Tag Archives: nature

Nature, culture and healing

What makes you feel like yourself? What do you do that gives you a sense of being fully present, alive and acting from a place of authenticity? Conversely, how much time do you spend in spaces where you have to pretend to be other than you are? What do you do that robs you of identity and leaves you numb, disengaged and dysfunctional?

One of the truly great things about being outside and alone is that you don’t have to perform. The elements do not require you to be other than you are. If your sense of self has been crushed by pressures and expectations, this time alone might be your best hope of healing and finding yourself. We don’t lose ourselves anything like as much as we have our identities taken from us.

We can end up feeling that we are the roles we are obliged to perform. If our work, our usefulness, our family identity is the only thing anyone else sees and interacts with, the result can be lonely and demoralising. We all need the room to be more than the utility we provide to others.

Running off into the wilderness can be a tempting antidote to this. But, humans put a lot of pressure on what wild nature remains. It might be more productive to stop looking to nature to heal us and start looking to human culture not to ravage us in the first place. A better work-life balance would do a lot to restore many people to themselves. A kinder, more inclusive, supportive and spacious society would really help too.


Fungi and Community

I recently watched this charming documentary, and can recommend doing so if you get a chance.

Fungi are wonderful and for anyone interested in the natural world. The way in which they interact with other forms of life will be resonant for Druids. We have been talking for decades about the web of life and the interconnectedness of all things. We’ve talked about it as a magical concept. Fungi are the physical embodiment of this idea, they are the network connecting life.

One of the concepts from this film is that cooperation is basically how reality works. The script includes observations about the importance of community, and identifies community as an inter-species thing. It offers us more than human co-operation. There were words about the generosity of nature, and about living beings working together cooperatively for mutual benefit.

It comforts me to think that cooperation isn’t just intrinsic to human success, but also is fundamental to how life exists. It means that the people pushing the other way, towards competition and cruelty, are simply wrong. Reality won’t change to let them have it their own way. Collaboration shapes life, and people can either engage with that to their benefit, or not. We won’t be able to make selfishness into the driving force of existence.


Not a sun worshipper

I’m not great in the heat. I’m not the sort of person to rush enthusiastically into the blazing sun with the expectation of being able to do stuff. However, the sun and the summer are part of the natural world, and furthermore, I pledged some time ago that I would undertake to love the world as climate chaos manifests, and not in spite of it.

How does a Pagan who does not cope well with hot weather honour the sun while trying not to go out in it?

On some of the really hot days I’ve been unable to function at all in the afternoon. I’ve had to flop out, and this has meant being entirely focused on the conditions, as I could think of little else. It’s possible to be intensely involved with the sun and the heat without being directly exposed.

I’m outside more at twilight. For me, the summer evenings and the night time are central to how I experience summer, because I can safely go out and do stuff. Twilight is as much part of the summer as the sun is, and many creatures are abroad at this time who also avoid the heat of the day. As the air cools, I notice where the ground and the brickwork are still hot from the day. I experience the residual heat. There’s something magical about being able to feel cold at night when the day has felt like being in a furnace.

Experiencing the sun is very different if you are under trees. This landscape should be wooded. Most of our ancestors had far more access to trees than we do. I’m lucky in that there is a shady cycle path close to my home, and I can be out on it without overheating. You can experience the sun in nature without being directly under the sky.

Humans do some rather odd things in response to heat when you compare us to other mammals. That we work, and don’t normally change our sleeping and eating habits in response to the conditions is unusual. Most mammals aren’t active when it’s hot. Anyone wearing a fur coat is obliged to take things gently in hot conditions. Anyone who isn’t wearing a fur coat is at high risk of sunburn.

I spent some time with some pigs recently, and in the hot part of the day they just flopped out in the shade. Many of us are not cut out for sun worship, and there’s nothing unnatural or un-Pagan about that.


Riding the thermals

It’s buzzard weather out there. The intense summer heat brings up thermal currents as the hot air rises. Buzzards are especially good at riding these, and seem to spend much of the time during warmer weather just floating in the air, barely moving to stay aloft.

Often, the buzzards circle up to such heights that there’s no hunting application to it. Sometimes they hang out on the thermals in groups. It’s not purposeful activity. I have no idea whether it takes more effort than sitting in a tree. 

We tell each other far too many stories about busy bees and hard working ants and nature red in tooth and claw. Nature programs can make wildlife seem really busy and active. This creates a frame for human activity and for believing that it is good, virtuous and natural to be busy.

