Sharing the memories 🙂
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.
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.
Today is Canada Day, 1st July. Back home in Canada there will be fireworks, music and celebrations from backyard barbeques to city-wide parties and festivals. Days like this I miss my homeland, my mother country. As today has approached, I’ve been giving some thought about what it means to be a Druid in a land that is not “your own”, living in a foreign land.
A Druid’s relationship is with the land, first and foremost. It is the defining part of our spiritual tradition, religion and philosophy. We deepen that relationship through working with the ancestors, deities, the three worlds, etc. However, at the heart of the matter is the land upon which you live. Establishing a deep and sacred relationship with it is the main part of our work as Druids. But what is this relationship?
We have to know the environment we are living in, in order to live well in it. If we live with ignorance, we might cause damage. If we run against the currents of energy that are flowing through our land, say for example spending inordinate amounts of energy during the winter holidays when the darkness is actually calling us to rest a moment, to get in touch with the depths of winter, then we become exhausted, ill, suffering from diseases and dis-ease. We have to dance with the land, and when dancing with another it is of utmost importance to acknowledge the other’s movements, in order not to cause injury or step on anyone’s toes. We have to be aware of what is going on, each and every day in our landscape. It is not enough to celebrate the eight festivals of the modern pagan Wheel of the Year – to be a Druid requires much more than that.
It is a relationship that is not one way. Singer/composer/pianist Tori Amos once described her relationship to the land through her Cherokee grandfather’s guiding words: “We are either caretakers, or takers. It’s your choice”. While as Druids we don’t really have a sense of stewardship of the earth, for that would place us in a hierarchal order of being that doesn’t really make any sense, we do know that taking too much is damaging and so we work to live in harmony, in balance. Inspired by the ecosystems around us, we see how to fit in, to work with each other, whether that be human or beetle, stinging nettle or oak tree.
My relationship with the land began in Canada, where I was born. I drank from the rivers and lakes: that water is in my body. I grew up in the Laurentian mountains: those granite hills are also in my bones, in my foundation. The wild thunderstorms of summer are in my blood, the cold crisp air of winter in my lungs. They are a part of me and I am a part of it. We are inseparable, the land and I. The conditions manifested at the right time to bring me into being in that space and in that time, and I cannot disengage with it any more than I can wilfully cut off an arm or a leg.
But I live in the UK now. I am a resident of this country, and have been for many, many years. I have been here almost as long as I have lived in Canada. I have learned to dance to the rhythms of this land, with its differently beating heart, its slower pulses and island mentality. I have felt Brighid’s serpent rising and falling with each passing year, deep within the earth, dancing in the light of the sun in summer and retreating again, curled up within the depths of winter’s darkness and at the base of my spine. I have seen different gods of thunder and lightning, of seas and oceans, rivers and deep, cold lakes. I have felt and honoured the ancestors of this land, feeling their stories sung in the evening breeze, feeding from their bodies in the food grown on this land, breathing the air they breathed. I have walked many, many miles all across this land, coming to know its vast and intricate landscape, from craggy sea cliffs to heather moorland, from the Scottish Highlands to the White Cliffs of Dover. I have danced in this energy, so different and still similar to that of my mother country.
The questions remains: to whom do I belong?
I have roved many parts of this world, been in many places on this beautiful blue planet. I belong to this planet, I would say, first and foremost. Though I still carry a Canadian passport, I am a citizen of Earth more than a citizen of any country. Those lines on a map really mean nothing to me, spiritually. A land defines its spirituality, for sure, but there is a shared spirituality as well, as we are all part of this huge ecosystem called Earth. The energies run differently here in the UK than they do in Canada, on the surface, at least. But delve deep enough, in to the core of this spherical mass hurtling through space and it’s a shared centre, with sacred fire holding it all together.
I feel equally at home here in the UK as I do in Canada. There are other places on this planet that I feel at home – Sweden is one. I cannot date my ancestry back to either Scandavian or Celtic roots, but I know that I did come from the same basic ancestors as we all did those many, many years ago. It matters not what more modern root I come from in my Druidry. I was baptised and confirmed a Protestant, but I am a Pagan Druid. I honour different gods from all traditions, and still question the existence of all of them. I quest the awen daily, searching for inspiration, looking for answers, searching for the right questions, sitting in silence and dancing in delight. It doesn’t matter where I came from. What matters most is what I do now, in the land that I am in, whether it is the UK, Norway, France or USA. What matters is that deep connection to the spirits of the land, to the essence of nature wherever I am, and in that connection an honourable, sacred and sustainable relationship. I am not a tourist anywhere.
Yet still I call myself Canadian for the most part. My accent, though much bastardised, is still different and people will ask me where I’m from. Legally I am a Canadian who is resident in the UK. Yet I vote on UK policies, not Canadian ones. I follow deities that are from this land. I honour the deities of Canada and North America, those different energies moving along swifter currents and wilder ways. But I work with the land beneath which I walk, barefoot on the grass in my backyard, the ash trees whispering ancient secrets to me beneath a mackerel evening sky. Perhaps I am not a Canadian. I am not British. But I am Druid.