Early Summer: Urban Druidry…

The chill left the still air.
The land was caught between breaths.
Unseen, laughing hands took mine
and led me down,
down through lonely alleyways,
past the graveyard overgrown with hawthorn and forget-me-nots,
between the narrow, tumbledown gate-posts,
and out into a sudden shock of green,
where a yellow carpet fell among the young oaks
and butterflies and dragonflies remembered distant sunny afternoons.

From the top of the world I stood above the sparkling city
while it whispered to me old, old secrets.

But I know there are no green places left in London,
no meadows not lost to departed faery feet.
So it must have been an Otherworldly hill they took me to,
another city, just out of mundane sight
that I looked down upon. Continue reading

Emotions and Asperger’s

I’m supposed to be exploring water and the emotions for Cat‘s druidry course. (Which I’m nearly at the end of. Can you believe it’s been a year? I can’t!)

Water is wonderful. Water is my favourite of the elements, and sea is the realm that I most love. I love its depths, its moods, its gateways to the Otherworld. I’ve sat on beaches in Israel and I’ve sat on the rocks by the sea in south-west Ireland and I’ve swum in a river in rural California and I’ve talked to rivers and lakes in the Midlands and London and Scotland, and they’re all utterly different and completely wonderful. Continue reading

Grey Skies, Galoshes and Greed: the (Druid?) Ethics of Weather Magic



It seems to me (and this is just my interpretation) that there are two types of modern druid magic. In one, the focus is on the images of ancient druids controlling the forces of nature. In another, there’s a trend of seeking oneness and harmony with the environment, an approach where the magic is more about understanding our place within the land and the delicate balance of its forces, than attempting to impose our will onto it.

I won’t say I’ve never done the former, the kind of magic that imposes my will on the world/the land, rather than seeking union with it. But not when it comes to weather or the ecosystem.

What I do do a lot of, is calling on deities for help with weather. I assume that they, like land spirits, have a much better understanding of my ecosystem and its needs than I ever could. This tends to lead to much hilarity from SJ, who’s always saying “Ask a god to move this storm” (generally when we’re trying to drive through it) and I call on Manannan, who makes the most sense. (Or, when I’m desperate, Bhearra the goddess of the wild land and its wilder weather.) “He’s a rain god!” SJ argues with me. “Find a sun god.” And then I point out that, in the British isles, we were always guaranteed to have more in the way of thunder and storm deities than, say, gods of clear sunny days. From Taranis to Thunor to the many river goddesses, we are surrounded by water, and any gods who embody our land will probably be a bit… drippy. We do have sun deities, but, like Sulis, they also have springs and underworld associations and lots of other watery goodness.

And why not? Why wouldn’t I, like them, want to revel in the incredible beauty of the surprising, never-static weather of this land? I’m not one of these people who says “Ugh, raining again.” The weather is incredibly fickle here (raining? wait an hour – it probably won’t be). SJ has this strange, optimistic belief that every storm comes with a rainbow (no, they’re not being trite – they really think so and apparently can argue it with bad science) – so our life is full of “Quick, find the rainbow!” moments. There’s the wonderful excitement of suddenly going from a wet day to a sunny one, or of the mists that come down so fast you can wander into the Otherworld in them, and which lift again just as quickly, so that it looks you really did pass into another land. Is there anything more beautiful? Would I really want to impose my socially-constructed, limited idea of ‘a good day’ onto that?

8488755320_da9ed849cc-1The recent storms and months of flooding around here were very scary, specifically because they were different patterns from usual. The weather didn’t change. It just rained, for months. Towns flooded, people lost their homes and died. The rivers Soar and Avon, and my beautiful Trisantona, the Trent, are still trespassing into the fields around their boundaries. While the evidence is still being collected, the Met Office is putting recent weather down to climate change.

