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.

Living within our means

In economic terms, the idea of living within your means is straightforward – if what you spend is no more than that amount of money available to you, then you’ll be ok. Spend more than you have, and a downwards debt spiral is your destiny.

When it comes to the human species as household and the environment as ‘means’ no one seems to think in these terms. Governments treat the planet as an infinite resource that can be used in any way they see fit for short term profit. We have finite resources.  As a species, we’re running up quite a debt. When the bailiffs come round to deal with the debts, they will come as floods and droughts, famines and sickness from pollution. In many places, the bailiffs are already here. Our species keeps running up the debts even as people are dying from polluted air and water, and species go extinct.

Look at the cold hard facts of household economies, and it’s obvious that no sensible person would borrow more than they can pay back and get into the debt spiral. And yet, in our thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, we do just this. We do it because a short term crisis can land anyone in trouble. We do it because we’re bombarded constantly with messages about what we must have, and not everyone can defend themselves adequately from the constant brainwashing. We do it because poverty is a rigged game designed to drive you into debt and powerlessness. The ‘choice’ to live within our means often isn’t a choice at all.

These very same pressures and motives are at the heart of our species not living within its means. The constant pressure to own, consume, throw away and replace. The effects of poverty on the choices people can make around sustainability. Get into poverty and you’ll have a hard time of it affording the organic, fair traded, responsibly sourced, ethically made things. You’ll by cheap (to you, but expensive to the planet) to survive.

Until governments start thinking about how we, as a species, might live within in our means, this is going to be hard to tackle. For those of us who do have the luxury of choice, we can choose to have less. We can choose not to fuel the habit of competitive ownership. No more ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ If we were all a bit more willing to share our tools and toys, for example, we could reduce need, poverty and over-production. The more of us there are who don’t buy into the ideas of overconsumption, the more hope there is that this way of thinking will catch on.


Bi Visibility Day

Sitting down to type this, I wonder about the consequences. For so many people saying ‘I exist’ can look like attention seeking and making a fuss, to those on the outside. I remember when I felt the same way about flagging up my Pagan-ness or talking about mental health issues, but I’ve had more practice on those fronts.

I have been told that being invisible is a privilege that will keep you safer than the visible folk. I don’t buy it. If safety lies in your invisibility, then what you get, from day to day, is the fear of being outed, and then punished, and really, that’s not so very different from the fear of being punished, and the same consequences are available. In the meantime, invisibility means that who you are does not have a reality in the eyes of people you deal with. Maybe even people you’re close to. All the time. Not a risk, but an every day thing. This is as true for invisible illness, for any invisible problem or difference that impacts on you but is not self announcing. Invisibility is lonely, alienating, isolating, and that certainly offsets any possible advantages in most circumstances.

To the casual gaze I look straight. I have a husband and a child. I have an overtly female body, which does not reflect the androgynous heart on the inside. Sometimes I think of myself as a non-gendered pansexual life form and sometimes I think of myself as bisexual female, and sometimes I don’t really think about it at all. Anything I did to ‘better express’ my inner self on the gender front would be about making more visual sense to observers, and I’m not really into that. In theory, the hair and the breasts could go and this would flag up my androgyny to anyone looking. I like breasts and long hair – mine and other people’s.

From my first tentative crushes it was obvious to me that I fall in love with certain kinds of people. I fall in love with passion, creativity, intensity, high cheek bones, expressive eyes, gentle hands, warm voices. Body shape and genital configurations don’t really make the list. If I fall in love with someone there is a fair chance I will, as a consequence, find them sexually attractive, but it’s definitely that way round.

In the early days of the internet I was pretty ‘out’ – I wrote erotica, including a lot of bisexual and lesbian erotica, and I still read in those genres. Back then people I knew in ‘real’ life weren’t online so much, and it was less complicated to be me.  I’m not currently doing anything that makes me visible, but because I look straight, if I don’t speak up, an important part of who I am disappears. At college, lesbian fiction expanded my world, but outside of erotica, bisexual characters are not numerous. For a long time as a kid I didn’t have a word to explain what I was, and I didn’t know it was ok to feel the way I felt. I had no idea what it meant, or that I wasn’t alone. Where there is visibility, there is affirmation, and the scope for being acceptable. There can be solidarity, support, and all manner of good things.

