Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Free Will

What is it you want when you petition your Gods? When you light your candle and say your prayers? When you make your offering and listen for a response? What is it you are really asking for?

I imagine the answer to that is different for all of us, even if on the surface we are asking for the same things, be it money, love, health, protection. How many of us have given it much thought? No, I mean REALLY thought?

I'll put my hand up and say I hadn't, not really. I thought I had. I thought I had enough experience to know exactly what I'm doing each time I light a candle on my altar. It would be foolish to do otherwise, right? My prayers are second nature to me now, and I liked that. I could no more start work on something without having lit a candle, blessed my workspace and made my devotions to The Lady, than I could fly to the moon or breathe without air. It was instinctive. A ritual I couldn't imagine ever forgoing. Still can't.

But something happened recently that made me see my devotions with new eyes. When I ask a boon of The Lady am I asking her to take over? Am I relinquishing my self control? Is that really what I expect? What am I actually asking for? I have always said, always believed, that the greatest gifts She gave us are Life and Free Will.

I shouldn't work when I'm tired, I know that, nor should I work when I'm in pain. It's when I make mistakes, it's when I have accidents. I know all this and yet sometimes there is an unknown force which drives me, a need which cannot be ignored. Sometimes the wood calls to me, pesters me and will not let go until I give in and take it in my hand, turning it, feeling it, knowing it. Last Friday was one of those times. I tried to ignore the urge, I really did, but the call was strong.

I began as I always begin. I prayed to The Lady and lit her candle, I cleansed myself and my tools with purifying sage, and I asked for Her blessing on my work, that she may help me work with the spirit of the wood, and I asked for Her protection.

And then I sat down to work and dug a brand new blade into my hand.

Things had been going so well, the piece of twisted willow I was working on was positively singing. The ideas flowed freely and I felt that hope which always accompanies the start of a new piece. I was happy. And then Bam! A tough grain suddenly gave way under the knife and....blood everywhere.

It was careless, it was stupid. It was deep. And it wouldn't stop bleeding. Damn my heart and those blood thinners! And just before I left for the hospital I turned to my altar and said 'I thought you were supposed to be looking after me!' (Before anyone takes offence, I have the greatest respect for Her but she knows me and I'm a straight talker!)

My wife quite rightly pointed out then that maybe she had indeed protected me and that there was no telling what damage I would have done had She left me to my own devices.  Thank you my lovely witch, for those words of wisdom. Harsh but true! The Lady will protect me from from many things, but not from my own stupidity.

The greatest gifts The Lady gave me are life, and the free will to cut myself to ribbons if I choose.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, the lovely nurse at my local hospital stitched me up a treat and I'm recovering nicely. But shhhh, don't tell my little witch, she might stop the extra TLC.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Giving Something Back

I had an interesting conversation with my ex-wife back in December, a very interesting conversation, and one I never expected to have. You see, she's a cradle Catholic- as are our children- and has always viewed my pagan beliefs to be, well, weird. She just didn't get it, and that was OK; each to his -or her- own, after all. Only now she does get it. Now she's kicking herself for not having seen it earlier. Now she has a deep and profound respect for Mother Earth. I am overjoyed. Not because she said 'You were right, I was wrong' (although that was good too), not because she's become a fully paid up, tree hugging, goddess worshipping member of the pagan community (because she certainly hasn't), but because it has brought her an inner peace, a connection, an understanding, and that is always good to see.

In all the hustle and bustle of pre-Yule, all the visiting family and excitement of new babies, I didn't really have that much time to think about it; it kind of got bundled up with everything else. But something my wife said to me the other day brought it back. I asked her who the candle was for, merrily flickering away in the kitchen, and she looked at me a little surprised and said simply 'I always light it when I cook.'  'Yes, I know, but who is it for?'  It wasn't for anyone specific, she told me, just a more general 'Thanks', to whoever happens to be paying attention. That seemed odd to me. When I light a candle on my altar I know exactly whom I'm lighting it for, and for what reason. I deal in specifics. For my lovely witch however, her kitchen altar is more about generalities. It says thank you for the food we have on our plates, and the hope that our bellies will always be full. It is thanks for the sun that ripens, and the life giving rains. It is thanks to the hearth spirits, and to the Earth, and a nod to whatever spirit it is who keeps pinching the teaspoons or hiding the salt. It takes in everything, and everyone, it needs to. It works for her, so who am I to question it? It takes just a moment of her time but every time she cooks, be it a slice of toast or a roast dinner, a candle burns and a portion of the meal is given, in appreciation of all we have and the light that guides and protects us. 'It's about giving something back,' she said, and is just one of the many things she does each day.

And then it dawned on her that neither one of us had answered my ex-wife when she asked what should she do to give something back? (My fault, once I get talking my mouth runs away with me and no one else gets a look in. I go off on a tangent -just like I'm doing now- and the original topic gets lost). So where was I? Oh yes, I remember. As has happened to so many people before her, my ex, having had that realisation about this land, and how we are connected to it, and what the Earth gives us, came to that ultimate conclusion. I need to give something back! But what?

As a pagan, and a Druid for many years, the answer seems simple to me now. But if I'm honest, back when it was all new, I hadn't got a clue what to do either. We take so much, we are given so much, that we find it hard to think of something suitable, something big enough, to say thank you. A prayer? a candle? An offering? How can that possibly be enough?

But then, one day the truth finally dawns. When the Lady has claimed you for her own you never stop giving back. Every thing you do is in Her honour. You give something back in a million different ways, you do it every day, every month, every year. Small things, big things, simple things, everything.

Some of us do it consciously, in a manner that is obviously 'pagan', some find ways within their more mainstream belief system, others do it without even knowing. Like my in-laws. They aren't pagan, they aren't even particularly religious at all, but they are the Lady's children, they move with Her cycles. They are connected to this Earth, and blissfully unaware, they give something back. The birds in their garden are well fed all year round, their allotment is thoughtfully tended, providing for most of their needs and cutting down dramatically their reliance on the big supermarkets, and all the waste that goes hand in hand with easy, one stop, grocery shopping. They make jams, and pickles, and beer, and wine (on a huge scale! My father-in-law is the King of Home brew), and share this bounty with family, friends and neighbours. They recycle, not just enthusiastically participating in the local scheme of doorstep collections, but anything they find that others have discarded and thoughtlessly dumped is put to good use. They go out of their way to help others, in any way they can. To them this is all just normal, everyday things, but it is still giving something back.

You can plant a forest full of oaks, or a single seed. You can whisper a prayer of thanks on the wind, or shout it to the world. You can feed the birds, or the homeless. You can commune with nature, or with the lonely in your community. You can volunteer in big environmental projects, or just pick up litter while you are out. Plant a tree, sing a song, create a wildlife pond, grow your own veg, rescue battery hens, say a prayer for road kill, take your children for a nature walk, leave the car at home, shop local, support a charity, smile and say 'hello', spread the word.

In short (if I can manage that), it doesn't really matter what you give, or even if you are consciously aware of why you are giving. It doesn't matter how you give, or the size of the offering. What matters is that you give, and give often. Just think, if every one of us were to give back one thing each day, what a difference we could make.