One small year. It’s been an eternity, it’s taken all of me to get here. Through this one small year.
I found myself in a music circle last night, feeling compelled to murder the above Shaun Colvin song as acknowledgement of the anniversary of my leaving last year’s Imbolc gathering and the changes in my life since then.
Immediately after last Imbolc I made the painful decision to break up for the final time with my ex-fiance. Faced with a flat that reeked of loss, a job I could hardly tolerate and a city full of memories, I hatched a plan to escape and relocate (with considerable help).
Now a full solar rotation later I am in a different country, a different job, I have less stress and I am a Novice within the Order of Perpetual Indulgence. My life is full of new people and renewed purpose.
I had plans to help facilitate the current Imbolc gathering at Paddington Farm alongside some of the team from last year. As the date grew close and discussions began it felt progressively more frustrated and at odds with the process, so I bowed out and encouraged another to take my place.
Instead I concentrated efforts on my new local community. Alongside my good friend and fellow Sister I helped at the Community Christmas Day Dinner and threw myself into manifesting in Bristol and Glastonbury, handing out condoms and lube, delivering a speech as part of the World AIDS Day or writing profanities in glitter onto shiny festive baubles.
Time passed as it does and one chance encounter led to a discussion with a local publican about putting on a queer cabaret night here in the heart of rural Somerset. The Ministry of Martha was born.
In the meantime I began to share some faerie processes and ideas among my fellow Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They took well to hissing in circles, they wanted to hear of the magic of queer empowerment, asked about spirituality within the context of sexuality.
All this culminated this week in pulling together an astonishing event here, where Faeries, Sisters and locals mixed, laughed and played together and raised funds for each other including a new LGBTQ youth group in Glastonbury.
Our 5 Sisters were graciously welcomed to the gathering space just outside town and after a brief sleep we walked together to join the Imbolc celebrations at the White Spring and Chalice Well. Sisters and Faeries also ate together and talked a lot, found common ground and opened their hearts in circle.
It has felt like reuniting lost relative tribes this week. Sisters honour their origins that lie with Faeries and the fact that one of their founders, Sister Soami (aka Sister Missionary Position) is still living in Sanctuary space on Short Mountain.
We have much to teach each other and I am blessed to have seen the best in both organisations this week. Oddly enough I have felt more valued and able to contribute at a Faerie Gathering as a Sister than if I had stuck it out and been a Gathering Organiser.
There are challenges here still for me, whether those reveal themselves through discussions around conflict or flickers of jealousy at some of the beauty all around me. New faeries to meet, reminders of happy loving times with past lovers here, the heartache of missing those who have passed through the veil. Familiar rivalries, old behaviour patterns, recalling schisms past and feeling their repercussions still.
Also being on the farm only part of the time, just enough to host an auction and a midnight heart circle or help facilitate a workshop on being a Sister, has been disconcerting. But I think I have become a better Faerie by being a better Nun. Perhaps those in combination might help me be a better realisation of myself. Hell, at least I know by now where spare blankets and towels can be found.
Everything is different now and some of it is even making sense. Blessed Imbolc everyone. You are loved.
At a political demo in London this summer I met a Radical Faerie from Atlanta, the city faerie clan in Georgia that currently has a reputation for being the most active and fertile group in the USA. He told me that he had heard that the Albion Faeries are ‘very spiritual’. By this I don’t think he meant that we go to church on time, or that we all line up dutifully for morning practice, nor even that we are super nice to each other (and compared to some of what I have seen in American sanctuaries, we actually are). He may have been referring to the way we meet regularly to honour the moon cycles, and also to the way our gatherings are built to consciously get the most out of the energies of the seasonal festivals of the wheel of the year. As I feel very fortunate to have discovered very early into my personal spiritual journey, our ultimate task while alive is to follow our spirit, not our given/chosen spiritual path. Fortunate also to have discovered how the cycles of the Sun and Moon, and the rhythms of Nature, give us all we need to liberate the spirit, to heal and awaken the soul, if we become conscious of them. Gatherings are a very effective way of discovering the gifts and subtleties of a season’s energy.
The Albion clan of the global Radical Faerie tribe are about to hold our 21st gathering since we first assembled at Featherstone Castle in Northumberland a decade ago at Imbolc 2006.
Eight times we gathered at the enchanted Featherstone, our Faerie Hogwarts, during the cold Winter months…. Twice over Christmas and SIX times at Imbolc. These were thermal fashion, finding-divinity-through-the-duvet gatherings, with lots of cosiness around fires, intimate, slow heart circles held at sunset in the blue room (which most people attended) and freezing ballroom discos – divas dancing around the tall radiator heaters not their handbags.
The Imbolc gatherings were slow paced, cosy and for the most part mellow. There was a lot of deep sharing and healing going on, also of course an element of high spirited partying, which for some occasionally seemed to become more central to the experience than the healing journey. Whether related to that or not, we experienced a lot of physical sickness at the last few castle winter gatherings. I suggest that if we do not attend effectively to the soul healing that spirit calls us together to address, it is easy for sickness to manifest in our bodies.
I also feel that the deep healing work that many of us did engage in for ourselves… and for the collective… during those deep and magical winter retreats (there was one stunning year that it snowed deeply before we arrived and didn’t melt until we left… we were outside doing naked photo shoots in glistening sunshine, we also built a snowhenge) was now done. Spirit was pushing us out of our winter dream time space to explore new territories. The conditions at Featherstone in February were proving too tough, but the wish to continue meeting to savour the sparkling energies of Imbolc, and each other as a respite from the dark winter period, was strong – so gatherings shifted to Paddington Farm in Glastonbury, where space is limited and we have to be cosy with each other.
Sometimes it is so exciting to escape the winter blues and arrive in faerie land it can be tempting to forget that the spirit at this time of year is asking us to light a small inner fire, not a conflagration… is inviting us to look within and heal, preparing ourselves for the busier time of year ahead. Imbolc has an exciting energy of potential and promise, but it’s still winter. The Featherstone winter gatherings gave us attendees a powerful experience of deep stillness – because the land holding us was itself so cold and still, while in Glastonbury the earth energy is much lighter and livelier. It does not offer us the kind of deep winter spirit experience that many of us got to know in the Northumberland wilderness.
Imbolc is a time to come together for warmth and reassurance in the dark months of the year – the faeries of Albion have explored this season’s energy more than most other clans around the world. Imbolc is also a much celebrated faerie festival in southern United States – an annual Brigit Ball is held in New Orleans, in a very different climate to our northern retreat. So maybe that’s where the spirit of the British maiden goddess emigrated to after her people forgot about her here, somewhere much warmer!
In 2014 we gathered for the first Albion Spring Gathering, held over the Equinox shift from winter Pisces water to spring Aries fire energy, discovering powerful magic through consciously making that shift within ourselves in sync with the planet. We returned to Featherstone for this and subsequent Spring gatherings, taking huge delight in the warmer temperatures both outside and within the castle, in the longer hours of daylight, the lambs in the fields and the bright Spring sunshine.
2014 was the year of our second Summer Solstice Gathering at Paddington Farm under the Tor, but the first year the magic really took off there for us. Powerful workshops releasing shame from our lives prepared the ground for a ritual rise into blissful communion around our hot and sizzling Solstice fire in the woods. Many a faerie’s deep rooted dreams of passion and play in nature were fulfilled that night, and our merry mystical dance with the woodland spirits has continued at the Solstice gatherings since. 2014 Solstice brought a glorious sunrise witnessed by many Fae up on the top of Glastonbury Tor. We arrived there at dawn, a very merry band of kissing, cuddling queers livening up the atmosphere amongst the local hippies and characters of Avalon.
2015 the Albion Faeries filled in the last remaining gap in the seasonal calendar with our first Autumn gathering, Featherstone providing the most perfect setting for 9 days of Samhain sorcery and spooky delight. Within a decade we have held gatherings in each of the four seasons of the year, this seeming to me like a very significant statement from our collective to the cosmos that we are not messing around, the Albion Faeries are a spiritual tribe and we mean business.
An issue that comes up for us, it seems every few years, is around substance use and abuse. The issue seems to arise when we have become accustomed to a venue and start to take the magic for granted. Or maybe we just get lazy about doing the work that opens the gates to it?
