Celebrating My Disabled Pagan Life: Photoblog

Every time a Pagan or polytheist tries to tell others that they should only take natural remedies or dictates what health should look like, I get twitchy.

I’m currently deep into drafting my thesis about disability and a particular religion (which will eventually be 100,000 words long, so it’s keeping me fairly busy). I’m exploring big themes. And the more I read and write about certain religions (you know, the ones that Pagans are often so quick to judge), the more nervous I get about how Pagans can be very similar in our attitudes towards bodies and minds. We, too, dismiss disabled and chronically ill people for being different. We may do it much more subtly. But we do it.

For example, I’m looking in my research at how some religious and spiritual communities keep out people who are different, telling them they just need to pray more and have more faith, and then they’ll get better. That has varying effects on people, usually negative ones. For Pagans, the equivalent could be: you just need to take more natural, herbal remedies and ‘think positive’ and you’ll be all better soon, and then you can come and join us. Or it could be: sickness is full of miasma and bad energy, and you need to be cleansed before you can be a member of our group/do magic/be good enough.

Well, bollocks to all that.

I want to allow my body to be me. It’s different, and it’s beautiful. We are all different. This is not a bad thing.

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See how beautiful! This is how great I am looking after nine hours working on my thesis. I think the threadbare second-hand hoodie is particularly glamorous. And the birds-nest hair.

[Image: Me in chair. With slightly worrying grin.]

I celebrate my reliance on ‘big pharma’. It has allowed me to do a PhD in which I am blessed to be allowed to share the stories of disempowered people. How does it do that? By providing me with medication that treats my appalling levels of pain. Without medication, I’d be unable to move from bed most of the time. It also treats my heart problems and blood vessel issues, extreme fatigue, anxiety that stops me from having the life I want, my three separate sleep disorders, and a few other things. And what a blessing to live in a country with a National Health Service that offers me all that medication at a price that I can afford (and that’s even giving me free acupuncture at the moment). Blessings of Brighid on the doctors and nurses and physios and pain clinicians and sleep technicians that are a part of my daily life (yes, I do mean daily – I have medical appointments most days at the moment).

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Just three of the many gifts that great human minds learning from the wisdom of nature have given to me. I will have to take these meds for the rest of my life – and I will have a rest of my life. How cool is that?

[Image: packets of pills.]

I celebrate my reliance on modern medical technology. It means I don’t have to risk dying in my sleep. That’s a very real risk that people with sleep apnoea live with. Mine is comparatively mild (although I still stop breathing 50+ times an hour in deep sleep), so the risk of that is low, but it exists. More likely, though, is that my ten years of untreated sleep apnoea has led to degenerations in my brain. That may be the root cause of why I’m so anxious, forgetful and brain-foggy. Herbs won’t help that (not least because I’m allergic to most of the ones that traditionally help with sleep). Right now I am struggling very hard to get to used to this dread machine. (I, ahem, may have screamed at it and then thrown it out of my bedroom door at 2am one night earlier this week.) But I persist. It’s been four difficult months trialling it. And I am still deeply, profoundly grateful for this stupid fucking machine with its enormous sleep mask that means I wake up uncomfortably every half hour. Slowly, crawling along month by month, I’m getting used to it enough that it’s actually having the chance of treating my daily and long-term effects of this. (Sleep apnoea, by the way, is a common side effect of my genetic condition. I don’t have enough collagen in my connective tissue, so everything is very very floppy. So my airway collapses a lot. Fascinating, huh? I love the amazing diversity of the human body.)

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My APAP machine to treat sleep apneoa. It runs on the will of the evil beast of Electric Power. (It’s alive! It’s alive!) [Image: black machine with clear face-mask sitting on top.]

These negative attitudes I see in Pagans towards medical treatment – they all reflect the insidiousness of ‘normalcy’, which is a way that our culture regulates our bodies. “Be normal,” says our culture. So we try to pretend we are. And that is very, very limiting of us. And it’s bad for us. It stops us from loving our human diversity. It stops us from understanding our complex, remarkable bodies and minds. It teaches us to judge each other. The very fact that I’m writing about this will be frowned upon, and mostly ignored, since these aren’t topics to be discussed in polite company. (Yes, physical conditions are stigmatised in our society too, even though I hear some people with mental health problems claiming otherwise.)

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That little display says I got nine and a half hours sleep last night. IT LIES. [Image: Close-up on APAP machine.]

