Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On

Witchcraft Today - 60 Years On

Very happy to announce that Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On is out next month, published by the very wonderful Moon Books! So pleased to have contributed to this book! Here, the editor Trevor Greenfield explains what this fabulous anthology is about:

In the sixty years following the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, new paths have appeared, and older ones emerged out of the shadow of repression and illegality, to express with a new and more confident voice their beliefs and practice, and share, with a steadily growing audience, their knowledge, their certainties, their questions and their vision. This book is a celebration of some of the many paths that Witchcraft/Wicca has taken and of the journeys that people have embarked upon.

‘Sixty years after the publication of Witchcraft Today, we have seen Gerald Gardner’s vision grow and evolve as it spreads around the globe. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On is a fitting tribute, bringing together authors from different paths within the Craft, each with a unique contribution and insight to inspire those who are practising, teaching, and strengthening Wicca today and for generations to come.’ ~ Dr Vivianne Crowley, Faculty of Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy, Cherry Hill Seminary

Moon Books can be found here and here.

 

 


 

 

The Magic of Gravity

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Throughout my childhood, teens and early adulthood, I had countless dreams where I could fly. It was a strange method of flight, as I would push up into the air and use breast stroke to move, often with surprising speed. These dreams were so frequent, that as a small child, I was convinced that in my waking life, if I just lifted my feet from the floor I would float. To my small self the impossible was possible. But this is the way of childhood; with age, it seems that gravity claims us, its weight increasing with the passing years. We can often feel the limitations that it places upon us as a restriction.

I have been thinking a good deal about my relationship with gravity of late and realise that its gifts are becoming all the more important to me. In my daily yoga practice I have recently had a powerful urge to perform handstands. This desire, as strong as it was, was counterbalanced with an equally strong fear. What if my arms just couldn’t take the weight of my body?

Going back once again to my childhood, I spent a huge percentage of my time inverted, as most children do: handstands, cartwheels, headstands, hanging from climbing frames in playgrounds – I was intimately familiar with a world turned upside down, with the rush of blood to my head thumping in my ears and the wonderful elation and clarity that came in returning to upright. I never thought twice about hurling my legs above my head, balancing without trepidation, never once worrying about falling.

Something happens to us as adults. There is this unspoken expectation that we put away childish things. We stop skipping, swinging, leaping and jumping, in fact, we temper our joyful dance with gravity, often through social pressure or life’s demands. We can get out of the practice of really moving our bodies which makes re-engaging so much harder the older we get. The resulting aches, pains and decreased mobility and strength can feel like an inevitability of aging, our childish attempts to defy gravity long behind us. People with children get the opportunity to break out on occasion – playing with one’s own children enables us to become children ourselves once more; for those of us without kids, we have to borrow nieces and nephews or the children of friends to indulge in a little boisterous fun. But for many, with time, gravity and the sheer effort it can exert from us, can make us turn away from what it has to offer and lead us to confuse the natural restrictions of aging with inertia.

So, here I am, on the verge of my 48th birthday, and making a stand for… well… standing on my hands! I started gently, placing my hands upon the floor and walking my feet up the wall, edging my hands closer that my body might gradually straighten.

At first it was a shock to feel the weight of my entire body through my arms. How did I ever once do this with such gay abandon?! As I straightened my body, I also had to deal with my fear – the fear of something vital snapping, the fear of falling on my head…But gradually, with daily practice, I am starting to touch upon that elation that being upside down gives you and I can feel the strength in my arms and body growing.

In yoga, inverted postures are highly valued. From a yogic understanding there are many health benefits gained when we get topsy-turvy – it can help regulate our hormones, aid the lymphatic system and bring a greater clarity and alertness with the increased blood supply to the brain. But what also fascinates me about being upside down is that it puts us back into a much more alive and intense relationship with gravity and encourages us to view the world from a completely different angle. It is not for nothing that the Hanged Man of the Tarot has a halo around his head!

To stand on one’s hands requires that we build physical strength and develop emotional courage. These qualities, to me, seem like very important gifts that gravity gives us. It is not gravity that weighs us down but our unwillingness to dance with it. When we give up on our body’s dance with gravity, we become physically stiff, our muscles weaken and our flexibility is reduced. These conditions can age us long before we are actually old and have an impact on the way we think and feel.

