Tag Archives: faith

Taking a leap of faith

I was really ill over the winter – lots of pain, and stiffness, no energy, regular run ins with anxiety and deep depression. It was a hard time, and it made me take a serious look at my life. For some years now, the majority of my work hasn’t been creative. I’m not making most of my living as a professional Druid, either – these are not things that tend to pay anyone enough to live on. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – usually many small jobs all at the same time. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of social media work.

I’m good at social media work and I genuinely like helping people. But, it is one of the most tedious things imaginable, and you can’t afford to be careless or complacent about it. Each twitter post is an exercise in tone, brand identity, PR… and when you’ve got multiple accounts, identities brands to keep track of, that takes a lot of thinking. And by December, I was very, very tired because of that.

I put down the work that required most effort for least personal gain. Those were hard choices. For self employed people, putting down a paying gig is always going to be uneasy at best. But, I was getting too ill to work, and that’s a bigger risk. I took time off, I rested a lot, and I thought about things.

Creative work is almost always uncertain. You mostly don’t know where the next gigs are coming from. Pay is erratic. Big projects that might pay better take time, energy and attention. So there’s a gamble in investing the time in doing a more substantial body of work that you think you can sell, because you might have to turn down other paying work to do it. Also, creative people are not machines. Ideas don’t flow without time to think, without space for inspiration. Creating and doing a day job and doing the things that support and sustain your creativity and dealing with household stuff and trying to be healthy and and and… The juggling is hard.

There may be some large, interesting and well paid creative jobs out there with my name on. I may be able to make the leap from exhausted and ill part time creative to being a person with decent creative jobs and a decent quality of life. So I took the leap of faith and I made the life changes that would give me a shot at those bigger and more exciting things. I started making the moves to get into the right position so that if any or all of this starts to move, I can go for it.

We’ve landed an American publisher for the Hopeless Maine graphic novels. That alone won’t change everything, but it certainly helps. There’s a kickstarter on the go at the moment, which may be of interest if you’re in America… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown

It could be a very interesting year.

Knocked down, getting up

I start today tired, and wondering how on earth I’m going to manage the things that need doing – some of which are large and hard to make sense of. Some of which have floored me. Life is full of knock downs and we all get them. The rotten luck, the tragedies, the being crapped on from a great height. So here are the things I’ve learned.

Good friends are precious beyond words, and when you’re on your knees and life threatens to break you, friends are everything. Sometimes there’s insight, experience and perspective that can help turn a problem around. Sometimes it’s the sheer power of having people who believe in you and won’t give up and will sit with you and hold your hand and help you try to get up again, and support you when you wobble a bit. Friends who cheerlead. Friends who refuse to let you quit even when you’re so beaten it seems the only option. Friends who carry hope for you when you have none of your own.

Often what will keep me down once I’m knocked is the belief there is no point getting up again. That’s not always a depression issue. That’s for the days when three toxic things rolled in one after another and I can’t face another panic attack and there doesn’t seem to be any way of fixing things. There is no getting up unless you can work up some faith and hope things might get better. Belief like this can be wholly irrational – I’ve been through enough things I was told could not be done. Sometimes what it takes to get up is the skill to magic up irrational belief that it can get better.

I have to believe that I do not deserve the knock down. I do not belong on the floor. That’s been hard to get to grips with, and is not an easy thought to hold when things are bad.

Then there’s the decision about what sort of person I want to be. I don’t want to lie on the floor in a snotty heap, whimpering. I would rather die fighting. While there is breath, while I can act in any way, it is better to have the metaphorical sword or the actual pen in hand and to wield them. Thus far, every time I’ve thought I could not possibly bear any more, I have eventually managed to drag myself up for another round. I have taken beatings, emotional, psychological. I’ve been pasted physically by illness. I get up and I do it again. I won’t sit down, shut up and consent to being a victim. Never again.

Comparative religion for Druids

There are a great many folk out there doing druidry and something else. There are, I suspect, a comparable number of people who get really irritated by ‘druidry and’ approaches. The trouble is that most religions have more material to draw on than we do – more books, rituals, more famous practitioners, more wisdom teachings etc. Thousands of years of evolving culture from the distant past to the present day, full of changes but with enough consistency to feel like a tradition. We don’t have that. Granted, we have some things to draw on, but nothing like the quantity of writings, teachings, practices and traditions of any other major faith.

