Tag Archives: druid books

Facing the Darkness

jhp51b9cc1ba1a28Facing the Darkness by Cat Treadwell is a new release from Moon Books.

My other half, Tom Brown, did the cover, and Cat is a friend, so I’m not claiming neutral objectivity here…

Depression is not a tidy ailment, but a spectrum of difficulty, from fairly mild levels of distress and disconnection through to the desire to die, sometimes acted on. For non-sufferers, depression is often equated with melancholy, angst, feeling a bit sorry for yourself and other ideas that are way off the mark, often culminating in an impression that you ought to be able to pull yourself together. Depression is a complex illness, and furthermore it is an illness that kills people.

New Age books tends to go in for a lot of warm, fuzzy affirmation. Like attracts like, we are told. Think positive thoughts. For the depressed person, this has already ceased to be a realistic option. Often as a consequence, ostensibly spiritually uplifting material can, for a depressed person, just add to that sense of failure and alienation which is already dismantling you.

Cat Treadwell knows about depression, and this really shows in her writing. This is someone who has walked dark paths repeatedly and come back with some significant insights.

The first time I read Facing the Darkness, I was, by my standards in a pretty good place (only mildly depressed, by medical standards). I found the book helpful and it was good to read. Coming back to it in states of more serious depression, I appreciated being able to just pick it up and dip in at random. Depression is not conducive to good concentration, often. I would suggest that for a person whose depression is mild to moderate, this is a really helpful book and well worth having on the shelves.

If you are seriously depressed, wanting to self-destruct, to stop breathing, to crawl into a small, hidden space and never come out again, you won’t reach for any kind of help. You’re probably not reaching for anything just to make sure you can’t pick up something sharp and dangerous. If you’re in that place and fighting to keep going from one breath to the next, then the best place for this book is in the hands of anyone who is trying to be with you through that. It offers insight. If you’ve taken Cat’s ideas on-board really thoroughly when in a more viable state, you might be able to draw on them in times of absolute crisis, but that’s going to come down to your nature more than anything else.

It is so important to talk honestly and openly about what depression is and what it does to people. It is so very important to have realistic literature that actually deals with what depression means. In writing from the heart and with a deep honesty about personal experience, Cat has made a powerful contribution to what needs to be a large and on-going public discourse.

If you, or someone you love walks the dark roads sometimes, or lives along them, this is book worth investing in. It isn’t a comfortable or easy read, but that’s rather the nature of the beast.

Camping it up

We’re off to Druid camp. We’ve pondered what on earth to pack, what might not go off in a field in hot weather, what clothes might be useful, and we’ve borrowed a tent. We’ve got the buses all figured out, and yes, as Tom asks from the background, I did pack the tin opener. Mister Cat is off on a vacation of his own, where he will no doubt be pampered silly. It’s the closest we’ve been to having a holiday in a couple of years, but I think we’ve earned a breather.

There’s going to be music, and I’m taking my violin, in the hopes that I might be able to jam with some people. That’s a bit nerve-wracking, I’ve done so little playing out lately. There are workshops to run, and I’ve done more of that lately with other events, but still, the frisson of nerves are a given. The lingering fear that, like Rimmer from Red Dwarf when faced with an exam paper, I will say ‘I am a fish’ four hundred times, do a little dance, and pass out.

I did consider taking the computer, as there should be some electricity and I can get online via Tom’s phone. I considered blogging in situ. Then I thought… what is the point of going to sit in a field with a lot of other Druids, if I insist in taking the trappings of my working life with me? So, the comp stays at home. I’m going to use the power of wordpress to set up a few things to post automatically, so that there’s some content passing through, but nothing too arduous. I’ll be back on Sunday, and whatever state I’m in can be announced to the world at that point. I’m pretty sure no one actually needs a blow by blow account.

Talis Kimberly will be there with her band, so listening to her is high on my wish list, too. There are so many people I haven’t seen in months, and probably too many people I haven’t seen in years, so I’m planning to spend as much time as I can making contact. It’s possible there will even be some Druidy stuff. My workshops are music orientated, so I’m not planning any formal Druiding, I don’t feel any urge at all. We’ll see what happens, and what the connections between people lead to. It will be enough to have my bottom on the ground and nothing else to be thinking about.

