Tag Archives: honourable relationship

Honourable relationship and conflict

The idea of honourable relationship as a key part of being a Druid is something that I came to through the Druid Network. It’s a tricky concept, because honour is by its very nature a personal thing, so where honour systems do not match up, it can be difficult to work out how to engage with each other. For me, clear communication, respecting difference and the right of other people to self determine, recognising as best I can where there might be issues of power imbalance, or privilege is the starting point.

When dealing with another well meaning, honourable person, even when things go wrong or someone messes up, it’s possible to find ways forward without aggression, point scoring or anything else toxic and misery inducing. However, there are times (especially online) when the other person is so offensive that gentle negotiation isn’t possible, and emotional responses to the offense are challenging to manage.

We all have our own rage-triggers, some of them more easily set off than others. Other people’s reasons for taking offence can seem unreasonable, ludicrous even. Our own are, of course, perfectly natural and the only thing a decent human being could be expected to feel in the circumstances. This of course doesn’t help in the slightest.

There is a school of thought that taking offence is meaningless and that a person who is offended has no right to expect anyone to do differently just to appease them. Stephen Fry has famously commented to this effect. There is a school of thought that the only good response to things that make us cross is to be patient and compassionate with the offending person. There are schools of thought that say we are only angry with other people when we see bits of ourselves that we do not like reflected in what they do or say. And you know, there are things about these arguments that make me really, really angry.

I pride myself on being a fairly tolerant person, but the ‘fairly’ aspect of that is becoming more important to me all the time. An it harm none, do what you will. It’s none of my business. The more harm you do, or support, the more entitled I think I am to take issue with that. So I’m not going to tolerate bullying behaviour. I’m also not going to tolerate lies and misinformation, manipulation, wilful cruelty, those who ‘have’ bashing those who do not have. I will not tolerate victim blaming, slut shaming, prejudice, bigotry and fundamentalism. I will not stand by quietly, or necessarily be very polite towards someone who is acting out, throwing their weight around, hurting something else or otherwise acting in a way I find totally unacceptable.

Where possible, I try to respond to things that make me angry with calm, clear, non-aggressive expressions of why there is a problem. When someone is determined to hate because they enjoy hating, when people use personal attacks and won’t talk in reasoned ways, I will not be tolerant. When the ideas involved have people’s lives at stake (racial hatred, fundamentalism, austerity) then I will set out to be an enemy to whoever is perpetrating that. Words are my weapons. I will use reason, and satire, and if needs be I will be rude and challenging if I think that might get a point across rather than entrenching the position.

When there are genuinely evil ideas in the mix, when there are lives at stake, when real people are really suffering, or real creatures, or ecosystems, then to be tolerant is to be complicit. It is not enough to be a well meaning person with a live and let live attitude. We have to look at what we tolerate, and why, and if we are angry, what we think that anger entitles us to do, and why. There’s a lot we need to be angry about right now, but to make anger part of the honourable response, part of how you function as a Druid, takes thought and attention.

Relationship in Druidry

The idea that Druidry is all about relationship comes up a lot. Often what’s expressed is the idea that we should seek honourable relationship with all things. Though admirable, this is tricky because the vast array of non-human presences out there are not able to express their opinions, needs and preferences to us. We are obliged to guess much of the other side of any relationship. In practice although we could ask, we also tend to guess and infer the other side of our human relationships, too. Sometimes we don’t get much choice, because the relationship is indirect, brought about by consumption or pollution.

The one thing we can most easily scrutinise is what we bring to our side of that Druidic relationship. What are we looking for? What do we want? What shapes our side of the interaction and what informs out inferences and interpretations? As a case in point, many people have held for a long time that other creatures do not feel pain as humans do. Research is starting to tell us otherwise, but for a long time, the consensus inferred that animals felt little. What we brought to this inference was the collective inclination not to have to worry about how our treatment of animals might impact on them. As lab creatures, farmed creatures, in zoo and circus, in small cages at home, hunted for sport and set on each other for entertainment, our history of relationship with animals has some distinct biases in it.