But I, like Whitman, sing myself and celebrate myself. (Please excuse the hubris of comparing myself to great poet.) This is my Druidry. This is my polytheism. This is my daily practice.

The siren song of the normal is seductive. But we know better – we liminal ones who live in the ever-moving spaces between pain and relief, between difference and normalcy, between this world and the Otherworld. And if we force others to look at the shadowy spectre who walks with them daily, that they have forgotten how to see? Then we have done the sacred work of the Lords and Ladies of Life and Death. That sounds a lot more adventurous than doing the normal thing.

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Disability does not make me ‘impure’. That’s why the gods don’t mind me giving them an offering from my scooter. Like here, in which I sit on another beast of the Demon Electricity! This one is made of Iron! [Image: Me on my scooter holding a piece of paper and a cup. I was at a Pagan Federation event in which I called on many deities.]

My polytheism/Paganism celebrates my entire human experience. Does yours?

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It’s coming to eat me. I don’t know why I appear to be finding this amusing. [Image: Me wearing APAP face mask.]

On Speaking and Not Speaking

Recently I’ve been thinking about what I make public and what I keep private. In the past I’ve scoffed, a bit, at the ‘keep silent’ answer of the Sphinx, that fourth bit of wisdom that Thelemics, Wiccans and others hold dear. I don’t hold with the late modern idea that religion should be kept out of the public sphere. Religion is culture. Religion is life. Many paganisms, and perhaps especially Gaelic polytheism, are woven into every aspect of life, both private and public. Singing prayers as you light fires in the morning; walking the bounds of your land to claim it as your own; Bealtaine fires to cleanse cattle and (today) ourselves.

But there are aspects of some paganisms that it may be better to keep silent about. I refuse to talk about magic, for example, except with people who are close to me (and then I’m careful). And sometimes, saying or doing anything puts you in the path of what the Irish called the Evil Eye – e.g. from people who don’t like it when others gain any kind of attention, and who might do things in response to that.

And then, some things need to be somewhat public. When you pray to St Expedite, it’s important that you share his name and spread his fame. People used to put his name in the paper. I pondered what the modern equivalent of that was, and came up with twitter and blogs – so here’s my acknowledgement of the generosity of St Expeditus (I hear that you never say his name the same way twice). He also likes flowers and pound cake – I had to substitute what we call Madeira Cake, as we don’t have that – but he seemed OK with the exchange. He came through for me. Blessings on you, St Expedite, who gets things done in a hurry.

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Image: improvised temporary shrine to St Expeditus, with his picture, flowers and sponge cake.

I’ve been doing some Work that’s definitely for my eyes only, recently. And pondering the paradox of how to write about that in places where it’s helpful to talk about what I’m doing, but where I know it will be seen, probably by those who don’t need to know what I’m doing… See, this is tricky :P I also got into some trouble not too long ago with some people who didn’t have the best of intentions, who (among other things) linked my public, academic profile with my personal, Pagan one. Their intention was to do me harm across all the spheres of my life. I don’t hide who I am – at the moment, it’s not difficult to get from here to my public persona. I’ve had to ponder how to address that. Password protected posts? Writing more in places where posts can be locked to a small audience? Neither of those sits very well with me, given the purposes of this blog.

No, I think the answer may be more related to the concept of ‘hiding in plain sight’. Which is again one that some Wiccans love, and that I’ve scoffed at a bit. But when I had important people over to the house recently, and had to look at what I was hiding in plain sight – Brighid’s cross above the door, altars that look like trinkets and pictures, my door sign a clear boundary between my place of Work and the rest of the house, and so on – it occurred to me that this, too, is Gaelic polytheist practice. The ordinary fire blessed in the quiet of dawn. The rowan cross that looks like decoration. The bit of butter left behind the house for the Good Folk. The whispered prayer as you craft an amulet that looks like a piece of thread.

It’s all important – especially for those who live in the liminal places.

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Image: door sign – “Away with the fairies”

On Doing Nothing, Pt 1: On Listening, Not Derailing

Let Pagans of Colour Speak

Let’s start with some stories told by Pagans of colour in the Pagan community, about their experiences there. All very much worth reading. Indeed, I don’t think you can properly participate in the current ‘controversy’ in the Pagan blogosphere if you haven’t read some writing by Pagans of colour on this subject.

The Invisibility Cloak: Race and the Pagan. A Pagan who goes by the username Black Witch talks at AfroPunk about how the Pagan community reacts when criticised by minorities within it, including people of colour, about how it treats them. It’s disturbingly similar to some of the reactions in the current ‘controversy’. “Let the minority open its mouth, even criticize Pagans and their shortcomings in the culture department and watch that cooing and sympathy drop quick. All of a sudden, it’s “We’re being attacked” and rationalizing ahoy… Mention words like “institutional racism”, “tokenization” and “privilege” and up come the defenses. I’ve dealt with a stunning variety of Pagan women or Pagan men who thought they don’t benefit at all from any form of institutional anything and definitely not privilege because they’re Pagan, bigotry only benefits you if you’re Christian….”

KW on Being Black and Pagan. “As a minority in a minority religion, the most frequently asked question I get is “How can you be a Pagan, you’re BLACK?!” This implies that my religion is defined by my race, an assumption that I hope no one really thinks is valid… The call of the Gods is just as strong in us as it is in say, someone of Anglo-Saxon descent. Another assumption made is that if I am Pagan, then I must practice Vodoun and/or be pledged to the Orishas. If I am neither, then I must not respect my ancestors. This argument more than any other frustrates me. It assumes that you can tell my racial makeup by the color of my skin, it assumes that I’m ashamed to be an African- American, and it assumes I have no honor whatsoever for the family that bore me. None of these is true.”

On a topic very closely related and intertwined with racism and neocolonialism in Paganism: Crystal Blanton writes over at Daughters of Eve about Avoiding Appropriation and the Perpetuation of Privilege. “It is quite disheartening that we still live in a time when People of Color’s voices are silenced by those of dominant cultures within our society. While we are moving through a time of such intensity around the needs, pain and brutality being experienced by People of Color, especially Black People, it is one of the most important times to be self aware and cognizant of the ways we participate in the reinforcing of white supremacist culture in this country. We collectively support systems of oppression and harm by ignoring the damage, continuing the damage, being complacent in the face of the damage, or by using the power created by the damage, to thrive. All of these things support and reinforce systems of disenfranchisement and racism in this country and around the world.”

More from Black Witch, this time on a disturbing example of crypto-fascism in Paganism – she answers a question on exclusion of people of colour based on ‘genetics/heritage’ in Paganism. “In the Pagan community I interact with (which is mostly white), conversations often revolve around trying to figure out which of the European ethnic groups a person descends from is the one he/she/ze feels the most connected to, or identifies the most with, in order to pick out which flavor of ethnic Paganism (Germanic/Irish/etc.) to practice. I pointed out that this was a part of white privilege, from not having been subjected to the ethnocide of slavery, and that African-Americans didn’t have the luxury of picking out which ethnic group they feel like the most. One responder said that all African-Americans had to do was take a genetic test to determine which ethnic group they’re descended from, and make a pagan religion based on that…”

And don’t forget Kavita Maya, who is researching racism and neocolonialism in the goddess movement. Her work is very accessible to non-academic readers. Try this article to start with.

Let Us Listen

Speaking is easy. Listening is hard.

Imagine you’re on an axis of privilege in the current conversation. For example, you are a white person talking to or about people of colour. What do you think the balance of speaking vs listening should be?

I consider that, if we find ourselves too busy talking about the situation to listen to the people facing oppression, then we are participating in the oppression. We need to stop talking and listen.

It’s very hard to listen to people of colour in Paganism. This is partly because there are so very few of them (because of some of what is described above). Often, another reason is that their stories can make us uncomfortable about our privilege and about our religious and political positions. Both of which make it all the more important that we listen.

We are doing something wrong in Paganism. We are excluding people. You can tell by the sea of white faces in the Pagan community. You can tell by the stories people of colour tell and the work coming out of research they are doing. It is time for us to listen, to ask people why this is happening, and to listen to the answers. To stop talking, from our position of privilege as white Pagans in a white-dominated, white-washed Pagan community, and simply to listen.

Derailing the Conversation: A Form of Not Listening

Photo: White hand covering black mouth. Text above reads: “Black people created #BlackLivesMatter and then white people created #AllLivesMatter. Pictoral representation.”

There is something in debating called derailing. It is about turning the conversation around, making it about something else (e.g. about you), so that you don’t have to address what the other person is saying. By derailing, you ensure you don’t have to face the darker sides of yourself or of a situation. It allows you to talk, endlessly – rather than ever having to listen.

The following examples illustrate typical derailing strategies. Some are lifted straight from real conversations I’ve had or seen.

  • “I know some disabled people are living in terrible poverty, but we need to sort out the rates of disability benefit fraud*, and surely you don’t disagree that that’s a bad thing?” This involves changing the terms of the conversation, refusing to debate the issue that the marginalised person wants to talk about, and instead redirecting toward something that isn’t relevant but seems to be. It’s a silencing technique.
  • “Don’t call me a cis person. I haven’t chosen that word. Now I want to talk about me and how you’ve offended me, rather than the way I’m treating you.” Or, worse, “The debate about whether trans people should be allowed to use bathrooms appropriate to their gender is about safety! I’m not trans-phobic! I certainly don’t believe my majority views are going to lead to an increase in violence against and murder of trans people! I mean, does that even happen?” In the second example, the derailing involves changing the terms of the conversation, and erasing oppression in the process – not allowing the other person to speak about their oppression. In the first example, the speaker is moving the focus away from the marginalised person, onto themselves. This way the speaker doesn’t need to examine their views in any detail and can stay in their comfort zone. “You’ve offended me!” is heard far too often in debates around oppression and marginalisation – when it’s not actually about you.
  • People of colour experience this kind of derailing all the time, especially in settings where they are very marginalised (such as the Pagan community). One horrendous example is the way “Black lives matter” was hijacked, white people demanding that “All lives matter” be said instead. This prioritises the hurt feelings of the majority white population, who rarely have to fear police violence and don’t deal with the constant threat that they will be killed on the street, over the experiences of the oppressed group. It also once again changes the terms of the conversation, making it all about us. (Follow Crystal Blanton on social media to see the scary levels of racism and violence being faced by people of colour in the US today, as terrifying examples. If you still want to talk about your hurt feelings after seeing all of that, I’ll be surprised.)

Derailing takes the focus off the marginalised people calling for change, and focuses it back on the majority. It draws attention away from changes we need to make in ourselves, and turns it onto to our fragile feelings. You’ve offended me by calling me a racist/calling out my disablism/drawing my attention to my privilege in this situation.

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Image: a man on a roof with a megaphone. Source: A. Carroll, flickr

Of course, it’s a different situation when it’s a person from the majority group criticising the behaviour of others from the majority group. In many contexts, white people talking about black people are taken more seriously and find themselves listened to more. (That’s why I talk about trying to ‘hand back the megaphone’ that I have, as a white person, to people of colour (though I fail at this all the time), and why I value non-disabled allies of disability rights a great deal.)

And sometimes, in speaking about oppression, the majority ally gets it wrong, distracted by their own privilege. That’s where it gets really complicated. If you speak on behalf of others or in support of others, you have to do a lot of work to ensure your voice doesn’t drown out theirs. You have to be careful not to steal their ideas and pass them off as your own. And you have to be particularly attentive to your privilege and its effects. One example might be calling out racism in groups you do not belong to while claiming that the groups you do belong to are immune to it. (I have done this.)

We all make mistakes based on our privilege. When people on the axis of oppression draw our attention to these mistakes, it’s our responsibility to deal with the effects of our privilege there.

But if that’s all that people are ever talking about, and the people talking about this are the privileged people rather than the oppressed people, this can be a form of derailing. It is not acceptable to say “Ha! You’re doing some of the oppression you’re complaining about!” as a derailing tactic to avoid looking at ourselves, our darker sides, and our own oppression of others.

As my next post will talk about, I find it a particularly  worrying sign when the derailing response is to call people to unity and peace, refusing dealing with the issues of privilege and oppression that have been raised, in the process. “Oh no, more controversy in the Pagan community! I hate controversies! Why can’t we just be spiritual?” That’s erasure, silencing a conversation about oppression, and it’s dangerous. Especially in such an important controversy as this. This is not an inter-tradition debate over who worships their gods in a more correct manner, or an argument about what words we use for our traditions, or any other relatively minor differences/issues like that. This is about the ways we are oppressing the Other and slowly sleepwalking towards a community, and a society, that aims to exterminate that Other (whether literally or metaphorically). Our spirituality and religion are political. Claiming that they are not, or that they should not be, is worrying to me. But I’ll get to that.

We need to stop worrying about our feelings and start listening to the victims of our oppression. We will always be able to find something to criticise in the delivery of the message. The message itself is far more important than that.

