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.

Fiction – The sisters who were never princesses

There were once three sisters, who wanted, more than anything else, to be important. Why they didn’t have the normal, socially acceptable obsessions with beauty, wealth and tying down a prince, history does not tell us. Perhaps they were all bored by that kind of story. Certainly, none of them saw bagging a prince as the answer to their ambitions.

The eldest sister was quite willing to earn her importance, so she went round doing useful and clever things. However, she spent at least as much time telling people about all the marvellous things she was doing. Over the years, this continued until she did very little and talked about it incessantly. Naturally, she’s now in politics. She never felt important enough to feel quite comfortable, suspecting that historians will not be convinced by her PR machines.

The middle sister was a truly lazy person with a deep seated sense of entitlement. As a consequence, she didn’t see any point in doing things. It was natural, she felt, that she would be important. She took what advantage she could of her eldest sister’s rise, and managed to get a fair amount of media attention by falling out of nightclubs, and her clothing. She learned that shouting at people when they didn’t act like she was important, was something she enjoyed regardless of the consequences. The result was that she lived a long and happy life, mostly getting her own way for little effort.

The third sister wasn’t very clever at all. She tried to earn her importance, by doing all kinds of work for all kinds of people. She spent her days very busy, but it never crossed her silly mind to tell anyone how busy and good and useful she was. No one noticed, and as the years passed, no one, including her, felt that she was important at all.

There’s probably a moral to this story. There might be several.


Self esteem and the spaces that hold us

I’ve struggled with the idea of self esteem for some years. Struggled in a way I imagine is vaguely comparable to never having had some other functioning part of a body in that it’s really hard to imagine the functioning of something you’ve never had. I can’t figure out how to grow one and the self-help books leave me anxious and feeling inadequate.

The conventional wisdom is that we must not base our self esteem on external things, because that makes us too vulnerable. The truth is that what passes for self-esteem in me is entirely dependent on what’s around me. If I’m in kind, accepting spaces that value me and treat me well, I can be quite happy and functional. Treat me like shit and it’s almost instantly internalised and I fall into despair.

When I act based on the idea that my self esteem *should* come from within, and that I *fail* at this, I remain vulnerable to spaces that hurt me.

My impression is that the person with good self esteem will not accept the spaces where they are treated dishonourably, casually etc. They will leave. The person with poor self esteem is more likely to accept it as fair judgement, and stay. When your self esteem is a fair percentage externally sourced, this means a low self esteem increases the chances of staying in spaces that perpetuate a sense of low self esteem.

It’s taken me long enough to figure this out!

If I admit that my self esteem derives from my environment, everything changes. I can look at my environment differently. Do I feel safe, welcome and happy? Great, this is a good place, I should spend time in it. Do I feel cheap, worthless, used, and the like? Bad place, need to leave because if I stay it will start to define me.

I note that by thinking this way, and acknowledging how I am, I get to behave more like a person with good self esteem. If I can manage to work with this, and spend most, if not all of my time in spaces where I feel safe and happy, then to all intents and purposes, I will be a person with good self esteem.

This in turn raises questions about the people who, usually for economic reasons, are not able to vote with their feet to escape from oppressive and dehumanising situations. The psychological damage of being forced into appalling conditions out of poverty and desperation, is something we need to be thinking about, and working to change.


Great books and an awkward reviewer

I’ve got two books to review and the same problem with both of them. I thought I’d try waiting for a day when I feel more positive, but it’s not coming, so, here we go. Great books do get bad reviews because the reviewer was in a bad place – I’ve had it happen to me and its monstrously unfair, so I’m going to try and handle this well. Bear with me.