It’s very easy to imagine that, as enlightened, spiritual people, we don’t do that sort of thing. Except that we do. We bring assumptions to our relationships all the time. Often we are more driven by a desire for status and respect within our own communities than it might be comfortable to accept. But then as people pointed out on a recent post here, we’re basically still monkeys, and there’s no shortage of baboon culture in human interactions. How do we relate to the consciousness of plants? How much landfill waste do we generate, alongside our quest for honourable relationship with the earth? How much of our own behaviour are we carefully justifying and excusing because it suits us to do so, not because we’re upholding honour?

Landfill is an issue much on my mind at present. I send about a carrier bag’s worth of stuff to landfill every week, and every now and then there is more, when a large, non-recyclable, worn out thing needs to leave. I try and squeeze full use out of everything. Reduce, re-use, pass on, recycle… but some items just don’t fit there and eventually I end up with a landfill contribution. Much of my waste is from the kitchen – I’m in a flat, I’ve had no way of composting and food waste isn’t collected here. I’m getting a wormery to deal with that, which leaves the non-recyclable plastics from the foods that I can’t figure out how to get by other means. Each plastic wrapper represents oil taken from the earth, and earth that I will pollute by disposing of it. Each plastic wrapper is a failure on my part to be in honourable relationship with the land.

It would be easy at this point to play up the things I do well, the areas of strength, to claim an offset, a state of ‘good enough’ or to suggest that it is an issue for wider society, not me as an individual. Where is my honourable relationship if I pass the buck on this one? Why do I feel entitled to inflict my waste on future generations? It’s not good enough.

It is easy to bandy round terms like ‘honourable relationship’ in order to feel good about what we do, and bloody hard if not painful to live and breathe that moment to moment and enact it in all things.

None of my relationships are truly honourable. All of them are flawed, partial works in progress and in all of them, there is so much scope to do better.

Honourable relationship

There is a certain irony to the fact that the people who taught me most about the theory of honourable relationship were not able to live it when the crunch time came. To be human is to be flawed, and the ideals we hold up are not always the things that drive us in our choices. I tend to feel that what we do in crisis is the best measure of who we really are. It’s easy to walk your talk when life is simple and straightforward. When there is pain and fear, when we are hurt, lost, threatened, walking the talk is harder. It’s easy to treat honourably those people who are nice to be around, but what does it take to act honourably in the face of something more challenging?

I kick this sort of issue around a lot. I feel very strongly the need to try and act as well as I can in all things, but I find myself questioning what that even means in the first place. Let’s take honesty as an issue. Outright lies we can put to one side, but most lies are lies of omission. Exactly how much honesty does another person need from me? The truth about a number of things – my history and mental state especially, are not comfortable to have to deal with, so for the greater part I’m not honest about that. I hide it, take it away, or handle it indirectly in less alarming ways. For casual acquaintances, that seems appropriate, fair and workable, sparing them a lot of needless hassle and me the shame and distress of baring that which hurts most.

Then there are the small number of people who I spend enough time with to make it difficult to fake functionality. People who are going to see what happens when body, mind or both cease to be fully operational. Then what? Better, perhaps to have warned them in advance so that it isn’t surprising. Part of me still wants to hide it, to simply not have those closer friendships in the first place so that I do not have to deal with the things I feel uncomfortable about. Which is a bloody awful way to feel. I have a very close, open and trusting relationship with my bloke, and for the greater part that gives me what I need. But, to cut myself off from others, to hold a protective line rather than face the things I am embarrassed by and uneasy about… that doesn’t feel honourable or good to me. Then of course, exposure to me as I am, intense, complicated, still carrying too much pain and fear… that isn’t easy to take and I know not everyone will feel they can cope with that or want it in their lives, so every exposure is a risk of rejection, and leaves me feeling vulnerable. But it is fairer to let people choose, rather than letting them get dependent on me or fond of me only to find that I am, in practice, unbearable.

One of the things I struggle with is that I am not responsible for how other people feel or what they do. I am not obliged to be convenient and comfortable, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. No sane person is going to expect me to magically know what the best thing I could do for everyone, all of the time, is, and expect me to also do it. I’ve removed from my life the people who seemed to hold such expectations, because it’s impossible. I’d have to be superhuman, and I most assuredly am not. All I can do is the best I can come up with, given the realities of who and how I am, and what I have to deal with. What I need to learn to do, I suspect, is to apologise for that less, and to accept that some people will indeed walk away if I am too difficult. It is ok to let them go. I do not owe them anything.

