Tag Archives: pathworking

Druidry and rescue

This is a tested approach for dealing with someone in emotional crises. In an ideal situation it would just be a case of grabbing some professional help, but mostly there isn’t any of that to be had, so if someone close to you is in crisis, you may be all they have.

This approach needs handling with the calm authority you would bring to leading a meditation or a ritual. That means you may well use your emotional range to get things done, but you have to do so from a place of love, strength and confidence.

  1. Make non-threatening physical contact. It helps focus attention. If someone has disappeared into themselves, and isn’t functioning, touch is a good way of getting their attention. Put a hand on their shoulder, hold their hand, that kind of thing.
  2. If you don’t know what’s happening, ask, and listen without judgement. Say nothing that will undermine them, or invalidate their feelings. You may not agree with what they are feeling and why, but if you bring that up now you will only make things worse. Don’t criticise, avoid anything that could be taken as you saying these feelings are not reasonable or valid – you have to start from where the person is right now. No one is ever rescued by being made to feel that their emotions are somehow wrong. Your understanding is essential.
  3. Validate their feelings. Tell them you understand why they feel as they do. Recognise the context in which this is happening to them. Empathise with them. If they don’t talk or you don’t need to ask, verbally empathise. Tell them as much as you can about what you understand of what’s happening and why it’s a reasonable response.
  4. Using your empathy, you need to persuade the person that you are inside this situation with them. Not that you feel exactly the same, but you are in there, feeling what is happening. You may need to cry for them, but be careful not to make it about you.
  5. Refuse to leave them in this place. Tell them you are with them, and that you can get them out. Believe that you can walk them out of this place. One breath at a time. One step at a time. This is where your pathworking/ritual skills really come in. You have to walk them out. Keep it in the present tense, don’t talk about the future too much. Take a ‘this is what we’re going to do right now,’ tone. Keep it simple. Reassure them that they can get through this. The rest you will have to make specific to what’s happening, but it is your empathy and your being in there with them that will enable you to pull them out a little way. You do not need to fix everything right now, you just need to get your person to engage with you and consider that things could be better. Your love, determination and compassion are key here. Don’t use emotional blackmail. It is ok to say ‘I need you’ or ‘I don’t want to live without you’ but don’t say ‘stop doing this to me I can’t bear it’ because that kind of thing will push them deeper in. Make it about them and what they need. They probably do need to feel needed, but not wholly responsible for you.
  6. As soon as you have them engaged with you, make some physical interventions. Do things that will be grounding and physically supportive – hot drinks, food, a blanket, getting them to bed, or under a shower, or into a bath and fresh clothes. Brush their hair, massage their feet, make them a hot water bottle, get them outside for some fresh air, or to a window. From this point onwards, focus on physical care – it supports mental health, is a good expression of love and support and creates space in which they can keep talking. Encourage them to keep talking, but don’t push hard, talking is often exhausting when in crisis. It may take a few rounds to deal with what is happening.
  7. When things are stable, consider the underlying issues and what can be done to tackle them. Do not try and do this when the person is in crisis, they won’t have the resources and may be overwhelmed and intimidated.

Miyazaki Meditations

I’m not the world’s most visually minded person, which, I confess, makes visual meditation hard work. I’m also, sometimes, a really stressed and anxious person. When you’re lying there at night with a thousand worries rampaging across your brain, it can be hard to switch that off to go to sleep. I’ve been meditating regularly for a good twenty years, but I still find there are times when my brain is triggered into frantic and counter-productive activity.

Meditating when it’s easy is all very nice, and probably very good for us, but it tends to be when meditation is hardest that we need it most. So, how do you even start to meditate when your brain is full of angry weasels?

I like pathworking, but the trouble with pathworking is that you need something to hold the path. Lying in bed at night (where meditation in self defence is an issue) a pre-recording won’t work, and getting my stress-fest of a brain to organise anything is at best a long shot.

What I’ve taken to doing, is using journey sequences from the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I’m especially fond of Spirited Away, where you can walk down the tunnel, out into the landscape, over the river and towards the bathhouse – it’s the perfect opening for a pathworking. Miyazaki films are visually intense, and I find them to be good soul food, so making myself go over a journey sequence helps to calm the brain weasels, while being unstressful, and inherently settling.