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy, Melusine Draco. This is a funny and clever book, that reads like fiction but to some degree isn’t. There’s a lot of experience and insight underpinning it, so that, without really revealing anything, it gives the newbie or wannabe witch a chance at spotting the fakes and fraudsters. It is also a really funny and engaging book. The problem? That unsettled feeling of being outside of the secret knowledge, outside of the tradition, a bit unrooted. Seeing the fluffier, more permissive Pagans, the ones who lack substance, and feeling much more identification with that, than with the ‘real’ stuff. My insecurity, and my truth, such as it is. And of course it’s the desire to be more real, more worthy of taking seriously, more important that turns a subset of the Pagan community into fraudsters and fakes, lying to get attention. It’s as well to be alert to these things. I am at least honest fluff.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/coarse-witchcraft-trilogy

Iona, Mary Palmer. It’s a really beautiful poetry collection, full of vivid imagery and soulfulness, challenge, quest and difficulty. One of my problems with it was technical – that it is both a poetry collection, and a kind of story. The story is told through little asides that frame the poems, and feature two characters. I had trouble engaging with the characters, and might have done better with the poetry had it not been framed in this way. The problem could well be me – that I’ve not coped with something unfamiliar in a poetry book and just didn’t know how to read it. More experienced readers of poetry may well find this far easier to navigate. It is perhaps the case that I’m too easily swayed by narrative, and that someone more invested in the poetry would not get waylaid in the same way.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/iona.html

What really threw me – and this is entirely personal and not a flaw in the book at all – was the biographical content at the end. Poet Mary Palmer died in 2009 and the biography at the end of the collection sums up her life and work. It’s written with deep affection and respect, charting what she did and who she did it with, the context for writing, and the life around the work. There are glowing endorsements from others who love and value what she did.

Creative jealousy is a terrible thing. But, in writing this blog I’ve made a commitment to honesty, and to talking about things that aren’t much talked about. It’s an exposure of self to admit the degree to which I’ve been uncomfortable with both books because of the enormous sense of personal inadequacy I feel in face of this work. I think it’s important to air it though, and to look at how it distorts behaviour, because it can be a major factor in terms of how books are reviewed. Titles that cause us to see ourselves in an unflattering light can easily be blamed for the feelings they evoke. It’s hard to face up to it and say yes, this author is more than I will ever be. Perhaps if more of us were able to do it, it would take some of the sting out of the fact that most of us will never be all that we hope to be.


Dave Simpson – a tribute

Dave Simpson was one of the gentlest and most generous people I have ever met. He turned up with a guitar at my folk club about 11 years ago (I ran a folk club in the Midlands for about a decade). From there he stepped forward with remarkable enthusiasm, to participate in any and every hair brained scheme I came up with.

As a consequence, I sat out on hills with him to see up the Midsummer sunrise. He joined the mumming side, initially as the Doctor. As there were a lot if Daves in the mix, my then very young son named him as ‘Doctor Dave’ for ease of identification, and ‘Doctor Dave’ he remained. He went on to play the wizard Tardebigge in a script I’d written, to be King Pelinor in one of our Arthurian productions, and the Green Knight in another. When the folk club couldn’t find a venue, he loaned me his living room, and it was in his garden one year that a group of us read A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For many years, I jammed with Dave and his son Andy on pretty much a weekly basis. Them with guitars, me with a violin. It was an emotional safe-space for me during a challenging part of my life. On the day I most needed help, he provided me with refuge.

When I left the Midlands, I stopped seeing a lot of people. With no car, and for two years mostly in the middle of nowhere on a narrowboat, getting out to visit people was hard. Able to offer a tiny, cramped and problematic space, I was not much in the habit of inviting people over. By the time I got to Stroud, Dave was ill, and in and out of hospital. I thought there would be opportunity, and enough time, and I was wrong, and I can’t find words adequate to express how much I regret what I did not do.

I know that’s always the way of it with death. It’s the things we didn’t say and do that hurt most, afterwards.

Dave was my first student. He was interested in Paganism and there was no one I felt I could send him to. At the time I’d never taught, felt far too inexperienced, but he needed a teacher. And so, week by week, I wrote short pieces about different aspects of Paganism and Druidry, and emailed them over to him. I’ve since used that material with a lot of other people, and I know others are re-using it. Would I have started blogging, and started writing Pagan books had he not needed me to do that? Quite possibly not.

I hope he knew how much I valued his presence in my life. I can only wish that I had been a better friend to him. He was a fine chap, passionate about music, song writing, bringing a quiet intensity to everything he did. He wasn’t afraid to care, and to make that care visible, he had a lot of integrity, and a generous nature. I have missed him. I will always miss him.

There is only one way to finish. With the song he sang, when asked to, to close nights at folk club. I’ve played fiddle on this many times. Travel well, Dave.

 


Poem – By their fruits

By their fruits

 

My tribe are the hidden ones

The underground breakers down

Of last season’s discard.

The nitrogen magicians

Enabling life in many forms.

Orchid to oak

We are soil-lace

Encouraging leaf and flower.

See me briefly

Let me intrude a fruiting body

Into airy upper realms

Shiny red cap, rare green,

Spotted fairy fly agaric

Generously capped wands

To weave enchantment

Nourish or poison.

A moment of glory.

My true work is underground

In the roots and beginnings

In decay and endings

In secret.

Earth dreaming.


Prayer and meditation

There can be a fine line between prayer and meditation, if you are inclined to work that way. One of the things I do is to contemplatively deconstruct The Gorsedd prayer in times of difficulty. The reflective process clears my thoughts and generally improves things. I have never been sure whether there was anything coming towards me as a consequence of working with the prayer, but it works, regardless.

Grant, oh spirits, thy protection. I reflect on why I am feeling vulnerable and what I might need protecting from, and how that protection might manifest. Courage is often key.

And in protection, strength, but what do I need to be strong for? What kind of strength, and how should it manifest? What do I need the strength to do?

And in strength, understanding. What do I need to understand in this situation? What might I better understand if I was feeling more sheltered, and thus feeling able to be more generous? Can I do that anyway?

And in understanding, knowledge. Knowledge is always good. Where are the holes in my knowledge? What might I have overlooked?

And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice. What would justice look like in this situation? What do I have to do to make that happen?

And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it, well, yes, and then we get into the love of gods and goddesses, of all existence, and all goodness. This causes the most pondering, because I don’t actually believe that unconditional love for all things is any kind of good idea. I reflect on where my heart is in the situation, what I love and what I do not, and why.

As I go through each line and reflect, my mind inevitably wanders around a lot. I have a nomadic mind, but the structure of the prayer pulls me back, over and over, to working through a deliberate series of thoughts. It calms me, and it improves my clarity. It reminds me that there is a sacred aspect to everything I do. It helps me to be more generous and less judgemental.

More about the Gorsedd Prayer here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/the-gorsedd-prayer/

More about working with prayer here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/when-pagan-prays


Body wisdom

When I make head-based decisions about people, those decisions are all about keeping said people happy. Head decisions keep me calm, neutral, co-operative and generally easy to be around.

The responses that come from my body are a whole other thing. Most people I prefer to have at least three feet away from me. People who are welcome to stand and stay in my personal space are few. These are also the people I’m happy to be touched by.

I’ve made head decisions all too recently to stand still and silent while people I did not want touching me insisted on doing so. There comes a point when you establish that someone just won’t take no for an answer, and that the easiest way out seems to be to acquiesce. It’s not a logic I like, and I know full well where its logical extremes take a person.

Then at the other end of my range there are the other people, and there aren’t that many of them. People where my body reaction is to want to hug fiercely. I make head decisions not to follow through on this, sometimes – because it might be too much.

There’s a handful of Mary Oliver lines I keep coming back to. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’. I don’t actually like the head decisions I make about people, most of the time. When I have acted on those felt reactions, and either backed off or moved closer accordingly, of late the outcomes have been good.

What is called for, is some kind of negotiation, where both parties are taking the time and care to find out what’s available. No assumptions. No demands. One soft animal body paying careful attention to another.


The land: always the land…

lambs_looking_01A guest blog from Talis Kimberley

I was fortunate enough t o spend my childhood in a house with a large garden. I have often said that the garden, not the house, are really where I lived; certainly my memories of it are stronger. Until I was 17 I knew a kindly green landscape where the wheel of the year was punctuated by the emergence of leaves, buds, fruit and nuts, all without any apparent ‘gardening’ whatever, and all free for the gathering, picking, eating, and – in my mother’s case – turning into jellies and jams.

The books I read as a young child undoubtedly romanticised farms and the countryside, and in my suburban garden, stag beetles, fox cubs, furry caterpillars and toads were common sights, and I thought myself a country girl for all I was living in a city suburb.