There are people who will offer me any kind of explanation that denies who and how I am in preference to accepting that this is who I am. I love people. Certain people. Fiercely. If the freedom to love is to be a meaningful idea, it has to include the freedom not to be defined by other people’s beliefs about what’s real, and what’s possible. I am possible, and to deny a person their reality is a cruel thing indeed.


Thomas Hocknell: On getting published

tom-hA guest blog from Thomas Hocknell

I’ve been not published for long enough to allow a kettle to boil, much less forget how articles on How I Got Published are inspiring and galling in equal measure. I have however finally made it to print, so sharing the experience of how it happened feels at least appropriate, even if it feels like fluke. Getting published feels like the glowing perfection of a film’s first act, before a Boeing 747 crashes into the house. And this is how it happened, getting published I mean, not the plane crash.

An actor friend told me two years ago how he was giving up his pursuit of acting, and I was struck by what a momentous adult moment this was; to surrender those dreams of his younger self. Well, I reached a similar moment. Over the past two years I had sent my novel to so many agents that I had reached Z in the literary agent lists, and given up even noting where I had sent it. Any advice of submitting to only 4 or 5 at a time long-since ignored.

Random House then showed an interest, which they probably regretted as I followed them home every night. Mind you, the meeting involving a free cup of tea and Kit Kat in the Random House cafeteria was the most exciting thing to have happened, which speaks volumes about my literary endeavours up to then.

Sadly, this was the peak of my involvement with Random. They had already recently signed a novel involving the Elizabethan alchemist and magician Dr. John Dee and feared it risked overkill. They also wisely declined to provide me with this writer’s home address, which might have risked another kind of overkill.

Over the years I also managed to gain and lose two literary agents. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one agent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

At this point I put the manuscript to pasture, and started another novel, set in a small tenement block in London Bridge. Once I finished this, I glanced once again at the Life Assistance Agency. It was at this point, were it a movie, the audience would groan at magnitude of cliché. Yes, I decided to give it one more chance. I would give it another edit and tidy up, before sending it to every agent/publisher foolish enough to publicise their address in the country in a sort of mail-shot more associated with general elections.

There were no takers, but during this time I was building up a Twitter following, mainly by making friends with people in the hope they might return the interest. Once I had gained 2000, a newly found friend suggested Urbane Publishing, as publishers happy to consider manuscripts without agent representation. And it was while buying tickets to see Hotel Transylvania 2 with my son that I received the email I thought I would never get. It was celebrated by buying him the sort of ice cream he never thought he would get, and won’t have again, unless film rights are requested.

And it so happened. The first thing I did on returning home was to throw away the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2010 edition with a satisfying ‘fuck you.’  And spent the next 9 months endeavouring to not fantasise about selling enough copies to cover my expenses. Mind you, I’d prefer not to calculate the hourly rate. It feels surreal; all those dreams and aspirations now to be made public.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thomas Hocknell is a blogger at idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow – in the manner in which Jerome K Jerome might have, were he writing in 2016, and not 1886. You an find it here – https://tomhocknell.wordpress.com/ The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel and is the journey of a blogger, Ben Ferguson-Cripps, who sets aside his literary failures to join the newly established Life Assistance Agency in pursuit of a missing professor obsessed with the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. Dee. He’s @TomAngel1 on Twitter (which is where I first met him and started reading his blogs).

The Life Assistance Agency is available to buy from local bookshops and at Foyles:

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

Kindle is available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Assistance-Agency-want-forever-ebook/dp

 


Working Sick

One of the good things about being self employed is that you do get some say (usually) over how and when you work. There are no paid sick days though, and while you can get insured against the impact of long term illness, a dose of the flu is something you just have to deal with. So, sleep deprived because I was ill in the night, and washed out for all the same reasons, and with something a long way short of perfect concentration, I rock up late to the computer.

It’s not too bad because my co-worker (husband) lives with me and is exposed to my germs anyway. If I had a ‘normal’ job, I might be hauling my sick, exhausted self into a car (I would not be a safe driver) and going to share my germs with my colleges, and possibly the public.

I know from friends who are employed, that many workplaces are intolerant of sick days. You are expected to go in, which of course means you get a culture of germ sharing where more people are working sick than could have happened. It invariably takes longer to recover from anything if you have to put extra stresses on your body. A day in the duvet can massively increase productivity for the rest of the week.

But no, what we have is a culture of macho toughing it out, drugging away the symptoms (let’s pause and ask why we may have the shits and wonder what the consequence is of not letting our bodies flush the bugs out…).

