Tag Archives: druidry

Druidry without hierarchy

This week I read a really interesting post over on Tommy Elf’s blog about leadership. In it, he talks about being asked who he considers his mentors to be, and says that he doesn’t go in for that. He does however consider me to be one of his influences, along with Cat Treadwell. You can read the post here – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/keeping-things-on-level-ground/

Aside from the delight of getting name-checked in a blog I am subscribed to, I was struck by this post. Cat Treadwell and Tommy Elf are very much influences on me – I follow both of their blogs. I follow a number of other Druid bloggers as well. I used to follow the other Druid he mentions but don’t any more for more reasons than I have space or inclination to share.

Druidry can of course be massively hierarchical, with grades to advance through and titles to aspire to. Not all of us want to be an Arch-Druid. As architecture goes, I see myself as more of a flying buttress… Arches are pretty and all that, but they aren’t the only thing you can be. I’ve dabbled in leadership, I’ve run groups and I’ve taught, more and less formally. I absolutely get where Tommy is coming from in his blog about not wanting to be put on a pedestal or treated as a source of authority. I’m seeing more of this in Druidry all the time.

Leading is mostly a practical job – someone has to figure out when and where to meet and what to bring and to hold the space. Someone has to teach people who show up wanting to learn. Someone has to do the rites of passage people want and need. These are jobs we can do for each other. I think it works better when there’s fluidity in it. Leading all the time is hard work, can be an obstacle to following your own path, and can be an epic ego trap. Leadership can be the enemy of spirituality. However, if you share it around and hold it lightly, this isn’t a problem.

If some days you are the teacher, and some days you are the student, you’ll never feel like you’re supposed to know it all. If you can lead ceremony, but there are also people you can go to if you need someone to hold the space for you, that’s much happier as a way of being. If you can run things, and go along to things other people are running, it’s much more relaxed. Plus you’ll never end up feeling like it’s the work you do that gives you a space, or that being accepted is conditional on your work.

A person can share their experience without having to assert that theirs is the one true way. We can offer our wisdom to others without demanding that they accept it. We can share what we do without someone having to be the authority. We can take responsibility for our own paths, looking to each other for inspiration rather than instruction.

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Depression and self esteem

For some years now I’ve watched a number of friends who suffer from depression hit burnout on a fairly regular basis. I used to burnout regularly too. Sometimes it’s easier to think about what’s going on when looking at someone else’s patterns rather than your own.

Exhaustion can cause depression and will always make it worse. Avoiding this is a process of self care in which you do the pretty obvious thing of dealing properly with your own needs on a day to day basis. However, for people with low self esteem, this doesn’t work in the same way. If you feel that your needs don’t matter, it’s really hard to put them first. If you feel that putting your own needs first would turn you into a terrible, selfish monster, then running yourself into the ground can feel like the responsible choice. In terms of your mental health, it might be less terrifying than trying to be nice to yourself.

People don’t develop poor self esteem all by themselves. I think most of us learn it, or at the very least get it reinforced. And then when you burn out and people tell you off for not taking proper care of yourself, that doesn’t help. I had a lot of rounds of well meaning people pointing out that I could hardly look after anyone else if I wasn’t in good shape, but for a long time that wasn’t something I could work with, only feel as another form of failure.

Low self esteem will keep you feeling like a failure. Feeling like a failure will make you anxious and depressed. You keep running as hard as you can, doing as much as you can and burning out and falling over, and the question to ask is why? Why does that seem like a good idea? It is a hard question to ask and the answers may be tough.

If you don’t feel entitled to exist, then you may spend your whole life trying to make up for being here. Trying to justify your existence, or do something good enough that you can feel entitled to be just like a real person. However, anxiety and depression and burnout won’t raise your self esteem. Not meeting your own basic needs actually adds to low self esteem and keeps you locked in cycles of burnout, effort and despair. These are hard cycles to break. If looking after yourself leads to anxiety about being awful in some way, it’s really hard to look after yourself.