I spend a fair amount of my time reading books from other faiths. I’m currently reading about Shinto, and that book is next to my copy of the Tao Te Ching and a book on Buddhism. But, I’m not a fan of ‘pick and mix’ – that great accusation raised so often against New Age practice. I’m not looking for things I can steal from other people’s religions to fill in where I find gaps in my own.

I’ve always felt that religions deserve to be studied as academic subjects just as much as philosophical positions do. There is a world of difference between studying religion from a position of faith, and studying it from a position of curiosity. But just as the skills of anthropology can, and I think should be pointed back at the culture they originate from, so too the study of religion can be turned round and directed back at our own habits. There are always questions to ask about what we’re doing and why.

Considering the attitudes, core tenets and activities of other faiths gives a basis for comparison. It becomes possible to contemplate more broadly what it is that people want from a religion – any religion.  What traits do religions have in common, and where do they differ, and why? What does that tell us about what it means to be human? I keep coming back to ask ‘how does this relate to druidry?’ The answers of course vary dramatically.

Druidry needs the rich diversity of thinking and practice evident in all other significant religions. It needs the breadth of traditions, the variety of ways of doing that go to make a faith dynamic and living. This of course will take time. We may be drawing on something ancient, and something else a few hundred years old, but in some ways we are also very young, very new. I don’t like saying ‘neo’ because most modern religions are a long way from how they were two thousand years ago, so we’re not alone, and do not need singling out. But we are narrow, and small, as yet.

We can learn from other religions without borrowing techniques from them We can learn what it is that people do with religions, and use that to develop what we already have as ‘Druid’ and take it forward. Of course we’re all going to disagree on the shapes, potentials, just like we do over the ‘Druidry and’ options, but every time we do it, we’ll be adding something to the tradition, making it richer, finding out what sticks.

The last thing I think we need is some kind of universal faith of homogenised, easily digestible squidge. Religions should be distinctive and different, offering diverse paths that reflect the different needs of different people. If we let ourselves get too similar, all huddled round the same hymn sheet, we reduce the chances of getting any new ideas, homogeny goes very well with stagnation, dogma and repression. Diversity is much healthier. But, we can learn from each other without turning into universal spiritual squidge.

Religion in context

The converting tendencies of Christianity and Islam have given a perspective of the place of religion at odds with many perspectives. Most religions are not universal, nor meant to be. Judaism is the religion of a people, and I have recently discovered that Shinto is Japanese to a degree that would make a nonsense of outsiders trying to practice it. Romans venerated their Emperors. Faiths do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a social context, as part of a culture. They may be interacting with other cultures – the relationships between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto are, from a superficial look, clearly very complicated. The relationship between politics and religion is equally long and messy. Just think of the divinely sanctioned rulers, and the rulers who became gods.

There is a vast difference between mediaeval Christianity, and any of the modern interpretations. And I would bet at least as much difference again to the people who started it. How much of Christianity belongs in the landscape of its origin? What happens when we take a religion out of its place of origin and give it to people from a different culture? Can it hope to be the same religion? If I took up Buddhism, or Taoism, could I really follow those paths with the same depth as someone whose whole culture was steeped in them?

Then there’s issues of language. Words in translation are always imperfect, there are seldom tidy matches that carry all the same subtext and nuance. Often, there are words that just don’t exist, ideas that one language cannot embody. I see this in Buddhist writing, where words like ‘ego’ and ‘empty’ are employed to mean things that we do not usually use them to express. I have a feeling that if I read these ideas in their original language, and met those words in their true form, I could have a chance at understanding something that currently is beyond me.

I’m very conscious of not living in a Celtic culture. My blood ancestry has some Celtic in it, and, having grown up with folklore and mythology, I got steeped a bit, I feel this culture as my own heritage, which may help me. But I’m aware that I can only ever be a Druid of my time. This is one of the reasons that I think deep relationship with the land, the trees, the spirits of place, is so vital. Religions do pass through cultures and different ways of seeing the world. Something survives, but something also changes. Interesting to ask what is vital and intrinsic, and what we can afford to let go of. It’s easiest to keep the surface things like costumes and settings, hardest to keep the understandings that belong to another time, another people. But should we? How important is continuity? Should we be more concerned with who we are and what we do now? I see a risk that we will imagine continuity far more easily than we will truly find it.