Any strong and familiar visual imagery would of course do it. Any sequence from a game, or a film, that gives you strong visual imagery to work with can be borrowed as the opening to a meditation – whether you’re working along the edges of sleep, or not.

Inside our brains, we form pathways in a fairly literal sense. Panic, anxiety and other unhelpful things can become the paths we walk, and the more often we walk them, the more we wear those paths into ourselves. Taking a different path is restorative, it can break cycles of fear and depression, and gives us a chance to go somewhere else, in every sense.

I have a book on meditation,and there are other excellent meditation books at Moon Books – more info here http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/meditation-books/

Perceptions in reviewing

We each come to book reviews as individuals, with different needs and ideas about what a book should do. From an authoring perspective, this is an unwinnable game, because there will always be people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, wanted your book to have been something else. From the reviewing perspective, it creates all kinds of challenges too. The best reviewers have the self awareness to flag up their own biases such that anyone reading the review can factor that in and make their own judgments.

As a reviewer, I found Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry to be a really interesting book, not least for the way in which it opens up poetry as a tool for pathworking. I wouldn’t work with the poems the authors suggests, but the method the book explores is something I’ve found tremendously helpful. One of my biases is that I like analysis – something this book features heavily. I like to understand things intellectually and I find this deepens my scope to engage emotionally. However, not all readers respond in this way.

Below is a review from  Frank Malone – OBOD student and professional psychoanalyst.

An Ambivalent Appreciation

I had a significant mix of reactions to Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry: Visions from the Hearts of the Poets. Initially I was attracted by the title. Working as a psychoanalyst, often the best interpretations to patients are like poetry – called overdetermined interpretations. In psychoanalysis, an interpretation is any intervention that is designed to facilitate something unconscious becoming conscious. The overdetermined interpretation (developed in the 1960s by Marie Coleman Nelson, one of my supervisors during training) is a verbal intervention that is ambiguous enough to carry multiple levels of meanings for a patient. Thus there is “projective room” for the patient to interpret to herself whatever is psychologically needed in the moment.

Abundant projective room is one of the characteristics of great art. There must be enough ambiguity for multiple generations and cultures to see their issues addressed in the work. However objective the aesthetic quality of the work may be, it will never be great art to you if it cannot answer one question:

“What does this have to do with me?”

Hence my essential critique of the book. The author gives so much historical and biographical detail about the poems examined that it interfered with my being able to make psychological use of the poetry.
An analogy comes to mind with filmic art. My emotional responses to a work have been diminished by watching behind -the-scenes documentaries. Scenes can feel less magical once the camera tricks are known. (Even though my appreciation of the skill and craft of producing the scene may have increased.)
I found that generally for me, it was not psychologically helpful to know that, for example, in a specific image the poet was actually struggling with a certain set of personal issues. It interfered with using that image for my own healing and self evolution.

Conversely to my above statement however, the author does give specific examples of how historical and biographical particulars can facilitate pathworking. For instance, in discussing the image of the holy Rood in O’Sullivan’s Credo she says helpfully that, “contemplation of the symbolism of the priest hiding behind this dead screen can be a rewarding exercise for those meditating on their position with regards to the religion of their youth” (p.68).

I am however thankful for this book. As a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I am naturally interested in Celtic history, legends and spirituality. W.B. Yeats was brought to life, and I knew nothing of Fiona MacLeod and Seumus O’Sullivan. As a healer I am drawn to Bridget, and I appreciate how the author facilitated Bridget’s voice. As a mental health professional I also appreciated her comments about psychic vampires, and the importance of psychological and spiritual protection before pathworking. She also emphasises the need to utilise one’s own spiritual tradition in operationalising protection.

I will keep this book ‎as a reference to the poets examined, but not as a tool in my spiritual practise.

*    *    *    *    *

Readers who, like me, thrive on understanding the mechanics, and who don’t find that gets in the way of their spirituality, will likely love this book. You can find out more here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-pathworking-through-poetry Readers who need the room for unrestricted emotional responses probably won’t, although as Frank points out, it’s still very much worth considering this book for what it can teach you about poets working in the Celtic traditions.

