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.

Blackthorn Poetry

This poem came out of some recent divination undertaken on my behalf. I was told that what lay ahead would be blackthorn, and I got to thinking about what that might mean for me.

 

On the Blackthorn Path

 

I walk a blackthorn path

This is a hard way.

The longest, cruellest thorns

Keen to breed infection

When they cut your skin

Pierce your shoes, snag

Your clothes, scratch and wound.

I will bleed on this journey

It demands sacrifice.

You cannot pass through

Blackthorn hedge or spinny

Only take the path suggested

Go where it tells you.

If you would take control

If you would lay a blackthorn hedge

In the old way, it is the hardest

Wood to cut, or bend or tame.

What results is long enduring.

Walk the blackthorn path

Through the first frosts and harvest

Vibrant purple sloes, make magic

With alcohol – there are rewards

On this difficult adventure

Reasons to take so hard a way.

Survive a winter and in spring

The pale, sweet profusion, blackthorn blossom

Waits for those who will travel this far.

Heart torn, soul battered, hurting

I walk the blackthorn path.

I will turn my frost into sweetness

Find strength in my obstinacy,

Learn from the blackthorn

Make what good I can

Honour the unforgiving guardian

Until the very end of the bitter road

No matter what that means.

If you are walking this path

I may find you along the way

However hard the walking

It is easier faced together.

There lies richness in fruit and flowers

And the path with fewest thorns.


Seasonal windows

One of the key shifts in the seasons, for me, is the point at which I have to start closing windows at night. Most years this means there will be a few nights where the indoor temperature gets very low before I’ll admit that I really do have to shut the windows. It’s always hard and an unhappy moment.

When the windows are open, the internal home space is much more connected to the outside world. Bird song is a constant during the day. I can hear the nearby stream from the bedroom. Owls are much more audible at night. Closing the windows shuts out an entire soundscape. I can no longer hear the wind in the trees, or the leaves skittering about. It is a loss I feel keenly. Of course it also comes at the time of year when sitting outside is getting to be a good deal less viable as well.

I will get outside more days than not, and I spend time at the closed windows, but my relationship with all that is wild and natural changes at this point in the year. My body is not robust enough to tolerate getting cold – that makes me even more sore and stiff than I would otherwise be.

What I crave is some sort of sheltered, permeable space that would work all year round. Living in an upstairs flat, there’s no liminal space I can sit in. There are outside spaces here, but nothing sheltered and I am not allowed to put up a small shelter. It would make worlds of difference to me to have a space where I could sit in all weathers and seasons, be dry and out of the worst of the wind, and also not entirely indoors. With my own garden, this would be easy to achieve.


Grave Goods

Over on Facebook at the weekend, William Rathouse shared some fascinating content about how we might want to be buried, and what a modern person might choose by way of grave goods, along with some beautiful photographs where people had arranged themselves in this way. It raises some interesting questions.

I’m never really sure what to think about life after death. My working assumption is that this may be all we get. I do have feelings about reincarnation and ghosts and ancestors, but hold it all in a state of don’t-really-know. What you put in a grave depends a lot on why you are putting it there, I think.

If I wanted tools for the afterlife, my priority item would be a sturdy bucket – one of the most useful bits of kit ever. I would also want a small hand axe, a knife and bowl, a saucepan tough enough to go on an open fire, scissors and sewing needles. I’d want coffee and tea – I’d take my chances with everything else I think. Pens and paper would be good.

If I wanted objects that would speak of my life, it would be a really different selection. A musical instrument, colouring pencils, a pen, a laptop, a walking stick and my walking boots, my runes, some of my books, my octopus mug, my oldest toy bear.

There’s also the possibility of being buried with the things the living do not want to keep. I wouldn’t really want to take anything with me that anyone else had an emotional attachment to and might want to hang on to. In many ways I think it makes more sense for whoever is left to dispose of me (probably my son) to make the decisions about what if anything should go with me, and what needs to go to other people. I tend to prefer having things in use, and anything that was important to me might be better employed in someone else’s hands, living on as a memory of me and continuing to be useful.

