Tag Archives: pagan

Temporary temples and sacred spaces

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live somewhere that had temples I could go to. Sacred spaces that are relevant to me. There are some prehistoric sites locally that I visit. There are churches – which are not part of my faith but are part of the faith of my ancestors. I love Gloucester cathedral as a sacred space, and going there is a relatively short pilgrimage, but it isn’t my temple.

I make temporary temples – I build labyrinths that are in place for a few hours only. I’ve made ritual spaces out of circles of people, a temple constructed in the moment as people hold hands and commit to the idea of being in sacred space and time together. I’ve made altar spaces, but in this tiny flat, I can’t justify taking up much space with that. I’ve made temporary altar spaces outside working with whatever happens to be around. Sometimes my temple is made from the act of lighting a candle or burning incense. Sometimes my temple is a youtube playlist.

As a nature worshipper, I feel I should be able to hold a sense of sacred space any time I am outside. Woodlands should be my cathedrals. The hills are my temple. The sky is my church. Etc etc. And on a good day, that’s fine. On a day when I feel grounded and connected, I experience sacredness and I know how to be a Druid and it’s all good.

But, there are other days. Days when pain and exhaustion overwhelm me. Days when depression cuts off my roots and makes me small and unable to connect. On those days, I could really do with a fixed sacred space that I don’t have to make for myself from scratch. On those days, it would be wonderful to have a designated prayer space I could just go to, ideally with a friendly priest who might offer me counselling, guidance, support, or just an encouraging smile. On the days when I am threadbare and lost, I wish for somewhere to sit and admire the inspiring Pagan art on the walls, or the beautiful Pagan stained glass windows, or just the way the light falls on the stone. I crave the sound of other Pagans singing or chanting or dancing or drumming together. I just want to be able to turn up and listen to a service.

We are all our own priests and priestesses. That’s intrinsic to modern Paganism. While the autonomy is good, it doesn’t take into account how much work is involved in being even a mediocre priest or priestess. It doesn’t allow for how we all need support at times, and how we may become weary and threadbare, how life may grind us down so that we need solace and reassurance.

All I can do for now is make temporary sacred spaces. But, it has been on my mind for a long time that I would like to make something permanent. Something others can just turn up to for comfort, affirmation and inspiration.


Why I’m not doing Sashiko

Following on from my previous post about boro –  https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/26/craft-culture-and-boro/

Sashiko is a Japanese embroidery tradition, and it is gorgeous and well worth looking up. As far as I can make out, the whole thing is based on a fairly simple running stitch so it’s quite accessible and easy to learn the basics. It does however use specific kit, a needle and  a totally different kind of thimble from the ones I am used to.  These are easy to find, but I have concerns about how my easily-hurt hands would respond, so that’s one reason I’ve not dug in. The other is that I’m doing non-traditional sewing inspired by boro and using fabric far heavier than you’re supposed to use for sashiko, so, it’s not going to work for me.

When I first became interested in these traditions, I found a lot of western people writing about them. I had to dig a bit to find Japanese sources.  Appropriation is something I’ve thought a lot about from a Pagan perspective and it is just as relevant for craft as for Craft. I’m greatly in favour of learning from other cultures, practices and traditions, but how you do that clearly matters.

One of the things I learned from my adventures with sashiko is this – if you learn the surface of a thing you may get a bunch of rules that teach you how to make something that looks like something. If you dig in to learn about the history, use, purpose and context of a thing you can end up with a totally different approach.

So, while I’m not following the available rules about exactly how to do this kind of sewing, I’m trying to understand how the embroidery relates to the cloth, what it is for, what it does, and where that knowledge leads.  As a consequence I’ve learned a lot of things that I can take back to my own crafting. I also think this stands really well as a metaphor for what we might do with other people’s spiritual traditions. It’s worth thinking about how much time a person invests and where they learn from before they feel entitled to present as an expert  on a culture they are not part of.

I’m happy to talk about what I’ve learned, and what my journey has been, but I don’t think it would be even slightly appropriate at this point for me to claim I am making boro, doing sashiko or able to tell anyone else how to do those things.