Matters of destiny

This is what should happen.

You are out, on your own at one of those quieter times of day. There’s probably a very good reason for this – please fill in the backstory as you see fit, making sure that you find it plausible and satisfying, because all stories work better when you believe the starting point.

And there you are, ambling down the side of some non-descript bit of water, thinking your own thoughts, or not thinking, or perhaps an odd mix of the two where random things are allowed to float through your mind. But you’re not totally self involved, so you notice when the arm sticks up out of the water. Pale arm. Slender. Not drowning, but not waving either.

Up she comes. An entire, shimmering wet, river weed coated, heart-breakingly beautiful woman. Eyes of sky and water that you know are looking straight into your soul. Eyes that see all that you have been, and all that you could be. There is no judgement in her face, only recognition and you know that she’s been looking for you. She reaches out a hand and offers you…what? A sword that speaks of power and destiny? A pen that is of course mightier than the sword? A paintbrush? This is, after all, your story so it’s yours to know what a watery woman slipping into your time from the place of myth would bring with her.

Of course it is not just an object. It is an act of recognition of who you are. It is not merely permission to go out into the world and do something amazing, it is a demand. Myths do not come round and accost everyone in this way.

Be brave, she says, be bold and be real.

What happens? What really happens, when there are no ladies of lakes bearing Excalibur? What happens when one day is too much like the other and the idiots are many and the wonders few? You do it anyway.


(Now and then I write things for people, because something is wanted. I used to write custom fiction professionally, although usually I have more to go on than I had this time. It would work as a sort of pathworking, I think, adapted to personal circumstance.)

Revelation meditation

One of the downsides of shared meditation – especially if you’re also sharing feedback of your experiences, is the pressure to have something important happen. In guided group pathworkings, and other guided visualisations the effect of being in a group can tend us towards wanting meaning and potent symbols. If the person next to you found the Holy Grail on their pathworking, if a wild boar came to them as their animal guide in a shamanic trance, if they saw their dead grandmother who said something important sounding… it’s not easy to sit there and say that nothing much happened to you.

All meditation work comes out of the mind – both the conscious and unconscious parts of it. If a group develops a culture of powerful, meaningful symbols, the odds are good that everyone will fall in naturally with that. If your meditation circle gets messages from angels, you will learn to talk to yourself with the faces and voices of angels. If it’s all about the Stone Age village, you’ll see the Stone Age village. If everyone else seems to be getting scenes from the tarot, you’ll get scenes from the tarot. There’s nothing wrong with this – the same thing happens (by all accounts) in dream sharing circles and psychotherapy. Humans have urges towards finding common language. What is language, in fact, but the deploying of shared symbols?

The trouble with everything being big, important and meaningful is that it is exhausting. Big meanings call for actions, for change, for re-envisioning your life. It’s a good thing to do – I would say it’s a good thing to do at reasonably regular intervals. But every week? That’s tiring. You can also suffer from inflation issues, because if you found the Holy Grail last week, what on earth can you find this week? And if you haven’t integrated that finding of the Holy Grail into your life in some meaningful way, that’s not any kind of comfortable. I know. That one happened to me. Years on, and I’m still profoundly uneasy about it. Like Parzival, I have seen the grail and had no bloody idea what to do about it, and am left to wander and be uncomfortable. Big dramatic symbols can as easily be a curse as a blessing.

These were not issues I was aware of back when writing Druidry and Meditation (I still think it holds up as a book, though). That’s the trouble with books – there’s always more to learn and more perspective to gain. These days the meditation circle I sit in does not talk much about personal experience. It’s taken me more than a year of doing that to notice what it changed for me. There can be a temptation to want to compete, when meditation sessions are shared. The desire to have a really profound experience so that you can tell everyone else about it. The longing for the best story. There’s always room for a bit of self importance or reassurance-seeking to sneak into any spiritual practice. In the absence of structured sharing, my inner performing seal no longer feels obliged to stick a ball on its nose and look charming. It makes meditation a more restful process for me. There was a glorious liberation in realising, this week, that if I sat there and nothing happened, that was totally fine.

