The Goddess has a plan… or does She?

I’ve come across the phrase “the Goddess has got a plan” or something similar within the Pagan community, especially when people are trying to sort out why good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. For me personally, there are a few reasons why this just doesn’t sit right in my own Pagan worldview.

To begin with, I simply don’t believe in predestination. Many people have a simplistic view of “fate”, which seems to preclude the concept of free will. Many things are “fated to happen”, or meeting that person was “just fate”. Sometimes the notion of free will is forgotten in these instances, other times willingly overlooked in order to explain or justify the reason something has happened. Many Pagans, and all Wiccans, believe that we have free will, such as in the Wiccan rede (maxim or “counsel”) “an it harm none, do as ye will” which translates to “do not harm others while you live up to your full potential”. You will is your potential, your spiritual goal, your highest self.

But everyone is on this same ride. We are all going through life together, and someone else’s will may come into your life to challenge, support, annoy, or validate your own experience and your own will. Some would argue that a higher power has a plan for everyone, and that they are in some sort of control over the final destination, which means that there is some sort of control over the everyday experiences that lead to this final destination. This precludes free will, in my opinion.

Some have turned away from deity because of what has happened to them in their lives. They can’t believe that a deity would allow such things to happen to them and/or to the world in general. This is still a belief in pre-destination, and a deity that controls everything like some master puppeteer.

For me, deity is most certainly not this in any shape or form. Deity is the energy of life, of death and of renewal. That is its agenda. This energy may be seen in many different ways, relative to culture, to personal preference, to environment and so on. Different people attribute more associations to this basic agenda, myself included, into a more specified spiritual practice. But overall, the plan is life, death and renewal (or regeneration).

Our relationship with deity is very personal, and can be very specific. But does my Goddess have a plan for entire world? I know that she most certainly has a wish for the world, but it’s not up to her. It’s up to us.

Our free will, our own capability of taking full responsibility for our lives and the lives of others is part of that overall plan of life, death and renewal. It’s the growing up of the human race, the evolution that hopefully will take place sooner rather than later. In a Druidic sense, it is coming to realise that we are part of an environment, and that we need to be a contributing and beneficial part of that ecosystem in order for the whole to thrive (us included). In a Wiccan sense, it would be to do the least amount of harm and to become the best person that you can be in a similar context. In Hedgewitchcraft, it would be to understand and work deeply with the cycles of nature in your own home environment, crafting your life in complete attunement to the world around you, both the seen and the unseen. In all of the above, we are opening ourselves to deity in order to better understand ourselves, and how to live well on this planet.

That, in my opinion, could be the only plan the deities could have for us. Bad things will happen to good people, not because it’s part of deity’s plan, but because there are bad people out there who harm others knowingly or unknowingly. Human ego, greed and fear get in the way of so much that could be accomplished.

Sometimes it’s really hard not to despair when the world seems like such a mess. But we have to put faith in ourselves, in our own actions and be the example we want to see reflected back to us in the world. Working with the wonderful energy of the gods is one way, though not all Pagans are religious. Working with the energy of the land where you live is at the core of all practice, to better understand our place and how we can make it better not just for ourselves, but for all in order to have a sustainable future that follows life, death and renewal, even when not viewed from a religious standpoint.

Your own Will is that which will see you through the most difficult of times. If you align your will to the flow of nature, you will come to understand the true inter-connectedness of all things. And these all have free will, just as you do. It’s learning to meet each other, soul to soul, and work with that energy which in Druidry is often called “awen”. In our relationships with the world we come to better understand the world and really participate in this great, vast cycle within cycles. We will see the good, the bad and the ugly on the way, but we have to realise that not all of that is part of any deity’s plan. It just is, and we can learn to work with it, to condemn when we need to, to be the light we want to see in the world, and to really think long and hard about our own ethics and morality.

That’s my plan, anyway.

Pirating and E-Book “Re-sellers”

How can you tell whether an e-book download is legit? Well, the simple answer is unless an author or publishing company offers you a free e-book direct from their website, then you most likely dealing with illegal material. Most people know that the many “free” pdf download sites are really just sites that are trying to install malware and other nasties on your device/system, but there has emerged a new, more legitimate-sounding con: the e-book “re-seller”.