Gravity teaches us much about perseverance and patience, about working within our limitations and by doing so, finding a new kind of freedom. When we work with gravity, it sculpts and strengthens our muscles; this in turn can help us to feel more grounded and stable both physically and emotionally. Gravity can literally change our shape – too little interaction with it and our muscles sag; too much and we become muscles bound, a condition where strength is given precedence over flexibility. Both extremes will ultimately affect the way we move in the world and because of that, can impact on the way we think. Getting the right balance (excuse the pun!) can help us to understand how much of an ally gravity is.

When we use our own bodies in weight-bearing exercises we actually strengthen our bones – simply standing on one leg repeatedly over time improves the bone density of that limb. This speaks to me of how gravity gives us the opportunity to become more embodied, to really feel and enjoy the way we are rooted to the earth. When we work with gravity we become stronger, we understand how important it is to be patient with ourselves, of accepting where we are whilst believing that we can change. We can also learn the difference between recklessness and courage.

Looking at those guys up in the International Space Station, I can see that, initially, weightlessness could be amazing fun and wonderfully freeing. However, we are children of our planet and in time I suspect that weightlessness would become wearisome and we would long to be earth-bound.

In truth, our dance with gravity is actually our dance with the Earth; it is how we move through her being; find our home in her density and our roots in her body. When you feel the weight of it, don’t bemoan its heaviness, let it push against you and enjoy the challenge. At first it might feel exhausting but if you stick with it, in time, it can gift you with its own kind of special freedom. It might not allow you unbounded flight but it has its own special magic.

No Place Like Home

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Change is a given; we are all subject to it; none of us are immune to its presence in our lives. No amount of bargaining with the gods will bring about a life without it. Change can be welcome or unwanted but what is certain is that how we deal with it determines a good deal of our ability to be happy. Change challenges us to adapt; it asks that we use our human resources – both physical and psychological – to engage with new ways to be.

It is said that the most stressful life changes are bereavement, birth, separation/divorce and moving house. Over the last couple of years I have encountered all of these with the exception of birth (unless of course you include psychological births, and I think I’ve had one or two of those over this period!).  In a week, I will be moving house yet again, the fourth time in less than two years. As is so often the case with me, despite having a lifelong relationship with change, I nevertheless have found myself railing against it. Having to pack up and move back from Scotland to England so soon after my father’s death (and the clearing of his home) felt more than my low reserves could manage. Needs must and although I know that this change will be for the better, I have wrestled with some difficult feelings of resistance.

The loss of my father and the imminent loss of my current dwelling have had me thinking about the notion of ‘home’. The wonderful thing about Druidry is that it helps us to widen our concept of what home actually is. This concept expands from the walls of the building that we live in to include the wider world of community and nature. We root ourselves in the earth and feel ourselves a part of all that is; we nourish ourselves within the protective embrace of our soul family – all those with whom we feel our true emotional and spiritual bonds.

I love this idea but I have to admit that for most of my life, I have struggled with feeling safe in the world. It is not an all-encompassing sense of unease that cripples me daily but it does surface in my vulnerable moments and undermines in an insidious way, like an insect gnawing upon a tap root.

The adult me understands the source of this condition to be rooted in the death of my mother when I was a child. When a parent dies, a child’s fear of abandonment can be very close to the surface. For me, in that one momentous bereavement, all of the nastiest things that my young mind could imagine happening to me became a possibility: the reasoning goes that if something so awful has found me, any dreadful thing can. If this feeling sticks and is not fully processed with the right support, it can leave an emotional residue that can manifest in constantly expecting the rug to be pulled out from beneath us, even when we are at our most happy – in fact, especially then. Each fresh hurt or tragedy in our lives can become layered upon this perceived lack of safety, and over time can build into a pattern of thinking and negative expectation that can be far more damaging in its long-term impact than the original event.

As we grow and live, we have to honestly face these patterns and with a sense of compassion accept them whilst learning to gently unpick ourselves from them; to be a compassionate observer when they surface.  I have discovered that the best tactic is to be a reassuring parent to oneself.

