Tag Archives: Druid

Being forty

Oddly enough, I find on the morning of my fortieth birthday that I feel largely unchanged from the previous day. As a child I believed that there was some magic shift that turned a person into a proper adult. Some clinging residue of the belief stayed with me, I confess, but sixteen wasn’t it, and eighteen did not rewire my brain, and twenty one brought no revelations. At forty, I notice that no innate adulating capacity seems to have hatched within me. At this point I can afford to admit to myself that it never will, and that paperwork, bureaucracy, and tedious details are always going to be an arse.

When I started writing and talking about Druidry and Paganism – in my late twenties – I tended to be vague about my age for fear of not being taking seriously. It’s one of the good things about being a Druid, I think – the possibilities that age may deliver gravitas and wisdom rather than irrelevance. This may well be like the childhood thing of imagining that adulthood will just turn up. Perhaps I’ll be here at fifty admitting that the wisdom and gravitas thing was just as silly. In the meantime, it’s a nice thought!

In writing, much as in Druid work, age is more of an advantage than not. Very few authors make it under the age of forty, so I’ve everything still to play for. A few more grey hairs won’t set me back at all. Although to be fair, I don’t have that many grey hairs, I’m not dyeing my hair and don’t intend to and I still don’t have many lines in my face. I have no idea how this came to be and can only assume there’s a really good painting of me stashed in someone’s attic, taking all the damage… Yet at the same time I’ve been showing peri-menopausal symptoms for about a year now, so the call of the crone is very much on me.

I got in early with the whole midlife crisis thing, having spent the last few years revisiting many of the things that I was interested in as a teen, rebuilding a sense of self. I had a fantastic party on Saturday night to celebrate this large, round birthday number, and came to the conclusion that more of that – more dancing like a crazy thing in the company of lovely people, with fantastic live music and yummy beer is the form any further midlife crisis flashes should take. With, or without hot flushes.

Perhaps I have reached the magic age of not caring what anyone else thinks, not needing to be acceptable, not aspiring to meet other people’s standards. Many aspects of my life have been becoming clearer and simpler for me, and I like how that feels. I have some sense of where I want to be going and a lot of certainty about who I want as travelling companions. The rest I can no doubt make up as I go along.


Dear Three Thousand

As I write this, there are very slightly more than three thousand of you signed up to get this blog as an email. So first up, a big thank you to everyone who has supported me by deciding to come along on this madcap adventure. Some of you have been with me from the very early days and have stuck it out, and that means a great deal to me. Others of you I hope to get more familiar with through comments and so forth as we progress.

If you ever find I’ve not explored something in enough detail, if you think I’ve got it wrong, or haven’t gone far enough or missed an aspect, please, please comment. It really helps when people chip in to expand the conversation and share details I don’t have, and rare is the post that wouldn’t benefit from this (probably just the poems!)

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you all that I do take guest blogs, I reblog, and I support Druid/Pagan projects, cool creative stuff and interesting authors. If you could use this platform, just leave a comment on a post or one of the pages and I’ll see it and email you. If I can help, I will.

I don’t and won’t ask for donations. I write this blog because it is something I can give, and I enjoy it and I think it helps achieve things I want to get done. And it’s way cheaper than therapy. If at any point you feel an urge to be supportive back, buy a book. I google really well, I have all kinds of books. But at the same time, one of the reasons I blog is that I know full well that not everyone can afford books, and if that’s you, please know that you are totally welcome to rock up here and take what’s offered and feel no guilt. I believe in gift economy, this blog is something I can put in the collective hat.

I had a great idea about hunting around online to find some exciting example of what a group of 3000 people have achieved in some context or another. Unfortunately all I found were articles where 3000 had been the death toll, and lots and lots of facebook hiring people. So there we go, there are no easy precedents to work with. Perhaps that means something!

Thank you for coming here, thank you for staying, thank you for everything you share. Onwards!


