30-Day No Plastic Challenge – The Results!

So, the last week of my “No Plastic for a Month” challenge and it’s been harder than I anticipated. I didn’t manage to get through the whole month without buying food that had been packaged in plastic; there were three exceptions. I had to make a rice dish for a wedding, and simply could not find rice that didn’t come in plastic packaging (where I live in Suffolk there are no big bulk food suppliers, sadly, not even at large food chain superstores. I shall be writing letters to them all about this.) I also had to buy some hazelnuts and sunflower seeds (vegan diet, my protein intake) and these too were unavailable without plastic.

All in all, I’ve looked at the waste that I produce, and it’s seriously overhauled. I thought I was pretty good at not having too much rubbish to collect every two weeks. I know that even the bag of rubbish that I was throwing out a week was too much, and since the challenge this has reduced to half, or even less than half a bag of rubbish a week. An eye-opener. The plastic that a lot of packaging comes in, the bendy but not stretchy plastic, is not recyclable in my area. I didn’t realise quite how much I was still using.

There is no such thing as “away”. We do not throw our rubbish “away” – it simply ends up in another place. With dwindling oil supplies and the rate that plastic biodegrades, we seriously need to re-evaluate our relationship with it. We do not live in a disposable society, no matter how much marketing in companies try to tell us otherwise. We only have one planet, one place to live, and we must treat that with utmost respect.

I shall continue in my search to find food that isn’t wrapped in plastic, and to keep my waste as low as possible, or even lower. Shopping is now not only concerned with ethical and organic, but packaging to an even higher degree than before. Working on an ethical principle that asks the question, “What if everyone did the same?” is the best guideline I’ve ever come across so far.

To all those who took this challenge with me, well done, and long may you continue. If you’d like, please share your thoughts here on this blog, or write your own blog post and ping back to me – I’d love to hear from you!

Awen blessings,

Jo.x

Druid Camp 2014

Druid Camp was, once again, a wonderful experience. Though we were only there for Friday evening and Saturday, leaving early Sunday morning, it was an enriching time filled with laughter, good friends, a coming together of a tribe and community, and an honouring of the land. The focus of this year’s camp was environmentalism within a spiritual context.

We arrived Friday just after 7pm, after horrendous traffic on every single motorway – it took us over seven hours to get to Camp from the Suffolk Coast – three hours longer than usual. School holidays had just begun. We checked in and then hastily made our way to the ritual circle, where Phil and Ness were being handfasted. They had met at Druid Camp years ago, and were now taking their vows and pledging their love to each other, with the tribe and community acting as witness. It was beautiful.

Later that evening, Arthur ZZ Birmingham and then Ushti Baba, a gypsy/ska/folk band got the crowd on their feet and we danced the night away.

Saturday began with a lovely yoga session led by Theo, which worked out all the kinks from the night before and set us up perfectly for the day, followed by circle dancing. The morning meeting followed, where the next two days were laid out before us with an array of choices to make, which workshops to attend, and what was taking place where. The afternoon ritual was then planned, which I will come back to in a moment.

The marketplace at midday was the biggest I had ever seen it. Beautiful crafts and homemade wares were on display, as well as books, second hand clothing, incense, ritual gear, meads and wines. Arthur ZZ Birmingham led an improvised band (and I joined in on my new doumbek) and played some great blues tunes in the heat of the midday sun.

Mid-afternoon the healing and divination area was in full swing, as were the talks and workshops. I went to Brochfael’s talk on ethics within Paganism – something which I’ve been exploring quite a bit on this blog lately. Ideas were exchanged and points of view shared in a brilliantly painted teepee, with Will delivering his talk before a tableau of a red dragon dancing in the light of the sun.

Saturday afternoon’s ritual focus had an astrological bent – Mars in the various zodiac signs. Though I’m not a great believer in astrology, it did provide an interesting framework for ritual. The idea was that one woman would represent Boudicca, discovering and learning her warrior aspect as she dedicated herself utterly to the land. She was to move through the houses of the zodiac in which Mars resided for all ritual participants. Every single ritual participant was divided up into groups based upon which sign Mars was in for their own person – for me, Mars was in Virgo. The groups would then challenge and provide Boudicca with what she needed for her journey.

