Category Archives: Paganism

Scruffy for the love of the earth

Being scruffy is something we can all do for the good of the planet. It’s a low cost, low effort response to cutting carbon, cutting plastic use, cutting the impact of the fashion industry. I appreciate that in some jobs and contexts it’s simply too high a risk, and that the more affluent and comfortable you are the fewer implications there are in looking a bit ragged round the edges. If you are poor, people will judge you – but they will also judge you for not looking poor enough.

Scruffy clothes – anything a bit worn, or faded, marked from use or obviously repaired falls into this category. Wearing old clothes is something we can celebrate as an assertion of loving the Earth, and I think if we can re-enforce those choices for each other, there’s a lot of good to be found in it.

It’s also a way of pushing back against all that glossy new age rubbish full of improbable dresses in fields and things you’d never wear for a decent walk in a wood because it wouldn’t last five minutes. And for the guys, and the non-binary folk there’s very little visual content out there. That’s something else to push back against – if we are going to be spiritually glamorous, there should be room for everyone, not just young, thin, white, female-looking people.

I find that if I’m outside for a while, my hair becomes messy. I find that if I don’t wear makeup this impacts on how I look in photographs and videos alike. But, getting makeup without getting throwaway plastic is hard, and animal testing is back, and makeup is expensive, and I don’t think those chemicals do my skin much good… and maybe my face is ok without it. Your face is definitely ok as it is, I feel sure of that. I take no issue with people wearing makeup creatively and playfully and for fun, but if you feel like you need it… you’ve been had by adverts. (I have been had by adverts, but I’m pushing back).

A Pagan aesthetic that is scruffy for the love of the Earth is available to everyone. Body shape doesn’t matter, nor does age, or gender or our ability to conform to ‘beauty’ standards. If you live closer to the Earth, you won’t be able to keep your clothes perfect anyway. Crafting, gardening, walking, doing things from scratch – anything physical like this causes wear and tear. You can only have pristine new looking stuff if you don’t do much with your body while wearing it!

For too long, a ‘Pagan’ look has meant velvet cloaks. Impractical shoes. Flouncy shirts. What happens if we start dressing as though we’re going to walk everywhere? What happens if we walk everywhere and start to look like that? What if looking like you spend time outside is the most Pagan look you can cultivate? What if you make actual crafts part of your Craft?

Changing the surfaces of how we present isn’t superficial. It calls for a massive change in what we value and celebrate and treat as appealing. Show me your dirty Paganism. Show me the love that goes into keeping clothes out of landfill, and I will show you mine…

Here’s an old photo of me in the kind of clothing I can walk in and sit out in. Not especially attractive, but I wasn’t doing it for the camera…


Darkness in spirituality

I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way the language of darkness is used in spirituality. We equate lightness and whiteness with good, darkness and blackness with evil. There are clear racist issues in this. It’s also a line of thought I think owes much to the Middle Eastern sky Gods who are all very much about the penetrating light of the divine.

Paganism is full of Earth Gods, underworld Gods, night Gods and other deities of darkness. Inside wombs and cauldrons there is darkness, not light. There is absolutely no reason to associate light with goodness and darkness with evil – both are necessary and both are harmful in excess. You can die of too much light, dried out, burned, or cancerous. There is comfort, sleep and healing to be found in the natural darkness of night. There is mystery and beauty in the dark places – and the way our ancient ancestors went there to do beautiful cave paintings is well worth contemplating.

There may be some value in talking about human actions and choices in terms of good and evil. Often, talking about light and darkness in this way just allows us to externalise our own choices and reduce our feelings of responsibility. A person can be in darkness or in light and their actions are of their own making. What we do in the privacy of darkness – sex particularly – isn’t necessary shameful, just something we don’t want to share with everyone. If doing it in broad daylight seems like the more honest and virtuous position – I rather feel the politics of the last few years should have scuppered that illusion.

Light and dark are both good in their own ways, and both potentially problematic. Walking a dark path, working at night, celebrating underworld Gods – there’s nothing inherently evil here. This may in fact be taken as a path of great healing and compassion. As for light working – I am reminded of a conversation earlier in the year with a woman who has made a living as a light working, talking about ‘the compassion trap’ and how it was ok not to care about the death of a baby… Perhaps it was no coincidence that the baby in question wasn’t light or white. People who spend too much time staring into the light are not necessarily good or kind. I’ve encountered more backstabbing from ‘peace and love and light’ folk than ever I have anywhere else.

