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.

In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

I come from a family that was not very tactile at all, so for most of my life have not defaulted to touch as a way of communicating with other people. Cats yes, people, not so much. Thanks to some random accidents of history and some misfortune, I’ve had trouble differentiating between affection and sexual expression as well. That’s a long and complicated story in its own right, and something for another day. For the greater part, my bodily contact with other humans has been shaped by what they deem normal and acceptable, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to think about who and how I want to be in the world, as a potentially tactile physical presence.

There is so much scope for self expression and communication in touch. Who am I? How am I in situations of bodily intimacy, from the cool handshake to the deep hug and beyond? Who do I want to share that with? I’ve spent a number of years learning how to say no, and to hold my boundaries, and that’s been a very good process for me. I have come to recognise that I hate unmeant, casual and empty gestures of affection. ‘Social affection’ can so often be about enforcing norms and expressing power – particularly the power to make someone else accept your kisses, embraces, and bodily presence. Above all else in this arena, I hate being pounced on and kissed by people who mean nothing, but want to appear open, expressive, passionate, or whatever the hell it is they think this gets them.

If someone is going to touch me, I like to have a warning, and the space to decide whether or not that’s welcome. I’ve got a lot better at holding that line, moving away when it seems threatened, and choosing the company of people who will give me space to say no in the first place.

I also want to be able to say yes. In holding the space of mostly saying no, I’ve had the scope to figure out more about who I am, and what I want for me. I have the capacity to be an intensely emotional, passionate, deeply affectionate and physically expressive sort of person. I don’t want to offer that where it’s not wanted. Up until recently, I’ve seen this side of myself as something likely to be an affront, something to hide and apologise for. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned what an enormous difference it makes dealing with people who welcome me as I am and reciprocate. I’ve known and understood this for years in the context of my marriage, but finding out how the same things could work with true comrades, is a whole other process.

To be swept up by someone who makes no secret of adoring me in return. A hand on an arm, lightly but sincerely from someone who is expressing something important. Being able to trust enough to ask ‘may I kiss you?’ and having that answered with exactly what I was looking for.

I know that the phrase ‘in perfect love and perfect trust’ is used by some Witches or Wiccans in a ritual context, as an expression of how you should be entering sacred space. As a Druid, I’ve been taught to think of each person (human and not human) as having a kind of personal sacred space around them. I do not go casually into the sacred space that is proximity with anyone else. I’m starting to realise what it might mean to do that in perfect love and perfect trust, and it changes who I can be in the world, how I think of myself as a physical presence, and the scope I have to say yes, as well as no.


The Henge of Keltria releases the Book of Keltria

This came to me as a press release which I’m very happy to be sharing along…

The Henge of Keltria is pleased to announce publication of the Book of Keltria: Druidism for the 21st Century. Their original correspondence course was created in the 1980s to satisfy popular demand. Each lesson had been revised, new material developed and is now presented in a book. The subjects are of interest to people new to nature based religions and those practitioners with many years of experience.

The chapter illustrating the nature of religion and divinity guides readers through six perceptions of deity from the simple – animism – to the complex – pan-polytheism. Individuals are invited to make their own comparisons and decide which theism or combination of theisms best fits their perception.

The subject of the relevance of mythology in the 21st can be dry and uninteresting when taken out of the context of the stories. To convey the information, the author employs an ancient bard who recounts a myth to the members of his community. Everyone is entertained and educated at the same time.

Describing the indescribable was the challenge for the chapter on the why and how to participate in a ritual. Here again, a story is the best vehicle to convey the information. The ritual experience is shared through the eyes of an elder, who takes the reader on an emotional journey through a Keltrian ritual.

The Book of Keltria includes information on druid history, Keltrian theology, invocation techniques, and the significance of relationships with the ancestors, nature spirits and the gods of the ancient Celts. Chapters on meditation, divination, magick, and the history of the Henge are also included. This is the first time that this valuable and entertaining information is available without the commitment of taking The Henge of Keltria’s correspondence course.

*

I’ve written for Henge of Keltria publications in the past, and although I’ve not studied with them, I’ve always found them a lovely set of people to deal with. I think it’s great that they are making their study material more widely available, this will no doubt be a blessing for many Druids who are walking their own path but want to take onboard the wisdom and experience of others.


Steampunk Druid?