Why Druids ponder

Pondering, reflection, meditation and contemplation are frequent features of the Druid path. There are many ways of doing it. We might sit in silence and see what floats up. We might focus our minds on a certain topic, explore a visualisation or undertake a pathworking. We might meditate through movement, or take a meditative approach to our ritual work.

Thinking is a big part of Druidry. For some, Druidry is better described as philosophy than as religion, but this is not in the sense of adopting wholesale a way of thinking about the world. Druid philosophy is not something you study, take onboard and then manifest in your life. It is something that you do. Philosophy for Druids is always a work in progress. There is always more to learn and understand. Deeper insights are always available, more connections can be contemplated. Some of this can be developed through study and debate, and by life-experiments and experience.

To go from those raw moments of experience to developing philosophy you have to process what has happened. Therefore, it is in thinking about our feelings and beliefs, reflecting on our experiences, contemplating our lives and meditating on our aspirations that we create, from one day to the next, a process of personal philosophy that has no end point.

I find it helps to put some time aside each day for thinking. How I do this has varied a lot through my life. When I started, I used the time before sleeping as my main pondering space. My dysfunctional first marriage coupled with the challenges of a young child made it harder to have a regular practice, and I took to snatching what quiet time I could for a few years. Mediation groups have given me productive spaces to work in, and the structure of the OBOD course helped me reclaim some life, time and space for my path.

Currently I have two periods, reliably, in each day that I can use for my indoors Druidry. I use the time before sleep for prayer, and reflection. I’ve arranged my life so that I spend a lot of time in bed (by modern standards) and am not so overtired that I fall asleep at once. There’s a lovely, warm, relaxed space available to me as a consequence. I wake long before I need to get up, and generally I wake when my body wants to, and am able to spend the first half an hour or so of the day reflecting on what I need to be doing, working through ideas, contemplating life, self, and matters arising. It means I step out to face the day clear headed, knowing what I’m doing and ready to start. This blog post was sketched out in such a way, alongside the two others I need to write before lunch. Last night I was reflecting on images from Gordon MacLellan’s inspiring poetry.

Modern life encourages us to keep running, and to exist in over-stimulated environments. It is easy to be bombarded by an excess of information and never have time to reflect on it, derive meaning or consider implications. This reduces both the benefit and the joy to be derived from any experience. Taking time to ponder, also means getting to savour what has happened to us. In having time to reflect, we integrate experiences into the stories of our lives, and we re-create sense of self. In stepping away from hectic-lifestyle culture, and adopting a slower, more thoughtful pace, we become active participants in our lives, rather than passive recipients, pushed round by whatever forces hit us.

There are many ways of meditating, many reasons to meditate and many effects of making it part of your life. If all you can find are ten minutes to spare in a day, find them, because those ten minutes will help you transform everything else.

(Druidry and Meditation, on sale over at amazon kindle at time of posting…)

Imagination and Meditation

I’ve recently read a Glennie Kindred book in which she talks about using the imagination to take you into the otherworlds and to have spiritual experiences. This is certainly isn’t the only instance of this kind of thinking. I assume that if you don’t use your imagination much in the normal scheme of things, then imagining talking to a spirit or travelling to the otherworlds will seem incredible, powerful, exciting. Of course it will seem like magic.

My trouble with this is that to a large extent, I live by my imagination and have done for years. I’ve been making up not just stories, but complex settings for them since childhood. Give me a bit of thinking time, and I can imagine my way into all sorts of places, consider how to empathise with whoever’s there, work out how they got there and where they might be going, and how it all works. Give me a throwaway line and I’ll wrap a story around it. I can imagine anything. I assume so could anyone else if they were using their imaginations regularly. As far as I can tell, the imagination is a bit like a muscle in that if you never use it, it gets weak and flabby.

