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.

The uneasy side of harvests

Equinoxes have always foxed me. I think in part it’s because there’s very little folk material to draw on for them.  Other festivals have seasonal activities and a wealth of traditions, but the equinoxes don’t. Here we are facing the autumn one. Grain has been harvested, fruit harvests are coming in, root crops will be harvested for some time to come. Often the festival is taken as an opportunity to consider the bounty and the harvests in our own lives, but that isn’t without issue.

When I first came to pagan ritual it was reasonable to assume that no one in the circle would be going hungry. Austerity has pushed so many people towards the edge, that I can’t contemplate harvest now without also thinking about food banks. I can’t assume, if I run a public ritual, that everyone in circle will be able to talk about bounty and harvest. I cannot make a ritual into a place of privilege or pile on the discomfort for those who come along who are really struggling.

This is all quite hypothetical in some ways because I’m not running a public facing ritual this year. But like many Pagans, I’m online talking about how we celebrate the season.

Harvest times weren’t always a cause for ancestral celebration. You don’t have to go back very far for communities to be much more dependent on what they could harvest themselves. International food trade gives many of us insulation in face of poor harvests – those of us who live in more affluent countries. Food shortages tend to push up food prices which can drive poorer regions out of the market.

Famine is still a thing. We have the means to feed everyone, but not the will. We’ve decided that profit is more important than human life or comfort. In rich countries, we’re willing to let people starve and suffer long term from malnutrition. We’re willing to let people in difficulty around the world go hungry if they can’t pay for food. We’re happy to have them growing non-food items for our market places rather than food supplies they can live on.

This is not something any of us can fix by individual action. We can however start questioning the way money and resources move around. We can challenge the priorities. What good is all of our growth and development if we can’t solve the most basic problems? What good is our technology and knowledge if people go hungry? Harvests are a matter of luck as much as anything else. Your climate and where you live also play a part. Why do we think it’s ok for the lucky to get rich at the expense of the unlucky?

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How winter impacts on autumn

For most of my life, my experience of autumn has been coloured by what winter has meant for me. It’s been difficult to enjoy the many lovely things autumn offers, because of the threat of winter. Being cold radically increases my pain levels. I get chilblains. Everything domestic is that bit harder. Winters when there wasn’t enough money to be really warm, have been horrible. I can end up a lot more isolated in winter, and I hate walking on frosty and icy surfaces.

I’ve blogged in the past about how being able to enjoy the winter is a marker of privilege. It’s impossible to enjoy the lead-up to winter when winter itself is a grim prospect.

This year I find myself in a different sort of position. Despite the upheavals of summer, I’m on a really good footing financially. I’ve got the right technology in place to deal with some of winter’s practical issues. In my case that means a de-humidifier, and a really good spin drier. I’ve got good boots and a decent winter coat. I’m thinking about upgrading to an even more waterproof coat for walking in, if I can. Maybe a new pair of waterproof trousers as well. I feel very, very fortunate in all of this. I am aware that for many people, this winter will be as much of a nightmare as any of the winters before it, and for others, struggling in winter is a new problem which they don’t yet have the skills to deal with.

I’m going to make a point of writing about small seasonal shifts this year. Partly I’m doing this because I’m changing my relationship with the dark half of the year. Partly because it’s a good theme to write on. I feel that no longer struggling quite so much, I might be more comfortable talking about what’s hard in the darker months. Often it’s easier to write about something when I’m not living in it.


Nature pushes through

The natural world offers us many examples of incredible action against the odds. From the tiniest plants breaking their way through pavements, to the epic challenges of migration, to life clinging on at the edges in the least likely places. Nature pushes through. It is tenacious, it does not give up, it takes on the most outrageous challenges.

If we read the book of nature as our guiding text, there are lots of examples of how struggling to overcome is part of the natural order. We can also see lots of examples of effort; the busy bees, the diligent ants and so forth. None of these things are properly models for us.

When we turn to nature for guidance and inspiration, it is important to remember that everything we see has evolved to do what it does. It’s evolved over a very long time to have the kind of existence and form that allows it to do what it does. The trek of the penguins inland in the Antarctic is a peculiarly penguin activity. Mammals who migrate do so to survive. Most mammals have not evolved to live in a state of perpetual crisis where having to make colossal efforts to survive is an everyday thing.

