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The Other Shoe

You wait… and wait… Sometimes it drops. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’ve known the saying probably all my life but was only familiarised with its origins courtesy of the TV show Grimm around a year or so ago. Workers would return to their high rise apartments / flats around the same time each day. Whoever was living below would hear them come in, take off one shoe and drop it on the floor, with a lull of indeterminate length while they wrangled the other one off then thump! as it made its landing too. There might be days where no thumps were heard – did this mean the upstairs neighbour had finally had a bout of social conscience or was something wrong? And possibly worse yet the days where there was one thump and then…. Was that the first shoe, or the second? Had one been dropped and one carefully placed? Had they got distracted, was it still to come? Or had there been some horrifying loss of limb and there would only ever by one shoe from now on? (OK, that last one might be taking it a bit far…)

Waiting is hard, especially when the outcome is expected, anticipated, structured, patterned. Information and updates are available constantly – the idea that ‘no news is good news’ is either more accurate than ever or completely redundant, depending on how you look at it. We are virtually never out of contact, and in a world where news can reach us in real time waiting for results and outcomes can be onerous, particularly where it seems like the underlying process for getting to them is unwieldy or unreliable. I definitely have limited patience for delays – admittedly that’s not a new thing, but I feel like more of them could/should have been done away with by now!

Magic can be trying in that regard. There is rarely, if ever, any kind of instant cause-and-effect correlation. The work, the will, the effort, the energy expended will take time to come to fruition and in the meantime it can be difficult to tell if, when or how it will take effect at all. How long do you leave it before trying again? Is there any point trying again? Could jumping the gun cause problems? Could doing nothing?

I’m not going to advocate for interminable patience because that would make me a complete hypocrite, and ultimately it’s hugely dependent on the individual circumstances. Some things are worth waiting for, and some things need a bit of a nudge. Trusting your instincts can be good but so is questioning them, honing them, refining them.

No matter what you think, know, plan, will or want, sometimes the other shoe simply doesn’t drop – or does so just when you least expect it…

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Book Review: Pagan Dreaming by Nimue Brown

I do a like a book that challenges me. I would say that overall it’s unusual for me to find a book on a practical topic where the style, views and approaches dovetail substantially (or at all) with my own (make of that what you will) but since I don’t read stuff just to tell me what I already think I know it’s really not an issue. This could be the first book of this type that I’ve read where almost every aspect completely resonated with me personally as well as providing me with new insights and ideas so, while I’m trying not to completely all-out-fangirl, if I seem more effusive than usual that’s why.

I’ve described it as a practical book and I was quite surprised by the extent to which this was true, given that dreaming is so completely individual and subjective. Having read some of the author’s other works I would never ascribe her to the ‘fluffy’ category but couldn’t see how a book on spiritual sleep could end up being much else. I definitely should have had more faith! Pagan Dreaming beautifully balances the acknowledgement of the subjective while exploring and championing the universal need for a rich and fulfilling dream life, whether looking to embrace your natural, ‘default settings’, enhance your dreamstate or change your relationship with dreaming entirely. There is a healthy dose of caution and caveat throughout, which those who have been to any of the workshops will know is one of my personal causes, without attempts to unduly influence, judge or deter. It’s probably a bit too formal to say that it provides ‘exercises’ for working with and within dreams but there are certainly detailed enough suggestions and recommendations that would put you on a solid path towards your own dream journey.

Overall an insightful, enjoyable and illuminating read!

You can find more about Nimue Brown, her works and blog at https://druidlife.wordpress.com/

And for a crash course (pun intended) on dreamwork the workshop is this Thursday (30th August)

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Miles To Go

I like lists. In fact I love lists. Creating. Updating. Interacting. To Think About becomes To Do becomes Done. To Read becomes Read.

Right up until the point where they get completely out of hand. The repetition of tasks and events that come up every week, every month doesn’t leave a lot of space for new ad hoc items so that a few cropping up at once can suddenly turn the mundane into the overwhelming. You carry items over once, twice, a third time. It starts to feel like an insidious little accusation, something that should have been dealt with ages ago. Obviously it should have been tackled back when; now it just smacks of laziness, lack of commitment, insufficient resolve. So you stop bothering. After all, you already know it needs to be done. But once it’s off the list it’s, well, off the list, which has plenty to keep you going. So it just doesn’t happen…

And (usually!) the world doesn’t end. Most of the commitments and obligations we set up for ourselves (and a fair few that are set up by others) are not ‘do or die’. Our priorities and prerogatives are dictated by a myriad of influences, and it’s often surprising how many of them are internal, related to the messages that we send ourselves about what it is to be a good, constructive person, or friend, or family member. We expect things of ourselves that others don’t (or shouldn’t). We drive ourselves to distraction trying to meet ephemeral objectives without stopping to think where they come from, or why they’re important, or what the consequences will be if they are not met. We become overwhelmed, stressed, distressed. And that super-efficient, constructive, helpful to do list becomes a monster reminding us of all the bits and pieces we’ve failed to complete.

