Tag Archives: book excerpt

Druidry and the ancestors – some excerpts

Druidry and the Ancestors is a wander through the challenges and possibilities of working with our ancestors. Ancestors of blood, of land and tradition. Also the ancestors we imagine, or long for, and what they can tell us and how they can help us.

In some ways it is easier to explain what this book isn’t, than to begin by pinning down what it is. This is not a history book in the sense of having lots of dates and hard, dependable information about the history of Druidry in it. It definitely isn’t a linear narrative history of Druidry at all. It is, however, a book about history, with the emphasis on the story. This is an exploration of how we imagine and construct our ancestors, and what the implications are of the ways in which we think about them. Anyone interested in the history of Druidry, I would suggest reads both Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe and Graeme K Talboys’ The Way of the Druid, which are highly informative and offer very different understandings of the subject. It’s not the facts of history I want to explore, but what we do with them.

This is also not a book designed to teach a person how to do Druidry. It is, I hope, something that would be of use to anyone exploring a Druid path, to people in the wider pagan community, and to anyone with an interest in the ancestors. We all have ancestors and, for most of us, that can be a complicated issue. This is a book about making peace with the ancestors, understanding their legacies and their ongoing presence in our lives, and exploring how ancestry impacts on community, and ideas of race, nation and culture. For someone looking for a book that will help them begin the study of Druidry, I recommend Graeme K Talboys’ The Druid Way Made Easy and Robin Herne’s Old Gods, New Druids.

One of the things I do want to do is raise the issue of how we access history. Many pagan readers and authors alike are self taught people. Working outside formal academia, dependant on what we can find and not always aware of where the cutting edge is, we are a community vulnerable to misinformation and being horribly out of date. Mistakes made by authors fifty or a hundred years ago still surface in pagan writing and new examples of that surface all the time.

 

Most of us know who our immediate ancestors were, but the precise details soon peter out, leaving only a vague impression of those who lived as little as a few hundred years ago. Although genealogy is a popular hobby, for most of us, those people before our immediate ancestors are an uncertain, amorphous lot, colored by whatever we learned of history at school, who we imagine our people were, and the odd focal story – a famous predecessor, a family legend, some speculation based on names.

I have a huge family tree, mapped out by my uncle and delving deep into the past. Names, dates, jobs and occasional details are in the mix. It’s interesting, but beyond those tantalizing glimpses, it tells me relatively little about how they lived, felt and thought. There aren’t many facts, and the facts are not that informative. Unless people leave detailed letters and diaries, this is often the way of it. The ancestors remain mysterious. For many of us, ideas held about ancestry are intimately connected to ideas of race and culture. Those on the far right believe in ancestry as a contained, defined thing, linking certain groups of people whilst distancing them from others. This seems to me a rather short sighted view of the past. Humans have been mobile and interbreeding for a very long time. We are all humans. But even for people who do not hold overtly racist views, race is important, perhaps connecting them directly to the history of a country, an area of land or a religion. The trouble is that recorded history is actually sparse, and as a percentage of human history, represents a very small bit. The further back you
go, the less there is by way of written record. The countries and religions we have are relatively recent innovations, but our most recent history is inevitably the most resonant, and the most divisive. For anyone wanting to uphold the idea of division and separateness, recent history must be treated as more important than the ambiguous millennia preceding it. For anyone wishing to work with ideas of commonality, it becomes necessary to push
past recorded human history in search of a time when perhaps ideas of race and culture did not divide us. A past we can only really imagine and can never hope to prove.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/Druidry-Ancestors


Spirituality without Structure – an excerpt

This is from the introduction to Spirituality without Structure – a small book of mine but one which I think has a lot of big ideas in it.

This is a book for people who have given up on formal religious systems, or want to, and are wondering where that leaves them. It’s often a confusing space to find yourself in. There isn’t even an agreed terminology to describe what you are doing. Some who step away from religion may identify with philosophies, or New Age thinking, some may hang on to elements of religions whilst wanting to do their own thing. Others build from scratch. No matter where you come from, trying to find your own alternative to religion will bring you to a commonality of issues faced by others who work in the same way. For convenience, I’m going to abbreviate this kind of questing down to the term ‘own path’ as being a functional, descriptive term.