The world I live in is not the world of my grandmother. My son will inherit a place that could be as different again. The language evolves continually, along with understandings of the world. Belief cannot be a constant in a changing world, belief too must inevitably be changed by everything else that we do and know. Perhaps that means that the greatest scope for Druidic thinking lies in the future, not in the past. Who knows?

Tales of spirit and afterlife

One of my core beliefs is that we cannot know what comes after this life. We can guess, and we can make up stories but the uncertainty is intrinsic to the human condition, and I am sceptical about any claims to knowing. However, ideas about the afterlife shape what many people do in this one, and it’s nice to have some kind of working model to pin current existence to. Up until recently I had a very simple working model – accepting the state of not knowing, I would assume there was nothing beyond my own biology and no afterlife, and live accordingly. So while I’m a spiritual person, I have adopted a more atheistic mindset for how I approach life. It’s a good, pragmatic approach, but it lacked spirit and I’ve never been wholly easy with it.

What I’m going to share today is the new story about the afterlife that I’ve been working on, and have decided to adopt. It owes a bit to Phillip Pullman, there’s nothing especially original here.

If we took my computer apart, we would not find the internet inside it. We would not find the means to create and store the entire internet either. If the internet was an unproven, theoretical idea and we thought maybe it didn’t exist, we might find my computer passably supported this. And at time of writing, I’m not online. The quest for internet, from the boat, is frequently an act of faith and devotion! Now, there is no cluster of cells in the brain that can happily be designated as the soul. We’re not even entirely clear on how consciousness works. Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. What if consciousness and soul are to the body what internet is to the computer? Or the television and radio signals are to those devices? Without getting bogged down in the metaphor, there is room in a rational reality for things that make a thing go, but do not live inside it.

Now, what if soul is not a single, indestructible lump of stuff? What if it has more in common with the rest of physical reality, such that it can disintegrate, and change? So when we get to the end of our lives, our continuation as a coherent spiritual identity might depend on a number of things – strength of soul and personality, having the kind of self that is able to survive (what would than mean?) being happy enough with oneself to want to continue, intact, into another form. A person could choose to merge into the whole, Nirvana style. They could choose to disintegrate from self loathing. They could choose to reincarnate. They could be too weak to do anything but disintegrate.

I like this for a number of reasons. All those people who think they were Napoleon in a former life get to be sort of right, they have a bit of something that once was, and those kinds of famous, high impact spirits are likely to be more visible even if you only get a shard. There is no requirement for an external judge in this story, we do it to ourselves, we get to choose. There is continuation of spirit, but not necessarily continuation of conscious awareness, which would explain why some of us remember bits of past life and some do not. There is room to find more than one person in life for whom you feel deep soul resonance, because there may be many souls with whom you have some sparks in common. There may be scope (I nod to Pullman here) for those who are very close to become part of the same entity after death. This story holds room for change, chaos and uncertainty, but also for continuity, it’s not offering any kind of clear certainty, but lots of possibility. There is scope for inherent justice within it, because to get to choose what happens to you after life, you will need the kind of soul whole enough, aware enough, strong enough to do that. What people will get at the end would depend a great deal on what they have done along the way.

While this story does not require the presence of a judgemental deity, it also doesn’t preclude the idea of deity, and I like that too. After all, what does happen to a really enlightened, really powerful soul that has been through various incarnations? There’s room to birth gods here.

I know it’s a story. I might be right, I might not, and I hold that uncertainty very carefully. I like this story because it has scope to be useful, and it gives me a new way of looking at the world. I’ve spent a decade or so with the ‘no afterlife’ story informing what I do, and that was interesting, but it’s time to experiment with a new perspective and see what I can learn by holding it. No doubt at some point along the way I will feel the urge to fettle it. I may even abandon it entirely in favour of something else. This is an idea I am increasingly comfortable with. Our relationship with reality must grow and change as we do. All good relationships grow and change if we stay in them. Absence of change is not a hallmark of fidelity, it’s a very slow way of smothering something to death.

