Tag Archives: pagan

Dancing in the dark

Dancing plays many roles in my life. It’s a way of engaging directly with music, for a start. It enables me to do all kinds of emotional processing without having to slog it out by thinking everything through. I can just dance with what’s going on until my body has dealt with it. There’s a Pagan aspect to it that I’ve written about recently – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/the-temple-i-am-building-a-poem/

In summer there are usually a few opportunities to dance outside and, even better, to dance in the dark. For me this creates an intense sense of connection with land, sky and season. My usual trick for this is to be near the venue rather than in it – I’ve spent a fair few evenings outside marquees at folk festivals, and being outside other venues can work for me, too. I don’t do well with very loud music, and I’m not always inclined to dance where I have much of an audience. Dancing where I am not supposed to dance, and communing with the summer night is always a powerful experience for me.

Some of the time I dance for, or with Tom, but much of my dancing is more solitary even if other people are around. Most of the time I don’t do it for the entertainment of a viewer. I certainly don’t do it to be sexy for the male gaze – I’ve spent a lot of time exploring dance that is deliberately about avoiding sexualisation. I find my elbows play a big role in that. I dance with my whole body, and I dance to be in my whole body.

Sometimes, if I like the performer and it feels like the right thing to do, I dance to raise energy for the music. I will be the first person to get up of an evening. If there’s a big crowd on the dance floor later on, the odds are I won’t be in it, I’ll have sauntered off into the night to do my own thing.

I am perpetually confused by how long it takes many people to make it to the dance floor. How many other people have to get up first and how much alcohol they need to feel brave enough to move about a bit. People who, by the end of the evening will be having a great time, but don’t jump in sooner. Sometimes I dance to create permission – by getting up early and dancing outlandishly I can guarantee that anyone else following in my wake will look far more sensible. I tend to find if I get up and dance, other people are not far behind me.

Without a doubt, the dancing I love most is undertaken for myself only, in summer nights, outside, where it is not reasonable to expect a person may be dancing.

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Glamour

In fairy folklore, glamour is the magic fairies have that make them seem beautiful and alluring. Glamour hides the dirt and squalor, the mean faces, the bones… it struck me that this kind of magic is something some humans also seek.

I’m pro beauty. I think making and seeking beauty is a good use of energy – especially when there are more diverse possibilities around beauty. I like the beauty of twisted trees and older, more lived in human faces. I like the beauty that a warm heart gives a person. I like creative beauty made from innovation and joy in how we present ourselves. I don’t like glamour.

Beauty is always intended to be real. Glamour is intended to persuade. It’s the harnessing of sexual attractiveness to try and hold power over others. It’s a contrivance to sell product – and often in our visual media, it’s been processed beyond anything the human body can achieve. The glamour of glamorous fashion magazines is often about as real and healthy as the fairy glamour of folklore.

In Paganism, it’s the person who is busy selling you their face, and their look rather than their ideas. This of course draws on the norms of mainstream advertising, but it isn’t very ethical. The book and the workshop won’t make you glamorous, but by associating glamour with product you may be tempted to reach after what you can’t have – and here we are back at the goblin market, eyeing up the forbidden fruit.

We’re easily moved by human beauty. We want it, and we want to be it. The less glamorous you feel yourself to be the more vulnerable you may be to the glamour of others. Gods know, I’ve been there. The less experienced you are in your path and craft, the more the persuasive are the people who glamorously look the part. I’ve been there too, hankering after surfaces because I was twenty-something and inexperienced and the glamorous stuff is eyecatching. But like fairy fruit, it won’t nourish you. The glamour you crave remains out of reach, but you keep paying for it, running round after it and feeling inadequate in the face of it… after a while you can tell it was glamour all along because it leaves you threadbare and unhappy, but by then the damage is done.

There is a beauty that comes to people who do the work. I see it in Jane Meredith, in Cat Treadwell, and Rachel Patterson, to name some visible examples. I see it a lot in people in the Pagan community who are living their magic, and who are suffused by it. It’s a softer, subtler thing, permeating through who people are and what they do. I see the other ones as well, and I see the power of their glamour to attract and persuade. If you can, it’s always worth stopping to ask whether they are selling you glamour – the gold coins that will be dead leaves by next morning, or whether there is any substance to what’s being put forward.


