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.

Small books, big ideas

The trouble with introductory books in Pagansim, is that most of them keep introducing the same things – basic guides to well trodden paths tend to dominate. There’s a logic in this because it is in theory the biggest market and the author who becomes the definitive writer on how to be a what-have-you could do quite well. Except mostly this doesn’t happen and we get a proliferation of ‘how to do the things you already know how to do’ books, and from a reading perspective that’s not a great thing. What do you do once you’ve read a couple of introductions and want to go further? That transition out of beginner Pagan status can be immensely frustrating.

One of the things Moon Books is doing that I think has considerable merit, is offering an array of very small introductory books. Little and cheap, they don’t require a big investment of your time or money, which makes it easier to poke about and see what appeals. They are introductions to niches, small areas of thinking and practice introduced in more depth, which makes them handy for transitioning out of beginner status, and also useful for the more experienced Pagan reader who just likes to have some idea of what everyone else is up to. Kitchen Witchcraft, hedge riding, working with power animals, fairy witchcraft, pathworking through poetry, to name but a few. It’s a diverse set of books, and growing all the time as authors come up with new niches they want to explore. I’ve read many of them, the diversity is wonderful, and I’ve learned a fair bit.

There’s now a page where you can look at all of them, which is handy for browsing. Do check it out.

There is one of mine in here. Spirituality without Structure is in part a response to Alain du Botton’s Religion for Atheists. It’s a look at the nuts and bolts of religion, considering what religious experience does for us socially, psychologically, and in discernible real world terms to help a seeker figure out what it is they need. Even Pagans following a defined path tend to be on their own in terms of putting together a practice, and for that matter a belief system, and I think there’s much to be gained from asking how and why we do that, what we get out of it, and what it might cost us. There’s a trade-off between dogma and reassurance, conformity and authenticity, we have to weigh shared participation against personal experience often, too. I know from reader feedback that this is not a happy, uplifting sort of book full of joy and sunshine, but on the other hand if you need to poke around in the underpinnings of what you’re doing, it may prove helpful to you – I have had some good feedback on that score.

If you’re reading this, and have looked at the page and are thinking ‘but why isn’t there a book on…’ do please consider that you might have a job to do.


Of Tea and Dragons (also, bones and glue)

Nimue Brown:

This is from a project I started a few years ago. There were a number of reasons – how little there is for a bright and articulate child to read, if they can’t cope with the emotions and ideas of adult books but they need something a bit more engaging than what’s normally aimed at kids under 6 years of age. Partly in self defence because as a parent reading books brought home from school I have been depressed and demoralised so many times by the banal, trite and joyless stuff they are so often given. Child readers deserve better. So do the poor adults trying to support them. Reading for all ages should be fun, it should be interesting, engaging, exciting, it should inspire and encourage and surprise and generally result in life being a bit better. I don’t know I can claim this project does all these things, but it does at least try!

Originally posted on The Moth Festival:

Hello again, dear reader! This time, I thought I might share some art process and a bit of poetry with you. The following images are (in order) the drawing for the Tea Dragons Alphabet poem (more about Tea Dragons in a bit) and the finished “painted” version.The drawing was done with graphite and black coloured pencil on Bristol, and the “painting” took place in Photoshop.

Alphabet

The painted version *is* a bit colourful, for me, but I hope you are not too badly shocked.

Here, now is part of the verse that it illustrates. ( I did promise you poetry, after all)

A is for Assam, a champion brew

B is for bones, crushed and mixed up with glue

C is for cups which we make from the bone,

D is for drinking, our tea skills we hone.

E is for Earl Grey, full of bergamot,

F for the forest where tea dragons…

View original 170 more words


Medicine for a troubled heart

One of the things about really sitting with my depression over the last few weeks has been an increased awareness of what truly alleviates it. Not in the sense of being able to tidy it up and put it away, but in moving towards a more viable and sustainable state.

In all of this, perhaps the most surprising (re)discovery has been of my natural gloom and melancholia. I’ve spent most of my life in places where a mournful nature was not welcome, and hiding that may be one of the reasons I’m here in the first place. The part of me that resonates with tragedies, graveyards and Leonard Cohen songs. Mournful, melancholic states are very different from depression because for me at least they do not confer numbness, powerlessness or an inability to act or function. Mournful I can live with, it’s a headspace I can create from and it allows me to respond honourably to all the things in this world that break my heart. Allowing my natural misery may in fact ease my depression.

