Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings.

Deep Time and the wilderness

Most of the wilderness fiction I’ve read is historical. Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, assorted American transcendentalists, – books whose authors who had the advantage of writing about places and environments that were largely unknown, unpredictable and clearly dangerous. While people still go off on adventures, exploring less known places, mobile phones and GPS make that a very different game. The places untouched by humans are far scarcer than they were two hundred years ago. And yet we have this collective attraction to the unknown, the untouched. For the greater part, fiction has replaced the wilderness with fantasy worlds, and the science fiction bid to seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly split infinitives where no one has split them before.

Anthony Nanson’s “Deep Time” is a real stand out as a piece of modern wilderness writing. It is a speculative novel, but at the same time so rooted in observation and detail, that it is able to create a sense of adventure and mystery right on the edge of human experience. Where fantasy and science fiction can tend towards the escapist, Deep Time brings us back to ourselves, to the land, to the idea of wilderness as something precious that we ought to preserve. It also, by cunning means, encourages us to look at our own time and place with fresh eyes, seeing connections and possibilities we might otherwise have missed. It delivers all of this, and more, in a fast placed action adventure plot that does not let up for some 700 pages.

I’ve head genre fiction defined as ‘everything happens and no one thinks about it’ versus literature as ‘very little happens and everyone thinks about it a great deal.’ It frequently bothers me that modern publishing often defines ‘literary’ as something dull, worthy, tediously real and lacking in pace. Very little happens. Everyone thinks about it a lot. At the same time, more creative plots and unreal settings fall into the low brow pop culture bracket, and are not to be taken seriously. Shakespeare could write about faeries, Dickens could write about ghosts and be taken seriously, but they probably wouldn’t get away with it these days.

I know that it is possible to have books with pace, action, adventure and speculative elements that are also powerful literary pieces. The quality of writing, the kind of depth that can be woven into a plot, the way in which speculation can reflect the world back more meaningfully than representation can. The unfamiliar requires us to think, to test assumptions and the boundaries of our own reality, and you just can’t achieve that by giving people the wholly familiar. Anthony Nanson has entirely proved my point, creating an entirely modern novel, with great literary depth and the kind of narrative that would readily adapt into a summer blockbuster movie. We can have books that are exciting and profound. We can have meaning and enjoyment on the same pages. We can still have wilderness, it hasn’t all gone, and we can protect what remains and recognise what we’ve got.

Deep Time is not suitable for younger readers (I’d suggest 14 and up) and I heartily recommend it as a fantastic read.

More about Anthony here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/

More about Deep Time here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/Deep_Time.html


Becoming the Very Important Druid, and other quests

What first brings a person to Druidry? There are of course, many answers. A desire for knowledge and experiences, a hunger for mystery, wonder and the numinous. Wanting a place to belong, feeling a kinship, needing or longing for something. We all have our own reasons and all of those reasons have their own validity.

Once you get onto the path and start learning, those initial desires can rapidly stop being relevant, or can evolve. In the first year of Druidry, working on the wheel of year can seem massively important, but that very work will show you what the wheel doesn’t do, where it fails to connect with your experiences, and so one quest can lead to another, very different sort of quest, as an example.

Sometimes the way a path grows and changes is very smooth and makes total sense. Sometimes the things we start with, and the things we come to want are quite at odds with each other. The very idea of spiritual growth can create interesting tensions. I came to Druidry in no small part because I wanted to learn, grow and change, to acquire spiritual depth. The steps from here to thinking yourself better than other people, succumbing to ego, to hubris, to self importance, are not many. It’s a potential pitfall for anyone who organises, writes or leads – that you start to think of yourself as an important Druid. Being A Very Important Druid doesn’t sit well alongside a deeply lived spiritual life. The more invested we get in our own importance, the harder it is to show up to the spiritual life.

At the same time, there is a real need for people who can organise, lead, teach, write and generally share the wisdom they have gained. There’s a need for celebrants and ritualists that isn’t just about the hungry ego of the individual. What little we know of the history of Druidry suggests that ancient Druids were very much in those places of leadership and wisdom for their tribes.

How much do we quest for the role of the important Druid? How much tension is there between role and personal spirituality? How do we treat those who take on such roles?