What is Druidry for?

It is fair, I think, to ask what any religion, all religions, are ‘for’. Looking at religions from the outside, here are some possible answers. To make people conform. To comfort people or give them a sense of control. To placate a god or gods. To explain how the inexplicable works. To provide power and authority for an elite few. To support and teach a moral code. If we consider the function of a religion from the position of being inside one, broad answers might include… to become a better person. To belong to a group or community. To know how to live. To secure a place in the afterlife. To avoid the wrath of the gods in this life. To experience the divine. To make up for other gaps or insufficiencies in life. I’m conscious of creating a rather negative list there.

Atheists have many critiques of religion, especially around subject like authority, control, and the alleviation of existential fears. Many non-religious people see religion as a comfort blanket, a fantasy way of trying not to experience the world as it really is. God as imaginary friend and faith as delusion. There are religions, periods, and places where the relationship between faith and control is not comfortable, or has been an issue.

It’s possible that ancient Druidry had the power element in it, but modern Druidry doesn’t. No modern Druid has a great deal of clout, or earns silly money from their Druidic work. Not least because we do not have a captive audience, people vote with their feet and anyone in it for fame and fortune is unlikely to last for long. There’s no political advantage to gain, no ears of Kings waiting for us to whisper into. I see this as entirely a good thing. There being no agreed book or set of rules to turn to, conformity clearly isn’t part of Druidry, and we don’t have a clear moral code.

So what is Druidry for? I don’t think many modern Druids turn up with a desire to explain where thunder comes from or why the crops failed. Most of us don’t seem to be looking for divination, good omens for our next cattle raid, blessings for a war, or many other things we know the ancients generally used religion for. Are we asking the gods to intervene on our behalf and make life easier? I don’t know. Most Druids of my acquaintance keep their relationships with deity private. Not all Druids even believe in deity in an anthropomorphic sense.

Many aspects of modern Druidry call for no faith at all. Service, peace work, community building, questing for and sharing inspiration, seeking a green and sustainable life – plenty of non-Druids do all the same things as us for much the same reasons and feel no need to self identify as Druids at all. However, many of us do actively seek for a sense of connection with something sacred.

Modern life is underpinned, increasingly by a rather reductionist sort of rationalism. It’s all about utility, wealth generation, and material comfort. Science takes things apart to see how they work, and does that very well, but does not tell us how to hold relationship with what it finds. Modern life is consciously, deliberately mundane. Growing up means ceasing to believe in faeries, Father Christmas, benevolent leaders, fairness, unicorns, the inherent goodness of people, dragons, day dreams, and anything capable of inspiring awe and wonder. Life does not require you to feel inspired or filled with awe. Modern life wants you to earn more money to pay off the loan you took out to buy the new shiny thing.

Druidry is very much a religion of re-enchantment, I think. It is very much about building a new kind of relationship with the world, a new way of seeing, and feeling and being. It’s not a rejection of science or rationalism, but a capacity to think of quarks with a sense of amazement. Know how the rainbow is formed, and still be inspired by one. Understand the earthquake, but still feeling the energy and spirit within it. Druidry is about a rejection of the idea that everything is commodity, and that only utility and cost are relevant measures. Whether we believe in deity or not, I think Druidry is a quest to rediscover how to be moved by the world, and how to move within it as a feeling being experiencing awe, delight, horror, and all the other emotions that modern life seems inclined to squash.

Writing this I realise that my answer to ‘what is Druidry for?’ defines it very much in relation to the present moment and a wider, cultural setting. If the quest for enchantment succeeds, and we develop a collective ability to see the world with new eyes, the role of Druidry will change. Perhaps the next question to ask is what we do with that sense of enchantment and possibility. That could keep us busy for a while!

Laughing at Religion

Humans use comedy and laughter in many ways. We do it to deflate tension and mask fear, to mark boundaries of who is in and who is out. We do it to deflate ego and tackle pomposity. Laughter is the only weapon, sometimes, that the disadvantaged have against the powerful. It can be tremendously subversive, but also culturally bonding. Laugher is dangerous, so how we relate it to that most serious of subjects – religion – is an interesting question.