And that’s what happens with people mess with the weather. Build more factories and power stations? Be aware that you’re going to pump crap into the sky and the rivers. Drive more cars? Be aware that you’re contributing to the global rise in carbon dioxide that contributes to ‘global warming’. Do weather magic? Be aware that there’s a good chance you’re going to shift patterns that are really important to the local ecosystem. Or worsen patterns that are already screwed-up because of pre-existing environmental damage, like at the moment. If you can deal with that, fine. I don’t think my ethics can extend to that level – not with my very human perspective on the landscape. In tandem with deities who understand weather patterns better than I do, maybe.

But wouldn’t it be even better for me to keep trying to live in harmony with the weird, surprising beauty of the climate of my islands, that have given rise to myth and folklore and the best ghost stories? And am I not more likely to hear the land spirits that way, and be in the right mindset to form alliances with them that transcend the temporary annoyance of a little bit of rain? Yes, sometimes the weather can make me really ill – arthritis doesn’t like the damp, and I do much better in the summer than in the winter. But these are the patterns of life. What else would I miss if I gave them up?

I have a very clear memory of a school assembly – a Christian one – led by my lovely primary school teacher Mrs B (who always seemed, to 6-year-old me, to be aged about 100). She was talking to us about an upcoming school trip. She said that we could pray for good weather, but we had to leave it in the hands of God, and remember that while we’re praying for sun, the farmer down the road might be praying for rain. And that, since we and the farmer couldn’t both get what we wanted, we had to be prepared for bad weather and a cancelled trip. We can’t be greedy for the weather we want, she said. We’re not the only people who want things.

It’s still the best lesson I’ve ever had on the subject. Thanks, Mrs B, for your excellent druid weather magic ethics!

R is for… Relationship and Reciprocity

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship, now that I’m preparing to leave Nottingham for my home town of old Londinium. I’ve only been in Nottingham for three years, but it’s been a busy three years. Although I was considering the whole Pagan thing before I got here, this is really where I got properly into it. Forming a relationship with the land here was challenging, being as how I’m Not From Round Here. Forming relationships with people was even trickier. I’m not great with people, and it takes me a long time to trust them. The surprising exception has been my OBOD grove (see this lovely post that a fellow grove member wrote about me this week!), where I felt very accepted almost immediately. Although it was still work for me to learn to trust a group, I did learn how. My initiation last Samhain was a particularly important experience in that process. I had never really understood the point of initiation until it was my turn, and I was struck by how symbolically meaningful it was for me — perhaps especially because my Asperger’s means I need a solid understanding of where I fit into a group, and it’s often hard for me to establish that for myself. I’m leaving a really great group of people behind – I have some wonderful friendships with many members, and I do hope we won’t lose touch. I plan to gate-crash the odd ritual, when I’m in the area, just so they don’t forget me! And I’m going to miss some other wonderful friends here, too. Continue reading

30 Days of Paganism, 3 – Beliefs: Deities

Ah, a nice non-controversial one!

I’ve talked about deities before, in many places on my blog. I’ve talked about my view of the gods as literal spirits whom I believe were worshiped by my ancestors. There’s no real need for me to outline my beliefs on this in detail again. But I wanted to reflect a bit more on what this means for me on a practical level – and what it doesn’t mean. Continue reading

M is for… Mighty Monster Trees (and Massive Mountains and Moo-ing Mascots)

“Why, who are you afraid of?” said Peter. “There’s no one here but ourselves.”
“There are the trees,” said the Beaver. “They’re always listening.”

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


That’s me, towards the bottom left of that picture, standing beneath a California redwood. You can tell by how it’s, um, quite big.

Our second week on the road and our second day in the Redwoods, and I decide I want to take a short walk among the trees on my own. We parked the RV on the side of the not-inappropriately-named Avenue of the Giants, and I was directed towards the map. “OK,” said SJ (who is used to that thing where I get lost). “Do you see this path here?” I did. “And do you see how it leads onto this larger loop with the interpretive trail*?” I did. I could even see how to get from one to the other and back again. And just to make really sure, I took a picture of the map on my phone camera. Easy peasy.

So off I set, an intrepid explorer with two sticks and a bit of a walking distance limit. And at first, all was well. I found the trail (where the signs shared helpful facts about how old, tall and weird each redwood was). I looked at some trees. I stood inside a few others.

At which point I realised some things. One, that I’ve never stood inside a tree before. Two, that I’ve definitely never stood instead a tree that bloody huge before. And three, that these trees were monsters. And I don’t just mean in the 300-foot-tall, 2000-year-old sense. There was something incredibly primal and alien about them. Reaching out to them was like opening myself up to a vortex that I could have lost myself in forever. I stopped, but I still felt very much like they wanted to eat me. Spider-and-fly stuff – if the spider was several thousand times bigger and vastly older than the fly. Come into my parlour…

It was at that point that I realised I was horribly lost.  I had reached the place where I thought I had entered the trail from, but all I could see was thick, brambly undergrowth. There was no way of identifying the little path that led back to the van. I walked around and around the trail, much further than I’m meant to walk (I was in some serious pain afterwards!), all the while surrounded by those strange, seductive trees that wanted to swallow me whole. On getting back to the main car park for about the third time, I checked my little photo of the map and saw that I could get back to the van on the road. I started walking.

And here’s the really odd thing. All the while, I was only a couple of minutes’ walk from the van. From civilization. From the perception – the illusion – of safety.

We’re never all that far from the dangers that our ancestors lived with all the time. We’ve just shoved ourselves inside several tonnes of metal, bricked ourselves into boxes, buried ourselves in concrete. Safe as houses?

I did a lot of connecting, these past few weeks, with my goddess who stands between chaos and cosmos, between destruction and creation. In local folklore, she is said to have given the human race our powers of consciousness and thought – those egos that make us think we can separate ourselves off from the land around us, when we’re really just hiding under the covers from all the monsters under the bed. That line that Bhearra walks is liminal, shifting, illusory. We’re always just around the corner from chaos. That’s what I learned in the Redwood forest.

And now, some happy pictures of beautiful mountains, lakes and sea-shores. Which were all much less scary. (Apart from the plants that eat insects – those were also fairly terrifying.)

2013 - honeymoon 814

Crater Lake


2013 - honeymoon 1150

Big Sur – Route 1, southern California (the cow was the honeymoon mascot)

2013 - honeymoon 916

Those weird California wetland plants that eat insects

2013 - honeymoon 851

A place that made wonderful, terrifying gnomes and fairies from local wood. (See how happy SJ was to be there. I, on the other hand, loved it. I really wanted to buy a fairy and take it home and put it on my land/sea/sky altar. Alas, this was not within my economic powers.)

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens. Bloody huge.


*While in America, we discovered the joy of the ‘interpretive trail’. In plainer English, this means ‘there will be signs explaining what you’re looking at’. Handy.

E is for… the Elements of the Cosmos

This poorly-written post is brought to you by a week of migraines and missing cats. Sorry. It’s an ‘E’ post, at least!

I spent nearly a year working with the classical four-element structure of magical work. It’s central to the approach of OBOD and other revival druidry. During my several months focusing on each element in turn, I had some very positive and useful experiences. I connected strongly with water (if I had a totem animal, it would be the noble Duck). I struggled against air, fighting the wind. I sank deep into earth, discovering its surprising, mysterious depths. I danced with fire and my soul was set alight. I have great respect for the four-element system, not least because it’s ancient, probably dating back to Babylonian myth and at least to Greek. But I’m starting to realise that, in my own magic and religion, it doesn’t work well for me (though it’s definitely worth studying). But there are alternatives that do make sense to me.

Three Worlds

ADF doesn’t talk about four elements (for the most part). It works with a triple structure. It uses the fire, well and tree, but they’re not parallels of the four elements – they’re more like key symbols of the cosmos, symbols that have been used by Indo-European cultures to help them understand their place in the universe. They symbolize the relationship between the three worlds: the upper world, the underworld and the axis mundi, sort of on the vertical level.

Fire, Well and Tree

Fire, Well and Tree, as per my altar. There are lots of pictures on ADFers’ blogs of other (much prettier) examples.

Three Realms

I do a lot of thinking around the concepts of land, sea and sky, which are central to Irish myth. My favourite example of its use: the ‘oldest animals’ tales, which feature creatures from each of the three realms. The eagle Leithin seeks knowledge from a stag, a blackbird, and the ancient salmon who remembers the great flood. The Three Realms show up in other Celtic cultures’ myths, too. Gwion Bach is pursued by Ceridwen through the three realms of land, sea and sky – as a hare, a salmon, a bird – before surrendering. In both tales, wisdom is found through through union with all the realms of the cosmos.

ADF tends to see the Three Realms as kingdoms of the middle world, divided on a horizontal scale. But I do better mapping them straight onto fire, well and tree — my simple brain can’t cope with a horizonal-vs-vertical approach. Fire becomes a symbol of Sky, the upper world of the gods. The well symbolises Sea, the underworld of the ancestors – at least some of the Gaels believed the land of the dead was over the sea, in the House of Donn, and wells and bodies of water were (perhaps) an entrance to the Otherworld. The tree is the Jupiter Column[1] (or standing stone, or world tree) in the centre. At the same time, that Centre is us – reaching out from our realm of Land, down to the underworld, up to the place of the gods.

Five Provinces

There is also a ‘five directions’/’five provinces’ concept in Gaelic mythology – although this is something where I’m still working out the relevance to my own spiritual approach. Ireland is divided into five provinces: a central province that holds the Hall of Tara, surrounded by four other provinces in each of the four directions. Some writers from ADF have talked about this as the establishment of the cosmos in the middle world. You could see it as part of a creation myth – the world is not divided by the gods, but by the previous rulers of Ireland. The five directions are also associated with attributes in at one myth. This comes from more recent sources than the ‘three realms’ approach[2], but I still find it intriguing.

I’m still working on how I understand this splitting up of the land, and how it relates to all the other ideas for me, but there’s something there. ADF has a sigil that represents all of it — the three worlds, the three realms and the ‘quartering’ of the land. I need to do some meditating on this symbol, and on the traditional ones like the triple spiral. One of these days!

ADF cosmos sigil [1]

ADF cosmos sigil [3]

Nine Elements

And this is all before we’ve got onto the nine elements you can find in some Irish myths: stone (bones), earth (flesh), plants (hair), sea (blood), wind (breath), moon (mind), sun (face), cloud (brain), heaven (head)… [4]

And all that is before we’ve gone anywhere near Iolo Morganwyg’s nwyfre, calas and gwyar… Those are concepts with which John Michael Greer has done some fascinating work, [5] by the way.

Working with different elemental systems helps me get my head around the world. And just as I think I’ve got there, it spirals up into magic and mystery again. Ultimately, of course, when you go out into the land, you experience these things, beyond thought and philosophy and language and lore. But I’m a brand new beginner at magical-type work, and it helps me to see these things in frameworks which resonate well with the ways I’ve chosen to honour my gods and my land.

Wishing you happy adventures out in Land, Sea and Sky, folks.


Here comes the ‘I’m sorry for all the references’ bit.

[1] Jupiter Columns are a really cool thing. I might write about them under J – if I feel well-researched enough by then! Miranda Green’s Gods of the Celts has a good introduction to them.

[2] Discussed at the Celtic Reconstructionism FAQ

[3] From ADF’s page Concerning Druidic Sigils and the Talismanic Art

[4] The Elements of the Dúile by Searles O’Dubhain

[5] An extract from his book Druidry: A Green Way of Wisdom is at http://www.aoda.org/articles/elements.htm