Tag Archives: druidry and meditation

Druidry and…

Many years ago, when I sat down to write Druidry and Meditation I imagined that I might do a whole series of books that were Druidry and… titles. It seemed a good way in. I went on the write Druidry and the Ancestors, and then lost my nerve and did a couple of books as ‘pagan’ instead.  Druidry is a bit of a niche, and publishing books in an ongoing way rather depends on selling books. It doesn’t help that I’m not a great self-publicist, although I’m trying to do better with that. Hence this blog post and any others like it.

Introductory books tend to get the best sales. I for one, am bored with generic introductions to Paganism and Druidry, I’ve been doing this for far too long. There’s little joy in reading it and there is no amount of money that would make me want to write it. It’s also easier to pitch books that promise people quick and easy solutions to their needs, and that’s never attracted me either. So be it.

This year I wrote Druidry and the Future – I am back to that original Druidry and…. plan and I am happier for making that choice. I have a new Druidry and…. title in mind to start working on in the autumn. I self-pubbed the future one because there’s a nine month and more lead time in publishing with Moon Books and I felt I needed to move with this now. But the next one I will try with my publisher first.

Things have been fairly quiet on the Druid books side in recent years. I’m excited by new work from Andrew Anderson – whose The Ritual of Writing came out this year, and who has another very exciting project in the pipeline. But on the whole, there haven’t been many new Druid books I’m excited about for some time. Until this spring, I hadn’t felt excited about trying to write anything, either.

My gut feeling is that Druidry has needed some quiet time. We’re moving beyond Very Important Druids and big names with big claims. This is good. I think what’s coming next will be a greater diversity of voices, and ideas, with less authority. This may not be the best outcome for book selling, but it is definitely the best outcome for Druidry.

Anyone who wants to talk about getting started as an author, or taking the next step (wherever you are with things) is always welcome to contact me. If I like what you do, then I’ll do what I can to help you navigate the publishing options and I’ll be here to promote your work when it comes out. I may be a lousy self-publicist, but when I’m excited about a book, I am an enthusiastic champion. It’s so much easier to do that with other people’s work!


Unexpectedly in charge

Many of the things I have ended up doing in terms of service, and running activities, has not been sought. I set out to write stuff. Along the way, volunteering jobs plummeted from the air like grand pianos, often having a slow impact when eventually they hit me. I’ve been lured, guilt tripped and, most often, just asked nicely to have a go at things, and so I end up entirely out of my depth, doing things I am in no way qualified or experienced enough to do, because there’s no one any better qualified to do the job.

From what I’ve seen of the Pagan community, this is entirely normal. The new Pagans have always massively outnumbered the experienced teachers. The need for events, rituals and gatherings is always greater than the supply of confident and experienced people able to make them go. The result is a lot of cobbling together, and the person least quick to decline getting the job.

I started running meditation groups years ago because my moot expressed interest in doing meditation sessions. As I’d been meditating for some time, and had been to organised meditation groups so knew roughly what it was supposed to look like, and because I was also young and foolish, I assumed I could do this. My automatic default when faced with a thing I do not know how to do, is to try and find a book about it. Where there are plenty of meditation books out there, I couldn’t find much that was innately Pagan, or about running meditation groups and writing pathworkings. I found Pete Jenning’s Pathworking book and it got me started, but nonetheless I spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

There are lots of places to go to learn all kinds of spiritual things. What there aren’t, is resources for dealing with all the practical stuff around finding yourself in charge of a thing. Pagan leadership, running meditation groups, writing pathworkings – much of this isn’t glamorous. There’s a lot of hard slog involved and tons of fairly mundane and tedious things which, if you don’t pay attention to them, will mess up your esoterica. Left the phone on? Got a big enough room? Prepared for the vegans when it comes to the catering? Prepared for the vegans and the dedicated omnivores to get really angry with each other and then expect you to sort it out?  You probably aren’t. I mostly wasn’t, and no doubt the peculiar art that is running things will have plenty more surprises in store for me in the future.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned to expect when running Pagan things, it is to be caught off-guard in some way. Not always in a bad way, though. The imaginative, eccentric and innovative nature of Pagans can create some glorious surprises. So, I wrote Druidry and Meditation (cheap on Kindle just now) in the hopes of sparing other people from wheel invention. I’m also teaching a course over at Patheos  sharing what I know about the practicalities of trying to run things. I’ve spent a lot of years learning things the slow, hard way – for which read making a lot of mistakes because I didn’t know any better. If I can use that to spare someone else some hassle, that would be a lovely thing!


Meditating with crotchet

In my book Druidry and Meditation, I talked a bit about the idea that any activity can be used meditatively. It being a small book, I didn’t explore in detail the many options here. When anything can be a meditation, the potential for discussion is large to the point of being unwieldy. But, this is a more personal one.