I’ve made a lot of progress on this in recent years, but not by tackling it head on. I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to honour nature in my own body. If Druidry is honouring nature, then treating my mammal body the way I would any other mammal body is something I can get to grips with. Treating my fragility as nature manifesting, as the limitations of my physical self, and the natural realities of my existence has helped me cope with it better.

I’ve also learned that if I am complicit in something unethical, then I support and enable unethical behaviour. I need to model the ways of being that I want to see in the world. There are a number of lovely younger women in my life and I don’t want to show them how to trash yourself and burn out. I want to show them how to live well and take good care of themselves, and to do that, I have to embody it.

It is easier to think about how things impact on other people. If you have low self esteem, it may be easier to do things for other people than it is to do things for yourself. Setting a good example is also something you can do for the people around you. Living in the way you would like the people you care for to live, can be a way of breaking out of the awful cycles that low self esteem can otherwise create.


Crazywise

Last night I went to a showing of Crazywise – it’s a film about alternative approaches to mental health crisis. It will be of particular interest to Pagans because it does look a bit at how mental breakdown is handled in indigenous cultures around the world. The website for the film has a lot of good material on it – https://crazywisefilm.com/

There’s also a great deal of material on Phil Borges’ youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9yq8Z0q-3XAjNKcRxOpAPA

One of the things I found really validating is that this film talks about the need for community solutions to mental health crisis. There’s a lot of reflection on the way people become isolated through mental illness and the way isolation enables mental illness. Further connections are made between our relationship with the world around us and our mental health. To be well, we need people, and we need the natural world.

I’d come to similar conclusions based on observation and experience. It’s something I can feel more confident about expressing now.

For me, Druidry is very much about relationship – relationships between people, relationships between people and everything else. I know I’m not alone in finding Druidry to be a way of navigating through my own issues and wounds. Over the years, doing the Druidry – prayer and meditation, ritual, walking, contemplation, and all the community aspects – has been key to my overcoming trauma and getting depression and anxiety under control. Having that framework in which to approach what’s going on in my head and body has really helped me.


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.


Druidry and making our own environments

Following on from yesterday’s blog about nature and nurture, I want to think about how taking up a spiritual path can involve deliberately changing your environment in order to change yourself. I suspect there are elements of this in any path, but Druidry is what I know best.

We can be quite critical of the apparently superficial things people do when they come to Paganism. Early on, some people can seem to be more about the surfaces than anything else. The bling, the clothes, the pretty things. It’s something I’ve tended to be suspicious of. However, I’m fortunate in that I grew up with music, folklore, and wildlife. For the person who grows up in a ‘muggle’ environment, sorely lacking in magic and creativity, the jump to Paganism can be a big one. Changing the surfaces around you can help affirm that jump and make it seem real, I realise.

Making our environment, and ourselves look ‘pagan’ can be part of a process for change. If what’s around us affirms our choices, we’ll perhaps be better equipped to act on them. It may be that we spend a lot of our time in environments that are banal and soulless, and that dressing the part and covering your home in green men is a necessary push back against that. What looks like a superficial, consumer-orientated approach may in fact be a way of creating space for Paganism, and for changing personally. It depends on what a person is looking for.

If you use environmental shifts to support personal changes, then they can help you. If you are buying Pagan things because you like the look, and a few years hence maybe you’ll take up a steampunk look, or a hippy look… then it won’t make much odds. If you want a pretty surface as a temporary amusement I don’t rate the chances of it transforming your life. If you are changing how things look around you, and how you look to reinforce other things you are doing, it’s likely to do that.

Take a glance around your living space and consider what’s there primarily to give a physical presence to your beliefs. Perhaps you have an altar, a depiction of deity, a green man. I have house plants and a scattering of fossils picked up on walks. And I do also have some dry mistletoe. I have art on the walls that, while not overtly Druidic, does things for me. I live in a colourful, chaotic space that reflects what I do. Other people may find soothing tones, or minimalism reflects their spiritual identity – there’s no one right answer here.

