Tag Archives: transformation

Three times through the labyrinth

Usually when I make a labyrinth, I walk it twice. I’m the first one in, to make sure no terrible mistakes have been made. And I’m the last one through because I do that for me, and I rather like it.

But, there is that thing about Druids liking to do things three times.

Yesterday I walked the labyrinth three times. The first two were much as usual – I took intentions and things I want to work with on that journey, and used the process of walking to explore those ideas and settle them in my body. I took things I want to make real and walked to make them more real.

Last time I walked a labyrinth, one of the intentions I’d held was that my next one (ie the one I just made) I would make for Dr Abbey to walk. So, walking this time with him present was very powerful for me.

Third time through everything went a bit mad. I felt my posture shifting, and then my hips reconfigured. They really have – it wasn’t just a labyrinth strangeness. I did a 6 mile walk this morning, and my right hip has shifted so my right foot turns out less than it did.

I had an experience of being in my body that I’m still getting to grips with. A sensation of being both more substantial and more ephemeral. Like I was some sort of delicate elf being made of gossamer, but also wholly real and solid. I seldom feel entirely real and I never normally experience myself as delicate in this sort of way. I had a keen sense of where my edges are and of my completeness as a person in a way that felt like being in my own power. It was intense and transformative.

Coming out of this third labyrinth walk I felt the need to ground, and so dropped gently to my knees and put my hands in the grass. What followed was an intense, visceral re-experiencing of my first bardic initiation slightly over seventeen years ago.  I was thrown utterly and unexpectedly into a powerful tactile memory. The words from the initiation came back to me. I remembered what I had promised. I had a strange sense of being in conversation with the land. I’m still working out what to do with this.

It is quite likely that this is in some ways a culmination of other things going on in my life. But, the first two journeys through the labyrinth were much as I expected and follow the experiences I’ve had over some years of walking it twice. Three, by the looks of it, is the magic number. But of course we knew that, because Druids do everything three times.

Fortunately I had taken food and water with me and had a very lovely and supportive group of people around me and no one there I did not know.  It’s something I’ll think about carefully when I do it again. Because clearly I’m going to do it again.


Learning to Float

Sometimes life delivers such dramatic rites of passage that ahead of them, even if you know they are coming, it is hard to imagine who you will be on the far side.  Sometimes these things come along as a surprise, and the enormity of the threshold isn’t visible until you cross over it. Where these thresholds are can turn out to be very personal.

The good transformations can be just as startling and hard to process as the traumatic ones. It’s easy to forget this, and to end up flailing around a bit in the aftermath of good things.

My useful analogy for this is learning to float. Floating is very natural for the human body, we do it quite easily. But, if you’ve never let go and persuaded the water to hold your body up, floating is mystery. You don’t know how that feels until you do it. There is a line to cross between not floating, and floating.  I think floating in water is a really magical, wonderful thing, but I came to it late. I started learning to swim aged eleven and I was afraid of the water and it took a long time to learn to trust it to hold me.

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean we will find it easy and automatic. Our bodies are mostly predisposed towards movement and communication, but we still have to learn how to do those things.  We’ve evolved for sexual reproduction but dear Gods sex is complicated for many of us and does not come naturally and needs figuring out. And may be a lot like learning how to float.

If something is supposedly natural but does not come naturally to you, I invite you to remember learning to swim. And if you can’t swim, it still works because naturally floating hasn’t come naturally to you either. This is ok. I think mostly what it means is that a lot of people don’t notice their own learning processes so assume many things are easier than they really are.

It’s good to make room to honour the thresholds and the rights of passage. Our  conventions around rites of passage are perhaps too focused on pairing up, breeding and dying. Along the way there are many thresholds and life initiations, many opportunities for transformation and unimaginable change. The more attention we can pay to those, the better.


Walking with intent

One of the things I love about labyrinths is that you can do whatever you want with them. If I lay one out in the grass at my local park, anyone who wants to come and walk it can. They can do so in whatever way they like and for whatever reasons, with no reference to what anyone else is doing. It’s a nice way to hold magical space for people. At the moment it’s also really good as as an answer to socially distanced celebration and ritual.

Labyrinths transcend any specific tradition. They are a form that allows us to bring our bodies into the same space without having to agree about meaning or approach. They’re also a very peaceful, powerful thing to do and require no previous experience.

Usually I walk the labyrinth as a meditative process. I like to be the first one in – to test that I’ve put it together properly, clear twigs from the path and make sure the space works. My process with the space begins far earlier, when I ask permission, talk to the land and put down the first curve of fabric to mark the centre. I will later do a second walk in and will be the last person to walk the labyrinth before we take it down.

