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.

Miserere – a review

 

Miserere, by Teresa Frohock is a fantastic fantasy novel. At risk of a little bit of spoilering, I’d like to explain what happened to me as I read the first few chapters…

Chapter one… ah, Catholic mediaeval fantasy with angels and demons and Latin, and prayers as spells and all that.

Chapter two: Why are we in the present day? Is this a portal story? Then where/when were we before? This is not what I thought it was.

Chapter three: This world building is very exciting.

And from that point I had a great deal of trouble putting it down.

There were a number of things I particularly liked about this book. I immediately loved the fact that of the four main characters, three are middle aged. They’ve already lived and loved and made terrible mistakes and done problematic things to each other and they are messy and flawed and very real. As a middle aged reader, it’s rather pleasing to have some middle aged fantasy action.

Of the four main characters, three are women. Two are middle aged women, and one is a child. They all kick ass.

There’s some wonderful background content about religious diversity. That made me very happy.

Horses have names. People care about them. They are not disposable modes of transport.

The writing is excellent – this is an author with a strong and distinctive voice, able to craft powerful turns of phrase, to capture scenes in a few lines and to quickly give a sense of character. The pacing is excellent.

I shall be seeking out more books from this author, she offers the blend of escapism and relevance in her work that I crave. The fantasy side is suitably fantastic, the human and emotional side of the story is potent and full of truth.

You can find out more about Miserere here – https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Miserere/Teresa-Frohock/9781597802895

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Evil Sexy Women

You’ve probably run into this story too. There are two women. One is gentle, romantic and chaste. The other is sexually active, demanding, predatory. The actively sexual woman dresses in an overtly sexual way and may push her attentions towards the hero of the tale. She may seduce him. She may use her sexuality to hold power over him. By the end of the story, she will probably be dead, and the hero will get it together with the nice girl.

Outside of erotic fiction, the odds of running into a story about a woman who is both sympathetic and sexual, are much reduced. There’s the tart with a heart option – Pretty Woman being the most obvious example. There’s Salma Hayek in Desperado, and I’m struggling now to think of anyone else. It is normal in stories however, to associate enthusiasm for sex with being evil, and I can think of many examples of that. If a female character is at risk of being turned to the dark side, then as in Legend, or Mirror Mask, she’ll get a much sexier wardrobe.

The idea that a sexually potent woman has an unpleasant kind of power over men is with us in all kinds of ways, and not just in fiction. The idea that empowered female sexuality is inevitably disempowering for, and dangerous to men.

Looking back, I can see how much this kind of story got into my head and formed my sense of who I was supposed to be. It wasn’t until I got into the world of erotic fiction in my twenties that I had regular exposure to stories about women who are sexy and good. Stories about women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it, and are still good people. Stories about women with intense sexual appetites, who are also good people. The years I spent reading, and editing other people’s tales in which female sexuality was de-coupled from ideas about being a good or bad person, helped me enormously.

The idea that female sexuality is sinful to the point of being evil, is an idea that comes to us mostly through Christianity. Many of our Pagan stories have passed through the hands of Christian scribes, too, so it’s hard to know how much they have changed. I think about Blodeuwedd, made out of flowers and given to a man, turned into owls. I think about the innate promiscuity of flowers. I think about Aphrodite, and Ishtar and Mabh of the friendly thighs – there are better models for female sexuality out there.

I wonder also if I’d be more at ease with a female identity, and less drawn towards gender fluid stuff, if the evil sexy women who dominate our stories did not still have some space inside my head.


Saving the planet

When I hear people talking about saving the planet, I worry. Certainly there’s a great deal that must be changed if we are to survive as a species and not take even more of our fellow creatures down with us. However, we do not need to save the plant. We need to stop harming the planet. For me, it’s an important difference.

Imagine a scenario in which you have left a person tied up inside a building you have set fire to. You run back in time to ‘save’ them. This is the kind of ‘saving’ we are talking about when we talk about saving the planet. We urgently need to recognise that we are the ones who have caused the problems in the first place. If we stopped tying life to metaphorical chairs and setting fire to our actual home and habitat, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

We’re good at taking human agency out of the conversation. We talk about pollution, not the fact that humans are polluting the earth, air and water. We talk about extinction, not the fact that human activity is directly responsible for killing many of our fellow life forms. Terms like environmental degradation, habitat loss, deforestation, climate change, conservation, emissions – these words and many others like them all have one thing in common. There’s no direct reference to human activity here. We talk about all of these things as though they are things that are happening, not things we are causing. This in turn helps us ignore our personal and collective responsibility.