Wild things do what they have to, and then they chill. In this hot weather, most mammals are flopped out in whatever shade they can find. Nothing out there is busy for the sake of it. Not even the ants. Creatures do what they have to do, and no more. 

It’s also worth noting that even in insect colonies where there are workers and queens, what’s actually going on is different beings carrying out different roles for the good of the community. There’s a lot of difference between specialised functions within a colony, and having an exploited worker class that does all the grafting to enable a leisured class to does little that is of any value to those workers.


Communion and Consumption

We’re Pagan. We want to commune with nature. We want to be out there in the wilds, off the beaten track… Us and everyone else. The pandemic has led a lot more people outside. More people are having vacations closer to home this year, and this is putting far more pressure on the land.

It’s not just the people who rock up to litter beaches and poo in the Glastonbury fields while wild camping. It’s the increased traffic around beauty spots, and the damage done to landscapes just by too many people going through them. It’s people taking from spaces, and mistreating what’s there. Pagans can be just as guilty of this as anyone else. Our tea lights, inappropriate offerings and rubbish tied to trees are just as problematic as anyone else’s mess.

If you truly want to commune with the land rather than consuming and damaging, here are some suggestions.

Stay as close to home as you can. Explore the green spaces nearest to you and minimise driving. There are a lot of green spaces in urban environments and it’s great to explore those. Footpaths, cycle paths and tow paths are good. Lanes can be well worth exploring but you are at more risk from irresponsible drivers so be careful. If there’s an artificial surface, you aren’t going to cause erosion.

Stay on the footpath. If you go off the path you will damage plants and habitats. You may feel more magical and special, but the birds, insects and creatures you disturb won’t thank you for it. 

Take nothing, leave nothing. Try to make sure you don’t need to shit in the bushes. Don’t leave shitty offerings that may harm the wildlife. Don’t light fires. Don’t burn anything, not incense, not candles, not anything. Don’t pour alcohol on the ground, it’s not good for the wildlife either. Don’t pick anything, don’t dig anything up. Windfalls are probably ok, but give serious thought to anything you think it would be ok to take home.

Don’t take your mountain bike offroad. Footpaths take a lot of damage from bikes, and in sensitive environments they can be really damaging. Don’t cycle over ancient monuments. I hope this is something no Pagan would ever consider doing, but I see so much of it happening that I have to mention it.

If we’re heading out into ‘nature’ because we want to be nourished and spiritually supported, we need to be alert to what it costs. The wild world is under immense pressure from humans and there’s nothing spiritual about adding to that. Any feelings of being special, exempt, entitled or important that justify why we should put pressure on wild things need serious scrutiny. There is a real and important issue around the impact of green spaces on mental health, but we can seek the green without harming the wildest places. 

Alongside this, we need to push for more green urban spaces, more urban trees, and more safe places to walk. Imagine what a difference it would make if just a small percentage of urban parking spaces were given over to plants instead.


Fox cubs

It’s a good time of year for seeing fox cubs. They’re large enough now to be out of the den, and large enough to be easier to spot. I’ve had a couple of recent encounters with a fox family, and they’ve been delightful.

Young creatures learn by messing about and experimenting. Watching them, what they do can seem incredibly joyful and playful, and I think perhaps it is. This same curiosity, joy and experimentation will kill many of them before their first year of life is through. Mortality rates are always high for young creatures.

Humans don’t help with that. Our cars especially, are killers, and the opportunities to learn from experience and not die, are few. The rest of nature kills and eats, dies by accident and scavenges, and that which doesn’t make it becomes food for something else. We’ve set ourselves up to be outside of that, and what we do takes a massive toll on the rest of the living world, which cannot adapt fast enough to reliably cope with us.

Meantime, the fox cubs are cheerfully oblivious to all of this. They are too busy being alive, and curious and excited. They live with every fibre of their beings. If they are afraid of what they must deal with, then they show no obvious signs of it. From where I stand, it seems like a kind of innocence, and perhaps it is. I could wish for that brightness and enthusiasm, for the innate joy that pounces on life with all of its paws, and either doesn’t know that it may not live long, or does not much care.


Omens and Rainbows

I’ve never been one for omens. It bothers me when I see people online talking about encounters with bits of nature and what it might mean when it sounds like a creature was just doing its thing. I worry about how human-centric and ego-centric it can be to assume that the rest of the world exists to bring us messages. Maybe we’re not that special.

