Medusa

“Snake woman shedding her skin.” Starhawk.

black-mamba-653644_1920I was gifted a Medusa story goddess from Brigid’s Grove.  She inspired this.

Come, let me hold you,

twine you,

squeeze you

Close embracing,

Sliding sensuous,

sinuous,

round ribs,

forcing breath

from lungs,

throat-tightening,

stifling.

Life ebbing,

Turning you,

To bone,

stone.

Frozen numb,

feeling gone,

Skin drying,

stretching,

straining,

dying

Until

You split!

Wide open,

Shedding form

Torn,

Poured,

Naked, new born

Screaming

Un-seaming

into the world

Raw, ready

slick

with promise

and power.

What is needed

hand-1917895_1920I have been on my moonlit path for some five years now.  Prior to that I was a Christian and a minister in a well-established national church.

Since entering the world of woo I have found some teachings which resonate with my particular brand of spiritual geekery, and some which, although hugely popular in spiritual and new age circles, make me uncomfortable.

One of these is the idea of “manifestation.”

Initially I wanted to buy into this body and soul.  Who wouldn’t?  Change your thoughts, and you change your world.  It sounds simple.

And there are elements of truth within it, for instance neuro-linguistic programming teaches us that the ways in which we speak and use language can have a huge impact on our successes.  To manifest something we should choose positive language.  Rather than saying I won’t drink coffee, we look for a positive phrase, I will drink non-caffeinated drinks that support my body’s health (for example.)

And it seems to be true that if you set yourself a goal you are more likely to achieve it than if you don’t.  Similarly if you set yourself a goal and then take steps towards achieving it you’re more likely to be successful than if you sit at home eating digestives in front of the Great British Bake Off.  It wouldn’t be much good if I set myself the goal of becoming a qualified teacher and then sit at home waiting for it to happen.  I need to get enrolled on a teacher training programme, attend classes, survive my teaching practices and finally gain my certificate.

What I am uncomfortable about about this concept of manifestation is the idea that anyone can have anything they want if they just put their mind to.

I feel like there’s a chance this might work for you if you were:

a) Born in Europe or the U.S.A.

b) Are white.

c) Are from a middle or upper class background.

d) Are literate and numerate, more likely if you have a degree.

It feels as though “manifestation” of your “best and highest life” is another way of saying going for the American dream.  A six-figure income, dream house, the ideal career, the luxury holidays, the perfect partner.  It feels as though it’s about material gain, ultimately capitalist goals and it makes me uncomfortable.

Back when I was a teenager we attended a charismatic congregation.  Teaching there said that God would answer my prayers if I prayed the right way and lived the right kind of life.  If my prayers weren’t being answered then there was likely some unrealised sin in my life, or it simply wasn’t God’s will.

The teaching I hear around manifestation is similar to this.  Your dreams aren’t being realised?   You’re not setting clear enough goals.  You aren’t being positive enough.  You need to devote more energy to the practice.

I want to call bullshit on this kind of teaching.

I think it is a colossal spiritual red herring, and potentially very dangerous.

785 million people on the earth lack basic clean water access.  795 million people lack enough food to live a healthy life.  73 million children (between ages five and seventeen) around the globe are engaged in hazardous child labour.  Between 1990 and 2016 the world lost 502,000 square miles of it’s forests. In the UK there are 1.2 million chronically lonely old people.

While I am busy focusing on aligning my intentions, and manifesting my dream career I am in danger of losing touch with the world around me, and the real needs that are out there and the very real suffering of other human creatures.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t like my own home one day, or to take holidays sometimes, or that I don’t dream of being successfully self-employed tarot priestess one day. It’s ok to have dreams.

But there’s a danger that if I follow the manifestation road I will become blinkered. I will create a demanding idol who will eat up all my time, energy and focus and the world will continue to starve and bleed and die and I will be blindly serving my self-created god.  Vision boarding while Australia burns.

It is never straight cut. I know there are people out there whose dream it is to create something healing.  My friend Flo and her family have, creating and establishing a refugee charity in Malawi.   Or there’s the amazing work of my talented sis-in-law Sue through Christmas with Kids. Real people making and creating real and sustainable change.

It comes down to this.  Whatever your faith, whoever or whatever you follow the Letter to James has it right to my mind, “faith without works is dead.”  (James 2:26).