If you are going, I’m going to sneakily mention that I have a box full of books – mostly Druidry and the Ancestors, and Druidry and Meditation. I have a few copies of Intelligent Designing, a handful of Professor Elemental comics, and one display copy of Hopeless Maine. We’ve nearly sold out of volume one! Tom will also be carrying art and I hear rumour of a market place on Saturday. Hmm, that’s a bit like work…. But it’s days away.

Forest of Dean, land of my ancestors (well, some of them!) here I come. I shall gaze upon your rolling hills, and enjoy the different view of my beloved River Severn, and try very hard not to kick Kris Hughes if he gives the talk about how no one round here honours Sabrina. Mind you, he’s bigger than me…

A slowness of books

I rather thought I’d have my third Druid title handed into the publisher before midwinter, last year. It didn’t happen, not least because I was very ill. My first 2 titles (Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors) both came out in 2012 and I was aiming to keep up a good pace there. It’s not quite gone to plan, I’ve had issues of block, weariness and too much everything else… Then Trevor over at Moon Books suggested I write a smaller book for the Pagan Portals line. I jumped at the chance, and the result – Spirituality without structure will be out in the not too dim and distant future. It was an interesting book to write, allowing me to use much of the wider research from the current Druid title, and it helped me focus my thoughts.
Spirituality without structure is an exploration of how to construct your own path, without being confined by conventional religious structures and systems. More of that nearer the time!

The first draft of the next title exists in hand written form. I’m a bit ‘old school’ in that I’m happier creating books on paper. I think better. Electricity has been in short supply, and gazing into the middle distance looking for just the right turn of phrase is a lot harder when the clock is ticking and the juice will run out. I also like having a tangible hard copy that will not melt away in the event of technical malfunction. Getting the next book from paper into the computer has been a bit of a fight. I think it’s more to do with energy levels than enthusiasm, the subject fascinates and inspires me, and also scares and confuses me, making it ideal in many ways. I feel a bit like I’m waiting for life to deliver some sort of punch-line, but it hasn’t shown up yet.

There’s a number of other projects in the pipeline that I’m not in a position to talk about in public yet – fiction stuff. So I’ll just tease you with that, but there is a thing on the way for next year that I am seriously excited about. We’re also talking to Archaia about book 3 of Hopeless and the timing for that, with book 2 due out around Halloween – you can already pre-order it on Amazon! Of course none of this has helped me get the Druid book written, there only being so any hours in a day.
The other big distraction, has been setting up to do a teaching course through the Patheos Pagan blog. I’ve been a columnist there for a while, and when they talked about developing a teaching space, I opted in. So, quite a lot of time went on planning and writing the content for that. You’ll be hearing more about that too, in the next month or so.

There is an argument for saying, do one thing at a time. I gather from the Zen folk that this is considered necessary for mindfulness. The trouble is, I just don’t have that kind of mind. Mine is a grasshopper brain and it jumps about between things. Trying to focus all of my energy into one project tends to make me more vulnerable to block and getting bored. However, the fingers in many pies approach makes me less than brilliant at always turning everything in on time. I’ve become adept at not getting deadlines in the first place. On which subject, I have been sounding out a publisher about a book on dreams, as well, which might happen next year.

I have promised myself that I will get the next Druid title written and handed in before I start on the dream book, or on the novel brewing in my head. That’s about as close as I ever get to discipline. I’m also planning to rerelease by self-publishing, some of my older novels so I need to take some time and polish those up, and we may be going to put out some Hopeless related material that way too. Oh, and audio meditations. Would you like some of those? I might be able to add that to the mix in a month or so. I’m signed up to do an alternative wheel of the year monthly column (links soon) and I’m writing more for The Druid Network too.

I have a feeling that the next twelve months or so are going to be a tad crazy, as in the midst of the above I’m determined to get out to more events as well. With Auroch Grove getting started and OBOD mentoring in the mix, as well as distinct opportunities for a more interesting cultural/social life, I’m starting to wonder quite when I’m going to do any sleeping. I’m just going to assume that it can all be made to fit together, and, with a rare nod to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seize the carp.

