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Book Review: Pagan Portals – Rhiannon, Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons by Jhenah Telyndru

June, 2018

Book Review

Pagan Portals: Rhiannon, Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons

by Jhenah Telyndru

There is knowledge, and there is wisdom; one comes from the mind and the other from the heart and soul. Jhenah Telyndru has both of these in abundance.

As the founder and Morgen of the Sisterhood of Avalon, Ms. Telyndru’s love for her subject comes through in every page and word.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Archeology and a Master’s in Celtic Studies, her knowledge has been attained through years of study.

“Rhiannon” is well-researched via many avenues, i.e. etymology, story-telling, mythology and literature. Rhiannon’s connections to other Goddesses such as Epona, Morrigan and the Matronae (Divine Mothers) is explained in the earlier parts of the book.

While Rhiannon, herself, is not identified as a Goddess in history, this does not stop many women from around the world from worshiping her as such, and the whys and hows of her divinity and sovereignty are explored within the pages of this wonderful book. Ms. Telyndru draws in each reader as she shares her own insight and wisdom, and helps us to more fully come to know Rhiannon.

For those who know nothing of Rhiannon, this is the perfect introduction. To those who know of her and yearn to learn more, this book is a stepping-stone to knowing her more fully and deeply, how to understand her and use her stories on our own journey to Sovereignty. We can begin to learn how to build and deepen our own relationship with her, through the use of shrines, altars, offerings, her symbols and meditative trance journeys.

Allow Jhenah Telyndru to guide you in your journey to Rhiannon.

(Disclaimer: While it in no way deters from my recommendation of this book to all, it bears mentioning that I am proud to be a member of The Sisterhood of Avalon – SM)

***

About the Author:

Susan Morgaine is a Daughter of the Goddess, Witch, Writer, Teacher, Healer, and Yogini. She is a monthly columnist with PaganPages.org Her writings can be found in The Girl God Anthologies, “Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” and “Jesus, Mohammed and the Goddess”, as well as Mago Publications “She Rises, Volume 2, and “Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess”. She has also been published in Jareeda and SageWoman magazines. She is a Certified Women’s Empowerment Coach/Facilitator through She is the author of “My Name is Isis”, one in the series of the “My Name Is………” children’s books published by The Girl God Publications. A Woman International, founded by Patricia Lynn Reilly. She has long been involved in Goddess Spirituality and Feminism, teaching classes and workshops, including Priestessing Red Tents within MA and RI. She is entering her 20th year teaching Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, being a Certified instructor through the Kundalini Research Institute, as well as being a Reiki Master. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She can be found at https://mysticalshores.wordpress.com/ and her email is [email protected]

My Name is Isis: The Egyptian Goddess

Bad Witch Book Review – Pagan Portals: The Hedge Druid’s Craft by Joanna Van Der Hoeven

June, 2018

Bad Witch Book Review
Pagan Portals: The Hedge Druid’s Craft by Joanna Van Der Hoeven

 


The Hedge: Intersectional Magick

 

What happens when a witch, a faery worker and druid blend these paths into one? Oddly this has been a question for me and my path for a while. Apparently according to this author her answer was the hedge, the edge of all three spaces. Liminality and the places between are where magick is created, where things are born and die. Finding the place where things meet, end and over-lap is always interesting.


This solution of sorts was pleasing to me, if missing something, though I could not say what.


I found once I got into the book proper (the pre-able was long and full of adverts/teasers for other books) I liked the open and easy tone of this authors work. Her voice was calm and I found her voice firm but unfussy.


I definitely was aware of a quiet (faery) knowing in her work, though her facts and explanations were simple enough to follow I feel like I might have to re-read this book several times more.


That in and of itself might tell you that I enjoyed this book.


There wasn’t a great deal that was “new” to me, but…the tantalizing idea that there might be someone else like me or similar was both comforting and unsettling. She speaks of the ease of blending these paths, which might be true for her, but for me has been quite challenging.


Our experiences were not the same of course but her methods and work ethic certainly mesh with mine a lot. Do the work, say the words, write what happened down. She says it much more politely than I usually do, maybe because I’ve had such interesting students…I digress.


She introduces and explains each part of her path openly, interestingly and well. She doesn’t go into flowery imaginings and her research is excellent.


Faery working is not easy and she doesn’t fall into the common mistakes of over or under estimating the “good neighbours”. She is circumspect (as one must be) and yet through in speaking about them. She speaks about her experiences with them and despite years of experience how unsettling a close encounter can actually be! There is no sugar coating how difficult walking the path (or riding the hedge) can be. She speaks of how lonely it can be to see the world from the edge instead of the middle. Valuable truths and comforting in equal measure.


There is a brief but more than competent over view of the wheel of the year and then she moves into the rites of Hedge Druid’s Craft.


The journey-workings are safe (as they can be) and rather beautiful. There is a power in sincerity and I swear I thought I had written


“By the power of three times three
As I will it, so may it be.”


Which the author uses throughout. It is spooky almost how similar my personal rites are to her work. As though the blackbird in my garden has been whispering in her ear! It is probably as simply as that this is what the faery have been whispering to each of us!


Her post rite grounding is also great.


