Soul Weaving

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I am someone who has always been obsessed with yarn. From the moment my mother taught me to knit age 5 years old, fibre and the things that can be done with it have been how my soul expresses its passion and creativity. My husband will tell you stories about how my yarn stash is taking over the house and he regularly threatens to insulate the loft with my fleece. I think he is only half-joking.

But a story about a fibre obsession is not really the subject of this post, more a way to set the scene for a metaphor for the soul that I have been working with over the past year, with a fabulous group of women; that of the idea of the soul as a woven tapestry. A tapestry that is constantly being woven, shaped and created as we live, from the different colours, textures and fibres of our actions, interactions, inspirations and relationships, and that can be to varying degrees consciously patterned, rather than a process that happens purely within the unconscious. We call this conscious practice ‘Soul Weaving’. This is not a new idea, in fact it is very old, and it offers us a glimpse of how our  heathen ancestors may have conceived and worked with the concept of the human soul and with methods for healing, integration and understanding.

Within the modern Northern traditions, the spinning and weaving of fibre and fabric is a revered art which in itself carries undertones of the sacred. The very act of taking fleece through the process of being cleaned, sorted, washed, carded, spun, woven and finally stitched into a garment is quite an undertaking and anyone who has been a part of the process, particularly if you have done it from beginning to end, will appreciate the stupendous amount of time, dedication and energy required. Perhaps it is this understanding and reverence for the sheer effort involved that originally brought the imagery of weaving and spinning into the metaphysical, creating a body of knowledge, myth and story entwined through the rich body of lore of the Northern Traditions.

In both Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology we are told of the Nornir, three women, possibly more, who are responsible for weaving the web of all existence on their loom, measuring, weaving and cutting the threads that make up each individual soul ~ human, god, plant and animal, nothing is outside of, or exempt from, the threads of Wyrd that weave us into the web. This great web is often termed the Web of Wyrd and an understanding of it is absolutely central to Heathen cosmology. The three Norns who appear most often are Urd, Verdandi and Skuld, whose names can in the simplest of terms be translated as past, present and future. They are the goddesses of fate and destiny who determine the lives of men and the other gods alike. We also have stories of Frigga, wife of Odin and one of the primary deities of this body of lore. Spinning is also seen to be sacred to her with the three stars which hang from Orion’s belt often being called ‘Frigga’s distaff’, a tool used to prepare flax for spinning. Although not attested to in the lore, many Heathen folk will honour Frigga as the preparer of the threads for the Norns to weave.

The modern practice of Soul Weaving is to work, through vision and journey ever more wakefully, with our own tiny piece of the vast tapestry, and to learn intimately the different strands and threads that are woven into it, the history and origin of how each stitch came to be. In this way the soul tapestry becomes a map of our own consciousness, which we can use to effectively manipulate the strands of wyrd and our own existence as far as that is possible. The Soul Weaver aims to take ultimate responsibility for everything they do and the soul tapestry becomes both the tool and the medium with which to become increasingly more awake to this process. For some this work begins by completing a journey or path-working and asking to be taken to see their soul tapestry. When I first started Soul Weaving, I was shown a vision of a tapestry that had largely been woven for me, the work having been completed by gods and guides or by my own subconscious, where I had been unable to do it myself. It was a bit patchy, the colours and patterns did not always match and there were areas that without doubt needed darning! At the time I was going through a process of dismantling and re-naming myself, unsure who I was or where I was headed and this was clearly apparent in my soul tapestry. Little by little I began to start mending, working out which threads could safely be removed and replaced, the places that discordant colours or patterns could be fixed or exchanged, taking responsibility for each stitch. I also learned much about what could not be changed, what was set and where the whole thing would just disintegrate if I messed around with it too much. As I worked I found that each thread corresponded to old patterns, buried emotions, lost and present people. At times the work was and still is painful, bringing up parts of myself that I thought were long dealt with ~ that argument I had forgotten about, the time I seriously messed up, old wounds and negative emotions were all to be found there alongside shining and beautiful achievements, relationships, loved ones, happy memories and soul connections. For a woman obsessed with fibre the visions made perfect sense and provided me with a language for some of the most profound healing I have ever experienced. Good Soul Weaving sisters helped with that too.

Of course the process of Soul Weaving is never-ending, a life’s work. The tapestry is constantly being woven through every moment of living another stitch is created, another thread woven in. But the vision of the soul tapestry can provide us with a magical method of envisioning the conscious process of unfolding Wyrd and of our own connection to the vast web. Those familiar with shamanic ways of practicing may well be familiar with something similar; this deep soul and self work is not unique to Northern Tradition practices.

Much of this modern Soul Weaving practice is intimately connected with a body of lore, drawn from various sources which describe the soul as being composed of constituent parts, woven together to create the seamless whole soul. Again work with the soul parts enables us to delve ever deeper into our own consciousness, discovering ever more deeply how we are woven together. Many will know or be familiar with the soul parts by other names yet the Old Norse or Old English names may stir other understandings and older truths within us if we are conversant with their stories. The physical body becomes the Lyke (our likeness), our astral body or nemeton becomes the Hyde (literally hide or skin), the vast bank of memories we hold becomes our Mynd (the mind) and our passions and inspiration becomes the Wode (possibly a kenning for Woden himself). There are many more, and too many for a single blog post, but an article on each will follow. I would love to hear from anyone else who works in this way and explores this body of knowledge. My experience of it to date has been of extraordinary healing, connection and understanding of my own soul consciousness and relationships within the web.

 

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Renaming and a little bit about Druid Camp.

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So, Dear Readers, some of you will no doubt notice that I have undergone  a slight name change. At the wonderful, magical and fabulous Druid Camp this year, held in the Forest of Dean, I underwent a renaming ceremony with a few other beautiful women who also wished to claim a new identity. If you have never been to Druid Camp and are UK based, I can’t recommend this wonderful camp highly enough, It is magical, friendly, community run, with exceptional talks and workshops and fabulous entertainment. This year we were blessed with talks from Ronald Hutton Graham Harvey and many more and entertainment from Carolyn Hillyer, Seize The Day and Talis Kimberley. But then having helped to organise camp in a number of previous years I am a tiny bit biased as to its fantasticness!

I have been thinking about this change for a long time. ‘Red’ was a name I chose for myself at age 18 when I first began working within Druidry and over the last year had really become an old me, from an old life, an old skin that no longer fit, and the time was right. So I have become ‘Nell’, left behind what felt like a teenage self, and claimed a little more of my adulthood (about time at age 33!) I thank everyone at Druid Camp 2013 for their infinite love, support and patience and in particular my two Scissor Sisters Theo and Sophie who so bravely, ritually chopped off my very long hair. Thank you dear sisters!

But really this post is really just a good excuse to plug Druid Camp 2014 – See you there!

Red, Sophie, Theo.

Magic, Nature and Flow.

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 http://druidcat.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/magic-spells-and-creation/ (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.