Tag Archives: transformation

Planning a ritual

Rituals can be very small things for one person, through to elaborate hours or days of activity for a group. When it comes to group rituals, there’s a huge amount of scope for getting things wrong for some or all of the people involved. That might be a topic for another day. When it comes to solitary rituals, you can approach this from the position that you can’t get it wrong.

You can of course set yourself up to fail. You can load your ritual with expectations that you are unable to meet. This is most likely to be an issue if you focus on the outcomes you want from the ritual and not the process of doing it. Rituals that centre on spells can be very outcome oriented, but for a Druid there are other ways of approaching things.

I don’t do a great deal of solitary ritual, but when I do, I like to treat it as a process. The first part of this process is to make space for whatever needs and feelings I have that incline me to think that a ritual gesture of some sort is appropriate. I need to understand what’s going on with me and what I need to deal with. Working that through will help me understand what I need from a ritual.

For me, a ritual is a conversation with the universe – or perhaps with some specific part of it. I make rituals because I want to change something. I may not have a clear sense of how I want things to change, or I may not be able to make the changes I need by conventional ways. It may be that I just want to make something for myself – an intention, a dedication, or just the desire for change. I may find in my ritual-making process that coming up with and enacting the ritual gets a lot done for me. Undertaking a ritual is an act of will and intent and can also be a way of having a conversation with myself about how I want to change my life.

For me, the planning part of ritual activity is often the most important bit. Building the understanding, shaping intentions and working out how to meaningfully express that to myself and the universe gets a lot done. You don’t have to have a magical world view to see the useful psychological impact this process can have. I do however have a magical worldview. I see clear ritual action as an invitation to possibility. Everything out there is informed by someone’s intentions, (I say this as an animist – everything is someone). To speak your intentions clearly to the rest of existence can and does change things. It’s not something I do very often, but I’m always surprised by how powerful it is when I do feel the need to engage in this way.


A guided journey

I asked the universe for help.

Sometimes you are given

What you need.

Nothing is more terrifying

Or ecstatic.

Dreamwalking lucid

Through the night

To change shape, 

To become.

Awestruck, transforming

At every turn.

You walked me into memory

On paths that led relentless

To every place of my wounding.

And although I claimed readiness to heal,

Although I asked for this

I was not ready.

No one could be ready.

So many places to revisit

So much grief to face

Some I had forgotten although

I still carried the weight of them.

You crushed me down 

With wisdom, tenderness

Showed me

What past crushing had done

To this body, this troubled mind.

I found I could still breathe

The fear died, finally

And I lived.

(Some experiences are difficult to convey through prose.)


Seeking transformation

New experiences always offer the scope for change. What are we looking for in our spiritual lives, if not the opportunity to grow and develop? Any project or adventure we undertake holds the potential to change us, shift our thinking, open our hearts, educate us and teach us things about who we are.

I recall reading something a while ago about how most people look back at their previous selves and easily see how much they have changed over time. Those same people tend to believe they have stopped changing now, and won’t change much in the future. They are probably wrong about this, but it’s an interesting reflection on how we approach the idea of change, especially as we age. For some people, getting older seems to involve getting more fixed, but it doesn’t have to. The scope for adventure and discovery is always there.

There are questions to ask around how much novelty is a good idea. New things have more power to surprise and stimulate us, which is good. The eager mind is often hungry for new experiences. However, it’s all too easy to go chasing after novelty and thrill, without ever internalising those experiences. Novelty alone doesn’t change us because we also need time to absorb and reflect. Not everything has most to give at the first try and many things have more to give us if we stick with them for a while and invest deliberately.

Change isn’t reliably a good thing. Change can mean loss, and it can mean learning terrible coping strategies to try and get through impossible situations. Change can make you smaller, it can take things from you. When setting intentions, it’s not enough to seek transformation because that can mess you up. I don’t recommend just trusting the universe to take you where you need to go because in my experience it doesn’t work like that. Life will hurt you, and the less privilege you have to insulate you, the more hurt you are likely to suffer. Sometimes change means moving towards things that will allow you to feel safer and more comfortable. It doesn’t all have to be raw and exposed.

