Aphrodite – Lady of Sweetness


I am starting my mini-series about the deities that I currently honour with a goddess who I have known about all my life but only recently felt compelled to build a relationship with.  Given that I have been coping with grief and loss for many months, Aphrodite’s bright, vibrant energy felt very attractive to me, a much needed balance to my own journey through Persephone’s shadows.

As I began to read about her, it struck me how much in the popular imagination of our culture, that her deeper mysteries and power have been rather reduced. She is often depicted as a sex kitten, which is not to say she doesn’t have her flirtatious, promiscuous moments, but as a goddess of love, passion, union and sex, this rather shallow interpretation minimizes the depth and impact of all she represents. After all, love and sex can initiate our most profound, transformative experiences.  Aphrodite is the energy in nature that draws things into union – a connecting force; through her we build relationship not only with lovers, but all the other things in our life that draw passion and love from us – be it our life’s work, nature, our families, our creativity. She teaches us that such unions of passion and love change us, challenge us and work on us. Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship will know that in our lover’s eyes we ultimately find ourselves – the very best of who we are but also our shadow. Through union with another, we are offered the opportunity to not only know our partners more intimately but, in the process, learn more about ourselves; this can been the best of journeys and the most painful but it will never leave us the same – it is just not meant to.



It has been of great interest to me that Aphrodite and Persephone have mythic connections.  They share a love of Adonis – after his death he lives part of the year in the underworld with Persephone and part in the land of the living with Aphrodite. They are also both key players in the story of Psyche and Eros. Psyche is tested by Aphrodite, given almost impossible tasks to prove her worthiness for the love of Aphrodite’s son, who himself is also a god of love. Psyche translates as ‘breathe’ and can be understood in the deeper sense as ‘soul’. This feels key to me with regard to Aphrodite’s more profound mysteries – the story of Psyche seems to suggest the soul’s growth and transformation through its encounter with love. Psyche’s trials on her journey to be reunited with Eros, takes her to the Underworld – Persephone’s realm ; love with all its pleasures and joys, undoubtedly has its shadow side, and we often meet these head on in our relationships: jealousy, betrayal and conflict. Like Psyche, our naivety about love and ourselves is burnt away in the crucible of our emotions, and the most direct and powerful of arenas for this transformation to manifest is our relationships with others.

This link between Aphrodite and Persephone resonates with the earlier Sumerian mythology of Inanna and her sister Ereshkigal . Inanna was a goddess of fertility, love, lust and battle, and like Aphrodite was associated with the planet Venus, as morning and evening star. Although the Classical Aphrodite was only associated with love, we can see echoes of Inanna in her connection to the God of War, Ares.  Inanna descends to the Underworld realm of her sister Ereshkigal and is kept prisoner there. Like the Persephone/Aphrodite/Adonis myth, we see the seasonal story enacted, but it also says much about what happens when love is lost to us or our assumptions about love are dismantled. When love turns sour, or love is denied us through rejection, conflict or even bereavement, we too must engage with our own emotional descent.  This journey, although challenging, potentially deepens not only our understanding about love but our ability to love in a more profound and authentic way.

aphrodite roses1


When we examine the power of love to impact upon our very souls, Aphrodite’s ‘Sex Kitten’ image really doesn’t do her justice. Having said this, she is an essentially joyful goddess – love may bring us to our knees on occasions but it also brings us our happiest moments. For me, she is key to our creativity. As a goddess of attraction and union, she opens us to life and experience. When we look through her eyes, we are struck by the beauty not only of our beloved but of the world. Her energy is expansive, it is hard to contain it – love flows outward, to be miserly in its expression means that it shrivels and dies. Aphrodite knows that energy functions in exchange –the more we give, the more we have. She is a goddess that heals the split between body and spirit because for her there is no separation; through the sensual pleasures of the body and the intense emotional  connection that sex can bring, she affords us the opportunity to ground ourselves in the world  and in our bodies in the most joyful and energising ways.

