Thoughts from the North

24068279_10100559880739177_6523008811832279423_n

I recently went for a weekend to Tromso, in Northern Norway, some 200 miles North of the Arctic Circle.

It was, as can be expected, dark and cold. But in that darkness and cold, there was beauty. The city itself glittered with lights, each cozy cafe and home lit with lamps, lanterns and candles throughout the long nights, when the sun rose late morning and then set again before lunchtime.

Beyond the city, the fjords and mountains gleamed white with snow, shining in the weak winter sun for the short days, reflecting the moon’s silver glow at night.

24174310_10100559881193267_7791215588921420250_n.jpg

Whenever I find myself a little too hemmed in by the world, a little too uncomfortable in my own skin, a little too regimented by routine-becoming-rut, I go North. There is something in the true wilderness of snow, water, forest and mountain, that re-enchants the spirit, that makes you feel at once so very small yet also connected to it all. The landscape becomes more than scenery. With the chill air and biting wind, the outside enters in, the mountains, forests, snow and water become part of you. The air in which the white-tailed sea eagles soar is the same air you breathe. The boundaries of land, water, sky and self become ethereal, thin, permeable.

24129893_10100559881033587_7109097090568662885_n

On a boat trip across the fjords, aboard a 19th century schooner, I felt that permeability. The landscape, white snow, grey rock, grey-blue water, grey sky, changing yet constant. Visible markers of the distance we travelled were few and far between, and with the sound of the engine and the water splashing against the hull as a constant travelling companion, time itself seemed to slow, or to become strange and artificial. Were we sailing for an hour or a day?

Then warm soup in the crowded galley below decks, hot coffee and the strange late-evening sleepiness as the sun set over lunch. A return to harbour, a bus ride through the mountains, a journey back to the human world.

Now, back home, the comparatively long days and mild winter (unreasonably, unseasonably mild – the consequence of a changing climate making itself known in the language of vague unease), still take some getting used to. But it is good to know that, beyond the world of work, beyond the poisoned stream of news, some 2,000 miles away, the white-tailed sea eagles still soar, and the cold waves still lap on stony shores.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tending the soil

green-2551467_960_720I came back from Druid College in October wanting to “do all the things”: all the meditation, nature awareness exercises, essays, explorations and more and be a kick-ass awesome Druid. Then Michaelmas Term hit.

I work in a university, and Michaelmas Term, when all our new students arrive and are suddenly burdened with work to do, is one of the busiest times of the year. To top it off, it was my first Michaelmas in a new job and I had no idea what I was doing. As well as this, chance had ordained it so that I was busy pretty much every weekend in October and November, often travelling as well, sometimes close to home, or as far away as Northern Norway (something for another post there). All of which meant that I was pretty constantly busy, stressed and tired for the past two months, which meant that my Druid practice fell completely by the wayside. It also meant I got ill. A lot.

Now, as the frantic pace is beginning to settle, and the holiday time is approaching with its much needed respite, I find myself turning inward, evaluating the year past and dreaming of the year to come. In the dark time of the year, I see reflected my own darkness, that inner place of silence and stillness that yet is also the place of shadow, of uncertainty and of fear.

What do I fear? Judgement from others I suppose. Like most of us, I have an urge to keep busy, to be productive, to work hard, to prove my worth. This is natural to an extent, but is also indoctrinated in us by the capitalist growth economy we live in. But winter, and sometimes the illness caused by doing too much all the time, says otherwise. Rest and recovery are important too.

2017 has been a big year, and not always for good reasons. Both globally and personally it has been a year of dramatic change and upheaval and while some of those personal changes (getting a new job, starting Druid College) have been good things, they still bring with them the disruption of the new, the different. 2018, I am determined, will be a year of recovery and of growth, not necessarily fighting back, though that is sometimes needed in the face of social and political evil, but of putting down roots and slowly, consistently, growing.

I was out in the garden this morning tending to some December tasks, and I realised that to grow tasty new veggies in the spring, one of the tasks now is to tend the soil and make it ready. Without good soil, nothing will grow, no matter how much you work or worry about it.

So, what if the same is true for life? While I try to take a holistic view of what it is to be human, if we pragmatically use the traditional division of body, mind and spirit (a good Druidic triad), we can see that each of these only grows in its own good soil.

