Tag Archives: druidry

Druidry, walking, and not walking

Walking is my primary mode of transport and is also how I engage with the natural world and the seasons. It’s a major part of how I exercise, and a key strategy for managing my mental health. As a consequence, not being able to walk is a bit of a disaster. There’s been a lot of that this year, and in the last six weeks or so it has been a massive problem.

Usually the limits on my walking come from pain, stiffness and lack of energy. I’m used to having days when I can’t do much, and fitting what I need to do around what’s possible. However, I’ve had a bout of very low blood pressure (for reasons) and it’s made walking really hard. I haven’t been able to get up hills, I’ve been able to manage twenty minutes at most, and I’ve felt awful. I’m aware that for a lot of people, twenty minutes would be a good amount of walking, but with the role walking plays in my life, not being able to walk for a few hours at a time is a real problem.

It’s meant I’ve had very little access to the landscape. Places I find spiritually nourishing – especially the hilltops – have been unavailable to me. If I had a garden, I could develop a spiritually nourishing outdoors space closer to home – but currently I can’t do that.

I’m lucky in that the underlying causes of this problem have been dealt with, and I should be able to recover and rebuild my strength and stamina. Not everyone who has a bodily crisis gets to do that afterwards. Many people live with sorely limiting conditions.

This experience has taught me that there is nothing I can do inside my flat that does for me what getting outside for long hours at a time does for me. My Druidry is so very much about my relationship with my immediate landscape. Much of the time that’s quite an understated presence – I do think about my connection with land and spirits of place whenever I am out, but that’s often so normal to me that in some ways I don’t notice it. Absence is a great teacher, and what I’ve not been able to do has taught me about what I need to do.

There’s an interesting balance around internalising things and losing sight of them. With any spiritual practice, you want to embed it so deeply in your life that it is your life. But when you do that you can stop noticing that it’s there, which is problematic. This in turn brings me to consider the usefulness of deliberate spiritual action for reminding us of our spiritual lives, and how necessary it may be to have things that aren’t so deeply embedded that they become invisible. This might mean I need to make a labyrinth once I’m back in shape. That’s a good jolt out of everydayness.

I certainly need to look at what I can do with my Druidry that is real and immediate to me, and soul satisfying, and not so dependent on being able to walk for a couple of hours. Alongside this, I have a lot of practical work to do rebuilding body strength and stamina, getting my heart fitter again, and getting back up the hills. I’ve come to understand in recent years that taking care of my body is a necessary consideration for how I do my Druidry – my body is where I experience everything else, and if I don’t keep it well and fit, I can’t get out there and do anything else. I’m very glad to have at least some options around improving wellness and fitness.


Druidry and Rabbits

Rabbits are interestingly complicated from a Druid perspective. On one hand, they’re cute, fluffy mammals, and on the other, they could be the poster-creature for humans messing up.

We’ve been moving rabbits around the world for a long time. When exactly they came to the UK is uncertain – could have been the Romans, could have been the Normans. Certainly the Normans had to build warrens for them because apparently rabbits back then weren’t very tough at all! Old rabbit warrens in the landscape can easily be confused for other things. There’s an interesting pair near me that, in local legend, are supposedly mass graves for a smallpox hospital.

Rabbits in Australia have been an ecological disaster. They may be small and cute, but being in a landscape where they don’t belong has had a series impact on other species. Tree loss, soil erosion and loss of other plant species causes huge knock on effects.

Then we get myxomatosis – a virus that originated in South America and turns out to have hideous, crippling effects on rabbits, who die slow and painful deaths from it. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was deliberately brought into the UK to control rabbit populations – a horrible choice by any measure.

We move rabbits around so that we can eat them. We keep them as pets. We use the fur of Angora rabbits for clothing, but the treatment of those rabbits, is often appalling. The problems rabbits cause in the world stem from our human assumption that they are there for us to use in whatever way we see fit. When we colonise landscapes, our impact isn’t just about moving people in, and humans – especially white, European humans – have caused a lot of harm by deliberately and accidentally moving creatures to places where they do not belong.

Rabbits invite us to look at how we use power. They invite us to square up to a long history of ecological damage and arrogance. They are intimately tied up with colonial histories and the history of invasion. From a Druid perspective, they have much to tell us about what a lack of natural justice looks like, and what human hubris does in the world.