It would be nice to save the planet, wouldn’t it? But we’re not superheroes, we can’t ask huge things like that of ourselves and actually expect it to work.

If we talked instead about stopping trashing the planet, we might notice our own involvement in what’s wrong. Stop causing pollution. Stop cutting down trees. Stop killing other creatures. Stop dumping our crap in the oceans. It all has a very different ring to it – one that foregrounds the harm we do and our responsibility to do differently.

We need to stop talking about saving the planet, and start speaking in a way that recognises exactly what’s causing the problems in the first place.


When to run away

Anxiety creates strong urges to run away. Perhaps some people get fight as well as flight, but I suspect that panic is more likely to just kick off the flight impulse.

A few years ago I decided to give myself permission to act on my panic. I’d been through a lot of challenging situations where I’d had to stay put, no matter what it cost me. Staying with something that has panicked you so much that you feel an overwhelming urge to flee, is something I find not only emotionally tough, but takes a toll on my body as well. Not running away increases the stress. Not manifesting the stress in any visible way creates massive tension in me.

I talked with my nearest and dearest about strategies to manage my running away. We started planning how to handle situations that looked high risk for panic. It took the pressure off considerably. I’ve had to run away from a few things, and it’s generally been a good choice.

Of course running away is only a delaying tactic for some issues. It can be expensive in other ways. I’ve had two work related panic issues in the last year. Running away from workspaces means running away from money. I’ve run away from jobs before that were making me ill, and I’ve run away from a couple of volunteering situations as well. I have learned to put my mental health first, and created a living arrangement that allows me to get out if something is making me ill.

The most recent rounds have been remarkably different however, because both times, someone else has stepped forward with a solution to help me stay. I’ve said many times that I believe in community solutions to mental health problems, but it’s a whole other thing to have someone come in and offer just that. Situations I’ve stepped away from permanently haven’t offered support or much care that I was struggling. No one was willing to do things differently to accommodate me. Sometimes, there wasn’t even anyone willing to hear what the problem was. I don’t think this is unusual – we place the responsibility for mental health problems squarely on the shoulders of the person suffering.

However, when someone else can step in with a solution, everything changes. It means feeling heard and respected, feeling valued despite these problems. It means being given the chance to work in a way that is sustainable for me. It means the work I can do is seen as worth more than the bother of changing things to keep me viable.

Many workplaces are stressful and difficult. When we expect people to just shut up and put up with it, it is inevitable that some will crack under the pressure. We’re living with a mental health crisis that has been explicitly linked to work stress (but not widely reported – it was in a chief medical officer’s report a few years ago). It’s not that startling to discover that when we take care of each other, stress may be less of an issue and people may be less at risk of anxiety and depression. Community solutions work for illness caused by collective dysfunction, if only we have the will to implement them.


Review: Mapping the Contours by Nimue Brown

I love Lorna’s work, so her response to mine means a great deal to me…

Fruits of Annwn

mapping the contours by nimue brownThere’s something old about the poems in this book, a bone-deep knowing, a merging of self and land which is reflected in the cover image. It speaks of a time when the hills were the contours of giantesses, the curves of beautiful goddesses, a time that still is and is not with us now.

‘Walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself’ is the way bard and druid author Nimue Brown describes the process behind her new poetry collection Mapping the Contours. In the poem that provides the title she says ‘Human bodies are much like landscapes.’

In ‘Raised upon these hills’, one of the most beautiful hymns to a landscape I have ever read, Nimue evokes her lifelong relationship with the Cotswold Edge:

I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone,
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised…

View original post 307 more words


Nature: specific not generic

When we talk about ‘nature’ – as Pagans are wont to do – we run the risk of unwittingly defining nature in ways that are harmful. Covering all the life of the planet with one word reduces our sense of the diversity of what’s out there. We’re dealing with vast and complex systems of life and many different kinds of species. If we call all of that ‘nature’ and talk about ‘nature’ then we may encourage ourselves to think of nature as a single, simple thing.

If there is nature, there’s an implication that there’s also ‘not nature’. I think many of our problems currently are rooted in the idea that nature is other than us, and that we are separate from the rest of it. What happens to ‘nature’ may be sad – cue pictures of homeless orang-utans and whales full of plastic – but it isn’t happening to us. We aren’t nature. This is a dangerous way to think because we also breathe the air, drink the water, and eat what comes from the soil. The habitats we destroy are also human habitats.

The idea of pristine nature as something seperate from humans is an idea that enables us to keep damaging what’s around us. If we only care about nature as separate from human activity, we don’t protect the places where we can see human activity in the mix. When we see nature as being all around us, and present in every environment, when we see human constructs of part of a wider environment and ecosystem, we have to think differently. Whether that’s about hedgerows in farmland, urban trees, or what lives in our roof tiles, the nature around us needs our care.