The soil of the body is health, which means eating real food, getting plenty of movement (ideally outdoors even in winter), and the right amount of sleep.

The soil of the mind is learning, reading good books, watching documentaries, listening to educational podcasts, writing and thinking.

The soil of the spirit is silence. There’s a reason religions of all cultures and traditions have a place for silence in their devotions.

So this December, and going into the new year, I want to begin to tend the soil, to prepare for the coming seasons in a way that enables growth. But I want to do so without making it a chore. When exercise, meditation, or writing feel like something I have to do, then I immediately don’t want to do it. If I can try to see them not as more tasks to take on but as a break from tasks, as a way of taking care of myself rather than “being productive”, maybe then I can appreciate their gifts.

Rather than focusing on “getting in  shape”, what if I just moved more? Rather than worrying about reading lists, what if I just read the books I want to read? Rather than beating myself up over missing a daily meditation, what if I just spent time at my home shrine each day?

Easier said than done, I’m sure.

Tonight is a full moon, the Cold Moon as the December full moon is known, and is also a “supermoon” making it appear large and bright in the sky. In Druid tradition, the full moon is a time for meditating on peace, in our lives and in the world. In witchcraft, it is often seen as a time for gaining an extra “boost” of energy to create change in our lives.

May it bring both peace and vitality. /|\

 

Posted in Druidry, Personal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Five awesome female Druids

Druidry in general has a pretty good gender balance, but the popular perception of what a Druid is tends to look a bit more like Getafix from the Asterix comics: an old bloke with a long beard. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it does tend to be the image you get most often in the media. So I thought it might be nice to highlight some of the amazing female Druids doing great work out there.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are some pretty significant names I haven’t mentioned, such as Ellen Evert Hopman and Cat Treadwell, but that’s just because I’m not as familiar with their work. And also, blog posts have to stop somewhere and five seemed a good number. So, in no particular order, here we go:

jvdh1. Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna is one of my Druid teachers at Druid College, but I knew of her work for years before I started studying with her. Joanna is a Druid and Witch from Canada, who now lives in the UK. She has written six non-fiction books on Druidry, with another on the way soon, and I highly recommend all of them.

Joanna blends Druidry and Zen Buddhism in her practice, and her book Zen Druidry shows how these two paths can beautifully combine to create a meaningful, ethical and fulfilling life centred on meditation and nature. The Awen Alone is a book that shows you how you can practice your Druidry without being bound to any one Order or group, and how you can make it real in your daily life and yearly cycles, and is absolutely my favourite introductory book on Druidry in the world (I even got Joanna to sign my copy at Druid College, because I’m a fan-geek)!

Joanna is also a dancer, singer and poet and has studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and with Emma Restall Orr. She blogs regularly at Down the Forest Path and is consistently one of the most thoughtful and inspiring Druid writers I know.

Her definition of Druidry is beautiful in its simplicity and one I frequently make use of myself:

“Druidry is loving nature, and allowing that love to inspire you to live your life accordingly”.

ero2. Emma Restall Orr (Bobcat)

While on her website, Emma says that “I would no longer term myself as a Druid”, certainly much of her major work was done under the Druid umbrella, and she has been one of the most significant influences on the development of modern Druidry in Britain in recent decades, so I feel she belongs on this list and that it would be woefully incomplete otherwise.

Emma has worked with OBOD and was joint Chief of the BDO for several years, before forming The Druid Network. Her writings span some nine books on Druidic themes as well as essays and contributions to other works. In books like Living Druidry, Emma’s writing is raw and visceral, never shying away from the often messy reality of life and the vast range of human emotions. Her Druidry is clearly not the staid, white-robed affair of the early Druid Revivalists, but is altogether something wilder and more earthy. Yet, she is an erudite and highly perceptive philosopher as well, and The Wakeful World provides some of the best philosophical examination and defence of the animist worldview that I’ve ever come across.

Emma describes her philosophy as “the perception and understanding of sanctity in nature – human and nonhuman nature. Where we feel there is inherent value we engage with care and consideration”. Emma now works with Sun Rising natural burial ground and nature reserve.

pb3. Penny Billington

Penny is an absolute force of nature within the Druid community. A Druid of over twenty years’ experience, she trained with OBOD and now edits the Order magazine, Touchstone. Her written work includes The Path of Druidry, which is a complete sequential Druid study course in one book, and The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew. She has also written on the early twentieth century occultist Dion Fortune and penned some charming short novels and stories featuring Gwion Dubh, Druid Detective.

