Category Archives: community

Celebrating the Equinox

I’ve always found equinoxes tricky, not least because I’ve never found much in the way of folk tradition to draw on. There is a lovely modern tradition that makes the 21st of September International Peace Day, and that’s something worth tapping into, certainly.

This equinox might, therefore be a good time to think about who we include in our ritual circles, and who we don’t. Superficial peace is easily achieved – distance, absence, ignoring, denying, silencing, disappearing, disempowering – all of this can make for a peaceful scenario for those who come out on top. However, for those who are silenced and vanished, the problems and the effect of being denied is the exact opposite of peace.

In the long term, the superficial peace that silences the unpeaceful will beget future conflicts. Real peace means dealing with the problems. It means looking at our conflicts and trying to work out what to do with them. It means asking what we do about people who mistreat others within our communities, and it means recognising that to do nothing is always to support the aggressor and to deny the victim.

It is ok for people to fall out, disagree, find they can’t work together and move on. Great things can come from people realising they don’t like a thing and striking out to make the thing they want on their own terms. This kind of division does not have to be ultimately unpeaceful. The separation may be messy, but if we can respect our differences, we can all move on in good ways.

Sometimes the actions, words or behaviour of one person will put another person in a situation they can’t deal with. We tend to treat this as an individual problem rather than a community one. We let the person go who feels least able to stay. Power and popularity may prove more important than justice and fairness. If there’s nothing more to it than a personality clash, then perhaps the only thing to do is weather the short term grief and start over. Some things cannot easily be fixed.

Groups in the habit of pushing people out are not good groups to be in. Groups that tacitly support bullying, because there’s someone powerful in the centre of the group, are not good spaces. So much of this echoes the playground, where there are always kids who will gravitate towards the deliberately nasty one in the hopes that by supporting them, they will never be the victim themselves.

So at this time of balance, I invite you to think about how we hold our edges. How we let people go when they need to, and how we work together when there’s conflict that needs collective solutions. What we do with people when they are out of order, what we do with people when they are hurt? If you are standing in circle today, or at the weekend, think about the peace of your circle and what maintains it, think about your community as a whole. Ask whether you have true peace, or the calm that comes from ignoring the issues, or making the problems go away.


Long term relationships

It’s easy to get excited about another person in the short term. Some of that has to do with the chemistry of sexual attraction and all the mad, glorious things that does to us, briefly. Emotional, intellectual, even spiritual attractions to people can be very intense at the exciting, beginning period, and then fade over time. We’ve heard all their stories. We’ve found out more of who they really are, and they turn out to be as flawed as everyone else. The promised magic of those early days turns out to be just another illusion.

This is something I’ve been talking about a lot with my other half, having spent most of our time together over the last seven years. We’ve both been in other relationships in the past, and this one, is definitely different.

One of the conclusions we came to is that we don’t treat our relationship as a defined, settled tidy thing. We never will. We check in with each other, and things change. We’ve both changed a great deal since we got involved, but rather than growing apart, we’ve grown together.

We make a point of being interesting, and being interested. We do things for each other and we do things together – not as some kind of special occasion activity, but as a default setting for daily life.

It is very easy for established relationships of any shape to become habit, and thus become dull and lacklustre. Once we think we know each other. Once we’ve settled into a nice routine. Once we don’t think we need to ask, or check, or discuss. When people take each other for granted, they don’t give the other person any room to change, and when the other person changes, they miss it, and it can so easily spiral out of control from there. Hold someone to the needs, beliefs, hope and desires they had when you first met them, and ten years later you will not be dealing with the reality of who they are.

Relationships that work are not boxes we make to shut ourselves into. A good relationship is made of deliberate choices – from moment to moment in every word, gesture, thought and action. A good relationship is about how we are when we wake up together in the morning. It’s what we do, and choose to do. An ongoing, deliberate process of commitment, exploration and care.

Non-Patriarchal Parenting

It is my belief that traditional western parenting models are all about getting children into the system. We have taught children that the authority of the parent is based on their ability to inflict pain/punishment and their ability to withhold resources as punishment. Patriarchal parenting values obedience over all else, it teaches the child to submit to the will of the parent and not to question the will of the parent. By extension, the child learns to bow to authority and participate in systems of power-over. This causes problems around consent and exploitation.

Inevitably, when bringing up children, there is, and has to be a power imbalance. The younger a child is, the less able they are to care for themselves and the harder it is for them to make good choices because they just don’t know enough. I’ve seen a lot of media representations that suggest there are only two ways of parenting – good, responsible, disciplined parenting (patriarchy) or wet liberal ineptitude that will spoil the child entirely and leave them unable to cope with the real world. So, here are some tactics that I think help if you want to raise a child in non-patriarchal ways.