Born from the foam, she is also a Goddess of the ocean and as fishermen once prayed to her to guide them through choppy seas to safe harbour, she can protect and navigate us through the turbulent waters of our emotions. I am lucky enough to live merely feet from the ocean and I watch over Aphrodite’s waters every day. I am struck by how relentlessly changing they are, very rarely truly flat calm. But Aphrodite’s numerous ancient epithets had her as Lady of Safe Harbour, and through her connection to Venus, Goddess of Gardens, she can bring us to a place of peaceful sanctuary.


These last few weeks have seen Venus as the evening star.  I have watched her from my balcony shining above the sea as the sun is setting. She is stunningly beautiful and bright. As evening star, we watch her set below the horizon on her Underworld journey and we are reminded of our capacity to hold onto hope in our darkest times. As the morning star, she seemingly rises up from the earth, returning from the Underworld and teaching us of renewal. These settings and risings can remind us about the cycles of love, the way it can renew, burn fiercely, die back , then renew again, each of these emotional states a gift that can deepen our understanding of who we are and how we relate.

Aphrodite is both profound love and passion, and the horniest sex – she doesn’t see the separation between these. She can bring flippant encounters that are pleasurable but will never be lasting, but she truly comes into her own in our deepest love matches. The Greeks had her as both Aphrodite Urania, the starry goddess of Spiritual Love and Aphrodite Pandemos, earthy, goddess of the masses: Aphrodite contains these seemingly contradictory states within her and confounds all our most limiting assumptions about love.

She is also supremely helpful in teaching us how to love ourselves. It may be a cliché to say it but we love others more effectively, and perhaps less painfully, when we have a healthy sense of self-appreciation.  Aphrodite can teach us to take tender loving care of ourselves and to love and take pleasure in our bodies and beings; she can also encourage us to enjoy life and its pleasures, to revel in ourselves and the things that bring us joy.

Aphrodite came to Classical Greece via Cypress. The Cypriot Aphrodite was a much more rounded and complex goddess who, for me, is closest to how I experience her. She is essentially life-affirming; demanding that we engage with it, be touched, moved and changed by it. When we hammer up boards to keep life out, she will come like a tsunami to break our defences but when we embrace her fully and openly, we are rewarded with sweetness, depth, joy and transformation.  She is a garden in blossom, a sun-filled sea, an unforgettable kiss; she is every moment that reminds you how grateful you are to be alive; she is the flower that opens to the bee.







Deity, Gender and the Problems of Essentialism


Before I post about the individual deities that I work with, I want to write a little about the problematic area of deity and gender. As explained in my previous post, I view personified deity as aspects of nature and the cosmos. One of the most liberating attractions of modern Paganism is that it offers us images of the Divine Feminine. Female images of ‘God’ have been woefully lacking in our culture for hundreds of years and this has undoubtedly had a negative impact for both women and men. Neopaganism, and particularly the modern Goddess movement, has seen a resurgence in the honouring of the Divine Feminine in a variety of forms. Being able to see oneself reflected in the Divine has been an immensely empowering experience for women, one which has for countless years been taken for granted by men. It is extraordinary to me that when we say the word ‘god’, the majority of us will automatically assume that figure to be male. Even if we haven’t been raised in an Abrahamic faith, the assumption is so deep rooted in our culture, that even the most secular of us will still perceive God as male.

Embracing the notion of a Goddess has enabled both men and women to challenge the restrictive essentialism that is entrenched in our societies, which can only be a good thing for all of us, but I recognise that there are problems when we attempt to determine what defines and differentiates the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. One issue is that in trying to explain what these are, we inadvertently slip back into essentialist notions of gender. Many will respond by saying that there is a difference between gender – which is a cultural construction – and wider concepts of Goddess and God. This might be so, but a lot of the time it seems gender essentialism is still hard to shift when we attribute qualities to male and female faces of the Divine.

If I were a pure Pantheist, this wouldn’t be a problem for me because the Cosmos as Divine energy in action would be too vast, mysterious and complex to place a human face upon. However, I am drawn to work with individual goddesses and gods, so how do I approach the tricky issue of gender and deity personification?

