Tag Archives: numinous

Healing and sacredness

My sense of the sacred is something that has shifted a lot over time. It’s not a hard pattern to trace. In my teens and early twenties, I was infused with feelings of possibility, open to a sense of wonder and able to imagine divinity and magic as part of the world. 

Things happened in my twenties that closed me down. It’s a long and unhappy story – which is perhaps all anyone really needs to know about it. I became uncertain, depressed, anxious, and I lost much of my sense of wonder and possibility. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which hope and confidence are necessary for feelings of faith and wonder. At the times when I’ve been least able to believe in myself, I’ve also been less able to believe in much else. With the current political state of the world and the looming realities of the climate crisis, it is not easy to stay open to beauty, to find joy, to be hopeful. Without that openness, the scope for experiencing anything numinous is much reduced.

This autumn has taken me on a transformative journey that is steadfastly changing my life. At this point I’m confident in naming it as a healing process, but I can see it will be more than that. I’ve faced up to many of the things that have locked me down. I’ve made my peace with many things, I’ve gained insights and I’ve changed. I feel more like the person I am supposed to be and considerably less like a ball of scar tissue. Alongside this I’ve seen my creative output increase dramatically and take new shapes I’m excited about.

I’ve been writing a lot of poetry. There are themes through it about connecting with divinity. It’s become a process of re-enchantment, for me, and rediscovering what it means to feel wonder, awe and inspiration. Being able to feel those things is changing how I feel about myself. 

I’m taking this winter to look inwards (a surprisingly conventional response to the wheel of the year, but there we go!). I have a lot of inner work to do, alongside keeping doing the things that are supporting this whole process. I am investing time in following the calls of inspiration, and seeing where these emerging feelings of wonder and hope might take me. At the moment, I need to hold carefully the process itself – at some point I might be able to talk usefully about how all of this has happened, but not while I’m in the middle of it.

What I can say is that all of this growth and change is fundamentally rooted in experiences of peace and safety. I know the theory is that we do our best growing on the edge of the comfort zone. I’ve lived for a long time outside my comfort zone, sometimes not even being sure where the comfort zone would be anymore. Folding into peacefulness, into security and gentleness has been transformative. Sometimes the healing part has been brutal, but it is the feeling of safety that makes it possible to go through that.

Of writing and magic

Any act of writing can be a spell. Simply putting words into the world is an act of will, intended to cause change. It is a process that can change the person undertaking it, as well. I write things on this blog because I intend to cause change.

Sometimes I write in order to understand. I find it a powerful tool for processing. There have been many times when insights have come to me as I was writing, rather than having set out to write about insights I’d already had. Even when I think I know what I’m going to say, the process of writing often opens unexpected doors and allows something new to come through.

By this means, I can take ideas out of my thoughts and place them in your mind. Thanks to the additional magic of the internet, I can do that without necessarily knowing you. Written words travel freely through time and space, connecting us with people in ways that go far beyond what many of those writers could ever have imagined. I can sit at my computer and read in translation the first known novels from around the world – something I doubt those authors could have imagined would ever be possible.

Anything you can do through meditation, trance, visualisation or similar inner working, you can do by writing. It’s all about the kind of states your mind can enter and how you choose to explore that. For me, if I want to know about something, my best bet is to try and write about it. The headstates I sometimes enter when writing are much akin to those other, more obviously spiritual states. 

Much of my writing is deliberately constructed by me, in a conscious way. Much of what I do depends on knowledge, experience and years spent learning technical stuff and honing skills. However, every now and then, something else seeps in. Not always when I’m trying to court the numinous, sometimes when I’m being entirely silly, even. Some of my best animist writing is in Wherefore – which was written to be an amusing distraction during lockdown. 

Opening up to the flow of words and ideas always makes a space where something else is possible. Just occasionally, something else comes through that is more than I expected, and takes me to places I did not know I could go. Sometimes, the act of writing is one of being enchanted – not being the spell caster, but being the one on whom the spell is cast.

