Tag Archives: enchantment

Trusting your magic

I was in a conversation recently about trusting your own magic, and if/when/how to do that. It’s an interesting consideration.

What is your magic? Where is the enchantment in your life? It could be in your cooking, or in your ability to soothe others by listening to them. You may have magical green fingers for making plants grow. Or your magic could be more overtly woo-woo with premonitions, visions, conversations with the non-human, intuition and so forth. Simply identifying what there is about you that has magic in it – on whatever terms you want to use the word – is powerful.

Do you use that magic much? Do you trust it? Do you let it lead you? How real is it to you? What happens when you share it?

By its very nature, magic can be fragile, ephemeral stuff. Hard to trust that if the people around you have no room for magic in their lives. There are people who will try to disenchant you, and many of them will think they are doing you a favour with that. To trust your own magic and protect it if the people around you have no room for it, is hard.

As is the issue with so many things, going it alone is challenging. Being part of a community is sustaining. It’s easier to have some magical resilience if the people around you at least accept the role of magic in your life. It’s easier to feel magical if there are people who affirm your sense of enchantment. It’s easier to explore things if you have people to share ideas with or who can listen to your experiences. Magicians (like poets and mad scientists) are so often portrayed as lone figures, but in practice, to keep going as a magician (poet, mad scientist) it really helps not to be alone.

At its heart, having room for magic is just having room for wonder and possibility. You don’t need anything more than that. But how often do people simply shut wonder and possibility down?


Finding the magic map

A few days ago I blogged about the unexpected way in which my disenchantment had been replaced by a sense of magical possibility. Since then, I’ve found a magical map. One of the things that has made it impossible for me to rebuild is that I’ve been unable to see how to do it. How can I go from this demoralised, disenchanted state to some other way of being? Without some capacity so feel enchantment, there was no way forward.

The magical map occurred to me over the weekend. A territory with doors that might take me somewhere. I became able to see it because I’d been prompted to read a book that had a lot of content about ancient Egypt in it. I grew up heavily exposed to folklore, fairytales and myths, but Egyptian magic was the first kind of magic that child-me wanted to learn about and sought information on. I had forgotten just how much I knew, and having those memories rekindled was powerful all by itself.

It also reminded me of all the many things that functioned as portals in my young life. All the things I read and did, and that were important to me. These are the things that inspired me and shaped me. I can’t go back. I can’t be the person I was at fourteen or at twenty before I lost so much of myself. But those doors all still exist, and I can revisit them. I don’t know what will happen for doing that, but it strikes me as good territory to explore.

If I’ve learned anything in the last few weeks it is the power of letting go and trusting to the process I’m in, so I’ll do that. I have a map made of the memories of all the things that have been important to me along the way, and I will re-walk those paths, and remember, and rethink and see what of my magical self I can put back together.

I’m not good at trust, so the trust part of this process is really important. I’m not good at belief, but I’m not being called upon to do much of that, only recognise what is happening to me in this process, and to build on it. I am repeatedly startled and mystified by the way in which pieces of myself are being given back to me, and opportunities to heal wounds I’d long assumed I would just have to live with are occurring. Some of this is because I’ve done the groundwork to get to the point where this is possible. Some of it, without any shadow of a doubt, is simply happening by magic. A gift, a blessing, a spell, an enchantment, a wonder that is happening to me, conditional only on my willingness to accept it and let it change me.


Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill

At the weekend I went to see Johnny Coppin’s All on a Winter’s Night – a beautiful evening of seasonal music. I came home with a CD that included all of the album Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill and it has taken me on something of a journey. This album was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, and is full of songs about Gloucestershire. This is not a review for the album, but it is a wholehearted recommendation to check it out.

There are many Gloucestershire writers of course, some of whose poems are set to music on this album. Child-me knew nothing of this before I encountered the album, and had little sense of who the poets were. What struck me, between the words and the music, was the experience of having my own landscape expressed. For me, this album captures a sense of the Cotswolds and Severn Vale as an enchanted place, full of beauty and wonder. I think it likely that my sense of the possibility for enchantment in the landscape began here.

When I left the Cotswolds for the Midlands, these were the songs I turned to. I learned some of them and sang them as a way of retaining a sense of connection with the land I grew up in.

