A witch in the world

Back when I was a Church of England lay minister I spent a lot of time pondering how to serve God in my daily life. I was in church perhaps one or two hours a week at most. The rest of the time I was a boots on the ground Christian. How could I live by Christ’s example in every moment of my life. I studied, prayed, adopted spiritual practices, gave to do good works, watched my language, sought to be kind and generous.

I figured that if I said I believed in Jesus and what he had to teach then my life ought, at least in some measure, be a witness to that.

Fast forward to some seven years later and I follow a different spiritual path. As a druid, witch and priestess my focus of spiritual practice is different but my question is the same, how do I embody my spiritual path.

I am interested in the path of everyday magic.

Each moment of life is sacred, a gift, I want to honour that and treat daily tasks, washing dishes, cooking a meal, as ways to express my magical practice. When I cook I want to stir in intentions for nourishment and companionship, for wellbeing for those who will eat. When I clean (when I clean!) I want to use this as a way to shift and lighten the energy in my home. There are moments when I can indulge myself with a full cleansing ritual but in the middle of life these can be the exception rather than the rule.

It is harder when it comes to my day job, how can I bring magic into the office environment and business. Perhaps in how I interact with others, in the values I bring to my work, the Reiki principle to “work diligently”? Perhaps in remembering that whatever I put out into the universe may return to me threefold so to keep that snappy response under wraps and breathe?

I am no saint for sure. I get jealous, frustrated, fall into comparison, or wishful thinking…but I want to be a “full time” witch and for me it isn’t an option to run away to a cottage in the dark woods. In my modern mid-life world it means making magic in the everyday, right here and now, with what is to hand.

Witches, so I’m told, do what needs to be done, with what they have, where they are. A smile. A cup of tea and a listening ear. Picking up litter in the street. A card pulled while the kettle boils in the morning…

This is what it is to be a witch in the world.

How do you make sure you write everyday?

Thanks to my friend Susan for this question.

Which, as with many things, got me thinking.

The short answer is, I don’t.

I know that daily practice helps many people in their creative life. For me “making myself” do almost anything is a quick way to kill it. It is in my mindset to turn most things into a stick to beat myself with so I chose a while ago not to do this with my passions.

That said creating a structure which holds me accountable has been helpful.

For me, at present, this is mostly through social media. I am restructuring some accounts at present to encompass this further. With Tea Break Tarot School it was a Facebook group. I set out to write a free tarot school blog, I set up a group for anyone who wanted to join in. The group then became a way of being accountable for finishing the work.

With current creative projects it is my Patreon supporters who are my accountability buddies. They might not know this is their role but by sharing that I will do or complete something with others I then see it through.

I believe there are as many ways to be creative and exercise our creativity as there are human beings alive on the planet. For me creativity is an ebb and flow. During a busy few years caring for a family member, with limited time or physical space, I found creativity was crammed into the 6 a.m. half hour before anyone else was awake, or the 3 a.m. slot when I wasn’t sleeping. Now, adjusting to a return to the virtual office, creativity is often something I engage with after the evening meal. I need to make time for other practices too to ensure this is possible. My physical health means that long hours at a desk are not an option, and my day job is desk based, so it may be that some days I cannot spend time writing because my body won’t permit it. In this case a walk, some stretching, are as crucial as words on the page.

Creativity is a wholistic practice, it encompasses all of who I am and how I am.

On a day when I haven’t had sleep then I’m unlikely to be effective, but staring at the squirrels in the trees outside or buying a bunch of flowers, can feed my imagination and nurture my soul, providing fertilizer for the top soil in which creative seeds can sprout and thrive.

I am not a fan of rigid structures. I find that life shifts, alters, reshapes itself regularly. This requires my practice to evolve as I do. A flexible container works for me, guidelines, or suggestions, gentle prompts.

If I was going to offer any of these they would be:

  • listen to your life
  • tend to your wellbeing – body, mind and spirit
  • create micro spaces for creative play
  • feed your imagination
  • daydream
  • find accountabiilty buddies (friendly ones!)
  • do what brings you joy

This, for today, then, is how my practice is; purposeful, playful, full of potential.