Ancestors and its work with druid work has been a sticking point for me. My immediate family being something of a trash fire and much but my Irish line being an utter mystery makes this a real sore point for me, especially since my parents passing. Yet her advice is sound.


To speak of Gods then. I am like the author, reverent but not a natural kneeler. Her words are empowering and wise.


In all honesty I like this book a lot and it makes me feel uncomfortable in roughly equal measure.


I like it because it is extraordinarily like my path. It is full of wisdom and knowing, grace and simplicity. I think this is also why it makes me uncomfortable. It is like someone read my poetry or watched me while at my most private work. It feels like I have been “seen”.


Instead I might say, Joanna I hope to see you in The Dreaming.

 

Pagan Portals – The Hedge Druid’s Craft: An Introduction to Walking Between the Worlds of Wicca, Witchcraft and Druidry

GoodGod!

April, 2018

Meet the Gods: Dian Cécht

(art by Jane Brideson)

Merry meet.

With so many people around me sick, it was probably no coincidence I came across Dian Cécht, the Irish god of healing. It so happens a story told about him is the same as the one told about Credne, one of the three craft gods, last month. He was described as a craftsman who worked mostly in bronze and when the High King lost his arm in battle, he fashioned a functioning replacement arm from silver.

In “Pagan Portals: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities,” Morgan Daimler also tells the same story, adding that Dian Cécht also healed Midir’s wounded eye and cured plagues disguised as serpents. “There is a reference in the St. Gall’s incantations to a salve of Dian Cécht, which is used for healing. Dian Cécht was invoked with healing charms into the 8th century CE and even in modern folklore is associated with an herbal oatmeal preparation that has healing properties,” Daimler wrote.

In the Ever Living Ones blogspot, Jane Brideson offered “a prescription for Dian Cécht’s porridge,” describing it as “the oldest-known Irish medical remedy.” It’s made of oatmeal, dandelion, hazel buds, chickweed and wood sorrel.

Multiple sources speak of Dian Cécht’s Well of Health, Tiopra Sláine, said to contain one of every herb that grew in Ireland. Wounded warriors bathed in the water were healed.

Daimler writes, “Dian Cécht was considered the supreme physician of the Gods and possessed a well or cauldron, the Sláine, into which the wounded could be placed and from which they would emerge restored. Throughout the Irish texts where he appears he is renowned for his healing skill and he is called ‘the healing sage of Ireland’ and ‘God of health.’”

As the god of healing, he is associated with physicians and restoring of the body.

He is not only a god of active healing, but also of the knowledge of healing arts and of healing magic. He is known as a superlative healer with any method. We don’t have many existing myths featuring Dian Cécht, but the ones we do have generally center on his healing skill in one way or another,” Daimler wrote.

His name is thought to translate as swift for dían and power for cécht, yet another source said the name appeared to mean God of the Plowshare.

Dian Cécht was also known as Cainte, a chanter of spells and prophecy. His titles include god of power and health and sage of leechcraft,” Brideson wrote.

A well or a cauldron are associated with him, and can be used to symbolize him. Offerings could include water, medicinal herbs or herbal tea. He may be called on for anything related to healing or medicine, when wishing to heal or be healed.

Click Image for Amazon Information

Merry part. And merry meet again.

***

About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Book Review: The Crane Bag by Joanna van der Hoeven

August, 2017

THE CRANE BAG

By Joanna van der Hoeven

 

I read this slim volume on a two-hour ferry crossing between Dover and Dunkirk!

This morning I woke up (in our house set in the forest in Sweden) to the call of two cranes in the field in front of our house. It seems that today is the day for writing my review of this book. The cranes themselves say so!

This book is not actually about cranes though it does start with a Celtic crane myth. It is really a brief introduction to ritual tools and practices from the Druid tradition. “Held deeply within Celtic mythology, the crane bag is both a symbol of sovereignty, as well as an item containing the ritual tools of the Druid. With proper use, it can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding his or her own place in the environment. Living in balance, harmony and peace” (- From the back cover).

This is a useful book for complete beginners taking their first steps in exploring Druidry. It will help you find out if this tradition is for you or not. If you want to delve deeper there are other books on the market (some by this same author but also by other authors) and if not, there is no harm done as this is a small and affordable book.

The author takes us through all the basics, from “What is ritual?” to why we may choose to carry staff and drum, as well as a bowl, knife, candles and incense in our crane bag. Having described the tools she takes us through the elements of Druid ritual: the Call for Peace, Casting the Circle, honouring the Spirits of Place and Three Worlds, the directions and ancestors and so forth.

I like the way she emphasizes the need to source our equipment in an environmentally conscious and sound way. She points out that a number of items can often be found in charity shops ( recycling is always preferable to using Mother Earth’s precious resources to make new items). She also explains how making tools for others is a sacred art for craftspeople (like drum makers). As a teacher of sacred art I agree completely!

The book opens with the story of how the Crane Bag came to be and introduces the legendary Celtic characters Aoife and Iuchra. It is a sad tale in many ways. She ends by asking: what happened to Iuchra and Ilbhreac (the male hero in this tale) and says that is a tale for another day. I had fully expected her to return to this question in the final chapter and answer it – but she doesn’t. To me this is an opportunity missed. A truly satisfactory story (or book) ties up loose ends, if only on the final page…

Other than that: this makes great summer reading for anyone keen to know a little bit more about Druids and their craft.