Pushing when sick or exhausted increases the risk of mental health issues. Depression is likely, so is panic, because when you push a body too far, that’s how it reacts. There is a rise in mental health difficulties that a Chief Medical Officer’s report of some years ago explicitly linked to work place stress. Everyone seems to have ignored this.

So, I managed the commute to the table, I won’t be doing much, I will likely spend a lot of the day curled up, recovering. I’m going to do the essential stuff, so that it doesn’t all build up and get more stressful. This is a luxury many people don’t have. It’s a funny thing, because work, workplaces, and working cultures are all human constructs, but they’re pretty inhuman in practice.


Avoiding economic exclusion in Paganism

People experiencing economic difficulties will often go to considerable lengths to hide this. At the same time, poverty can be a huge barrier to participation. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but its issues I’m aware of from personal experience and seeing problems friends have had. I’ve included suggestions about how best to minimise these problems to make Pagan activities more inclusive.

First up, be aware that your own measure of ‘small charge’ won’t be other people’s measure. People with financial challenges are probably budgeting, and that budgeting can be down into the pennies. There may well be no wriggle room. Advanced warning of costs enables budgeting and participation. Predictable costs are easier to deal with.

Entry cost. This is the most obvious financial barrier to participation. Offer concessions if you can and don’t humiliate people who ask for them. Working tickets can enable participation. Make sure your ticket price is the whole cost a person will have to pay – surprise expenses and sudden additions t the program are a nightmare, either causing the embarrassment of being compromised through lack of funds, or putting people in a position where paying now means they might not be able to eat later this week.

Transport costs. Poverty often means not being able to run a car. Public transport isn’t cheap and doesn’t go everywhere. Late night taxis are prohibitive. Look for venues people can get to, actively organise lift shares (it’s greener anyway). Stop before the last bus. Publish your end time, and stick to it so that people can make viable arrangements.

Childcare. If your event excludes children, then you may make it impossible for less affluent parents and single parents to attend. End times are really important if you’ve had to pay for a babysitter, as with transport issues. Name an end time and stick to it.

Kit. Required reading lists, and pressure to own certain items or wear robes etc. It all costs money up front, but there are hidden costs too.  If you’re on public transport either you travel in robes – not always safe – or you carry them and can’t carry anything else. For people in dire circumstances, laundry can become a problem, so pressure to have pristine white robes can become exclusive.

Compulsive attendance. It may be that a person can afford to attend sometimes, but won’t always have the money for the train, or the door. In extreme circumstances, being able to afford hot water to wash the self and clothing can be a problem. If there’s a requirement to make every session, even if the session itself is low cost, people in extreme poverty may be pushed out.

Buying food and drinks. Look for venues where people can self cater. The cost difference between bringing your own lunch, and having to buy lunch, is huge and can easily be a deal breaker for anyone in a tight financial situation. Make it clear if self catering is an option. If you are taking people to a venue – for example a pub – where they will be expected to buy drinks, check out the prices first. Some pubs are prohibitively expensive. Mentioning the likely drink costs will help people judge if they can afford to attend.

If some events have a significant price ticket on them, try and make sure there are others that don’t, so that people who can’t afford the weekend retreats etc can at least show up to something. Walking moots and house moots can be very affordable.

There are other things we can do to help each other. Share things, give things away, offer lifts… if we act more like a community, we don’t have to force out those who are unable to bear the costs. Paganism is a spiritual path, not a hobby, and no one should be priced out of participation.


The Broken Cauldron: Available for Pre-Order

I very much enjoy reading Lorna’s blog, and I loved her first poetry collection so am looking forward to the new book: The Broken Cauldron. Also, Tom did the cover! Do hop over and have a look.

Signposts in the Mist

Two years ago my patron deity, Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, showed me a cauldron filled with stars. The next time I saw it, it was broken. This inspired a quest to understand the significance of the broken cauldron in ancient British mythology.

The myths I studied were penned in medieval Wales but are rooted in an older oral tradition. All tell the story of the cauldron: the womb of Ceridwen, a goddess I have come to know as Old Mother Universe. Traditionally the cauldron symbolises inspiration, wisdom and rebirth. When it is broken or stolen, cataclysmic consequences are unleashed.

