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.

Throwing girls to monsters

In European myths, folklore and fairytales, girls are given to monsters in order to appease them. They are offered as sacrifices. The girls themselves must be young – they are not adult women. They must be beautiful, and virginal. The monster will kill them and be satisfied and leave everyone else alone. I don’t know what, if anything happens in other traditions around this so if you have insights, do please share.

If the monster is assumed to be real (for the purposes of the story at least) then we have to ask why it wants a small, virgin girl to eat, and not a steady supply of cows. In terms of monster racketeering, you’d think ‘keep me in cows or I burn the village’ would make more sense. One small girl is hardly a decent meal for a dragon or sea monster. I refuse to believe it’s for the sex – small human virgin versus large monster… just no. Perhaps it’s for the pain this will cause the humans – going with Poe’s theory that there’s nothing more tragic than the death of a beautiful young woman. Except that groups of people sacrificing to monsters always seem a bit eager, for my liking.

Sometimes there is a sense that the girl might be being punished for being too beautiful. When the monster is human – and I’m thinking specifically of the Arabian Nights stories – the beauty of the girls being sacrificed is very much part of the issue. I wonder if this is the story that unlocks all the others. Each night, the human monster takes a virgin girl to his bed and in the morning has her beheaded. His lust is insatiable. His desire to kill girls is insatiable. Because he is at the top of the hierarchy, he is allowed to do this.

It is not dragons and sea monsters who crave young women to despoil, it is men with entitlement issues. It is also men who are fussed about human beauty standards. I think our stories of sacrificial virgins may be metaphorical ways of talking about how power imbalances corrupt relationships. When fear of those who hold power over you means you hand over your daughters to them, relationships are destroyed. It might be easier to talk about dragons, than to talk about comfort women, and what happens during wars, and what dictators do when they have the power to do what they like. It might be easier and safer to talk about a dragon than to talk about a president who feels confident describing in public how he sexually assaults women.

Advertisements

Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.


Value Powerful Women

This is the final blog post inspired by Molly Scott Cato’s suggestions for resisting fascism.

How we treat powerful women is an interesting question. Unpopular powerful women tend to be the targets of a great deal of sexist language. There’s also often an assumption that women are supposed to be kind, tender, gentle and that women who aren’t that, have something wrong with them. When it comes to politics, there are a lot of women who are no kinder or nicer than their male counterparts. If you don’t like the politics, that’s fine, but it is important not to attack women whose policies you disagree with on the basis of their gender.

One of the things that fascism does, is try to narrow everyone’s options. Where women are concerned, what it tends to celebrate is staying at home to have lots of babies and raise them. Now, for some women, that’s the life choice of preference, but certainly not for all of us. Any woman who wants to be a domestic goddess should have the freedom to follow that life path. No woman should be obliged to do it. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis had no space for queer folk, and that gay people also ended their lives in concentration camps.

In a partial democracy, the people who can vote and the people who can be elected get their concerns taken seriously while everyone is considered far less relevant. People without representation can be easily reduced to the status of property. They can be scapegoated, ignored, oppressed, and there’s nothing they can do about it unless the people who have all the power can be persuaded to include them. We need diversity in politics because a narrow selection of backgrounds makes for very limited views of how the world works.

It may be worth pausing to remember that the time in history that defined modern economic thinking was a time dominated by men. We have economic models still in use that hark back to then, and that fail to recognise the value of unpaid work to the economy as a whole. The things that women were doing weren’t considered important, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that.

Value powerful women. Let’s overthrow the old fashioned idea that women are less able to wield power than men. Let’s have room for everyone in the domestic sphere, and room for everyone in the workplace, and political representation for everyone.


Spring in the microclimates

Stroud has a lot of microclimates. The folds of the land, and how they catch the sun at this time of year produces little spots that are not only a bit different in climate when you enter them, but can even have different relationships with the seasons.

Over the weekend I found a south facing bank, protected from the wind. On it there were violets and wood anemones, in bloom. It’ll be some weeks before those show up at some other spots around here. Wood anemones usually bloom with the garlic and bluebells, in early May.

The shape of the land in relation to the sun equally creates places that are darker for longer, where frost and snow linger after everything else has melted.

The process of winter turning into spring, from Imbolc to the spring equinox, is complex. It doesn’t all move at the same speed even over a small geographical area. The seasons are not events, but a day by day shifting of warmth, light, growth and life. If we focus too much on the seasons, or on specific Pagan festivals, we can easily miss the details. It is all about the details really – our arbitrary divisions of the year into four seasons and eight festivals is misleading and can take us away from the everyday nature of seasonal change.


