Tag Archives: pagan

Protecting your community

One of the most important things for me, when it comes to being part of a community, is being understood. There’s something wonderful and nurturing about not having to explain parts of who you are. Feeling supported, welcome and like you make sense is good for mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Being on your own with an issue, a need or a feeling is a lonely place to be. Modern urban humans are each surrounded by a great many other urban humans, but that can increase loneliness rather than offering respite. No one sees you in a crowd. You are not understood, and the need to be understood is a life-affecting one.

During my volunteering years, I met a lot of people who had just found Paganism, and talked about it in terms of coming home. Some of this is about the path itself and finding relief in a spirituality that makes emotional sense to them. Some of it is about finding a community. 

Being able to talk to people who are capable of understanding you is a wonderful thing. When you have feelings about magic, nature, old gods etc, you can feel disconnected from the regular world. Meeting people who can relate to that is liberating.

Sometimes however, community comes at a price. The desire to belong can put a lot of pressure on a person to fit in with things. We all need community and safe spaces, so what do you do if the price tag on being a member of a community looks problematic? How much do you ignore to protect your access to space you desperately need? What are you willing to enable in order to be able to belong? 

Along the way I’ve ended up in some spaces – Pagan and otherwise – that weren’t especially healthy. Not spaces that were dangerous or super-toxic, but certainly places that had issues. I stayed longer than I should sometimes because I so desperately wanted to belong somewhere. No doubt most of us have seen people getting hurt, used, exploited, manipulated and compromised because they needed to be part of something. And sometimes when we’re part of the group causing the problem, all too often we turn away from that abuse and pretend not to see it because we don’t know how we’d survive without this precious community space.

Abuse happens when people put their need to belong ahead of the need to create genuinely safe space. It happens when vulnerable people feel emotionally rewarded by abusers when they let them get away with stuff. It happens when people with low self esteem can’t imagine they deserve better treatment. It’s important to keep an eye on who, and what we sacrifice for the sake of protecting our communities. It can be hard to admit when you’ve got into something that isn’t good. No one wants to believe that the space they love is harmful, but refusal to look at that enables bullies and predators.


Your Druidic practice

I was struck this week by this powerful post about daily practice, routines and needs – https://therivercrow.wordpress.com/2022/08/22/august-update/ such that I felt it was worth me chipping in.

So many pieces of writing on Paganism and Druidry advocate for a daily practice or for specific kinds of activity. Not everything works the same way for everyone and there should be no shame or unease in doing things that work for you and avoiding things that don’t. Some of us need routines to function at all, and some of us find them stressful and unworkable. Honouring nature means honouring nature where it manifests in you which in turn means not trying to force yourself to be something you are not.

It’s all too easy for people who don’t struggle with things to conclude that said things are fine and everyone can do them. At this point I’m largely convinced that phrases like ‘everyone can’ or ‘everyone should’ are strong indicators that the person writing the piece has little awareness of how diverse people are. I’m pretty sure that there is nothing that everyone can or should do in any specific way.

There are two key questions to consider when it comes to how you do your Druidry. Firstly, what does your Druidry do for the world? And secondly, what does your Druidry do for you? The answer to the first question needs to be some form of good, and it can be any form of good. The second answer needs to be about how you are affected, be that in body, heart, mind or spirit. Your druidic practice should give you comfort, inspiration, a sense of purpose, or relationship or connectedness. Some of those things, or all of those things. There may well be other good things that you find in your Druidry, but I think these are the core qualities to look for.

It is worth trying things a few times before deciding how or if they work for you. It’s often difficult to make a good decision about something when you’ve had little experience of it. At the same time, it is not the case that there’s any merit in slogging away at something that leaves you cold and does nothing for you just because you’ve been persuaded that you have to do it to be a good Druid. If you get a strong feeling of aversion to something at the first try, there’s no reason to make yourself uncomfortable by revisiting it.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a lot of variety within any given practice and a lot of room to do things on your own terms. If what one writer or teacher has to say on the subject doesn’t work for you, then it may be worth looking around for other inspiration and possibilities. It’s also worth considering exploring things on your own terms. Every Pagan practice out there is something someone figured out, and the people doing the figuring out were not massively more qualified to do that than you are. If you’re willing to put in the time exploring and experimenting, then you are going to become an expert in the thing you are doing.


Getting closer to Nature

The chances are you’ve seen art and photographs of people with wild things. You’re a Pagan, a Druid, and the idea of wild things coming to you is deeply attractive. It would affirm how attuned you are to the natural world. It would prove your Druid-ness. Maybe you could rescue something and raise it. Maybe you could tame something.

It’s a temptation I entirely understand. Wild things are deeply emotionally affecting. There are few experiences more powerful and affirming than having a wild being look back at you and not just run away. These are usually experiences I have at a distance. I don’t try to handle wild things unless they genuinely need my help – getting hedgehogs out of roads being the thing I’ve done most of. I won’t rescue wildlife from other wildlife because everyone has to eat. I will move creatures who are at risk of being harmed by humans.