Walking is helping, because I respond well to landscapes, and I find it grounding. Walking allows me to knock the destructive anger out of my body without harming myself. Not having to talk much is also good, not having to entertain, or sort anything or be useful is incredibly healing. Walking in quietly accepting company is making a lot of odds.

Hugs are an interesting double edged sort of thing. Where I’m not comfortable, those can leave me in worse places. However, in those exchanges where being hugged feels like affirmation, acceptance and care, I’m finding that really helps me to feel calmer within myself.

Iggy Pop has been an unexpected source of medicine, too. He has a Friday night BBC radio 6 program that I catch on listen again in the week. Warm, eccentric, generous, surprising and with a startling play list each time, he has a knack for making me feel that bit better about life, and humanity. Little bits of life philosophy interspersed between songs, diversity, acceptance, recognition that we are all flawed and messy and doing what we can with that. He’s my current favourite for world leader. He has also made me realise how ground down I am by the cruel, shitty, destructive, toxic behaviour of too many humans.

I can’t reasonably turn away from the things that are driving me a bit mad sometimes. I can’t ignore extinctions, climate change, austerity, human rights abuses, eco-system destruction and all that greed achieves out there. But I can cry over it, and walk, and listen to Iggy Pop, and in that mix it might be possible to be present, and not be broken by it.


Bloody, bold and resolute?

My understanding of what Druidry might be, and how I might manifest it, is an ongoing project. I doubt I’ll ever settle into a state of thinking I have it figured out. It’s complicated, because we don’t have the details of ancient practice, and if we did it probably wouldn’t translate well into another setting. There are many things influencing the varied approaches to modern Druidry, too. Rationalism, Christianity, eastern religions, and shamanic traditions from around the world can all be looked to for ideas and inspiration. What is my Druidry? How am I doing it?

Meditation has always been an important part of the mix for me, but western approaches tend to stand on the shoulders of eastern ones. I don’t do well with the meditation of the empty mind. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the possibilities of calm, unattached, in the moment and the like. Occasionally I find it helpful in small doses, but as a direction to move in, I find it unsatisfying, and it makes me uneasy. My emotions are part of how my body works, my body is a manifestation of nature, and anything that moves me towards tidying up my emotional responses reduces my experience of inspiration and by extension my creativity.

Some weeks ago I saw something that affected me profoundly. I saw Robin Herne at Leaping Hare, telling a tale from Irish mythology. It was a very human story, full of pride and ambition, and jostling for position in a complex society. It was also a story about wisdom, courage and mostly avoiding either violent or cowardly outcomes. Robin laced the tale with ribald humour, and he told it with passion, bringing to life the intensity of characters for whom pride, honour, status and action all matter more than death. The story, and the manner of its telling left me thinking about who I am, and who I want to be. It’s taken me a while to process that, but coming out of a depressed patch, it’s something I want to think about.

So often, the very idea of spirituality seems to be about resolving ourselves into peaceful, unconflicted, uncomplicated, at one with everything, able to take anything calmly in our stride sort of people. Either by letting go, or by faith in deity, or the calming influences of the right practices, we can free ourselves from trouble and discomfort. I’m not that. Too much of my identity is tied up in being a bit unseelie, mournful, gothic. I’m passionate by nature and passion is not reliably peaceful. I think too much and feel too much for such a path, and I have no desire to relinquish that for a spiritual idea that not feeling what my body feels would somehow be a good thing.

I have a confession: I like trouble and discomfort far too much to want to get rid of them entirely. Not because I enjoy being ill or hurting, but because on a good day, I can respond to a challenge. Trouble tests my wits, skills, honour and abilities. Trouble is when I get the chance to do something heroic, to be more than I had thought possible. Discomfort pushes me to learn and adapt, to take onboard difficult things, to open myself to the world or to protect myself from it, depending on the lessons. Peace, comfort and stability may seem nice, but if I seek those states and try to hang on to them, how am I also to be open to the pain of others and to their challenges? I can’t get freedom from pain for terminally ill friends, I can’t magic peace for the heartbroken and depressed. I can at least be there for them and try to understand, but I have no sense this is possible unless I am willing to share their distress, and be uncomfortable too.

Do I want to offer everyone else a simple, peaceful, untroubling and uneventful sort of tranquil life? I admit that I do not. I would prefer to be the grit that makes pearls, the spur to action. I love the primal figures who step out of myths with challenges and trials for mortals. Such beings I hold as sacred. Bloody, bold and resolute seems like a good way to go.


