Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.

I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…

At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.

We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.

And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”

Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.

Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.

Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.

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Jerks

Some people are just jerks. And we have to accept that.

In our lives, we will come across a multitude of people, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Realising that we have no control over how they behave, we come to the conclusion that the only thing we can control is how we in turn behave towards them. This is the true measure of our integrity.

In Zen philosophy, it’s often stated that everyone is perfect for where they are in their lives. Even if they are being a perfect jerk. What that essentially means is that we have to allow them to be a jerk, because we can’t really change them anyway. A person has to want to change themselves, and no one can do it for them. We might be able to perhaps point a finger in the direction we would wish them to go, hopefully in the direction of being less of a jerk, but in the end it’s up to them to do the walking. And it’s up to us to do the accepting that they may or may not take those steps.

jerkThis is awfully hard to do. Acceptance of the fact that some people are jerks, and that there is nothing we can do about it is tough. We’re so often coming across slogans and maxims such as “you can change the world” but really, all we can do is influence our own lives, work on our own behaviour, and if we’re lucky, some of that will ripple outwards into our community and into the wider stream of being. We can inspire others. But we can’t change other people, much as we would like.

We will come across jerks in our working life, in our home life, in all spheres of living. We will also come across some beautiful people, inspiring human beings that can help us to continue in our own journeys with a self-reflective quality that is not self-centred or self-obsessed. However, we often allow the jerks the most time, living and re-living our experiences with them over and over. We need to stop this cycle and focus on the important things.

It’s not easy, as I’ve said before. I do it, and have to consciously stop myself from doing it. I could have twenty lovely people support me and my work, and then have one work colleague who is a jerk about it. I can let that one person monopolise my thoughts, when they’ve been outnumbered twenty to one in real life. What I really should be doing is not seeking any external validation for the work I do, but hey, we’re all human and a little interaction and validation can go a long way. I suppose there’s a difference between support and validation, but that is another blog topic post!

I’ve had trouble with work colleagues: bullying, incompetence and outright lying just for starters. I’ve done all that I can in those situations that should have been done: reporting the problem, asking for assistance and calling people up on their actions. Some outcomes have been acceptable, some not, others just left unresolved. So what is one to do?  Just leave it? Let them be incompetent? Let them continue lying and deceiving others? Let them be jerks?

Well, yes.

Hard as it may seem, especially to someone who holds concepts of honour and integrity so highly, to allow others to be horrid, awful, wilfully mean or just plain inept is all a part of maintaining my own sanity. I do what I can in each situation, but at the end of the day I’ve done what I can, and it’s not in my hands anymore. Sometimes there will be a resolution that I agree with, but for the most part it won’t be satisfactory in the least.

This radiates outwards in all aspects of life. People will cut you off on the motorway. People will be rude to you down the phone. People will jump in front of you in line. People will take out their own troubles in life while you stand behind the counter wondering what you have done to deserve this. People will talk crap about you. People will say one thing and do another. And the only thing we can control is our own response to these situations.

Will we replay it again and again in our heads, allowing them all that time to make us angry, hurt or depressed? Or will we turn our thoughts to that which nourishes us, strengthens us, makes us want to share the inspiration that we’ve in turn been inspired by in the endless cycle and flow of awen?

The choice is yours. Just like it’s their choice whether to be a jerk or not.

Can we accept that?

 

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Swift, Celebrity, Stories and Sovereignty

Yes, I am a Swiftie. Unabashedly a Swiftie. Always have been, most likely always will. I’m loving the new song (total earworm!) and the video is a little bit of genius. It’s also gotten me thinking, which is what all art/social commentary should do, no?

Musician and singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt has spoken about the cult of celebrity for a few years now, how it has changed music makers from being artists to being commodities.  The face of music has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it’s becoming more and more difficult to express yourself musically, as an artist, rather than going for the superficial jugular of celebrity status. While I’m not saying that Taylor Swift has never sought celebrity, this clever woman has criticised it and examined it from many angles over the span of her career.

Taylor Swift’s most recent song and video, “Look What You Made Me Do“, is another critique of how people see her, based on assumptions made from the media, other artists, the haters and the Swifties alike. (She previously covered one assumption a few years back in her video, “Blank Space“, poking fun at the  media image of her being an over-emotional, co-dependent serial relationship junkie.) It’s a very good tongue-in-cheek look at the many personas that others have created for her, such as the leader of “The Squad” (a media reference to her circle of famous friends), her so-called “surprise face” when she wins awards, her “love” of playing the victim and more. Before the song was released, Taylor had wiped all social media, deleted all Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as having her website simply showing a black screen. It’s a very shrewd move, personally deleting everything that the media could interpret about her, which she knows as well as we do that it’s only a part of who she is, a representation of a facet of a person. No one is their Facebook or Twitter account.