Tomorrow it may be different; for me this is the way.

How To Be a Writer

Begin with lines drawn in the sand, chalk squiggles on the garage wall, pictures drawn on steamed up windows.

Then your name, traced across your mother’s dots in crayon.

Write stories in your creative writing lesson, with a drawing of a princess with impossibly long yellow hair and a face splitting grin.

Write birthday cards and thank you letters.

Write jokes and quotes and I love A-Ha on your secondary school rough book.

Begin to read Douglas Adams and Arthur C.Clarke.

Fall in love with TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and dream of your own dusty garret.

Study literature, fall in love, get married (far too young).

Live in a one-bed flat above a drug dealer.

Have two babies.

Move county, and then back to your homelands.

Write sermons, learn how to tell stories.

Teach adult literacy, year one phonics, poetry, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Morpurgo.

Read for your life.

Imagine worlds, places and people.

Get lost in music.

Get sick, then better.

Get divorced.

Go to Germany on your own and walk through vineyard valleys with strangers.

Fall in love again, get married again, sharing cake and blowing bubbles by an ancient yew tree.

Midwife your mother to, and through, her death.

Wake up everyday with wonder at the incredible beauty, pain, brevity and sumptuousness of life.

Pick up a pen.

Sit down at a keyboard.

Begin.

The eighteenth day

I wasn’t prepared for the visceral nature of grief.

Holding space as she travelled through her final weeks was a physical task, watching, tending, adjusting, deciding; always on hand, waiting and waiting and waiting.

And then, to begin with, I was light, knowing she was free. At moments almost giddy, I could feel her sailing away full of joy that her prison was broken and she could fly again.

The Christmas holidays drew to a close, the calendar creaking back to the mundane Monday Friday.

It will be good, I thought, to get back to work; something to provide a distraction. Not avoiding, but giving shape, focus, purpose to the days, which are, now, surprisingly empty.

I sit at the desk and read an email. Then again. And again. My eyes slide over the words, they will not “catch”, connecting with meaning, context. They are tired and prefer to stare out at the winter’s day, lemon light bathing the houses opposite.

I am slow. Clumsy. “Wading through treacle”. I forget things I know, my brain operating at dial-up speeds, clicking and whirring to little effect.

On the phone speaking to colleagues I sound like myself, but inside a restless toddler impatient, tetchy, longing to be elsewhere.

The body hurts, skin taut and unsettled, longing for another time.

Now breathe.

Once more.

Stretch.

Lie on the floor until the world stops spinning.

Move slowly, intentionally.

Allow it to sit with you, to anchor you, in the new world.

This too shall pass.

[Image by Mandy Fontana from Pixabay]

Flood days

The rain came and in the cold night turned to snow. Dusting cars and grass verges, a seasonal decoration. In the morning the light crept in milky and shy, a day only half awake, longing to be back under the covers.

We walked to the post box before office hours to send the remaining Christmas cards. We are ahead of ourselves this year, trying to prepare for the unexpected.

Turning into Stranger’s Lane we see an orange blur emerging from the farm track across the A28. A fox. It runs across the road and up the lane, hugging the wall of a house. We rarely see them in daylight, they are creatures of dusk and darkness. It is not yet full grown, and runs like a sniper, cover blown. When the wall opens out into an entry way it turns and vanishes.

On our return we are almost home when I notice the gulls are especially noisy. Looking up a flock of pigeons spatter the sky; two gulls are calling, wheeling while mobbing a much larger bird. At first I think it must be a buzzard, but the wings are too wide and the body drifting behind is wrong for raptor. It is a grey heron. Dipping momently behind the roofline it emerges further on, the gulls still squawking their disapproval; get off my land. The world is full of omens.

Photo: Fiona Phillips 2020

Another day, another brief foray into the world (which continues to turn, despite our domestic dramas). The river is swollen, fat and frisky with the rain of past days it rushes and twirls its way sea-ward, murky with mud, creeping up into back gardens, lapping at bench legs or decking, nibbling lawns and shrubs. The ducks dabble where last week was lawn.