Are we listening?

Which leads me to Part 2 of this post, which is coming up very shortly and which I will link to here when it’s done…

Three things it is everyone’s duty to do: listen humbly, answer discreetly, and judge kindly.

– Irish triad.

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*Disability benefits fraud accounts is at a rate of 0.5%, according to the DWP’s own estimates, by the way. But that’s another story for another time.

The behaviour of online Pagans, and why I’m going ‘stealth’ online again

My name has been publicly associated with accusations against someone. If you must read about it, see this post – and most importantly the response below, by Aine, the person being accused. (Trigger warning: the post contains references to abuse, transmisogyny, and disturbing accusations with no forum for addressing them.) The original post contained my real name and links to my professional twitter. (The poster has since replaced these references with my online psuedonym, after I tracked them down and begged.)

For some reason I can’t directly reblog at tumblr the reply that Aine has written – possibly because I’m blocked by the original poster. So I’m posting here instead. In the link above makes she makes clear that she is treating this as libel and dealing with it via her attorney.

I do not know the original poster, nor anything about the situation in the post. I have already been sought out (by other strangers) at my professional twitter to be told I’m ‘enabling abuse’. This linking of me and my real name to a situation I have nothing to do with is really appalling behaviour.

When I talked to the original poster about this, they told me I was causing them stress (??) but that their behaviour was fine. They said they didn’t have to ask before talking about me in a callout post, apparently not when even using my real name and professional twitter link. They took down my real name, but didn’t see anything wrong with initially putting it in. (By the way, they would have had to do quite a bit of online stalking of me to find my professional twitter, if all they initially had was my blog link.)

When I talked to Aine, my friend, about it, her immediate concern was for me.

Of course, that contrast doesn’t prove anything in itself. But I have no interest in discussing the details of this. Tumblr ‘callout culture’ is toxic. There are ways to deal with concerns like this – especially given the seriousness of what’s being accused – and I don’t think posts on tumblr are the way to go in the first instance. They are nearly impossible to refute or address, because they go off being reblogged in all directions, with no way for the accused to have input or respond, except via their own reblogs. I have been nervous of tumblr for a long time, even though I have a (barely-used) account there. The place is rife with accusations that can’t be addressed and other terrible behaviour. It has a culture all its own where people gain status and think they have more power than they actually do. It’s very ‘mean girls’. This is the last straw for me and tumblr – I’m taking my account down, when I get round to it, and I won’t be going there anymore. I’m very glad that Aine is dealing with this through legal channels.

I am not opening comments on this blog post. Aine has asked that people send her their questions about this. (I think this is a very good sign – openness and willingness to address these issues is what I look for in this kind of situation.) Please do as she asks and talk to her rather than me. This never had anything to do with me, and Aine is being very generous in wanting to keep me out of it.

I would like to point anyone reading this to my Hospitality and Zero-Tolerance Policy. If you talk to me here, or talk about me online, I think hospitality should be maintained. It happens to be a key religious value of mine. There are ways to talk about people, and places to talk about them. And there ways not to talk about people, and places not to talk about them.

Related to that, I’m going ‘under the radar’ again. For several years I’ve been ‘out’ in the Pagan/polytheist communities, but I’ve always felt a little bit nervous of what could happen as a result. I think we should be able to be open and ourselves in religious communities, both offline and online. But let’s be clear here: it’s not because of discrimination from the non-Pagan world that I have to go ‘stealth’ online. It’s because of the behaviour of members of the Pagan community. I consider that very telling. Pagans are always talking about how horrible members of other religions are towards them. I’ve never experienced that. I have experienced repeated awful behaviour from Pagans that make me reluctant to admit in public that I am one.

I think that’s a difference worth pondering.

In future please refer to me only as Léithin Cluan in comments in, or references to, this blog. Many thanks.

*EDITED TO ADD*

Well now this is getting ridiculous. Let’s clear up a few of the things I’m now being accused of elsewhere.