Wave, wind and wonder

Low tide, and the beach a sheen of shallow water catching the sun. Hard to tell what is sea, and what is shine. Oystercatchers along the margins, foraging. The haunting call of curlews against a backdrop of sea roar. No human sounds discernible above the pounding of waves and the rush of wind in ears. There is no time here, only space.

And for a while, I am just wind on skin and light on water. I am the moment when sun fills the wing feathers of an egret turning white feathers into numinous glory. I am the careful tread of boots on sand made sculpture by the retreating tide. I am the touch of cold that is sea on leather and the scent of salt in my nostrils. I am not myself. I am not anyone. I dissolve away into nothingness in this expanse of deliriously inhuman space.

I want to stay here forever.

I know that this marginal, tide turning land is not a place for me. I cannot live here. And still, I want to be light and water and wind and nothing more. I want to be lost, and ephemeral enough to be part of this place.

I am so tired of what humans do to each other.

I am so tired of trying to see the good and so tired of having to forgive what was never good enough and so tired of not being heard when I do dare to ask and so tired of having my heart broken.

A part of me is on the sand, between the water and the sky, between the sea and the shore, determined to stay lost. There are not many people I could stand here with, silent and scoured and salted. There are not many people I know how to be a person with, and far fewer I know how not to be a person with, and those, are certainly the best.

And very little happened

Being a Pagan blogger creates (for me at least) a certain amount of desire to come back with a good story. I was hoping to write about the lunar eclipse this morning. I sat out on a barrow above the Severn, I watched the sun set (as much as the clouds would allow) and I couldn’t even see the moon, much less any part of the eclipse. Today I do not get to write a blog about how beautiful and meaningful I found the night sky on Friday.

I also find this is often the way of it when I go somewhere more as a tourist than not. If I’m going somewhere once, or not very often, even if I feel like it’s pilgrimage, I’m always going to be mostly a tourist. It is daft to expect that I can rock up to a sacred site and have an off the peg, personal, meaningful experience.  It’s especially suspect if we think our experience as a tourist gives us more authority than someone who has lived near and worked with a site for a long time.

Landscapes reward relationship. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a famous historical monument there, or not. Landscapes reward people taking the time to get to know them. They reveal themselves slowly, over time. I think we need to be suspicious of anyone, and most especially ourselves, walking into an unfamiliar place and getting a big, dramatic revelation. Especially when the main impact of the revelation is to make the person having it look shiny and important.

When you’re working with intuition, and looking for magic, you have to be alert to what could be ego and imagination. You have to be alert to what you’re taking into a space and how that might colour your experience.  I think we also need to be alert to the ways in which talking about what we experience can create a form of spiritual inflation. If you’ve read a lot of woo-woo stories about other people’s amazing and dramatic spiritual encounters, will you feel comfortable saying that nothing happened to you? Or that a very small thing happened to you?

Coming down off the hill on Friday, I turned at the right point to see the moon, low over the hill and briefly free from cloud. Even so, the moon was partially obscured. What showed was large, low and yellowish. The eclipse had long passed. Off to the right, there was a planet and my little party was not sure whether this was Venus or Jupiter. Not knowing felt perfectly comfortable. I’m glad we saw the moon, and I wish we’d seen the eclipse in all its drama and beauty. But at the same time, the land desperately needed those clouds and the days of rain that followed. I watched the clouds coming up from the south and knew they were bringing much needed rain, and was glad to see them.

There is a power in showing up. There are things that happen when you keep showing up to places, open hearted and not expecting too much. There’s a process, and it leads to small wonders and a greater overall sense of the numinous. It doesn’t always lead to good stories or even to things that are easily put into words. There’s a lot to be said for being a person in relationship with the land and I think it’s better for us than focusing too much on stories that put us centre stage.