Don’t blame the list, but don’t blame yourself either. The list is a tool, a guide, a reference. If it starts to look like an insurmountable mountain it’s an indication that you’ve taken too much on, not that you’re failing to keep up. Cull the list. Have other lists. ‘Things to do if I ever get more than 10 minutes to myself’ lists. ‘Things I’d quite like to think about but don’t have the energy for now’ lists. ‘Things that would be nice to have but books are more important’ lists (feel free to come up with snappier titles of course).
Don’t lose sight of the journey by focussing on everything that’s between yourself and the endpoint. It’s important to consider where you’ve been and where you are; where you’re going and how you’ll get there are mutable.

(For the avoidance of doubt, things like paying your rent, eating, sleeping and taking out the bins do not fall into this category. Some requirements really are requirements. There’s a strong argument that reading falls into this classification too)

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Dream A Little Dream

This is my second shot at writing the blog this week. Kind of. Maybe. I remember going through the process of typing it all up, and being really proud of it. Some of the phrases are still tickling at the edges of my mind, but I can’t now remember what the actual subject was. This is because it happened the other night, when I was mostly asleep.

Reality is a strange thing. I remember writing it out as clearly as I remember making my cup of tea this morning, but to a large degree it’s fair to say one happened and one didn’t. Although no-one witnessed me make my cup of tea, and if it came to it I couldn’t really prove I did that either. I could have a hallucinated it. I could have convinced myself that because I make a cup of tea every morning I must have done so this morning too. Maybe I dreamt that as well, and woke up with a memory so clear my waking mind interprets it as having been true.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been watching a lot about the potential applications and ramifications of virtual reality – it certainly seems to be the hot topic at the moment. If we rely on shared experience to substantiate our reality – which otherwise is largely subjective – but can manipulate a synthetic shared experience, how real is that reality? If all our senses, our emotion, our intellect can be ‘tricked’, how do we know when they are betraying us and when they are not? At what point does it cease to matter?

Of course there are individuals with circumstances that mean they have to deal with similar experiences as a matter of course. For most of us, the closest glimpse we get are confused fragments of dreams, almost-memories of never-happened, vague projections of might-have-been, garbled remembrances that surface in moments of déjà vu. Certain branches of study tell us that with the right tools and techniques we can sift and hone these experiences, gaining value and insight into realms locked away from the conscious mind.

Dreams, like books, can give us an enticing glimpse into alternate realities – tempting to say the least when there are already so many challenges in navigating this one! But there’s always a stinger – dreams can so easily become nightmares….

(See this month’s Dream On workshop for more on dream symbolism and navigation)

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The End of the World

I engage with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy content and I think it’s fair to say that a significant proportion of it, especially recently, is predicated on some kind of post-apocalyptic scenario, whether in the future or as alternate reality / history. Very rarely is it the projected ‘evolution’ of our current trajectory. This is understandable and, as a story-telling device, can be very effective as it allows for the exploration of ideas and challenging of norms within a relatable and accessible frame of reference i.e. the world as it was ‘before’.

But it struck me this week (when I was [probably inappropriately] joking that the recent drone attack could in fact be the start of the rise of the machines) that a post-apocalyptic world is technically an oxymoron. In the standard definition (although there are varying interpretations of course) the apocalypse is the end of everything. There can be no ‘after’, or at least nothing recognisable left to experience and relate it.

And yet there always is. In every instance there are those who survive and endure and regroup and rebuild, who not only carry on but aspire to a better world where we learn from the past to create a better future.

And in that way, we have our own individual and collective apocolypseseses (?) all the time – it sounds dramatic but it is dramatic when your whole world undergoes a massive, irreversible shift. Whether it is your health, your wealth, your environment or your community, most of us will have experiences at some point where we come through the other side but nothing is as it was, and we have to go through the painstaking process of recreating and redefining everything around us.

I was brought up to be fairly pragmatic and the phrase “it’s not the end of the world” came up quite a bit throughout my formative years. I don’t have a lot of patience for needless drama. But every once in a while it is the end of the world*, and when it does happen downplaying it or ignoring it or denying it is not as helpful as figuring out how you’re going to survive and what you want to build on the other side.

