Little Common People

“Acknowledging and strengthening your supportive web of equals is Right Action. Not putting value on large status symbols is Right Thinking. Be quietly comfortable; if you are well ahead you should not aspire to enter the ranks of the wealthy but be sharing more.”

From Judith O’Grady

 

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I was presenting recently about the divination system I use, Ogham.

No, this essay isn’t about Ogham but in my introduction about them/me I touched on the way that my Druidry differs from many other modern Druids:

In Olden Days, Druids studied for 20-25 years to become literate in several languages, to memorize laws and teaching stories and then recite them, to play an instrument and sing, to make extemporaneous poetry, and other things. ‘Druidry’ was not a religion; ‘Druid’ was a title.

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Some modern-day Druids consider that achieving a Masters degree gives them approximately 20 years of education, or that being head of a Grove or well-informed about the old mythos and lore gives them the title. Or they just consider themselves as such because of their inherent status and importance.

Then they make assumptions about how things were in the Older Days and say,

“The Druid informed the people when the Holidays came, decided what the law stated, passed on the lore……”

I have no clear idea how Druids acted, believed, and worshipped in the Olden Days; not much instructional lore exists because Druids had a gease

(like a taboo but which was something that they might have to do as well as being forbidden to do and also varied from person to person)

against writing down their religion, dogma, beliefs, rituals, etc.

But I have read about history.

Before Modern Times common people mostly stayed where they were born all of their lives. Even as late as Pre-Industrial Age most non-noble, ordinary people travelled 15 miles or less from their home-place in all their lives. Travel was difficult and news disbursal was slow; so only what happened in your neighbourhood was well known. Then Market day would permit news from the surrounding area and near villages and towns to be traded along with speciality goods. Big fairs once or twice a year brought further news, imported goods, and professional performers.

More classes of people went to big fairs so the news would be different in scope. On market day you would talk over your own tradespeople, farmers, and miscreants but at a Fair the news would include kings, far-away wars, clan fights, all that constitutes history. Before Common Era you might see a Druid or hear what the Druidic opinion was about the history.

But it wasn’t that you existed in a sort of formless void between the occasional, accidental, fleeting contacts with the Big People. Common people had a rich and meaningful life that had its own complete history; just one that has never made it into the books. It needed no Druid to tell you what to think or do, you could decide on your own. You might consider your family or community history; if you felt you needed advice, counsel, or Magic you need not search out a titled person. In your real, small world there were Fairy Doctors, Wisewomen, Cunning People, and storytellers (seanchaí). Although people might travel quite a distance (in their estimation, not ours) to consult a Healer or Soothsayer those people continued to be viewed as people much like the applicant but with a skill…. something like making good cheese or excellent beer. A skill with a little mysterious to it— people in touch with the Other World or wise in healing were like blacksmiths, dealing in Magic but a common-sense kind, not too dangerous.

The stories the Seanchaí told (or, failing that, the stories that came from your neighbours in gatherings) were about the high people and had larger Magics and bigger events in them and (imo) were considered to be a little inflated for the grandeur of it. But the story about your neighbour being dropped in a bog by a Will O’the Wisp was taken as told if not connected with having a drop taken.

So having a skill, even being very very good at it, didn’t change your status. You still lived down the road and traded elixir for shoes or foretellings for a chicken. Maybe if word of mouth spread enough a lady might come for a Magic Potion and give a little bit of jewellery in exchange but you were still a small person, rooted in your own countryside, associated with your own people, secure in your own identity.

In the Pagan community there is a status than many aspire to— being a Big Name Pagan (BNP) which would (presumably) make you larger than life. You might be able to live, possibly live large, on your Pagan earnings! You could be fortune-teller to the stars! But no, if suddenly my readings of Ogham went viral or people flocked to hear me give out about Irish lore or Socialist Druidry (none of these is really viable even as a daydream) I would not become a BNP, I would still live the same small life as now and just share more.

