Tag Archives: soul

The too-open heart

I scare people, with almost monotonous regularity. Some respond by being offended, others back away, or run away. From as far back as I can remember, people who I’ve let get close to me have come back to say I am too serious, too intense, too melodramatic, too difficult, too much bother. About this time a year ago, having been through one of those and been told that my excess of feeling had somehow made someone else ill, I called ‘enough.’ No more of this ridiculous exposure. No more knock-backs.

Then six months later, in a triumph of optimism over experience, I sauntered out and did it all again, to the same refrain of complaints… too much, too uncomfortable. On this occasion I had tried too hard and given too much.

It’s hard to express what the consequences are of pouring heart and soul into something, giving all that you have and being told off and pushed away as a result. This has been the pattern of my life, reoccurring down the years with far too many very different sorts of people. As the consistent part of this is me, it seems logical to deduce that the problem must also be me, that the criticism is fair, and that my excessive nature causes other people pain and discomfort. As I have no desire to make the people I care about miserable, learning not to manifest too much of how I am has become an important project.

I don’t know how to be anything other than wholehearted. I don’t know how to turn up to any situation or person in a half-arsed state of don’t really care and can’t be bothered, but as far as I can make out, many of my historical interactions with people would have been a good deal more viable and sustainable had I brought that to the table, rather than this urge to do my best. I’m not prepared to learn how to be careless, and so I have tried to learn how to hide, to downplay the hours I put in, to not mention how important things, and people are to me. There is a loneliness in that, but it keeps me in the game, allows me human interaction and participation, reduces the risk of my causing pain with my too-muchness.

Fascinated as I am by how people think, I also need to deal with the gap in my understanding here. Having never been offended by someone else’s emotions, the idea perplexes me. I can be offended by actions, and by unkindness, but I can’t imagine getting angry with someone because they cared about something. I assume there’s another facet to this, that my care, my seriousness, my work ethic exposes something. Perhaps it feels like a judgement (which it isn’t), or prompts other people to feel uncomfortable about something in themselves that must then be fended off by lashing out at me. Perhaps it is to do with values clashing, and that what I see as ‘can’t be bothered’ is something more important, more cherished by the person holding it, and I am failing to recognise and honour something there.

When I was younger, emotional honesty seemed like the most precious, most important thing. Experience has taught me to revise that. I hold emotional honesty within myself, but what goes out is usually almost entirely muted, both the ecstatic and the agonised, so as to be more tolerable. There’s a certain irony to this, because the ‘heart on sleeve’ nature of this blog has been remarked on by others. This is not heart on sleeve, this is carefully thought through, processed and calmly written. It’s nothing like dealing with me in the raw. I do it because every time thus far that I’ve exposed something in this way, someone else has found it useful.

So, if there are any other little monsters out there, who love too much, and cry too easily, and won’t sit down and don’t know how to shut up and have no ability to shrug and walk away and carry the weight of the significance of things… you are not alone, and perhaps there is some comfort to be had in that thought.


Of soul and inspiration

When inspiration comes, it comes as a flow, bringing clarity and a sense of purpose to my thoughts. I know what I’m doing, and I can see how to do it. Whether that’s a scene in a novel, a political press release, the plan for a day… it is discernibly the same process happening. When it happens I am both happy and highly effective. Often it doesn’t happen. Today, the wheel is barely turning and I have no idea where the hamster is.

I know, because I land here often, that there are some basic rules at play. Nothing is an infinite resource, and that includes inspiration. I can’t pull energy and ideas out of (where? The ether? My subconscious?)  forever if I put nothing in. I have to take time to feed my inspiration with beauty, ideas, good music, rest, space to daydream. If there is going to be high quality output there has to be high quality input as well. Unfortunately I don’t always get my life to balance out such that good stuff in sits well with what I’m trying to put out. That in turn leads to days when there are a lot of things I really have to do. With no flow of inspiration to carry me, I have to do it by pushing (or quit). That’s slower, leaving me less time to recharge, increasing the imbalance further. If I let that continue for too long, I will break down, one way or another.

