I slipped into last Autumn with a real sense that I had to have time to explore, deepen and re-evaluate my spiritual practice; my path, my craft, my religion, my simple understanding of the harsh reality of a brutal world around me. I suppose part of me rebelled against this, for I was given the clear signs since Imbolc of the previous year. So I kind of bumbled through the spring and summer trying to carry on, hold onto what I thought were my anchors, my sources of inspiration.
From the Autumnal Equinox to Samhain I had been breaking down both physically and spiritually; a wondrous realise into the Samhain fire. My energy grew in my solitude of practice and sharing moments of deep connection with those few folk who seem to shimmer along similar nettle and bramble paths. Letting things go one by one, teaching, leading a grove, mentoring students, I found myself asking, what do I believe? Where are my gods? Whom do I serve? What label holds and inspires me?
For the last 25 years stumbling through undergrowth of my paganism, I found Druidry gave me the words to express my connection, gave me community to share, gave me the inspiration to stand up and work for that pagan community. I had explored and worked in traditional witchcraft coven, I had been tutored in shamanism, and I found the earthy, raw expression of Druidry to fulfil all that experience and more. I used the labels Druid, Pagan, Shaman, they inspired, and in some ways, let the wider community know of the language, the ways and traditions I was likely to walk through.
Increasingly I find that I longer fit in, the wider community no longer understands my skewed perception of my path; then I remember I don’t think I ever did fit in, I just walked the line of least resistance, my private practice screaming and crying in the dark of ecstasy to find my soul’s true release. Therefore part of my journey into winter was dissolving my labels and commitments to communities within which I often found myself at the heart. I can’t compromise my practice anymore.
The title of druid or shaman limit and don’t quite fit anymore, they feel like shrunken sweaters, I like them but they just don’t fit anymore. I may try to squeeze into them occasionally, but soon feel constricted and have to take it off again, quickly, to be able to breathe. Unfortunately some folk will see this as though I’m forsaking my path, my community, they see me as the traitor or at worse as no longer valid in my spiritual expression. But fortunately, that doesn’t matter; it’s my relationship to god’s, land, ancestors, yew tree, sky, stone, mud, fear, joy, ecstasy that does matter.
I think somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that our paganism should be Pagan! Often I find doctrines and orthodoxy within the very pagan communities that avoid the doctrine and dogma of the revealed orthodox religions. There is a lot of chatter, socialising, camps and gatherings; but where is the deep transformative work? Where is devotion of deity, the dreaming of the land, the tree, fox and badger? Where are the prayers for a safe journey, the invocations to help bring healing to the baby? The blessings as you light your fire in your hearth? All these things and so much more are lacking for me; there seems to be inertia, shallow expression of what it ultimately a raw, beautiful and brutal path, for Nature is and should be our teacher. We should be reaching out for these connections, being touched daily, minute by minute, second by second, soul to soul, spirit to spirit making a conscious (and in some ways unconscious) effort to be touched and touch the sacred. I’m not saying that all these things, groups etc are wrong, but for me, don’t touch me anymore, many do find great, deep value in them and I suppose I’m envious in some warped way.
As an animist this reaching out to touch and be touched by the consciousness of Nature should feed, fuel and challenge our connection to the world, the gods, the ancestors, to the chainsaw biting into the woody flesh of a tree. This is no easy path! We have 2000 years of Christian orthodoxy, the calamity of climate change and rampaging brutal world that feeds our connection, reaction and conscious dreaming. I’m often quoted as saying that we need ‘un-learning’ we need ‘en-darken-ment’ to find our true connection, that moment when we are held in darkened wings of true spiritual freedom, our soul sings in tandem with the consciousness of Nature; of gods, ancestors and yew tree roots. There is a simplicity we have somehow lost to our spiritual roots.
So what and who am I now? Well if I knew I would have reached the end of a wondrous path. However the best language, labels, titles that I can find are:
“I am an Animist, Wildcrafter, Folk Herbalist and Bone Singer!”
What does that mean?