Listening to Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill as an adult, back in this landscape I’m painfully aware of what I’ve lost. I’ve been examining my feelings of disenchantment, and much of it comes down to cars. Car noise is everywhere. You can see, hear and smell them. There are rare places where the sound doesn’t permeate, and going out at night and early in the morning can be quieter. I find the intense presence of cars in the landscape a source of disenchantment. I can’t hear the wildlife, or smell what’s natural. Heavily used roads distort my experience of the land. The lanes are dangerous.

Cars do such a good job of turning the land into something we can use and consume. They insulate us, give us the big views, take away the experience of being in a place. There are so many people driving up onto the commons, and out to the beauty spots that it impacts on the very reason they are there. Leading to people traipsing round carelessly, often with dogs, leaving poos in plastic bags, filling the landscape with their noise. What could have been magical becomes a playground for those who can afford it.

I don’t know what to do about my own disenchantment. Johnny Coppin’s voice has, at times, something eerie and otherworldly about it, which I love. A quality that cuts through to the part of me that still wants to be enchanted, and reminds me that this is possible. Which mostly results in me crying pathetically, but there we go – it’s what I’ve got at the moment. Better to feel grief than to feel nothing.

No doubt the Gloucestershire poets have contributed to the making desirable of this part of the world. The weekend homes, the retired money moving in, the unaffordable villages. People come here looking for Laurie Lee and cider with Rosie and all the rest. They come here because rich and famous and royal people have come here. And there is no silence left in the hills most days where the magic can seep in.


Of writing and magic

For various and somewhat complicated reasons, I stepped away from magic more than a decade ago. I found I could not afford any ‘woo-woo’ thinking in my relationship with reality. I had prior to that been a person who worked with all kinds of interesting stuff and for whom enchantment was a significant thing. I do not regret the choice to step back – it was absolutely necessary in the situation I was in. I have, however, missed it greatly. I’ve missed feeling that I could connect with anything.

Sorely beaten up by events, and obliged to be very consciously un-enchanted, I came to feel that this just wasn’t for me anyway. Of course no deity would want to deal with me. Of course there would be no fairies, or encounters with spirits of place, or ancestral magic, or anything else numinous. My shattered self esteem did not leave a lot of space for anyone, or anything to love me in return. I certainly wasn’t going to risk deluding myself with the imagined love of Gods when I’d become pretty convinced that I was too rubbish to do love of people.

It’s been a long, difficult road. There have been moments of surprise and wonder along the way, but I have never made anything of them.

And then this happened. I wrote an obituary for the Hopeless Maine kickstarter that was, quite accidentally, loaded with significance for the person I wrote it for.  There is a blog about it over here – https://scottishdruid.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/a-death-a-rebirth-a-claiming

Reading it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve felt there was any magic in my writing. How long it’s been since I’ve had a sense of anything outside of me tugging on the threads of my life. How much it cost me for it to be absolutely necessary to step back from all of that. How much of myself I lost in the process.

I don’t know if I can have those parts of me back. I’m in a much safer situation now, the external pressures and threats are no longer there. But I don’t really know how to do it any more. What was once innate, seems dead. What was at one time integral to my sense of self and how I moved through the world is lost to me and I do not know how to seek it. But, for a moment there, in a state of some kind of grace, I put together the words someone else needed, and that seems significant for my journey as well.


The Enchanted Life – a review

Sharon Blackie’s The Enchanted Life is a non-fiction book about enchantment and re-enchantment. It’s written for people who are suspicious that there are fundamental things wrong with life that they need to fix. The book offers stories, the author’s experiences and useful exercises to help you recognise your disenchantment and do something about it. It includes a solid analysis of how we collectively got into this mess in the first place – the beliefs, values and philosophy that brought us here – and how to rethink that.

It’s a very readable book, it ambles round subjects with the leisurely grace of a wild river and it has a lot to offer by way of insight and inspiration. I think it would be a good book for anyone just starting out on the Druid path as well as for anyone feeling the first yearnings for re-enchantment in their life. For the person a bit further along this road, it offers affirmation, and ideas and may well prove useful.