There’s a part of me quite likes the idea of being buried with little or nothing – just a shroud perhaps, or naked and covered in ochre. Is there a story I need to tell at the end of my life? Perhaps not. Perhaps it will be good just to fade into the soil and leave nothing for anyone to ponder over. Would that read as a choice to some future archaeologist, or would it look like I was very poor and uncared for? So much of how our stories read depend on what we think the context is anyway.


A matter of trust

I’ve known for a while that I have a hard time trusting people to like me, or think well of me. When life is smooth and straightforward, it’s not that big a problem – if the people around me are affirming and encouraging, I feel ok and can trust them enough. However, if anything goes wrong, it leaves me rapidly in a place of having no emotional resilience at all.

I’ve put in the time to work out why I have trust issues of this particular shape. I didn’t get here by myself, it would be fair to say. I got here through a number of key experiences where it was made explicitly clear to me that I was not loved or wanted. The details won’t be useful to anyone else, so I won’t go into them. I’ll ask you to take it on trust that they were the kinds of experiences that shaped my reality and that it was reasonable of me to respond that way.

It is really hard to notice the things that enter our realities as normal and being simply how the world works. For me, it has been so normal to think no one would want me, that I’ve had a hard time noticing when people do. I’ve struggled to feel like I have a place anywhere. I don’t feel like I belong. I struggle with this around relationships of all shapes and around involvement in communities. It has, for many years, also undermined my ability to hold boundaries. It’s part of why I feel that having any place at all is totally conditional on doing what everyone else wants, never asking for anything, never being awkward or making a fuss or saying no. This has not gone well for me, historically, and reinforces the sense of not being wanted beyond the ways in which I am useful.

I did not get here on my own. I am not overcoming this on my own either – I could not have done so.

Recent experiences tested my ability to trust to the limit, and beyond. I don’t think it was a scenario in which a really secure person would have found it easy to stay confident. I broke down, over and over, banging myself against that rock of unacceptability. It was in that repeated breaking process that I became able to see the mechanics of how I see myself in relationships. I was able to line up the experiences informing my sense of self, and to look at them properly, and to be properly horrified by them.

I became aware, during this process, of the many people who have gone out of their way to be affirming. The many people who make explicit that they want me in their lives. I have hit a tipping point recently. The people who want me and are clear about it are simply more numerous, more present, more vocal, than the people who taught me I was worthless. The people who value me have enabled me to shift how I see myself. I am, suddenly, able to imagine that I am someone it might be worth loving and caring about, beyond my utility. I am, for the first time in my life, able to imagine that I am a good person to have around – at least for some people.

Self esteem issues are not problems we develop all by ourselves. A sense of self worth is usually underpinned by our relationships with other people. I am increasingly convinced that anyone who says you should not base your self-worth on external things or other people’s opinions simply has enough security to make that security largely invisible to them. A person’s self-worth is very much dependent on how they are treated. We do not get hurt around this stuff alone, and we do not overcome it alone either.


Environment and health

‘What is wrong with her?’ They asked.

Not ‘what is wrong with her environment?’

It’s a vitally important question and one that we too often overlook. When it comes to mental health and physical health alike we’re too quick to focus on the individual who is suffering and far too unwilling to consider the context.

Poverty, work stress and insecurity make people ill. We know this. The evidence exists. Poverty equates to poor diets, lack of access to green spaces and other insufficiencies that undermine the health of the body and the mind. We know that it is lack of control over your situation that causes the most stress and the most damage. We know this is why people in insecure jobs, zero hour contracts, short term contracts and at high risk of debt suffer from stress and all the illness stress causes. We know, but when people break, we make it personal, individual, specific.

We also know that people are happier and healthier when they have access to green spaces. We’ve seen this around lockdowns. The evidence was there before 2020 from studies from all over the world. Without access to green spaces, our health suffers. And yet, if we get ill for lack of time outdoors, this won’t be part of the discussion we have with our doctors, or the welfare system.

When children can’t cope with sitting for long periods at school, we ask what is wrong with the child, not what is wrong with how we approach education. When people aren’t especially productive in the workplace, we ascribe it to things that are wrong with them, and not to the workplace. When people don’t engage with each other socially, we blame them, and their relationship with screens. We don’t ask what’s creating the pressure to behave that way in the first place.