Spiritual superiority and how it will hurt you

You’re a spiritual person. You’ve adopted a way of life, a practice, a set of beliefs, and you’ve done this because they strike you as being good and right and likely to make your life better. Maybe for a while life is better, and you feel uplifted, reassured, affirmed and good about what you are doing.

Something goes wrong.

You can count on this. Someone gets ill, or dies, or is hurt, someone else’s anger impacts on you, or your boss is shitty or you lose your job or some practical thing stops working or explodes, or one of those things happen to someone you care about or somewhere in the world some awful thing happens and the images on the TV make you cry.

Then what?

The sane and sensible answer is to admit that your religion is not a cure-all and that you are not so enlightened and magical and special as to be able to avoid all of this. Other options are available though. What the other options do is allow you to uphold the superiority of the system you are in, or perpetrate an illusion of your spiritual superiority. None of this does a person, or the people around them much good in the long term.

  • Denial: Just refuse to let yourself think about it or admit there is a problem.
  • Blame: It’s the other person’s fault for thinking negative thoughts, having bad karma, not trying hard enough.
  • Justify: This is really good for you, that’s why it’s happened.
  • Insulation: practicing not caring so as not to feel either your own troubles or anyone else’s.

None of these choices help us improve situations. Pushed far enough and any of them can turn into cognitive dissonance – where the story you tell yourself about what’s happening is so far removed from reality as to be dangerous to you. This is what happens when victims convince themselves that their abusers are only doing it as an expression of love, for example.

Often, when you infer the existence of a higher plan, a spiritual failing or a deservedness to explain something awful, what you do is remove any need to take action. It ceases to be your problem, and while that has an insulating quality, it also dehumanises all of us. It dehumanises the person whose situation is being explained so as to be ignored, and it dehumanises the one who is refusing to recognise that sometimes, life is a bit shit.

Sometimes, life is a bit shit, and if we can be honest with ourselves and each other, we can do something to alleviate the shit bits, sometimes. No one is so saintly, enlightened, magical, or clever enough to avoid the nastier sides of life. Anyone who claims otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.


Affection and anxiety

When we are small and not yet using language much, physical interactions tell us who we are. Children mimic what they see, and learn to use their bodies in part by emulating what others do. Physical affection gifts us with regular affirmations and proof of acceptability. I’ve seen a lot of things online (so it must be true!) that longer lasting hugs have anxiety reducing effects. My own experience would seem to bear this out, as long bouts of being held will bring anxiety down more effectively than anything else I’ve tried.

It might be fair to assume from all of this that a child who is seldom touched could well be more anxious. My personal experience, of being largely untouched and a deeply anxious child, seems to go with this. Both sides of my family struggle with physical expressions of affection. I know one part of that story probably has a lot to do with serious abuse, the other side remains a mystery. My more immediate ancestors did not go in for affection much, and so awkwardness, anxiety and untouchability is handed down, one generation to the next. If you don’t feel acceptable, and you do feel anxious, you aren’t well placed to seek affection, and so the cycles continue.

The threads of how we got to be as we are can weave back into the past far beyond our own lives. (If this interests you, there is Druidry and the Ancestors). Unpicking those threads is not easy, and if they lead back to the dead, there may never be proper explanations. However, simply recognising that you may be living out an ancestral pattern that you’ve learned, and that what happens might not be a manifestation of who and how you are, enables change, I am finding.

As a child and young teen, I was almost incapable of touching anyone affectionately. I had a fear of contact. I still don’t really know how to seek comfort when distressed, because that just isn’t part of my frames of reference. I was told off for crying far more often than I was comforted. In my teens I made the simple discovery that sexual activities could be traded for, or would create a passable match for affection, and this opened the door to just how deeply I craved affection, in whatever form I could get it. This did not lead to the wisest choices imaginable. Which in turn has left me with a lot of anxieties around physical contact.

Recent years have brought different experiences, and those in turn make it possible to think differently. There is affection in my life now that comes without any kind of price tag. That’s an absolute game changer. As I’ve got used to this, my overall levels of anxiety have come down perceptibly. Where I really trust how I physically interact with people, I feel a lot more secure. Those connections are not numerous, but in the process of working through the recent meltdown, the spaces I feel bodily safe have become more apparent to me. And also how profoundly I need those safe and affirming spaces. I’ve discovered it’s not just about bodily contact, but about body language, how space is shared, and all manner of subtle things about being around someone else.