I tend to work with deities as archetypes. When I engage with a particular deity, I am attempting to contact the energies of that archetype so that I can understand them better and express them more positively in my life. In my next post I will write in more detail about my relationship with Aphrodite, but for now, if we say that Aphrodite’s energies are love, connection, union, attraction, the first thing we might ask ourselves is, are these things specifically male or female in nature? Culture has given them a female face in the form of the goddess Aphrodite but if I am honest, I would say that these energies, for me, transcend gender. To me, the energy of the archetype is ‘pure’;  when we approach and attempt to engage with it, we bring to it all our own cultural conditioning. We can tend to view the archetype with a somewhat distorted lens. Aphrodite is a good case in point. She is often viewed as a coquettish sex kitten, which is a woefully inadequate perception of a deity of love and passion (as anyone of us who has been in love will attest). What we see in this image is the distorting of a powerful archetype that says more about a culture’s attitudes towards its female members (Classical Greek Society was notoriously misogynistic!) than it does about the full, flowering power of that archetype. Part of the joy and challenge of working with deities is that we each bring our cultural distortions to the table; working with deity is an opportunity to strip these away and see ourselves and the archetype more honestly.


Another example might be useful.  Kuan Yin is a Buddhist bodhisattva who has also been embraced by many Neopagans as a Goddess of Compassion, Mercy and Kindness. For many throughout the Far East, Kuan Yin is perceived as female, however, Avalokitesvara is her male form, and although not as popular as her female manifestation, is still honoured.

This fascinates me because it suggests that the qualities that Kuan Yin embodies – Compassion, Mercy and Kindness – are here associated with both Male and Female figures, which further suggests that the qualities themselves are of greater importance than what personification we clothe those qualities with. I suspect that there will be many people who connect with those qualities more easily via a female form (and no doubt a little essentialism has influenced this – the gentle energy of this archetype being more in keeping with many people’s assumptions about women’s ‘innate’ being). However, we are all capable of compassion, regardless of gender, and that we connect with this energy is more important, ultimately, than the face we choose to give it.


Having said this, I do recognise that there is a good deal of rebalancing that needs to be achieved, so giving expression to goddess forms is vitally important for challenging gender assumptions. However, we have to guard against a further essentialism by valuing the image over the quality. For me, the quality or energy of the archetype is central; what personification I choose to clothe that quality with is deeply personal. Basically, I have chosen the forms that, for me, make the most direct and potent connection.

With regard to Aphrodite, I choose to see her as a goddess but she could just as easily be perceived as male in form. I know this because I see her and experience her through my partner (who is a man). For me, her energy is not confined by gender. This being said, I am also aware that as I work with her as a female image, as I challenge the sex kitten image and discover a deeper and richer expression, I am in some way liberating myself as a women from so much of the misogyny that underpins our attitudes to female sexuality.

I will now follow with some posts about those very faces of the Divine that draw, challenge and inspire me the most…

What is Deity to Me?


Over time, I have become less and less concerned with spiritual labels. It’s not that I don’t think them useful but I have come to believe that we should remain as flexible and open in our definitions as possible. Fundamentalism is a frightening and limiting view to me. I am of the opinion that how we perceive and relate to the Divine is a very personal thing and will differ from person to person. Hearing others speak of how they relate to deity is fascinating; I might not agree with that person’s approach but I feel my own experience is enriched in the sharing. And so in this spirit, I will offer my own current take on the Divine. Having said labels are unimportant, I am now going to reel out some of my own; however, I am aware that all of these are subject to change as I walk my spiritual path.

I consider myself a Pagan and essentially a Pantheist – that is, I believe that the Divine is present in the Cosmos, in fact, IS the Cosmos and exists in all life-forms, both animate and inanimate. These days, I feel that I am probably a Panentheist in the sense that my Pantheism is also open to the possibility that there is something beyond the material universe, a spiritual force that transcends it whilst also being imminent within all existence, much in the way that Hindus might view Brahman. Once again, like Hindus, I believe that the Cosmos functions through the dynamic interplay between the complimentary forces of the Goddess and God, although I don’t understand these in terms of gender, more in the way certain energies – for instance creation and destruction – move in an endless dance that fuels life.