When muggles consider magic

I read widely and encounter thinkers from many different backgrounds. Some of those trouble me enormously, and it’s taken me years to figure out why, but, here we go…

Rational mainstream thinking is all about logic. Any effect will have a cause. Any good theory produces testable, re-usable results. Once you understand something you can accurately predict what it will do. This is the thinking of the science lab. It holds up just as well in the kitchen, or wielding the wool. It is the logic of dependable physical reality and as such is a bloody good thing and generally makes life easier.

We’ve got into this habit of thought collectively. This idea of logical progressions from causes to effects, one thing meaning that another will follow. We expect to be able to unpick all of nature, uncover ever last law of physics and have it make sense. However, we’re taking that tidy, resolving approach into our spiritual thinking and into our magic, some of us. The same certainty, the same confidence that my cause and effect will work as well for you as if I had undertaken a lab experiment and proved it. We bring the logic of the mundane and predictable to something that should be neither.

The consequence of this, is the absence of room for wonder. Religions on the whole are remarkably good at tidying spiritual experience up into something safe, sensible and predictable, and by so doing, knock out all the mystery. There is no room for anything numinous to creep in when you think you have it all figured out and are confidently asserting what the rules are. Awe and wonder are, instead, part of the experience of being out of your depth, unsure, overwhelmed and unable to safely rationalise.

Uncertainty has been important to me for a long time, as an unconsidered, emotional response to spiritual experience. And lo, I have managed to bring the art of thinking rationally to that uncertainty, and have usefully found out something about what it is and does and why I need it. What reason tells me, is that if I want spiritual experience, sometimes I will have to let go of the desire to have it all make sense.

Reclaiming Innocence

I had a dream about a week ago, in which a unicorn spoke to me. So, that’s my unfluffy cred spoiled for ever, but hey ho. It was a good sort of dream and I am not averse to unicorns. It said that the whole maiden and unicorn thing was a misunderstanding. It wasn’t about virginity, it was about innocence, and that’s something we make, and can reclaim. Innocence is not something you inevitably have to lose, or lose forever.

Part of the problem is that we muddle the concept of innocence up with ignorance and inexperience, as though all three words are interchangeable. They aren’t. Innocence is about not choosing to internalise all of the things that experience and knowledge bring. It is a deliberate dedication to not becoming cynical, jaded, and narrow.

I’ve put this blog in the ‘magical’ bit of the listings, because for me, a deliberate decision that informs your choices, perceptions, emotions and prospects, is without a doubt an act of magic. To choose innocence of soul is a magical act, and allows us to deal with the world in entirely different ways.

I met a girl, years ago, who had been kidnapped and abused as a child. She’d survived, and somehow, against all the odds, it hadn’t stuck to her. She had a sweetness of self, an ability to trust, and an open heart. In the face of horrendous experience, she had chosen, and kept in tact, her innocence.

We can decide that what happens to us, is who we are. I’ve been along the edges of that one, feeling worthless because I was treated as worthless, feeling defiled because of what had been done to me. I do not have to take anything into myself, I do not have to become the consequences of any particular experiences. I can choose. I can pick to be the consequence of open skies and good friendships, to be shaped by dancing barefoot on the ground, and laughing, and playing. It is a choice, and one that I cannot claim has been easy, or that I’ve always managed, but not letting the shit get in is a powerful thing.

When pain, loss and betrayal cut us down, it is so easy to start imagining all the world is made of hurt and there will only be evil. The more self protective I’ve been, the more remote I’ve been from the good stuff, from the nurturing, soulful, healing stuff. To let the good stuff in requires a degree of vulnerability, it isn’t without risk. That same vulnerability allows you to fall in love, wholly and unconditionally. Not just with people, but with cloud formations, the sound of flowing water, orchids in a meadow, owls calling, and all manner of other things. When you can, not just love that which is beautiful and around you, but keep on actively falling in love with it, being blown away and left gasping, being reduced to tears of awe and wonder, then that sense of mystery is ever present. There is an absolute sense of the magical, or possibility, and the numinous.

Innocence is the choice that enables us, perhaps not literally to see unicorns, but to stand a chance of not disbelieving one into invisibility if it did show up.

