I have three new stories out in the world at the moment…
I have a tiny flash fiction piece in the album notes of Maximum Splendid, the new Rapscallion album. I’m very taken with the music, and it’s always lovely to be part of a steampunk thing! Hard copies here – https://rapscallionband.com/store#!
Over on Patreon, I’ve started serialising a new book. That’s available to anyone who signs up as a Dustcat, Steampunk Druid or Glass Heron. It’s a speculative novel, plenty of magical Pagan elements, plenty of weirdness… Spells for the Second Sister isn’t available anywhere else at present. You can find that over here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB
That morning he found a large, yellowish ball of spider eggs inside the collar of his jacket. It was not an omen. Durosimi did not believe in omens.
Any occultist worth their salt knows that divination, prophecy and other variations on a theme of anticipating the future, are tricksy things. Durosimi considered it an inexact science at best. He preferred exact science and dependable outcomes. Alchemy, necromancy, demonology; why try to see the future when you could create it through deliberate action? Most of what passed for divination was nonsense anyway.
The ball of spider eggs did not mean anything. The large, dead spider that somehow got into his breakfast did not mean anything. Only that the latest cook was as incompetent as the previous one.
What inspires you? Where do you find nourishment for your soul? What lifts your spirits or eases your heart?
The glib answer for Pagans is often ‘nature’ but by ‘nature’ we often mean something dramatic and exotic. It’s a horrible irony that nature is often a place we have to drive to. Many people in the UK are desperately short of access to green spaces close to home.
One of the reasons for following a spiritual path is that it can provide nourishment for our souls. This is easier, I think in contexts when you can either get out to those wild places, or get into circles with other Pagans. We’re lifted as much by what we can share as a community, as we are by communing with nature. Many of us engage better with ritual as a group activity rather than a solo practice. And honestly, working with other people makes us more accountable and more likely to show up.
The internet gives us options for sharing personal practice in a way that means we can inspire and uplift each other. Photos of the lovely walk, the beautiful altar, the devotional art, videos of your chants and songs, blog posts about prayer and meditation… There’s a lot of good to be found in this, and it’s something I’ve been glad to participate in. For me, it really brings into focus how much the effectiveness of spirituality in our lives can be about our relationships with people.
I’ve taken plenty of people into the woods (not in this last year, though) who were only spending time with trees when there was a seasonal ritual to show up for. It was the community they were showing up for, and through that connection, they had tree time and meaningful encounters with the land.
However much we might long for interactions with Gods, spirits, fairies, guides etc, these are unreliable. Not everyone gets called. Not all offerings are answered. Not all dedications lead to powerful interactions. People are a lot more reliable and will often show up when you invite them. People will witness you and hold you to account. They will be moved by the beauty of work your spiritual practice has inspired you to create. With that feedback, it is simply easier to show up as a spiritually minded person.
I think this is something to embrace and work with. It’s not just a spiritual issue, either. Many of us do our best parenting when there’s another adult about to impress. We may well do our best creating, our best activism, our best ethical choices when we have people to witness us and either nourish us with their approval, or make us worry about not looking good. We are fundamentally social creatures, and this year of pandemic has deprived us of a lot of that contact. Things that used to feed you may not work so well as solitary activities. There should be no shame in that. It’s just easier to be, and enjoy being your best self when you’ve got a supportive and appreciative audience.
Today’s post is an interview with Pagan author Michael Daoust. I think right now we could all use more cute, warm-hearted and uplifting stuff in our lives, and this is very much what Michael is about – especially creating that kind of warm content for people who may be especially short of it…
Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Hi! First of all, thanks so much for doing this! I really appreciate your time and effort.
About me-> I’m a pagan trans man, happily married to the love of my life. I live with chronic anxiety and PTSD, and am lucky enough to live in the countryside as of two years now! I am an avid gardener, though that doesn’t mean I’m good at it! I’ve always loved fairy tales, and they were my favorite childhood books. All that comes into play with my writing. When I started approaching my writing more as a profession and less as a hobby, I really wanted to represent LGBT+ communities in a positive and happy way. When I started this, I was at an extremely low point, mental health wise. I couldn’t handle reading many books, as I would get too anxious about what would happen next in the story. So, I decided to write fairytale-esque books that would be easy to read when in a bad spot mentally. At the same time I started drawing the TwoLoveBirds, as a way to bring more cheer into my life and to cope with my crippling depression.
How does your Pagan path inform your creative life?
My pagan path comes into play with the importance of the world in my writings. I bring in magic, symbolism, and even more magic in a playful way, which I find echoes the playfulness of nature, and the way that certain areas have certain ‘vibes’ to them. In my fantasy Farfadel writings, the world is what makes the story, as much as the characters. In my TwoLoveBirds writings, nature and setting is equally important.
What is it about fairy tales that attracts you to working with them?
Great question! I never wondered about that, I always thought everyone liked fairy tales! I guess it’s the way that fairy tales seem to say something ‘more’ about life and the world they were constructed in. They tell you how to interact with deities, land spirits, and other people properly. They aren’t just stories, but often lessons as well.
Can you tell us a bit about your two novels? Who are they written for?
So, the first book to be written was ‘A Tale of Two Queens’, then, ‘The Tale of Adelaide and Shadow’, but chronologically, Adelaide’s tale comes first! The Tale of Two Queens was inspired by my wife, and very much guided by her. She often wanted to read more queer romance novels, and they were hard to find! So I imagined these two epic, badass Queens, and threw them into a Sleeping Beauty-esque storyline, and let the chaos unfold. It’s a cute and romantic tale, with no real evil in the story, just miscomprehension and different goals. It’s very playful, and I’ve been told it’s laugh out loud funny and very cheerful to read. I’ve also been told it’s like Terry Pratchett meets Lord of the Rings (what a compliment!).
