Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Zen Druidry by Joanna van der Hoeven - a review

Zen Druidry – Joanna van der Hoeven
Moon Books ~ 978 1 78099 390 4

Back in the distant past when I was taking early steps along the Druid path, I was also studying Eastern ways – Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Brahmanism, and the like. I stayed on the Druid path and became Druid because I better understood the imagery and symbolism which allowed me to better shape my own metaphysical stance. But I have never ceased to be a student of those other ways.

It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to pick up this little book which outlines both Zen (a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China during the 6th century) and Druidry (the modern name given to a spiritual path developed from that overseen by ancestral Druids) and shows how they can work together. It is a little book, so you might not expect too much of it. You will, however, be pleasantly surprised. It manages to pack a lot into its 74 pages, largely because it is written without fuss or pretensions – indeed, very much in keeping with the subject matter. That alone speaks to me about how valuable this little book is. The author not only knows her subject inside out, she clearly practises what she preaches.

I found the application of the Buddhist Eightfold Path to the eight annual festivals of the Druid way to be of particular interest. Meditation is important to Zen and I have long felt that following the ritual year is a form of extended meditation. And here we have an extra layer to contemplate, integrate, and practice as the seasons revolve.

The greatest connection between Zen and Druidry (for me, at least) lies in mindfulness. It is, perhaps, an attribute common to all spiritual paths, but it is of especial interest to those who recognise their rootedness in this world, who recognise that the worlds of spirit and matter are as integrated as everything else. From the extempore prayers said by Celtic peoples over everyday tasks and events, words that spring from an awareness of working in the now, to the formal ritual built up around significant events in the life of the planet, the individual, the family, and the community, a Druid needs to be mindful. But it goes well beyond word into every aspect of our being – our thoughts, our dreams, and our every action. All this is simply and powerfully highlighted by this book.

So what we have is an engaging and thoughtful introduction to a pertinent fusion of ideas. A book which beautifully illustrates that when you strip away the fluff, the images, and the symbols there is very little that is different between the paths. And whilst it is something you could read at a single sitting (as I did), it is worth revisiting on a regular basis so as to be able to return to that clear and simple vision on which it is based. A book I would willingly recommend to anyone.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Disability and the Druid

It’s been a while. It’s a matter of energy. I have limited resources and must use those to best effect. That means that my various blogs get neglected. All of which prompted me to dust off this old piece, buff up the more tarnished bits, and post it here as my own way of saying, “I ATE’NT DEAD”

Amongst the many reasons that people choose to follow a lone, spiritual path is the fact that they are ‘disabled’ (and there’s a whole other discussion there). This often excludes them from any activity that involves travel, mixing with large groups, clambering across fields, drumming, and generally joining in with all the things that able-bodied souls can manage. Indeed, many of the activities of Groves and Orders seem not to be organised with the possibility that some of their members might be unable to cope.

This discrimination is not intentional (I cannot believe it would be done on purpose), but that does not make it any the less objectionable. Nor does it take into account the fact that the ‘disabled’ often hold a very different position in tribal cultures. Ancestral Celts had a highly developed social system that provided pensions for the sick along with medical care, hospitals, and a general obligation to care and provide for those who could not manage it for themselves. But they also recognized that being unable to walk or having problems coping with other people was often compensated for with other gifts.

It is true that becoming or retaining your position as tribal leader involved being physically perfect, but that was not so much discrimination as a recognition of the fact that the king or queen was meant to lead their warriors into battle and fight. This could not be done properly with an arm missing – although there are always notable exceptions to be found in Celtic myth and legend.

However, the true value of those we now call ‘disabled’ was in their contribution to an understanding of the spiritual world. Being confined by a body or mind that does not work in the same way as the majority of people often allows the time and means to explore the worlds from a completely different perspective. Indeed, some cultures regard some forms of ‘disability’ as a gift. My own has certainly allowed me to pursue ideas and activities that would otherwise have been closed to me. And whilst I would rather be without the constant pain and fatigue (to say nothing of the constant battles with the benefits system), I know I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to go wandering in the Forest of my mind, even if the woodland close by where I live is largely closed to me.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is that the major disability faced by the disabled is not that missing leg, mysterious disease, or mental problem. It is a society that is so disinterested in what falls outside the strict norms of its materialistic aims, that it refuses to accommodate the vision and contribution that the ‘disabled’ can undoubtedly make.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

June 2009 is International Pagan Values Blogging Month!

