Tag Archives: pagan

Things I’m doing

Aside from this blog, I have a number of projects on the go at the moment…

I review Pagan and spiritual books for Spiral Nature – http://www.spiralnature.com/author/nimuebrown/

You can find my Pagan books here and this is my Amazon page which has the fiction on it, and here’s the graphic novel.

I write a monthly column at Sage woman blogs exploring alternative ideas for the wheel of the year.  You can read that here –witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel.html  I also do a monthly post at The Pagan and The Pen listing new Pagan titles.

Back when Hopeless Maine first came out as a webcomic, we used to do a weekly newspaper for the island. It was a project that got a lot of reader involvement, so, this year after having had a bit of a break from it, we re-launched as a community project. People who want to write stories, or song or poems, share 3d creations, artwork, photoshoots in the style of Hopeless Maine are welcome to do so. You can find that at www.hopelessmaine.com

I’ve got a few videos up on youtube, you can find those here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2iAnLZ1JJzOfltGrnS0P8Q

I’m @Nimue_B on Twitter and my facebook is https://www.facebook.com/nimue.brown You can also find me on Pinterest, Ello and Linkedin if you’re really determined. I tend to accept friends requests.


Knowing the Land

I love visiting new places and exploring unfamiliar landscapes. It’s very easy to get excited about the unfamiliar, and the rush of discovery and encounter. The new view, the unfolding of a landscape that surprises at every turn – there are adventures to be had.

It’s all too easy (and I say this because I’ve done it) to come in for the first time, get caught on the wave of excitement and feel that you’ve got a deep and meaningful insight into a place. It’s possible (again, I’ve done it) to psyche yourself up into an especially magical Pagan mindset so that every part of the experience is charged with symbolic resonance and a sense of the divine. It’s easier to do this with an unknown landscape than a familiar one, because the unfamiliarity makes us pay more attention and tends to leave us more open to being awed.

It’s possible (yes, yes I have…) to come away from a very superficial encounter with a new landscape feeling powerful, charged up, spoken to… or whatever else it was that you wanted to feel.

Walking in a familiar landscape won’t give you that rush. When your feet know the shape of the land, and you’ve been there season after season, and you know what’s normal, and the land going about its own things and not therefore any kind of sign meant just for you… it takes effort to go out into the familiar and really see it. Seeing the familiar as magical is much harder work, because you have all the baggage of your everyday life and self in the mix.

What comes from a slower, deeper relationship with the land is less likely to make you feel big and important, and more likely to make you feel part of what’s around you (and thankfully yes, I’ve done that too).


Walking at first light

The sun hasn’t cleared the hill as I set out, so while it’s light, the cold from the previous night still hangs in the air. It’s startling cold given how bright the day looked before I headed out.

There’s a clear line across the fields. On the shadow side of the line, night lingers in the dew heavy grass, and it is so very cold. My path is also on the shadow side. I am under-dressed, and seriously consider going back. What keeps me moving is the line I walk in parallel with – because on the other side of that line is the land the sun has already reached. It shines with the gold of new light, and promise and all good things.

I don’t walk that far, and when I turn around to head for home, the sun has reached the larches and other tree tops, bathing them in colour. The air is warmer as I trot back. I see a small rabbit out in the field, hear a pheasant. Outside my door, two robins are engaged in a dance that could be about pair bonding, or territory. I’m not sure how to read it. They are untroubled by my approach.

Pagan Pilgrimage need not be about distance. It need not be away into some supposedly pristine environment.


Guilt and creative challenges

We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

This is another case of knowing something with my head and having a lot of trouble feeling it with the rest of my body. There is more to activism than focused noise-making. We can’t spend our lives being against things, and fighting, that’s exhausting. We also have to imagine, and build. However, I think a big part of why I’m struggling on this score right now relates to another point I raised in the original post: Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere.

I can’t imagine anything powerful enough to challenge that. How do you break through to people who are only invested in not giving a shit? Or people who are dedicated to hate? Which leaves me feeling I have no choice but to give up on a whole swathe of people – many of them young and shaped by campaigns of deliberate misinformation. I can’t make myself responsible for dealing with that, even though the question of how to respond to right wing radicalisation has been on my mind a lot for months now. And if we don’t all take responsibility for dealing with it, what happens?