When the time came for the ritual, Mark Graham opened the circle and the woman who was chosen to play Boudicca entered, looking every inch the proud warrior queen, even down to the flaming red hair. Each house of the zodiac presented her with challenges and gifts, wisdom and advice as she progressed through the circle. It was so inspiring to see the creativity of everyone, wherein each group was so different and so unique, yet coming together to create a single ritual of great beauty.

After Boudicca (who was played by a woman aptly named Victoria) had processed and been blessed by the tribe in her protection of the land, everyone came together in the circle, chanting words dependent upon their ritual designation within the elements of earth, air, fire and water. The words flowed through each other in exquisite awen, as everyone circled and chanted, sang and set their hearts free in love of the land. I was quite overcome at this point, with the seagulls flying overhead, the wind upon my skin, the earth humming with energy beneath my feet and the waters of the Severn River encircling us upon this sacred hilltop. My love for this land and for the planet, the Earth itself, overwhelmed me and tears began to slide down my mud-stained cheeks as I called to my gods, opening my heart and soul to them in utter dedication and devotion. On the outer edges of the circle, I felt a great need to connect more fully with the earth, and dropped to my knees to lay my hands upon the sacred soil. Thankfully, those in the middle of the circle soon felt a similar need, and I was not trampled under Druidic feet! Everyone in the ritual knelt down to the ground, bringing their foreheads to touch the earth in peace and love, dedication and devotion to that which holds us so utterly and beautifully in the world. A selfless love flowed through me for the entirety of the world in a rush of pure, divine awen, and I tried not to sob out loud at the release.

After the ritual I made my way back to my tent, to process and integrate what I had just experienced. My husband and I then went out for dinner at the local pub, and coming back I meditated alone (in a field of sheep, so not entirely alone) watching the sun set over the hills within a bank of cloud, the crickets singing around me and the finches twittering overhead. Utterly spent, we had an early night that night.

Sunday we went for breakfast at the café, and had a great breakfast discussion with friends old and new about what they were working on in university, on gender roles and personal life experiences. This is what I love about Druid Camp – such engaging and brilliant discussion over beans on toast.

Then it was time for the long journey home towards the North Sea coast. Coming at last to our home, smelling the familiar scents of heath and forest, of sea and sky, I sat in my backyard by my altar and honoured the land upon which I live, connected as it is to all of the British Isles and the rest of the world. I said a prayer for peace, and reaffirmed my dedication once again to my gods, with the spirits of place and the ancestors as witness.

I can’t wait to see what will happen at next year’s camp.

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The view from out tent of the Severn River and the rolling hills…

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Brochfael’s talk on Pagan ethics in the painted teepee, or is it a hobbit about to be eaten by Smaug???

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Solar panels in the distance… how apt…

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The astrological houses for the big ritual on Saturday afternoon…

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My favourite tepee in the whole world…

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Ritual preparation…

Friday Foodies! Best. Vegan. Cupcakes. Ever.

My friend, Sarah, found this recipe for vegan cupcakes, and they are just the best ever.  Moist, lovely and scrumptious – have a go!

Vegan cupcakes
Makes 24

1 3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup veg oil
1 cup soy/almond milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp vanilla

Cake topping
Vegan butter
Icing sugar
Rose water (optional for flavour)

Cook at 180 for 15-18 minutes

Reblog: Sacred Spaces

This is a reblog from DruidHeart, my blog on SageWoman Magazine’s channel at Witches and Pagans. Photo credit from The Sleepy Backpacker’s blog HERE.

stonehenge2014Moonhenge, in Cambridgeshire, is a brilliant example of new Pagan sacred spaces being created. With so much controversy over some of the megalithic stone circles and other sites around Britain, why should we not be creating more new spaces in which to celebrate, should we so wish?