Druidry and diverse experience

One of the terms that floats about in contemporary Paganism is UPG – Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis. It’s a useful phrase for flagging up things you know from personal experience but can’t necessarily back up in any way. It’s good to clarify how we know what we know because other people’s mileage can and will vary.

However, there is a natural human desire to substantiate that personal gnosis, most often by agreeing with each other that we have experienced the same things. It can get a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ if we aren’t careful. It can feel vulnerable to have an experience that doesn’t sit well alongside the consensus experience. I’ve been that person in workshops a few times, and even in a friendly space it is uneasy being the person whose UPG does not fit in with the emerging SPG.

When we share experiences, there can seem to be a pressure to have at least had some sort of woo-woo or meaningful experience. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in meditation sessions, and learned with the Contemplative Druid gatherings how much gentler the process is when you aren’t expected to give feedback on your experiences. To sit together meditatively and not have to say what your experience was is surprisingly liberating. It taught me a lot about the kinds of pressures I’d felt in other places, and how performative spiritual feedback can become.

Does it matter if we all have the same sort of experience? On one hand, it is validating, and some conformation that you have not gone quite mad. There’s being away with the fairies, and then there’s really being away with the fairies… But, I have also experienced people sitting together and not having the same experience around what’s going on in the room.

I feel strongly that diversity of experience should not leave anyone feeling like they got it wrong somehow. If one person has a woo-woo experience and other people who are with them do not, it does not meant that some of the people were less inherently magical. It does not mean that the person experiencing the uncanny is mad, or lying, or otherwise out of kilter. We have to have room for diversity of experience even when we are in the same place and doing the same things.

There is more to magic. It’s complicated. All kinds of ideas, entities, traditions, and ways of working exist in paths and in individual practice. It seems less reasonable to me to expect similar experiences than to expect diverse ones. I am reminded of the Jain story about the blind men trying to make sense of an elephant – it’s a good story to spend time with. Limited as we are, we might easily sit together and have a spiritual experience that is unique to each of us and have no way of knowing how it connects to a coherent whole anyway. And if it doesn’t, that should be ok too.


Druidry and my love of darkness

One of my projects at the moment, is writing a book about Druidry and the darkness. People who support me at the Bards and Dreamers level over on Patreon  are getting monthly excerpts from the work in progress and will get the complete pdf when I’m done – in fact, anyone who supports me on Patreon will get the complete pdf if they want it. (https://www.patreon.com/NimueB)

I like giving my work away. I also like being able to eat and keeping a roof over my head, so Patreon helps with that. During lockdown, Patreon money has represented half of my dependable income. We’ve been getting by on very little.

Back to the darkness… one of the things this project has done, is got me thinking about where my relationship with the dark began, and what the key early influences were. This led to a rather surprising discovery.

As a child, I was obsessed with the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera. Revisiting some of the material from that, it struck me how much The Music of the Night had influenced my sense of what darkness is, and means. It was a song I sang enthusiastically as a young human, probably with more joy than skill. These days it is right at the limits of what I can get my voice to do. I’m not a trained singer.

For various reasons, I ended up doing a paint and cosplay wallow in the darkness with this song, recently. Younger me used to do a lot more dressing up and it was part of how I used to navigate my gender identity, such as it was. I may get back into that. I definitely need to invest more time in play, mucking about and things that aren’t entirely orientated towards making a living. It’s often a thing for creativity – that you need it to pay to justify doing it, but it is the time invested in the not economically focused things that actually make the creativity possible, and therein lies all kinds of challenge!


Druid Life

I think it’s really helpful to pause now and then and ask what the relationship between my life and my Druidry currently is. It has certainly changed over time – I have along the way been a student and a teacher, I’ve been a participant and a leader, a ritualist and a non-ritualist. There have been times when prayer and meditation have dominated, and times when it’s been mostly about service. Druidry has many different aspects to it, and different things come to the fore at different times.

This year, creativity has dominated so far – mostly in the form of Wherefore, a fiction series I’m doing on youtube. I’ve been talking about animism, magic, the nature of reality, and environmental issues under the guise of a silly story. You can find series one here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux 

I’m re-thinking my work and service – I work for my local Transition movement, I volunteer for the Woodland Trust, I write for Pagan Dawn, and I’m getting more involved with my local theatre festival. I’m limited mostly by energy at the moment. I want to do more, but exhaustion is an ongoing problem.

Getting outside to walk, and sit, to witness the cycles of the seasons and encounter the wild things remains really important. Lockdown gave me some serious challenges – not having a garden didn’t help. But, I found ways to get out there and to stay passably connected.

At the moment, meditation and prayer are more to do with how I use my new altar space and I’m not doing as much along the edges of sleep as I was. This is in part because it no longer takes me so long to get to sleep!

This year has brought me a lot of re-thinks around divination and intuition – two things I had let go of some time ago, that now once again have a place in my life. It all feels really fragile at the moment. I’m conscious that if reality doesn’t turn out to line up with what I think I’ve been intuiting, this could get messy. Alongside this, there have been some shifts in experience around magic, how I think about deity, and how that might fit into my Druidry. This is all far too fledgling to talk about but all being well I’ll be back when I can share something more coherent.

The single biggest question right now, dominating my life, and my Druidry, is how to imagine the future. Climate chaos and the awful state of our politics make it hard to know what to do. There are personal complications as well. What I want, and what I have the financial power to do are currently a long way apart. This summer tantalised me with possible ways of changing that, and I am waiting to see what, if anything, is really possible. Right now, I have to embrace uncertainty, be as peaceful as I can be about what I do not know, and figure out how to stay open.

Recent weeks have brought many lessons about how much choice I have. There are important areas where the lack of choice is really hurting me right now. I’ve chosen not to protect myself from that. I’ve chosen to be open hearted and I’m conscious that what I’m doing is choosing who to be in face of circumstances I have little control over. Choosing hope is really hard work when there’s nothing much to support that. Looking around to see what will support hope, and who will, has changed how this works for me. Choosing faith when there’s no evidence – well, that’s the nature of faith and I’ve never been much good at it, but here I am trying to do it. I have no idea how this might impact on how I do my Druidry in the future, but it certainly could.


Making an altar

Ten years ago and more, altars were part of my life as a Druid. I like having dedicated space in this way. However, for a couple of years I lived on a narrowboat, and there wasn’t any space to dedicate. Horizontal surfaces were at a premium. So there was no altar.

This flat is also small, and horizontal space has also been at a premium. We live and work here – three of us, and for a while, four of us. There have also been cats, and cats and altars do not mix well unless you can keep the one off the other reliably.

The last week has been really hard. There is now no cat, and we’ve been unexpectedly a household of three when three of us thought we were a household of four. It’s complicated, painful and I write this with no clarity on what’s going on. There’s nothing sensible or useful I can do.

My Druidry has always, to some degree, been what I do in self defence.  This is something I may need to look at and rethink. Often I am at my most willing to dig in with magic and spirituality when I am most in trouble. I tend to manifest my Druidry more on the service and creativity side when life is ok.

So, I made an altar space. For the first time, I made a cooperative altar space. In the past, James was simply too young and not really interested in engaging with the spaces I made. He was interested in Druidry as a child, but more the bard stuff and having an invisible fairy dog (it’s a long story).  This is the first time Tom and I have had shared space we felt willing and able to dedicate in this way.

We’ve talked about what should be on a household altar. We’ve put some things together, and talked about how and when to change that. We’ve made a heart space that we haven’t had before in this flat, and we’ve made the decision to give that some priority. I’ve pulled out old ritual kit that’s been stashed and I’ve started thinking about what it means to me to have dedicated sacred space inside the flat, and what I might do with that, and who it is for.

An altar raises all sorts of questions around intent, and connection, who to honour and how. It raises issues about what it makes sense to do symbolically. Who are we inviting in by making offerings? What do we want to change in our lives by doing this?

In part I wanted to change the energy of the space. I wanted to make something good that could be a focus for love, for beauty, for connection. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how to better invite magic and wonder into my life, and this is in part a consequence of that process.

I feel better for doing it. I feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that I’ve not been able to make enough space for in recent years. I feel that making this altar space is an act of commitment to a certain kind of future and an expression of how I want to be in the world. I’ve done all of this from a place of feeling grim and lost, and I’ve done it as an act of dedication to not giving up on myself, on the future, or on hope.


Druidry and Despair

One of the things I really appreciate about Druidry is there’s nothing inherent in it that will kick me when I’m down. There’s no ‘like attracts like’ philosophy. There’s no sense that suffering and difficulty are a result of bad karma, past life activities or lack of spiritual effort.

