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. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

Pondering Friendship

I remember going to playgroup as a three year old and having no real idea what to make of other children or how to connect with them. There seemed to be rules, codes, secret understandings that I knew nothing about. That feeling lingered all through primary school where I made few friends. At secondary school I managed to find my way into a couple of social groups, but it was still a bit of a mystery. At college I found myself feeling exactly the way I had as a three year old at playgroup as the people around me rapidly befriended each other.

I’m terrible at making friends with people. However it’s not simply that I’m an introvert. I like people. I’m just not very good at being around people.

During my twenties, I discovered social spaces where the rules are explicit. Folk clubs, jamming sessions, rituals, meditation sessions. Give me a structure I could easily see, tell me who I’m supposed to be, or a job around which the social contact revolves, and I do ok.  I feel more secure when I know who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing. I also feel more able to cope in social situations if I have a large piece of wood (aka a bouzouki) between me and everyone else.

When I landed in Stroud some years ago, there wasn’t a folk club I could get to and I didn’t really know anyone, and I had to build a social life from scratch. It was very slow, and I found it really hard. How do you ask people to make room for you? How do you tell where you fit? In the end, it wasn’t me, but Tom who made most of the key moves that got us into some kind of social relationship with others. That and a few people who made moves towards us.

I like people, and I like being in social spaces, but I find being sociable very hard work. Part of it is that I often don’t have much energy to start with. Part of it is because I dread being asked how I am – most days I’m not ok, I’m usually in pain and/or dealing with depression and anxiety. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to lie about it. I also hate being asked how the work is going – there’s one exception, one friend who I don’t mind asking, for all kinds of reasons, but generally it’s something I don’t want to talk about. Mostly I go out to get away from the work. Mostly my writing is slower and more sporadic than I want it to be.

I also dread being drawn into any kind of debate, or intellectual knock about. I’m often tired by the time I go out, and not at my sharpest, and deep discussion can be beyond me. I hate point scoring and one upmanship and people playing devil’s advocate. I don’t have the spoons for it.

I’m very lucky at the moment in that I have some people to spend time with who never ask me to be bright or clever, are never combative and don’t even seem to mind the fact that I’m not always very communicative. It is like being Eeyore in the hundred acre wood. No one seems to expect me to be anything other than Eeyore, but they still invite me to parties.

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Depression and exhaustion

Lack of energy is often treated as a symptom of depression, when a person is depressed, but I am entirely convinced that exhaustion is a major cause of depression. Often it seems like depression is understood as an internal event, but my experience is that it is often caused by external things. We make the problem, and the solution personal because looking at the collective implications would be hugely political.

Over worked, over stressed by increasingly difficult commutes, it’s easy to get into situations of not eating well enough to maintain energy and not being physically active enough to look after your body. That in turn all feeds into poor sleeping and further energy loss. Poverty and lack of work are also exhausting and the government is doing its best to make it so. Depression can be a kind of forced stop, when body and mind won’t take it anymore and just can’t do any more things. Rest at this point is essential.

However, if all you do is recover and head back into the fray, the next round is inevitable. If the way we live makes us ill, brief respites won’t solve anything.

Proper rest and relaxation has to be part of normal life. It’s not some kind of luxury add on bonus thing, it’s not a reward, or a distant goal. It has to be an every day thing to keep mind and body well. It also has to be good quality. Rest is like food – some things are more nourishing than others, and what you really need is the good stuff that will feed you, body and soul.

For me good books and films, beautiful anime, and lots of sleep works well as down time. When I’m a bit more lively, live music and other live entertainment, and time with friends is good. When I’m really low, I find socialising exhausting, even with the people I find it easiest to be around. But then, when I’m really low I find most things exhausting and I can get to places where I don’t have the concentration to read or to watch a film. While I know the theory of how to look after myself, I don’t always do a great job of it.

One of the issues for wellness, is how much slack you have in your systems. I tend to run close to the limits of what I can get away with. When things go to plan, this is fine. However, all it takes is one surprise energy drain and I can be in a lot of trouble. A cold, an unexpected job, or someone needing my emotional support in a big way can all tip me over. I’m not good at saying no to people, especially when I know those people are in trouble, and I’ve found it hard to really look at the costs of some things. But, I can do more good stuff and be of more benefit to others when I’m not dragging myself along the ground, and that logic has helped me make better choices. Like a lot of people, I find it hard making self care a priority when faced with someone else’s need, but I can think about overall effectiveness.