As an adult, I finally came to live in a village. For the last ten years my home has been in what feels, to me, a very much more rural setting, though as this already-large village expands, some neighbours feel it’s ‘not a village any more’.

I disagree. From the butcher’s shop where meat and dairy goods produced by local farms are sold, to the simple fact that a seven minute walk from my house in any direction will put me in a field, this, to me, is the contemporary countryside.

Most especially, I count farmers among my friends and acquaintances – unheard-of back in the city of my childhood. And those farmers and the things I’ve learned from them have shaped my experience of living here, and inspired many of the songs that comprise my ‘Cloth of Gold – Songs of Sheep and Farming’ collection. (1)

Farmers have it tough here. This townie-born Green activist knows the lure of the romantic idyll, the mixed farm with the named beasts, the five-barred gate, the speckled chickens in the yard, the vintage tractor – these are still the stuff of childrens’ books and TV series , though we should know better. The truth is that farmers are under pressure to diversify because the food they grow and raise often fails to cover its costs. The price of cheap food – and I know that many are hungry in the UK, to our shame, and that ‘food deserts’ exist in many of our cities – is that many farmers have left the land, and increasingly, our food will be grown by agribusinesses whose sole aim is to make a bigger profit than they did last year.

Don’t blame the farmers for the corners some may cut, for the less-than-sustainable choices some may make, when you and I do as much in other aspects of our lives, when we are under pressure and lacking better options.

The farmers I know, from the shepherd who spent most of April’s nights standing in death’s way for her lambs, to the farmer who taught me to kill and draw a chicken for the pot (I am not vegetarian, no. I challenged myself to do what was needful and take responsibility for the birds I raised that they should have a good life and a fast death, and that they should not go to waste) and the farmer-shopkeeper-and-cafe-proprietor who has had several careers in other fields … sorry…! … and who cares passionately about good food and the community who eat it – he sent out a tray of hot sausage rolls for the volunteers when a fundraising event was taking place on the pavement – and the much-missed farmer who sat beside me on the Parish Council making me giggle with his dry observations, drawn from a lifetime on the land: whose cattle were his delight, and who would disagree with me across the council table with gentle humour and civility and a big grin… none of these were or are, careless of the land, nor of the beasts in their care.

Townie-born, I know there is a depth of ignorance on the part of the city-dweller for the countryside, and vice versa as well. As with every other division between us diverse human souls who bleed the same kind of red and are all as prone to despair and loneliness as each other wherever we live, this division serves best those who are laughing down their sleeves at the lot of us, who make the biggest and most powerful national choices in our names, who think that fracking for oil and gas is a good idea, who think that licensing chemicals which are exterminating our bees and other pollinators is a splendid and profitable plan… those same people who have created systems in which good food is deliberately spoiled and sent to landfill while the most vulnerable in our society go hungry – yes, and have in cases starved to death. (2) Yes, in fair England.

I love the land. I always did, in a romantic way, a childlike way; trees were for climbing, streams for fording, grass for rolling down hills in. Now I have a little patch of land to tend and garden, and I know how deeply it feeds my soul, and the demands it makes on me, and I have learned that farmers carry that same weight manyfold.

Some of the songs on ‘Cloth of Gold’ were written about the flock of sheep I am privileged to know. (3) Others inspired by the BBC TV series ‘Wartime Farm’ (4) and still others emerged over the years as again and again, I have tried to tell in my songs the stories in my heart about the land and those who work it. Here are the sheep I know, here is the barn into which I helped harvest hay, here are the people who spend their hearts and strength serving the land that we live on, and here are the ways it matters to me. I hope you will enjoy the songs. Thank you.

 

Talis Kimberley, May 16, 2016

[1] Cloth of Gold at Talis’s webshop: http://www.marchwoodmedia.co.uk/talis/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=11

[2] The death of Mark Woods: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/28/man-starved-to-death-after-benefits-cut

[3] Alfie Purl, a most remarkable Cotswold sheep: http://alfiepurl.co.uk/

[4] BBC’s Wartime Farm: http://www.open.edu/download-your-free-wartime-farm-booklet

 

 


Crafting for Druids

When a person starts out along the Druid path, there are so many things they might potentially learn that it can all be a bit overwhelming. I don’t have (as yet) an easy route map for all of this. For those signed up to a teaching order, there’s at least a framework (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, The British Druid Order and ADF all offer distance learning support and there are probably others). Many would-be Druids however have to go it alone.

