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.

Non-violent language

There are times for violence of course, when it is the only means to protect yourself, and when it is the only way to prevent harm. In our everyday lives, violent language is common, and well meaning people use it without considering what it might do. By violent language, I mean language intended or likely to threaten, to humiliate, to silence and frighten people. Non-violent language may be neutral, and in instances of conflict intends to engage, educate, enable and empower.

No one is persuaded to change their views by being attacked. Approaches that depend on abusing someone over their appearance or nature persuade no one. They may shut down the recipient, or they may entrench them in their position and further fuel the conflict. Non-violent expression talks about ideas. The non violent approach would look like saying ‘here is the evidence I find persuasive’ and not ‘everyone who thinks differently from me is an idiot.’

It’s worth noting that violent speech is often also ableist speech. It tends to use words suggestive of intellectual impairment. Language that attacks disabled people is often used to attempt to humiliate the people on the other side of the argument. Violent speech can be fat-shaming – we saw this a fair bit with Trump. It can be sexist – attacking men and male-presenting people for being feminine in some way. Whether this is seen by the target or not is uncertain, especially online. It’s worth remembering that any such comments will however be seen by your friends, some of whom will be hurt by this kind of language.

How we use language, matters. This is a basic tenet of the bard path. I get really frustrated when people say things they don’t mean, lash out carelessly in anger, and hurt their own causes by alienating others with divisive language. Writing in anger it can be all too easy to perpetuate injustice in the ways I’ve described above. The best way to avoid this is to practice non-violent language in a deliberate way at times when things are less loaded and fraught.

Consider the impact of saying ‘we’ over saying ‘you’. If I’m talking about an issue and I say ‘we need to do better than this’ the odds are you aren’t going to feel attacked. You might feel uncomfortable, but you know I’m talking about something we all need to work on to change. I’m careful around making it explicit when I want to undermine systems. So I’ll talk about patriarchy and dismantling it. I want to talk about what we can do together to dismantle white supremacy. I want us to replace capitalism with something kinder. I want to inspire you to feel that you can help fix things, not attack you for being part of something that wasn’t your fault. I want to expose how privilege works, not attack you for the privilege you did not know you had.

This is an area of constant learning for me. I’m particularly interested in figuring out how to talk in ways that allow people to go into difficult topics and uncomfortable spaces in order to make real change. I’m also giving serious thought to what I do with people who deliberately or carelessly use violent language to dominate conversations and shut other people down. Or, I think in some cases because they wrongly imagine they are being brave, championing their cause and being good allies. Aggressive allies often cause more harm than good. It’s important not to tone police people who are in distress and experiencing rage, but at the same time this is too often used as an excuse by people who claim to be allies but whose main function is to hut and disrupt, and deepen divides. At present I have little idea what to do with this except to flag up that it exists.


Making a temporary altar

Photo taken at a Lugnasadh ritual undertaken outside(ish) with night falling. We were in a public place, so, definitely no fires – although I’m increasingly uneasy about making fire the centre of a ritual and would probably choose not to even if I could. The intention was to be properly outside, but there was a thunderstorm, so it didn’t work out like that.

I like to have a focal point at the centre of a circle, and if it’s not going to be a fire, then a temporary altar makes sense. I started with the cloth from my Druid Animal Oracle Cards, which is perfect for this sort of thing. Four small candles in lanterns, because we needed some light, and because that’s a very small amount of fire in a safe and manageable way.

Our three legged golden frog comes to us from Japanese tradition and is part of our ongoing engagement with that culture. He is a recent arrival on the household altar, and brings luck and prosperity, and also a sense of connection with Dr Abbey, who recommended him to us.

There are some seasonal windfalls, and a feather from one of the many jackdaws who frequent the area. Also things other people brought.

As we expect to do this sort of thing again, I will be investing more thought and care in the idea of building a portable altar. It will be interesting considering what to include, how to transport it, and to see how it evolves over time.


All Stories Are Political

Every now and then some bright spark will object to their favourite creator saying political things. Or to other fans involving the creative work in political conversations. ‘Don’t politicise Terry Pratchett’ was a stand-out recent example of this…

Politics isn’t just talking about parties. Every story involves a world view, a sense of what’s wrong or right, valuable or problematic. These are also political issues. Who is present and who is absent is a political issue. What is shown as desirable, is political. Stories tell us what to aspire to – and whether that’s wealth, or kindness, or power over others, or the bloody death of your enemies, has implications for how we think about life.

If a story doesn’t seem political, there are reasons for this. One may be that it represents the world as you think it is, and so it seems entirely free of judgement. We often don’t see the political implications of supporting the status quo – at the moment a good example would be that most people won’t see car adverts as politically loaded.