Summer trees and Druid wanderings

Sometimes the great British summer produces hot days. I’m one of the many people whose body is invariably startled by this. I find in hot weather that being under trees is really the only way of being comfortably outside in the daytime.

Walk through woodland on a scorching hot day, and you’ll be in balmy conditions with a little dampness in the atmosphere and pretty much no risk of sunburn. The bright light that can leave you squinting, and for the long term, more at risk of cataracts doesn’t reach through. Intense sunlight filtered through leaves becomes something gentle, joyful and habitable.

I can’t walk in direct sunlight for any significant time without a hat, and even with a hat, the risk of headaches and queasiness remains high. In woods, I can be out all day in high summer and this just isn’t a problem. I don’t dehydrate as quickly, I don’t feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

In the absence of trees to wander beneath, the shade of a tree in park or garden is always a blessed relief in the height of summer.

There are plenty of reasons to connect the idea of ancient Druidry with the idea of tree lore and tree wisdom. From the Roman reports of Druids meeting in sacred groves to possible etymologies relating the word Druid to names for oak, I am inclined to think of Druids as tree people. The simplest and most powerful tree lore for high summer is that to experience the sun filtered through leaves is kinder and safer than to be under its direct glare.

Many spiritual paths are keen to use light as a metaphor for goodness – ‘enlightenment’ when you think about it, is a word with light in it. At the same time we tend to associate darkness with evil, and these habits of thought are deeply ingrained in our culture. Trees do not offer us light, but gentle and friendly shade, with patterns of shifting light and darkness. Too much light will hurt you, blind you and burn you. Our bodies do not thrive when overexposed to sunlight. We benefit from places of ambiguous light, softer light, and cool shadow.

 


A Druid on election day

I made the decision during this election not to campaign for a specific party. I’m Green, to the core, but aware that this is complicated. Hand on heart I believe nothing is more urgent than dealing with green issues – clean air and water, sustainable energy, food security and the long term viability of our species. I like and value the NHS, but if we can’t breathe the air, health care won’t save us.  At the same time, a Labour government would be a good deal better to press on this than a fracking-obsessed Tory outfit, and I have every sympathy for the SNP, and think independent candidates are an important part of the mix.

I’ve invested time in trying to persuade people that they should vote. I think non-voting is a massive issue. No matter why you do it, those in power will see it as apathy. They will see it as a blank cheque to do whatever they like. In all parts of the country, if non-voters  showed up, everything could change. If all previous non-voters voted Green, we’d have a Green parliament tomorrow. That’s a lot of potential power going to waste.

I want people to understand that their voting does make a difference and can change things. That even if you don’t get your candidate in, your support for them can still help shape national politics. I want people to realise that every single aspect of their lives is shaped by politics, and that not being interested means it is done to you, perhaps without your knowledge, likely not in ways that are in your interests.

There is a lot more to democracy than voting in general elections. There is a lot more to politics than newspaper headlines and dubious BBC reporting. It is not inevitable that things will stay as they are.

More than this, I want people to look around them, at the land they live on and the society they live in and vote for something better. Not the politics of fear, hate, and greed, which we’ve seen a lot of recently. Not the politics of who can give my family the best deal for the next five years. A proper look at who we want to be and how we want to live with an eye to the long term.

We have to ditch austerity. It doesn’t work on its own terms even – government borrowing is up. Austerity doesn’t deliver economic growth or prosperity for any but the very richest.

We need long term thinking so that our species can survive and thrive without wiping out everything else.

We need to care about each other, and care about our shared resources. We need to ditch the politics of the personal grab and face up to our collective responsibilities for each other. We need to be a good deal more civilized, and some enlightened self interest would go a long way. Any one of us can be knocked down by bad luck, and ill health. Most of us will be lucky enough to get old and need looking after. We have to stop pretending that the good things in our lives are earned and that our ‘hard work’ insulates us from misfortune and start recognising that anyone can get in to trouble, and build systems that are kinder, and fairer.