My advice to people dealing with conflicts in Pagan circles has always been, ‘don’t fight them, simply put an alternative out there.’ When Pagan groups clash – over ways of working, ideas, use of spaces, and over egos, nothing good comes of feeding the conflict. Stepping back and simply offering an alternative is better in all ways than running some kind of hate campaign against people who are ‘doing it wrong’ from your perspective. Maybe many of our current cultural issues are the same. Calling out criminal behaviour – racism, sexism and abuse – is always the right way to go. The rest of the time, offering an alternative…

No one is obliged to care, or feel compassion, or be generous. No one is obliged to value the things I value. No one is required to worry about ecocide. If I want people to care about the things I care about, I need to lure them in, and I know that hard campaigning of any sort often doesn’t work. In fact it only works when addressing power – eg petitioning a government. Feeling guilty because I cannot save people from themselves, and I cannot save the rest of us from the consequences of that… isn’t working.

I am experiencing bouts of paralysis in face of all the hate and misery in the world. Maybe I need to deal with this by making more space to work through my own negativity – my own rage, fear, resentment, frustration. Not by attacking other people, but by processing this for myself so I can find a far side of it and come up with something better.

As strategies go, this one is still very much a work in progress, but ‘in progress’ is a good deal better than ‘frozen’ so, I’ll take it for now.


Complexity, spirituality and Paganism

The world religions which have a monastic element tend to emphasise simplicity. However, these are often also religions where there’s an aspect of rejecting or overcoming this material world in favour of spirit. One of the things I’ve always liked about Paganism is the soulful embracing of the physical that goes with nature based religion. Questions of simplicity and complexity do not look the same from a Pagan perspective.

Nature is complex and often gloriously inefficient – evolution wanders forward, and while the longstanding form of the shark may seem graceful and enduring, if they stop swimming about, they drown. Pandas. Everything about pandas demonstrates how evolution can and will take bizarre and complicated routes. Then there’s the issues of food chains and eco systems – subtle and complex webs of interdependence. Where there is life, there’s complexity.

We humans have an observable appetite for it. Our urges to create, to play, to invent and imagine demonstrate that simplicity doesn’t come naturally to us. It has to be imagined, taught, created through discipline and given value. I think many ills can be traced back to this – people forced to live narrow, boring, predictable, grinding lives tend to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol just to give existence some breadth and depth.

Many years ago, I minored in psychology, and became aware of the relationship between complexity and child development. Children need environments that stimulate their senses, but don’t overload them. Sound, touch, smell, sight – whatever is available to you needs something to chew on in early childhood to develop as a human. The same is also true of baby rats, and no doubt all other mammals too. We are not designed for bland or sterile environments but for spaces vibrant with life, possibility, danger and wonder.

As Pagans we know that if you spend time in nature, there’s a lot going on in terms of movement, sound and colour in most parts of the world. A still, silent environment is dead, and probably human. And at the other extreme, the maddeningly over-stimulating environment is also human, because we don’t know when to stop. Rush hour traffic, multi-screen leisure time, noise and light pollution – we’ve become rather adept at creating forms of complexity that make us sick.

We need complexity and stimulation, we suffer when faced with either too little, or too much. The question, as always, is one of balance. We need the kind of complex things to think about and interact with that uplift us – be that the glorious chaos of wild places, a chess game or an opera. Complexity is life, and life is complex. Given any chance to question what we’re doing and I think most of us know what’s too much. We develop skills to tune out, to not see or hear so as to avoid information overloads. The answer is not to keep doing that, but to do something better where we can.


Catkins: One of January’s true joys

The Pagan myth that nature is all asleep and quiet now and everything kicks off at Imbolc, is rather brought into question by the beautiful January phenomena that is the catkin. Catkins are the reproductive parts of some trees, they form in late autumn, and flower from January onwards. Thus far this year I have seen open catkins on hazels and alder, while the pussywillow is just starting to open.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

Catkins are small and subtle, you won’t see them unless you get fairly close to the tree and look. But if you do, there they are! They tend to be male and female, and wind pollinated. Male hazel catkins are quite colourful, pussywillow invites stroking (hence the name) and they add a bit of cheer. They are also the promise of life to come, of hazel nuts, new trees, and everything else getting going as we move towards spring.

alder catkins

alder catkins

Nature never really sleeps, something is always happening. The trick is to get past our simplistic notions about what ‘nature’ is doing at any point in the year, and see what’s actually going on around us.