For me, the key to all this is service. If you show up to do the job – as writer, teacher, celebrant etc – and your focus is the job, it works a lot better. If you show up to be adored and looked up to, then it’s not about the job, it’s about the self importance. However, these are hard things to admit to. We’re all fragile and human, wanting to be loved and admired is natural. So is wanting to be valued and respected for what we do. The risk is that if our Druidry is all about seeming fabulous to other people, it may well not be giving us anything we need. It’s a shallow pool to paddle in at the best of times. I’ve certainly put my feet in it more than once.

Turning up to serve, the only questions are ‘is this working?’ ‘is this useful?’. If someone finds it useful, then you’re doing the work. If the focus is on doing the useful work, then any larger profile gained is recycled into the means to do the work and to reach and help more people, landscapes, causes. A Very Important Druid who uses their prominence to inform, enlighten and uplift others, is a person to support. If all the fame does is serve to bring adulation to the famous one then they aren’t doing themselves or anyone else any favours. Any attempt to knock that kind of activity down only feeds it though, because someone invested in their own superiority will see only trolling in the behaviour of people who do not like them. If a person is on an ego trip, then any attention paid to them, will feed it.

What to do then, if you wake up one morning and suspect that the desire to be seen a certain way has somehow taken over from the work of being a Druid? Go back to the trees. Back to the soil and the mud. Find a hilltop and be really, really small under the sky. Seek out the ancient dead and consider how long ago they lived, and step back into a more reasonable perspective on your life. I find it helps, at any rate.


Dealing with depression

In recent months I’ve been looking hard at what causes my frequent bouts of depression, with the intention of pinning down reasons and being able to make some changes. I’m now working on three key areas, and while I know there are a great many reasons a person might end up depressed, I expect I won’t be alone in these three. I’m increasingly confident that the process of sitting with it, asking what it is, where it came from and, sometimes, what it wants, is the only way of unravelling it. Any depression that is largely about chemical imbalance may not respond well to this, but body chemistry problems can sometimes be products of life situations as well. So, no answers here I am certain will work for everyone, but some places to start.

Exhaustion. Ten and twelve hour working days, or longer. Weeks with no days off. Years with no holidays. Insufficient sleep or down time. It messes with my body functioning, undermines self esteem, and the more ragged and exhausted I become, the worse I feel about myself. I believe that I should be able to get up early, work all day, run a household, turn up for all the social and evening meeting stuff people want me to do, whilst also being a good parent and wife, fall into bed around midnight and get up early the next day and do it again, with no days off. I haven’t poked into where I got this idea, I am recognising that it is inhuman and I can’t do it, and that trying to do it breaks me. I’m now not working more than 6 day weeks, hoping to push down to 5 days, more sensible day lengths, more rest and sleep and maybe one day, a holiday.

Double thinking. Situations where in order to keep up I have to not feel what I am feeling, or have to relate to how I am feeling as wrong. Imagine working for an ethical campaign group where the work required you to do the things the group was campaigning against, as an easy way of seeing what this might be like. I have repeatedly found myself dealing with people who could only be right, such that I have had to be wrong, regardless of reality. I am often complicit because I will choose to believe that I am the problem in order to keep my good opinion of the other person. I’ve tried to change that in recent years, the results have been messy and variable, but at least mean I put less energy into maintaining a reality bubble that makes it ok to work me to death, hurt me, treat me as second class, or otherwise make me miserable. For all the bumps, challenging this has been a quality of life improver. I’m drawing up new boundaries and recognising that I am fundamentally entitled to say no to anyone, for any reason and for no reason.

Politics and powerlessness. There are days when I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, and it is crushing me. The enormity of all I cannot do, or fix, the horror of all that is wrong out there of which I know such a small percentage. The emotional exhaustion that comes from reading the news, or too much time on social media dealing with depressing things. I read Philip Carr Gomm’s blog recently about not listening to the news and recognised a lot of my own feelings in his words. I feel morally obliged to know, but knowing is tearing me apart. I’m going to be more protective of my time and careful of my exposure. I’m going to try and focus my attention on things I can do, and to avoid sharing things on unless I have some hint, at least, of what might help. There’s no point being immersed in all the things I can do nothing about and then having no emotional resilience to deal with things I could make a difference to.

