The hermit’s call

In ‘A Branch from the Lightning Tree’, Martin Shaw talks about initiatory journeys into wilderness, and also the importance of bringing that back an integrating it into our village. Similar things are said of contemplation, shamanic journeying, and other voyages ‘out there’. What gives the experience meaning and significance, is how we bring it back and add it to the mix. We travel together, and those who venture off the path on wilder adventures have an obligation to their tribe to come back with that. And perhaps arguably also an obligation to self, to mesh that experience into regular life. If you go off forever, into faerie, into the mists, or the wilderness, then you are lost to your own life, to your old self and to some aspects of your humanity.

Nonetheless, there are those who go, with no intention of returning. It may not be the retreat into wilderness, but into silence, absence, or stillness. A deliberate stepping out of the flow. It may be that life and people are just too difficult, or a feeling of having nothing left to offer the tribe. Even starting with that intention, it may be that time withdrawn makes it possible to see some point in going back, something worthy of offering to the wider world.

When I lived on the boat, I was very much a hermit. I spent a lot of time in silence, I interacted with very few people. Sometimes that felt lonely, but it had the merit of being easier. I’m not very good at relationships with people. I never know what to say or how to say it, I find conversations hard work at the best of times, and there are very few people with whom I am entirely relaxed. I never know what to do with my elbows. Self-conscious and over-thinking, agonising over mistakes made and anxious about the inevitable next one…

Perhaps I best serve the tribe by mostly not being in it. Perhaps I am most use when I retreat into silence and just come back, to carefully held spaces like this one where I can piece my words together slowly and I do not have to worry so much about my elbows.

In contrast though, the contemplative Druid group met this week. It’s a place where it doesn’t seem to matter much if I am clever, or not. All I have to do is show up and sit quietly with others. They do not ask much of me, and are very accepting of my not being very good sometimes. There’s a feeling of safety in that. In not having to be anything.

Part of the problem, as Martin Shaw points out in his book, is that when you come back with the light of some otherworld in your eyes, or the darkness of it… this can be scary. You have stepped outside the tribe. You really don’t belong anymore. You are not easily reintegrated. You are other. Every time I try and step back into normal human interactions, I am coming back, from long dark subterranean journeys, from imaginary voyages, from time with the hills and sky. Of course I do not fit tidily anywhere. Perhaps it is my job not to fit tidily. I do not know.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “The hermit’s call

  • autumnbarlow

    I feel there is a responsibility that lies with the tribe, too, to clear pathways back to accommodate those who return from the wilderness. It is not only the job of the one who wanders for the good of the tribe to make the re-connections; those for whom the wanderer journeys have to make an effort, too.

    And we don’t see that in current society. It is not your fault if, when you come back with the light of the otherworld in you, that some people step away or are confused. You can offer out your hand to help; and it is incumbent upon you to offer that hand willingly, openly and in a way that is accessible perhaps – BUT there your responsibility must end. You cannot force it. Otherwise you will go mad. Sometimes the pattern simply isn’t there and the connection cannot be made at this time, but if you have done what you needed to do, then the hard but necessary thing is to allow the stream to flow on for a while – even if you’re watching people float away on it..

    Integration, or lack of, isn’t your fault. It’s a two way (or many-layered way) thing.

  • Wicked

    I suppose I don’t belong to a tribe in the sense you mean, only my family tribe, but I’m prone to extended periods of solitude. I think and feel deeply in those spaces where I sit alone with myself in silence and I often feel a hesitation with others when I finally feel the need of companionship. They look at me as if I’ve been somewhere that has left a mark on me that I can’t see, which only adds to my awkwardness and inability to “fit”.

    From this aspect, I understand your thoughts and feelings.

  • syrbal-labrys

    As another who doesn’t fit easily anywhere, I certainly understand. I am glad you have your peaceful Druidic group to nestle within.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Not everyone is supposed to fit nor live in the tribe. Some of of us are outsiders and we always will be. We are not designed to fit it. We are odd with a purpose to shake up people’s thoughts and feelings. Sort of a bit of the trickster god.

    We keep things from going stagnate. We can be refreshing in small amounts but disturbing if we stay too long. So we come into to society for a bit and then go back out where we are more comfortable.

    We are what we are, just as the tribal people are what they are and should be. We are fine the way we are and far more true when we just stay what we are.

    I became far more happy when I stopped trying to fit in, stopped trying to be part of any group. Being the outsider I am mysterious and some people are drawn to me for short periods of time. Then they must return to the tribe just as I just stay outside.

  • Éilis Niamh

    I don’t totally belong in this world either, Nimue. I have no solutions other than to know there is no separation and we can all belong by being… letting go of the strange entrapment of social propriety which is different in kind from good character is what has helped me tremendously. I belong to two worlds, holey to neither. Like anything needing acceptance, I consciously strive to accept this truth about me, that I’m a bit of a wanderer. My ancestors love me unconditionally, it makes putting up with the things in this world that feel foreign to me just a bit easier, knowing there are at least some people who would never reject or abandon me. But I have walked this world without that knowledge also. It’s never worth fighting what is… if you don’t fit in, embrace that, it is who you are and there is a gift in it to be sure. . But you are not alone. 🙂

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