But if you’re curious, here is a man whose family work with these traditions, and who has a great deal of insight to share… https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCraGC2n7qN31FlQSvXYI0JA

 


Celtic Hospitality

We know that our Pagan ancestors considered hospitality a virtue. You don’t have to go that far back into human history for hotels, inns and other such accommodation not to exist. If you were on the road, you were dependant on the hospitality of strangers, so a lot of older cultures have all kinds of rules about the obligations between host and guest.

For most modern folk, taking in the stranger who knocks at your door is unthinkable. We see the potential danger, and that’s about it. That there are bed and breakfasts, hotels and so forth reduces the need for it in the first place.

I’m fortunate in that it is something I have been able to do repeatedly both as a guest and as a host. When you’re a not-especially-famous person doing events, accommodation is an issue. I used to run a folk club and book guests, and would often give that guest a bed for the night. It was normal, for some years, to have people I’d never met before turn up on the doorstep. I’ve also put up wandering Pagans in the same way – notably Pete Jennings and Brendan Myers.

Going to evens I’ve been accommodated by people I had never met before. It makes a huge difference if you aren’t being paid much, or the event is too small to afford accommodation. A free bed for the night makes it possible to come out ahead on small scale work, and that’s a huge blessing for people like me.

I’ve met some wonderful people this way, and had some fantastic experiences. I’ve never had a bad experience doing it. I think it helps that most of the time, my experiences of hospitality have been held by a wider community and culture.  When you are part of the same community, reputation matters and people tend to act in ways that will maintain theirs. If you mess up with this sort of thing, in a small community, people will hear about it. Equally, if you’re a good host you get a reputation as a safe house and people come back, or seek you out when they are in the area.

I think we’re better people when life requires us to cooperate and trust each other. We’re better people when other people can see and judge us, often. And life is more interesting with these sorts of opportunities.


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


Self care, spirituality and lockdown

What self care looks like will depend entirely on who you are. If you’ve never had to think about this before, it will be a journey of discovery, and the things people tell you are good for you won’t necessarily turn out to help. What of your path will help you?

Meditation – you might find this calms you. Equally, you might find it stressful because you can’t concentrate. You may need to go deep into complex pathworkings, or you may just need to sit for five minutes looking at an oracle card for comfort.

Rituals and magic – you may be comforted by doing what you always do. You may be thwarted because your heart isn’t in it and you may need to do a radical re-think as a consequence. Protective magic may give you some feelings of being more in control, but make sure any magic you do is backed up by appropriate physical action.

Celebration and gratitude – that may be too hard right now. You may need to spend time with your fear and anger, and come back to gratitude practices when you’re more able to feel them. Or you may find that digging in with the gratitude helps you keep things in perspective. You may want to celebrate the small things more.

You may find that digging in with study and the intellectual aspects of your path is a good distraction. If deep thinking comforts you, now is a good time to get out the books. If you don’t have the concentration to learn something new, that’s ok too. Now may not be the time.

You may find that taking care of your space, honouring the spirits of place and working quietly with them will help you. If you don’t have the energy for cleaning or making altar spaces, think about what you can do that would help you and your home. If all you do is think about what you’d like to do when you feel up to it – that’s time well spent.

If you can’t connect directly with the natural world, this may be really affecting your well being as a Pagan. You might be able to ease this with meditations. If you can get outside at all, the earth will be below you and the sky above and even in the most urban settings it is possible to connect with the elements. Time spent at the least promising window can bring some sense of wildness.

You may find your comfort and sense of direction in helping others. Right now, leadership most assuredly has a place. Many people are in need of guidance and inspiration, support and healing. Be mindful of your own resources, but if this work lifts you up and gives you a sense of purpose, do it. Don’t martyr yourself though. Don’t burn out trying to do more than you can bear.

Whatever approaches you use, stay focused on just getting through this strange time. You don’t have to write a book or become an expert on an ancient civilization. You don’t have to learn flint knapping, or plant a herb garden or sew yourself the best imaginable robes. You can if you want to. The most important lessons in all of this will be the things you learn about what you truly need and what is genuinely powerful in your life.


Wild Spinning Girls – a review

Wild Spinning Girls is the latest novel by Carol Lovekin. It’s contemporary set and I consider it to be witch-lit – there’s magic, ghosts, a witchy character, and a world view Pagan readers will certainly relate to. It’s also a story about grief and loss – the wild spinning girls of the title have both lost their parents and are struggling to make sense of life. Heather is 17, Ida is 29 and they are unexpectedly thrown into each other’s lives as a consequence of that bereavement.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is that it is dominated by women, and none of those women could be called ‘nice’. There’s one female character whose wisdom, compassion and generosity really shines through. Everyone else is, to some degree, a mess. Hurting, flailing, angry, resentful, making bad choices, and otherwise struggling. Women who say what they think, not what they think the other person wants to hear. Women who are trying to sort their own lives out and who are not, for the greater part, focused on trying to save someone else.