Today’s jobs seem important. They always do. If I leave them, there will be problems. Tomorrow, more jobs will come in. When the inspiration flows, this is fine, but on days like today, it becomes frightening, overwhelming.

And yet I find myself not doing any of what I should be doing, but instead on facebook trying to reason with people for whom a climate change march seems stupid. Comments like ‘if you walk everywhere, you obviously don’t work’ and accusations of smug elitism hurled at protestors. This is another great energy stealer, but unless we convince the apathetic majority, the inertia laden many who are offended by any suggestion that they might need to change… we aren’t going to win, and everything else I’m doing becomes less feasible, too.

And I know, when I read the heartless, souless words of people who just want to get online and ridicule other people, when I see protestors slapped down and good causes mocked… I am seeing people who have no inspiration. I am seeing people who go through every day with no vision or insight, nothing to grant perspective or a sense of purpose. I guess if you can’t imagine anything else, you have to cling in fear to the status quo. If you don’t have the inspiration to picture something better, you will assume this is as good as it gets. If nothing has ever shaken you to the core and thrown you headlong into something that matters, caring may well seem ridiculous.

For all that I struggle with inspiration, I find it hard to imagine what a life entirely devoid of it would be like. How hollow, empty and unrewarding such an existence must be. I’m fairly sure that I’m seeing them, lurking around online, and out there in the wider world, too. Laughing at those who care, mocking those who try, and resisting all change. Not because their lives are so great that any change would be for the worse, but because they cannot imagine it.

Aware that the tides of my own inspiration are so dependent on input, I have to wonder if those I encounter who seem cripplingly uninspired, are malnourished. What comes into their lives to uplift them and feed their souls? What helps them picture a kinder, better, more sustainable world? What encourages them to strive, to try and be better people and to live more rewarding lives? But why would they need any of that? After all, they probably all have televisions.


Moon in Taurus

I tend to be sceptical about astrology. Actually, if we’re going to be fair I tend to be sceptical about everything, with the notable exceptions of Ronald Hutton and caffeine. The idea that my life was in any way pre-destined does not sit well with me.  I don’t accept the idea of a mechanical universe rolling out its ore-ordained events. It’s entirely possible that’s what we’ve got, but I prefer the idea of free will, and obviously if it is a mechanical universe I don’t have much choice about having gone down the wrong route here…

I had a tough weekend. Sunday into Monday, the weight of the world on my shoulders was especially keen. Yesterday’s blog post was full of despair. A few comments here and on facebook made it clear it wasn’t just me. Not all of those comments were in response to the blog, either. Then, to my surprise I spotted a status update from a friend: “waiting for the Moon to move out of Scorpio into Sagittarius 6pm tonight….can’t wait….too intense, not everything is “Life and Death’.” Curious.

Sometimes it does feel like there’s something in the air. Sometimes there does seem to be a distinct vibe, that catches a lot of people all at once. There are moments in history when a lot of people suddenly get moving and it’s hard to talk about that without resorting to the language of tides.

I don’t want the shape of my self to have been dictated by the position of astral bodies at the moment of my birth. And yet I am willing to accept the idea that I might have a fundamental self, an intrinsic nature that I did not create solely through my own choices. Stopping to look at that I realise it doesn’t quite add up. I’d be ok with an underlying nature shaped by my biology. Biological inevitabilities seem tolerable to me. I do not entirely like the idea of being a product of my environment, not least because I’ve seen plenty of people transcend their origins, and others fail to fly despite being launched well, so I don’t think that’s it. The idea that I might have an enduring soul that has its own character seems fine, so long as I don’t get into where any of that comes from.

Is it any more irrational to assume my identity was made by the stars, rather than some other agent? Which brings me round to Moon in Taurus. There was a ritual at Druid camp, where people were encouraged to find out where their moon is. I didn’t do the ritual, but I did check the sign. It fits me uncannily well, and my bloke is the same.

