Walking for Beltain

The most obvious association with Beltain is the May blossom – the hawthorn flower, traditionally collected and brought into homes for this festival. Hawthorn is most reliably found as a hedgerow plant, so walking in country lanes around the start of May is the easiest way to find it. Blackthorn is also in blossom, and both hawthorn and blackthorn have white flowers, but they are easy to tell apart – blackthorn flowers before it leafs, whereas hawthorn flowers after its leaves are open.

For me, finding the hawthorn flowers is not the key thing for this festival. Instead, I’m drawn to the woodland flowers. It’s at this time of year – before the leaves are all out – that woodlands come into flower. My holy trinity of bluebell, wild garlic, and wood anemone fill the woods with scents and colours. There are places where vast swathes of bluebells all come up together – misty and sea-like between the trees. The subtle scent of the bluebells becomes discernible, in sudden, glorious washes of sweet perfume.

Bluebells don’t grow in this profusion just anywhere. Since the spring, I’ve been keeping an eye on the woods where I walk, looking at the leaves to see what’s coming – where the great swathes of garlic would be, where the bluebells dominate, and where there’s a mix. I’ve been waiting for the flowers. I walked to see them at the end of April, and again, more successfully, on Beltain eve. As an added bonus at the same time as all this floral delight, the first beech leaves are unfurling. Beech starts out an amazing, vibrant green and gradually darkens as the year progresses. There’s something giddy about them as they first show.

I seem to have found my ideal Beltain walk for my current location, which takes in two barrows, hilltop woodland, and a lush valley. A person can get drink on the colour and smell of a bluebell wood.


Matters of belonging and learning to trust

I’m not good at trusting people. It’s not especially irrational; I’ve had my trust betrayed in some serious ways, in the past. I also suffer from anxiety (although nothing like as much as I used to). One of the things I’ve learned this week, from a fellow sufferer, is the way anxiety distorts perceptions. It’s easier to see when looking at someone else, and of course usually anxiety is only seen from the inside.

We learn patterns of behaviour. We learn what’s normal from how other people treat us, and we start learning this from our first breath. Things that are well-meant can have unhelpful consequences. One of the refrains of my childhood was being told not to show off, not to draw attention to myself. I worry every time I try to promote my work, that I’m acting out, showing off, behaving inappropriately. I have to fight my way past it on a regular basis. I know it’s there, and it’s one of the easier ones, not least because I’ve been blessed with so much positive feedback about my work that I know there’s plenty of you, dear generous blog readers, who are interested.

Still, dealing with people, I find it hard to imagine that I’m acceptable. It’s very easy for people to say in all innocence things that will cause me to take a step back. I infer that I’m too much, too difficult, too enthusiastic, imposing – I’ve heard these things so many times through my life that it’s easy to hear them when they aren’t quite what was meant.

What it means in practice is that to feel easy and secure in a situation, I need a fair amount of positive feedback. I need to know where I fit, and that I fit, and that I am welcome. Recent years have brought me a number of critically important spaces where I feel I  belong. There’s my marriage, for a start. The Contemplative Druid group has been a welcoming, patient, affirming space where I’ve felt able to speak honestly, and have had chance to tackle some of my body contact issues. I feel a sense of belonging with OBOD, although that’s all through the ether and somewhat more ephemeral. I feel a deep sense of belonging at Moon Books, where the affirmation that my work is valued has been ongoing, and I take considerable joy in helping and supporting other authors. I’m starting to feel a sense of belonging with Druid Camp too (it’s taken me nearly three years). This week I’ve realised that Stroud Short Stories is also going to be one of those spaces for me.

One of the hardest things for me, is to trust people to find me acceptable. It makes me hesitant around relationships of all shapes and sizes. I stay still when perhaps I could step forward. When in doubt, what I hear in my head are the voices of the people who explicitly rejected me in the past, for being too much trouble. But there are people who have been patient with me, and just kept giving me reasons to keep trusting them, to keep talking, to stay. People who are generous with their affirmations make worlds of difference. Thank you.

To know where I belong is to be able to put down the utter shit of the past, and let it go, and do something better, with people who want to be doing things with me.