It struck me how unusual this is. To have a big cast of female characters who are allowed to be selfish and self involved and living their own lives and doing their own things. By the end of it, none of them have been pressured into becoming more willing to serve others. Several of them have become better at asking for and receiving help, and you can see how this might soften them in the future.

I love the haunted, gothic qualities of this book, the sense of place and landscape and the magic that permeates it. I found the grief arc hard – that’s really a matter of timing I think. If you’re looking for catharsises and a text that gives you opportunities to have a bit of a cry, this could be helpful right now. If you’re already feeling too raw, put it on your to-read list and come back when you’re more resilient. It’s an excellent book and well worth your time.

 

You can get it as an ebook, which is no doubt the safest and quickest way to pick up new books at the moment – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Spinning-Girls-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B083PZXDQN/ 


Are we good?

One of the key underlying concepts in religion is the question of whether we are inherently good or not. There are of course various takes. Some religions or subsects of religions treat this world as inherently bad, with transcendence the only thing to aspire to. We have to overcome our sinful bodies and lives, chained to karma, or however else it’s framed, and transcend into pure spirit. We have to work at being good in order to do this.

Paganism tends not to judge us so harshly and is much more in favour of this world.

In Taoism I’ve run into the idea that humans are basically good, but that can be distorted. The aim is to get back to our natural state so that what we do is good without having it work hard at it. The person who is in tune with the Tao can just get on with things and it will all flow and work out. Effort can be the enemy of this process.

Whether we are innately good, or innately vile is a question that underpins our politics. Are we more interested in helping the needy, or stopping people abusing the system? Are we more afraid of corruption, or suffering?

It’s an interesting question to ask of yourself, as well. Do I think my nature is fundamentally good? Do I think the expression of my true nature would be the best that I could be? Do I feel tainted, fallen, sinful, loaded with karmic debt, and otherwise in need of redemption? And if I feel that way, why do I feel that way?

So often, taking pleasure in life is treated as sinful. How do we construct our ideas of good and evil in the first place? Why would joy be sinful? Why would pleasure be sinful? Why would relishing this one precious existence be some kind of moral failing? Who benefits from those ideas? What happens to us when we work very hard at denying ourselves the things our mammal bodies yearn for?

For me, being Pagan means a starting place that says we might be good. We’re probably ok. We may have the capacity for terrible things, but it’s not inevitable. There is no atonement required. We do not need saving. Wine and sex and laughter and dancing and all those things are good and to be relished, not feared. We may in fact do more good by seeking simple pleasures and joys that don’t diminish anyone or anything else, than by tying ourselves in knots trying to fight our fundamentally animal selves.


Druidry and service

I first started studying Druidry about 18 years ago. Back then, I was hungry for knowledge, and hopeful about developing wisdom. I wanted something that gave my life coherence, and Druidry brought together all the things I was interested in, giving shape to my life in a way I was excited about. I joined a Grove, went to open rituals, studied with OBOD. When I started, this is something I was doing for me.

Not very far in, the idea of service as the heart of Druidry happened to me, and I volunteered for The Druid Network. For some years, it was all about how much I could give and as a person who already wasn’t good at self-care, this didn’t entirely work for me. Most of my Druidry came to be about what I did for other people – in ritual, in teaching (I’d grown up Pagan, so when I got to Druidry I actually knew quite a lot already).

I don’t really know how to do ritual for myself. It was always something I did as an act of service. I only dress the part if I’m working for someone who I think needs me to dress the part. I don’t go to events unless someone wants me to do a talk. It struck me this week that my whole approach to Druidry has been shaped, if not distorted by this sense that service is what matters most.

Most people who take up a spiritual path do so because they want to grow. They want to enrich themselves, and for Pagans, opening the door to wonder and the numinous is usually part of the mix. When I started out, that was what I wanted. I have a lot of underlying issues around not feeling like I deserve nice things, and this has no doubt played its part. So, I’m looking at my assumptions.