The trouble with the stars is that they’re out there all the time, going through their complex dance moves with the planets. That means if there is an influence, its constant, and that seems a bit much most days. Part of me occasionally thinks that if there is a flow, we must be touched by it. Part of me would like to be largely responsible for the mistakes and successes of my life. I’ll mention now that I’m a Gemini, and we’ll see what floats back…


Valuing the ephemeral

Science can incline us towards the idea that what matters most are the things we can measure. It tends to help that the things we can most readily measure, we can also point at, and are therefore more able to agree about. How much money you have, how many cars and how big a house are easy things to point at when you want to compare yourself to others. For much the same reasons, governments like to point at employment figures, and do not want to get bogged down in conversations about whether those jobs are any good or worth doing.

Worth is very hard to measure, unless you judge it by money. The same is true of quality of life, happiness, wellbeing, sense of community and the state of your soul. Sure, you can survey people and ask them how they feel, but then you’re relying on self reporting, and of course people aren’t reliable and can lie to you. How do you measure love, friendship or enlightenment? How do you measure and value the way a sunset makes you feel?

That we can more readily measure some things than others invites us to invest more effort and attention in the things we can measure – both personally and as a culture. So we talk about how many lives are saved by different medical interventions each year, not the quality of life for those who continue to live. We take our measure of spending as a measure of how well we are doing as a country, no matter what that money is being spent on. We want faster train travel and more oil and we can measure the profits, and the growth but we can’t measure the value of the landscapes these destroy, and so we don’t measure that value, and we trash something irreplaceable.

I’m generally pro-science. I recognise that by its nature, science can only go around measuring measurable things. Issues like the state of your soul and the beauty of your location are hard to approach that way. The habit of measuring locks us into some very narrow ways of thinking about worth and value. Because money is the most readily measurable thing in the equation, so we down-value what we don’t pay for – the domestic work of women, the dawn chorus, our clean air, the future of our children – we tend to be very short term around how we see the price tags, too.

This all fits in with what I was exploring yesterday (thank you Helen Noble for the prompt on facebook). When you take narrow measurements of value, a certain kind of resource and person will tend to dominate your society. Those who can accumulate material wealth are treated as the most valuable members. Not those who are most generous, or cause most happiness, or do most to enable others. Not those who have brilliant ideas, or who add beauty to the world, but those who have the biggest pile of coins, no matter who they exploited and what they ruined forever in order to achieve that.

Our current value system actively encourages us to trash the planet on which our lives depend. We need to change that, because as the saying goes, when there’s no clean water to drink and no food to eat, you try eating money and see what good it does you.


Valentine Druid

A Christian saint co-opted for a festival of getting us to buy stuff. As a Druid, Valentine’s Day is not something I find all that relevant. I see the pressure it puts on people, in terms of spending, and proving something, and I find increasingly that I’m not tempted to play. In years when I’ve been in insecure, not-so-happy relationships, I’ve felt the need for some kind of affirmation. On this day, at least, let there be romance and some sign of love.

Tom and I started today, and will end it, curled up in each other’s arms. There will be affection and affirmation, and probably something indulgent with sugar in. Not because it is Valentine’s Day, but because this is how we are with each other, all the time. We pause to celebrate that at significant anniversaries, and at times when we just want to. Today we are not doing much in that vein, we have a book signing (Made in Stroud, 11-1) and the boy needs his PE kit biking home, and that’s going to account for much of the day.

As a Druid, relationship is key to everything I do. As a gothic-romantic sort of creature, love has always been at the centre of my life. Not the need to be loved by people, but the need to love, to find things and individuals who fill my heart with joy and inspiration, and who I can adore in whatever ways turn out to make sense. Not just today, but every day. People I write stories, poems, and songs for. People I go to with offerings of cake and other odd creations. People I speak openly with, and give time to.

