Sex, Freya and maybe a little bit about what Feminism is not.

So, I am a feminist. There, I have said it. It’s often a word that makes people squirm and for so many (lots of them very good) reasons. It’s a name, an ideology, I have identified with on some level or another for most of my adult life and feminist theory is now a subject I am lucky enough to teach my undergraduates. It is always an interesting challenge to pick apart their many preconceptions about what feminism is and very definitely is not. Yet, the word is also something that makes me profoundly uncomfortable sometimes and it is usually other feminists and my resultant association with them that is the reason for this, rather than society’s attitudes to feminism itself. After all, feminism has a bad name, it makes people uncomfortable because it challenges some of the very deeply entrenched behaviours and attitudes of society, which is why I love it. It also says some profoundly stupid, although usually well-meaning things at times, which is why I don’t. I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for sometime, but to do so probably means revealing things about my own nature that it often feels uncomfortable to share. There will always be judgement on a woman for not behaving as she should and that is as true within feminism as anywhere, it’s just that here we tend to be seen to be letting the side or the sisterhood down.

There was never a subject that feminism had more to say about than sex and of late, I have found myself reading some ‘interesting’, well-intentioned, but rather misguided articles and opinions which have sometimes downright disturbed me. As usual it’s often the fault of Facebook, where these things get shared with abandon without much more thought than it takes to click a button. But I am worried about the perpetuation of some of these ideas and the effects that they have on women, men and every gender and none in between. It is the (apparently) feminist ideas that tell me how as a woman, I (or indeed anyone) should or should not behave and express my sexuality, the school of thought that suggests that if you are male you are responsible for rape culture by default, the articles which turn women into victims by removing their personal responsibility and autonomy and imply to us, often without meaning to, that all men are dangerous sexual predators just waiting to do harm. It is the feminism that compounds and protects those very stereotypes that it set out to dismantle in the first place, that concerns me.

Because Feminism is really an umbrella term covering a collection of ideas and movements, I should probably start by defining feminism as I understand it. This is coloured very much, as a Heathen woman, an animist and my relationship with the Gods, particularly Freya, the goddess I am devoted to. For me, feminism is the understanding that all people should be equal, politically, economically, culturally, socially and sexually and that no person should be at a disadvantage in any of these things as a result of their gender. To experience disadvantage on the grounds of gender is to experience sexism. I also consider that freedom is an essential component of feminism believing that no one has the right to limit to the freedom of another where that person is acting with consent and within the law. This means that ultimate personal responsibility is also essential because freedom cannot work sustainably without a conscious understanding of how what we do, directly affects others. Freedom does not mean the freedom to abuse because that again, limits the freedom of another. When talking about feminism, I tend to steer clear of a definition based solely in gender, or describing it as being only about women or women’s rights. Sexism disadvantages all of humanity and ultimately all people would find advantage in liberation from it. However it is true that feminism found its roots in women’s emancipation and suffrage and much of the work of feminism today is still focussed upon women and their lived experiences, because it is women who are so often the most likely to experience disadvantage because of their gender.

If such terms mean anything to you at all, I would best describe myself as a sex-positive, third-wave feminist. This means that I consider sexual freedom to be absolutely essential and a source of women’s power, and I believe that modern feminism needs to reach for equality far beyond the entrenched gender stereotypes of the previous feminist waves. It also means holding the belief that we are now free to define feminism for ourselves as individuals. For me that does not get much more complicated than believing in freedom, equality, autonomy, respect and absolute personal responsibility. My feminism also believes that I don’t have to be defined by my gender, but as I take complete and utter, unbounded delight and joy in being a woman, I often chose to do just that.