I wonder if it would be possible to turn all the focus and energy ploughed into “manifestation” and create something truly magical?  An end to child labour perhaps? A world where people were valued for who they are not what they produce? A planet where all creatures are honoured and there is justice?

It would take will, hope, determination, surrendering wanting more than our share, a measure of sacrifice.

But it seems to be what is needed.

 

Undefined

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Who are you?

Ask me that question until recently and I would have begun with role titles.

I am a teacher.  A mum. A woman.

I remember a spiritual director telling me once, “That isn’t who you are, that’s what you do?”

I have spent much of the last thirty years seeking to “find” and define myself.  The irony of this is only recently becoming apparent.  I have quested long and hard, yet I was right here all along, like the alchemist’s treasure in Paulo Coelho’s book.

My labels past and present include: daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, teacher, Christian, minister, Dyslexia specialist, reflexologist, Reiki practitioner, witch, friend, writer, lightworker, crystal healer, queer, tarot reader, Druid, gardener, shop assistant, vegetarian, campaigner, blogger, carer, home-brewer, herbalist, domestic, tutor, priestess.

I have, at various times, pulled them out of the cupboard to try them on, alone or in combination, but they are none of them me.

My friend Liz says that she feels that defining herself is for other people’s comfort.  She chooses not to.

The time spent gazing at my own navel trying to work out “who I am” would be much better used to experience the vast, fleeting, crazy, miracle that is our universe.  It would be better spent in play or conversation, in writing, in sitting watching flowers grow.

Yet the urge is strong.  If someone asks me, who are you? I want to be able to present it to them.  Tidy.  Attractive.  Acceptable. It feels as though this longing is heightened by my virtual life.  When I am online I want to connect, and labels are a way in which I seek out like-minded others… #findyourtribe

Definitions of self are closely linked to ideas of individualism, a theme which did not appear to dominate human minds until the Enlightenment era three to four hundred years ago.  Maslow contributes here also, the idea of self-actualization, to be all I can be, to fulfil my potential, is powerful in Western culture.  It encourages materialism as we quest to gather the tools and props we need to demonstrate our “selves” to those around us.

I am beginning to feel, though, that this idea, which I have held as a core part of being human, is just another theory, a way to capture a sense of purpose and security in the vast and chaotic experience of life.

Who am I?

It’s difficult to say.  Who I am is something in motion.  A moving target.  Who I am today, is not who I was yesterday, or who I will be tomorrow.  The constant flow of life, of others, around me is a dynamic interplay of interactions, each one impacting on me, creating subtle alterations, just as I in turn create an effect on all around me.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull has it right, “I am an unlimited idea of freedom.”

Perhaps in the end the only label I need is a name.  In this context that name means me.

Hello, my name is Fiona.  Pleased to meet you.

 

Unintentional

coastline-1031263_1920The solstice, Yule, Christmas and the New Year have all come and gone.  Moments for reflection.  Clear out the old.  Welcome in the new.

The newspapers and my Facebook feed are full of “new year, new you” messages.

The spiritual community was ablaze for a  while with images of  planners and resources to get the most out of 2020 through intention setting and journalling; valuable tools to help us shape and create our path forward.

I began reading a motivating book about claiming your goals, your dreams, powering through and letting go of the limitations which we set ourselves.

With my mind I want to get on this train.  I’m ready.  I want to embrace the poweful energy of new beginnings.  I want to set intentions and step up!

My body has other ideas.  I’ve had a major crash this week health-wise.  For the first time in about three years I’ve needed to use my stick to walk.  Managing daily tasks requires monumental effort.  I am not sleeping well. I wake up in pain every morning.  In addition there’s a sense that what I want out of life is changing.

I still want to serve, to create, to embrace the spiritual geek within me.  I still long for our own home and for adventures.

I feel that the way I’m going to travel there is different.

My word for this year is “patience.”  I chose this because I have tended to deal with life’s circumstances with a hefty dose of denial.  Rather than working with the grain and pattern of situations I ignore them or attempt to grind them down through sheer dint of my will.

This is exhausting.

I have tried this approach for most of the last decade.  Setting goals.  Making plans.  Yet something in me means that inevitably I find intention-setting becomes a stick with which I beat myself.  When my body is craving rest and a slower pace I feel I “ought to” be trotting along to catch up with the pack.  If this was a physical race I literally couldn’t keep up right now.  I wonder why I’m still trying to do so emotionally and mentally.