Living Tradition

My parents met in the folk club my mother and grandmother were running. Folk music featured heavily in my childhood. I was terrified of mummers as a child. Not only did I get exposed to the more usual rounds of Greek mythology, Robin Hood and King Arthur, but also to other folklore of the British Isles. I grew up in a landscape rich with story. For me, folk is something you do, not something you pin to a board and leave, dead and dry to gather dust. I am deeply invested in the idea of living tradition.

The trouble with folklore is that there are some folklore academics, and people who wish to align with what they think academic approaches to folklore look like, who want to police it. They want dead things pinned to boards. They have rules about what folklore is, and it is all about what is in the past, and what has been widely accepted already. They actively exclude living tradition people from the folklore playground.

Not all folklore academics, mind you. I’ve had some brilliant conversations recently with people who see folk as a process not a product, and for whom the living tradition is just as important as the history. I’ve got books to hunt out and people to read and I’ll be back to talk about this excellent stuff more when I’ve had chance to dig in. Because for me, dialogue between folklorists and living tradition people is a good thing when that’s an open conversation and not one set of people trying to tell the other set what they are allowed to be, and do.

I take this all very personally. My land stories, my relationship with songs and places and tales, with mumming and history and the imagination are threads that run through my life. They are part of how I see myself and understand myself. I’m by no means alone in this. To tell a living tradition person that they are outside of folklore, that they don’t have any right to have what they contribute taken seriously, is, frankly, offensive. Folklore and tradition are living things, made by people, changed by people – the people at the cutting edge of it should not be excluded from it.

This is especially important for modern Pagans. So many people are working with old stories, personal gnosis and vision and the realities of our modern world to create a living tradition that is both rooted and relevant.

But, as folklore is a living thing, it has the means to wriggle out of the hands of gatekeepers and those who would kill it and pin it up for scrutiny. Folk traditions have always resisted authority – folk remains dirty, plural, messy, contradictory, full of re-invention and innovation, becoming whatever people need it to be at the time. Folklore, as one of my fellow comrades in living tradition points out, has a habit of biting on the arse anyone who thinks they can own it.


The ritual of writing

There are a great many small joys and privileges that come from working at a Pagan publishing house. I get to read all sorts of books ahead of release. I get to help new authors break in, and more established authors reach further. I get to help. There’s an immense joy in seeing a writer winning – a first time author with a breakthrough title, an author whose been slogging away at it for years finally getting the attention they deserve. This is not always the work I am paid to do, this is sometimes stuff I do in my own time, because I can.

A few years ago, Andrew Anderson submitted a manuscript to Moon Books. It wasn’t something we could publish – it was simply too short. I liked his ideas and his writing style, so I dropped him an email with some pointers about what might work and get picked up – I’m not the person making those decisions, but I know how publishers operate. To my immense joy, he came back with a new book, and it clearly was one that we could put out. This month it is released.

The ritual of writing is a book for bards, and for anyone else using the written word as part of their creative spiritual life. Anyone inclined to write rituals, spells, prayers or meditations will find something they can use in this book. For anyone who wants to use writing as a focus for their spiritual journey, this book is resplendent with tools and ideas. It’s an ideal read for anyone on the Druid path and a natural companion book if you’re doing the OBOD Bardic grade. That Andrew is studying in the Ovate grade with OBOD should come as no surprise!

I’m personally delighted to see a book exploring creativity as ritual process in this way. I’m excited to see a new and innovative addition to contemporary Druid thinking. I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew does next. I feel honoured to have had the chance to be part of his story.

The ritual of writing is available anywhere that sells books. here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ritual-Writing-Spiritual-Practice/dp/1789041538 


Having a physical daily practice

The general wisdom with any spiritual path is that you should have a daily practice. It’s how you make your path part of your life. Most things improve if you keep doing them, and what we do a bit of every day is what defines us – far more than any occasional, dramatic things will.

One of the things that has happened for me with the Druidry is that I’ve embedded it in my life to a degree where I can’t always see it. I live my path. I live it in the everyday green choices I make, in my relationship with my landscape, in how I deploy language, in my relationships with people… It colours everything I do, but at the same time there’s not much I can easily point at and say ‘this is my Druidry’. I’ve had patches of wondering where my Druidry had got to and whether I had slipped out of it. It’s an odd state to be in.