For my midsummer labyrinth this week I did some things I have never done before. I walked with intent. I walked to make deliberate magical transformation and I walked in no small part to do that for someone else.  In doing so I learned that walking a labyrinth is a good focus for prayers and incantations. If your intention is clear, you can use the slow rhythm of the walking to set the pace for your words. The labyrinth I use takes a person into the middle and then you have to wind your way back out again. It makes sense to work your way into the heart of the issue on the way in, and use the return journey to work out how you want to emerge from the situation.

My first walk into the labyrinth was about things I wanted to change for the next day. It worked, simply. Or things came out right anyway – who can say? But I was pushing for a transformation and a radical change of energy, and that came, one way or another.

For my second journey, I was more focused on the slightly longer term, and I set intentions about the next labyrinth I will make. If that comes to pass I will probably write about it.

An unexpected third intention arose from this process. I want the space to make a permanent labyrinth. This goes with a number of other thoughts I’ve been having and is a good additional focus for the future I am trying to imagine and make real.


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.


Going to Granny’s House

Grandmother’s house in the woods – place of challenge and transformation, the place young women go to be turned into themselves. For me, Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and Baba Yaga are almost the same person. Neither of my biological grandmothers lived in cottages in the woods, but in my head, this is the place of grandmothers, and it has an archetypal force to it that I can’t resist.

This is why I’ve got two novels where Granny’s house in the woods features. When We Are Vanished (coming soon) has a grandmother house of transformation, and some uncertainty about whose grandmother actually owns the place! I’m currently chipping away at a novel where a deceased grandmother with a house in a valley plays a similar role – the house is a place of initiation and transformation.

My maternal grandmother’s house was a place of ghosts and cats, a place of hoarded things, where art was made, and cakes. It could be a refuge, or a place of argument and it featured heavily in my childhood. It is not the house I write about. My paternal grandmother lived in a small bungalow, and I don’t write about that space, either.

Grandmother’s house is a place of longing, and belonging. It has mythic and archetypal qualities. Perhaps we crave the fairytale granny who is all smiles and baking. Perhaps we need Mother Holle to teach us how to be women. Perhaps we need to go and ask Baba Yaga for fire.

And so when I write, I go into the woods inside my head in search of a grandmother figure. I’m writing significant absences – I don’t really know how to write this grandmother as a tangible presence, but perhaps that’s part of the point.

Grandmother’s house is somewhere around the next bend in the path. We can smell the woodsmoke. We’ve heard the chickens, although whether they will be cute, domestic chickens or something else, and whether grandmother is really a wolf, we’re still waiting to know. Perhaps we can only know when we become her.


Magic words and their deployment

Spells and spelling, grammar and Grammarie… magic is often formed of words. It’s not all about high ceremony or Latin. The magical use of language does not of itself have to be that esoteric or arcane, it is simply about how you put your will into the world.

“Oops” is a powerful magical word because of the possibilities it creates and the changes it allows. Being able to say “oops” allows a person to own a mistake. The mistakes we cannot admit to are ones we cannot do anything about. If we have to protect our wrongness, we cannot learn, grow or change. We cannot fix what went wrong. “Oops” allows us to do all those things.

It can be frightening to have to admit failure, ignorance or other shortcomings. “Oops” is a gentle, non-judgemental sort of word. It enables acknowledgement without bringing with it too much in the way of guilt, shame or awkwardness. This is important because guilt, shame and awkwardness tend to get in the way of learning and transformation, and are often barriers to it. “Oops” releases the problem gently, and allows the person saying it to recognise the problem without beating themselves up. This in turn is liberating, and for the person who suffers shame and guilt, or has been shamed repeatedly, the gentleness of an “oops” can itself be a healing experience.

Offering “oops” to anyone else affected by what went wrong is also transformative. This can work in a number of ways. With the problem recognised, it becomes possible to ask for help or information, or whatever else was lacking in the first place. A mistake made in ignorance can be soothed away by the simple recognition that it was not intended to hurt, but it did hurt. The former without the latter is worthless. It is one of the important limits of will working – your will does not define reality, only contributes to it. Therefore if the result is not in line with your will, the result is not wrong, it is the sum of all the factors of which your will was only one. You cannot make reality follow your will by refusing to accept when that’s not happened. If an error has an unintended effect, “oops” allows you to find out what the other variables were, and that gives you better scope for getting what you want next time.