Without knowledge, skills and the right resources, bringing a rescued creature home is really risky for them. It’s better to get them to a professional, or an established rescue centre if they really need help. It’s always worth considering leaving them to let nature take its course – thus providing someone else with a meal. Decisions about who to help and who to leave hungry should not be based on cuteness. For me, whether the species itself is endangered is going to be my biggest consideration.

If wild things get used to humans, this can make them vulnerable. We can put them in danger if they start thinking humans are safe to approach, or a good food source. We can frighten them, disrupt their lives and cause them harm by trying to get close to them. Often the kindest and most respectful thing to do is to stand still and let the wild thing do as it will if that doesn’t put you at risk either. Enjoy the moment. Wild creatures who seek food from humans can end up being killed for being aggressive and invasive.

The situation is different with semi-wild things – feeding the ducks on the pond in the park is not really going to impact harmfully on them. Birds in your town centre are not going to be compromised, probably. It’s worth noting that seagulls in particular can become aggressive in their dealings with people if they think they can get food. It is important to know what you’re doing, and to know what is safe and appropriate food for any semi-wild things that move towards you. Don’t give dairy to birds. Don’t pollute the water by throwing in loads of bread that just sinks to the bottom.

If we genuinely care about nature and about wild things, one of the best things we can do is not impose. Humans put a lot of pressure on nature as it is, without Pagans trying to live out fantasies in invasive ways. Stay on the path. Don’t interfere with wild lives. Don’t try to feed them your lunch. Don’t steal their babies – leaving young unattended is normal. Don’t deliberately get close to their homes, nests, or dens. Watch them from a distance that keeps them safe.


What does a Druid do?

This is a question to keep asking, and for which there can be no final or absolute answer. What does a Druid do in any given context? What does a Druid do right now?

One answer for me at the moment, is that we can try to model more sustainable living. To honour nature, we have to be working to avert climate disaster and to make human life on Earth more sustainable and viable. There are many ways of doing that. One powerful thing we can do is share our choices and actions with other people.

I think there are a couple of key issues around doing this. Being heavy handed and preachy can put people off – we’ve all seen how this happens around veganism. Engaging people with more responsible and sustainable food choices is a really good idea. Shaming people for what they currently do doesn’t tend to encourage change. Talking about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it tends to be much more effective than lecturing people about what we think they should be doing. Leading by example is more powerful. This is true in all aspects of our lives.

If people feel like they have to suffer and be martyrs for sustainability, most of them won’t want to know. One of our jobs is to figure out how to live well while living sustainably, and then to put that out there where other people can see it. I’m seeing a lot of Pagans playing with fabric in sustainable ways and sharing that – it’s really attractive.

Sustainable living will need to be creative and innovative. We need to do things we feel good about and are excited about if we’re going to maintain it. Sharing things that we’re enjoying and feeling good about is an excellent way to engage other people. The festive period offers us lots of opportunities to do this and to put it where other people can see it – it’s a great time to engage our wider families a bit and to model what happiness looks like without rabid consumerism and waste in the mix.


Long live the revolution

This week, Pagan Dawn magazine came out and in it was my final Quiet Revolution column. I’d written it every quarter for years. When I started, it made sense to be talking about lifestyle changes like not picking up single use plastic carrier bags. We’ve all come a long way since then. Over the years, I’ve talked about the need for radical changes to our lifestyles, culture, ways of working. Sometimes I’ve put this in a context of spells, prayers and acts of religious devotion.

This summer I made the decision to let the column go. Partly this came from feeling that I would not have the time moving forward. I’ve spent this year reducing the number of things I do. I need a gentler, slower paced life, and I need to focus on the projects that are working for me and where I think I can do my best. My quiet revolution work will continue here on the blog, and no doubt new energy and ideas will fill what space I leave behind in Pagan Dawn.

I’m ok with the amount of upheaval this last year or so has brought. Letting go and doing less are principles that are important to the kind of change I think we need. We aren’t likely to help ourselves or save the planet by working ourselves to death. It is better to slow down, do less, consume less. It’s also good to share out the opportunities. 

I’ve cut right back on my volunteering. I’ve done a lot of service over the years, for various Pagan organisations. I feel good about not doing that anymore. I feel strongly that the most good I can do right now is going to come from what I do creatively, and that this is where I need to pour most of my energy.

There can be grief in letting go. It can be scary. Right now it feels good and necessary. My gut feeling is that I’m doing what I need to do – and I’m just going to trust that and see where the path takes me.


Pagan Dreaming

I’ve written a number of Pagan and Druid books, and of the ones published by Moon Books, Pagan Dreaming has been by far the least successful. It’s been out for years and has just broken through 500 sales. For perspective, the average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime. Most of publishing does not look anything like those multi-million selling famous authors. For every massive international hit, there are many, many books that don’t even sell a hundred copies. 

Part of the problem is that there are a lot of dream books out there, it’s a really saturated corner of the market. Most dream books are either dictionaries of meaning, or are focused on teaching you how to control your dreams, and these are not things I’m interested in. Much of the motivation for writing the book came from wanting to offer alternatives to the x=y approach to dream symbolism, and the idea that control is the goal.

