Tag Archives: spirituality

Spiritual unease

The pandemic seems to have pushed rather a lot of New Age folk into the arms of the far right. At first glance this all seems very strange – what are the peace, love and light brigade doing cosying up with white supremacists, and people who seem to be all about conflict, hatred and control? And yet there they are, shoulder to shoulder at anti-vax protests and sharing the pages of publications.

I honestly wish I was more surprised, but I’ve been aware for some years now of the many issues in peace-love-light culture. There’s the toxic positivity, which really crushes people who are struggling. There’s the mistaking privilege for having the magical power to manifest good fortune. There’s like-attracts-like thinking which is a brutal and unjust philosophy to apply to people who are poor, disabled and otherwise disadvantaged. The idea of pre-life contracts make it seem ok to ignore people in distress because hey, they chose these lessons. The New Age movement has always had a problem with appropriating from other cultures, treating the global majority with disrespect, feeling entitled to take anything from anyone… 

Perhaps the most problematic bit is the assumption that if you’re all about peace and love and light, the people around you are good. Feeling that you can afford to be uncritical of yourself and others, and that you can just assume that goodness is what’s around you. If you think like attracts like you’re hardly going to want to consider that you’ve become attracted to Nazis. 

To be genuinely spiritual, you have to be willing to keep an eye on yourself for smugness, self-importance and feelings of superiority. The spiritual life will only stop you turning into a total narcissist if you’re actually invested in the idea of not becoming a massive, self-serving ego. To be spiritual you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Learning and growth are pretty much impossible if you aren’t able to be uncomfortable sometimes. If you only seek out things that make you feel good about yourself, you can end up with more of an ego trip than a spiritual journey.

It does matter who you associate with. The people we spend time with have a huge impact on us. Do the people we encounter really help us become our best selves, or are they making us feel like we’re above criticism? What does the freedom we demand cost other people? Who is hurt by what we do? If we aren’t willing to ask awkward questions sometimes, our desire to have everything pleasant and easy can turn us into monsters.


The economics of spirituality

One of the things Paganism doesn’t really do, is enable people to live full time as devotees to their path. Many religions have monasteries, allowing people to make a full time commitment to spirituality. Many religions have paid posts for priests so that the person called to work in their community has a viable way to do that. 

This kind of infrastructure isn’t possible without the religion itself being organised and having a hierarchy. Pagans tend to rebel against that sort of thing. We mostly want to be independent and free to follow our own calling, but the trade off means that there are economic restrictions on following your own calling.

Yes, we have paid priests, but that income is occasional and unpredictable. Doing a job where part of the job involves chasing the work and trying to make yourself financially viable is a lot of extra job for the money and it takes a toll. 

The calling to work as a Pagan can also take people into writing, healing, teaching, divination, making clothes, tools, and other materials, and offering guidance. None of these jobs pay a person much unless you also spend time promoting yourself and your work – this doesn’t always go down well and can lead to resentment. Pagans all too often resent it when other Pagans need to be paid for the work they do. The jobs that might make you a full time Pagan actually don’t make you a full time Pagan because of time spent on marketing and accountancy and business type things.

I don’t have an easy practical answer to any of this. Clearly there are a lot of Pagans who feel the call to be full time in just the way many people around the world feel called to centre their lives in their beliefs. We don’t have the support systems to make that possible and I doubt we ever will. But we’re also not really dealing with the implications of that. We could do a lot better in socially supporting our would-be full time Pagans and we could at least have a culture of treating people kindly when they step up to this way of working and being.

We exist in a capitalist society, and Pagans have bills to pay just like everyone else. Much of the work a person might do is not spiritually nourishing. Those of us able to do work we find ethical, rewarding and intrinsically worthwhile are in the minority. Not everyone can balance part time work with part time Paganism. At the same time, not everyone can afford to pay for the kind of work we want and need Pagan priests to do for us. The answer is not to get angry with our full time Pagans over this. As is so often the way of it, the actual solution will lie in dismantling capitalist systems, so that we can all live on better terms.