I have come to a point of recognising that my energy is finite, and often not sufficient for the things I want to achieve. I cannot afford to spend more time trying to pretend to be things I am not in the hopes of not inconveniencing people. That often exhausts me, and means I push beyond safe limits, leaving me vulnerable to depression. Not a clever move. So, I’ll accept the trade off, I’ll do what I have to do, and try to be more honest about when I’m not functioning. Other people are responsible for how they respond to that. I would not shame someone else for being ill, tired or damaged, I will not allow myself to be shamed on those terms either. Well, it’s a theory at any rate. I can but try.

By peace and love to stand

We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark, oh spirits and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow.

I was out with the Sapling Bards today for a mistletoe rite. It was a lovely gathering and I had the pleasure of meeting a great many excellent people, putting some faces to names I already knew, and reconnecting with some dear friends. It was a lovely day in a lovely space, and the rainbows were more than compensation for the rain.
We used the Druid’s Prayer, as above. It’s a common feature of Druid rituals and I have said it many times in the past, in the company of many others. I found myself reflecting during the prayer – it’s repeated three times so there is time for a fair bit of thinking – about people I’ve shared that prayer with in the past. Good friends I’ve not seen in too long. People I met once and have not seen since. And those other, more troubled connections where peace and love did not get much of a look in, when it came to the crunch. I wondered, as I often do, what I could have done that would have been better.
I care about peace, especially the sort that comes from cooperation, restorative justice and compassion. Retribution is just a way of extending the suffering all round and that never struck me as being a good idea. But when people fall out in extreme ways and become unable to tolerate each other, where is there room for compassion or gentleness? What happens when one heart is so closed, impenetrable or incomprehensible to another that no amount of ‘heart to heart’ seems to help? What happens when the peace and love we swear not only to those in circle, but to anyone we want to be in honourable relationship with, is betrayed? I don’t have any answers.
Sometimes its not within the gift of a given individual to make everything right. We are beings of finite power, and seeing the wrong does not means being able to fix it, and wanting to fix it isn’t always enough either. We have to forgive the people who are not able to be what we want them to be. I know, that to move forwards I have to forgive myself for the things that I had no control over and no means to repair. I think its when we start to imagine that we *should* be able to set all to rights that we can start driving ourselves mad with a sense of inadequacy, or having to lie to ourselves to make us seem like we’re better than we are. Worse still is what happens when someone is so desperate to seem right that they lie to everyone to hold that illusion, wreaking emotional havoc as an inevitable consequence rather than admit to being human. I’ve seen what that one can do and it isn’t pretty.
People of integrity and good heart make mistakes. Often for the best of reasons and with excellent intentions. I’ve had some horrible things done to me by people I know thought they were acting for the greater good. I don’t feel good about that, but I’ve tried to understand it. I’ve been on the wrong end of self importance, and power gaming, and people driven by fear and all manner of tricky human things. I have misunderstood things in ways that caused pain to others, I have been rash, inconsiderate, short sighted, I have made a thousand and one tiny errors of judgement that will have caused unnecessary suffering. As do most people. The trick is to try and learn, and not beat yourself into an ineffectual pulp in response. We all mess up. It’s the point when we choose to believe that we’re on opposite sides to some fellow human being that we’re really in trouble. When there are sides, you make losing inevitable and no one really wins at all. Where there’s cooperation, there is also hope, and scope for improvement.
Today I swore peace and love to a group of people I mostly don’t know. The odds are that will never be tested in any significant way. But when it is, you find out whether your oaths were strong enough to hold, and sometimes they won’t be. But without the hope that I could offer those bonds of love and peace, I could not get into circle with anyone. I have to be able to say it and mean it and trust that those around me are meaning it too, even though I know that sometimes those words are not upheld.
Mark, oh spirits, and hear us now…
And never let me become complacent about what any of this means.

What is magic?