As a Heathen woman I am devoted to the goddess Freya. This means that I consider my primary purpose is to serve her, to celebrate and manifest her in the human world in a way which is positive and I seek to learn her mysteries, journeying into the depths of her being and stories. For Freya, so many of those mysteries are about the very many ways of being a woman: Lover, Priestess, Seer, Healer, Witch, Wife, Whore and kick-ass-independent-take-no-shit Shield Maiden. For me she is the ultimate goddess of women’s freedom and agency and a guiding principle of my life is that of striving for my own freedom and the intention never to limit another’s as far as I am consciously able. This means examining my own demands, jealousies and insecurities within my relationships with others on a fairly constant basis. As an animist, it means doing it with the non human world too. Sexism is simply one means by which an individual’s freedom can be limited, but then so is racism, abuse, homophobia, and the manipulation of others to make them behave as we would wish, and the dreadful generalisations that seek to strip a person of their individuality and autonomy.

So why the lengthy preamble and why am I writing about this anyway? Well I suppose it comes back to having been ‘told’ a few things online very recently by supposed feminists, that as a feminist myself have made me concerned. I’d like to address a few of the things that have made me hopping mad over the past month or so and look at why, despite having been espoused by feminists, these views really have nothing to do with my understanding of it at all. Those things have included such crazy things as being told that my love of dressing up in corsets, high heels and other ‘girly’ paraphernalia is not helpful to my sisters because it panders to sexual stereotypes and makes other women feel they have to conform to that idea of sexy. What the hell? Seeking to limit another woman’s freedom of expression and telling her how she should dress is not feminism. Next, that sexual submissiveness, power games, and BDSM even within consensual adult relationships, are demeaning and abusive; ergo a large part of my sexual identity is just dirty and wrong and damaging to myself and others. Hmmm, how affirmingly sex-positive. To my mind curtailing another womans sexual freedom where she choses and consents is also, not feminism. But perhaps the most short-sighted and stupid thing I have read to date is that if you are a man, you are part of rape culture, whether you like it or not.

Now, this is the one I am going to look at in detail because not only is it ridiculous, it’s also really dangerous and damaging to all involved, feminist ideologies, the way that feminism is perceived in general and above all, men! I have no doubt that the chap who wrote this piece is an honourable well-meaning gent and it’s sad really that he’s the one on the end of my pointy stick, having put together such a coherent piece which has been widely shared. But really I have chosen it as just one example of this kind of thinking I have come across. Whilst the writer of this article does not claim to be feminist, the ideas it describes are clearly feminist ideology and so it is fair to offer feminist critique of it. The first and most obvious point is that in stating that all men are part of rape culture you commit the cardinal offense of defining a gender by something a person does or does not do. Third wave feminism rejects essentialist definitions of gender that rely on such generalisations believing that the individual, their experiences and their personhood are more defining characteristics than gender. Secondly, to define an entire gender in this way is to suggest that rape culture is a biological characteristic of maleness, if this is so, it is inherent and cannot be changed. Therefore, there is little point in making the recommendations the author goes onto present in order to help men counter rape culture. Because he’s already told you that whether you like it or not, you are it, you can’t help it, and you’d better get used to it. The whole thing is a nonsense, not to mention it compounds our ideas of a binary gender structure, it really only speaks to heterosexual gender normative ideals.

Whilst the argument is fairly easily dismantled, the biggest problem with it is that it is so alienating, particularly if it gives the impression that all feminists think this way. I feel alienated by it because I don’t hold men responsible for ‘rape culture’ (I actually hate that term and could argue with that too, but I simply havent the space here!). I’ll say it again, I do not hold individual decent men, responsible for ‘rape culture’ by virtue of their gender. Please guys, you don’t need to do that for my benefit, I would much rather judge a person for their actions and behaviour because I’m the kind of pagan who believes in honourable relationship. That doesn’t mean that you have permission not to be a decent and honourable human being, guys, it just means that the rape and abuse that happens in the world is not your personal fault. If I were to hold men responsible, as a woman, what would that mean? Well the exact same thing I complained of earlier, I turn women into desperate victims without agency, freedom or responsibility and I fall into the trap of perpetuating the belief that all men are dangerous sexual predators. Conversely, the implication that men are the only ones who can change ‘rape culture’ is to suggest again that women are always in need of the protection of the ‘good guys’ who have changed their behaviour, from the bad behaviour of the guys who haven’t.