Communion and Consumption

We’re Pagan. We want to commune with nature. We want to be out there in the wilds, off the beaten track… Us and everyone else. The pandemic has led a lot more people outside. More people are having vacations closer to home this year, and this is putting far more pressure on the land.

It’s not just the people who rock up to litter beaches and poo in the Glastonbury fields while wild camping. It’s the increased traffic around beauty spots, and the damage done to landscapes just by too many people going through them. It’s people taking from spaces, and mistreating what’s there. Pagans can be just as guilty of this as anyone else. Our tea lights, inappropriate offerings and rubbish tied to trees are just as problematic as anyone else’s mess.

If you truly want to commune with the land rather than consuming and damaging, here are some suggestions.

Stay as close to home as you can. Explore the green spaces nearest to you and minimise driving. There are a lot of green spaces in urban environments and it’s great to explore those. Footpaths, cycle paths and tow paths are good. Lanes can be well worth exploring but you are at more risk from irresponsible drivers so be careful. If there’s an artificial surface, you aren’t going to cause erosion.

Stay on the footpath. If you go off the path you will damage plants and habitats. You may feel more magical and special, but the birds, insects and creatures you disturb won’t thank you for it. 

Take nothing, leave nothing. Try to make sure you don’t need to shit in the bushes. Don’t leave shitty offerings that may harm the wildlife. Don’t light fires. Don’t burn anything, not incense, not candles, not anything. Don’t pour alcohol on the ground, it’s not good for the wildlife either. Don’t pick anything, don’t dig anything up. Windfalls are probably ok, but give serious thought to anything you think it would be ok to take home.

Don’t take your mountain bike offroad. Footpaths take a lot of damage from bikes, and in sensitive environments they can be really damaging. Don’t cycle over ancient monuments. I hope this is something no Pagan would ever consider doing, but I see so much of it happening that I have to mention it.

If we’re heading out into ‘nature’ because we want to be nourished and spiritually supported, we need to be alert to what it costs. The wild world is under immense pressure from humans and there’s nothing spiritual about adding to that. Any feelings of being special, exempt, entitled or important that justify why we should put pressure on wild things need serious scrutiny. There is a real and important issue around the impact of green spaces on mental health, but we can seek the green without harming the wildest places. 

Alongside this, we need to push for more green urban spaces, more urban trees, and more safe places to walk. Imagine what a difference it would make if just a small percentage of urban parking spaces were given over to plants instead.


Embracing the negativity

It’s a common thing in supposedly spiritual spaces – advice about how to free yourself from negativity, and how to avoid being affected by the negativity of others. It’s one of those things that at first glance looks like wisdom. Negativity doesn’t sound very spiritual, transcending it does. But let’s break that down a bit.

Who and what is negative?

People who are critical – and sometimes that is worth avoiding, but these can also be people who are trying to help and avoiding negativity because you don’t want to hear you’ve messed up, is not a path to growth, wellbeing or enlightenment.

People who are sad. People who are in pain and grief and depression, who have been wounded by life, who have no hope or confidence or the means to help themselves. These are people who often need help, warmth, companionship and compassion. Vibrating ourselves off to some higher frequency where we do not participate in that pain, is horrible. There’s no spiritual good to be found in protecting ourselves in this way, it is a selfish, privilege  rejection of the suffering in the world. None of us can fix everything, but we can be open, we can bring love and care, patience and gentleness where we can. A spiritual path that has no time for the distress of others, is a route to being inhuman, unkind and self absorbed.

People who are angry. Anger is a hard emotion to deal with, in ourselves and in others. Anger directed towards the self can feel threatening. But if we aren’t prepared to look at why that’s happening, we can’t learn, or improve. If people are angry and we make no effort to understand them, we may miss out important life lessons. If someone is maliciously angry all the time, seeking those higher vibrations to avoid negativity won’t really help, it may even serve to keep us trapped in dangerous situations.