That little girl in me – on some level still frightened and grieving the loss of her mother – has been incredibly vocal these last couple of weeks. Soon after dad dying, my partner was forced to travel to England to start his new job, leaving me to pack and prepare for moving into our new home in the coming weeks. Alone and in the thick of such recent bereavement, that little girl’s voice has dominated my responses:  all her fears about the future; fears of being utterly alone in the world; fears about the most precious things being taken from her, of being broken by life’s challenges and never being able to mend, have flooded my emotions and left me cut adrift in turbulent waters.

It is an extraordinary thing that the wonderful good fortune of my partner’s new job – which will actually bring a greater abundance and security in our lives – has been met by such an extreme rush of troubling emotions. When learned through early and devastating loss, the hard won knowledge that change will always come can lead us to forget that change can be a blessing, a welcomed shift, and the end of a struggle.

From my bedroom window, level with the tree tops, these last two weeks I have watched the swallows daily as they feed on the wing. Their flight appears so joyfully ecstatic; their impressively acrobatic play a dance of pure abandonment to the moment. Their excited squeals have rung in my ears like a call to life, a reminder that feeling safe is not necessarily always the answer to feeling alive and connected.  Perhaps there is a weird kind of ‘safeness’ – or maybe a better word is ‘belonging’ – in that thrilling, swooping ride of uncertainty. The song of the swallow sings of the trusting heart, letting the unknown spaces flood us with new experience, feeling the current of life like a fuel, moving us onwards, no matter where we are, no matter what circumstance confronts us.

My little self and I have been watching the swallows together, and between us, we are beginning to understand that subtle difference between safety and belonging. We belong when we feel ourselves a part of this magical journey of living and breathing- through both the changes that lead us into darker times, or the changes that bless us with renewal. We belong when we share those intimate moments with the people we love; when we engage with the landscapes that move us, with the work that inspires us. We belong by merely being.

There is an art to staying present in the moment because not every moment is pleasant. Some moments bring unbearable pain and it takes courage to remain present in them. But change will always come to our rescue, in one way or another. We get tricked into thinking that because our houses are made of static brick and stone, that home is static too. In truth it moves where we move, and this deep spiritual truth is without doubt one of my key life lessons, resurfacing again and again to make sure that I learn it well.

I will leave you with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and author. It is my mantra of the moment: 

You are already home…

 

 

The Family Tree

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We make plans in life but putting things in place for the eventuality of our own deaths leaves a good few of us a little squeamish.  It can feel a little like tempting fate.

Six years ago I sat with my father in the funeral directors as he chose, booked and paid for the funeral he desired.  It was a peculiar experience helping him to select his coffin and the manner of his departure. Dad appeared completely unperturbed by it all, his usual jovial self, whilst I endured an uncomfortable hour, fighting back a growing sense of panic that the day I dreaded would come; on some unknowable date, I would be back in that room, without him by my side, putting his plans into practice.

Since my sister’s death, dad knew that he wanted a woodland burial. On a beautiful August day, two years previously, we had laid my sister to rest in a woodland site on the South Downs. We followed her willow coffin – flowers woven into its lattice work – through the beech and hazel. Shafts of sunlight penetrated the canopy of trees, and as we walked amongst the wild marjoram that covered the grave site, its spicy scent rose like incense. As my sister was given back to the earth, a lone dragonfly circled us in agitated spirals. It was a moving and extraordinary committal, the peace and beauty of that place – a burial so removed from the Victorian residue of gothic death that imbues so many modern funerals – made those last painful moments a good deal easier to bear.

The woodland or natural burial movement is growing. The burials must be ecologically sound, putting back into the earth only natural, biodegradable materials – coffins, shrouds, grave goods and wreaths must all comply with this eco standard. This care and thought seems to lend the whole process a sacredness that can sometimes be lacking in the commercial world of the modern funeral industry.

As the plots are filled, the woodlands grow, trees planted in remembrance of those buried there. This coming together of the planting of trees and the committal of loved ones, strikes at something deep within us.  It is no accident that we name our ancestral line ‘The Family Tree’; trees, like families, have roots and branches, a holistic system of growth and renewal that echoes the human experience. Our ancestors root us in history; without them we would not be; we draw from their lives, now hidden from view and essentially unknowable but still influencing us in ways that we might only guess at.