Penny is a regular speaker on Druid topics, and I have been privileged to meet her twice at Druid Camp and not only get to hear her speak and lead workshops, but to enjoy simply chatting with her over a cup of strong tea in the camp cafe. Witty, insightful, eloquent, Penny can be both profound and side-splittingly funny (as her turn at Just a Druid Minute last year proved), and is a delight to spend time with, even if you do go away with more questions than answers!

nb4. Nimue Brown

Nimue is one of the most prolific and creative Druids out there today. A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, an illustrator, a singer and musician, a blogger and more, I honestly don’t know how she manages to fit as much activity into the day as she does!

Nimue’s blog, Druid Life, is one I’ve regularly followed for some years now and with posts several times a week, there’s a ton of material on there to work through.

As the title suggests, all aspects of life from the personal to the political to the spiritual are covered, and nothing escapes Nimue’s clear and critical eye.

OBOD-trained, but anarchic by nature, for Nimue Druidry is “not just a way of marking the turn of the year or major life events, it’s an integral part of everyday life, informing how I see and interact with the world…Druidry is all about inspiration and creativity, the celebration of beauty and nature, the quest for spirit, the complexities of relationship and the demands of service, honour and responsibility.”

Her many books include When a Pagan Prays, which considers the nature of prayer from an agnostic perspective, Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors and Spirituality Without Structure, which contrasts personal spirituality with organised religion and offers a guide to walking your own path.

Down-to-earth and grounded, Nimue’s Druidry is of this world, and relentlessly engaged with this world, and it offers both inspiration and challenge.

dd5. Dana Driscoll

Dana blogs at The Druid’s Garden, where she writes about everything from the philosophy and practice of Druidry, to land-healing, permaculture, foraging and living a life more connected to nature in a very real and practical way.

Dana is a Druid Adept and current Archdruid of Water in the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and chief editor of their journal Trilithon. She has also trained with OBOD and is a Bishop in the Gnostic Celtic Church. Dana is also a certified Permaculture Designer and has several years’ experience working with plants, herbalism, mushroom cultivation, homestead management and sustainable living. As if that wasn’t enough, Dana is also an artist, craft-maker and a university professor!

Dana’s blog is hugely inspiring, and her take on Druidry is rooted in the questions of what Druidry can do to make a difference, and to serve the natural world and the human community. Dana’s writing focuses on “the intersection of spiritual practice with gardening and permaculture–land tending, wild tending, and building the relationship between humans and nature. That is, embracing the “earth centeredness” of earth-based spiritual practice by direct living and inhabiting our amazing earth.” Her Druidry is one of re-wilding, reconnecting and re-enchanting the world and our relationship to it.

So, if you haven’t already read the books and blogs of the five Druids above, take an afternoon off at the weekend, get a pot of tea on, and immerse yourself in a world of practical, lived, inspirational Druidry.

Who else would you put on the list? Let me know in the comments!

All images reproduced from the author’s websites, with the exception of Penny Billington, whose image is from her author page on Amazon.

 

Posted in Druidry | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Samhain

darkness-1232724_960_720

The fun and festivities of Hallowe’en may be over, the costumed demons and ghosts returning to the world of the living after eating way too much chocolate, but the Pagan festival of Samhain carries on. Traditionally, this celebration, one of the four Celtic “fire festivals” held at the cross-quarter points on the Wheel of the Year was held for three nights, from around 31 October to 2 November, though some modern Pagans choose to celebrate at a time decided by nature, not a calendar, recognising the first frost for instance as the turning point that announces Samhain.

The name Samhain means “Summer’s end”, and it is a time of liminality, of transition. It is a time of no-time, when it was believed that the boundaries between the land of the living and that of the dead were thin. As a transition point between seasons, with the Autumn beginning to chill and the nights drawing in, you can see why people saw this as a time of death. It was, in ancient times, a period when herds were slaughtered to provide food over the winter, and the last crops were gathered in lest they rot in the ground.

This time of transition was marked by traditions that may have influenced modern Hallowe’en practices. Trick or treating may derive from traditions of “guising”, dressing in costume as spirits and monstrous creatures, and causing merry chaos.

