Tag Archives: pagan

Community and Creativity

Every now and then I get to write the acknowledgement section for a book, and I usually start it by saying that no book is written in isolation. You’ll find a number of books that specifically mention how important this blog is in my writing process. These are workouts, tests, development sessions, they help me build towards those bigger projects. The feedback I get here enlarges my knowledge, broadens my perspective.

Of course it’s not just books. We are all doing whatever we do in a wider context. Most of us are supported or encouraged, or inspired by some else. Most of us are interacting with others, in whatever way makes sense. We’re engaging with other people who do the things we do so that our work is rooted, and relevant. We don’t have to slavishly copy what everyone else is doing but at the same time… books by authors who have read nothing in their field are easy to spot, and seldom good to read.

In any project, we stand, if not on the shoulders of giants, then on the shoulders of our many ancestors of tradition. It’s interesting to think about who they are and what they have given us.

I’m very, very lucky in that I belong to a number of creative communities that support me and give me places to put down roots. Moon Books, my Pagan publisher, is very much a community of writers and fellow travellers. I feel connected to the wider Pagan community, too. I feel a strong sense of connection with the Steampunk community, it inspires me, and means there’s a group of people I feel I’m creating things for. There’s comics community, and folk community and local community and these are all part of my mix as well.

What’s proved even more powerful for me is to be a part of a creative community that shares – be that in gathering together to air poems, stories and music, or co-creating art, or passing written texts back and forth. People who are willing to make larger and deeper connections around creative process. You can read Kevan Manwaring’s It Takes a Village to Raise a Story – about a project I’ve been involved in recently.  It’s an excellent reflection on collective creativity.

I’m also in the process of building a collective creative space, as hopelessmaine.com slowly draws people in to its dark and crazy world. People are coming to it from all the places I call home, and that’s heart warming. It’s important that there be safe spaces for people to stretch and develop, and this is one such.

The image of the lone genius, set apart from the world, making their thing in isolation, is not a healthy image. It’s not a sane image, or an image that offers the creator much joy or comfort. Some of us do need to retreat to the high tower now and then, but if there’s no one waiting for you to come out bearing the fruits of your labours, it is a sad and lonely sort of business. It’s a lot easier to keep creating when someone else believes in what you’re doing, and when what you are doing is part of some greater whole.


Being forty

Oddly enough, I find on the morning of my fortieth birthday that I feel largely unchanged from the previous day. As a child I believed that there was some magic shift that turned a person into a proper adult. Some clinging residue of the belief stayed with me, I confess, but sixteen wasn’t it, and eighteen did not rewire my brain, and twenty one brought no revelations. At forty, I notice that no innate adulating capacity seems to have hatched within me. At this point I can afford to admit to myself that it never will, and that paperwork, bureaucracy, and tedious details are always going to be an arse.

When I started writing and talking about Druidry and Paganism – in my late twenties – I tended to be vague about my age for fear of not being taking seriously. It’s one of the good things about being a Druid, I think – the possibilities that age may deliver gravitas and wisdom rather than irrelevance. This may well be like the childhood thing of imagining that adulthood will just turn up. Perhaps I’ll be here at fifty admitting that the wisdom and gravitas thing was just as silly. In the meantime, it’s a nice thought!

In writing, much as in Druid work, age is more of an advantage than not. Very few authors make it under the age of forty, so I’ve everything still to play for. A few more grey hairs won’t set me back at all. Although to be fair, I don’t have that many grey hairs, I’m not dyeing my hair and don’t intend to and I still don’t have many lines in my face. I have no idea how this came to be and can only assume there’s a really good painting of me stashed in someone’s attic, taking all the damage… Yet at the same time I’ve been showing peri-menopausal symptoms for about a year now, so the call of the crone is very much on me.

I got in early with the whole midlife crisis thing, having spent the last few years revisiting many of the things that I was interested in as a teen, rebuilding a sense of self. I had a fantastic party on Saturday night to celebrate this large, round birthday number, and came to the conclusion that more of that – more dancing like a crazy thing in the company of lovely people, with fantastic live music and yummy beer is the form any further midlife crisis flashes should take. With, or without hot flushes.

Perhaps I have reached the magic age of not caring what anyone else thinks, not needing to be acceptable, not aspiring to meet other people’s standards. Many aspects of my life have been becoming clearer and simpler for me, and I like how that feels. I have some sense of where I want to be going and a lot of certainty about who I want as travelling companions. The rest I can no doubt make up as I go along.


Dear Three Thousand

As I write this, there are very slightly more than three thousand of you signed up to get this blog as an email. So first up, a big thank you to everyone who has supported me by deciding to come along on this madcap adventure. Some of you have been with me from the very early days and have stuck it out, and that means a great deal to me. Others of you I hope to get more familiar with through comments and so forth as we progress.

If you ever find I’ve not explored something in enough detail, if you think I’ve got it wrong, or haven’t gone far enough or missed an aspect, please, please comment. It really helps when people chip in to expand the conversation and share details I don’t have, and rare is the post that wouldn’t benefit from this (probably just the poems!)

