Tag Archives: belief

Where love grows

As Robin pointed out in yesterday’s comments, when it comes to need, what most of us hunger for is relationship. We have a deep drive for intimate bonding with other humans, and without that we feel adrift. Perhaps at the heart of our obsession with things is a belief that owning the right things will turn us into attractive potential mates for others. Let’s face it, that’s the subtext in most advertising.

If hooking up was the answer, the world would be a much simpler place. But it isn’t. It may be the greatest need we have is for love, but answering that need is one of the hardest things to do. Even in a relationship it is entirely possible to feel lonely, miserable and unsatisfied, if the other cannot supply us with what we want. It takes more than ‘I love you’ to convince most people they are loved. In the shallows of romantic gestures, we don’t really find soul satisfaction.

I think some people get round this by turning to God. Once you style your deity as unconditional love personified, then so long as you can hold that belief, you have all the love you need for as long as you need it, and no call to fret over those difficult human interactions. God isn’t messy, won’t stain the sheets or abandon you for a friend. But at the same time, God will not lie next to you in the small hours and stroke your hair. There’s nothing physical about divine love. The religions of the book sidestep this by denigrating all things physical elevating the spiritual. Thus love of God is better. I guess if you can hold that belief, it may keep you going. I can’t and don’t. It’s the messy, complicated, sheet stained human reactions I’ve always hankered after. Which is one of the reasons I’m a pagan.

But if there’s one thing to be said for people, it’s that you can’t trust them. They can’t always be there when you need them, they don’t magically know how to fix everything. Sometimes they stop loving you back. Sometimes they die. Loving people is a risky sort of activity, a constant courting of betrayal and disappointment. And still we do it, and still we long for it above all else.

On the whole we’re under a lot of cultural pressure to pair-bond with one other human, and stick with that. A single, obsessive love that lasts us all our lives and fulfils our every need. Up until recently, that would have been specifically a heterosexual love as well. Can any one person be all things to another? Almost certainly not. Should we ask that of anyone? Hell no. It’s too much, a crippling degree of need and responsibility.

It’s in some ways easier to love another human deeply, and fearlessly, if we aren’t trying to make them ‘everything’. Some people get round this by being polyamorous. But for those who crave monogamy, there are still ways. We need to place our love for each other in the context of a wider care. The more openly, broadly and completely we love, the less fearful we need to be. What matters is the love that we feel, not what is returned to us. When you let go of seeking the return it all becomes a lot easier. Having my heart broken by other humans, I learned to love the sky and the land, the wind, sun and shifting seasons. I came to love the rhythm of my own feet upon the earth, and the deep darkness of night. Non-human loves, are a bit like divine love in that they don’t go away. They give back to us as we love them. They are not a substitute for human love, but they put it in a different, more manageable context.

People are flawed, unreliable, fickle, perplexing creatures. We seldom make much sense to each other. Accepting that, with patience and compassion, loving the essence of humanity whilst recognising the failings, we can be more peaceful with each other. That terrible, ravening hunger that demands you be all things to me, is lessened. We find acceptance. Learning to love people as they are, embracing the things I struggled with, and seeking nothing in return, got me through some very hard times. And then if you find someone who can do the same thing for you, whole new possibilities open up. While you’re looking, don’t drown voluntarily in the noise of modernity or bury yourself in gadgets, learn to love the stars, and the sound of your own heartbeat. Trust me, it helps.

Dogma

Generally I take a very relaxed attitude to how people define their own Druidry. I don’t like dogma, and I don’t like being prescriptive. But there are things I consider totally non-negotiable. I thought it would be interesting to try and pin those down.

Here are the things I consider core to my Druidry and not at all open to discussion. There’s not much in here that is specifically religious, I realise, nothing at all pertaining to deity. Without further ado, the ten dogmatic statements of Bryn are as follows…

1) Without honour, a person has nothing.

2) The world is full of wonder, magic and beauty. It is our duty to seek and appreciate it, to encourage, protect and nurture it.