It’s recently come to many Pagan authors’ attention that there are quite a few sites “re-selling” digital formats of their books. Please note that you cannot “re-sell” a digital format of a book. Every book that is sold is protected under copyright, and may only be used and read by the person who purchased the item.  E-book “re-sellers” sites offer illegal pdf downloads of the works. Some of the digital “re-sellers” have websites that look very authentic, and are even using large well-known second-hand platforms that make you think that what they are doing is legal. But please, make no mistake, a “second-hand” e-book is an illegal version.

Publishers sell licensed versions for Kobo, Nook, Kindle, Googleplay and more, ensuring that with each purchase, the author is getting paid for that sale. These are protected versions of the book to be put onto your chosen device. An e-book “re-seller” selling a pdf is not the same (it is not protected in the same way as the above versions are). What’s worse, once a single pdf is out there on the internet, hundreds of sites can then use it for their own personal gains (with nothing going towards the author).

Pirating of e-books is something that is rapidly starting to undermine the publishing industry. What most people don’t realise is that when they illegally download a book, they are putting another nail in the coffin of authors everywhere who are trying to write more books. Most authors these days can’t even afford to have writing as their sole career: it’s very, very hard to make a living as an author. For instance, did you know that the standard percentage that an author gets per book sold is 10% net? That’s net, not gross. So, after the publishers, the sellers and everyone else has had their share, the author gets 10% of what’s leftover. Sometimes that’s just pennies. The percentage is sometimes higher for an e-book, but it is still very much lower than what authors used to take home ten or twenty years ago. With the illegal downloading of books, this throws the industry into a tailspin and it is the author who suffers the most.

Many, many people are feeling the strain of earning less and working more, authors included. Many, many people can’t afford to buy all the books that they want. For some, illegal downloading seems to be the answer. What people might not realise is that the more they do this, the more likely it is that an author will not be able to sustain themselves and, therefore, will stop writing all those lovely books.

So what is one to do? If you are short on cash, you can always use a legitimate e-library, and if they don’t have the books you want, you can always ask them to order them for you. My husband has used the county library’s e-book department and read hundreds of books through them. Libraries pay for the license, and so you can read the material you want legally. As well, the author gets a crust of bread with her soup.

You can also work as a book reviewer in your spare time, and dedicate online places to book reviews such as a website and blog. Then, once you have a legitimate platform established, you can ask the publisher for a review copy, and then write your review (usually sending an email back to the publishers with the link to your review). I have a couple of publishers that I work with in this respect, who send me info on new book releases a couple of times a year. I email them back with the titles that interest me, and then I after I’ve received and read the book, I write up a review. I haven’t had to pay for the book monetarily, but I’ve devoted my time and energy into helping promote the work on various personal platforms. In this way, I am engaging in a legitimate exchange of services for goods. Plus I get real books to keep and put on my bookshelf 🙂

Help keep your favourite authors going through legitimate retailers, libraries and a fair exchange of services. x

Living Lagom 3

Living Lagom 3

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my adventures with lagom. I had almost given up last year (as you might have seen from my last post where I was lamenting the greed and selfishness that was expressing itself in the British public at the start of lockdown) however I have quietly carried on, making small changes in my own life and finding that balance point not only spiritually, but on a very physical level as well.

Perhaps the biggest change for me has happened with my wardrobe. Some might think that this is a very superficial change, but actually, for me clothing has always expressed who I am. Like my writing, like my art, what I wear is a part of me, and upon reflection, a very huge part as it is what I present to the public every day. It is an intrinsic part of every human’s experience: what will they adorn/clothe themselves with today? Clothing can reflect so many things, from your own personality to your religion, culture, your musical or sporting preference and (sigh) financial status. It is a part of you, who you are and what you choose to share with the world.

Grad year, high school

My own clothing style started in high school, where I enjoyed the basics. Jeans, t-shirt or a plain coloured collared shirt (usually black) and dark knitted jumpers/sweaters in the winter. Black boots. Very monochrome, I enjoyed the darker colours from navy blue to grey and black.

Me in Jesus Christ Superstar

In college I discovered the bohemian style, and colour flared out from every angle of my wardrobe. I loved going to hippie and head shops, where the fabric and patterns from Guatemala reflected the hope and positivity in my heart (as well as some of the less than legal experiences I was having at the time, but which I have happily left to those days). I was a wild child, a flower child, a free spirit roaming across the country to land 3,000 miles away on the west coast.

