Having finally crawled out of the fug of winter (I know it’s almost June!) with enough clarity to make sense of my own scattered soul to make words, I realise how long it has been since I last wrote and poignant that my last post was about the snow. Such a contrast to the heavy rains of April and the beautiful sunshine of the past week. Getting to this point has been a journey of will, determination and creative thinking. Life looks quite different now to how it did six months ago. The process of working out how we have arrived at a certain point – if we have not done so consciously and assessing moment by moment how we might move forward in the best and most honourable way, is a foundational part of my Druid practice, particularly when it seems that all we can do is take the next step or the next breath. How we actually go about that, often says quite a lot about our own individual philosophy and paganism.
We get all sorts of questions into the Druid Network office from the mad to the media and everything in between. This week we got a question asking about ‘Druid Spells’, if there was a book available and what Druid magic would be like. Cat has already blogged on this here
(although this theme seems to be having its perennial linking problem so you will just have to copy and paste!) and it’s amazing to see how differently we deal with this issue even within the Druid community, like anything, ask a Druid a question and you will get as many different answers as there are Druids. Those answers will be similar, but definitely not the same. Being the first to pick up the question, I responded from my own experience, which is that magic, in its most usual definition of being the art of producing a desired effect or result through the human control of forces of nature using spells, is just not really a part of modern Druid practice at all, at least not as I have experienced it. I do not use it in my own religious practice and I have not yet met a Druid who spends hours slaving over spell books, ensuring that they have the right colour candle, scented oil, incantation and herb for that perfect love spell. More usually there are too many sunsets to watch, paths to be walked and bird song to dance to, the real business of living to be tended.
For me too, there is the question of ethics in considering magic. My religion is about recognising and responding to the sanctity found in every particle of Nature. In creating conscious, living, healthy relationship with Nature and all its elements there is the constant striving to see and experience Nature in its own sense of self, rather than the assumptions and beliefs I impose upon it in my own stumbling, clumsy human perspective. For it is only when we allow something to BE, in its own right that we are able to create the honourable relationship that Druids so often speak of. If we are constantly placing our own expectations and needs upon another creature we do not allow it the freedom that we are constantly seeking ourselves, to exist within its own sense of self; whether that creature is a rock, a tree, the lettuce for lunch or a relationship with a partner or friend. So is it right, honourable or ethical to impose our will upon nature so that we can get what we want magically, particularly if we start to understand that in getting what we want, another thing, person or creature may have its own intention or freedom compromised.
In her post, Cat asks an interesting question “if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? It’s a good question and my answer to it is not straight forward. Yes, humanity does do that, we do it all the time; we dig for oil, throw our rubbish away, eat food that has been air freighted, fly off on holiday and poison the sea. That’s the big stuff. We also eat, wear clothes, drink tea, swat the fly; all of the small things of our day to day lives that mean that someone somewhere has compromised itself so that we can carry on the necessities of our daily lives in an unconscious fashion. Is that magic? Does that justify the use of magic in our practice? For me the answer has to be unboubtedly ‘no’. The process of learning Druidry, certainly as I was taught it, it to constantly strive to expand our consciousness of what we are in relationship with so that we do not use and abuse, imposing our will on the world, or at least hugely reducing our own impact in that way. Of course not one of us is perfect, that’s an impossible task. I drive to work, I power my home and I probably use more that my fair share of water simply by living in the west. There are a myriad of things that I do on a daily basis that I impose my will on, using them to my advantage largely because I have no idea of my true impact. It is this ignorance that allows us to do this and it’s a constant journey of learning how we can do it better, rejecting the ignorance that allows us complicity. It is a fine balance, choosing consciously where we compromise in order to survive and letting go when it is greed, rather than need which drives us.
Of course, I understand Cat to be talking about the will to get things done being a good thing, rather than justifying the abuse that humanity consciously or unconsciously imposes on the world around us, but it can be easy to confuse the two. The will and determination to move forward, that imposition of will on the self to get the job done is of course just as necessary to survival if we don’t want to spend our lives in a small dark hole. There is a difference, though, between asserting will upon another and will upon ourselves to create change, the latter I would argue, being desirable and necessary. The absolute key to honourable relationship is working from the principle, however impossible its complete realisation, that we only ever have the right to change ourselves. In understanding the mammouth impossibility of this task, as consciously striving Druids, we seek the relationship, co-operation and consent with other beings in order to make life viable, understanding what our effect is and working to minimise our impact wherever possible. Magic in the classical sense is about maximising our impact, forcing a change which otherwise might not naturally have come about.
So what do we do when we need something we don’t have: a lover, a new job, money, or simply a way to breath through the next crisis or feed the kids? Do we crack out the coloured candles, oils, 3 feet of red cord and perfectly worded spell? Well, no. Without really good deep working relationship with which to affect that change within ourselves such things start to look like superstition. I have trouble understanding how an orange candle (and I understand that it must be orange!) will help with finding the money to pay the electricity bill. We could of course just accept that we are not meant to have whatever it is we crave and work on ourselves to find the acceptance to that affect; that might well be what we need to do, however difficult. Yet the the Druid also understands that existence unfolds, created moment by moment as an inevitable creation of all that has gone before in that unstoppable web of Wyrd. We have a certain degree of influence over what we will become, how we will change and our direction and what will happen to us from moment to moment.
How much of an effect we can have is down to practice and consciousness, it is a process we can learn, and continue to learn through out our spiritual lives. We learn that we cannot fix it all and we cannot always have what we want. Wyrd is bigger than all of us, there are elements and relationships that we will never be aware of but this is where the real magic begins. Not in asserting ourselves upon the world, to change it to fit our needs, but in understanding how we can consciously shape ourselves to best fit the world, creating ourselves in every moment, rising to challenges and finding ease, and accepting the things we have no power over, the gifts we are offered by the gods, for they are gifts and opportunities even if we perceive them as challenge.
Today, I will make magic by going outside to lie in the sun. I know that with my back to the mud I will feel my roots extending through my skin and into the earth, respiring with the soil, the bugs and the water deep below. I know that there, I will find the wisdom and guidance of my grandmothers who have walked this road before, facing the same challenges. I will feel them in my body and blood, their strength a part of my own, the skill of their hands the skill of my hands. As I look up at the sky, sparkling with the brilliance of the sun I watch as the waves of colour move across it, blue and silver, white and violet and yellow, the different colours of heat and wind that move over the land. I feel the breeze on my skin, the breath of the wind, the song of the birds, as it ruffles the feathers of my back and I lift off into the air playing in the thermals above, watching my body below. I will arrive back having found the strength to walk into the next moment with the company of the ancestors, the freedom and clarity to make the right decisions and the knowledge of where the money for that electricity bill will come from. And the only thing I will have changed is myself. Magic.