People who don’t care. I admit this is the one I find hardest. It is perhaps the most subtle form of negativity. The people who don’t care, don’t respond, do nothing – they can quietly suck the life out of just about anything. It’s something I want to avoid, because I find it exhausting. But at the same time, these are people who maybe need lifting out of themselves inspiring, cheering and encouraging. It’s good to be able to show up for that at least some of the time.

When positivity is relentless it becomes toxic. It isn’t a force for spiritual good beyond a certain point. We are meant to feel more than just happy all the time, and the rejection of great swathes of what it means to be human does not make us better people. If you are somehow happy all the time, to be closed to those who are unhappy is not a spiritual outcome. It means being less compassionate. Love is a messy, complicated thing, spiritual love included and if we do not deploy our spiritual love to embrace those who are manifesting negativity, then what even is the point?


Self care, spirituality and lockdown

What self care looks like will depend entirely on who you are. If you’ve never had to think about this before, it will be a journey of discovery, and the things people tell you are good for you won’t necessarily turn out to help. What of your path will help you?

Meditation – you might find this calms you. Equally, you might find it stressful because you can’t concentrate. You may need to go deep into complex pathworkings, or you may just need to sit for five minutes looking at an oracle card for comfort.

Rituals and magic – you may be comforted by doing what you always do. You may be thwarted because your heart isn’t in it and you may need to do a radical re-think as a consequence. Protective magic may give you some feelings of being more in control, but make sure any magic you do is backed up by appropriate physical action.

Celebration and gratitude – that may be too hard right now. You may need to spend time with your fear and anger, and come back to gratitude practices when you’re more able to feel them. Or you may find that digging in with the gratitude helps you keep things in perspective. You may want to celebrate the small things more.

You may find that digging in with study and the intellectual aspects of your path is a good distraction. If deep thinking comforts you, now is a good time to get out the books. If you don’t have the concentration to learn something new, that’s ok too. Now may not be the time.

You may find that taking care of your space, honouring the spirits of place and working quietly with them will help you. If you don’t have the energy for cleaning or making altar spaces, think about what you can do that would help you and your home. If all you do is think about what you’d like to do when you feel up to it – that’s time well spent.

If you can’t connect directly with the natural world, this may be really affecting your well being as a Pagan. You might be able to ease this with meditations. If you can get outside at all, the earth will be below you and the sky above and even in the most urban settings it is possible to connect with the elements. Time spent at the least promising window can bring some sense of wildness.

You may find your comfort and sense of direction in helping others. Right now, leadership most assuredly has a place. Many people are in need of guidance and inspiration, support and healing. Be mindful of your own resources, but if this work lifts you up and gives you a sense of purpose, do it. Don’t martyr yourself though. Don’t burn out trying to do more than you can bear.

Whatever approaches you use, stay focused on just getting through this strange time. You don’t have to write a book or become an expert on an ancient civilization. You don’t have to learn flint knapping, or plant a herb garden or sew yourself the best imaginable robes. You can if you want to. The most important lessons in all of this will be the things you learn about what you truly need and what is genuinely powerful in your life.


Libation, a review

Libation is a beautiful collection by Earl Livings – mostly poetry and some poetic prose. The writing conveys a sensual experience of the physical world that I think any Pagan or Druid could connect with. As someone who is not very good at belief, I found the way this book mixes the spiritual and the rational really powerful.

This isn’t a big review because I’m struggling at the moment. It is a book that deserves a much deeper contemplation of its many merits. It was gifted to me by the author with no expectation of a review, and came in on what had been a desperately bad day. Reading it gave me respite during a week that remained really difficult, and I am profoundly grateful.