The seasonal round of deciduous trees speak to us of our own life cycles; we too have times of budding, of flowering and bearing fruit. We also must shed all that is outworn, letting fall that which no longer serves us, allowing it to break down into an emotional mulch of experience that will nourish our present and help sustain our future. The tree of life tells us that even with our passing, life goes on, that we are intimately connected to all that have lived before us and all that will come after. The woodland system reflects our own sense of belonging; we stand as individual trees yet part of a wider community, each life form helping to support the health of the whole.

On top of all this, the peace and beauty of these places can be enormously helpful when we are faced with the loss of those we love. There is something eternal and timeless about forests; it is easier to still ourselves and connect to our deeper emotional self when we are in them. This process is so important when we grieve; the woodland becomes a place of sanctuary, a verdant holding that we might feel what we need to feel and gently process our loss.

Less than a month ago, as the bluebells and cowslips flourished and the vivid green of spring leaves brought renewed life to the woodlands, my father unexpectedly passed away. The moment I had dreaded arrived, and for the second time I found myself walking that path into the woods.

This time, I followed a cardboard coffin, topped with a natural wreath in the shape of a heart, woven with cypress, hazel and daisies, made by my own family. The birds sang and the sunlight streamed through, tinged with the otherworldly green of new leaves. As we stood around the grave, that familiar peace descended and despite the pain of the moment, I could feel my dad’s approval.

Dad loved the cycles of nature; he loved the woods and downlands of his home. He strongly felt himself a part of the natural round and as he was lowered into the chalk – as the earth tenderly held him – it seemed to me that he was home. And as much as the physical absence of those we love can be so difficult to bear, they are never truly lost. In death, as in life, we continue to be a part of this extraordinary mystery. It is our form not our essence that changes when we die. We never stop being a part of everything. I will feel my dad in the warmth of the sun and the peace of the woodland because there is essentially a part of us all that eternally resides there. Like the woodlands, our individual parts join to make a magical whole; the boundaries and labels that we assume in life quickly dissolve.

 

 

 

 

luckyloom1:

Have copied this from Philip Carr-Gomm’s Blog. This wonderful stone circle in Glasgow is under threat. Please sign the petition! Many thanks!

Originally posted on Philip Carr-Gomm's Weblog:

SSC December 13th 2012 015 (1)

The Sighthill Stone Circle is a most unusual site in that it resides in the heart of Glasgow. Created by Duncan Lunan 34 years ago, this wonderful astronomically aligned circle is now threatened with demolition by Glasgow City Council due to redevelopment plans that sadly have not included the circle’s survival. It is a short sighted vision because the circle is a marvellous asset to the city, a small haven for wildlife and people alike. Part of the circle’s charm and strength is that it is so unexpected – we are used to seeing circles in the wilds and to discover one amongst the motorways and highrises of a large city such as Glasgow is magical.

A petition has been launched to prevent the circle’s destruction – 1600+ people have already signed. Please take some time to visit the links here and sign the petition; the links give further information about the circle and how you can get involved.

View original 10 more words

Happy Solstice!

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The end of the world came and went in a predictably unspectacular fashion. The Winter Solstice is once more upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and we ponder on how in the darkest of times, the spark of light burns brightly still; nature reminding us that hope and renewal are always a possibility, no matter how harsh the winter, or how testing our life’s challenges might be.

Of course, for those in the Southern Hemisphere it is the height of summer. The thought that at our coldest, darkest point, somewhere in the world is at its lightest and warmest, feels very apt. For isn’t this just how life is for us all? The wheel of the seasons continually turns, just as the wheel of our own lives revolves; never allowing us to stand still for too long, bringing us experiences that contrast and contradict. It illustrates both the comforting and unnerving reality that everything passes and nothing stays the same.

In a roomful of strangers we would discover a whole gamut of human emotion and experience in process: some would be going through periods of sadness and loss; others, happiness and growth. For others still, we would find all manner of situations and emotions being played out between the polar points of contraction and expansion; the pendulum that swings between these furthest points is the mechanism that fuels and perpetuates life.