I’ve been reading with interest ideas about magic on Cat’s Blog and Red’s Blog this week. Red’s really got me thinking about how we square honourable relationship with magic. Now, what is normally called ‘white magic’ could be described as ‘asking for something nice magic’ while going round cursing people would be ‘black magic’ being horribly simplistic for a moment. But take apart ‘white magic’ and what are we doing? Asking for something we haven’t worked for, maybe something we want and can’t have. Nothing comes without consequence, even prayers for healing. If we all lived forever, magically, this world would not be viable. If we use magic to violate the laws of nature and the natural cycles of life and death, how can we square that with the idea of honourable relationship?

If we pray – let’s imagine that’s for a miracle to save a dying person – we are inviting a deity to look over the idea and, from their more enlightened perspective, figure out whether it’s a good idea. Sometimes the answer to prayer is a ‘no’ which is as well. Humans do not make decisions for the best reasons. We never see the bigger picture, it is inevitably beyond us. Driven by fear, hunger, greed, loneliness and all manner of things, we can and do want things we should not have, that aren’t good for us, and that harm others.

The more I think about magical acts that are basically demanding something be different, the less I like them. I don’t work that way myself, I’ve moved away from ideas of spells. Mostly the transformations I seek to achieve are within myself, where, as Red points out, I have every right to make change.

However, a magical perspective of the world has always been intrinsic to my paganism. I believe in the transformative magic of ritual and bard craft. I’m increasingly fascinated by prayer as a concept. I believe in the power of oath and pledges made to the gods. I also believe that magic flows and exists in the world – if I didn’t, there would be precious little point considering the ethics of using it!

I went down to the Severn this morning as the tide was turning. I watched the muddy curve of the river start to refill with water. There were seagulls, and an egret. The reeds were rustling and talking, the wind soft, the air warm. Everything was very alive, me included. The sheer intensity of presence intoxicated me. I sat for some time, just being there, and a thought began to formulate in my mind.

I don’t want the kind of magic that gives me the power to step outside of nature. I don’t want fireballs to zoom from my hands, I don’t want to live forever. I absolutely reject the magic of high fantasy. But when everything is humming with life, there is magic. Everything is full of it, me included. I am recognising what is. What if I understand magic as the means to enter into a dialogue with everything else? Much of ‘everything else’ couldn’t care less how I feel, or what I want. I would have to listen and give at least as much as I asked for things. There would be scope to learn, to deepen understanding. I might not change what is happening, but I might instead learn why it is happening and through that be better able to work in harmony with it.

I think about the people who firewalk, able to do it because they trust that the fire will not harm them. That’s a kind of magic. I think about asking the hills if I can share in their slowness and peace for a little while, or sitting with a tree and listening. That’s magic too. It has the power to transform. We can change each other by mutual consent. I can give, or receive. I can ask for help or guidance. I’m not asking some external force to obey my will or forcing anything to give me what I want. I may be asking for a favour, a kindness, conscious that ‘no’ is an answer that I might be going to hear. I might also hear ‘here is the thing I want in return’. I would also need to be open to the idea that other things could come to me for help in just the same way. The creature in the canal calling out for rescue. The land that wants litter removing. The air that wants to be clean. Sometimes I’m going to have to say no, too.

I think I’ve been trending this way for a while, between the prayer work and the contemplation of relationship, but between Red’s words yesterday, and the river this morning something has come into focus in my head. I have changed, consentingly, to a magic that has been worked upon me from outside. Red’s magic did not require me to change, but it gave me the opportunity to do so, and from here on, that’s the magic I am dedicated to working with.

Druidic interactions

Speaking well is something I’ve heard described as a Celtic virtue. But what is good speech, from a druid perspective?

I had an email land today which has prompted me to think about this. It was a tricky one, content-wise, the writer knew they were saying something I wouldn’t like. But they said it, clearly, and simply, and in a way that was not really an attack on me. I could have chosen to be hurt and offended, but I thought about the context, and the brave honesty of the writer, and recognised that they were just being up front with me. Things might be challenging, but here’s a person whose position I know. As I know, I can respond with information that might shift that perspective, or might not. It allows the possibility of thinking differently whilst being able to respect each other’s positions.