Which brings me round to another underpinner for depression – low self esteem. If you are the least important thing, if everyone else’s wellness and happiness are more important than your own, if every last job you might do is more important than whether you can do it… depression is inevitable. Not getting exhausted all the time in the first place requires you to be worth more than the things that are wearing you out. That’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s not even possible. If, when you are under so much pressure to do all the things and you fall apart, you are then blamed for falling apart, that really doesn’t help at all. It can in fact keep the cycles of exhaustion and depression firmly in place. Blame confirms that if only we’d tried harder it would have worked. Blame confirms that we should be able to do all the things with no respite. This piles stress upon stress and offers no way out. Sometimes, a little recognition that what you’re up against is shitty and unfair can be a life saver.


Excerpts, dreaming and a winter break

Over the coming few weeks I’m going to be sprinkling the blog with book excerpts. This is because in order to spend half a week with a stall on the Stroud Christmas market, and to have any hope of a week off, I need to set up the blog in advance, and I need that not to be excessively hard work! Yes, I could stop doing a post a day, but then the hits on the blog fall away and it makes me sad, so, you get book excerpts!

Here’s the first one, taken from Pagan Dreaming, and here we get into why I think dream dictionaries are questionable…

“Why should we accept the authority of a dream dictionary, when we would not accept the authority of an official priesthood?

There’s an additional issue here that in ancestral cultures, interpreter and dreamer could be assumed to have exactly the same background, history, symbols and beliefs. A shared symbolic language makes it more likely that one person can meaningfully comment on another person’s dreams. A glance at human history will show you that symbols are not universal. The swastika has been both a sun sign and a fascist emblem. Some cultures consider black cats to be good luck signs, others find them unlucky. All symbols are culturally specific in their meanings. So for ancestors who shared culture and symbolism, the priest might well be able to help the dreamer make sense of things. These days it is less likely that any two people will entirely share a symbolic language, making interpretation necessarily a more personal business.

We have a very diverse and fractured culture, exciting in its lack of hegemony, but in which we can no longer make assumptions about shared icons and archetypes. My symbols may well not be your symbols. Thanks to technology, we have access to a wide ranging culture that gives us new stories, imagery, metaphors and concepts on a daily basis as well as access to all of the available mythology and culture of the world. The speed and
quantity of material we are exposed to also undermines our scope for having a shared symbolic language. What I read yesterday may inform me, and you have no way of knowing what I tapped into. The dreamer’s associations can therefore be radically different to the ideas an interpreter brings to them. How can we possibly assume the existence of a universal language in this context? Furthermore, with such breadth and richness to draw on for potential symbols, how can a book of a few hundred pages hope to cover all possible symbols and meanings, or deal with the speed at which pop culture icons change?

Culture not only informs our symbols, it also tells us what is important. In materialistic western culture, we might be more motivated to look for insight into our careers and financial prospects, than into the condition of our morals and virtue, for example. This will direct us to pay more attention to some dream details than to others, and probably shape what we dream about in the first place. We are unlikely to dwell on things we truly consider to be irrelevant. Thus we cannot think about dreams without also bringing into consideration our relationship with our culture.

It is worth being cynical and considering that writing dream interpretations is really easy. You can make correlations with anything that takes your fancy, and no one can objectively prove that you are wrong. You might find it amusing and instructing to invent a few dream definitions of your own. Or, take some focus that pertains to the human experience (sex, ambition, frustration, depression) and work out how every dream you can remember
having can be made to fit that interpretation. You will find that anything can be made to seem like a symbol of anything you want it to. If you intend to work with symbols, then understanding how innately malleable they are, and how vulnerable to our desires they can be, is really important. Any attempt at working with symbols has to at least try to budget in the impact of human desire – conscious and unconscious. All too often we see what we want, or what we fear may be true, not what is actually before us.”

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming

 


Mental health support kit

Yesterday on social media, fellow Druid Cat Treadwell pointed out that for physical injuries and disabilities, we use things to help us – walking sticks, being her example. There’s no immediately obvious kit to use as a mental health support. So, I started thinking about things I habitually carry, and things I’ve carried in the past. This is not an exhaustive list. Plus, this probably needs to be personal.

Rescue Remedy (contains alcohol, so not for everyone).

Tissues.

Bottle of water. (I’ve yet to find a situation where water hasn’t helped me).

Something with sugar in it (if you do sugar and if sugar soothes you).

Something hard I can grip to focus my mind (tends to be either keys or crystals for me.)

Something affirming (I used to carry a little plastic figure of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard in my pocket to protect me from evil. He was totally effective.)

Something tactile and reassuring to touch (I’ve often got a friendly stone in my pocket).

I also find there’s something inherently reassuring about going out with extra gear – whether that’s waterproofs, a sunhat, or other bits and pieces of useful things. I feel more in control when I’ve got some sort of a kit bag to help me deal with changes and thus to face the unexpected. Starting out feeling a bit more in control really helps with the anxiety, I have found.