I don’t really ‘do’ deity and that’s in no small part because I can’t see why any deity would want to bother with me so there’s not much point asking. For years now, I’ve only held sacred space and time for other people’s benefit. I don’t dress up, because I’m not glamorous and I don’t really feel entitled to present that way – I intend to challenge this. I don’t do much pagan bling, or interior decoration because I’ve persuaded myself it’s superficial. But it’s also joyful, and I’ve not made much space for personal joy in my path, and I think I need to.

What if my Druidry was fun?

What if the study and embodying of Druidic philosophy was something I consciously did for my own benefit first and foremost?

What if I made more deliberate space for beauty and joy? What if I allowed myself to play with this and take more delight in it?

What if I stopped trying to justify my use of time in terms of how I benefit other people?

 


The Hidden Goddess – a review

The Hidden Goddess, by Laurie Martin-Gardner explores feminine divinity in Jewish and Christian tradition. It’s a book that looks at texts, historic practice and modern interpretations and in a small space covers considerable ground.

The book is written in a narrative style, and while there are enough references that you can get in and check things if you want to, this is not an academic text. It is immensely readable and ideal for someone who just wants to get in and explore the ideas. It’s not a book claiming to have exclusive insights or unique knowledge, but it is a bringing together of sacred femininity evidence from traditions that, superficially at least, seem to lack for that sort of thing.

For me there was a mix of the familiar and the wholly unknown here. One of the consequences of reading this book is that I feel inspired to try and read the Bible and look at this for myself. I have tried to read the whole Bible before (and failed) but to go in looking for these details might make a lot of odds.

I think this is the ideal read for anyone who has moved to Paganism from a Christian or Jewish background and who wants to find ways of balancing their old path and their new one. It will also be valuable for anyone whose ancestor work has felt difficult – seeing how the Goddess has always been present in these traditions may help bridge the divide between modern Pagans and our immediate ancestors. For Christian Druids I think it’s a must have (unless you’ve already covered this ground somewhere else!).

I found it an enjoyable read that expanded my knowledge and that may have set me on a reading adventure.

Read the first chapter here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/blogs/moon-books/the-hidden-goddess-chapter-one-the-quest-begins/


The Book of Babalon – a review

I first encountered Anna McKerrow when I had the opportunity to review her Greenworld trilogy. That was a glorious YA series heavy on the Paganism. Her latest title, The Book of Babalon is not for younger readers – it is resplendent with sex magic, and also digs in with the kind of abuses modern women continue to face. It’s glorious, heartbreaking, rage-inducing, enchanted stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Goddess Babalon, this book would work as an introduction and may send you off on a journey. Do read the author’s comments at the end to see what is rooted in fact and what isn’t!

This is an unapologetically feminist book, telling a story that very much demonstrates why we still need feminism. It’s also full of the sorts of things angry patriarchs would like to shut down – sexual expression, the right to body autonomy, the right to say no. Lesbianism, witchcraft, divorce, abortion… all those things they tell us will happen if women either take up witchcraft or get into masturbation, or both!

This is a story where triggering content is handled with care. No punches are pulled, but none of the horrors are glorified or dwelt on too much. You know what’s going on. If you’ve been there… you know exactly what’s going on. Too many of us have been there. All the things women are not encouraged to talk about – the blood, and the miscarriages, the shame, the stigma, the desires and the dissatisfaction are in these pages. These are stories we need to tell each other.

It’s a powerful piece of writing, and I read it in large, intense bursts because I did not want to put it down.

The story then… Woven through this novel is text in here from an imaginary Book of Bablon, written by Scarlett Woman, founder of an organisation called Bablon. The book within the book explores her history with Bablon, and anyone whose read any 20th century occult stuff will find this familiar, especially around how women can be both ‘goddess’ and totally objectified at the same time. The story itself follows several Bablon members using magic, activism and other avenues to fight oppression and get some control of their own lives. The characters are engaging, and between them they capture a broad range of female experience.

It’s a powerful story, underpinned by substantial philosophy. If you’re already into smashing the patriarchal structures we live in, this is for you. If you think we don’t need feminism any more, this book is especially for you. We’ve got a long way to go on the road to equality.

Buy the book – https://www.amazon.com/Book-Babalon-Anna-McKerrow/dp/1890399698