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.

Big fish, small pond

There are a lot of personal advantages to being a big fish in a small pond. It’s good for your self esteem, your feelings of worth, usefulness and recognition. It is of course rather challenging to come out of the small pond and suddenly find you are a pretty small fish in a much bigger pond.

Many people are very good at creating small spaces in which to be big fish. I see a lot of it around me where I live, and I see it in the Pagan community too. It’s not so difficult to be big in your local Pagan community. Of course often that means in the rest of your local community, you’re insignificant.

There are all kinds of ways this can cause a person problems. An inflated sense of self worth can trip you up and invites massive embarrassment. The person who has to say ‘do you know who I am?’ is a fish out of the pond that validated them. Frustration at not being a big fish in the small pond can make people insecure, cranky and a problem to themselves and others. Being able to see the bigger pond in which you would be a small fish can do all the same things. Getting caught up in this does a person no good at all. The desire to be important often proves a barrier to getting anything worthwhile done, as well.

We weren’t designed to exist in a global community of billions. We evolved for small groups. Most of us see more people in a year than a mediaeval peasant would have seen in their entire life. We seem geared to deal with a larger network of a few hundred people at most. When we deal with other people in such numbers as these, it’s a very different experience.

In a community of a few hundred people, everyone knows everyone. No one is irrelevant. Any skill, or significant action will stand out and be noticed. Everyone can shine at their own thing. It’s unlikely anyone will cast such a long shadow that they cause a lot of other people to disappear.

In comparison, most of us will never be more than statistics, and most of us will disappear from history and memory when we die. Most of us will not have our centenaries acknowledged, or our legacies discussed.

For our own sanity, we all need small spaces where we can exist as people and feel valued. Alongside that, we all need to be able to deal with the issue that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t count for much.

It was Stroud Book Festival this weekend. I was doing venue work, not there as an author, but my being an author came up in a couple of conversations. “Should I have heard of you?” someone asked. I said, “no, I’m pretty niche.” And that, mostly, is the size of it.

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Politics and adverts

Last week, an advert from the company Iceland was banned. In practice it’s a little bit more complicated because much of the content was created by Greenpeace, and apparently there are some nuances around ’banned’ when it comes to what’s allowed on the TV. It’s not allowed out (as far as I can make out) because Greenpeace are considered to be a political organisation and therefore any content that comes from them is deemed too political for screens and isn’t allowed.

Here’s the Clearcast statement regarding the advert.  – https://www.clearcast.co.uk/press/iceland-advert/ 

Not knowing the rules about adverts, I poked around. This is a useful bit of the government’s website for anyone who wants to look. No doubt somewhere there’s a detailed version written in difficult legal jargon, but this is at least the official gist of it. https://t.co/WwIc2Hy6iM

One of the things that becomes evident reading through, is that the status quo is fine, and change is political – or at least potentially political. Now, as I see things, there are huge political implications to the status quo, and this means business as usual gets to lobby anyone with a screen on a daily basis to persuade us that business as usual is just fine and dandy.

Greed, consumerism, waste, throw-away possessions, pollution, constant growth, capitalism, market economies – these are all part of business as usual. We are killing ourselves and the planet with business as usual, but because it’s normal, encouraging it isn’t considered political.

Take the car industry – with implications for road building, tax, air pollution, noise pollution, climate change, peak oil, road deaths, premature deaths from air pollution… these are all political issues. These are all issues that require governments to spend money. Many of them are issues that kill people. Transport is a big issue in terms of climate change. People with TVs are reminded on a daily basis of how good and desirable their cars are, because it’s business as usual and that’s fine, apparently. Car companies are not considered political, despite the massive political implications of car production.

Adverts for flights to exotic destinations are much the same. The fashion industry is a massive polluter, but apparently there are no political implications to showing adverts for clothes that help us wreck the planet. We can watch all the adverts we like for shampoos that are using palm oil and destroying habitats, but we can’t watch something that invites us to question this.

So much around us is set up to affirm that how we do things is fine, and change is suspect. We’re killing ourselves. We’re killing life on Earth. Business as usual is destructive, poisonous and unsustainable and we have to challenge the assumption that if something is normal, that’s a good thing. We need to radically change everything that humans do, which is a massive task. Doing it in the face of constant normalising and encouraging of all the most damaging things, makes it all that bit harder.

