Tag Archives: celebrant

Put on my Pagan trousers!

For me, the first consideration when thinking about clothes to do Druidry in, is that it should enable me to spend time comfortably outside. Walking boots are a default – if I’m inside I’ll take them off and go barefoot. I think in terms of waterproof coats, rather than cloaks, I may also don waterproof trousers. Otherwise for a large chunk of the year, warmth is a major consideration, and in the brief summer, not over-heating is high on the list. Most of the time I won’t carry much extra gear to change into because I’m limited in how much I can carry, not having a car.

I take a very different approach to celebrant work, because I’ve found when working with unfamiliar people, and often with family groups that are a significant percentage non-Pagan, looking the part helps them. I do have a slinky black velvet dress and I’m not afraid to use it! People booking a celebrant tend to pick accessible places, sheltered and easy to work in, and they tend to do their celebrating in the warm part of the year, which makes this easier.

Going to Pagan events, I notice that a lot of people take the opportunity to wear and enjoy their more alternative clothing – which is great fun. I’m lucky in that I live in Stroud, a place that’s becoming a byword for hippies and green innovation, and that has a lot of Druids in it. In an understated way, I perpetually look a bit alternative and feel safe wearing things I like, so I just tend to carry on in that vein unless I’m thinking about it.

But I’ve also started thinking about it, because frivolity and play are on the list for this year, and I see a lot of frivolity and play in the things Pagans wear to do their stuff. This is no way to suggest that having special clothes to be Pagan in, is in any way not serious spirituality – I think play is important, and something I don’t do enough of.

I’m not cut out for slinky velvet witchcraft. I’m inherently scruffy, and I can’t really pull it off for more than brief bursts. As a person I’m not shiny – I cobble things together, I improvise, I’m more practical than elegant, and I’m seldom at ease in anything designed to draw attention to gender or sexual possibilities.

Last year I made a tabard – dark green and dark red with gold leaves appliquéd on. It’s lightweight and easily carried, and can be put over or under other garments so is passably practical. As an item to wear to rituals, it’s worked out well for me, and does a decent job of being celebrant kit as well. This year I’ve decided to go a bit further and make a cloak. I’m knitting it. I’ve had a lot of problems with my hands around knitting, so I’m making tiny squares and sewing them together. Most of the wool is other people’s rubbish – always my favourite thing to be working with. It’ll be mostly green and mottled, and at the moment (I have the hood and shoulders) looks a bit like the commons when the summer flowers are out, which is an evocation that pleases me greatly.

Overtly Pagan clothing can be about wanting other Pagans to recognise us and take us seriously. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m generally too hung up on other people’s approval for it to be a good idea. I need to work on being accepted as myself, not trying to fit in. Working out what to wear, and which needs I can answer in my choice of clothing, is an ongoing consideration.

Druid in a landscape

Where do you belong? Forest, vale or high blue hill? Do you need heavy clay beneath your feet, or limestone? Is your natural habitat the coast, the desert, or moorland perhaps? This may not be about where you live, but where you have a deep sense of belonging. I’ve met many Druids along the way who have moved from the place they were born into a place that held more resonance for them. Sometimes that can be about an attraction to specific ancient sites – there are a few Druids who have gravitated towards Glastonbury, for example. It may be the history of a place we connect with, it’s current culture or something in the physical landscape.

Relationship with the land is something I consider to be a really important part of Druidry. ‘The Land’ can be an urban space just as readily as somewhere green. A Druid who feels more of a calling towards cultural, academic or political work may be much more drawn to urban environments. Wherever we are, we have a relationship with that space. If it isn’t where we wanted or needed to be, that can add complexities.

I’ve met a few people now for whom soil type is an issue. I don’t do well on heavy clay, I have discovered and find granite a big odd. I am certainly most comfortable on my native limestone. It is worth considering that a soil is not a thing apart. How water behaves is very much informed by what is in the ground, whether you get marshes or streams, whether water sits on the surface or vanishes underground, and what happens in heavy rain or drought are all land issues. Different plants thrive on different soils, so you get wholly different communities of those depending on what is going on beneath the surface. Plant life informs the kinds of insects you get, and the landscape as a whole dictates what kind of creatures you get in it. While many of our mammals are adapting to urban life, you still need water for otters and eels, trees for woodpeckers.