I know a lot of Druidy women who work with wool, from spinning it and dyeing to weaving, knitting, crotchet and felt. Working with wool is inherently tactile and it’s an activity that connects us to our ancestors. Especially women. Spinning was so intrinsic to femininity historically, that women were sometimes buried with their distaff, and the female line of descent could be called ‘the distaff line’. There’s a memorable sequence in Marion ZB’s Mists of Avalon, where spinning sends one of the characters into visionary trance states, so it’s not without a magical angle too. Spinning the threads has connotations of fate, and knotted cords are a traditional magical tool. We weave charms too.

I learned a variety of wool and needle crafts as a child, knitting, tapestry and embroidery particularly. I couldn’t get my head around the one needle of crotchet at all. It wasn’t something I took up until after the birth of my son, (ten years ago today). These days crotchet is my preference. I like both the rhythm of it and the total scope for improvising. Any direction possible. New threads always an option, and the third dimension available. I’ve crocheted around pine cones to make woolly squids, for example.

I can get lost in the rhythm of wool passing through my fingers. I find this deeply soothing, and as I am by nature a stressbunny, I frequently need soothing. I take a lot of joy in putting colours together in pleasing combinations. I used to hear all the time that I have no skill with colours, so every time I manage something I like, that’s a very personal kind of victory.

The work is always intended to become something, perhaps with a specific place, use or person in mind, so as I create, I’m also thinking about that intention. I’m contemplating my vision, and around the wool I am often also making a plan, or nurturing a hope. I am crocheting the world as I want it to be. I am knotting together little fragments of dream.

Sometimes I do this consciously and deliberately – which for me defines it as meditation. Sometimes I’m not seeking to discipline my own thoughts, but the rhythm of creating something takes me into a contemplative state. And sometimes making an object is more like making a spell, because the intentions are so strong. A hat for my child to make him smile, and keep him warm on winter bike rides. A blanket to put on a bed that does not yet exist, in a house I have never seen. Dreams and threads tangled together.

Druidry does not have to be about dramatic acts in public places. It can be private, domestic, weaving together strands of creativity and practicality. Magic in living and being, in doing the smallest things.


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…


At the limits of meditation

I had quite an evil end to last week. High winds meant waves on the canal, much being banged about, bridges closed, and our not being able to move. Wind also contributed to a shortage of power supply, that trapped our washing in a washing machine. On top of that, I was diseased and running a temperature. I paused to feel sorry for myself on facebook, and someone pointed out that all those meditation skills must be coming in handy. They weren’t.

There are times and places where I find meditation doesn’t help much. Not least, because meditation requires mental focus. There’s nothing like a headache, or for that matter a fever, for making it tricky to manage any kind of mental discipline. Even the most basic meditations call for some kind of concentration skills.

Often it’s when we are most in trouble that we could really do with the benefits of a quiet mind. In sickness, in pain, in crisis, it does help not to be screaming and flailing. But when you are screaming and flailing, the idea of meditation seldom even occurs.

I’ve been meditating every day for as long as I’ve known how (lots of years) – usually at the beginning and the end of the day, often for short spells along the way as well. I found in my teens that in normal circumstances I drop into meditative and trance states easily. It’s always come naturally to me in quiet situations. In the throes of a panic attack, it doesn’t come naturally at all. I have noticed that, with practice, I am better able to keep control of myself, to rein in panic that bit sooner, to breathe my way through intense pain, and the such. The habit of meditation that comes from regular practice makes it easier to do it in self defence, when times are hard. Easier, but not actually easy. Give me another twenty years and maybe I’ll have it licked.

I remember Cat Treadwell saying on her blog recently (see list of bloggers on the right) that many people don’t want to learn Druidry in depth, they want quick fix magic that doesn’t take much time. Most things worth having, take time. They take work. Sure, I could teach a person the basics of meditation in an afternoon. The book I wrote is loaded with enough exercises to keep someone busy for a long time. But they aren’t a quick fix. Doing an exercise once is interesting. Do it three times and you will learn a lot more. Do it every day for a month and you may start to change. Do it for twenty years and you might well be able to hold your calm in face of any disaster.

Our consumerist culture, all have now, pay later, with its emphasis on faster service, quicker solutions, newer, shiner things, teaches us impatience. The adverts many people see every day are telling them to demand faster, and that faster is better. You should have your perfect solution on your plate in three seconds time, or you must feel let down. The only instant solution to pain, or fear, is a sudden and very intensive hit of drugs, legal or otherwise. That’s not a solution, any more than putting your hands over your ears and chanting ‘I’m not listening’ is a solution. Real solutions take time. It’s ok not to be able to fix everything right now. It’s ok to have to work at it. Inner calm does not come in a bottle, for immediate effect.