Awen RaysMy Pantheistic/Panentheistic sensibilities are the broad stroke, that is, they are a view of the Divine that for me cannot be contained or fully understood by my limited consciousness – the Divine at this level is a vast and unknowable mystery, one that inspires but is a little difficult to get to know in a human way. I get a little closer when I start to see this force as Goddess and God, but for me, it begins to get a lot more up close and personal when I view these forces in their expression of multiple goddesses and gods. To clarify, the Cosmos is a unified whole made up of a myriad of natural forces; the gods and goddesses are facets of that Divine whole. I recently heard someone refer to them as lenses that focus in on aspects of the Divine whole.  I seek my most intimate connection to deity through selected lenses, that is, through particular goddesses and gods. These deities are aspects of nature and by extension, human culture. I work with these as archetypes (more on this later).

By now, some of you will recognise that I am a ‘soft’ Polytheists. Polytheism is the worship of many gods but there are differences in the Polytheistic approach between what is now termed ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Polytheism. Hard Polytheists view their deities as distinct, individual beings who exist in their own right and are not seen as merely aspects of an overarching Goddess and God (who in themselves are aspects of an even greater overarching Universal Force).  Soft Polytheists are often accused (mainly by hard polytheists) that they are actually not Polytheists at all but Monotheists ; Monotheism is the belief in a single God (are you still with me!!) and for hard core Polytheists, Pantheist are seen ultimately to honour that Cosmic Oneness, regardless of how they might break it down from there.



This all leads me back to my original point. All the labelling, trying to work out what we believe, can be useful in orientating ourselves and deciding what our spiritual practices will be, but in truth, defining the Divine is not nearly as important as the relationship we build with it. I have discovered that the methods are important only in so much that they have to work for you, they have to make possible an authentic and enriching relationship with the Divine. For instance, if you choose to be a Wiccan but discover that the Wiccan view of the Divine just doesn’t help you to connect, explore another way. Don’t be hemmed in by dogma or rules of any one belief system.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, and so, I will follow with a series of posts that explore the deities that I currently work with and how these impact on my spiritual understanding and practices.

Flag, Flax, Fodder and Frig – The Art of Gratitude

blessings jar

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you; it will be enough. ~ Meister Eckhart

Today I bought myself a Blessings Jar. Actually, it is just an ordinary glass container decorated with a heart shape made up of tiny flowers, but I intend to make it my Blessings Jar. I first heard of this idea via social media and thought it lovely. For those who don’t know, the Blessings Jar is a receptacle for all those things we are grateful for. Each day, we write on slips of paper the blessings we receive. Over time the jar fills and at the end of the year, we literally ‘count our blessings’ reading through the slips and reminding ourselves just how wonderful our life is.

When times are tough, we can lose sight of our gratitude. I have certainly been guilty of this over the last eighteen months. I wrote in my previous post how acceptance is a transformative act; I also think that gratitude can powerfully shift us out of a negative space. When low, we tend to focus on what we lack. Inevitably, what we focus on grows in our perception and we can find ourselves constantly bemoaning our lot. Lack and abundance are coloured by perception, and gratitude moves that perception from a world-view where few of our needs are met, to one where we become aware of just how full and rich our lives are.

The Blessings Jar is a simple but profound daily spiritual practice that can help enormously when coming to terms with loss. Every recognised blessing is a root that grounds us in our present, and when our roots are secure we can flourish.

What follows is an article I wrote for Philip Carr-Gomm’s Blog in May 2013. It talks further of the importance of gratitude. It was written five days before my dad died, and it is interesting for me to now note how the feelings I felt at that point struggled to find expression in the following months. What is reassuring is that despite the journey into grief and depression I have taken since then, the gift of gratitude – just like the gift of acceptance – has been patiently waiting for me to re-engage with it once more. It is never too late to be grateful and when we are, life opens and expands…

morning sun rays

Today has been glorious. Here in Scotland the spring has come late – the winter relentlessly long. I sat with a coffee in the garden, the sun’s heat upon my back; the Ash trees’ buds unfurling in the warmth; abundant pussy willow and blossom signalling that perhaps at last the season has shifted. The greening of the trees in my street and garden has been swift; the last few days has seen that vibrant spring green cut through the grey, and now the sun intensifies its vividness– it is hard not to be filled with joy and hope.