I haven’t done much formal ritual in the last few years, but the relationship between ritual and land is important for me, too. I need to know where I am standing. Increasingly I need to feel a sense of connection with that place, such that I can speak from it. It’s making me ever more wary about taking on distance celebrant work; I’d rather help people find someone closer to them. I don’t want to do ritual places I do not have a relationship with the soil. That’s a personal thing. Other Druids whose service is more angled towards the celebrant work in the first place probably find that the call to help people is stronger than the need to know the soil. It may well also be that for some, hundreds of miles of land can feel familiar, known and related to in a way that would be impossible for me.

Apparently there’s something very localised about my Druidry, and it pertains to the Severn vale – which to come back to the opening lines, does indeed give me forest, vale, high blue hill, and also river. It connects me to my personal ancestry, and to the Stone Age. There are Celtic and Roman archaeological remains around here, and everything since then. The limestone hills with their ancient grassland, flora and fauna, the hanging beech woods, dramatic views, the flowing water, and the many secret places tucked into what at first glance appears to be a tame and knowable sort of landscape. This is home, and very much where my Druidry lives. It took me a decade of not being here to properly understand that.

Money for Old Pagan Rope?

In some quarters, there’s a stigma around doing Pagan things for money. Be that teaching, writing, celebrant work, leading workshops or providing events, there are plenty of people who feel that Pagans should do it for love, not money. To seek payment is to cash in on spirituality. There may be a subtext of, really spiritual people don’t charge, only frauds want money.

It’s not a Pagan specific issue. Creative people get it too. Music, fiction, writing, films, games – plenty of people feel it’s wholly legitimate to pirate those, that creatives are unreasonable in wanting to be paid and that art should be free.

We all have to eat. There are only so many hours in a day, and most of us cannot run flat out all the time. Can you run workshops in the evening regularly and sustain a full time job? Part of the problem, I think, is the assumption that artistic and Pagan work are fun and easy, and therefore do not need paying for. Doctors, lawyers, shop assistants, road sweepers, those are ‘proper’ jobs. It’s a masochistic culture that says if you like what you do, it has no financial value. Don’t tell me those highly paid solicitors don’t get a kick out of writing each other snotty letters!

Running an event is exhausting, and requires a lot of attention on the day, plus vast amounts of preparation in advance. Then there’s the learning and study that enables you to do it when you show up – more parallels with creative industries, where you can be paying for twenty years of experience, even with relatively young creators. Some of us start young and work hard from an early age. Anyone who thinks celebrant work, or writing a decent book, or giving a talk, is fun and easy to the point where it should be viewed as a hobby and not charged for, really ought to try it some time.

I’ve experience of being a performer, author, workshop leader, public speaker and celebrant. I’ve also run the kinds of events where I needed to pay folk to turn up. Where I couldn’t find enough money, I would try and offset that by being at a convenient point in the tour – a gig and a bed when you’d be driving past anyway are not such a bad deal. I’d feed people, and if I could pay more than I’d thought, I’d pay it. With that work, I took no money for me at all. I’ve given away my time, I give away my writing, but if I did that with all things, I would not be viable and neither would anyone else.

Service is a wonderful thing, but should not automatically imply doing it at your own cost. Especially not when the people you serve could perfectly well afford to pay. I will charge with an eye to what’s manageable. For local places that have little resources (schools, for example) I’ll do things for the cost of getting there. If someone wants me to travel to a venue and be their celebrant, after they’ve booked the hotel and bought the wedding dress… why should I be the one freebie in the mix? On the other hand, if someone comes to my Grove and asks for a handfasting, informally of an afternoon, why should I charge?

For all of us, the choice as to what and when we give freely, and what and when we need to charge for, should be personal. It then falls to others to decide whether they want to pay. Give me a free venue I can walk to, and I won’t charge tickets, but I may bring some books to sell.

There is no shame, or disrespect, in either charging for professional Pagan services, or seeking them. There is no requirement to seek them, which is important. You can do it yourself. There are plenty of things in life I could have learned how to do, but haven’t, and prefer to pay for. Boat electrics being a case in point. There are things I have learned how to do that other people may find they want to pay me for. We can figure something out.