How the present changes the past

“History changes, I’m telling you. OK, the things that actually happened way-back-when don’t really change, but our interpretation of them sure does. It’s amazing how much our understanding of ancient Minoan culture has changed in the century or so since Sir Arthur Evans first uncovered the ruins of the temple complex at Knossos.” Laura Perry – it’s a great blog post and you can read the rest of it here. http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/the-minoan-path/how-history-changes-the-minoans-and-their-neighbors.html

The relationship between the present and the past is something that fascinates me. How we tend to look at timeframes that seem to resonant with where we are now, and how we read the past to make sense of the present, and read the past through the distorting lenses of currently in-vogue glasses.

Take, for example, the way we’ve made sense of the graves of the ancient dead. Weapons = warriors = men. Beads and mirrors = women. Start from that perspective and it’s not possible to think you’ve dug up a warrior woman. So the past can have no warrior women in it, which in turn validates the idea that women are passive and domestic things, and men do all the important, active stuff. Only now we can do DNA analysis its getting obvious that buried items and the gender of the body do not always match up this way.

Rare, exotic and costly grave goods buried with the ancient dead are understood as status, symbols of power and importance. As such, they ‘prove’ the existence of a ruling elite, validating the idea of a ruling elite as a timeless truth about how human societies are. It’s possible that our ancient dead had completely different ideas about the meaning of items placed in graves. Does burial have to relate to personal ownership? No. Do rare items neatly equate to kingship? No.

It’s very easy to make the past say almost anything we want it to. It’s especially easy to think we’re seeing evidence for things we already believe are true. I’m not a believer in the idea of one true way and I think truth is often complex, shifting and multi-faceted. But here’s a bit of personal dogma for you – if you can’t imagine more than one interpretation for something, you’re probably wrong, because you’re probably too busy seeing what you think is true to have thought about what’s actually in front of you.

For more of this sort of thing, Druidry and the Ancestors… http://www.moon-books.net/books/Druidry-Ancestors


Swimming metaphorically with the social jellyfish

I’ve picked up the concept of jellyfish from other bloggers, I think it’s a helpful term. It’s a label for those people who leave you feeling crap, and you can’t put a finger on why – the invisible sting that does so much damage and is impossible to challenge. Having been round this repeatedly, trying to figure out why I felt so useless, the notion has helped me make sense of a few things. Of late, I’ve been watching a few jellyfish (social media is incredibly helpful) to make sense of the mechanics.

The jellyfish presents as a lovely person. They’re always there to say something nice, something kind and supportive. This is a big part of why it seems so unthinkable that they’re hurting you, and so obvious that you’re the problem. However, the ‘compliments’ stand close attention. “You did far better than I thought you would, well done you!” “I’m really impressed by how well you’ve handled it, this time.” “You’re so much more confident.” “You look so much prettier when you smile.” “No,  you made it, and that’s what counts.”

The jellyfish compliment carries inside it the sting that they are surprised. You looked ok, you coped, you didn’t mess up, and the compliment depends on the idea that this is an achievement. This in turn suggests that the rest of the time, they don’t think that well of you. One or two of these will cheerfully slide off a person, and we all say things of this ilk by accident now and then, but with the most toxic jellyfish it can be constant, and if it isn’t intentional, it still doesn’t come from somewhere good.

What the jellyfish implies is their own superiority. They are very kindly, supportively, judging you, and giving you the verdict of their judgement. And you know, you did ok, you haven’t let them down, and you are to feel a little bit reassured about this. You are also to stay alert to the idea that they could easily find you lacking, and judge the other way.

Presenting as a lovely person is really important to the jellyfish. I think sometimes it is the entire motivation. The need to seem kind and lovely means that they’ll pile in to any situation or conversation and make nice-noises. Those noises may be empty, useless or even harmful – all that matters to them is their seeming to be lovely, and that other people will perceive them as lovely. They may be good at making empathising noises. If you let them in based on those noises, you can find that you are forever cast in the role of the loser, the leper. You have to be something a bit fragile and useless so that they can heroically put up with you and generously soothe you, and the further you go down this route, the worse it gets.