A day off from the barn in Vancouver, BC

Eventually, that group of friends and culture dissipated, and I found my clothing habits changing again, to simpler and practical items. I was, after all, now working at an equestrian centre, managing the stablehands, and so I needed clothing that kept me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It was back to jeans and t-shirts, plain colours and easy to wash and wear clothing.

Me (in the hat) and my sister

When I moved to the UK, that fashion sense followed me for a while, with a bit of a sporty/edgy kick as cargo pants were the rage and the skater fashion style emerged into the wider general public. Then my life was turned upside down, and I found myself working at a new age shop in Wales, where I was living at the time. The happiness of my flower power days tempted me back, in the search for better times and reliving memories that helped me get through the day. This sort of fashion stayed with me for many years, until I realised that as long as I was searching for happiness in the past, I would never find it in the present. Those days were over, and I needed to reflect my newfound independence from my previous self, while still acknowledging and enjoying the memories, as well as incorporating the lessons that I had learned along the way.

And so, once again, it was back to basics. And this is where lagom fits in. My core clothing style is unfussy, plain basics that allows me to be comfortable. I don’t need the flashy clothing to tell people who I am: if they are interested, they will ask. I don’t have to shout it from the rooftops.

And so I’ve come full circle, back to when I first discovered a style that I liked over 35 year ago back in high school. Plain colours, (though not as much black as back then), jeans, simple jewellery and footwear. Casual yet put-together.

And by finding what my core style is, I’ve been able to express that better through lagom. It’s not about buying more items that fit with my style, but about how to best express that style in balance. Creating a capsule wardrobe of around twenty items and then adding to that dependent upon the season has really helped.

In order to create capsule wardrobe, you need to have the basics of your own personal style. These are things that you know you will always reach for, which for me is jeans and a t-shirt or a collared shirt, sometimes with leggings. Take these items out of your wardrobe and put them aside. These are the keepers, the basics that you can use all year round.

My current closet for autumn, and yes, there is a picture of David Bowie as the Goblin King in there. Keep the magic alive.

Items that you don’t love, that don’t fit, that you haven’t worn since the last season it suited, give it away to charity. Then, with a much roomier closet now that you have gotten rid of extraneous wardrobe that no longer suits you, put your core items back in. Then consider the season that you are in. Autumn is here in the UK, and so I’ve pulled out my jumpers and long-sleeved tees. These seasonal items I keep in storage in a blanket box in the spare room, so that my closet isn’t overwhelmed with clothing I don’t wear because it is not in season. The shorts and summer shirts go into storage, and a few autumnal pieces come out. I do the same with winter and spring too: put away the items you love and know you will wear again next season, and get out what is appropriate. By doing so, you won’t have to shop for new clothes, but instead you are shopping your own wardrobe!

This is good for you, your bank balance and for the environment. Too often we can look at a closet or wardrobe that is full of clothing that is out of season, and the items that are relevant can get lost in the jumble. When I bring out my heavier winter clothing out of storage, it’s like falling in love all over again. Those cozy jumpers in the greys and darker colours just remind me of winter. In the spring, I get out my lighter shirts and bring colour back. In the summer, it’s all about practical wear, what I can wear while trekking about on the heathland and the coast, in practical gear that still reflects my own sense of style. And going into autumn – well, it’s my favourite season, so the basics are added to with those beautiful fall colours.

The blanket box where I keep my out of season clothing

This is a lagom way of dealing with your own wardrobe. You don’t have to go all Marie Kondo and minimalist to the extreme. What you are doing is finding the balance, where you can rotate your wardrobe and not spend a lot of money each season buying new clothing. As well, when you have a wardrobe that works together, you will find that when you are shopping for a new item, whether that is brand new or in a second-hand shop, you will take the time to really consider whether it works with the items you have. It’s all about using what you have, and not having too little, or too much.

And therein lies the lagom. You are not depriving yourself of clothing and creating a minimalist wardrobe of less than twenty items. You are finding your own style, rotating it according to the season, and falling in love once again with items that you haven’t seen for a year when you bring them out of storage. It’s a perfect system for me, where the anticipation of seeing the next season’s much-loved items coming out of storage brings me joy.