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize...

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize…

I have an alternative wheel of the year column over at Sage Woman blogs, so if you’d like a monthly prompt for things to celebrate that aren’t a tidy match for the regular wheel of the year narrative, do wander over – http://witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel.html

Images in this blog post come from the Woodland Trust website, find out more about trees and tree protection here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/


Fair Weather Pagan

I admit it, I’m a fair weather Pagan. My willingness to go out and celebrate the seasons depends highly on weather conditions and temperature. This summer we started a monthly venture of going out to celebrate the full moon in a bardic way. The last session was in September because by October, the idea of standing round outside, at night, for an hour or so to share songs and stories, held no appeal whatsoever. We’ve moved to the pub, where there is less sense of the magical natural world, less of the shining full moon, but also less risk of accident, injury, or just getting very cold.

Having had chilblains during several winters, my willingness to stand around in the cold is not what it might be. Having fallen on the way out of a session in the dark – painful and embarrassing – I’m in no hurry to put myself forward for that again. Being out as a bard by the light of the full moon is a glorious thing, in the right conditions, but during a British winter, the prospect does not inspire.

There are always balances to strike between connection and viability. The younger, fitter, healthier and better resourced we are, the easier it is to do more extreme things. Gone are the days when my body can easily bear the experience of a sleepless night on the cold side of a hill.

I’ll continue to connect with the seasons, but I have to do so on terms that work for me. Daytime rituals and gatherings in the winter mean better light levels for dealing with the more slippery ground conditions – be that mud or ice. Staying warm, not being out for as long, not being as far off the beaten track, are all part of how I respond to winter. Waterproof trousers and thermal socks, a flask of something warm and a flashlight. These are not things my ancient Pagan ancestors would recognise, but then that’s true for the larger percentage of how I live my life.

‘Getting back to nature’ is something we as modern Pagans can often only do because we have a car to get us there and a washing machine to deal with what nature does to our trousers. It’s easy to kid ourselves that our particular work-around is somehow more natural, or more authentic – be that ski gear, energy drinks, or thermal underwear. We don’t live close to the land and seasons in the way our ancient ancestors did. Most of us don’t have the physical capabilities, knowledge or experience to live as our ancestors did. Doing what makes sense to you is fine, but don’t avoid looking at what you’re doing.

I think it’s better to be honest about what we are, and aren’t, and to modify ritual behaviour according to what we can genuinely cope with. Driving out to ‘nature’, dressing up in expensive, modern kit and knowing we can warm up with something hot from the microwave when we get home does not mean being especially in tune with our ancient ancestors. It just means we can afford this stuff – not everyone can. It’s worth thinking about the kinds of effort involved in winter rituals, and being honest with ourselves about what we’re doing. It makes more sense to me to have a practice that reflects how you live, rather than having to do things that are otherwise quite unnatural to you, (or prohibitively expensive) with the idea that this will bring you closer to nature.


Who Pays the Piper?

He who pays the piper calls the tune. But what happens when no one pays the piper? This is an issue across creative industries, where people are often expected to work for free, or for ‘exposure’. It’s also an issue in Pagan circles, where authors, teachers and celebrants come under pressure to do it all for free, because that’s more ‘spiritual’.

So, what happens when we don’t pay? Well, the short answer, is that we only get to hear from people who can afford to do it for free. What this means, is people who have enough resources not to need to be paid. The independently wealthy. Those who are supported by a working partner. People who already own their home. People with pensions. People who can work full or part time to support themselves and still have the time and energy to do creative or spiritual work. That sort of thing.