Does my imagination take me to otherworlds that are meaningful? I can imagine my way into the faerie court, and I can go there as Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer, or I can go there as a faerie, or create a person. At a pinch I could go as me, but that’s not as interesting. I can imagine a Stone Age tribe in the Severn Vale and walk between the hills and the river with them. I can see why it might be tempting to cast these imaginings as religious experiences. However, I’m also perfectly capable of imagining walking into Gotham City as Batman. Do we want to call that a religious experience, too? It might be, for the serious fanboy, but it isn’t for me.

I suppose if you’d spent all of your life sat in a chair because you had no idea it was possible to move (or it wasn’t possible for you), and then you found out about walking, and that you could do it, , those first stumbling steps would seem like (or be) a miracle. If you walk all the time, walking is something you take for granted. If you only walk between the house and the car, then a walk into the woods is a walk into an unknown, magical otherworld. If you walk over hills and through woods most weeks, you will love and value the hills and woods, but they will not seem strange in the same way. They won’t strike you as belonging to a semi-supernatural realm.

The same is true of imaginations. If you are used to meditating, visualising, daydreaming, and pathworking, then you will have some idea of what your mind is capable of. Your ability to picture walking into Mordor will not leave you feeling like you have, in some literal sense, walked into Mordor.

There are other levels. There are times, rare and precious occasions, when working deeply with the imagination does seem to open a door into something numinous. If you are used to using your imagination and aren’t being seduced by the frankly quite unhealthy idea that your thinking something makes it real, there is more room for the more wondrous. If you know what your everyday, regular imagination looks like, how glorious and wide are its wings, how truly soaring its potential, then you can appreciate that for what it is. You won’t mistake your imaginary chats with imaginary Druids for anything other than your mind talking to itself. And if for a second, you really do glimpse a white hart come out of faerie, or a tree murmurs a few words to you, then there’s a better chance you will know how to make sense of this.

The journey back

Following on from Pathworking with Dunsany, I want to talk more broadly about the journey back. If you don’t die in the process, then the end of every adventure involves a return journey. This is just as true of rituals, pagan camps and deep meditations as it is for wandering Hobbits. At the end, you go home. This is an important part of the process.

Home is where you live. It’s where you come from, where you belong, be it ever so ordinary. Part of the coming back can be seeing the old place with new eyes. Like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, you may find that the adventure allows you to see what was splendid about what you had all along. It may mean bringing back some of the mystery and wonder to share with those who did not go on the journey. It may simply mean finding a place to nurture the more down to earth part of yourself, because we need that too.

A wonder that you cannot speak of to someone who will appreciate it, turns out to be a lot less wonderful. The making of story and offering of experience to another human is part of the adventure. That sharing puts the adventure into perspective, places it in the wider story, perhaps helps us make sense of it too.

The contrast is important, between the wonderful and the ordinary. A life that was all ritual, or all pathworking would cease to make as much sense. That way, quite literally, lies madness. There’s only so much wonder a mind can take before it needs a rest, and perhaps a nice, mundane cup of tea and time to reflect upon things. We appreciate most stuff better for having a degree of contrast. The inherent peace of the ordinary probably seems a lot more valuable once you’ve trekked into Mordor, or whatever your personal equivalent may have been.

It can be tempting to want to disappear, taking the envisaged road into faerie, and never looking back. In the more profound moments of prayer, in the wilder dreams, in the deepest meditations, that call to just go and never return can be loud and powerful. This drab, damp life, this grey England, this lousy government… if only we could step through a magical portal and never come back. Only the coming back is necessary, and worth doing well. Come back smiling, with fresh inspiration, not reluctantly like a kid being dragged out of a playground to go and do homework. Bring a few shreds of glamour and wonder with you, for the rest of the world has need of them.

Only when we come back, can we reflect on where we’ve been and figure out what it means.

Pathworking with Dunsany

Yesterday I read several Lord Dunsany stories that involve transitions into the otherworlds. I decided to try them as a pathworking, dabbling along the edges of sleep as is my preference.
Here’s the pathworking, loosely…

First you must find Go-By Street, which is an obscure little side street in London. Along that narrow street you will find a shop where they sell all manner of things. You must ask for something they cannot provide. (I went for a pint of compassion recently milked from a Tory). Then, when the shopkeeper acknowledges that it cannot be done, you can ask the way to the cottages. The shopkeeper will show you the way, past a room full of sleeping gods, to a backdoor. You come out into a street where the pavements are normal, but all else is covered in grass, and there are no other buildings. You follow the path until you find the witch’s cottage. The windows on one side of this cottage look out over the fields we know and from the other windows you can see the purple mountains of faerie. From here, a person can go forwards.