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you all that I do take guest blogs, I reblog, and I support Druid/Pagan projects, cool creative stuff and interesting authors. If you could use this platform, just leave a comment on a post or one of the pages and I’ll see it and email you. If I can help, I will.

I don’t and won’t ask for donations. I write this blog because it is something I can give, and I enjoy it and I think it helps achieve things I want to get done. And it’s way cheaper than therapy. If at any point you feel an urge to be supportive back, buy a book. I google really well, I have all kinds of books. But at the same time, one of the reasons I blog is that I know full well that not everyone can afford books, and if that’s you, please know that you are totally welcome to rock up here and take what’s offered and feel no guilt. I believe in gift economy, this blog is something I can put in the collective hat.

I had a great idea about hunting around online to find some exciting example of what a group of 3000 people have achieved in some context or another. Unfortunately all I found were articles where 3000 had been the death toll, and lots and lots of facebook hiring people. So there we go, there are no easy precedents to work with. Perhaps that means something!

Thank you for coming here, thank you for staying, thank you for everything you share. Onwards!


Spirituality and depression

One of the effects that depression can have is a sense of separation from the world. This can play out in all kinds of ways – a sense of alienation from other people, a sense of dislocation from what you’re doing, distance from your own body and actions. The spiritual consequences of this detached feeling can be vast and deeply disturbing to deal with.

There have been springs when my inner season has remained winter and I’ve just not been able to connect with what was going on. There have been many days when it seemed as though all the life and colour had drained out of the world. How do you practice a Pagan faith when everything tastes like cardboard? When all you can do is skim the surface of life and not experience any breadth or depth? When you can’t feel a sense of connection, depression can rapidly become a spiritual crisis as well.

When I am depressed, I have tended to lose either my intuition or my ability to trust it. I’m not creative, or am less creative. I’m not open, so very little can get in, including the things I really need to have permeating me – the seasons, the time of day, the weather, the songs of birds.

I have a suspicion that depression may be worse for Pagans than for people of many other faiths. In many religions, there are rituals, prayers, songs, actions, regular gatherings for worship. It is normal to show up to these because it’s what you do rather than in the expectation of anything massive happening. Paganism has a far greater emphasis on personal revelation, experience of the divine and the numinous, and for a person mired in depression, these experiences are not very likely at all. We’ve got a priesthood, but it’s individuals working alone, mostly. We don’t have the support infrastructures to help take care of people who run things when they are in difficulty themselves.

I hold inspiration sacred. I’m dedicated to the bard path, a big part of my spiritual life is about creating and performing. Again, these are things that it is very difficult to do at all, or to do well when the black dog has sunk its teeth in.

I don’t have any tidy solutions to this. It helps to know that you are dealing with depression and not Pagan-fail. You may not be able to do the things you normally would – anything calling for concentration – so meditation and ritual can be too difficult. You might not feel as you normally feel – no sense of the animistic reality around you, no sense of the gods or the voices of spirit in the wind or whatever it is you normally do. That itself can be painful and disorientating and will add to the burden of depression.

Believing that all of this will pass can be the hardest belief to hold onto.


Fox rituals

I don’t know how long the fox had been watching us, but he had stopped in the middle of the footpath to observe our approach. We’d been mostly looking up into the trees on the off-chance of owlets, and it took me a while to register the scrutiny, and longer again to spot him in the gloom. We stopped, and he stayed put, a length of fox across the middle of the path, eyeing us up. We said hi. We managed to hold that position for more seconds, and then the fox took off into the trees.

We saw him twice on the way home – each time he emerged from the undergrowth some yards ahead of us, trotted briskly down the path and then disappeared into the gloom. It was clearly the same fox – he’s pretty distinctive. A large male, skinny but clearly in good shape, with some distinctive white markings. We see him regularly – he saunters past our flat some nights, and we see him in the fields a well. Like us, he’s a creature of the borders between town and country. I guess he’s seen, or smelled us about, too.

It struck me, walking home, what a difference there is between saying ‘hail spirits of this place’ in a ritual and ‘hello Mr Fox’ in an encounter. We also stopped to say hi to a rabbit, who also watched us but did not run away. My feeling of being present, of being part of life on the path rather than just an observer or something passing through, was intense. I felt the connection I’d tried to make in ritual. I wonder about the way ritual helps us to engage with what’s going on, but is also a barrier simply because it is an elaborate human construct designed to move at its own pace.

In a Pagan ritual, often what we’re trying to do is connect with the season, and with the natural world. I’ve been walking the same path intermittently for years now – more evenings in the summer, earlier in the winter, the odd night excursion. I know who to expect where and when, broadly speaking. We’ve become creatures who use the path, along with the deer and numerous birds. We stop for them, and they carry on – last night two robins engaged in a strange song and dance routine that seemed very intimate. When they hopped into the leaf litter, their plumage and the gloom conspired to make them into uncanny, magical patterns of movement.

The fox no doubt has his own nightly rituals.


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.