If something stings, it’s always important to figure out why. We can all be twitchy about things we find difficult. We can all over-react. But if you keep feeling stung, and diminished in the company of a person, it is worth stepping back and asking whether they are quite as lovely as they’d like you to believe. A persistent jellyfish can do a lot of harm, not least by making it so hard to believe they’re doing anything nasty at all. Feeling both hurt and ungrateful, the diminished person just keeps getting smaller. If you’re lucky, the jellyfish gets cocky, and does something more obvious, revealing what they really are, but it can take years for the true colours to show.


Stage fright for authors

Me, only slightly awkward, talking at PF Wessex 2016.

This is a blog inspired by Myslexia – Www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames – to take part in a wider blog project. Thank you for the inspiration!

Most authors are, by nature, shy and retiring creatures. It’s an introverted career path, calling for long periods of silence, deep though and not interacting with others. Writers like to hide from the world, emerging blinking into the light between chapters, or when the coffee calls. However, once the book is written, and the reality of trying to sell it kicks in, the author has to become someone who can talk in public.

Podcasts, interviews, talks, book readings, workshops, panels at events… to sell books an author has to connect with people, and for many this is a tricky process. Last weekend, I was involved in a short story competition. One author confessed to never having used a microphone before, no doubt there were others with limited stage experience. They all did brilliantly, but I’ve seen authors caught like rabbits in the headlights at other times. It doesn’t matter how good you are on paper, it won’t help you when you have to get your body and voice in front of people.

On this score I have been tremendously lucky, because I came to the stage through folk music. I started singing floor spots in a folk club, and went on to singing floor spots on nights when there were performers booked. Next stop, MCing nights, and doing the odd small gig, and busking. I was gigging with someone, so could hide behind them. Having a process of building confidence and stage skills really helps, and that’s available some places.

When you get on a stage as an author, reading your own work, or talking about something, it’s all you. It’s totally exposed. Getting on stage as a folk singer, I have mostly sung other people’s songs, safe in the knowledge that the songs are excellent, and that other people have already agreed these songs are excellent. It’s a considerable comfort. A tune can carry the words, and when you’re signing, the pacing, phrasing, even how you deploy your voice is already dealt with. People can sing along, and in a set of songs, they tend to clap after each one, so you get little doses of reassurance that they don’t hate you. It’s much easier this way.

If the first time you get on a stage you do it to read, with a microphone, or talk, this is intimidating. Authors on stages need stagecraft as much as musicians do. You have to be able to look at the audience, talk to them, not just read to them. You have to be able to answer questions, and if you seem confident and relaxed, it’s a far better experience for them.

Most authors do not get away with avoiding public appearances, and if you want to be successful, it’s a necessary part of the mix. If you want to be good at being on a stage and it doesn’t come naturally, think like a musician. Find safe places to join in, where you can build your skills and confidence. Go out and watch other people doing it, and learn from their mistakes.

The thing is, very few of us are naturally good at standing up in front of people. Those who do it well make it look effortless. What you’re actually seeing is a carefully honed set of skills. If you are a shy and nervous woodland creature by nature, it’s just a case of learning how to appear otherwise for short periods of time.

Then at the end, they clap, and after the long silence of the writer’s shed, being applauded is a truly wonderful thing.


Unbound Publishing, Ashael Rising

A guest blog from Shona Kinsella (requested because I’m really interested in how publishing house Unbound is doing things). Over to Shona…

 

My debut novel, Ashael Rising, is currently being crowd-funded through the world’s first crowd-funding publisher, Unbound.

Unbound give readers the chance to choose what books are published. You find a book you like the sound of and pledge your support. At the basic level, you get your name in a list of supporters in each edition as well as a copy of the book and the rewards go up from there, tailored to each book. When a book has reached its funding target it gets published and marketed in the same way as it would with any traditional publisher. Authors receive royalties of 50%; considerably higher than the standard 10% – 15%. Unbound is a truly innovative way to approach publishing and I’m really excited to be involved with them.

Ashael Rising is the story of a tribal filidh (healer and spiritual leader) who finds herself in the position of having to protect her people and her world from the evil Zanthar, invaders form another world who extend their own lives by feeding on the life force of all around them.