The further adventures of the bouncing Druid

With anything there’s usually a honeymoon period when novelty and enthusiasm carry you through the tougher bits. I blogged at the start of March about being a bouncy Druid, having been at it a month. After three months of bouncing, here’s what I’ve learned.

On the good side – depression, anxiety, body pain down, energy levels up, concentration better. The swelling of the lymph glands is under control, I’ve a fitter heart and can walk up hills more easily.

On the downside – it isn’t a magic cure-all. While on the whole my energy levels are better, I still get the days when it feels like my bones have been coated with lead and reality is made of treacle. I still have to juggle my spoons. A long day at the computer or art board means having to bounce more, which means being really tired at the end of the day which can limit what’s viable in the evening. I’ve learned that I have to take rest days and I have to really pay attention to my body about those because if I get it wrong I’ll hurt a lot.

I’ve had to change my eating habits, and that’s been hard. A lifetime of being told that eating more would be a bad thing clashes with the reality that if I’m going to bounce, I need fats and carbs for energy and I need protein for muscle maintenance. If I am to be fitter and stronger, if I am to lose fat from my body, I have to eat more. It seems counter intuitive, emotionally it’s not easy for me, but the messages from my body on this score have been really clear.

Somewhere in the second month I became fit enough that bouncing alone wasn’t getting me much heart action. I started using my small hand weights (a kilo each) at the same time, which has helped with upper body strength. When that too stopped getting my heart moving enough (a couple of weeks ago) I added ankle weights to the mix (half a kilo each). I’m glad I started with the smallest, because those have been hard work, and I’m back to having to be alert to signs of pain and overdoing it.

Bouncing has taught me a lot about being in my body. It’s also helped me learn something about enjoying my body in motion. It is teaching me how to listen more carefully, how to think more constructively about food and activity in balance, and how to recognise when I need to rest. I’m seeing changes in my shape, I am a bit more toned than I was, and that cheers me, I’m able to do more than I could and that cheers me greatly. I’ve managed to keep going – I’m not great with routines so I’m pleased about the discipline side, too. It’s also required me to get out of my comfort zone musically – folk rock stopped being fast enough a while ago. I’m using dance music to power me, and as a consequence listening to an unfamiliar genre.

As I bounce, I gaze out of the window, think about my breathing and watch the wildlife – especially the nest of great tits. I find myself entering meditative states, and in longer sessions, more trance like states occur, it fulfils some of the role of ecstatic dancing.

I suspect the next lesson will be about recognising sufficiency. The point at which I don’t add more weights or extend my bouncing time, but accept that I’ve reached a ‘good enough’ zone. I haven’t yet decided what that will look like, but I’m wary of narratives of eternal progress, so at some point it will be a consideration.


Druid rituals

When I first came to Druidry, quite some years ago, I was really excited about doing ritual. I prepared in advance, I learned anything I was going to contribute, I chose offerings with great thought, planned what I would wear, made bread especially and so on and so forth. My own enthusiastic participation gave a sense of importance to ritual, and I got a lot out of doing it, at first.

I was lucky enough to be able to do ritual with a number of groups in different places. What I found was that plenty of the people attending weren’t putting everything they had into ritual. They didn’t learn the words, they brought pre-packaged food to share, they entered ritual space chatting, not in the state of awe and reverence I was trying to cultivate. Some of them chatted once the ritual had begun. Many turned up late.

I learned that it isn’t easy doing ritual as a deeply involved personal practice when the people around you are simply having a nice day out and some social time. For a while, I was resentful of this.

Over the years I softened at the edges, and I started to see how much most people needed that gentle time in the woods or sacred sites or other outside places. They needed the time to catch up with other Pagans – I couldn’t ask people to rock up and do all night vigils, they needed time to be with each other. I came to see ritual as primarily a community activity. My role in it shifted from the quest for personal enlightenment towards a role of serving and facilitating the people who wanted to be there. I brought talking sticks and toasting goblets so that people could share what they needed to say, and be witnessed.