 

 

Imelda Almqvist, Sweden, July 2017

 

***

About the author

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in August 2016.  

 

 

She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit 2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True.

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/

http://shamanismsummit.com/

 

 

Interview with Author Lucya Starza: The Bad Witch

April, 2016

Lucya Starza: The Bad Witch

lucy

 

Lucya is the author of the very popular Pagan Portals: Candle Magic, which has now spawned a series of workshops. Lucya also has a ‘bad witch’s blog’ which I hoped she would be able to tell me more about…

What inspired the name of your popular blog, badwitch.co.uk?

The name A Bad Witch’s Blog was inspired by the book How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, about birdwatching for people who only know how to identify normal garden birds. I wanted to get better at being a witch. I had been a witch for some time, but wanted an incentive to do more witchy things and learn more. Writing a regular blog forced me to read books that I’d meant to read for ages, to get to more pagan events and generally to be more active.

When did you first become drawn to witchcraft?

That’s a difficult question, because it depends how you define witchcraft. I came from a family that was into all things magical. My grandma was a Theosophist and had worked as an astrologer. My parents would probably best be described as New Age. My dad taught me palmistry and dowsing when I was a kid. Back in the 1960s, the word witch was still not a polite thing to call people. My school friends called my family witches – actually they also called my family The Addams Family – but that wouldn’t have been what anyone in my family called themselves.

When I was in my 20s I became interested in Celtic spirituality with a boyfriend. We would go into the countryside or onto the beach and spend time honouring the Celtic gods and goddesses in prayer or meditation. However, I didn’t technically become a witch until I was about 30. I trained with Shan at House of the Goddess, in London, and then later joined a Wiccan coven, where I was initiated.

Tell us a bit about Pagan Portals: Candle Magic. What prompted you to write this volume, and who is it aimed at?

Friends had been saying for a long time that I should write a book based on the type of things I write about in A Bad Witch’s Blog. Candle magic is my favourite type of magic, so it was the obvious choice of subject for me. The book is in Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, aimed at beginners to the Craft.

Can anyone perform candle magic?

Yes – and pretty much everyone does. Who hasn’t made a wish over the candles on a birthday cake?

How was the launch party at Treadwell’s?

It was lovely. Treadwell’s is a wonderful venue for the launch of any esoteric book. As well as being one of London’s best occult bookshops, it has a great basement room that is ideal for book launches. The staff looked after me very well too. Christina, who owns the shop, told me to just let the staff organise everything so I could be the “belle of the ball”. I must admit I did get a little tiddly, so perhaps it was best that I wasn’t doing the organising!

Are you planning workshops or courses on candle magic or similar subjects?

Christina invited me to run workshops on candle magic at Treadwell’s. The first one was a couple of days after the launch and was fully sold out. The next one is on April 9, but I think that’s sold out too. I expect I will run another later in the year. Here are the details: https://www.treadwells-london.com/event/practical-candle-magic-2/.

Was it a shock to find Sainsbury’s selling your book in the Satanism and Demonology section? Do youthink this is indicative of a wider misunderstanding of esoteric topics? Or is it more reassuring thatSainsbury’s is quite happy to even have a Satanism and Demonology section?

I think it is quite funny, but it is a bit sad that there is such a misunderstanding and that some people still think that anything to do with spellcraft and magic must also be Satanism.

Are you planning more books? What other projects do you have on the horizon?

Yes – when I get time to start writing it! I still write A Bad Witch’s Blog and put new posts up every day.

You recently used Thunderclap to promote your book. How do you think social media has transformed the way we market our products, whether these be books, crafts, music or any other creation?

Social media has transformed marketing massively. I used to work on a local newspaper and before social media most marketing involved sending out press releases to journalists and trying to get reviews in magazines and papers. That’s all changed. Now you need to promote products online first and foremost.

What are you looking forward to most in 2016?

I’m going to the Druid Camp (http://www.druidcamp.org.uk/) in the summer. I’ve been invited along to give tarot readings, but I am likely to also give a talk or workshop on candle magic. I’m very much looking forward to that.

Do you have a favourite season or time of the year, and why?

I love all the seasons; the first flowers in springtime, the long hot days of summer, the golden leaves in autumn and the festivals of midwinter. However, if I had to pick one as my absolute favourite it would be spring, when blossom is on the trees and the woods are a carpet of bluebells.

And is there a particular place that you find more magical than any other?

Yes indeed. To quote Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

Follow Lucya at her Bad Witch’s Blog and find her book on Amazon and all other good retailers.

Interview with Author Rebecca Beattie: Nature Mystic

April, 2016

Rebecca Beattie: Nature Mystic

RebeccaBeattie

 

Author of Pagan Portals: Nature Mystics, Rebecca is also a regular contributor to the UK’s premier Pagan magazine, Pagan Dawn, and is in the process of writing another book called Urban Nature Mystic. I had the chance to find out a bit more about Rebecca, and about nature mystics.

Tell us a bit about Pagan Portals: Nature Mystics. Who are Nature Mystics?