Most of the time, the assumed reader seems to be middle aged, middle class and winning at life by conventional standards – they’ve got the house, the job, the busy life, the generally accepted signs of success. Many of the people whose work the author draws on seem to fall into this category. They have it all, and then they take a massive risk and jump into another, more authentic, simpler and happier way of being. There’s not much here about how you go the other way – from the pressures and miseries of abject poverty and insecurity towards this more liberated way of life. How do you do it if you don’t have personal resources, or skills? Going self employed calls for a massive skill set, you have to do all the things a company does – the legal and financial obligations, the marketing and building a client base as well as doing the work. It’s not, I think, something everyone could do.

There’s also an underlying assumption here that you are an able bodied person who can walk every day, and sit outside every day. Now, as disability goes, I’m at the not so afflicted end, and I cannot go for a walk every day, and sitting outside in cold weather would cause me considerable harm. I’d like to see re-enchantment work that doesn’t assume an able body.

Sharon Blackie has a lot to say about the rise of stress, depression and anxiety in our culture and the relationship between that and our working lives. I’m very glad to see this getting properly explored and discussed. However, much of the book focuses on solitary, personal re-enchantment, and while that’s a good place to start, I wanted her to go further. I wanted more about how we enable re-enchantment in each other, how we build communities of mutual support. I think one of the big problems in our culture is that we make problems personal that should be seen as collective. How disability and mental health impact on us are fine cases in point.

What can I do, as a person who has broken out to a fair degree, to help someone who is stuck in the consumerist machine still? What can I do to support the people who can’t easily get out and connect with nature? How can I be part of the solution for other people, not just myself?

My guess is that the cover and title will appeal to readers who are already exploring this path. Folk who are reading Robert Macfarlane, and slow movement books, people interested in the Transition movement, permaculture, people who are already looking at sustainable and low stress lifestyles. Probably the people who most need to read this book are actually the ones who don’t yet consciously know they are in trouble. So, here’s my suggestion. If you are the sort of person to be automatically attracted to this book, buy it, read it, figure out who you know who would most benefit from it, and press a copy into their hands.

More about the book here – http://sharonblackie.net/the-enchanted-life/


The Princess in the Mound – a review

I first encountered Linda Raedisch through her folklore-orientated non-fiction work. So when this novel came to my attention, I was keen to read it. It isn’t a big book – 98 pages of not especially dense text, but my Gods! So much happens.

I was really excited by the way this book has been written. The subtitle is ‘A Visitor’s Guide to Alvenholm Castle’ and that is the form the book takes. We begin with a note on the artist in residence, an overview of the castle and its upkeep fund, then short sections on history, architecture and haunting. Then we step into the entry hall and make our way around the rooms and gardens.

As the guide book takes us from room to room, a story unfolds. It is not a straightforward story, and various versions of it and glimpses into it are offered as we go along. The reader is obliged to draw their own conclusions, choose which stories to put together and what shape to give them. I like ambiguity in books, and I like being asked to become an active participant in making sense of a story. To a degree, all stories do this, and often the real magic of a book comes from the author’s ability to shape gaps for the reader to play in. These shaped gaps have the delicacy and complexity of lace. Technically speaking, it is a stunning piece of work.

The story itself explores the interplay between what we think we know about history, and what we think we know about fairy tales. The swan maidens of fairytale and myth are very much at the heart of this book. As a folklorist, the author has a keen appreciation of how events transform into stories, and stories colour events, and fragments from ancient history linger in folk memory. She’s able to put rationalisations into some character’s mouths and wild, magical thinking into the mouths of others, and sit these varying takes on things alongside each other. It’s not an entirely neutral telling – I certainly felt I was being steered towards the magical and supernatural interpretations, but then, that might be reader bias!

This is a book that also deftly explores the roles of women as wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, as keepers of the castle, and workers in the laundry. Women as figures you will empathise with and women who will make you uncomfortable. Women who are all too banal and of this earth, and women who seem touched by otherness. It’s splendidly rich in this regard.

Linda Raedisch offers a view of the modern world that still has plenty of room for magic and mystery in it. A world alive with stories, rich with deep history, and rooted in landscape. This is a book of enchantment. You need to read it.

