Tag Archives: community

Casting a circle around things

For Pagans, casting a circle is a term to evoke a feeling of ritual. We cast circles to delineate between sacred time and regular time, and hold a space that is a temporary temple. We may do it for magical protection, and to raise power. There is a definite difference between what is inside the circle and what is outside. Depending on the intent behind the ritual, the circle will be closed and impermeable, or not so much.

I notice that humans draw circles around things all the time. We create edges so that some things and people are inside, and outside of our circles. We draw lines round things to declare what’s allowed in, what isn’t, what is important, and what isn’t. These circles have power, and in holding them we can feel incredibly powerful. They are the lines of saying no, of turning away at the border.

Of course there are many times and places where such boundaries are good and appropriate. We put edges on things to contain them and give them coherence. Without this, our definitions become meaningless. What is a Druid? What is Paganism? Although somewhere, someone is arguing about where exactly the edges should be for those, no one argues that we should not have edges. On the whole, I think drawing circles round ideas is a good idea.

However, we also draw circles around people, and that’s a lot more sinister. There’s a world of difference between drawing a circle around your concept of Druidry and drawing a circle that says ‘black people can’t be Druids’ or ‘what we do is only suitable for able bodied people’. I also question the way in which Paganism so often deliberately excludes children, and by extension the mothers (sometimes fathers) of children.

There’s nothing like a clique for drawing circles around the special people and excluding the rest. And no doubt it feels fabulous to be publicly identified as one of ‘team druid’ but it also means the rest of the people on the field at your Druid camp aren’t that. The more we give a minority special important status, the more we can end up devaluing everyone else. It’s something to be alert to.

For me, casting a circle outside of ritual is about defining concepts. When it comes to people, I like permeable edges, so that if someone turns up and is doing all the things, they are inside. Whether that’s about running rituals, being at a Druid event, or being part of a social group, a permeable edge lets people through when they identify with what’s going on. An edge held only so that people can see their own involvement.


Druid Community

Is there such a thing as Druid community? It’s a question I’ve revisited repeatedly. I’ve been a member of The Druid Network and Henge of Keltria – my inclusion or exclusion dependant largely on whether I am willing to pay for membership. Technically I will always be a member of OBOD, but unless I pay for the magazine, I don’t have much direct contact. I believe there are boards I could use, but I spend too much time online as it is. Experience of physically meeting up in groves and groups has also demonstrated to me how easy it is to come in, and to leave.

Communities have to have permeable edges. If people can’t come in, or move on, then you have something stagnant and unhealthy. But at the same time I think that it’s too easy to solve things by leaving, by letting people leave, and thus by not really sorting things out at all.

For me, community means working together to maintain relationships. It’s not simply paying to access the same space, or temporary allegiances. Community means dealing in some way with our conflicts, differing needs, issues and so forth, rather than rejecting anyone who isn’t a neat fit outright. How far we are willing to go to include and to look after each other is a question I think we need to be asking.

Thanks to the internet, and to modern transport most of us aren’t obliged to deal with the Druids around us. There are no real pressures on us to work together. And if the ‘problem’ just leaves, problem solved! I think in this way, Druids are simply reflecting the rest of how things work generally. We move on, we leave jobs, we move away from difficult neighbours, we cut off friends we’ve fallen out with… These are all things that individuals in conflict have little scope of handling well.

Peace is something we talk about a lot around Druidry, but it’s not something we all practice. We don’t all seek peaceful resolutions for each other. We don’t all tend to intervene to resolve things, we often just let the problem move on, or encourage it to. Let the awkward person go somewhere else. Let the person who lost the argument quit.

Mediation is hard work. It can call for challenging people, and for investing time, care and effort in trying to resolve things. To do it, we’d have to really care about each other… like we were some kind of community or something.

(I expect there are Druid communities out there that do this for each other, but mostly my experience has been of the other sort of thing.)


Community and Creativity

Every now and then I get to write the acknowledgement section for a book, and I usually start it by saying that no book is written in isolation. You’ll find a number of books that specifically mention how important this blog is in my writing process. These are workouts, tests, development sessions, they help me build towards those bigger projects. The feedback I get here enlarges my knowledge, broadens my perspective.

Of course it’s not just books. We are all doing whatever we do in a wider context. Most of us are supported or encouraged, or inspired by some else. Most of us are interacting with others, in whatever way makes sense. We’re engaging with other people who do the things we do so that our work is rooted, and relevant. We don’t have to slavishly copy what everyone else is doing but at the same time… books by authors who have read nothing in their field are easy to spot, and seldom good to read.

In any project, we stand, if not on the shoulders of giants, then on the shoulders of our many ancestors of tradition. It’s interesting to think about who they are and what they have given us.