Own path practice is full of challenges and, by definition, lacking in wider support networks, so this book aims to offer some ways of thinking about how to go it alone. Many people yearn to be spiritual without wanting to be tied into a formal practice; simply knowing that you aren’t the only one can be very helpful.

I’m not making any assumptions about the beliefs of potential readers. I think if a thing is going to work, it needs to be as viable for as many people as possible. Thus I’m writing with an eye to atheists, polytheists, agnostics and people of monotheistic faith alike. The things that draw us to religions are human, the things we need from a spiritual life are human, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what we believe about the presence, absence or nature of deity is the least important thing in terms of how we practice. From a personal perspective, belief or the absence thereof might well feel like the most important thing. It can be incredibly divisive. If we step away from the issue of belief and look more about what religion is and does, what spirituality means, what the human issues are, then we can find commonality and make better sense of things. That said, I am a Pagan, and a lot of my ideas come from my experience of contemporary Paganism. I’m writing from what I know, and at times that may well colour things.

 

There’s a small awkwardness with this book in that in the acknowledgements section, Tom is thanked for the cover. He designed me a beautiful cover. Unfortunately, the book designer totally ignored it and used this weird combination of photos that frankly makes no sense to me. But there we go. these things happen in publishing.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-spirituality-without-structure 


Excerpts, dreaming and a winter break

Over the coming few weeks I’m going to be sprinkling the blog with book excerpts. This is because in order to spend half a week with a stall on the Stroud Christmas market, and to have any hope of a week off, I need to set up the blog in advance, and I need that not to be excessively hard work! Yes, I could stop doing a post a day, but then the hits on the blog fall away and it makes me sad, so, you get book excerpts!

Here’s the first one, taken from Pagan Dreaming, and here we get into why I think dream dictionaries are questionable…

“Why should we accept the authority of a dream dictionary, when we would not accept the authority of an official priesthood?

There’s an additional issue here that in ancestral cultures, interpreter and dreamer could be assumed to have exactly the same background, history, symbols and beliefs. A shared symbolic language makes it more likely that one person can meaningfully comment on another person’s dreams. A glance at human history will show you that symbols are not universal. The swastika has been both a sun sign and a fascist emblem. Some cultures consider black cats to be good luck signs, others find them unlucky. All symbols are culturally specific in their meanings. So for ancestors who shared culture and symbolism, the priest might well be able to help the dreamer make sense of things. These days it is less likely that any two people will entirely share a symbolic language, making interpretation necessarily a more personal business.

We have a very diverse and fractured culture, exciting in its lack of hegemony, but in which we can no longer make assumptions about shared icons and archetypes. My symbols may well not be your symbols. Thanks to technology, we have access to a wide ranging culture that gives us new stories, imagery, metaphors and concepts on a daily basis as well as access to all of the available mythology and culture of the world. The speed and
quantity of material we are exposed to also undermines our scope for having a shared symbolic language. What I read yesterday may inform me, and you have no way of knowing what I tapped into. The dreamer’s associations can therefore be radically different to the ideas an interpreter brings to them. How can we possibly assume the existence of a universal language in this context? Furthermore, with such breadth and richness to draw on for potential symbols, how can a book of a few hundred pages hope to cover all possible symbols and meanings, or deal with the speed at which pop culture icons change?

Culture not only informs our symbols, it also tells us what is important. In materialistic western culture, we might be more motivated to look for insight into our careers and financial prospects, than into the condition of our morals and virtue, for example. This will direct us to pay more attention to some dream details than to others, and probably shape what we dream about in the first place. We are unlikely to dwell on things we truly consider to be irrelevant. Thus we cannot think about dreams without also bringing into consideration our relationship with our culture.

It is worth being cynical and considering that writing dream interpretations is really easy. You can make correlations with anything that takes your fancy, and no one can objectively prove that you are wrong. You might find it amusing and instructing to invent a few dream definitions of your own. Or, take some focus that pertains to the human experience (sex, ambition, frustration, depression) and work out how every dream you can remember
having can be made to fit that interpretation. You will find that anything can be made to seem like a symbol of anything you want it to. If you intend to work with symbols, then understanding how innately malleable they are, and how vulnerable to our desires they can be, is really important. Any attempt at working with symbols has to at least try to budget in the impact of human desire – conscious and unconscious. All too often we see what we want, or what we fear may be true, not what is actually before us.”

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming