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

Interview for Pagan Writers Community

Here’s a link to an interview that I did with Pagan Writers Community. Thanks, Piper!

Pagan Writers Community interview with Joanna van der Hoeven

cover high res

Reblog – Druid Priest: Behind the robes

Here’s a taster from my latest blog at SageWoman – to read the full article click HERE.

At this time of year, the pull of the ancestors is very strong, from the blood ancestors, the ancestors of the land and also ancestors of tradition. The beckoning call of our future ancestors also pulls me in another direction, and I feel the threads that weave it all together being pulled tightly, even as the leaves turn and fall from the trees, the smell of woodsmoke on the wind.  Sometimes the songs of the ancestors are so strong, that when walking through the land it can feel like walking through treacle. When sitting in meditation, the songs flow through my body, leaving my sense of self behind as I am swept up in the current of my bloodline, the songs of those who lived on this land before, and the wisdom whispered through the teachers.  It can be difficult, dealing with the parish council and social workers, or even holding a conversation with someone who works at the village shop.  Still, with the heady songs flowing through my veins and through the land I manage to get the day to day jobs done: the post mailed, the articles written, the class notes finished, the toilet scrubbed.

It’s now mid-afternoon, and as I stand by the empty grave I see people starting to arrive. They wait by the edge of the graves, and then the hearse arrives, the long black car pulling along the dirt drive through the trees of the natural burial ground. I feel the waves of emotion through the people as they see that vehicle of death arriving, and I feel a wave of memory flooding through me as well, of past deaths and loved ones arriving in the same fashion.  I take a deep breath of the autumn air and send love and compassion to my heart, and then extend that outwards to those who are waiting for the coffin to emerge, as I hold them, creating a sacred space for them to grieve, to feel this moment, to come to terms with their own mortality and the mortality of those that they love…

Cont’d at Witches and Pagans HERE.

Dousing the Fire

Brighid is often known as the goddess of the sacred flame and of the sacred well. It is often said in religions throughout the world that where fire and water meet there is the greatest potential. Exploring her aspects of fire and water are extremely beneficial and here I shall talk a bit about fire; however, perhaps not in its most usual aspect.

We are all familiar with fire as flame, as external energy whether that be a fire in the hearth, the combustion that allows us mechanised transportation or the heat of the sun. What I’ve also been exploring is the fire within, that flame or spark of energy that ignites us to do things, say things, create things. I often think of inspiration in the Druidical “fire in the head” sense, but I also feel fire in the belly and fire in the heart. The fire in the belly is intuitive, instinctive. The fire in the heart is our passion, our love, our capacity for compassion and understanding.

The fire of the heart can take a long time to come into being. In our society, we often feel isolated from each other, even when we are literally living on top of each other in urban high-rise complexes. We learn coping techniques of shutting ourselves off from one another in order to function. We may have been hurt by others in the past and that causes us to dampen our flame of love for the rest of the world.

We also live in a society wherein it seems perfectly acceptable to douse someone’s fire. Think of reality shows, especially those that have “judges” critiquing the participants. Last year I gave up watching Strictly Come Dancing because I was tired of one particular judge being an outright bully, thinking his comments were humorous when they were in reality just plain mean. Putting down, making fun of someone who is simply trying their best to participate in a dance show to raise money for Children in Need is not something I wanted to be a part of. I can donate money directly instead of supporting that kind of behaviour.

We are so influenced by what we watch on television – we cannot deny that we are not. And it frightens me, especially with the amount of television that children are often exposed to these days. It is a rare occurrence, even where I live, to actually see children playing outside despite there being the most gorgeous countryside at their disposal. Whether that is due to parents’ control or other factors I cannot know – all I know is that when I was growing up the streets would be filled with neighbourhood children riding bikes or playing street hockey among other games. Are children nowadays being raised by television and computer games instead?

We live in an extremely competitive society, or so we are told. We feel that we always need the upper hand, the edge on a situation. We are now programmed to work against each other as opposed to with each other. We are trying to beat that other person out in promotion, or to be the best as everyone knows that the top dog is the happiest. We live in a put-down culture where co-operation simply doesn’t exist. We do not know our neighbours.

Living like this provides a perfect divide and conquer technique for those who want to keep us under their control. What we need to do is to reclaim our own power, and that of our own community. Instead of dousing the fire in other people, we need to cheer them on, to work together to make our lives better. It’s happening in small grassroots ways here and there, but not on a massive scale. In my own village, we have a village allotment where people can get together to work on group projects as well as their own. The village shop often acts as a hub for people to interact with each other.

What we need to do is to stop trying to take each other down and instead build each other up. We need to realise that life is not about competition. As a social species, we thrive better when we work together. When we douse the fire in other people’s hearts we are also dousing the fire within our own hearts. Every word, every deed with the intention of dousing another’s fire reduces our own capacity for love and compassion, to make the world a better place. Why on earth would we want to do that?

In her book, The Earth Path author and activist Starhawk talks about this very subject, exploring it at various Witchcamps. A proud supporter of community effort and achievement, of bringing power back to the people, she has worked with the various elements. She tells us of the results of working with fire and dousing another’s energy.

Throughout that week, we went on to reflect on the ways in which we put out each other’s fire. When we recognise subtle energies, we become responsible for the kind of energy we are putting forth in our community. The things we do and say about each other create subtle energetic fields that either support our work and our relationships, or undermine them.