I’m an Animist – Here we find me communicating, sensing and know the spirit of Tree, bird, plant, bones, roots, see, rain, sunshine, hunger, rage, lust; Sensing and knowing the spirit in all things, and finding relationship, or even communication with that spirit. Not for the fun of it, but for a deeper experience, and understanding of the fast, harsh, modern world, that I have always struggled to be a part of. I feel the sound of the Buzzard spiralling over my allotment; I smell the heat of the sun and touch the vision beyond mortal eyes. The sacred is touched and is touching, I work to build my relationship with Nature, both nature within and within out my soul, not because Nature wants me too, because I choose too! I choose to put myself into the path of the beauty and brutality of Nature, for she cares not for me, but in those moments of spirit to spirit connection an exchange takes place that is changing, evolving, and inspiring as well as fearful, challenging and painful. The familiar spirits demand attention if I am to having a spiritual relationship with them.
I’m a Wildcrafter – Wildcraft is the word I use to describe my spiritual path. An animistic, pagan path that puts me in direct contact with the spirit of land, tree, sky, rain, ancestors and gods, finding my feet within a native, British spiritual path. When we explore the indigenous spiritual web of this island, we find a path that is led by the teachings of nature and her changing tides, the inherent spirit within the land, the songs of our ancestors that are felt in the ancient stones, the whispers of the gods in the hum of life and death; the labels of our traditions are those of our making, to help us understand a little of the language and style of working, when in reality it was as simple and yet, profound as Wild Nature; evolving from the very land itself. To root it firmly in a landscape where my path is experienced, Kent, I use some old Kentish dialect to describe the tools or techniques used.
Wildcraft is a path of being within and surrendering to nature, the spontaneity of experience, trance states and knowing and working with the spirits, a magical path of personal connection to land, deity and the ancestors.
I’m a Folk Herbalist – I’m not a medicinal herbalist! While I know how some herbs can heal, soothe easy pain and bring rest, I also know those that can poison, kill and bring the madness. As a folk Herbalist I work with the magical, spiritual and herbal properties of a plant to bring about change, to heal, to inspire, to bind and to dream. I do not diagnose or prescribe herbs, but I will craft you a herbal pouch for protection, to help you grieve, to help you sleep and to find your purpose. I will craft a plant spirit bundle or incense, a herbal charm to be carried or worn. I will blend a brew to wash, bathe, cleanse and empower. I will share the historical and magical use of herbs and forage plants from woods and fields. I’ll prepare and weave traditional preparations of ointments, teas and essences for our journeys through life and indeed into death.
I’m a Bone singer – Traditionally the Bone singers are the edge folk, living in both this world and the next. Chanting over the last breath of life at the side of a tribal member’s death bed, preparing the body for the mortuary platforms for the crows and ravens to peck the bones clean and finally, with ritual, placing and arrange the bones in the chambered womb-tombs. They cared for the dead and sang the stories of the bones of the ancestors, their chants echoing deep in bellied womb-tombs. They were both feared and revered, and so lived on the edge of their society and this physical existence.
Today the Bone Singers teach us of the inspiration of aloneness, of being different from the ‘norm’, of facing our mortality and dealing with death and dying. Here we find our true vocation and dedication, for the Bone Singer spends many hours with the bones of the dead, the stories of the Ancestors to ensure that their song lives on and echoes from deep within this sacred land, deep within the belly of mother earth. They also teach us of the realities of otherworld beyond our physical realm of here and now.
This journey of the Bone Singer, carrying us to the realm of the Ancestors, is not about trying to recreate the past, but to be inspired by it. The spirit of the otherworld comes dancing and singing into our world and we need to listen for the beat and the tales they offer us in our dreaming. I journey to the sacred places of our ancestors, the temple tombs, and circle of stones, but also the burial grounds, and battlefields, the old spirit roads and sacred trees, the sacred springs and wishing wells, the forts and castles, here I hear and honour the mighty dead, and sing their stories alive, here my offerings are made and I take counsel of the mighty dead.
All in all, my entire path is a blend of my experience and my studies, but ultimately from the inspiration gained from Nature, Ancestors, Gods and the Spirits themselves. The techniques I use to get there are from my exploration of Druidry, Traditional Witchcraft and Shamanism, and the cup of freshly picked nettle and yarrow tea, the baked chalk downland and soft beech woodlands.