Be clear that you don’t know everything, you aren’t automatically right, you aren’t some sort of God and you don’t always know what’s best. Admit that you can make mistakes and do not ask your child to believe in the rightness and infallibility of your power.

Any chance you can, explain why you are setting rules, or boundaries, or saying no. Help them understand. Explain to them that they don’t know enough yet to make good choices and that you are helping them get to the point where they can make these choices for themselves. As they become more able to make their own choices, give them the opportunity to do that. Start them off with safe spaces where they can afford to make mistakes and learn from them.

Ask your child for their opinion, thoughts, feelings and preferences. Be clear that they won’t always get what they want, but that their opinion matters and is noted. Take their feelings and opinions seriously and make sure they can see that you do this.

Teach them to negotiate with you. Tell them that if they can make a good and reasoned case for why they want a thing, they might get it. As a bonus, this lures a child away from screaming and temper tantrums really quickly if they can see it works.

Recognise that they are capable of knowing more about something than you do (for me, it was dinosaurs very early on).

Give them opportunities to say no to you, and have that honoured. This is especially important around body contact, and establishing how consent works, and their right to say no. Create situations where it doesn’t matter if they say yes or no, and then let them decide.

I found that doing this meant I could also say ‘if I give you an order, you are to follow it without question or hesitation’ and have that be taken seriously by the child. It was understood that I would only do this in emergencies when there wasn’t time to explain or negotiate, and that I would explain afterwards if necessary.

I found that taking my child seriously and only giving orders in emergencies meant that my child trusted me, was likely to co-operate with me, and did not see what authority I needed to wield as unfair. As a consequence, he doesn’t treat power over others as something he needs as the only way of avoiding people having power over him.

Adventures with the Pagan Federation

I joined the Pagan Federation when I was 18. Through the PF’s Pagan Dawn magazine, I had my first encounters with the various paths in modern Paganism, and my first snapshot of the modern Pagan world. In my twenties, I volunteered for the PF, wrote for Pagan Dawn, went to conferences and met a lot of excellent people as a consequence. I left because I found something that I thought needed me more than the PF did at that point.

Like most of the active Pagans I know, I’ve been in and out of various groups, held an array of volunteer posts, fallen out with people, patched up with some of them. Paganism is full of people, and some people are easier to work with than others. Interpersonal politics is a thing, wherever you go. I try not to get too invested in it, but it happens. But even so, events around Druid Camp 2017 left me really questioning whether I had a place at all in the wider Pagan community and whether I should just give up and go away. It certainly didn’t help that in the same time frame, I ran into problems that obliged me to put down my OBOD volunteering as well.

As a consequence, it came as something of a surprise to me to find that I was wanted by the PF for a volunteer role. There’s been some quiet sorting out of this through the summer. I rejoined the Pagan Federation. I signed the paperwork. I’m going to be the Pagan Federation Disabilities Web Elf. I am very happy that I get the gender neutral term of ‘elf’ and the process that got me there was wonderful. In essence this means using the blogging and social media skills I use for other jobs and volunteering work and helping more with online festivals that the disabilities team run.

I’m excited about this as a prospect. It means I can use my skills to help support and empower others. I can make it easier for people who need their issues to be heard, to have a platform for that. There will be space to examine and promote best practice around inclusion, to talk about things that enable people to be more involved. I see lots of ways in which the blog and social media work can help inform, uplift and empower.

It’s also good to be working in a team where I can feel safe about saying ‘sorry, I don’t have the spoons for this’ and know I won’t need to explain and further. To feel able to say ‘I am too close to burnout for this right now’ is a big deal. I’ve talked before about how volunteers can be burned out by never-ending work, and taking mental health and energy levels seriously within work, and volunteer work needs to happen. It’s an opportunity to model and talk about better ways of doing things.

How we hold each other

They said “it is all your fault.”

And so I apologised, and promised I would try harder. Do more, ask for less. Think more carefully. Make less fuss.

They said “you are an emotional blackmailer and attention seeking.”

And so I hid my feelings, denied my pain. I became ashamed of my tears. Afraid to say ‘ouch’.

They said “you are useless and a waste of space. You mess everything up.”

I said sorry. Again. More. I made a note not to ask for help so often.

They said ‘You are difficult, high maintenance, exhausting to deal with.”

I reminded myself to ask for less, to not burden other people.

They said “it is inconvenient for us if you make a fuss. We don’t want to deal with what’s happening, it is not our problem.”

I admitted that it was not their problem. They owed me nothing.

They said “we will take your work but we don’t want to acknowledge you in any way.”

And on that occasion I managed to say no, sod you all. No.

They said “We don’t have time to talk to you.”

I started saying ‘well in that case, maybe I am not doing this thing you wanted me to do.”

They harassed me, made my life difficult, and while they did it, they said “you are the bully. You are the bad guy and must be stopped.”