 


Sometimes you can read too much into these things

Once upon a time there was a story…

The giant is a symbol of toxic masculinity. He’s all about power over and violence.

The princess is asleep in a tower, expressing passive female roles, lack of agency, and the impact of traditional gender stereotyping. The tower is a phallic symbol. Don’t ask what the princess is doing inside the metaphorical penis or it gets confusing.

There is a prince who is supposed to fight the giant to free the princess because he’s just toxic masculinity with a socially acceptable face and he’s got class privilege on his side.

The prince cannot get into the penis tower but while he’s trying to conquer the giant willy in the middle of this story is dawns on him that he’s really into giant willies so when the actual giant shows up, the prince totally rethinks his plan. The two of them live happily ever after.

The princess wakes herself up and makes her own decision about whether or not to stay in the tower. Either way, at this point the tower is just a tower and not Freudian at all, honest.


In which we are associated with the Skelton Crew

This one comes from the fictional side of my life, Hopeless Maine has some cool stuff going on that might be of interest. You may not be shocked to learn that tentacles are involved…

The Moth Festival

Hello people! (and others)
This is going to be longish-apologies.
When we started Hopeless, Maine, more than ten years ago, we decided that if it took off (and there was much daydreaming about this. We haven’t got to the “riches” end of the spectrum, but this was definitely a “rags”time for me) We decided that there would be no mass produced tat associated with the story. (Sal would be cross) We thought maybe we could invite crafters and other makers to make things and mention where the things came from, sort of a thing. Moving ahead in time to last year, I spotted a company who was making *very* cool lovely things in limited editions around some comics I very much admire (Hellboy, BPRD, Locke and Key etc.) These are the sort of things that would be kept and treasured (and not end up in landfills) So, I sent…

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Self Awareness and Unawareness

I’ve yet to encounter anyone who self-identifies as being self-unaware. It’s one of those things that you have to have if you’re on a spiritual path, and that we tend to talk about in terms of work done rather than in terms of struggle or full on failure. So, here we go…

I like to know what I’m doing and why, but honestly, sometimes, I have no idea. Sometimes the emotions and impulses turn up and it isn’t until afterwards that I can figure out what’s going on. Often this is important, it happens because I’m changing, growing, healing, breaking, stretching or somesuch. To do those things I have to go through a patch where I may have little idea what’s going on with me.

Not all of my thinking is conscious – there’s all kinds of stuff the brain gets up to where the conscious bit of the mind can’t see it, and sometimes surprising things bubble up from the depths. Sometimes this shows up in dreams, or comes through in my writing. Sometimes I can only bring things into my consciousness by accidentally starting to write about them. I like this about me. I like that I can still surprise myself and that there are always new things to explore.

I’m getting new experiences and information on a daily basis. My environment shapes and shifts me. My body changes over time. My needs, wants, hopes and desires change. When they are in flux, I may need to question them regularly to keep up at all.

I have ideas about who I have been and aspirations about where I might be going, but both of these can be wrong. We re-write our stories all the time, and I’m fine with that – it is necessary. The story I tell myself is not the story other people tell about me. There are plenty of other people’s stories in which I am a far better person than I appear to be when I look at me. There are also plenty of other people’s stories in which I am all the wrong things imaginable, and there are lots of those and they exist for reasons and some of those reasons are definitely of my making. Often they pertain to situations where I refused to do or be what was wanted of me.

There is a balance to strike between navel-gazing introspection, and looking outwards. We can’t entirely know ourselves by looking in, we have to get out there and do stuff, and see what we do and how we feel about it and what happens next. We have to engage with other people and see what they make of us and whether we agree with them. Too much introspection can create halls of mirrors in which we see reflections of who we imagine we are, ever more distorted by all the things about us we haven’t actually faced or dealt with…  Too little introspection and we can be at the mercy of anything – interior or exterior. We’re easily led and persuaded if we don’t know who we are or what we want.

I don’t always choose the right bits of my personality to squash down as unacceptable, or the right bits to bring forward into the light. I have a history of making poor judgements about what of me should be allowed, and what is too offensive to other people, what I’m entitled to and what I’m not. At least, right now I think those were bad choices, but a decade ago I thought they were wise and responsible choices. The opinion of future-me remains a mystery.

For all that I try to understand how my history impacts on my outlook, how my feelings affect my actions, how my actions inform my life… I also give myself permission not to know. To be perplexed and lost and confused sometimes – because those are important experiences too. I give myself permission to have no idea what’s going on or what I ought to be doing so as to make space for new things to come in. I give myself permission to change and to surprise myself. And as far as I can manage it, I am not going to let any story I have about how self aware I am become a reason to ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with me, or to reject input that doesn’t affirm to me how brilliantly self aware I am being. It’s a theory, at any rate.