I never got on with solitary rituals. Left to myself, there are other, simpler and more private things I will do. I figured out, eventually, that this is because I thrive on having an audience. Give me a bunch of people in front of whom I can look all spiritual, and I’ll play up to the role. There are plenty of people who want to watch ritual as a form of theatrical action, rather than do their own thing. It’s easy to get grumpy about what other people are doing, or not doing, and not look at your own crap. ‘Look at me, I’m being all spiritual here’ is not the most spiritual of things to be doing, after all.


Fox Tales

I’ve been seeing a lot of foxes lately. It might be tempting to read something spiritual into this, but I don’t think that’s the size of it. My energy levels have improved so I’m up later, and walking back from things later which increases the chances of an encounter. I’ve also built up, over the last few years, an awareness of where foxes tend to be, which helps.

Stroud bus station is not an overtly promising wildlife site. It’s not even a proper bus station – just some bays along the sides of a rather busy bit of road. Nonetheless, it’s a good place to see foxes, and I’ve spotted them around there repeatedly. On one occasion I called out ‘look, a fox!’ to alert the rest of my party, and the fox stopped at this and looked at us. We also had an otter encounter in the bus station on one occasion.

Recently, on one of those late night wanders home, we ran into a fox, and then realised said fox had cubs, and the cubs were trying to cross the road. There was a lot of traffic, and several heart stopping near misses. Now, when it comes to wildlife my default is to leave it to do its thing. I won’t rescue anything from anything else. However, that rule doesn’t apply to cars or any other human way of accidentally or deliberately killing creatures. We were a party of four, dressed darkly, with no kit, and we could not leave the fox cubs to play with the traffic.

It would be fair to say that foxes are not the easiest creatures to herd, because they are clever and inherently uncooperative. It would also be fair to say that a fox idea of road safety is a whole other thing. Mamma fox had picked the least visible spot on the road from which to jump out – through a fence and down a drop of several feet into the oncoming g traffic. I appreciate that the element of surprise often works for foxes, but not on this occasion. So, we put ourselves in the way, and we kept the fox family off the road until the traffic calmed down, then we left them to it. We were gifted with some close encounters, and a cranky mamma fox trying to outwit us to move her cubs.

It was in many ways a humbling experience. I have no magical fox talking gifts that allow me to explain to a wild creature why it might want to work with me for a few minutes. I had no way of telling mamma fox that I was not the threat to her cubs. I had no way of telling the curious cubs that I was not to be taken as a model for human interactions – we got close a few times as we kept them out of the traffic. I had no way of magically protecting them. It comes to something when you’re stood on the side of a road at ten o’clock at night looking a grumpy fox mother in the eye and saying ‘please, just stay there a minute, we aren’t trying to hurt you, we’re trying to keep you alive’ and then she makes a longer loop to run round you and try again. I worried about how tired she was getting. I worried we were making the wrong call, and not helping at all just playing out our arrogance. Just because you think you’re a Druid doesn’t mean you can step in and save the day.

One of our party bravely went back the next day to see if there were any corpses. I thought about it, and worried, and could not bring myself to go and look. But, there were no squashed fox cubs. As close to a validation as I will get.


Tree insights

If you’re a Druid studying the ogham, but you don’t live alongside all of the trees, it’s difficult making a connection with them. In theory, the solution is to swap in a tree local to you that has the same qualities – but without knowing the original tree, this is not an easy call to make.

The Woodland Trust, a UK charity, have done a thing I think Druids are going to find useful and inspiring. They’ve made a collection of small videos each capturing a year in the life of a tree. These are beautiful pieces, well worth watching for their innate loveliness. They also give a real sense of a tree in a landscape and its life through the seasons.

Here’s my absolute favourite, the beech,

And if you go to the The Woodland Trust channel on youtube, you can work your way through many others. Here are the ogham trees available in the set: Birch, Rowan, AlderAsh, Hawthorn, OakHazel, Crab AppleBlackthorn, Elder. There are other tree videos available aside from these, so do have a dig about!