We are not tiny seedlings pushing the tarmac open. We are not grazing herds obliged to cross crocodile infested rivers to find food. We are not salmon swimming upstream to find the place we were spawned. We might take ideas and inspiration from anything of this nature, but it is really important to remember that we are not part of these stories. We can do amazing things in the short term, we adapt and survive startlingly well with these soft bodies of ours. Even if you profoundly identify with another living being though, your body is still your body and has not evolved to do the things that creature does – or the semblance of it.

When we look to nature, it is vital to remember that nature also exists in us. We have evolved to be what we are and to deal with certain kinds of challenges. Most of those challenges are not the ones we meet in modern life. We’re supposed to be running away from predators, not stressing ourselves sick while sitting at desks. Looking to nature will not teach us how to deal with the unnatural environments we insist on creating for ourselves.


Too much responsibility

As a teen I really took on board the idea that we can only have freedom and power in so far as we are willing to take responsibility. On the whole, I’ve found that a useful approach to life. As with all things, you can end up with too much of it. Too much responsibility does not translate into too much power, or too much freedom. There’s a point somewhere on the scale when a lot of responsibility means a loss of power and a closing down of options.

If responsibility is taken by someone who does not have the means to deliver on it, there are going to be problems. Being given responsibilities in a job, or a relationship, but denied the resources to deal with those responsibilities, is a crushing thing.

There are things we definitely cannot and should not be made responsible for. Other people’s inner lives are a case in point. We are responsible for how we treat each other. We owe each other basic care and respect. We owe it to each other to listen and try to factor in each other’s needs and issues. However, too much responsibility for someone else’s feelings and thoughts puts you in a place of powerlessness and may be deeply harming. If I am kind, careful and respectful and it still isn’t enough… If it is my job to magically know what others want and need, without being told… If it is my job to twist myself in knots trying to give someone else what they want… responsibility becomes a noose around my neck. I’ve been here, and making a person this responsible for someone else’s feelings is a form of emotional control, and pretty abusive stuff.

Sometimes, if we take on too much responsibility, we deny someone else the opportunity to grow and flourish. Parents who try to do everything for their kids mean well, but do not allow their children to discover and own their own power. If we take on too much responsibility for someone else’s life, we can take power from them, undermine their dignity and sense of autonomy.

If we make ourselves responsible for things we cannot have any say in, we can drive ourselves mad. A person suffering from anxiety may feel that everything has to be perfect, even when many things are beyond their control. Not being able to make things perfect may cause a great deal of fear. On its own, this may seem preposterous, but when you factor in what happens to people when they are made responsible for things beyond their control, continuing with those expectations even after the situation has ended, is not so irrational. Who knows who else might want the same level of responsibility from you?

It is good to pause now and then and ask what we’ve shouldered, and whether we should still be carrying it.


Quiet – a review

Quiet, by Susan Cain, reviewed by Guest Blogger Stephen Palmer

There is a difference between extrovert and introvert, but it’s not the difference most people think of when they hear those descriptions. The standard view is of party animals versus non-party animals. Dorothy Rowe explained that extroverts feel a more real outer world, and are uncomfortable with being on their own since their inner world is more insubstantial, whereas introverts feel a more real inner world, and are often uncomfortable in the hurly burly of social life. Introverts can be happy in times of solitude: extroverts alone feel a void inside themselves, and seek company.

This is one useful explanation, given by a master of the field. Susan Cain’s equivalent in her remarkable book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking is based around the concept of sensitivity, which is in the main a biologically determined quality. We all have different types of brains. Our brains, linked to our many senses, operate at various levels of sensitivity – introverts tend towards maximal sensitivity, extroverts towards the norm, or less.

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic… They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive… They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

When I was younger I wondered for a long time why I was so different to most of my friends and colleagues in this regard, and it all comes down to my high level of introversion. In fact I got a triple dose – one dose from each parent, plus being right-brained. That’s a hell of a lot of introversion to have to cope with.

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Is this starting to ring some bells with you…? Then you’re an introvert, and you should stop trying to fit in with the extrovert world that we have in the West. (One of the most interesting chapters in Quiet is the one contrasting the Western ideal of extroversion with the Eastern ideal of introversion – although there is more to it than that dichotomy.) Susan Cain is strong and determined in her critique of Western extrovert standards:

“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Many people in the literary world will grasp all this; we literate types are quiet thinkers. If you feel likewise, then Quiet is for you.