Here’s that Greenpeace/Iceland advert.


Gatherer of Souls – a review

Gatherer of Souls, by Lorna Smithers, is a collection of poetry and short stories about Gwyn ap Nudd that offers a radical re-think of Arthurian mythology. Physically speaking, this is a small book – 114 pages – but what it covers is both vast and important.

Lorna has been studying Arthurian mythology for some time, going into older texts, and reading in more detail than most of us do. What she’s unearthed – and followers of her blog will already know about this – is the questionable nature of Arthur’s activities. We’re been sold Arthur as chivalric hero, protector of Britain, once and future king… but get into his stories and it’s all slaughter and theft. He’s a personification of patriarchy, and a killer of old mysteries and magics.

This is a book that assumes its readers have probably read some of the Arthurian material and aren’t basing all their knowledge on modern, pop-culture representations. I suspect that without at least an awareness of the older material, this would be a challenging read.

The Gatherer of Souls referred to in the title is Gwyn ap Nudd – a character whose story is interlaced with Arthur’s in legends. It seems likely that he is a far older figure. He is the ruler of Annwn – the realm Arthur plunders for treasures. He’s associate with faery, with otherworlds, underworlds and the dead. He is the enigma at the centre of the book, and even though Lorna gives us some pieces in his voice, he remains beyond us, essentially unknowable.

The use of voices in this collection is fascinating – across time, they speak of experiences and encounters that connect with Arthurian versions but recast them from different perspectives. The voices of those who have no voices in the usual versions of the tales. Often these are figures whose deaths are a brief interlude on the way to some victory or another. In telling these other tales, Lorna deconstructs the way Arthur as patriarch abuses wildlife, women, and anything magical or other.

It’s a very intense book, and I found I had to read it slowly and make time for digesting before I tried to move on. I’m confident it’s a book that will reward re-reading because there’s so much going on here that one read doesn’t do it justice. I find these are stories I needed. Arthur has been in my life as long as I can remember. I first became uneasy about him as a figure when failing to plough through Le Morte D’Arthur, struggling with the absence of real enchantment. It came into focus for me while working on a graphic novel of the same book and seeing again how empty and uneasy I find this supposedly chivalric dream.

I’ve been following Lorna’s blogs for some time, and I’ve learned a great deal from her work on Arthurian myths. I find the creative responses she’s shared in this book answer a need in me. A hunger I didn’t know I had for some other, wilder, and not-kingly take on things.

I heartily recommend this book. You can buy it here – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/ 


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.


Druidry and making our own environments

Following on from yesterday’s blog about nature and nurture, I want to think about how taking up a spiritual path can involve deliberately changing your environment in order to change yourself. I suspect there are elements of this in any path, but Druidry is what I know best.

We can be quite critical of the apparently superficial things people do when they come to Paganism. Early on, some people can seem to be more about the surfaces than anything else. The bling, the clothes, the pretty things. It’s something I’ve tended to be suspicious of. However, I’m fortunate in that I grew up with music, folklore, and wildlife. For the person who grows up in a ‘muggle’ environment, sorely lacking in magic and creativity, the jump to Paganism can be a big one. Changing the surfaces around you can help affirm that jump and make it seem real, I realise.

Making our environment, and ourselves look ‘pagan’ can be part of a process for change. If what’s around us affirms our choices, we’ll perhaps be better equipped to act on them. It may be that we spend a lot of our time in environments that are banal and soulless, and that dressing the part and covering your home in green men is a necessary push back against that. What looks like a superficial, consumer-orientated approach may in fact be a way of creating space for Paganism, and for changing personally. It depends on what a person is looking for.

If you use environmental shifts to support personal changes, then they can help you. If you are buying Pagan things because you like the look, and a few years hence maybe you’ll take up a steampunk look, or a hippy look… then it won’t make much odds. If you want a pretty surface as a temporary amusement I don’t rate the chances of it transforming your life. If you are changing how things look around you, and how you look to reinforce other things you are doing, it’s likely to do that.