To see what this is all about, please journey here.

In praise of the dark

Not so very long ago there was an event called Earth Hour. All around the world, people signalled their desire for action from politicians on climate change and other ecological issues by switching their lights off for an hour. Despite the fact this was a symbolic protest, a simple means of displaying a widespread and common desire ignored by politicians, it came in for a great deal of criticism. All the usual suspects lined up to condemn the action. They are clearly frightened by a democratic action that bypasses the control of those ‘in power’. What was sad, however, was the number of Greens and Pagans who spoke out against the action, arguing that it was pointless, that it wouldn’t change anything, that it would cause a surge in electricity production when the lights came back, and so on. Some of these arguments were put forward by the same people who think nothing of travelling hundreds or thousands of miles to attend conferences and protests in big cities and foreign countries…

Some of the naysayers had valid arguments to make, but they did tend to miss the point that this was an action in which ordinary people could participate. The trouble was, they tended to criticise without saying just how else those ordinary folk could make their voice heard. There are many fine examples of people getting on with their lives without screwing up the planet in the process; we could have done with seeing a lot more of those examples being pushed forward.

Irrespective of the arguments re a surge in electricity production increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, I do know that millions of people took part. I also know that politicians will regard it as a stunt and carry on as before. But the thing that got me thinking was the crass statement by a tame psychologist wheeled out for the occasion. He claimed that turning the lights off would send out the wrong message about change; that switching the lights off would give the impression that the only way we could save ourselves would be by plunging ourselves into darkness; that darkness was symbolic of lower living standards, of ignorance, of regression, and of death.

This is pop psychology at its worst and speaks as much (if not more) of a Westernised Abrahamic enculturation as it does of a true psychological evaluation.

As a species, we evolved with the dark as an important part of our lives. Every day, the world turns and we pass through the planet’s shadow. It is called night time. As we are diurnal and, to a much lesser extent, crepuscular, the night is when we rest and sleep. Sleep is essential to both our physical and mental well being. Although the length we need varies from person to person, we do all need the dark every twenty-four hours.

The levels of night time darkness also vary on a monthly cycle with the waxing and waning of the moon. Lunar cycles play a role in our physical and mental wellbeing every bit as important as the diurnal cycle. And the coincidence of the lunar cycle and the human female menstrual cycle is too close to be accidental.

Over the course of a year, for those of living away from the equatorial zone, there is a change in the length of dark periods as well. Again, because we are a diurnal species, we spend more time inside and asleep during the coldest part of the year. At least, that is how we evolved. And evolutionary pressures cannot be overcome by or ignored because of a few decades of electric lighting.

Darkness is, therefore, essential to what we are as a species. The interplay of darkness with light has helped to mould our physical, mental, and spiritual shape in exactly the same way the physical environment has. Psychology is a slightly different matter as our psyche can be changed much more quickly than other aspects of our being and is much more susceptible to social constructs such as education systems, religious and political traditions, and the philosophical creeds on which our society is based.

This does not mean this psychological analysis is correct or that such a psychology is healthy, especially as it appears to be at odds with fundamental evolutionary traits. Indeed, it seems to me that the notion that darkness represents or is psychologically associated with low living standards, ignorance, regression, and death is an expression of infantilism.

Fear of the dark is an infantile response, and then only in some infants. To further associate darkness with all that is ‘bad’ is cultural and not psychological (or only so far as our psyches have been conditioned by cultural pressures). A sign of maturity, a sign of the fact that we are growing up and maturing, is that we no longer fear the dark. This is not to say we should not be wary in the dark, but nor should we give way to fear.