Malicious gossip, backbiting, unsupportive criticism, and mean-spiritedness douse even the stoutest of fire. And because a fire takes energy to build and maintain, such negativity is wasteful of the community’s resources; it’s like use electricity not just to keep the radio on all the time, but to keep it tuned to an irritating and distracting station… when anger festers, when we chew over our grievances like old bones without expressing them directly, when we meet others with sullenness or resentment, we douse not only their fire but our own.”

We need to judge situations in our lives all the time – they key to doing so lies in not being judgemental. We also need to support each other. If you don’t like what someone is doing, if you think it is detrimental to the community, you need to speak to that person directly. If you just don’t like them, then leave them well enough alone. All too often it is easy to attack or undermine someone through subtle means – Facebook and blogs are often used as tools for such behaviour. We can so easily dowse another’s fire through incessant comments or insidious ways online without anyone else apart from the target being the wiser. Let’s stop this behaviour right now. It is within our power.

Let’s cheer each other on, and where we simply cannot let us walk away with respect. Let’s stand up for what we believe in without resorting to maliciousness. Let’s put some good fuel onto the fire of our hearts and that of others and in doing so everything will burn with a cleaner, better focused energy.

Brighid has taught me to look deeply into what is feeding my fire, and how I can feed the fire within others. For that I am utterly thankful.

 

Pagan Apathy?

For a while now, I’ve noticed that on some official and public pagan groups there seems to be a lack of input from members – a lack of contribution, as it were.  It often makes me wonder why people take the time to become a member of something and then sit back and not want to participate in any shape or form.  I also fully understand those who are quietly learning, putting out feelers and coming to an understanding of their path, and thereby don’t feel that they can or should contribute.

What I have believed for a long time now is that everyone should have their say.  As in my previous post about honour, everyone has an inherent value.  What seems to be growing, however, in the pagan community is apathy when it comes to contributing to the whole.

Take for example The Druid Network. When I first joined many, many years ago it was a burgeoning place filled with new ideas and articles being contributed by people following every imaginable Druidic path. It was a veritable goldmine of information, and I spent weeks and months going through it, learning from it, reading new articles.  I was inspired, fully charged and wrote many articles for TDN myself return. Nowadays, I haven’t noticed any new articles at all – over the last couple of years the input seems to have dramatically decreased.  Why should this be?

With the collapse of the economy, I can understand that many people have to work harder just to keep their head above water. Then there is also the increase in social media, where information is being exchanged via Facebook and Twitter rather than in people taking the time to write their own articles about an issue.  I believe that the increase in passive screen entertainment as well has a lot to do with it – we are waiting for others to wow and dazzle us with their insights.  We have become a passive culture, in cushy armchairs or sacked out on the sofa waiting for life to come to us.

I also believe that more and more people are wanting to get something in return.  Membership to TDN, having access to their social media site and getting quarterly newsletters isn’t enough for some people.  A lot of people, when asking about membership for TDN, say “What’s in it for me?”  This is something that I think really needs to be addressed in paganism today.  We already live in a world full of me, me, me, I, I, I – we are already taking more than we need and giving very little in return.  We need to look at the bigger picture, and see Druidry and Paganism for what it is, and not for what it can give us.

Is it the introspective nature of Neo-Paganism that is causing this?  We must first heal ourselves before we can heal the world? We must look within before we look to others? I don’t believe this for a second, but this is just my personal opinion. Having been blessed with the curse of self-awareness, humans tend to forget that there is a much bigger world out there, and that they often don’t see the big picture.  The may believe that they see more than other creatures around them with this heightened sense of self-awareness, where in fact they have put on blinkers to everything by being so darned self-aware. If you are self-aware, how aware can you be of others and the world around you? How can you look outwards if you are always looking inwards?

I had to take a step back from TDN a few years ago, and retire as Trustee due to lack of time. I had just started my own dance company, and began writing again.  I currently have three jobs.  I haven’t been able to contribute to the newsletter, or offer any articles lately, but that is something which I aim to redress very shortly.  My giving back to the community comes in many shapes and forms, and I hope that I can offer TDN some of that again(in some shape or form), as well as what I currently do for Moon Books, SageWoman, my own personal practice and priestly duties.  I’ve never really thought about “what can this do for me” – I’m always wondering “what can I do for it?” and, though this sometimes makes me run ragged, I think is still a better way of being in the world, of contributing to it in a positive way.

Much as in group ritual, sometimes it is an absolute joy for a fellow priest to take a step back and simply enjoy the ceremony. However, to do this all the time is selfish.  We must find a balance between give and take. We must also realise that everything we do can be a participatory act, and not simply a passive one.  From ritual to prayer to memberships, what we do is more important that who we are.

Let us break the chains of apathy within the pagan community. Let us give of our inspiration, to inspire others, to share in the awen.  Contribute to your local moot, or pagan newsletter, or website.  Offer songs back to the land at twilight, and dance with the gods around the fire.  Know that you matter, that you have a say in your religion, your path or your philosophy.  Don’t sit back and watch it happen around you. Get up and turn the screen off, and get out there.  We are human beings – let’s bring the being back into it.  Shake off the shackles of passiveness and know that you can make a difference, in whatever form you may.  And most important of all, don’t let others do it for you.