It is natural to fear ridicule, and as religion tends to be very personal, the mocking of religions can translate into the mocking of the faithful. Where the humour is about pointing and laughing at the silly people, this can feel alienating, and like your most sacred things are a joke to others. Pagans get a lot of this, in the media. This is in part because we look different and are an easy target, a bit like morris dancers. I happen to think most men in bells look silly, but I love morris dancing nonetheless. That which is funny adds colour to life, which is a good thing. I think the pointing and laughing is good, in an odd way. All religions are prone to pomposity, which is inherently foolish, and to costumes and rituals that become all about show and lose their substance. The laughter of irreverent outsiders can do a lot to keep us focused on what really matters, and to keep us honest.

Really good comedy depends on insight. I am better placed than a non-druid to make druid jokes, because I know the silliness we, and our ancestors of tradition get up to. If I use it for comic effect, I may do something productive. Jewish culture is full of jokes about Judaism and Jewish people, offered in a self-depreciating way to the outside world. That fascinates me. I have learned from it, and the main effect has been to improve my understanding and respect. I am aware that jokes about Islam result in death threats, sometimes. This makes me wary of comedy about Islam, but if we ever get the equivalent of ‘The Imman of Dibley’ onto the TV, I will know that a wonderful, cultural revolution has occurred. Irony, parody, and sophisticated word play comedy depend on knowledge, and on the audience knowing as much as the jester. To be jokeable about, is to be understood, at least a bit. The day I hear a mainstream comedian making cracks about Druids, is the day I know the world is really taking us seriously.

Where laughter is shared,, groups and individuals bond. Laugher breaks the ice, breaks down social barriers, and a shared joke gives common points of cultural reference and a sense of belonging. Jokes within a community, about itself, can therefore be important markers of belonging. Religion serves a function in terms of cultural belonging and a sense of place. Laughter and comedy have a role to play in that, and if we resent the giggling at sacred things, the shooting down of sacred cows, the laughter at expense of doctrine and leadership, we miss out. It is healthy to make jokes about religions. Fearing laughter is not healthy, I think.

Challenges to faith are not a bad thing. When the laughter comes from the outside, that can feel like an assault to pride, dignity, and all that we value. But like anything that tests us, it also gives us a chance to walk our talk. For me as a druid, the tradition of satire is an important one. If someone makes a joke at my expense, or the expense of my faith, my religious position is to try and come up with a better one, or a stronger way of laughing back. Each religion has its own ways but I have no doubt each can contribute to how we handle laugher coming in from the outside.

Laughter, when it hits hard, is the most amazing loss of control. It’s also more socially acceptable than a wild excess of weeping, or lust, or anger. When laughter takes hold, tears stream, bodies rock, motor control goes. Extreme laugher makes us weak and vulnerable, in a physical sense. We can therefore only do it when we feel safe. It takes us out of ourselves, something is broken down when we are overcome in this way. I believe that laughter, like all other powerful emotional events, has the potential to be a religious experience in its own right. Why should all religion be po-faced and melancholy? Surely god can be as present in a giggle as in solemnity?

The sacred is bigger than us, pretty much by definition. The only things we hurt with laughter are fragile, human egos. If there are gods, they are not human. Mostly, we do not laugh at the gods, we laugh at the strange things it occurs to people to do in the name of deity. Sometimes we laugh because that’s better than weeping. When we laugh, we are human. When we laugh, we are not killing each other. Warm hearted laughter is not the beginning of aggression. Hate is a cold, and joyless thing and those who hate will find it just as intolerable to face the gigglers. If we can laugh at ourselves, and the things we do, the odds are, we aren’t going to kill anyone, and given the history of religions worldwide, that would be a good development.

Conversion, paganism and other impossibilities

One of the few areas of wide agreement across pagan paths, is that we don’t proselytise and we don’t do conversions. People either choose to become pagans, or they don’t. Go back twenty years and not only wouldn’t we convert people, we’d often collectively take a lot of persuading that someone new was serious enough to be let in.

There are a number of ways of converting people to any faith. Quite often it seems to me that what the would-be-converter is interested in, is getting the convert to go through the motions. Where a religion has lots of visible manifestations – religious gatherings, personal adornments, dress styles etc, it’s very easy to look like you’re doing it without needing to understand or feel anything. There have been (and probably still are) plenty of times and places where visible participation was all that mattered. It’s very much about control and power, and has bugger all to do with religion in any kind of spiritual sense.

