Ethical horror for Halloween

At this time of year, the Halloween tat comes out and the shops are full of low quality, throw away rubbish for us to spend money on that we can’t really afford, and then send to landfill, which the Earth really can’t afford.

Here are some more (and less) sensible suggestions for spooky seasonal decor, without buying plastic rubbish.

Welcome those autumn spiders and let them make webs for you!  

Go a bit Miss Haversham with dried flowers and dead plant matter. Nothing says gothic like dead roses. Also these can be composted when you’ve had enough of them.

Actual bones. Source your dead things carefully and make sure they are clean because you maybe don’t want to go so far as actual maggots… but dead things are better for the environment than fake plastic dead things. 

If you like the colours, the patterns, the look – you can buy cotton fabrics with Halloween vibes online. Consider investing the time in making your own seasonal objects. Eldritch bunting is always a good look. Decorate with seasonally appropriate table or altar cloths made from natural materials, and re-use them next year.

Don’t buy cheap and nasty costumes made from synthetic fabrics. They don’t last, they will end up in the bin. Buy vintage, buy from people who make costumes, buy your own fabric and improvise wildly. 

Make a lantern out of a swede or turnip, these are cheap and proper hideous, and the more wrong they are the better.

Make disgusting food. Marzipan slugs. Worm and eyeball soup (noodles and small whole onions) use tomatoes and beetroot for blood. Smear raspberry jam about. Ice fangs onto things. 

Buy things from artists and artisans – it will cost more up front but you’re helping a creator survive and you’ll get something really cool that you will want to live with for many years. 

Horror doesn’t have to be mass produced and shipped around the world at a high environmental cost. Horror can be sustainable. You can source your horror ethically, you can make your own.


Not all dogs

Not all dogs outside are free to just run at a cat. Not all dogs would, on getting to a cat, savage it. But some do. I’ve heard awful stories of cats killed outright by dogs, and cats left with lifelong injuries after dog attacks. I’ve been there for times when loose dogs ran at my cat. It isn’t friendly, it’s frightening.

We’re used to dogs dominating in public spaces. So many people treat dogs chasing cats as normal, natural behaviour that they clearly feel they should make no effort to deal with it. Not so long ago I watched a loose dog in a park hurtle off after a cat and chase it out onto a road. Luckily no one was hurt.

Not all dogs bite people. Most don’t. But the dog that runs at you may be big enough to knock you down if you are small, or your balance isn’t good. You don’t know, as it runs at you, whether it will bite you, or your cat, or if it might gouge your flesh when it jumps up. A large dog scrabbling at your body can tear clothing and draw blood.

Loose dogs in public spaces are normal. Dogs that seem aggressive to people who do not know the dog, are among us. Dogs whose behaviour is problematic for people, and cats who also want to use the space. But the aggressive dog paired with the indifferent owner can and will dominate the space and as a worried person, or a cat, you can run away or try to protect yourself, but what you can’t do is demand that the space be made safer for you.

The gender parallels are pronounced. To be in a public space with a female body is a lot like being a cat. To be gender non-conforming, to stand out in some way, to be unusual, is to be a cat. Not all dogs will go after you, but you can’t always tell by looking. 

I think the majority of people reading this blog would find it easy to understand why dogs need to be kept under careful control. I don’t think anyone would imagine that being a cat somehow makes it ok to be chased, frightened, bitten or maybe killed. But we still talk about female safety in terms of clothing choices, and not going out at night. Having a female body is not so very different from having a cat body – neither body is a justification for violence. Neither body is asking for it, ever.


Reimagining the revolution

Imagine what the industrial revolution would have been like around the world if the aims had been different. Imagine if the developing technology had been all about freeing people from drudgery and improving their quality of life. Not children working twelve hour shifts in factories, not working humans routinely maimed and killed by machines, and not squalid slums for workers to live in. Imagine if the industrial revolution had been all about making life better for everyone.

Of course with the kind of technology we had, this would have been difficult. The city smogs were caused by air pollution from coal burning industries. The whole thing depended on human lives sacrificed for coal, sacrificed for building projects, cut short by horrific illness caused by exposure to pollutants. Around the world, industrial revolution has meant a dramatic plummet in quality of life for the working poor.

What if that wasn’t inevitable? What if that wasn’t progress? What if the ‘gains’ made for the already rich and comfortable weren’t actually worth the price so many paid for it? 