As I journeyed deeper into these myths and was called to consider how they relate to ecological disasters, the fragmentation of meaning, the oppression of women, chemical and biological warfare and atomic energy, I became increasingly certain of their relevance for today.

My attention was drawn to the…

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Staying on the beaten track

There’s a romantic appeal to getting off the beaten track. It can suggest getting ‘back to nature’ – into some purer, more pristine space, less defiled by humans. And of course for a Pagan, that’s got to be attractive. We’re nature people, we want to be close to nature, so why am I suggesting we don’t get off the beaten track?

I mean this very literally, by the way.

First up there’s a practical reason to stay on the path – otherwise you can very easily get lost and in some places, getting lost can kill you. At the very least, stay on the tracks and build stamina and experience before you even think about doing something that takes you further into the wilds.

Consider though, that the more people get out there, off the beaten track in search of pristine nature, the less ‘pristine nature’ there is going to be. If you see human presence as at odds with wildness, then adding your presence is questionable as an action. And no amount of saying ‘I am a special priest of the land and my being there is different’ makes rocking up in your vehicle to do your bit of erosion any less of an impact.

Humans are pushing the rest of nature to the margins. The more we insist on traipsing off into what marginal wilderness remains, the more pressure we put on it. The more resources we use to ‘get away from it all’ – by flying to exotic places, taking 4x4s so we can get off road and so on, the more resources we use and the more harm we do.

When we’re on the beaten path, we are predictable to other creatures. They know where the paths are, it is easier for them to avoid us, and they tend to feel less threatened when we are where they expect us to be (based on my own experiences with deer). If we push into their spaces, they are going to feel threatened. We may frighten them or drive them off. They do not exist for our amusement and we should think carefully about how we treat their space.

When we’re on the beaten path, we can see where we are putting our feet. Some birds make their nests on the ground. Some rare flowers are very small. When we spend time stomping around off the path, we are more likely to harm or kill something.

Paths are ok, and they aren’t unnatural. Deer and badgers make paths. Sheep make paths. Pathmaking is part of how creatures interact with landscapes. Humans are creatures too, and using our own paths to move through a space in a way appropriate to our own bodies, and inoffensive to other life forms, is not some kind of Pagan-fail.

You can, I promise, stand on a path and look at, be moved by and enjoy that which is not on the path. It may be less macho but it’s a good deal kinder and more respectful.


Poetry: The Dirty Britons

When did my people stop being indigenous?

Before enclosure stole their commons

And industry stole the shape of their days.

Before peasant labour in feudal field strips.

Perhaps before Vikings, Romans, Celts,

My ancestors lived in knowing harmony

And were people of this land.

 

Before memory. Before history.

 

I walk myself into this land.

I walk this land into me.

Step by step, season to season,

Making body knowledge.

I am not my ancestors,

Cannot channel what they knew

But all traditions start somewhere.

I teach my son what I can of presence.

Generations hence we might find

What it is to be English indigenous

On English ground, despite the crushing,

Severing, looking the wrong way and

Getting excited about the wrong things

History of conventional Englishness.

Even we might yet relearn soil songs

Become genuine people of the earth


What shall we do with the drunken Druid?

This post is prompted by something Halo Quin wrote on her blog about being put off by early experiences of drunken Druid rituals – you can read that here –  https://haloquin.net/2016/09/14/the-trouble-with-druids/ Like Halo, I wouldn’t feel easy being at a ritual where those in charge were drunk. I would also be uncomfortable if someone turned up to my ritual drunk, because risks are increased, and its harder to hold spaces effectively when people are off their faces.

Drunkenness in Druidry…  I’ll start by saying I’m no sort of puritan, and alcohol infused, trance inducing dancing was, at one point in my life, rather important to me. It seems to me to be all about time and place.

I’ve never run a ritual while drunk. For me, being in charge includes a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing – physical and spiritual – of the people who have trusted me enough to come and stand in my circle. Holding a circle takes all of my concentration, alcohol would undermine that, so I do ritual sober. If there’s a toasting goblet doing the rounds at the end when I no longer need to be so totally focused, I will participate enthusiastically, and I have come out of a few rituals a bit merry. But not so merry that I couldn’t safely handle things.

Alcohol doesn’t always mix well with being out in the dark in even slightly wild places. It doesn’t mix with driving (not an issue for me, but many people do drive to and from rituals). A glass raised to the gods isn’t likely to cause you problems, but for most of us there’s quite a large distance between taking a drink, and being drunk. It’s important, with this, to know yourself and know what you can safely do.