As for the tale of Adelaide and Shadow, I don’t quite remember how it began, actually. I drew heavily on my experiences as a trans person, and what I would want to see in a novel, as the prince Shadow is trans. I wrote this one mainly for myself, and so it’s a more playful novel, full of silly events and frogs. I drew on the ‘princess and the frog’ stereotype here, and decided to make it even a bit more silly!
I had originally intended these books for adults, and that’s mainly what my audience has been so far, but I’ve been told that they read like middle-grade children’s books. Considering that those are also my favorite genres to read, it makes sense!
How did you get into colouring books?
I had originally started coloring books for my TwoLoveBirds, but kept making sketches and doodles and art for my Farfadel world. I’ve always imagined Farfadel having coloring books, art books, and all sorts of extra fun stuff to go along with the books. So a few months ago I decided to actually sit down and make one!
What’s the relationship between the novels and the colouring books?
The colouring book is based on the world of Farfadel, and not any novel in particular. The fairies play a very important role in both novels, as troublemakers and trouble fixers, and they were so cute and fun to draw that I decided to make the whole colouring book about them! There are no particular characters in the colouring book, it’s more of a glimpse into the ‘feel’ of the fairies of Farfadel, their daily life, and what they are like in the novels. I did try and bring some queerness into the colouring book with two female bodied fairies proposing to each other with a flower, as well as mixing the body shapes with their gendered clothing. It’s subtle, maybe more so with my style of drawing, but I really wanted to make it so that a queer child could see themselves in this book.
As well as writing this blog, I also write books. Most of the Pagan ones are published by Moon Books, with the exception of Druidry and the Future, which is over on ko-fi – https://ko-fi.com/s/6f6d37772a
You may be wondering what the relationship between the books and the blog is. If you read the blog, is there any point reading the books, especially given that most of them are for sale (Druidry and the Future is free).
There are bits of my books on the blog, if you search for excerpts. There are ideas that started here and that I’ve since expanded on and developed. Those are scattered around. There is, for example, a Pagan Pilgrimage category where I occasionally play with ideas around this subject. At some point there may well be a book, but that will come from an assimilation of the experiences I’ve blogged about here, and there will be a lot more to it than these first forays.
At the moment I am writing a Druidry and the Darkness book over on Patreon, with new and otherwise unavailable content each month. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB That’s in the Bards and Dreamers category, which also gives you a poem every month and my singing the wheel of the year content. What goes up there is some of the first draft content, so there will be more in the final book. It’s also an opportunity to engage more in my writing process, get the finished pdf before anyone else (when we get there) make suggestions and the such.
What I don’t do, have never done and will never do is take content from the blog and recycle it into books and then charge for it. The books are written as books, with a considered structure and the kind of oversight and integrity that you can’t have if things are cobbled together in 500 word chunks off the cuff. Blogs are, by their nature a bit limited and superficial, there’s always more to say. A book is the better vehicle for digging in to a subject and exploring it in more depth and breadth. For some readers, an easily digestible thought is much more helpful than a hefty tome, and for others, the digging in is preferable so hopefully this mixed approach works for more people.
Earlier in the autumn I wrote about seeing hazel trees with green leaves and catkins on. I don’t think it’s something I’d seen before. Usually the hazel leaves have gone by the time the catkins are obvious. It is December. In my childhood, December meant bare branches on anything deciduous. Many of the trees round here have now shed their leaves, but from my window I can see the distinctive copper of a beach still wearing autumn colours.
There are two hazels near here, one of which has yellow leaves and one of which is still largely in leaf, and mostly green. I’ve not been very far in the daylight lately, so I’m not up to date on other trees in my area, but these two have not really got to autumn yet, and it is December.
The idea of the wheel of the year is crucial to many Pagans. That wheel was never accurate for everyone, and the 8 festivals favoured by twentieth century Paganism didn’t always make sense in different contexts around the world. What happens to the wheel of the year as climate chaos impacts on our landscapes? What new seasons will emerge, if any? What will we celebrate? What will seem significant as part of our journeys through the year?
I know many Druids are crafters, working with all kinds of materials. For me it’s mostly needles of one sort or another. I thought it might be helpful to write about why crafting can be a good way to manifest your Druidry as part of your regular life.
The most obvious aspect is creativity – crafting puts your inspiration to work, so brings you into contact with the awen. Crafting is as much a home for inspiration as any other creative activity you might undertake. It is a way of making beauty. You can of course add explicitly Pagan or Druidic aspects to a craft project, but even if you don’t, it still works.
Crafting puts your body in communion with raw materials and tools. It can be an animist conversation as you work collaboratively with other beings. It can be a way of being present in your body and present in the world.
Many crafting techniques are repetitive, and once you get the hang of them can have a meditative quality. If you struggle with conventional meditation approaches, you may find that repetitive creative action will open some of that headspace for you. Crafting creates really good thinking space, and can be an excellent way of also making time for reflection, contemplation, wool gathering, day dreaming and the like. This kind of brain time is great for letting inspiration in, for relaxation and being open to possibility.
When you work with materials and invest time, you have a different sort of relationship with the finished item to something you bought. Crafting is a good way to counter the way throwaway capitalism impacts on us. I only make for people I love, and it’s part of how I do gift economy. I also upcycle and re-use a lot, so crafting can be a way to keep serviceable things out of landfill.
Making things is a joyful process. Ending up with something unique is self expressive and again a good antidote to one-size-fits-no-one throwaway culture. It’s a great way to walk your talk, to put your philosophy where other people can see it.
Here’s a recent example from me – fabric salvaged mostly from shirts that were too tatty in places to continue as shirts. Resulting in a bonkers item of clothing that cheers me greatly.
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.
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.
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.
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…