Eventually I started to wonder about this.

They have worn various faces down the years. They have always been willing to take the best of me, bleed me dry, and complain if I ask not to be bled to death. They have walked on me, and been offended when I have asked not to be used as rug. It has taken me far too long to consider that I might not be the one in the wrong here.

It has taken me a long time to learn that there are people who do not see my flaws as justification for hurting me. There are people willing to think the best of me, deal kindly, play fairly, exchange and support in return. Perhaps they were there all along, and I could not see them for the feet of the tramplers, and the haze of too much blood letting. I see them now. And they say things that do not take me apart.

Non-competitive conversation

I hate competitive conversations. The sort that are all about point scoring, or arguing over hypothetical ideas. I am particularly unfond of being backed into the kind of corner where, having identified a problem, it’s all ‘and what are you going to do about that?’ Once it’s about imagining what governments should do, or what I might do if in charge of everything, I really don’t see the point. I am no fan of conversations where people are vying to prove who is the cleverest, by knocking holes in each other.

It is entirely possible to have exchanges that are purely about the exchange. To kick around ideas with no particular aim of proving anything, just to see what comes up along the way. Those are the conversations in which I do take on new ideas and in which I can be persuaded to change my mind. Not least because I am not then a ‘loser’ for doing so.

I like conversations where people share their truth, their experiences and stories, and witness each other, and make what sense they can of the compare and contrast options. Those tend to be both affirming and informative exchanges. They require really listening to each other, and really caring about what other people are saying.

When listening comes from a desire for one upmanship, it’s all about latching onto the points you can knock down, or twist in your favour. It’s about looking for mistakes, or places people may not be able to quote dates and stats off the top of their heads. And it means knowing all those things will be done to you when you try to speak. I find this stuff exhausting. It’s part of why I try to avoid meetings, and why I don’t do certain kinds of politics anymore.

When listening is about the desire to really hear and understand what the other person is saying, it’s a whole other process. Not just listening carefully to the words, but to the tone of voice and the body language. Not listening to see what you can do with it, but listening to try and grasp what the other person wants to express to you. It means asking questions for clarity. “Do you mean…?” “Is that like…?”

There are conversations that can only keep us on our toes, dancing cautiously around each other like boxers, watching the opponent to try and predict the next blow, or land our own. There other are conversations that enrich us and bring us into greater depth of understanding, greater harmony, greater intimacy. For some time now I’ve been trying to avoid the competitive conversations, I think I’m going to be clearer at expressing my dislike for them and my unwillingness to join in.

Away with the Steampunks

One of the things I love about Steampunks is the number of people who are full on doing the thing they love without apology. Many of the people I’ll see in Lincoln over the weekend will be playing at being something they aren’t, whether that’s with extraordinary costumes, membership of some fictional team (like The Mars Expeditionary Force), tea duellers, leather batpersons…. there will be a lot of happy messing about.

Alongside that, there will be a lot of people who are being who they really are. Makers, creators, musicians, performers, costumers, tea duellers, leather batpersons.

I have yet to figure out quite what it is about Steampunk spaces that allows people to deselect the mute button and let all the glorious passionate madness out into the world, but it does. No doubt this is a big part of why I feel so secure and at home in these spaces.

Most of the time, the expectation is that we will dress in bland, sensible, unimaginative ways to blend in with all the bland people around us. We’ll keep our obsessions to ourselves. We certainly won’t paint nerf guns to look like brass and carry them in the street in case of zombie bankrobbers. Most of the time, we won’t let ourselves love anything enough to let it come pouring out into the world as some large and dramatic wave. But this weekend there will probably be jetpack races, and it takes a lot of love to build a jetpack and then run with it in a public place on a warm summer’s day.

This weekend the odds are I will laugh loudly, hug fiercely, share without hesitation, dress outlandishly, and move confidently. For a few days, I won’t be awkward in my body because this is a space where I know I won’t be fat shamed, or ridiculed for any aspect of my appearance. I’m going to sing loudly too (on Monday morning at the Cathedral Centre) and talk about the project I love (Saturday afternoon 3pm, also Cathedral Centre).

And when I come back next week, I will wonder, as I wonder every year, why more spaces can’t be like this.

Casting a circle around things

For Pagans, casting a circle is a term to evoke a feeling of ritual. We cast circles to delineate between sacred time and regular time, and hold a space that is a temporary temple. We may do it for magical protection, and to raise power. There is a definite difference between what is inside the circle and what is outside. Depending on the intent behind the ritual, the circle will be closed and impermeable, or not so much.

I notice that humans draw circles around things all the time. We create edges so that some things and people are inside, and outside of our circles. We draw lines round things to declare what’s allowed in, what isn’t, what is important, and what isn’t. These circles have power, and in holding them we can feel incredibly powerful. They are the lines of saying no, of turning away at the border.