This journey for me is becoming one of being “un-intentional”.  I know where I am headed.  If anything my core desires are clearer now than they have ever been. But the intentions I have are for a long span of time, they won’t be achieved this week, or month, or maybe even this year.

A spiritual director I worked with once suggested a “God box”.  This was somewhere were you put the things you hoped for long term.  She suggested I write down the things I wanted and place them, prayerfully, in the box.  Over time, she said, I would be able to revisit it and see my prayers answered.

I’m going to do this again.  Gently.  Share my secret wishes with the all that is, make a promise to myself. Accept that the path is different now.

There may be beautiful surprises waiting if I make space for the unintentional.

Or not…

villa-340451_1920This time of  year turns me upside down.  Days lose their place, rhythms disrupted by holidays and celebrations.  The past two weeks, work patterns shed, time slipped and slid.  There are more gaps, more time spent just waiting or sitting.  In the dark, damp, quiet there is nowhere else to be.

What has emerged from the muddy puddle of winter’s dark is an unexpected insight.

Since, oh, about twenty something years now, I have wanted “my own home.”

By this I mean a mortgage, a house, somewhere to be rooted.  Along with this go particular ways of working, family routines, obligations.  It is tidy and Oxo box “normal.”

For a vast majority of this time I have been, mentally, on the way to that place.  In various flats in early married life, living with parents, in rented accomodation when we lived in the midlands.  In a house tied to my husband’s job, or a council house after that…always on the way.  I trained as a teacher so I would have an income to be able to apply for a mortgage.  Decisions about work patterns and hours were made to facilitate this goal.

Whenever life changed, health challenges cropped up, my marriage ended, wider family circumstances required new ways of living, I kept a hold of that dream.  I was the proverbial dog with a bone.

None of this is bad.  I feel it’s ok to want to have a home of our own.  But what I see, with shocking clarity, is the focus hasn’t always helped.

This is a focus I learned from my society.  That this is some kind of “normal”.  The idea of a “family home”, predicated on the ideal of particular shape of family.  Investing in this has meant that I have chosen what would bring money over what brings joy.  It has meant fruitless hours trying to engineer situations in which this will finally be possible, overwork and breakdown.  I have not always been able to see that there are circumstances beyond my control which impact this; economics, politics, other people’s choices…I have persisted, blinkered, turning my “dream” into an idol, a greedy god, to be fed at any cost.

I want to change the focus.

I have a tendency to throw out babies with bathwater.  When I realise something doesn’t help I go to the opposite extreme…so I’m not going to throw the dream away.  I would like us to have our own place and space one day. That would be good.

But I want to pull back the camera. Take a step or two back.

Because in being so intent I have missed a bigger picture.  To set down the work of making this happen will free energy and imagination.  It will unblock the channel, allow greater flow, because in confining myself to one way of how things might be I have shut off broader possibilities…

Yet to live without this focus feels unsettling…it means that I have no excuses anymore for not writing my book, or engaging with the work which lights me up…there is nothing else I “ought” to be doing…I can live in a more creative and imaginative way.  There are new possibilities.

Can I travel forwards, without this mental security blanket, hopeful, open to the grace of living now?

 

 

It just isn’t proper…

imaginationFlashback to 1985.

I’m a newly, born-again tweenager.  I attend the Christian Union at school.  There are girls there from other churches, churches I’ve never encountered before.  Evangelical, charismatic house churches, the United Reformed.  They wear Jesus Loves You pin badges and prophesy.

I begin to learn that we aren’t all cut from the same cloth.  There are those who are part of this blessed, redeemed collective, and those who aren’t.  Those who aren’t aren’t necessarily who you’d expect.  It’s not the unbelievers only who are excluded.  Some church folk are to.

“But is she a proper Christian?”

A proper Christian goes to a church they recognise.  They have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, they speak in tongues, pray aloud and spontaneously during services, raise their hands during the worship songs.  It turns out Roman Catholics and most Anglicans are not “proper” Christians.

I am, at twelve years of age, desperately keen to fit in, and scared that someone will tell me I’m not “proper”.  It will take years before I’m able to see the arrogance of this position and call bullshit on this kind of separatism.

Many moons later my spiritual path has led me outside of the church.  I no longer practice mainstream Christianity but I continue to follow the teachings of Jesus, combining these with earth-based spiritual practices.