What is Steampunk? I’ve been asked that question a lot in recent days, mostly by people in the street who saw me in my hat, and were curious. So the first answer is that Steampunk is something that enables people to connect with each other. If I go out looking like everyone else, no one stops me in the street to ask me the significance of what I’m wearing, or where I got it, or to compliment me on it, and at a Steampunk event, this is all normal.

I realised, over this last weekend that one of the many ways in which Steampunk is like Druidry, is that it is bloody difficult to define, and any definition I come up with will fail to embrace the full diversity and significance it has for other people. I cannot, therefore, define Steampunk. I can only talk about my experience of it, and what it means to me.

  • It is a space to play. I can present as anyone or anything. My age, apparent gender, body shape, physical capabilities and limitations become less of an issue than how I wish to be seen, and the same is true for all participants. As a consequence it’s a very safe space for a lot of people who do not always get to feel as safe as they would like to.
  • Like Druidry, Steampunk draws on history but is not history. It takes the best bits (kit, manners, sense of adventure) and does what it can with the complicated bits. Let’s face it, the Victorian era was also a time of poverty, gender inequality, colonialism, environmental degradation, exploitation, racism, and theft on a grand scale. I’m not celebrating that – no one does – but by alluding to it, flagging it up we can also start to look at how those things are still with us. We can laugh at, undermine, subvert and recreate the things that should have been a lot better first time round, and there is definite power in that.
  • Like Druidry, Steampunk offers a space that nurtures creativity and creates opportunities for self expression. That happens through the display of amazing clothes, through the cunning creation of devices, art, literature, music, games, and entertainments. It’s a very creative space where everyone has the chance to shine and be recognised.
  • Druidry and Steampunk alike create spaces that trust to their own processes. In neither space do we tell people what to think or how to feel. We create experiences and opportunities and trust people to do what they will with that and find what they need in it. This is in huge contrast to much of life where we are constantly being told, by advertising, and the media, what it is that we ought to think and feel, what things mean, and what we are to do as a consequence. To be free of that instruction, free to interpret your experience on your own terms, free to make your own meaning, is incredibly important. And so both spaces offer room to be yourself, and to be inspired, and I think this is tremendously important in terms of how we function the rest of the time, when we don’t have the hat, or the robes, or whatever it was that helped us define and make sense of the space we were in.

After the Asylum

The comparisons to be made between Steampunk and Druidry fascinate me. Two modern, countercultural movements that encourage more original dress styles, friendliness, and creativity.  Both looking to history for inspiration, but neither really re-enactment, and not historically accurate, and constantly imagining new additions and playing with the possibilities.

We spent the last weekend at Lincoln, for the biggest Steampunk gathering in the UK – some 4000 (if not more) people attend Weekend at the Asylum, a huge event that takes over the castle and assorted other venues, fills the streets with gloriously attired people, and the evenings with remarkable music. It was an opportunity to catch up with some of our favourite people, and to wear hats. It was a really inspiring experience, and I have a lot of mental unpacking to do.

I come back with a lot of thoughts about how I am in the world, and how I want to be. I’m thinking a lot about what Steampunk means to me and how I want to place myself within that. I’ve learned a lot about skin, physical presence, affection, inspiration, and belonging. Tom and I learned a lot about working together creatively when we took to a big stage with only a bit of script, and found our way towards collective improvising. Alongside this, I was reading Brendan Myers ‘Loneliness and Revelation’ which turned out to be the perfect philosophical accompaniment to the weekend (review to follow).

Not for the first time, rain came as a tremendous blessing and allowed us opportunity to do something that would otherwise have been impossible. I’ve been noticing this increasingly, that things which might seem like setbacks so often also offer me opportunities, but rain has been especially good to me this year. Rain throws human schemes into chaos, and allows space for something else to get in (tea, in this case).

Over the coming days I shall try and unpack my brain onto the blog – it’s always an interesting process if I’ve taken a big hit of information and experience. It will take me a while to process the experience for myself, and to work out what I need to learn for me from it all, and what of that is also worth sharing. Asylum this year has changed all of my thinking about how to approach events, and there’s been a significant impact on my sense of self, as well.

It’s curious to note that in terms of inspiration and personal transformation, the four days in Lincoln for Asylum have had far more impact on me than the four days at Rainbow Druid Camp. Much of this is to do with being gently pushed outside my comfort zone, and being offered some really exciting spaces and opportunities to do more. Weekend at Asylum has an ethos of nurturing creativity and giving people spaces to grow and flourish, and that’s not just about giving people educational workshops, its about allowing co-creation of the event, innovation, challenge and an interesting degree of trust in the process of the event itself. More of that as I figure out how to talk about it.