One of the most direct benefits of having a regular spiritual practice is that you get to feel like a spiritual person with a regular practice. The more you embed your beliefs in your life, the less visible they become and in some ways that’s a good thing, but it can also take something away. If your work really is your prayer, if you take a meditative mindset into everything, if there is no hard line any more between what is sacred and what isn’t… you may lose that sense of your own spirituality. 100% Pagan may make it impossible to see the wood for the trees.

In the last few months, I’ve taken up Tai Chi – in no small part because I wanted to add something to my life that I can do every day. Being a specific physical practice, I can’t embed it in my life by any other means. I have to do Tai Chi to do Tai Chi. I spend time moving and standing most days, and I like how this has changed things for me. It’s a good physical discipline and I’m benefiting from that – which is also a way of honouring nature in my body, so, more stealth Druidry! I’ve a long standing interest in Taoism and the Tao Te Ching so this is a body meditation that connects with it. Tai Chi also functions as a martial art, but I’m not especially exploring that side at the moment. I’m studying balance and how I load my joints, slowing myself and seeking a soft, flowing motion.

The more successfully you do the work, the less visible it becomes to you – this is the way of it for most aspects of a spiritual path. Most of us find affirmation in the more self-announcing parts of what we do, and this is one of the great benefits of community ritual. One of the good things about doing something physical in this way is that it remains self announcing. You have to practice it and in doing it every day you get to remind yourself that you are indeed the sort of person who does such things.

I’m aware that such an ‘ego-led’ approach to what we do and why might sound wholly unspiritual. But at the same time, I think being in denial about why we may be motivated to take up spiritual things in the first place just leads to a different kind of self importance. A secretive and dishonest kind of self importance that does no good to anyone. Best to be honest about these things. We take up spiritual work because we want to be spiritual people and we want to feel that way about ourselves. When we do it well, what we do becomes less visible to us, and we may well need things that help us feel the same excitement of a novice.


Things I am doing

A bit of an update about what I’m up to at the moment!

I’m back down to a more manageable number of day jobs – I’m currently doing freelance work for Moon Books, Sloth Comics and Transition Stroud, alongside doing voluntary work for Transition Stroud and The Woodland Trust.

This weekend I’m off to Edinburgh for the Scottish Pagan Federation’s conference. This is my second event this month, having done the Pagan Federation Conference in Wakefield. In May, I have a video in the online Pagan Federation Conference, and am involved with Stroud’s Steampunk Weekend.

I’m still writing regular columns for Pagan Dawn, and for Sage Women Blogs.

I’m currently working on the script for the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel, fitting that in around the paying gigs as much as my concentration will allow. I have not put in the time I wanted to on finishing up an elements book, and I’ve still not found the time and energy to start on a spirits of place book. I don’t have enough hours of good concentration in a day – six is about as good as it gets, currently. It’s not enough, and I know I won’t improve this until I can take some more time off and rest up a bit. It is all too easy to get trapped in spirals of diminishing returns.

I’m still on Patreon. I’m finding it helpful because it makes me take the time each month for something creative. I’m also, frankly, glad of the money. I did slightly better than break even at Wakefield – which is good for an event, I’ve done plenty at a loss. I’m hoping to break even in Scotland. It’s necessary to get out there and do events to raise your profile as an author and sell books, but it is hard for authors to cover costs often, and the chances of coming out ahead are slim.

The amount of time that goes into writing makes it hard to make minimum wage doing it. Thinking about writing in those terms is just depressing so I mostly try not to, But, I have maybe six good hours of concentration in any given day, and I need to be economically active, so there are things to figure out. How much time I can give – to the blog, to voluntary work and to writing books alongside how much time I need to spend on things that earn money.

Fortunately I’m willing and able to live without many of the things that most people take for granted, which makes my home cheaper to run. But, time off can be a problem and I am craving a break. When I do an event and knock out a weekend, I can’t reliably take time off in the week to compensate. I managed a week off between Christmas and New Year, and I’m trying to get a week off in June. I’ll have to take a pay cut to do it – there is no other way. I do not get paid holiday leave from freelance work. I won’t be able to go on holiday for that week – the cost, and the effort of organising are beyond me. It would be nice to just slouch round the flat and read books, and sit under trees and that sort of thing.