In my time at The Druid Network, I ran into the term ‘honourable relationship’ a lot. My experience is that when people all think the same things, want compatible things and so forth, it’s pretty easy not to offend. If plain speaking means saying ‘that was a brilliant thing you just did,’ then holding comfortable relationship is easy. Being honourable has to allow for acknowledging difference, conflict, doubt and all the other messy, complicating options. It has to be ok to say ‘I am hurt by this’ or ‘it does not work for me’ or ‘I do not like it.’

Honourable speaking, on its own, is not enough. If the listener is not listening openly and honourably, it doesn’t matter how well you speak, you’re still stuffed. Honourable listening calls for a willingness to try and understand what’s being said on the speaker’s terms. You have to avoid assuming attack, or rejection or anything else that might provoke you to react counterproductively. It’s one thing if a person is saying ‘you are made of crap and I hate you’ and quite another if they are saying ‘I am unhappy’ and you are hearing ‘you are bad and wrong and I want nothing to do with you.’ Hearing is just as subjective as the way we use language to speak. Good and honourable communication means we have to try really hard to meet each other half way.

I’ve found it helpful, with some people, if I feedback with comments like ‘I am hearing this as meaning…. Is that what you intended?’ If I acknowledge my own subjectiveness and am open to being guided, I can change how I respond, I can learn to hear differently. I’ve also found situations where, dealing with very sensitive people, I cannot say things like ‘I don’t like what’s happening here.” However, if I present that as ‘this is a thing I think we need to work on’ then I can get a much better response. And as I am part of the process, I do have some shared ownership if it isn’t working.

What I know is destined to fail, is any relationship in which there can be no negotiation and one person has to continually shoulder all blame, and take all responsibility for making changes. I’ve been there more than once, and it’s unworkable. Good relationships have two sides, two people, and where that needs work or delicacy, it calls on both sides to respond. You can’t have one person feeling like they are walking on eggshells all the time, and equally, you can’t have one person who insists on the right to do and say whatever comes into their heads with the role of the other person being to cope with that silently, regardless.

Honourable relationship is honest, but without being brutal, or destructive. It is all about listening without assuming you are under attack, and about finding solutions that do not result in anyone feeling compromised.

I understand my life and experiences in terms of relationship. Where I’m dealing with other humans and direct verbal communications are an option, the above model at least gives me a place to start. But much of what exists, does not speak English. How do I listen to the soil, or the things I eat? How do I hear the voices of my global impact when I buy things? Where is my dialogue with farmers around the world on whom I depend? That’s much, much harder. I want to be in a situation where I can only be in knowing relationship, because I see good communication as part of honourable relationship. Currently I’ve not figured out how to do that. When it comes to non-human things, non-animate things even, the scope for communication is even more challenging. How do we have honourable relationship with governments and big businesses? It’s easy to say that we can’t, because they are not honourable themselves, and it has to be two sided… but does that let us off the hook? I’m mostly pondering here, I have no sense of direction yet, but am always glad to hear other people’s perceptions.

A year and a day

I remember my father once telling me that in some traditional stories, a year and a day can mean forever. If this is so, then most of this last year and a day would be the eternity of preference for me, minus the stress of historical baggage.

A year ago yesterday, my Tom landed in the UK after a painfully long, slow process of paperwork. Moving to marry is not easy, believe me! But he got here, and my son and I went through the dramatic transformation from being a domestic unit of two, to being a fully functioning family. Today seemed like a good time to draw breath, look back, and look forwards.

I have learned so much in this last year. I had very little sense of self in 2010, and most of what I did have was based on fear. I had been told so many times how demanding and unreasonable I am, how excessive. I had been characterised as emotional to the point of instability, and so unfeeling that any emotional expression had to be treated as suspect and probably just emotional blackmail. It’s not easy moving forwards when you have so much baggage, and it must have taken some doing to step up to that. But Tom has always been glad to say that he loves me, and that it is no hardship to express that.

I’ve rebuilt a lot of my sense of self this last year, to a large degree through my relationship with Tom. He takes joy in my company, delights in doing things that make me smile. He does not treat any of the things I want to give as laughable or irritating, and does not find it hard to give the things I need. Through this, I’ve gone from being something monstrous in my own eyes, to feeling that I could, possibly, be ok as a person. Go back eighteen months and I felt like a total human-fail, that there must be something profoundly and intrinsically wrong with me that explained what was happening in my life. This last year makes me think very differently.