When we cosmic queers gather together and open the gates to the heart and spirit we are inviting the potent powers of the universe to come be part of the journey with us. Those powers answer the call gladly when they feel the sincerity behind it, and they bring the possibility of profound awakening and transformation to our conclaves. Having invited super powered cosmic guests to the feast it is silly to ignore them, and seek illusory transcendence through quick fixes. Sometimes of course suitably blessed and prepared sacraments are part of the exploration of our faerie nature that we undertake. As we are in community space and not a gay holiday camp it would seem vital. and natural that those using substances as part of their experience would aim to do so consciously, with awareness given to how their choices impact on others.
Our self-defined and self-declared community has grown rapidly in a decade. Is this the moment for us to take a collective breath and consider how, where, when and why… we do what we do. Our last two gatherings at Paddington have led to some disturbance and, it seems, division, amongst us. By contrast the last two Featherstone outings have been extremely well blessed on all counts. It is noticeable to me that while the castle gatherings have had several faeries stepping forward to be part of the organising team, there has been a shortage of new energy in the Glastonbury team. There even seems to be some element of ‘consumer’ culture seeping into Paddington. I also think we have been sticking to a tried and tested formula in our gathering spaces and not really adapting fully yet to the differing energies of each season. What works for a cosy Winter or lazy Lammas retreat may not be the best formula for the highly individuated energies of the Summer Solstice. These high energy gatherings, which have become very large very quickly, could perhaps be held more ‘lightly’, with less expectation of a tightly bonded faerie unit than at other times of the year. They could be more like a faerie ‘festival’ than a conventional gathering. It simply does not seem practical to expect large numbers of fae to achieve the type of bonding and intensity that we know so well when our numbers are so large and the space we are occupying is also used by other people, when we are so close to the attractions of Avalon and when the Sun energy is at its peak. But a less formal faerie festival that embraces these factors as gifts might manifest a lovely energy.
2017 looks like being a different kind of year for the Albion Faeries.
Featherstone Castle has been booked for a Global Gathering in August, to which we will invite a number of activist queers from countries in Africa/Middle East/South America/Eastern Europe/Asia to come tell their stories and have an experience of the kind of compassionate community the Faeries create. This gathering is being run in collaboration with the organisers of the first Global Gathering in California held two years ago. With a limit on the number of places the organising team is asking only faeries who feel passionate about the global rights of lgbtq people, and who wish to input into the creation of a global queer shamanic conscious community, to come along.
The castle has not been booked for a Spring gathering next year, Team Butterfly figuring that after 3 successful Spring events there a fallow year was appropriate. Dates have been booked for October.
Imbolc at Paddington Farm is booked for us but as yet I believe there is no organising team for a Summer Solstice gathering. I think we could consider also taking a year off from the Solstice gathering, giving time to reconsider how we gather in that space should we wish to continue using it.
This potentially would leave a huge gap between our Imbolc gathering and the August Global, and both of these two have restrictions on the numbers that can attend. Could this space be an opportunity for new initiatives to manifest? To perhaps try out smaller gatherings in new locations, perhaps built around themes that some people wish to explore? I would also like to encourage as many Albion Fae as possible get off our little island and go experience the spirit at American and Euro Faerie sanctuaries, to make connections with other parts of the tribe and learn from how they do things.
The Albion Faeries are part of a global network of queer healers and agents of change and transformation. There is surely something significant about the Radical Faerie spirit finding a home in the pagan homeland Albion, reaching here via the United States and European gatherings and sanctuaries. We are exploring the crucial link between our sexuality, nature and consciousness, we are birthing the Age of Aquarius. We are also a crucial beacon for lost, confused and abused queers who are not finding their place in the soulless modern world, nor in the shallow end of gay life. We offer a plunge into the radical depths of being, and a lot of fun while plunging. It is well worth us taking stock of what we have achieved and plotting a way forward with consciousness, compassion and care. The Albion Faeries are a ‘very spiritual’ clan of queer magicians, a fact that needs to be properly honoured and understood as we enter our second decade of community building.
I don’t know what to say about my experiences at the solstice. And I don’t know how to voice them.
I don’t want to use language that triggers. I’m lost by language that talks of “men” and “women”. I don’t see “men” and “women”, I see individual souls, layered, complex, experience-specific. That is my truth. I accept others see differently. I seek to connect with people in faerie space from my essential soul to theirs.
