The power of New Year’s Resolutions

P1070010Many people here in the West have made New Year’s resolutions. I for one think that this tradition is a good one, for I’m always seeking to improve myself, to live in better harmony with the world around me. I know that I can’t change others, only myself, and lead by example. And so, a resolution or three can help me to achieve that goal.

Why are resolutions so important? Well, simply put, it’s vocalising an intention. In much of Western Paganism and Heathenry words, especially spoken words, have deep meaning when applied with intention, and most magic (but not all) relates to words, spells, chants, invocations and more. Think of the many sayings that relate how important words are to us. We take people by their word, and our word in our bond. Sadly, this is all too often forgotten in today’s society. We have to take back the sacredness of our words, thereby sanctifying also our intentions.

There is a deep power when we say what we mean, and mean what we say. Not hiding behind pretension or illusion, we will do as we say and we will be truthful and honest in our actions. We will sometimes fail to come through, as we are all fallible, but still the power is not only in the result, but in the attempt to live in this manner. We can ask for help when needed, for we know that everyone needs help every now and again.

When we take the importance of our words to heart, we can also look at how we take the words of others into our lives. How much do we validate our life based upon the words of others? Are these words spoken with an honest intention that is in correlation to your own, or is there a hidden agenda within them? Many people seek to abuse trust, sadly, and feel that only they hold a real reflection of others’ self-worth. Only you know your own value, your own worthiness, and if you are true to your word you then need not seek external validation. Criticism, honest and valid criticism can and should be useful in everyone’s lives. Bitter, angry, mocking criticism, filled with contempt, is not helpful in any way, and is only a reflection of the person who delivers such words, not you. We live in a world where many feel that their own flame burns brighter by blowing out others’, but we know that this is not the case.

By being true to your word, you are also being responsible for your actions. This again is something that I feel is lacking in much of today’s society. All too often we can blame others for our misfortune, or sink into the abyss of apathy rather than taking an active role in our lives. We have to define for ourselves how we wish to live, and take a participatory role in achieving that goal. None other can walk this path for us.

Taking on resolutions can help us to give voice to the sovereign self that we wish to be, that idealised self that we can indeed become, should we have the courage to walk the path towards that end. They can clarify what it is that we wish to achieve, and even ask for help along the way, from the gods, the ancestors, friends and family. We need not seek their validation, but only their help should we need it, for we know our own self-worth. Hold true to your resolution, as much as you can. Use it to remind you of the sovereign self, that self that states that YOU are in control of your own behaviour, that state of integration with the rest of the world where you realise that you are a part of a great weave in the tapestry of life. We may falter, we may even fail, but at least we tried. And next year we can try again, or make new resolutions to help us find and achieve that truth that we seek within our souls through the power of our words.

 

A new perspective

P1070241 (2)What gets you through the hardest times in life?

The last two weeks have not been easy. The death of a beloved member of the family, combined with a breast cancer scare has led me to a new perspective on life, one that is filled with content and gratitude, even in the deepest moments of grief and fear.

I’ve always been grateful for my many blessings. But it’s really only upon reviewing each and every one, in a quiet and dark space, that you realise just how much you have, and how wonderful life is, even if you should die tomorrow. As I sat before my altar, the candles flickering and the incense curling around flames, I spent over twenty minutes going over all the amazing things that had happened in my life, all the experiences and people, the wonderful moments that make life worthwhile. Not knowing what the hospital appointment in two days’ time would bring, and stricken with grief over the death of a loved one the day before, still all these beautiful revelations filled my soul as the rain pattered against the windows in the darkness outside.

Some of these were:

I have walked with the reindeer herds in the Scottish Cairngorms.

I have watched the sun rise over the North Sea in ritual with friends.

I have watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while the wind sighed amongst the pines.

I have skied in -29 degree weather, with icicles on my eyelashes.

I have been canoeing in Sweden with my husband, with only our provisions for the week, a tent, the canoe and an arranged rendezvous point and time a week in advance.  I have seen the burial mounds and carved stones and watched Freya’s falcon soar over the water and mountains.

I have felt the burning fire of Brighid in my heart, in my head and in my belly.

I have faced a blizzard in Trollheim, Norway, and been forced by the wights and jotun to turn back to safety.

I have known the comfort of a safe home, loving parents, patient husband and a good family.

I have loved and been loved by many cats, and given them good homes.

I have climbed the mountains of the Lake District, and watched the crows dive and dance on the thermals as the water glimmered below.

I have walked back in time in the stone circle of Avebury.

I have walked the woods of my childhood home, and know the paths and where they go, the eyes of the seen and unseen upon me.

I have swum in lakes that are filled-up volcanoes, and in rivers that tumble between the ancient granite mountains of the Laurentians.

For all these things and more, I am utterly grateful, amazed, filled with awe and wonder. If I should die tomorrow, at least I have done and known these things, and I am content.

My perspective has not changed, even with the all-clear from my hospital appointment on Monday (it was a cyst). In this time of deepest darkness, I can review what I have experienced, what I have known, and be glad for it. It makes all the small things pale in comparison, all the niggles and troubles that I may have had, with people and life in general. All these things really don’t matter at all. What matters are the things that bring on the contentment, the sense of fulfilment.  All else is just the dross which can cloud judgement and perspective. No longer will I sweat the small stuff.

As we head into the darkest depths of the Winter Solstice, I wish you all very many blessings. Thank you so much for your support over the years, and I look forward to sharing, discussing and reviewing more of life’s wonderful moments with you. Please feel free to comment below, on what helps you get through the darkest times, and peace be with you all.

Integrity & Emotional Responsibility

It’s very important, especially when working with others, to develop a strong sense of emotional responsibility. By this, I mean that when people disagree with us, or when life throws us a curve ball, we are able to deal with it from a place of centredness and intention, instead of a purely reactive response derived from past hurt and trauma.

People will disagree with us all the time. This is especially true if you put yourself out there, in the public sphere. What we have to learn to do, as Pagans, is to convey our message responsibly, without seeking to increase the suffering that already exists in the world. What do I mean by that? Well, not everything is sweetness and light, and we do have to come to an understanding of our own shadows, of what places exist in our psyche and our souls that carry deep emotional wounds from previous suffering, but not carry that forward and perpetuate suffering, both in ourselves and in others.

We have to be aware of the manipulations that our culture invests in and regurgitates regularly as “fact”, such as “we live in a dog eat dog world” or the idea that there is some ladder we’re all climbing, and we have to beat others to the top. As Pagans, we look to nature for guidance, and when we do we discover an incredibly beautiful web of shared existence, where things are working together. Looking at a healthy ecosystem, we discover and can be inspired by the way that things work, collectively, rather than competitively. I truly believe that we have placed far too human-centric and capitalistic a view on ecology, with such absurd concepts as “the food chain”. When we work together, we are stronger. It’s as simple as that.

Not everyone will want to be part of that worldview, however, so we have to learn how to deal with this in our lives. Some people are so wounded in our society, and in our Pagan community, that it can be completely random or by design that you suffer from such terrible acts as bullying, trolling, undermining, character assassination and more. Many people now think that blowing out someone else’s flame makes theirs burn brighter, when in fact it does not. Social media makes this a great place to do so anonymously. If we are strong and emotionally responsible, we can respond to such horrid behaviour from a place of integrity. We can stand up for ourselves, without trying to destroy the person or persons involved. We may or may not have a resolution in every situation that is satisfactory, but at least we know that we have acted from a place of sovereignty in our own self.

When we are working as priests or priestesses, it is imperative that we own what is ours, and understand what is not. When people project their wounds on to us, we can realise that this is not ours, and that it is their own wounding that is causing this behaviour. We may not be able to change this behaviour, but we also don’t have to take it to heart and let it ruin us emotionally. If we are truly strong, we can send them compassion in various forms, if possible, or we can simply be compassionate with ourselves if the former is too difficult, and know that this is something that we do not own. Likewise, when we react to people’s behaviour, we have to realise that this may be coming from an emotion or experience that is ours, and ours alone, and that we need to deal with this in order to work with integrity.

We also need to keep the ego in check. We have to be careful with notions of power. I’ve always said that being a Druid is a verb; it’s what you do that counts. If you are working as a Druid priest, or a teacher, you must remember to work with power in a way that is filled with honour and integrity. The renowned author and Pagan activist Starhawk coined three different types of power in her work, which are Power Over, Power With and Power from Within. We have to let go of notions of Power Over, and instead work with the other two, for empowering others is really what working in a Pagan priesthood is all about.

We need to inspire others, first and foremost. May we be the awen.

 

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The Dark Night of the Soul

As the nights draw in, and the cold brings us indoors for longer periods of time, the winter months are a good time for reflection. Though we may not need to take stock of our material goods as much as our ancestors did with today’s easier lifestyle, we must pay due diligence to our emotional and spiritual well-being. For the long winter months can be the most difficult for many people, and coupled with the physical stress of lack of sunlight, fresh food and often companionship we often have a trying time ahead. We are laid upon the anvil of Brighid, to be pounded and wrought into something stronger if we are able to see it through.