Every Western Pagan knows about Stonehenge. They all know about the summer solstice celebration there. A loud and rowdy affair in which the public join in, it is more a rave than a sacred celebration. Though we cannot know for certain what the ancestors did in that ritual space, to me personally it just seems wrong to have people getting drunk and shouting loudly, climbing on stones and partying all night in a temple so closely linked to the dead as well as the sunrises throughout the year. I may be entirely wrong.

However, it just seems like sacrilege when the spirits of place are not honoured in a respectful way. To make something sacred is to honour and respect it – it is connected to such words as dedication, devotion and veneration, three things which most of the partygoers at the high point in summer are not terribly concerned with at Stonehenge.

The creation of sacred space is a key tenet of Druidry and many other Pagan religions. It is an invasion to have people that you do not know enter your sacred space and act out of accordance with the intention of the rite or ritual being performed. Out of hours access permits are available to those who wish to use the particular temple of Stonehenge for more private use, however, during the actual time of the sunrises and sunsets at various times of the year, this temple space must be shared with those who are not in tune with the intention.

Other sacred sites around the world do not seem to suffer as much from this intrusion. We would not party in Chartres Cathedral, for instance, or rave all night in the Temple of Athena….

To read the full article, click HERE.

Reblog: Pagan Ethics

Here is my latest blog post for Moon Books…

How much of our Paganism do we allow to be defined by others? If we follow a specific or established spiritual tradition within Paganism, we look to those who have gone before, and those who are a part of it now, to inform our ideas about the path that we are journeying on. We can find great inspiration in doing so, finding relevance in the ideas of others that resonate deep within our souls, through the words and actions of those whom we may look up to, or feel a sense of rapport with. Equally, we may become frustrated and disappointed when those who follow the same spiritual path are at odds with our own beliefs, behaving badly, seeming to work in opposition to the very ethics that Paganism, by virtue of its deep-seated root in respect and love for nature, provides.

What are the ethics of Paganism? More and more, this topic is being discussed by prolific Pagan writers, teachers, organisations, established members of the community and newcomers to Paganism alike. We could look at what defines the Pagan community, but this is just too vast to cover in a blog post, as Paganism itself is so vast a subject. Therefore, the ethics that surround such a vast subject are numerous and varied according to each individual, if not organisation. For some, this is the brilliance of Paganism – for others, it is the downfall.

When the ethics that we hold dear to our heart are not being followed by others who claim to be a part of our tradition or spiritual path, we begin to question our path on so many levels. How can I be a part of this, when people behave like that? Issues with Pagans whom the media court may frustrate us, as we may feel we are not being represented properly or with due respect. Issues arising on social media, where wars with words are carried over into many different spheres can confound or simply clutter one’s newsfeed – these are all a part of being a modern Pagan, should you wish to use the term. Gossiping, griping, flaming, bullying – all these issues can make us question whether we want to be a part of this whole Pagan thing at all…

To read the full article, click HERE.

 

World Suffering – Thich Nhat Hanh

This little gem came as a great reminder today, when the suffering of the world threatened to overwhelm me.  Bursting into tears as I watched on the BBC news children’s toys scattered in the rubble of the Gaza bombings,, their bodies being loaded together into the mortuary. Rude people at the village shop blocking other people’s cars, and making them wait until they finish shopping to move their car, even after the person has asked them to politely to move.  Loud, overbearing people in the bays next to you at the driving range.  The obnoxious amount of money spent on the World Cup Football in Brazil while people starve in the streets.

Thich’s words were a welcome reminder to find the beauty, and to nourish ourselves in order to better serve the world, in a world filled with suffering – not to be overwhelmed by it, but to find the beauty to carry on regardless. To find a community as well, of like-minded souls, who can inspire you on your journey through life.  To be out in nature, and to see the wonder and live with the awe of a child again.

Then, you will be better able to serve the world, instead of submitting to the suffering and the grief, the rage and the injustice.  Returning to the centre, finding peace and being peace is all that matters.