On the far side of the bridge the water has spread into the bankside grass, now a shallow lake. I am fascinated by the way this body of water behaves. How it rises and falls, changing daily. How what was last week a grass space where I watched a family feeding ducks, is now a pond, lurking murkily. The trees are stark etching against the slate grey of sky, scratched into place by the cold, printed. Reflections shimmer in the waters swirling satin beneath.

We are in the flood days, nothing what it was. These encroachments change us. As the landscape shifts minutely with the floods expansion, contraction, the flood days sweep us on; when we stand between what was and what is to be. When the rains come to fill up and wash away, moving us, tide-born, where we do not wish to go, but are journeying nonetheless.

Healing the Maiden

She is sitting in shorts and a t-shirt, long hair tied back, wisps escaping around her face. She wears sneakers.

Her face is thoughtful, her eyes questioning, she is as sharp as a tack. She doesn’t fear, her gaze is steady and strong; grass stains on her knees show that she has been outside playing with her brother all the morning.

When I speak she is wary at first. She weighs everything up, she is curious, careful, kind.

She reminds me that we are unique, shows me the confidence that I have forgotten, how it sits surely encircling me, heart and belly, an invisible cord of power snaking through me.

She shows me laughter, joy, playing like there is no tomorrow, forgetting time, clocks, obligations. There are no lists in her world, no schedules. She is immediate and present. She knows things, though she doesn’t know how they came. She has a wisdom which seems older than her years, something ageless there. She is certain of herself.

We walk together until it is time to part company. She gives me a red flower. Then she steps into my soul-self, as though through a doorway. I see her there, shadowed, and know she never left.

The Bone Reader

I sit in the dust. Hot sun beats my shoulders. Sounds bubble around me, a rushing torrent; traders call, animals speak their own rough music, babel reborn.

To my left my father’s shop. He trades in medicinals; oils and ointments. Herbs dry bunched above the open window, the strong, wood shutters set aside for the day. In the cool of the awning a merchant’s wife enquires for a remedy.

My brother is apprenticed here. In the afternoons he labours in the workshop; steaming, chopping, bottling. He learns the ingredients, their names and effects, how combined they may bring calm or calamity. Father makes him touch the baneful herbs to his lip, the soft skin scorching briefly to death’s kiss. In the mornings he walks to the tower in the town square. He learns there from the mage, studying stars and first-stage sorcery, understanding elemental powers and the scribes’ secrets.

I begged to go too. I am older after all. First-born. Until I bled father would allow me into the workshop, I dealt with the basic herbs, grinding them up to fragrant powder, finer than sand. Once my blood came it was different. A day of shame and celebration. Sent into the women’s rooms behind the courtyard, I learned to fix the linen and master domestic arts; the proper way to serve tea and smile at a husband.

I stifle there. My skin itches with sitting still, my heart strangling with required order. Head aches, ears pounding; I have fainted more than once. Mother fears I am ailing, some malady without a name, moon madness.

Released into the air, which they whisper is good for my delicate disposition, I am at once well. I take with me a bag, velvet and tied with silken cord.

Here I am then, in the dust. My head covered in black to hide me from the sun’s gaze, girl in the street, invisible. I tip the bag’s treasure before me and begin. This one like a butterfly with outstretched wings, this one like the trunk of a tree, this one delicate and nobbled at each end. I watch where they fall, noticing how they lie within the sphere of my gaze, where they touch. Images swim before me, shifting and remaking themselves as my eyes adjust.

I have gathered these tools from kitchen scraps, from the city’s ditches and gutters, when fresh I leave them on the roof for the crows to pick clean. Scoured by wind, bleached in the sun, marble smooth I let my fingers know them, learning each one, a trusted friend.

Already a figure approaches, he is a trader, feet bare and dirty, he offers a copper coin, small, a fortune for him. I shake my head and suggest one of the fruit he carries from the yoke on this shoulders. The deal struck he squats in the dirt. I scoop up the bones, release them, an ossiary offering. Here is a house, a cloud, a bird. Go home, I say. You are needed, be swift.

