Is depression a soul ailment?

The UK national health service identifies the following as signs of depression – Loss of identify and self-esteem. Sadness, when there is maybe nothing to feel sad about. Extreme guilt over minor matters. A sense of failure, when this is not realistic. Loneliness, even among other people. Tearfulness, when there is nothing to cry about. Constant exhaustion. Feelings of hopelessness, misery or despair. Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions. Thoughts of death or suicide.

To help people recover, it encourages sufferers to be more socially active, less judgmental about ourselves, and to participate in more things that make us happy.  There’s an underpinning assumption that if there’s no apparent external source of unhappiness, it’s a cognitive-behavioral glitch to fix. I have no doubt that for many people, this is entirely workable.

So what happened when I think about this as a pagan and a Druid? I look at the list of symptoms, and think about our relationship with the planet. My relationship. The world I live in doesn’t make much sense to me and is driven by values I neither like nor respect. How can I be myself in a context like that? Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be any room for who I am and how I want to live. I feel sad and I’ve carried that for a long time. Sad about the human suffering in the world, animal extinctions, loss of beautiful places, climate change. I don’t know how it’s possible to live in this world and not feel sad, unless you undertake to be carefully oblivious to what’s happening everywhere, all the time. Extreme guilt – how can I not be conscious of my carbon footprint and what my existence costs other life forms? A sense of failure… I look at the world I live in, and I do not feel good about it. Loneliness, because there is so much around me that feels alien and wrong, how can I feel connected? Tearfulness – when is there not something to cry about? How can I not mourn what I see? Constant exhaustion – that goes with lack of inspiration for me, which is a soul ailment and goes with all of the above stuff. Hopelessness, misery and despair – I challenge anyone who is paying attention not to feel this way. Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions – the more aware you are, the more readily you can see the flaws and failings in every available option. Choosing becomes bigger and harder. Thoughts of death and suicide… aware that the planet would benefit enormously from the absence of humans.

Is depression irrational? No it isn’t. Is it an inevitable consequence of being more aware? Possibly. Does that mean it is insurmountable and that anyone who cannot tune out reality is doomed to abject misery?

No.

We have to choose otherwise.

No one single person is going to be able to put all to rights. One single person’s contribution isn’t going to make that much direct odds in the scheme of things. But if you are soul sick, disconnected and in pain, you can either try and find a new way to blot that out (learn a new skill, the doctors recommend) or you can see about fixing it in a deeper way.

Depression is a sickness of realization. The cure is not jumping back into the oblivion pool where most people are still quietly drowning themselves. The cure is action, and making things better. The process of wake up and realization is painful, but we need more people waking up, not more means to drug and befuddle ourselves into not noticing.

One True Way

There is no way onwards, but through,

No path that is easier to walk,

No shield that will deflect the blows.

There is no answer but to run

Barefoot and screaming through the fire

Holding to the insanity of belief

That there is some far side

Where no one will be throwing rocks,

And the screaming ends in a bliss

Of silence.

The only way forwards is through,

Walking into the storm in a summer dress,

Watching the umbrella tear apart.

Nothing, nothing at all can save you

From this.

You are destined to become the giant

Bearing the weight of the world

Those shoulders must suffice.

Being crushed offers no respite.

There is only through, the marching

On bleeding feet, exhausted limbs,

Willing the path into existence

One step at a time, hacking a route

Out of the jungle of mayhem,

With no idea of direction,

When the screaming turns out to be

Your own voice raised in torment,

And the silence wears a death mask.

There in no way onwards.

The road stops here.

Time to dry tears

Break rules,

Evolve wings

Decline apparent destiny.

Leave.

Breathe.

Stop,

Wait for the inspiration

Make a new story.

Wands and letting go

You can spend a lot of money on wands if the inclination takes you, and it’s possible to buy them in all kinds of materials, degrees of craftsmanship, and attendant cost. Mine were all wooden, sourced for the greater part from trees in the area I lived in, and collected to reflect the ogham tree alphabet. There’s a fair bit of uncertainty around tree ogham, it certainly isn’t the only kind of ogham, there’s dispute over which plants are meant by what – like so many things in paganism its roots and uses are uncertain and modern interpretation may be at odds with what our ancestors intended. And also, like so much of modern paganism the point really is what we do now and whether it works for us.