It is of course a useful shorthand – hard to write a blog post like this without using it. On the whole though, I think it’s a word to watch out for. In many contexts, it is more effective and engaging to talk about something more specific. We can say ‘I go out into nature’ or ‘I go out into my local woodland’. I go out onto the hills where the larks are singing and orchids grow in amongst the long grasses. I go past the old industrial estate where a family of foxes have taken up residence.


Food and happiness

When the subject of food comes up in relation to happiness, it’s usually about comfort eating. And certainly, there are times when comfort eating is a thing. I’ve found toast really helps me ward off low-level depression – there’s nothing like low blood sugar to quietly bring you down. Food has a lot to offer us in terms of happiness.

Hunger, poor nutrition and low blood sugar will all contribute to feelings of gloom and misery. Eating a diet that supports your bodily and mental health obviously contributes to happiness. People dieting can be quick to cut out the fats, but brain and skin alike do need fats – plant derived ones are best. Amino acids from protein are essential for brain function, it is harder to feel happy if you aren’t getting enough amino acids in your diet. Protein is expensive, so poverty diets are likely to increase your unhappiness.

We live in a culture where fat shaming is normal, and where food is loaded with social and emotional messages for many people. However, food is essential to life, and as social creatures, food plays an important role (or can) in our interactions. Creating spaces where food can be approached in a comfortable and relaxed way, can really help improve happiness. Sharing nutritionally good food in easygoing company can be a source of great comfort, joy and pleasure. Being cooked for often registers with people as an expression of care. I’ve also heard many stories about older relatives who expressed love through food – and so long as that’s not your only expression, that’s fine.

Eating well takes care of some of our most basic needs. To eat well in a physically comfortable space as part of a community where you feel safe and welcome, answers a great many of our most basic needs. Taking the time to do this can be really powerful. When we feel under pressure to rush about, and eat solitary meals in a hurry, we miss out on a lot of good stuff, and we miss the social bonding that can happen around food.

I appreciate that for anyone with an eating disorder, food is stressful and problematic. I don’t have the experience to speak to that in much detail, I’ve only ever been on the edges of it. I think any of us can help with this by making food more comfortable and less stressful – not loading it emotionally with shame or with demands, not putting pressure on anyone over what they do, or do not eat, not making body size or appetite an issue – it all helps make eating less of an issue. Acceptance can be powerful and enabling.

If you’re concerned about someone else’s body shape, or about what they do, or do not eat, and the person is not your own small child, it’s not your job to tell them. A great deal of food-related bullying comes from people who are convinced they are being helpful. As though overweight and underweight people are unable to tell what’s going on with their bodies. Yes, sometimes illness distorts body sense, but if you aren’t either a mental health professional, or absolutely aware of how the person sees themselves, you’ve got no basis to take this on. Challenging people over their eating and body size usually has the effect of making them feel worse, disempowered, ashamed and miserable. None of these feelings enable a person to move towards a more sustaining relationship with food.

If you want to help someone have a happier relationship with food, quietly model that relationship, and give them a safe and supportive space in which they can make changes for themselves.


Ecolinguistcs, a review

 

Ecolinguistics is an academic book by Arran Stibbe, exploring the way in which language underpins how we treat the natural world. I think it’s a brilliant book and heartily recommend it. However, it is expensive, so you might want to look at co-owning one (an ideal solution for study groups and groves). Unfortunately, the ebook version isn’t much cheaper than the paperback. If you can’t afford £30 for a book, there is a free online course that covers much of the same material, but not in the same depth. http://storiesweliveby.org.uk/ I got lucky and picked up a copy during an online sale.

Ecolinguistics is a detailed exploration of how we use language to talk about the world we live in. It’s quite a technical approach, and at times hard work for the non-academic reader. I found I mostly had to take it in small bites. There’s a density of ideas here, too. If you like pondering the intricacies and nuances of language, this a marvellous thing to read. It dissects how different people use language and the effects it has. It gives us the tools to use language differently and to more compassionate ends. This is a deconstruction of how the language of economics, particularly, breeds greed and self interest.

Humans are storytelling creatures. That’s not just about books and tales, but about how we communicate with each other. We tell each other stories about our experiences. Adverts tell us stories, so do newspapers, politicians, think tanks, pressure groups, and the PR teams for big business. The language we are exposed to is part of our environment, and we are all influenced by what we’re exposed to – to some degree. Expose people to the calculating language of animals as stock, landscape as resource, trees as biomass, and we become colder, less caring, less willing to take care of what’s around us.