I find it comforting that even when I am experiencing loss, somewhere, probably very close to me, someone is experiencing the joy of gain. This tells me that there will be a time, once more, when the hurt will heal. Likewise, when others are grieving and I am experiencing great happiness, I am reminded to never take such blessings for granted, to make the most of – and give thanks for – those blissful moments. Paradoxically, we can encounter both sad and joyful circumstance in life –we all know that feeling when one aspect of our life is flourishing whilst another is in decline, for instance our relationship might be going from strength to strength as our career goes through the doldrums. Life is filled with contrast and we learn to balance, contain and hold this paradox, feeling the cycles move through our lives in a series of undulating waves.

So at this time of both greatest darkness and greatest light, let us honour the blessing of movement and change; let’s choose not to be afraid of the gifts and challenges that accompany these but embrace them, opening to where it is we find ourselves on the wheel with good grace. Let us also recognise with gratitude, just how much we all help and educate each other by the example of our own unique experiences. As personal to us as these events might feel – at their core – they are actually shared by us all, eventually. The wisdom that we gain as people by this sharing, is passed on to others and down through generations in a never ending thread; it is the perpetual unfolding of the human story.

There is nothing new under the Solstice Sun! Life moves through us and we are an expression of its unfathomable and magical nature. On this most special, hopeful day, such a thought is worth celebrating!

What Lies Beneath

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Insecurities: I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t wrestle, at some point, with one or two (quite possibly a whole heap!) of these. We feel them rise; seeping and sometimes crashing through our fragile surface, seeking out the point of least resistance, spilling forth to expose our raw vulnerability.

Fear fuels our insecurities – the fear that we are not good enough; not lovable enough; attractive, desirable or clever enough; the fear that we are not safe in the world, that our needs will not be met; that we will be left bereft and alone. The roots of our fears are manifold and unique to us, and yet whatever the cause, the impact can be immensely painful and often leads us into self-defeating behaviour. Our insecurities can take our feet right out from beneath us just at the place where the ground is hardest; they leak out and leave tell-tale stains all over our lives and relationships. At best, those that we love and that love us will be tender with our struggles, but left to rampage, our insecurities can lead us to destroy the very things we cherish and need the most.

Situations that rock our faith and trust, or undermine self-esteem, leave a tar of self-doubt; it is viscous and deadly, clogging our responses and impeding the free and spontaneous flow of our joy. Self-doubt strengthens and nourishes our insecurities until they becomes psychological cuckoos; overpowering and dominating our thoughts, distorting our actions and edging out the positive forms of validation that we each receive, but so often ignore, in favour of the negative voices heard both within and outside of us.

Insecurities have a direct line through to our past hurts – all those times when life genuinely winded us. Laying the past to rest can go a long way in helping to understand and heal insecurities but we first need to recognise that they often mask our pasts; they can masquerade as present day people, issues and actions; ones that appear to impact on us from without but are in fact projections of something within us.  Such projections have the potential to both obscures or reflect our historical response to a situation that once damaged us. If our insecurities seek to obsessively but ineffectually defend against our past, we can find ourselves living there far too much for our own health and sabotaging our present to boot. And yet when we dig through the layers – the emotional strata that settle like ash over a place of devastation – we touch on not only a sore and tender spot but a site of potential; of understanding and healing. It’s that eureka moment when we are no longer merely caught up in the emotional current of reactions but can actually see where the water surfaces: we can see the source.

I guess it all depends on how we treat our emotional scar tissue. The skin is a marvellous organ.  Actual scar tissue, if massaged with nourishing oils starts – over time – to become more flexible and the scarring less visible. Our wounds cannot be undone but they can be gently and tenderly worked upon, until we find that their appearance has changed. There is always initial discomfort; we can become tight and inflexible around the old entry site of a wound and this is as true psychologically as it is physically. We might learn to treat our emotional scars as we do the cuts upon our skin: when we focus lovingly and patiently on them – if we honour and acknowledge the events that brought us them, without allowing ourselves to be consumed by them – then we might begin to uncover the root of the sometimes unfathomable behaviour that our insecurities draw from us. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to break a destructive pattern and let the past go.