The book is split into four sections. The first deals with what Susan Cain calls the extrovert ideal, and this is done mostly from an American perspective. Part two deals with the tricky subject of nature versus nurture – biology versus self, but also the role of free will in changing behaviour, and the roles of risk and reward. Examples given include the Roosevelts and Warren Buffett. Part three is a single chapter on Asian-Americans and how they deal with the American cultural standard of high sociability and constant conversation. Part four deals with strategies for the introvert, and for the extroverts who live with them.

This book is also great because it features some brilliant and pithy quotes:

“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe”

“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”

Another crucial aspect of this book is Susan Cain’s separation of shyness and introversion, which many people use as interchangeable concepts. But they’re not:

“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

In a nutshell, for anybody who has gone through social hell or even just anxiety, and who wonders why they feel exhausted at the end of a whirl of socialising – even if that’s spending time with friends or family in the most relaxed of circumstances – this is the book for you. It made a big difference in my own life, as I was finally able to explain a few of my own puzzling character traits. Understanding introversion is the first step on the road to coping with it. I spent a long time not coping, but, luckily, now I do.

“Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much”, a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Or maybe there’s another word for such people: thinkers.”

This was for me one of the most inspirational of books. It was given to me completely out of the blue by a friend of mine. I still thank him for that kindness when occasionally I see him.

 

 


Magic with Elen Sentier

A guest blog from Elen Sentier

Magic – such an evocative word! But what is it? There are probably as many definitions as there are people who talk about it.

There are many synonyms for the word magic – occult, enchanted, charmed, out of this world, supernatural, paranormal, mysterious, weird. I’ll bet many of you find some of those words very attractive. Magic’s opposite is the mundane and run of the mill. Those antonyms offer excellent clues why magic fascinates people, they want exciting and strange. Think holiday – going somewhere different, surprise is delightful, out of the everyday world for a couple of weeks. People think magic does this too.

Magic, for many, tends to be spells and rituals, dressing up, playing at being goddess or god, part of a theatre in which magic may happen. Theatre’s a Greek word and in ancient Greece it was sacred to the god Dyonisos, the god of wine, darkness, mystery, ecstasy, and madness in the sense of being out of the everyday mind. He’s shown as a sensuous, naked, androgynous youth and described as womanly or man-womanish – interesting thought for our times.

The dark womb is the place we can rebirth, get out of the box, free ourselves from the other-peoples’ scripts that have ruled our lives so far. Dionysian madness is necessary to break out of old ways and lifelong habits. It’s much easier to exchange one set of habits for another than to become naked, defenceless and vulnerable in order to discover one’s own true nature. But this is what magic can do – if we allow it. Getting to the point where we can allow ourselves to escape requires a kind of Dionysian madness, as I know from long years as a transpersonal psychotherapist and still know from helping my students enable themselves.

Like our own Merlin, Dyonisos is a fatherless child in the sense of not having a human father; he is a son of the god Zeus and the woman Semele. You find this all around the world. A boy-child has a human mother and an otherworldly father; a girl-child has a human father and an otherworldly mother, as does Merlin’s partner, Vivien, who was mothered by the huntress goddess Artemis, see Merlin: once & future wizard for more.

Most people find this weird and scary. Scariness added to weirdness is so attractive and secretly many people would like to have an otherworldly lover; some who work with otherworld actually do. For those still deep in the everyday that’s terrifying even though they likely want it in their secret hearts. Ordinary life is dull, boring, restricted, same-old-same-old, most people want different and excitement – like those holidays. Magic is shadowy, clouded, obscure, hidden, hard to comprehend and all that is so attractive; people want it, search for it, go on course after course to find it.

In my long experience magic is always there, in everything, hidden in plain sight. You don’t need to go to Glastonbury, Stonehenge or the Pyramids, it’s all around you, always. What you need to do is change how you look at things and that is just so difficult because it’s incredibly scary. We want scary … and we don’t. People go after “safe scary” and that’s always a mishmash of garbage dressed up in sequins and candles, it deludes the mind, gluts the emotions and takes the participant nowhere new at all. There is no such thing as safe magic, not in reality.

To practice magic you must risk all, go out on a limb, jump off a cliff, scare yourself shitless. I use that word advisedly. Until you scare the shit out of yourself there is no room for the magic to come in – because you are still full of shit!

Clearing and composting your shit is always painful and terrifying because it takes you out of your comfortable normal-box. People want excitement but they don’t want the frightening consequences, they want insurance policies and firm contracts that they won’t be hurt.