My husband feels alienated by it too, as do most of the men I have spoken to about it. He rejects the idea completely that he is part of ‘rape culture’ and I completely agree with him. I reject the idea that the other respectful, wise, honourable men I know are. It makes him angry that he cannot offer an intelligent counter argument even. To do so opens him up to the accusation of being blind to the ‘rape culture’ of which he is supposedly a part, and is therefore in denial. He is sweet, respectful and kind, already does the things listed as countering ‘rape culture’ and yet still he is guilty as charged; a part of it. Apparently. It is emasculating because it takes his voice, it is dis-empowering because he feels vilified, and it compounds some of the ideas that he has grown up with that he should keep his sexuality safely hidden in a box because it is dangerous. Not only this, but simply blaming a gender for the problem simplifies things beyond belief and goes nowhere to addressing the other factors which are so much bigger: War, poverty, destructive ideologies, capitalism.

So what is my point at the end of all this, other than to express my concern and discomfort; perhaps nothing other than that. Perhaps it’s to wave my Shield-Maiden sword for all the good guys I know who don’t deserve that kind of crap. Perhaps it’s for all the women who fly in the face of sexual norms, playing at the edges of what even feminism finds acceptable, the submissives, the ones with dark and strange fantasies, the sluts, the daddy’s girls, the hedonists, the ones in heels and corsets, the ones who like power games, the ones who refuse to be told what to do, even by the sisterhood; the women like me. Perhaps it’s to give feminism a different voice.

Or perhaps it’s just for Freya, it usually is.

Wynn

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Part of my daily practice is the drawing of a rune to work with and keep in my consciousness throughout the day. I find that it is a great way of continuing to expand my understanding and awareness of the runes, as I apply them to all sorts of different situations and listen to what they have to teach. Yesterday my rune for the day was Wynn (or Wunjo for those of you who work with the Elder rather than the Anglo-Saxon runes).  Typically Wynn is considered to be one of the most beautiful and auspicious runes of the Futhork. Wynn represents the ‘W’ sound and is usually given the meaning of joy or bliss, that wonderful place where all is easy and beautiful. I like to think of the shape of the rune as a weather vane, that which does not fight the wind but easily finds its direction in natural harmony with the forces of nature around it.

“Fantastic!” I thought, “How can you go wrong when you draw the rune of joy, ease and comfort? It’s going to be a great day”, at least that’s how it started… Yesterday wound up being just about the worst day I can remember, emotionally speaking, that I have had for some time. I ended up at my altar just sobbing by the evening, dealing with old emotional patterns of fear, loneliness, and abandonment, which I always think I’ve dealt with, and which often come back to bite me when I am absolutely least expecting it. Add to that a cracking headache and this was not the sort of day I anticipated. “This was supposed to be a Wynn day!” I railed at any person who would listen, and to the Gods: “you’re taking the piss, right? This is beyond horrible.”

Of course, there were three mistakes I made yesterday. The first was forgetting that divination is not about predicting the future, although draw a lovely rune such as Wynn and it is all too easy to cross your fingers and hope that an awesome day will land in your lap. Divination, as the name suggests, is about communing with the divine, and actually listening and considering carefully what you are being offered and why. The second mistake was being lazy and forgetting that I might actually have to do some work here to achieve the potential offered. The third mistake was not understanding that maybe I was offered Wynn BECAUSE it was a shocking day and maybe I needed to take note of the healing that it offered in order to get through.

My new favourite book of the moment is Kvedulf Gundarsson’s Teutonic Magic . It’s back in print after a while off the shelves and if you are interested in such things I can highly recommend it. He offers this description of Wunjo;

“Joy”, rules the virtue of of cheerfulness, which is as necessary… as strength or generosity. A cheerful mind through all hardship was seen as a great part of courage. …This gladness showed forth the strength of will to endure all the sorrows and hardships of a time much more beset with bodily struggles and hardships than our own… To reach the goal of Wunjo you must be able to keep your pains and sorrow from looming too large in your life, yet you must know a few troubles in order to understand how to deal with problems when they do arise” (p97-98).

This was exactly the message I needed to hear. Wynn is not about life automatically being great, or the fortune that falls in our lap, or being a naturally happy or fortunate person. It is about adjusting our attitude to life so that we can find the joy and the strength to appreciate what is sweet, even when faced with the utter crap that so many face on a day-to-day basis. The weather vane stands strong in the storm, it does not break, but it does so only by allowing the wind to show the direction rather than continuously fighting it. Wynn teaches us to flow with the wind or to swim with the tide, it is not a passive action but one of choice and conscious decision, even if that choice is about chosing to flow with something rather less than ideal than allowing it to break us. It is this ease that brings the joy, but often there must be a certain surrender and acceptance of the things we cannot change, that life will not ever be perfect, so we might as well get on with it.

For me, Wynn, carries a message of ultimate personal responsibility. No one else can do this for us. No one else can decide for me that life will be good. No one else can make me feel unafraid, or reverse those feelings of loneliness or abandonment. The people who love me can help and they frequently do, with care, love and consideration for my feelings and needs and I always aim to offer that in return. But ultimately, that healing can only come from within. If I expect it to come from others, all I do is apply a sticking plaster to the wound and a continuous supply of affirmation and attention is needed to keep it covered. This tends to be rather exhausting for all concerned. I become needy and self-indulgent in order to avoid dealing with what ugly stuff is really lurking underneath. Ideally what is required is a hug and some support when I get the to point of being brave enough to gingerly peel back the sticking plaster.

Wynn is not just about the huge moments of utter joy and ecstasy that blow us away, although it is very much that too (and bloody wonderful they are when they come!) Finding the Wynn (joy) in the small things is just as important. Joy rarely just heads our way arriving fully formed and ready to entertain. We have to seek it, craft it, have the courage to court it, understanding that we may need to let go of some assumptions about life and what we are owed (or in most cases not owed at all) and by whom. Taking a moment to appreciate just how lucky I am, helps keep things in perspective. It helps me to realise that life is really not so bad, I have food enough, people who love me, a home, and summer is well and truly on the way. There truly is simple joy in these things whatever other horrible stuff is happening. Yesterday, I forgot that. I forgot that remembering  how lucky I am melts away a good deal of the “poor me” self indulgence I was stuck in. I forgot that the Wynn I had drawn that morning might just have given me the courage to rip off the plaster to see what was really underneath, had I the wit to use it.

This morning, my rune for the day was, you guessed it (I hear the gods laughing as I type), Wynn. Again. I suspect I needed that, because I certainly wasn’t listening yesterday! As usual, I end up writing the stuff I need to hear in order to give myself a good talking to and I never know whether what I write will be posted until I’m done. So today I am determinedly taking my own advice and picking up my sword with a manic grin and possibly fewer teeth, and deciding that it will be a better day. Getting in my car this morning I opened all the windows despite the chill and the rain just to feel the wind in my hair, questing for that weather vane ease and direction. At the same time I noticed how stunningly green the leaves were in the dampness, the sky clearing to palest blue, and just how damn good that marmite on toast I had for breakfast tasted…

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.

 

Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You

It takes a lot for me to reblog something, but this is just perfect. Having watched this meme float about on the internet for a year or two now, I have been frustrated and irritated by it in equal measure. I have a rather soft spot for the goddess Eostre so seeing Easter quite incorrectly attributed to Ishtar is annoying. I don’t suppose Ishtar’s followers are overly impressed either. Imagine my surprise on hearing that the meme had been posted to Dawkins own Facebook page perpetuating the misinformation to thousands, presumably by his own fair hand, without having stopped to think critically about it. Oh the irony. To me this illustrates precisely what is wrong with Dawkensian Atheism, a polemic against all religion which, when closely examined is actually just informed by Abrahamic Monotheism and usually misinformed at that. As a pagan, I usually find myself baffled and amused by his thinking. Either way, this is a great article from The Belle Jar about something very seasonal, so I though I would share.

The Belle Jar

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bananas, it’s people spreading misinformation via social media under the guise of “educating”. I’ve seen this happen in several ways – through infographics that twist data in ways that support a conclusion that is ultimately false, or else through “meaningful” quotes falsely attributed to various celebrities, or by cobbling together a few actual facts with statements that are patently untrue to create something that seems plausible on the surface but is, in fact, full of crap.

Yesterday, the official Facebook page of (noted misogynistandeugenicsenthusiast) Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science shared the following image to their 637,000 fans:

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Naturally, their fans lapped this shit up; after all, this is the kind of thing they absolutely live for. Religious people! Being hypocritical! And crazy! And wrong! The 2,000+ comments were…

View original post 2,010 more words

Wakeful Priesthood

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As is so often the case, I am motivated to write by a discussion I have read or been a part of in internet land over the past few days and weeks. This post is no different and coincidentally, I note that Nimue has been motivated to write on a similar subject here with a slightly different slant. It is an issue I have considered and grappled with for a few years now, searching for a path that I would consider to hold the most honour. The issue is that of Pagan Priesthood.

As always within the pagan community and its many branches, gaining consensus on an issue is somewhat like herding cats. This in particular is a difficult and thorny subject, with many and varied viewpoints which seems to elicit some very emotional responses. Not least I suspect, because many pagans arrived in their chosen tradition, in part as a direct rejection of established religion and all that entails. The language of priesthood is for some, simply too close to this. Perspectives range from those who do not see the need for a priesthood at all, feeling that they do not need anyone to stand between them and the gods, those who rely on priests for teaching, ritual and guidance, and those who appoint themselves as professional priests taking on the role full time. Unlike established religions, there is no ‘church’ to appoint, pay or regulate those who take on the role and whilst there may be small groups and teaching schools who do offer training anyone can chose to undertake the role. Whilst I firmly believe this to be a strength of paganism and seriously hope we never go down that sort of C of E route and all the corruption it entails, the lack of it does create some problems of its own which require careful consideration. After all, where do the priests come from, who makes them, who ensures that they are not fiddling with the children, and further do we need them at all?

My answer to that final question; ‘do we need them at all?’ is an emphatic yes. Whilst many do feel that they do not need a priest to minister for them, having the confidence to do this themselves, there will always be times, and I can think of many in my own life when we need to hand that role over to someone who is really good at it. A perfect example is a wedding, a day when we have so many things to think of: the dress, the cake, the flowers, the ring, whether Auntie Betty is being looked after, that we need someone to do this for us. After all, we are probably not cooking the wedding breakfast or serving the buffet ourselves either. We need the day to be an ‘Occasion’, the community – our friends and family need the gathering, the moment, the spectacle, to feel the job well done, to recognise and support our moment of transition and change and this for many, requires a person who can hold the space and the focus for us to do what is needed. But priesthood is about more than the rituals and the weddings, it is about shouldering the responsibility that our traditions will continue, that we will teach the next generation the skills needed, and within that, comes the role of the teacher. There really is no substitute (I believe) for the dedicated, one to one teaching relationship that guides and mentors us through the decades of learning the skills and working through our own ego sufficiently to do it well. It is usually the pagan priests who offer (or should be offering) this kind of dedicated teaching.

So to return to the previous questions: who appoints a priest and ensures they are doing a good job? I would give four answers: The Self, The Gods, The Ancestors and The Community. Each are an important ingredient in the mix and a vital part of good teaching ensures that the student (and would be priest) has sufficient relationship with each to understand what they are taking on when they step forward. Each of these four is a post in itself, the first three arise out of our own deeply personal relationships and sense of duty, service and calling, but it is community that is perhaps most immediate. For unless the community we serve recognises us as holding the role of the priest and more specifically that we are doing it well, with ethics and honour,  no one will ask us for those services.

It is the consideration of community that leads me to the issue of payment or exchange. After all, the priest provides a service, gives up her time, incurs costs and expends emotional energy. Not only that, but people value what is given to them most when they feel that they have made equal payment in exchange. So should the priest charge? Again this is a loaded issue with many feeling that it is somehow wrong to charge money for spiritual services. Whilst I am not of this view, I do believe that we need to exercise care when mixing priestwork and money. There are a number of charlatans out there and integrity so often seems inversely proportionate to the sums of money involved. Priestwork is not the same as any other job where we can demand a living wage from an employer for the work we do and I worry when I hear folks expressing that the community owes them a living or has a responsibility to support them. Because I don’t believe it does; that responsibility rests solely with ourselves.

Priesthood is a job of devotion and service first and foremost; it has to be to retain its integrity. Sadly there are a number of folks out there offering magical healing, a way to the truth or worse, exploitation. The ethical responsibilities of the priest, working with people in sometimes extremely vulnerable spiritual situations means that it is of paramount importance that we keep our egos in check. Getting rich is one sure fire way to exaggerate, out of all sense of proportion, our own importance. I firmly believe in the principle of equal exchange and it is what I base the priestwork that I do upon. I will ask for expenses where I am out of pocket and an exchange of energy for my time. Sometimes that energy takes the form of money, sometimes it is a favour, a bill paid, food or shopping or cleaning. It will depend upon what the person has, how much they can afford and what they can offer. Not being paid the agreed price or not being paid on time is of course deeply disheartening, and frustrating and a different issue entirely. Yet,  most working within the priesthood do not expect to grow rich, I have a strong instinct that to struggle, to a greater or lesser extent, is a part of the role. Priesthood has a long tradition of simplicity, monasticism, and frugalness. It is integral, important and it keeps us humble. If we arrive in the priesthood without realising this, we may be in trouble. To what extent we struggle with day to day living is, to a certain extent, between us and our gods and the opportunities we make and create for ourselves. If we do not have enough, we are not asking enough or more likely, not clearly enough of the right people in the right way. Possibly we need to reassess our perspective on what enough actually is. But then I believe this is a good philosophy for life in general.

I chose not to work as a full time priest, because whilst I know and have known those who do, in many ways I feel the same about the career priest as I do about a the career politician. It is not sustainable in the long term and we are in danger of losing touch with the world in a way which is not healthy. Not only that but in making priesthood into a career we are in danger of losing what brought us to it in the first place and it becomes nothing more than a job like any other with it’s toil and tedium. Having other ways of paying the mortgage not only keeps our feet on the ground and helps us to remain useful in wider society beyond the small confines of our own perspectives, but it removes the sense of desperate financial need on our ministry and prevents the breeding of that dreadful sense of entitlement, loneliness, bitterness and frustration when inevitably we don’t earn enough.

The primary motivation of the priest must be the work we are doing for the gods and the community beyond any finacial recompense. That is not to say we should not receive fair exchange for the blood sweat and tears, and of course we all need to eat but the life of a priest was never one of ease, nor should it be. This keeps us wakeful, striving, searching, doing our best and the rewards that priesthood brings in terms of our own satisfaction, relationships with the gods and ancestors is in many ways the payment we receive for choosing to walk this road.

Walking the Cotswold Way.

A Pilgrimage to Sulis Minerva.

The Beginning and the End

The Beginning and the End

The idea of pilgrimage is always one that has fascinated me; there is something very sacred about taking the time out of day-to-day life to devote to making a journey. As a teenager I studied Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and was swept up as much by the act of travelling to a place of reverence as the characters and their raucous stories.

In a world where we travel a hundred miles in an afternoon and think nothing of popping down the road by car to our ‘local’ sacred site, which may actually be 20 or 30 or even more miles away, so few of us know how it feels to walk 100 miles or more, or the effort, energy and the determination that takes even for someone as blessed as I am with good health and the use of my legs. Yet, it was a more common occurrence to our ancestors for whom often, walking was the only means of transport.

As pagans, we often talk of the act of journeying as being central to our spirituality. Whether we track the inner paths of meditations, the shamanic journeys of healing and divination or the perfectly orchestrated journey of a well planned ritual for a rite of passage or celebration, the language of the journey is common to most of us. But, how often do we make a journey that is consciously and actually walked, step by step and moment by moment, a journey that may last a few days, a week, a month or even longer; surrendering ourselves completely to where that journey may take us and the challenges that may be encountered along the way? Of course there are many ways to create this kind of journey but as I discovered this week, a long distance walk is particularly powerful.

