Pagan Hygge

Hygge is a wonderful word. But it’s more than a word; it’s a feeling.

candle 2Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah) was originally a Norwegian word, meaning “wellbeing” that was adopted by the Danes in the early 1800’s. Nowadays, it’s a very important word to describe a feeling of comfort, security, warmth, friendship, cosiness and more. In today’s world, we need that more than ever.

The Danes are experts at creating hygge. Much like the Druid searches for inspiration, the Danes quest for hygge. I too work to create feelings of hygge, to nourish the hygge in my home and with my friends and family, even as I quest for the awen, for inspiration from the natural world as to how to live my life with honour and integrity, as a fully functioning part of an ecosystem. For me, the two can work hand in hand.

Hygge is the simple things in life. Things that make you have that warm, fuzzy hyggelig feeling. Things that bring you joy. Small things. “Unimportant” things. It’s paying attention to the moment, right now, and appreciating it for all its worth. So, what things am I talking about here?

knitted socksFireplaces. Candles. A cup of tea. Warm knitted socks. Petting a cat. Sitting outdoors watching the sunset. Walking quietly in a woodland. Picnics on the beach. Barbeques in the garden. Gathering with friends in a cosy pub. A family birthday party with lots of cake and laughter.

Hygge is nourishing the soul. We very much need this nourishment, for in our Western lives we run ourselves ragged. It’s not hard to see why the Danes are the happiest  people in the world. They cultivate hygge regularly. They know the importance of being with family, of leaving work at 5pm to cook dinner and eat together at the dining table. Of working 40 hours a week or less. Of a welfare system that makes everyone feel secure, paid for with higher taxes. A free university education that benefits from these higher taxes as well. A sense of security, of well-being. Given that they live in a very challenging place, where the winter months have precious few hours of sunlight, they have strived to create that sense of security and safety in their homes, in bars, even at work. They’re doing it right.

I practice hygge. I sit in my conservatory after work, or outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea, smelling the air with a cat by my side. My morning cup of coffee is a silent ritual, sitting at the dining table with incense and candles lit in the autumn and winter months. I cook as often as I can, with local produce that nourishes not only the body but P1070068 (1024x768)the soul. I welcome my friends over, have a spare pair of warm socks should they need them, cookies and teas or coffees at the ready. I light a candle and say prayers to my lady Brighid every morning at her shrine next to my fireplace, and give thanks for my many blessings. In my home, I want people to feel welcome, to feel safe in my little sanctuary. My work with the goddess Nemetona greatly helped me to appreciate all that sanctuary includes, and the importance it plays in all our lives. Gratitude and sanctuary are what we so desperately need.

With the threat of nuclear war, with the instability of Brexit, with floods and landslides and earthquakes and other natural disasters around the world, with capitalistic consumption and greed running rampant, it’s not hard to see why we are so unhappy. But we can change our own little space, creating space as well for others to appreciate the little things, in the spirit of hygge.

These little things become the most important things, and hopefully our actions will ripple out across the web of existence, with more and more people coming to understand the joys and wonders of hygge.

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A Magical, Whirlwind Tour!

17799009_1654010564615925_2073274435199519721_nA couple of friends and I decided last minute that we needed to go to Glastonbury very soon, and so off we headed Tuesday morning from Suffolk before 5am. We spent a wonderful day in Glastonbury, visiting the Red and White Springs, as well as watching the sun set from the top of the Tor. As usual, I had several epiphanies at those sacred sites, and will be working through them, hoping to form them into some sense of coherent words in the future. Meeting with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen is a life-changing experience.

17800418_1654033621280286_6989652046039742094_nOn our return trip back home the next day, we stopped at Swallowhead Springs, and there I found Brighid in the winterbourne spring. My heart was full, and tears came to my eyes as I watched the flow come out from its secret entrance beneath the rocks.

We also stopped at Avebury, and though it was filled with several Dutch tour busloads (I always get homesick when I hear Dutch!) it still held that aura of serenity that it always does.

Lots of processing to do now, lots to think over, to implement, to live. May we be the awen!

Duty and Service: The Life of a Druid

triskele-2For me, Druidry is about living a life in service. Many people confuse the word service with subservient: being beneath someone else in a lower position, lowering yourself for others. Service has nothing to do with this, and everything to do with using your skills, wit and intelligence to benefit the world around you. Relationship is at the heart of Druidry, and service to Druidry requires good relationship. There is equality, a give and take, in order to maintain a sustainable relationship. We work to serve the whole: the ecosystem, our community, our families, our ancestors, our gods, our planet. Our work in Druidry is not just for ourselves.

