Druidry and Poetry

We tend to think of poetry as a ‘Druid thing’ because of its association with historical bards, and the way in which modern Druidry holds the bard path within it. There’s a lot we don’t know about historical bards and how that related to Druidry, and that’s an issue for another time, perhaps. What I find much more interesting is the way in which a modern Druid can use poetry.

Poetry impacts on the brain in a different way from prose writing. It’s more like how we respond to music. The science is out there if you hit the search engines. What it means for a Druid is that poetry gets in differently. It is a better vehicle sometimes for arousing empathy and engaging people’s emotions. It can get you passed another person’s blocks and defences to touch them in ways they might have resisted had you come in with regular speech or prose.

And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is!

It raises some interesting questions about the way rhyming verses so often feature in spells. What are we doing to ourselves when we do that? Is that act of making an intention into a verse impacting on our brains in some way? I suspect so, but to the best of my knowledge no one is studying the science of poetry in spells as yet.

Poetry can be a lot easier to remember than regular text. If there are rhymes and rhythms, they prompt us to recall them more readily. There are things about sound and rhythm here that speak to us in deeper ways than the words themselves. There’s something powerful and impressive about recalling from memory, and that poetry can make this easier doesn’t diminish the impact at all. A poem quoted from memory seems more powerful to me than a segment of script or a book quote.

Despite all the research, our brains remain wondrous, mysterious things whose functioning we have barely begun to explore. Poetry seems to be as ancient as civilizations, suggesting that our ancestors knew that approaching language in this way has power. It’s a way of stepping out of regular conversation and exchange and into some other realm of heightened sensibility and sensitivity. We may be taken outside of ourselves, or more fully into ourselves. We may be transformed through metaphor and allusion to other lives, forms, ways of seeing and being.

To read, write or speak poetry is to perform magic on ourselves.


Performance magic

Sometimes, when you take a piece out and perform it, it does not go as planned. Sometimes, there is magic in the moment and the whole nature of the piece and your relationship with it can change. I’m not talking here about things that go wrong, or things that come up when you are under-prepared, but the way in which a space, an audience or an atmosphere can radically change a piece.

When you learn and practice a piece – be that a song, story, tune or poem – you’ll bring certain emotional tones to it. Much of what you bring will be about your feelings for the piece itself and what it evokes in you. Context can shift that – the mood of an audience, the impact of the performance space and so forth. I’ve done a little bit of singing in churches and those are massively unpredictable spaces for me, and I’m never sure how that kind of setting will shift how I perform.

The acoustics of a place can have considerable impact on performance. The differences between singing in a cave, and in a windy field are enormous. Some places invite you to slow down, to linger, while others encourage livelier performances. Some places you can use your voice quietly and still be heard. Some performance spaces can only be shouted into. This can mean you are working against the vibe of your piece, but sometimes it’s a magical shift that brings the material alive in new ways.

Sometimes it’s all about the audience. It’s effective to dig in with whatever suits the collective mood. Some audiences don’t respond well to certain tones and feelings. The feminist fury that gets you a ‘hell yes’ in one place may fall in awkward silence in another. Some audiences respond well to bawdy humour, others less so. The presence of a child in a room can encourage you to skip hastily over some kinds of detail.

One of my best audience moments was in a poem where I made a joke about bestiality, and the one dog in the room picked that moment to emit one loud bark!

I find it’s best not to fight these things. Going with what happens in a space, in a moment, with an audience gets powerful results, while fighting it seldom works.


Resources for connecting with nature

Over the last few days I’ve started to properly notice a change in the length of the day. The evenings are opening up a bit. I’m still getting up in the dark, but I know that won’t go on for much longer.

I struggle with the short days of winter. When it starts to get dark, I get sleepy. It’s difficult to find the energy for anything much in the evenings. I am clearly the sort of creature that is supposed to hibernate. Much as I value the darkness, I definitely enjoy it more when there’s less of it!

For me, spring and lighter evenings mean more scope to get outside. I love twilight, but in the winter it’s too cold for me to be loitering about outside. There are no sheltered spaces I can use. I have no garden and no outside space of my own. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my experiences would change if I had somewhere I could easily sit out for half an hour, wrapped in a blanket, cuddling a hot water bottle. How much access to nature depends on human resources, especially if you aren’t entirely hale and hearty.

Many of our homes and most of our urban spaces have not been built to keep us in relationship with nature. I crave permeable spaces, sheltered enough that I can be in them, open enough to the night and the sky that I can experience them. The easier it is to get warm and dry, the easier it is to chance getting cold or wet. I wonder what our living arrangements would look like if they were designed to facilitate our relationships with the wilder world, not simply to try and insulate us from it all.