I shall be experimenting over coming months with these three things, and watching for other triggers, and nuances within the triggers. I need to stop thinking it’s ok to do to myself things that would horrify me if done to other people. Any person or situation that doesn’t allow me to guard my own wellbeing in this way, will be out of the mix, or I’ll step back to a comfortable distance.


Stepping into ritual space

How do we enter ritual space, let go of the cares of daily life and become open to magic, divinity and that which is sacred to us? When I wrote about Glamour in Paganism a few days ago, one person in the comments picked up on the issue that kit and setting are important in how people transition into ritual space. It’s a valid point, and one that stands looking at. How do we enter ritual space?

Dedicated clothes and objects can help create a sense of specialness, of time out of time. Many people find this really helps them, and I don’t want to invalidate that experience, but I think there’s an alternative that is worth exploring. The trouble with depending on ritual kit is that you can only respond in a Pagan way when you’ve set out to do so, and it makes it that bit harder to express your spirituality in the heat of the moment. Without robes, cloak, wand, crystal, or whatever else you normally need, how are you going to handle it if you get an unexpected experience, or have a sudden personal crisis where a bit of Druidry in self defence would not go amiss?

For me the key thing is spirits of place. Other traditions call them land wights, genius loci, faeries, elementals, and a host of other things. However you understand the idea of that which is spirit and present in the land, is what you need to work with here. Atheist pagans can just take this literally and work with whatever is present – trees, rocks, grass, soil, it’s all good.

For me, the transition into ritual is a transition into awareness of the spirits of place. I do this primarily by taking the time to go in and be with the place. Sitting, strolling, standing as the weather and ground conditions dictate. I look and listen. I feel the air on my skin and I taste it. I think about who and what came here before me, and I open myself to the place. I listen to the songs of its birds, or if it’s what I’ve got, to the hum of the traffic. I look at the sky, because no matter where you are there is sky. If you insist on doing ritual in a cave or a cellar, there’s still sky outside before you enter that space. Sun or moon, rain or shine, the sky brings nature to the most urban of spaces. It can permeate into our indoor rituals, even.

I breathe slowly. I notice what it’s like to be in my body, in this place. I feel out my body reactions to the space. I look for beauty and inspiration, for hope, but I do not ignore anything that is tough for me – the cutting down of trees, the dead things, the absences and the silences. Often at this point I become aware of the absence of great hooves, and recognise that I will not see aurochs.

This kind of transition can be developed by working with a single object, holding it, meditating on it and connecting with it. Improvised altars made from found objects, including human detritus, can be part of the engagement process. Making mandalas, or sculptures out of found items, or just gathering twigs for the fire all help us to be present and part of the place. In recognising the sacredness of the smallest things, the magic of the living, breathing world, we transition. We step out of the ordinary mindset that sees nature as something to use and place as backdrop, and we step into the world of life and detail, and from there, ritual is a lot easier and flows more readily.


The naming of nature

There are reasons to be careful about naming. Names confer power and suggest ownership, and the naming of things in line with the dominant thought form of the day is something to watch for. As an example, names made up to sound like Latin by people who self identify as scientists are considered to be the proper names, while names used by ordinary people interacting with that same thing for hundreds of years and more, are given no authority at all.

However, naming does not have to be an act of conquest. When we have a name for something, it’s easier to keep track of our relationship with it. We can piece together stories of different encounters and interactions. Knowledge gained can be easily attached to that name, and the thing itself is more readily discussed for being able to identify it to other people.

Names themselves often reveal fragments of story, history or relics of older languages. Place names especially so, where ghosts of former names can be present in new descriptions. Much older naming was descriptive – one of the interesting problems this causes in flower names is that pink and orange are much more recent ideas, so a great many folk names for plants designate as red things which, to the modern eye, just plain aren’t. And if the name and the colour are interchangeable – as with the violet, a sub species that doesn’t conform causes all kinds of trouble, and thus we get white violets.

Folk naming outside of Europe gets even more interesting, because often things are named based on resemblance to other things in the country of origin. Or, more accurately, the memory of those things. American robins are a mostly brown bird with a red (orange really) chest like their British counterparts, only in all other ways look a lot more like a thrush, including their size, and have a migratory habit that the old world robin does not.