The environments in which we exist, work and attempt to live are not inevitable. They are co-created. They are often dictated by those with the most power and forced upon those with the least. But even so, they can be changed. We need change. In the meantime, resist the temptation to blame individuals for things that are done to them. Look for the collective in both the problems and the solutions. Support other people where you can, share resources. Resist the culture that says any of this can be fixed through hard work – this is a lie. Resist the culture that says suffering is good, or necessary – this is a lie designed to keep the many placid as we work for the benefit of the few.

Health – for the body and the mind, are very basic needs and essential for human flourishing. We need to live in environments that support human health, not spaces that undermine it.


Why I’m not debating

I don’t like debating. It’s now something I tend not to engage with, and when I find people who want to argue recreationally, I tend to express an absence of opinion. I very much like being in situations where I can exchange ideas with people, but as soon as we’re into arguing and winning or losing, I’m out.

The win/lose approach of the debate means people have more invested in making their point than in deepening their understanding. That often means that the pushiest, thickest skinned and most aggressive debater wins – it’s not really about ideas at all. It promotes a culture where aggression carries the day and opinions supported loudly are more important than facts and experience. I will not be part of that.

It’s rare that these debates are balanced. The odds are that one person knows more than another. If I’m in a situation where someone has more firsthand experience than me, or more academic insight than me, I want to listen to them. Their knowledge and experience is clearly of more worth than my less informed opinion. Put me in that scenario I won’t debate, but I may well ask a lot of questions.

Sometimes I’m on the other side of this as the person who knows the stuff. I will – time and energy permitting – cheerfully dig in and share that with anyone who is interested. But, I’m not inclined to offer that up so that someone who knows less than me can try to shoot me down with their opinion. If I have knowledge and experience, and that isn’t being recognised there’s not much point being in the conversation.

In my experience, people who argue recreationally don’t invest much time in finding out what the other person really knows. This is especially problematic around firsthand experience. Wanting to argue with someone about their life experiences and how they interpret them, is deeply problematic and there’s a lot of it on social media. White people who want to argue with Black people about experiences of racism. Men who want to argue with women about sexism. We should not be debating people’s lives for fun or to reinforce power imbalance and prejudice. We need to listen to each other more, and recognise that an uninformed opinion isn’t worth bringing to the conversation.

Debating takes energy. As a consequence it tends to be an activity that goes with privilege. The less privilege you have, the less likely you are to have the time, energy and emotional resources to argue with people. This is weaponised. I see far too much effort online going into exhausting people who are trying to make changes and get their voices heard. Debating people can be an oppressive thing to do, and deliberately so. Demanding that people educate you while you try and pick holes in them is nasty stuff. There’s rather a lot of it out there.

The only way to truly win a debate is to not waste energy on it. The people who can afford to argue for the fun of it, to play devil’s advocate, to indulge in their opinions and to shout down those who disagree are not owed anything. They do not deserve anyone’s time. No matter how they demand attention and the right to play this particular game, none of us has to do it. The more of us refuse to do it, the less culturally normal it will become. Adversarial debating is just a game to such people – it achieves nothing but gives the winner a kick. It is of no real use.


Justice and the family

Yesterday I ran into a very powerful blog post about the treatment of women and children in the family courts. It is a tough read, CW for a lot of abuse detail https://victimfocusblog.com/2020/09/22/misogyny-in-the-family-courts/

I spent a couple of years in the UK family court system. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through it appreciates what a harrowing system it is to be in.

Firstly, the assumption is that contact with both parents is what the child wants, and in the child’s best interests. This largely isn’t affected by what the child says. Or how the police assess risk in the situation. My solicitors told me that if I had been killed by my ex, he could still expect contact.

I was questioned repeatedly about traumatic experiences. This is the worst thing to do to someone who has been traumatised, but I was made to revisit those experiences over and over again. No one seemed to care what that, or any other aspect of the process was doing to my mental health. My poor mental health was, however, raised as an issue about whether I could be a good parent.