Not possible. If you go for magic you will be pulled inside-out and upside-down, your whole life will change irrevocably, and that word irrevocably is what stops people. You mean we can’t go back and be the same as we always were if we don’t like it? No, you can’t, not once you set off down that path. Dyonisos will find you and dance you into his mysteries amongst the pine woods.

He comes in many guises depending on the land spirit where you meet him. Here in Britain, he may come as Merlin, or Gwyn ap Nudd with his wild pack of red-eyed, red-eared hounds, or Pan. Always, he will come as the Trickster, the ultimate, most perfect teacher and shifter. Likely you will fall in love with him … then you will waken, look in the mirror and not recognise yourself any more. You will be changed.

Magic is magic. It’s wonderful, powerful, and in every single atom and particle of creation. You find it by opening your eyes, looking at everything without any expectations but full of expectancy, full of wonder. You let go of everything you’ve ever known and go in empty, never knowing first, never knowing best, you come to magic from a place of unknowing. Nothing you’ve ever read, known or heard will be like the reality you discover has always been there, quietly waiting for you to notice it. It will teach you how to remain still, how to ask useful questions, how to ask it to show you about itself.

Magic is learning to be empty, learning to un-know, learning to let go. As my Dad, who taught me to walk the old ways of our British magic, used to say, “Life/magic is so simple, but nobody said it was easy!” Right on, Dad!

 


Working dreams

One of the important things to bear in mind if you’re doing dream interpretation, is the relationship between your dreams and your actual life. Recently I had a dream in which I was trying to fold a complicated table and needed to work out what to say about it on social media. It was not an exciting dream. It was simply a bringing together of some of the things in my recent working life as my brain tried to figure out what goes where. How I do social media work or support for various outlets has become a question in recent weeks. The one thing that doesn’t need a social media plan is the furniture, but that’s dreaming brains for you!

Sometimes our sleeping minds are indeed doing the work. I’ve noticed repeatedly that when life gives me a lot to process, I crave more sleep. Some things are difficult to do consciously and need the free run of an unconscious mind to reconfigure in. Big life changes, radical rethinks about who I am, dramatic changes to important relationships and other major life events take some getting to grips with.

I spent the summer dreaming mournfully about one of the entitled men in my life. My feelings of guilt and responsibility kept surfacing, along with my desire for things to be entirely other than they have been. However, a few final revelations towards the end of the summer helped clarify things for me and my dreaming mind started telling me completely different emotional stories from that point. I’ll be surprised if I get any more mournful longing, because I appear to have worked that through.

What the dreaming work has allowed me to do is make a space for emotions I can’t usefully express anywhere else. I’m trying out ideas about how things are and could be, and pushing my waking mind to look at things it hasn’t been keen to square up to. That which we’re trying to avoid or protect ourselves from can show up in dreams, demanding attention. In my experience, this is where a lot of nightmares come from. But at the same time, a nightmare can be a useful part of the process, allowing me to process something I just can’t tackle when awake. Sometimes I have to go through a lot of these to get to a place where I can think consciously about the problem.

Dreams like these don’t benefit from interpretation. They aren’t some kind of finished product waiting to be made sense of. They’re a work in progress, and it’s often better to just let that run as a process – paying attention to it but not trying to tidy it into neat meanings. Sometimes when you let dreams happen in this way, they will take your waking mind somewhere totally unexpected, and that can prove very helpful indeed.

For more of this kind of approach to dreaming, check out my book Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming


Escaping from entitled men

One of the more curious crops this summer has been a root cellar’s worth of entitled men to deal with. Just to make it clear, they are not all now in a root cellar, although it’s a charming idea. Some I’ve had to deal with directly, some I’ve supported friends as they tried to deal with, and saw a lot of the trouble caused. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Entitled men – men who believe they are entitled to a great many things they are certainly not entitled to – are fond of making women responsible for things – usually for things said women have no control over. We are to provide unconditional love and support and ask for nothing in return (Gods help us if we do ask) and they are free to act in any way they like and consider themselves blameless and free of all consequences. They get really cranky when we don’t go along with this.

Most particularly, there’s been a theme of making women responsible for male feelings about the female body. We however, are accused of massively sexualising everything, by existing. We are weird, too tactile and not tactile enough. We’re sending out mixed messages even when we say ‘no’ clearly and repeatedly. How the entitled men feel about our bodies is some kind of unassailable truth about what we are, and our responsibility. If we can’t just suck that up we’re mean and unreasonable and in some sort of conspiracy to be horrible to them.