Nature Mystics are people who connect with Nature as a part of their spiritual lives, and experience mystical epiphanies in nature. A mystical epiphany is something that brings knowledge from outside of yourself, something you would not have otherwise known. They might have a slightly ‘otherworldly’ air, as they exist between different realities, and not just our supposedly solid, physical world. Nature Mystics can come from any religious or cultural background, and the mystical experiences will differ from person to person, depending on their worldview. For example, someone from an Abrahamic religion may frame that experience as being one that fits within their religious framework (seeing a burning bush is one example), while a pagan may encounter a god like Pan or Cernunnos, nature spirits, or elementals. The key thing is that the experience happens whilst being immersed in Nature. It is the Nature Mystics’ ability to transcend all religious or spiritual labels that appeals to me (although I realise it also conversely creates another!)

What inspired you to write this volume?

I was doing a PhD on Mary Webb, who was a much forgotten writer of the early Twentieth Century. She used to meditate in nature for long periods, and then awaken with a fully formed novel in her head, which she would then have to write down frantically, before she lost the details. Using this method, she wrote her first novel in three weeks. I fell in love with her last completed novel, Precious Bane, when I was fifteen, but always struggled to see how she fitted in with mainstream writing of her time. When I started doing an MA in Modernist Literature a few years ago, and I spent a good chunk of my time wondering where Mary Webb could or should be placed among her peers (writers like Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Vita Sackville West, Evelyn Waugh etc) and she just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The Bloomsbury set looked down on her as she made her own clothes and wasn’t fashionable enough, but she also didn’t fit in with the Victorian writers of the generation before either, as her subject matter really wasn’t Victorian. She felt like a Modern Pagan, but I knew that Modern Pagans didn’t emerge until a few decades later, after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. I started to research other writers of the time, to try and trace who she might sit alongside, and I discovered that quite a few writers also had very pagan elements before they ‘should’ have, writers like D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mary Butts etc. I revisited Hutton’s Triumph of The Moon to look for clues, and had a bit of a lightbulb moment, when Ronald started talking about the influences that contributed to a culture from which Modern Paganisms could emerge. Gerald Gardner and his peers were not working in isolation. These elements were all found in both Webb and the other writers I was re-discovering. That was when I realised there was a whole research project there, waiting for me to dive in.

This is your first work of non-fiction. Will you be writing more?

Absolutely! I love writing, full stop, but I realised non-fiction allows me to write about the things I am interested in. It’s not academic, but it is definitely influenced by my academic training, and I absolutely love the research angle. All those libraries to visit and get lost in! At the moment I am writing another ‘Work In Progress’ blog for Moon Books, which is called “Urban Nature Mystic”. In it I am exploring how we practice our Nature based faith systems whilst living in the city. Someone once asked me how I could be a ‘proper witch’ whilst living in the city, and my immediate answer was, how could I not be? Nature is all around us, even in the most urban settings. It’s great, as it enables me to reflect on my own practice, and the differences between Dartmoor (where I grew up) and London (which has now been my home for nearly twenty years).

How was the process different to writing a novel or a short story? Was it more challenging?

In some ways the process of writing is similar, as you have to have the same discipline, but they do use slightly different skill-sets to get there. With non-fiction, you get a chance to go down the rabbit hole and explore topics that you are fascinated by, and then share that with other people. One of the dangers in post-graduate research is the risk of getting lost in the research and forgetting what it is you are ‘supposed’ to be doing. You can end up going off on tangents, and getting lost in the woods. Writing non-fiction gives me a chance to go off the designated path and deliberately get lost. It can give me a legitimate reason for exploring, and examining, and uncovering truths I was not consciously aware of. I am absolutely passionate about reading and writing, and the non-fiction writing enables me to share those enthusiasms with other people, and really see the world from a different angle. With fiction writing, you get to show people the view inside from the character’s head, which is a different skill entirely. I trained as an actor originally, and that skill is very useful when writing fiction, as I get to put on another person’s skin, and walk around in it for a while. Non-fiction keeps me inside my own head a bit more.

You enjoy walking; do you have a favourite route?

Where I grew up on Dartmoor, I had one favourite walk I used to do regularly, that I really miss, even now. It took me across the moors to a little valley with a brook that flowed through it. I used to sit for hours under a beautiful old Willow tree, and tell it all my troubles. For years I really resented the fact that I couldn’t go there as often as I would like, and then, more recently, I have tried to stop looking back with regret, and instead focus on what I have near me now. I realised I need to walk regularly in order to ‘walk things out’ in my head – it helps me to think through what I need to write about next, lowers my stress levels, and enables me to connect up with my gods. Although I have an active spiritual life with my coven, the walking becomes my day-to-day practice, and keeps me sane. Last year I discovered there are a number of ‘green trails’ all though my part of North London, and I have now discovered a trail that is my favourite walk. It goes through a nature reserve, and then winds on towards a farm with a riding stable. Finally, it ends in a wood where there is a pond that I can sit by and contemplate the world. If I am lucky, I get to see cows, horses, lots of birds, and the pond at the end is visited by the occasional swan or heron. Even when it is not, it is a lovely place to just sit and watch the reflections of clouds, or ripples on the surface of the water.

