Tag Archives: Druid

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.

Where is my Druidry?

Back when I was working on ‘When a Pagan Prays’ it struck me that it’s very easy to fall into a ‘my work is my prayer’ mentality, where there’s no real truth in the assertion. If my life is my Druidry, and my Druidry is intrinsic to my everyday life, then I am equally at risk of just doing whatever occurs to me and having no discernible Druidry in the mix at all. What makes it a Druid life?

I don’t have a fixed daily practice. I don’t have an altar at the moment. I’m not honouring any deities. I’ve felt for the last six months or so that my Druidry was in flux, and I’m entirely easy with that – it’s happened before and I both expect and hope that it will continue to happen.

I’ve lost several key community spaces this year – Druid Camp, and the Contemplative Druid meetings. I have become much more involved with a bardic community, which goes well with my desire to reconnect with and re-commit to the bardic path. I’ve invested more time in divination (I may be back to write about this in more detail) and as ever, walking, and being present in the world are a big part of what I do. My service has shifted – I’m no longer volunteering for OBOD, but am giving my time to The Woodland Trust instead. Last year there were more seasonal rituals than I’ve had for years, and I mean to carry on with that.

I don’t know where I am, I’m not entirely sure where or if I fit, and that’s fine. I don’t know where I’m going – there’d be no fun in it if I did. Journeys into land and story, maps and labyrinths, dreams and possibilities are part of my sense of trajectory, but I’ve no real plan. I’m open to what comes, waiting to see where the awen takes me.

Teaching Druidry, Learning Druidry

I have, at various times and by assorted means, tried teaching Druidry. It’s an odd business for me – not least because I dislike dogma and authority, and firmly believe that modern Druidry is something we have to make for ourselves as individuals. Of course teaching doesn’t have to express authority or dogma, but it’s so easy to accidentally fall into either, or both.

I’ve learned a lot when I’ve been teaching people. It’s allowed me to find out a great deal about other ways to see the world. One of the things it taught me is that I enjoy being a student, and always feel a bit out of my depth if asked to taking a teaching role, but that at the same time I find teaching exciting, and watching people find their own way even more so.

This has led me to the conclusion that most of the time, creating space is more productive than any attempts at formal teaching. It’s also less demanding in terms of time and effort. Give people a space, an opportunity, and let them do it on their own terms, and what they find will be their own, and will have its own shape. It removes all temptation for the teaching to be about how clever and important the teacher is, and it frees the student from any dogma the teacher might have been hauling around.

Too often, teaching can mean imagining the student as the blank page onto which the teacher must write their great wisdom. But, if you start from the idea that what the student needs to do is discover their own wisdom, everything changes. If you aim to have the student find their own inspiration, their own insight, their own magic… then giving them yours is of limited use.

There are a great many ways of creating opportunities, and this is something we can all do for each other without needing a hierarchy of teachers over students. Anyone can make a space, and anyone can work within a space to experience and develop. All that is required of a space is that it gives people room to have experiences. That could be a moot set up to talk philosophically. It could be a ritual or a bardic circle that doesn’t overly direct participants. It might just be a walk, a few pointers for a drawing exercise, a meditation space or room to dance.

I think the best scope for learning occurs when we are least invested in controlling each other’s experiences. One person cannot teach another person to have a spiritual experience – it’s just not possible. All we can do is show each other the things that might lead to spiritual experience.

Druidry and technology

I’m not the sort of Druid who believes that ‘back to nature’ is the answer to everything. There’s a rather charming quote from Good Omens about a young woman who has to spend a while living in a field before she figures out exactly why her human ancestors went to such efforts to stop doing that sort of thing! Creatures adapt their surroundings as best they can for their own comfort, it’s not an unnatural thing to do.

For me, Druidry has always meant standing with one foot in the realm of human culture, and one foot in the wilds. We have to know both, and mediate between them.