If you like what I do, and want to help, then I really appreciate patreon support. Please consider supporting me. If you’d like to support me but can’t make an ongoing commitment, ko-fi is good for one off donations. Thank you.


Druidry and the seasons

When I first came to Druidry I put in some years honouring the wheel of the year. During that process, I learned that what I was working with is a modern system, inspired by Celtic practice, but not an authentic historical model for nature worship. There’s lots of evidence from the alignments of stones and burial sites that our ancestors honoured the solstices back into pre-history. There’s far less for the equinoxes, and little folklore to go with them. As for the ‘fire festivals’ of Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain – these are not universal Celtic festivals. Those are Irish names, and my understanding is that there’s little evidence to suggest any group of people historically honoured all of them. (Ronald Hutton is my source here)

The wheel of the year is a useful system for organising people to meet up and share ritual in community. On those terms, it doesn’t really matter what its origins are. The reason it exists in both modern Druidry and Wicca has a great deal to do with the relationship between Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner. It can be useful, but if it isn’t, don’t feel restrained by it.

The trouble with the wheel of the year is that even within the British Isles, we don’t all get the same seasons at the same time. We may well also get local phenomena that are important to our landscape but that don’t fit into the wheel of the year. I live close to the River Severn, and the bores on the river are of great local significance. We get migratory swans coming in for the winter. We’re traditionally a sheep rearing area, but there are no lambs in the fields at Imbolc, they’re out now.

Over recent years, I’ve built up a seasonal calendar of things that are part of my landscape –much of it has to do with which flowers bloom when, and I make a point of going out to see them. It’s all very personal and immediate to where I live, and it shifts year to year depending on the exact weather conditions. It’s also a constantly expanding process as I learn more, or find new places to see particular things.

Rather than celebrate the wheel of the year, I’m in a week by week process of encountering the slow turn of the seasons. I don’t know how my Pagan ancestors celebrated in this landscape – there was a temple on the Cotswold plateau, but I do not know what they did there. Roman ancestors in the area likely honoured Orpheus, if the mosaic at Woodchester is indicative. Anyone living near the Severn will have honoured the river, and some of them called her the Goddess Sabrina, and I expect some of them honoured the elvers who used to be a seasonal feature and a significant part of the local diet.

There are many barrows in this landscape. They are in exposed, hilltop locations and if you want to spend time with them you really have to be there in the summer, because in the dark half of the year, the perpetual wind around them, and the cold makes them inaccessible. You can’t do ritual around a barrow when the wind takes your voices. Whatever was done here with the barrows, I feel confident that the end of October was not a focus.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone round here was, before the arrival of modern Paganism, celebrating Irish-named festivals. Aside from being confident about the river, I don’t know what people might have celebrated. Thus it makes more sense to me to develop my own relationship with this landscape, as I encounter it now and not how it may have been in the rather different climate of two thousand years ago and more.


Paganism and Self Care

There are a number of things about Pagan paths that can help us with self care and living in gentler, more viable ways.

Firstly, this is not a life-transcending path. We aren’t punishing our bodies for spiritual advancement. We don’t have traditions of self-harm as spiritual tools. If you look at the lives of our European Pagan ancestors you can see easily that the majority were after rich, joyful, rewarding, happy lives, with enough mead and merrymaking and art, and food and fun. To live as a Pagan is to live fully, while embracing what this life has to offer.

Secondly, this is not a martyrdom tradition. We do have our stories about dying heroically but there’s no sense that sacrificing yourself in some pointless way has any spiritual value in it.

Thirdly, our bodies are part of nature, and as followers of nature based religions, this is a good place to focus for matters of self care. If you aren’t caring for nature as it manifests in your own body, you’re missing a thing. Self care brings us to all the most fundamental things of our living bodies – sleep, food, water, rest, exercise, what kinds of physical contact we need, fresh air, tree time…

To care for your body, and to take care of nature as it manifests in your body, it is necessary to push back against pressure to work more, longer and harder. Earning more and consuming more won’t lead you towards self care. A quieter, simpler, more peaceful life where you can take care of your simplest needs is key. Slowing down, resting more, having more time for yourself is essential. If you are experiencing in-work poverty this can be a hard cycle to break, but if you can meet your basic needs plus some, it’s worth looking at whether the extra costs you more than it gives you.