Cloak of Happiness Ritual

A Guest Post by Ing Venning

 

GOAL To create a shield that will protect us and remind us of happy memories in times of stress or sorrow.

 

AUDIENCE – Kids often enjoy this meditation, but anyone can participate. Ideally, you will have a speaker (who may or may not act as a quarter caller) and at least a handful of participants. This ritual can be adapted for use with only one or two people, however.

 

PREPARATION [Optional: You may wish to give each of the quarter callers some feathers, a scarf, a handful of soft grass or some other object that is soft and flowing.]

 

RITUAL

 

SPEAKER: Please sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your legs and arms uncrossed.  Begin to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Let the air fill and invigorate your whole body.  As you inhale, feel the air enter your air passages, your lungs, even your stomach.  When you exhale, these areas will contract.  Then inhale again, then exhale.  Rise and fall.  Just like that – slowly and steadily.

Shake your shoulders, your hips, your knees – not forcibly but gently.  Shake off annoyance, anger, and oppression.  Shake yourself outside of the world and into a time made only of one moment looping back upon itself.  A timeless moment in which you are free to breathe gently.  A place where you can relax.

Feel your aura expanding, moving outward so that it radiates in spokes around you.  It will grow until it is quite expansive but not so that it overlaps with the auras of others unless they wish it.  Each one of our aura spokes grabs hold of the very molecules around us and grounds us in their polar charges.  Feel yourself drifting along in a current of particles, at peace and connected to everything around you.

[Deosil movement]

NORTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt safe and supported as you welcome the spirits of the earth into this sacred space.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

EAST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt inspired and awed.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SOUTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt energetic and powerful.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

WEST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, bring your happiness and your peace and be welcome in our circle.  Let us share our joy.

Slowly, in your trance, move your hand back and forth.  Back and forth as you breathe in and out.  Back and forth as one weaves a tapestry or sews a cloak.  Back and forth as one strokes a lover or massages a newborn.  Let each thread harness and harbor a cherished memory.  We are building up a pattern, weaving a cloak of happiness.

Our memories protect us without overprotecting us.  Our cloak is very light, yet its effect is profound.  It can warm us when we’re cold and cool us when we’re stifling.  It can ease the pain of depression, of anxiety, of anger.  It brings more joy and contentment into our lives by connecting us to the upper world or overworld; it can also redistribute emotions so they flow in balance.  Our cloaks will never block us from suffering that can make our lives better, but it has the power to keep any challenge from becoming overwhelming; its magic moderates our feelings.

Now that your cloak is woven, try it on.  [At this point, quarter callers or the speaker may wish to brush participants’ backs or necks with their soft, flowing material.]  It fits snugly and comfortably.  It even sings – you have to strain to hear the song, for it’s very soft, but it’s also filled with joy.  Look at the fabric you’ve woven.  You’ve skillfully woven happy scenes that make you smile, even when all around you seems lost or hopeless.  Revel in these good memories and the cloak they’ve produced.

Now that the cloak is woven and has been placed about your body, feel it sink into your aura and adjust its energy.  The cloak will stay with you – a gentle, benign influence – even when you remove your physical clothing.  It will stay to help you feel good, to help you smile, to help you relax even in stressful conditions.  This is your Cloak of Happiness.

[Widdershins movement]

WEST CALLER: Farewell to the west, but not to its happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved will remain with you.

SOUTH CALLER: Farewell to the south, but not to its happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt energetic and powerful will remain with you.

EAST CALLER: Farewell to the east, but not to its happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt inspired and awed will remain with you.

NORTH CALLER: Farewell to the north, but not to its happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt safe and supported will remain with you.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, thanks for the energy you’ve given.  May it stay within the cloaks you’ve blessed us with.  The circle opens, but it never breaks.

Slowly return to your mundane body, but you need not let go of the good feelings we’ve evoked here in our circle.  Those will go with us, insulating us from harm but never blocking us from the emotions we need to feel and the energy we need to understand and grow.

If it helps you to return, tap a solid object, snap your fingers, give a shout, or do something else that affirms your presence in the mundane world again.  Welcome back.

May each and every one of you be blessed.  Thanks for being part of our circle.  Go from here in peace and great contentment.