Storing your items is simple – like I said, I have a blanket box where I can keep the out of season items (coats included). If you have a spare room with a closet, you can keep items there. But don’t let it get away from you, remember the lagom rule: not too much, not too little, but just right. Don’t have a nice, uncluttered closet in your bedroom, and then an overflowing one in the guest room or in storage boxes under the stairs. Be specific, be discerning, and remember that each item of clothing that you re-wear, you are saving the planet just a little and also keeping your hard-earned cash in your own pocket.

If you would like to start looking at how to de-clutter, become more environmentally conscious and create a capsule wardrobe, there is a very good YouTuber in Denmark who creates wonderful videos to help you find your own style and system. Though the clothing brands she recommends every now and then are ethical brands, they are also priced sky-high, and so if you do need new items you can look for less expensive, good quality clothing brands such as H&M, who have their own brand of clothing made from recycled fibres and natural materials. Their Tencel fabric items are so soft and lovely, and I can highly recommend their denim shirts. As well, there are many H&M stores where you can drop off your old clothing, which they will recycle and give you vouchers off for your next purchase with them. If you would like some cash for your old clothes, this may be a hassle-free way to do it. And, of course, there are always charity shops!

Lagom is a way of life, of finding out where that balance point is for YOU. And that point changes with each person. Like milk in a cup of coffee, we each have our preference. But ask most Swedes, and they will usually say “lagom is best”.

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Over the years I’ve heard quite a few people equate the riding of the broom by a witch to a sexual experience. Often these folks state that the witch used a hallucinogenic ointment which was rubbed onto the broom, and then inserted in a sexual manner which made her think she was “flying”. I can tell you, there are a lot easier ways to get high.

This theory comes from a few confessions extracted during the dreadful times of the witch hunts across Europe. What is often forgotten or purposefully left out is the fact that these so-called confessions were extracted under torture. Europe and Scotland had absolutely awful methods of torturing so-called witches to extract information from them, usually with questions led by the examiner to produce a consistent result among the captives. In England, torture was illegal, however, they still kept their victims awake and used sleep deprivation to get what they wanted, as well as having the person kept in one position for hours at a time without being able to move. That’s torture too.

If we are to believe that what was said under torture is factually correct, then we must also believe what else was said alongside this confession. We must believe that these people had sexual congress with goats, or the Devil himself. We must believe that these people suckled their familiars (animal helpers) with their own blood. We must believe a host of other outrageous stories that were created to instil fear and hatred, dividing a populace and creating a space where the old, the weak, the poor and the independent thinkers were targeted against the power of the Church and patriarchy.

It is my firm belief that the sexual imagery of the witch “riding” her broom is the result of the sexually repressed minds of the witch hunters themselves. It is only one of many sexual fantasies created by these men who were paid to bring people in for prosecution. This was their job, and they made money from it. You would have to be quite a horrible type of person to want to do this sort of job in the first place. Just saying.

In fact, the witch riding her broom comes from a long heritage of witches working with staffs, stangs, wands and distaffs. We can trace this work in Europe back to the völva (plural völur), a type of Norse shamanistic practitioner of magic and divination. Völva actually means “staff carrier”. Usually a woman, she always had a staff, sometimes wood, sometimes an ornamental iron distaff. We know this from the many burials found across Scandinavia which have these women buried with the tools of their trade.

I’ve even heard some folks say that the practice of the völva was seen as shameful in Viking society. They use the sexual fantasy imagery and overlay it against the profession of the völva, claiming that this is what she did with her staff, like a witch riding her broom covered in the flying ointment. First, let’s look at the “shameful” aspect.

For women, it was not considered shameful to practice magic, except from a Christian point of view. For men to practice the magic of the völva, known as seidr, it was seen in Viking times as “ergi”, often translated as shameful. For a man to do women’s work was seen as unmanly, though we do have to remember that the sources from which we get this information were written after the Viking period by the patriarchal Christian monks. We also see women warriors, buried with their weapons, and so the question of men’s work and women’s work is even more circumspect. We see in the myths of the gods and goddesses a couple of the gods doing womanly things: Odin learns the art of seidr from the goddess Freya (he’s not seen as unmanly), Thor dresses up as a woman to get into a giant’s hall (still not unmanly) and Loki turns himself into a mare to have sex with another horse (still not called out as unmanly and actually producing Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, in the process).