Alongside it comes an awareness that if I cry, there are people I can rely on to handle that kindly – not to ridicule me or tell me off. People willing to stand between me and the world for a little while so that I can have the space to recover. People who do not seem to think any the less of me for that. Belonging may be as simple as a gentle hand on the shoulder when everything hurts. One thing is clear to me – these are not issues any of us can tackle alone.


The Druid and the day job

Do we hold work life as separate from our spiritual lives? As my Druidry is about what I do moment to moment, not occasional big gestures, I need to either be bringing my Druidry to my work, or working on things that are relevant to my values. Being self employed does not make this as easy as it might be fair to expect.

Very few authors are able to make a viable living out of their writing. Most Pagans who teach, lead, organise and write cannot make a viable living that way even if they do it full time. Pagans and authors alike will tend to have other income streams as a matter of necessity, which unhelpfully feeds into the idea that the work you feel called to do is a ‘hobby job’. For some this means a regular day job. For some of us it means saying yes to almost anything that slightly resembles what we really want to be doing – which can lead to some uneasy compromises. For the self employed, taking time off is a massive issue – you are only paid for what you do, there is no sick or holiday pay, and you don’t know what next month will bring so all too often, self employed folk take on all the work they can. It means trading security for flexibility, it gives you more control, but little leisure, and you don’t always feel able to say no to jobs you don’t like.

Inevitably, some of my day jobs have been happier, more rewarding and more meaningful to me than others. When I don’t feel like I’m adding something of value through my efforts, I am more likely to get depressed.

At the moment, I have a fantastic work arrangement that I’m really enjoying. I’m now officially the publicist at Moon Books. This means spending a chunk of time every week talking about books, supporting authors, and trying to find things those authors can be doing that also benefit the Pagan community. This works for me in a number of ways – I’m working with people I like and who inspire me. I have control over when I work, and a lot of scope for deciding how I work which allows me to be creative. Enabling other people to be creative is part of what I think I’m for – that used to be more of an unpaid calling aspect of what I do, but it’s no hardship to be paid for it. If what I do makes it more viable for other people to be professional authors and full time Pagans – awesome.

I’ve come to realise over the last year or so that I am happiest when my books are under no pressure to pay the household bills, when I have something interesting to do that doesn’t depend on lots of inspiration flowing, and when I feel useful. At the moment, the different strands of my working life are delivering this. It helps that I have an awesome boss. Trevor Greenfield has always been everything I could want in a publisher. He’s also everything I could want in a person I am answerable to – fair, clear, reliable, supportive, willing to trust me and not inclined to keep me on a tight leash. Day jobs, like so many aspects of life, depend on good relationship.


Poison Pen Letters to Myself

Like Romany, I’ve written poetry in self defence for a long time. It’s cheaper than therapy and as methods for bleeding out pain go, it’s a lot safer than many of the available alternatives. I have old books full of dark, angry, wounded words, and I would not share them. There are many kinds of exposure I will brave, but this isn’t one of them.

Romany’s book is a brave sharing of a tough journey, through poetry that clearly spans years. There’s not much autobiographical detail to pin it to – and that works well, because if my reaction was anything to go by, this is a book that manages to transcend the individuality of pain and speak to long dark nights of the soul in a way anyone who has suffered depression might recognise. It is a very odd feeling, to look at words I could have written, and see that it isn’t just me. I can think of a number of times in my life when a book like this would have eased the terrible isolation that deep depression creates. Depression helps a person feel like no one else could possibly bear to hear much less be able to understand, and Romany demonstrates that it isn’t true.

I suspect anyone dealing with the depression of a loved one will also benefit from this book, because it gives a fair idea of what it’s like to be inside a dark place.

It’s no good telling a depressed person that things can get better, because depression takes away the scope for believing this. It’s also often no good telling a depressed person what they should do to be less depressed – they are unlikely to have either the will or the energy or the necessary belief. I know, when I am down, how pressured I feel by the need to be well and functional, and it’s so easy to add to that, with the best possible intentions. There are no cures here, no magic solutions, no instructions, and there are times when that’s really helpful. There’s the catharsis of sharing and recognising, and there is a woman on a journey to a better way of thinking about things, and you can just go with her, and see what happens. No demand, no pressure, no guarantees, either.