To have a name, is to have the beginnings of a story and the means for a relationship. Otherwise it all gets confusing. In a far country, there was a piece of land where the plants only grew a foot or so in height because grazing creatures liked to eat them. And amongst those foot high plants of the distant country, there was one which was darker coloured than all the rest, and while it wasn’t the only one to have little pointy bits on its middle, it was the only one popular with a brown and red night flying creature that liked to feed on it. And while that might sound entertaining and exotic for a while, you at present have no idea if you know what either the plant or the creature are, or whether I made them up, which is no great aid to communication!


Of Glamour and Paganism

I have no doubt that part of the attraction for many people is how gorgeous and glamorous Paganism seems. The cloaks, the dresses, the jewellery, the goblets and knives and carved staffs and all the altar gear, the robes and the velvet. It’s not an aesthetic that depends on being young and skinny, which is a plus, although it has to be said that if you are beautiful and dressed the part, it’s got a power to it. But then, that’s what ‘glamour’ used to mean – a kind of magic that is all about alluring surfaces.

Fairy glamour is gold that at first light turns out to be dead leaves. It’s dirty hovels transformed by illusion into grand palaces, dresses made of spiderwebs and elaborate feasts that turn out to mostly have been mice. Glamour is a mixed bag – wonderful, exciting, enchanting, but also potentially misleading and resulting in bits of mouse stuck between your teeth.

I’m not good about the glamour. I probably have a bit of a chip on my shoulder in this regard. Some of it is to do with money, and I think this is an issue to raise. For the right money you can have the most exquisite kit. Floor length ankle length cloaks are not cheap, and trust me, trying to make one out of a second hand curtain is time consuming, and they do not come out the same. Some of us have the skills and time to make beautiful clothes and items many, do not. For most of my Pagan life I’ve not had the spare cash for kit that has little use most of the time. It’s easy to shift bags of gear when you have a car, but getting to gatherings on public transport, or walking, creates challenges. These can also be economic issues. Further, a poor person living in a small space may be short of storage space. I don’t have room in my small wardrobe for a cloak I seldom wear.

The desire to be beautiful and to be seen as beautiful, to wear beautiful things and be respected for that is all very human. However, beauty is all too often constructed in terms of ability to pay. So much of what the mainstream understands as beauty is to do with products, affluence, and the kinds of lifestyles available to the moneyed. If I walk to a ritual because I don’t have a car, I’m not going to make it in delicate slippers, or the delicate slippers won’t make it. I need good boots or shoes. Much of women’s clothing depends on the idea that you aren’t going to walk very far in it. Smart, delicate, beautiful, ornate… these things do not fare well if you wear them outside in all weathers, and if they aren’t warm, waterproof etc, the wearer does not fare well either.

I’m a big fan of crafts and creativity, of making lovely things and enriching life with beauty. At the same time, I cannot buy the beautiful things that glamorous Paganism suggests. I can’t work with them, often they do not do what I need. I’m not suggesting that we should all show up to rituals in potato sacks (although that could be funny) but it’s worth thinking about what we infer when we see certain kinds of clothes, how we look at, or look through glamour, and how we avoid excluding people for economic reasons.


BOOK REVIEW: PAGAN DREAMING

Nimue Brown:

it’s always nerve wracking when books go out for first reviews. Doubly so when the reviewer is someone I really like and respect. Happily, this one came out well…

Originally posted on contemplativeinquiry:

jhp551bfc27c579fHighly recommended. Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness, to give it its full title, is an informed and thought provoking introduction to dreams and dream work. Although tailored specifically to a Pagan-oriented audience, it will be of interest to many other people as well.

Author Nimue Brown follows her familiar path of avoiding hackneyed or formulaic approaches to the subject. Instead, she draws on a rich variety of sources including her own experience of dreaming and working with dreams to ask fruitfully open questions and invite dreamers to explore this territory for themselves. She says of herself: “I am not a scientist or psychologist. I have not trained as a counsellor or psychoanalyst. … I am simply a Druid who has always worked with dreams, and I am sharing what I have. There is no dogma here, just ideas”. Whilst being clear that she is not writing as…

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Strange dreaming

There’s a lot going on in my head right now that isn’t consciously available to me. I can tell because last night I dreamed about competitive neo-nazi rabbits and marmalade, and on waking it is impossible to articulate what the connection between rabbits and orange jam was. This isn’t a one off. All of my dreaming lately has been vivid, colourful, complex, and rabidly incoherent. My normal dreaming tends towards more narrative, so I know from the change that something entirely different is happening in my head.

