Tag Archives: nature

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.


Writing about nature

When I first initiated as a bard, I pledged to use my creativity for the good of the land and for the good of my tribe. (Use of the word ‘tribe’ by white western Pagans is problematic to say the least, but that was the pledge nearly 20 years ago). The principle of making your art as an act of service is a good one, but how does that translate into action?

Writing about nature can be a way of engaging people with the natural world and inspiring them to notice it more and care about it more. If you’ve grown up urban, and never been taught the names of trees or butterflies or wild plants, then it can all be a bit of a mystery, and not in a good way. There’s quite a journey from seeing trees to seeing specific, individual trees with unique characteristics. Equally, it’s quite a journey from seeing some birds, to knowing a bit about those birds and how they live.

One of the things I try to do with poetry is to talk about nature specifically. Bandying the word ‘nature’ about doesn’t get much done – as this blog post already illustrates. It’s not a word that creates engagement. What seems to work best, is precision. A specific tree, an actual encounter, something personal, something experienced.

It can be tempting to make nature into a metaphor for personal experience, but that doesn’t do much to help the land. It fuels the idea of nature as a resource for humans to use if we deploy it in poetry as a way of talking about ourselves all the time. Equally, if the landscape is just a background framing human actors, it is still mostly scenery and mostly something we consume.

If you’d like any of my poetry, there are pdfs (pay what you like) on my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T/shop

I was also a finalist in a recent competition to write poetry about urban trees – you can read that here – https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/our-poetree-winners


Food, nature and time

It isn’t especially natural to eat three meals a day. If it was, then trying to get children to eat at the ‘right’ time and not eat at other times would not be an ongoing struggle for parents. In the usual scheme of things, we don’t get to eat when we feel hungry, we get to eat when our work patterns, and the school patterns that reflect work patterns let us.

How well your opportunities to eat suit your bodily needs may be just sheer luck. Part time work and shift work can be timed such that it really doesn’t suit your body. If you work in catering, you’re going to be working when most people are eating. Our mealtimes are decided primarily by the convenience for our employers, not for our health or wellbeing. That’s a rather large thing for many people to have no control over.

Eating when you’re not hungry because this is the time allowed to you for eating clearly isn’t going to do anyone any good. Equally not being able to eat when you are hungry isn’t helpful. We are to suppress nature as it manifests in our bodies, and most of us have grown up with that being totally normal and expected. You eat when someone else says you can eat. Your first meal of the day has to happen – if it happens at all – before your presence is required somewhere. Your last meal of the day happens after work time, plus commuting and food prep time. Even when you aren’t at work, the odds are work or school is determining when you eat.

Since my son left secondary school and I stopped the office job I had for a little while, when I eat is purely a negotiation with my household. I note that if I don’t have to go out, I often don’t want breakfast first thing. I may need an hour or two awake before I feel like eating anything. I’m finding increasingly that I don’t do so well with one big meal and that I’m better off doing smaller meals and snacking. How and when I want to eat is likely to change in warmer weather because I don’t like eating when it’s hot and would prefer to shift mealtimes to allow for that.

These are not things conventional work permits. However, covid changes mean a lot more of us are doing differently with food.

Having our meals regulated by work-time and clock time means we can’t respond to seasonal shifts, to our circadian rhythms, or our own specific needs. In order to function we have to ignore messages from our bodies about hunger or food disinterest. I’ve never seen any studies into what happens when we eat when we feel like it and how that compares to eating when we’re ‘supposed’ to but I do know that three meals a day doesn’t suit small children, and that small children are some indicators of what people are like when their bodies and minds haven’t been socialised into assuming anything is normal.


Druid in nature

Many of the things we might do as Druids to connect with nature have serious impacts on nature. Walk on the bare earth in the winter and you’ll add to erosion. With more people seeking green spaces as an antidote to lockdown, paths get wider, wild plants are deprived of space, and popular spots suffer from erosion from all the footfall.

