Of fox and badger, of will and purpose

From ‘A Druid Voice’ There are a lot of really interesting ideas here!

A Druid Voice

A good friend of mine explained to me the other day how fox and badger have replaced wolf and bear as animal spirits of leadership, will and purpose. Wolf and bear were hunted to extinction in Britain by the patriarchal upper classes, now badger and fox are suffering the same. This is a spiritual oppression of the masses and it is being played out in nature.

For me, the bear and badger, both creatures of the earth represent the soul, the deep depths of the Earth below us, our place in the world and our purpose. They embody what we are here for. They are both comforting and fierce, wild and secure. Leadership requires us to know where we need to go, our purpose.

The wolf and fox represent will, the drive to do and to create. On their own they are chaotic, causing mischief and destruction but with guidance…

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Stealing the surface of science

Reblogging from the wonderful Nimue Brown- Spirituality and Science are not enemies- we need to have better science literacy and better religion literacy. Blog on religion lieteracy may follow soon!!

Druid Life

“Our trials show that when people make contact with light encoded information at a quantum level with the support of … applications they can access optimal states of wholeness.” (text from an actual website trying to sell a magical machine.)

There’s a lot of this sort of thing out there. There’s a sort of illusion of science that the author of the above text is trying to conjure. Trials, quantum, applications, optimal states – it’s a language that is supposed to sound sciencey, to validate something that has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

I note a lot of the same approaches come up around conspiracy theories, and anti-vaxx material. Often the sources are trying to debunk actual science while trying to present their pseudo-science as more scientific than actual science done by scientists. It’s a process that depends on an audience who dislike authority and don’t know much…

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Environment and health

Reblogged from Druid Life by Nimue Brown. I cannot stress enough how important this is!!!

Druid Life

‘What is wrong with her?’ They asked.

Not ‘what is wrong with her environment?’

It’s a vitally important question and one that we too often overlook. When it comes to mental health and physical health alike we’re too quick to focus on the individual who is suffering and far too unwilling to consider the context.

Poverty, work stress and insecurity make people ill. We know this. The evidence exists. Poverty equates to poor diets, lack of access to green spaces and other insufficiencies that undermine the health of the body and the mind. We know that it is lack of control over your situation that causes the most stress and the most damage. We know this is why people in insecure jobs, zero hour contracts, short term contracts and at high risk of debt suffer from stress and all the illness stress causes. We know, but when people break, we…

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A New Year Begins

So, the festive season officially ends today and the new year gets properly underway (I am a huge believer in treating Christmas, Yule, Midwinter, or however you choose to name it, as a season, not as a single day that we all struggle to get perfect and give ourselves various levels of breakdown in the process!) For me, the season draws out a little longer as its my birthday on the 8th. Today, however, the decorations (mostly consisting of a few bunches of mistletoe – its been particularly busy this year) will be coming down and will be going to a new yoga class with all fresh hopes of actually getting my work/life balance into some sort of order this year. We do have one Christmas tree…in a bedroom that is currently uninhabitable, but as ever I start the year optimistic that this is the year we will get it sorted. Its an odd tree, to be honest, containing some decorations that I have made over the last two years including needlecelted baubles and polymer clay and textile Maris. It also has decorations from Sicily, where we finally managed to get away together this year, and San Diego where I presented at the AAR conference in November. Both very much high points of the year…it is building into a real tree of memories.New Year is always a time of optimism and hope for the future…although that is particularly difficult this year as we look around us at the world seemingly descending into chaos. Still, its important not to loose hope…there is, there must be hope always. If nothing else that, to me, is the ‘true meaning’ of this time of year. In the darkest time of the day, the year, the era, there is light and there is hope. There is little we can do for Australia as individuals beyond prayers and donations if we are able; there is even less we can do about the madness evolving in Iran, what we can do is to spread hope around us however and whenever we can. Small acts of kindness, and even joy will keep the tiny light burning.

The Christmas tree…idiosyncratic to say the least, but it is a true tree of memories.