If the story reflects you and your life and experience, and you have a lot of privilege, you might just see it as normal. There are all kinds of issue around access to education, to books, to who gets to be a high profile writer in the first place, that bring politics into writing. There are longstanding issues around getting to write children’s fiction if you aren’t white. There are issues around how mainstream publishing favours white, educated in specific ways, middle class voices. Especially if your book isn’t about offering exotic novelty to the assumed white, middle class reader.

You might not realise a book is political if it is speculative. As with the Pratchett illustration at the start of the post, people don’t always make connections between the stories they read and the world they live in. Speculative genres can be better at speaking to real world issues because they can take short cuts and explore alternatives. Racism becomes specieism, disability becomes undead issues and so forth. It can be easier to think about things when they’re presented to us in a more entertaining, less loaded sort of way. But, for the person whose heart is set on not seeing that, it remains possible to pretend that stories are free from politics.

One of the most insidious forms of ignoring the politics is to suggest that we don’t hear from certain voices because those people just aren’t good enough. The stories that are published, and discussed are supposedly the highest quality ones – which often means they are told in the way that seems most familiar to the white and affluent people who dominate in all the relevant industries. ‘Dest’ often really means ‘sounds like me and is something I can relate to’. The way race, class, gender and disability narratives are assumed to be less accessible to a ‘mainstream’ audience tells us a lot about who gets to decide which stories are universal, and which are of less interest.

All stories are political, and none more so than the stories we never get to hear.


Fungi and Community

I recently watched this charming documentary, and can recommend doing so if you get a chance.

Fungi are wonderful and for anyone interested in the natural world. The way in which they interact with other forms of life will be resonant for Druids. We have been talking for decades about the web of life and the interconnectedness of all things. We’ve talked about it as a magical concept. Fungi are the physical embodiment of this idea, they are the network connecting life.

One of the concepts from this film is that cooperation is basically how reality works. The script includes observations about the importance of community, and identifies community as an inter-species thing. It offers us more than human co-operation. There were words about the generosity of nature, and about living beings working together cooperatively for mutual benefit.

It comforts me to think that cooperation isn’t just intrinsic to human success, but also is fundamental to how life exists. It means that the people pushing the other way, towards competition and cruelty, are simply wrong. Reality won’t change to let them have it their own way. Collaboration shapes life, and people can either engage with that to their benefit, or not. We won’t be able to make selfishness into the driving force of existence.


Inside the comfort zone

The edge of the comfort zone is reputed to be the most productive place. It doesn’t mean you could, or should aspire to live there. And yes, pushing your limits can be good and exciting, but if you have to do it all the time it turns out to be relentless and exhausting. There should be no shame in seeking comfort and in wanting to be comfortable.

It is worth asking what comfort means. For me, these are the experiences that give something to us, gently. Comfort is nourishment, it soothes and affirms us. Our bodies need time to rest and recover. Learning requires downtime for us to digest and process. We actually grow more, improve more if we have downtime to consolidate that. None of us do our best anything when we are out at the edges all the time.

Comfort is highly personal and depends a lot on needs. For one person, comfort might be an afternoon of baking. For another person, it might be the ready meal that means you get to eat when you are otherwise barely coping. 

Comforts may take the form of things that look trivial to other people. We should be less judgemental about this. I note that the kinds of things women find comforting – romance novels and soap operas for example – tend to be treated as trashy. Taking comfort in watching sport and drinking alcohol is assumed to be manly and often gets treated with a lot more respect. The pleasures of the wealthy tend to be treated with more respect and admiration – yachts, horse racing etc than the pleasures of the poor – beer, cigarettes TV, etc. We’re far quicker to defend the rights of the wealthy to their planet-killing leisure activities than we are to defend the rights of poor people not to work themselves to death.

We all need time to be lazy. We need time to heal, reflect, regroup, recharge. People whose comfort choices seem problematic from the outside are often people who are suffering from a lot of pressures and a lack of resources. Exhaustion and poverty are going to impact on what you can do to comfort yourself. 

Rather than judging people for their lifestyle ‘choices’ I’d like to see a greater move towards considering what shared resources we have, and improving that. Green spaces, sports facilities, libraries, and cultural spaces can all offer comfort and opportunity, where we invest in that for the benefit of all. We need to recognise that poverty is stressful and that there are consequences. We need to stop treating hard work as virtuous and wealth as a measure of whether you should be working hard.

Everyone needs comfort. Everyone needs rest. I wonder what would happen if we started discussing comfort redistribution, and health redistribution, rather than focusing on money. Perhaps that way there would be more collective understanding of the implications of wealth and poverty.