The garden is surrounded by mature trees and feels grove-like. I am always struck by the beauty of sunlight through a canopy of trees; it is a sight that can guarantee to raise the hairs upon my neck. For me, it speaks so readily of those moments when the Divine breaks through the veil of our clouded, distracted thinking, shining a spotlight on the magic of this world, reminding us of our blessings. In Druidry, the three-rayed symbol of the Awen expresses that very moment when the veil of our dulled vision is pierced by those shafts of inspiration. We are rent open and the light pours in; what a moment before had seemed merely two-dimensional is animated with a shining that renews and gives depth to the world.

Watching the sunlight break through the branches of the trees in my garden, I felt an enormous sense of peace and gratitude, and it occurred to me that there is an intimate link between this sense of thankfulness and our sense of wellbeing. It true to say that no matter what struggles befall us, gratitude can go a long way to easing the stresses and burdens of that struggle. I have noticed many times when I have been wrestling with limited finances and the worries that these bring that focusing on the lack only serves to deepen the discomfort. When we consciously choose to count our blessings, the difficulties seem easier to bear.

There is a Pagan Northern Tradition blessing that seems apt in this regard: Flags, Flax, Fodder and Frig. These four small words stand for some mightily important essentials that each of us needs to remain happy and healthy. In modern understanding ‘Flags’ refers to the hearth and home, to the roof over our heads; ‘Flax’, to the clothes upon our backs; ‘Fodder’, to the food on our plates and in our bellies and ‘frig’ to our relationships, sex and human connection. The balance of these in our lives leads to another Northern Tradition concept of ‘Frith’. Frith is more complex a notion than I can’t do justice to here, but it usually translates as ‘peace and prosperity’. When we have our basic human essentials met, it creates a balance that brings peace – this being equally true within the individual as well as wider society, and is therefore something that should be sought after in both.

frey 4

These essentials are not only crucial for our health and wellbeing but they are also the foundation upon which something greater within us can develop. The Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow recognised, through what he termed the Hierarchy of Needs, that when humankind’s most basic needs are met – that is once they have food, shelter and safety – they will endeavour to move towards self-realisation. Maslow understood that this drive to actualise our greatest potential is a fundamental part of our humanity. In other words, as long as we are not starving, homeless or war-torn – consumed wholly by the demands of mere survival – we will come to a point when the urge to express, create, grow and flourish will move in us.

Tragically, many in this world do not have their basic human needs met. Not only does their well-being suffer but they are also denied the right to discover what gift – unique to them – that they possess to offer the world. This is a tragedy not only for the individual but for wider society too. How often has poverty and war robbed us of so much potential, gifts that given the right environment and nurture might have transformed our world for the better? For those of us whose basics are met – even if at times our security might feel a little shaky – it can be good to remind ourselves of all we possess that supports and enriches us.

When we engage with and acknowledge the blessings of our home, having warm clothing and enough food; when we celebrate our relationships and the many sensual pleasures that each day brings, we can find ourselves a little closer to the reality of Frith. Frith is connected to the God Frey, himself a bringer of the sweet things in life – he is the life-giving sunlight and rain that makes the earth fruitful; he is joy and pleasure; love, sex, abundance and joy – the many things in our lives that sustain and enrich us. I have seen him written about as a light-bringer in the sense that he can break through, just like those shafts of sunlight through forest canopies, enlightening our dark spaces. For me, his connection to gratitude is an important one. When we express our thankfulness for what we have – regardless of how humble – he blesses us with that joy, peace and a sense of well-being that gratitude brings.

It can be so easy to lose touch with gratitude when we feel challenged by life. We can become distracted by the everyday minor irritations that we each deal with or – at those moments when major changes overwhelm us – we can feel in some way exiled from life’s sweetness, from the many blessings that we are touched by. When we look a little deeper, even at the most painful times, we can find that we are surrounded by a million unspoken kindnesses; within touching distance of beauty and joy; never far from a gift – be it a word, an act, a sight, that has the potential to open and bless us.



I don’t do it nearly enough but I think a regular practice of consciously giving thanks is a simple but powerfully effective spiritual practice that anyone can do, regardless of religious belief or lack of, and it would seem, regardless of where we might find ourselves.