As an animist, I think everything has the potential for opinions, preferences and ideas. I can’t reconcile that with thinking that anything is interrupting its own life to try and tell me stuff about mine. The ravens have better things to do than bring me omens, I have no doubt. However, if a raven turns up, it may well be connected to all kinds of other things going on.

We’re all part of the same weave. If you’ve encountered any of my Wherefore fiction (on youtube and in my ko-fi store) then you’ll know I’m quite into the idea of the weave. Everything is connected, everything affects everything else. And so there may be signs and omens because what one being is doing exists in relation to everything else. I might see the butterfly flap its wings and have a decent stab at guessing where the hurricane will be. Although in fairness, I probably won’t!

Rainbows have always been a bit of an exception on this score. Partly because they aren’t creatures going about their own business in quite the same way. They have causes, and reasons, but how they show up varies so much. Light conditions, times of day, density of rain – there’s a lot of variables go in to making a specific rainbow, and that feels to me like a place where you might take a reading or infer some significance. I’ve had some moments with double bows, an incredibly vibrant hailbow, and rainbows that have seemed reassuring at times when I had a lot to worry about and very little reassurance. They always seem like a good omen.

A rainbow is a moment of unexpected beauty. Whether it really is a sign of anything else, it is certainly a reminder that wonder can come out of nowhere, that beauty is powerful, that life is full of unexpected things and not all of them are shit.


Nature, pain and the body

Nature, as it manifests in my body, is painful. Compared to many people I get off lightly, because it’s bearable and most of the time doesn’t stop me from doing things. However, I’m massively hyper-mobile, which causes pain, and there are some other things (maybe related, maybe not) that also hurt. If I pay attention to my body, then my primary experience is one of hurting.

This is an issue for me around any meditation that involves my body. Relaxing into my body is something I try every now and then, but cannot get to work. I like meditations that distract my brain and those can lead to some degree of relaxation, whereas engaging directly with my body increases my pain awareness and that can make me more tense and uncomfortable.

Ignoring pain doesn’t entirely work. It means I don’t know what’s going on with my body, and I can end up adding to things, or not doing things that would help. I need to make the time to check in with my body and to try and make sense of what’s going on in here. Do I need more rest, or more movement? Do I need to massage painful areas? Or warm them? Or am I too warm?

One of the tricky things for me is that some of what goes wrong really requires rest, and other things that go wrong are best dealt with through movement, and that can all be happening at the same time. There are parts of me that aren’t handling temperature well and that I need to be careful about keeping warm. But I am also doing the menopausal things, and hot flushes don’t go well with that. I can end up both uncomfortably hot and functionally chilled, which is bonkers.

For anyone with multiple conditions, this is a potential problem. Especially around questions of rest and movement. Trying to balance the two is hard. Sometimes there is no right answer, and you simply have to decide what to trade off against what, and which price to pay. It doesn’t matter how good you are at listening to your body, if it has these kinds of internal conflicts, there’s no solution to find.

Some years ago I had a New Agey type try to tell me that my pain was a consequence of not listening to my body, and not being embodied. Having explored down this path, I am confident that it isn’t so. There’s only so much being embodied that I can take, most days. There’s only so much I can fix by paying attention. In order to work, to live and function, I frequently have to do things that hurt, or do them while hurting, and it is better emotionally and psychologically to tune out as much pain as possible at those times. If I let pain awareness take control, then doing the things that keep me moving and vaguely fit gets really hard. If I get weaker, some of the things that are wrong with me will get worse, and my overall heath will be undermined.

Listening to your body is good, but when there are conflicts about what would help, your body may well not know what to do either. For some people, showing up may well be enough to reduce pain. This won’t be true for everyone. We’re back to that old chestnut that if you can heal by making a few minor lifestyle adjustments, you weren’t in that much trouble to begin with, and your experiences aren’t a fair guide for what everyone else can expect.


Druidry and the body

One way to honour nature is to honour it as it manifests in our own bodies. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because capitalist cultures are set up to have us not doing that. We work for too long and don’t rest enough. We’re sold allegedly convenient foods that are harmful to us. We dose ourselves with chemicals. We don’t spend enough time moving around, or being outside. Consumer culture makes it hard to honour nature within ourselves.