Away with the fairies

There’s a hide not far from the canal – private land being developed as a mini nature reserve, with tree planting and a small pond. We regularly see badgers, foxes, rabbits, buzzards and garden birds there, having permission to visit as we please! The badgers are the main attraction, because they generally aren’t easy to spot other places. However, the hide owners tend to put down peanuts to attract them. Last night, there were no nuts. A lone badger of the dozen or so from the set came round to check, and that was the end of the matter. Still, seeing one badger is a joy, and we also had an encounter with a huge, unidentified moth.

We were just getting up to leave when Tom spotted lights amongst the trees. We all saw them – a cluster of small lights that could only be seen from one angle, and that all went off at once. It was nearly dark by then. The nature area does not adjoin any gardens, ruling out fairy lights, solar lights, anything gardenish – there’s a thick hedge and a grass walkway and another hedge between what we could see and the nearest garden.

There were glow bugs in the area, but we haven’t seen any in weeks now. There is a guy who studies moths, we pondered moth traps. Much work went in to looking for a perfectly rational explanation for what all three of us had seen. Increasingly aware that none of us were entirely at ease with the rational explanations, I eventually got round to saying ‘could have been fairies.’

It’s an interesting one for me. I’m a druid and a pagan, I believe in the idea of magic and otherworldliness, but at the same time I pride myself on being a rationally minded creature, willing to consider the evidence as dispassionately as I can. I’ll always look for the banal explanation first, rather than seeing everything in terms of gods, hobgoblins, aliens, Atlanteans etc etc. But there are times when the sense of wonder, the feeling of encountering something numinous is too strong for the rational explanation.

The last time this happened to me I was in Portland with Tom, and we both saw a tiny little whirlwind spinning leaves around. It was so small, so localised, the rest of the air so still that whatever the logical explanation might have been, the sense of seeing something otherworldly was powerful indeed.

Often it’s about the language we use. Thunder and earthquakes have perfectly sensible explanations, we know what they are, and yet at the same time the power of them, and other regular, natural and universally recognised phenomena is breathtaking. Spirit and science do not need to be at odds here. It may be tempting to call things we don’t understand ‘magic’ but there’s no reason not to recognise the known as magical, too. That first rainfall after days of dry heat. A full moon haloed by mist. There’s no reason for the experience of magic to be irrational.

We saw something last night. We don’t know what it was. Any speculation is just that, no version any more evidenced than any other, despite our best efforts. Of course I want to know what I saw, but for me, that knowledge would in no way reduce the feeling of wonder, awe and delight that the moment inspired.

Making Sacred, gods, reality and finding a place to stand

There was Red’s inspirational blog here – http://theanimistscraft.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/to-make-sacred/ and some fine comments on this blog too – Tony talking about sacrifice as making sacred, Jenny talking about that in terms of transformation. I’ve been aware over the last few days of a need to go deeper, asking questions of myself and trying to figure out how my thoughts fit. Cat commented that she sees my blog as a much sacrifice as her own. I don’t.

I can say with all honesty that I think about what I do, and I put a fair amount of effort in trying to do the right things for the right reasons. I have a sense of the sacred, closely tied to my sense of the numinous. It’s all about the poetry, the flow of awen, accidental art, and about the best of what we are and can be. I could spend a lot longer trying to pin that down, but hopefully it will suffice for today. That sense of sacredness has the potential to permeate all things. Spirit, and wonder, can be anywhere.

Now, my world view has plenty of room for gods in it. I’m comfortable with the idea of there being deity. I just don’t experience deity at the moment. There was no sense of the divine in the periods when I was brought to my knees in pain and fear. I have been through plenty of dark nights, but it’s always been people who have brought me through, not gods. I look for my sense of the divine in the world around me, and the people around me. So I do all manner of things in the context of relationship. The idea of offering up something to the gods, is beyond me. I’d have to believe they might care what I do, and I don’t think they do. That leaves plenty of room for other people to have entirely meaningful relationships with deities where that offering up has resonance, but I do not have that in my own life.