So no, faced with high winds, hostage laundry and a virus that seemed to be jangling each of my cells individually, I did not meditate. I’m not that good yet. I went to bed, and tried to sleep it off, which worked.


Re-enchantment for Druids

In my blog on Seeking inspiration recently, I talked about how we lose that sense of wonder we had as children. We start to imagine the world as familiar and predictable, and begin a process of selectively not seeing all the ways in which this is not so. I have spent a while in that sort of conceptual space. It had a lot to do with feeling like I had to fit in with other people’s ideas of what a responsible adult might look like, and it was also a reaction against experiencing people whose reality was highly dysfunctional. It is possible to hold a sense of magical reality whilst being able to cope with the ‘normal’ reality the majority of people at least appear to inhabit.

Re-enchantment does not mean moving away from the world as is, into some fantasy in which you are a fairy princess, or a dragon. It is not escapism. Re-enchantment is about forging a deeper and more spiritual relationship with the world, as it is. Not taking anything for granted is an essential first step here.

If we deliberately narrow our experience – from bed, to car, to work, and home to television with very little else in the mix, we do not allow ourselves opportunity to experience something unfamiliar, and we reinforce a mundane impression of the world. Seeking out opportunities to be surprised isn’t that difficult. Going somewhere new, talking to a stranger, reading more widely, and most importantly, going outside and getting some direct, first-hand experience of the natural world. Life is amazing, from the miraculous fuzzy ducklings of spring, through to the intensity of summer blossom, the vivid colours of autumn and the pristine shock of snow. Each day offers us weather, sky, a precise moment in the seasonal cycle, and scope for seeing a thousand things we have never noticed before. There is wonder in the small detail. The blue flash of a kingfisher’s startling wings. The sheer beauty of a dawn chorus. The smell of the air, after rain.

It’s easy to go through life with a head full of what we just did, what we’re about to do, what we wish we were doing, what were worried about and all the mental clutter that makes it hard to live now. It is possible to be thinking about your life without being so inward looking that you entirely miss the external reality. The trick is to not treat most of external reality like some kind of wallpaper. It’s not a backdrop for the film plot of your life, it needs taking seriously. Noticing, or not noticing, is a habit of thought. It just takes practice.

The next step is to feel. For some reason, the last I don’t know how long… few hundreds of years? We’ve been collectively wary of emotion, seeing it as the opposite of good thinking, the enemy of rationality, and at odds with civilization. Emotion is intrinsic to being human. You can’t feel a sense of enchantment if you are not willing to feel. It may not seem ‘grown up’ to be cooing over lambs, or to cry over a dead swan, but the wrong there lies with our culture, not with the emotional response. Being willing to be moved to tears by beauty, or to be filled with ecstatic laughter over the pure joy of something, requires a letting go, an opening up. People may look at you funny. You may seem crazy to others. You may seem crazy to yourself. It is a process.

From here, the magic inherent in the everyday world starts to open up. Life feels more vivid, more real, and more immediate. The small things become relevant and important. A day can become a good day for hearing a bird sing, or because there was a rainbow. The previous priorities and obsessions of an entirely fabricated, human-centric awareness, change. You stop expecting to be able to buy happiness and start knowing where to find it. You pause in delight over the way in which the water is catching the light. You smile because this morning you saw a fox, and that was a beautiful moment. You notice how the air smells and how the ground feels beneath your feet. And then, because these things start to matter to you, and you are paying attention to them, you become more aware of what they do, how they interact, the individuality of them, and the connectedness. Where before there was barely regarded scenery, now there is spirit, and relationship.

It’s a process with no end point. There is always more to see, further to go, more to recognise, to understand, to engage with. I think a big part of druidry is this quest for relationship, but there’s not a vast amount of information out there about how to do it. You certainly don’t need the right robes, or necessarily even the right rituals. I’m going to finish with a quick plug for Druidry and Meditation, because I’ve explored a lot of ways of seeking this awareness shift in that book, so if you want to explore further and could use a few more tools, it may help.


Meditation without separation

One of the commonest assumptions about meditation, is that the point is to empty the mind. There are traditions in which the goal is, as far as I can tell, to become empty of thought, or just focused on one very simple thing.

This is not the way I meditate. Part of the point in writing Druidry and Meditation was to explore the wonderful, creative potential of meditation, and how that works in a druid context. For me, druidry is all about deeper relationship, going further into a thing, exploring layers of meaning, webs of connection and seeking inspiration. My druidic practice is all about engaging with life and with the world around me.