When I decided to write a novel, I knew that it would be epic fantasy, and that it would have a female protagonist, something that’s not particularly common in the genre. That was about all I knew at that point. You see, I’m a discovery writer so every day I sit down at my computer and see what words fall out. I was surprised at how much I came to love Bhearra, Ashael’s mentor and the spiritual leader of her people. I love how vibrant and complete she is and she became one of my favourite characters, despite being old enough to be my grandmother.

Iwan, a slave of the Zanthar sent to spy on Ashael’s people, started out as a plot device but as I wrote him, he came to life and demanded to have his story told. He is a man of principle, who has to walk a tightrope between protecting his mother and protecting the woman he has come to love.

As I wrote, I realised that Ashael and her people were not white, though I initially pictured them that way. I wrote a same-sex couple who are accepted and loved for who they are. I tried to imagine a community of gender equality.

I also came to realise that much of the spiritual story came from my own beliefs and experiences as a Celtic Polytheist. The Heart-Fire that serves as the heart of the community is kept burning eternally and given offerings for the gods. It reminds me of Brighid’s sacred flame. The folk even take shifts to tend their sacred flame just as I and my Cill mates do.

Bhearra’s and Ashael’s relationship with the All-Mother reflects my own relationship with Brighid, leaning on Her, serving Her, asking Her for guidance and giving Her thanks. Ashael’s certainty in the presence of the All-Mother is the same as my own certainty in Brighid’s presence in my life.

Ashael Rising is ultimately a story about balance and relationships. It explores the nature of our relationships with each other, with our gods and with the earth that we live on. It is my attempt to find a world that I would want to live in.

I can’t say for sure if this book would be accepted by a traditional publisher because Unbound is the first publisher I submitted it to. I have my doubts though. Within the fantasy adventure, there are lots of unusual aspects and that’s the kind of thing that gets books rejected. One of the reasons for that, is that traditional publishers don’t believe that there are readers for books that do things differently. With Unbound, we have the chance to prove them wrong, to show that we do want female protagonists in our fantasy, that aged characters can still be exciting, that we want PoC in the lead roles.

We have an opportunity to change publishing. I would love it if you joined me.

Find out more about Unbound and about Ashael Rising at: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ashael-rising where you can read an excerpt of the book and pledge your support.

Shona is running a prize draw at 50, 75 and 100% of her funding target. When each of these are reached, Shona will draw the name of a pledger from a hat and that person will win an Amazon gift voucher, signed page of the manuscript and a handwritten thank you note from Shona. For further details, read the post here: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ashael-rising/updates/prize-draw

You can connect with Shona on Twitter (@shona_kinsella) or Facebook as well as following her blog at www.shonakinsella.com where she blogs about the experience of being a writer, warts and all.

 


Pagan Clergy

Last week I read this excellent post on The Ditzy Druid blog – https://ditzydruid.com/2016/04/23/why-i-believe-pagans-need-clergy/ which got me thinking about Pagan clergy.

In organised religions, clergy tends to mean hierarchy. It means people with more power and influence, perhaps in a many tiered system. I can’t say it’s something I find attractive. As a Pagan doing the clergy job, I’m very aware that I don’t have much of a formal support network. No one is paying me to support others through crisis or to offer guidance. There isn’t someone I can definitely go to for support myself, or advice or anything like that. I have no doubt it’s easier to do the work when you get paid for it and you’ve got backup.

In practice if I’m struggling, I’m likely to look around and see who, of the wise people I know, might have some ideas, or some spare energy. I am a celebrant, and an advice giver, but there are times when I need the benefit of someone else’s insight and experience. Sometimes I need a perspective from someone not as emotionally caught up in things. If I need a rite of passage, I need someone else to do that for me. If I need witnessing in something, I need someone else to do it. I think this is true for all Pagans.

One of the oft touted ideas in Paganism is that we are all our own priests and priestesses. We can all talk directly to what we hold sacred. However, in being priests and priestesses, perhaps we need to think about that role not in purely personal terms, but in community terms. In every tarot reading, every assist with a troubling dream, in ritual, in exchanging ideas and in comforting each other, we act as each other’s spiritual guides and counsellors.

Priestwork need not mean authority or hierarchy. It could be understood in terms of shared responsibility. We all need people to advise, support and challenge us once in a while. We can do that without sacrificing autonomy, by having it happen in a more fluid way.