I am happy to be following this path, it makes more sense to me than my churchianity had for many years, I feel a deeper sense of connection to all-that-is and within my own life and practice.

There is one fly in the ointment.  That word again.

Proper.

Social media is a cacophony of opinions.   You are not a “proper” witch/ pagan/ druid/ Buddhist unless…

I can feel my hackles rising.

There is no such thing as a “proper” witch…No-one else gets to say. You claim your place, your space.  You decide what these things mean for you.  There is no authority here other than that you take for yourself.  No last word.  The spiritual path is about relationship between the universe and you, between the inner self and grace.

Talk of “proper” holds people down in fear, encourages unhealthy power balances, and gives people the opportunity to put others down.  It is power over.  Dominance.  Separation.  Judgement.

“Proper” is an arrogant, mean-spirited word which breeds superiority and small-mindedness.

I want to crush it, grind it into powder and scatter it to the four corners of the earth.

I want to claim a different word, a different way.

Be improper.  Be wild, crazy, creative, “defy expectations.” Dance your own rhythm, move along your own path with wild joy, practice magic the way only you know how, love with the passion of your soul’s fire.

I don’t want to be a “proper” witch.  I want to be the most “improper” witch there is.  Because this space, at the edge of imagination and dreaming, is where magic lives.

 

Simply live

autumn-3186876_1920About thirty years ago I wanted to be a nun.  I was a devoted Christian and this was the best way I could imagine to serve God.  I wanted to serve God with everything I had to offer, I would be wholly dedicated, and live a life of calm service.

That didn’t happen.  I met my first husband, fell head over heels and married at age twenty.  We had two sons and I trained instead for authorised lay ministry in the church.

At various points over the past three decades I’ve explored monasticism in one form or another.  I spent some years as an explorer with the Community of Aidan and Hilda,  creating my own rule of life and practising a it in the context of the daily.  I learned about  Benedictine spirituality, investigating the existence of third orders and pondering how I might weave this into my own practice. I undertook an Ignatian retreat in daily life, admiring the work of the Jesuit order and seeking to incorporate this in my day to day.

Over the past five years my spirituality has shifted.  I had an epiphany one morning while leading a Sunday service which led me out of the church.  I began working with the sacred feminine.  The desire to serve has remained and I’ve undertaken priestess studies with two different programs.

Despite the shift in focus, though, I am drawn once again to the idea of  monasticism.  How can I weave personal devotions, prayers, ritual into the day to day and exercise my spiritual path as a holistic, living practice.

At this time of year I am conscious of the desire to live simply.  The mad consumer pre-Christmas rush makes me nauseous. There is a longing in my soul to shed the trappings of a “Western” life, and embrace the the monastic vows of simplicity and stability.  To be rooted and grounded, present, to foster contentment and gratitude.  To unburden myself of the need to possess; whether that be material objects or qualifications or a longer CV.

I wonder if this desire is linked to the season, as I watch the trees, leaves twirling down,  gracefully letting go of what is no longer required.  I notice that without their leaves the trees are revealed, the underlying form visible,  I see this as vulnerability, but also truth, the skeleton framework standing stark against rainclouds.

Am I willing to undergo this process?  Am I willing to be “without” and see this as a blessing not a curse?  Can I find the beauty and freedom to live simply.  I can see that this would be a much more easeful life, that much striving could be set aside, that there would be greater flow.  I can see that without the need for “more” there would be a fullness which I often miss, focused as I am on the object over the essence.

Can I learn to be, rooted, revealed, vulnerable, and to trust grace for the rest?

Fuzzy

pedestrians-400811_1920I am at the screaming point.

The past three years have been like trying to fix a jigsaw puzzle.  Although the pieces don’t fit.  I have cobbled them together.  Forced them into place, taped them down.  But it is not comfortable, there are rough edges, rising up from the picture, breaking its consistency, distorting the image.  There are gaps, misshapen corners.  It feels clumsy, disjointed.

This past weekend I had a cold.   A full on whole body ache with associated gunk.  I felt tired. My skin ached.  My head was full of fog and I made stupid mistakes, like not cooking enough pies for the people eating the meal.  I thought about once every half hour that I would go and lie down, and then someone would need somthing, or I would remember something I had to do, or find a job I had been meaning to get round to.  And I have ended the weekend feeling tight and tired and out of sorts.