If any of this chimes, you might want to pick up the book –


Pondering gender identity

Two blogs in the last week or so have really got me thinking about gender identity issues. Read them, they are awesome. http://www.wildyoga.co.uk/being-an-ally/ https://locksley2010.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/magic-and-a-thing-called-gender/

I find gender identity difficult. From the outside I look simple enough – born a woman in a woman’s body, mum, married to a guy. Except… gender has never been the primary focus for attraction. I fall in love with people. Since I hit puberty, I’ve found this body a weird and alien place to inhabit. I didn’t much like it as a child, but it made more sense then than it does now with curves and hormones. And yet, it also made sense to me when I was pregnant, a rare patch of feeling some coherence in myself. I find anything around binary gender difficult, and women’s mysteries remain a total mystery to me. I tolerate my body, uneasy in it, accepting it as best I can.

Back at uni, I dabbled in psychology, and played with tests, and confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt that I am psychologically androgynous. Whatever that means. Most of the time I feel like I have no idea how to be female. Some of that is about culture, and personal experience, but the truth of it is that I do not identify much with my gender. I have no desire to be male, either (except occasionally on long walks where the need to pee generates a bit of penis envy).

In my heart of hearts, I often wish to appear genderless. On reflection I think this is primarily cultural. It is because I do not want people to relate to me in terms of my gender identity, or what they assume my gender identity to be. People who cause me to be conscious of myself as biologically female are, generally speaking making me uncomfortable, either because there’s something sexually predatory, lecherous etc, or because I’m being confined to some kind of gender norm. Equally, the people I feel happiest with enable me to feel like a person. It’s much easier to bring my head and heart into connection with someone else’s head and heart when who has which reproductive organs isn’t much of an issue.

In my ideal spaces, how I dress and the shape that I am makes no discernible difference to how people relate to me. I feel more comfortable with people who relate to my ideas and actions, who do not read intention into clothing or consent into skin.

My sexual identity, my gender identity, the social identity I want, is ‘person’. This is hugely important to me. But, binary approaches to gender, and the way in which social ideas about how we construct male and female identities, make that difficult. I don’t want to undermine anyone else’s identity, I know that the gendered aspect of identity is really important to some people. I don’t want to be genderqueer, I’m not asexual, because these are both labels that come back to gender and sexuality and I do not want to be labelled on these terms. To resist being defined by my visible femaleness without offering some gender-orientated alternative tag for myself, is nigh on impossible. But here I am, nonetheless, wanting something that is not a gender identity. It’s taken me a long time to get here.


Mournful Poetry and the power of despair

This is a poem that came out of a number of things. I think it makes sense without the explanation, but I also think the explanation is interesting in its own right, so here we go. The content for this poem came out of two lunatic walking expeditions, one which took me over, the other under a motorway. In both cases, the increasing impact of the motorway sound on what else I could hear was quite a distressing experience, and on one walk produced a great sense of horror in my son. Most people only get near motorways when driving on them, which reduces this horror considerably. To stand in a field and hear it roar, is a whole other thing, and not pleasant at all.

Thing number two was an article about how you can hear the absences in ecosystems, and that any listening orientated science is hearing the hush descending on the non-human word. A deathly hush of absence.

Thing number three is Miserable Poet’s Cafe, which I went to last night and for which I needed material. This is the one I did not end up reading – there is a glimmer of hope at the end – and there wasn’t time. Still, I did win a bottle of very cheap wine.

 

Silence falling

Allow me to render you unquiet, and unhappy

For there are uneasy truths I would inflict

Of deathly silence falling on ecosystems

No dawn chorus but a quiet straggle.

I invite you to be glum, to despair.

Have you heard the fox at midnight?

No wolf will howl for you, not on this shore.

Have you heard the haunting crane call?

Or the bittern boom at the edge of viability?

Owls and orcas, nightingale and narwal

Passing into myth on our watch

For future generations to place beside unicorns.

Have you heard the roar of motorway

The ever busy sound wound carving

Its angry self into land and air,

Always hungry, raging over miles to eat up

The subtle songs of hedgerow dwellers.

Have you heard the fevered squeal of late night

Just having a laugh at 80 would be racers

Thunder of aircraft tearing the sky, the insidious whir

Of fans, coolers, air conditioning, the sound

Of life being stolen from the future,

One loud pluck at a time.

I invite you to hear the ruined world song

And despair.

Only in grief will there be hope.

 

(*and yes, I know there are people trying to reintroduce wolves to the UK, but I’ve never heard one here and most of us never will.)

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,809 other followers