What’s the most mystical or magical place you have ever been?

Dartmoor is a very mystical place for me. Wherever I go in the world, I will always have an invisible cord that ties me to it, so much so, I have already bought my burial plot, several decades ahead of time (hopefully!) so I know that I will always end up there, just next to my Mum. There are a lot of other very special places where we can connect to the Divine in nature, and it is usually the really wild places that I connect to, like Scotland, or the Isles of Scilly.

I think the most mystical place I ever went to was Egypt. I have had a lifelong fascination for Egypt, and went there eight years ago. I went with the intention of visiting as many temples as I could in a week.

From the moment I landed there, I felt more awake than I have ever been. It is the first time I have consciously had that sense of ‘knowing’ about a place, the feeling that you have been there before. I was drifting up the Nile seeing sites that were so familiar to me, and when I visited the Temple of Philae near Aswan, even though the island itself has been moved from its original location, I could tell you where the gardens were laid out, and what went where around the temple.

Egypt is also one of the places where I have felt the presence of the old gods most clearly. It was a week of deep emotional shifts, and coincidences, and magic, and I would be lying if I said I came back the same person. I had been studying Psychic Development classes at the College of Psychic Studies, and also learning NLP and undertaking my work of the first degree in Wicca, so I had a lot of different development work going on. I think I felt my way around the tour that week, which is how I could connect so deeply to it all.

And the most mystical experience? A truly magical moment you could recount for us?

I think the key with Nature Mysticism is that you are connecting to life in a way that most people wouldn’t notice, as they go about their day to day lives. There is a big dollop of mindfulness involved, and you also have to be prepared for experiencing things that your senses can’t quite explain, and also for knowing things that you wouldn’t otherwise know. Some of the most mystical experiences can also be the most personal – the moment when a friend of mine came and tugged on my hair when I was at his funeral (he was a very playful person) or midwifing my mother through a terminal illness was pretty mystical. There is also an element of ‘knowing’ things – insight that comes from those mystical encounters that I couldn’t otherwise know. But it is also incredibly subtle – I won’t tell you that I experience daily visions of the Goddess while commuting to work on the Underground. Mystical experiences can be indicated by minute details – for instance, under my willow tree on Dartmoor, I would gradually start to see the ground beneath me undulate in waves, which I knew was not ‘physically’ possible. For me those mystical moments in nature are a way of ‘checking in’ to see what’s next on the agenda – a life in Wicca is also a life of service, so it’s a bit like checking in to get your instructions for what you need to do next. Also, the insights that come can’t always be shared – you have to get a feel for what you can and can’t appropriately tell people, without them thinking you are barking [crazy, for the American readers!].

How do you think the perception of modern paganism is changing as it becomes more widely understood through books like your own?

I think that the biggest change we have seen in recent years is the shift from ‘Modern Paganism’ to ‘Modern Paganisms’, as we have realised that it is perfectly acceptable to have many different blueprints for this faith system, and they are all as valid as each other. What appeals to people is the ability to follow your own path, and not to have too much dogma or doctrine imposed on you (unless you like that kind of thing). In the past we have gone through periods of debunking old myths (such as the unbroken line to pre-Christian societies) or the de-bunking of the myth-makers, like Margaret Murray who wrote The Witch Cult in Western Europe, or Marion Zimmer Bradley, who wrote The Mists of Avalon. I feel like we have spent many years apologising for some of our roots (when we are not arguing over them!) whereas now, I think we are coming back round to acknowledging that, while those myths may not be true, it doesn’t mean they are invalid. Margaret Murray’s view may not have been factually accurate, but it still influenced a lot of people, which means it still has value.

Although my own background and training is in Wicca, I wanted to ensure that “Nature Mystics” was a book that transcended some of those labels – it can be just as relevant to a Traditional Witch, as to a Druid or a Heathen as it could be to a Wiccan. The readership seems to be reflecting that back to me, so I *think* it may have worked. The thing I love most about researching our cultural (and specifically literary) roots, is that it gives us space to embrace all of those ideas we love so much, such as the idea of Priestesses of the Goddess living on an island that is only one step in the mist away from the ‘real world’ or the world of faery, or the idea of rats and moles encountering Pan in the woods, or the idea of a woman leaving her home in the 1920s, to go and join a witches’ coven in the countryside. We can embrace those magical moments without having someone come along and break the spell, even if those moments are essentially fictional. And the poetry that comes from these authors’ love of nature seeps its way into the language of our prayers and rituals.

Did you always want to be a writer? What’s your ‘day job’ and how do you fit it around your writing, or vice versa?

