Category Archives: Magic

Druidry and Magic

Recently I encountered a chap who said that the only magic in Druidry is communing with the ancestors. I offered a counter list – communing with the land and the old Gods, the magic of inspiration, or beauty, spirits of place, and so forth. He said that was magical, not magic. I have no problem with disagreeing, but it struck me as curious.

I know there are Druids who go in for spells – Kris Hughes talks about it, inspired by the magician Gwyidion, from the Welsh myths. Druidry is certainly not short of polytheists, and a prayer to a God is most assuredly an act of magical intent. I know for many Druids, magic is less about ‘doing’ and more about connection, about the numinous experience and a sense of wonder created by encountering wild beauty. You don’t have to believe in anything much to be a Druid. Magic can be found in the transformative power of ritual – whether you think that’s woo-woo magic or a simple consequence of showing up and doing the things.

The magic I have most deliberately sought it the magic of inspiration. I know no more powerful or glorious feeling than the moment when it crashes into me.

There are many ways of defining magic. Which is excellent. There are many ways of experiencing magic, feeling something as magical and feeling like a participant in something magical. There is however a world of difference between saying ‘this is what magic means to me’ and insisting that your take on magic is the only one available. Magic is personal, Druids are diverse, Druidry is full of possibilities. There is more wonder and delight to be found by being open to other people’s experiences than by insisting that yours is the only real one.


Sabrina

Content Warning.

Sabrina offers me the comfort of her arms. She promises to hold me like a mother holds a small child. She will comfort me, and take away the pain. There will be peace in her embrace, and relief, and release and none of this will matter anymore. Sabrina invites me to sleep in her arms.

She offers this invitation widely, gathering to her the lost and distressed, the hopeless and despairing. She will hold anyone who can no longer bear to breathe. She will take anyone into her keeping who has nothing left to live for and no faith in the future.

Once she had a reputation as a river that kills. The Severn always gets her man, they used to say. With her tides and mud and unpredictability, she was never kind to the careless. These days they come willingly, when they can take it no more. She does not need to lure the fisherman or tantalise the careless child.

She calls to me. I hear her promises, her reassurance. It is a brutal mercy that she offers, a killing kindness for those who can take no more. She is always there, always offering to be the end of the journey, the place of rest. ‘Sleep in my arms,’ she says ‘and forget.’


Trusting my intuition

I have a hard time trusting my intuition. It’s something I’ve been exploring deliberately this year. I’ve also found myself in situations where there are no other sources of information, and intuition is all I’ve had to go on. At this point I’ve come to the conclusion that I can afford to trust what I intuit.

One of the single biggest problems for me in all of this is that I suffer from anxiety. I have a powerful imagination and can come up with many ways in which a situation could go wrong. There are reasons, rooted in my history, that make it hard for me to imagine good outcomes. It is hard to trust my intuition when my anxiety is screaming ‘you’re doomed’ and my imagination is playing out all the worst case scenarios. It’s not easy to tell what is just anxiety screaming, and what might be something else.

Being an anxious person, I tend to assume that any hopeful feeling is just wishful thinking on my part. I have been in the habit of writing off any good or uplifting feelings on the basis that they must be irrational. This hasn’t been helpful.

The answer has been to make time and really sit with whatever I’m feeling. To pay attention to what fits in my habitual thoughts and what doesn’t. If I interrogate those impulses I can often tell what is just anxiety as usual happening for me. Alongside that I’m making a conscious effort not to dismiss out of hand any possibility that doesn’t lead to crushing failure, disappointment and distress. Sometimes things do work out well, and I have evidence of this. I no longer live in a situation where there is someone intent on crushing me, and I no longer need to assume the worst for my own safety.

My intuition has room for the best in other people. It has room in it for hope, and good outcomes. My intuition is much more open to trust than the rest of me. It’s a small voice, long ignored, but this year it has held up where conventional sources of insight have failed. My intuition has kept me going where otherwise I might have broken down entirely. I do not have to accept a life without hope and possibility. I can consider that better outcomes are possible. I can afford to trust existence and the universe to be neutral towards me, not actively hostile. I can trust myself, and I can stop feeling that my more hopeful impulses are naïve, self indulgent or ridiculous.


Candles, prayers and magic

My first experience of using candles for prayers was in my late teens, visiting Gloucester cathedral. The cathedral continues to offer spaces where a person can light a candle as an act of prayer, and it’s something I and my family continue to do. The cathedral is a place I go to connect with my ancestors, amongst other things.

There’s an immediacy to using a candle – the flare of light as you strike the match, or the transference of flame from one lit candle to another. You literally put light into the world. It’s a good focus for will, for petition, for need. The observable effect of the lit candle feels like having done something, so it makes the spell, or the prayer seem more real, more in the world. Then, if you so desire, you can spend time with that candle and with your intentions.

I’ve become uneasy about burning things and using fire in any spiritual context. With so much of the world burning and overheating, I’m ambivalent, these days, about the role I think fire can play in my spiritual practice. Gone are the days when I would want to do ritual around a fire.

