Tag Archives: druid

Community, Solitary

In the last year, I’ve lost or given up most of the communities I was involved in. the necessity of moving cost me my folk club, singing group, the guys I jammed with, the Druid gorsedd I helped found, the folk festival I’d loved and supported for years. I had to step away from the Druid Network, which had been a conceptual home, I lost my physical home and the community of neighbours around it. Some lovely people have kept in touch via the interwebs, but those who weren’t so close, I probably won’t see again.

Choices beget other choices, and nothing is ever simple. I’d spent years running things, holding groups and spaces for others – it was a big part of my calling and how I offered my service as a Druid. But at the moment, needing to focus on my own life, I don’t have the resources to spare for that kind of community work. I miss it, and I miss the sense of community I derived from it.

There’s an uncomfortable truth to face here. I’ve never really known how to just be part of a thing. I’ve never been confident that I would be tolerated unless I was being actively useful. So any time I get involved with a community, that need to serve raises its head. Part Druid calling, part need to make up for being there. It’s been with me a long time.

I’ve been through a long process of having parts of my life stripped away, and I’m starting to feel a sort of clarity as whatever is left is who I am – at least for now. I’ve never had a very clear sense of self, so this is undoubtedly a good thing, even if it frequently does feel like I’m being flayed.

This week I made the decision to step away from the Pagan and the Pen – I have a number of reasons, but the key two are that I was holding this space as well for others, which was an extra toll on scant personal time and energy, and that I unbalance the blog. When Casey was blogging every day too, it worked better, but the density of my posts in relation to other content doesn’t feel quite right. The Pagan and Pen will continue in other hands, and the Druid’s Life column becomes a blog – www.druidlife.wordpress.com  Blogging alone, no one else is implicated in what I say. And I have no responsibility for anyone else. I need that.

Community is about shared responsibility. I’m not actually very good at that, and I need to learn. I know why I take too much responsibility, but it takes time to reinvent how I relate to myself and the rest of reality.

I’m going to have a time of being mostly solitary. I have very little formal membership or affiliation left, and aside from work, where I hold membership of things now, it’s in a fairly passive way. I’m going to keep it like that. There are one or two places where I still have a sense of community without running things, or needing to give more than I have. I will take the time to be in those spaces, and learn how to do community properly, how to accept, how to ask for help, how to be open about being vulnerable and fallible. These are things I’ve found it far too hard to do.

So, as I tidy things up here, I’d like to thank The Pagan and the Pen community for this space. In it, I’ve found my own voice and the confidence to write about my path. I was so nervous when I started this column, I imagined I would get a lot of criticism for daring to speak for and about Druidry at all, and that I’d be told to desist. I didn’t really think I was good enough to write any of this. No one ever did say that. So I’ll keep exploring, and writing, trying to figure out what it means to be a Druid, and a human being. Thank you everyone who has shared the journey with me so far.

Paganism and Politics

Mixing religion and politics isn’t comfortable. Every pagan I’ve ever spoken to on the subject has expressed deep discomfort with how various right wing monotheistic politicians use their religion to justify hatred and oppression. Political thinking should be based on human need, above all else, not religious ideology. The trouble is that you can’t separate how someone thinks religiously from how they think the rest of the time. If your beliefs are deeply held, they are your world view.

So I wonder what overtly pagan politics would look like? Imagine we had a sufficiency of pagan politicians to wield influence. How would paganism manifest in government? I like to think we’d hold to our aversion to oppressing folk, that pagans in power would support diversity, starting from a premise that looks a bit like ‘an it harm none, do what you will’. If you aren’t hurting or compromising someone else, what you do really ought to be your own business. Given that paganism is green spirituality, we’d have to have environmental awareness and responsibility at the heart of every policy.

Now, the more I look at things, the more convinced I become that green politics and social justice go hand in hand. War is bad for the environment. Poverty leads to environmental degradation and hunting rare animals for food, or killing them as competition. Social justice means not polluting other people’s drinking water, not using humans as cogs in your machine, not permitting big business to buy land, freedom and political influence at will.

Pagans don’t like being told what to do, so pagan politics would be minimal, avoiding micro-managing people’s lives, encouraging freedom, and responsibility. Many pagans are anarchists – not in a ‘trash the state’ sense, but in thinking that we should all try and take responsibility for ourselves as far as is possible. We believe in freedom of choice, and we don’t believe that’s about picking which brand labels to wear on your clothes. But there’s also a strong ethos of compassion, caring for those in genuine need or distress. We’d have health services that did more to encourage wellbeing in the first place.