The thing people forget is that Paganism isn’t all spirituality and esoterica. It is full of other things too: Intellectual stuff, philosophy, history, biology. Performance skills. Admin and organisation skills (try running a Pagan organisation some time!) Much of this is done for love because we remain a small community that cannot really afford to pay its people properly.

There would be something to take pride in, should we get to the point where subscription magazines can pay their authors, organisations can pay something to the staff who work for them in vital roles, and our teachers, celebrants and facilitators are not frequently working themselves into the ground because they’re doing the job alongside another, paying job. It is not an insult to ask for fair recompense. It is an insult to stand on the outside, with no idea how much time, energy and personal resources people are putting in, and demand that you do it for free, and suggest that if you don’t, you are dishonouring the gods. Shame on those who think that way! Are we afraid that money corrupts us? Should we not consider that in most aspects of life you get what you pay for, and that expecting a high quality of resource for free is laughable. And yet so many people deliver that, out of love, while the community around them will spend money on alcohol that it would begrudge paying to support the work.

Druidry and service

The most obvious response to ‘what is druid service?’ would have everything to do with working as a druid priest – celebrant work, teaching, leading rituals, maybe some spiritual guidance, healing work, that kind of thing. The trouble is, that to be offering that kind of service, you need a community that sees you in that role and has a use for you. If everyone studying Druidry aspires to Being A Druid in this sense, where is the tribe you are going to serve? Clearly we can’t all work that way, there just aren’t enough acolytes to go round!

But there is more to Druidry, and to service, than getting to be the one who flounces round centre stage in a really nice dress. When the opportunity arises, I’ll admit I’m probably as game as the next Druid for both the centre stage and the nice frock. Or whatever it is you like to wear in public. But there are other ways our Druid skills can be called upon. Druidry has the scope to take us into relationship with all kinds of non-human entities. The spirits of place might want a ritual from us. Or a tree planting. Or a litter pick. They probably care less about the fashion statements.

Opportunities to serve frequently come up in non-spiritual settings – volunteer work, care for the environment, fund raising for good causes, supporting the local school, offering bard skills to a local event. With these our Druidness may well not be visible to anyone watching. It doesn’t need to be. This is not about how great you are, or I am. It’s not about attracting attention, being important, or even about making other people respect Druids more.

Acts of service are things undertaken because they need doing, are worth doing, and either cannot be funded, or cannot be properly funded. It means giving of time, energy and creativity for the simple reason that a thing needs to happen. You might be serving the local environment, responding to an international crisis, you might be helping out in your community. It’s not about the self importance of the one doing.

Now, there are many personal gain aspects to service – the pleasure of getting a thing done, the scope for social contact, the boost to self esteem, the sense of being a valued part of the community. These are all good things. Undertaking acts of self torment and martyrdom in the name of a cause is seldom sustainable and more likely to make others profoundly unhappy than to make the world a better place. Service works better when it can be given freely, and happily, and when the one giving gets something good out of it. However, there are lines not to cross. When ‘service’ becomes an excuse to boss others about or put them down, that’s not a win. It shouldn’t be about creating opportunities to be smug, self righteous, more-druidy-than-thou or anything of that ilk. It’s not a good idea to be doing it in hopes of love, fame, attention or reward either, as none of these will necessarily be forthcoming. Do it for love of what you do, not in the hope of being loved for your service.

Boundaries are very important. Meditation and ritual work can teach us a lot about how to craft them, but service will really test them. There is always more work to do than there are people to do it. There are always more problems to solve, more pain to ease, more wrongs to right. None of us can do everything. Entering into service, in any space and at any level, holding boundaries is vital. Know how much time and energy you have to give. Guilt and a desire to please can both push us into giving more than we can sustain. A burned out volunteer is not a good thing. Better to be able to give consistently for years to come, than to make a huge effort and fall over in a couple of months.

I think service should be a part of the Druid path for all of us. How we understand it can vary. Small acts of kindness, small contributions to community and local place are not to be discounted. Ask what is needed. Ask what you can give. Ask how you can make things better. Don’t wait for someone to request a handfasting. There’s plenty of other ways to serve your tribe, even if they don’t realise they are your tribe, and haven’t the faintest notion that you are, in fact, their Druid.