Take a glance around your living space and consider what’s there primarily to give a physical presence to your beliefs. Perhaps you have an altar, a depiction of deity, a green man. I have house plants and a scattering of fossils picked up on walks. And I do also have some dry mistletoe. I have art on the walls that, while not overtly Druidic, does things for me. I live in a colourful, chaotic space that reflects what I do. Other people may find soothing tones, or minimalism reflects their spiritual identity – there’s no one right answer here.

Doing things to your home to make it look more druidy, or witchy, or shamanic will require you to think about what that means. Where does a big TV screen fit into that? Do your kitchen cupboards reflect your path? If you walk into the bathroom and looked at the products there, do they affirm your sense of being a Pagan? If you align your living space with your beliefs, you may end up making radical changes to do that, and thus what starts out as a superficial, simple thing about looking the part can become a serious process of walking your talk.


Nature, Nurture, Environment and Choice

How the balance between nature and nurture shapes us is something psychologists have been arguing about for about as long as there have been psychologists. How much of who we are comes from the genetic material we inherit, and how much comes from the environment we are exposed to? Faced with these two great forces, do we have much free will at all, or can we only be products of our biology and experience?

Once we become old enough to act for ourselves to any degree, we become active co-creators in making and choosing our environments. What we let ourselves dwell on, what we look at, listen to, go back to repeatedly – these are all things that shape us environmentally, and we do get a say in them. There’s a lot of practical difference between reading a book of nature poems and reading a fascist newspaper, for example. Why we choose one over the other may have a lot to do with where we came from, but at any time, any of us can choose these experiences, or refuse them.

Do you go for a walk in the wood or do you stare at your phone for an hour? Are you listening to music you love or is there some kind of wallpaper noise on in the background? Do you pause in your day to appreciate the good things and to express gratitude? Do you make time for self care or do you treat yourself like a disposable resource? How much time do you spend on things that give you joy, and how much time do you spend doing things you think are pointless, boring, or unpleasant? Do you go online to seek out inspiration, or to pick fights?

It’s in our smallest choices within a day that we construct the environment we inhabit.  It is easiest for us to do the things that align with where we’ve come from, but it isn’t inevitable. A little curiosity to explore what we don’t know can open up our choices no end. A willingness to notice what we feel good about and what we don’t and take action on it can lead to radical and powerful life changes. Often it’s the things we do with least thought, as habit, as what people like me do, that define us without our knowing it. No doubt some backgrounds and experiences make it harder to be the kind of adult who can look at how they live and make deliberate changes. Harder, but not, I think, impossible.

We are all shaped, one way and another, by where we come from. It’s easy to mistake that starting point for ‘real’ self. We are all full of far more potential and possibility than we can explore in one lifetime. We all have the scope to be more than we are, and other than we have been. Real freedom comes from owning that, taking total responsibility for who you are, and then living from a place of choice rather than habit.

 


When it isn’t drama

For the person in crisis or recovering from trauma, the accusation of being a drama queen is an experience of being kicked when you’re down. From the outside, it can be hard to see what you’re dealing with – especially where old wounds, hidden traumas and invisible triggers are concerned. That it would not be a crisis for you is not a measure of a thing. Context can also play a big part, with poverty, ill health and other such problems turning what might be mole hills for the well resourced, into impossible mountains.

How do you tell what to do when you can’t tell what’s really going on?

I think the first question to ask is about your own resources. If you have time, energy and comfort, if you are well resourced then you can certainly afford to spend some time acting with sympathy in response to a problem. If you aren’t well enough resourced to help much, you have to take those limits into account.

The person who is in crisis is unlikely to try and burden you further if it looks like you too cannot cope. People in crisis know about being pushed towards the edge. However, people interested in being centre stage and wanting there to be a drama that revolves around them are much more likely to demand your help even if you’ve been clear that you can’t do much.

Poverty, debt and illness can lead you into vicious circles and downward spirals and create one crisis after another. Frequency of crisis is not therefore a sign that someone is definitely doing drama. However, people who don’t enjoy drama are often awkward and embarrassed about asking for help. They are more likely also to feel responsible for what’s happened to them even if it isn’t in any way their fault. Drama enthusiasts, on the other hand, seldom feel responsible even when they are.