Most of us are guarded and careful when it comes to matters of the heart. It can be a real block to relationship if you can’t have that flow of verbal honesty. It also takes time to build up the trust in another person, such that if you do bare your soul, you can be reasonably confident they will neither point and laugh, or run away. There are many different kinds of intimacy, of body and soul, of heart and intellect, and sharing any of those is a very big deal, and sharing all of them is life and self altering, if you get it right. This is not something to do lightly. It’s also not something to play at.

There is an intense language of soul friends and heart sharing. A language of love that is not in normal circulation, but that is used carefully and intensely by people who mean it. What I have seen too often is people appropriating the styles and expressions of openness and soul, not because they mean it, but because they like the impression it creates. Valentine’s Day can be a focal point for such things. A time to throw words at your beloved because they sound good, make you look good, create the impression of you as wild passionate, poetic and wonderful. If the creating of the right impression is more important than the intended recipient, you’re going very wrong indeed.

It is not an act of good relationship to conjure with language in order to cast yourself as the romantic hero. It is not an act of good relationship to fabricate the baring of your soul in order to play a part, or go along with the imagined spirit of a day. The desire to be loved does not make it a good idea to magic up an illusion of love, crafted from un-meant words. Tomorrow, you will have to deal with the person who believed you. The bitterness of finding that what was said, was not meant, is immense. So don’t say ‘I’ll love you forever’ if you are just hoping to get laid. Don’t call someone your soul mate because you like how it sounds. Don’t claim to offer an open heart when all you’re looking for is the reward of being found appealing, and your heart is nailed tight shut.

Romance without reality is a total waste of time.


Breaking my heart

Of course there have been woundings aplenty along the way. Hurts and betrayals, the unrequited loves and the loves that turned out to be not as advertised. Experiences that I would have called ‘having my heart broken’ because I did not know enough to recognise that it was merely battering the surface a bit. Surface damage is a great way of toughening up, becoming thick and leathery. With time, that can turn into something colder, harder, more impervious. A grown-up heart. A sensible heart. A survivor.

I’ve been practicing breaking for a while now. Not in the sense of bruising the scar-laden surface though. Hill top views that fill me up so I feel I might burst. Moments with Tom that strip me to the soul, and leave me gasping. Moments of beauty and wonder that have made little cracks on the inside, although I had no idea what that meant or where it might be taking me.
A few days ago, I exploded. It was sudden, dramatic, heart, life shattering and it took me until yesterday to be able to start talking and crying where I needed to. Today has brought experiences to lever that exploded hole a little wider.

Pain is not the only way to break your heart. More often, pain doesn’t break you, it locks you in a box and wraps iron bands around the outside to make sure that you do not move too much. All too often, an excess of pain puts out the fire of being alive, and it shuts out the light and turns the rich potential of darkness into mere emptiness.

But this other thing, this breaking open, is a whole other experience. It does hurt, and there have been a lot of tears, but these are good tears. If this was a fairy story, these would be the tears that wash away malevolent forces in a river, or that clean a fatal wound. These are magical tears, and they are welcome. It doesn’t matter that I do not know what is happening. I know why it’s happening. After years of being shut down and reduced, I’ve spent the last few years changing direction, and apparently I’ve reached sort of crisis-point in that.

This time, I really am breaking my heart, and breaking it wide open to let out what is on the inside, and to let in all those things that were out there and I did not dare to trust before. The thing about keeping your heart in a wooden box, tightly bound with iron, is that the love and beauty that might otherwise be available, simply cannot get in. It is possible to become so safe that it kills you.

I do not know what happens now. Everything changes. I get the feeling that’s exactly as it should be.


Soul retrieval

I’ve had a few review books about shamanism in the last few years. One of the concepts this has introduced me to, is of soul retrieval. When a person is deeply distressed by an event, a part of their soul can, in this perspective, be broken away and lost to them, which in turn will add to ill health, depression and so forth. One of the jobs of the shaman is to go and retrieve those lost pieces of self.

