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

witch-2146712__340

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  🙂

 

 

Lines

lines

An epiphany.

I’ve been strugglings with certain boundaries.

Sitting at home scratching my head and bemoaning the way someone else behaves.

Why do they do that?  Telling stories of how they behave and how hurt I feel. This has been going on for the past six years.  All the while I have been giving and supporting and chasing and allowing.

Allowing.

I have been allowing this.  I have let them put on their sturdy boots and walk all over me, I have even invited it.  Ignoring or avoiding naming my hurt and anger because I am afraid to lose the relationship.

In the moment when I realise this there is sadness. And also determination.  Because I can do something.

I can change my response.

I can say; my time is valuable.  I am too.  I respect my friends and family, and in exchange I expect them to show me an equal respect.

Respect means kindness, consideration.

This is my line.

And they may choose to walk away.  Refuse to engage. They may feel that if this is the new game plan they no longer wish to take part…That will be painful.  Awkward.  I will feel guilt.

But carrying on without these lines, is disrespectful to myself.

And I deserve better.

 

Life porpoise

bora-bora-685303__340 It started when I got born again.

Up to that point I was happily bimbling through my life; I liked to daydream, colour, read books and play.

Aged twelve my nominal old-man-in-the-sky Christianity got charismatic.

From then on life became about “serving God”. I agonised about this. Plenty. Was what I was doing serving God? Was it serving God in the right way? How would I know?

Later I started exploring a vocation to ministry. More agony. Was this what God wanted? I wanted to serve. But would this be the best way? As is often the case God was mostly silent on the subject.

Move forward a decade or so and life experiences brought me out of church. I dabbled with new age spirituality. In this world there’s a lot of talk about life purpose. More agony. Why am I here? What am I bringing to the giant pot luck supper of the world? What if I bring the wrong thing?

I move towards a more earth-based spiritual practice.

This equinox I sit in an orchard with my witchy sister and meditate on balance.

Let yourself off the hook, I say to myself, heck, if it helps forget the whole thing. If I stop thinking I have a purpose, or ought to have one, I feel better.

And it seems to me I’d rather have a life porpoise. It would be more playful, more graceful, more connected. Fancy a swim? Dive in, immerse yourself, the water is lovely.

Inspired

morning-2264051_1280Today I am feeling inspired. This source of inspiration comes from my son. Tom is 22. He was identified with an Autistic Spectrum Condition when he was seven years old after two years of assessment and investigation. In the past fifteen years he has grown from someone who needed constant “interpretation” and guidance to an independent adult.

Tom is never defeated. Some days he is very anxious, some days he is frustrated because his Dyspraxia makes things difficult. But he unfailingly pulls himself up by his boot straps and finds a solution. He sets himself goals and he nails them. He has made it through school, through college, he has qualifications, he goes out to do voluntary work, he pursues his art and interests, he has a unique and sharp sense of humour, he is perceptive and empathetic.

Life is never not a challenge but he is continually hopeful. Today we were talking about his current temp job. I asked if they knew about his additional needs. Some do and some don’t. I jokingly suggested I buy him a T-shirt. Please don’t,  he said. I’m happy for people to make accommodations, he said, but I like to be discreet. Then we talked about the Autism Speaks organisation. They want a “cure” for Autism. They also believe the condition is caused by vaccination. In which case, Tom says, I must have levelled up as I’ve had vaccines at secondary school. I laughed.

His humility, humour and unfailing grace and kindness are a gift. When I am feeling like I can’t do this whole life thing his example gives me the determination to keep on. He is an inspiration and I am so thankful to know this man. If Autism speaks I think it says here I am, precious, alternative, challenging the “norms”, showing you how to live life your own way. Tom does this. In spades.

Remember who you are

river

I am beginning to remember who I am.

I have skills, but they are not who I am.

I have circumstances, but they are not who I am.

I have possessions, a history, relationships, qualifications and work experience but they are not who I am.