3) There is no freedom without responsibility.

4) All life is sacred. Everything has value and worth and our defaults should be care and respect.

5) It is what we do, that defines who we are, not what we think.

6) We have a duty to ourselves to be the best that we can be, by whatever terms we define that.

7) We have the right to seek our own happiness, wellbeing and fulfilment, balanced by a duty to act with care and respect where others are concerned.

8) No one has the monopoly on wisdom, and truth quite often depends on where you happen to be looking at it from. But not always.

9) There are no rules or guidelines that can actually tell us how to live well. We have to figure it out for ourselves, moment to moment.

10) Everything matters. Everything deserves taking seriously. Whatever we believe, we should live this life as though it is the only one we have. 

(I have just realised that there is no do or do not in the above, only try. I am the AntiYoda!)

There are a great many other things that I do, value, and think are important, but they do not create standards by which I would judge other people. But I do make judgements about people whose lives and perspectives are wildly at odds with the above concepts.

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.

Religion and Insanity

Pagans talk to gods and spirits, who sometimes answer. We see and interact with entities that are not human sometimes, we undertake to create magic, believing that we can change the world through will alone. We talk to animals and trees as though they were our equals. We see meaning in dreams and random events, believe that we can foretell the future, we may think ourselves psychic or able to feel the emotions of others. Pagan readers of this blog will likely be nodding.

Now take a step back, and think about the conditions that are deemed delusional and dangerous by mainstream society.

There is a very fine line between religion and insanity. There are a lot of people out there who, if they’d been supported in a pagan community would very likely never have gone to the medics over the state of their minds. I know several, one of whom has since found a shamanic path and gained some control over his life and experiences.

The medical profession does not, as a body, believe in spirit, or that the voices in your head are meaningful and need listening to. If you say that the gods are testing you, then they may see that as being a medical condition that needs fixing.

How do we know we aren’t mad? How can we be certain that our unconventional experiences, the very things that make us pagan, are not just a manifestation of mental illness? Where do we draw the lines? I recall a guy who came to an open event, convinced that people were being attacked by demons and that a war was about to start. He was very serious. I had no idea how to relate to him, could not engage with his world view, had no idea if he might actually be ill.

How do we deal with folks who already have mental health labels? Do we step away from them? Support them? Risk reinforcing ideas that are damaging them? Risk leaving in distress someone who might be able to reclaim their life with a pagan world view to help them make sense of it? There are no easy answers to this one, and every individual will prove different. It’s an issue that anyone active on the pagan scene will likely run into sooner or later though.

Way back in my college days, I minored in psychology. One of the questions that came up is how you distinguish between normal-crazy and actual crazy. Most people have foibles, things they can’t deal with, phobias, strange beliefs and other such eccentricities. What was suggested to me was simply, is it functional? If someone believes they are the living incarnation of Zeus, and this enables them to do productive things with their life then fine, maybe they are. If they opt for standing on window ledges wearing only a toga and threatening to throw thunderbolts, less so.

It’s the one key question to ask of magic as well – does it work? Does what you believe enhance your life, or is it making you miserable, suspicious and unable to function? If your belief sends you out talking to trees and making up stories, all well and good. If it makes you feel like the gods are telling you to kill someone, then not ok at all. From a certain perspective, every last human being is insane. The human condition is not a rational one.

So, how should we as pagans deal with mental health issues, both our own and others? With compassion, patience and an open mind. Don’t assume anything. Beliefs that enable happiness and enrich a person’s life are good. Beliefs that enable folk to get by in the world and not be ground down by experience, are to be encouraged. Beliefs that harm and bring destructive behaviour and misery, are never good, no matter how pagan a dressing you put on them.

Looking for Meaning

Some druids are rather existentialist in their outlook, not feeling there is any external source of meaning, and that the relevance we find in life we make for ourselves. Others feel that existence is full of inherent meaning and that the world of spirit is constantly trying to communicate with us.