Firstly, I have not sent anyone to ask for my name to be taken out of the original post, and I would really rather people didn’t do this. As the poster claims, I did indeed say it was fine for them to keep my username in. It’s the right of the original poster to include it if they want to. The behaviour I found particularly dishonourable was when they included my full name and professional twitter account in the post. Yes, you will see from this post that I used to include my full name here and have now had to rescind that policy – it’s no secret – but it was always as a clarifier to my pseudonym Leithin Cluan, which was always the primary name I used here, and which is the name I use in my modern druid community. I have never linked my professional materials here and I do not know how the original poster found my professional twitter account, not least because I use a slightly different name in my work life. I have now taken down my real name due to the realisation that I cannot trust people in the Pagan community not to do appalling things with my identity. Pseudonyms, though, I can’t do anything about being written about elsewhere. People generally have the right to write about people, as long as no one’s being hurt.

Secondly, if we’re in ‘callout culture’ here, I want to call out anyone who would send people to harass a person (particularly an autistic person) about their support or otherwise of someone who is having unproven allegations aimed at them, and who is currently taking legal action against those accusations. Asking people to seek out a person online and harass them to take any kind of stance on unproven allegations towards friends is neither honourable nor courageous. If you want to engage with me, do so on the basis of honour, especially if you claim to be in shared community with me. I already linked to my zero-tolerance hospitality policy above. I consider that that applies off this blog as well as on it. Of course, I can’t enforce this policy away from this blog – I can’t make people behave honourably towards others. But I will not engage with people who don’t treat me honourably and hospitably.

I will not be persuaded of anything as a result of this appalling, dishonourable shitstorm, and anyone attempting to ‘persuade’ me will be given short shrift. I believe in protecting myself from things that I find oppressive in conjunction with my impairments. I’m not standing for any crap. I’m also contacting tumblr to ask them to remove posts that call for my harassment.

Thanks so much.

31 Days of Offerings – Day 17-18: Community Redefined

31 Days of Offerings(1)

Offerings don’t have to be a solely Pagan affair. We do too much separatism, for people who claim to believe that the world itself is sacred.

Last weekend I was heavily involved in helping to run this conference (see also here, where a group that participated has reviewed it), for which I’ve been on the planning committee most of this year (and I do a lot of their publicity, and was their social media person, and tweeted on the day, and, and…). I’m still recovering! I’ve not really talked about this much in Pagan circles, because, well, Christian.

But I grew up in a Christian context (actually I was about 30 when I left church), and I believe my Wyrd is tied to that community. It is part of my Work. I’m not doing a PhD on Christianity and disability for my health (and definitely not for my wallet). I believe I have a calling, and activism around disability and churches is part of that calling.

Photo: St Martin-in-the-Fields church, London

Photo: St Martin-in-the-Fields church, London

Other offerings I give to a broad interfaith local community include inter-faith educational work, work with the Druid Network, and various other things that I do with the aim of improving dialogue between religious communities and serving the local community generally.

Ultimately, as well as an offering to the people around me, this is also an ancestor offering. Most of my ancestors were Christians. Social justice and Christianity was important to many of them, I gather from stories told about a few of them.

My exploration of the story of Narnia and its less-acceptable characters is all part of this tangled web of a spiritual-religious journey that never ends. My relationship with a very liminal deity probably is too.

I am a proud non-active Anglican (while also a polytheist and modern druid), living on the edge of the community that is itself living on the edge of the churches: the community of disabled Christians. Religion isn’t always about belief. In fact, in most of the world, it isn’t really. We’ve taken American evangelicalism and tried to apply it to Paganism as well as to every other religion in the world – but religion for most people is about action, much more than belief. Do the stuff. Embody your practice. Be.

Liminality. It’s not just about Otherworlds. ;)

Summer Harvests

It was Lammas at Druid Camp.

Alone, I would usually choose to celebrate Lughnasadh – the festival of Tailtu who created agriculture, of Lugh who prevents the death of the crops and brings the harvest. Summer games and competition and high-energy feats of challenge and pride, in honour of a proud, accomplished god.

But we were together, and it was Lammas.

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The wheat of the Lammas harvest that we were surrounded by at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

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Community-witnessed handfasting at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Druidry is very much a community-based tradition. If alone I am a Gaelic polytheist with Brythonic leanings, together with these friends I am a Druid in a community of Druids. And only communities can reap a good harvest.

And I thought back to two weeks before, in Ireland with my mother and grandmother, spending most of our time with cousins and other family. I didn’t get much time with the land, with Beara. I did more important things. My harvest was community.

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The view across the hills and down to the sea from the vantage point of my family farmhouse, dating back to my great-grandparents and still at the centre of a small farm worked by my cousins. Beara Peninsula.