There is an element of stilling the mind. For people whose lives are over stimulated with a surfeit of noise and information, and whose days are cluttered with busyness it can take a dramatic shift of gears to be able to meditate. Where I’ve led meditation groups I‘ve seen how hard that shift can be to make and how much dedicated effort it takes – not to stop thinking, but to think clearly and simply. We lose our own voices in the hubbub of ‘normal’ life. We learn not to listen to our own natural impulses and emotional responses. Taking the time to breathe and feel, opens the way for hearing the voice of spirit within us, and from there all druidic work can flow easily.

Meditation can mean deep contemplation, working intensely with an object, entity, place or concept in search of deeper knowledge and understanding. Meditation can take us into the strange landscapes of our own minds, allowing us to explore who we are in a careful and deliberate way. Through meditation it is possible to construct safe places in which to try and tackle unsafe things or to face parts of ourselves we find troubling. There can be escape as well, and relief from pain.

In essence, meditation is a tool that can be put to many purposes. It can be harnessed as part of spiritual work, and a conscious quest for engagement with spirit or deity. Alternatively it can be utilised for de-stressing and subsequent health benefits. It can be about an engagement with the body, or a way of relieving its needs. We can use meditation intentionally to manage our inner lives and it can also be an aid to searching for inspiration. All of the strands within druidry can be explored and expressed through meditation.

The risk here is that we replace ‘real world’ action with work undertaken in the safety of our own heads. You can change what is without by first changing what is within, but to be a druid is to be in the world. A total retreat into the inner realms takes us away from druidry, not closer to it. When the spiritual life is so much underpinned by nature – by what is tangible and material, we cannot quest after it by stepping back to much from it. For me, the test of whether a meditation practice is a good one, is whether it takes us deeper into life, or removes us from it. While there are undeniably benefits to stepping back sometimes, leaving the flow is not the aim here.

Emptying the mind in an attempt to experience nothingness, is part of what we might choose to explore. Our planet exists as a tiny speck in the vastness of space. Infinity and eternity are big, space laden concepts too and we might want to go into a state of emptiness to better understand those mind bending ideas. We might also want to use it to think about death, or the frailty of life. There is nothing out there that does not merit exploration or consideration. However, limiting meditation to a quest for stillness and peace restricts our use of one of the most interesting and easily available tools we have.

Meditation can be physical, playful, interactive, noisy. It can be anything you want it to be. It works best when the focus is simple, but it is about achieving a state of greater awareness, openness and insight. The goal is not to go off to some other place and then come back again a ‘better’ person. The aim, in the kind of meditation I teach, is to be more present all of the time, more aware, engaged and involved in the flow and fabric of life.


Looks like Druidry

There are a number of images very much associated with Druidry. The beardy chap in the white robe, brandishing his golden sickle would be one. For many, Stonehenge has connotations of ‘druid’ or combine them to get beardy guy in white robe gesticulating in the middle of Stonehenge. There’s the Awen symbol,   /I\  which probably comes to us from Iolo Morganwg and probably isn’t ancient, but is rather nice. In theory anything Celtic could be connected to Druids, but isn’t, a surprising amount of the time. It probably has more to do with the influence of 18th century antiquarians than anything else, that druid imagery is a hodgepodge of stoneage sites, classical influences and wild imagination.

 

Back last summer I was in the process of working out what I wanted on the cover for Druidry and Meditation. I’m not that well known as a druid author, so I wanted to play fairly safe. This led me to a lot of serious thinking about what, from a book-cover perspective, druidry looks like. I reflected on all of the druidry related book covers that have passed through my hands over the years. I recall a grand total of no beardy men. Awens crop up here and there, the odd dash of Celtic knotwork. The one big trend, is to include plant matter – usually trees and/or leaves. Having figured this out I duly got on with it and put in my request(see top right of this blog).

 

Working in various genres and areas of the publishing industry, I do think about book covers a lot. There are trends, habits, fashions in book covers that function to represent the content, and that make sense to those who read them. You can’t sell erotica with hand drawn art on the cover, it has to be photo based. There were a few years when ‘literature’ called for bare legs and images of people’s feet. Children’s books almost always have drawn covers… I could whiter on indefinitely. But the point is that covers do two things. They announce what kind of book it is – because people do reliably judge books by their covers, and they appeal to the kinds of people who are going to buy that kind of book. I have no idea what the figures are like for tree covers versus non tree covers in druidic publishing, but clearly more people equate druidry with trees and plantlife than with any of the other available images.

 

That may tell us something about how we are perceived, or how we perceive ourselves.

 

We sketched out a plan for book cover number two last night. Worked a bit of plant matter in, just to be on the safe side. Book number 2 is very much a work in progress, but I hope to be waving it enthusiastically at a publisher before the year is out.