To work in service requires an open heart, a sense of duty and discipline. Too often, when things are rough, people can lay aside their spiritual practice feeling that they need to just in order to survive, or that they simply can’t be bothered. When we do so, we are stating that the theory and foundation of our religion or spirituality is just that: a theory. It’s not something that needs to manifest. When something just remains a thought, a theory, then it is completely intangible, and unable to create change in the world. At these points in time, when we are stretched to our limits, when we are in pain, when the world seems to be crumbling around us, this is when we need our Druidry the most. We make not feel like doing ritual, but this may be exactly what we need. We may not want to meditate, but again, that may be just what clears up our thoughts in order to proceed, to find the way forward. This is where discipline kicks in, as well a duty. When we just don’t feel like it, we can remember our ancestors, remember their struggles, their fears, their failings, and know that we can do better, we can give back for all that we have received. With relationship at the heart of Druidry, we must learn what we owe to the world, and not forget this very important concept. Only then will we truly understand the concept of duty, and manifest it in the world, living a life in service.

I am blessed in so many aspects of my life. That is not to say that my lady Brighid does not throw me onto her anvil every now and then, and pound the heck out of me, stretching me and re-forging me anew. But in service to Her, I work with the gifts that she provides me, with the challenges that lie before me, and see them as opportunities to re-forge relationships, or to understand why they don’t work and walk away. I learn where I can be of service, where my skills and talents lie, and then use them to the best of my ability, living my truth. Above all else, Brighid keeps reminding me to live my truth.

In the midst of despair, when all seems dark, I stop and take a look around. I see the blackbird, singing in my garden at sunset, listening to his call that takes me beyond this world and into the Otherworld. I see the deer eating the birdseed that falls from my feeder. I watch the clouds turn from white to gold and then deepest pinks and orange, a wash of colour that delights the eye and feeds the soul. I remember to look for and see the beauty in the world, in the small things and the large. I remember that I am part of an ecosystem, and that I have duty to give back. This gives my life meaning, and is also the meaning of life.

As a Druid, I walk a life of service. This service provides my life with meaning. I owe it to the land that nourishes me to protect it, to give back for my many blessings. I owe it to my ancestors, without whom I would not be here today. I owe it to my gods, who provide me with such deep inspiration that words cannot even come close to projecting my relationship with them. Knowing what I owe, I walk the path of service in perfect freedom, for freedom is found when we release our self-centred perspective, and take the whole of nature into our hearts and souls. We are nature.

It’s not just for ourselves. It’s for all existence.

Today, I am a Flamekeeper of Brighid

candle-2The longest night is upon us. For three short days, we have watched the watery sun rise and set in the same place on the horizon, barely skimming the treetops at its highest point, filmed over by hazy clouds. This morning, it was impossible to tell just when the sun had risen, and indeed even though it has been up for half an hour, it’s just as dark as before, with heavy overcast skies letting in only a small amount of light. I lit a candle in my lantern dedicated to Brighid just as the sun rose somewhere behind the clouds, and in Her name I lit my solstice flame. The candle’s flame burns very low, just barely alight as it struggles amidst a pool of wax and an insufficient wick. There is the tiniest amount of light at the tip, with a small blue aura beneath. I look at it even as I type these words, and its struggle portends much to come.

It has been a difficult year for many. Across the Western world, we have been rocked by unprecedented political change. There is not much hope for the future. Political leaders do not have the common good in mind, and greed runs riot. Things have not changed for the better. Across the globe, war, strife and unrest rage, with millions of innocent beings suffering. And there is still more darkness to come.

But even so, we can still take hope that the seasons change, the sun’s light will return. My candle is guttering now, in a valiant effort to stay alight. I have tried to help it, tipping out excess wax, but the wick and wax balance is not favourable. Just as in today’s political, economical and social climate, things do not look in our favour. But still we struggle on. We are a light in the darkness, no matter how small.

Somewhere, behind the clouds, the low sun is rising. We are the sun, we are the earth. We are the wind and the rain. We are the wild beasts and the tame. We are our neighbours and our enemies. We are our deeds. We are our poetry. We are our ancestors. The flame might go out in the physical, but it still shines in our hearts and minds. Where does a flame go when it dies? A flame is always there, simply needing the right conditions to manifest. So too with all of life. We all depend on conditions, yet we all have the flame within, waiting to manifest. The spark of awen, the spark of inspiration. To share this inspiration is at the heart of all that I do, in the hopes that my words inspire others not to give up hope, to remember their connection to each other, to all of nature. The flame that burns within our hearts and minds can never be extinguished. Instead, it kindles a new flame in the hearts and minds of others, and we tend that flame with all that we have, for our future ancestors.

The wick is barely glowing now in my lantern on the windowsill. But the flame of Brighid burns brightly in my heart. Though there is a long darkness ahead of me tonight, and a long darkness for many to come, there is still a light that shines. Even the smallest light shines in the deepest darkness.