Money for old Druids, rope, books…

What, exactly, are we willing to pay for? Money is the primary energy used to move things round in our culture, but the ways in which we deploy it are… curious. We’ll pay more for a cup of coffee than we feel comfortable about handing over for ebooks, for example. We’ll pay well over the odds for food at railway stations, then quibble over a milk price that has farmers working at a loss. I think there’s also an interesting question around what we’re willing to charge for.

It would, for example, be totally self defeating to charge for this blog. Authors are two a penny. We’re like a rampant disease spread over the whole internet, and we all want your cash in exchange for our scribbles. I was, quite literally, falling over authors last weekend. It felt like every third person who came by the table was an author, or wanted to be an author. I understand this urge, but it’s also a bit frustrating. I’d like to be an author too. Some 250,000 books now get published a year. It used to be more like 40,000. The number of books sold hasn’t changed. You do the maths. I’m in favour of more democratic and accessible systems, but I also have aspirations about being able to pay the bills. Me, and everyone else.

I have no doubt that Druidry will go the same way. Right now, Druid celebrants are not numerous, and people will pay for handfastings and whatnot. The more Druids there are, the more people will be looking to live by their Druidry and the harder this will consequently become. The more popular a thing gets, the less we are willing to pay for it. Take a look at book prices in the supermarket next time you go by. This isn’t going anywhere dramatic, I don’t have a grand plan on this issue, I just find it interesting.

My bloke is an artist. We were not falling over artists at the weekend, although there were plenty of folk who confessed to dabbling, but were quick to acknowledge they aren’t in his league. It’s easier to tell at a quick glance how good an artist is. We sold a lot of art. There are days when I wish I did anything other than write. There are so many other creative fields that are not being choked to death by the sheer number of people wanting to have a go. Part of the trouble with writing is that we all learn to write at school, and there is a widely held myth that anyone can do it. This is, in fact, bullshit. Good writing is as difficult as any other art form. We don’t all imagine we have an opera in us, or a sculpture. I’m all in favour of people having a go, exploring their creativity, I just wish it was a bit better distributed.

It also bugs the hell out of me that it tends to be hype, and not quality, that sells books. When an author is great, then seeing them top the best seller lists is a happy thing. But when we’re talking Twilight, Dan Brown, Fifty Shades and other such work that becomes famous for being famous it’s not good. I also get very grumpy about people who get famous for being famous, all the two dimensional celebrities. There are a lot of deserving, talented, innovative people out there who don’t media whore and who merit the attention. I’d rather hear about sports heroes than yet another drunken idiot in designer clothing.

But we pay, and every time we pay, we choose what kind of market we have, who will thrive, who will fall. And if we choose to spend a lot of money on mass produced plastic and nothing on originality, we will end up without originality. If we won’t pay for Druids, ultimately we won’t have any professional Druids. Some may argue this is a good thing. There’s an interesting discussion to have there. We also charge, and in choosing what we charge for, and what we do not, we also shape our material world. We pay others to clean our homes, but we do not value it when it’s done for free by an unpaid wife.  Child care the same. I don’t charge to blog. We can end up devaluing what we don’t pay for. I’m doing this for free because I hope to interest you in my writing, so that you buy my books, book me for events, come to my table, etc.  Funny sort of business, this.

Of work, time out, balance and crotchet

Technically you can spend your every waking hour working on something. I’ve tried, I’ve watched others. Mostly what happens is that inspiration, energy and efficiency decline in a steady and dependable sort of way until you’re left exhausted, miserable, thinking you should be working all the time, not knowing what to do if not working, and essentially unable to work. In terms of getting anything done in the long term, working yourself into a hole is no kind of answer.

Working on a computer, where most of my ‘product’ is virtual, I find I need regular doses of real stuff too. It’s nice when the physical versions of books turn up, that feels real, but it’s not the same as working hands-on. Balance is increasingly important to me, and I find I need to strike those balances over longer time frames, not just on a daily basis. There has to be time for play, time to do nothing, time to seek inspiration, and time for doing.