If progress meant better quality of life, we wouldn’t have people living in poverty. No one would have to choose between heating and eating. We have the resources to take care of everyone, but not the political will. What if we saw no virtue or value in tedious jobs and cheerfully handed those over to the machines to give everyone more time to live rich, full and rewarding lives? What if we didn’t create an impoverished underclass who could then be pressured into working miserably in order to barely survive? 

We could have done that with the first industrial revolution. New technology could have been harnessed to serve the common good, not the profits of the few. This is always an option, and never the one that gets priority. Meanwhile we celebrate and idolise the wealth that costs most of us, and the planet an unbearable amount.

What if we stopped imagining that work is the key to human existence, and started considering some alternative ways of thinking about ourselves?


The Bird Atlas – a review

The Bird Atlas by Anna McKerrow is a beautiful fairytale. It’s a fairly small book but I spent about a week reading it because I wanted to live with it, and because it is so rich that I didn’t want to take it in too quickly. 

Wren is a spirit girl, from a long line of Bird Fliers. Her people carry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Wren lives in a gothic house on the edge of our world – it’s just her and her grandmother and the girl is lonely, and frustrated. And so the tale begins, and we learn more of who Wren is as her journey takes her through time and to different places. In losing herself, Wren finds out who she really is.

I found this to be a really emotional read – there’s nothing graphic, but the story deals with bereavement and grief. I found it deeply affecting. There are also themes of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, working out how to move on – there’s a lot of life lessons here. It’s a book that could well turn out to be healing for anyone dealing with grief and loss.

This is a book that could be shared with a younger reader – it’s quite wordy, and given the emotional content probably isn’t suitable for the very small ones. I know I would have really appreciated it as a child- I struggled a lot with the concept of death and would have found this story comforting and helpful from an early age. If you’re not sure whether it would be helpful to a young person in your life, read it first.

For the grownups out there whose inner child craves fairy stories, this is a lovely read. It’s rich with ideas and enchantment, and is a warm hearted, emotionally reassuring sort of book. I thought it was lovely and very much recommend it.


Sharing my inspiration

Regular readers will know that I’ve been sharing a lot of art by Dr Abbey in recent months and that most weeks I put up a piece we’ve collaborated on. There’s a lot more going on in the background as we’re working on several much larger projects that will also involve Tom in the future. (For those of you who don’t stalk me thoroughly enough to know the details, Tom is my husband and co-creator on the Hopeless Maine graphic novels).

In recent months, Abbey has quite simply been my muse. I’ve had a lot of years struggling creatively, being short of ideas and energy and not getting much written. Working with Abbey has changed that dramatically. He has more ideas than I know what to do with. Most days he sends me new art he’s working on, and ideas to explore. He’s opened doors inside my head and has helped me find my way back to wanting to create, and to feeling excited about what I do. I’d missed that, and I’ve been missing it for a long time.

I’m always happiest when I’m creating with people rather than on my own, and I’ve been blessed with some fabulous creative collaborators along the way. Abbey is more than that, and has taught me a great deal about how to be myself, a process that has changed me in the last few years. Thanks to him I have a much clearer sense of who I am and where I need to be going, and a better understanding of where my creativity fits in all of that. 

Up until now, Abbey has done most of his creative sharing on Facebook, aside from what shows up here and on the Hopeless Maine blog. He’s now striking out with a ko-fi page, which means it’s easier to make his work visible to people. One of the (many) nice things about ko-fi is that you can follow people to see what they do. If you’ve found the collaborative pieces here interesting then I heartily recommend following Dr Abbey on ko-fi so that you can see and engage with more of his work.

Wander this way… https://ko-fi.com/abbeymasahiro


Druidry and Desire

Back in my twenties I was, for a little while, a member of The Druid Order of the Yew, which was held within The Druid Network. A big part of what it offered at the time was space and witnessing for dedications. I was really focused on service at the time and framing my Druidry in terms of what I could give. Alongside this I had a problematic home life. The idea of giving more and asking for less became heavily ingrained.

Of course there are always people who want what you can do for them and offer little in return. There are always people who will become unpleasant if you try to show up as a person and not as a service provider. I’ve never been good at handling this and have tended to think that I should offer service and expect nothing in return from anyone. It’s taken a while to challenge that thinking.

What happens if I ask for more? There will be people who don’t like that, and who will either be clear about having a problem with me, or who will gently reverse out of my life and make good their escape. But not everyone. There are also the people whose eyes light up at the thought, and who feel cheered and validated by my wanting more from them and with them. People who aren’t afraid of being needed and who do not experience being valued as some kind of imposition.