Contemplative Druidry

I first joined Contemplative Druidry as a facebook group, but by happy chance I moved to Stroud, which was the location for physical meetings, so about four years ago, I started going to those as well. It brought me into contact with many likeminded people locally. The monthly opportunity to sit in contemplation with others was a tremendously valuable experience. The habit of looking at where I am in my life and being witnessed in a held space has been good for me too.

Yesterday was the final session. It struck me how rare a privilege it is to close something with care and attention. How often the last time we do something, we only know in hindsight. Consciously and deliberately bringing something to an end, honouring its history, and letting it go is a beautiful thing to get to do, and very much in keeping with my experience of the group as a whole. I’m sad that we’re letting it go, but also in no doubt that it was the right call.

This was the last thing I did in a group that had a Druid label on it. I let go my Druid Network membership a while ago, I gave up volunteering for OBOD and I fell out of Druid Camp last year. I no longer have active membership of any Druid thing. In fact, the only thing I’m still doing that has the Druid label on it, is this blog.

For me, the group aspect of Druidry has always been key. Last time I found myself not involved in any Druid space, and asked what it meant to be a solitary Druid. A friend pointed out that what it makes me, is a hedge witch. The labels become irrelevant if you aren’t using them to connect with other people.

In the same timeframe as this last great putting down, I’ve had a lot of bardic opportunities come into my life. Last time I fell off the edge of Druidry, I was feeling really isolated as a consequence. This time, it is easier because there’s so much else going on – music, art, live performance, time with friends. The labyrinths will be my contemplative practice in coming months. I don’t feel lost or cut adrift, it’s just a shift in focus. Going back to the bard path feels like a good and right thing at the moment.

Everything has its time, it’s season. Recognising when something has run its course isn’t easy, but I think the whole process of the contemplative Druidry group has been a good one and I am proud to have been a part of it.


Ritual without authority

For some years now I’ve been uneasy about working in an authoritarian sort of way. I’ve been the benevolent dictator for a number of groups in the past, but it’s really hard work and takes a lot of energy and attention. For some time now I’ve been questioning the idea of hierarchy within spiritual practice. Power structures can leave us (me) wanting to be powerful and important, losing sight of what’s spiritual, getting mired in our own ego fragility. I know from experience that full democracy doesn’t work – generally speaking wholly democratic Druid groups get very little done. I’ve been part of one of those.

If there’s going to be a ritual, someone has to be responsible for naming the date and place. This can be done with discussion, but it has to be done. Someone has to call the shot, but it need not be the same person every time. Someone has to let people know. This doesn’t set anyone up to be a future archdruid, it’s just admin, if treated as such.

What happens if we get into ritual space with no plan? Sometimes we may default to familiar ritual forms. We may end up doing something that isn’t much like a ritual. What I’ve found where I’ve been experimenting over the last year, is that people are most likely to push for the bit of ritual they like, and let the rest go. Circles I’ve been in have tended to feature some act of recognition of spirits of place, chanting the awen, something bardic, and a passing of a drink.

For Imbolc, I’ve called a date and time that I already know will suit a lot of people. I’ve named a place we’ve used before and that won’t be too cold and windy. I’ve stated an intention to roll up and make a labyrinth, because that’s what I want to do. If anyone wants to do more conventional bits of Druid ritual around it, that’s welcome. We’ll go to the pub for any bard stuff so that we don’t freeze!

A ritual with no one in charge is an ongoing act of negotiation. Rather than it just rolling out smoothly, we have to keep checking in with each other. Is this ok? Do you want this? Do you want something else? It becomes collaborative, improvised, uncertain. The first few times, there was an assumption that I was running the ritual and would therefore provide lead and direction, and some odd moments as I declined to do that, but we came through something there, and I like what happened. I don’t want to have to do all the planning. I want room to be surprised, too, and inspired, and to be part of something collaborative.

As things stand, I think ritual is going to be a regular feature for me again, after a break of some years. I think it’s going to be far more improvised, with shared ownership, and no one really in charge. I like this prospect a lot.