Taylor Swift ReputationThe song and video also points out that we need to take responsibility in our lives, which includes personal and emotional responsibility. The title, “Look What You Made Me Do” is referencing that fact that we often blame others for so many things, which engenders a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the art of basic living. We need to take responsibility back for ourselves, for our actions, our words, our thoughts and emotions. When we do so, we pull of the mask that allows us to stay in our wounded selves, and to fly free with the wings of freedom and sovereignty. The reaction of others to this, well, what can I say? Some may praise you for it, some may criticise, some may hate and some may love you for it. The title is also a comment on how the media have created and fabricated all these stories about her, making her as a media-created character do and say things that are completely false. Taylor Swift’s new album (available beginning of November) is called Reputation, is yet another examination of the power of story, and who is telling it, and to whom.

This year, on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, I met with the goddess Bloedewedd at the White Spring. She cautioned me to choose the mask that I wish to present to the world, otherwise others would do it for me. As I was watching Taylor’s video, these words came back to me, reflecting that everyone needs to choose, otherwise the choices will be made for them. Some would argue that we should simply take off all masks, and I would agree with this statement up to a point. We need boundaries, and certain barriers in place for different situations.

When I am working in a professional capacity, I can’t be the silly goof that I am in my dance troupe, twerking in the middle of a choreography just to make the others laugh. When I am teaching, I can’t be the child running to the bottom of the garden in search of faeries, or seeing how much of the alphabet I can burp after several glasses of Prosecco. We have different masks, different hats that we wear in different situations, because I am a daughter, a wife, a Druid, an author, a dancer, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a lover. To some, I am even a challenge, an enemy, a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar, and more. While this may not be true, other people’s interpretation of me is something that I have very little control over. They may have their reasons for believing in the story that they hold of me, they may not. But we have to remember: it’s just a story.

What is important is that our story is something that we can be proud of. Not in order to impress others, but for ourselves, so that we can move forward and add to our story with honour and integrity. We can shake off other people’s perceptions of us, because we have very little control over that anyway. We can choose to not be commodified inasmuch as we are able, and to take the reins in our journey and guide ourselves towards the sovereignty and the story that we wish to fulfill. Only we know the truth of our story, the terrible lows and the glorious highs. Only we can choose to move forward with honesty and good self-examination, in order to achieve our goals and to live a life that’s more integrated, with deep and sustainable relationships.

I’m proud of my story.

And so is Taylor Swift.

 

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Working with Anger, Working with Community

An article by Sophie Dòbhran and Joanna van der Hoeven

As Druids, as Pagans, and also in the role of priestess it can sometimes become really hard to stay connected with people who are cultivating rage and anger towards an event that creates a painful gap between what they wish and what is happening. One reason might be that they seem so shocked towards the event, as if they had just realized that such things are possible in our world. The first surge of anger is necessary, in order to provide a little release from the pain and suffering of the first wounding, but then we keep wounding ourselves again and again by cultivating the anger. And in doing so through our connection with others, we cultivate misery and pain together and nurture our being entitled to it.

Is it in how we resist a situation, and in doing so how we are ourselves nurturing the rage and anger and blind suffering that we so loudly condemn?

Even more troubling, is that it seems that the journey stops there: misery seeks misery, people suffer together then turn the page and go back to watching violent forms of entertainment on television and in the movie theatres but all that’s acceptable in our society. Until the next shocking thing happens. It’s like awakening sporadically is so painful and shocking that it doesn’t stick.

It is so difficult to feel the anger properly, and then to let it go. Anger perpetuates more anger, more suffering, and more pain.

Sometimes we need anger to begin a new motivation, a new revolution. However, a revolt that is perpetually based in anger turns into the riots in the streets of London a few years back, where innocent people were hurt, shops destroyed and more. That sort of anger doesn’t produce any results other than more suffering. Yet the anger that the women of the suffragette movement felt turned into courageous and defiant acts against the establishment that won women the vote, and more rights to come.

We could look at it as differentiating between holding the anger as motivation, or holding the anger as instigation. The preferable way would be the former, and then with a level-head find the solution after gone through the initial suffering. But there is a boiling anger in society that’s continuously being repressed, both here in the UK and in the USA, which will eventually explode if nothing is done about it, if there isn’t an outlet for it. Peaceful demonstrations seem to have little effect anymore on the establishment, and the media can just block it out as if it never happened. So, there’s the anger there, and it’s not going away soon…

Perhaps it has to do with the general isolation that has taken place, people being so disconnected from each other, and from Nature. We are no longer used to being mindful, to listen to silence. We are addicted to all kinds of fake relationships, superficial activities, superficial foods, and so on.

We need to remember that it’s all energy; sometimes the energy of anger isn’t appropriate. And when it’s no longer appropriate, when it becomes harmful instead of leading us out of apathy, for instance, then we need to repurpose that energy into something useful.

“Useful” is something each person must define for themselves, for each situation is unique. In order to do that, we need to step back from the situation and get perspective in order to discern just action. Anger, like a barking dog, can alert us that our boundaries have been crossed. But are we going to let the dog address this situation for us? How about when we cultivate anger together and become a pack of barking dogs?

Perspective needs distance and silence to produce clarity. No one can understand just why we are so angry better than we do. What follows is compassion. Compassion is not always soft and gentle. Sometimes, compassion means strengthening boundaries or raising one’s voice to be heard. Compassion means observing the situation with distance and clarity in order to discern the best path of action inherent to it.

It’s easy to be angry and feel desperate, lost and confused. Or to think that a public demonstration will change things, because we are now used to getting immediate satisfaction all the time. And yet if we truly pay attention, we realize that we can truly cultivate the change we want to see in the world. On a much smaller scale, maybe, but it is real and it is tangible, and it is satisfying.

Given that we are already what we condemn, we never have to look very far to create mindful actions that reverse that negative flow. It doesn’t change the world or impact politicians, but it changes our world, from our nemeton to another’s nemeton. Aren’t our nemetons microcosms?

Druidry is a religion based on locality first and foremost, and so, when we are upset or angry, it’s our immediate locality that bears the brunt of it. Our immediate locality is also the thing that we can affect most in our lives. When we’re angry at the government or our employers, we can do what we can to be heard: writing letters, signing petitions, talking and organizing unions, etc. But we have no control over what happens after that.

However, in our own environment, in our own bodies and for the most part, in our own houses and land we do have some control, and these are the areas that we can affect to effect change. Only we can change ourselves. We can think and act locally first and foremost, instead of the usual “think globally, act locally” because our range of influence is not all-encompassing. We can think all we want (and post all we want on social media), but that does not effect change. If we bring it down into bitesize chunks that we can handle, then we’re able to really do the work that needs doing.

So, we work in our area, to clear litter, to do ritual work, to contact the Fair Folk, to work with the ancestors and the spirits of place because that is where we live, because that is where we get our nourishment and sustenance. It is also useful to become members of their parish council, or join other committees in the community. That way, we have a real vote on planning applications and housing developments, environmental and health issues and more. In doing so, our environment affects us and we affect it. Then, like little ripples from a pond, that changed and charged energy can spread out. We create an effect in the world.

Think of your locality, think of your tribe. When your tribe is strong, let that energy permeate the rest of the world. This is not to say that we must become insular, separatist and isolated, but more as a ways and means of really affecting change in our own worlds. Become aware of the energy of anger, and how it is being used. Take care of your community, of your locality, and be conscious of the choices you are making and the reasons behind those choices. When we are conscious of our behaviour, we work with right action, and our work will benefit in a holistic pattern that emanates from a strong and true core of personal sovereignty.

Sophie Dòbhran was born in Quebec and lives in a farmhouse on a small island near Quebec city with her husband, her son, two cats and a dog. She studied under Swami Premananda Saraswati for a certification in Hatha yoga and also studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. She joined the Sisterhood of Avalon in 2014 and has been actively cultivating an avalonian spiritual practice since. She facilitates Red Tents once a month, as well as druidic rituals and an SOA learning circle in her community. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.ileauxpommes.wordpress.com.  

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years and is also a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. To find out more, please visit http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Blessings of the First Harvest

As Lugh pledged to honour his foster-mother, Tailtu with games in her honour every year, what pledge will you make to the land? Let this vow strengthen your resolve through the cycles of the seasons. Lammas/Lughnasadh blessings to you all. x

Lughnasadh

Make the Journey Count

As I near the end of my trip “back home” to Canada, I’m left with mixed feelings. I’m proud to be Canadian, but also cannot ignore the terrible things that have happened, not only in my lifetime, but for many previous generations in this land, “The True North Strong and Free”.

Canada recently celebrated its 150th birthday. This is the anniversary of the signing of the confederacy of the four colonial provinces, to be added to later, with the most recent province, Nunavut, having been “created” in 1999. (It was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the boundaries had been contemplatively drawn in 1993. The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada’s political map since the incorporation of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949.)

Though there are a great many stories from those pioneers who colonised this land, there are also many sad and devastating stories from the First Nations Peoples who suffered under their rule. Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot tribe (1830 – 1890) on his deathbed asked that his children be taken care of, that they should not starve under colonial rule (only four of the twelve didn’t starve, and all of those four later died of tuberculosis). His most memorable words speak of being utterly in the moment, and taking care and notice of the important things in life.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time.
It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset
.”

He was outlived by his mother, who lived to be over 100 years old.

More recently, there are still tragic stories to be heard in the history of this nation. I remember the Oka Crisis of 1990, a year before I graduated from high school. The Mohawk from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory near Montreal stood their ground, literally, over a dispute where a landowner wanted to build a golf course on sacred ground, including burial ground. For nine holes in the ground, people died on both sides. Waneek Horn Miller, a First Nations woman was stabbed by a Canadian soldier’s bayonnet behind the lines. Though she survived and became co-captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s water polo team among many other accomplishments, the fact still stands that this should never have happened in the first place.

Canada has always heralded its mission as a cultural mosaic, rather than a melting pot. But this mosaic needs to be agreed and respected first and foremost, and not imposed. So far, the track record has not been all that great, and hopefully we are making strides towards a future that is better for all. Roseanne Supernault, a First Nations woman from the Metis Settlement in North Alberta speaks of this cultural mosaic, and also of the cognitive dissonance that results from trying to answer a call to consciousness.

As an Indigenous person who partakes in the nation-to-nation relations that happen in Canada, I demand of myself that I strengthen my tolerance – that I allow my brain to hurt from confusion that’s a by-product of education (not necessarily in an institution) or for my body to feel discomfort from hearing things that differ from whatever understanding I think I’ve had prior to new knowledge being received. At the end of the day, tolerance is learning to accept that you can be wrong; the ego cannot possibly know everything in this world.” – Our Canada, Issue Feb/March 2017

I think that Roseanne’s words should be deeply considered, meditated upon, and acted upon all across Canada. For our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message has always been one of tolerance, of acceptance; that it is our differences and diversity that makes us a strong nation. But the uncomfortable aspects that are involved in this diversity need to be felt, and not ignored. We need to meet these head on, sit with them, talk them through, and find a strong and true reconciliation that isn’t just pretty words and hopeful thoughts.

I’m still proud to be Canadian, but I am also uncomfortable. And in that discomfort I find the heart of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion. We still have a very long way to go in being what we say we are or wish to be, but let’s make the journey count, for all it’s worth.

Be healthy.

A89A0650BMI (body/mass index) is only one thread in the tapestry that is your overall health. I had my NHS health check today, and scored a BMI of 29. This puts me in the “overweight” category. Obese is anything over 30. The NHS Health Check is a health check-up for adults in England aged 40-74. It’s designed to spot early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia. It looks at a range of possible health issues, with weight simply being one of them. They enter all the criteria into a form which calculates your overall risk for the above. Anything less than 10% means that you are at low risk. I scored 0.82%.

We can focus far too much on weight, as opposed to overall health. I will never be as thin as I was in my 20’s, and that’s fine. Overall, despite the arthritis, my body is in pretty good condition, and for that I am so very thankful. Being healthy is what matters most, not a number on a scale. Besides, most BMI testing does not factor in muscle/fat ratio. I was told by the nurse (who was stunned, as she rarely sees anything less than 1%) to keep doing what I was doing, because it was very good.

Yes, I have a rounded belly, bum and hips. Yes, I am classed as “overweight” according to the weight equivalent of standardised testing. But I’m still damn fine, fierce and healthy. THAT’s what matters most!

Photos of me by Graham Haynes, from “Beauty and the Belly” workshop June 2017 hosted by Mystic Belly Dance