As a child I was absolutely adamant that I wanted to be an actor from the age of about seven. I kept this going for quite a few years, until I was feeling quite bitter and unhappy as I had a lot of creative energy that was going to waste, as you had to land the acting work before you could use that energy. Having one of those ‘what if this is as good as it gets?’ moments, I decided that I needed to take a sabbatical, and would only return to acting when I could feel positive about what I was doing. This coincided with decision to spend more time exploring my spiritual life. Although I had spent many years as a solitary witch, I had met my HPS, and was just embarking on the beginnings of my year and a day. One of the tasks given to me was to explore your local folklore. As I was researching, I came across the story of the Lychway on Dartmoor – a pathway lead to the Parish Church across the open moors, before the Turnpike roads were built. If you lost a relative and were living in my village, you would have to have carried your dead loved one across the moors to bury them, a path that was said to be ‘eight miles in fair weather, and fifteen in foul’. My dad and I did the walk, and it was exhausting, even on a nice day (and we did it over two days). As I was walking, I started to think of a short story of a girl who had to make this journey, except when I sat down to write it, the short story kept growing and growing, and it became my first novel, “The Lychway”. Although it was a bit of a surprise at the time, I realised I got the same buzz from writing as I got from acting, only I had more control over writing, as I could do it any time I wanted to, as long as I had a pen and some paper. Somehow I never went back to acting.

I have always maintained a day job alongside the creative work I do. Although it started as a necessity, it has become a habit, and it has the dual functions of keeping a roof over my head, and also freeing me to write whatever I want to, as I don’t have to be governed by what will bring the money in. It also keeps me very grounded as I work in a drug and alcohol charity. When I started there sixteen years ago, I told my colleagues not to get used to me, as I was only staying for a month. (Did I mention I also like to think of the Divine as ‘the cosmic joker’?)

What other projects do you have on the go?

As well as the non-fiction writing, the full time day job and keeping my sanity intact (barely!) I am also studying for a PhD. Through two years of a traditional English PhD about Mary Webb, I struggled to make her ‘fit’ into among her Modernist peers, and realised I had to bring my interest of Paganism in as well, which was a bit of a no-no as far as my old university was concerned. I decided to jump ship and switch to a Creative Writing programme. Now I get to write a novel about Mary Webb, as well as explore my Nature Mystics a bit more for the critical commentary part of the project, so I get the best of both worlds.

Aside from that, I also write regularly for Pagan Dawn, and I also have the Urban Nature Mystic blog going for Moon Books.

If you had to recommend three books that highlight our connection to nature most beautifully, which three would you choose?

My first choice would be Mary Webb’s novel, Precious Bane. The lead character, Prue Sarn, has a facial disfiguration, which it is believed was bestowed upon her by way of a curse, as her mother crossed a hare during pregnancy. Prue is also accused of being a witch, and has to deal with the prejudice she encounters in her community, as they believe that if there is something wrong on the outside, it must reflect the inside. Prue is a Nature Mystic, so she gains consolation for this prejudice by going out into the landscape to commune with the unseen force that resides in Nature. There are some truly magical encounters in the novel, and reading it for the first time (at the age of fifteen) enabled me to make sense of how I saw the landscape around me. Webb writes the landscape as a magical, mystical space which has agency, and a space in which anything can happen.

Second would be Robert Mcfarlane’s book, The Old Ways. I loved his descriptions of walking the landscape and the feelings he encountered, especially the encounter he had with a mysterious force among the trees in the middle of the night when he was trying to sleep. The encounter occurs on the South Downs, and it is really eerie. Usually, Macfarlane is quite logical – It reminds me that even the most logical of us can still make room for the mystical.

Thirdly, I would probably have to say Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel, The Enchanted April, in which two very downtrodden women decide to flee the boredom and dissatisfaction they encounter in their own lives by running away to Italy for a month. The descriptions of the gardens overlooking the sea are so arresting in their intensity. As more people come to the house, they all gradually start to unfurl and find themselves among the flowers and the birdlife. The descriptions are really beautiful, and the place has a real sense of magic.

What is your favourite Pagan festival and why?

I really love the Wheel of the Year, and it has to be my favourite part of the Pagan path(s) as it allows us to pause in whatever we are doing, and just focus on nature. It’s a reminder to be mindful. This is going to sound a bit gloomy, but my absolute favourite festival is Samhain. I lost my mum to cancer about eleven years ago, and I love the fact that Samhain gives me an opportunity to focus on her and my other ancestral spirits. Attending Samhain circles was a really important part of my healing during the years when my grief was new and at its most raw.

On your website you say you help others who are creatively blocked to unblock themselves. How do you do this?

I have a few tools in my toolbox that help with this, but they don’t all get an airing at the moment. Firstly, I am a master practitioner of NLP and a certified coach. So, at times when I haven’t had the PhD on the go, I can use my coaching skills to try and help them work through things (although these days it is mainly me that I work with!) The other tool I have is as a proof-reader and editor for other writers. Again, it’s not something I get to do much of now but I really like the challenge of coaching other writers through their work, as it enables me to help them, and also to reflect on my own practices. It is something I return to from time to time, and I can see a time in the future (probably post PhD) when I dust this one off and use it again. I have worked with quite a few authors on their novels, and it is really rewarding, especially when you see someone getting a light bulb moment after struggling with something for a while.

As well as writing and studying for your PhD, you make beautiful jewellery and pendulums. How do you find the time for everything?

With some careful time planning, but also by following the natural patterns of my own energy cycles. I am definitely a morning person, so I have developed this slightly bizarre habit of doing most of my writing on the tube, during my daily commute to central London. I actually go out of my way to make this last as long as I can, choosing a route that gives me the time I need to have a fairly concentrated burst of writing. I tend to be a ‘short bursts, very often’ kind of writer. I wrote all four of my previous books this way, and it seems to work.