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Because I want to live a small life as a goal. I don’t say to myself that perhaps I’ll win the lottery or get a fabulous job or be elected as Empress of the World and this small life is just for now. ‘Where I Am’ (the fifth direction) actually defines me and not ‘where I wish I was’. I want to be in the web of common people and connected to my many equals; this is the Right Place. I am a skilly-person; my skill is Magic and God-Speaking but I am not a religious leader, I am just religious. People can ask me about what the Gods are saying, what is Right Action and Balance in a given situation, herbal preparations and Magic, divinatory advice…… but I will ask for help in their skill in return.

So what about the coming End Times when all Small People should rise up?

In more recent Irish history there were the Troubles; that part of the island not included in the Irish Republic was at war. From my admittedly biased point of view the Freedom Fighters/Soldiers of the Republican Army/terrorists (small people) were engaged in an unequal war with a Great and Domineering Empire. Many other small people saw those soldiers as part of their community, equals and compatriots. Even if circumstances kept them from playing an active, fighting part the people actively fighting were still neighbours. Soldiers who were retreating from a losing battle could run through any unlocked door and have it locked behind them and, if necessary, answered afterward by homeowners who had seen nothing.

When the armoured cars drove into a supportive community the small people living there (part of the Great and Domineering Empire‘s battle plan was unequal hiring and pejorative housing allotments to ensure that their enemies stayed small) would stand outside their homes and clang the trash can lids on the pavement as the cars rolled by thus locating the enemy for the soldiers. If ordered to stop they could readily stop and leave the clanging to the person on the other side of the street.

There is no stigma in being small, quite the opposite. Small, taking up less room, is the Right Place. Acknowledging and strengthening your supportive web of equals is Right Action. Not putting value on large status symbols is Right Thinking. Be quietly comfortable; if you are well ahead you should not aspire to enter the ranks of the wealthy but be sharing more.

If you can fight, fight. If illness or age or family or fear keep you from fighting, stand in solidarity and bang your trash can lid.


Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Waiting for the Winds

Any person can hear the voices of the winds easily. It gets in your ears, murmuring and whistling. But to know what is said? That’s a very different consideration.

From Nimue Brown


This piece also appears in A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing. Follow the link at the end for pre-order information.


I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised upon these hills,
My body made of fossils,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

Let me sing you a love song of this landscape, of the sharp Cotswold edge, thick with beech trees, rising up from the flood plain. Here the Severn River flows, oozes, meanders and marauds her way one season to the next, one tide to the next. Curlews by the hundreds, oystercatchers and seagulls frequent her seaweed-strewn shore. Beyond her banks lie the mysterious wooded hills of the Forest of Dean, where the wild boar wander. This landscape is in my body, in my blood, and in my soul.

In this part of the world, there are two days in each year when the east wind meets with the west wind and they talk for a while. One of them—the one who has ruled the Cotswold edge since their last conversation, goes home at the end of the meeting. It is clearly not a fight for dominance, but a longstanding agreement, acted out year on year. Of course, what they say to each other must vary considerably, although I have never heard anyone claiming to know what has been said.

I grew up in this land, learning its folklore and habits from my grandmother. Here we live amongst ancient barrows, Iron Age hill forts, ruins of mills. We inhabit the stories in the soil—at Hetty Peggler’s Tump, at Woeful Dane’s Bottom, nymphs-field, hares-field and more. I grew up unable to imagine a geography that was not alive with story, history and magic.

I first learned about the twice-yearly meetings of the winds from a Dursley woman who told me during a long bus ride into Gloucester that she had seen them up on Drakestone Point. It’s a high place overlooking the river, a site of Stone Age settlement. She saw two giant, swirling forms of men, deep in argument, hurling bits of tree at each other. That was the year Gloucester and Tewkesbury flooded so badly. What could the winds argue over? They can own nothing, need nothing. Does the west wind envy the biting teeth of the east wind as it comes out of Russia with swans riding on its shoulders? Does the east wind resent the easy, moist warmth blowing in from the Atlantic? Was it simply that they’d ended up in Dursley, a place clouds come to vent their anger on a regular basis?