I’ve spent a long time treating Druidry as a form of pouring endlessly from myself into the world. Give more, ask for less. Give until it hurts, and then keep giving. I look back and see how convenient that’s been for other people in my history. I also think with hindsight that the person who most encouraged me to shape my service this way was not living on those terms. They are painfully hard terms to live on. 

Child-me had a better handle on this. I remember sitting in an assembly being told about how we are all supposed to help those who are worse off than us and wondering how that even made sense and how on earth you get to be the person who needs helping, on those terms. That a doctrine of giving selflessly to others actually relies on there being people worse off, more vulnerable. You can’t forgive trespasses unless someone undertakes to trespass, either.

What happens if there is more room for desire? What happens if I ask for more, and not less? I start to see how this could enrich not only my experience, but the experiences of people dealing with me. If I allow myself to want, there is a different kind of energy available to me. I cannot pour out from myself endlessly with nothing to replenish me. I can do a lot more if I invite more richness in, and have room for what I need.

Service cannot be a person pouring endlessly from a bucket they do not get to refill. The more I look at it, the more important it seems to me that we all have space for things that are personal, enriching, nurturing, life enhancing and I dare to say it – selfish! I know that the dismantling of selfishness is often seen as a spiritual goal, but increasingly I think what helps most is to change the terms on which we think about our own needs. A person can seek what they want without that inevitably hurting someone else. It is not always the case that for one person to have more, someone else has to go without.

No one is poorer if I have enriching conversations, time in the sun, cat snuggles, affection, time off… no one is reduced by me having things I need for myself. I expect I will come back to this as I reframe what service might mean for me, and rethink how I want to be in the world.


Learning and criticism

The conventional wisdom is that to learn, you have to be open to robust criticism. I’ve been teaching various kinds of creative and spiritual things for a good twenty years now, and I’m increasingly convinced that the criticism approach doesn’t work that well.

What does work, is drawing people’s attention to their own successes. Tell someone what they do especially well, or what makes their work stand out. Tell them what you like about what they do, or where you can see progress. 

People who intend to learn and grow are often really harsh critics of their own work. They mostly don’t need other people to pick holes in it as well. If you’re in a position of being able to offer feedback, praising the stuff that works is really useful. It boosts and encourages the person, and you can learn a lot from hearing about what you are doing well. Criticism, on the other hand, can be demoralising, and if it doesn’t come with solid feedback about how to improve, it might not help a person in the slightest.

It is easier to rubbish someone than to lift them. It takes more skill and insight to feedback to a person about their strengths and very little insight to say ‘that’s crap’. Positive feedback boosts the other person, negative feedback does more to assert the authority and superiority of the person making the criticism. The idea that you have to be able to take harsh criticism to survive as a creative person can push out gentler and more sensitive people. 

The people who can take brutal criticism are often the ones who pay no attention to it. People not interested in learning from others or convinced that they have no need to develop can deal with harsh feedback by simply ignoring it. As a consequence, harsh criticism can mean selecting for people who ignore feedback at the expense of the people who genuinely wanted to learn and improve.

Unsolicited criticism can be really counterproductive, even when you’re in a teaching role. It can come across as asserting dominance and it can be more about the teacher’s ego than their being useful. Critical feedback is best given when it’s actually sought. If someone says ‘I’m not happy with this but I don’t know how to fix it’ that’s the time to come in and talk about what, technically can be improved on, and how. It’s also worth noting that if you don’t know how to improve something, you aren’t especially well qualified to comment on how good it is.

It’s also important when teaching or feeding back to recognise the difference between whether or not you like something and whether or not it is good. All too often, unsolicited harsh criticism is just people asserting that they don’t like a thing. Maybe it wasn’t made for you. It’s ok not to like a thing, but always worth thinking carefully about whether the person who created it needs to hear about that. Good critical feedback tells a person how to do a better job of the things they were doing. Useless feedback tells them that you wanted them to do something else. If you aren’t supporting a person to be themself, you aren’t supporting them at all.


So dangerous

The girl gives herself to you. It must be so dangerous.

Are you afraid?

What danger does she pose? 

Unless you are afraid to surrender yourself. Afraid to find out who you might be when you are with her. Will she change everything? Is there a dam inside you poised to burst and will her fingers unmake you entirely? Will the flood of your passionate self explode into the world, into your own awareness? 

Does the danger lie in discovering your true self? What would it mean to be fully seen, to be known, to be loved? Does that feel unsafe right now? Too vulnerable, too exposed?