This week my body has made it clear that I have to figure out how to be a lot kinder to it. My body is no longer prepared to go along with the demands I make of it. This animal self needs more that as healing, comforting and restorative. I note that I think of my body as something separate from ‘me’ and that I’ve been in a running battle with my body for most of my life. What I want to do and what I expect of myself are not compatible with what my body can actually sustain, and this has always been an issue for me.

Currently I’m experiencing menopause issues. I have been for a while, and every now and then I get really knocked about by it. Where menopausal stuff intersects with problems I already have, the results can be desperately unpleasant. One thing that is clear is that I need more slack in how I organise my time so that if I get in to trouble, I can focus on it. I’m going to have to give my body more priority and I’m going to have to be kinder to it and take better care of it.

There are ideas that come up around Druidry, around other spiritual paths and in other aspects of life that don’t help with this. Discipline is one such. Discipline doesn’t encourage us towards listening to our bodies or treating them kindly. There are all kinds of ideas out there about what we should be doing in relation to the wheel of the year that doesn’t take into account how the seasons impact on our bodies. Notions of spiritual routine and daily devotion may not give anyone enough flexibility to handle a body that just can’t do the things right now. An approach to Druidry that begins with practicing kindness towards your own body might work very differently.

At the moment I am simply trying to figure out how to be kind. It goes with trying to figure out how to be this body, rather than just inhabiting it. This flesh and skin is also part of the natural world. It is a soft mammal that craves rest and peace, gentleness and sleep. It’s time to stop making this body fit in with capitalist notions of what a person is for. This is no longer just a philosophical consideration for me – I can’t face being in so much pain that I can’t function, and that seems to be where I’m heading if I can’t make enough changes.

It’s taken me far longer than usual to write this blog, and I’m going to be fine with that. Everything is taking far longer today. I need to slow down, to prioritise rest, to sleep more and do less. I know I’ve been saying all of this for years, and I have been (ironically slowly) moving in this direction, but I need to embrace it more fully, and let this body call the shots more often.

For the time being, I’m going to make listening to my body the focus of what I’m doing as a Druid. I’m going to dedicate myself to learning about nature as it manifest within my own skin, and treating that piece of the natural world with more care and respect.


How we understand nature

Nature is incredibly diverse, and it is worth paying attention to the kinds of stories we tell about it. This week I saw a group of Druids (all male, which may not be a coincidence) talking about how brutal nature is – the wolf tears the cute bunny apart. It was part of a conversation about how we have to square up to harsh realities and not wander about whimpering over our wounds.

Of course I know that wolves eat bunnies. But what I also see is the cooperation of the wolf pack. I see the rabbit warren. I see the wider ecosystem that supports them all. I see the way trees share resources through their roots and how they depend on fungi in the soil. I see the many ways that cooperation is built into nature.

I’ve also seen a seagull take a coot chick from in front of its parents. I’ve watched birds of prey hunt, many times. I’ve watched a buzzard take a rabbit. I’ve watched herons and kingfishers hunt fish. I’ve heard rabbits dying, screaming at the attacks of stoats or weasels, most likely. There’s nothing fluffy or uninformed about my perception of nature.

But even so, mostly what I see is the cooperation. The ways creatures look after each other. The way birds of many species cooperate to draw attention to common threats. I see how flocks work together to try and bewilder and overwhelm sparrowhawks.

The perception of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ is a choice. It’s not the only available story. It is a choice of story that validates not helping the weaker ones. It’s a narrative that appeals to people who are safe and comfortable and who do not want to feel any obligation to anyone else. It’s a way of further putting down anyone who seems fragile. Survival of the fittest narratives can leave people feeling like it’s ok to abandon anyone who doesn’t meet their standards. It’s not a huge step from there to more fascist thinking, to embracing eugenics.

Some creatures do extraordinary things for each other – I saw a story the other day about a crow with a broken beak whose mate fed and supported her for many years.  Wild things don’t just leave the vulnerable ones to die. Not always. It’s a choice. It may be a choice that depends on available resources, sometimes.

I choose to see the cooperation inherent in the natural world. I choose to see connection and interdependence.  I choose to see how the wolf eating the deer benefits the wildflowers.  There are lots of stories to choose from. Nature is not averse to kindness. It’s not at odds with collaboration. Being nature-orientated does not mean having to accept and work with brutality. It’s just that people who favour brutality won’t find it hard to see stories that support their own world view.