Cat Treadwell interview

I first met Cat Treadwell through The Druid Network, when she stepped up to run the reviews section. Being one of the people she sends review books to, I’ve had a fair amount of contact with her over quite a few years now. In that time, I’ve watched Cat journey from being someone who just wanted to help out, to being the most actively involved of Druids, her work taking her in all kinds of exciting directions. She’s fast becoming one of the leading lights in UK druidry, and is undoubtedly one to watch!

Nimue: What first brought you to druidry?

Cat: As with most modern pagans, I think there’s always been something inside, whether it be an affinity for the wild lands, the seasons or just the magic in/of story. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and can remember making up my own characters and adventures from a very young age. I’d also be the strange little girl playing in the hedgerows during breaktime at school, getting to know the trees and birds! So I think it’s always been there in that regard.

Official ‘Druidry’ came about when I discovered ‘Spirits of the Sacred Grove’ while working through the huge amount of pagan books out there. Bobcat’s words struck a chord with me (as they have with many others), I sought out the BDO Yahoo group, found out that the webmaster was planning a local Grove… and here I am!

Nimue: What prompted you to take a more active role in the druid community? Was that a gradual thing, or did you make a conscious decision?

Cat: I was prompted in large part by a good friend asking me and my partner to officiate at his handfasting ceremony. I’d never overseen public ritual before, let alone an event of such importance. I still cringe when I remember the rehearsal beforehand in my back garden – it was truly awful, and I learned quickly how NOT to approach such things! But a wise man on The Druid Network forum advised me to be brave and find my ‘druid bollocks’ – and so I did! Strength in laughter, after all… *grin*

Since then, it feels that as I’ve grown, so have the challenges I’m faced with. From my first funeral rite, to a Beltane handfasting at Stonehenge, to my forthcoming book, and the latest request: to travel overseas for workshops and talks. Not to mention essentially working as a ‘professional Druid’ in order to pay the bills (due to redundancy last year). Life is busy!

Nimue: What do you do when you need inspiration

Cat: As I came to the end of my ‘training’ on Anglesey, I was going to make my promises and state my intention to the wider Universe as to what I would be doing with this. That really was a life-changing (and affirming) step, in many ways. Why had I undertaken it all? What for? How could it be best used?

Looking back, everything seemed to evolve in stages. I spent time as a beginner for a good few years, solitary and studying whatever came along and appealed to me. Eventually I joined a Grove (as part of the British Druid Order, now The Druid Network) and opened up to more ‘formal’ teaching/learning. Now came the time to step up – it wasn’t just about expanding my own knowledge, it was putting it to good use.

Nimue: How easy did you find the writing process when you stepped up to creating your first book?

Cat: My favourite image of ‘inspiration’ is one I saw years ago on a documentary. The wonderful Terry Jones sits at his desk, preparing to write. He chews his pen. He stares out the window. He fiddles with his tea mug. THAT is what searching for inspiration is like, quite often!

I tend to be mostly inspired when outside, whether walking the dog or just wandering (or even staring out of the window!). The simplest of natural events can be a reminder of something important, reconnecting you to that crucial spark that allows the creativity to flow. Ultimately, it can’t be forced… but it can be encouraged. Often by just putting yourself in the right frame of mind, with the right tools, and getting on with it!

Nimue: So, go on then, tell us about the book!

Cat: I actually felt as if I was cheating for a good while, because a lot of it had been done already on my blog! But then I realized the difference between writing ‘casually’ for an internet audience, and writing ‘professionally’ for a readership, who are physically expending energy (money) and effort to read my words. More responsibility, but determination to really speak my truth and be aware of what I was sending out into the world between those covers!

One thing that did help was that if I could ever honestly express my ‘life’s ambition’, it was (and still is) to be a writer. I still can’t believe it’s really happening, but I’ve always written, usually fiction. But I love the process, the joy of inspiration (when it flows!), ideas coming together… and then the utterly wonderful feeling of others talking to me about something that I have written. To know that somebody appreciated my work is the greatest gift, and I will always be thankful for it. So while yes, I do write on what interests me, what keeps me going is that others enjoy it as well. And hopefully find it inspiring in turn.

Nimue: What’s the book called, and how/when can people get their hands on it?

Cat: Well, as most folk know now, a few years ago I was yanked into giving a public talk at a Pagan Federation Conference with five minutes’ notice, and a deep-seated fear of speaking in public… but I did it. And was asked back!