Doing things to your home to make it look more druidy, or witchy, or shamanic will require you to think about what that means. Where does a big TV screen fit into that? Do your kitchen cupboards reflect your path? If you walk into the bathroom and looked at the products there, do they affirm your sense of being a Pagan? If you align your living space with your beliefs, you may end up making radical changes to do that, and thus what starts out as a superficial, simple thing about looking the part can become a serious process of walking your talk.


Making headspace for Druidry

Often, the first stage of a spiritual activity is to clear your mind. Get rid of the inner chatter before meditation, change your inner state for ritual, show up and be present in nature. Certainly none of these things work as well if your head is full of noise.

However, rather than just silencing the noise, I find it pays to discover what the noise is, first.

There are days when I can slip easily into a meditative headspace without having to make any effort at all. There are days when I get out amongst the trees and I barely know how to be present. Forcing myself to be more present often doesn’t give me a sense of the sacred any faster, it’s just effort and discipline. If there’s a lot of noise in my head, I tend to find it’s there for a reason.

So, what’s going on? It varies from day to day. There will be things I genuinely need to think about – actions to review, plans to make, important things to keep track of. If I’m trying to do a lot of things, especially if some of them are unfamiliar, I may be overthinking. If I’ve tried to do a lot of thinking, I may feel stressed and anxious. Critically, trying to just turn it off can add to the anxiousness. It really doesn’t help if I start feeling like I’m a bad Druid for being unable to easily still my mind. It isn’t Druid-fail, it’s overload.

It may also be that I’m trying to develop an idea. What happens if I sit with that is that a few grains of thought can be transformed into substantial inspiration. Making space for ideas is a vital part of the creative process. In the early stages, creative ideas don’t always stand out from other head activities. They need finding, noticing and giving permission to continue.

What works best for me, is to make time for those thoughts I’m having and give them my full attention. If there are things I need to track, a careful process of going through them in turn will help me feel more on top of things. If there are problems to solve, it’s better to solve them. If I am worried, I need to asses those worries and see if they are realistic and in need of attention, or just a reaction to overload. If my brain is full of noise, rather than doing anything structured, I’ll deal with the noise – meet it, unravel it. Then if there’s time left, I can look at meditating.

The business of everyday life is not the enemy of your spiritual path. It isn’t something to push away to get to the good stuff. The everyday life is your life, and it may well need more attention than you’ve been able to give it. Giving attention to your thoughts and feelings is key to developing self awareness and making good and conscious choices. Take it seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the noise in your head – what’s wrong is that you haven’t felt able to give it the time it needs. Sit with it, listen to it, ask it questions, and find answers. Contemplate whatever’s on your mind, and the stilling and slowing comes naturally, and does something much more enduring.

The discipline to turn off your thoughts at will has its uses. The daily practice of working through your thoughts and dealing with them offers a lot more benefits.


Worklife Druid

I’ve never felt easy about having my Druidry be something I do in my spare time and my working life being separate from that. I’ve been fortunate in that there are things I can do that lend themselves to taking my Druidry to work. However, I’ve done all kinds of odd jobs along the way, and there are all kinds of things that mean I can take what I believe into employed spaces. This is not about evangelising, but about walking my talk. I appreciate not everyone will be able to do all of these, but I float them out in case anything inspires anyone.

I can walk to work, or work from home. I can make a point of turning things off to reduce energy use and looking out for other opportunities to make wherever I’m working a bit greener. I can quietly support and encourage those around me in making greener choices.

I can refuse to support unethical working arrangements. Now, this one is hard and costly, and on one occasion meant me quitting a job. Being able to take that risk is possible for me because I’ve always maintained a financial safety net – there’s all kinds of privilege underpinning that. If you do have the means to vote with your feet, it is important to do so. The people who are most exploited in their workplaces are the ones with the least power to resist it.

I can stand up to workplace bullying, and support anyone who is badly treated in their workplace. I can’t always fix things. I’ve seen horrendous workplace bullying in situations where it was pretty much impossible for the person on the receiving end to get it stopped without quitting their job, and they couldn’t afford to quit. Someone who is bullied at work may have to weigh fear of poverty against what they endure day to day. They may be responsible for other people and unable to take the risks of getting out. They may be trying to find something else and unable to jump until they have somewhere to jump to. If the bully gets to write your reference, that can be difficult, and fear of how they will punish you for leaving is a real thing.

I can bring my creativity and my inspiration into any work situation. I can bring my desire to uplift, inspire and encourage other people into any job. It doesn’t have to be overtly spiritual work for me to try and be a good thing for those around me. I can give the best of what I’ve got and find ways to apply that. Much of the paid work I do is not conventionally thought of as ‘creative’ in the same way that music, fiction and art are. However, I use my bardic skills all the time. I find them relevant. I also find that the more I do this, the better I feel about myself and the jobs I am doing.

The desire to be seen as a creative professional can have creative people sacrificing their autonomy for the sake of success. You write what the publisher’s accountant likes the look of. You draw what the person offering the money wanted. You sing what you think Simon Cowell wanted to hear. Sometimes the price of fame and success is creating on other people’s terms.

However, if your desire is to be creative, you can take that into any kind of work and find a way to apply it. I say this having worked on checkouts. I spent one summer washing and packing glassware. How we are in the world does not have to be defined by the role we are cast in, and anything can be made better if you can find even the smallest ways of bringing your inspiration to the job.


Druidry with a body

In theory, if I honour nature then I should honour nature as it manifests in my own body. In practice, I’ve spent much of my life being unable to do this. I grew up affected by all kinds of social pressures to see my body as something I had to control, punish, discipline and feel ashamed of. Much of this revolved around the pressure to be thinner. Dieting and exercise were forms of self-punishment. Mostly what I was punishing myself for was having a body in the first place, taking up space and carbon, and not being good enough.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to have a kinder relationship with my own body. What I’ve learned through the Druidry has certainly helped me do this. The more I think about mammals and trees, landscapes and the elements, the harder it is for me to ignore the double standard around human bodies. Seals are allowed to have blubber, trees are allowed to be twisty, landscapes are allowed not to be smooth… and as I’ve learned to see myself in relation to the rest of the world, I’ve learned not to hate my body for being a body, and not to punish it for existing. So what if I’m not as thin, smooth, delicate or pretty as other people have wanted me to be? So what if I don’t want to dress or move in overtly sexualised ways? My body, my choice.

A few years ago I put down the notion of dieting. I eat what I want. I eat with the intention of keeping my body healthy and making sure I have the energy to do all the things I want to do. If I’m feeling fragile, I eat more carbs, because protecting my mental health is important. I’ve lived this way for a few years and I have not piled on the pounds – rather the opposite. I think it’s because I’m making sure I have the energy to do stuff. Starving myself has, in the past, left me with no energy to be active, and one way or another, this just encourages my body to store fat.

When it comes to exercise, I have in recent years also put down the notion of exercise as self punishment. I only do what I enjoy. I do the things that promote good mental health – walking, swimming and dancing are all good for my head. I’m still using the trampoline regularly as that also helps with my cranky lymphs. I do other things when I feel like it, and not as a form of flagellation. It’s worth noting that as I’m not trying hard to be fit or thin, just happy, I am actually a lot fitter than I used to be.

I rest more. I rest when I need to. I sleep more. I don’t push, I don’t tough it out, I don’t keep going. I stop at need. It is definitely better this way.

I live in my body and with my body. In recent years I’ve tended not to think of it as something separate from ‘me’. It is not something I have to control and punish. I realise how much of the controlling urge comes from a culture that sees animal as lesser than human, and anything animal manifesting in the human as shameful. My wanderings in druidry have taught me to question this, to celebrate the mammal nature of my body, and to be a good deal more comfortable in my own skin.


Novelty and the landscape

There is a definite joy in walking somewhere I have never walked before, and seeing a view that is wholly unfamiliar to me. For people seeking a relationship with the land, I think the excitement of not knowing what’s around the corner is very much part of the attraction. However, there’s a risk in thinking of this relationship in terms of the exotic and the unknown. If we’re too focused on the quest for novelty and beauty, we can miss what’s around us.