He is up and gone, nodding thanks, dissappearing into the crowd.

In years to come I will remember these early days, the way I studied and waited, watched and listened. Hiding in plain sight, gathering from the household scraps, my schoolroom the kitchen, my teachers the servants and their stories.

I will remember the day I took my store of tiny coins from behind a brick in my bedroom wall, wrapped them in a silken bride’s veil and crept out across the rooftops to find my own place, far away. I will remember the tiny refuge I found, tucked against the wall of a foreign city, where others would come to seek counsel.

I will remember that not all that is known can come from books and the teachings of wise men.

That there is wisdom in the bones; older than time, felt in the body, known in the blood.

Mortal Magic

I remember sitting in a neon-lit classroom learning about high magic. The clean lines of ritual, the careful, structured, ordered, measured way of it. How this could, in the right circumstances, create an elevation of the practitioner to an altered state of consciousness. How these steps, made just so, act as the key to unlock the portal of magical power and connection.

This was, in a way, the practice of my churched life: wear this, prepare thus, stand here, step and turn, read these words, raise this cup, offer this sacrifice, move your arms in this way, bow and bow again.

When I sat in that classroom I was newly out of church and all the described splendour left me feeling exhausted. The bone deep exhaustion of seeking to earn a measure of grace, of nothing ever being “enough”, the tarnish of sin masking any hope of joy.

I will, I think, forever connect this kind of practice with the patriarchal structures which dominated and constrained the first half of my life.

I found an interest in the kind of magic mortals make, those tied to the earth by their work, or inhabiting it fully in their bodies. I think of this as traditionally women’s magic. The magic that is whispered on doorsteps or in the woods under the moon, the magic that is shared in a carefully selected herb, a small muslin pouch of tea. The magic of clean sheets and boiling water when one reaches her time and the child is almost come. The magic of the knife which severs the cord. Or of the silent bathing of the newly dead, and later, the remembering, stories of their life laughed over cups in a quiet kitchen, a litter of kittens on the hearth rug.

Life, death, life again.

This magic is not hard or fast. It works with a cup of water and a pinch of salt, with a wish breathed on frosty air, a huffed-out candle, smoke lingering like incense. It meets us where we are, whether in our kitchens or at our computers.

It is subversive because it can’t be tamed. A wild magic which sings in our skin and beats a tattoo in the cavern of our breast. It is powerful because it belongs to each of us uniquely; no-one can tell you “how” to do it, it is sensuously sweet and potent as poison, the warmth of the sun on stone, the cool clarity of the crescent moon.

This is the magic which thrills me, calls me to create oracles from bottle tops and bones, to read tarot at the dining table with an ancient cat in attendance, asks me to listen to my son when he returns home from work at 11.30pm or recite nonsense verse with my mother as she approaches the end of her life. I weave it with string and stones, with herbs, berries and a purple pen.

My rituals now are creative endeavours cobbled like a patchwork from found objects, poetry, spontaneous dances, stolen moments.

Claim this magic for your own. She has been watching for you all this time, ready to welcome you home. Breathe in and wait just a fraction of a moment and you will feel her, willing you to join in with the cosmic dance of creation, to take your place and name yourself.

Witch.

Image “Winter” by Cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Daily devotions

Once upon a time I was a born-again Christian. I was young and earnest. I made time each day for Bible study and prayer. I attended church services and was an altar server. Later, as a young adult, I took ministry training. I helped with preparing and leading worship, ran evening study classes, met parents to talk about baptisms, sat on committees, supported fundraising events. In these days devotion seemed simple. A prescribed set of tasks, active service within the church.

After I had my children I continued this path, however it was more challenging, the demands of parenting didn’t fit easily with active ministry, I began to explore what living as an act of prayer might look like, then when I began to work in education, once the boys were in school, this became a different coloured thread in my devotional weaving. I was fraught though, pulled in many directions, longing for the simplicity of service, feeling caged by societal expectations. It felt as though I was constantly being asked to “choose”, this or that, devotion or career, mundanity or mystery.