When huge events unfold in your life – especially hard and painful ones, it’s reassuring to think it serves some kind of purpose. Christians will talk about God having a Plan and needing to trust that it is all for the best. That’s very difficult to do when you are reeling in pain, shock and grief. Some people end up feeling like God’s Plan isn’t remotely benevolent. You can’t really have external sources of meaning without external arbiters of meaning – usually deities, watching over things, keeping score, cranking the gears of reality so that experience Means Something.

Moments of wonder, awe and beauty can also suggest meaning. Stood on a Portland beach, my arms around Tom’s waist as we looked out at a double rainbow, seemed laden with meaning. I’ve never seen two rainbows like that, with so low a curve, and one bow inside the other. Knowing we were soon to be parted, those two rainbows seemed meaningful, like a good omen. But then, we both wanted, needed a good omen.

The druids of old apparently were able to divine the future from natural phenomena, and for as far back as we have had stories, people have searched for meaning in the movement of stars, the flight of birds, the death throes of sacrifices, and other random events. If all things are connected, then one thing can provide insight into another, right? Even if that is so, the meaning derived from it depends on human insight. A shooting star the night before a battle cannot be a sign of victory to both sides, after all.

I think about those twined rainbows. To a person recently bereaved, they might have offered a very different interpretation. To a woman longing for a child, a different story again might have suggested itself. Each person brings their own history, need and expectation with them, so that many people all viewing the same event can understand it in radically different ways. It’s not a good idea (I think) to imagine that reality is laden with personal messages just for us. That can get crazy very quickly.

Life is full of weird coincidences, inexplicable setbacks, powerful moments of beauty. We experience them, or we tune them out depending on our own natures. Moment to moment we can find richness and hear the voice of spirit trying to guide us, or we don’t perceive that way. We can take every experience we have and discard it as meaningless, abandoning all hope of self knowledge and control. I think it is important to know what we have shaped, and what experiences come back to us from our own actions. Some people don’t. We can stray too far the other way, convinced that the secrets of the universe are coded into the raindrops on the window, paralysed with the need to understand what is inevitably beyond us.

I believe that we make our own meaning, but we do not do so in isolation. The world is full of other self aware things, spirit is present and perhaps sometimes it does wish to communicate with us. I try not to assume too much in either direction, holding to my own ability to find, or create meaning out of the experiences I have, and to accept when I can’t. Sometimes the meaning I ascribe comes down to ‘shit happens’. I don’t imagine for a moment there’s any right way through this, although I think the extremes of avoiding or seeking meaning are dysfunctional. What I think is important is conscious engagement with experience, taking each one as it comes, and being able to accept it as part of your life, regardless of its impact. Whether you find inherent meaning or not, that’s ok, but pretending something isn’t happening to you really doesn’t work at all.

Conscious Choice

For me, what matters most is action. While action comes from will and intention, those aren’t always knowable. Action can be seen, judged, responded to. Action has a tangible reality in the world, far more significant than the interesting, ephemeral nature of belief and ideas.

It is not enough to believe. It is not enough to hold nature sacred, or reverence the old gods as a personal, emotional thing. Being a pagan, is an act of dedication. It is a willingness to sacrifice. Not blood, but time, energy, and the comfort of not knowing.

Every choice I make is a conscious one. That’s hard work, and even so I get things wrong, speak with insufficient care, fail to hear properly, and make bad choices. Sometimes a shortage of cash wins out over ethics, or personal need seems more important than environmental awareness. In April I flew to America and back. That does not sit easily, but the man I love is on the wrong side of the ocean. There are seldom many easy choices, and in being consciously, actively pagan, we sacrifice comfortable disinterest in favour of being uncomfortably aware. Choosing, consciously, when not to care and when to give up and walk away is one of the most painful things to have to do. Conscious choice means becoming aware of inaction as well.