I’m deeply wary of dualist thinking – sacred and profane, mundane and magical, all those ways of cutting the experience of life into tidy pieces. How can I make something sacred? How can I make it not sacred? The only space for difference that I see lies not in the object, or the moment, but in my own understanding of it.

Since starting out with Druidry, I moved rapidly towards wanting my sense of spirit, of wonder, my ideals, aspirations and ways of seeing the world, to be part of every aspect of my life. I take it with me into checkout queues, public toilets, courtrooms. In the most banal situations, I’ll find the flower pushing through the cracks, the dash of humanity, the unintended poetry. I’ll find something with heart and resonance, because I refuse not to. But I can’t make anything sacred, I can just choose to experience it as sacred.

I think so much of how we practice, especially round ideas of prayer, service, sacrifice, communion, depend on what kind of relationships we have with the divine. If any. A person who experiences deity is in a very different place from one who does not. I don’t know if it’s possible to tease out ideas and ways of being that embrace both the deist and the atheist, that have room for those who love gods, and those who suspect gods might exist but who don’t have relationships, and those who suspect that all the gods are bastards. (I have days…) Who do we offer to? Who do we pray to? And why? These are such huge questions, and I am nothing like close to having answers for me, much less anything to offer anyone else. I will keep questioning and see what comes.

Druidic Arts: Looking for wonder

A great deal of how we experience the world comes down to choice. The art of seeking wonder begins with the recognition that we do indeed have a lot of choice about how we experience life and interact with it. There are days when life experience, pain, gloom and stress make the quest for wonder seem hopeless, futile, childish. Part of the art involves steadfastly reminding yourself to bother, remembering that it can be done, and that the doing will nourish you.

Sensing truly and being open to the world is an art in its own right, and I’ve talked about it in a previous blog. If we aren’t letting anything impinge on our awareness, then it is a certainty that wonder will not come in to us from the outside. It is possible to generate feelings of wonder and the numinous from within. Through meditation, prayer, contemplation and imaginative exercises, it is entirely possible to feel a sense of wonder without any reference to anything else. There are times when going within in this way makes a lot of sense. However, there is an escapist quality to it, and it is better, frequently, to deal with external problems. To be a druid is not just to be wandering the inner plains, but to be engaging with the world our bodies move through. One of the dangers of seeking wonder within, is that our inspiration can easily become threadbare over time, and the method ceases to give us anything. Another danger is that we become divorced from consensus reality.

Natural beauty can be an easily available source of wonder, and there’s a great deal of it out there. Even in the most squalid of urban environments, plants strive to grow and creatures still manage to exist. Few environments are entirely sterile. Sometimes those determined, struggling urban plants can be the most heartbreaking and poignant things imaginable. The urban tree is as much a place of peace and refuge as one in a forest.

Watching for the good in others, and giving people the chance to step up and do something remarkable can be part of the quest for wonder. It’s easy to become cynical and remote, but for all the crap out there, humans are capable of amazing, generous, inspired, beautiful, wonder-laden actions. The more carefully protective of ourselves we become, the harder it is to access this. It’s only by speaking of pain that we can invite others to treat us with compassion. It’s only by trusting people that we can give them the chance to prove how worthy they were of that trust.

The art of seeking wonder will sometimes lead us to disappointment. In opening eyes a little wider we may also see things we don’t want to find. In taking risks in interactions and in what we expose ourselves to, we may not always find what we seek, but sometimes we will. Being open to wonder specifically calls for being open to risks as well. Wonders can be overwhelming, shocking, fearful, awe inspiring in the awful sense. That which is wonderful can break down our sense of how reality works, challenge our assumptions, even our sense of identity. There are stories about places that will turn you into a poet, or a madman, and I think this is part of the nature of encountering wonder. Small wonders may be gentle with us, but the big ones might well not be.

Nine Druidic Arts

I must start by saying that these are ideas I am working up myself, they are notions in progress, and I am just gathering the basic ideas and casting them forth to see what anyone thinks. There is nothing definitive here, and no authority, just ideas about how we might take Druidry forward to be less about private personal faith and more about living in the world.