I’m very, very lucky in that I belong to a number of creative communities that support me and give me places to put down roots. Moon Books, my Pagan publisher, is very much a community of writers and fellow travellers. I feel connected to the wider Pagan community, too. I feel a strong sense of connection with the Steampunk community, it inspires me, and means there’s a group of people I feel I’m creating things for. There’s comics community, and folk community and local community and these are all part of my mix as well.

What’s proved even more powerful for me is to be a part of a creative community that shares – be that in gathering together to air poems, stories and music, or co-creating art, or passing written texts back and forth. People who are willing to make larger and deeper connections around creative process. You can read Kevan Manwaring’s It Takes a Village to Raise a Story – about a project I’ve been involved in recently.  It’s an excellent reflection on collective creativity.

I’m also in the process of building a collective creative space, as hopelessmaine.com slowly draws people in to its dark and crazy world. People are coming to it from all the places I call home, and that’s heart warming. It’s important that there be safe spaces for people to stretch and develop, and this is one such.

The image of the lone genius, set apart from the world, making their thing in isolation, is not a healthy image. It’s not a sane image, or an image that offers the creator much joy or comfort. Some of us do need to retreat to the high tower now and then, but if there’s no one waiting for you to come out bearing the fruits of your labours, it is a sad and lonely sort of business. It’s a lot easier to keep creating when someone else believes in what you’re doing, and when what you are doing is part of some greater whole.


The community cost of injustice

There’s an obvious upfront cost to injustice that relates very immediately to whatever has gone wrong. What seems like a small unfairness to someone not immediately affected by it can seem like a small problem, not worth the hassle of sorting out. To the person on the receiving end, that small wrong can be life destroying. However, there is a larger and more subtle cost, one that we keep overlooking. Injustice breaks relationships and undermines communities. All the injustice that stems from prejudice. All the injustice that is intrinsic to rape and abuse. Social and financial injustice. All of it.

So, you’re affected by something, and it hurts you, and damages your life, your wellbeing. I’ll leave it to you to decide what sort of injustice to imagine or remember at this point. Nothing is done. The system refuses to change, the perpetrator is not tackled, no one says ‘hey that’s not ok and shouldn’t be happening.’ You are left with the immediate damage, and the knowledge that no one cares enough to do anything about it. A second level of hurt comes from this, and that hurt can go deeper than even the initial damage.

If your wounding is trivialised and/or ignored, then your relationship with the people who don’t care, changes. It may be that you have to see the injustice inherent in the system, and you can’t ever unsee it and feel easy about things again. It may be that you start seeing all people from the group that harmed you as a potential threat. You will likely feel cut off, and alienated, and angry, and there’s nowhere to take that because the people who most need to know about it have already made it pretty clear that they don’t care.

We’re doing this all the time. We do it at the state level. We collectively turn away from victims. We close our ears to them, we don’t listen to their stories. If we don’t think something would bother us, we decline to see why it would be a problem for anyone else. Injustice severs the natural bonds between people. It dehumanises all of us. When we look away. When we don’t worry because it’s not happening to us. When we say ‘oh, it’s not that big a deal really, stop making a fuss,’  we contribute. And so there is fear, and mistrust, resentment, bitterness, anger all bubbling away in so many places for so many reasons. It’s been there a long time and it won’t change easily, but change it must.


Community solutions

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the idea that many of the problems our societies construct as individual issues, aren’t. I’ve mostly been looking at this in terms of mental health, but suspect it applies more widely. The emphasis on the problem as being the individual’s problem, and the solution being individual too, seems highly suspect to me. Depression, anxiety and other stress-induced problems happen in a context, and if we don’t change the context how can there be a real solution?

Up until this week, I’d thought of my problems with inspiration as being a personal problem, necessitating personal solutions, or otherwise unfixable. Opening up about the problem has brought me a lot of conversations – here, on facebook and by email. Thank you everyone who did that. Apparently it’s not just me. Rather than seeing a personal problem, I’m now seeing a much bigger problem(s) impacting on creative people. The answer, then, is to find solutions that aren’t just for me. Maybe what we have here is the sort of thing that can only be dealt with collectively.

My plan at the moment is to spend time over the next few days really facing up to this, to my own feelings of guilt, shame, grief and loss, and to look at what paralyses me. I’ve not done this before, because these are painful things to look in the face, but, I think it’s necessary to walk into it.

So, this is an open invitation to contribute. If you have experiences either of being able to maintain your creativity, or of struggling with it, and you’re willing to share what’s happening, then please do. If you don’t want to do that in public, just comment that you’d like an email and I’ll get in touch – wordpress helpfully shows me your email address when you comment. Anything shared privately I won’t put out in public except in a generic ‘some people are finding’ kind of way.


Needing People

Some people like to feel needed, but there are plenty of folk for whom saying ‘I need you’ is likely to induce some kind of panic. What they hear (I suspect) is more like ‘I need you to commit to doing certain things for me.’ I need you to bolster me up in certain ways. I need you to look after me, take responsibility for me, I will make work for you and suck up your time and energy.