Challenges on the Druid Path

Faiths can be a lot like love affairs. You start out full of excitement and enthusiasm. This will be the one! This will change your life, heal your broken heart and make everything perfect. For the honeymoon period, you do all the things. You carefully celebrate seasonal festivals, make and maintain an altar, have a daily practice…

And then you don’t achieve enlightenment. You don’t become a super-capable magician. Your problems still exist. Your broken heart is not perfectly restored. Maybe it wasn’t the faith for you. Maybe it’s time to try another, to fall in love with a new set of ideas. We can end up wandering about being offered fantastical, magical answers, and never really getting what we wanted.

This is, I think an important aspect of being on a path, and one we probably don’t talk about enough. It’s too tempting to focus on the more meaningful experiences, and on times of change, even though that’s not what day to day spirituality looks like. I’ve been exploring Druidry for years. There is so much I do not know. There is so much that I am not. Dramatic events and big revelations are scarce through to non-existent. There’s a slow process of building on what I know, and changing how I am in the world. Druidry has not solved all my problems, but it has given me some ways to handle things better.

The divine does not speak to me, mostly. There are odd moments that leave me wondering, but nothing clear enough to be comforting. Birds do not fly to my hands. I do not see the future. I cannot heal people with the power of my mind. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges Paganism offers us, is that having invested in these magical, enchanting ways of seeing the world, we still have to deal with the mundane realities, socks still get dirty, injustice still stalks the earth, bad things happen. We aren’t magically protected from all things in all ways, and we probably know we shouldn’t be anyway. To embrace the idea of magic while accepting the frequent absence of it isn’t easy.

Real growth, and real learning are often about tiny shifts that aren’t visible while they’re happening. It’s natural to crave the dramatic revelation, but what you’re more likely to do is get evolution by tiny increments over a long time. Shifts in how you see and feel that are subtle, and that you don’t register as they happen. We’re changing all the time, but we won’t see it until more time has passed.

The faith we thought was our one true love maybe hasn’t let us down after all, maybe we just had unrealistic expectations. Part of why we have those expectations is the way others sell ideas of rapid progress and instant development, and the way some people play up their own experiences and fail to mention the boring bits.

I’ve been a Druid for over a decade, and mostly it’s very quiet. There are moments of wonder and inspiration, there has been a slow change taking place in me. I get excited about ideas and connecting with other people but I’m still basically a flawed, often confused human muddling along as best I can. All of us are, to at least some degree.


Walking the Rainbow Path

A guest blog, by Nina Milton

One sunny autumn morning, fifteen years ago, I shipped up in Bath, to attend an introductory workshop on shamanism. As a druid, I was used to enjoying guided visualisations and wanted to know more about what happens when you stop being ‘guided’ and sink deeply into a trance that takes you away from everything around you. I’d started reading about shamanism; books like The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda, Cave and Cosmos, by Michael Harner and Your Shamanic Path, by Leo Rutherford, showed me that shamanism was a historic world-wide phenomenon, but also that it still thrives today.

I’m an OBOD a druid, so it was British shamanism I was most attracted to. It uses archetypes I already knew from the Celtic myths, comforting symbols such as cauldrons and oak trees, and did not depend on mind-altering drugs to attain a state of trance. I’d consumed a lot of books by Caitlin and John Matthews, especially The Celtic Shaman and Singing the Soul back Home, but books a shaman maketh not; and here I was, sitting on a floor cushion alongside thirty other people, waiting for John Matthews to introduce us to this magical place. He looked ordinary, sitting cross-legged between us, and he opened the workshop in a quiet, almost muted voice.

“I’d better warn you now,” he said, without drama. “Shamanism will alter your life.”

Although I was keen – really keen – I’d paid money to be here – I couldn’t help thinking…’yeah, right’.

But John knew what he was saying. For me, things were never the same again.

John reminded us that although shamanism can be a spiritual path, from its very early beginnings, it has been used as a tool; a method of getting close to another world – the world of spirits. It’s a very ancient practice indeed; there are those who think shamans are depicted in the Neolithic cave paintings found all over Europe. Shamans are thought of as special people by the communities they function within.  By entering a trance, often using nothing more than a drum beat or the rhythm of a dance, they move between the solid world we all live in, and the otherworlds, bringing back answers to questions that have no answers.

