Tag Archives: magic

Candles, prayers and magic

My first experience of using candles for prayers was in my late teens, visiting Gloucester cathedral. The cathedral continues to offer spaces where a person can light a candle as an act of prayer, and it’s something I and my family continue to do. The cathedral is a place I go to connect with my ancestors, amongst other things.

There’s an immediacy to using a candle – the flare of light as you strike the match, or the transference of flame from one lit candle to another. You literally put light into the world. It’s a good focus for will, for petition, for need. The observable effect of the lit candle feels like having done something, so it makes the spell, or the prayer seem more real, more in the world. Then, if you so desire, you can spend time with that candle and with your intentions.

I’ve become uneasy about burning things and using fire in any spiritual context. With so much of the world burning and overheating, I’m ambivalent, these days, about the role I think fire can play in my spiritual practice. Gone are the days when I would want to do ritual around a fire.

There is however comfort in a candle. It’s a small flame. A small gesture of hope even at a time when fire seems problematic to me. The warm light of it is inherently comforting, and when you are praying from a place of need, distress, discomfort, that small comfort can be worth a lot. When distress makes concentration hard, the focus of a candle flame can be a welcome thing indeed. There is light in the darkness. There is warmth and cheer. There is hope, be it ever so small.

So long as the candle flame holds, there is hope. So long as there is the means to light it, there is hope. So long as I refuse to give up on hope, there is hope. Sometimes, small symbolic actions can make a great deal of difference.


Druidry and diverse experience

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spirits of Place

When Dr Abbey first arrived with us, he did a great deal of drawing at high speed. There were many pieces, and it was a really interesting process to observe. He hadn’t done much art in a long time and was drawing his way back into a more creative headspace. This image leapt out at me as he was working on it.

 

Last week I sat down with it and attempted my own version. I used pens –  I haven’t gone straight  in with coloured pens since childhood. That was a challenge. It also raised issues of how much to try and do my own thing and how much to emulate the loose style Abbey has when working unconsciously. I ended up with a mix.

My main aim in doing this was to engage with the image, and the energy of the being depicted in the image. I spent more than an hour on this, while the original took a couple of minutes. I will go back and have another go – most likely using materials I’m more used to. It’s harder doing ambiguity with pens, and this is a figure who I think needs more ambiguity in the mix.

One of the things that has struck me this summer, in my process of inviting magic in, is that drawing is something to explore. Not everything is best handled with words. I could not have had this experience by writing it, but finding this presence on the paper and making room for it opens something up and creates possibility. Drawing can, I realise, be a way of knowing, encountering, experiencing, connecting and honouring.  I will make more time for this, and share any interesting results as I go.


Making an altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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?


Three times through the labyrinth

Usually when I make a labyrinth, I walk it twice. I’m the first one in, to make sure no terrible mistakes have been made. And I’m the last one through because I do that for me, and I rather like it.

But, there is that thing about Druids liking to do things three times.

Yesterday I walked the labyrinth three times. The first two were much as usual – I took intentions and things I want to work with on that journey, and used the process of walking to explore those ideas and settle them in my body. I took things I want to make real and walked to make them more real.

Last time I walked a labyrinth, one of the intentions I’d held was that my next one (ie the one I just made) I would make for Dr Abbey to walk. So, walking this time with him present was very powerful for me.

Third time through everything went a bit mad. I felt my posture shifting, and then my hips reconfigured. They really have – it wasn’t just a labyrinth strangeness. I did a 6 mile walk this morning, and my right hip has shifted so my right foot turns out less than it did.

I had an experience of being in my body that I’m still getting to grips with. A sensation of being both more substantial and more ephemeral. Like I was some sort of delicate elf being made of gossamer, but also wholly real and solid. I seldom feel entirely real and I never normally experience myself as delicate in this sort of way. I had a keen sense of where my edges are and of my completeness as a person in a way that felt like being in my own power. It was intense and transformative.

Coming out of this third labyrinth walk I felt the need to ground, and so dropped gently to my knees and put my hands in the grass. What followed was an intense, visceral re-experiencing of my first bardic initiation slightly over seventeen years ago.  I was thrown utterly and unexpectedly into a powerful tactile memory. The words from the initiation came back to me. I remembered what I had promised. I had a strange sense of being in conversation with the land. I’m still working out what to do with this.

It is quite likely that this is in some ways a culmination of other things going on in my life. But, the first two journeys through the labyrinth were much as I expected and follow the experiences I’ve had over some years of walking it twice. Three, by the looks of it, is the magic number. But of course we knew that, because Druids do everything three times.

Fortunately I had taken food and water with me and had a very lovely and supportive group of people around me and no one there I did not know.  It’s something I’ll think about carefully when I do it again. Because clearly I’m going to do it again.


Walking with intent

One of the things I love about labyrinths is that you can do whatever you want with them. If I lay one out in the grass at my local park, anyone who wants to come and walk it can. They can do so in whatever way they like and for whatever reasons, with no reference to what anyone else is doing. It’s a nice way to hold magical space for people. At the moment it’s also really good as as an answer to socially distanced celebration and ritual.

Labyrinths transcend any specific tradition. They are a form that allows us to bring our bodies into the same space without having to agree about meaning or approach. They’re also a very peaceful, powerful thing to do and require no previous experience.

Usually I walk the labyrinth as a meditative process. I like to be the first one in – to test that I’ve put it together properly, clear twigs from the path and make sure the space works. My process with the space begins far earlier, when I ask permission, talk to the land and put down the first curve of fabric to mark the centre. I will later do a second walk in and will be the last person to walk the labyrinth before we take it down.