At weekends I tend to have more at home time. The beading work seems to work best then. It’s something I can pick up and put down, as my time and energy allows. I also used to make natural soaps and bath products, but when I started my MA I had to hang up my soaping shoes, as there just wasn’t time for everything. I think we have natural cycles for things, and times and moods that elicit different bursts of creative energy. It’s just a case of needing to work out what works, and then you harness it. But I also have to be quite ruthless about how I choose to spend my time. It doesn’t leave me much time for ‘shoulds’, which is never a bad thing. You know, ‘I would like to go for a walk, but I should be painting the bathroom’. Stuff the painting, I say!

How do you relax and take time for yourself?

I try and swim several times a week. I have an outdoor (heated) pool I go to in central London, which is just magical. On really cold days you get a mist that rises from the water, and I really love lying on my back in the water, watching the clouds and the birds flying overhead. It’s my water element moment.

At weekends, I take time for myself by walking. My husband is a night owl, which means he is still snoring while I am awake early with ants in my pants. He doesn’t love mud as much as I do either, so I use the mornings to go off walking while he has a lie in. These are my earth and air moments.

I think there is also something truthful in the idea that if you are doing the things you love, you find the energy somehow. I know when I am engaged in all the things that fit my life’s purpose (to have as many creative adventures as I can) somehow it all flows naturally. When my energy levels nosedive (I have M.E.) then I have to hibernate for a while so I can come back renewed.

And finally, what are you looking forward to most in 2016?

One of the things I am looking forward to is doing more talks. I gave my first talk at Treadwells Bookshop in Bloomsbury recently, and I felt like a duck who had found her pond. Somehow it harnesses all the skills I have learned over the years and brings them all together in one place. I loved every minute of it – from the talk, to the question and answer session, to the social time afterwards. It was really nice meeting readers face to face and being able to share our enthusiasm for our literary gods, and people have been really enthusiastic. It’s a great (and immediate) way of getting feedback, and knowing if you are on the right track or not. And it’s also a lovely way to share the research I am doing.

Find out more about Rebecca at http://www.rebeccabeattie.co.uk/ and follow her blog at the Moon Books website.

Interview with Nimue Brown: Druidry and Dreams

September, 2015

Nimue Brown: Druidry and Dreams

paganportals

 

 

Nimue is the author of Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan prays, Spirituality without Structure, Druidry and the Ancestors and Druidry and Meditation. Somehow, despite all the writing she does, she finds time to be an active member of the Pagan and Druid community, run a very popular WordPress blog, work with other Pagan authors and the publisher Moon Books as well as being a musician! I was, therefore, very grateful to grab a few minutes with Nimue, to ask her a few questions about her inspirations, her motivations and her life as a pagan.

Mabh Savage: You’re an incredibly prolific writer, with 5 books out with Moon Books in the last two years or so, plus Intelligent Designing for Amateurs, and the Hopeless, Maine graphic novels you do with your husband as well as independent publications. You also blog regularly; where do you find the time? How do you keep your muse stimulated?

Nimue Brown: Finding ideas has never been much of a problem for me. There’s so much out there to be inspired by, confused about, angry with, curious about… and I think about everything a lot. In terms of finding the time, I’m self-employed, juggling all manner of peculiar paying gigs, but there are always spaces for writing. I don’t have a television, and I hardly ever get whole days off, so that’s the trade-off.

MS: You do interviews yourself for the Moon Books blog; who has been your favourite interviewee so far?

NB: Interviewing Ronald Hutton was quite an experience. He’s something of a personal hero, and he doesn’t give interviews very often, so I knew I was incredibly blessed in getting to do that and was also a bit terrified, but it was an amazing thing to do. All of them have been interesting though, it’s something I very much enjoy doing.

MS: My favourite publication of yours is a contribution to the Moon Books: Pagan Portals series, titled Spirituality without Structure. Can you tell us a bit about this book? What inspired it, and what is its goal?

NB: I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years looking at world religions, mostly to compare prayer practices. [When a Pagan Prays, Moon Books, 2014] However, alongside what I’d been intending to do, I started realising there are a lot of curious commonalities in how religions function, and they aren’t to do with spirituality at all, most of the time. Partly inspired by Alain du Botton’s Religion for Atheists, and partly by the census figures that show ever more people moving away from conventional religion, I thought this might be useful to explore. What can we take from formal religion that is useful? What, in those formal structures is not helpful to a spiritual life? How do you go about walking your own path and building your own practice? Those are questions I have attempted to answer. Small book, big ideas.

MS: Despite being a ‘Pagan Portal’, can the ideas within be applied to someone who has been involved in any faith or spirituality?

NB: Yes. I’m very interested in the work of heretical Christians like Mark Townsend, so am confident that Spirituality without Structure would be quite readable for anyone chaffing inside a religious structure. Whether we belong to a formal faith tradition or not, the only authentic spiritual experience is the personal one, and I think there is more commonality there, than there are differences caused by the methods we use to seek those spiritual experience.

MS: The tagline of the book is The Power of Finding Your Own Path. Do you think that many people who are interested in Paganism get swept onto paths that are popular but actually very unsuited to that individual, simply because there is more info readily available about these particular paths?