Indeed, refusing to accept the darkness as part of our natural existence is indicative of cultural and social ills. All these lights, all this over complicated technology, the concept of a twenty-four hour society and all the ‘choice’ this is meant to endow tells me that the species is afraid of the natural world. This was not always the case. We have been made afraid of the natural world through the teachings of certain dominant religious traditions, through certain dominant philosophical and political traditions, and through involvement in the chimerical notion of ‘progress’.

There isn’t room here to enter into a discussion about ‘progress’ – it could easily fill a book. But accepting the dark as part of our lives is a sign of maturity. It is a sign of responsibility. It shows we embrace the natural and accept that we are a part of it, no matter how adept we may be at exploiting it. It shows we care for all the other species for whom artificial light has been a disaster. It means we value the night sky in all its glory.

This does not mean I believe we should sit in darkness every evening, that our streets should not be lit. But it does mean we need to take a much more responsible attitude toward our consumption of resources and to our relationship with the world in which we grew up and in which we must live. And it certainly does no harm to embrace and explore the darkness – literal and metaphorical.

[This is a slightly expanded version of a piece first published in GreenWay – the Journey of the Hedge Druid Network]

Saturday, 23 May 2009

I was only following orders...

A number of events, both national and personal, set me thinking about the nature of responsibility. Nationally in the UK, the scandal over MPs expenses and the way this group of people wrote their own rules, policed their own system and, at best, turned a blind eye to the excesses of others has shown just how out of touch it is possible to become – out of touch with the aspirations and moral behaviour of ordinary people. Many MPs have been blaming ‘the system’ for the problems – blithely ignoring the fact that they devised and approved that system. In essence they are using the old “I was just following orders” excuse. With the added twist of being the people who gave the orders in the first place.

There have been rumblings of doom about the damage this is doing to democracy. Not the fact that elected representatives had their noses in the trough for so long, but that this is now being revealed. It won’t harm democracy, because this shows that we simply don’t have democracy in the UK. The political system is corrupt at all levels.

And this corruption stems from an inability to take, or wilful disregard of, personal responsibility. “It was the system.” “I was just following orders.”

At a personal level I encountered, and foolishly dipped my toe into, a discussion about whether or not a ‘teacher’ should charge for their teachings. Given the context – religion/spirituality – I was inclined to agree with the original proposition that they should not. There was a lot of strident input to the effect that should NEVER charge (it turned into that sort of discussion, peppered with capitals). But I did have questions. Surely someone who is making the effort to prepare teaching materials, who is taking time to clarify their own thoughts and write them down, should at least not be out of pocket.

Things got awkward, because I refused to see the issue in black and white. I was told that people can only be ‘symbolic’ adherents if they take teachings from a book; that prisoners got what they deserved; that (grudgingly) concessions ought to be made for the disabled. When it descended to the level of someone saying that if you wanted recompense for materials used, things like toilet paper, I left the discussion.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it never ceases to amaze me how unpleasant some online discussions can become. I wanted to explore the issue, but it was evident that because I was perceived to be taking a different stance to the person who first voiced the opinion I had to be jumped on and insulted. I don’t know why. I had assumed that as the discussion was about teaching, the basic idea of learning through debate might have filtered into this group’s collective consciousness. Clearly, I was wrong.

It seems to me (and I may be wrong) that these people were not thinking for themselves. They had received a teaching and accepted it. They were just following orders. Why? Should they not be taking responsibility for their spiritual path, thinking things through and supporting their stance with coherent propositions that take into account the complexities of the real world?

To be honest, I find this kind of zealotry to be frightening. It speaks to me of a high degree of immaturity and insecurity. It also speaks of an abrogation of responsibility.

I agree with the sentiment of the original proposition. If someone has an insight into spiritual matters, I believe they should share that and not profit financially. But that is a guiding principle, not an absolute. Not just because it would be unfair for the teacher to be out of pocket, but because it denies that the pupils/adherents (call them what you will) also have responsibilities.

The teaching/learning relationship is just that – a relationship. No teacher possesses absolute truth. No teaching is beyond question. No pupil should accept without question. This does not mean that questioning will not lead people back to the original teachings, but every person who learns has a personal responsibility to ensure that what they learn satisfies their own intellectual and practical exploration of the world.