The Single, Solitary Utterance

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Do we choose words or do words choose us? Each solitary utterance coming together like the individual cells of a slime mould – existing in their own right, yet merging and forming into all manner of shapes –  urged on by the need to form sentences that speak of us and to us, of the world and our relationship to it.

The words that we choose, or that choose us, can liberate or imprison; words have the power to shape our lives for good or ill: the verbs dictate what we do; the adjectives give colour, tone and texture to our actions and thoughts. By the time each of us reaches adulthood, it is hard to comprehend the nature of living outside of language; the narratives we construct about ourselves and the events we encounter establish meaning through the complex and intricate weaving together of one word to the next. And it’s not just our own words but those of others that can have extraordinary impact, even change the course of our lives, our lexicons radically altered by a book, a speech or conversation.

In my early twenties, during a time of poverty and unemployment, I discovered the liberating power of books.  There was a charity shop a short walk from my home. In the front section of the shop were clothes and bric-a-brac but walking out through a door towards the back of the building, the curious could discover a large room filled with numerous bookcases crammed and enticing. The books were mainly old editions of Everyman publications, with subjects ranging from Greek Philosophy to poetry and classic novels; the muted colours of their hardbacks opened to reveal beautifully illustrated inside covers. There were many Penguin books too, the early orange and white distinctive and easily recognisable designs of novels; purple and white for non-fiction essays. It was a place of pure delight. The books were never more than a few pennies, so with my limited funds I was able to enter a world of ideas and words that, despite the narrow restrictions of my external world, helped my inner life to grow and flourish.

If my life had felt stultifying and dead-ended, then books and the words that inhabited their pages, loosened the binds and instilled in me the distinct sense that there was something more out there,  expansive and limitless. I have no doubt that the compulsive and obsessive reading of that period of my life led me to eventually go back to study for a degree as a mature student. Reading alone in my desperate little flat was a training ground for things to come. Reading transformed my life; it taught me to write and ultimately enabled me to experience and achieve things that I had once thought impossible. It has been strange that something so vital to my sense of myself – reading and writing – have been so hard to do of late.

My life has gone through some extraordinary changes over these last eighteen months: I have left my 27 year marriage, started a new relationship, and moved home three times (the last of these to a different country, leaving behind all and everyone that I have known!). Writing these as a list of events could not even begin to hint at the emotional impact of such major changes, let along the odd and heady mixture of carnage and joy that potentially surrounds any one of these singular happenings. Grouped together, it has been quite a ride! Ordinarily, writing would have been the means by which I muddled through and made sense and yet it seems that even this has been too much for my psyche. The words just haven’t found me…

And so, I am left to ponder the link between inspiration and hard graft. It is tempting to think that any creative effort is based solely in that blissful flow and rush of inspiration. However, most creative folks – be they musicians, writers, artists – will confess that it is far less glamorous a process.  Rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with it, no matter what, is actually the method that produces results. Inspiration is undoubtedly an important factor but without the action – the doing of the thing – nothing materialises. This has been a lesson well-learned of late. The lacking of that spark has left me dry. And the ‘doing’ has felt almost impossible.

Something within suspects that the enormity of the change that has swept through my life has left me stunned.  It has been such a paradigm shift that much of me has yet to catch up. I have gradually started reading again and am forcing my fingers to tap at the keys in the hope that the ignition catches at some point.

Part of me also suspects that sometimes we have to go beyond language, forgoing the attempt to rationalise or arrange into neat narratives, in order that we might engage with raw feeling; emotions that cannot be restrained or civilised by a sentence but that need to be felt. Perhaps when we, in the words of the author Jeanette Winterson, ‘throw ourselves off the roof of our own house’ – that is when we shed all that we were and had, launching out into the vast unknown – we are in some way reborn. We become a baby again, the language to express the immensity of what we are feeling as yet unformed but experienced nonetheless. And we wait, and learn, and listen…and one day the words move across our tongues and spill out across our lips…and one day, later still, we turn the first page and the words fill us until we overflow. There is a moment when we are each that single, solitary utterance waiting for the sentence to take its shape.