However, every book I’ve thus far read has suggested that we can heal ourselves and make the spirit journeys to pick up bits we are missing. The odds are your lost soul fragment will be at the place the trauma occurred, so you just spirit journey to there, and call it back, and reassure it, and bring it home. Easy! Umm.
The first thing to say here is that in genuine trauma situations, revisiting the memories is the worst thing you can suggest a person does. In cases of mild upset, revisiting will help resolve what happened, but do we really think mild upset causes loss of soul? Revisiting memories of trauma can readily cause traumatised people enormous suffering for no gain at all. Forgetting is often the best sort of healing for PTSD and encouragement to go back there is encouragement to go into hell and risk brining that hell back into your life. I worry about this advice, and what people are being encouraged to do.

Battered, lost, with my sense of self in tatters and my life in pieces, I did try some of this, in desperation and because I was told it was doable and a good idea. I won’t make any claims at all for my skills in journeying and I am no kind of shaman. I was entirely unable to help myself in any way by this means, and the revisiting of sites of old wounding did me more harm than good. It may be that someone who knows how to do the work could do that for me, but I cannot do it for myself.

However, what the last few years have also taught me, is that there are other ways to bring back my lost sense of self and put myself back together. Places of safety, laughter, love and friendship do far more to heal those wounds and tackle the feeling of loss than classic ‘soul retrieval’ work ever did. In remembering who and how I used to be, and seeking out the places of good memory, I have managed to re-find a lot of missing pieces. People who have been important parts of my life historically, and people who’ve come into my life more recently in good ways give me moments when I can quite honestly feel myself healing, growing over the holes, putting back together. Some of those have been really unexpected.

Whether you rationalise this as psychological process or want to think in terms of magic and soul doesn’t entirely matter. There is a process, and for me it has been a very clear one. Going back to the places of wounding just opens those wounds a bit further, feeding my feelings of loss, distress and anguish. Going to the places that are good for me, that feed my soul and remind me of who I am, and connecting with the people who allow and enable me to be something that feels like an actual me, not a fake, or a product of damage – that works.

We are far too quick to ascribe to ourselves titles that should represent years of deep and dedicated study. We are far too quick to tell each other that, once you’ve read this one small book, you can do all the work of the traditional witch, shaman, wise-woman… it is a dangerous line of thought to adopt, especially in face of any serious issue or wounding. When we are down and vulnerable, being told how to magically fix that is so tempting, and it is so easy not to question the wisdom of it, but it can be a costly mistake to make. It is the person being told they can do the shaman’s work for themselves, with no proper support from anyone, who is most at risk. This troubles me.

I wish that more writers of New Age handbooks took the time to find out about the impact of trauma and poor mental health. I suspect really these books are written for and by people for whom getting a bit upset is the greatest trauma they have known. We all measure pain by our experiences of it, but if life is safe, easy and brings little more than angst, it is not difficult both to treat that as far more serious than it is, so go and play at soul-retrieval, feel better and tell other people to do the same. It is not, I think, what the practice of soul retrieval was originally intended for.


Feeding your soul

Most of the conversations I’ve had around Druidry lately seem to be based around ideas of service, and what we can give. However, there is a balance to strike, because no one can give endlessly without having something flowing back towards them, as well. Some service is innately rewarding, which makes it a lot easier to sustain, but some of it isn’t. The woes of the world are many, and can be totally overwhelming. The more attention you pay to all the things that need your energy, love and compassion, the more risk you take of burning yourself out, heart and mind. There is so much wrong, so much that needs to be done, and the enormity of that can paralyse a person.

In order to be able to participate in the world, we need to take care of ourselves, too. Feeding your own soul means taking time to do the things that keep you together and inspired. It’s about looking after your heart so you do not get bruised into numb incapacity.

What feeds you? What fills your heart with joy and gives you peace and a sense of wonder? What is it that reminds you of all the reasons to keep slogging away against the hard stuff? It’s well worth knowing what’s on your list.