Perception is everything – how we choose to see and interpret our lives is ultimately the deciding factor in how our lives are shaped. We might not draw the outline – plenty of external stuff impacts on us too – but we select the colours that fill those lines; the tone and the texture are ours to create. The wonderful thing about gratitude is that it transforms the world into a magical place, full of meaning and depth.  It is that shaft of sunlight breaking through the leaves, the world turned golden and precious by its touch.


Rekindling the Fire

Imbolc Shrine

Imbolc Shrine

It’s been a while since I have seriously and consistently celebrated the festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For almost twenty years, these seasonal festivals have been the foundation of my spiritual practice but this recent period, with all its attending difficulties, has found me only sporadically writing and performing rituals for them.

After so many years of orientating myself through the honouring of these seasonal changes, it has been strange to let them go for a while. In the past, the qualities and themes of each season played an enormous part in my well-being. Through joyful times, they enriched my life and when life presented its inevitable struggles, I found the wisdom of the Wheel a huge help in getting through.

As the grief took hold of me, I stopped hearing and seeing the wisdom. The sense of spiritual connection that I had once felt crumbled in the face of the overwhelming loss that I was experiencing; the spiritual meaning that had once felt so deep and nourishing now appeared shallow and brittle.

persephone 2

When our spiritual survival kit stops working and there is nothing to replace it, we can suddenly feel ourselves resident in a psychological wasteland. The wasteland is an interesting place; it is a bleak and shadowed landscape, lifeless and featureless. It exists in parallel to normal life and those caught behind its veil can continue to witness life going on around them and yet cannot see its colours, or fully feel its sensations. It is as if we gaze at life through darkened glass. We can feel that we are in life but not of it. It’s a painful place to be.

It takes courage to function without any spiritual scaffolding but I have come to believe that this process is actually a very important part of all of our spiritual journeys. There are many stories and myths that tell of a descent to the Underworld. I have written here before about my love of the goddess Persephone. Her tale articulates so well the experience of being catapulted into the wasteland by painful change in our lives. Persephone’s abduction to the Underworld by the God of Death is an archetypal experience. We will all find ourselves in such a position at some point in our life when we lose something precious to us – a loved one; our health or any other loss that shakes us to our core.  When faced with such devastating change, we are compelled to take that journey to the land of the shades, and whilst there, we will encounter our hopelessness, cynicism and nihilism. It can feel like crying out into a void, hoping to hear an answer to our prayers but receiving only silence or echo.

We might fear that we are trapped in this grey place forever but gradually, and with faltering, meandering steps, we find our way back to the light. The darkness will always remain a part of us but somehow we will now understand its inherent wisdom. It changes us but it doesn’t have to destroy us.

I have just celebrated Imbolc. I wrote a ritual for it – my first in months. I threw myself in to decorating my shrine in honour of the season, making it pretty and decorating it with things that spoke of the first stirrings of spring.

Bride by Jane Brideson

Bride by Jane Brideson

Imbolc is strongly associated with the Celtic Goddess Brighid. She is a goddess of fire. At this time of the year she is the light that warms the soil and brings it to life; she is also the purifying and transformative flame that burns away all that no longer serves us and keeps us chained to the past. She is a matron of midwifery and as such is connected not only with physical birth but with helping us to birth new ways to be. When we are stuck and stagnant, her fiery energy brings movement – she is the rekindling; that glorious moment when we feel the life and hope within us returning.

Brighid has long been one of my special deities. I honoured and worked with her for many years but in these recent times of upheaval, she has felt very distant. Brighid was a core deity for me, so it was a surprise to sense my relationship with her slip away. I had started to feel that Brighid and I had lost touch for good but this last week, particularly since my Imbolc ritual, I have felt her presence growing.

This reconnection has undoubtedly been triggered by the realisation that I need to let go of some things I have been holding on to. When we are in the wasteland, the past calls to us; all that we have lost resides in our memories. Reaching out to the past is a natural response to grief; all that is lost to us returns in those moments of remembering. It is a way of coping with loss and honouring what we grieve but we cannot stay in this place for ever – we must come to the place of letting go. This process takes a long time – months, years even – there is no timetable that we can follow; these things unfold at their own pace, but we must all return to the surface – Persephone can’t stay in the Underworld forever or spring will never return.