I am the quiet moment before dawn, a wind-blown leaf dancing in the air.

I am the slow swirl of the river’s ripple, the slide of shingle shoved by the tide.

I am the glimpsed silver slip of the new moon winking and the bee-blessed hum of a sun soaked afternoon.

I am the flickering flame under a sky of stars.

The half-remembered dream of possibilities.

A Writer’s Life

writing 1

It’s 5.30 a.m. and I’m sitting in the cabin.  This is my study.  A sofa covered in an old blanket, a pre-loved writing desk and folding chair.  A shelf of books.  Assorted tarot decks.  Herbs drying from the ceiling.  I’m wearing a dressing gown and pink plastic garden shoes and sipping chamomile tea.

Morning pages.  My pen flies across the page, words uneven, jumping over each other in their desire to be free.  I fill three pages before I stop to fetch more tea and some toast.  Later I will sit down to work on a novel, I might make a blog post and I will do some research.

For such a long time I thought “being a writer” meant how you made your money.  Just like “being a teacher” meant getting a job in school and marking books with a red pen.  You weren’t a writer unless it paid you.

I wanted to “be a writer” from around sixteen y ears of age.  I imagined sitting in an attic room, pen scratching across the page, light seeping through a grimy skylight, like Jo March in Little Women. I have always loved books and as an English student my study of Virigina Woolf reminded me of my dream.  I would be the woman in the oversized cardigan hard at her writing, in a room of her own.

In 1992 I meet the author Catherine Aird.  I’m caring for an elderly lady in a nearby village as my summer job and she is a friend.  She comes for tea on a few occasions and one day tells me what she does.  I, as any aspiring writer might, express my desire to write.  “If you write two hundred and fifty words  a day for nine months,” she says, “you’ll have a full length novel.”  For the first time this seems like it might be somthing I could do, though it will take nearly thirty years before I begin.

Early marriage and motherhood made me feel my dream was “unrealisitc” at the same time a passion for religion pulled me into church ministry and for a long time the dream got lost, left on a shelf like an old photograph, gathering dust and cobwebs, fading as the year passed.  Occasionally I’d start something, a story perhaps, a poem.  But I allowed my inner critic too much voice and she usually told me it was no good and anyway it wouldn’t put food on the table and better to be sensible and find something that would pay.

I trained as a teacher.  The lessons I loved most were those where we made books.  Each child would contribute a picture and a scrap of writing (in generous five-year old script). We would glue them to sugar paper and sew them together with wool and add them to the book corner, in pride of place.  I have them still.

Time trickles onwards.  Mid life approaches.  Life shifts with some storms and everyday tragdies.  I begin to hear about the “creative life” to learn that it is possible to be creative for its own sake, to allow this part of the soul to sing freely, in our everyday lives.  I begin to discover that creation is its own magic, the spirit of the universe dancing through the flesh-wrapped frailty of humans.

I start a blog to write about the life I’m living, the path I’m exploring, the enchantment which is finding me and whirling me to unexpected places.

I read The Artist’s Way.  I read it and I get up everyday and do my morning pages and I keep my artists dates and something changes.

I listen to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creating.  That done is better than good.  That you have to make sacrifices and choices to get to your dreams, to create, and that you only have one life.

I see all my lives laid out before me, wife and mother, teacher, minister, healer, counsellor, gardener.  I see all the paths I have tried and tested.  All the ways I have sought to find my home in this lifetime.

It is not what I thought.  A writer’s life, like an artist’s life, or an actor’s life, is made not given.  It is crafted, woven, chiselled, from the raw material of our lives. It takes conscious choice on a daily basis.

There are still bills to pay, food to fetch, weeds to pull.  This is the same for all of us.

It is 9.25 a.m. I am sitting in the attic, fingers flying across the keyboard, listening to the sound of traffic outside leaking through the open skylight.

This is a writer’s life.