I’m all for simplifying, for reducing what we think we need to get down to a more sustainable, and more enjoyable way of life. The right technology, used in the right way, is an absolute blessing to the modern Druid. So, what features should a Druid be looking for when it comes to technology?

Endurance and life expectancy. We don’t want things that are going to break, fall apart or are otherwise contrived for obsolescence.

Minimal resources. It’s better to have a small efficient thing, and ideally a thing where bits can be repaired or replaced at need, or recycled when dead. If there’s a re-use aspect to the technology, even better.

There are things machines do a better job of than people with hand tools – getting dust out of carpets for example. Check the value of doing it by hand, sometimes there is more pleasure in doing it yourself. If doing it feels like drudgery, causes you discomfort or is too difficult for your body, clearly this is a good time to get a machine to do it instead.

Some machines make work – because they change our expectations. Many people spend as much time on laundry as their handwashing ancestors did because they feel everything must be immaculate at all times. I don’t think that’s progress. Check how the machine is going to affect your thinking, and whether it will make more work for you. Consider the empty social exchange of staring at a phone versus spending time actually doing stuff with another person.

Take your time. Adverts encourage us to feel rushed and pressured and like we have to have this thing right now. Pause. Ponder. Look at your life, your home, your transport and all your other needs and think about the things that would give you most benefit. Pick the technology that will serve you, not the technology that will enslave you.

The right tool can be a great life improver. For me, a crock pot was an absolute win on this score. For others, an electric bike might be the perfect solution to numerous problems. It might be a more efficient device, or one that can use rainwater…

Things that we buy because they are all the rage, because we are afraid of being left out, because we wanted to cheer ourselves up, or compensate for a feeling of lack or inadequacy… these are the things to avoid. Shopping is one of those things we do emotionally, when we’d be far better off making more logical and informed choices.

Joining Special Branch

I admit it, the name lured me in. Do you want to be part of Special Branch? Yes, yes I do.  So here we are at the start of a whole new adventure.

This summer I put down a number of volunteering things I’d been doing, because they weren’t working – all kinds of reasons. Volunteering is like any relationship; you rock up all shiny eyed and excited at the beginning. Sometimes you fall out of love with them. Sometimes you change, they change, you grow apart, your needs change, their ideas… sometimes there are personality clashes. And that’s fine, because it’s human and real and it can be gently put down and life goes on.

Service is important to me. Volunteering has always been a part of my life. Not volunteering hasn’t felt good, although I needed time to draw breath and figure out how to move forward, with so many things going so wrong in so many ways, it’s overwhelming. Conscious that I can’t wade into every fight, I’ve been looking for a place to stand that makes sense to me.

I’ve been a member of The Woodland Trust for something like a decade. It’s been a happy relationship. I give them money, they send me a nice magazine, and every now and then they win something, a wood is saved, land is bought and allowed to regenerate… and I feel good about being a tiny part of that. So, when they announced the idea of Special Branch, I got rather excited. What they were looking for are people willing to campaign online. But it gets better, because what we’re talking about here is soft campaigning.

I’ve done a few turns at harder activism. The sort of work where you go in and fight your corner, and push, and protest. It burns me out emotionally. I expect I’ll keep doing bits and pieces of that when it’s needed, but I can’t live there. Soft activism, by contrast, deeply attracts me. It’s about building ideas and getting people engaged. It’s about stories, and, for these purposes, connecting people with trees.

And really, if as a Druid I wasn’t a bit excited by the idea of trying to softly engage people with trees via stories and other forms of creativity, something would be wrong!

One of the consequences of this, is that I will add more tree related content to the blog. I’m always looking for new threads of ideas to explore, and this should be a very natural match for the other things I get up to. Turning my love of trees into something that can serve the trees seems like a very sustainable way forward for me. It will not solve all the world’s ills, but I firmly believe that a culture that is considerate of its trees will likely also do a better job of taking care of its people, so, here we go…

Tempted to follow suit? there are loads of ways to get involved, more information here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/