I don’t really have much to say, but I am posting anyway, because I need to get back into the habit of regular writing. As always it is my intention to post here more often, perhaps with shorter posts and perhaps with nothing hugely significant to say…but its a start. I am hoping, in the New Year, as I always do, to get more organised, to take more time for myself for craft, exercise and reading, and I really hope that those things happen, but what absolutely must happen this year is writing for my PhD. Time is running out. I have had an amazing time over the last few years, and I can hardly believe that I have been blessed enough to receive funding to fulfil my dream and explore a number of topics that I find fascinating. I have also presented papers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada (accidentally) and San Diego as well as in various places in the UK. Its been wonderful, I have met amazing people and developed beyond belief, academically, personally and spiritually, but now its payback time…I need to actually produce something that will, hopefully, contribute something new and useful to the study of Druidry, Death and Landscape. I have come to the conclusion that the only way I can reasonably do this is by going away from distractions to write so I will be spending some time locked in a friend’s tower (yes really!) both physically and metaphorically and hopefully this year will see me submitting my thesis. That is my hope and dream for the New Year…as well as hoping that the world becomes a kinder, more joyful and more magical place where people remember their connections to each other and to the world at large.

Speaking of which, if you have not yet done so, I urge you to watch the BBC’s new adaptation of Wurzel Gummidge available now on iPlayer. It is a small piece of joyfulness and magic in the world and it made my Christmas!

I wish you joy, magic and kindness in the New Year, may you dare to hope for better things.

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Fat Shaming

Please read this blog from Nimue Brown at Druid Life. This is so important!

Druid Life

There is no evidence that making fat people feel unhappy about their weight does anything at all to bring about weight loss. However, people who fat shame others routinely hide behind the excuse that they’re doing it to help. Fat shaming people is a form of bullying, the mechanics of which need exposing.

I have some idea what shape my body is. At this point, my sense of self may be fatter than my physical presence. It may always have been – it’s hard to tell. I have never needed anyone else to tell me about this, and I am normal in this regard. Talking to people about their body shape starts from the assumption that somehow the fat person doesn’t know about their own body. At best, that’s patronising. At worst, it’s humiliating and destructive.

It’s ok to talk to fat people about their body shape if you are…

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The Darker Side of Taliesin

Jennifer Uzzell The Darker Side of Taliesin


Stories are important. Really important.  There is a very real way in which we are made of stories. A friend of mine recently blogged here about the ‘deep self’ as opposed to the ‘higher self’ and this ‘deep self’ is, I believe, made of stories. One of the things (there are so many) that grieves me about modern society is the extent to which we relegate storytelling to the realm of children. Stories, and more importantly story telling, are not just for children. Films can be enjoyable or engaging and books are treasure troves of stories, but there is something primal and vital about storytelling as live performance that we are in grave danger of loosing as anything other than a children’s diversion, and that would be a tragedy. One of my personal soapboxes is that in this country we do not, routinely, teach our children about their own stories. (You seriously don’t want to hear me get started on this!) Let me be clear, at this point, that by ‘our stories’ I mean the stories of all the many different peoples, cultures and traditions that have made these islands their home. One of the best ways for different religions and cultures to learn about each other is for us to learn each others’ stories. However, many people raised in Britain are unaware that there is a long, rich and deep legacy of stories connected with this land. Arthur, the Mabinogi, Beowulf, Robin Hood, the Gododdin, the list goes on. This is our cultural currency and language and we are robbing our children of it. This is a huge mistake and one we seriously need to address.

Both OBOD and the BDO place great emphasis on the story of Taliesin, using it as a metaphor for individual spiritual development and transformation. In many ways it is treated as being analogous to the journey of the Fool in the tarot, who is eventually transformed into the Mage. I have no doubt that the story has great significance to many Druids, of all persuasions, and to many other folk, but despite my deep and abiding love of the stories of these islands, I have a confession to make: I have never really got along with this story. There, I said it! This is not one of my favourite stories and I have always found it problematic.

For those that may not be familiar with it the story, in a nutshell, goes like this. Ceridwen, whose name (“Bent White One’) may be a reference to the crescent moon, has two children. One is beautiful, but the other, Afagddu was so ugly that no-one could bear to look at him. As a way of compensating for this, Ceridwen prepares a magical potion in a cauldron that would give all wisdom and the gift of poetic inspiration (‘Awen’) to Afagddu when he drank it. The potion needed to simmer for a year and a day and so Ceridwen hires a blind hermit called Morda, and his young apprentice, Gwion Bach to tend it. With an inevitability familiar to all those used to folklore, the cauldron spits onto Gwion’s hand as he stirs, he puts his hand to his mouth to sooth the burn and the cauldron shatters, since its gift can be given to only one.  Gwion becomes the recipient of the inspiration. Not surprisingly, Ceridwen is furious when she realises what has happened and sets out to destroy Gwion. There follows a series of shape shifting where Gwion turns into various creatures to elude Ceridwen and she in turn becomes the appropriate predator. Eventually Gwion turns himself into a grain of wheat and Ceridwen, as a hen, swallows him. This action leads to her becoming pregnant and nine months later she gives birth to Taliesin, ‘Shining Brow’. Ceridwen finds herself unable to kill the baby and instead sets him in a leather bag in the water. The bag was found by the noble Elffin ap Gwyddno, who raised the child. Taliesin became a legendary poet and was renowned for his great wisdom.

For most, this is read as a tale of initiation through the elements and the through the womb of the goddess to become an almost superhuman being, and one possessed of what might be called ‘Enlightenment’.

As a child (I first read the Mabinogi when I was about 10, having seen a set of Welsh Mystery plays about it on television) I struggled with this story because it seemed deeply unfair to me. It was not Gwion’s fault that he tasted the potion in the cauldron, but it was extremely unfair that Ceridwen spent so much time and effort on it out of love for her son (who had been dealt a raw deal in the first place) only to see her plans shattered. With mature reflection, this is the key way in which the story speaks to me. We can plan and prepare as much as we like, but at the end of the day life is not fundamentally fair and inspiration strikes where it wishes. This connects, to my way of thinking at least, to the Germanic concept of wyrd shown in the poem Deor and to a lesser extent Beowulf and the Dream of the Rood. The world is not fair, or good, it is fundamentally neutral and uncaring. Sometimes the odds are stacked against us. In Irish stories, heroes are often placed from birth under a geis or gaes that forbids them from a particular action. In several of these stories, the hero knows his death is at hand when he is placed in a situation where he has no choice but to break one of these injunctions. Cuchulainn, for example, is under gaesa that he must never refuse hospitality and he must never eat dog meat. When he is met on the way to battle by an old woman who offers him dog meat to eat he knows that his time is near. In the end, we all lose….but we can choose how we lose and that’s important. We can be overwhelmed by the unfairness and suffering in the world or we can take a stand against it even if we know we can’t win. True heroism (a virtue we make too little of these days in my opinion) is to fight a battle you cannot win because it is the right thing to do. This is the lesson I learnt from To Kill a Mocking Bird at school (I loved that book) and again, recently, from, of all places, Dr Who (‘Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward.’) This view of heroism, to do what is right when there is no hope seems to me to be totally entrenched in the Germanic and ‘Celtic’ worldview. So much so that I cannot help  wondering if Ceridwen (a goddess, after all) knew what the final outcome would be before she began? At any rate, she does what we must all do and starts from where she finds herself (as my mother would say, ‘it is what it is’) and participates in the transformation of Taliesin. We constantly find ourselves in situations that are not ideal; not what we would have chosen, and yet we make the best of them that we can. We are good people, hopeful people, joyful people not because we have failed to understand the depths of suffering and despair in the world, because we understand it, and we choose to be those things anyway.

Perhaps that is the truest lesson of Ceridwen.

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Paganism and Politics Conference


Last week I attended my first international conference. The conference was called ‘Paganism and Politics- Neo Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe’ and was held at Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic from 3rd-4th June. It was the latest in a lecture series dealing with Pagan Studies in Central and Eastern Europe. The conference was ably organised by Matouš Vencálek, Mgr. of Masaryk University. I was delighted and honoured to be invited to give a paper at the conference but also a little nervous. Despite having reached the grand (and not quite so venerable as all that) age of 47, I have to make the shameful confession that I have never actually travelled outside the country on my own before. No, really! This involved not only flying (not my favourite activity at the best of times!) unaccompanied to Prague, into a country where I cannot even make an educated guess about the language, but also getting myself, by public transport, all the way across the country from Prague to Brno. Thankfully, due to the excellent ‘useful information’ provided by the conference team, this proved to be a great deal less difficult and stressful than I had feared and I was soon safely ensconced in the (highly recommended) Hotel Continental.

The next morning, I equalled my outstanding achievements of the previous day by navigating the 15 minute walk across Brno to the conference venue, the beautiful Open Gardens’ armed only with a map (trust me, this IS a big deal!) The venue that had been chosen was a light, airy conference room set in beautiful gardens extending up the hill behind the building and into woodland. There were sculptures, bee hives, insect hotels and  beautifully tended herb gardens all of which provided a wonderful backdrop to coffee and lunch breaks. The temperatures were in the high 20s for most of the conference and with the exception of one or two heavy showers it was bright and sunny throughout.

The conference itself was both lively, good-natured and interesting with many fascinating and engaging papers. The first key note speaker was Michael Strmiska of SUNY-Orange, New York State. His lecture was entitled ‘Pagan Politics in the 21st Century: ‘Peace and Love’ or ‘Blood and Soil’. He spoke about two distinctive trends in European Paganism, one typified by an open, universalist and eclectic outlook, most typical of Western Europe and the other defined by a concern with the reconstruction or continuation of local or ethnic religion that tends to be quite conservative and traditionalist. This is more typical of Central and eastern Europe, although of course, both ‘types’ are to be found all over Europe and the distinctions between them are often fluid. His paper discussed the extent to which the second ‘type’ could be classified as ‘racist’, giving arguments on both sides and concluding, predictably, that the situation is too complex to be so neatly explained. He saw in the two Pagan ‘streams’ a parallel with the current struggle throughout Europe between left and right wing politics, and raised the question of whether ‘Nationalist’ forms of Paganism might ally themselves with a right wind agenda. Evidence suggests that the case is not so straightforward as it might appear, however, as many groups that are keen to preserve ‘folkish’ traditions and practices are quite liberal in other respects and, as Right Wing politicians have tended to court the support of traditionalist Christian groups the opportunities for Pagans to openly associate with them are limited. From my personal point of view, as fascinating component of the lecture was the reference made to data gathered from a survey undertaken in Lithuania, Denmark and the Czech Republic among Pagans about their afterlife beliefs, and specifically about belief in a ‘community of Ancestors’ that they would join after death The majority of respondents n all countries acknowledged this belief or were unsure about it. Significantly the majority of respondents thought that language and ethnicity were not dividing factors among this Ancestral Community but that either everyone would be together regardless of race and language or that people would be together with whoever they chose regardless of these factors. This led to the conclusion that ‘racism’ was not a significant issue…at least after death!

The second keynote speaker, the following day, was Agita Misãne of the University of Latvia. She continued with many of the same themes but emphasised the importance of ‘nominal Paganism’ in European society with Paganism behaving in the same way as other religions with people embracing the values and ideas of Paganism without being and active participant in ritual or Pagan gatherings. Particular attention was drawn to the newly elected President of Latvia who identifies as a Pagan and particularly with a ‘Green’ agenda although he is not active within the Pagan communities. Misãne argued that the possibility of people who are openly Pagan holding high public office means that the ‘religion’ is no longer invisible but is becoming visible, often in public space, and therefore institutionalised and commercialised leading to the rise in what she calls ‘nominal Paganism’. The image of politics as materialistic and corrupt does not sit easily with the ethics of many Pagans leading them to isolate themselves from political agendas. This means that while Paganism might have a significant influence on culture, literature and the arts it is not an easy bedfellow with party politics for most. Having said this, after decades of increasing ‘secularisation’ religion of all kinds is now entering public life and discourse in a much more visible way. Religion, including Pagan religions, do not exist in isolation but rather reflect the wider political and social discourse in the societies that surround them. Western Europeans in general, tend to be vocal on issues of social justice, human rights and environmentalism, while their Eastern counterparts are often most outspoken on public morality, reproductive health and education. Since Pagans of all affiliations, tend, on average, to hold more liberal views that the wider population, for example on the question of gender equality, Misãne argues that they may offer a more balanced voice on such issues than more traditionalist fundamentalist Christian and Muslim voices.