So I figured that it might be a good idea to structure the next talk *grin* and started a blog, to ask the wider Web what exactly they wanted me to talk about.

The book came out of that, when last year, Moon Books were looking for new Pagan authors. As far as I know, while there are many ‘published blogs’ on the shelves (?) of Amazon, there hasn’t been one from a Pagan author yet. So I’ve taken time to turn it into a book, add a fair bit… and here it is!

While there’s more ‘Paganism 101’ books out there than I can count, one thing I found seriously lacking when I started out was EXPERIENTIAL stories. How other Pagans live, of whatever path. This has now started to change, thankfully, but that really is my goal with this book. To show how Druidry (and wider Paganism, usually) is lived for me, but also to make the reader question themselves and their own quests. What are you doing? What are you looking for? How far are you prepared for your life to change as your practice actively grows?

I don’t have a problem with those who are ‘trying out’ a path by reading all the books, trying the rituals, but not challenging themselves very much. I believe that this knowledge actually DOES tacitly move them forward, as they discover what they do (and don’t) want to be/do/live. I’m just being more up-front about it!

I love Druidry for being so honest, so challenging, such a daily adventure. Good and bad, dark and light – it’s part of our lives and the wider world. I hope this deep passion comes across in my words and my actions… but as I say in the book, feel free to question me if you don’t agree!

The book is ‘A Druid’s Tale’, and is currently available for pre-order on my website: http://druidcat.wordpress.com/a-druids-tale/

It’s due to be released on 29th June, and I’m told an Amazon page is being organised, with Kindle version available on there.

Cat is also out and about doing talks, workshops, interviews and all manner of other exciting things, so there’s all sorts of scope to encounter her both online and in person, if you haven’t

Little rites of passage

Most people like to mark the big events in some way or another, and often birth, death and marriage are the occasions that get not especially spiritual folk inspired to want a dash of religion in their lives. One of the things I love about paganism is that it doesn’t just focus on the hatch, match and dispatch services, there’s room to celebrate all kinds of things. I’ve done house blessing work as a celebrant, heard plenty about coming of age celebrations and elder rites, for example.

I have a deep seated personal aversion to marking things just because some long dead person identified it as the right thing, or the right day to be making a fuss of. Especially once commercialism gets in the mix and starts sucking on the marrow of real experiences. But at the same time, the quiet, private marking of personal transitions, events, and anniversaries has become really important to me. By this means my calendar has a sprinkling of very personal celebrations in it – like the anniversary of first going to America to meet Tom. I also celebrate the anniversary of running away from a very unhappy situation – which for me has become ‘freedom day’. Today is the first anniversary of my marriage, a lovely moment to pause and reflect on the epic journey this last year has been and to contemplate where we might be going. It’s been a hectic, crazy time but through all the challenges, we’ve become even closer. For me, that’s what marriage should be.

Today inevitably makes me cast my mind back to the first anniversary of my first marriage. I was heavily pregnant and struggling with very hot weather. The day went unremarked, uncelebrated. I lived for a long time in a situation in which even obvious things like birthdays and Valentine’s day passed unrecognised, or greeted with such awkwardness that all the joy was knocked out of it. Learning anew how to celebrate has been a lovely process.

We’ve marked all kinds of personal events this year, doing things together that make us smile. It’s not about spending money, just about spending time. One of the effects of these little rites of passage is the shared affirmation of our story. Big rites of passage are about bringing your community together to witness major life changes and make sure everyone has caught up with the implications. Little rites of passage are about engaging with your own story, picking up the things that really mattered and coming back to honour them, creating small spaces to recognise and enjoy the things that make this life uniquely your own. It affirms a sense of self, and sharing that with others, reinforces bonds and relationships.

Next year I shall be celebrating the anniversary of moving to the boat, as a new day in the calendar. There are book releases to celebrate too. Whether any of those seem relevant the following year remains to be seen – there being no need to cling on to old celebrations once they no longer need to be marked.

Sometimes it’s a case of just starting the day with ‘happy Wednesday’ (or whatever it is) and celebrating the sheer Wednesdayness of it, in all its glory.