One of the things I’ve learned it’s useful to do, is to draw breath between projects. Often projects are overlapping so that when one ends, it can be tempting to just carry on, transferring attention to others, but it’s not been a good strategy for me. I’ve often got a piece of fiction or two on the go, as well as the graphic novels (admittedly, Tom has most of the work there) and the Druid writing. But, the end points need celebrating. And it’s important to stop. So, I’ve finished a thing this week. It’s verse, light hearted and aimed at children, a huge departure from anything I’ve done before. I love striking out into new things, I hate being in a rut, the diversity I like in my work is definitely part of my sense of balance. Still running… words for a joint novel writing project and a poetry collection that could be assembled soon, and a story I’m still typing up. I’m in research mode for the next Druid book, and I’ve got the title of another project on my list, waiting for me to start. But not this week.

Having finished the verse collection for now, I’m having some days off – just doing email, editing and blogging, which are the things that give me structure. I find I need a little structure to offset the chaotic ways in which I work, and that these three things are enough to give me that. Another exercise in balance there. So, tomorrow I shall spend some time with some ducks, I think. Today, I have started a crotchet project. This is wholly different from having a writing project on the go, as its mostly restful for the brain rather than taxing, gives me time to daydream or listen to the radio, or chat, and results in a thing I can hold. I’ve always found a kind of soul satisfaction in making things I can hold in my hands. Tomorrow, I may get the paintbrushes out and make colourful splodges with the child.

I know, that through doing this, I will be able to write more effectively when I dive head first into the next project. Working with my hands gives my brain time to ferment ideas and brew things into new combinations. The daydreaming is essential. A life that is just work leaves little room to daydream, and soon there’s no aspiration, no longed for destination, and no content for stories. I also find a lot of inspiration in play, mucking about with friends and family, letting ideas and jokes build and roll. Some of my best writing ideas have come from just that.

I like the zen saying: before enlightenment, fetch wood, carry water. After enlightenment, fetch wood, carry water. It doesn’t matter what spiritual or intellectual, or emotional thing we’re doing, it’s vital to stay balanced, to be earthed by something real on a regular basis.

Before fiction writing, crotchet. After fiction writing, crotchet. At least for this week.

Adventures in writing Druidry

When I started druidlife it was as a column over at thewww.paganandthenpen.wordpress.com and eventually I took the plunge to go it alone. But, I started with the idea of writing about my life, as a druid. Somewhat nervously. Rather expecting people would drop round to tell me I was doing it all wrong, that I shouldn’t be calling myself a druid etc etc. It wasn’t entirely paranoia, the journey to here has been an odd one.

But there hasn’t been much of that. One troll, who was a personal troll and not some random internet acquisition. Not bad going really, some 300 and more posts on.

When I’m writing the non-fiction, I’m very conscious that druidry is a big, diverse thing full of people who don’t agree with me. I like this about druidry. It keeps us all on our toes. But it means that if I venture a ‘druids do this’ then I risk putting a misleading thought form into the world, and I also risk the manifestation of angry people who want to correct me. My main strategy is to focus on what I do. I use phrases like ‘some druids’ and ‘druids I have met’ and other such ways of leaving room for all the stuff I don’t know about and all the people who do it differently. Years of feedback have taught me, I think, to be careful about my exact phrasing. I’m very grateful to all of the people who have poked and prodded, reminded me of the diversity and generally kept me straight. I still have moments of making generalisations, or not being clear enough in what I say… it’s a work in progress.

Blogging is one thing. There’s a temporary, fleeting quality to a blog that makes me feel ok about it being a work in progress. Books have a far more permanent quality to them. Stepping up as a blogger, I’m just a druid writing about life, but to be an author is far more about claiming some kind of Authority. That makes me nervous. Now, book the first was fairly easy because I was writing off the back of years of experience meditating, running groups, using meditation in ritual and workshops and so forth. I knew what I was talking about, I knew the subject hadn’t been covered by anyone else, I felt fairly easy about sticking my head up and going ‘oi, world, I know some stuff that might possibly be helpful’. And so Druidry and Meditation was born. Book the second will be out in November. It’s got history in it, and I am not a ‘proper’ historian. It’s got all kinds of reflections on what it means to be a druid, where we’ve come from, where we might be going. I’ve tried to hold that open, inclusive blog voice, but I have a lot of strong opinions, and there’s every chance people are not all going to like this one.