It is certainly true that we do our best growing on the edges of our comfort zones. However, for the person who has been living outside of their comfort zone, the greatest scope for growth comes through embracing more comfort and certainty.


Taken by the tide

The prompt for this blog was ‘Openness to the winds of how and what next’. I’m starting with a little detour around how important it’s always been to me to use the language and metaphors that resonate. Wind is not what happens to me around change. I’m a water person on this issue, and for me it has to be the language of tides, flows, currents and waves. Metaphors like this are part of our soul language, so I think it’s really important to use the words that open you up to those deeper layers of meaning and possibility. 

The tides are something I primarily feel in my gut. Sometimes there’s not much to feel, which is fine. Not everything in life is a big drama or a huge shift. Sometimes I feel when change is coming, or possible, or is happening in a way that I need to be alert to. It’s never really occurred to me not to be open to this sort of thing. Change is inevitable, and fighting it can be exhausting and pointless. Learning when and how to go with the flow and when to swim fiercely against it is a thing.

Dead things go with the flow, and life often swims the other way. Then there’s the salmon, swimming upstream to spawn. Sometimes flowing with the tide isn’t the answer, but often it is. When you aren’t going with the flow it can take a lot of effort just to stay still. 

The metaphor that has become most important to me comes from surfing. This is curious because I’ve never tried to surf and never will. About as close as I’ve got has been floating towards the shore on my stomach. It’s all about catching the waves, letting the approaching swell of it lift you and knowing how to travel with it. When that happens as a life/magic issue, I feel it keenly. I get a strong sense of the rising wave and the possibility of riding something out to good effect. And like actual waves, there’s usually an element of danger in working with this energy, trusting to it, surrendering to it and seeing what happens.

It’s not always a passive choice. Often to ride this kind of wave I have to be highly alert to what I need to do and willing to trust my intuition and time my moves based on that alone. Of course there’s often no rational, external way of monitoring any of this, and I don’t talk about it when I’m doing it – except to Tom. 

Being open to change often means being open to being changed, not just having the situation alter. It means being willing to become an agent of change, an active participant in a rising tide, part of the flow, part of the wave. Sometimes it means deciding to be the water rather than being something in the water. No one gets to be static, whether they like it or not. The question is how we choose to participate in change, how we make change, and how we let change happen to us.

(With thanks to Karen for the prompt)


Taking off a skin

Sometimes growing is a smooth and easy process. However, for some creatures, growing means shedding a skin. It means breaking your exterior and climbing out of it in a new, soft skin that can expand. Insects do this a lot. Snakes of course also shed in order to grow.

It can be a helpful metaphor for certain kinds of emotional experience. Growing isn’t always a sweet and comfortable process. Growth can be terrifying, and sometimes you have to shatter what’s on the outside in order to have the room to get bigger.

Sometimes the lives we make and the ways in which we present ourselves are designed to keep us safe, but really keep us small. To be authentic, to feel real, to live your truth you may need to be something less guarded, less like a fortified building. When the walls we build to protect ourselves are too constricting, breaking out is messy. 

Sometimes it becomes apparent that the outside layer isn’t a skin. It is not your skin. It’s more like having had your growth curtailed by getting wrapped up in plastic litter. Getting out of it may prove bloody and you may need help. You are not the plastic rope that got wrapped around your natural shell. You are not the things that dig painfully into your skin.

It may be the case that your real skin is in there somewhere, under a mess of ugliness that isn’t you. Like one of those films in which a rescue dog is bathed and combed and has all the crap removed from its battered outsides, you may need restoring. And like any rescued animal that needs help, you may be terrified and the process may make no sense to you. It may not be until things are fixed that you’ll be able to make sense of what happened.

There’s a certain amount of violence in breaking open an egg or a seed. Transformation means the death of something, and death is scary and full of uncertainties. Change is natural, but that doesn’t mean it is bound to be easy.


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.