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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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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Reblog: Anarchy and the End of Submission

Here is a reblog of my latest post on my channel at SageWoman Magazine for Witches and Pagans. To see the original post, clicke HERE.

Following an earth-based tradition such as Druidry is wonderfully empowering, and also beneficent to the whole, if we move beyond our self-centredness and work towards a life in service to our environment, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. With such a tradition, there is no requirement for a belief in anything. There is no supernatural. There is only nature, glorious nature, right in front of our eyes. What we see, what we interpret with our senses, requires no belief, only a willingness to experience, to learn, to think and to create truly deep, inspiring relationships.

This sort of tradition, this sort of thinking, means that Druidry is different for each individual. What that also means is that we accept the experience of others within the tradition, and there is no right or wrong, per se, only interpretation and experience. There is no liturgy within Druidry. Yet we find it rooted in a landscape and in a culture, to which we can honour and learn from while making it work for us in an individual sense. Coming from a standpoint of no agreed standpoint, this can seem confusing and bewildering to some in the Druid tradition, and a source of great freedom for others.

The gods in Druidry are the gods of nature, both the natural world and of human nature (and beyond). They are forces of nature that without due respect, can kill, injure or destroy. Love, lust, rain, storm, wind, sun, snow, ice, war, birth, death: all of these are gods. Yet they are not gods to whom we bow down in some religious hierarchy. The gods of nature are those that we work with, together, in order to function properly in an ecosystem. There is no hierarchy in nature either; the concept of a food chain is a purely human invention to make humans feel superior, and therefore able to exploit, all life forms beneath them. The shark that swims with you in the ocean has another point of view on this so-called food chain. So does the flesh-eating virus, or the wildfire.

If we believe in some hierarchy, then we need to submit to an authority. The Druid knows that there is no authority in some uber-being above us. There are only the forces of nature that we work with, that we create relationship with, which we try to understand so that we may move through life in greater awareness and with more ease. If we submit to the forces of nature, we will perish. If we submit to the ocean, as my teacher Bobcat used to say, we will drown. There is no room for this sort of attitude within Druidry. It’s all about relationship.

Do the gods care for us? I have no idea. I’ve argued the case on both sides, and come to realise this year that I just don’t know anymore. And in that not knowing is glorious freedom. All I do know is that the rain falls, the sun shines, the moon orbit around the earth and pulls the seas with its circuit. Do any of these care? Does it matter if they do, or if they don’t? If it doesn’t matter, if we don’t need them to care, then we can just get on with the basic act of living. If we need them to care, then are we are searching for something outside of ourselves, for some sort of assurance that everything will be alright? As if seeking some form of parental nourishment, we may want someone to hold us, to take our hand, to fight the bad things and take them away. Or are we simply working with another force that has a holistic worldview, one that we aspire to, and seeks to work with us to create such a world? To give it yet another perspective, we might also want an authority to tell us what to do. In this regard, at least, the Druid knows differently.

We might pray or talk to the gods in order to try to understand a situation, but we know that they aren’t going to solve all our problems for us. We might work with the powers of earth, air, fire and water, or the realms of land, sea and sky to find out how we can re-enchant our lives with deeper meaning, but in the end how we live our lives is where the real magic and power of transformation lies, not with some external authority. Even if there is a benevolent source or deity watching after us, who cares about humanity, we can still do all that we can to make our own lives better with our own skills and experience first and foremost. We cannot leave it all up to some external force outside ourselves, for in doing so we release all sense of accountability and responsibility for our actions. We certainly don’t need more of that in the world today.

Anarchy is often seen as chaos, as a lack of organisation or structure. When we apply it to deep relationship with the world around us, however, the very basis of that relationship transforms the word into liberation from illusion. No longer are we held back by believing in a superior force, whether it is deity, the government or your boss at work. Instead, through real relationship we see how we work and live with these to create an ecosystem that is hopefully functional and sustainable. We do not seek authority in anything, but co-operation. Nature is our greatest teacher, and one to be respected, but not something to submit to in any sense.

We have to look to our own self-governance, governance of our very own self. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions, our thoughts, our words and our deeds. When we become aware of these things, we can then extend that self-governance to see how we can work in our own ecosystems without a hierarchal sense of authority, without judgement or power struggles. But we must first come to be at ease with our selves, to loosen the constraints of our own egos before we take it out into the wider world. Otherwise everything will still be about an assumed power, or level of authority that is not/cannot be questioned. We must question everything, first about ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, our lives and then about the rest of the world. In this, we become active members of an ecosystem, rather than passive passengers simply along for the ride. We work in co-operation with all other beings, for the benefit of the whole.

Anarchy requires us to think.

We may require or be in a position of leadership from time to time, and we understand that leadership is not equated to hierarchy. The flock of starlings move together, seeming as one, based upon the actions of one individual starling, dancing their mesmerising dance across the sky, showing off their skill, practicing their acrobatics against predation, revelling in the joy of being alive. The flock of geese is led by an individual at the front of the formation, but this position of leadership is always changing, allowing rest and an opportunity for others to take the lead. Where one goose becomes ill or injured, others will drop out of the flock to stay behind with it, until it either recovers or dies, and then re-join the flock as soon as it can. This is leadership without hierarchy, without authority. It is doing what needs to be done, without the games of power and control.

We know that not all sources of perceived power in this world share the same moral or ethical framework as we do. But if we take personal responsibility for our own selves, we can work for change and transformation on a personal and fundamental level over which we have absolute control. I will reiterate: personal responsibility. Not as a nation, not as a race, not as a species. We cannot dictate to others one way to do things, that our way is right, but rather accept responsibility for our own individual actions, our own time on this planet. We cannot simply follow unquestioningly what others say and do, think or behave, because we are intelligent, free-thinking individuals. There is no one way to do things, no one authority that we must submit to, no “one size fits all”. We honour the soul of every creature that we meet, and in doing so we also deeply learn the real value of co-operation, being active rather than passive. We learn to listen, to work with others, the art of compassion. We understand that cultural and societal influences may differ with regards to ethics and morality, and all that we can do is to work on being the best that we can personally be, living our truth and letting that be the example that needs to be set in the world today. Over that, and that only, do we have control.

Therein lies the true power of anarchy, and the end of submission.

Communication Breakdown: The EU Referendum

We need to change the way we communicate. Right now. Here in the UK, everyone is reacting to other people’s reactions, in an insane run of events that has led to unprecedented turmoil and upset. People aren’t talking to each other. Germany refuses to talk to the UK parliament until they begin the leave negotiations. Labour ministers refuse to talk to their leader about the best way forward. The Prime Minister is resigning, leaving the talking to whoever takes up the difficult role. Friends are attacking and “unfriending” each other all over social media. This sort of behaviour is based in punishment: an eye for an eye. We have been hurt, we will hurt in response. We are emotional creatures.With the lines of communication closed, we are stuck here in limbo, everyone reacting instead of acting with intention. Reactive behaviour is, for the most part, usually not the best behaviour.

Emotional responsibility is something that is seriously lacking in our society. In fact, any responsibility is met with apprehension, especially personal responsibility. Far too many are eager to find power under the guise of responsibility for others, but when it comes to perhaps changing their own behaviour they will never even consider it. It’s everyone else’s fault, people are stupid, people are ignorant. We will not even talk about changing our own behaviour, lest we admit to something that needs improvement. Sure, we’ll criticise the hell out of others, for don’t we see that every day in the media, from television entertainment shows to the PM’s questions every Wednesday lunchtime? And yet, where is the real communication?

If we are emotionally responsible, we won’t simply unfriend someone on Facebook because they didn’t vote the same way we did. So what if a friend voted for Leave? So what if a Remainer said something stupid in response? They are reacting. We can stop, see their pain, see their fear, try to see why they are reacting in such a way. In that stopping, in that attempt to understand, there is compassion. And where there is compassion, hopefully the lines of communication can reopen, and respectful behaviour ensue. Hopefully then, we are acting with intention, not in reaction.

Sometimes it just isn’t possible, and I understand that. Sometimes someone hurts us so bad, has just been so horrid that we will simply not put ourselves in that position ever again. This is something that has usually happened over a longer period of time, where the behaviour has been repeated again and again. We give them a second chance. And maybe a third. And then, if there is no value, if there is no respect, if there is no honour then we can walk away, in peace. And wishing them peace. But if walking away in anger, without first trying to establish the lines of communication: if this is the first and only thing we do, then there is very little chance of reconciliation, of compassion, of communication. Maybe we just have to accept that humans will be humans, that they will do and say stupid things, that they have opinions, both good and bad, and we will also have ours, good and bad, stupid and brilliant. But if we stop talking to them, we lose all chance of hope for a future together.

There is so much divisiveness right now, in this so-called United Kingdom. There has been blood shed, a life lost, and more death threats to others because of fear, because of lack of communication, because of ignorance, because of poor communication, because of misinformation and manipulation. There is a growing blatant and overt racism and prejudice, fuelled by ignorance, by fear. If we are talking to each other, then maybe this can be overcome. Where we are no longer talking, there is no hope for change.

We need to change the way we communicate. Right now.

 

Reblog: Riding the Tides of Samhain (No sh*t, no flowers)

Here’s a link to my latest blog post on my channel at SageWoman on the Witches and Pagans site. Blessings of the Samhain tide!

“I can make whatever choices I want in my life, and I will live with the consequences of those choices. But if I want to live a life close to my deepest desires, I have to risk knowing who I really am and have always been. Knowing this, then I can choose.”

Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation

We live in a culture and a world of avoidance.  Television, social media, alcohol and drugs are just a few escape routes we have to avoid truly knowing who we really are.  At this time of year, when Samhain is fast approaching we cannot avoid the very real fact that we will die, that death is unavoidable, though we may try.  Looking at death straight in the eye can reveal some very hard truths about ourselves, about how we live in the world, and what our responsibility and duty is to the ancestors, not only ancestors of the past but perhaps more importantly, ancestors of the future.

Continued… to read the full blog post, click HERE.

Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges, Sanctuary and Freedom Presentation

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Leaping Hare Pagan Conference in Colchester, Essex.  I was honoured to be asked by the organisers at the end of last year to present, give a talk on the goddess Nemetona after having received requests throughout the year following the release of my second book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space.

It was a really enjoyable experience. I have been going to Leaping Hare for many, many years now and there is a real community spirit, a real sense of well-being and support. Thank you to everyone for your kind words, messages and emails following the talk – may we be the awen!

Go slowly in the Springtime…

This morning I accidentally ran over a small, young rabbit.

Living where I do, accidents such as these are unavoidable at times. Springtime is the worst time, as youngsters are making their way further and further from their homes, unaware of the dangers of the road. Baby birds that are not yet fully proficient in flying, young badgers and even deer that haven’t seen a car in their life. I carry special gloves in my car to take those I find left on the road and bring them to a more respectful distance, to be taken by the ants and foxes, the crows and other creatures. I’ve picked up all manner of roadkill from other people where they have just left it – even putting my back out once dragging a dead deer stag from the middle of the road where it endangered drivers coming around a blind bend. How people could just leave animals that they have hit is beyond me. I’ve had to call the police to inform them of deer that had been hit on the highway and that was still alive, blocking a lane, thereby getting police and environment officials there to kill the deer humanely as quickly as possible, and see that no one else gets hurt. It infuriated me that no one else bothered to take responsibility – no one else had made that call before me.

It doesn’t make it any easier, no matter how much death you see. Picking up the warm, soft furry body, its entrails in my other hand I carried it to the side of the road and placed it gently beneath the hedgerow. I was struck for a moment at how some Druids of old, such as the famed Boudicca would have read the entrails of a sacrificed hare to foretell battle outcomes, if classical sources are correct. I thought about how gentle my Druidry is compared to that, and how I would not change it for the world. As I lay its body on the ground, the green grass and nettles growing up towards the sun, all I could think was “I’m so sorry”. I asked that the gods be kind, and that they may forgive as this little one goes back to the earth from whence it came. A crow directly overhead cawed as I finished my prayer.

I know it may seem odd, asking pagan gods for forgiveness – many would say that attitude is for another religion. However, at that moment it felt utterly right – it was the first step towards making amends for the taking of a life. It acknowledged responsibility as well as regret. Whether the gods accepted it or not I do not know – the crow cawed just at that moment, but he may have just been greeting his mates, or laughing at me, or genuinely speaking for the spirits of that area.

Accepting responsibility for the taking of a life is a concept that was well known to the Celtic ancestors in this country. Whether accidentally or not, reparation must be made and responsibility claimed for one’s own actions. Stopping and taking the little body to a better resting spot was just the first step towards reparation. Asking forgiveness and expressing sorrow and regret was the second. Making a donation to the Hare Trust upon reaching work the third, and tonight in a small ritual an offering will be made to the spirits of place for peace. None of this will bring that little life back. However, it is a constant reminder of my place in the cycle of life, in the grand web of all our lives, how we are all connected, and how each of us is responsible for our actions.

Why all this effort just for a rabbit, some may wonder? To me, all life is sacred – it is why I am a Druid and a vegan. Ideas of reciprocity and responsibility are at the forefront of my worldview. I take what I have learned from our Celtic ancestors and apply the wisdom found in their teachings into modern life. Ancient Celts may not have felt so sorrowful at killing a bunny – but I’m not an ancient Celt. I don’t eat the meat, I cannot make use of the body, and so it seems dishonourable not to do something to make amends for the taking of its life. I live in a different world to the ancient Celts, and thereby must apply their wisdom into my modern worldview in the best way that I can to ensure that my life is lived fully, aware and awake and with honour.

Driving home, I shall drive even slower than I usually do, no matter what the cars behind me think. I am a part of my environment, a part of a very special ecosystem and I will do all that I can to preserve it, to cherish it and to honour it with all that I am. For me, there is no other way.