The Other Side of Virtue

I loved this book, it’s one I cheerfully recommend. I’m very happy today to be sharing an excerpt.

Overture to The Other Side of Virtue (O Books, 2008) by Brendan Myers

The story of Christian virtue begins with the story of Moses, the holy man who climbed the holy mountain to receive the Law. Like any system of ethics based on law, it was intended to separate right from wrong as clearly as possible. This is why most of them begin with ‘thou shall not’. Of course, the law forbids things that nearly everyone would agree do not belong in a civil society: thievery and murder, for instance. So on the face of it, there can be no objection. But we should be very cautious about taking up such a gift and accepting it without question. Such pre-packaged gifts are sometimes like the Trojan Horse. They often conceal all sorts of other problems and complications. In the case of the Ten Commandments, the problem is this: if you accept it, you effectively hand over to God the responsibility for determining what is right and wrong. Your only choice in life is whether to obey or to rebel—precisely the choice made by Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

The original idea of Virtue had nothing to do with Christianity. In Europe, it is older than the Gospels by more than six hundred years. Consider the origin of the word itself. It comes from two sources. The first is the Latin ‘Virtus’, itself rooted in the word ‘Vir’, meaning ‘man’. From this direction, Virtue means something like ‘manliness’, and implies ‘macho’ qualities like toughness and aggression. The other source is the Greek word ‘Arête’, which is sometimes directly translated as ‘Virtue’, but can also mean ‘Excellence’. Excellence is what happens when some quality or talent is perfected, completed, rendered praiseworthy and beautiful. It is what makes someone or something stand out as special, a cut or two above the ordinary, and deserving of special admiration. There is nothing passive about Excellence. Instead of modesty or humility, the logic of arête calls for active qualities like initiative, honour, and intelligence. It also implies a few half-moral, half-aesthetic qualities like nobility, strength, proper pride, beauty, and grace. And it implies various social qualities, like friendship, generosity, honesty, truthfulness, and love. Virtue ethics could be more properly called ‘Arêteology’, meaning an account (logos) of what is excellent (arête) in human affairs. This account describes not only the things someone does, but also the kind of person she is. And it had almost nothing to do with obeying laws. Laws were meant for the ordering of society; being a good person was something else. The questions of ethics, in the ancient world, would never have been: What laws or rules should I follow? Which of my choices creates the least harm, or the most benefit, for those it affects? Who am I to obey, and what gives him his authority? To a Virtuous person of the ancient world, those would have been the wrong questions. The right questions were: What kind of person should I be? What kind of life should I live? What is an excellent human being like? What must I do to be happy? The general answer to questions like these went like this. You have to produce within yourself a set of habits and dispositions, something like a ‘second nature’, which would give you full command over your powers and potentials. In other words, you have to transform your character. The ‘familiar’ side of virtue has to do with a predisposition to follow laws and commandments. The ‘other side’ asserts that who you are is much more important than the rules you follow, and at least as important as the things you do, when it comes to doing the right thing, and finding the worth of your life.

The Other Side of Virtue is about that original idea, and how it is intimately connected with what it is to be human, and what it means to live a worthwhile life. I show how it appeared in the heroic and classical cultures of ancient Europe. Then I show how it appeared again in various different historical movements that revived or patterned themselves after those ancient cultures. The Italian Renaissance, Romanticism in High Germany and in Merry Old England, are only the most well known examples. There are also contemporary movements afoot, such as modern-day Druidry and Wicca, which embody the original idea of Virtue in various eclectic ways. What all of these different movements seem to have in common is that in their own way they all expressed one or more of the following three primary ideas.

  1. First and foremost, life involves inevitable encounters with events that seem, at least at first, to impose themselves upon you. Fortune, nature, other people, and death itself, are among them.
  2. Second, these events also invite us to respond. The response generally involves the development of various human potentials and resources. Some of these are social, such as one’s family and friendship ties, and some are personal and internal, like courage and integrity.
  3. And third, that if we respond to these imposing events with excellence, and if the excellent response becomes habitual, they can be transformed into sources of spiritual meaning and fulfillment. This transformation opens the way to a worthwhile and flourishing life.