There are predators operating within the Pagan community. Alcohol impacts on our ability to make good judgements and our capacity to consent. Being drunk in a ritual you are not running may compromise your ability to make safe choices. Unless you are very sure of the people you are working with, staying free of all substances is in your best interests. If you want to do work that calls for concentration – spells for example – you can’t afford to imbibe anything that will dull your wits.

There are times when being merry, tipsy or full on drunk can be a joy. Times of celebration and friendship. There are times to party, and to go wild, and for anyone who wants it, alcohol can play a helpful part of this. But if you’re going to get falling down drunk, better to do it with a bunch of people you can trust in a place where that isn’t going to cause you, or anyone else, any significant problems. Nature kills careless people. Defining parties and rituals as separate activities means we can have all the things, and people can make informed decisions about what they’re getting into.

Shamanic traditions have a place for intoxication. However, shamanic traditions frame intoxication with ritual, with narratives and people in supporting roles, and safe places in which to take your journey. If you want to use an intoxicant for spiritual purposes, it makes sense to do the research, make the right holding space for it or work with someone more experienced.

Getting drunk tends to amplify things. If we think we’re powerful sorcerers and mighty Druids and we get rat-arsed, the odds are that we will feel that even more keenly. The drink may be talking, but the voice of spirits we’re hearing may not be the spirits we were thinking of connecting with. To be pissed as a newt is not to be in deep connection with your newty spirit guide. It is easy to feel that we need intoxicants to take us out of our normal, banal headspaces, but going this route creates a crutch, and may not be in our interests.

The question, always, is ‘what am I doing this for?’ If you can answer that honestly, and face up to your own reasons and desires, things will likely be fine. If you can’t, then no matter how much apparent virtue or alleged vice there is in your chosen path, your lack of self-honesty will trip you up.


Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

A guest post from Laura Perry

I’m a writer, and a portion of what I write is fiction that qualifies as magical realism. My most recent novel, The Bed (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed), definitely qualifies. I’ve had a few people question that term, suggesting that it’s a contradiction. After all, according to mainstream society and “common sense,” magic isn’t real.

I’ve written before about Pagans who practice magic but don’t actually believe in it, a habit that can lead to very unpleasant side effects (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/single-post/2016/02/10/Pagans-who-dont-believe-in-magic-but-use-it-anyway). Mainstream society puts a great deal of pressure on us to conform to the materialist viewpoint that anything that can’t be experienced through our five physical senses or detected via scientific instruments simply doesn’t exist or is, at best, some sort of hallucination. So it’s an uphill battle against cultural pressure just to consider the possibility that magic is a real thing.

There’s a sizeable portion of the Pagan/alternative/New Age community that explains magic as some sort of psychological effect, which is fine as far as it goes. There’s plenty we don’t know about how the psyche works, so chalking magic up to psychological thingamawhatsies is tantamount to invoking a version of Clarke’s Third Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws) with the human brain in place of some sort of constructed technology. That, too, is just fine, since no one really knows why or how magic works.

The thing is, magic does work. It produces effects—sometimes unexpected or unpleasant ones—in the material world. Whether that’s through the forces of the human mind or the workings of Nature or the intervention of divine beings is up for discussion.

If magic works, then it’s reasonable to write stories about it and say that those stories are examples of magical realism. Bear in mind that fiction, even fiction that’s based on “true life” stories, is still a made-up thing. But good fiction is a believably made-up thing. I’ve seen the results of magic, both good and bad, enough times to be willing to slide it into the underpinnings of my stories. I don’t write about people flying through the air on broomsticks or shooting flames out of their hands. I write about the kinds of magic I’ve experienced myself: dreams and visions, rituals that go well or that get out of hand, customs that are designed to safeguard the practitioner and that can result in disaster if they’re ignored.

These things aren’t fantasy, though not everyone experiences them. And of course, even people who’ve experienced them may choose not to believe in them since mainstream society still says magic isn’t real (I’ve seen that happen—cognitive dissonance is a powerful and frightening thing). That’s another useful bit for my fiction: the conflict with friends and family members who think you’re crazy for even considering the idea that magic actually works. But in real life, it can be less than fun to deal with.

So no, I don’t consider “magical realism” to be a contradiction in terms. I enjoy writing it and I enjoy reading it. But more than that, I enjoy living it.