(Artwork from: https://www.deviantart.com/briannacherrygarcia/gallery)

Add on top of that the fact that all the burials found of the women who are considered to be völur are high status burials, and the question of shame seems absurd. The Osberg ship burial, perhaps one of the most famous Viking ship burials, had the body of a völva laid to rest with with a host of beautiful treasures (what was left of them, for the burial had been broken into a long time before, with many of the goods stolen). No person who was considered shameful would be given such a send off.

The question of drugs does come into play when looking at the ancestors of the more modern-day version of the broom riding witch. Many of the burials were found to have pouches of hallucinogenic herbs on the body, such as henbane or cannabis seeds. These seeds, when thrown onto hot coals would produce a smoke that, when inhaled, would most definitely get you “high”, but not in the way that the sexual fantasy of the witch riding a broomstick would by the witch hunters. The clue is in the staff itself, and what it symbolises.

The word seidr is thought to derive from spinning or weaving. The völur were those who could see the way that fate was woven or spun through their contact with the spirit world. Their distaffs were their link to that ability. For those graves wherein a wooden staff was found, the link lies more with the World Tree that one can use to travel to the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. Through the staff there is a sympathetic link created with the World Tree, with Yggdrasil, and it can be used to “ride” between the worlds.

And this is where the descendant of the völur appears today, in the form of hedge riding, an aspect of Hedgewitchcraft. Riding the staff/stang/broom/whatever you have to hand that resembles the world tree helps you to travel between the worlds in order to find the information that you require in your Craft. Most Hedgewitches today do not use hallucinogens, being able to perform the working through trance states that are induced by other means.

So, in conclusion, the equating of broom riding and sex seems more like a far-fetched fantasy than the actual reality when we dig a little deeper into the history and the ancestry of witchcraft. That it is continuing to be spread today only helps to demean and undermine the power of women in working magic, turning something extremely symbolic and important into a sexually repressed fantasy created by the patriarchy. When a witch is riding her broom, or using her staff, stang or wand in ritual, the lineage is far greater than most people can ever assume, and is far more powerful than any witch hunter could ever dream of.

For a great video on the staff of the völva, see Freya’s video below:

A few of my favourite things…

I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite eco-friendly products that I use on a regular basis. I have been buying these kinds of products for years now, and through lots of trial and error, have found which ones really do work, and which ones don’t (at least for me). So, here are my shining stars in the sustainable living category for your bathroom cabinet! Note: I have not been paid to endorse these products by any means, this is a genuine post in which I just want to share some little gems!)

Rosehip Scar Oil 50ml
My absolute favourite!

First off, I have got to mention Balmond’s Rosehip Scar Oil. I got this when I was ready to start treating my scar after the hysterectomy last summer. I was advised by the nurse who took out my clips after the surgery to use a specific oil on the scar to treat it, but when I looked up the ingredients it was a petroleum-based product, which is not something I wanted to put on my skin. So, I searched around and found Balmond’s scar oil, and wow – did it deliver! This oil contains rosehips, lavender and palmarosa, which gives it a lovely scent. It is all natural, gentle and works not only to treat scars, but as a facial moisturiser, for stretchmarks, uneven skin tone or fragile skin. It is rich in vitamin A, C, E and essential fatty acids. The main oils are grapeseed oil, rosehip oil, sunflower oil, calendula oil, chamomile oil, and lavender and palmarosa oil. Some, but not all of the ingredients, are organic.

I used this oil on my scar (and still do) and it has faded much quicker than if I hadn’t treated it. My brother-in-law had abdominal surgery last year as well, and we have compared scars. This oil has really helped in healing the skin, as well as keeping the rest of my tummy lovely and soft. I thought, this works so well on the skin for my belly, let’s try using it on my face. I have always avoided oils on my face, because it tends to clog my pores. Not this one. A few drops is enough to do your whole face at night (don’t use during the day, as the oils can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun) and when you wake up in the morning, your skin will look refreshed and lovely (at least, mine did). I can’t recommend this oil enough.  I use it on my hands at night as well. It seems expensive, at around £18 a bottle, but the bottle lasts 4 – 6 months, depending on how much skin you want to treat with it. I thought it was extremely good value for money, and I’ll continue to use this oil long after my scar has been fully healed. It comes in a glass bottle, with a glass dropper. Sadly the top of the dropper is plastic, but I’m willing to make that concession.