Equally, pupils should not ever treat a teacher as a guru. It doesn’t matter how clever they are, how insightful. They are human. If they are a good teacher they will not dictate their teaching, but guide others to understanding. If they are a great teacher they will accept the possibility that what they teach will be rejected, as long as it is rejected honestly. If they are a good teacher, that won’t happen; good teachers are the ones who help others to teach themselves, not the ones who gather little groups of nodding donkeys about them.

One of the responsibilities of a pupil is to ensure they do not take without giving back. Giving back is part of the learning process. It keeps the discussion rolling round. It takes things on. Giving back may be very simple. If a teacher hands out printed sheets of paper, it can be as simple as offering a few pennies toward the cost of that paper and that ink and the time it took to produce. It doesn’t have to be that. Giving back comes in many forms, physical, intellectual, and spiritual.

Taking responsibility for one’s thoughts and one’s actions was a basic tenet of ancestral Celtic moral teaching. Ancestral Celts built a complex legal system with this belief at its core. Their social structures were much the same. There are complexities here which apply less to us now. Ancestral Celts belonged to a tribal society. The tribe and the individual within the tribe were bound in a relationship that reflected our relationship with the rest of the world.

But at the heart was the notion that you alone were responsible. You could not blame the system; you could not rest on the defence that you were just following orders. You could not, as a pupil, expect your teacher to do all the work and carry the other burdens inherent in teaching. You had responsibilities. You acted in a responsible fashion.

If I was a teacher, with a group before me (rather than being a money-grubbing writer – a whole other argument I won’t go into), that would be the first lesson. It would probably be the only lesson. Because once it is learned it changes the relationship. The teacher is not wise, all learnĂ©d one who must be obeyed. The pupil is not the ignorant adherent who must be prepared for the ‘secret knowledge’. Teacher and pupil become explorers together. They are companions, with one who guides the others simply because they have travelled that road before and know some of the interesting places along the way.

It is, perhaps, the difference between genuine explorers and travellers, and those who go on a package holiday. The former go in the hope they will learn, change, and be better for it without unduly altering the landscape. The latter want everything laid on for them, they want to see the exotic sites (from an air-conditioned bus) but have a nice hotel to go back to, they want comfort, and they don’t really want to be any different when they get back (apart from a nice tan and the cachet of having been somewhere different).

This has been a bit of a rant. But it seems to me that there are enough people out there not facing up to their responsibilities, enough people saying they were only following orders/their leader’s teaching, enough people blaming a system they have tacitly accepted without people who call themselves ‘pagan’ doing the same.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008


Prompted by the death of my dear brother a few days ago, I have been musing on the past, paying my respects to a man who was a constant and gentle presence in my life, even when we did not see much of each other. He was a proper big brother to me; made me my first bicycle from scavenged parts of other machines. He was a quiet person who led the best life he knew how without making a fuss. Yet his achievements can be counted amongst the most important of any man on the planet, for his children are wonderful and caring people and no one can do more.

In all the musing and sorting out, I came across the following. It was written quarter of a century ago. I would probably write it with less flourish now (although it was originally part of a talk given at a Green Party a.g.m.), but the sentiments are still valid.

So, in memory of my brother:

Winter is a time of physical pause, a time to rest the body. Growth ceases, and we seek shelter to wait out the storms and the darkness. It is a time for patience. And in such times, it is only natural, prompted by the lengthening nights and the ever-colder days, that we should slow down, draw closer to the hearth, and turn more to our thoughts than to our actions to keep us occupied. It is that part of the annual cycle when we can look to the coming year and consider which paths we should best follow into the future.

To do this most effectively we should turn our thoughts in the opposite direction. This is not done out of perversity, or out of a fear of the future, but simply to maintain the balance. For winter is a time also to look back. For this is part of the circle – we look back to see forward and we look forward to see back. More practically, no one can look to the future with any clarity or purpose, or choose their paths into the future with any sensibility until they have taken stock of the routes by which they have travelled to this point. We can never be sure of the future, that is, until we are sure of the past.