There are a few others, but these ones are the most important. If I had to gather them into one sentence, this is what I would say: Virtue is the ancient idea that excellence in human affairs is the foundation of ethics, spirituality, self-knowledge, and especially the worthwhile life. Self-knowledge blossoms first and foremost with adventurous transformations of our way of being in the world. The Immensity, as I shall call it, is the situation that calls upon us to make the choices which create those transformations. It is a situation that changes us. But since our choices are involved, this is the change that also configures us, creates us, and so makes us who we are. To answer the call to Know Yourself is not only to discover who and what you are, but also to become that which you discover yourself to be.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/other-side-of-virtue-the


Pagan Aid

Pagan Aid logo

Pagan Aid is a new Pagan charity – https://www.paganaid.org/ It has Greywolf, and PF President Mike Stygal on it’s board of trustees, and a vision for changing the world, quite simply. I was lucky in that I got to hear founder Ian chandler talk about this project in its early stages. Ian works in international development, and had noticed that while other religions have charities expressing their values around the world, pagans do not. A Pagan charity would support people to live in sustainable ways, in harmony with the earth, and with no reference to their spiritual beliefs.

It’s really exciting to see Pagan Aid get official charity status and launch into the world.

From their website:

Our beautiful, sacred Mother Earth is under attack. Her forests are being cleared. Her minerals are being plundered. Her rivers and seas are being poisoned. Her sky is being choked and her climate changing. Her creatures are being driven to extinction.

Meanwhile millions of people live in extreme poverty. Some of them are poor as a result of the exploitation and industrialisation of the environment. Some of them have no choice but to deplete their local environment because of their poverty.

PaganAid wants to break this cycle of destitution and destruction by helping people to meet their basic needs through living in harmony with nature. We will do this by funding small-scale projects that help poor and marginalised communities to protect and develop their own livelihoods and the environment about them – projects that put equal value on ending poverty and protecting Mother Earth.

You can hear Ian Chandler being interviewed in this edition of the Druid Podcast.

Donations are very welcome – you can do that via the website, and if you’ve skills, experience or other relevant things you want to offer, do get in touch with them.


Away with the Steampunks

Assuming the gods of rail were kind to me, and the gods of steam and subversion felt willing to let me in, I am at Asylum this weekend. To clarify, not *an* asylum, but Weekend at the Asylum, the UKs biggest Steampunk gathering, in Lincoln.

I fell into Steampunk by accident. I’ve always liked things gothic, subversive, counter cultural, and friendly, and Steampunk, it was rapidly evident, would give me all of that. I like the kind of spaces it creates, where all manner of things become easier and more possible.

As Steampunks go, I’m not a very dramatic dresser. I don’t flaunt my underwear, I don’t have any fantastic contraptions. As I travel by train, my kit has to be worn to the event, so for me it’s a lot about the hat, which is probably going to have a solar panel on it for much of the time, because it would be useful, and I can.

Over years of doing Steampunk events, I’ve noticed that this is the space where I am most likely to see people who appear to me to be biologically male dressed in attire conventionally associated with being biologically female. What I love about this, is that’s really all I can say on the subject. Are they trans folk? Are they clothes fetishists? Do they just find it fun? I can’t tell, it doesn’t matter and it’s none of my business anyway. Excellent! When the man next to you has a giant kraken on his hat and is talking to a woman wearing just her underwear and a pith helmet, a guy in a dress is really a non-issue.

I may have a moustache painted on my face for the event. I may not. Whether I do and why I do, does not matter, and this cheers me enormously. A big part of the point, for me, is that you can present as whoever you want to be – explorer, exotic dancer, inventor, male, female, robot… it’s all ok. It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you start from. Age, biology, body shape, skin colour…. not an issue. Be who you want to be. There’s room. I just wish the rest of life was as roomy.


Pagan Dreaming – out today

Pagan Dreaming is officially unleashed upon the world today. Advanced reviews have been really encouraging. Rachel Patterson called it “the only book you will ever need to read to understand dreaming as a whole” (entire review here). James Nichol described it as “an informed and thought provoking introduction to dreams and dream work” (whole review here). Mike Stygal, president of The Pagan Federation said “Stunningly good!”

Mixing the pragmatic and the spiritual, Pagan Dreaming goes far beyond the standard dream dictionary to offer instead a range of ways for making dreaming a meaningful part of your spiritual life. Exploring symbolism, the physical implications of dreaming, dreaming as learning and problem solving it then places the spiritual dimension of dreams in a context that will help readers go beyond x=y interpretations towards something that will enrich and re-wild their lives. The book includes an array of techniques for working consciously with dreams and developing a Pagan spiritual practice around dreaming.