More information here – https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/store.php?product/page/1792/%2A+Earl+Livings+%2F+Libation

Available as an ebook https://www.amazon.com/Libation-Earl-Livings/dp/1760416150 

 


Druidry and Power

In a spiritual context, power is so seldom seen as a good thing. We might talk about how power corrupts, or about how we harm ourselves when we give away our power. However, there are many ways in which holding power, and recognising the power another person has over us, can be tremendously good things.

I think there’s a lot of good Druid work to be done around exploring how we can be powerful for each other.

If you stand in your own power then you can raise other people up. Your praise, affirmation and encouragement become more effective. When you hold power, you have the means to empower others.

If someone else finds you powerful, and that feels like pressure or being put on a pedestal, it can be a missed opportunity. Stepping into a place of power in someone else’s life can be transformative. It’s something to do carefully, mindful of the responsibilities, while not taking on things that are not yours to bear. Sometimes, when stepping up to be powerful for someone else, we can find lessons for our own lives. Changes in how we see ourselves can flow from this. Being powerful for someone can be a great teacher and can be intensely humbling as well.

It’s not unusual to encounter spiritually minded people talking about not giving power away. It’s good to question the idea of what another person can ‘make’ us do or feel. However, when we talk about not giving a person the power to make us do or feel things, we miss out. We focus too much on the negativity – the people who ‘make’ us feel sad or angry or hurt or frustrated… often also ignoring the way in which deliberate bullying sets out to force those feelings onto you. But, what about the people who make us feel glad and joyful? The people who open our hearts and bring love, mirth, delight, hope and other such feelings? They too have power over us, they too are making us feel things – and it is better to be able to welcome that.

Power is a nuanced, complex thing. It isn’t inherently problematic. We benefit when we make room for the people who have the power to inspire us, heal us, help us and guide us. As Druids, I do not think we should fear holding power in this way, either. To inspire a person is to be powerful. We do hold power over people when we undertake to teach them, or lead them in ritual. If that’s done with care and honour, if we use that power to empower, then there is no corruption in it.


Druidry and Love

Many spiritual paths include the idea of spiritual love as a goal – a love that transcends and overcomes and isn’t conditional and doesn’t discriminate. It’s never worked for me.

The Druid’s Prayer introduces the idea of love alongside the idea of justice – and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it. What is love without justice? Love without some kind of fairness, can simply be the facilitation of terrible things. Unconditional love for the polluter, the exploiter, the corporate greed destroying the planet? I don’t think so. Unconditional love for the politicians and business people who put profit before life and sell the future for a quick buck? No bloody way.

I suppose it works if you’re all about spirit and transcendence, if this world is a means to the next or something to overcome. Loving everything in much the same way might work well if your true goal is to leave it all behind.

Druidry is of this world. It is spirituality rooted in nature. Love without the love of justice doesn’t make as much sense in this context. If we undertake to love beauty, truth, honesty, honour, community, and all that is wild and natural, we cannot truly also love anything that devotes itself to destroying that. I think it’s really important that we do not love in that way, in fact. With humans trashing the planet, aiming for universal love may make it harder for us to stand up to other humans and demand better from them.

There are merits in seeking and seeing the best in each other. There’s something very lovely about seeing the sacred and divine in every other human being. But not if that makes us feel like we don’t need to act. Not if it makes us complacent and overly comfortable. Druidry is of this world, and this world is suffering. I do not believe we can love this world, and extend love to those who are deliberately destroying it. We need our rage and resentment, we may well need our hatred to motivate us into acting. I do not accept that these so-called negative emotions are something to overcome. They have their place. If we’re all peace and light and love, we may never do what is necessary.

And at this point it isn’t about nice philosophical ideas and personal goals for spiritual growth. It’s about who dies, and how many species become extinct and how much is lost forever.


Spirituality and Selfishness

The general wisdom is that selfishness is the enemy of spirituality. This goes very effectively with transcendent spirituality that aims to overcome this life. However, if you are doing embodied spirituality, you aren’t mortifying your flesh. A little selfish thinking in the form of self care becomes a very different proposition.