If you get off the path to really commune, the odds of doing damage increases. The wildflowers, plants and even the soil structures underfoot will suffer, so will anything trying to live in them. We’re less of a strain on wild creatures when we are predictable. Getting off the path means getting into the space where someone else is trying to live. Nature is pushed to the limits as it is, we should question how ‘Druidic’ it really is to get out there and take more of it for our own benefit.

How far do you drive your car in order to commune with nature?

If you light a fire without using a fire dish, you are going to harm the ground. Your smoke may cause harm. Your fire may scorch leaves and branches. If you’ve got a well tended and responsibly set up fire pit in an appropriate place, fair enough. Mostly, having a fire ‘out in nature’ is harmful.

If you leave offerings they really had better be of some use to the wildlife in the area and not an active hazard.  If you tie cloth to a tree it had better be 100% natural fibres, or it won’t break down for ages, and will constrict the tree’s growth. When it does eventually break down it will release plastics into the environment and it will hang about as a choking hazard. Tea lights and the empty cases of tea lights aren’t good for nature. Abandoned food items can be highly problematic. Anything in plastic… anything left in a jar or in a pot or shoved into a hole someone else may have called home… If you haven’t thought carefully about an offering, there’s a real risk what you’re doing is an act of vandalism.

Foraging can feel like a great way of connecting with nature. But how much are you taking? How much can the landscape afford to lose? By all means, eat a few blackberries, snack on a few leaves. But if you come through with a carrier bag to take a great stash of wild plants, you aren’t communing, you’re consuming. Nature is not endless bounty. Nature is something we’re pushing to breaking point and we have to stop imagining we can take anything we want.

How much noise do we take into wilder places for our rituals? How much light pollution do we cause around rituals at night and out of doors? How much do we take? How much do we take for granted? To what degree do we let our feelings of being special and spiritual override any consideration for the realities we’re imposing on the natural world?

Nature isn’t some abstract concept to be worshipped in whatever way appeals to our egos. Nature is living creatures and living landscapes, and suffering from human exploitation. We need to commune in ways that aren’t actively harmful. Don’t let your Druidry be part of the problem.


What feeds you?

What inspires you? Where do you find nourishment for your soul? What lifts your spirits or eases your heart?

The glib answer for Pagans is often ‘nature’ but by ‘nature’ we often mean something dramatic and exotic. It’s a horrible irony that nature is often a place we have to drive to. Many people in the UK are desperately short of access to green spaces close to home.

One of the reasons for following a spiritual path is that it can provide nourishment for our souls. This is easier, I think in contexts when you can either get out to those wild places, or get into circles with other Pagans. We’re lifted as much by what we can share as a community, as we are by communing with nature. Many of us engage better with ritual as a group activity rather than a solo practice. And honestly, working with other people makes us more accountable and more likely to show up.

The internet gives us options for sharing personal practice in a way that means we can inspire and uplift each other. Photos of the lovely walk, the beautiful altar, the devotional art, videos of your chants and songs, blog posts about prayer and meditation… There’s a lot of good to be found in this, and it’s something I’ve been glad to participate in. For me, it really brings into focus how much the effectiveness of spirituality in our lives can be about our relationships with people.

I’ve taken plenty of people into the woods (not in this last year, though) who were only spending time with trees when there was a seasonal ritual to show up for. It was the community they were showing up for, and through that connection, they had tree time and meaningful encounters with the land.

However much we might long for interactions with Gods, spirits, fairies, guides etc, these are unreliable. Not everyone gets called. Not all offerings are answered. Not all dedications lead to powerful interactions. People are a lot more reliable and will often show up when you invite them. People will witness you and hold you to account. They will be moved by the beauty of work your spiritual practice has inspired you to create. With that feedback, it is simply easier to show up as a spiritually minded person.