You can get it any of the places you normally get books, it’s out as a paperback and as an ebook, here’s the AMAZON US AMAZON UK links as I know a lot of people default to those. If you pick up a copy, i would really appreciate getting to hear what you think of it.


Poverty and ethical living

Green living can create some tensions between the choices that are available to you.

Live lightly, own little, do everything the slow way and by hand, walk, handwash, grow your own veg, upcycle things, don’t own a car. Unless you’re very lucky, it’s hard to put this kind of light living together with a well paid job. Most of the people who do it manage by being self employed, and are low paid. It’s hard to sustain conventional employment without a car, in fact if you look at many job applications, you’ll be asked if you have one.

Buy organic, fair traded, buy local (often nigh on impossible for rural people without a car, most villages do not have farmer’s markets I have to say). Buy high quality food products that don’t have palm oil in them. Buy eco friendly washing powders, cosmetics, home cleaners and so forth. They cost far more than the regular versions. Veg from the farmer’s market is much more expensive than veg from the cheaper and nastier supermarkets. Milk is the same.

Of the available diets, vegetarianism is without a doubt the most affordable for someone on a low income. Good quality, responsibly sourced meat is really expensive. Good quality vegan proteins are also more costly, as are the products that don’t have dairy products as fillers. It’s surprising how many cheap things turn out to have whey powder and the like in them, once you start looking.

So, here’s a conundrum. I don’t have a fridge, because I think that’s a greener choice. I don’t buy cows’ milk unless I have guests (I am vegetarian). I would like to keep my use of dairy minimal anyway. So, I can have low cost UHT cow milk at less than a pound a litre, it will keep until I open it and be good for a day or so in the cool box once opened. I can do the same with low cost soya milk, but in both cases, I’ve got no chance in warm weather of keeping the milk for more than a day once open, and I don’t reliably use that much so there’s a high risk of unacceptable food waste.

For a couple of pounds, I could buy a tin of dried milk powder (cow) and make it up with water at need. For about five times the price I could buy a smaller amount of dried soy or coconut milk.

So we have a situation where the person with the high powered job, driving a car, and actively participating in the capitalism mainstream probably can afford seitan, dried coconut milk, ethical cosmetics, green cleaners, and all the other things that go into having an apparently responsible, vegan shopping basket. The person who lives lightly and close to the earth and who is trying hard not to participate too much in consumerist culture, probably doesn’t earn enough to shop this way.

Is one choice better than the other? Are ethical consumer choices sometimes just window dressing for otherwise largely unsustainable lifestyle choices? Is the farmer’s market really that good an idea if you have to drive twenty miles to get to it? I don’t have any answers, just the sense that if we want something sustainable, it has to be possible to both live lightly and source ethically, and if we’ve got to choose between the two, we’re collectively getting it wrong.


Dragons and omens

Last night I had the huge urge to go up on the hill, despite being very tired. So, up the hill we went. It had been a wet day, but there were breaks in the cloud and we were able to sit out and look at the Severn river.

When we first arrived, there were intense shafts of sunlight over the water, and as we watched a patch of intense darkness, largely blotting out the hills beyond, moved up the water for some distance. The sky out towards Wales glowed a strange, peachy colour, but we could see it was raining heavily over the Forest of Dean. At one point, rain on the river was so intense that we could see the disturbance of the surface, despite being miles away. It did not rain on us, but that’s often the way of it with these hills, weather can be very localised indeed.

Up the Severn Vale came a parade of dark clouds, low, heavy and moving a lot faster than the pale clouds above them. Behind the pale clouds lay bright blue sky, and sometimes we could see all three layers, and sometimes some of the clouds were golden from the setting sun. The dark clouds that came were each incredibly distinctive. Animalish shapes – we saw lots of elephants, but far more dragons. Huge, serpentine Chinese style dragons with distinctive heads and faces, winding up the Severn. If it had just been me there, I might have put it down to whimsy on my part, but my husband and son saw much the same things. At one point, a kestrel came and hovered right over us.

I’m not one for symbols. I tend not to infer meaning from natural events except in the most literal ways – it’s a big cloud so it could well rain – is about my level for this sort of thing. Last night was something else entirely. There was such a sense of presence, and significance, of something big in motion. Towards the end, the sky looked like one of those old paintings of divine retribution. As we were leaving, a mix of rain and setting sun had flooded the plain towards Slimbridge with a dense orangeness unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a landscape before.

It all felt important, and I have no idea what to make of it.


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