It is normal to threaten to take the child away if you don’t co-operate with contact. The parent who is seen as being hostile to other parent, will be told that non-cooperation can mean they are seen as the problem and the child will end up with the other parent. This is a terrifying situation to be put in. Give the child to the abuser, or the abuser gets the child for most of the time. The blog link I shared details examples of how this happens even when the child themselves is reporting being abused by the other parent. It is also normally the case, from what I’ve heard from other women, that victims of violence and sexual assault are treated as unreasonable if they don’t want their child to have contact with the person who did that to them. In all other contexts we try and protect children from known sex offenders.

I was upset, terrified and emotional the whole time. My ex was calm and reasonable. This counted against me. I was treated as though I was irrational. I never felt anyone considered that I might have had good reasons to feel as I did.

The family court system will put pressure on parents to present the other parent as a good person. This is hard when an adult is setting a child a really bad example. It’s also highly problematic if there is abusive behaviour. It’s really hard to parent well if you don’t feel safe telling your child if they are being treated badly, if something unsafe is going on, or inappropriate. For example, if one parent decides to ‘win over’ the child by letting them stay up late, watch whatever they want, eat what they want, not do their homework, and buys them anything they want it is the parent who stands up to this who is going to be in trouble with the family courts.

I’m just talking broadly here. I could write pages on the things that were said to me that haunt me still. It was a process that had a terrible impact on my mental health. But, I got my child through with no direct contact with the father he did not want to see. I was told repeatedly that he would want contact at some point. The boy is 18 now, and free to do as he pleases and oddly enough, he still doesn’t want contact.

This is a system that needs to change. There needs to be much better recognition of the widespread nature of domestic abuse. It needs to be clearly understood that an abusive person is not going to be a good or safe parent. Children who report abuse in this context should always be taken seriously. Safety should be the first concern, always. Better support needs to be in place for abuse victims.


Language, Culture, Celts

Let me start by saying that this is a speculative blog post. I’m a dabbler, not a historian and I am not qualified to hold much of an opinion on this subject! So, I’m just sharing some things that occurred to me, that might, or might not be meaningful.

Nomadic hunter gatherer people tend not to go in for writing. Writing calls for kit, and storing writing clearly isn’t ideal if you’d have to heft it all about with you. People who need to travel lightly tend to have oral cultures and depend on memory. Nothing controversial there.

Writing seems to go with keeping records. I’m not aware of any instances where we think a culture started writing because it wanted to keep its poems for posterity! Written records become necessary when you want to keep track of ownership and/or debt. If wealth is held in common, you don’t need records. You might need records in a larger and more complex community that is sharing resources – you might want to track that to understand what happens. So at the very least, writing represents organised and self conscious social structures, probably.

It’s very difficult to have tax without written records. It’s difficult to keep track of debt, or tithing or any other system where ownership and contribution are related. These can of course be very good things in a culture, making systems to share out the goods. But at the same time you can’t have functioning hierarchies without some kind of paperwork. Arguably the difference between a barbarian horde and a colonial project is whether you can follow through with accountants and tax the people you just rampaged over.

This leaves me with some interesting thoughts about the Celts. What are the implications of the Celts not having a written language? What does it mean about their social structures? How much of our sense of them as a hierarchical community depends on them having been depicted that way by the Romans, and by those later writing down their stories? The stories we have are full of Kings and nobles. But is that a fair reflection of Celtic peoples in Europe, or of their systems of interacting with each other? Here I am speculating, but I think it’s worth wondering about what the absence of writing might suggest.


Druidry, walking, and not walking

Walking is my primary mode of transport and is also how I engage with the natural world and the seasons. It’s a major part of how I exercise, and a key strategy for managing my mental health. As a consequence, not being able to walk is a bit of a disaster. There’s been a lot of that this year, and in the last six weeks or so it has been a massive problem.

Usually the limits on my walking come from pain, stiffness and lack of energy. I’m used to having days when I can’t do much, and fitting what I need to do around what’s possible. However, I’ve had a bout of very low blood pressure (for reasons) and it’s made walking really hard. I haven’t been able to get up hills, I’ve been able to manage twenty minutes at most, and I’ve felt awful. I’m aware that for a lot of people, twenty minutes would be a good amount of walking, but with the role walking plays in my life, not being able to walk for a few hours at a time is a real problem.