As a fire festival, light and bonfires were an important part of Samhain traditions, and in Ireland and Scotland, turnips were carved into faces and turned into lanterns, either to light the way home for good ancestral spirits, or to frighten and banish malevolent ones, such as the terrifying spectres of the Wild Hunt that swept through the skies in Scottish and Welsh lore. Now, we mostly carve pumpkins, partially due to global Americanisation and partly because they’re much easier to carve, but the idea of light is still significant.

Samhain can be seen as a propitious time for divination and introspection, and for remembering and honouring the dead. The practice of the “dumb supper” where a plate of food is set up for the dead, the meal eaten in silence and the dead’s portion then offered to the earth, is a moving way to recall our own mortality and the complex relationships between living and dead, between food and life and decay.

Whether you believe the dead literally return on Samhain or see it as a symbolic representation of the “dying time” of the year, it’s a useful exercise to take some time out of the business of everyday life to think about those who have gone before, to honour our ancestors of blood, ancestors of place and ancestors of inspiration and reflect on our own life and death. I always like to take time to think of all the non-human dead at this time too, the species driven to extinction or the brink, the countless animals killed for meat or pelt or horn, and our non-human ancestors going back millions upon millions of years to the very origin of life itself.

As a practical exercise, why not write or update your will at this time of year, or think about how you might want your funeral? The Natural Death Centre has some fantastic advice on alternative and eco-friendly funerals and is worth checking out.

As with the modern Hallowe’en, Samhain was and is also a time for fun, for delighting in the darker and spookier elements of myth and magic. So enjoy your Samhain, however you celebrate it!

 

Posted in Druidry, Paganism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wild Hunt: a poem for Samhain

skull-2284177_960_720

The dead do not return, they never left.
Tonight they rise, riding through the fog of your subconscious fears.
They gather, they march, they scream and shout.
Unquiet dead, unrestful, unremembered. See them now:
The victims of war, of hate and greed. The black men lynched,
The women murdered, the gay and trans* killed for being.
Their eyeless eyes fixed on you, in pity, rage and judgement.
And at the head advancing:
A seething roiling mass of fur and feather shell and scale and tusk and horn.
Howling, baying, roaring, the species driven to extinction or the brink,
The billions slaughtered for flesh or skin or sport.
See them now, know them now.
In their bodies your body, in their souls your soul.
Don’t close your eyes or look away. Stand with and for them:
For those not yet dead, those you still can serve.
And suddenly they pass, denn die todten reiten schnell.
Silence echoes, and in silence waits.
As we are so shall you be

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Australian Druidry

australian-druidry-coverAustralian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape. Julie Brett. Moon Books, 2017

I was really intrigued when I first came across this book, one of the short Pagan Portals series. While I am a UK-based northern hemisphere Pagan, I am always fascinated by how people practice a nature-based path around the world.

The wheel of the year followed by most modern Pagans was developed in, and for, a British agricultural context. And, as Julie Brett shows, it isn’t as simple as just turning it on its head to fit into the quite different context of Australia.

Throughout the narrative, this book explores the symbolism of peculiarly Australian animals and plants, and how they can form part of a nature-focused Druid practice for Druids “down under”. It also considers the different climate and different seasons encountered in different parts of Australia, and how connections, associations and stories of them can be developed to create a local wheel of the year, and Druidic practice, that grows from personal experience of the land. As Julie says in this book:

The more you take the time to step outside and feel into what is going on around you, the more you will learn, and the closer you will be to having a wheel of the year for your own area. This can take a number of years to develop, but it always begins with today.

By taking notes and observations of weather and wind patterns, keeping a nature diary, watching plant and animal behaviours, and walking the land, Julie has been able to experiment, refine and develop a unique and truly natural wheel of the year and a Druidry rooted in the land of Australia itself.

When working in a country like Australia or America, it’s also a fact worth noting that other people have had nature-based practices there for centuries before European colonists arrived. The challenge for Pagans is to respect those traditions without appropriating them. Australian Pagan Johoanna Robson’s review of Australian Druidry says it better than I could that:

Within the words and ideas in these pages there is an honouring of the indigenous Australians. Nothing is appropriated. Everything is written with respect and sensitivity.