Landscapes change all the time – with the seasons, and less happily, with human interventions. A person doesn’t need a large number of places to walk to have every chance of experiencing something unfamiliar. I could spend my whole life exploring just the county I live in, and I would never run out of new things to see.

There’s a quote I’ve seen a number of landscape writers refer to: “To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width.” (Patrick Kavanagh). I would say that the same is true of Druid experience. Skimming over surfaces in search of excitement is fun, but it’s not Druidry. It is the depth of your encounter with a landscape that changes it from a tourist experience to a spiritual experience.

Depth of experience takes presence and attention. It calls upon a person to immerse themselves in what is around them, to step beyond their thoughts and into the physical world. You have to show up without assumptions or an agenda. I find that in taking an interest in the small details of a scene, I am guaranteed to always see something new. It may be a cricket in the grass, or the colour of a changing leaf, an owl feather in the path, the exact way the light is catching a hilltop today. In changing light, familiar landscapes become new and surprising, although you have to spend a lot of time looking at the same landscape in different conditions to really appreciate and enjoy this.

There’s nothing wrong with craving novelty and excitement. However, there’s much to be gained from thinking carefully about how best to seek it. What kind of carbon footprint accompanies our walking footprints? The further we go in search of the exotic experience, the more expensive our experience is, in every sense. If we set out, Bilbo Baggins style and follow the path from our own front door, we build substantial relationships as we go. I think there’s something especially magical about being able to see a somewhat unfamiliar place in relation to one you know.

Every journey brings the potential for surprise. There is no knowing what waits around the next corner, and even in the most familiar locations, unfamiliar encounters may await. A tree may have come down, a fox may be crossing the path, an unexpected flower may be blooming.


Druidry and Spirits of Place

As my contribution to Pagan Pride in Nottingham, I talked about Druidry and spirits of place. It’s not the first time I’ve talked about this at a Pagan gathering. Spirits of place are pretty much at the heart of my sense of what Druidry is and how to approach it. I tend not to label it as such when I’m blogging because I tend to be focused on something specific – bats this summer, trees, foxes and so forth.

Over the last few years, what I think of as my Druidry has been increasingly about the spiritual aspect of connecting with what’s directly around me. I’ve become less interested in the eight main festivals than I was before. For me, they are purely about community and human tradition, and that’s fine and I can make room for it, but they aren’t where my Druidry lives. Formal ritual doesn’t do it for me in terms of personal practice. I’m more interested in contemplation and communion and the process of being a body in a landscape. I’m interesting in encountering and being encountered.

What flows from this is a growing number of relationships at various stages of development. There’s no feeling of a need to do anything with this – it does not call for rituals, or dramatic action, or big declarations. It is small scale, day to day stuff and it is the fabric of my life. There is nothing in this I can use as a power base – it does not give me magical power, or uncanny insight, or the backing of Gods. It does not give me anything to call upon for my own ends. What it does give me is a keen sense of the numinous in the familiar, and a lot of encounters with wild beings.

This is not a path. This is a relationship with a place, in which there are many paths that I walk in the most literal sense of the words. I walk the paths of the place where I live. I walk, and I encounter and I experience. I do not transcend, or progress, or ascend, or become enlightened. I’m just another mammal moving through the trees. I’ve been exploring Druidry for about sixteen years now. I’ve done the OBOD course, I’ve stood in big public rituals, I’ve hung out with The Druid Network, I’ve read a lot of books. What I want from Druidry is my own intimate relationship with the world, and increasingly, that’s what I’ve got.

On Sunday, one of the people who came to my talk asked if I’d got a book on the subject. I don’t, but I’m seriously considering writing one. It will likely be a slow process, and if I do it, it will take a year or more, most likely. I’m not sure how attractive a book it would be – I can’t offer power, or conventional magic, or progress or status with this kind of work. I know at the same time that this whole way of being and doing is working really well for me and that there could be a few other people who would be interested to know what I’ve done and how I’ve gone about it.

So I’m just floating it out there to see if this is something I should try and write.