But all this pales into insignificance when compared with what I’ve just done on the fiction side. I’ve got a novel with comedy Druids in it. I’ve tested it on some non-druids and they liked it. But, basically, I’m taking the piss. What I’ve written bears some resemblance to the sillier bits of our history and almost no relation to what we modern folk get up to. I think. It’s going to be interesting if I turn out to be wrong on that score!

The thing about druid books, and druid blogs is that I can assume the audience is probably more pagan than not, and knows me as one small voice amongst many. Fiction works in very different ways. I can’t make the same assumptions about the audience, and, I’m taking the piss.

I gather there are some druids who go in for excommunicating other druids (don’t ask me how that works, it’s not my idea of how to be a druid). But, I find myself asking, have I gone too far? Will I get excommunicated by someone? And if so, is it going to be the history, or the piss taking that lands me in most trouble?

Watch this space…

Selling you something

I have a lot of issues about television, but for today, I’m going to focus on the adverts. Now, adverts of course are not unique to TV – posters are everywhere, magazines, facebook, most websites. Anywhere you go, someone will be trying to sell you something. Even here (glance to your right, in case you missed it.)  See, I’ve just tried to sell you something! But TV is unique in how it does this, and I find it troubling.

Most ads, online and on paper, are static. A few words and images which are easily ignored. They may even be targeted, and I don’t mind that – eco tourism in my nature magazines, green products in my Green party publication and so forth. I don’t mind hearing about things I really could be interested in. TV can focus, based on assumed age group of the audience, but aside from that, it’s mostly aiming for everyone. This is not helpful. Your best hope is things like DIY stores alongside DIY programs. So it’s mostly a cluster bomb approach.

Now, when you watch TV, you may well be sat down, and interested in a program. If you’re not, then the raised volume often associated with advert breaks will draw your attention to them. But, watching is an immersive medium. With your vision, and your hearing engaged, and anything to hold your mind a bit, that’s your attention tied up. TV programs try very hard to keep you engaged. So do adverts. You are, in many ways, a sitting duck. And so the advert has the power to throw you, immersively into the world of the advert, and tell you something that will make you want to buy a thing.

Now, you may assume that what adverts tell you is all the reasons why you want this fantastic product. They don’t. I did a brief marketing course a few years back. The first thing they told us is that the easiest way of getting people to buy stuff, is fear.  Fear of missing out. Fear of being left behind, or thought less of by friends. Fear of not having something you didn’t even now you needed, and so forth. Every time a TV advert sells you something, it is also almost certainly selling you a little bit of fear too. It’s telling you that your bathroom isn’t clean and shiny enough to pass muster. It’s telling you that your kids will fail because they don’t have some bare essential you’ve never even heard of. It’s telling you that colleagues will look down on you for being sweaty or having the wrong glasses, or some other bullshit. It’s also telling you that it’s ok to look down on people who do not have what you have.

Under the smiling, shining surface of adverts, there’s a lot of encouragement to feel dissatisfied with your life as well. Are you in the slow lane? Is your car not as great as this one? Is your wardrobe letting you down? Are you too fat? Too hairy? Too human? Be afraid that people will judge you for this. Be very afraid. Buy our product to have a hope of hell in surviving out there in the urban jungle.

The adverts come round with considerable frequency. How much time does a typical TV watcher spend being told to buy more stuff, and given reasons to feel shitty about themselves? Every day. What does that do to a person’s self esteem? What does it do to their consuming habits? We cannot, as a planet, afford the rapacious nature of our consuming culture, and yet every day, the vast majority of us are being beaten about the head with the message that if we don’t buy more stuff, we are going to be total failures. This is not helping. It’s not good for us. It makes us sad, and it encourages to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. The things we are sold as solutions to our problems are not solutions. Happiness is not a shiny kitchen, or the right brand of soup. Happiness is much more complex. You will not find it at the bottom of any kind of bottle.