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Mound-Visitors-Alvenholm-Castle/dp/1548161799/


Bardic Magic – collaboration

There are a number of aspects to bardic magic, but I think inspiration and the flow of it in a creative context lies at the heart of the experience. If you’ve set out to walk the bard path, creativity obviously speaks to you already, but how does a person take that up a level?

Working with other people offers some options. For me, just being around people whose work I find exciting and inspiring can have a huge effect. Being in a space where other people are being creative – be that a workshop or something less formal – can be an encouragement to create. Having people to share your own creativity with can be an incentive to get busy.

Doing creative things with people is really interesting stuff. I’m going to write about singing just to give it a focus, but from experience anything you can do collectively will create similar possibilities, although I think collective singing has a particular magic of its own.

There’s an intimacy, and a sense of involvement when you put voices together – as true for chanting protest slogans as it is for songs. There’s a real sense of being together. Any participation will give you that if you are open to it.

When people are skilled and experienced, they can fall into singing together really easily – improvising together, playing with the playing. This can be possible just from a depth of musical experience. It can be a powerful and moving experience to share with people in this way.

However, sometimes, for reasons that defy explanations, something amazing happens. It’s not always about the quality of music produced – although often the results are beyond what could have been expected. People sing together, and something emerges that is more than the sum of its parts. For me, it’s a sense that the music is coming from somewhere else, as though between them, the people involved have opened a doorway into magic. A sense of enchantment enters the song. It’s hard to put into words what is, for me, a deeply numinous experience.

When music becomes magic, it’s a soul nourishing, heart lifting sort of thing. I’ve been blessed, in my past, with two long term musical collaborations that reliably had this effect, and I’ve sung and played with a few other people where magic showed up.

So, how to do it? It’s not the sort of thing that can be reached by any kind of mechanical process, but it is about having your heart open, and being willing to be open to the people or person you are singing with. Willing to bare your soul, and give everything of yourself, and open to their baring of soul, their complete giving.


Beyond the fields we know

Most life happens at the edges, most growth is at the margins. They are often fertile places where the interplay between different environments creates maximum possibility. Something similar happens in the inner landscapes when we move to the edges.

There are three different things at work here, and they are all equally essential. The comfort zone, the unknown and the boundary. Having space – physical and psychological – where we feel safe and relaxed, is essential. I’ve tried doing this the other way, (not deliberately, it’s just what I got) and it turns life into a perpetual, exhausting battle ground. Without much of a comfort zone, there is no rest, nor peace, and if everything is allowed to become a bit other, a bit threatening and untrustworthy it’s a form of insanity as likely to paralyse a person as anything else. These are all things we learn how to construct, but might not notice ourselves making. The comfort zone, the otherness and the borders are largely of our own devising.

The author Lord Dunsany used the refrain ‘beyond the fields we know’ to allude to Faerie. I find it a very helpful thought form.  The fields we know are familiar, close to home, part of our landscape. Things can happen there that are interesting and engaging, but they fall within a predictable framework. Beyond the fields we know, all bets are off. Nothing can be relied on to function in the same way. For Dunsany, the border between the two is shifting and unpredictable as well, and that’s an important point. Where we feel familiar, and comfortable, where we feel uneasy and exposed can change and it’s not always obvious why. Our own borders and edges shift, sometimes they are easily crossed, sometimes painfully difficult.

As a walker, I have learned the enchantment of going beyond the fields we know. Even a short detour on an unfamiliar track brings a sense of magical potential. To see a familiar landmark from an unfamiliar angle is to see it anew. Going into the unknown, we can look back and get a whole other perspective on the things we thought we knew.

Going too far into the unknown, without maps or references, can result in an overwhelming, overload of experience that we can’t always make much sense of. Too much of the unfamiliar at once can be hard to take. At the point where we are lost, confused and exhausted, the adventure sours into something miserable. We have to cross back over into the place we understand. And here’s another lesson from Dunsany, because if you start out in Faerie, with that as your comfort zone, then the fields you know are other fields entirely, and Faerie becomes the safe space to retreat back to. It is not the landscape that is inherently strange or mundane, it is our experience that makes it so. In several Dunsany tales, otherworldly things return to their otherworldly places because this world is just too much for them. We who live here all the time do not notice the things that might make it wonderful to someone else.


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.