Of course there are many times and places where such boundaries are good and appropriate. We put edges on things to contain them and give them coherence. Without this, our definitions become meaningless. What is a Druid? What is Paganism? Although somewhere, someone is arguing about where exactly the edges should be for those, no one argues that we should not have edges. On the whole, I think drawing circles round ideas is a good idea.

However, we also draw circles around people, and that’s a lot more sinister. There’s a world of difference between drawing a circle around your concept of Druidry and drawing a circle that says ‘black people can’t be Druids’ or ‘what we do is only suitable for able bodied people’. I also question the way in which Paganism so often deliberately excludes children, and by extension the mothers (sometimes fathers) of children.

There’s nothing like a clique for drawing circles around the special people and excluding the rest. And no doubt it feels fabulous to be publicly identified as one of ‘team druid’ but it also means the rest of the people on the field at your Druid camp aren’t that. The more we give a minority special important status, the more we can end up devaluing everyone else. It’s something to be alert to.

For me, casting a circle outside of ritual is about defining concepts. When it comes to people, I like permeable edges, so that if someone turns up and is doing all the things, they are inside. Whether that’s about running rituals, being at a Druid event, or being part of a social group, a permeable edge lets people through when they identify with what’s going on. An edge held only so that people can see their own involvement.

Druid Community

Is there such a thing as Druid community? It’s a question I’ve revisited repeatedly. I’ve been a member of The Druid Network and Henge of Keltria – my inclusion or exclusion dependant largely on whether I am willing to pay for membership. Technically I will always be a member of OBOD, but unless I pay for the magazine, I don’t have much direct contact. I believe there are boards I could use, but I spend too much time online as it is. Experience of physically meeting up in groves and groups has also demonstrated to me how easy it is to come in, and to leave.

Communities have to have permeable edges. If people can’t come in, or move on, then you have something stagnant and unhealthy. But at the same time I think that it’s too easy to solve things by leaving, by letting people leave, and thus by not really sorting things out at all.

For me, community means working together to maintain relationships. It’s not simply paying to access the same space, or temporary allegiances. Community means dealing in some way with our conflicts, differing needs, issues and so forth, rather than rejecting anyone who isn’t a neat fit outright. How far we are willing to go to include and to look after each other is a question I think we need to be asking.

Thanks to the internet, and to modern transport most of us aren’t obliged to deal with the Druids around us. There are no real pressures on us to work together. And if the ‘problem’ just leaves, problem solved! I think in this way, Druids are simply reflecting the rest of how things work generally. We move on, we leave jobs, we move away from difficult neighbours, we cut off friends we’ve fallen out with… These are all things that individuals in conflict have little scope of handling well.

Peace is something we talk about a lot around Druidry, but it’s not something we all practice. We don’t all seek peaceful resolutions for each other. We don’t all tend to intervene to resolve things, we often just let the problem move on, or encourage it to. Let the awkward person go somewhere else. Let the person who lost the argument quit.

Mediation is hard work. It can call for challenging people, and for investing time, care and effort in trying to resolve things. To do it, we’d have to really care about each other… like we were some kind of community or something.

(I expect there are Druid communities out there that do this for each other, but mostly my experience has been of the other sort of thing.)

Tips for Collaborating

I’ve done a lot of working with other people – I’ve co-written, been illustrated, written for comics and done a lot of music with people. Collaborations have the potential to result in something that is more than the sum of its parts, if you can get them to work. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Are you thinking about a single project, or a working relationship? Either is fine, but it helps to be clear about your intentions at the beginning. Your intentions may of course change as things develop. Stay clear about them.

Pick people whose work you love, and who love your work. Collaborating is about letting something new emerge. If you don’t love each other’s stuff and don’t respect each other as creators, it won’t work.

You have to make room for the other person’s creativity and accept that they will do things you never imagined. I find this really exciting, but it is also a loss of control. If you want to be in control you’ll end up with people who work for you and that’s not the same as collaborating.

Pay attention to how risk is shared out between collaborators. Does more of the cost (of money or time) fall on one person more than another? How can you balance that out to keep things equitable?

Know your own boundaries and respect other people’s. Especially with reference to the time and money you are able to invest in a project.

Be ready to really listen to your collaborators. Be open to negotiation. Don’t expect it to work by magic.

It may not work perfectly straight off. That’s not necessarily a problem. You may need to invest more time in figuring out how to work together to best effect.

If working with someone inspires and encourages you, that’s excellent. It could turn out to be tiring, demoralising and a grind. Some of this depends on finding the right people, but it also depends on being the sort of person who thrives on working with others. You may not be who you think you are, and some things you only find out by doing them. Mistakes are essential, room for mistakes even more so. Never get so attached to the idea of collaborating, or a specific collaboration that you can’t consider it properly.