This last month I have been able to take a step back and see just how much I have been clinging to the past, so much so that the current blessings of my life are being missed. Key to reclaiming the present is acceptance – beneath the heavy weight of anger and impotence that loss brings, awaits our acceptance. Acceptance is compassionate and patient and will wait for as long as we need to discover it within us.  It is an extraordinary moment when we begin to feel its effect upon us, as I have this past week.

For my Imbolc ritual I felt the strong urge to offer up my recent past to Brighid’s healing fire, handing it over to her with trust and faith that nothing is truly lost but merely transformed into something new. I made a commitment to myself to embrace the tender stirrings of healing and renewal happening within me and in doing so, I have felt Brighid’s protective, joyful and empowering presence growing inside me.

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

A month ago I could never have envisaged this shift happening but the gift of acceptance has laid down its thread of light to guide me back from the wasteland. The wasteland is not the enemy, or a punishment –it is, in fact, a place of healing although it can feel the opposite when we wrestle with our pain. The wasteland is the dark, cold, wet soil of winter waiting patiently for the warming light to stir it. The rekindling has come; the frozen earth cracked open by a tender snowdrop.





I’m Back!!

Persephone Rising by Zabani

Persephone Rising by Zabani

It’s has been a long time since I posted on this blog; thank you to those people who have very kindly signed up to follow A Druid Thurible – it has been lean pickings for you for some time now.

As many of you know, my father died eighteen months ago. This was followed by a series of challenging events, most notably moving house twice and going through my divorce. On top of this I began to experience the menopause. Losing my fertility has not been an issue for me – I have never wanted to have children – but what has proved difficult has been the hormonal mood shifts and the crippling exhaustion that breaks over me like a dense wave. I have no doubt these symptoms have been made worse by my grief. Dad’s death has been a major loss and it has been a slow process of moving through the myriad and unpredictable feelings that grief brings. So please forgive my absence, I have had so little energy, but I hope that you have enjoyed the archive. I endeavour to get back to posting regularly and this is my first, tentative offering.

Gradually, I feel myself emerging. It isn’t a linear progression by any means; I still have bad days when things feel overwhelming but this last week has found the fog clearing and a little bit of my old whiz and fizz has returned. It’s wonderful to feel myself opening again, particularly in the area of my spiritual life, which has felt particularly stagnant in the aftermath. I just wasn’t feeling any sense of connection. The things that had held meaning have felt distressingly dull and lifeless. Grief can dismantle our sense of self; we can find ourselves without faith or trust in life just at the point we need it most. This sudden disconnection can be devastating; it is like a second bereavement; you can find yourself utterly stripped of your coping mechanisms, and what is left is you – you, your vulnerability and fragility.

When you are in the thick of grief, there is no analysing your way out. As a person who loves to analyse, this was intensely frustrating. I gave up trying to make sense of my feelings; I realised that my futile attempts to label them was my way of endeavouring to feel that I had some control. I didn’t. I ultimately had to admit that I wasn’t alright and no amount of intellectualising was going to contain the deep, bottomless anguish that repeatedly rose to the surface. I loved my dad dearly and we were extremely close. After my mother’s death as a child, he had been both parents, and having lost my sister and my brother living half way across the world, I felt alarmingly alone. Of course, I am not alone; I have a loving partner, family and friends, but somehow that momentous moment when our last remaining parent dies can hard wire us back to all those subconscious childhood fears of abandonment. It doesn’t matter what age you are, you can suddenly find yourself feeling all the anxieties and terrors of a mother and fatherless child.

Imbolc has just happened, and for the first time in a couple of turnings of the Wheel of the Year festivals, I have felt the energy of this one acutely; that sudden stirring and quickening has gripped me. It has been delightfully surprising after the emotional and spiritual paralysis of recent times.

I will write more about the wonderful rekindling energy of Imbolc in my next post but for now I am back and very pleased to be so.

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


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


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

beech trees and sun

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.





« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 76 other followers