There is however comfort in a candle. It’s a small flame. A small gesture of hope even at a time when fire seems problematic to me. The warm light of it is inherently comforting, and when you are praying from a place of need, distress, discomfort, that small comfort can be worth a lot. When distress makes concentration hard, the focus of a candle flame can be a welcome thing indeed. There is light in the darkness. There is warmth and cheer. There is hope, be it ever so small.

So long as the candle flame holds, there is hope. So long as there is the means to light it, there is hope. So long as I refuse to give up on hope, there is hope. Sometimes, small symbolic actions can make a great deal of difference.


Druidry and diverse experience

One of the terms that floats about in contemporary Paganism is UPG – Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis. It’s a useful phrase for flagging up things you know from personal experience but can’t necessarily back up in any way. It’s good to clarify how we know what we know because other people’s mileage can and will vary.

However, there is a natural human desire to substantiate that personal gnosis, most often by agreeing with each other that we have experienced the same things. It can get a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ if we aren’t careful. It can feel vulnerable to have an experience that doesn’t sit well alongside the consensus experience. I’ve been that person in workshops a few times, and even in a friendly space it is uneasy being the person whose UPG does not fit in with the emerging SPG.

When we share experiences, there can seem to be a pressure to have at least had some sort of woo-woo or meaningful experience. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in meditation sessions, and learned with the Contemplative Druid gatherings how much gentler the process is when you aren’t expected to give feedback on your experiences. To sit together meditatively and not have to say what your experience was is surprisingly liberating. It taught me a lot about the kinds of pressures I’d felt in other places, and how performative spiritual feedback can become.

Does it matter if we all have the same sort of experience? On one hand, it is validating, and some conformation that you have not gone quite mad. There’s being away with the fairies, and then there’s really being away with the fairies… But, I have also experienced people sitting together and not having the same experience around what’s going on in the room.

I feel strongly that diversity of experience should not leave anyone feeling like they got it wrong somehow. If one person has a woo-woo experience and other people who are with them do not, it does not meant that some of the people were less inherently magical. It does not mean that the person experiencing the uncanny is mad, or lying, or otherwise out of kilter. We have to have room for diversity of experience even when we are in the same place and doing the same things.

There is more to magic. It’s complicated. All kinds of ideas, entities, traditions, and ways of working exist in paths and in individual practice. It seems less reasonable to me to expect similar experiences than to expect diverse ones. I am reminded of the Jain story about the blind men trying to make sense of an elephant – it’s a good story to spend time with. Limited as we are, we might easily sit together and have a spiritual experience that is unique to each of us and have no way of knowing how it connects to a coherent whole anyway. And if it doesn’t, that should be ok too.


Spirits of Place

When Dr Abbey first arrived with us, he did a great deal of drawing at high speed. There were many pieces, and it was a really interesting process to observe. He hadn’t done much art in a long time and was drawing his way back into a more creative headspace. This image leapt out at me as he was working on it.

 

Last week I sat down with it and attempted my own version. I used pens –  I haven’t gone straight  in with coloured pens since childhood. That was a challenge. It also raised issues of how much to try and do my own thing and how much to emulate the loose style Abbey has when working unconsciously. I ended up with a mix.

My main aim in doing this was to engage with the image, and the energy of the being depicted in the image. I spent more than an hour on this, while the original took a couple of minutes. I will go back and have another go – most likely using materials I’m more used to. It’s harder doing ambiguity with pens, and this is a figure who I think needs more ambiguity in the mix.

One of the things that has struck me this summer, in my process of inviting magic in, is that drawing is something to explore. Not everything is best handled with words. I could not have had this experience by writing it, but finding this presence on the paper and making room for it opens something up and creates possibility. Drawing can, I realise, be a way of knowing, encountering, experiencing, connecting and honouring.  I will make more time for this, and share any interesting results as I go.


Trusting your magic

I was in a conversation recently about trusting your own magic, and if/when/how to do that. It’s an interesting consideration.

What is your magic? Where is the enchantment in your life? It could be in your cooking, or in your ability to soothe others by listening to them. You may have magical green fingers for making plants grow. Or your magic could be more overtly woo-woo with premonitions, visions, conversations with the non-human, intuition and so forth. Simply identifying what there is about you that has magic in it – on whatever terms you want to use the word – is powerful.

Do you use that magic much? Do you trust it? Do you let it lead you? How real is it to you? What happens when you share it?

By its very nature, magic can be fragile, ephemeral stuff. Hard to trust that if the people around you have no room for magic in their lives. There are people who will try to disenchant you, and many of them will think they are doing you a favour with that. To trust your own magic and protect it if the people around you have no room for it, is hard.

As is the issue with so many things, going it alone is challenging. Being part of a community is sustaining. It’s easier to have some magical resilience if the people around you at least accept the role of magic in your life. It’s easier to feel magical if there are people who affirm your sense of enchantment. It’s easier to explore things if you have people to share ideas with or who can listen to your experiences. Magicians (like poets and mad scientists) are so often portrayed as lone figures, but in practice, to keep going as a magician (poet, mad scientist) it really helps not to be alone.