I return to posts from American Pagans about rejecting Lughnasadh (by which, in this case, the writer actually means Lammas) because “most Pagans live in the US” (EXCUSE ME?!), the assertion from some corners that modern polytheism is better than modern Paganism, and other culturally imperialist rubbish that starts to bring me down. British Paganism and British Druidry are a minority voice online. Most Americans don’t know about the beautifully non-hierarchical, deeply rooted-in-our-land, strongly community-focused practice that draws from many streams of modern Paganism and other spiritualities that is modern British druidry. The loud voices shouting about their recent conferences, and whose hotel was better, know nothing about the week we spent in a field, overlooking the river of Sabrina and the ancient barrows across the hill, surrounded by sheep, having to build our own community from the ground up (and make it accessible to as many people as possible!), where the success is all the sweeter for how every person contributes in their own way. They don’t know about the talent (that Eisteddfod!), the strength, the love, the mutual acceptance and help and support, the critical thought, and the plain hard work that can bring 200+ very diverse druids together in a field and have them, by the end, become a coherent spiritual community complete with regular dramatic rituals and dances and fires and drinking of mead and telling of stories. So many stories.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

And that started me thinking about stories, and how the One Reality we all inhabit can be so very different from so many different perspectives. “We don’t need Lughnasadh,” announces someone who sees one side of the story. On the other side of the world, Lammas is the theme for 200 druids in a field surrounded by wheat. The sun at its height but showing the first signs of waning towards its long sleep. Our carefree summers making their way, like a slowly-winding labyrinth, towards Samhain and darkness and change. At the height of summer there is the seed of winter. At the height of life there is the seed of death. That’s what our harvest, here on this insignificant island where modern Paganism was birthed, is all about.

And that’s what our very different stories are all about, too. “I was right, you know, and he was wrong.” Except that right and wrong are forever relative. As a friend of mine said today: “We are all scumbags. We are all saints.” We may want to play the innocent hurt victim or the evil villain – depending on where our self-esteem might be today – but these are stereotypes, archetypes that aren’t useful beyond a certain point. I don’t worship the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, because these are useful illustrative archetypes, but not necessarily the stories by which I want to live my life. I am neither the villain nor the victim. I am neither the Druid nor the Christian. I am neither the daughter nor the wife. I am neither the sociologist nor the poet nor the seer nor the Gaelic polytheist nor the Pagan nor the wheelchair user nor the stranger nor the friend. I am all these things and more. Truth is bigger than we can imagine.

I am the universe emerging into consciousness, beginning to understand itself. (To slightly misquote Babylon 5.) And how much more am I than stereotypes and archetypes, as a result? I won’t reduce myself or others to one-dimensional pictures. I am stardust, as complex as the winds and as simple as the rain, the sacred legacy of my ancestors, the sacred ancestor of those who come after me.

This is the harvest that I reap.

Happy Lughnasadh. Happy Lammas. May summer and harvest festivals be celebrated forever, the wisdom of our forebears integrated into our new stories. We need the old and we need the new. We need all the sides of the story.

Hail, Lugh! Hail, ancestors!

Books To Read and Books To Avoid

So, I read a lot of books. Most, I do NOT read from cover to cover. I do a whole lot of ‘dipping in’. And while that’s great for a lot of books, it does mean that I sometimes miss out.

When I do read a book cover to cover, it tends to be either a book I really enjoy, or really dislike. The latter, because I usually want to see if it can be redeemed by the end, and I want to give it a chance. The former, because there *are* some really good Pagan books out there, even though you often have to sort through the dross to get to them.

I’m going to do a series on Books To Read and Books To Avoid. Hopefully, this will help me to read more books cover-to-cover and give me a reason to talk about them (and I love talking about books). You will probably not agree with everything I say about these books. You might think some books I put in one category should be in the other. Go for it – tell me in the comments about why you love a book I hate, or why you hate a book I love. Let’s debate it, and together maybe we can put together some crowdsourced thoughts about Pagan books that readers would find useful.

I suspect some of my choices will be very controversial. I often hate books that others love, and sometimes vice versa. But there are plenty of other reviews out there to read besides mine. If I un-recommend a book, read some other reviews and see whether you think you’d like it, on balance. But I don’t like tiptoeing around what I really think, in my reviews. So I’m going to get bolder about what I think.

I’ll be writing a review of Luke Eastwood’s ‘A Druid’s Primer’ later today. Stop back here later to find out what category I put it in. Cliffhanger…!