That does not mean that during each winter we should pick over every detail of what we have done in the last year. There is nothing to be gained from such mawkish vivisection of the self. What is meant is that we each need to be able to still ourselves and take stock of our progress to date.

Every journey consists as much in its pauses and rests as it does in its movement. The value of movement to a journey is self-evident. The value of periods of rest is much less so, but is, nonetheless, of equal worth. Periods of rest give the self – body and soul – opportunities to recover from the exertions just passed and a chance to generate new reserves of energy to cope with the exertions to come. They also provide the opportunity to take a broader view.

Whilst standing still, we need have no worries about the uneven surface of the path at our feet. We can, without danger of stumbling, look back at the terrain we have come through and we can look forward on to what the choice of paths before us will take us. To worry about the details of the path when we are stationary, particularly that path whose pitfalls we have already negotiated, is to miss the broad scope and the unity of all things, and the humbling impact on our being of seeing all things as a whole. And, if we have spent our time up to now walking in calm, sunny water-meadows we know, when we turn to the snow-misted mountains before us, that we will have to change either our route or our methods of travelling if we are not to perish.

The need to pause is essential. If we do not do so occasionally, then we will not know if we are moving in the correct direction or are using right methods until it is much too late. We have to stop every so often and enjoy the view, take pleasure in what we have accomplished; recharge our selves; survey the past and the present; look on to the future and then, and only then, decide which paths, which courses of action, and which stances – personal, political, and spiritual (if there be any difference between them) – that we feel to be the best that will enable us to cope with what we believe to be ahead of us.

We cannot, of course, move forward alone. Whatever road we each take, we take with companions and each step has consequences for others. Our right to self determination has clear, concomitant obligations and responsibilities. We all of us have to find a way that is best suited to our selves. A way that, by its nature of being a gift of and from the true self, is of equal worth with all other such gifts. Yet, to make that gift, each of us must know what sort of person we are; else the gift is false and grudgingly given. To know our selves, we each have to pause and look back – not only at our personal pasts, but also at the past of the ideas and concepts in which we, as persons, believe.

So, our concern must be with the past if we are to make anything sensible of the future. We need those times in our lives when we not only review the pasts that reside within us and in which we reside, but also sit still by the fire with no care for anything while we recharge our energies. And these activities should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Far from it. If we follow a right and good course through life, then such activities serve to generate each other. For, it is in both our personal and social past that there are achievements from which we can draw much inspiration and energy – energy that can then be used to produce new achievements. There is, in stillness, a deep and refreshing well.

Finding stillness, identifying such achievements – these are no easy tasks. The search is difficult, but not because there is little to find. The difficulty resides in two problems. First, despite any belief we may have in the cherishing of the whole person, there is still a sense of guilt attached to right pride in achievement that needs to be dispelled.

Second, many achievements (past and present) are consistently and systematically taken away from us, denigrated, buried, or so vastly distorted that even those who were directly involved forget, or at least begin to doubt, that such things ever were achieved.

Such burial of achievement is not new. It is not always consciously done. There is unlikely to be any sort of conspiracy (those involved are too self-centred) – just the momentum of that self interest.

It is the everyday experience of us all – and has been so for countless generations. As a means of preventing real progress in the escape from repression, it is exceedingly effective. Each generation is forced to rediscover itself, to break free of the suffocation of the status quo, and to formulate its own metaphysical stance. All of which achievement is once more buried. Thus, each and every generation has been forced to waste time and effort, and has been forced to suffer heartbreaking agonies in an attempt to establish concepts, ideals, facts, courses of action, and so on, that already exist. It is, however, something we can obviate. We can comb the past for the words and the actions of those foremothers and forefathers who have been buried, and in so doing we can find a vast wealth of knowledge, of understanding, of energy, and of strength.