Druidry has a somewhat clearer history as a political force. I get the impression it was the political clout of the Druids that inspired the Romans to take them out, when usually they let people get on with their local religions. Druids of old counselled leaders, but did not lead directly themselves. They could go out onto battlefields and halt wars. Traditionally, Druids are peacemakers and negotiators. Druidry is also supposed to be very much about justice. Less the punitive justice currently favoured, more a restorative justice, where the idea is to fix what’s gone wrong, to heal it, resolve, compensate and restore. The kind of justice that enables people to learn, to deal with the broken relationship that underpins wrong behaviour, to rebuild respect, trust and community. Punishment doesn’t really achieve that.

Would I want pagans to rule the world? No. There’s this old thing about what power does to people, and I wouldn’t want to see that happen to us. Politicians become smug and complacent all too easily. It’s better to be on the outside, voicing challenges, trying to keep the people on the inside honest and on track. Pagans can achieve wonderful things in terms of organising events, protests, groups and so forth. We have some tremendous organisations, we might be chaotic, but we can do structure when we need to, and only as much structure as we need (although I can think of one notable exception). But on the other hand, when we gather, we argue. Many a discussion board online testifies to this. For every pagan, there is a unique opinion. We wouldn’t herd naturally into party groups, we don’t have a ‘party line’ just a broad ethos, a tendency to look at the world in certain ways. Pagans are idealists, frequently. In the current climate, few politicians seem to be. But that doesn’t mean we should keep quiet. When politicians say ‘there is no choice’ we need to be there to shout ‘yes there bloody well is’ because there always is. When government tries to feed us restricted visions of the world, short term, suicidal, disrespectful, ill considered money making schemes, we need to make our voices heard. I’d love to see politics get a bit more pagan, without the necessity for pagans to make themselves entirely political.

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.

Honourable Relationship

My first encounter with the term ‘honourable relationship’ came with wwww.druidnetwork.org and my time with The Druid Network. At first glance, it’s an obvious and simple concept. If you are living honourably, then your relationships must be honourable too. When everything is going smoothly and everyone’s happy, then maintaining honourable relationship isn’t difficult if you are a half way decent human being. When there is conflict, staying honourable is hard. I’ve watched board debates spiral out of control in online spaces as folk I know are well meaning and decent people can’t work out how to do honourable disagreement. It happens in real life as well.

Honourable relationship can only occur when those involved are all consciously acting with honour and seeking honour in and through said relationship. You can treat anyone honourably, but if they aren’t responding in kind, it’s not honourable relationship. However, even the most well meaning, honourable persons can find themselves in disagreement. What happens then, is the true test of both the relationship and the honour in it.

To hold honourable relationship is to still hold respect even in disagreement. If at this point you realise the other person is an asshole, your scope for honourable relationship has gone. It means not feeling that you have the right or the need to force your perception on someone else. Recognising that the other is an intelligent, informed, honourable person means recognising that the differences are ok. Or taking back the assessment that they are intelligent, honourable and know what they are talking about. Again, if we do that it’s not honourable relationship any more. They have the right to perceive differently, to want and act differently, to express their honour in different ways. A fine example would be an argument between someone who is passionate about eating locally sourced organic food, and is omnivorous, and someone who is passionately vegan and depending to a degree on imports.

To be in honourable relationship, we have to accept the other as they are, and respect their choices and actions. We can challenge and question, but we can’t deny them the right to think and feel as they do. And equally if we encounter questions and challenges, we have to recognise the other has every right to do that, and respond with integrity, not irritation. A key part of maintaining honourable relationship is the assumption that what we have is indeed honourable relationship – constantly looking for honour fails will break it in no time, so will a ‘more honourable than thou’ mindset. If we do it, we do it together, harmoniously and as a team effort.

Aside from the assumption of honour, we shouldn’t assume anything else. We should ask, and listen to the answers. Honour does not preclude competition – think about those heroic myths! It doesn’t rule out disagreement or conflict. And oddly enough when you think about it, honourable relationship does not require friendship. Two people might totally oppose each other in terms of ideology whilst holding such profound respect for each other’s dedication and methods that they do in fact hold honourable relationship.

If a relationship isn’t shaping up as honourable, then foot stamping and pointing out the other person isn’t doing it right seldom works. If a person cares about honour, nothing will offend them more than suggesting they aren’t acting honourably. Which can make those challenges and all important questions bloody awkward! While dignity is very much necessary to help you maintain your own honour, pride is a distinct handicap sometimes, and telling the two apart matters. Dignity will drive you to discover the right answers and to fix anything that has gone awry while pride makes it hard to own mistakes and tempting to stand your ground and claim you are ‘right’ when you aren’t.

In honourable relationship, we act in ways that allow ourselves, and others to maintain personal dignity. When pride becomes the dominating factor in a relationship, we may well lose the honesty and respect that honour depends on.

Relationship with Divinity

There are people from all religions who have spiritual experiences and feel they have come into contact with their god, goddess, or another spiritual presence they find significant. Generally speaking, being a serious upholder of the given faith is deemed a good way of inviting that kind of experience. So, what is a Druid to do? How do we go about our lives in order to make contact with divinity?

