by Rannveig Splii
I start writing this Ovate offering in the depths of the hard teachings offered humanity by Covid-19. This is the context – a world pandemic which in many ways are harrowing, yet which also seems to me to be Earth giving us a forced break, shaking us out of the humdrum and the rat race of everyday life. A problem, the solution to which demands that we feel our shared humanity and act accordingly.
What I witness online these very days, in my isolation in the Danish countryside, makes me weep with joy. The singing, oh, the singing, this unreserved sharing of soul and love and power. The giving of heart to the process, the great dance, the great work. This, I feel, is the exact right time and place to give and share into.
Viewed comparatively in a wider pagan context, druids are traditionally among the more intellectual, in our approach to our spiritual practice. A lot of it takes place in our heads, and through our intellects. Most of us live in western societies, and as such we are used to a daily life operating with a veneer of the values and worldview of these societies. We mind our jobs, we go to the grocery store, we perform Westerner. As an autistic person with (it turned out) a shamanic calling, the constraints of this mask have been acutely felt for me – as ‘masking’ in general is for many on the spectrum, and also by people in direct relationship with spirits. And yet, as the community of OBOD have allowed me to feel, through the gentle, undemanding and nonjudgmental contact I have had through all those years – I too am part of the community of humanity. It cultivated a trust in me, that my shared experience is of value to everyone, not just those with the same disability as I.
So in this writing, in gratitude for what has been given me by this community, I want to dive into the concept of demasking and the art of dying. The reasoning behind this is an urgent feeling that the time to dispense with certain types of masks (and adopt others, based on usefulness), could be said to be upon us. This for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the druidic duty to truth and authenticity. But first and foremost because our love of and service to the Land, and our journey back to Her, demands it of us. Not just ‘us’ as in this Order, but all of us, humanity as a whole.
Persona, in Latin, originally referred to a theatrical mask. Much psychological literature concerns itself with our understanding of what it is to be a person, of how we invest the mask which is our interface with the rest of Spirit, with a sense of identity which is not the whole truth of that part of spirit which is us. Losing this identification, or switching masks, is to die a little, to come closer to the truth, to discover what death is, hence the term ‘ego death’.
In OBOD, we often speak of, and write to, our ‘We’. There are important and valuable reasons to prioritise community spirit in an individualist society. Nonetheless, this ‘we’ of ours is composed out of individuals, and of individuals who live our everyday life in this individualist society. In order to really change this ‘we’ in a soulful manner, to interact well with the larger web of life in an ever more meaningful, creative way, this ‘we’, too, must regularly die, as focus is given to individual work. For the larger circle of humanity, this pandemic will be one of those thresholds. It seems poignant that the responsibility of the Chosen Chieftain is also crossing a threshold now, passing from one set of hands to another.
At such a place, some work and responsibility rests with every single ‘You’. Not all of it comfortable, much of it in fact not – because death is not comfortable and dying is an art practiced alone. It demands practice, it is a craft that takes a life to master. But your death is important. Your sacrifice to your true self is what makes creation continuously possible. Ask the Horned One, the God, the Green Man, by whatever face or name you know him. He will teach you. He knows quite a bit about dying.
As an autistic person, I fancy that I, too, know a bit about ego-dying: when faced with an excess of stimulus and stressors, my brain at a certain point simply stops obeying my will. I experience what is known as an autistic meltdown.
For the first thirty-eight years of my life, neither I nor my surroundings understood this about me. It was not even considered that women could be autistic, the diagnostic criteria being tailored to only male expressions of autism.
This left me with a deeply ingrained sense of shame about my essential self, as well as a Sisyphus-dimensioned maintenance task in relation to masking.
It was never done. Never. Ever.
My constant dying and rebirthing is not considered a boon by the society I have grown up in, and still live in – and so my persona, the one I thought was me, did not consider it so either. In my case, being Someone in the societally prescribed understanding, was not only obscuring but in fact detrimental, choking, to who I really am. I eked out a soul-existence on the scraps left at the end of the day, after the repairs of the latest crack in a mask which was constantly on the verge of collapse, and which had little to do with the spirit underneath. Tomorrow, there would be another crack, and back to work.
So what happened?
Now, here is where I could elaborately narrate what happened in my life, and the hows, but those are particulars only relevant to me – and also they would not be addressing the heart. The simple matter is, the spirits took pity on me, and they helped. Without them, I would have been utterly wretched. Until I dared listen to them, as spirits, as independent entities, real external relationships, in spite of all the conditioning of so-called ‘modernity’, I was wretched. Lo, suddenly instead of wretchedness and loneliness: Joy, great joy. Connection, relationship, love.
The one thing that changed was that I forewent intellectualising and listened to a heart that told me that these are spirits, these are other people. I decided, initially through some effort of will, to trust, and that meant I finally, truly started dying, as a practice. And so I learned the indispensable value of my constant death, from within. There is a message and a gift which is universal to all of us, no matter our neurological makeup: Your collapse is not shameful, but a talent. Your death is prerequisite to creation, to birth.
The mask cracks when you dare realise that the spirits do not exist merely to be a place for you to escape from the Real World. The spirits are the Real World, as much as the material realm, sometimes moreso. They are not and should not be reduced to, or disguised as, intellectual or psychological constructs, nor are they made up solely of your inner psychic matter – rather it is the other way around. The world is not in you, you are in the world. You are not alone.
We are all here.
Like most, You probably went into your spiritual search driven by this gnosis of the heart, indeed driven by the thirst of the Fisher King for relationship. Your longing to manifest this gnosis. And yet, it is a gnosis which often consciously expresses itself as a romantic hope You entertain when you read your gwersu, then compartmentalise away when it’s time to deal with the Real World: do the dishes, go to work, do things You hate but which are expected of You, and if Those Who Are They found out who You really are there will be Hell to pay (oh if only You knew that Hel is waiting for You to come, and her hands are the most soothing You have ever felt on your wounds). You fear it too, this gnosis, because the implications of spirits as spirits can be unsettling. It would mean You do not entirely belong to yourself. Also, it is a natural human desire to be accepted, and They tell You, in no uncertain terms, that earnest talk of spirits are, at best, the province of ‘traditional societies (who do not know better)’, while for a Westerner (whoever that is) it is the straight way to the madhouse. You are, essentially, told that to be who You really are, is to be mad, cracked, inferior, backwards, broken.
So You intellectualise. You keep your secrets in Your ivory tower and do not strew them around in public, upsetting traffic. You agree, tacitly, to be a scholar. Maybe a hippie-scholar, okay, You can bear that stamp, it’s kind of charming – but still, in Your own internal understanding, and that of your Order: scholars, the lot. People who value Sources and Research and Evidence. But, as Taliesin the shining madman, or any Trickster deity will tell us – if You are to be a proper guardian of Her sovereignty, if You are to enter properly into intimate relationship with Her, You must be willing to bear ridicule with stoicism. Ridicule, too, is a tiny death. But what does it matter that people are laughing at the shape of Your dick (gender irrelevant)? Your love is considered dead matter, and yet ever-present threat to be countered, by the society You live in. In this society, feminine agency is cause for never-ceasing anxiety. She Cannot Be, and if She is, She is inherently ridiculous, dirty, wrong, mad.
That is Your Mother. That is the one You love. This is how She is spoken of, how Your own persona, Your mask, learns to speak of Her. Because if You enter into relationship, real relationship with Her, You will die. Not only once, at the end of a hopefully eighty-something span of years, but often, a lot, every step of the way.
And dying, so You are told, hurts.
And yet, You are in deep thirst, in deep need. Oh but death is waiting, all Her balms and Her silent compassion and Her listening is laid out just for You. Let go, I beg You, let go. Evict the coloniser with self-compassion. You are not this.
To be the lover and guardian of the Land means neither missioning to others, nor mistrusting oneself. Rather it means to be who we are and stand by it. This is an act of trust in the spirits, in the Land, and in our own heart which takes immense courage, and, by extension, the self-compassion to allow ourselves to maybe practice this Fall of Faith many times, or fall by smaller increments. Don’t worry. She is there, She will catch You, the fall will become a dancing step and will land You elegantly, right in Her lap (She will see the goat you tied to your privates, and She will laugh. It will be worth it). You are on Your way home. Only, it is imperative that You must go. Living is dying and dying is hard work, but it is the only work worthwhile. Fall You must, in whichever form that work takes for You. But I promised, I hear You cry. I promised. They can’t get by without me. If they laugh at me, I can’t bear it.
I say to You, go! If the things You promised others make You sick, if Your marriage or Your course subject or Your job feels Utterly Wrong and You don’t even know why, if Heart tells You to be elsewhere. Trust. Fall. Go There. It is Her voice. The world depends on You following it.
No one but Heart can tell You what it wants. No one but the Land can really reach You, no one but You can dare listen to Her song.
To heal is sometimes uncomfortable, but there is always help. You are never alone. And the journey is imperative. The real, broken, imperfect You is imperative to the We. You must come into being, even if it is terrifying. You save the world through saving yourself, Your Self, through understanding that You are perfect in your madness, through embracing Your ecstatic nature and burn Shame on the greatest pyre You can find. Through dying and fertilising Your Self.
She’s got the power to heal You, never fear.