I would hate TV less if it didn’t spend so much time trying to sell us stuff. Adverts are not the only problem though, but I may come back and grouse about other issues another time.

It is possible to sell things without using fear or trying to cause misery. I’d rather go ‘ here is a thing that I made, if you think it might suit you, please do buy one, it helps keep me in mushrooms and potatoes and that enables me to keep doing this stuff.’ But what about an advert campaign that suggested, be it ever so subtly, that you couldn’t hope to be a real and proper druid without reading my books? A campaign to tell you this is the definitive book. The only one worth having. So many adverts sell the authority of the product. I don’t believe in the authority of my product. I’m going to spend some of my time telling you to read Ronald Hutton, Kevan Manwaring, Robin Herne, Brendan Myers, Cat Treadwell, Emma Restall Orr and others, and more. For gods’ sake, don’t imagine you need my book to go druiding! There are lots of good books out there. Mine is not the only way.

Somehow, I can’t see that catching on in mainstream advertising, but it feels a lot more honourable than the usual approach.

Writing Druid Books

When I first started exploring Druidry, quite some years go now, I was terribly excited about the books I imagined I would be coming into contact with, thanks to advice from wise teachers and those further down the path. You know the ones: The books of ancient wisdom. The books that would tell me how to be a druid. The books of mystery and wonder that would enable me to see the world in whole new ways. Those books. Based on observation, I think a lot of young pagans anticipate the existence of such great works and many are disappointed. I found lots of introductions to Druidry, lots of things that hinted at deeper things and refused to tell me how to do them, or told me that I could only learn then directly from an actual, physical teacher. I was not pleased. I’d just finished the kind of degree that had convinced me that, really, anything worth learning could be learned by reading about it.

My natural inclination is to read. These days I use the internet a fair bit too, as well as books, but I am more likely to want a book about a thing than any other method of learning. That may be hardwired. However, there just aren’t the books out there to teach me the things I want to learn, and that’s been the case for more than a decade now. I expect the teachers who could teach me are out there, but one lives in a hut half way up a mountain and doesn’t have a website. One only speaks Russian. One was tragically killed by a bear last week, and four of them are, themselves, still in their teens and have not yet grown into their own greatness. Or so I like to think. So, where the hell does that leave me?

One of the things that bugs me about books on modern paganism, is that an awful lot of them are very general, introduction type books. Especially in Druidry. There are some people who feel that you can’t even write a book on Druidry without devoting the first chapter to yet another rehash of the ancient druids, the revivalists…. And I’ve got to say, if you’ve read more than two books on druidry already, that can get a bit much. I want a world in which everyone has to read Ronald Hutton, and then everyone else writing about Druidry can start the book by saying ‘read Ronald Hutton, I’m not doing the potted history.’ Think how much paper and frustration that would save! It was suggested to me that I do a potted history at the start of Druidry and Meditation. I didn’t. I also don’t want to get bogged down trying to explain what modern Druidry *is* every time I write a book. Again, more than two reads, and you’re going to be heartily sick of that debate.

What I want to read, are books that go a lot deeper into some facet of Druidry. If you know of good ones, please, please put them in the comments at the bottom. Robin Herne’s Bardic book is already on my to-read list, Kevan Manwaring’s The Way of Awen is a favourite. Brendan Myer’s The Other Side of Virtue really took me places. Books for people who are not beginners. Books for people who have already read some books, done some rituals, have a sense of where they want to go.

In the meantime, I’m trying to write something useful. I wrote Druidry and Meditation because when it came to trying to run a meditation group, I couldn’t find anything to help me. The title now in edits came about for similar reasons. I was going through a thing, I had no book to help me on my way. I’m working on book 3, researching, pondering, experimenting a thing that does not have any significant pagan books about it, so far as I can find.

Which brings me to the final question. What ‘Druidry and….’ book do you really wish someone had written? Where are the biggest, most aching and frustrating holes in your bookcase just now? I’m not at all promising I can write them, but I’d like to know, and maybe someone else will look at the list and say ‘bloody hell, I know so much about that topic, I could do that’ and will then do it.

Shall we give it a go?