There are many different forms selfishness can take, and much of it is good. We should be able to devote time, care and resources to dealing with our needs. It should be perfectly ok to want things, to act on personal desire and to pursue your own goals. Without a degree of selfishness, how are you to follow your calling, or your awen?

I’d go further and say there should be times when we get to put ourselves first. I think this is especially important for anyone who was raised female in a context that reinforced gender stereotypes. Girls are often taught to put other people first. What is read as go-getting, ambitious and desirable in a boy, or for that matter a man, is often treated as mean, selfish and unreasonable when girls and women do it.

How much scope you have to be selfish will also likely depend on your race and class, how much money you have, how much power. Who gets to put their own needs first and who is expected to serve others first is a question we should ask routinely. It’s all too easy for the person who has a lot of scope to be selfish to ignore what that costs everyone around them.

As is so often the way of it, selfishness is a question of balance and fairness. It’s not an easy thing to explore, either. For people who feel obliged to martyr themselves, looking at alternatives can be scary. For people who have never questioned their own entitled attitudes, this can be uncomfortable territory. However, if you’re serious about a spiritual path, then challenging yourself is going to be part of that.

Most mammals manage to live more selfish lives than we do without bringing each other down. Most mammals do what they have to, and then sleep, play, sunbathe, and socialise. It’s more sustainable to be selfish when you don’t need a lot of resources to do that, and often the most satisfying things we can do to answer our own needs don’t call for a lot of resources anyway.

In seeking simple bodily comfort, we work with nature as it manifests within us. Enjoying this as selfishness can help us resist the things we are sold as ‘luxuries’ to compensate for the simple animal needs we aren’t meeting. Slowing down is selfish – you aren’t powering the economy. Working less, owning less, buying less – these things often make life easier, and take us away from consumerism.


Darkness in spirituality

I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way the language of darkness is used in spirituality. We equate lightness and whiteness with good, darkness and blackness with evil. There are clear racist issues in this. It’s also a line of thought I think owes much to the Middle Eastern sky Gods who are all very much about the penetrating light of the divine.

Paganism is full of Earth Gods, underworld Gods, night Gods and other deities of darkness. Inside wombs and cauldrons there is darkness, not light. There is absolutely no reason to associate light with goodness and darkness with evil – both are necessary and both are harmful in excess. You can die of too much light, dried out, burned, or cancerous. There is comfort, sleep and healing to be found in the natural darkness of night. There is mystery and beauty in the dark places – and the way our ancient ancestors went there to do beautiful cave paintings is well worth contemplating.

There may be some value in talking about human actions and choices in terms of good and evil. Often, talking about light and darkness in this way just allows us to externalise our own choices and reduce our feelings of responsibility. A person can be in darkness or in light and their actions are of their own making. What we do in the privacy of darkness – sex particularly – isn’t necessary shameful, just something we don’t want to share with everyone. If doing it in broad daylight seems like the more honest and virtuous position – I rather feel the politics of the last few years should have scuppered that illusion.

Light and dark are both good in their own ways, and both potentially problematic. Walking a dark path, working at night, celebrating underworld Gods – there’s nothing inherently evil here. This may in fact be taken as a path of great healing and compassion. As for light working – I am reminded of a conversation earlier in the year with a woman who has made a living as a light working, talking about ‘the compassion trap’ and how it was ok not to care about the death of a baby… Perhaps it was no coincidence that the baby in question wasn’t light or white. People who spend too much time staring into the light are not necessarily good or kind. I’ve encountered more backstabbing from ‘peace and love and light’ folk than ever I have anywhere else.

What would it mean to identify as a follower of the darkness? What would it mean to refuse to use the language of darkness to describe negativity? What would it mean in terms of how we might be unconsciously thinking about race? Can we let go of the idea that a good witch is a white witch and a bad witch is black? Can we make more room? Can we not have this lingering sense that white is superior and black is not a good way of being?