For us, it’s a very different scenario. There’s no book of rules, no straightforward way of demonstrating power of faith or devotion that you can easily tap into. We talk a great deal about having nothing to mediate between us and the divine, but in practice what that also means is that we are entirely on our own.

What are we seeking, when we quest after direct knowledge of deity? Reassurance? Something to take us out of the realms of faith and into knowing and certainty, perhaps. We might seek validation, proof that we are heading the right way, doing the right things. We might just want the ego boost. While all of these things may be natural, they are about us, and not about relationship. If there is any rule at all for Druids in this context, it should probably be, to seek connection for its own sake and not for anything else. Don’t even assume it will mean insight and wisdom. It might just bring chaos, confusion and uncertainty. Are we looking for some clear moment, the booming voice from the Heavans? Or are we actually seeking to know and understand? Religious experience is not like the movies. There is seldom much certainty, but moments of beauty, wonder, awe and numinousness can enrich our lives and give us a sense of having encountered something other. Seek relationship for the beauty of it. That is enough.

The things that shape relationships between humans are just as valid when it comes to thinking about relationship with deity. What do we share? If we understand deity as manifest in nature, then when we are out, interacting with and relating to nature, we are also experiencing relationship with the divine. Watching it on the telly doesn’t count. If we are drawn to more human gods, the named figures of historical pantheons, then we might think about what they represent – and where we are exploring their focus, and the energy they embody, we are making relationship with them, or at the very least with concepts that exist externally to us.

To seek deity in the way I’ve described above, does not call for belief. It doesn’t need validation in the form of something obvious returning to you. It is experiencing sacredness in action, allowing perception to include that element of deity, and being open to that which moves us. It’s spending time with a river and the land, or writing poetry and recognising the sacred within that. As with all other kinds of relationship, the more you share, do and give, the deeper it becomes. No burning bushes actually required.

Not a proper job

Many regularly employed folk view self employment as being somehow less than a proper job. If you’re a stay at home mum, you are even more likely to find people perceive what you do as a ‘hobby job’. (Yes, people have said that to my face.) If your work is creative, you will again find the regularly employed view this as an easy option, not real work at all and a bit of a skive. For anyone whose bardic life is their employment or who works as a Druid in some way, this is going to be an occupational hazard. So, let’s do some mythbusting.

Being self employed is the easy option. No. Not only are you doing the work, you’re selling the work, finding the clients, keeping the books, you’re the receptionist, and the creative director, and you sink or swim entirely on your own efforts. If you are sick or take a holiday, you do not get paid.

Working from home means staying in your pyjamas and not putting in as many hours as everyone else. Not so. Working from home frequently requires you to leave the home. You may have a shorter commute but you have no one to share the coffee break with. Also, at the end of the working day, you do not get to leave it all behind. In practise, self employed people often work longer hours than regularly employed people.

It’s fun, you get it easy. Yes, being creative is fun. Learning songs is fun, writing poems and books is fun, painting pictures is fun. Except, your income depends entirely on your creativity. Most jobs if you have an off day, you’ll still get paid. Creativity depends on inspiration, and that’s tricksy. Many creative people live in fear of block. Also, the creative bit is only part of the job, you still have to research, practice, get it out there, sell it, promote etc. There’s a great deal of graft involved in being professionally creative, and not much certainty. Oh, and mortgage companies eye you with suspicion.

You get to stay home with your kids. You’re so lucky. I wish I could do that. Yes I do, and I am very grateful. I also get to return to work again after the kid has gone to bed, and to work before he goes to school. Stay at home mums often carry the bulk of the housework as well. That can mean working some very long days. It is a choice with many merits, but not a cop-out.

There are many pluses – the freedom to pick when to work (kind of) the being able to fit in around offspring, doing things I love (at least some of the time) being answerable only to me (and the tax man) occasionally being able to work from the duvet (when I am too sick to get up and work properly dressed). You get the idea. I like the fact that I fail or succeed based entirely on the quality and cleverness of what I do. I like that I get to live my own life, take time off when I want it, work when I feel inspired. Sometimes I work until midnight. Sometimes I start at five in the morning. I like being able to care for my home and family around having a job. But what I really, really don’t enjoy are the many people who disparage, devalue and otherwise put me down because I’m not someone else’s wage slave.

The models of working that serve big corporations and the fat cats running them do not serve the people who work there. They seldom serve the environment, or families. The regularly employed have to fight for work life balance, endure their commutes, their lack of control over their own work lives and the stress all of this brings them. At least my stresses are largely my own to manage, and that’s a huge advantage. Smaller, more locally focused business are far better socially and environmentally. That means self employed folk. Self employment and the flexibility it brings is far more realistic for those who are also carers, or unwell themselves. The system we have is biased against it and unsupportive of it. That needs to change.