At its heart, having room for magic is just having room for wonder and possibility. You don’t need anything more than that. But how often do people simply shut wonder and possibility down?


Three times through the labyrinth

Usually when I make a labyrinth, I walk it twice. I’m the first one in, to make sure no terrible mistakes have been made. And I’m the last one through because I do that for me, and I rather like it.

But, there is that thing about Druids liking to do things three times.

Yesterday I walked the labyrinth three times. The first two were much as usual – I took intentions and things I want to work with on that journey, and used the process of walking to explore those ideas and settle them in my body. I took things I want to make real and walked to make them more real.

Last time I walked a labyrinth, one of the intentions I’d held was that my next one (ie the one I just made) I would make for Dr Abbey to walk. So, walking this time with him present was very powerful for me.

Third time through everything went a bit mad. I felt my posture shifting, and then my hips reconfigured. They really have – it wasn’t just a labyrinth strangeness. I did a 6 mile walk this morning, and my right hip has shifted so my right foot turns out less than it did.

I had an experience of being in my body that I’m still getting to grips with. A sensation of being both more substantial and more ephemeral. Like I was some sort of delicate elf being made of gossamer, but also wholly real and solid. I seldom feel entirely real and I never normally experience myself as delicate in this sort of way. I had a keen sense of where my edges are and of my completeness as a person in a way that felt like being in my own power. It was intense and transformative.

Coming out of this third labyrinth walk I felt the need to ground, and so dropped gently to my knees and put my hands in the grass. What followed was an intense, visceral re-experiencing of my first bardic initiation slightly over seventeen years ago.  I was thrown utterly and unexpectedly into a powerful tactile memory. The words from the initiation came back to me. I remembered what I had promised. I had a strange sense of being in conversation with the land. I’m still working out what to do with this.

It is quite likely that this is in some ways a culmination of other things going on in my life. But, the first two journeys through the labyrinth were much as I expected and follow the experiences I’ve had over some years of walking it twice. Three, by the looks of it, is the magic number. But of course we knew that, because Druids do everything three times.

Fortunately I had taken food and water with me and had a very lovely and supportive group of people around me and no one there I did not know.  It’s something I’ll think about carefully when I do it again. Because clearly I’m going to do it again.


Intuition or Anxiety?

We know all kinds of things with our bodies. Even if you aren’t drawn to more magical explanations, there are some really rational things to take into account about what we know and where in our bodies we know it. We all absorb far more information than we can consciously process, and there’s increasing evidence to suggest that how and where we store that knowledge is complicated and not just a brain issue. Our bodies know things.

The anxious body has learned fear, and that fear colours what we learn. This can make it challenging to know what to do with body knowledge. How do you tell between fear and intuition? Anxiety will tell you that something awful is going to happen. The worse the anxiety is, the worse the expectations and the higher frequency at which they arrive. Suffering from anxiety made me really uneasy about trusting the idea of intuition. When fear makes you see dangers that don’t exist, it’s hard to trust any other body wisdom.

What I’ve discovered recently is that different kinds of knowing sit in my body in different ways. Anxiety sits in the muscles between my ribs, and is a heavy weight in my stomach. Anything I feel in those locations is most likely to be anxiety, not intuition.

However, if I experience something at a bone deep level, that’s intuition, and well worth taking seriously. It’s difficult to describe, but it is a feeling that is deeper in me – and has weight and substance, and solidity. Bone wisdom is substantial, and persists over time frames. The fear that lives in my muscles is tremulous and shifting, inconsistent and nearer the surface. All it has for me is the potential to be afraid, whereas what I feel in my bones includes all of the options available to a person.

I’ve been working on identifying and trusting my intuition for some months now. I’m trying to rebuild my trust in other ways of knowing, and in my own senses and at the same time to be less in thrall to my own anxiety. I’m making good progress. I’ve done some really dramatic things based on what I’ve known in my bones. Those things have gone so well, and what I’ve known has repeatedly proved true, which helps me build trust in my own intuition. What I know in my bones is worth knowing. If it’s just a fluttering, sickly surface thing then I don’t have to invest in it.


Signs and wayfarers

Paths do not always take you in the direction the signpost suggested. Sometimes, a path is a crossing point, a liminal place between here and there. You may wander across borders for a while. You may return changed, unknowingly.

More so at twilight. More so when the shadows lie long and inviting and make mystery out of what was familiar by day.

And if you step off the path, there is no knowing where you step. It is an old truth that human feet are often best served by keeping to the tracks. Do not follow the cheerful lights disappearing into the trees. Do not heed the laughter, or the haunted cries. What lies beyond the path is never as it seems and is not for you. Not if you would keep the life you have now.

Watch for the guardians at the margins. At first glance they may seem to be of this world, but look closely and you will see the signs that they have clad themselves in dreams to pass through here. They may be your friends and allies, ready to warn of a path that is going somewhere other. Willing to guard against the uncertainties in the deep shadows.

And as is always the way with these things, there will be those who look like guardians, but are not. How do you judge if they mean you well? How do you decide what is friendly advice offered kindly, and what is bait set in the trap?

Art by Dr A.