Adventures in body chemistry

It’s a curious question to ask how much of your sense of self pertains simply to hormones and body chemistry. I had my first serious run-in with this issue in my twenties, when I learned how much my attraction to a specific person had been based on how they smelled, and when that changed, the attraction vanished. It was a disorientating experience.

As I waft about in the weirdness that is the menopause, my hormones are doing all sorts of exciting things. I get surges at night, that feel like being hit by some sort of massive wave of emotions that are just body chemistry and not otherwise caused by anything. These can leave me weeping, or overwhelmed with anxiety. Again it’s disorientating because it doesn’t relate to anything else that is happening.

I’m fairly confident at this point that I used to produce a lot more testosterone than I do now. I was a tougher, pushier, more enthusiastic, more driven sort of person when younger. I miss my fighting spirit. I miss my ambition and determination, but it just isn’t there at the moment, and the trade-off seems to be less leg hair, and I’m not entirely persuaded it’s a good trade!

I know all sorts of things influence my mood. Blood sugar levels can be highly influential. Temperature has a big impact on me. 

What I experience as ‘me’ is the chemistry in my body. It’s informed by what I do and what I eat, and by the process of aging and the strange tides of fertility. I am a cluster of haunted molecules, and the molecules are at least as influential as whatever’s doing the haunting. It’s making me look hard at who I think I am, and what I think defines me. For all of the chemical chaos, I am still able to make a lot of choices and I still think that who I choose to be is the most authentic part of who I am. The chemical adventures are intrinsic to being me right now, but its what I do around that which will define me most to myself.


What does a Druid do?

When I first came to Druidry, something like twenty years ago, my sense of what modern Druids did was informed by observation. Clearly the first thing to do was join a Grove and/or a Druid order. Ideally a Grove belonging to the Druid Order. In practice it’s often a lot more complicated of course!

Joining a Grove meant showing up for regular meetings (monthly, for me) and attending festivals through the year. Study and practice was to some degree dictated by the Grove. I also went to bigger Druid gatherings at Avebury and Stonehenge.

It was clear from early on that people came to Druidry with all kinds of different intentions. Some people just wanted a community in which to celebrate the cycles of the seasons. Some were following a specific calling within Druidry – to be bards, or healers, herbalists, activists, and so forth. Some would become ritualists and celebrants and lead groups themselves. There weren’t so many authors back then, but it was clear that writing, speaking at events and teaching were part of what some Druids were called to do. Especially those Druids who were going to be Big Name Druids.

I grasped early on the importance of service and volunteering. I did quite a lot of that, one way and another. Curiously, I also had a strong sense that I should be stepping up. I ended up with a lot of students of my own – as a twenty something proto-Druid it turned out that I knew more myth, folklore, music, magic, meditation and nature stuff than many Pagans who were a lot older than me.  There were a lot of people around me who were entirely new to Paganism and who wanted to learn, and so I stepped up as best I could. I led rituals and workshops and moots and all sorts of things – often because despite being fairly young and not that experienced, I was often the most experienced person to hand.

Doing all the things that might make a person a modern Druid is bloody hard work, though. There are people who make it pay, but I certainly wasn’t one of those.  Over the years, I started to look harder at what of the work made sense to me – I cut back on teaching. I stepped away from celebrant work, which is prohibitively difficult if you don’t drive, and I’m honestly not theatrical enough. I became less interested in leadership roles.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many other Druids of my acquaintance seem to have walked a comparable path and are undertaking to Druid in quieter ways, focusing on the bits of the path that truly interest them and not trying to perform a large and complex role. It means diversity, and not so many of the people aspiring to be Big Name folk and not so much emphasis on that. More sharing and conversation, less authority. I like it better.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out now why twenty-something me thought that aspiring to be a Big Name Druid was even slightly attractive. I knew what kind of level of work was required and I wasn’t averse, back then, to martyring myself, but I was never mercenary enough to make it work financially. I was never pushy enough to take up enough space. I was never that into authority. But, I had a weird feeling it was what I was supposed to be doing. Perhaps at the time, it was what I needed to be aiming for, but I’m a lot more comfortable for having since let go of all that.


Giving each other permission

I talk a fair bit about the idea of healing needing to be a community project. Often this is because of things that are systemic – so much suffering is caused by poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, lack of resources and the places where these things collide. Tackling that in small groups isn’t much easier than tackling it alone.

One of the things we can do for each other, is to give each other permission. Here are some examples…

Whatever you feel is valid. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Being different does not make you wrong. The failure of systems to accommodate your difference is their fault not yours.

It is ok not to feel ok. You do not have to pretend to feel ok to make me feel more comfortable.

We can give each other permission to rest, and to take care of ourselves. We can remind each other that being productive isn’t always the most important thing. We can remind each other that it makes sense to do what we can do and try not to worry about what isn’t possible right now. We can give each other permission to go back to bed and try to get some more sleep.