Then there are the converters who have seen the light, and want you to see the light too. They may bang on your door in the hopes of persuading you that they are onto something good and important. So long as they have no means to force their opinions, I don’t find this too objectionable. Quite often it is rooted in genuine belief and enthusiasm. I do consider that kind of converter fair game and I make an exception for them – I will make as much effort to try and convert them, as they expend trying to convert me.

I assume when I’m blogging that I’m mostly preaching to the converted, as t’were. If people are reading for other reasons – curiosity, academic research, or because they were looking for something about world of warcraft druids and got here by mistake, they can easily enough leave. There’s no kind of captive audience here, which is as well.
Very few pagans have grown up pagan. Most of us at some point, have made a choice. I think the majority convert themselves, but there is a process, a route from not-pagan, to pagan. Like all religions it involves a quest for meaning in life, a desire to belong somewhere, and seeing something that touches you. I have no qualms about putting things into the world that might touch people. Those things are likely to be green in essence, about how we live with each other and how we live with this plant. But a person could respond to that in all kinds of good ways that would not take them into paganism at all. There are pagan values that I am passionate about getting out there, and getting into other people’s heads, but they are not uniquely pagan: Tolerance, diversity, peace, creativity, community, inspiration, and so forth. You could be deeply honouring all of those things whilst being an active Christian, or an atheist, or probably a lot of other things too.

I do not, in my heart, believe that any person can actually convert any other person to a spiritual belief. It goes with not believing that anyone can change anything that is inside someone. We can only change ourselves. Trying to change someone means trying to take control of them, have power over them, in a way that doesn’t really work and is entirely at odds with any good spiritual tradition. What remains is inspiration. If one person inspires another, with their faith, or philosophy, that’s an entirely different process. And I think what really has the power to move other people is not what a person says about what they believe, but what they do with that belief. Regardless of what the belief is. If a person is happier, more functional, more able, more inspired as a consequence of a belief, that shows, and in sharing what a belief gives us, we do more to advocate it than ever we could by trying to tell people what they themselves ought to believe in.
In terms of making converts for specific faiths, this is not a reliable strategy, which is also a point in its favour, I think. Whatever name you give it, a spirituality that is felt and compassionate is a precious thing, and if more collective effort went into that than trying to claim who has the right names for deity and the best forms in which to worship, we might be getting somewhere.

Praying in Public

There’s the debate about prayer in school in America, whilst here in the UK, a council was taken to court and told that it couldn’t include Christian prayer at the start of meetings. There are noises about changing the law to accommodate the council. Time for me to dust off the soap-box I think.

I have no problem with anyone praying any time they get the urge. I see prayer as something inherently private, between you and whatever you’re trying to talk to. However, collective prayer has some rather different functions. If we’re all chanting along together, all intoning the same lines following the lead of the (usually) man at the front, we’re not entering into personal relationship with the divine. We’re undertaking ritual, sure. We may even find meaning and resonance in those words. But we are not creating anything, expressing anything of ourselves, or, I suspect, being open to hearing anything that might come back to us.

Shared prayers in a druid context have the effect, I find, of reinforcing bonds of community. We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand… I wouldn’t use them in a situation where there might be people who didn’t feel that way. I’ve shared them with people who did not subsequently honour that ideal at all, and I’m afraid that comes to mind now any time I do share prayers. But mostly I don’t go for the shared, scripted variety. I like prayer better when it flows in the moment, crafted by individual contributions from all those present, when we aren’t one clear voice, but a multitude of different voices, sharing, overlapping, contradicting.

I’m wary of anything that smacks of conformity or for that matter, indoctrination. If we get children to intone words where they do not fully understand the meaning, that’s troubling. For prayer to be spiritually meaningful, it has to be felt, and meant. If a person is repeating what they’ve learned by rote, it’s not about spirit, it’s about doing what you’re told. Tom has a lovely story about being at a Catholic school, as a very young human, and not really knowing the words, and starting each day with “Hail Mary, full of grace, hubada, hubada, fruit of the loom Jesus,” being his best guess. Which is no more or less meaningful than anything else we regurgitate without understanding it.