The trouble with publishing is the assumption that people want more of what they already have. It’s perhaps less of an issue in Pagan publishing because it’s still a new area and we haven’t established hard rules in the way some genres have. Long may it continue so. As a reader I am not even slightly interested in reading books that are just like some other books I’ve read. I want to be surprised. I want something different. This is one of the reasons I read a lot of books from indy authors and small publishing houses. 

Of course I’m not alone in this. Netflix are proving over and over that there is an audience for films and series that are not exactly like everything else. Books that are unusual can and do sell too.

The trouble is, that books, films, etc are all easier to sell if you can go ‘if you liked that other thing you’re going to love this.’ I’ve worked in marketing.  There’s an obvious attraction to things that you can easily see how to pitch and who to pitch to. But that doesn’t get you the best books, or the most original books or the books that could actually sell the most. If no one has done it before, you have no idea if this is the book everyone is waiting for. It could be. It might not be.

Some authors are amazing and brilliant, timely and trendsetting and deserve every success. Some authors are successful because they’re really good at figuring out what people want from them and how to pitch it. Some authors are simply lucky, and catch the zeitgeist in some way. Some authors keep churning out the same thing and get enough marketing support and sell far more copies than perhaps they deserve to. It’s not a meritocracy. 

I prefer to take risks, write things that interest me and hope for the best. I’ve tried to be commercially oriented, and frankly I don’t do that well. There are enough people who like what I do for it to feel worth doing. That’s enough. 

If you’re the sort of person who is interested in your dream life, but also heartily sick of dream dictionaries and you don’t see lucid dreaming as the goal of your dream life… I may have a book for you and you can find out more about it over here… https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming


The economics of spirituality

One of the things Paganism doesn’t really do, is enable people to live full time as devotees to their path. Many religions have monasteries, allowing people to make a full time commitment to spirituality. Many religions have paid posts for priests so that the person called to work in their community has a viable way to do that. 

This kind of infrastructure isn’t possible without the religion itself being organised and having a hierarchy. Pagans tend to rebel against that sort of thing. We mostly want to be independent and free to follow our own calling, but the trade off means that there are economic restrictions on following your own calling.

Yes, we have paid priests, but that income is occasional and unpredictable. Doing a job where part of the job involves chasing the work and trying to make yourself financially viable is a lot of extra job for the money and it takes a toll. 

The calling to work as a Pagan can also take people into writing, healing, teaching, divination, making clothes, tools, and other materials, and offering guidance. None of these jobs pay a person much unless you also spend time promoting yourself and your work – this doesn’t always go down well and can lead to resentment. Pagans all too often resent it when other Pagans need to be paid for the work they do. The jobs that might make you a full time Pagan actually don’t make you a full time Pagan because of time spent on marketing and accountancy and business type things.

I don’t have an easy practical answer to any of this. Clearly there are a lot of Pagans who feel the call to be full time in just the way many people around the world feel called to centre their lives in their beliefs. We don’t have the support systems to make that possible and I doubt we ever will. But we’re also not really dealing with the implications of that. We could do a lot better in socially supporting our would-be full time Pagans and we could at least have a culture of treating people kindly when they step up to this way of working and being.

We exist in a capitalist society, and Pagans have bills to pay just like everyone else. Much of the work a person might do is not spiritually nourishing. Those of us able to do work we find ethical, rewarding and intrinsically worthwhile are in the minority. Not everyone can balance part time work with part time Paganism. At the same time, not everyone can afford to pay for the kind of work we want and need Pagan priests to do for us. The answer is not to get angry with our full time Pagans over this. As is so often the way of it, the actual solution will lie in dismantling capitalist systems, so that we can all live on better terms.


Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.


My first ritual

The first ritual I was invited to participate in through a moot I attended. At that point I was in my twenties. I was self-identifying as an eclectic Pagan, and I’d read very little about ritual. Back then, there weren’t many books about ritual to be had, and most of what there was, was Wiccan and I had read some and knew it wasn’t for me. I’d also never felt drawn to exploring any kind of solitary ritual.

I was given some lines. I took it all very seriously, learned my lines, thought about what to wear, invested in the idea of ritual and doing something sacred and significant. I was prepared, and wholehearted.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the chap running the ritual. He was not prepared and had not learned his lines. Quarters were called badly, while being read from a script he could barely see because it was dark, which seemed to surprise him. He laughed a lot – probably from nerves. The whole thing was an awkward mess and I felt embarrassed to be offering this to anyone or anything. I spent a lot of time towards the end of the ritual quietly apologising to anything that had been obliged to witness this shambles. 

After the ritual, owls started calling. Some of the participants found this really validating. To me, it felt like forgiveness, for which I was deeply grateful. 

After the ritual, it was also clear that the man running it felt it had gone really well. I did not go back for a second ritual with him. He also talked a lot about how important he felt imagination was for ritual. It’s an idea I rejected on the spot. It’s not enough to imagine. If ritual is going to be meaningful, it has to feel real, on whatever terms that can be a thing for you.


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.