A traditional wand runs, lengthwise from the tip of your longest finger to the crook of your arm. It gives you a very personal length, and one that feels good to hold, wave about, or sit with. Working with a specific wood, knowing the tree – both as an individual and a species, makes wand ownership into a journey and a relationship. They don’t need to be ornately carved. Just smoothing the ends with sandpaper and rubbing them down with vegetable oil will give you something lovely. Keep them dry. As natural things, they are susceptible to mould and will rot.

Wooden wands are tactile, good to hold, to sit with. I like them for meditation. You don’t have to think you are Harry Potter to benefit from meditation with a wand in your hand. They can be grounding, helping you learn about the tree they came from and the wealth of folklore associated with it. Building a wand collection means building a knowledge base with it, adding insight with every new plant explored. It means building relationship with the land you are in, and specific plants. You hold a forest in your hands.

I’m writing this blog post in part as a eulogy. My wands did not survive this winter. I’ve had them years, some of them. I knew the trees they came from, the soil they rooted in. I worked with them, from time to time, over a long while and their presence in my home was one of my overt statements of my Druidry, there for everyone to see.

I said goodbye to them today. It was a sad moment for me, but a necessary one. They did not take kindly to the challenges of this winter. (See previous comments about the importance of keeping wands dry and safe from mould.) There were other issues too. They belonged to a time in my life that I need to let go of and move away from. They were part of a landscape that I’m not a part of any more, and where the trees they came from are still alive, I’m probably never going to visit those trees again. It felt right to let them go. They were part of a living web of connections and relationships. And I loved them. I put time, love, energy and thought into each one, the sourcing, cutting, shaping… they were unique. I left them as an offering alongside an apple tree that came down last autumn. It seemed like a good place. I said goodbye to them, letting go of friends, companions, teachers. It was not easy. But at the moment, nothing is easy. There are a great many things I have to let go of, all of them with stories, history, significance. I picked this one to write about because it’s more recognisably about my Druidry than some of the other items.

Alongside the wands, I’m letting go of most of the other overtly pagan things I have – the ornaments and trappings, the books… some of it I’ll store. Some is leaving. I’ll still have the awen symbol in my skin. Do I need the outward display? Probably not, but I liked the aesthetic, and there was comfort in it. Do I need an altar space in my home? Perhaps not. Amidst the letting go, the stripping back, the being taken apart from outside… I pause to ask sometimes, what of this defines me, or makes me a Druid. What can I let go of and still be myself? What can I give up or stop doing, and still be a Druid? I don’t know. It’s a process.

I was listening to Radio 4 “Open Book” yesterday afternoon and heard some very worrying news. Apparently, in the US and maybe here in britain too, no debut novel will be looked at if the writer doesn’t have an MA in Creative Writing! Ye gods! Formulaic writing here we come. This is a dreadful idea, you don’t learn to write by doing as someone else tells you, however you may learn to write so that an accountant likes it. OMG …

Another worrying suggestion came through the programme too … you won’t be looked at if you’re over 40!

Publishers are going to lose it if they try to restrict  things in this way. If you’re a writer I suggest you really consider self-publishing, the small presses. I find Lulu very good, gets you into Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bowdlers. the rest is up to us writers to tell good stories :-).

Elen Sentier

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Censoring Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic novel that has been on required reading lists at schools for many years since it was published in the U.S. in 1885, but in the past decades it has been relegated to optional reading or banned altogether. The reason? Huckleberry Finn repeats an offensive word: Nigger.

Okay, so the ‘N’ word is offensive, but at one unfortunate time in history, it was a common word. Now, Twain scholar, Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books, have decided to release a censored version of Huckleberry Finn and erase the ‘N’ word as well as ‘Injun’ and replace them with ‘slave’ in the hopes of saving the classic from being shoved aside and forgotten.

How noble of Mr. Gribben.

Somehow I think if Mark Twain were alive, he would object to this censorship as would most writers. And as a writer myself, I am bothered by the thought that characters that I created could be torn apart by some guy with noble ideas about making a book politically correct. I’m bothered by a story and characters being massacred by an editing pencil, changing the meaning of the story and ruining the character development by forcing the character to say something other than what he/she would have said in that time period of American history.

Also, by censoring this classic novel, Mr. Gribben is changing history, trying to sugar coat something that, though terrible, is a part of history. And there are others that oppose this censorship. And rightly so. After massacring Huck Finn, what’s next on the list?

“The use of the ‘N’ word,” notes Jesse Sheidlower of the Oxford English Dictionary, “is one way Twain condemns the prejudicial attitudes of the South.”

Isn’t learning about slavery and discussing what happened more important than trying to change history? Is ‘slave’ even a better choice? It has a completely different meaning than ‘Injun.’ Wouldn’t it be better to have discussions on how certain people used to be treated and how we don’t want to ever go back to that? Erasing an offensive word does not erase history and how people talked about other people.

Because a couple of offensive words might make some people uncomfortable, a classic novel is being ruined. Life is not all about nice words and smiling faces. Life is all about being uncomfortable. Get used to it.

 

Kelley Heckart

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Runes

Handcrafted Rune Sets from Hernes Craftes.

This month, I want to talk a little about the Runes, which are an integral part of Heathen Tradition.

For a few years, albeit many years ago, I used to give family and friends Runic readings at New Year. Unfortunately, I only knew a small amount about them then and could only give a basic reading, but my readings were always well received.

Over time, and exposure to the deeper meanings of the Runes, I have come to learn that they are a most fascinating and interesting extant remnant of the Northern European way of Heathen life.

A bit of a background on the runes and what they mean can be found here on The Runic Journey website.

One of the best authorities, considered today in the Heathen community, is Diana Paxson’s book ‘Taking up the Runes’. A few years ago my husband was gifted this book and, as it is an excellent learning tool, I began to read it.  With time and practise, I now see the Runes differently from how I did all those years ago. I would like to put this in words for you, but I think that the author, Diana, who has kindly agreed to give her comments on Runes here for us all to share, can say it much better than I…

‘The runes are many things—shapes, sounds, symbols, mysteries. They can be used for purposes as mundane as writing sales slips, as they were in the trading town of Birka, or as doorways to the Nine Worlds. The goal of rune study should not be “mastery”, but integration.  Rather than seeking the runes as a path to power, whether over them, or over others, we can learn to work with them to focus and fulfill our potential and enrich our lives.

Because the runes operate in many dimensions, “taking them up” requires a multi-level approach, sensory, experiential, and spiritual. At the sensory level we learn the shapes and the sounds, and draw the runestaves.  According to educational research, most people have a dominant sense through which they learn most easily. Visual learners remember best by reading and contemplating. Aural learners do best by hearing and speaking. Kinesthetic learners need to physically interact with the object of study. However we have found that working with secondary senses can stimulate areas of the brain that are less used. When studying the runes, all the senses should be used—learning to recognize the shapes, chanting them, and writing them.

The next level is experiential, in which we learn the significance of the runes for the Germanic peoples and how they manifest in our own lives. Fehu, for instance, means cattle. Most of us would associate that with milk or steak—a tasty part of the diet, but no more.  In the old days in the North, cattle were the major food source and the measure of wealth, prosperity on the hoof. Studying Fehu is a good time to work on a budget, evaluate your resources, or look for a more rewarding job. When we understand Fehu, we can look at how we measure prosperity in our own lives. How do we get it? How do we tend it? And how do we use it? Fehu can also lead us to a study of the Vanir, the clan of gods who were particularly (though not solely) associated with agriculture and prosperity.

The third level of integration is spiritual. Once you have internalized knowledge of a rune through study and experience, you can use each rune as a doorway to meditation, in which your unconscious mind combines the information in new ways, and the powers behind the runes lead you to new insights. Contemplating the runes in various combinations illuminates new aspects of each one.

The runes are a basic tool for working magic in the Northern Tradition, a key to Germanic beliefs and culture, and a path for spiritual development. Divination may be the most popular application, but it is by no means the only one. Once you have internalized their meaning, you will find yourself using them in many ways, including healing and protection. The runes have been called a magic alphabet, or perhaps an alphabet of magic. Certainly they bring magic into our lives.’

~Diana L. Paxson is the author of twenty-nine novels of historical and legendary fantasy, including ‘Sword of Avalon’ and the ‘Wodan’s Children’ trilogy, and non-fiction books such as ‘Taking up the Runes’ and ‘Essential Asatru’. She is an Elder in the Troth and edits their journal, ‘Idunna’. She is also a pioneer in the recovery of oracular seidh and has just finished a book on the history and practice of oracle work. www.avalonbooks.net , www.westria.org , www.hrafnar.org

I would just like to say a huge thank you to Diana, for taking the time out of her busy life to contribute here today.

Over the years, I’ve tried both the Runes and Tarot and somehow, the Tarot just doesn’t fit with me at all whereas the Runes seem to be just right and are still a wonderful journey of discovery.

Why not get yourself a set of Runes, like the ones pictured above and take the time to get to know them and their various meanings. They are a great tool for any spiritual practise, whether Heathen or Pagan.

Go on, discover something new.

Blessings to your Hearth,

Edain
Edain Duguay.com
Paranormal/Fantasy Novelist, Best Selling eBook Author and Award Winning Blog Writer.


 

Author of the blogs:
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Loss of Self

Writing about Personhood a few days ago, I was focusing on the right we all have to be treated as people, and to view ourselves as having personhood status. Yesterday, writing about prejudice and snobbery, I’d started the process (unthinkingly) of exploring how we take away personhood from each other. The loss of self can be brought about by a great many things. When you are barraged from outside by harmful perceptions and attitudes, how can you hold a sense of yourself as a person? Today I want to look at some of the behaviour and circumstance that denies a person their right to self. Some of this can be about individual behaviour, but it is also targeted at groups.

Prejudice and assumption come when we look at a person, a group, family, ethnicity, religious sect, culture etc and decide that it means a certain negative thing. People who believe that blacks are more likely to be criminals, that men with long hair are likely child molesters, women in high powered jobs got there through sex, blondes are stupid, etc. This is all about stereotype, narrow-mindedness and ignorance. It’s about ignoring the individual in face of some randomly sourced sense of ‘normal’ that has no bearing on reality whatsoever. In stereotyping and this kind of prejudice, we make the myths around group identity more important than the real individual in front of us, and we attempt to deprive them of personhood.

Blame and scapegoating follow very naturally from this. Once you’ve decided that all blondes are stupid, why not go on to assume that blonde teachers must therefore be the cause of falling standards in schools? That may seem insane, but is it any less crazy for blaming rising crime (which might be rising reporting rates, not events) on immigrants? Or how about blaming societal breakdown on single mothers (who, do we imagine, got themselves pregnant and obviously wanted to be single mothers, no man involved or responsible at all?) We take the prejudices and we decide that social ills are the fault of our hate group. It’s their fault, not ours. They are wrong. We feel morally superior. We take away their dignity, their individuality, their personhood.

Discrimination comes next. We’ve decided whose fault it is, so now we get to punish them. We push them further out to the fringes, cut financial support, encourage the ‘good’ people to ridicule them. Perhaps in the process we accidentally stone to death a paediatrician when we meant to get a paedophile, but progress has its costs. We make laws to make sure that the people who are clearly to blame are not allowed to vote, or do the thing that makes them who they are. We outlaw their beliefs, or their way of life, and if they keep at it we have every right to lock them up.

Now that we’ve stacked the legal system against them, injustice follows. They don’t deserve justice. We all know they are the criminal type, because we’ve just carefully criminalised their behaviour. We probably won’t give them much access to justice when they need it either. Criminals shouldn’t have the same rights as regular people, should they? That’s not justice.

We have the power. We have the moral right. We know they are wrong. They are so wrong that we have to lock them up, or put them on medication, we have to legislate against them. We are protecting ourselves, the good people, our righteous upstanding families and the good of all, from the wrong people.

The outcasts lose all social standing and scope for financial security. If they are to survive, they must give up the things we don’t approve of and never speak of them again. If it’s ethnicity, they may be out of luck. We allow them no self esteem, or sense of place in our good community. They are not people any more.

It sounds obscene, doesn’t it? But how often do our politicians pick someone to blame, start finger pointing and rolling out legislation? It’s not just in ancient, fascist history that this kind of abuse happens. Who is the scapegoat right now? Whose fault is it? And how easily do we do this at a private level, in our own lives?