It turns out there are many such tales, old and new, of seeing the wind. It is appropriate perhaps that the ones I’m sharing came to me on the air of tales told, and now I’m blowing these thoughts towards your ears.

The man from Coaley who talked to me late one night under a full moon saw them one autumn day at the Nympsfield barrow and had a different kind of tale to tell me. He said it was one of those strange days when mist rolls up the Severn, turning the vale into a kind of seascape, with fog waves breaking on the newly discovered Cotswold coast. A dream of ocean given form. The east and west winds came softly towards him, hazy figures of water drops, meeting, merging, pulling apart. They spent a whole afternoon in this curious dance of closeness, separation, return. As the setting sun turned the fog sea into gold, the west wind headed towards the last glow of day, and the east wind bent down from the hillside and blew the wreathes of mist away, turning the uncanny ocean back into the familiar sight of the silvery river, blowing in the first cold notes of winter.

I was raised beside the river,
Washed through by her waters,
Waters drawn through limestone
That fell as ancient rain.
I was raised beside the river,
Her tides are always calling,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

For a long time I had a theory that when the winds meet, they tell each other stories: tales they have heard, things they have witnessed. There may be a competitive angle to it, each aiming to tell the best tale. Perhaps sometimes one wind hates a story the other has found, and this is why they get cross with each other on occasion. It was a safe story from a safer time, this. I’ve watched the winds grow fiercer year on year, watched the storms come and the weather shift. If the winds are angry, then we have made them so. Still, when I can’t sleep at night, I listen to the wind in the trees outside my home and I try to guess the sort of story it might be telling.

Friends of mine saw the winds one spring up on Selsley in the first warm days of the year. They were laughing together and playing with the long grasses, lifting skylarks in their hands and raising them into the heavens, bird song pouring down all the while like champagne. It was a bright day, and they were beings of sparkling brilliance. Two giant women, full of delight and light.

I don’t think the winds really have genders. I don’t think they look like humans, it’s just that we see them with our ancient ape faces and we make what sense of them we can. What sort of people they seem to be may say more about us than it does about the winds themselves. But what they do—there’s a truth to it and one that will shape the remaining wind’s mood until their next meeting. Whether they part warmly or in anger speaks of the weather to come—and perhaps more than the weather. We may like to pretend that our sophisticated, urban lives aren’t influenced by such elemental things, but when the east wind is bitter and resentful all winter, I start seeing that same look in other people’s eyes, as well.

I was raised beneath the beeches,
Their nuts my food in autumn,
Spring bright leaves my happiness
In summer gave me shade.
I was raised beneath the beeches,
Along the plunging hill line
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

There were a few days in early March this year when the air was unseasonably warm. I had a feeling the winds would be meeting early to talk. I’d spent such a long time hoping to see them, ever since I heard about their manifesting. This had been my year, but it had not been straightforward. I found the winds up on Swift’s Hill, quite by accident. I’d gone up there a little after dawn, just for the pleasure of the view and the quiet. They were glittering with heavy dew and playing with the feathers of some dead bird. From what other people have told me, they pay no attention to humans, so I just kept a respectful distance and tried to be calm in my awe at finally seeing them. They seemed thoughtful, even while they spiralled feathers skywards and watched them tumble down, almost as though the feathers were some ancient system of divination. Who’s to say? I had a feeling that a slow, careful sort of conversation was taking place.

Any person can hear the voices of the winds easily. It gets in your ears, murmuring and whistling. But to know what is said? That’s a very different consideration. I do not know how to hear the wind that well. But I do know it was an early meeting, and that the snowdrops were early this year too. I know that last year turned out to be the hottest on record. While the winds carry summer and winter on their backs, they aren’t Gods. They do not make the rules that turn the seasons, they just dance around the two poles of the equinoxes. Or at least, they used to.

I watched the pair of them part, and to me it looked hesitant and regretful; the parting of people who are aware that they might not meet again, or who fear the circumstances in which they may next greet each other. How hot a summer will it be? If the Gulf Stream changes its mind, where will the east and west winds tryst come autumn?

I watched the east wind gather herself up and leave, taking the winter with her. After that, the west wind didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. We both stayed on the hill for a while: me the overwhelmed, wide-eyed human, him an uneasy wind who tried, I feel sure, to communicate something to me—something my ears could hear but not turn into sense. It was a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help that came to me on Swift’s Hill that morning. I’m sure I’m not the only person the winds are trying to speak to.

I will look for the winds as the autumn comes, of course. I will watch along the hill line and listen to human voices for tales of their presence. I will keep trying to understand. Perhaps we still have time to tune our ears, learn their language, and find out what they want us to hear. Perhaps we already know, if we care to think about it. Perhaps it is we who have the answers they need.

I was raised by wild swans,
Who fly here every winter,
Lifted by their wing beats
And guided by the stars.
I was raised by wild swans,
To wait the east wind’s turning,
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.


Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown lives on the Cotswold edge above the Severn River. She is a Druid, dreamer, author, and steampunk womble.


A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing is slated for release 15 November. Save $5 off the cover price by pre-ordering at this link.

Gods & Groups

AT THE LAST RITUAL, which was Imbolc, while we were having our customary snack afterward, I asked the Grove if we would like to give to a refugee assistance group as well as our traditional (for Imbolc) donation to the food bank. In our world order, the deity of Imbolc is of course Bridget, Whom we see as a protector of the poor as well as the midwifery and blacksmithery aspects. And our winters are fiercely cold; and apparently there is a donation slump in the post-Christ-mass non-Pagan society.

So now is when we give to the hungry in Her name because who needs intercession and assistance, really…… it’s like the famous historical personage who’s name I don’t know (my, that fellah said a lot, almost as much as ‘anon’, neh?) who was told that the new-made laws were not ‘anti-poor’ and responded ‘I see; the rich cannot sleep under bridges nor beg in the streets as well’.

I looked around at the Grove members present; one said that our focus should, in her opinion, be local. Another countered that since we had specifically spoken to Her about the refugees we should back up our petition; the first speaker agreed and said she would be satisfied if the amounts were unequal.

“Excellent,” I said “60/40? 70/30?” The first speaker nodded and I glanced around again.

As it happened, we had a guest present. “Are you going to vote now?”

“No, we are not a democratic group. We are mostly socialists and few in number; we run by consensus only.”

We only act if we are all acting together. If we don’t have agreement we act as individuals (like when I cursed the animal abuser named ‘Seagull-Ripper’ by my son—I only reported to the group because we are all invested in the river-shore’s well-being. They were guardedly relieved that action had been taken although they were uncomfortable with it).

Anyone can do this, you don’t have to be Druids nor follow the Old Gods. Form a group of like-minded people, convert a friendship group to action, mention in a social setting that you would like to take some action and draw in the people who like the idea. Talk it over and make a plan you all are comfortable with, then do something.

In the same post-Ritual chat ‘n snack, the visitor commended us on our work after I reported on the ongoing dialogue between me and the public lands bureaucracy about our planting trees at MidSummer Ritual. (Be you sure that we will guerrilla if we are not granted permission; if we are given permission, however, we will also get free trees given us). It’s not hard; discussion fosters ideas and the person most interested in the idea makes a plan that the others participate in.

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Seed Bombs in the making

It’s fairly easy to convert talk to action in a small group: it’s impossible to lose transparency, non-participation is obvious, adjustments are fluid and quick.

I was heartened and moved by the post-inauguration Woman’s March; big numbers are good for making big statements. A lot of people show a consensus that is hard to ignore. But actually, a lot of those marchers were small action groups that had planned together what they were going to do.

All of those little stories: the choral group who had practiced over video and had never met in person until they were marching, the people holding up street-width group banners, my house-bound friend who made and sent a lot of pink hats and all of her sisters who did the same, the people who put on skits or donned costume….