This is a logic that excludes people. It means certain voices are far less likely to be heard. If you’re well enough to work, but not well enough to both support yourself and work extra in your free time, you can’t do it for free. If you are in abject poverty and already working several low paid jobs, or lots of overtime, if you have dependants, you can’t afford to work for free. If you are raising children or caring for the ill, then your time and resources are limited, and if you have to earn alongside that, the odds are not in favour of your also being able to work for free.

Of course people do it, and give more than they can afford, and this can add to both physical and mental illness. One of the price tags on having people work for nothing, is increasing the risk of them getting ill or burned out.

If we ask that things be given to us for nothing, we’re basically agreeing that we’re happy just to hear from the independently wealthy and privileged, and that we’re happy to see creative and Pagan jobs only carried out by people who are massively advantaged, and that we don’t need to hear from people from more diverse backgrounds. Or that we’re happy to have people hurt themselves to try and give us this stuff.

Of course not all of us can pay. Many people are facing all kinds of difficulties themselves, and don’t have the luxury of choice. It’s important that creativity and teaching be available to people who can’t afford it.

How do we get a balance here? If those who can pay, do. If those who can afford to pay the piper see it as part of their social duty. Pay when you can. Pay what you can afford. Even if what that means is that once a year you buy a book – that helps. We have an economic system that makes financial exchange all about the cost of what’s sold, but as Pagans we don’t have to buy into that narrow idea. What if we paid based on what we can afford?

This post was prompted by a piece on Gods and Radicals, which you can read here – https://godsandradicals.org/2016/11/04/help-us-pay-our-writers/

 


The Burning Times

The first time I heard the song The Burning Times, I was a teenager at Bromyard Folk Festival. By the end of the second verse, I was in tears. It’s a powerful song. Especially that second verse, about how the Pope declared the Inquisition, and 9 million European women died as a consequence, mostly burned to death, apart from those in the last lines of verse 2 ‘and the tale is told of those who, by the hundreds, holding hands together sought their deaths in the sea, singing in the praises of the mother goddess, a refusal of betrayal, women were dying to be free.’ It took me a long time to learn it, because singing it reduced me to tears.

In my twenties, I started reading more seriously about Paganism, and it didn’t take me long to start finding a lot of reasons to question the Burning Times myth. In the UK, we tended to hang witches, not burn them. The Inquisition was mostly about Christian heretics. There weren’t enough people in mediaeval Europe for a death toll of 9 million to make sense. The whole argument for smooth continuation of witchcraft practice coupled with witch burning doesn’t stack up properly. Whatever happened, verse 2 of the Burning Times isn’t it.

I took to doing a short history note before singing the song. But it bothered me, because this is a myth that isn’t, I think doing us any favours.

This autumn, out of the blue, a thought came to me. The Burning Times is now. And so I re-wrote the second verse.

 

If you aren’t familiar with the original, you can hear it here – https://youtu.be/RsNmJ7GKOUQ


A shifting daily practice

The idea of having a daily practice is widespread and popular. It’s an obvious difference between being a holidays and high days kind of Pagan, and a series full time Pagan. What does it mean to have a daily practice in the context of a nature based spirituality?

I admit it’s an idea I’ve struggled with. I’ve been consciously Pagan for something like twenty years now. I do something deliberately Pagan most days – some kind of spiritual expression. There are often stretches of doing the same thing daily for a while – that might be prayer, or meditation, it might be a daily divination session to tune in to the cosmos, or deep working with creativity, or walking to commune with some specific thing… But it seldom stays as the same daily practice for long.

The walking gives a case in point. I had a long stretch last year of going out at twilight to commune with the bats, and then the winter came and the bats hibernated. I had a few weeks this spring of going out to commune with young owls, but the owls became adults and went hunting by themselves in early summer. I go up onto the hills to commune with the orchids, but they aren’t there for most of the year. Where I might go and what I might do is inherently seasonal. The day length and temperatures change, and it just doesn’t make sense to do the same things always. Or if I do the same things the consequences will be different. I can’t get up at 7 and celebrate the dawn in the middle of winter.

There’s something in the idea of a fixed daily practice that appeals. It suggests discipline and dedication, and seriousness. In practice, it doesn’t work for me, and I like what I do a good deal better when it’s more responsive, and thus constantly shifting.