It is said that to become a shaman, one must be called by spirits, but I think the spirits are calling us all…it’s just that only some people listen. When I talked to the other work-shoppers that weekend, I found several who described having the ‘shaman’s sickness’, a health crisis that had brought them visionary dreams. Other had found their minds opening during a ‘vision quest’ in wild country or during a dark night.

“The rainbow path of the seeker takes you from your own world to the inner-worlds,” John advised. “You will become walkers between the worlds.” We lay down, scarves or sleep masks over our eyes, and listened to the singing tone high above the beat of John’s bodhrán and let our imagination take us along the rainbow path to the otherworld.

The more I delved, the more fascinated I became. By closing my eyes, listening to a fast, regular drum beat and allowing my mind to steady and focus, I found I was able to walk between the worlds, accompanied by my spirit ally who came to me in the guise of a mole, able to burrow down into lower realms. When I stroked his back with one finger, his coat felt as soft, warm and sleek as any mole of this world. Mole and I would come upon otherworldly presences who spoke to me, either in perfectly normal conversations or in mysterious symbols and signs. They often advised or directed me, or offered a gift of significance. I’d emerge feeling refreshed…amazed.

I worked through Caitlin Matthew’s series of practitioner workshops, and I’ve since worked with other respected shaman too, building up my skills, and using them to some degree in my work as a palliative care nurse, and also for my own self-development. I loved the way this secret, rainbow world was mine to visit, enjoy and learn from at all times.

I was already a writer. In fact, I think I’ve always been one, ever since my first infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden, read an animal fable to the class, then asked us to write a similar sort of story. I was dumfounded – for the first time I understood that the books I loved had actually been written by real human beings. Before that, I believed they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation – from then on I was scribbling down stories all the time.

Sometime after I’d been practicing shamanism in work and for myself, a new fictional character walked into my head.

“Hi,” she said. I was driving to work, at the time, and she seemed almost to plonk herself down on the passenger seat. “I’m Sabbie Dare.”

She looked like a woman in her late twenties, of mixed race, with a cute little gap between her front teeth and very long, almost black hair, which kinked as it fell. “I’m a shaman,” she went on. “A therapeutic shaman.”

“Ah, I responded,” (in my head, and keeping my eyes on the road, of course), “you take clients with problems. Probably problems they’ve already seen a gamut of professionals about; doctors, herbalists, even hypnotherapists.”

She’d nodded.  “Some have souls that are complete shattered. And some bring me some very difficult problems. They are people on the edge.” I felt guided to write about Sabbie Dare – I became obsessed about her life and thoughts. She was like my younger sister.

The books are set on the Somerset Levels, a place with a truly fay and mysterious atmosphere, which can turn tricksy and dark, when mists come down, or floods rise, and I use the most isolated, desolate spot on the moors for the first Shaman Mystery, In the Moors. Things get very scary indeed for Sabbie, as she tries to help a client in trouble. She’s a girl who only wants the best for those she meets, and she’ll regularly put herself on the line, not only in the spirit world, but also in the apparent world, because The Shaman Mysteries, published by Llewellyn’s Midnight Ink imprint, are thrillers, albeit with an edge of spiritually.

I write them for pagans and crime fiction lovers alike, so I have to be careful to walk a line between the truth of my own spiritual path and the story I’m creating. I don’t want to spin a line, suggesting shamanism can ‘solve crime’ or ‘get people out of trouble’.

The otherworld rarely gives a direct answer – any shaman knows that. When Sabbie finally unravels the tangle of symbols and auguries her spirit world shows her, she’s never presented with a simple answer. Instead, she’s led to the place or moment where those answers will be best revealed. Unfortunately for Sabbie, those are the places of most danger. Sabbie knows this, but walks towards them anyway, because she’s passionate for her clients, and for justice – and she can’t help being insatiably curious!

