires, the storms and the instability. We can do this.

It’s not just about raising awareness. We need to inspire people with feelings of care and compassion alongside helping them feel they can make a change. Climate chaos is frightening and overwhelming, and balancing the honesty of this horror against the necessity for hope is a delicate thing. I tend to feel Druid work is inherently about balance and standing between things that need bridging. One foot on a goat and the other foot on a well, we can find and share stories that both illustrate the threat and the means to overcome it.

One of the key things here is not to be doing it at the last minute and in desperation. To start speaking for the land when the developer has made a bid for planning permission, is to start rather late in the day. Better late than never, but even better to start before the crisis hits. Speak for your trees, speak of their worth and beauty before anyone shows up to cut them down. The more we speak up for what is good and inspire those around us to love what is wild and natural, the more people there are ready to defend the land.

It’s important to speak from a place of love and valuing and not simply from a place of fear. Again it helps to start before there’s a threat. Fending off threats is emotionally exhausting. This is why, for example, when I’m doing my voluntary bit for The Woodland Trust I spend more time on tree love than I do on specific campaigns to protect trees. Without the love of trees, there won’t be the energy to protect them. Meanwhile, it is the love of trees that will sustain anyone working to keep them safe.

We exist in a culture that undervalues anything it can’t exploit for profit. We need new stories. We need stories that fill us with empathy and place us back in the natural world, and stories that help us see all living beings as just as valid as humans, and ecosystems as precious sources of life that need our care and respect. We can do this work with songs and stories, with poems, pictures, photos and more. It’s often easier to engage people with softer things, and more hopeful things. There is too much horror already, and such a great need for hope.