Kutis natural deodorant range

The next stellar product is Kutis natural deodorant. I have spent YEARS searching for a natural deodorant that actually works, and the best that I found for a long time was the solid deodorant from Lush. This still left me a bit swiffy on the hottest summer days, or after a workout, and so I still shopped around. I found Kutis two years ago, and I’ve never looked back. This deodorant really lasts, through two of the hottest summers I have ever known, through kickboxing workouts and belly dance performances – you name it, this product delivers. It has several lovely scent combinations, and my favourites are the citrus ones and the lavender and geranium. The main ingredient is arrowroot powder, coconut oil and sodium bicarbonate. This product contains lot of ingredients that are organic as well, but not all. It comes in a cardboard tube, which is fully home compostable.

I love my lip balms, especially tinted lip balms. I found Nirvana last year. The lip tint, not the spiritual state. This is an organic, vegan lip tint in a home compostable cardboard tube. I’m not sure about the label being compostable however; I may have to write to them to ask. This lip tint comes in several different colours, but I used the Velvet one all last year. I also used it as a cheek tint too, and it was pretty good, though sometimes it can get a bit oily on very hot days.

Fat And The Moon Lip & Cheek Stain

Another lip and cheek tint I found recently is Fat and the Moon. They call their product a lip and cheek stain, but it doesn’t stain at all – it is, in fact, a tint. I would have preferred a stain, for its lasting power, but this doesn’t have it, sadly. It is, however, a lovely tint, but you will have to keep re-applying it, not only to your lips but I also needed a refresher for the cheeks halfway through the day. It gives a lovely natural colour and contains all organic ingredients, though it is not vegan as its base is beeswax.  I used to use Burt’s Bees All Aglow for a lip and cheek tint, but the plastic packaging put me off. As soon as Burt gets their act together on the packaging, I’ll be looking into them again.

null | EthiqueBeauty | Gallery

Finally, let’s talk hair. I have spent YEARS looking for a natural, solid shampoo and conditioner that was SLS free. Everything that I tried (apart from Lush) left my hair a sticky awful mess. Lush works, but contains SLS. Then, at the beginning of this year, I found Ethique, who now distribute from the UK (they are an Australian company). I bought their hair sampler package and their facial sampler. Everything in them was lovely, but I highly recommend their St Clements shampoo for oily hair (mine’s not that oily, but it gives it a good clean) followed by Wonderbar conditioner (again for oily hair, but it works great on my “normal” hair. The full size bars last a long time, and the conditioner bar is a lot smaller than the shampoo bar. Don’t let that fool you. I’m almost finished the shampoo bar, but still have half of the conditioner left! The conditioner works best if you work it through the hair from root to tip, and then brush it all the way through. You also use less conditioner by doing so. The products from Ethique are not cheap – in fact, they’re a bit eye-watering in price, but they are the only ones that I have used that actually work, are eco-friendly, compostable packaging and really good quality.

Do you have a favourite beauty/bathroom product? Let us know in the comments, please!

To Keep Silent

Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.

Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.

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A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.

Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.

Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.

But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.

This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.

Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.

History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.

Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.

Hygge in Dangerous Times

Hygge – the Danish art of chilling out and feeling relaxed, comfortable, cosy and safe, has had a real run for its money in 2020. With so much media and so much fear (rightfully so) due to so many deaths, especially here in the UK and also in the US, feeling safe and secure has been out of our reach for many, many months. Those of us who have had to shield for various reasons, and who are still doing so, feel our anxiety rise every time we have to engage with the public – for my husband and I, that’s food shopping and pretty much it. We haven’t had any other face to face contact with others for over six months because of my husband’s medical conditions, and my surgery and recovery this summer. We will still be extra careful, up until there is a vaccine.

P1020204 (2)While you can hygge by yourself, and this is my favourite hygge, there is a lot to be said for social hygge. Indeed, for many who do not have solitary, feline souls, the social aspect of hygge is hygge. Getting together with friends around the dining table, having coffee and cake, talking and reminiscing is what it’s all about. But in these strange times, getting together with friends is a real challenge, and for some, not an option.