Male entitlement to female care and attention, to female emotional labour, has been a repeated theme this summer. Entitled men dismissing any female emotional response that wasn’t wanted as irrational and unreasonable has gone alongside this. There is no space allowed for women to be people. Entitled men feel entitled to occupy all the ‘person’ space and make the women around them into props, trophies, punch bags, and other non-person things. We don’t get to have needs or feelings, and we’re also expected to be ok with that.

The only answer to this is to walk away. We’ve all wanted there to be other answers, but when you don’t get a vote, asking for change is pointless. This has been really interesting too. I’ve watched other women dealing with this, and seen how guilty and responsible they feel. How they feel like they owe it to the entitled man to see the best in him, give him another chance, be kinder and more understanding. I’ve felt that too, where I’ve been dealing directly. And yet, when I see female friends dealing with this, it is clear to me that they owe nothing and cannot possibly be responsible for what’s going on. I can see how harmful entitled men are to the women around me where it’s hard to see what that does to me. It is through supporting each other that we are best able to overcome the pressure to give the entitled men what they think they are entitled to.

I also see how tough this is for the guys who would never do this kind of shit. How they too can be pushed about and badly treated by men with entitlement issues. How uncomfortable it can be for them squaring up to the issue of male entitlement in action. I note that the men with entitlement issues have made the most noise this summer and sucked up a disproportionate amount of energy and attention, but they are not the majority. It’s in their interests to persuade us that all men are like them, because then there’s even less reason to challenge them. The entitled men of this summer were a small minority of the men I had dealings with this summer. I won’t be dealing with them again, and perhaps in time, if enough people of any and all genders refuse to be persuaded by their self-entitlement, they will realise that it isn’t acceptable behaviour.


Autumn leaves

The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.

Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.

I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.

It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.


Things I am excited about

There’s a lot of upheaval in my life at the moment – some of which is translating into shorter blog posts from me, and more guest posts on the blog to help me stay on top of things. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has sent me content so far, there’s some excellent stuff here and more to come, and it’s really taken the pressure off.

This August, I lost more than half of my Moon Books work. Not because I was doing it badly – there was consensus that I’d been doing rather well. Not because Moon Books is in a bad way – Moon Books is selling books at a pace, in no small part because I was doing my job rather well. An internal shuffle in the parent publishing house had a knock on effect, and I went from reliably being able to pay all my bills, to total uncertainty. August was a rather stressful month as I started applying for jobs.

However, it’s all gone very well indeed. I am now doing the newsletter and press officer work for Transition Stroud – which is all about community and sustainability, so that’s really happy stuff. I’m training as a duty manager to work in a local venue – it’s a great place, I had my 40th birthday party there and I’m happy to be involved. It looks like I’ll be in their office for a few hours every week as well. I’ve taken on doing PR work for some people – which is lovely and clearly going to work nicely. Once that all settles down a bit, there are two other conversations in my destiny about part time work that I’m also really excited about. More as that comes…

Alongside this I’ll still be writing and colouring for Hopeless Maine, and writing other things as me. Hopeless Maine is moving into role play game territory with the core rule book out this autumn – more of that as it comes. I have a lot on the go. I’m working on a poetry collection this month – material I’ve already written. Anyone who supports me on Patreon will get an e-copy when it’s done, and those at the glass heron level can expect a copy in the post. You can sign up for that here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I’m planning a small meditation book – I’m just going to self publish it because I want it out early next year. After pondering and sharing my initial thoughts here, I am going to work on a spirits of place book as well, but I’ll need a bit more headspace for that.

We’re looking at more Hopeless Maine based performance, and we’ve a growing team of people who want to do events together. There are events to organise, and events to throw ourselves at, and events that have already booked me for next year – April is going to be intense with Pagan Federation conferences in Wakefield and Edinburgh. As my comics publisher is also in Edinburgh I’m going to try and pair this with some comics events as well.

It feels like my entire life has been tossed into the air by manic and only slightly evil pixies and everything is now fluttering about and heading off in different directions. There’s rather a lot of it. My belief is that if I assume that, by the same magic, it’s all going to be fine, it will be fine. But just in case, I’m going to buy a bigger diary so that I can keep more detailed notes of what’s happening when.