With “oops” in the mix, the way is opened to ask what we do now. What would help? What would get us to where we want to be? What do we need to know? What do other people need to know? “Oops” becomes a gateway, a transition point, an opening up of options.

We need to take our words seriously. Careful use of language gets things done. Careless communication can be self defeating. Small words can have huge implications.


Shapeshifting with Tam Lin

Tam Lin is an ancient Scottish story full of love, magic, faerie complications and a lot of shapeshifting. Many versions exist, but the short explanation is: Tam is a young man, falls off his horse while hunting, taken by the faeries to live with them, goes round seducing young ladies in the woods. Seduces Janet, gets her pregnant. She comes back looking for a herb to terminate the pregnancy, he tells her the faeries are going to sacrifice him to Satan at Halloween, and how to save him, she shows up, pulls him from his horse, hangs onto him as he shifts and eventually gets a naked man she can take home. It’s a good story, and there are a lot of places to go with it.

This version doesn’t have any angry faerie queens in it. Just a strange young man, who wanders the forest. A young man who has become more of a shade than a man, and who she has to hold through his transformations so that he can turn back into the kind of person you can realistically take home.

I find this incredibly resonant. Take out the faeries, and what you have is a story that reflects something about bringing back someone who is lost and wandering. I’ve had nights like this, when the difference between life and death is the person who can hold you as you flail, howl, and sometimes bite. A lot of the versions have Tam Lin become a burning brand of iron. Anyone who has tried to hold someone in crisis can expect it to be tough. Mostly it’s not a case of one hard night fending off faerie transformations. Seeing the snarling wolf and the snake within the other person, seeing their teeth and their broken animal self, seeing where they are dangerous and where they are wounded… generally it takes more than a night of holding to make that journey. It takes a lot of holding the burning iron.

But sometimes, at the far end of it, when you have weathered everything there is, when you have heard it all, sometimes what you are left with is another person, whole in their skin and naked in their vulnerability. Someone who might, after all, be able to go back to the village and take up life as a person again.


Gods of the wild yeast

In my kitchen a strange, magical process is taking place. Alchemy, if you will. The wild yeast has found the blackberries I harvested and laced with sugar to attract it, and now there is fermentation. I’ve not made wine this way before – although it is traditional. The same is true of bread – while you can get packets of yeast, yeast is airborne, and it will come to you.

Fermentation is the basis of settled agriculture, which in turn is the source of our civilisation. There are debates as to whether we started planting cereals for the beer or the bread first, but either way, the wild yeast was essential. We have a plethora of grain and grape deities. Wine and bread crop up a startling amount in the Bible as well. I can’t think of any deities of the wild yeast (pile in if you know). It is the transformation into bread that makes the grain easy to digest. Raw grain from the field is not easy to eat or extract energy from.

The easy calories of bread and the intoxication of alcohol both give us a large feel-good effect. If you want to feel that the world is a safe and benevolent place, a belly full of bread and beer will aid this process considerably. Get drunk and you’ll hit the phase of feeling like you love everyone. Obviously if you glut on the bread and the beer, less good things happen in the longer term, especially if you aren’t using those calories for something. But our ancestors were more likely to starve than balloon, this probably wasn’t so much of an issue for them.

Enchanted by the magic of wild yeast in my kitchen, and the wondrous transformation of blackberries into wine, conscious of the role of the yeast in creating our own culture… I have come to the conclusion that Paul Mitchell is onto something serious with Far Better Pagan (play it, it’s a very funny song and then go to his site, http://paul.makingithappen.co.uk)

(I do love my God and I love my Goddess, but I’m a far better Pagan when I am pissed).

And for a more sober bread-based magic, Talis Kimberly and Wild Yeast:

 

We have created a habitat that is unnaturally lit, with few mysterious shadows in it. Most of aren’t feverish, starving or drunk in the affluent parts of the western world. We’re in the stiff reality of caffeine, worshippers of the bean. If we spent more time with the wild yeast, perhaps the world would look very different to us.

 

 

 


Reclaiming Innocence

I had a dream about a week ago, in which a unicorn spoke to me. So, that’s my unfluffy cred spoiled for ever, but hey ho. It was a good sort of dream and I am not averse to unicorns. It said that the whole maiden and unicorn thing was a misunderstanding. It wasn’t about virginity, it was about innocence, and that’s something we make, and can reclaim. Innocence is not something you inevitably have to lose, or lose forever.

Part of the problem is that we muddle the concept of innocence up with ignorance and inexperience, as though all three words are interchangeable. They aren’t. Innocence is about not choosing to internalise all of the things that experience and knowledge bring. It is a deliberate dedication to not becoming cynical, jaded, and narrow.