People in crisis do what they can to get out of the crisis. They may do it badly, they may make bad choices along the way, or be too proud to get help when they could have done, and that doesn’t always look great from the outside, but it isn’t drama. People who like drama can be remarkably good at not finding solutions or getting things fixed and keeping things in drama mode for far longer than necessary. They also tend to want the solutions to come from somewhere other than themselves. The desire for attention is more important than the desire to get things sorted out.

Of course often it isn’t this binary. Drama llamas can have real crises. People dealing with relentless, grinding challenges can become very hungry for care and attention in a way that also blurs the edges. There’s also the factor that the would-be helper isn’t neutral in all of this. If you could help and don’t want to, that doesn’t make the person asking for help a drama queen. If the problems aren’t solvable – as with chronic illness – it doesn’t mean the person is less deserving of what help can be given. If you resent the attention someone else is getting for being in crisis, that might be about you, and not them at all.


Life goals and spiritual goals

We live in a goal-orientated society. Success is understood in terms of achievement, goals and markers. Qualifications, promotions, pay increases, a bigger house, a more expensive car… we set up goals and chase them and then, when we’re done, we head for the next goal. There’s no space here to feel happy or fulfilled, and this is part of what keeps us locked into consumerism. People who feel unfulfilled can be persuaded that products will answer this need.

Now, in some ways, moving goalposts are unavoidable. If you have any investment in improving yourself, you’ll always see ways in which you can improve. One of the signs of knowing more, or deepening a skill is that your scope to see what else you could achieve always increases too. However, this is a constant process, and it doesn’t create goals that you can easily brag about.

Paganism does offer us ‘levels’, titles, certificates, and all the things that help us live a goal-orientated life. What does it mean to be a successful Pagan? How many books and articles must you have published? How many followers must you have? How much must you be able to charge for courses? And what does it do to your spiritual path if your path becomes all about the number of moots you can run, and students you can sign up? The more goal-focused we are, the more the spiritual things may slip from our grasp.

For me, spiritual growth has proved to be a lot like growing as a creator. I can’t tell you what exactly it is that makes me a better colourist than I was a few years ago, but I know I am. Many tiny things have changed day to day as I’ve worked on comics pages. There are things I know because I’ve done them a lot. There’s the consequence of showing up to the table and doing the work. I know I’ve improved and I can see it.

On the Druid side it gets even harder to explain. There’s the same process of showing up. At the moment I am showing up for the land as much as I can. I know things that I did not know before but as much of it is body knowledge I’m still struggling to put it into words. It doesn’t make me a better druid than any other druid, but I feel it as growth and I feel I’m a better druid than I used to be. I am not trying to compete with anyone else, any more than it makes sense for me to try and compete as a colourist with other colourists who have totally different styles and intentions.

My success is a process. It’s a day to day thing with no real goals; only to deepen and widen and become more. I see very similar things happening in my relationships, in my writing and thinking. I have no specific ambitions, which I’m finding liberating. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone else any more, which is a great relief. This success process allows me to celebrate small things all the time. It allows me to feel sufficiently satisfied with my life not to be miserable. It also keeps me on my toes enough not to feel bored or stagnant. I can enjoy what I have because I’m not focused on the next goal. At the same time, I can develop and grow. I don’t have to look at anyone else’s version of success and compare mine in order to feel validated.

 

(thank you Tommy Elf for the inspiration to write this – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/looking-for-advancedpagan-practices-roll-for-initiative/ )


Playing with clothes

Somewhere in my teens I figured out that I could take a scissors and needle to the clothes available to me and make them more to my liking. At seventeen I bought a new – entirely new to me – dress for the first time in my life and it was a memorable moment. I’ve never wanted to be fashionable. I’ve spent most of my life not trying to dress in a way anyone would find sexy. But I do like clothes and I like dressing up.

The fashion industry is wasteful, polluting and planet damaging. I’ve also never really understood why anyone would want mass produced clothes that you leave you looking bland and identical. For me, one of the great joys in upcycling and making from scratch is that most of what I have is unique.

I do buy new things – sometimes because I need clothes that do a specific job and I can’t afford to wait for them to show up second hand. As I walk for transport, I need robust and weather-appropriate attire. When items of clothing die, I do my best to re-invent them, or take what bits are still in good condition and turn them into something else. I have a lot of fun doing this, and it is the principle source of unique clothing in my possession.

In the last week or so, I’ve taken usable fabric from four shirts that where worn out, stained or damaged and could not be worn as they were. I have five items of clothing from these – radically different to what went before. To achieve this, I bought two meters of broidery anglais and half a meter of stiffening fabric – it has a name and I can’t remember it! The principle damage to two shirts was below the armpit, leading to two sleeveless tops, the sleeves from one top being used to replace sleeves on another top, where the cuffs were worn out. The other set of removed sleeves went into making a hat. Salvageable bits of sleeve from the dead-sleeve shirt went into widening the bust on the last shirt (not originally mine). I was, I admit, rather pleased with myself.

I needed some additional wardrobe items for one of the jobs I’m doing. I’ve saved myself a lot of money by working over items that were free. I look a touch eccentric, and I like that, and I’ve put far less in the bin than I would otherwise have done. The clothes I have created aren’t exactly smart, but they will do.

One of the great things about taking a scissors to an unusable item of clothing, is that the pressure is off. As it stands, the item is only fit for the bin or recycling. If you get it wrong, you can still do that. If you get it right, and can get a few extra wears even, you’ve won. It’s safe enough to play and experiment. I do sometimes buy extras to lift an upcycled item, but I only do that when I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s not necessary, often, so aside from the cost of the thread and needles, there’s very little outlay. You can get a lot of upcycling out of a reel of thread. You can get a lot of fun out of the remaking – so it can double as a low cost hobby and way to amuse yourself.

If you can’t sew – it’s not that hard and youtube has tons of tutorials. Your otherwise ruined and unwearable clothes are great to practice on as you build skills.


In SatNav We Trust – a review

One of the great things about being a reviewer is when authors come back to share their new adventures in life and publishing. Back in 2013 I reviewed Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. Now he’s back, with something completely different!

Over a period of six weeks, Jack toured every county in England – the historic ones, not the modern metropolitan areas because he was camping and no one in their right mind wants to camp in a metropolitan area. This is an adventure that from my perspective, involves alarming amounts of driving, but, there’s a lot of good in it, so, I’m going to focus on that.

Taking in a county a day is of course just a ruse. It allows the author to have experiences and reflect on life, landscape, free will, identity, and rationality. It is the philosophical process that really engaged me, more than the often surreal exploration of England. For anyone who enjoys some non-academic philosophy, this is a great read – it’s all totally accessible and highly relevant to how we live and think.  Ideas about rationality and the place of the irrational in our lives are probably going to stay with me in perpetuity.

All too often, adventure writing is about the antics of privilege – it’s usually for the well off and well resourced. Adventure is usually portrayed as ‘away’ in some distant, exotic place. Adventurers so often go looking for pristine landscapes to adventure in, away from other humans – In SatNav We Trust is a glorious rejection of all of that. Jack goes to camp sites. He camps in places that anyone could camp in, and while his adventure format isn’t for everyone, he signposts the scope for much more affordable adventuring. The book demonstrates that a person can have interesting experiences without having to sleep on the side of a mountain, or having to dig holes to poo in!

I can probably forgive Jack for the miles he clocks up on this tour, simply because he demonstrates how we can have adventures where we live. Every county has plenty to offer. There’s history, landscape and fascinating people to be found everywhere and anywhere. It’s ok to be a small scale adventurer, finding joy and excitement in the little discoveries along the way.

The book is written with wit and self awareness. It’s entertaining, and thoughtful, and easy to dip in and out of. It may well be the sort of book people end up buying as a gift for Father’s Day. It’s also an invitation to plan your own mad tour on whatever terms you like. A tour of places that have given their names to cheese rather appeals to me.

Taking the adventure one step further, Jack Barrow is publishing with Unbound. For those of you not familiar with this, it’s an unusual publishing company that raises subscriptions and then publishes once a book is funded. Historically, a lot of houses used to do this, often depending on rich patrons to get a book moving. These days of course crowd funding allows us all to get involved. You can get a copy of this book by pledging now, and then when it funds, everything moves and you get a copy. As with other crowdfunding arrangements, if you want more than just a book, there are options – do saunter over to the website and have a look! https://unbound.com/books/in-satnav-we-trust/

And there’s more information about the book over here – http://jack-barrow.com/travelogue-in-satnav-we-trust/