Following leadership is the old way. If you elect a leader, you abrogate your involvement in the process. Yes, I belong to a nation and I pay taxes. I expect my government to engage in sewer maintenance. If my provincial leader ran on a ticket of free post-secondary schooling I would vote yes–that’s something I and my several friends would have difficulty implementing ourselves. But organizing garden plots in the yards of interested people and sharing around the produce? That’s something we can do ourselves. Teaching the dominant languages and bureaucratic form-filling in the community centres? Again, something we can do ourselves.

judith-twoI must admit, I don’t belong to those two exampled action cells myself, although I am aware of both of them and know some of the people who do those things. I don’t have dig and weed capability, but have shared seeds and knowledge with other action cells that are forming to de-grass yards.
What I do best is talk to Gods and Beings, and talk to people who don’t trance, and receive messages about what it’s like. Just like my Grove members that didn’t want to curse “Seagull Ripper” themselves, there are quite a few radicals and ecologists (not mutually exclusive groups, though) who don’t want to acknowledge that the world is full of Gods and Spirits, but can hear the World Song faltering nevertheless. They acknowledge the convergence of our goals while insisting on the divergence of our beliefs. But action is still furthered.

It’s like before I retired. One evening I was in the lab working when an assistant came down the hall.

“We have an intractable cat in treatment,” she said “and the technician told me to come and get you.”

“Okay, I can stop what I’m running.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Hold.”

“But I hold!”

“Right,” (now we’re in treatment…)”I’ll hold the front, you’ll hold the back. Now we’ll just wait a moment and I’ll tell the cat it’s all right.”

So the cat quiets down and we draw blood. The assistant is still confused.

“What did you do?”

The treatment technician, a person of science if there ever was, said,

“We don’t ask ourselves that question; Judith is doing something that works, go and get her when we’re having trouble. But don’t listen or you’ll fall asleep.”

“I can’t talk to aggressive dogs,” I cautioned “just fear.”

Eco-terrorists can operate without a speaker-to-the-Earth, but if they acknowledge that having a speaker/believer facilitates success, things work better. And, to the believer, a different level of action is undertaken. In the believer’s world, the Gods, if willing, lend Their aid to the work. In the unbeliever’s world that isn’t the case, but if they perceive that the work goes better with a believer along, then the end is achieved without their having to question what is going on. And getting the work done is important to both the believer and the un. In this case consensus of belief isn’t needed, only consensus of action.

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Follower of Manannán macLir sharing trash-picked elementary-school lunch scraps with his friends

In our Druid Grove, we have a framework of liturgical format that stays the same from ritual to ritual. When the Guiding Druid is about to declare what the Holy Day is, how celebrated, and Who will be addressed, ze always begins that segment with the call-and-response:

“Why are we here?”

 

“We are here to honour the Gods!”

That is all there can be at bottommost: expression of belief and participation. To the believers, the interactions between people and people are necessarily secondary to the interactions between people and the Gods. The critical (as in the most important, not as in the need for negative input) responsibility of the Gods-Speaker/s of the group is to facilitate the communication with the Gods. That should be the impetus that brings all the worshippers together in a ritual and helps to inform all the participants in a God’s-interesting undertaking. Pagan endeavour references Beings different from the humans present, and the attention of the humans present at Pagan events or the Pagans present at human events should be turned towards something other than themselves.

By not acknowledging the larger-than-self referential a poorly focused Pagan brings upon hirself an additional level of culpability. The Gods are not being honoured and the work is not moving forward; the positive outcome of the group activity is ‘larger-than-self’ and so is the possibility of negative outcome enlarged if the believers are not carrying their two agendas successfully.

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With one hand I pick trash for the environment, With the other I pick trash for the Gods.

And, since I have belief, I also believe that the Good Gods act to constrain the UnGods as well as the people who choose against Right Action. However, I believe that They do it following Their own agenda which is not mine, not at my behest, and often not comprehensible to me. Our communication is imperfect; I have found that a shining and unexpected asset of group (rather than solitary) communication is how much more stable and clear the lines of communication become over time in a group. What works clicks into place with practice more smoothly, and a whole group of troubleshooters is standing by to root out what doesn’t work and suggest alternatives.


Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred looks pretty amazing. Want a copy?