For me, contact with the natural world is a must, and I normally get that by walking. I am fed by contact with other people’s creativity – pretty much any form. The more soulful the creation, the more benefit I derive from it. One of the reasons I don’t like plastic disposable entertainment much is that I do not find it nourishing or sustaining. The intellectual buzz of learning and sharing ideas, the company of good friends, the comfort of bed, the simple pleasures of good food and wine…

While money will facilitate a good deal, as an end in itself it does nothing for me. It has to be a good book, a good film, a good conversation. I’ve grown fussy, because giving over a few hours to something that, in nutritional terms is a bit like licking candy of a dry turd, just doesn’t appeal. I’m too aware of all the other things that need my time and attention to be comfortable throwing away hours on that which is a flimsy surface with nothing underneath, or worse than nothing…. I don’t like the candy enough to be willing to tolerate the turd.

There’s no one true way here. Whatever feeds your soul, for whatever reasons and in whatever way, is the thing you need. No one else has to like it or get it, for it to be true. If your soul food is sadistic or destructive, I have no idea what you do, and I’m pretty sure there are people who can only feed themselves on the pain and misery of others. But for the rest of us, watch out for the candy covered turds. They turn up in bright packages handed over by people who will say ‘you must have this’. Only your own soul food can nourish you, and only you can figure out what that is.


The quest for self

I follow Jo’s blog http://www.octopusdance.wordpress.com with a mix of fascination and bemusement. I’ve blogged here in response to her writing a few times now. I think Jo is a brilliant blogger, and I am intrigued by the reflections that come from her blending Zen and Druidry. I’m also very conscious that I’m reaching for something entirely different, but that often means I find her words very helpful, enabling me to get some sense of where I’m not going.

I’ve come to realise that the loss of self and the endeavour to live wholly in the moment are not for me. I do strive to be present, but am aware that my life exists very much between past and future in a way that I am not inclined to relinquish. Rather than wanting to relinquish self, I’m working to know and understand who I am with a view to developing and growing into something more like who I want to be. As Paul Newman said in the comments on my last post, “Who am I?” is the most important question to ask, from this perspective.

I’m engaged in an ongoing process of picking apart my beliefs, assumptions and habits, to find out what they are made of, whether they make sense and if I want to keep them. In parallel I keep experimenting to try and find out, based on what I actually do, what kind of person I am. If this sounds in any way weird, self referential, navel-gazey, and rather an odd way to go around thinking about myself… well, it is. But, I’ve had my perceptions and sense of self messed with so badly that the only sane way forward I can see is to try and dismantle what I can and rebuild.

I came to believe that I was an unreasonable, aggressive, demanding, ungrateful, lazy sort of person, irrational, fond of emotional blackmail, manipulative, dishonourable, perpetually dishonest, a lousy parent, sexually cold and more… I came to a place, some years ago where I either had to reject this entirely, or the depth of self loathing and feelings of worthlessness this had engendered would have driven me to suicide. I had no sense of self worth in those days and an increasing suspicion that the only positive contribution I could make to the world would be my death. This is not, I must observe, a very good place to live. Retrospectively I am a lot more suspicious about the way those feelings were engendered in me. But I still have the fallout to deal with, and a sense of self woven through with misinformation, fear and wounding. I don’t want to be that person any more.

Now, perhaps there are ways of releasing and melting the self, zen-style, that would solve this for me, but I’ve no idea how to do that. I get the impression that in zen, the act of letting go of the self would solve all this. It doesn’t speak to me. Even the promise of relief from pain is not tempting enough, it turns out. I don’t want to let go. I want to understand.