We all need people. At a practical level, most of us need people to do the many things we cannot do for ourselves. We may never meet the people who grow and prepare our food, make our clothes, provide our electricity and maintain our roads but we need them nonetheless.

Humans are social creatures. We’ve evolved to work co-operatively and to live in groups. Many of us, if left alone, become lonely and miserable. Here’s an article about how loneliness kills. Meaningful human interactions are part of what keeps us sane and coping.

We all need people.

What if that needing isn’t about specific actions? What if it’s not about asking people to take roles and responsibilities within our lives? What if I can say ‘I need you’ and you will hear that as my need to have you, as you are, in my life. Not doing anything extra, just doing what you do and being who you are.

What if being who you are and doing what you do is wholly sufficient already? What if you didn’t have to go some difficult extra mile to be the sort of person who is needed? Then being needed wouldn’t be a matter of utility, just a recognition of who we are.


Lessons from 2016

I’m a big fan of pausing now and then to review my experiences so that I can see what there is to be learned. The end of a calendar year is a very obvious point at which to do this. Normally I review things on a day to day basis, but some patterns and lessons only really emerge when a bigger time frame is considered.

2016 delivered a run of intensive lessons about how I value myself, and how I act based on that value. For too long, I’ve been over-grateful for any kind of place to be involved, any sense of being wanted, or useful, or tolerated. In practice this has made me vulnerable to people who want to use me, and has put me in places that don’t give me what I need. At a less unpleasant level, it has also put me in places of half-heartedness and lack of commitment, and those don’t suit me either.

What I need, above and beyond all else in terms of work and community is the emphatic ‘Yes’. I need the people who are wholehearted about wanting me in the mix and who will accept my wholehearted and serious commitment. Situations that want me half-hearted, not too intense, and so on, crush me over time. I have realised that if I assume nothing better is available, then I won’t be looking for anything better. This year I started looking for the social spaces that give me an emphatic yes. I’d come to think of my marriage as a little bubble of difference, a unique space that I couldn’t hope to replicate in terms of the feeling of being valued, accepted and inspired. It’s not just us, I just needed to learn how to look, and to believe it was worth looking.

For a couple of years now, working at Moon Books part time has been an absolute joy, because that’s a space where my energy, ideas, innovation and efforts are valued and trusted. I love that work, and it has become the measure for other things I take on with other people (measuring everyone against Tom would seem unfair). If it’s not as good as Moon Books, if I’m not as excited about it, if I’m not working with people who are that fired up… why would I bother?

What I’ve found is that spaces, and people are becoming more available to me. I want to do the work that only I can do. I want to do work that is needed and valued. I want to spend my spare time with people who are delighted to do that, not with people who grudgingly accommodate and find me difficult. 2016 has taught me that I can have those things, and I don’t need to waste any more of my time on half-hearted nonsense.


Grooming the human mammal

Mammals groom. As I type this, I’m sat next to a cat who is busily washing herself, with her tongue. For most mammals, washing means licking. For any non-solitary creature, grooming is also a collective activity with a community bonding aspect to it. I wonder when it was that humans stopped licking themselves, and each other. Clothes clearly have an influence. To lick a fellow human these days could only be understood as a sexual act, and certainly none of us would be likely to think of it as hygiene.

The grooming of fellow humans is also something we no longer do as a natural part of daily life. Parent humans apply water, cleaning products and brushes to offspring, until said offspring can do it for themselves. Those who cannot clean themselves are groomed by others, but this is often the kind of work we pay people to do in the context of care homes. We don’t mind paying for grooming, for haircuts and washes, for the treatments of beauty parlour and spa – if we can afford it, that is.

It’s interesting to speculate what human relationships would be like if we routinely groomed each other, with no sexual connotation, and no financial aspect. We know from other mammals, that connections are reinforced by this. I’m prepared to bet, based on how modern humans respond to hairdressers and spa days, that there are some considerable feel good factors attached to being groomed. In monkeys, grooming can also be part of the expression and reinforcement of social hierarchy, which is complicated for a creature like me, but I think it’s likely a better way of handling it than many of the alternatives. It certainly users fewer resources.

I think this is all part and parcel of the way we’ve tended to sexualise all forms of contact. We tend to see touch as sexual, and thus only accept it in the context of certain kinds of relationship – sexual, familial or paid for. The word ‘grooming’ is increasingly used to suggest preparing someone for inappropriate sexual contact. There are comforts we aren’t allowed to provide for each other, but are fine if you stump up the cash. Other ways of being are clearly possible.