I think this is something to embrace and work with. It’s not just a spiritual issue, either. Many of us do our best parenting when there’s another adult about to impress. We may well do our best creating, our best activism, our best ethical choices when we have people to witness us and either nourish us with their approval, or make us worry about not looking good. We are fundamentally social creatures, and this year of pandemic has deprived us of a lot of that contact. Things that used to feed you may not work so well as solitary activities. There should be no shame in that. It’s just easier to be, and enjoy being your best self when you’ve got a supportive and appreciative audience.


Druidry and everyday practice

There are a lot of advocates out there for having an everyday practice. There are people who will tell you that if you can’t meditate for ten minutes a day, you should do it for an hour. I don’t know that this is helpful.

Some people do really well with routines and predictability. If that’s you, excellent and you likely already have a fair idea of what you need and how best to do it. Much of our daily behaviour tends to be habit based, so if you’re the sort of person who runs on autopilot, then setting up good routines and good habits is a really excellent idea that will serve you well.

But what if it doesn’t? What if routines chafe you and stifle your creativity? What if doing the same thing every day makes you miserable?

Druidry teaches us to honour nature. How nature manifests in you needs to be part of that. How your mind works is part of how nature manifests in you, and we’re not all the same. I think we’re too often persuaded to think of our minds as a special human thing that makes us separate from nature. Your brain is squishy tissue, chemicals, evolution and experience, it is a hot mess of mammal reality and is just as much a part of your animal self as any other bit of your body.

Some creatures like routines; they wake at the same point in each day in relation to the light, seek food in the same places and are reasonably predictable. Some creatures do not have predictable cycles – they don’t breed at the same time each year, they don’t come past the same sites each night, you never know where they might be or what they might be doing. Otters are like this.  Some creatures are seasonal, with habits for certain parts of the year that change at other times. There are lots of different ways of being a mammal.

It’s ok not to have a routine. It’s ok not to have a daily Pagan practice if having one makes you unhappy. It’s ok to make things up as you go along, doing what feels right whenever the mood is upon you. It’s no less valid. We live in a culture that praises and values discipline and predictability, but these are things that work well for industrial life and current workforces. It’s not the only way to be. In Europe, we also have a long history in which Christian monastic life has shaped our cultural ideas about what a good and substantial spiritual practice looks like. It’s not a universal truth that spiritual people work within deliberate structures to focus their dedication.

Structure can be a way of not paying attention, thinking or truly engaging with your spirituality. Being spontaneous can be an excuse for being careless and not really investing much time or energy. There are pitfalls and opportunities either way.


Nature in January

My relationship with the cycle of the seasons is weakest at this time of year. I don’t reliably go out every day, and when I do go out it isn’t for as long and I don’t walk as far, so I don’t encounter as many wild things.  But at the same time, this is a response to the season and a consequence of the nature of my own animal body.

January is a variable month – it can be freezing, it can be mild, this year it seems to be shifting between the two.  For me, it always feels like an in between month. In terms of wild things, mostly what I’m looking for is how early things are that I think should be showing up in February – the snowdrops, the buds fattening on trees, the first green shoots at ground level. This year I note tree leaves already opening, primroses in bloom and other unseasonal things.

My body does badly with the cold. I am more sore, and more stiff in cold weather. I layer up, I wrap up, I do all manner of things to protect against this but even so there’s an impact. Being outside when it is very cold takes a serious toll no matter how well dressed I am. That notion that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing is fundamentally wrong if you have body issues and/or a limited budget. I can’t afford to get soaked to the skin in winter. I know that my coat cannot fend off the worst of the downpours. Sometimes, I really can’t afford to go outside much.

‘Get out into nature’ is not a universal cure-all, and sometimes smacks of ableism. Winter can be limiting, not all bodies handle it well. If we are interested in encountering nature, we have to start with how we manifest it – our bodies are nature too. Nature is not always kind or convenient, and this is true of human bodies also.  It’s best not to assume anything about how the nature in a person’s body interacts with the wildness outside of it.