However the flip side of this is that when we use inclusive language, when our stories place us in a community of beings and in relationship with the land, we become more compassionate. When we tell each other stories of belonging and involvement, we become more generous and open hearted, able to care and to get involved.

For me, this is absolutely what Druidry should be about right now. This is a path that’s always held a balance of human culture and wider nature. Story telling is part of what we do. For me, this book was a massive encouragement to see what a Druidic approach can do. This book gives a person the tools to move from an intention to an evidenced way of working, and the reassurance to know that this kind of approach works. We can make a difference with the stories we tell, and the language we use.

I found Ecolinguistics to be an incredibly inspiring book that has promoted me to do some serious thinking about what I do, how I do it and what value it might have. I’m planning to come back and blog about specific language use that might be interesting to fellow Pagans – ideas about how we talk about the world. I’m also aware of having had my poetry influenced by reading this book, and a clearer set of intentions for that line of writing has come to me as a consequence of it. More of this as it develops.


Just being naive

You don’t live in the real world, they tell me. You don’t understand how it really is. You’re naive and an idiot. Well, maybe I am. But nonetheless I continue to believe that the world of soil and trees is the real world, while the world of economics, is fantasy. I believe that most people are ok, and that if you treat people kindly, most of them will be able to be kinder people.

The thing about my naivety is that the evidence backs it up. Under austerity, crime has gone up because more people are desperate. Resources are in fact finite where the logic of economics involves infinite growth. Everywhere universal basic income has been trialled, all kinds of social benefits follow. Both crime stats and hospital admissions go down.

What we do when we are grasping, and cynical about each other, living in the dog eat dog logic of a brutal real world, is we make everything worse. We make our own reality, collectively, and if we push this way, this is what we get. It is not inevitable, or necessary, it is a choice.

Other choices are available.

If we choose to be kinder to each other and to other species, things would be different. If we choose to live responsibly and within our means, we could change our relationship with the planet. From the dog-eat-dog perspective that would just be setting ourselves up to be beaten by other countries, passed by their willingness to exploit more than we do. We’d be weak, the underdog, the dog who is eaten in the dog-eat-dog world. Step back a moment and this looks more like a choice between destroying ourselves to ‘win’ some imaginary game that delivers nothing in terms of happiness, and not doing that.

The UK is the 5th biggest economy in the world, and yet we cannot, apparently, feed our hungry, home our people, keep our children out of poverty or protect our landscapes. It’s an odd sort of wealth that cannot achieve these things. It makes me ask what on earth a measure of wealth means given that life expectancy has gone down of late. From where I’m sat, it doesn’t look like wealth at all, it looks like terrible poverty and misery for many people. But hey, keep telling me about this real world you live in.


Uneconomic Growth

We seem to have collectively bought into the idea that growth is inherently good. In nature, growth is finite and exists as part of cycles that also include dying back, and predation. In summer, bird numbers grow radically, but they don’t keep growing – the approach of winter and the activities of hunters rebalance that each year. Trees do not grow forever, they reach a natural limit, and they die. Things that grow unchecked tend to be plagues, or cancers.

There are costs we do not measure. We do not look at the cost to the environment and to our own health that human activity causes. We don’t look at extinction. We don’t look at exploitation and the destruction of human lives and minds in pursuit of profit. We don’t factor in what we might later need to pay to offset the hidden costs of what we’re doing now. Rising air pollution costs us in terms of health, life expectancy, and demands on our health service.

Of course if we did measure the cost of these things, they’d go into our GDP and we would see that we are making even more profit! It’s not much of a measure of anything.

If we are to survive as a species, and not kill off most of life on this planet, we need to tackle the issue of growth. We have to stop believing the ludicrous idea that we can have infinite ‘growth’ based on finite resources. We have to challenge the idea that constant growth is good.

As Pagans, we’re well placed to take this on. We’ve already embraced the cycle of the seasons, the tidal and changing nature of existence. The Holly King cannot keep ruling all year, building himself ever bigger forces. John Barleycorn dies each summer. In winter, the Cailleach rules and nothing grows. Persephone returns to the underworld. Demeter mourns. We watch the moon wax to absolute fullness and then shrink away again every month. A moon that never stopped growing would basically be moving towards the Earth on an impact trajectory. We have a lot of stories to work with.

If we are to survive, we need to embrace the idea of sufficiency. We need to live within our means and not compromise the future for the sake of present greed. We need to tell stories about the finite nature of healthy growth, and the needfulness of dying back and reducing. We have grown too far, and we need the winter cutback that naturally follows the excess of summer.