Category Archives: Paganism

Seeking transformation

New experiences always offer the scope for change. What are we looking for in our spiritual lives, if not the opportunity to grow and develop? Any project or adventure we undertake holds the potential to change us, shift our thinking, open our hearts, educate us and teach us things about who we are.

I recall reading something a while ago about how most people look back at their previous selves and easily see how much they have changed over time. Those same people tend to believe they have stopped changing now, and won’t change much in the future. They are probably wrong about this, but it’s an interesting reflection on how we approach the idea of change, especially as we age. For some people, getting older seems to involve getting more fixed, but it doesn’t have to. The scope for adventure and discovery is always there.

There are questions to ask around how much novelty is a good idea. New things have more power to surprise and stimulate us, which is good. The eager mind is often hungry for new experiences. However, it’s all too easy to go chasing after novelty and thrill, without ever internalising those experiences. Novelty alone doesn’t change us because we also need time to absorb and reflect. Not everything has most to give at the first try and many things have more to give us if we stick with them for a while and invest deliberately.

Change isn’t reliably a good thing. Change can mean loss, and it can mean learning terrible coping strategies to try and get through impossible situations. Change can make you smaller, it can take things from you. When setting intentions, it’s not enough to seek transformation because that can mess you up. I don’t recommend just trusting the universe to take you where you need to go because in my experience it doesn’t work like that. Life will hurt you, and the less privilege you have to insulate you, the more hurt you are likely to suffer. Sometimes change means moving towards things that will allow you to feel safer and more comfortable. It doesn’t all have to be raw and exposed.

It is certainly true that we do our best growing on the edges of our comfort zones. However, for the person who has been living outside of their comfort zone, the greatest scope for growth comes through embracing more comfort and certainty.


Are you a free spirit?

It’s one of those terms that sounds really good if you don’t think about it. I have thought about it. I am not a free spirit.

My spirit is limited by my body. I’m a physical entity and biology, physics and other branches of natural science inform my experience on a daily basis. There’s a great deal I cannot do.

My body most assuredly isn’t free. I live with pain, stiffness and limited supplies of energy, all of which is often frustrating to me. I cannot reliably do all the things I want to do. I’m hardly unusual in this. Like all working people I’m also sorely limited by my position in the economic system I am obliged to inhabit. I cannot just go skipping off when I feel like it.

I was hurt by existentialism at a formative time in my life, and this has left me invested in the idea that we can only be free in so far as we are willing to be responsible. If you measure my freedom by my willingness to take responsibility, I am an incredibly free being. I’m actually a lot less responsible than I used to be because my child is an adult now. Many of my responsibilities are things I have chosen to carry.

I’ve encountered the kinds of free spirits who move on in a state of carefree joy, with no concern for the mess they leave in their wake. Freedom is always going to be tempered by your ability to care and your unwillingness to hurt, use, or abandon other people. I’m a profoundly relationship-orientated spirit and I’m in it for the long haul. I find my happiness in deep and long lasting connections with people. Doing that requires collaboration and compromise. I have no interest in being free to dance away as soon as I’m bored, or annoyed or things get difficult. I’ve had that done to me, and I do not like it.

When people describe themselves as free spirits, it can often be with complete unawareness of the privileges they have – especially health, money and leisure. It’s easy to be a free spirit when you can afford to do whatever you feel like. It’s hard to present yourself to the world as a free spirit when you’re working multiple jobs to try and keep your family alive. It’s worth being alert to feelings of superiority around ideas of not being a sheep, not being obliged to go along with the crowd. Most of us have limited options and cannot simply choose to be free.

There are other things I am bound by, as well. A sense of community and of other people being entitled to my care and support, especially. A sense of duty towards the living world that means I cannot go carelessly on my way. 

I have no doubt that the majority of people who consider themselves to be free spirits also consider that to be a good and virtuous way of being in the world. It can have everything to do with wanting to create, wander, love and exist lightly. Being a free spirit off grid is really hard work though. Being a self employed free spirit is no kind of easy option. It’s important to ask what we want to be free from, and what we want the freedom to do, and what the price tag is on all of that. If freedom means that someone else pays for it, then it isn’t really freedom at all, its privilege.

I prefer the idea that we can’t be free until all of us are free.


Love is an Ecosystem

For some years now I’ve made green hearts for the climate action #showthelove campaign.

This year’s heart is more conceptual than usual. It’s all about ecosystems. It’s both a celebration of the natural world and a pushback against some of the toxic norms around romantic relationships. We all need to be part of ecosystems, and this includes emotional ecosystems. The idea that two people should be everything for each other is a really damaging one.

In a wood, branches and roots are in communication. The dead feed the living. Fungi interact with trees, and every tree supports a profusion of other beings. A human community should be very much the same. For humans to flourish, we need to be part of our surrounding ecosystems, too.

Love is life rejoicing in life.


Access and Toilets

When it comes to running a gathering, toilets often make a key difference in whether an event is accessible or not. Without a usable toilet, attendance is unfeasible for many people. It’s not as simple as whether there’s an accessible toilet – I have a local venue with an accessible toilet, but the only way into the building involves steps!

How far do you have to travel through the building/venue to get to the toilets? Is this feasible for everyone? Is it going to feel safe for everyone?

If you aren’t somewhere with toilets, how far away is the nearest toilet? If you’re doing an outdoors ritual, this is a big consideration. Able bodied folks – chaps especially – might be comfortable peeing behind a tree. Anyone menstruating will need to be able to wash their hands. Further, for the person with an erratic digestive system, a tree really isn’t enough. IBS, Crohns, EDS and other conditions can make a person’s digestive system unpredictable. No one wants to have to explain this. Whether you can be in the field may depend a lot on how far you have to go to access a clean toilet – because sitting down is an issue.

Who do the regular toilets exclude? I’m a fairly average size, but there are cubicles I’m too big to easily get into. I’m passably mobile, but I’ve got one local loo where I can’t reliably contort myself enough to get through the door. It’s worth really looking at your toilets, because being able to get in yourself isn’t necessarily informative.

Are there changing facilities suitable for older children or adults? There probably aren’t, these are really scarce, so if you do have them, make a lot of noise about it! Lack of such provision denies people access to events, impacting on carers as well as disabled folk. Are the changing facilities in a non-gendered location?

Are there non-gendered toilets? Again, these aren’t common and if you’ve got them, it’s worth a serious shout out because of the inclusion implications. It’s not purely a trans and non-binary issue, either. Gender neutral toilets make it a lot easier for men to bring their small children to events.

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start. Everyone needs a clean, safe, comfortable place to pee and poo. Failure to take this into account leads to needless exclusion. If people have questions about the toilet facilities, they may well have issues that they really don’t want to have to talk about in detail. It’s important to respect people’s privacy and dignity, and not oblige them to explain to them why they need information or specific kinds of facilities.


Fictional Pagans

Over the years I’ve read all sorts of Pagan fiction – including material sent for consideration to publishers. One of the things I find curious is how popular the wheel of eight festivals often are in Pagan novels. In all kinds of different scenarios, historical, fantastical and futuristic, I’ve seen fictional people default to a kind of Paganism that has these eight festivals, and no others.

My understanding of Pagan history (patchy, I grant you) is that the eight festivals are a 20th century thing, and that there’s no real evidence of people anywhere celebrating all eight in the past. The eight are by no means all of the Pagan festivals available – every people, every pantheon has celebrations in addition to this. If you’re keen, you can celebrate a Pagan festival pretty much every day. There’s an incredible wealth of celebration out there to draw on.

Then there’s the local festivals for local people. Those aren’t always ritualistic exactly, but I can’t see cheese rolling without thinking of the sacrifice of human ankles… Local rituals mark significant local seasonal events, local history and provide celebration of your specific community. Not only are they a great way to add colour to the lives of your fictional Pagans, but they’re an excellent way of slipping in some elegant world building without having to give us a history lesson. For actual, living Pagans, local events and customs should be part of the wheel of the year because they ground you in your landscape and connect you to your ancestors of place.

One thing that can be said with confidence of Pagans historical and contemporary, is that we like to celebrate. We’re the people of the wine and the mead and the beer and the cider…. Feasting is part of our culture. We’re earthly, fleshy creatures and having a good time is intrinsic to who we are and what we do. This is not a spirituality based on the idea that life is full of temptations we have to resist. Paganism is joyful, life embracing and convivial. Think about how much we actually celebrate as the wheel of the year turns – cultural festivals, personal festivals, other people’s festivals… why would fictional Pagans be any different?


Inclusion and Commitment

Many people who suffer illness – including mental illness – and disability find that their lives are unpredictable. What we can do this week is not what we can do next week, but we don’t know the details right now. It makes commitment difficult.

One of the easiest ways to exclude ill and disabled people is to require high levels of commitment. This is often an issue around closed working groups, but it can be an issue in all sorts of organisations, even social gatherings. It can impact on who you chose as a speaker for your event, as well.

There’s also a question around how much humiliation a person may have to endure around this. How much personal information is a person going to have to hand over to be cut the slack they need to participate? How much detail are you going to demand about their health issues and the possible implications? Making someone justify why they need adjustments so they can participate can be a really humiliating process and not everyone is keen to go through that, oddly enough.

What’s the humiliation toll going to be if a person has to drop out at short notice? Will you treat them kindly? Or will you get angry with them? That happened to me earlier this year, when I was suddenly extremely ill and had to drop out of an online event. It’s as well I was too ill to be online, because I didn’t see the nasty messages until after an apology had also been sent. I’ve also had some experience of being publicly treated as useless and flakey because my health issues create limitations. Oddly, that was around work that I had done well and on demand. It takes a particularly toxic sort of person to want to publicly humiliate someone for the fact that they have some mental and physical illness to contend with.

Disabled people experience bullying and abuse in all sorts of contexts. Often this is underpinned by an actual belief that the person is lazy, faking it, getting something for nothing, making a fuss or seeking attention. Our media are greatly to blame for creating a culture where this happens, but we all have individual responsibility. I would rather indulge a few lazy people and thus protect the emotional wellbeing of disabled people. I would rather choose kindness where possible, and seek to accommodate, include and enable as many people as possible. Starting from the assumption that people may have genuine issues and no desire to tell you the details is a good first move in this regard.

When we create inclusive environments, we create kinder, gentler spaces for everyone. When we work in ways that support all kinds of participation, we don’t support a culture of martyrdom and burnout – that capitalist approach to life that has us buying, not living. Making a deliberate attempt not to humiliate people is a great way of being more inclusive. People have all kinds of limiting problems, and when we are able to treat that kindly, the world is simply a better place.

The outcomes may not always be ideal. But, given the choice, I’d rather sacrifice an event and save a person than destroy a person’s health for the sake of an event.


Spiritual unease

The pandemic seems to have pushed rather a lot of New Age folk into the arms of the far right. At first glance this all seems very strange – what are the peace, love and light brigade doing cosying up with white supremacists, and people who seem to be all about conflict, hatred and control? And yet there they are, shoulder to shoulder at anti-vax protests and sharing the pages of publications.

I honestly wish I was more surprised, but I’ve been aware for some years now of the many issues in peace-love-light culture. There’s the toxic positivity, which really crushes people who are struggling. There’s the mistaking privilege for having the magical power to manifest good fortune. There’s like-attracts-like thinking which is a brutal and unjust philosophy to apply to people who are poor, disabled and otherwise disadvantaged. The idea of pre-life contracts make it seem ok to ignore people in distress because hey, they chose these lessons. The New Age movement has always had a problem with appropriating from other cultures, treating the global majority with disrespect, feeling entitled to take anything from anyone… 

Perhaps the most problematic bit is the assumption that if you’re all about peace and love and light, the people around you are good. Feeling that you can afford to be uncritical of yourself and others, and that you can just assume that goodness is what’s around you. If you think like attracts like you’re hardly going to want to consider that you’ve become attracted to Nazis. 

To be genuinely spiritual, you have to be willing to keep an eye on yourself for smugness, self-importance and feelings of superiority. The spiritual life will only stop you turning into a total narcissist if you’re actually invested in the idea of not becoming a massive, self-serving ego. To be spiritual you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Learning and growth are pretty much impossible if you aren’t able to be uncomfortable sometimes. If you only seek out things that make you feel good about yourself, you can end up with more of an ego trip than a spiritual journey.

It does matter who you associate with. The people we spend time with have a huge impact on us. Do the people we encounter really help us become our best selves, or are they making us feel like we’re above criticism? What does the freedom we demand cost other people? Who is hurt by what we do? If we aren’t willing to ask awkward questions sometimes, our desire to have everything pleasant and easy can turn us into monsters.


Long live the revolution

This week, Pagan Dawn magazine came out and in it was my final Quiet Revolution column. I’d written it every quarter for years. When I started, it made sense to be talking about lifestyle changes like not picking up single use plastic carrier bags. We’ve all come a long way since then. Over the years, I’ve talked about the need for radical changes to our lifestyles, culture, ways of working. Sometimes I’ve put this in a context of spells, prayers and acts of religious devotion.

This summer I made the decision to let the column go. Partly this came from feeling that I would not have the time moving forward. I’ve spent this year reducing the number of things I do. I need a gentler, slower paced life, and I need to focus on the projects that are working for me and where I think I can do my best. My quiet revolution work will continue here on the blog, and no doubt new energy and ideas will fill what space I leave behind in Pagan Dawn.

I’m ok with the amount of upheaval this last year or so has brought. Letting go and doing less are principles that are important to the kind of change I think we need. We aren’t likely to help ourselves or save the planet by working ourselves to death. It is better to slow down, do less, consume less. It’s also good to share out the opportunities. 