Moment to moment we make choices about how we live and who we are. In every communication, every act of consumption, every waste, every sharing of inspiration. To live with that kind of awareness is sometimes to court misery and hopelessness. With so much wrong in the world, it can be overwhelming. However, we can also choose to embrace the beauty around us, to notice more, interact with our world as we encounter it. Conscious living is not just about opening yourself to the wrongs of the world, it’s about seeing nature as it exists around you, and being able to appreciate it. There are many rewards to be had this way. Every good conscious choice is a small triumph, and a way of improving things.

 To be pagan is to know what you are doing, and why, moment to moment. Expressing belief through action, and recognising that the small details are important too. It is easy to go blindly, ricocheting from one experience to the next with no feeling of control or purpose. In choosing awareness, we take control of our lives, our actions, we become more fully ourselves and life becomes a lot more real and meaningful as a consequence.

My Spirituality and how it came about

Growing up, I knew I wasn’t being taught everything because, I knew things that wasn’t taught in school or church. Things like, how to know what animals said when they came up to me. Or knowing how to heal them when they needed it. I knew that my invisible friends were spirits and not imaginary. In addition, I knew what I could and could not say to adults because I knew how they were feeling.

Now I am not talking about things children learn, as they get older. I’m talking about their actual feelings. I knew because I could feel it. And, almost as if I could read their minds, I knew what they would and would not accept. Like me kissing a girl instead of a boy when I was four or, my talking with the animals and spirits. For years I didn’t say a thing about anything other than what I was taught.

Until we were taking a trip, one day and I started asking questions about where we were going. As they explained whom we were going to see, I slipped up and said “Oh you mean the ones who lives…” and proceeded to describe every portion of their abode – from the street all the way back to the salt block sitting in the back forty. You would have thought I suddenly sprouted fangs and was going to attack them.

As they said the words, I had worked hard never to hear, “Never do that again! That is of the devil!” I knew I messed up and revealed my lifelong secret. I would have to work harder than ever to cover up for that mistake. It wasn’t enough for me to apologize and promise never to do it again, they dug until they found the one thing I mentioned that was wrong – pictures. As they went off on me with “See we told you you had never been here before. You described the wrong pictures.” This, of course, triggered questions from the branch of the family we were visiting. When my grandmother finished with her discourse, their response only made me cringe more. “Oh we took those pictures down a couple of months ago.” I so wanted to hide. Instead, I did the next best thing, I slipped out the door to go play with the rest of the children.

I said all this to say, I was born doing what I do. For many years, I searched for a religion, which believed as I did. Pieces of what I believed showed up in many religions but never all of it. Finally, giving up looking for a religion, I decided to be spiritual. When I did, a way opened up for me to learn about Spiritualism. They understood my frustration and disillusionment with religion.

One woman in particular was very understanding. So much so, she decided to take me under her wings, and became my mentor. She spent several years teaching me what I did and how to control it. In addition, she tried to teach me other things that I just couldn’t grasp like Tarot. However, in the process, she discovered I used Psychometry to give messages and that they were more descriptive than when I gave messages without using it. After a year of teaching me, she decided to groom me to take over her teaching position, which took me a couple of years to get my courage up for that. Plus, I didn’t want her to stop teaching others. But the day came when she did and told me it was time for me to step up and take her place. I did, for a couple of years before I had to move on.

My spiritual beliefs came about as you can tell, from birth to trying out and learning different things. They encompass things like, “Thoughts are things so think only positive thoughts.” “Life is a circle, what you wish on others will return to you 10 fold.” “Mother Earth regenerates our energy if we don’t block her.” “No matter where you are on your path, you are okay as you are where you are suppose to be at any given time.” I tend to follow the Native American Belief mostly although I have bits and pieces of other beliefs mixed in. There is no name for my belief as far as I know. I figure it is just me being me – always going the opposite direction from the flow.

So what makes me a pagan? I don’t believe as the Christians, I talk to the dead, and I don’t call my higher power God.

Well, this is the best I can put into words how I believe. I know there is much more to it, but the words won’t come. So I will leave you with well wishes.

Have a great day everyone!

Bo Perkins