Folk process or cultural appropriation

Last week I wrote about the right to be creative within your own folk tradition. Morgan Daimler flagged up to me that I need to tackle the other side, too – what happens when we mess about with other people’s traditions. Taking other people’s traditions, writing into them, or over them and presenting that as genuine material can have the effect of wiping out the tradition, not keeping it alive. How do you tell the difference?

Your relationship with the tradition is key here. If we’re talking about your culture, your family background, or the place you’ve lived your whole life as a participant not a coloniser, then you are someone who is inside the traditions around you. They are your traditions.

There are plenty of non-white British people engaging with British folk traditions, and that’s also fine. It’s important not to let this idea of who owns the tradition exclude people who want to be involved. Time spent working in the tradition, learning it, knowing it – that’s the key thing here. If you’ve put in the years, then you can enter a tradition that belongs to the place you live, or to people you are interested in, without that being a problem. The key thing is that what you’re doing is entering the tradition and participating in it. If people are willing to teach you and share their traditional things with you, then you can enter into it without issue.

The problems arise when people have brief and superficial contact with a tradition and then think they can own it. Going to one folk festival doesn’t qualify you to write folk songs. In the context of British folk, if you go to one festival, and write some songs that are wide of the mark, the odds are you won’t go far, and it won’t matter – there’s enough people who have been doing this over a long enough time to just shake off the pretenders with no impact.

If you have some superficial contact with someone else’s traditions where there are fewer people involved, and/or it’s not part of the dominant culture, and then start making your own in what you think is in the same style, there are massive problems. You may be presenting material to people who don’t know that you’re misrepresenting a culture. If you have more power – if you are a white western person messing about with the traditions of an indigenous culture, for example – you may have more scope to present the tradition to others than the people living in it do. You may have the power to inform and define a tradition that you know little or nothing about, with no one to rein you in.

This is also true if you are someone studying or recording a culture – as a folklorist or academic. Trying to pin a tradition down can be a process of limiting and damaging what you study, and shaping how it will be seen by others. Colonial misrepresentation of other people’s cultures is a longstanding problem. The determination of westerners to present non-western tradition as primitive, superstitious and irrational is a longstanding problem.

If you’re working from inside a tradition, steeped in it and invested in it, then the ways you want to keep it alive and updated are likely to serve the tradition, not harm it. But, why would you want to appropriate a tradition you know nothing about in order to play with it? What does that achieve? You aren’t keeping a tradition alive by doing this, unless what you’re working with is a people who have disappeared. Then you’re guessing and reviving, and there’s a case to make for that if it’s done honestly.

Wanting to learn from someone else’s tradition also makes a lot of sense – there’s a lot of wisdom and inspiration out there, it is reasonable to find that attractive. But surely, if you’re interested in another culture, what you want is immersion and absorption, and to get to a place of having internalised it. Running in to make up our own things in the same style is a sure fire way of learning very little. It’s a deeply questionable activity on so many levels.

There are no short-cuts to being part of a tradition. You can’t pick it up over a weekend course or by reading a book. If you aren’t prepared to invest years in building a relationship with a tradition, you aren’t interested in tradition and should probably leave it alone.


I’ve experienced oppression and that means…

One of the reliable mistakes well meaning people make is to assume that knowledge of one thing means understanding of another: I have endured sexism so I understand racism. I have endured workplace bullying so I understand domestic abuse. I’m a lesbian so I understand the problems of gay men. And so on and so forth. Less well meaning people take it a step further: I have experienced sexual oppression and therefore I cannot be racist. I have been a victim of abuse so I cannot be a bully. It’s easy to see how we get there, and the consequences are unhelpful through to harmful.

One of the things this does is let us not consider where we may be going wrong. A lifetime of dealing with sexual discrimination gives you pretty much no insight into the mechanics of race. If you are a white woman, a lifetime of sexual discrimination does not actually mean you are incapable of racism. The uncomfortable truth is that to be white is to be part of a system that upholds racial discrimination. If you want to change that, you have to find ways to be active about it. Imagining reasons it does not apply to you doesn’t help anyone.

Granted, experiences of oppression can give one group the scope to empathise with the sufferings of another group. That can be a productive base for mutual support. But it can also be a way of erasing the differences in power that exist. It can be a way of minimising your role in the other group’s problems. Sometimes it can leave people feeling entitled to speak for, and speak over those they claim to be helping. Speaking for other people is something to do with caution, because so often it turns out to be speaking over. Believing that you are qualified to speak for someone else is an impulse that needs scrutiny.