Darkest Part – a review

Darkest Part is a ten track album by Madeleine Harwood. Madeleine won Bard of Hawkwood last year, and has gone on to do all sorts of exciting things since – this album being one of those.

Darkest Part is a really unusual piece of work. The songs are all original, and are sung unaccompanied. There aren’t many people who could pull off an entire album of unaccompanied singing, but Madeleine makes this absolute focus on voice and words work for her.

I’m not confident saying what kind of genre of music this is. There’s a folk influence, there’s also blues, jazz, gospel, and moments that put me in mind of many different female singer songwriters who don’t play by the rules. This is something unique, which has grown out of roots music. It is music as art, but it isn’t like contemporary art music. It is voice as instrument, but the words aren’t secondary. The tunes are powerful, soaring, making use of Madeleine’s vast range and vocal power. They are also earworms, I find they follow me around and snatches of song replay in my head at unexpected moments.

In terms of the lyrics, again this is really unusual stuff. The Darkest Part that the title refers to, is being bi-polar. A number of the songs are very much about living with mental health problems. It is intense, beautiful stuff, and there’s much in what’s said here about depression and anxiety that really resonates with me. There’s also a gorgeous overtly Pagan song about Bablon, which gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. The lyrics are in the CD case so you can read them separately – and they certainly reward the person who does that.

I’ve known Madeleine a long time. We were at school together. I was reading her poetry when we were in early adulthood, and I loved her work then, and I love it now. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with her in pub back rooms and heard some of these songs when they were first written. The amazing voice that emerges from the CD is simply how she sounds any time she sings. You can hear when you listen that this is a voice presented naturally, because nothing needs tinkering with. If you get a chance to hear her singing live, I heartily recommend that you do.

You can find Darkest Part lots of places, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B074Y9CKJ8/


Wood Wise

Learning about the natural world is an important part of the Pagan path. Otherwise we run the risks of having some very odd ideas about what nature is. We may end up thinking of nature as something exotic, away and largely unavailable to us – which isn’t true. We may end up with nature as some kind of abstract concept that we celebrate by calling to it from our living rooms, and that’s not optimal. Even if life obliges you to be a mostly indoors Pagan, learning more about nature enriches a practice.

For Pagan parents, aunt, uncles, grandparents etc, teaching children about nature can be a great way of sharing your path with your young humans. I know many Pagans are uneasy about indoctrinating children, and some paths aren’t really suitable for younger folk anyway. This is a great place to start, and a child who grows up with a deep love of and understanding of the natural world is likely to turn into an adult whose values you can respect, regardless of what they end up believing spiritually.

So, as an act of public service I want to point you at this free, high quality publication. Wood Wise comes from The Woodland Trust, you can download it here or subscribe to have it sent to your inbox – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/publications/2017/07/wood-wise-summer-2017/


Why there is no room at the hospital

It is our fault we are ill. We did not heat our homes properly, the damp and the mould have made us sick.

It is our fault we are ill, not eating our five a day of fruit and veg has impaired our immune systems, but we couldn’t do that and afford to heat our homes to keep the mould at bay.

It is our fault we are ill, we did not get enough exercise to stay healthy while we were trying to earn enough money to buy fresh fruit and veg and keep properly warm.

It is our fault we are ill, we got so stressed when the car broke down that was getting us to the job that was paying for the food and the heating and the rent.

It is our fault we are ill, we didn’t take enough time off to avoid the mental health crisis when we had to take on second jobs to pay off the enormous bill on fixing the car that was getting us to the first job that was paying for all the other things.

It is also our fault that productivity is low because we’re exhausted and not able to take sick leave when we are sick because then we might well lose our jobs or have our pay docked and we won’t be able to afford the train fairs to get us to our jobs in the first place and then we won’t be able to eat properly.

It is our fault that there aren’t enough beds at the hospitals or enough nurses to care for us because if only our productivity had been higher the government could afford those little luxuries, like keeping us alive and able to function.

But it is definitely all our fault.

It has nothing to do with bankers, or the soaring cost of rent that pours money into the pockets of the wealthy landowners who are not legally obliged to keep their properties fit for human habitation.

It is definitely our fault and has nothing to do with money spent on nuclear submarines we can never use, or high speed rail that benefits so few of us. It has nothing to do with massive corporations declining to pay their taxes or billionaires taking their money off shore.

We’ve no one to blame but ourselves, clearly.