And so, I will tend to my flame today. Today, I am a flamekeeper of Brighid. And should that flame go out, I will simply light another, and another, and I shall persist.

Blessings of the winter solstice to you all.

 

(Originally published today on my blog, Druid Heart, on SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans.)

 

Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

The Return

So today it is Canada Day, where back home everyone is celebrating their happiness in a country that is working towards a better future for all, under the leadership of a sincere and honest politician. (Yes, they do exist). Yesterday in my little village here on the edge of England, looking out over the North Sea towards Europe, someone had written racist slogans on the traffic signs and one For Sale sign. I stand on the shingle beach and weep for what has happened to this country.

And yet, Brighid, Brigantia, the goddess that is this land by whatever name, does she care? The wheat is still growing in the fields, the deer still bounding across the heath, the magpies chittering in the garden. The troubles of humanity, I wonder: do they affect her as well? When we finally manage to wipe ourselves off the planet, she will go on, regardless…

I return to my garden, and sit at my altar beneath the beech tree, the dryad spirit singing softly to me, reminding me to listen. And so I listen, to the wind through the leaves, to the blackbird singing, the chickens squawking down the road. I listen to the hum of the earth, the heartbeat of my lady. I release my fear, my anguish through my tears even as the rain falls, washing my face with its song. And I return to this place, to the songs all around me that are not the songs of humanity. I remember that I am part of a much bigger web.

My lady grabs me by the hand and whooshes me across this country, riding the dragon lines of her energy. I am at Avebury, where a ritual for peace is being held. I am at a lonely stone circle in Dartmoor, the heavy slate skies and thunder booming overhead. I am at the edge of Loch Lomond in Scotland, with the fey crowding all around me. I am at the edge of the Atlantic on the coast of Ireland, the waves crashing against the rocks.

I am then taken deep below the ground, through the sand and silt, through layers of rock. I am in the deepest darkness, where the hum and heartbeat of this little planet hurtling through space is strongest. And then suddenly I am thrown out into the sky, riding the winds and lost in perfect freedom. I am diving deep into the realm of the sea, where the songs of whales guide me towards peace.

And I am back in my garden, my breath coming hard, my eyes snapping open.

I am more than my species. I am more than my gender. I am more than my nationality. I am more than my politics.

And my lady smiles.

Excerpt from IPagan Druidry

I’ve written an article for a collaborative work with other Moon Books authors which is now in production and will be out in the next few months, working title: IPagan Druidry. The idea of iPagan has now evolved to produce both print and ebooks and is hoped to be expanded into a series featuring volumes on Druidry, Shamanism, Witchcraft and Contemporary Issues at discount prices so that they are readily available to all. Here’s a little taster from my essay, The Promise

Is my Lady Brighid real? I still don’t know. But I quest a relationship with her in order to understand more, perhaps not in the hopes of having a definitive yes or no answer, but because the journey is one worth taking. Does Brighid think I am real? What is the need behind the question, what is the desire to learn the answer? What are the forces that push and pull us, in our minds, our lives? Are there great directors and orchestrators of movement? What is the meaning of our lives, of life itself? Are we equipped, mentally and physically, to accept a definitive yes or no answer to any of the above?

What is the nature of belief? The root of the word, belief, stems from the late 12c., bileave, which replaced the Old English geleafa meaning “belief or faith,” which itself originated from the West Germanic ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust”.  In this previous sense, believing in something, whether it is a god or a sub-atomic particle has nothing to do with the nature of reality and everything to do with a notion of trust.  To whom or what are we going to give our trust? Do we need to place our trust in something in order to have a relationship with it? What are the bounds that we can work with when it comes to trust and relationship? Should we still investigate these past concepts alongside our modern notions in order to gain a wider perspective, or are they simply muddying the waters of clarity?

If we are to truly have a grand adventure in this present moment and in this lifetime then we are going to come across some serious questions that explore the boundaries of reality and nature itself. In our paths as Druids, these questions form a large part of our understanding, and our understanding of just how little we know. Continuing the quest, putting one foot in front of the other, exploring new mindsets keeps us in the flow that is nature.  When we are stuck, when we are mired in a concept or belief, we can become stagnant, like water that cannot flow freely.  We may, like water, bump against rocks in our journey down to the sea, cascading down great waterfalls of the unknown, slamming against canyon walls of ignorance and dogma, or floating gently and serenely on a tide of peace for however long or short a time. All that we can truly know is that everything is changing from one moment to the next, ourselves with it, and acceptance of a plurality in our worldview is the way to evolve and adapt, to work better with the world and live our lives utterly dedicated to our quest and our Druidry. It is questioning, and questing the awen. When we live our lives in this manner, things will never be dull.

As David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”.