As with the recent illness example, there’s a process. Slowly, I get some sense of why I feel as I do, where beliefs have come from and what holds them together. That enables me to consider how useful they are and whether they are supported by good evidence. Where I can see, rationally, that I’ve been led to think in certain ways because it served someone else, I can consider trying to think differently. Emotions are slower to shift but I’ve been told they will follow the thoughts in time and that I can use my rational thinking to re-craft my emotional self. So I’m trying to do just that. Thinking, experimenting, trying to work out what is intrinsically ‘me’ as opposed to things that were inflicted on me from the outside. Much of who I am owes to my environment, but is there an intrinsic self? Are there qualities or attributes, preferences, feelings that are ‘me’ and not about external influence?

If those core things exist, I want to know what they are so that I can build on them, confident of my foundations, and get on with trying to figure out how to be a person. I suspect, if the unpicking process simply unpicks, and only ever finds new knots to unravel then there will come a morning when the quest for self, becomes, all by itself, a more zen-like quest for no self. I’ll keep reading Jo’s blogs not least so that I’ll have some sense of how to proceed if that happens. And if it doesn’t, if I find a core that I believe is intrinsic to me, essential to me… if I find a sense of my own soul and identity in a way I can talk about, I’ll come back and talk about it.


Baebes in the Cathedral

Last night I went to see Mediaeval Baebes perform at Gloucester Cathedral. I think they’re an amazing group and have followed their progress with interest from that first album. It was mediaeval songs and for reasons that escape me, anything of that ilk seems Christmasy to a lot of people. If you’ve not heard them, I have no doubt youtube can fill the gaps in your knowledge.
The Baebes do anachronism in a way that I love. That urge towards a mix of historical and new always draws me, as with things Steampunk. In this case it’s a mix of words and tunes from the time before major and minor scales, and the days of Latin and Middle English, with wilder, modern beats, really modern arrangements and an energy that simply is not like anything else. I like eclecticism. I studied music formally until I was 19, including exposure to 20th Century art music. Generally classical music does not do it for me, it never goes far enough and I respond more to the raw, earthy qualities of folk. Somehow, Mediaeval Baebes combine the technical skills of more classical music with the innovation of 20th Century art music and the human passion of folk. I like it, a lot.
Gloucester Cathedral has fantastic acoustics, and last night’s music seemed designed to engage with the echoes of big Church spaces. There was also a really interesting blend of Pagan and Christian content. Much of the mediaeval material in the repertoire is gothic in its Christianity, full of ideas about corporeal decay and the transience of the flesh. There were pieces taken from the Pendle witch trials, exorcisms and other unlikely sources alongside things that were songs back in the day. A real adventure in ideas and cross-pollination.
Perhaps the strangest moment of the whole night came at the start, when someone acting on behalf of the cathedral got into the pulpit and undertook prayer. Now, I like cathedrals as performance spaces but I never feel easy about taking people who came as an audience and, because it’s a church, making them pray. I think you do better PR for religion by not pulling stunts like that. But that’s what we got. And after the amplified ‘amen’ of the speaker, came silence. As a Pagan it is my habit to sit in respectful silence through other people’s prayers. There must have been a good 500 people in the audience, and not one ‘amen’ into the silence after the prayer. A long and uneasy silence, as I felt it.
The cathedral hums and reverberates to music and clapping, as though it had been built for the express purpose of being filled with song. At one point, there was a solo voice piece that had a distinctly Arabic/Islamic feel, and I wondered if anyone had ever sung from that tradition and in that space before. It worked. The building held that sound as beautifully as any other, and while there was a strangeness to it, there was also a rightness.
There is nothing more likely to turn a person off from religion than cold, formulaic content that washes over and does not affect the listener. There is nothing more conducive to spiritual experience than beauty that appeals to the senses. They were temple dancers and priestesses, they were invocations to wild goddesses and to the Virgin Mary, they poured a vast array of emotions and ideas into the great space of the cathedral, and the space resonated to their singing as though it loved them in turn. Maybe it did. And whether we connect that feeling of being uplifted to a God, or a Goddess, or human endeavour, or community… doesn’t really matter. It’s the innate soulfulness that really counts.
After the awkward prayer, there was awkward silence. After the Mediaeval Baebes, there was clapping and happiness.