Taking care of our thoughts and feelings is essential to maintain a balanced equilibrium throughout the winter months. We have to work with emotional responsibility, and take charge of our behaviour rather than letting impulses, reactionary behaviour (which is often improper), and the deluge of other destructive human emotion to rule our world. We have to come to know our shadow side, to come to terms with the good and the bad, and to feed that which will sustain us. We acknowledge the necessity of destruction, but we need not feed it through the long winter months within our souls. We do not ignore negativity, but rather work with it in order to better understand our own sense of self, and in doing so, better understand others in the process. We all have destructive and negative thoughts, but what defines us is whether and how we act upon these thoughts. Sometimes it is necessary to work with destruction, but often we do not seek the way which will cause the least amount of harm. For us Druids, we need to remember the balance of the whole, as we strive towards holistic living and becoming a beneficial and nourishing part of an ecosystem. We have to remember our place within the whole, and take responsibility for the role that we play in our life, and in the lives of others.

There are far too many people who, knowingly or not, vent their emotions, their failures, their worries, anger, stress and more upon others. Let us not be like them, let us not add to the suffering in the world. We have to take a long, deep look at blame: at who we blame for our emotions, our behaviours. Only when we do so, can we begin the on the path to emotional responsibility. Certainly, there will be external factors beyond our control, but essentially the life that we live is up to us to determine, here in the gentler West. We’re not suffering the ravages of war or famine for the most part, though in the UK the rise of poverty is accelerating at an incredible pace under our current Conservative government. Many may suffer from ill health, physical or mental or both. But in working to take the reins and guide our souls towards integration, we must first of all be willing to do so. We must want health, healing and wholeness, for it will not happen without our effort.

We not only have to look at who we are blaming, but also when we blame ourselves for our suffering. That is not to say that we give ourselves a carte blanche, and do not take responsibility for suffering that we have caused, to ourselves and others. Rather, we acknowledge and then move on from there, instead of staying stuck in the well of stagnant waters in our soul.

I’ve had someone blame me for their depression for a blog post that I wrote years ago and then suffered years of bullying and undermining behaviour in a professional capacity as a result. I’ve had a friend stop all communication with me when I provided them information on a disease that they had, which they didn’t like hearing but which I shared because I was worried about their health and their becoming re-infected (they were terribly misinformed, and I referred them to the NHS website). I’ve been ill-treated by my first dance instructor, whose jealousy and competitiveness ruled her emotions and her behaviour towards me. These are but a few examples of things I have gone through that require my own personal emotional responsibility. I cannot control how other people react to life, or to what I do, even though I do my work with the best intention in mind, and keep to a strong code of ethic. These behaviours are lamentable, and I wish that I could help these people in coming to terms with their own suffering, and alleviate the misplaced blame and anger that they have laid upon me, but I cannot. I cannot make others act as I would wish; I can only live the example that I wish to see in the world. I will not perpetuate the destruction or suffering, the anger or the legion of other emotions that are involved.

It’s not all roses and light in my world. I regularly work with my shadow, with anger and vengeance, with pain and suffering in my life, and in the lives of others. How that energy moves in my life is what I work to control, to transform. I work towards not allowing these emotions to cause further destruction around me, though I may use them to bring about certain endings in life situations, and to take stock of where it is that I am investing my time and thoughts. If it isn’t beneficial to the whole, if it isn’t nourishing, then the investment stops, and I seek to work with energies that will sustain both myself and others in my life. That’s not to say that I don’t go through dark periods as I come to terms with things happening in my life, but I know that there is transformation awaiting, if only I have the courage and the will to seek it out.

From the tide of Samhain to the Winter Solstice, I use this period for deep introspection, for reflection and spiritual work that honour the darkness both within and without. I look at where I have laid blame in my life, and where others have blamed me with equanimity. I look at the success and the failure in my life with equal measure. I take stock of what will keep me going through the winter months, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and then simply do the work necessary. Prayer, meditation, work, ritual; all these are pathways for the soul to come to terms with the self. I can seek further guidance from the ancestors, from the gods, the Fair Folk and the spirits of place. My relationship with these beings is integral to my spiritual path, and this relationship too must be nourished. Giving in return for receiving is essential to any functioning ecosystem, to the integration sought by those on the Druid path.

The world provides us with examples each and every day of how not to be: from world leaders insulting each other over social media, the bad behaviour of colleagues, the trials we endure from friends and family and more. Seek out the darkness within and without, and work with it in order to reclaim the energy that lies in the shadow. For it is in the darkness that the seeds wait for the warmth and light of spring. The darkness is nourishing, if we allow it to be, if we are able to seek the calm and centeredness necessary before transforming the energy into something that will grow and flourish. Take a long, deep look at your own self, and in doing so, come to know your own dark night of the soul.

Note: St John of the Cross, 16th-century, Spanish poet and Roman Catholic, Discalced Carmelite mystic, priest, and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross, OCD wrote a poem entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul” in which the human soul sees communion and integration with the divine.

dark night soul

 

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.