When looking for ancient spiritual wisdom, many of us default to books. The ancient Druids didn’t write anything down, all we have is modern thinking. Arguably, there is no spiritual authority in anything any modern Druid writes. I think this is excellent because it puts the onus on each of us to find out own truth.

So, why crafting for Druids? Having traditional skills connects us in really direct ways to the lives of our ancestors. Doing the things they did will teach us about their lives and brings them closer. Traditional skills also bring a person in relationship with the living world. To make a fire, to grow vegetables, weave a basket or throw a pot you have to deal directly with real things. Too many of us have working lives that put us indoors, looking at the world through a screen and typing (I’m stuck with this too). Traditional skills ground and rebalance us. They make us a part of the living world.

Learn to do something – anything – from scratch. We’re constantly bombarded with the idea that we need labour saving, time saving for-sale interventions. There’s a radical aspect to ignoring that. Doing things from scratch gives you something unique and personal. It forms a connection between you and what you make. It allows space for creativity and inspiration. In all of this we challenge the shrink-wrapped one size fits all culture that is so stifling and destructive.

Learning a craft won’t teach you everything you need to know in order to be a modern Druid, but it will teach you a lot. The insights, like the things you make, will be entirely your own.


Hail Seitan!

As a household we took the decision some months ago to reduce the amount of animal products in our diet (2 vegetarians and one omnivore). We haven’t gone vegan, but have changed the overall balance, so I suspect that puts us in the rare position of being able to offend everyone with a strong opinion on diets!

The primary motivator for us was the environmental impact of animal based food. Animal welfare is also a major consideration. As cheese is rising in price apace, that’s also been a factor. So has boredom – we wanted to eat more interestingly, and for that matter, have more good stuff.

When we look at taking up a more ecological way of doing things, one of the household rules is ‘no hair shirt’. If it feels like we’re being noble and suffering, we’re doing it wrong, and we won’t be able to sustain it. Getting it right means a sense of improved quality of life. We try to do this without it costing vast amounts more money.

Seitan has been good to us (and we insist on pronouncing it ‘Satan’). Seitan is a vegan protein – vital wheat gluton and can be bought as a flour-like substance. Health food shops may have it, the internet certainly does, and if you buy in bulk it works out cheaper than Quorn. The internet abounds with recipes, but basically you can make up a dough, flavour it with whatever you like, braise it in the slow cooker and then give it a second outing, and it is a wonderful, endlessly variable thing. Not that hard to make, and the omnivore in the household is happy to accept it as a substitute.

My latest venture is into the realm of shneese. Which isn’t cheese. The attraction of dairy products, I eventually worked out, is as much the fat content as the protein. Vegan proteins can be short of oil, and thus the idea of shneese was born. There are (I have since discovered) lots of recipes out there for home made vegan cheese substitutes, but the key thing is to use a gelatine substitute so it will set. Some kind of nut or seed to provide the protein – I’ve used sunflower and cashew to good effect thus far. Some kind of oil. And something else – thus far olives, avocado and mushroom have been employed to good effect at different times. Their role is to give the oil something to make friends with. Nutritional yeast is also a good idea. A blender is required, to make the whole array of things into a single, settable gloop.

Last night we put shneese on pizza. Now, I’ve seen vegans with grated carrot as a pizza topping, and it looks the part… and even though I like grated carrot, I’ve never been able to face this as a prospect. The whole point of a pizza is that sense of indulgence. A mushroom and sunflower shneese, tomato, olive, artichoke hearts… it didn’t feel like a downgrade.

I like knowing that I can throw together really good food for vegan guests, should I need to. I like having the increased diversity of diet. I love that this is working out cheaper than buying dairy products. I like the idea of having cheese as an occasional luxury, not a staple, and only using eggs when I want them as eggs, not as an ingredient. Also, I’m enjoying the names. Notzorella, anyone?


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