The same is so for individuals. If an achievement does not conform to the standards set by society (be it school, work, state) we are expected to belittle what we have done and consider ourselves unworthy. But there are other ways of viewing ourselves – ways that derive not from the status quo of the last few centuries (a short time in the history of humankind) but from an older tradition. This tradition of thinking and of viewing the world that can be traced into prehistory when the female principle of divinity, if not dominant, was at least in a state of equipoise with the male principle. It is a rich tradition that has, generation after generation, been denigrated, censored, and buried. It is a tradition that we must needs rediscover rather than, as the greedy patriarchs would have us do, think it all out for ourselves yet again, wasting precious energy we cannot spare and time that the planet no longer has.

We should search our intellectual treasury, much of it conceived by women, and construct the foundations of our selves of the strongest materials. No use to build on sand or on shallow foundations. “When we build, let us think that we build forever.”1 Any less than that is not good enough. And, thus, we must build what is true; a truth that we must take to all people; a truth that we must proclaim in a loud and clear voice. And not just a voice that is word of mouth or word of page, but also, at one and the same time, a voice that proceeds from the practising of what we preach. Exercise of the intellect is not a necessary prerequisite of action any more than it is of greater value – despite our culture’s insistence that it is. But then, neither is the opposite true. They are – the workings of mind and body – the simultaneous occurrences of personal being. To deny the importance or the function of either aspect is to cripple the self.

In just the same way (that is, through the medium of our personal being), our path into the future is inextricably linked with what we know of the past. Our past. It is our past, be it personal, political, philosophical, or cultural. And not only is it our past in a passive sense. We can make the past active by understanding it. It then becomes ours to command and to use to our advantage, rather than just acknowledging what has been and then allowing it to be buried. But, as I said, we must understand it; we must listen for and strive to know the confused and confusing echoes that reach us from the past. And we must do so in order that we can make ourselves heard and understood. And make no mistake – it must be both. We must be heard. We must be understood. And we must never again allow our voice, or our achievements, or our long tradition to be hidden away.

1. John Ruskin - The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Next time round.

I used the phrase ‘next time round’ recently and it was there in my head when I woke in the cold dark hours. And as one does, in the cold dark hours (after dancing to the bathroom and diving back under the covers), I began turning it over in my head and thinking about whether I really meant anything by it, or used the term out of habit.

Do I really believe there is a next time round? By extension, do I believe this isn’t the first time round? Which leads to other questions – what is that makes me, me. I’m not talking psychology here, or about a ‘ghost in the machine’ (Ryle’s or Koestler’s), that is a whole other discussion (although undoubtedly connected). What I was trying to get at again as I turned all this over was the difference between living and non-living. I know the material definitions, but they seem inadequate. At some point in the future it will be possible (I am sure) for a scientist to construct a human body. It will lie on the table in front of them, perfect in every detail down to a cellular level. There will be DNA and all that stuff; there will be blood in veins; all the inner organs; all the sense organs; a brain. But it won’t be a living being. It will be an intricate piece of organic engineering. Much as I will be when I die. So, what goes, what leaves, what stops, what is absent from that future scientist's construction that is present here in front of this computer?

I have no answers. Nor does any scientist. They can give, I am sure, a reason for the ‘machine’ stopping. They can give material explanations. They can say how. But they cannot say why. Ah. Yes. Yet another whole other topic.

So how does this chime with my thoughts on whether I’m coming back for another go? I’m not sure, to be honest, beyond the fact that my belief in reincarnation seems to me to be no more absurd than many other positions regarding spirit (or lack thereof) and survival of the spirit beyond death of the body.

Given all the other factors at play here, my grounding in Celtic mythology and philosophy, my social and environmental concerns and responsibilities, observations of the natural world, and personal experiences, I cannot help but be attracted to what we know (and can piece together) of ancestral Celtic belief.

When I die here, I will be reborn in the Otherworld. That is why I hope people here will be happy for me when I have gone (the Otherworld is, after all, a place of healing and decades of ‘disability’ take their toll – the very thought I might be able to go for long walks again, dig the garden… and I know you materialists will be nodding sagely and thinking about wish fulfilment, but you have given me nothing to get me through this and my comforts hurt no-one, so screw you).

The Otherworld, despite being a place of healing, is no happy-clappy fluffy bunny place in the sky. You don’t get wings, ambrosia, and a foot stool. You are born into a family, you grow, learn, earn your living, love, get old and, yes, you die. Your responsibilities from this world may follow you. You have to make an effort to grow there, just as you have to do so here. There is no free lunch.