But this isn’t just a book for Australian Druids, or those curious about how Druids live out their path the other side of the world. By observing nature, and connecting to the land, the seasons, the animals and the trees, Julie Brett gives us the tools to do the same wherever we are, keep our own nature diaries, and create our own Druidry that is not based simply on traditional dates and associations, but that is in harmony with, and grows organically from, our connection to nature. Which makes it a valuable and inspiring book for all Druids, those in Australia and those elsewhere in the world.

Posted in Druidry, Paganism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Man, I feel like a…what now?

stained-glass-1181864_960_720

The other day, on Facebook, I saw a meme about men. Specifically, it was (rightly) making fun of the idea that a man “wants to feel like a man”, and that women should somehow facilitate this for them. Nonsense, obviously, and justly pilloried.

What stuck with me, though, was this idea of “feeling like a man”. I replied with a jokey comment about cutting down trees and fighting bears, but when I think about it, I have absolutely no idea what this actually even means. What is it to “feel like a man”? For that matter, (with apologies to Shania) what is it to “feel like a woman”?

In some Pagan traditions, biological sex and sociological gender roles play a central part in the mythopoesis, theology and praxis of that tradition. Think of the concepts of god/goddess “polarity” or duality, the idea of the alchemical marriage of male and female, the gendering of the earth as “mother” and the sun as “father”.

A sacred-masculine-and-sacred-feminine ideal enshrines a binary view of gender as sacred. The myths of the god and the goddess making love and giving birth enshrine a heteronormative sexuality as divine. The archetypal goddess in her aspects of maiden, mother and crone enshrines a particular view of femininity as involving reproduction and motherhood. The archetypal god perhaps seen as hunter, warrior, father can do the same for men.

I’ve written about this before, of course. And to be fair, much of modern Paganism does have a more progressive, open and nuanced understanding of gender than mainstream society does.

But I keep coming back to this idea of “feeling like a man”. And how I literally don’t understand it. Because I don’t feel like a man.  I just feel like me. I have no strong association to the concept of gender, and even less so to the roles society tells me “as a man” I should follow.

Gender, and individual identity, are more complicated than that, and I often don’t feel like I fit on the “masculine” end of the spectrum. But I don’t feel like I fit on the “feminine” end either. But that’s the point – it’s a spectrum, and I am gradually learning to come to an acceptance of my body being the way it is (i.e. not the one I would have chosen if life was like a choose-your-character video game).

While I find binary views of gender in some forms of Paganism unsettling, there is within Druidry a way of resolving binaries. The central symbol of Druidry, the Awen, has three lines, three rays of light:  /|\

John Michael Greer, in The Druidry Handbook, writes about finding balance through what he calls “ternary thinking”.

Every ternary, according to this teaching, consists of two things opposed to each other, and a third that connects them. Thinking in ternaries considers both differences and similarities.

Greer points out that ternary thinking is prevalent throughout Celtic myth and Druid practice, and that societies habituated to thinking this way “offer glimpses of a more balanced way of life”.

Perhaps ternary thinking can be applied to questions of gender dynamics in Paganism, and in wider society as well. Then it could be seen that everyone is not either male or female, but that people can contain both and neither. They can feel strongly aligned to one or other end of the spectrum (including the “opposite” end to the gender they were assigned at birth), or fit somewhere along the middle, or not feel part of the whole thing at all.

The increasing use of the singular “they” and “them” as a gender-neutral pronoun signals a shift to this way of thinking, and is one I welcome whole-heartedly.

In my own Druid practice, I tend not to gender natural forces or the divine. The earth as mother can be a useful symbol, but it’s an intriguing thought experiment to consider what changes if we thought of the earth as father? What about neither?

Of course, the earth isn’t female, just as the sun isn’t male. The earth is the earth. The sun is the sun. The thunder, the sea, the sky, the moon, the stones; they just are.

Nature isn’t confined to a gender binary: there are asexual trees, self-replicating slime moulds, parthenogenetic aphids, fish that switch from male to female and back several times in their lives. And, well, we all know what happened with female frog DNA in Jurassic Park. The world is far too diverse to fit into neat human-constructed boxes. As Druids, as Pagans, when we honour nature, I feel we should honour it as it is, not as an anthropomorphised facsimile of mid-twentieth century western ideas of gender and sexuality.

When we learn to see things as they are, not as we are, we can truly connect to each other, to nature, and to ourselves. And perhaps then we can be less concerned about “feeling like a man” or otherwise, and just allow ourselves to feel.

 

Posted in Druidry, Paganism, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment