All posts by druidcat

Cat has been officially working with Druidry for over 15 years, both privately and with public Groves, but has been dancing with the trees near her home for as long as she can remember! In recent years she has been called to work more publicly, giving talks at pagan events, in schools and in the national Media, creating public ritual and feeling the constant challenge of 'walking the talk'. Now exploring more deeply into her creativity, Cat is returning to her first love: words. Cat is a professional Pagan Priest and author. She volunteers for The Druid Network and is a member of OBOD, the Anglesey Druid Order, the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Pagan Federation. She is a Prison Chaplain and columnist for 'Pagan Dawn' magazine.

Beliefs and Competing Priorities

I heard this on the radio this morning. Radio Nottingham was focusing on how doctors who were strongly religious were reluctant to engage in end of life care for patients – interesting enough. I then wandered the internet to find out more… and saw that the Guardian has apparently taken the opposite perspective, that atheist doctors are more likely to help patients to die. Same story, but slightly more rabble-rousing.

While this could be considered a balanced perspective (ie both sides of an argument), it’s fascinating to see how the same story can be presented in two entirely different ways by the news media. Rather than encouraging the reader to make up their own mind, however, each story points them towards the conclusion that we need to be worried about our doctor’s faith when faced with terminal decisions.

Now, my particular reason for focusing on this today is that I have direct experience of the truth of it – specifically how those medical professionals who hold strong faith beliefs allow this to influence patient care. And we do indeed need to be aware of it, as pagans and those who will inevitably need to consult a doctor at some point in our future. But more importantly, we need to be aware of our own wishes at times of medical emergency.

While working in the NHS, I have been in charge of administrating End of Life Care Decisions – the final wishes of those who know that they are to pass on shortly. While still known in some areas as ‘DNR’ (Do Not Resuscitate) Orders, EOLCDs can in fact relate to anything. I had a lovely communication from a lady who wished to die on the beach at Skegness, surrounded by her family – a logistical fiddle, but one that was a quiet pleasure to help with.

I used to say that while I never met these people, I was one of a scant few medical professionals who was charged with their care at this crucial time, when they were most vulnerable and in need of help. Sometimes the ‘Next of Kin’ box was blank – they had no family or loved ones. Care homes can be good, but as we have no doubt seen on revelatory ‘real life trauma’ programmes, can be less than caring as well. I would spend a good deal of time calling to confirm everything was in place, and despite some managers chuckling at how I was going far beyond the demands of the role, I didn’t care. Some GPs had no idea of who this patient was. Care homes had no knowledge of terminal wishes. I advised, politely but firmly, that this was quite important to the patient – but sadly only when potential legal comeback was mentioned would I get a reaction.

What I did get from time to time was a call from a GP, furiously accusing me of supporting euthanasia and virtually assisting in the murder/suicide of their patient. How dare I – did I not trust him, as a qualified Doctor, to administer the correct treatment to keep them alive? And, more often than you’d think, a GP refusing to sign off a patient’s EOLCD (ie their affirmed wish) – because the doctor was a Christian and could not ethically allow it.

I have also been told of a gentleman who was deeply claustrophobic and had left specific instructions for a Viking-style funeral, rather than a burial – the worst thing he could imagine was being put in a hole in the ground. Unfortunately, he was a large fellow, and the local Council and crematorium felt otherwise. He was duly buried. His friends were actually planning to exhume him in secret and organise something, so shocked were they at this callous attitude to his expressed wishes.

This, to me, was the crux of the issue. At what point do our wishes become invalid when placed alongside those of others? The key point of contention for euthanasia there, but very relevant to any major decision, in which personal beliefs are strongly held. But what gives us the right to inflict our beliefs on others? Professional medical training versus belief? Or patient wellbeing contrasted with right to life?

We all have a right to life – absolutely. But I received EOLCDs from fully fit people in their 30s, who simply knew there was a history of dementia in their family and wished to record a decision for their life not to be prolonged if quality and awareness dropped below a certain point (in one gentleman’s words, ‘not to live as a vegetable’). Others are so ill, their list of diagnoses is too long for the box on the form. Their quality of life is virtually nil, and they’ve had enough. As with Organ Donor Cards, these wishes must be respected.

The one certainty in life, I have often been told with a grin, is that we will die. Death is a side-effect of life suffered by 100% of us. Yet more people seem unwilling to face this fact. While I understand the wish to fight tooth and nail to stay alive, I also understand and appreciate the need for personal wishes to be respected – no matter how they may clash with our own. Support must be provided, but to create comfort in the sick, not to encourage them to go against their own wishes. If you are terminal, do you wish to be told that your final request is wrong?

I am honoured to be part of an NHS Multi-Faith Forum, full of very wise folk from a huge variety of traditions, all endeavouring to advise rather than evangelise. None wish to inflict their beliefs on others, but simply acknowledge and prepare for potential requests from those who are sick and in need. This includes the famous cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions and suchlike.

The reason I am there is because I was called by a lady who was anticipating her forthcoming demise, and was actively frightened by the treatment she had received from her local hospital. She had removed the word ‘Pagan’ from her records, as the doctor who would be performing surgery on her had told her bluntly of his own strong Christian beliefs, and that she would be ‘in the hands of God’ (ie him). When she was giving birth, three midwives were called – because they had seen That Word and truly believed there was a chance she would sacrifice her new-born baby. She was refused chaplaincy – an offence under the Human Rights Act and current NHS Policy – because they did not acknowledge her Paganism as a ‘proper’ religion.

While we are chronologically in the 21st Century, the current fear of causing offence due to religion has unfortunately meant that faith and belief issues (whether directly religious or not) are instead disregarded. This in itself is unethical as human beings. Times of medical crisis come to us all, and it is crucial that we do our best to make our wishes known – and those in a position to do so allow those wishes to be adhered to. This may be the most difficult thing in the world – I know Ambulance crews who have had to stand back from a patient in cardiac arrest because she wishes for no resuscitation. Others look on in horror… but that was her wish. That crew are there for her in the way she wanted – and that took more bravery than those rib-cracking chest compressions and defibrillation.

The Guardian, fortunately, has come to a similar conclusion in an associated Opinion. Understanding can be reached if we communicate – important for us as people as well as followers of the Pagan path. Most of my work seems to boil down to this fact: gently communicating, explaining rather than arguing or shouting. My passion comes across in my words, truly felt and thought through, expressing my Duty of Care to fellow beings. Sometimes this is enough to stop a rant in its tracks – and once others start to really listen, half the battle is won.

Merchandising, Merchandising!

An amusing story on BBC News this week. The Vatican is endorsing merchandising to cover spiralling costs for the impending visit of Pope Benedict to the UK, and both the media and Catholics are uncertain how to respond. Apparently the official programme for the tour contain incorrect information. One Catholic critic has opined that items are in poor taste, just overpriced tat for the sake of money. And yet, discussions on the subject seem to conclude that merchandising is inevitable these days, as any popular event attracts unscrupulous marketing virtually overnight.

 This is something we’re all familiar with. From the Royal Family to a music concert, there’s always stuff to buy – and that’s ‘stuff’ in the broadest possible sense. Cafe Press has taken it online, with virtually anything stamped on a mug, t-shirt or pair of underwear. Clearly we have more money than sense.

But the issue seems to be that the urge to possess parts of popular culture has extended to faith. While the Church has always been notorious for making money from its masses, presumably the collection plate has remained comparatively bare in these recession-hit times. This is not to say that money raised by Christian groups is not used for good causes – premises need upkeep, staff need wages, charities always seek aid. However, in terms of private enterprise, plaster statues of Jesus and Mary have been available for some time. There’s a God action figure (with accessory). The Vatican, a business in itself, has made simply the decision to endorse specific items.

The question here seems to be not only of what value to we place on our faith, but to what extent is that faith validated by possessions? And does the endorsement of those items by religious authority – particularly the Pope – make this acceptable, desirable or even mandatory? Where does the money raised by these sales go to – they must be produced, after all, and sold. And publicised.

But this is something pagans have been doing for years. I have no idea when it began, but I can always remember those little backstreet shops selling candles, crystals, incense and mysterious books – previously more of a hidden secret to those ‘in the know’, but now easily found on most high streets. The internet has brought mail order, with any search engine bringing up dozens of ‘pagan supply’ stores. Ebay used to have around a dozen items for ‘pagan’ or ‘witch’ – these keywords now have their own categories.

Historically, it was accepted that practising pagans could open a shop and help others by selling ritual equipment that was hard to find elsewhere, thus aiding fellow practitioners and those who made a living producing such goods. Writers, metalsmiths, jewellers, herbalists – while never part of the mainstream, their contribution was valued by their own community, thereby allowing them to survive doing what they loved.

But as demand has increased with media popularity of ‘alternative’ faiths, mass production has arrived. I have been in pagan stores that sell garishly coloured ‘scented’ oils that smell suspiciously of fairy liquid, ‘genuine quartz’ crystals made of glass and who knows how many statues of deity. With pentagrams stamped on everything in sight.

Now I’m not getting nostalgic for some mythical ‘good old days’ of cottage industry over mass-marketing; nor am I saying that all pagan shops sell fake goods at expensive prices. I’m entirely happy to help those who make their own crafts with honesty and skill, be it faith-based or otherwise, provided that item it fit for purpose. An ‘everyday athame’, with rubber handle and unspecified metal blade, however…

I’m not intending to take the moral high ground myself here, as I’ve bought my share of ‘shinies’ in my time. I fully realize this is a stage we seem to go through in pagan ‘learning’ – as we read the books, we are told to acquire and test different tools, to find what allows us to work most effectively on our chosen path. This fits nicely into the magpie-like nature of the teenage pagans out to find the prettiest and most mystical jewellery (gently targeted by Terry Pratchett in his fiction). Any skilled worker requires tools, this is true. But there is a difference between a tool and a crutch.

In order to enter the mindset appropriate to effective working (for whatever purpose), a certain environment is helpful. An artist, potter or radio DJ has his studio; a teacher her classroom; a surgeon his operating theatre. A Christian has a church, a pagan priest their altar space. Sacred space can be anywhere, but familiarity helps – your space contains your tools, allowing you to access the appropriate mood for work as soon as you walk through the door and sit down. While you may pray in a kitchen, you don’t necessarily go to the kitchen just to pray.

But the skills themselves are contained within. A teacher can perform her craft anywhere; surgery has been conducted on aeroplanes; great art produced on the street. And works of incredible nourishment come from kitchens every day. For these, we need tools with which to craft (a brush, a scalpel, an oven), that’s true. But if you have the best possible tools, without the skill to wield them, you simply won’t be able to finish the job.

Each person must decide what tools their faith requires for them to perform. The Eucharist ceremony demands food and drink. A handfasting requires cord or ring. Once the basics are established, anything else is simply theatre, to establish greater mood or atmosphere.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with that. Some statues of the Virgin Mary are beautiful, brightening a room and making it a little more special, serving as reminders of faith. Likewise pagan Goddess statues or hangings, dreamcatchers or windchimes. We like to make our living space special too.

My true question, then, is how – as pagans – we remain practising our faith most honourably while purchasing ‘tool’ items that are not produced in line with that faith. As we chuckle at the ‘Catholic tat’ (produced for profit, with funds going to the Vatican), perhaps we can consider items such as these.  And the wisdom of the bard, Paul Mitchell, summing it up perfectly.

Do we really need these things? Do we know where they came from, or the purpose for which they’re being sold? If we knew, would we still put our hard-earned funds towards them? And is it more an issue of ‘want’ over ‘need?’

Why are our ethics as pagans, as an earth-based faith, being forgotten at the shop door?

The Inherent Mother

This is the story that made me really want to get writing on Real News of relevance to Pagans:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10786279

OK, it’s a commentary page rather than a News story. But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and I find it hard to believe that I’m alone.

As pagans, we take the idea of the Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone pretty much for granted – it’s one of those things you learn right from the start, in the first (and fifty-first) Paganism 101 book.

The only time I’ve seen an alternative, in fact, is in a recent issue of Sagewoman magazine, suggesting an addition to the tripartate Lady – the Queen. This is the stage of womanhood after childbearing and rearing, but before menopause, when a woman really starts to live her life for herself. A lovely idea, and one I’d embrace wholeheartedly, if it were applicable.

But how many of us ladies have encountered a lack of place in such a system for us? (I know some gentlemen friends who feel similarly excluded from the God role, whether as homosexual, transgendered or simply for the same reasons I’m going into here, just from a male perspective – but I don’t think I’m equipped  to discuss that, so will leave it to one of the chaps. Hopefully they’ll be able to read this post regardless. As last time, I promise it won’t turn into a feminist rant.)

I’m a woman in my thirties, who has yet to feel any broodiness or longing for a child. I won’t discount it as a future possibility, but from childhood myself, I never really saw it as something I’d want to do. As with the women in the article, there are a variety of reasons, and with the efficacy of birth control, I count myself fortune that I can continue with my life without any small attachments as yet.

This doesn’t mean I’m some sort of uncaring harridan, the old-school spinster type. I have a loving partner, pets and busy life with many friends I care for deeply. I am not beholden to my career either, simply to living my life as fully as I can, with my faith as a strong part of that.

However, as the BBC discovered, some women cannot take such a lifestyle choice quietly. I know of like-minded ladies who have been openly confronted with such wisdom as ‘if you don’t have children, you aren’t a proper woman’. Their fitness to BE women is actually questioned because they take the option open to them not to be mothers – and this is before their faith even enters the argument.

Even in the 21st century, women’s roles are still tacitly assumed to be limited to their gendered skills – specifically Jerry Hall’s famous quote. In pagan circles, as we struggle for recognition in the modern world while endeavouring to recognise our ancestry, there is still only the Maiden, Mother and Crone. What place in there for me?

When placed in ritual, I’ve seen the confused faces as roles are assigned and realisation dawns. I’m usually planted somewhere between the Maiden and the Mother (presumably No-longer-a-Maiden-but-Not-a-Mother-Yet).

Men don’t seem to have this problem in society generally – there’s no stigma against a ‘confirmed bachelor’ – but in pagan rites you somehow aren’t so confined. You may be Brother, Son, Warrior, Lover… the comparative workings of your loins are not (necessarily) up for public debate.

But there are options – we’ve all seen them. Acting as Priestess, you’re effectively ‘mother’ to the group as a whole (whether you are in daily life or not). We’ll all be Maidens and Crones, but are also fully able to act as Carers, with all the responsibility that this conveys, without having actually given birth ourselves.

I certainly understand the importance of mothers – both in actuality, as a central point of our being, and in the larger, global sense of Earth and Goddess. But can we not also be Women, strong in heart, mind and body, without a small person to confirm it?

I know my Goddess can.

Greetings…

After starting my blog (druidcat.wordpress.com) some time ago to discuss my thoughts on Druidry as a practical working Pagan, I’ve been kindly asked by the moderators to join the talk here, among like-minded folk. I’m honoured to do so, and hope my words are read in the spirit in which they are written. It’s a pleasure to be here!

I did debate what to write about, however. There is so much in the way of public thinking and debate on paganism throughout the interweb, what could I possibly add to it? My own small thoughts on my path was enough, surely?

But then the ideas started to flow.

This won’t be an easy blog. Not at all fluffy, no wands or fairy wings in sight. I don’t demand adherence to my own practices, nor do I set these words down as gospel. My opinions are my own –  I simply share them here. If they don’t tally with your own, feel free to comment – I’m happy to discuss. But while the topics may be familiar, they may not be the usual sort found on a pagan forum.

Still here? Good.

As I said, I am a practical, working pagan, specifically a Druid by training and inclination. My athame is a working knife, my staff a beautifully carved walking stick, both suitable for daily tasks, magic… and defense, if needed.

Historically, Druids served the community – therefore since taking my vow to do so, I do my best in this endeavour where needed. I have had my solitary time – now I’m very much out. Not at all in an evangelical sense, but simply in my day-to-day way of living. Others can take my ideas or not, that’s up to them. But I do my best to walk my path in truth and honour.

Consequently, seeing stories like these this week did cause a lump to rise in my throat:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/jul/30/time-magazine-news-photography
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/31/half-the-sky-germaine-greer

First of all – PLEASE DON’T RUN AWAY. This isn’t intended to be a feminist rant, in the sense that most people understand it.

My question is simply this: How many of us see such stories and simply turn to the next page? I admit, Germaine Greer can be hard to deal with sometimes – her views aren’t that palatable for many. But did you actually read the stories?

Right. Go back and do so, please.

OK. Given that these are both from the same British newspaper (the left-leaning Guardian), amidst the cynicism and trolling masquerading as discussion, what solutions are posited? Are these articles about politics, the army, or the women themselves? What can we do to help, other than tut quietly and discuss it over coffee with like-minded friends?

There’s a lot similar in the news, mainly in terms of ‘isms’ – feminism, environmentalism, racism. Categorisation. In our ultra-cool, postmodern Western society, we’re bored of such things, aren’t we? They’re old, they’ve been around for years. Someone’ll sort things. Or what’s the point of even worrying about it? There’s nothing we can do.

So look again at that cover of Time. Imagine if this were you, your daughter, your sister. Imagine so many million people looking at your bravery, your shame, your suffering – and turning the page. Able to help? Perhaps not, there are many obstacles in the way. Willingness to help? Other than £2 a month here and there?

I am NOT trying to induce unproductive guilt. I am trying to speak and be heard. To truly question and think about our lives, about our world. That ‘Nature’ we talk so much about.

We are Pagans. While many modern humans have no idea about ethics, philosophy or even how to live their life being true to themselves and those in their immediate community (let alone the tribe of humanity), we do. Or we should – it’s part of the path we walk.

We should be curious. We should question, dig deeper, to seek out the truths behind the motivations behind the words of the stories. I absolutely include my own, but this blog is intended as simply my words reflecting my thoughts, not my wish to promote an agenda. I want to show things that I have seen, not force action. I want to tell my own stories, and endeavour to understand those of others.

I simply want you, as pagans, to look. To really open your eyes and LOOK. The world is there, in front of you. It’s not just a game, a boring job or home life, with occasional flashes of magic when you take time to do ritual. Life IS ritual. Life is sacred. We all forget, myself included – it’s a huge concept to take on, especially given our secular society and upbringing. But this IS the path we walk.

Will you take my hand as we walk forward? I don’t know what’s there yet, but we’ll see what we find together.