There were many other excellent and thought provoking talks over the course of the conference Of particular interest to me, particularly wereMatouš Vencálek’s talk presenting rare survey data on political, social and spiritual beliefs among Pagans in the Czech Republic; and Adam Anczyk’s (of Jagiellonian University) excellent paper on Margaret Murray which raised the question of the impact that academic research has on the development and growth of Pagan traditions. These two were of particular relevance to my own research interests but every paper was engaging and well presented.

I was delighted to discover that my own paper had been relocated from 4pm to 12 on the first day, meaning that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. I was also very pleased to follow the paper given by Giuseppe Maiello of Palacky University. He spoke about an attempt in 2012 of the Native Faith movement in the Czech Republic to bring together Pagans of all kinds to form something like a Pagan ‘Burial Society’ to facilitate the possibility of a ‘Pagan funeral’. The attempt failed due to internal pressures and some advice from a former Pagan in the funeral industry that was not as helpful as it might have been, however, Maiello explained why the growth of the environmental movement and, in particular, the establishment of the first ‘natural burial ground’ near Prague meant that there was less need to try the experiment again. He also commented on the comparative freedom and choice that exists around funeral practice in the UK as opposed to the Czech Republic.

This set the scene beautifully for my own paper which looked at the relationship between Druidic funerary practises and new developments in wider funerary practices in the UK. Specifically I looked at the Natural Burial Movement, the campaign to legalise open air cremation pyres and the emergence of reconstructed ‘Neolithic’ passage and chamber tombs to hold cremated remains such as that at All Cannings. I also argued that the two founding ideologies of the ‘Neo-Pagan’ movement in general and Druidry in particular,are central to the emergent funerary tradition within Druidry. The first of these is  the idea of the natural world as a source of wisdom and enlightenment and with ‘whom’ we have a reciprocal relationship. This idea, most visibly and memorably expressed in the Romantic Poets of the late 18th and early 19th century helped to set the mood in which Paganism began to develop as a modern religion. Secondly was the ‘Celtic Revival’ movement of a similar period, which sought to link the sense of personal identity with a re-imaginged past. This also continues to be visible in the popularity of All Cannings, the wish of many Pagans to have their ashes scattered around ancient monuments and the popularity of the idea of cremation on an open air pyre. The paper seemed to be well received and Giuseppe and I took questions together leading to some lively discussion.

The first day of the conference concluded with a barbecue dinner in the beautiful gardens followed by a concert by the Pagan band ‘Barbar Punk’ in a small club that was being reconstructed around us. It was a very unusual and highly enjoyable evening, although for some reason people kept apologising to me that the venue was not ready as they had expected. Possibly this was due to ‘British Middle Aged Woman Syndrome’ but, as I assured them all I was having a wonderful, surreal evening and even got to meet a ‘wolf dog’ who was very friendly and went to sleep on my feet. The second evening was marked by a visit to Brno’s conveniently timed wine festival It was a lovely event, although touched by sadness as people began to drift off to head home.