I’ve studied dreams and sleeping since my teens. Most of that has been an informal working with my dream experiences and attention to how dreaming relates to my life. I’ve poked around a bit in the psychology of dreams, and the science of sleep. Alongside that I’ve had exposure to dream interpretation books. I’m not a big fan of dream interpretation books – I think they’re reductive, and that personal symbolism is a far more complicated thing. I think there’s a lot more to dreaming than pulling ‘meanings’ out of it, as well, and that most dreams are not in the least bit prophetic.

So, why the neo-nazi rabbits and the marmalade? I suspect the rabbits are Nazis because of what I was reading last night. The rest of the features, if teased out and examined to see what they might represent, offer me nothing. No stories emerge, no powerful emotional associations, no coherence whatsoever. Nothing about this dream even suggests to me that it needs interpreting. I don’t think I’m trying to tell myself anything important right now, I’m chewing. I’m breaking down old concepts and investigating new ones, and the side effects are random because I clearly don’t have a symbolic language for this as yet, much less words I can use consciously.

How do we make radical changes to ourselves and our thoughts? If you’ve always felt or believed something, then changing it by a process of deciding to believe something else is very hard work. Beliefs send out roots and suckers into our minds, they connect to other things, and grow stories that keep them in place in our lives. You don’t just uproot and discard something like that in one go. Equally you don’t grow new concepts easily when you have no language for them, you don’t rework the stories you have without some upheaval. Possibly you do become able to change your thinking overnight. Or over many nights, more accurately.

One of the things that dreams can do is allow us to think what is otherwise, quite literally, unthinkable. By chewing on something in our dreams we can create new symbols and narratives that can gradually become available to the waking mind.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, I have a book out this summer, full of such approaches to dreaming.


Minoan Tarot

I’m no great expert on things Minoan, but having read Laura Perry’s fascinating book – Ariadne’s Thread – I’m aware that this is a really interesting culture. I don’t really buy into the idea of any kind of coherent matriarchal society that was later crushed by patriarchy – it just seems too simple a story to me which is part of why I liked Laura’s book – it offers something more complicated.

I gather that the further back you go into Minoan history, the more equality there is. This is a culture that, go back far enough, had a totally different gender balance to a lot of the ancient world, and was much less violent as well. This isn’t a coincidence. Patriarchal societies tend to treat most of their men as expendable resources that can be used to secure more physical resources – part of a bigger project in which ownership is considered more valuable than life itself. I understand that the transition to settled agrarian life brought a culture of ownership, and led to violence in many places, fuelled by new metal technology. For me, capitalism and patriarchy, are unpleasant aspects of a project that has been going on for quite some time now. I’m very keen on anything that shows us that alternatives exist.

At the moment, Laura has a kickstarter on the go for a Minoan Tarot set. Frankly, what I know about tarot is negligible. However, what Laura has done is gorgeous and innovative. She’s hand drawn each card image based on imagery from the ancient frescoes of Crete. The images are striking and colourful, full of vitality and sensuality. I’ve borrowed an image to illustrate this blog and to give a sense of what an attractive project this is.

If you’d like to know more, or want a copy of the tarot for yourself, hop over to the kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1777224428/the-minoan-tarot-by-laura-perry?ref=video


Grace

Authentic, stumbling

More graceful yet

Than smooth certainty.

 

Ungainly ache and yearning

Scar tissue evidence

Of old breaking.

 

Ready to reshatter, move

Be moved, awed, lost.

 

Uncertainty a kindness

Wondering a gift.

 

Stood between earth and sky

Howl, rejoice (both)

Untamed and beautiful

 

(This has come out of reflections in recent days about what I love in other people and a recognition that those who are reaching, questing, trying, to engage with mystery, or beauty or wonder or whatever it is, have far more grace, (to my eye) no matter how ungainly the effort, than those who are focused on trying to look graceful)


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