CthulhuI thought I was doing okay without the social interaction. I have my husband and my cats, and Skype my family once a week, and talk to my mother on the phone as well. We’ve re-started our Saturday roleplaying sessions online (Cthulhu on the Roll 20 platform) and I call my friends weekly just to have a chat. While I was recovering from surgery, a couple of friends came by to drop off care packages and we had a small chat (me at the door, they in the driveway). I thought it wasn’t too bad, as I’m such a solitary creature anyway. But something last week made me realise just how much social interaction is an important part of my life and hygge.

It was my friend Lisa’s birthday at the end of July, and Michelle’s last week, with mine this week. We decided to get together for a socially distanced cuppa and some cake in my back garden. I unlocked the side gate so they could come over without entering the house, and we sat in the shade and talked, watching the hawks circle overhead and the house martins doing their aerial acrobatics. We caught up on each other’s lives, talked about the huge changes and how we are coping. We drank some lovely tea (Chakra Balance from Woodbridge Emporium) and ate some cake. We also exchanged presents and just enjoyed each other’s company for an hour and a half.

Afterwards, when I got back in the house (and washed my hands) I stood in the kitchen and looked out the window to where we had been sitting. I felt a release in my chest, where a tightness had been that I had not noticed until that moment. A long, shuddery breath ensued, the kind that you get after a good, long cry, when the diaphragm spasms and your chest calms down. And that’s when I realised it, that I needed the physical, social interaction too, more than I ever knew.

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That feeling of release, after spending time with friends who I had not socialised with in person for over six months, really hit home. It was a physical sensation, as well as a mental one. It pointed out that while video chats, phone calls and social media are great for keeping people together on a regular basis during a pandemic, there is no real substitute for that face to face interaction.

xmas 2015 2Who knows how much longer it will be before we are able to have that easy interaction again? I haven’t seen my family in Canada for over a year, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to return. That really hurts deep down. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary had to be cancelled, and who knows if I’ll be able to make it in 2021 when they’ve rescheduled. It’s not until a vaccine has been tried and tested that I can travel safely and visit my friends and family, and that is a hard thing to bear when you haven’t had a hug from your mom for a long, long time.

But we do the best we can. We need to find the hygge still, in a safe and responsible way. We need to feel safe and secure, with family and friends, for our own well-being. We have to abstain where it is dangerous, and take extra precaution in any face to face encounter. It’s hard to hygge in that way, but maybe there is a new form of hygge that will develop out of this: one that can see us through until we can meet each other safely and securely without the threat of illness or death hanging over our heads.

P1030412 (2)So I’m practicing careful hygge right now, socially-distanced hygge in the garden with a select few folk. Small steps while we navigate our way through this pandemic, and keep everyone safe. And while there is still anxiety about any social interaction, I can counter-balance that with some solitary hygge: time spent in silence and stillness, watching the sunset, or having a cup of tea and listening to some piano music. Cooking a birthday cake to celebrate 46 turns around the sun, and eating it with great pleasure with my husband and a glass of champagne. Holding hope in my heart that I will be able to see my family soon, and know that their love and the hygge that awaits at my mother’s kitchen table can exist in my mind and in my heart until I can experience the real thing.

So hygge carefully, my friends, and I hope that you manage to find some safety, security and well-being in this difficult times. May you find that little space of sanctuary each and every day, to help you through until we can meet again.

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Living Lagom: 2

Image result for lagomSo, furthering my adventures with the Swedish concept of lagom (not too much, not too little, just the right amount) I’m seeing the complete opposite happening all around me here in Suffolk and, I’m sure, many others in the UK and other parts of the world are as well. Whether or not one is accustomed to the concept, everyone knows about basic human decency, but many are still choosing to opt out.

Image result for lagomThe most noticeable area where the lagom balance is out of whack is, of course, the supermarkets during this pandemic. It took us two weeks to be able to find toilet paper, and I think we just got lucky last week. Before the pandemic began, my husband began noticing people in the supermarket stocking up on the stuff – several giant packs of it in their shopping trolleys. He joked that maybe they know something we don’t. He was right. They knew how to be selfish, how to take more than their share. This is the antithesis to lagom.

We hoped the situation would get better. Even with the government warning people that there is no shortage of food, that the problem with re-stocking is the drop in delivery drivers due to quarantine, still people were panic buying, and buying more than they need with already stocked fridges, larders and pantries. If everyone had just continued with their normal amounts, even with the drop in delivery drivers we would have been okay. But no, the “not enough” mentality kicks in hard.  Just in case, they say. And so, when people who aren’t stockpiling, or when social care workers finish their shifts at the hospital, they go to the supermarket and find nothing but empty shelves. No meat, little fresh veg left, no frozen or canned goods. No loo roll. No painkillers or cold medication. No bread. No flour even to make bread. A nurse was in tears in a video that has since gone viral, after she had worked for 48 hours and needed to get some food, and found there was none left. Old folks who don’t drive and are shuffling to the village shop can’t get their groceries. People are taking more than their share, and making others suffer needlessly because of it.

Image result for lagom Lagom is all about balance. It’s not altruistic – you don’t have to give up stuff and suffer because of it. You take your fair share, and you leave a fair share for others. Simple. No one is left out. It’s about community. The word stems from the Viking phrase lagom et, which means taking a sip from the communal drinking horn, but ensuring that there is enough to go around the group. How quickly this concept of sharing, of personal responsibility, compassionate caring and just general decency has been forgotten in the face of this global pandemic.

And for what? For many, many people this pandemic means that they get to stay at home in their warm houses, with overstocked fridges and pantries, watching Netflix and gaming. How tragic.

I fear for when the shit really hits the fan. It may not be this virus, but if this is a warning of how we react to things, I really, really fear for the future.

I understand the urge. I really do. When we walked into our Co-Op and saw that beautiful shelf full of toilet roll, we were so happy. We were allowed to take up to two of anything in the shop. My husband asked, “Should we take two of these, because we don’t know when it will be re-stocked?” I thought for a moment, but then said “No. Four rolls of toilet paper can last us two weeks in our household if we’re careful. Let’s leave some for others – I’m sure that there are many like us who have been desperate for it these last couple of weeks. It could make their day.” It’s a sad state of affairs when buying toilet paper makes your day.

Image result for lagomIt’s not just in the supermarkets that we’re seeing people go overboard. Here on the Suffolk coast, many of the richer folks have decided to leave their London homes and head out to their second homes on the coast. Are they practicing social distancing? Are they heck. Cafes, supermarkets, boardwalks and shops are heaving in coastal towns and villages during what would normally be a very quiet time. This poses a real threat, especially to the elderly, who live in these areas, and who a) need the food from their local stores, and b) shouldn’t be exposed to people needlessly. Again, it’s pure selfishness.

This is a test, and it seems that we are failing. So many people are aware of the Danish concept of hygge, but I think we all desperately need to learn about lagom. How to be a responsible member of society. How to not panic. How to act with intention  and forethought. How to take our fair share, while caring about others. How to work together, instead of every person for themselves.

We need to find the balance. And what better time than at the Spring Equinox? The days and nights are fairly equal this week, and it’s a great time to explore the concept of lagom. To learn how to be in the world, in the community, in the ecosystem.

lagomI had thought that my lagom blog posts would be fun, an experiment in the little things of life, like my wardrobe, my home, my relationships. But it turns out that the real test has hit us all very hard on the head, and we’re failing badly. It’s clearly pointing out to me how much we need lagom in our society. It’s the defense against capitalistic over-consumption. It’s the defense against the deterioration of community. It’s the defense against the death of everything we know and love. Seriously.

Let’s take what we have learned these last few weeks and work to correct those mistakes. Let’s work together with the concept of lagom. Let’s take the time that is given to us to improve ourselves and our lives. And stay safe.

Here are some of the best books on lagom (and Scandinavian life) that I have found to date:

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark

(The best book on Lagom, in my opinion).

 

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living by Linnea Dunne

(My second favourite, but some pages are hard to read because of the colours behind the lettering.)

 

The Lagom Life: A Swedish Way of Living by Elisabeth Carlsson

(Filled with beautiful images and a taste of the lagom life.)

 

NØRTH: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell

(My favourite book on all things Scandinavian. Written with wit and humour, and jam-packed with info about most everything to do with Scandinavian life.)