Over the years I have continued to reflect on this, finding the weave sometimes too tight, sometimes loose, never quite hanging together. The tangle seems to be around trying to engineer a situation where it all flows. To create an organic process for arranging a life of devotion in the heart of life denies the fact that organic processes create themselves…I might be a support or guide, tying in the shoots, clearing the dead leaves. I can’t force it.

This week the theme has returned to me again. As we embark on a new phase of care for my mother time stretches to thinness and I feel an old, familiar tension.Turning my mind to the tasks in hand I find a new devotional practice. Brewing a pot of tea. Emptying the recycling bins. Sweeping a floor. As I lie in the front room trying to fall asleep at the foot of her bed I imagine walking barefoot into a huge marble temple. I am surrounded by devotees. We walk silently, our feet whispering on the floor. Candles and incense stand to left and right. I am here to make an offering.

Back in the apparent world I find myself reminded of that temple. I realise that while my other-worldly temple is out of reach for now, I have an actual temple to tend, the details and distractions of daily life beckon. As I sweep the floor I am the disciple, as I clear the dead flowers from the vase I am creating beauty, as I hold a cup to Mum’s lips I am tending the needs of a world in pain. There is no split between devotion and the daily. They are one and the same. Micro-magical moments waiting to be unlocked as I wake to their presence.

Anti-social media

Good morning dear reader, I hope you are well.

I’ve been pondering my relationships with social media, in particular, Instagram.

I have noticed that on days when I am “on” IG a lot I feel less contented and happy. This isn’t even due to endless scrolling, as I don’t tend to do that a lot.

I think it is due to “likes”. This is what happens…I make a post.

Sometimes people “like” the post, they may even comment. Sometimes people don’t respond.

I then begin to reflect on what about the post they may have liked…was it the composition of the image, the content of the text, did I use the correct hashtags?

Then I try to make another post with the information I think I have deduced. Only it doesn’t work.

Now I am aware that there is a mysterious algorithm which runs IG. I suppose it would be too easy and we wouldn’t all have to work as hard and pay for advertising (I only did that once 😉 if it made sense to us…this article talks about how IG is designed to be as addictive as strong pain killers.

However what is striking me most today is how much using IG is like an emotionally abusive relationship.

Let’s cast IG as the significant other in this relationship.

Today I do something, and IG is happy, it smiles, offers me a hug, wants to celebrate time with me, buys me flowers, make me feel good. I bask in a sense of approval and belonging, here are my people, I am finally home.

Tomorrow I do the self-same thing, which I knew made it happy yesterday, but, rather than that warm, companionable sensation, it is cold, stony-faced, it cuts me out and cold shoulders me, laughing with people I know but not including me.

In the past I had a relationship with a human that was just like this, and I have the self-same emotional response with IG. Rather than taking my power back and saying [insert expletive here] I try to appease. I don’t step back, I try harder, I invest more…I check and double check, I criticise my own behaviour, I ask what I did wrong, trying everything I can to get back that sweet sense of approval and affirmation.

It took me a long time in my human relationship to realise what I needed to do.

I am just waking up to what I need to do with IG.

My life. My story. My choices.

First I need to see it for what it is, a communication channel, an app. A piece of software. There is no “personality” here, it’s just clever tech, and its designed specifically to get me hooked and keep me guessing.

Next I need to face up to the fact that if I’m not enjoying it I need to stop! I don’t know what that will look like yet. Cold turkey? Or some significant distance? I can put my phone onto “airplane” mode so that I don’t have internet access to help myself, and make sure there are times when it is out of the room.

While practical changes may help the biggest shift will be in mindset, that there is validity in what I do even if (wait for it…) I don’t share it. That I am keeping my promises to myself and others even if I don’t tell the internet. That I am worthwhile and precious and unique without having to try and prove it to 1 billion mostly strangers…

I am realising that while you “can’t stop the signal”, you sure can choose how much you plug into it.