There’s a beautiful circular-ness to all this. If we slow down to take better care of ourselves, we consume less. A gentler life is almost guaranteed to be a life of lower carbon consumption. When we take care of nature within ourselves we are likely to change our lives in ways that take care of nature outside of ourselves. Every time you walk instead of driving, you benefit your body and the natural world. Every time you eat raw plant matter, or drink water rather than fizzy pop from a bottle, or sleep rather than staying up late staring at screens, all of nature is served by this.

When you shift your life so that you honour nature in yourself, and thus take better care of nature around you, it moves you a lot closer to living as a full time Pagan.


Dreaming your full time Pagan Life

What we do is informed by what we dream. That’s true of our daydreaming, and or our less intentioned night dreaming. What we absorb resurfaces in our desires to shape our intentions and our actions. Magic is all about will, but will is informed by many things we might not be aware of. Take a step back from your intent to check where it comes from and what’s feeding it.

Make time to dream your Pagan life. This is especially important if you can’t meditate or don’t have time for a daily Pagan practice. Make time – whatever time you can – to just sit down and daydream. I recommend a plant or a good window view or a nice outdoors setting for company if you can. Failing that, some Pagan art, your oracle cards, a crystal – anything that gives you a bit of Pagan-flavoured headspace. Imagine what it would be like to live a totally Pagan life.

What would you eat? What would you wear? What would your sleeping arrangements be like? What would your job be? How would you pay your bills? How would you get around? What would your family life be like? What would you do in your time off? And how would your spiritual practice fit in to all of this?

If you work with guides, gods or any other spiritual forces, you can invite them in on this process. Ask for guidance. Ask for inspiration. Keep doing it in whatever moments you can find and see what emerges. Find out what you really want from a full time Pagan life. Explore it imaginatively. Play with ideas – your first impulse is not necessarily your best one, you may need to dig in a bit.

Now, here’s the fun bit. There’s no direct action stage here. Just keep dreaming. Except that all our ideas are born of dreams and imaginings, and that what we invest energy in shapes us. You may feel moved to run out and make radical changes – feel free, it’s your life. You may not feel able to, you may not be able to see how to get to your dreams from where you are now. But, as you go along, your dream infused life will change, because you will make small, every day choices based on those dreams. The odds are it won’t be the dramatic shifts that really count in the long run – it will be the small, every day things that change everything. It usually is.

Dream who you want to be. Dream the life you want. Dream how best to manifest your Paganism in your life. I don’t particularly believe that like attracts like, or that what we focus on, we get. But I do know that what we think about colours every experience. How we think shapes our perceptions. What we focus on, we invest in. So often, things we are not conscious of get the steering wheel in our minds and lives – it’s the expectation of this that underpins every single advert you encounter. Take back your dreaming. Change everything.


Draka Raid – a review

 

Draka Raid is a new story from Nils Nisse Visser – there’s a guest blog about it here. It relates to his Wyrdwood novels, which I’ve reviewed here.

This is a small book, somewhere on the border between novel and novella. It’s set in the 800s and involves a myth we see in the background in the Wyrdwood novels. So, if you’ve already read those books, this has some extra layers that you’ll enjoy. However, you certainly don’t need to have read the other titles, you could just jump in here.

This is a book for people who like a bit of creative messing about with folklore and language. There’s magic, and the magic is intrinsically Pagan in a way I have no doubt many modern Pagan readers will enjoy. It’s an action orientated story, all about a community responding to a raid. I read it in an evening and very much enjoyed it.

I think it would be a particularly good book for teens, especially Pagan teens. It’s got a young woman at the heart of the tale and a number of boys who are obliged to step up as well. It is a tale of courage, and of protecting your home from unprovoked attack. Nils strikes an excellent balance in endorsing honour and courage while recognising the cost of violence and depicting violence for the sake of it as something abhorrent.

Heartily recommended. More about the author here – https://blakeandwight.com/2017/09/06/soup-of-the-day-with-steampunk-author-nils-nisse-visser/