I only got as far as the witch’s cottage, she told me to stay the night and progress at dawn. I slept, and I dreamed, and when I woke from those dreams I was back in the witch’s house. I went a whole night dreaming that I was dreaming and waking there. It was one of the most startling, and vivid experiences.

I pathwork along the edges of sleep sometimes with the aim of it feeding into my dreaming, but this is the first time in a long while that has worked, and worked surprisingly well. I feel very odd today, but in a good kind of way. I think the combination of reading several stories and then working deliberately with said gave me a real boost, but I rather felt I was going by some tried and tested route.

Dunsany did not claim to be a Druid. I’m not sure he claimed to be anything in particular. There are layers in his work under the whimsy and fantasy, layers of human meaning and also layers of something other, something resonant and wild that really calls to me. One way or another, he went somewhere. Call it imagination, or journeying, or the mad flights of a poet’s fancy, but he went, and as ways of crossing into other places, this is a fine one.

The stories were… A shop in Go-By Street and The Avenger of Perondaris and the odds are good that both are online somewhere.

Alternative meditation

There are a number of standard meditation techniques popular with druids that I find impossible. They make no emotional sense to me. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the techniques, I’m sure they work well for some people, just not for me. I’ve been trying to find alternatives, and having got one, wanted to share on the off-chance that I am not alone in my difficulties.

There is the meditation in which we go down into the otherworld. We may go through a door in a tree and down a stair, and meet the guardian. I’ve encountered this one in a few places. It stumps me partly because it’s directional. I have ideas about Annwn that would work for going down, but the otherworld as underworld doesn’t sit right. I understand the otherworlds as being alongside this one, overlapping, interwoven in ways too complex for me to understand.

When I want to explore something otherworldly in meditation, I have tried hard and repeatedly to work with the ‘down’ model. I’m not an inherently visual person, and I’ve tried using imagery from all kinds of places to reinforce the work, and I still struggle. Being a frequent meditator and good at working with other thought forms, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s just not the right idea for me.

I then started looking round for some alternative. I need a meditative journey that takes me from the world as I experience it, into somewhere else. I need that journey to be emotionally resonant for me, and the imagery to be simple enough that I can easily picture it. I spent some days deliberately mulling this over, and nothing came.

Then, walking beside the canal in the darkness, I watched the full moon rise, creating a path of light across the water. I knew I’d found my image. I remember a story from childhood – Masquerade – in which a hare had to run the path of the sun, created by the sun setting over the sea. I’m sure I’ve read moonpath stories as well.  It’s an idea I’ve also used in fiction writing. Path of the moon, path of the sun, stretching out over the water, over river or ocean, and taking us… I don’t know. Beyond the map, into the unknown.

I’ve started working with the idea of a moonpath in meditation, and currently just imagining walking or running it is enough for me. I realised once I started that I had created a scenario in which I would have to walk on water, which is laden with interesting connotations. So far the journey is simply over the water, following the light. I know that when I am truly ready, that path will take me somewhere. I’m not pushing, or presupposing what I will find, and I like that too. It makes me realise one of the problems I have with prescriptive visualisations and pathworkings is that they often tell you what to encounter. I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want to write a story about where I’m going, I want to journey and experience in a freeform way, in a way that might possibly be a real spiritual experience rather than the creative working of my conscious mind.

This is part of my re-enchantment quest, and my searching for magic in my life. I realised that I needed to open myself to otherworldliness, and looked around for suitable tools. I think in the moonpath and sunpath meditations, I’ve found something. I also like that I can go out and work with real phenomena – I don’t just have to sit and imagine, I can meditate with the moon or sun on the water sometimes, and I’m very drawn to grounding my meditations in reality where I can.

More notes from the journey when I have anything to report.