I have in my mind an image of myself.  In this image I am calm and serene, I maintain my sense of humour, I rise early and unflustered to craft my novel or poetry, I snatch moments in the day to record insights and inspirations,  I am precise and clear, focused and fearless.  I have given up all material concerns to devote myself to the joy of creation. I play often and ignore convention to create the artist’s life with passion and joy.

This isn’t true.

I care too much.  I am weighed down by responsibility for others (and still learning how to allow them to be responsible for themselves).  I am frustrated, with an overdeveloped need to help. I am soft around the edges, fuzzy and formless, where I want to be solid, focused, contained.

I want to say that I have come to a place of peace, that I understand the mystery of the universe, that I can surrender and flow…

This would be poetic, but untrue.

What I know is that I have to take a shower and gather up the things I need to go to work (where IT failures mean I still cannot access a computer to do the job I need to do…)

I have to focus on the small things.  The crunch of morning toast, the coldness of the steering wheel as I drive, a bird feeding in the shrubs or the feel of rain as I walk from the car to the office.  Somewhere in the petty routines I will remember.   That it doesn’t matter all that much.  That I am allowed to be crazy and chaotic and sad and that on top of all the other madness of life I don’t have to add the burden of perfection.

 

Remembering

cereals-100263_1920In the Kitchen Witch Coffee Club this month we’re working with rosemary.  This herb has well known links with remembrance…just recall poor, mad Ophelia in Hamlet, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”

November in the U.K. is also the month in which we remember those who gave up their lives in armed conflicts (human and non-human).

I know an “old” soldier.  I asked if they had lost friends in some of the places they have been.  They told me the story of a man they knew, Chalky White, killed by a sniper in Northern Ireland.  They had driven from one camp to another and this man was the driver.  He’d driven into the camp and they’d closed the gates.  He had just got out of the cab of his truck.  The sniper was so accurate he killed him through the four inch gap between the gates.

This is a true story.  It’s not going to be  movie, or an award winning novel.  But it’s true.

This is what life is like is you take the Queen’s shilling.

People sign up for soldiering for all kinds of reasons, to escape an unhappy home, to get off the streets, to learn a trade, to serve their country.

I’m a dyed in the wool liberal, vegetarian, spiritual, post-modern hippie.  I believe in peace and love and honouring the planet.  But that anyone would be prepared to stand between me and someone who wants to harm me; that someone would learn how to defend others,  and stand up for values of fairness and honour.  That’s humbling.

I’ve asked for the names of the people my friend knew so that when they’re not here I can keep remembering.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” George Eliot.

 

The Witch’s Way

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I don’t remember exactly when it began, but one day, standing in my kitchen, I realised I was a witch.  If you had looked around my house at that point you would probably have noticed.  Jars of seeds arranged on shelves with shells and stones, herbs brewing in bottles on the kitchen windowsill, a tiny fairy altar in the garden.

I have been a spiritual seeker for over thirty years and involved in creating and leading ritual and sacred space for the past twenty. Over the past decade my practice has deepened, grown, woven itself into the everyday.  It has given me hope, joy, connection to rhythms in my life and in nature and a sense of sacred play in daily life.

This journey is one of self understanding, and growing connectedness to the world around us.  It is a woodland walk down unknown paths, exploring old traditions and new expressions. have wanted to share it, but haven’t known how (evangelical witches are an uncommon sight in provincial England 😉 ).

Today I birthed a new project.  I imagine it taking place in a tiny, thatched cottage in the forest.  One by one solitary, cloaked figures approach and enter, greeted at the door by three black cats.  Inside they hange their robes on a twisted, wooden coat stand and take seats at old fashioned wooden desks. I welcome them and indicate the blackboard where the first module’s lessons are outlined.  Ladies, gentlemunchkins, welcome to witch school.

We will cover everything I know from my own witchy path; divination, personal practice, practical magic, supernatural support and connection, ritual, seasonal celebrations, magical tools and more.

“Students” (that’s all of us!) will have a monthly video or audio lesson on an element of witchy practice, a PDF to support this, a monthly one to one mentoring session and a group where you can meet with your fellow witchy apprentices.

If you have wanted to dive deeper into exploring the old ways and how to bring them into present times you can find out more on my Patreon.  You can also join me at Tea Break Tarot School for a free tarot class and on Facebook for regular witchy goodness.

Looking forward to travelling this path with you  🙂