It seems to me that such tales are really stories of hope. Bring on the Apocalypse…

*Unless you can assemble an angel, a demon, a witch, four kids and a hellhound in time in which case you can probably get it called off

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Book Review: Shape-Shifters by Michael Berman

The book features a collection of folk tales from around the world covering not just ‘typical’ examples such as werewolves, selkies and godly manifestations but also encompassing stories of inanimate creations gaining consciousness, for instance golems and snow-children. There’s also a chapter on Lilith…

The scope and premise clearly sets out and allows for consideration of not just physical or visualised shapeshifting, but also the ability to shift by projecting consciousness into another entity. So far, so good. Objectively though, I can’t quite see how stories relating to entities that acquire consciousness fits in with the theme, and if there was a reason behind the inclusion either it wasn’t explicit in the commentary, or I completely missed it.

The author commentary overall seemed a little erratic to me. In some areas it simply relates the origins or summarises the themes of the stories themselves (which in large part is unnecessary when you’re just about to read the stories anyway). In others the author appears to be leading up to some sort of point but, to my mind, never seems to quite go – or get to – anywhere. One notable chunk relating to shamanistic journeying about half a page long is copied and pasted in two different sections with no apparent rhyme or reason for the repeat – it probably isn’t obvious if you’re dipping in and out but I tend to read cover to cover and found it awkward (and again, unnecessary). And then there’s the chapter on Lilith which, while definitely interesting, didn’t seem to have even a vague association to shapeshifting, altered consciousness, transferred consciousness or general shamanism (although it had demons…?)

I may need to revisit this one as, if there was a coherent or unifying point to the book as a whole I clearly missed it. However I LOVE folk tales, stories, myths and legends and it contains a wonderful selection, many of which I hadn’t come across before, so on those grounds alone I would be confident in recommending it if you are of a similar persuasion.

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Words Unspoken

Communication can be a tricky business, especially in sensitive circumstances. What to say, when, how… Get it wrong and you can open up a whole host of problems, for yourself, for others, for the situation. Sometimes it’s easier to say nothing. Sometimes it’s better. How do you tell?

I’m pretty much a latecomer to the social media frenzy, certainly as a communication tool although there have been channels I’ve used for a while as an information resource. At first I felt like all there was a whole swathe of rules, customs and conventions in place that I couldn’t understand and would never be able to catch up with. As time went on I started to see that, while to an extent some of that might be true, for the most part it was a platform for people to say whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, with all the advantages and disadvantages that it entails. It both unifies and destroys, is concurrently freedom and manipulation, facilitates sharing and misunderstanding in equal measure.

Those who make magic have other outlets for expressing or expunging our thoughts and feelings. We whisper our will and wishes into the ether and hope they will be made manifest. We shout into the vacuum and wait for the echo of insight and inspiration to come back to us. This is a good thing, I think. It can satisfy our need for control, for action, for accountability while promoting acceptance of what is beyond our control, what we can do nothing about, what is beyond reason and understanding.

However it cannot be the whole of the story. Magical methods can never be a substitute for engaging with the issues in the real world, for communicating with others, for taking our thoughts and ideas into the debate and evolving them as part of the process.

Sometimes it’s easier to say nothing. Sometimes it’s better. But often it’s not, and unless I can be sure, I think I prefer to keep the lines of communication open, and take what comes.

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Worlds Within Worlds

It’s very easy, and very normal, to spend huge swathes of time within a few very specific, very defined communities. Some of these will be due to circumstances, such as the place you live, where you go to school or the people you work with, where you pretty much have little or no choice over who you engage with. Others will be due to interests or pursuits such as clubs, societies or peer groups, where you are drawn together by one shared thread but may have little else in common. Even in social situations we’re often not entirely at liberty to decide who we do or do not engage with – friends of friends, friends of partners, random people you end up sharing a table or bench with.

Each different community will have its own ecology – different hierarchies, different modes of language and different terminology, different ways of behaving and relating within them. There will be similarities and there may also be contradictions. What may be par for the course in one group (hugging, cussing, playing with candle wax) may be considered downright scandalous by another.

Navigating and juggling between different groups, and particularly entering new communities, can therefore be confusing, especially when you want to make a good impression but don’t know what the unwritten rules are. Within the pagan community we’re probably very fortunate because, overall, it’s more or less that we don’t have any, are generally all as confused and confounded as each other and therefore make everything up as we go on a case by case basis regardless. There’s a great deal more tolerance about what ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ looks like when (for better or worse) it’s impossible to get any clear consensus on the issue!

But limiting our interactions to only those that are safe and familiar and comfortable is, well, limiting. Even failed social experiments give us new insight, help our understanding and open us up to new worlds. And perhaps help us define, shape or even build our own…

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Everything in Moderation

Having listened to the ongoing lamentations during our harsh and protracted winter – not least my own! – I have to admit to slight bafflement that, having got the gloriously bedazzling hot summer everyone said they wanted, just about every other person is sick of it and begging for a little rain, a bit of cloud and a good stiff breeze.
I say slightly baffled, because I can’t pretend any kind of surprise. For one thing, complaining about the weather is pretty much a national pastime. For another, if I – with my below-standard circulation – am overheating a bit everyone else must be pretty much melting. And most importantly, well, we’re just not equipped for it! Melting tarmac aside, most places have never really had need of hardcore air-conditioning, we rarely allocate litres of freezer space to ice cream and cubes and as for summer clothing, well, I have to assume a substantial number of people have been unable to keep up with the wear’n’wash of their meagre shorts and t-shirt selections given the horrifying escalation in ‘taps aff’ encounters.
There’s the novelty element too – having what you wished for (even [especially?] when you don’t know you wished for it) is exciting. You throw yourself into appreciating it unreservedly (as increased sales in aloe vera products will no doubt attest to), you find yourself changing plans to accommodate, making decisions based on that one, limited factor, to the exclusion of all others. This happens a lot with magic, or even with a different path or practice in magic. When it’s new and exciting it’s easy to throw yourself in, to be governed by and immersed in it. Then the novelty wears off, sometimes with a side dish of disillusionment and discontent – the thing that had once brought joy is now an inconvenience, a hardship or a chore; something to complain about, or avoid, or disengage from.

I would be a complete hypocrite to even suggest not getting completely carried away with something (even if objectively I know it’s the wise course!) but if you can pull yourself back from complete saturation you’ll generally find it works out better in the long term. On the other hand, if like me you find that difficult, use the experience differently instead – commit to memory the way you feel, the happiness, the wonder, the contentment, the thrill of discovery. Build up a mental, emotional and sensory record of all the ‘good stuff’, so that you have something to latch onto when the novelty has started to wane – turning your initial fervour into technique for long term sustainability after all!

*And if you’re particularly interested in understanding and channelling all the crazy solar energies in play, this month’s Sunshine State workshop is aimed at just that!

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The Magic Pill

I saw an article the other week suggesting (recommending?) various things the magically inclined could be doing in response to illness (principally mental health related in this instance) that might not occur to, or be available to, the wider masses.
Aside with having serious concerns about some of the specifics of the article, it raised an interesting question for me as to whether, as magical practitioners, we are in a better or worse predicament than others are if we get poorly? I mean, after all, we know about what herbs are good for a sore throat and what crystals are good for a sore head and what meditations are good for depression so shouldn’t we just, like, be able to magic ourselves better? Even more, with an entire arsenal of spell-lore at our disposal, combined with our own brand of self-aware spirituality and continuous working toward balance, how do we even get sick in the first place, right?

It is perhaps ironic (?) that – based purely on personal experience and observation – a significantly large proportion of the magical population suffer from serious and chronic ailments of some sort of another (my view is that seekers looking for alternative solutions tend to be those who find magical paths rather than anything to do with paganism or esotericism per se!). And it also has a high proportion of people who want to be helpful. While I do mean that in the best possible way, it’s not therefore uncommon to hear ‘but if you just try this remedy…’ or ‘you just use that stone…’ or ‘you just cast this spell’ with the guarantee that all your woes will be behind you, or at least substantially improved.

As I say, while well-meant, this is usually not very helpful. Recommending people to take on new stuff while they’re in mire of any illness can be entirely counter-productive, especially if energy and concentration are issues. Most magical workings, even ‘fluffy magic’ can take up a great amount of both, and some may have already had to give up their ‘normal’ practices while their body and mind try to continue coping with basic functioning. I worry that it also creates an unfortunate (if unintended) pressure and suggestion along the lines of ‘if you just did this then you wouldn’t be having these problems’, as if the condition and / or its continuation is somehow the sufferer’s fault, and that they’re clearly not trying hard enough if they’re not doing all of the zillion things they’ve been recommended at various points to improve their own situation.

Now, all this is not to say you should not use magical means in the prevention, mitigation and cure of various ailments, or that A.N. Other should not recommend or suggest possibilities that may work in the circumstances. But issuing prescriptions may not be the sort of support and TLC that’s needed, and the best help is often to understand what the ‘patient’ feels like they need, even if it doesn’t accord with your own experience.

So next time someone shuffles up to you with the latest bout of Aussie flu, insufficient spoons or general lurgy, consider offering a tissue and some chocolate* before an edict of “magician, heal thyself”.

*Subject to individual preference, I speak for myself here!

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