The Price

We have a habit of being woken by the radio alarm in the morning. I am generally roused from drowsiness by discussions about political topics and stories that will dominate the headlines for the day. This morning I awoke to a man speaking about the vital need for our educational system to be radically revamped that we might produce a more efficient, confident and ambitious work force that could economically compete with China.

In the discussion, it was suggested that teachers up their game and that league tables and the focus on passing exams at the expense of vocational training should be questioned.  Children should be trained for the demands of the workplace.

Teachers are consistently in the firing line it seems; they have become the easiest of scapegoats in a political environment obsessed with surface and image. Successive governments have been guilty of introducing ever more draconian and self-referencing measurements of success into our schools. League tables are notoriously unreliable methods to judge educational success or failure and the mind-numbing levels of bureaucracy adopted to judge teaching performance and student development are frankly Kafkaesque; it is absurd to assume that we can assess education – or anything else for that matter – with endless tick boxes, collated and analysed by a self-perpetuating layer of management who have come to speak their own Orwellian language of quality control.

The syllabus has become a straightjacket, with teachers given no room for individual approaches  because they are required to follow rigidly laid out lesson plans, each with a dubious series of ‘educational outcomes’ to fulfil, tick and collate. It is a worsening situation that has sent many talented and dedicated teachers running for the hills and, by the accounts of teachers on the frontline, is failing our students.

I welcomed the interviewee’s suggestion that the focus on league tables is disproportionate but I felt disheartened as I listened to his vision for our educational system. This vision came alarmingly close to suggesting that the function of schools were as nurseries to produce ‘pods’ for the demands of industry. Is education really that? A place designed to shape us for work alone? Whatever happened to learning for learning’s sake? I appreciate the need to inform children of the world that awaits them after school, college or university but there is something a little sinister in judging it by its ability to produce industry fodder. Do we not want to teach our children to think independently, to be creative and questioning? Do we not want to expose them to the beauty of knowledge or must it always be tethered, channelled and censored by vocation – and a limited one at that?

The interview was followed by another with a spokesman for Jaguar, a company that has closed its production plants here in the UK – the design teams being the only parts of the company to remain, whilst actual production takes place in India and China. We are a country of service industries; our manufacturing base has been dismantled as big companies seek cheaper workforces in the East. We are repeatedly told that we need to remain competitive in a global economy but many of us find ourselves in low paid, unskilled labour. This all begs the question what exactly will our vocational education be training us for?

I am unashamedly an idealist when it comes to education. I believe in the noble tradition of an education that seeks to enlighten, inspire and expand our minds and imaginations; one that teaches us to think and challenge, regardless of what work we might eventually find ourselves in.

I came from a working class background and was the first in my family to be lucky enough to go to University. My degree was not vocational but traditional. It gave me the opportunity to explore life and my relationship to it without the distraction of vocation. I despair when I hear kids at Uni speaking of their degree as merely a stepping stone to be endured on their way to a well-paying job, which incidentally, for a large percentage of them, will not be available when they leave.

If we judge the wealth and growth of our society in fiscal terms alone then we risk becoming impoverished in other vital ways: we work longer hours and spend less time with our families, less time on the intangibles, all those things that nourish our spirits and speak of life as something more. Surely the true gift of learning is the discovery and flowering of our creative selves? Something more precious than corporate conformity or our ability to fit in to whatever economic framework is in fashion? We all have to survive and the blueprint by which we live often demands that we compromise the expression of who we really are to make an honest buck. That is tragedy enough. How much more so, if our educations are defined by that model too?

My thoughts turn to a quote from Thoreau:

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it

Jesus Through Pagan Eyes

This wonderful book by Author Mark Townsend is released this week. I have written a piece for it and am very proud to be a part of Mark’s fascinating project. Mark is a Christian priest who has great affinity with modern Paganism and has not only written beautifully about his own progressive understanding of Christ but drawn upon a selection of Pagan writers to explore the subject from outside of the traditional Christian faith and from the perspective of modern Earth Spiritualities. The results are surprising and heartening. It will no doubt disturb, challenge and anger more conservative Christians (probably some Pagans too!) but for those who approach their beliefs with a spirit of tolerance and openness, it offers a radical and inspiring perspective. Well worth a read!

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