The following day I had arranged some free time in Brno to go and investigate the ossuary of St Joseph’s church and the crypt of the Friary. (yes, I know, morbid as ever!) The ossuary was fascinating, not least because of the questions it raised about the status of human remains as object and subject. Mention of ‘respect for the dead’ was made and the space was certainly respectful. The remains had been arranged during the last decade into columns of bones with skulls placed artistically at intervals or piles of skulls receding into a curved chamber. These were interspersed wth modern sculptures on religious themes and all the time music, especially composed for the venue, and definitely ‘spooky’ in nature was playing in the background All of this, along with the dim lighting and strategic placement of exhibits gave the place the feel of an art installation. This was compounded by the availability of plaster skulls with ‘Brno’ written across the forehead as souvenirs. Overall the feeling was very much of being in an exhibit rather than a burial place. The crypt however, had a very different feel. The lighting was not dimmed and a sign as you enter reminded you that you were not entering a museum but a burial ground. The unique geology of the crypt combined with the free flow of air through it led to the mummification of many who were interred there during the 17th and 18th centuries. The first room contained the remains of a famous veteran of the Austrian War of Succession, whose portrait also hangs on the wall. It is unusual with such remains to know who the person was, let alone be able to see a picture of them in life. This made the experience a very strange and thought provoking one, very much in contrast with the anonymised dead of the church ossuary. Also in this chamber is the wax covered and finely dressed skeleton of St Clementine. Whilst I have read many books on relics such as this, this was the first time I had seen one and it was a very moving experience. Another chamber in the crypt held the remains of some of the ‘great and the good’ of Brno society who had been benefactors of the friars in the 18th century. Filling most of the wall was a marble sculpture of an angel pointing to the inscription ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’. You can imagine the friars having a wry smile at the nobles’ expense. Finally I came to the chapel where 41 of the friars still lie, laid out onto the ground with their heads supported on bricks. I found this a particularly moving and, I have to say, lovely sight. The monk were laid out next to each other as they would be in the choir and while they were clearly ‘creeping out’ the other visitors (some things are understandable in any language!) I did not have this impression at all. I am glad that there were not very many others in the crypt at the same time and that I was able to spend some time alone with the brothers, keeping their vigil with eternity. When I left, I bowed my respect to them as I would with the deceased in our own chapel of rest. When I left the crypt I made a brief visit to a model of a 19th century Moravian village that was housed next door. It was made to demonstrate traditional crafts and featured many moving figures and ‘clucking’ chickens!

After this I caught the bus back to Prague (once again demonstrating my ‘adulating’ skills) and spent the night there before having a brief look around the Old Town Square and heading home again. Attending this conference has been an extremely valuable experience. Not only was it a huge boost to my self confidence (on several levels, being invited to present a paper, actually getting there, and delivering the paper successfully) but it was also a chance to meet some excellent people. The conference originally attracted my attention as a way to see my own field of study (or at least one of them) from a wider European perspective. It sometimes feels as if there is a wall around the UK and anything going on elsewhere is an unknown. Its possible that this is my own perspective, although the fact that I was totally unaware of a book on contemporary Druidry written by one of the delegates leads me to suspect not! This was a wonderful opportunity to see Pagan Studies in a wider European perspective and to meet and network with some excellent people. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and very much hope to be able to attend later conferences in this series.


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I have an article in this book. Despite this its very good and highly recommended!! Published soon.


jhp55ddc04c930d1“For this reason I am doing what I do, working towards …. the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. Simon Wakefield is a biologist, Druid and contributor to Pagan Planet: Being, Believing and Belonging in the 21st Century. He talks about the “most profound experience of my life” when observing a nesting sea turtle on a starlit Greek beach. “Putting aside all the requirements to measure and monitor I decided just to be present, and I opened up to an experience of deep time and an ancient longing by another creature simply to be, to express its uniqueness, which has never left me”.

For me, Simon has expressed a point of unity in this diverse collection of essays edited by Nimue Brown and published by Moon Books. The authors come from a variety of Pagan traditions, though with a tilt towards Druidry. Many stand witness to a…

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Do You Know About Action T4? The Erasure Of Disabled People From The Holocaust Narrative, And Why It Matters Today

While outrage spread about a Labour activist invoking the gas chambers, nobody reported the true story of disability under the Third Reich. By forgetting the dead, we risk repeating history.

Source: Do You Know About Action T4? The Erasure Of Disabled People From The Holocaust Narrative, And Why It Matters Today

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Can we stop, with the idea you can’t stop.

This!!! Oh yes.

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