When my friend Sophie asked me at New Year if I would like to walk the Cotswold Way with her in the coming May, a 102.5 mile route that stretches from Chipping Campden, down and across the entirety of Gloucestershire, to Bath in Somerset, my immediate reaction was ‘YES!” quickly followed by a feeling of trepidation and the wondering of what I had let myself in for. I was a casual walker, easily capable of 7 or 8 miles without a problem, but I knew that that was not going to be adequate for this kind of journey where a pace of 10 -16 miles needed to be maintained every day for 8 days. Not only that, but we decided very early on not to use the services of a sherpa to carry our bags. We were going to do this properly; carrying everything we needed was an important part of the journey.

For both of us, the Cotswolds are a sacred place. The escarpment that stretches from the Midlands to the south of England has been a backbone to much of our lives. For me, it links the Cotswold stone of my childhood, the bedrock upon which I now live, a significant part of my life for the last decade, and the ancestral land of my mothers line deep into Gloucestershire and Somerset.  We knew that to make a pilgrimage along the escarpment following that line down to its natural end in Bath where the steaming red water pours from the rocks into the roman baths at the shrine of Sulis Minerva, who became our constant companion en route, would be powerful.

Having trained extensively this spring, we both had a fair idea that we could cope with the maximum daily distance of 16 miles. But, we had no way of knowing whether we could cope with it day after day without actually doing it.  In the event, the repeated distance, carrying of a pack and the hot weather we were blessed with for the first three or four days became a recipe for blisters, sore feet, and a not insignificant amount of pain and it seemed to be so for many of the other walkers we met on route. We quickly realised that this too was a part of the journey and that the pain became a devotional act, a sacrifice to the gods of the landscape through which we passed and in sympathy with the many ancestral feet that had walked the path before us. We soon understood that pilgrimage is not supposed to easy and the satisfaction and achievement of reaching the end is in direct proportion to the trials experienced along the way.

We were overwhelmed too with hospitality, folk seeming to understand on some level the importance of what we were doing. We met friends, and relatives who took us in, fed and watered us, shared supper or a drink and walked with us along the way. Other walkers on the same journey became our companions and whilst we were all walking for very different reason, there was a shared understanding, each became an important part, the journey being as much about the people we met as the landscape we walked through. In Sophie’s words we “had one the most fabulous and memorable weeks of our lives. We giggled and sang our way along the Cotswold Way repeating the mantra that ‘pain is only sensation and will arise and pass away’, when the pain in our feet was hard to bear. We walked through blazing sun and howling gale, climbing up and down the escarpment time after time. We walked through bluebell and garlic filled woods, regaled by birdsong and the wind in the trees; over hill forts and long barrows covered in cowslips where we stopped for the odd extreme knitting session; crossed trunk roads and the M4 and finally arrived in Bath where we made offerings to Minerva at her spring,” tears running down our faces as we cast the traditional offerings of money into the blood-red waters, breathing the warmth and steam of her sanctuary whilst tourists snapped pictures and milled around oblivious. For most, the traditional end to the Cotswold way is the Abbey, but for us it was here, in the caves beneath the city.

Having completed the journey and today resting at home, I am left with a deep impression of the power of the pilgrimage. Its ability to challenge and focus us, provide a medium for the outward expression of an inner devotion to ancestors and landscape. I know that I will do it again and I know other pagans who are helping to resurrect that tradition within our religion where it is sadly lacking. For me it has been the ultimate experience of learning to walk this sacred land in a way I had not experienced before and one I hope that others might be inspired to explore.

With thanks to Chris Hastie you can see the route from our GPS tracks here

Very many congratulations to Sophie too, who raised over £1300 for Prostate Cancer UK. You can still sponsor her here

Northern Tradition Paganism

Just to let you know that my re-telling of Skadi’s tale is now up here on her shrine at the wonderful Cauldron Farm website. There are some beautiful online shrines there with some gorgeous devotional writing to the Gods of the Germanic Traditions. I highly recommend checking it out, if you are also that way inclined.