Being held to other people’s standards can be impossible and damaging. It can be something that is done to people as a deliberate project to control and demoralise them. Emotional punishment for feeling how you feel teaches us that our most fundamental selves aren’t valid or welcome. We can counter that for each other by being overtly accepting of difficultly.

Perhaps the most generous thing you can do for someone you care about is give them permission to make it all about them, sometimes. Tell them that they are allowed to put themselves first in whatever way they need to. Tell them that you do not expect them to out you first all the time. There will be people who have never heard this from anyone before. It’s a powerful, pain easing, comforting, empowering thing to do.


Contemplating Censorship

As far as I am concerned, a person’s right to free speech ends at the point where they start harming others. All freedoms need to be boundaried by an obligation not to cause harm. If defending the right to free speech doesn’t recognise this, it becomes a tool for promoting and enabling abuse.

Sometimes our ethical choices aren’t simple. But, in a choice between defending someone’s right to free speech, and defending someone from threats, harassment, intimidation, distress and so forth, it should be pretty obvious which way to go. People should have to deal with the consequences of their actions, and calling that out is one thing, and the threat of violence is quite another.

If everyone has the right to freedom of speech, this also means that we all have the right to tell people their words aren’t acceptable. Any one of us is allowed to tell someone else they should be silent. We all have the right to say that someone else’s opinion is invalid, ill founded, intolerable. We aren’t cancelling someone if we disagree with them, and we do not owe them our time and consideration. Demanding to be debated is a technique that appalling people use to try to legitimise themselves and make others listen to them. No one is obliged to go along with that.

Here are some considerations when deciding who to amplify and who to silence…

Doing nothing always supports bullying, oppression, abuse of power and the status quo. It is not a neutral choice, and we know it isn’t Druidic. Druids spoke to kings and sometimes got onto battlefields between armies.

If someone is causing no harm, or acting to challenge harm done, or reduce harm, and they are inconvenient to their government, we should not allow that government to silence them. In the UK, the desire of the government to protect statues from people challenging over racism is a case in point. We should always consider challenging it when a government tries to stop someone from speaking freely.

If a person is inciting violence or promoting hatred, they are not entitled to speak freely. If a person is lying, or promoting a belief that is harmful then we should protest against them. No one is entitled to a platform.

If in doubt, look for the power balance. The person with a TV presence, newspaper column, microphone on a big stage… this person has freedom of speech and you as an individual do not have the power to cancel or censor them. If they use their platform to complain that they are being censored, they are not being censored, just argued with. They are not inherently entitled to that platform.

On the flip side, many people go unheard. Many people are spoken about and spoken over. Amplify people who are working for justice and inclusion and who have no platform. Listen to people who are marginalised and ignored. Actual censorship tends to be subtle, and works by treating people as though they do not matter, do not exist or cannot speak for themselves. When did you last see a Rromani person on TV speaking about the issues they face? When did you last read a newspaper column written by a refugee?


Druidry and Prehistory

Having been poking about learning what I can about prehistory, I think this is a really good topic to put on your ‘Druid syllabus’. Not just for what we can learn directly about our ancestors.

There is more of human history in prehistory. Modern humans are perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 years old. These were not the first humans. We only have a few thousand years with written records. This distorts our sense of time, I think. 

Looking at prehistory has a lot to teach us about what it means to be human. What is culture? What is civilization? What is art? What physical evidence do we take as signs of different kinds of activity? Just asking these questions tells us a lot about ourselves, and about humanity.

One find can change the entire story. This is inherently exciting. It teaches us not to be dogmatic, to remain open and flexible and ready to change our minds in face of new information. These are good life skills to have.

Modern culture is materialistic and has a high impact. Seeing how little remains from early humans makes for a powerful contrast. Can we imagine complex societies that aren’t so materially oriented? We’ve tended to assume ancient humans were inferior because of their technology, what if we instead learned to see their strengths and capabilities?  Colonialist thinking likens non-material modern societies to ‘primitive’ ancient humans, but we are wrong about that in so many ways. Studying the past can help us learn about this without having to interfere in the lives of living people.

When we imagine the Stone Age as being a bunch of people barely wrapped in animals skins, mostly saying ‘ugg’ and full of superstition and irrational beliefs about how the world works, we do our ancestors a great disservice. Modern humans of the Stone Age had the same brain capacity we do. The evidence is that our ancestors were all far more complex, sophisticated and capable than we’ve habitually depicted them. We might have a better, healthier perspective on our own state if we did not imagine ourselves to be superior. 

Contemporary humans are not the pinnacle of achievement in a progress narrative. We’re the irrational ones. We are the ones whose behaviour is driven by ignorance and irrational belief.