The solution seems so obvious to me. Allow a little time for prayer, be that at the start of a meeting, the school day, or wherever else you want it. Invite people to take a few moments to clear their minds, consider what is before them and what they are called upon to do, and to have a few moments to address that in any way they see fit. Spiritually or not-spiritually. With prayer, or meditation, or just gazing out of the window. It’s good to give people time and spaces in which to contemplate. A little more thinking and a little less talking would improve a good many meetings, I suspect. Anyone who does want to pray in a formal way, can mutter to themselves as required, free from the influence of what anyone else feels the urge to mutter. A moment to draw breath. A moment to think, to seek perspective, asses priorities. We could all use a bit more of that. Bother a god at the same time if you like!

But that would be a lot like freedom of expression, and I suspect that for those who want to enforce prayer, this was never a priority. It’s not about whether you want to pray, it’s about whether someone else wants the power to tell you when and how, and to make you mouth along with the words.

Hubada hubada

Fruit of the loom…

Sacred, Profane, Pagan

Normal western thinking likes to divide things up. Mind and body, male and female, and all the other kinds of dualism encourage us to perceive separateness. Part of how we define religions tends to include this separateness. We have special days, places, clothes, words. A religious rite sticks out like a sticky-out thing from the rest of life, with its costumes, formulaic declarations, unique music and so forth. Thus when we are at home we are not doing anything sacred. We have a not-sacred life where there is no place for religiosity, wonder, the numinous or any requirement to act in an overtly religious way. Two seconds of contemplating Christianity makes me feel this is not what the book religion folks were actually aiming for.

Now, let’s consider for a moment the animist perspective in which spirit permeates all things. Not a few special things, or only at the full moon, but everything, all of the time. What room does that leave to designate some things as spiritual and others as not? If nature is my goddess, and my temple, then what, pray, is outside of nature? What, by this definition, counts as not-sacred?

Let’s push that out again. If nature is sacred, and spirit is everywhere, then at what point is it reasonable to decide that I do not need to act in a religious or spiritual way? Which of my actions can be decided to have no spiritual relevance?

Being a pagan full time is a serious dedication, and for anyone moving from that dualist western perspective, it won’t happen overnight. It calls for a process of re-evaluating everything, and a conscious choice to re-enchant and seek meaning. But the aim of any pagan, I think, should be to be a pagan all the time, and in all things. As soon as we designate some time, action or space as not mattering, or not being relevant, we break the idea that everything is part of nature and nature itself is sacred. It does take time to see spirit in all things, and to hold that perception even in the traffic queue, or at work, or wherever else we feel miserable and mundane.

The recognition of spirit will change how we live and feel. It will prompt us to act differently and it will challenge us on a daily basis. There is nowhere to step back to, no place of not having to bother where we can put our feet up, shrug off responsibilities and veg out for a bit. That’s not to say there is no place to put feet up and veg out, that too can be done in a meaningful way, with respect for self, and awareness that we too are manifestations of spirit.

Once you have embraced the idea that everything matters, there is no easily going back. It’s a bit like the pills moment in The Matrix.

Once we divide the world into sacred and not-sacred, we also give ourselves the right to decide what counts and what doesn’t. Where else could that assessment possibly come from? Or do we imagine that the gods (whichever ones we believe in) aren’t interested in some spaces and don’t care what we do whilst in those?

To be a pagan, is still to be a pagan whilst watching TV, if you still feel moved to do that. Faith is not a hobby, or a role play game to indulge in at the weekend. If your faith is meaningful to you, then it is part of you and part of what you do. If you are still finding your way, that might be more aspirational, but that’s fine. Changing how you see everything is a big job, but it’s harder to do if you aren’t aiming for that total immersion and involvement. It is important to know that pagan full time is an entirely realistic goal. This is not something separate from your ‘real life’ if you are moving towards it, it will be intrinsic to your life in every way.

There is always more work to be done. There are always deeper levels of understanding to achieve. There s always more scope to perceive the numinous and be filled and moved by it. This is not a job we ever get to the end of. There is no opportunity to say ‘I am pagan enough now, I do not need to make any more effort.’