Out of the personal events come things we hold in common. Freedom day I share with my child, but it also connects me with a lot of other people who have run, and who acknowledge their own days in their own ways. Boat day I share with my husband and child, but it’s had a much wider influence on family, friends, people at school who have all been touched by the changes in our lives, in all kinds of ways I probably don’t know about. This time last year a group of my friends and family came out to support and recognise my marriage to Tom, a year on he knows some of them a lot better, which is great. Nothing that happens to us exists in isolation. The act of acknowledging and celebrating can create room to recognise others who have been part of the journey, and by remembering a date we weave them further into the narrative threads of our own lives, and become part of the stories they tell as well.

Dressing like a Druid

Hanging about in a pub car park looking for a moot, it was easy to spot the likely candidates as they rolled in. I wandered over and said ‘hi’. Not all pagans dress ‘like pagans’ but being part of a counter culture, an alternative movement, makes it tempting to be visible as something unusual. Plus there’s also the issue that many pagans are inherently colourful, eccentric and creative folk, and that manifests in our dress styles.

Druid clothing became an issue for me early on, when my first teacher demanded that I started wearing robes for ritual. She wanted us to collectively look the part. Travelling on public transport meant I didn’t want to lug a bag full of fabric, and I certainly wasn’t going to wear it for the journey! I protested, strenuously, and very nearly left over it. There was also the issue that I just didn’t want to wear robes. I did all three OBOD grades, and greatly appreciated many aspects of the course. However, when OBOD gathers for ritual, it too favours robe wearing, and specifically white robes at that, with tabards. I’ve never been to an OBOD ritual. I don’t much like scripts, but it’s the robe issue that nails it. The idea of them makes me uncomfortable. That’s personal, and about me, and I don’t think that means anyone else necessarily ought to feel the same way. And white robes – they show the stains, and I find outdoors rituals with children, dogs, mud and grass usually get on my clothes.

When I’m doing celebrant work, I dress up. It’s a theatrical event and people expect a bit of colour and drama, so I do my best to look interesting. Thus far no one has objected. No robes. I’ve seen images of some of the old fraternal druid groups, off to their musters in their white nighties and stick on beards, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Robes and costumes are used in so many scenarios to reinforce authority. In religion, the man at the front with the kit on is the man in charge. The more important you are, the more bling your religion may expect you to wear. Standing in a wood, in a circle of druids, I see no place for that. I’d rather folk dressed appropriately for the weather and the conditions underfoot. If there is someone in charge, I’d rather that not be obvious at a glance and indicated by who has the biggest symbol dangling round their neck. I’m all in favour of dressing creatively, to celebrate, to be ‘gorgeous before your gods’ (thanks Kris Hughes!) but not dressing to express power and dominance, and being more druidy than thou. Robes and costumes can easily function to exclude or intimidate. If ‘we’ are all in robes at a public gathering, people who turn up to watch are easy to spot. I like it better when nothing stops a casual arrival joining the circle.

People do judge based on appearances. Media folk can be far more interested in a bunch of nutters in silly gear, doing silly things, than some quiet people who look like they are off for a picnic or a walk. Self expression is unequivocally good, but pandering to the expectations of non-pagans and reinforcing their ideas that we are a bunch of cranks playing at being druids, is not going to do us any favours. It’s important to think about who and what we are dressing for when we put on our ‘pagan’ kit. I’m not suggesting there are right answers here, only that it is worth thinking about this one, being sure of your own motives and knowing what you’re heading into.

I had a cluster of wiccans turn up to one of my druid rituals once. They had all the velvets, dangly silver, cloaks and pretty shoes. They had assumed that because it was a winter ritual, we would be indoors, rather than checking. The druid group I had then always did ritual outdoors. To their credit, the wiccans didn’t chicken out, despite the mud, but they can’t have had an easy day, while the druids in walking boots and winter coats were entirely comfortable. A fine example of why it pays to know exactly what you’re dressing for. Having the right clothing has a lot of impact on comfort, the feasibility of doing ritual, and your safety and scope for staying warm and healthy. Nature teaches us to dress appropriately, if we spend much time outside in it. My feeling is, that if I want to look like a druid, being in a stone circle, or under a tree is going to take me a lot further than wearing a nice dress, just from an aesthetic angle. In terms of actually being a druid, the tree is always going to be more important than the frock.