I’ve cut right back on my volunteering. I’ve done a lot of service over the years, for various Pagan organisations. I feel good about not doing that anymore. I feel strongly that the most good I can do right now is going to come from what I do creatively, and that this is where I need to pour most of my energy.

There can be grief in letting go. It can be scary. Right now it feels good and necessary. My gut feeling is that I’m doing what I need to do – and I’m just going to trust that and see where the path takes me.


Pagan Dreaming

I’ve written a number of Pagan and Druid books, and of the ones published by Moon Books, Pagan Dreaming has been by far the least successful. It’s been out for years and has just broken through 500 sales. For perspective, the average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime. Most of publishing does not look anything like those multi-million selling famous authors. For every massive international hit, there are many, many books that don’t even sell a hundred copies. 

Part of the problem is that there are a lot of dream books out there, it’s a really saturated corner of the market. Most dream books are either dictionaries of meaning, or are focused on teaching you how to control your dreams, and these are not things I’m interested in. Much of the motivation for writing the book came from wanting to offer alternatives to the x=y approach to dream symbolism, and the idea that control is the goal.

The trouble with publishing is the assumption that people want more of what they already have. It’s perhaps less of an issue in Pagan publishing because it’s still a new area and we haven’t established hard rules in the way some genres have. Long may it continue so. As a reader I am not even slightly interested in reading books that are just like some other books I’ve read. I want to be surprised. I want something different. This is one of the reasons I read a lot of books from indy authors and small publishing houses. 

Of course I’m not alone in this. Netflix are proving over and over that there is an audience for films and series that are not exactly like everything else. Books that are unusual can and do sell too.

The trouble is, that books, films, etc are all easier to sell if you can go ‘if you liked that other thing you’re going to love this.’ I’ve worked in marketing.  There’s an obvious attraction to things that you can easily see how to pitch and who to pitch to. But that doesn’t get you the best books, or the most original books or the books that could actually sell the most. If no one has done it before, you have no idea if this is the book everyone is waiting for. It could be. It might not be.

Some authors are amazing and brilliant, timely and trendsetting and deserve every success. Some authors are successful because they’re really good at figuring out what people want from them and how to pitch it. Some authors are simply lucky, and catch the zeitgeist in some way. Some authors keep churning out the same thing and get enough marketing support and sell far more copies than perhaps they deserve to. It’s not a meritocracy. 

I prefer to take risks, write things that interest me and hope for the best. I’ve tried to be commercially oriented, and frankly I don’t do that well. There are enough people who like what I do for it to feel worth doing. That’s enough. 

If you’re the sort of person who is interested in your dream life, but also heartily sick of dream dictionaries and you don’t see lucid dreaming as the goal of your dream life… I may have a book for you and you can find out more about it over here… https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming


The economics of spirituality

One of the things Paganism doesn’t really do, is enable people to live full time as devotees to their path. Many religions have monasteries, allowing people to make a full time commitment to spirituality. Many religions have paid posts for priests so that the person called to work in their community has a viable way to do that. 

This kind of infrastructure isn’t possible without the religion itself being organised and having a hierarchy. Pagans tend to rebel against that sort of thing. We mostly want to be independent and free to follow our own calling, but the trade off means that there are economic restrictions on following your own calling.

Yes, we have paid priests, but that income is occasional and unpredictable. Doing a job where part of the job involves chasing the work and trying to make yourself financially viable is a lot of extra job for the money and it takes a toll. 

The calling to work as a Pagan can also take people into writing, healing, teaching, divination, making clothes, tools, and other materials, and offering guidance. None of these jobs pay a person much unless you also spend time promoting yourself and your work – this doesn’t always go down well and can lead to resentment. Pagans all too often resent it when other Pagans need to be paid for the work they do. The jobs that might make you a full time Pagan actually don’t make you a full time Pagan because of time spent on marketing and accountancy and business type things.

I don’t have an easy practical answer to any of this. Clearly there are a lot of Pagans who feel the call to be full time in just the way many people around the world feel called to centre their lives in their beliefs. We don’t have the support systems to make that possible and I doubt we ever will. But we’re also not really dealing with the implications of that. We could do a lot better in socially supporting our would-be full time Pagans and we could at least have a culture of treating people kindly when they step up to this way of working and being.

We exist in a capitalist society, and Pagans have bills to pay just like everyone else. Much of the work a person might do is not spiritually nourishing. Those of us able to do work we find ethical, rewarding and intrinsically worthwhile are in the minority. Not everyone can balance part time work with part time Paganism. At the same time, not everyone can afford to pay for the kind of work we want and need Pagan priests to do for us. The answer is not to get angry with our full time Pagans over this. As is so often the way of it, the actual solution will lie in dismantling capitalist systems, so that we can all live on better terms.