What would it mean to identify as a follower of the darkness? What would it mean to refuse to use the language of darkness to describe negativity? What would it mean in terms of how we might be unconsciously thinking about race? Can we let go of the idea that a good witch is a white witch and a bad witch is black? Can we make more room? Can we not have this lingering sense that white is superior and black is not a good way of being?


Pagan Folk against Fascism

I remember when Pagan Folk against Fascism first came out back in 2010 – there was a lot of folk against fascism work going on at the time as right wing groups tried to infiltrate the folk scene in the UK and claim it as their own.  Things are, frankly, a lot worse now than they were then, although the folk scene doesn’t seem to be so much of a target these days, Paganism most certainly is.

With spoken word and donated songs, the compilation CD aims to raise awareness of the far right’s attempts to utilise the UK Pagan environment to spread hate.

Profits will go to organisations fighting the rise of the far and hard right.

The project was funded in part by organisations within the wider Pagan community, a “seeding loan”, and by Mad Magdalen. Cerri Lee donated the (much used) logo and Damh the Bard made the final mix down.

 

 

Tracks are
Gordon MacLellan – Hills
Druidicca – Homer & the Giant
Sunshine Paul – It’s a Matter of Time
Liv Torc – Shades of Green
Kate & Corwen – Sweet England
Mike O’Connor -Singing in the May
The Dolmen – Willow~Fae
Devil’s Elbow – Cambric Shirt
Damh the Bard – Merlin am I (live)
Mad Magdalen- Alison Cross
Anharmonic – No One Said it Would be Easy
Jim Faupel – Wicker Man
Talis Kimberley- 1400 Hours
Paul Mitchell – Clarion Call
Gordon MacLellan – Kelpie
Mad Magdalen-Wassail

To get a copy, email ragingpagan@hotmail.com

Or go here – https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/paganfolk

 


Dancing in the dark

Dancing plays many roles in my life. It’s a way of engaging directly with music, for a start. It enables me to do all kinds of emotional processing without having to slog it out by thinking everything through. I can just dance with what’s going on until my body has dealt with it. There’s a Pagan aspect to it that I’ve written about recently – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/the-temple-i-am-building-a-poem/

In summer there are usually a few opportunities to dance outside and, even better, to dance in the dark. For me this creates an intense sense of connection with land, sky and season. My usual trick for this is to be near the venue rather than in it – I’ve spent a fair few evenings outside marquees at folk festivals, and being outside other venues can work for me, too. I don’t do well with very loud music, and I’m not always inclined to dance where I have much of an audience. Dancing where I am not supposed to dance, and communing with the summer night is always a powerful experience for me.

Some of the time I dance for, or with Tom, but much of my dancing is more solitary even if other people are around. Most of the time I don’t do it for the entertainment of a viewer. I certainly don’t do it to be sexy for the male gaze – I’ve spent a lot of time exploring dance that is deliberately about avoiding sexualisation. I find my elbows play a big role in that. I dance with my whole body, and I dance to be in my whole body.

Sometimes, if I like the performer and it feels like the right thing to do, I dance to raise energy for the music. I will be the first person to get up of an evening. If there’s a big crowd on the dance floor later on, the odds are I won’t be in it, I’ll have sauntered off into the night to do my own thing.

I am perpetually confused by how long it takes many people to make it to the dance floor. How many other people have to get up first and how much alcohol they need to feel brave enough to move about a bit. People who, by the end of the evening will be having a great time, but don’t jump in sooner. Sometimes I dance to create permission – by getting up early and dancing outlandishly I can guarantee that anyone else following in my wake will look far more sensible. I tend to find if I get up and dance, other people are not far behind me.

Without a doubt, the dancing I love most is undertaken for myself only, in summer nights, outside, where it is not reasonable to expect a person may be dancing.


Rain on skin

One of the things I’m looking for is the opportunity to have intense experience of my own body as part of the living world. Working on a computer for hours every day, it is all too easy to become a head and hands in relationship with a screen. It is important to me to spend time outside, and time in motion.