Suffering does not make you incapable of being an ass-hat. Experience of discrimination does not make you incapable of discriminating against others. Experiencing challenges does not mean that in some situations you don’t also have privilege. Thinking about this may be uncomfortable. You may feel a knee-jerk defensive reaction that wants to say ‘no, because I…’ and it’s ok to feel that if it’s what you’ve got. Feel it, sit with it, unpick it, understand it. Look at where those protective feelings come from. Do it privately where no one else can see. Own what you find there. It’s not an easy process, but if you do this quietly and alone, everyone benefits.


Religion and the need for stability

Life is of course unpredictable, but there is something in many of us that craves stability. Some people thrive on challenge and change, but many do not. It’s easy to look at religion and the way in which we appeal for help or try to appease forces of nature, and see the desire for stability playing out. As we’ve become more able to control our environments and create stability for ourselves, we’ve changed from making sacrifices to the most dangerous aspects of nature, and grown religions that are more human-centric.

Religions are full of rules about what we can and can’t do. At some level, those rules are about keeping God happy because if you keep God happy you get stability. You don’t get floods, storms, volcanoes, plagues… The Old Testament is pretty clear that these are the consequences of an unhappy God. Being able to ascribe unpredicted things to the will of an angry God may itself give us more of a feeling of control.  Perhaps it is worse to imagine that terrible things happen for no reason at all and that the universe couldn’t give a shit.

We are comforted (some of us) by the idea that the universe gives a shit. The desire to see the world as both kind and meaningful can lead to staggering forms of cognitive dissonance. If the world is good, then terrible things are really good things in disguise. That which ruins our lives and tears us apart – literally and metaphorically, has to be recast as our benevolent teacher. I think choosing to learn can be a good and valid response to difficult things. However, the idea that we have been given the terrible things so that we can learn makes me really uneasy.  Sometimes it seems much kinder to say ‘shit happens’ and not to feel taught by it at all.

Change itself is neither automatically good, or bad. It can take us in either direction. However, change is exhausting when it is mostly what you experience. Even a great deal of good change can wipe you out. We need time to process change. We need to be able to make sense of it, and we need to feel we are riding the waves even if we have no say in where they are taking us. The more out of control you feel, the more tempting it may be to attribute the chaos to a will beyond your comprehension. Perhaps sometimes that helps. However, trusting that the chaos is taking you somewhere you need to go can itself be a dangerous choice, and one that encourages us not to think things through or take care of ourselves.

If you find yourself swept away by a river in full spate, do you trust the river’s intentions? Do you trust that the river God has a higher plan for you? Or do you try and get out of the river?


Mark Lindsey Earley on Bardic Chairs

Today I have a guest vlog rather than a blog!

I met Mark Earley Lindsey online some years ago through our shared interest in the bard path. He’s been developing a youtube channel and I asked if he wanted to share anything via this blog. Amazingly, he’s started recording a series, which I’m rather excited about. Here’s the first one which is as much an introduction to Mark as to bardic chairs.

 

 

Mark’s Youtube channel is here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJDe9uAqfePlcc0s8iEB82g – where you can find a wealth of videos on bardic and other issues.

 

While I tend to be writing orientated, I’m always open to guest content in any form.


A brief history of me offending people

I’ve had some startling things come into focus for me over the last few days. I have no idea if sharing this process will make any sense to anyone else, much less be helpful, but on the off-chance there’s another person out there struggling with similar things, here we go.

On a number of occasions through my adult life, men I have really loved have pushed me away for being too much. These were mostly not romantic or sexual relationships. I’ve carried it as my failing. I’ve carried it as something hideous inside me that is intolerable and unacceptable. These experiences have made me less emotionally open with people, less affectionate, less confident about myself. I want to be honest and open hearted with people, but being afraid that there is something horrible about me, I am cautious and not open.

This week, in an email exchange, I ran into the suggestion that having to think about someone else’s wellbeing all the time is restrictive and oppressive. It was a light bulb moment for me.

I feel honoured to have people in my life whose care and wellbeing I have some responsibility for. If I love someone, there is no burden in caring for them. There is no loss of freedom in being alert to their needs and feelings and trying to do stuff that would help and support them. If I am awake, then the needs of the people I care about are never far from my thoughts. I’m finding it hard to imagine how the opposite could be true, how caring could feel like anything other than a good thing.