I’ve never known anyone else I felt so at peace with, so comfortable with. I can share anything. Life becomes a joint, creative enterprise, balancing work and responsibilities with playful exploration of the world. It’s an ongoing nurturing of each other, a sharing of inspiration and everything I ever hoped or imagined a good relationship could be.

Relationship is the core of human experience. Be that relationships with other humans or with the rest of the world. We exist, and know ourselves through the ways in which we interact with others. There was a time when I felt that pain was a measure of love, and how much you will give of yourself or sacrifice the best measure of devotion. I felt at the same time that generally this was something I would do on my own, and I had no right to expect anything at all in return. These days I view relationship in terms of that which is shared. It is what we do together, what we dream together, how we treat each other. A two sided thing, a give and take, co-supporting and rooted in care and respect. Without care and respect on both sides, it’s not a balanced relationship, it’s a relationship based on use.

There is so much more to learn, I think. So much to understand and discover, to explore and create. I look forward at a future that is rich with possibility. Short term challenges and set backs are so much easier to handle when you have a sense of direction and a feeling there are good things in your life. I have that now, but for a long time, I didn’t.

So I’m offering up this very public declaration of love, this recognition of the gorgeous, honourable and delightful man who has brightened my life in innumerable ways. Here’s to many more years, and to celebrating the good people, the beauty of small things done well, and the sheer joy of good relationship.


According to existentialists (forgive me, I can’t name names and cite references) freedom and responsibility go together. You can only be free to the degree to which you take responsibility. I adopted this notion in my late teens and carried it for a long way. And took a lot of responsibility.

I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Being responsible for self, enables freedom. But, we none of us exist in isolation, there is the issue of responsibility to others to explore. The more responsible we undertake to be for others, the more control we might have over them. As we take more responsibility so they can carry less. If we go too far, we risk depriving others of freedom. At which point we are no longer in an honourable relationship. At the same time, when we hold responsibility to others, for others, it does impact on freedom if we are determined to behave well.

When I was blogging over at The Pagan and The Pen I was very conscious that everything I wrote would impact on everyone else. It was a shared blog space, my opinions might be taken as representing the opinion of the site. Before that, in my days as a Druid Network Trustee, I was painfully aware that anything I put out in a public space could, potentially, have an impact on a whole organisation. That was very inhibiting.

It’s very difficult to learn without making mistakes, or at least having room and permission to make mistakes. It’s hard to grow, or develop, when you have to play safe, and there is no room to get it wrong. Too much responsibility makes it very hard to take risks, experiment, or do anything radically new. One of the things I love about being a solitary blogger, is that if I do something stupid, I’m not taking anyone else down with me. I still hold an awareness of responsibility not to bring paganism into disrepute, and a responsibility not to tell people bullshit, or encourage anyone to do anything likely to harm them. But there’s a lot more wriggle room, and I like that.

It is possible to be in a responsible relationship to others, and still test the boundaries, but everyone else has to know and accept. There are places where loose cannons and chaotes can be part of the team, but it’s unusual to find one. Sometimes in a ritual circle, if you have someone calm holding the centre, the chaotic folk have space to play.

I like my freedom. I can’t imagine ever voluntarily going back into a situation where duty restricted my own need to explore and express. It took me a while to realise just how important that is to me, but now I’ve got it, I won’t sacrifice it to someone else’s cause. What I have now, is responsibility on my own terms, where I decide what duty is owed, what risks are tolerable, and what behaviours are acceptable. I draw the lines for myself, and I have not given anyone else permission to tell me I cannot do a thing for fear that it might cause a problem. I’m not overwhelmed with the desire to cause problems, I trust my own judgement. I also know I will make mistakes, but it is good knowing I do that alone, on my own terms, without dragging anyone else down with me against their will. There is no one in my life in a position to withhold permission, refuse me the scope to explore, express or create in my own terms. I like that. Now I get to ponder what kinds of relationships I can have with numbers of people, or groups of people, whilst holding that precious autonomy for myself. I think if I am entirely honest about what I am, and what I am not, and avoid fixed roles, I should be able to hold this. It will be interesting to see what happens, as I move back towards being more socially engaged again.