For my midsummer labyrinth this week I did some things I have never done before. I walked with intent. I walked to make deliberate magical transformation and I walked in no small part to do that for someone else.  In doing so I learned that walking a labyrinth is a good focus for prayers and incantations. If your intention is clear, you can use the slow rhythm of the walking to set the pace for your words. The labyrinth I use takes a person into the middle and then you have to wind your way back out again. It makes sense to work your way into the heart of the issue on the way in, and use the return journey to work out how you want to emerge from the situation.

My first walk into the labyrinth was about things I wanted to change for the next day. It worked, simply. Or things came out right anyway – who can say? But I was pushing for a transformation and a radical change of energy, and that came, one way or another.

For my second journey, I was more focused on the slightly longer term, and I set intentions about the next labyrinth I will make. If that comes to pass I will probably write about it.

An unexpected third intention arose from this process. I want the space to make a permanent labyrinth. This goes with a number of other thoughts I’ve been having and is a good additional focus for the future I am trying to imagine and make real.


Things I am visualising

I recently blogged about tips for visualising – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/06/tips-for-visualising/

When building a thought form, it can be important not to undermine it by making it vulnerable to other people’s opinions. This means not getting anyone else’s input, but I think holding boundaries to protect a dream can be necessary and important. There’s a key piece of witchcraft advice around the importance of keeping things secret to keep them powerful. At the same time, putting something into the world can be a way of working towards manifesting it, and writing is part of how I now do this sort of thing.

I am visualising…

Standing at the train station, waiting.

A shed, with a comfortable chair in it, a rug on the floor, and decent lighting.

The sea wind in my face.

Long, luscious damp grass full of wildflowers.

The space that is deliberately empty becoming full in the way I intend.

An advert on the side of a bus.

A really big table.


The Burnt Watcher – a review(ish)

I won’t claim any objectivity on this one. This is Keith Healing’s first novel. I know him personally, and he is the bloke behind the Hopeless Maine role play game. I proof read for him on this book because he’s a lovely chap and I want to support him.

The Burnt Watcher is set in a dark future where there are nasty supernatural things, and people whose job it is to try and keep that under control. The Burnt Watcher of the title is one such person, who is dealing with a legacy of injury from the work. So, this is a book with a disabled main protagonist, which is something we just don’t see often enough. There’s also a kickass young lady in the story, which I really appreciated.

The story is really engaging, dark, sometimes a bit funny. I very much enjoyed it. There will be a sequel, which makes me very happy indeed. Excellent writing and elegantly put together. I thought the structure of it, and how the author plays with your belief, disbelief and sense of how this world works, was really good.

From a pagan perspective, there’s some rather splendid magical stuff going on. The Watchers use rune based magic and deal with the wyrd. Keith really knows his stuff, and it shows. There’s a lot of joy in a magic system with such substantial roots, written by someone who knows what they are talking about.

For anyone local, there’s also the joy that is having Stonehouse as a place of evil activity and eldritch horror. I love reading stories set in places I know, and especially books set in Gloucestershire. I am delighted by this future Gloucestershire full of gothic ruins, terrible threats and monstrous beings. We all need to see ourselves reflected in what we read, and having our locations reflected is certainly part of that.

As with all good speculative fiction, this is a book with plenty to say to the present moment. About what kinds of deals we make, and what we think is in our best interests, and what we do when we gone off the rails…

You can find the book here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burnt-Watcher-Fear-Book-ebook/dp/B08964Q14H/

and here – https://www.amazon.com/Burnt-Watcher-Fear-Book-ebook/dp/B08964Q14H


Tips for visualising

Visualising is a really useful technique with a number of applications. You can do it for entirely spiritual purposes. You can do it as part of making magic, and you can also do it to direct your own mind in a specific direction. I also find that visualisation and divination can be connected if you are inclined to more of the oracle work. Testing visions of the future to see what looks plausible and where that goes can be interesting work.

I’m going to take a non-magical approach in offering some tools here – they would work magically, whereas magically orientated approaches won’t do it for people working more psychologically. The key thing about visualisation is that you build belief. You imagine yourself in a situation, doing a thing, and so when you get there you can handle it better. Or when the opportunities come by, you see them and grab them. Or you do better because you know what you want so the path that heads the right way is more obvious. Visualisation can be a great tool for self knowledge, and also for building courage and helping you take action.

However, some things are really hard to visualise. The bigger and more life-changing your intentions are then the harder it is to picture the outcome of that. If you can’t believe it, feel it and invest in it you won’t make it work for you.

My advice is to aim small. Rather than focusing on the big event you want to manifest, visualise something you can easily imagine. Maybe about how you go for coffee with a dear friend and tell them about how it all worked out for you. Pick a scenario where you can dig in with the familiar details and weave the intended content into it – picture phoning someone to say that the thing has happened. Pick the part of the process that you know most about and envisage that, and frame it with your understanding that the whole thing is in place.

For example, if you’re trying to attract a lover, and you don’t have anyone specific in mind, you can’t visualise them or anything that happens with them. But you could visualise yourself lying alone in bed, afterwards, feeling warm and contented and happy. You don’t have to know exactly how you got there to hold that image, and in holding it you will start to find out things  about how that would work for you.

Equally, if you want a life changing job, you may have no way of picturing how that would work or what you would be doing. But you could far more easily visualise yourself on a day off from that fantastic job, feeling good about yourself and happy in the direction your life has taken.

You won’t know what the new house should look like, but you can visualise lying in the garden listening to the bird song, perhaps.

It’s not always possible to picture the outcome we most need. If you’re feeling a lack and trying to work towards an answer, you may not know what that answer looks like. If you’re too specific, you may shut down opportunities and miss out on the good stuff. Sometimes, focusing on a small, believable detail is a really powerful way of opening up the entire future that you want to create.