All Ages Communities

Being in the school system tends to culture us into associating with people who are within a year of our own age. For a lot of people, this habit continues through life, creating generation gaps and a lack of social cohesion. There are assumptions about what different ages and life stages mean. As a consequence, most social activity is either child free, or revolves around amusing the kids. Teenagers are expected to go off and do their own thing. Older people aren’t even present, much of the time.

Some events and locations will try to get round this by providing crèches and amusements for the younger folk, freeing up their parents to do the things. This of course still means dividing people by age.

All of this is very much on my mind because I’ve just come back from Lincoln’s Asylum – the biggest steampunk gathering in the country. It’s an all ages activity, in the sense that people of all ages can actively participate (some of the evening things are 18+ but given how many things are totally  accessible to younger folk, this isn’t a problem).  Kids really get into it, with costumes, and enthusiasm for many of the events.

What really affected me, was talking to older women who were not steampunks, but who were eyeing up attendees at the event. One woman said to me, “This is amazing, I’m 60 and there are people here who are older than me, and they’re dressed up and clearly having a fantastic time.” Of course Victorian based attire looks great on older folk in a way that modern clothing doesn’t. The assumptions about what older people can and should wear, in all other contexts, are both dull and restrictive, but steampunk elders can be as punked, glamorous, outrageous, playful and innovative as anybody else.

In most contexts for women, there’s a lot of pressure to appear young (while not falling into the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ trap). We’re supposed to be sexy if we look young enough, and to cover up if we don’t. But not too sexy, so as to avoid the ‘slut’ trap. When we are older, we are to hide sags, wrinkles, grey hair etc as best we can. We are not to celebrate our aging. I love that in steampunk spaces none of this applies. The results are varied, wild, unpredictable and deeply inclusive of all kinds of ways of being female. There’s also an abundance of space to play with gender representation and identity as well, which is incredibly liberating.

It seems mad to me that we so often have so much age-based segregation within our societies. Communities gain breadth, depth and long term stability when they can accommodate people at all life stages. It’s a very different thing being in a space you know will always have room for you, rather than being conscious of an obligation to grow out of it at some point. It’s good to be in a space that genuinely makes everyone who wants to be there welcome, so long as they uphold the one rule – be splendid. I love what happens when the default is inclusion, and look forward to the scope for getting older disgracefully.

I suspect that no matter how old I get, I will always be a filthy urchin at heart, so I‘m going to need the spaces that won’t try and shoehorn me into a twin set and a sensible haircut.


Druid Community

It’s easy to waft the term ‘Druid community’ around (I’ve no doubt used it) but is it fair to say we have a Druid community? Probably not. It may be fairer to say that we have lots of smaller Druid groups, because many of us around the world are in no way connected to or affected by each other.  We discernibly have orders, groups and groves, but whether it is fair to call those communities depends a lot on what you think a community is. I thought I’d throw some not all-encompassing suggestions out there.

The aspect of community that Druid groups most reliably have and do well, is that we gather together to do stuff. Shared activity is, to my mind, key to a community. The counter example is that all living in the same place does not make a group of people into a community if they all ignore each other!

For me, community means a reciprocal process of care and support. We look after each other. Often in larger Orders, this is quite unbalanced. In OBOD, mentors look after students, and there are people who look after the mentors, but the students don’t usually know other students so can’t help them, and would not expect to be taking care of their mentors in turn. As a teaching structure, this is fine, but I don’t think it works in terms of ‘community’. In smaller groups where people live close together, there may well be this wider involvement in each other’s lives.

Community is defined to some degree by its edges. Who is welcome, and who is not? What do you have to give, pay or accept to be able to participate? Who isn’t accommodated? I don’t think there’s a clear definition here around which boundaries signify community and which suggest something else. However, the more participation depends on money, the more exclusion there is for other reasons, the less community there can be. If all we have are people who are very much the same as each other, we don’t have the diversity to create a robust community. We might think of that in terms of age, life stage, education level, financial situation, mental and physical health, mobility, ancestry, and more.

For me, what makes a community is in no small part the willingness to at least try and accommodate anyone who wants to be part of it. Community means negotiation, hearing difference, accommodating diversity of wants, needs, outlooks and intentions. It means people working together, not gurus or other forms of ‘glorious leadership’. Sure, having people in charge of one aspect or another can be productive and necessary, but in a community, that’s about getting stuff done, not an ego trip.

Communities also have to endure over time. Yes, we can come together for a weekend, or for a brief time online, or for a ritual now and then over a couple of years and feel very close to each other, but that’s not community. It has the makings of community. A real community endures. Its leadership can change. People within it can go through different life stages and still find there’s room for them. Something that is recognisably the community continues, being more than the sum of its parts, more than any one person.

It’s ok not to be a community, I should point out. Teaching, ritual, healing, and events can bring us together in wonderful ways for short-term reasons, and that’s great. We don’t have to be fully functioning communities for that to be well worth our time.