I notice that it is the more dramatic experiences that give me the strongest sense of myself as a body. Rain on skin makes for an intense experience because of the constant triggering of nerve endings by the contact of falling water. The literal impact of an element upon me. The coldness of rain against the heat of skin warmed by a summer day and by motion.

I can only afford to be rained upon in these warmer conditions. In winter, getting soaked to the skin is a real problem, leading to muscle stiffness, chills, and pain. In summer it becomes a joyful, sensuous experience and a chance for immersion in a feeling of wildness.


Glamour

In fairy folklore, glamour is the magic fairies have that make them seem beautiful and alluring. Glamour hides the dirt and squalor, the mean faces, the bones… it struck me that this kind of magic is something some humans also seek.

I’m pro beauty. I think making and seeking beauty is a good use of energy – especially when there are more diverse possibilities around beauty. I like the beauty of twisted trees and older, more lived in human faces. I like the beauty that a warm heart gives a person. I like creative beauty made from innovation and joy in how we present ourselves. I don’t like glamour.

Beauty is always intended to be real. Glamour is intended to persuade. It’s the harnessing of sexual attractiveness to try and hold power over others. It’s a contrivance to sell product – and often in our visual media, it’s been processed beyond anything the human body can achieve. The glamour of glamorous fashion magazines is often about as real and healthy as the fairy glamour of folklore.

In Paganism, it’s the person who is busy selling you their face, and their look rather than their ideas. This of course draws on the norms of mainstream advertising, but it isn’t very ethical. The book and the workshop won’t make you glamorous, but by associating glamour with product you may be tempted to reach after what you can’t have – and here we are back at the goblin market, eyeing up the forbidden fruit.

We’re easily moved by human beauty. We want it, and we want to be it. The less glamorous you feel yourself to be the more vulnerable you may be to the glamour of others. Gods know, I’ve been there. The less experienced you are in your path and craft, the more the persuasive are the people who glamorously look the part. I’ve been there too, hankering after surfaces because I was twenty-something and inexperienced and the glamorous stuff is eyecatching. But like fairy fruit, it won’t nourish you. The glamour you crave remains out of reach, but you keep paying for it, running round after it and feeling inadequate in the face of it… after a while you can tell it was glamour all along because it leaves you threadbare and unhappy, but by then the damage is done.

There is a beauty that comes to people who do the work. I see it in Jane Meredith, in Cat Treadwell, and Rachel Patterson, to name some visible examples. I see it a lot in people in the Pagan community who are living their magic, and who are suffused by it. It’s a softer, subtler thing, permeating through who people are and what they do. I see the other ones as well, and I see the power of their glamour to attract and persuade. If you can, it’s always worth stopping to ask whether they are selling you glamour – the gold coins that will be dead leaves by next morning, or whether there is any substance to what’s being put forward.


Living Tradition

My parents met in the folk club my mother and grandmother were running. Folk music featured heavily in my childhood. I was terrified of mummers as a child. Not only did I get exposed to the more usual rounds of Greek mythology, Robin Hood and King Arthur, but also to other folklore of the British Isles. I grew up in a landscape rich with story. For me, folk is something you do, not something you pin to a board and leave, dead and dry to gather dust. I am deeply invested in the idea of living tradition.

The trouble with folklore is that there are some folklore academics, and people who wish to align with what they think academic approaches to folklore look like, who want to police it. They want dead things pinned to boards. They have rules about what folklore is, and it is all about what is in the past, and what has been widely accepted already. They actively exclude living tradition people from the folklore playground.

Not all folklore academics, mind you. I’ve had some brilliant conversations recently with people who see folk as a process not a product, and for whom the living tradition is just as important as the history. I’ve got books to hunt out and people to read and I’ll be back to talk about this excellent stuff more when I’ve had chance to dig in. Because for me, dialogue between folklorists and living tradition people is a good thing when that’s an open conversation and not one set of people trying to tell the other set what they are allowed to be, and do.