I’ve put this blog in the ‘magical’ bit of the listings, because for me, a deliberate decision that informs your choices, perceptions, emotions and prospects, is without a doubt an act of magic. To choose innocence of soul is a magical act, and allows us to deal with the world in entirely different ways.

I met a girl, years ago, who had been kidnapped and abused as a child. She’d survived, and somehow, against all the odds, it hadn’t stuck to her. She had a sweetness of self, an ability to trust, and an open heart. In the face of horrendous experience, she had chosen, and kept in tact, her innocence.

We can decide that what happens to us, is who we are. I’ve been along the edges of that one, feeling worthless because I was treated as worthless, feeling defiled because of what had been done to me. I do not have to take anything into myself, I do not have to become the consequences of any particular experiences. I can choose. I can pick to be the consequence of open skies and good friendships, to be shaped by dancing barefoot on the ground, and laughing, and playing. It is a choice, and one that I cannot claim has been easy, or that I’ve always managed, but not letting the shit get in is a powerful thing.

When pain, loss and betrayal cut us down, it is so easy to start imagining all the world is made of hurt and there will only be evil. The more self protective I’ve been, the more remote I’ve been from the good stuff, from the nurturing, soulful, healing stuff. To let the good stuff in requires a degree of vulnerability, it isn’t without risk. That same vulnerability allows you to fall in love, wholly and unconditionally. Not just with people, but with cloud formations, the sound of flowing water, orchids in a meadow, owls calling, and all manner of other things. When you can, not just love that which is beautiful and around you, but keep on actively falling in love with it, being blown away and left gasping, being reduced to tears of awe and wonder, then that sense of mystery is ever present. There is an absolute sense of the magical, or possibility, and the numinous.

Innocence is the choice that enables us, perhaps not literally to see unicorns, but to stand a chance of not disbelieving one into invisibility if it did show up.


Storytelling magic

Humans are storytellers. It’s easy to assume that story making is the exclusive preserve of authors, and that telling is something only skilled bards do, but this is not quite it. We all tell stories. We tell them about who we are and how we got here, what we did today and why it is that certain things happen to us. We all have shared stories, belonging to the tribe, or our traditions. We tell jokes and anecdotes, and ask each other ‘do you remember when we…?’ History is also story.

All kinds of things happen when we transmute life into story. There is a process of making sense that accompanies story creation. You have to kick reality into story shape, and that tends to mean finding a coherent conclusion, a way of tying up the loose ends. Story making is a method of creating meaning out of chaos. In this process, we can get a sense of control. A person who can tell it as a story is far less of a victim than a person who has no voice.

Sharing is critical to storytelling. It’s not enough to make a narrative, you have to be heard. Here too, complicated things happen. Often in life, there is no fairness and no justice, however, having your story heard, taken seriously and empathised with can bring relief over the most bitter issues. Having a witness to failures and triumphs, wonders and setbacks, we feel less isolated. Sometimes someone else turns out to know all about it. Then they offer back another story in which we might see our own experience mirrored. We are no longer alone and out of kilter with everyone. We are part of something, even if it is only a tradition of two. Once one person finds the words, it’s not usually long before other people dare to use them as well.

When we share stories, we open doors to the possibility of change. That which is held in silence, kept in the dark, or too personal to offer up, remains unchallengeable. If I share a story and someone says ‘Nimue, you are being silly, that wasn’t what it meant at all,’ I might have a chance at changing the story, my relationship with reality, and everything I do. If someone says ‘that happened to me too. We should do something about it,’ then in our story making we have just crafted the beginnings of a revolution. It may be small, but then again, it may be epic. There are many people who would do differently if only they knew of the consequences. When we tell them the stories they listen up, and make changes.

We also tell stories about the future, and where we want to be going. For a fledgling tradition like druidry, this is important, shared work. Every time we pause to imagine what druidry could be, we build towards possible futures. Every story we tell about where we have been contributes to the ones we shape about here we might be going. This is a part of how we construct all of the stories of our future, as individuals, family members, as countries, as a planet. Knowing that we are making stories and that we can direct them in very conscious ways changes everything.

Do I believe in magic? Absolutely. Do I believe in Harry-Potter-style, pyrotechnic laden magic? Not so much. I believe in the magic of change and transformation, and the awen, the flow of inspiration that makes all things possible.

What stories will you tell today? What stories will you tell about today? Make them good. You can reimagine the world as it should be. Where story goes, reality will sometimes follow.