If she breaks you open, there can be no going back. You cannot unknow yourself. It may never be possible to be small and safe and tame again. Are you ready for that? 

Perhaps the person you are afraid of, is yourself. Your secret, unspeakable self, never allowed to show up in the world, always too much, too intense, too dangerous. And you cannot quite believe anyone could see this hidden version of you and welcome that with open arms.

Surely, it is dangerous to dare to imagine that you could be welcomed.

Safer to stay secret, stay hidden, alone and unchanged. If choosing not to live seems like safety. If keeping your soul in a cage seems like the least hazardous choice.

Perhaps it is more dangerous to do nothing, to ignore this call to body and soul.

Of course you are afraid.

You are in danger.

But do you understand the nature of the threat?

(Image and text prompt by Dr Abbey, extended text by me.)


The economics of spirituality

One of the things Paganism doesn’t really do, is enable people to live full time as devotees to their path. Many religions have monasteries, allowing people to make a full time commitment to spirituality. Many religions have paid posts for priests so that the person called to work in their community has a viable way to do that. 

This kind of infrastructure isn’t possible without the religion itself being organised and having a hierarchy. Pagans tend to rebel against that sort of thing. We mostly want to be independent and free to follow our own calling, but the trade off means that there are economic restrictions on following your own calling.

Yes, we have paid priests, but that income is occasional and unpredictable. Doing a job where part of the job involves chasing the work and trying to make yourself financially viable is a lot of extra job for the money and it takes a toll. 

The calling to work as a Pagan can also take people into writing, healing, teaching, divination, making clothes, tools, and other materials, and offering guidance. None of these jobs pay a person much unless you also spend time promoting yourself and your work – this doesn’t always go down well and can lead to resentment. Pagans all too often resent it when other Pagans need to be paid for the work they do. The jobs that might make you a full time Pagan actually don’t make you a full time Pagan because of time spent on marketing and accountancy and business type things.

I don’t have an easy practical answer to any of this. Clearly there are a lot of Pagans who feel the call to be full time in just the way many people around the world feel called to centre their lives in their beliefs. We don’t have the support systems to make that possible and I doubt we ever will. But we’re also not really dealing with the implications of that. We could do a lot better in socially supporting our would-be full time Pagans and we could at least have a culture of treating people kindly when they step up to this way of working and being.

We exist in a capitalist society, and Pagans have bills to pay just like everyone else. Much of the work a person might do is not spiritually nourishing. Those of us able to do work we find ethical, rewarding and intrinsically worthwhile are in the minority. Not everyone can balance part time work with part time Paganism. At the same time, not everyone can afford to pay for the kind of work we want and need Pagan priests to do for us. The answer is not to get angry with our full time Pagans over this. As is so often the way of it, the actual solution will lie in dismantling capitalist systems, so that we can all live on better terms.


Druid Online

There are lots of ways of being a Druid online. Anything that people do for and with people can be handled via the internet. While it may not be as appealing to make virtual rituals, it is worth considering the people who, due to where they are, what transport options they have or what challenges they have, are unable to go to physical events. Online Druidry has the scope to include more people.

The internet is a great way of moving information around. Unfortunately it’s just as good for moving crappy ideas, misrepresentation, fantasy, content distorted by appropriation and deliberate bullshit. By being online as a Druid you can offer substantial alternatives. For me, this has often  meant challenging toxic positivity and the ways in which privilege is mistaken for spirituality.

The internet gives us ways to communicate with people in places of power and influence. I know keyboard warriors tend to get bad press, but you can use the internet to speak truth to power. You can use it to organise, educate, amplify those who are ignored and so forth. You can use the internet to work for justice and to stand up for the environment. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful uses for the internet is that it allows us to be kind to each other. Sadly this isn’t how a lot of people seem to use it, but the more people who come online intending to be kind, the more scope there is to shift online culture. Share beauty, share nice things, uplift people, build them up, encourage them… When you’re talking to people who aren’t powerful, kindness is the best thing to offer, usually. It’s even possible to disagree kindly and to argue without resulting to abuse. 

However you view the spiritual dimensions of your path, part of what makes you a Druid is walking your talk. What you bring to the internet is part of how you do that. What you make and give, what causes you serve, and how you use words, and emojis in dealing with other people. My favourite Druids come to the internet to inspire and encourage, offering beauty, wisdom, wit, political analysis, compassion, creativity and more.