Thinking about variously shaped relationships I’ve had with men, for a subset of guys, this apparently is a thing. I’m seeing patterns I’d not registered before. To care about people is to think about what you’re doing – off the cuff, in the moment, careless words and actions don’t fit with that. I recognise I’ve dealt with a fair few men (and some women) for whom thoughtless, off the cuff behaviour was how they felt they most authentically expressed themselves. By that logic, to care and pay attention is not be able to be authentically yourself. For me, my most considered self, my most deliberately chosen way of being, is my most authentic self.

I exist in relationship to other people. Who I am is in no small part who I am in relationship. I do not feel less myself if I make some modifications for someone else’s benefit. I am not less myself if I have to grow, flex or stretch around someone else’s needs. I’ve done some of my best growing this way. I don’t feel entitled to do and say whatever I please and expect everyone around me to be fine with that. I look back over my problem encounters and I see a theme there – how often white, straight, physically well, financially comfortable men feel entitled to have it all their way. My needing something that isn’t immediately easy and convenient to them is an imposition, an unkindness on my part. Unfair. Unreasonable.

Many women have been raised to be alert to and care for the needs of others, whether it suits their true nature or not. Anyone who is outside the mainstream learns quickly that who they are might not be accepted. If you are queer, or Pagan, or polyamorous, or disabled, or poor, then you know perfectly well that you can’t expect it always to go your way. And how much easier life would be if the people who expected to have it all on their terms were a bit more alert to what their freedom might cost someone else.

So I’m putting down the self blame. I am telling myself a new story in which the men who found me unacceptable did so from places that were all about them. Yes, I love more intensely than is normal. Yes, I feel things keenly. Yes, I rock up whole hearted. No, I have no interest in casual, superficial, empty non-relationships. Yes, apparently that does offend some people. No, on reflection, I am not sorry at all for being as I am.


Join a Trade Union

One of the methods Molly Scott Cato suggests you can use to resist fascism, is joining a trade union. It is certainly a good way of resisting exploitation, upholding workers’ rights and connecting with something bigger than yourself. For many of us it’s also not an option. If you’re in the gig economy, working handfuls of hours here and there wherever you can get work, there is no union to protect you. This is no doubt why such work is on the rise. If you’re in the illegal side of the economy as a trafficked person or illegal immigrant, you are unprotected and likely to be massively exploited – sometimes in ways that will kill you.

As an author, and someone working in the comics industry, I have no union to join. I joined The Society of Authors because it’s the next best thing – they offer legal advice and they lobby on behalf of writers.

In the arts, there is always someone who will do it for less, or do it for free. You’re paid for the finished product (if you are paid at all) and not for your time, so the scope for even making the minimum wage often isn’t that good. There are always people trying to break into the industry who are persuaded that working for free, for exposure, for the portfolio, for a shot at a paying gig next time, is worth it. And why would anyone pay for what they can just take?

Online, our work is pirated and given away, or even sold by others who never pay a penny to the original creator. New laws against piracy look to be more for the big corporations, not for the indie creators. We may be hurt by the ‘protections’ coming in. If we can’t afford to sue, we have little scope to protect our work, and we can’t get a fair share of the worth, often.

More than anything else, what creative people need (I think) is solidarity from other working people. That means recognition that we are also working people, doing work that is just as real as anyone else’s and for which we deserve to be paid. We need other working people to stop telling us to do it for love, or that it’s just a hobby, or that them giving away our work is somehow doing us a favour, or that we should be grateful to the people who pirate our books to read them because at least someone is reading them.

This goes further than creative industries, too. Our economy depends on unpaid work – usually domestic, but also volunteers in other spheres. There are no unions for carers, for child raisers, for people who provide the domestic underpinnings that give others the freedom to get educated and to pursue careers. There are no unions for the grandparents who take on the childcare. No one is lobbying government on their behalf. This work is essential and without it many other things would be unfeasible. If you are interested in worker’s rights, it is important to include the people whose work is often both invisible and unpaid.

Don’t marginalise people who are not working, either. There is no trade union to join if you are out of work. There is also no trade union to join if you are too ill to work, or if keeping yourself functioning is such a big job that it doesn’t allow you the time and energy to be economically active. Being chronically ill is incredibly hard work.

Join a trade union if you can. Whether you can or not, stand in solidarity with workers who are vulnerable, marginalised and exploited. Don’t see migrants – even the illegal immigrants as your enemy – question the people who use and abuse them. Question the poverty that has driven them to migrate, and ask who caused it. Don’t see underpaid work as ‘fun’ or a calling and assume that makes it ok somehow. Don’t ignore the work of people who are not paid for what they do. We’re all workers. Poverty and desperation make people more vulnerable to fascist politics. A climate of exploitation makes us all more vulnerable. Solidarity and mutual respect are essential.