There are two places a Druid can look for spiritual guidance. There’s the literature pertaining to the Celts – the folklore and myths of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and arguably also England and France. There’s the natural world. Both of these sources will demonstrate to you that life can be a bit shit. There isn’t always any justice, people do not get what they deserve. Tragedy happens. The Gods do what they do and cannot be counted on to make life easy for you. Death, decay, misery and suffering are part of nature, these things will happen to you. Cycles are natural, and that means not everything can be great all the time. There’s also the history we get from the Romans, and there’s nothing in that to suggest any kind of toxic positivity in ancient Druidry.

Feeling despair means I am not feeling Druid-fail. I can dwell on all the stories in which people do terrible, stupid things and/or have terrible and stupid things happen to them. It’s not just me. Rhiannon faced loss and terrible injustice, so did Branwen. Blodeuwedd and Macha do not get good deals.  Follow any story far enough and everyone dies. The question is not whether things will be awful and tragic – because they will, sooner or later. The question is whether we can manage to be heroic, poetic, glorious, and unique regardless, or because of the things that will cut us down.

My Druidry reminds me that if I feel I have nothing else, there’s always the option of strapping myself to the stone to keep fighting. If winning isn’t an option, there are still important questions to be asked about how you want to lose, and how you want to be seen as you go under. There’s always the scope to inspire and encourage others by putting up a fight, and by trying to do something glorious, poetic and heroic with the hand you’ve been dealt, no matter how shitty it is. And sometimes, figuring out how to fail heroically is as good as it gets, and it is better than failing in sad, boring and mundane ways.

I’ve lost my way this week. I’ve lost my sense of trajectory – a fledgling thing I’d only found this year. Epic things had been happening to me that were shifting my sense of self and I may have lost that too. I have lost inspiration that was essential to me, and I may never get that back. I can’t tell if this is a small setback, or a tragic ending that would be entirely recognisable to my ancestors of tradition.

The thing about strapping yourself to a rock to keep fighting, is that it imagines keeping fighting does some good. While you can stay upright, rescue remains possible. Something could happen, something could change. Even while expecting defeat, it’s an action that invites other possibilities, right up until the last breath.

Despair is not an obstacle to carrying on as a Druid. Defeat is not an obstacle – the Druidry the Romans defeated survived to at least some degree in story and myth. Something remains. Something lives on. Dying away is part of the cycle, I can enter those spaces, Druidry and all. I do not have to be happy to continue as a Druid. I do not have to be hopeful or brave, or believe anything much so long as I am prepared to keep going with something. This week has taken me to some difficult places, and the awareness that I might have to accept living there for an uncertain amount of time. Potentially for the rest of my life. I will tie myself to the rock and keep standing for as long as I can.


Druids in the Cathedral

I’ve blogged a few times now about my relationship with Gloucester cathedral – while there’s no Christianity in my religious mix, it remains a powerful place for me. This is a building made with love and determination and remade and developed over many centuries by my ancestors of place, and probably a fair few blood ancestors as well. I go there to honour them. The stone has come from the hills – it is a sort of forest/cave made of stone and as such is works well as a dry place in which to commune with the wider landscape and its history. I also love the way sound is transformed by the space so that mundane human conversations sound a bit like a choir.

I haven’t been outside of Stroud since the start of the year. The small train journey to Gloucester was a big consideration. The county isn’t doing as badly with the virus as some places, but it remains an issue. I don’t want to spread it and I certainly don’t want to catch it. Balancing virus issues against emotional and mental health needs remains tricky. It was, however, really good to have some quiet, contemplative time in the cathedral.

I have a favourite chapel, and I’ve frequented it since my late teens. I first started going to the Cathedral when I was studying in Cheltenham, and sometimes my journey back from there gave me time for a visit. I’ve been sitting in contemplation, and lighting candles in the cathedral on and off throughout my adult life.

Yesterday, my adult son and I sat together in the blue chapel. Some of it was quiet contemplation, some of it was talking quietly about the stained glass and what it means. There were very few people in the cathedral, and I took the decision to do something I have always wanted to. I hummed, quietly. After a while, my son joined in and then we got a bit more deliberate about it. We’re both Pagan, but have had plenty of exposure to Christian music along the way. We picked Christian tunes that we like – slower and stranger tunes – the older ones that seem to resonate more in that space. We pondered whether the space had been made to fit the music or the music had been written for cathedral acoustics.