I take this all very personally. My land stories, my relationship with songs and places and tales, with mumming and history and the imagination are threads that run through my life. They are part of how I see myself and understand myself. I’m by no means alone in this. To tell a living tradition person that they are outside of folklore, that they don’t have any right to have what they contribute taken seriously, is, frankly, offensive. Folklore and tradition are living things, made by people, changed by people – the people at the cutting edge of it should not be excluded from it.

This is especially important for modern Pagans. So many people are working with old stories, personal gnosis and vision and the realities of our modern world to create a living tradition that is both rooted and relevant.

But, as folklore is a living thing, it has the means to wriggle out of the hands of gatekeepers and those who would kill it and pin it up for scrutiny. Folk traditions have always resisted authority – folk remains dirty, plural, messy, contradictory, full of re-invention and innovation, becoming whatever people need it to be at the time. Folklore, as one of my fellow comrades in living tradition points out, has a habit of biting on the arse anyone who thinks they can own it.


Having a physical daily practice

The general wisdom with any spiritual path is that you should have a daily practice. It’s how you make your path part of your life. Most things improve if you keep doing them, and what we do a bit of every day is what defines us – far more than any occasional, dramatic things will.

One of the things that has happened for me with the Druidry is that I’ve embedded it in my life to a degree where I can’t always see it. I live my path. I live it in the everyday green choices I make, in my relationship with my landscape, in how I deploy language, in my relationships with people… It colours everything I do, but at the same time there’s not much I can easily point at and say ‘this is my Druidry’. I’ve had patches of wondering where my Druidry had got to and whether I had slipped out of it. It’s an odd state to be in.

One of the most direct benefits of having a regular spiritual practice is that you get to feel like a spiritual person with a regular practice. The more you embed your beliefs in your life, the less visible they become and in some ways that’s a good thing, but it can also take something away. If your work really is your prayer, if you take a meditative mindset into everything, if there is no hard line any more between what is sacred and what isn’t… you may lose that sense of your own spirituality. 100% Pagan may make it impossible to see the wood for the trees.

In the last few months, I’ve taken up Tai Chi – in no small part because I wanted to add something to my life that I can do every day. Being a specific physical practice, I can’t embed it in my life by any other means. I have to do Tai Chi to do Tai Chi. I spend time moving and standing most days, and I like how this has changed things for me. It’s a good physical discipline and I’m benefiting from that – which is also a way of honouring nature in my body, so, more stealth Druidry! I’ve a long standing interest in Taoism and the Tao Te Ching so this is a body meditation that connects with it. Tai Chi also functions as a martial art, but I’m not especially exploring that side at the moment. I’m studying balance and how I load my joints, slowing myself and seeking a soft, flowing motion.

The more successfully you do the work, the less visible it becomes to you – this is the way of it for most aspects of a spiritual path. Most of us find affirmation in the more self-announcing parts of what we do, and this is one of the great benefits of community ritual. One of the good things about doing something physical in this way is that it remains self announcing. You have to practice it and in doing it every day you get to remind yourself that you are indeed the sort of person who does such things.

I’m aware that such an ‘ego-led’ approach to what we do and why might sound wholly unspiritual. But at the same time, I think being in denial about why we may be motivated to take up spiritual things in the first place just leads to a different kind of self importance. A secretive and dishonest kind of self importance that does no good to anyone. Best to be honest about these things. We take up spiritual work because we want to be spiritual people and we want to feel that way about ourselves. When we do it well, what we do becomes less visible to us, and we may well need things that help us feel the same excitement of a novice.


Disrespecting the Gods

A guest post from Aspasía S. Bissas

 

I blame Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods).

All right, I don’t really blame them, but they and a host of other fiction writers and TV showrunners aren’t helping. By turning the Gods into mere characters, showing no real regard for the beings that inspired and populate their stories, they’re setting the stage for an atmosphere of disrespect.

There’s an emerging culture of scorn for the Gods. Not the usual scorn heaped on Them by various monotheists and atheists, but a new form, coming from people identifying themselves as pagans and polytheists, even adherents of the Gods they’re disrespecting. You can find them online, especially on Tumblr, where cursing a God out happens as casually as shipping a favourite couple.