Perhaps the only difference would, as I understand it, be in emphasis. Whereas here we live in a material plane and must work hard to develop spirit, there we live in a spiritual plane and must work to develop our material being. Don’t ask me how it works. I don’t remember.

I do have a particular vision of the Otherworld. It is very much like my childhood memories of Gloucestershire, those endless holidays playing in the woods behind my grandparents’ house – when summer was summer and winter brought snow. As a child I encountered spirits in the woods, in those quiet moments when siblings and cousins were distant sounds and the beech grove I discovered was my own.

The beech tree is the queen of the forest; the etymology of the name linked with the word ‘book’ and all that is implied by that. It certainly makes sense in terms of my life – a love of the feminine (I sure am piling up other discussions for a later date) and of women (with a few rare exceptions, I have never been easy in the company of men); a love of books, of learning, of understanding.

Playing as I did in the forest, I was aware from a very early age of the cycles of life. Things die. They re-appear. Individuals go, but they return – in our memories, through children, through the legacy of their thoughts, and beliefs and the things they create. I also believe they return as people.

Whether we come back as a the same person, or whether the life that animates us finds a new home is something I know nothing about. It might not even make sense to use ‘I’ in a conventional sense. However, when I die in the Otherworld, I believe I will return to this world.

Now this has interesting implications. It is what my ancestors believed and they were, on the whole, a responsible people. They weren’t perfect. They weren’t paragons of ecological (or any other kind of) virtue. Nor were they the boozy, belligerent, cattle thieves of Roman propaganda and Christian redaction. They had a highly developed moral and legal system, parity between the sexes you’d find it difficult to match today, and didn’t seem to have been responsible for large scale environmental disasters. In the absence of ‘perfect’, that’ll do for me.

This was partly achieved through their beliefs. They believed they would be coming back. They honoured their ancestors, because they knew they counted amongst that number. They looked after the land on which they relied for their living because not only would their children need it for making a living, they knew they would be back and need it for themselves again. You don’t (unless you’re a complete idiot) leave your home in a state of disarray with the taps and gas running, food rotting, animals stuck in a spare bedroom, and windows open to let the rain (and who knows what else) in when you go on holiday. Because when you come back your house will have been trashed by squatters, the animals will be dead (and the SPCA will be after you), your bills will be through the roof; unless your roof is with the rest of the property in that pile of smouldering cinders.

It may sound like selfishness, but I do my bit to keep the world clean and healthy because I’m coming back. In fact, there is a difference between self-interest and selfishness. I do not act like this just for me. That wouldn’t work. I do it for everyone and everything. All life. The whole planet. Without that, it is pointless.

That is why developing a relationship with the world about me is every bit as important (if not more so) than developing relationships with people. That is why my religious beliefs and activity centre on cultivating a relationship with those aspects of deity that are manifest in the world about me. I don’t know about an over-arching, all-encompassing deity. That is beyond my comprehension. I do not know if such a thing exists. I do know that there is spirit in the world around me. And it is with that which I work.

This is not a knee bending adoration. We each have our work to do in this world. Often, it can only be done in co-operation or by my actions releasing or allowing those aspects of deity into action. Between us we maintain the ongoing act of creation.

It is all about the here and now. If we get it right now, the future is taken care of. This is not to say I do not have ambitions for the future, but they are for my personal future. And even those are created here. I learn from the past, but what I learn is applied to the now. That is why the natural world (that phrase again) is my book. It provides all the patterns and guidance I need. True, I will be biased in my interpretation by my own being, but that is why it is called a relationship.

Those are my beliefs.

If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter. I will have lived (or attempted to live) in a way that leaves the world a better place – materially and spiritually (for you cannot separate the two). If my afterlife is solely in the memories of those that outlive me, then I will be content that if within that small garden I am, for the most, remembered with affection as someone who gave more than they took, who created rather than destroyed, who was human (with all the faults of his kind) yet who strove to be something just a little bit more.