It was a very powerful thing for me – our two voices humming in harmony, filling the small chapel and getting glorious acoustic resonance from the building itself. No one bothered us or told us to stop. We were singing in a chapel where the modern stained glass is two thirds devoted to representing the natural world. It felt like a very Druid thing to do.

It also struck me that visitors to the cathedral were making all kinds of irreverent noise. We were the only ones doing something audibly reverent, and still I was anxious that someone might get cross with us or tell us off. But they didn’t, so maybe I will do it again.


Druidry and your environment

We are shaped by our environments. The context in which we live our daily lives has a huge impact on us. We do better as people when we have green space, and there’s evidence out there that we are kinder, better humans when our environments include trees. Lockdown has made it apparent that poverty and impoverished environments go together and that those who have least are also required to live with insufficient space, and green space.

How we live is informed by the space we live in. How much room we have and what resources are available to us. There are things you can do to create an environment that works for you, but this will be limited by your financial resources. As a Druid you may well want trees, perhaps a whole woodland, but whether you can afford to own or access that is another question. For people in serious poverty, there is no spare budget for houseplants, or to grow herbs on the window. I have done well rescuing nearly dead, reduced to clear plants, but when you do that, you take what you can get.

If you rent your home, you may not have much scope to put things on the wall or choose the wall colour. As a renter with white walls for a winter, I had a terrible time of it. I need colour in my environment and living with so much white wall space ground me down. I know some people find pale and plain environments soothing, but I’m not one of them! I crave vibrant colours and lively space.

Many Pagans choose to make their homes overtly Pagan looking as a way of re-enforcing sense of self, celebrating the path and connecting with whatever most appeals. It’s interesting to examine what, in your living environment actively supports your Druidry. Is it an altar space? Depictions of divinity? Or of nature? Is it natural objects or crafted objects, representation of the elements, or your hearth-space? Is it your books? Do you keep your ritual or divination tools on display?

What in your surroundings supports and nurtures you? What inspires and uplifts you and reminds you of who you are and what you are doing? What comforts you? What helps you? It’s worth looking around at your space on these terms and asking what you can invite in, what’s not helping and what could be changed.


Animism and urban landscapes

I live in a small town, and I’m conscious that much of my writing is nature-focused and I don’t talk much about urban Druidry. The majority of us are to some degree urban, and I think it’s important to explore the realities of being a Pagan in an urban context, and it’s something I’ll try to write about more often.

Yesterday I went from my home on the outskirts of town, to the centre. I used to be something I did a few times a week, or more.  Since the impact of the virus, I’ve not been into the town centre very often at all, and when I have, it has been very quiet. Stroud has a distinct character – an energy of its own and during lockdown the absence of that felt strange.  There is a land-energy to the town centre, but Stroud is most itself where the interactions occur between people and place. The mood on quiet days and at night has more in common with the busy days than it has with the atmosphere during lockdown.

Yesterday I passed by Lansdown Hall. It’s a building that looms large in my life. We did a Hopeless Maine exhibition in the gallery there a few years ago. I’ve performed on the stage during the book festival. My fortieth birthday party was there.  The Tai Chi class I went to was there. I’ve danced there many times. I also worked in the office for a while and have worked there in evenings on many occasions. I’ve been there for films and all kinds of community events. It is a beautiful building, and one I feel a deep connection with.

Lansdown Hall is still closed. I’ve never wanted to hug a building before. I’ve never previously felt the urge to press my cheek to the stone and tell a place how much I love it and how deeply I have missed it. I settled for putting my hand on the building and drawing less attention. It is a place that is distinctly itself and that I experience as an individual.

I have feelings about many of the buildings in town, but mostly that has to do with what I’ve done there or who I’ve spent time with. Lansdown Hall is different. It is a friend in its own right, and someone I miss spending time with as much as I’ve missed human friends in recent months. Someone I would like to hug. Hopefully there will be some future opportunity to be back in the hall on my own, able to talk to it, and to be with it.

As with human relationships, it’s not being able to do the things that define the relationship that is hardest. I have found out whose hugs I needed most and who I most need to sit down with at the same table.  I have learned things about where I need to be. The embrace of a building was not something I’d recognised before, but I know now. Perhaps I’ll go back at a quieter time and press my cheek to the door.