Zeus is a common target for misplaced hate. “F*** Zeus” is tossed around both jokingly and angrily, in both cases usually in reference to His perceived promiscuity and adultery. Hades is another such targeted God, thanks to the myth of His abduction of Persephone (I won’t even start on His name being used synonymously with the Christian Hell).

There’s also a gentler form of disrespect evident, where those who feel connected to a particular God or Goddess decide that they can speak for Them. I’ve seen many a post presenting Aphrodite as a magical gal who sprinkles blessings like candy on all who believe. Although these posts claim to offer insight into the Goddess, they show little awareness of Hellenic forms of worship or the concept of kharis. Neither is there a sense that the writer is sharing personal gnosis; rather, the posts read like wishful thinking or fanfiction, where the Gods exist to befriend and take care of humans.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be close to the Gods, or even with questioning, doubting, or rejecting Them; but our interactions with the Gods should come from a place of knowledge and learning, not from reactionary ignorance. Aside from applying modern human standards and judgments to ancient stories and deities, what these instances of disrespect all seem to have in common is a lack of knowledge, as well as a lack of interest in delving deeper. The Greek myths are not canon, and they’re certainly not meant to be taken literally (the story of Persephone and Hades, for example, represents transformation, not actual abduction and imprisonment—a point many critics seem to miss). Furthermore, much of what has been written and translated about the Gods has come to us from non-pagan, often antagonistic, sources. They can’t be treated as reliable or definitive.

For those interested in the Gods of a particular path, there’s no getting around it—you need to study. Read contemporary sources and scholarly works (and pay attention to potential biases of writers and translators). Read books and articles by other pagans and polytheists. Read multiple versions of myths, and pay attention to symbolism and deeper meanings. Talk to other pagans and polytheists—if something about a particular deity or myth bothers you, ask others what they think. Do you want a relationship with a God or Goddess? Learn how to best approach them. Find out what you can do to forge a meaningful connection.

We don’t have to abandon our favourite authors, ignore what bothers us, or stop being fans of the Gods. But when the urge to disrespect them strikes, maybe we should question our own assumptions, rather than the Gods themselves.

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a Hellenic polytheist and seeker of everyday magic. She’s the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding, and can be contacted via her website or Facebook page. She can also be found on Tumblr.

 


Paganism and Self Care

There are a number of things about Pagan paths that can help us with self care and living in gentler, more viable ways.

Firstly, this is not a life-transcending path. We aren’t punishing our bodies for spiritual advancement. We don’t have traditions of self-harm as spiritual tools. If you look at the lives of our European Pagan ancestors you can see easily that the majority were after rich, joyful, rewarding, happy lives, with enough mead and merrymaking and art, and food and fun. To live as a Pagan is to live fully, while embracing what this life has to offer.

Secondly, this is not a martyrdom tradition. We do have our stories about dying heroically but there’s no sense that sacrificing yourself in some pointless way has any spiritual value in it.

Thirdly, our bodies are part of nature, and as followers of nature based religions, this is a good place to focus for matters of self care. If you aren’t caring for nature as it manifests in your own body, you’re missing a thing. Self care brings us to all the most fundamental things of our living bodies – sleep, food, water, rest, exercise, what kinds of physical contact we need, fresh air, tree time…

To care for your body, and to take care of nature as it manifests in your body, it is necessary to push back against pressure to work more, longer and harder. Earning more and consuming more won’t lead you towards self care. A quieter, simpler, more peaceful life where you can take care of your simplest needs is key. Slowing down, resting more, having more time for yourself is essential. If you are experiencing in-work poverty this can be a hard cycle to break, but if you can meet your basic needs plus some, it’s worth looking at whether the extra costs you more than it gives you.

There’s a beautiful circular-ness to all this. If we slow down to take better care of ourselves, we consume less. A gentler life is almost guaranteed to be a life of lower carbon consumption. When we take care of nature within ourselves we are likely to change our lives in ways that take care of nature outside of ourselves. Every time you walk instead of driving, you benefit your body and the natural world. Every time you eat raw plant matter, or drink water rather than fizzy pop from a bottle, or sleep rather than staying up late staring at screens, all of nature is served by this.

When you shift your life so that you honour nature in yourself, and thus take better care of nature around you, it moves you a lot closer to living as a full time Pagan.