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Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. He has published three novels featuring pagan protagonists, a sampler of his work, and several short stories. He will be publishing two more novels, a collection of (mostly) retellings, and a volume of poetry in 2020. You can read the sampler of his work and his first novel for free; just visit https://ingvenning.com/


On finding you’ve triggered someone

What do you do if you find you’ve triggered someone? You’ve done something you probably thought was harmless, or no big deal, and the response is huge, perhaps distressing and impossible to make sense of. Maybe they shut down, or broke down into tears, had a massive panic attack or exhibited other PTSD symptoms. In my experience, this does not reliably go well so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

You may feel what’s happened is unfair. You did nothing seriously wrong. They are reacting based on something historical that isn’t your fault so why should you have to change your behaviour? With the reaction seeming disproportionate, you may feel they are being ridiculous. This all serves to protect you from having to consider your own behaviour or take responsibility for making changes.

A traumatised person who has been triggered into a response is not well placed to explain to you what just happened. Explainnig requires trust, and you’ve just put them in a very bad place – however innocently. It is worth bearing in mind that these kinds of responses are like people traumatised in war being put back in the trenches by the sounds of fireworks. To have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you have to have been traumatised.

One of the worst things you can make a trauma survivor do is go over what happened to them. You don’t need to understand what happened to them. You need to care about them and respect them enough to listen to what they need you to do differently. If you care about a person, you’ll do that. If you don’t – then don’t expect them to let you get very close to them.

One of the hardest things in this can be looking at behaviour that is a little bit off. Did you shout at them? Did you touch them without consent? Did you say something that opened the door to a very dark place? Did you make a rape joke, or minimise something that was serious for them? I’ve had several rounds of guys who unexpectedly kissed me and who were not willing to not do that for the sake of my wellbeing. I don’t do well with touch, or with being surprised, and I’ve been panicked by this.

It can be really uncomfortable to consider that behaviour you thought was ok is triggering for someone you thought you cared about. It can be hard undertaking to change how you think and what you do. It can be painful seeing something you thought was innocent related to rape culture, domestic abuse and coercive control. It was just a little thing you did, right? It was just small. You want it to be ok. You want to tell them why they should be ok with what you did… if you want your feelings to matter and their distress to be irrelevant, you are going to keep pushing those trauma buttons. If that seems fair enough to you, and like something a trauma survivor should be ok with… consider that you are not the hero of this story.


Fool Magic

There is incredible power in foolishness. There is freedom and delight in being willing to make an arse of yourself, but it goes further than this. Being willing to be foolish opens up space for people. If we all have to be super-good, correct, dignified, and successful then it’s really hard to jump in and have a go for the first time. Willing fools create spaces in which it is possible for others to safely participate.

The man who taught me most about performance and stage craft had this down to an art form. While I learned a lot at the time about how to perform, it’s only in recent years that I’ve started thinking in earnest about the impact of his playing the fool. Because however badly I messed up, he would guarantee to make a bigger fool of himself than I could manage on my own account. I learned to feel safe in that space. I’m thinking more about how I might do that for other people.

I’ve always done it around dancing. I will be the first person up, I do not fear the empty dance floor and I do not need lubricating with alcohol. My often sore and weary body has led me towards ways of dancing that involve more drama than effort. It is easier to get up and dance when someone is already there waving themselves about excessively, as is my habit.

For my fortieth birthday party, two friends donned a selection of colanders with the intention of being the first ones up to make sure people got moving. It was all rather wonderful.

I see this kind of thing in the gleeful preposterousness of Steampunk. The permission we create for each other by not taking ourselves too seriously. The way in which you can go into something with enthusiasm, and wholeheartedness and absolute willingness to be ridiculous, and how this creates joy.

Mirth can triumph over fragility and ego alike. It can overcome fear, and undermine insecurity and undo pomposity. It’s a powerful tool for growth, it enables happiness and helps us engage gently with each other. If we can be ridiculous together, we never need to fear certain kinds of judgement.


If you can choose

It sounds empowering – you can always choose how to think about something. Unfortunately it isn’t true, and putting that idea about can add layers of blame and shame for people who have been damaged by trauma, and by design.

Brainwashing. Conditioning. Gaslighting. These are terms for processes that are undertaken with the intention of controlling how a person thinks about things. Stockholm syndrome is a consequence of experience that impacts on how you think. When people come out of cults, they need de-programming. Depression and anxiety are illness that are fundamentally about not being able to choose your thoughts. These are all familiar terms, and yet the idea that we can all control our thoughts and choose them, all of the time, keeps doing the rounds.

The human mind can be quite fragile. It can be damaged. Your ability to think rationally can be messed with in ways it will take years to recover from. We like to focus on the people who, by dint of remarkable strength, faith, or persistence are able to resist mind-control and keep their thoughts their own. That a person can do something is not evidence that everyone can do it.

To have your mind broken is to lose yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. You don’t know what you want or need, or how to feel. You can’t make choices, you are frozen and frightened and lost. I’ve been there. I’m a person with a lot of willpower and a decent capacity for reason, and I have had that taken from me and been obliged to re-build it from scratch. I’ve spent a lot of time not being able to control my thoughts or choose what I think and I’ve had a long, hard fight to overcome that.