What I’ve identified below are 9 areas of endeavour that anyone could choose to practice as arts. By this I mean that they should not be assumed to come naturally. They can be studied, developed, expressed with beauty and consciously put into the world just as any other art form is. I’m going to give an overview today, and then in coming blogs go through each area and how it works. Many of these are ideas that come up in other aspects of Druidry, what I think I’m doing differently is this idea of treating them like art forms, and the implications of that.

Relationship: We readily assume that relationships are ‘natural’ and require no conscious attention. As a result many of us don’t even notice half the relationships in our lives, or the implications of them. Once we look deliberately at relationship, we become more aware, and we can start to deliberately craft relationship so that our love lives, families, working partners all become a deliberate form of art into which we pour soul and inspiration.

Deep Contemplation: In going beneath the surface, asking profound questions and seeking real answers, we step away from a superficial life. Finding good things to contemplate and the mental tools with which explore, our whole understanding of the world can change. Weaving threads of ideas and understanding together, making new concepts out of the raw materials we have. This may manifest in all kinds of ways, but is something that we can encourage others to do, and in sharing it, help to make it more socially acceptable.

Sensing Truly: Not only listening to the humans we encounter, but to all that is around us, to birds and wind, to the voices within things. Seeking out that which is not usually heard. Any open sensory interaction can be developed as an art, we might equally practice seeing what is there, feeling in a real way, becoming more in tune with the interface of our experience and the world. Habits of perception can make us blind to what it really there. Deliberate, artful engagement gives us clarity.

Compassion: It begins with a desire to understand, a willingness to hear and to look beneath the surface. Open to the feelings of others, non-humans included, able to feel for them, and with them. We can also practice compassion upon ourselves, and in that compassion also learn to treat those around us more gently. Compassion does not stay a hand from doing a hard but necessary thing. It requires us to mourn the unavoidable consequences, and to seek for the best way through.

Looking for wonder: Seeking the numinous is the art of finding what is good and beautiful. It is the skill of seeing spirit manifest in the world, or at an earlier stage, it is seeking for the means to play that melody within our lives. Banality is an easy, socially supported perception to hold. Seeking wonder requires conscious engagement and a willingness to be moved. When we are moved, we can then share that.

Nurturing: This is the art of helping other things to flourish. Be that raising children, growing plants, easing pain, facilitating creativity or a great many other things. Nurturing is the art of holding a space that enables others to grow and develop. Praising, encouraging, listening, caring and finding ways to nourish are all aspects of this art.

Slowing and stopping: The modern world is hectic. For a spiritual life, it is necessary to slow down, and sometimes to stop, being here, and now, not moving or acting, just experiencing. A person who studies slowness as an art may explore the scope for enabling slowness in others.

Good speech: Clear, honest, accurate and helpful communication is an art that facilitates a great many other things. We practice this not just by honing our personal skills but by encouraging it in others, and if necessary, demanding it in others. With questions that press for better answers, refusing to accept poor logic, domineering words, or verbal manipulation, we take this art forwards.

Responsibility: We begin by learning to differentiate between things we are responsible for and things we are not. The development of this art involves learning to take responsibility through choice, recognising when there is something to be lifted up and carried forwards. The art of responsibility is the art of not looking the other way.


There is no end point with any of these, any more than in other art forms. Committing to these ideas as arts is committing to lifelong work. All of them require, at least once you’re past the basic ‘learner’ stage, dedicated involvement with something outside the self. Being the only druid in the village does not mean you are a druid in isolation. Practicing druidic arts does not require anyone else to notice or understand that you are doing a druid thing in public. The reasoning may remain deeply private, the consequences are in the world.

So, if you want to modify these, add more, add queries, argue the whole premise, or anything else, please add comments. I’d like to thank Buzzard who caught me skimming over this as a thought form in another blog – I like to be challenged, it helps.