NB: Yes. Many people come to the less well known Pagan paths having been through a flirtation with witchcraft, first. Certain kinds of Paganism have a much stronger and more visible public presence, and people feel some resonance and are drawn in, even though it’s not a perfect match. The theatrical Druidry of white robes and big public gatherings gets the most media attention, and it can take those of us who are more muddy, feral and chaotic by nature a while to find out where we fit. Often the things that bring people to Paganism are not as impressive and enlightened as we might want them to be, but if a film, or World of Warcraft, Dungeons and dragons, or a fantasy book makes you realise a thing, it is simply a doorway. Many people come in via the strangest of doors, and go on to make their own journeys. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, these seem like very natural transitions to me, as people discover their own nature and way of doing things.

MS: Do the thoughts within the book, about moving away from formal religious ideas, reflect changes in your own life?

NB: My background as a child was loosely Pagan, although I went to a Church of England school. I was an eclectic Pagan until I realised I was a Druid, and then I’ve gently shuffled about inside Druidry, finding the Bards and the feral folk. However, I’ve been active on the Pagan scene for a good fifteen years now; I’ve watched a lot of people making those transitions, struggling with old faiths, struggling with new ones… I’ve mentored a fair number of people along the way, and heard a lot of stories.

MS: You speak about being termed as a ‘general eclectic Pagan’, which in my experience usually means anyone who is Pagan but doesn’t fit into any of the pigeon holes such as Wicca etc. Why do you think, as Pagans, we are so keen to label and define ourselves? Does this only occur in groups, do you think?

NB: It’s very useful for identifying likeminded people. I don’t think it’s a particularly Pagan inclination, either. I have other labels… Green, Steampunk, gothic, folky – these are tags that alert kindred spirits. If I see someone else who is a Pagan Steampunk for example, or a folky Druid, I know we’ve got some common ground and may well get along. It helps me choose which events to go to, which books to read. There’s so much information out there, the internet gives us access to about 2 billion people, and there are a lot of books and events. Anything that gives us a fighting chance of filtering that down to something useful and meaningful, I am very glad to have in the mix. Probably when we all lived in small villages, it wasn’t so much of an issue.

MS: Although you’ve found your own path, do you still consider yourself a Druid?

NB: My path is within Druidry. ‘Druid’ is a huge term covering a vast range of practices and beliefs. Nobody is ‘a Druid’ these days, nor, I think, historically. The ancient Druids had all kinds of different roles. Modern Druids are swelling in numbers and starting to reflect that. Some are political, some are healers, some are wild and some specialise in civilization. I think this diversity is a really good thing.

MS: Is druidry so attractive because of its lack of religious bias?

NB: I’m not sure that’s it. I think the absence of dogma is very attractive to a lot of people. It’s very community orientated, a lot more child-friendly than some paths and a lot more fluid than many as well. You can be a member of more than one group; you can shift between Orders to study, or study alone. We have enough commonality to be able to gather in big groups and share, but a lot of room for individual expression. I think the room for innovation is appealing, and the sense of something organic, always growing and shifting is an attractive thing to be part of.

MS: In Spirituality Without Structure, you state that one must be spiritual on one’s own terms, to avoid subservience. Do you feel that religions or paths with elements of subservience in are somehow less spiritual than those that have none? Is any worship of a deity a form of subservience? Or simply connecting with the divine?

NB: Some people choose subservience to deity as part of their path. If that is the way you manifest your spirituality, it really is no one else’s business! However, most religions encourage subservience to other people, and that’s a whole other game. It is the power religions give to people and the demand that we abase ourselves before other humans, in the name of the divine, that I think is innately lacking in spirituality.

MS: Do you think it’s possible to have a wholly spiritual life and still be part of an organised, formal religion? Is it a natural progression that as you remove the external trappings of religion, you become closer to the world/universe/divine/nature, or does it depends on the individual?

NB: I would think that’s wholly possible. There are many good things in the traditions, writings, creativity and inspiration of formal religions, and in theory they should also be a good means of sharing all that. For some, the tradition is really important, and the need to challenge the ways in which other people misuse and corrupt those religions. It takes a generosity of spirit to work in that way, but for some the calling is very much to go back into those formal religious spaces and try to inject some soul to offset the politics.

MS: And finally, what’s an average day like in the Brown household?

NB: Increasingly, there are no average days, which I like! Monday mornings there’s a community gardening project we go along to, we walk at least once a week, there’s a Friday coffee morning for arty people we like to attend. I try and make sure I have a whole day off, if not 2 in any given week, and not to work more than ten hour days. Some of my time goes on marketing work for Moon Books, and I do odd small jobs as a reviewer and freelance media support person, I read a lot. I do a lot of crafting, and when I’m working on the first draft of a project my afternoons are often a mix of crafting and writing. I find the crafting gives me time to think. Currently I need the day by going out to see the bats. In that mix, being a parent, dabbling in folk music, cooking, meditating, spending time with friends, sitting with other Druids, and anything else that strikes me as being a good idea!

All Nimue’s books are available from Amazon and other good retailers, and you can keep up with her blog at https://druidlife.wordpress.com/.