I don’t have words adequate to express what it means to lose your self in this way. The experience of not being able to control thoughts – of not being safe even inside your own mind – is an awful one. For anyone who was damaged in childhood there may not even be points of reference for knowing what a functional self looks like. It is hard choosing thoughts when you don’t have a range of possible thoughts to draw on in the first place.

If you can choose what to think about a situation, then you are in a position of privilege. Either you’re not going through something that is damaging you, or you are possessed with unusual degrees of inner strength and resilience. While that’s something to celebrate, it isn’t fair or realistic to assume everyone has the same experiences and resources. Like all privilege, it remains largely invisible to the people who enjoy it.


Druidry and Love

Many spiritual paths include the idea of spiritual love as a goal – a love that transcends and overcomes and isn’t conditional and doesn’t discriminate. It’s never worked for me.

The Druid’s Prayer introduces the idea of love alongside the idea of justice – and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it. What is love without justice? Love without some kind of fairness, can simply be the facilitation of terrible things. Unconditional love for the polluter, the exploiter, the corporate greed destroying the planet? I don’t think so. Unconditional love for the politicians and business people who put profit before life and sell the future for a quick buck? No bloody way.

I suppose it works if you’re all about spirit and transcendence, if this world is a means to the next or something to overcome. Loving everything in much the same way might work well if your true goal is to leave it all behind.

Druidry is of this world. It is spirituality rooted in nature. Love without the love of justice doesn’t make as much sense in this context. If we undertake to love beauty, truth, honesty, honour, community, and all that is wild and natural, we cannot truly also love anything that devotes itself to destroying that. I think it’s really important that we do not love in that way, in fact. With humans trashing the planet, aiming for universal love may make it harder for us to stand up to other humans and demand better from them.

There are merits in seeking and seeing the best in each other. There’s something very lovely about seeing the sacred and divine in every other human being. But not if that makes us feel like we don’t need to act. Not if it makes us complacent and overly comfortable. Druidry is of this world, and this world is suffering. I do not believe we can love this world, and extend love to those who are deliberately destroying it. We need our rage and resentment, we may well need our hatred to motivate us into acting. I do not accept that these so-called negative emotions are something to overcome. They have their place. If we’re all peace and light and love, we may never do what is necessary.

And at this point it isn’t about nice philosophical ideas and personal goals for spiritual growth. It’s about who dies, and how many species become extinct and how much is lost forever.


The Consolation of History

I have read a fair few books about history and pre-history. There’s not much logic to it, my knowledge is patchy and random. My main interests are in radical history, and the lives of ordinary people. There is consolation to be found in reading history, and I’m feeling that keenly at the moment.

When you read about the lives of ordinary people – in any place or time, things are invariably a bit shit. Sometimes things are devastatingly shit. I read, and I wonder how anyone kept going in face of that. How people kept pushing for rights in face of tyranny. But they did, and when you look at grander sweeps of time, even as individual movements have often failed, there is a bit of a progress narrative and on the whole ordinary people have slowly gained more rights.

When I feel daunted and overwhelmed, I remind myself about my ancestors. All those ancestors of radical thinking who tried, and failed, and tried again. I remind myself that many, many people in history and pre-history have faced the end of their culture, their civilization, their people, their world. When I feel really grim about the state of things, I remind myself that many others have been here before me and I am not facing anything new. This helps me keep a sense of perspective.

The timescales of pre-history are good for perspective, too. We are a tiny, toxic blip in the history of humanoid life. Other humanoid species have fallen away in the past, it may be our turn now. Nothing is forever, including us.

We repeat history, whether we’ve studied it or not. We are not so very new. We are no cleverer or wiser than the people who went before us. As a species we seem able to learn some things very quickly, but the important lessons elude us – how to live well, how to live sustainably, and what purpose to make of our lives.


Imbolc in nature

Round here, the snowdrops and catkins come out typically a week or two before the calendar date for Imbolc. So, if you go with the date, these seasonal markers aren’t the ones to focus on. If there are pregnant or lactating sheep in area, I don’t get to see them.

What does appear reliably at this time of year, are elf caps. These are a small, red fungi (see the video below for examples!). They have a much longer season over all, but where I live, they are absolutely something that shows up for the start of February.

The relationship between what the rest of nature is doing, and the calendar date varies according to where you live. Druidry can be a bit generic about seasonal celebration, which I think is a real weakness. We need to dig in with whatever we’ve got where we live, and make that the focus, or shift our dates so they match what the season means to us.