As the series progresses I’ve introduced some of the aspects of shamanism and paganism that might enlighten the ‘muggle reader’. Book one, In the Moors explains Sabbie’s job as a therapist, and describes her shamanic journeys, introducing her animal ally, an otter called Trendle. In the second book, Unraveled Visions, I begin to develop Sabbie’s otherworld associations, and her ritual life celebrating the celtic wheel of the year. Book three, Beneath the Tor, has a theme of transformation, including shapeshifting. I also introduce the reader to the lower realms of the otherworld. This book is set in Glastonbury, and it was my great delight to be able to use some of the legends of the Vale of Avalon.

Meanwhile Sabbie herself begins to understand who she is. She was brought up in the care system, after her mother died when she was six…she’s never known her father. As the books develop, she uses her shamanic pathways to find out more about her own past , including her maternal family, who are from Somerset, and her Caribbean father, who becomes her spirit guide.

I’ve never forgotten John Matthews’ claim that shamanism will change your life. It transformed mine, and I’d recommend pursuing the rainbow path to any pagan. Once you know how to access the world of spirits, you really never know what might happen next. What happened to me was that I now write books I love, and that people seem to love reading them. It was the one thing I’d longed to be able to do, and I am sure that the spirit world brought me this blessing.

 

Nina Milton’s blogsite for readers and writers is http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com and she’s also on Facebook at The Shaman Mysteries and on twitter as @ninahare.


Travelling with Inanna

Last year I read Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess and became interested in the descent of Inanna as a way of exploring the processes of depression. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the journey downwards, and the triggers for that downward journey. It’s taken me until now to properly grasp that while Jane Meredith’s book is as much concerned with ascent as descent, I’ve not looked at how I come back at all until recently.

Inanna is stripped of everything as she descends. Physical items that are symbols of power and self are taken from her. Then, after her time on the meat hook, she comes back up, and the things taken are returned just as systematically. This is the point at which the story ceases to work as a metaphor for depression. Many of us go down due to external factors – losses, setbacks, dealing with shitty people. We are not automatically given back what was taken. We either have to do without it, make it, or find it elsewhere.

I crash every six to eight weeks, to some degree. I’ve been in a cycle of collapse and return like this for many years. Paying close attention to the triggers of falling into depression, and the process of depression once in it, has not stopped me continually burning out. I know more than I did, and I’ve been able to reduce the magnitude a bit, much of the time, but that’s all. So it’s been time to look at ascent. When I’m so tired I can’t think or move, when everything hurts and there seems to be no point even trying, how do I get going again?

The answer is rage. What gets me up, every time, is fury with myself over how stupid, useless and unreasonable I’m being. The people around me deserve better. There are things that have to be done and I’m not doing them because I’m huddled in a corner, whimpering. I’ll call myself lazy, selfish, self-indulgent, a good for nothing waste of space, and I’ll batter myself with this language until the rage against myself is powerful enough to get me moving again.

I suspect there’s a direct relationship between this process, and the next round of falling over. It’s taken until now to question it, because until this month, the self-hatred that keeps me moving had seemed like a perfectly natural and reasonable thing. Feeling like my only point is my utility, and having internalised a sense of worthlessness a long time ago, I’ve had no way of being kind to myself in times of burnout. I haven’t felt I deserved being kind to, and I’ve had no way of fixing that alone.

When all you can change in response to a problem outside of you, is something inside of you, the options are limited. Depression is treated as an internal problem to be solved internally, but if it’s being caused by external issues, there’s a limit to what can be done. Problems that eat away at sense of self, self esteem, hope, and energy are not fixed by taking a positive attitude to them, especially if you have no means for being positive. Rewiring the longstanding thought patterns in a brain is not a quick or easy process. They aren’t fixed by anger, either. Sometimes, the change really has to come from other people. Sometimes, I need to ask for help, or to feel safe explaining the problem. Sometimes I need looking after.

I’ve made a few tentative forays into talking about what I need to have be different. I’ve sought a few changes from other people. I’ve worked out what, externally, is knocking me down and I’m trying to minimise contact with situations that take me apart. I am not a goddess in a mythical descent, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have the things taken given back to me.

Currently I’m working on how to get up gently. I’m ever more convinced that treating depression as individual and internal is part of the problem. The more time we spend collectively knocking each other back (or letting our politicians knock us back) the worse it gets. I think we can help each other to do something totally different.


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