It’s meant I’ve had very little access to the landscape. Places I find spiritually nourishing – especially the hilltops – have been unavailable to me. If I had a garden, I could develop a spiritually nourishing outdoors space closer to home – but currently I can’t do that.

I’m lucky in that the underlying causes of this problem have been dealt with, and I should be able to recover and rebuild my strength and stamina. Not everyone who has a bodily crisis gets to do that afterwards. Many people live with sorely limiting conditions.

This experience has taught me that there is nothing I can do inside my flat that does for me what getting outside for long hours at a time does for me. My Druidry is so very much about my relationship with my immediate landscape. Much of the time that’s quite an understated presence – I do think about my connection with land and spirits of place whenever I am out, but that’s often so normal to me that in some ways I don’t notice it. Absence is a great teacher, and what I’ve not been able to do has taught me about what I need to do.

There’s an interesting balance around internalising things and losing sight of them. With any spiritual practice, you want to embed it so deeply in your life that it is your life. But when you do that you can stop noticing that it’s there, which is problematic. This in turn brings me to consider the usefulness of deliberate spiritual action for reminding us of our spiritual lives, and how necessary it may be to have things that aren’t so deeply embedded that they become invisible. This might mean I need to make a labyrinth once I’m back in shape. That’s a good jolt out of everydayness.

I certainly need to look at what I can do with my Druidry that is real and immediate to me, and soul satisfying, and not so dependent on being able to walk for a couple of hours. Alongside this, I have a lot of practical work to do rebuilding body strength and stamina, getting my heart fitter again, and getting back up the hills. I’ve come to understand in recent years that taking care of my body is a necessary consideration for how I do my Druidry – my body is where I experience everything else, and if I don’t keep it well and fit, I can’t get out there and do anything else. I’m very glad to have at least some options around improving wellness and fitness.


Breakdown and breakthrough

CW trauma recovery

Healing can be a messy process. When it comes to matters of mental health, there are points in the journey that can only be messy. Most of us do not get into difficulty on our own. There are reasons that we suffer from depression and anxiety, and those reasons tend to involve extreme stress and traumatic experiences. To recover from that, you need to be in a safer place, and you will have to square up to what happened.

The most common environment for wounding to occur is the domestic one. People are most at risk from violence, abuse, sexual assault and rape from people they know, not from strangers. This is more traumatic to begin with because of the layers of betrayal and broken trust when the people you should have been able to most trust are the ones who harm you. Part of the healing process for many people will involve squaring up to what someone they loved did to them. That is a vicious, painful process to be in.

Abusers encourage their victims to feel responsible for what is happening. This protects the abuser and keeps the victim pliable and cooperative. The mental health damage is massive. It’s further complicated when the victim wants to think the best of their abuser and is easily persuaded to feel that they are to blame so that they can keep believing that their partner, or parent or other person they care about, is actually a good person. To heal from that experience requires re-visiting it and re-framing it and that is a hard process.

While you’re in there, the difference between breakdown and breakthrough can be almost impossible to spot. Some healing is impossible without some breaking down of the old self and the old worldview first. Again, this is a desperately hard thing to go through, and while in the thick of it, there may be no sense that this is a breakthrough process moving you towards healing. Not everyone hits this in the context of having professional support to get through it.

Breaking down always creates the possibility for a breakthrough of some sort. But, that’s not an obligation to heal. Without support, resources, time and care, a breakdown can be just another hellish period of misery. Having the space to transform breakdown into breakthrough is a privilege issue. For the person who is still in the harmful situation, healing isn’t an option.

But, it can be some comfort to know that when you hit a period of breakdown, it might lead to breakthrough. There is every chance its happening because you are able to step away from the past and start re-building. It is not an easy choice to go with this process rather than fighting it, but sometimes, surrendering really pays off.

I will likely be coming back to this in the not too dim and distant future to talk in more detail about how recent breakdown has allowed me to make some specific breakthroughs.