I seek to connect with all in some “authentic” way and being an empath I was awash with emotions at the gathering, some as high as the sky, some as deep, as dissident as the ocean.
I went into this gathering wounded. Alongside Orlando’s hate attack came a hate outbreak in our online community and it enfeebled me.
I think it placed fear in our hearts, fear which grew as the gathering unfolded.
I believe that fear creates fear. It sensitizes, focuses, triggers fear. Fear seeds itself.
I have not heard much talk of fear at our gatherings before. I ask was it there and not spoken or was it not there?
Was it our fear or the inrush from Orlando at the solstice?
There was grace and kindness, laughter and caring. There were wonderful workshops. There was delicious food. I felt that flowering of heart that faerie gatherings nurture. Our first heart circle, starting late at night, was profound. Death was a significant theme and the celebration of life.
Faerie space is precious to all who experience it. It embraces light and shadow. We feel shifts in our emotional frequency there. Could it be that a protective urge is emerging for some? A desire to define that preciousness, to keep it safe? How can we do that when we all have light and shadow in us. Would some of us seek to repress the shadow?
After four days the group had grown large. Finding volunteers for things was noticeably a strain. I did not sense that we were operating or connected as a single group. That was surprising. It felt unusual to me. The energy felt scattered, volatile.
Nothing formal was done for the group and nothing formal was done to orient newcomers. Our organisers continued to be very low on energy. I was curious to hear some newcomers say they’d been told faerie gatherings were sex parties. I sensed the possibility of mixed messages.
More time passed and my awareness of fear and fragmentation increased. I pushed both aside, rejoiced as the farm was glittered in preparation for the procession and Well rituals.
I left on Sunday at lunchtime. Many beautiful farewells filled my heart and eyes. I pushed away an increasing dis-ease in the energy field. I did not have any resources to offer and a long drive home.
I don’t know really what happened after I left. Many voices speaking different truths. Many silent. Many emotions. Faeries offering insights, ways to learn and heal. Faeries heavy with questions.
“We will not heal the world’s fear by giving it place in our hearts”. My heart spoke these words. They felt too raw to share on Facebook. Facebook has felt a complicated, raw place, sometimes enlivened with laughter and kindness.
Someone said the enemy of fear is love. I have been seeking to love more and fear less, although it would be a lie to say I don’t fear the energy of fear, for it is very potent.
Now is our time to renew love, starting with ourselves.
Oh how easy and trite that line sounds. And I’ve never in my life been more serious.
Love brings us together, guides us to appreciation of our differences, treasures what we hold in common and makes our particular joy manifest.
This poem came to me shortly after I got home from Glastonbury. Reading it now I hear the Mother’s voice speaking to us so clearly…
The rain met you
frothed the sky
in bloody rivers
And they did nothing
but show their faces
to the rage
kept its distance
Like empty hammocks
you hang about crisscrossed
Weigh the countless years
left to live
with fires and food and drums
but this time cannot raise
the price of redemption
Till you take your own brittle skylark
wings and shatter them
stain the soil
Then the sun re-opens
a path to your faces
Then the sun reclaims its place
and purply spreads
each as a mother’s
song enfolds a child
until it settles again
Dear great spirit – I offer gratitude for your guidance and total removal of nice predictable patterns!
Just as I was feeling comfortable in having read and followed the “solstice script” around my thoughts, feelings and emotions, this year you, of course, re-wrote it.
I was expecting a slight hiccup at the start before moving in to warm, joyous connection, sensuality and rising energies, culminating in cosmic-orgasmic eruptions around the fire.
I got tumultuous fits of cynicism to get past, coldness to learn to love, connections that felt confusing to me with energy flows that seemed random and awkward at times.
What I wanted, what I sought to create, what I felt must happen – it was as elusive as ice upon a fire.
Yet I feel I am learning – something around “choice”; that sometimes there is no point getting stressed out or worked up around having to decide this or that. More and more it seems that for me at least, choice is actually a misrepresented thing; a presumptive thought that “ME” can decide to do or not do, to go or not go, to act or not act. The reality is that I am in service to spirit and the “choices” are already there. Thinking I can say yes or no makes no sense much like deciding to choose not to see the heard of elephants that is stampeding towards you; pretending that the great hole you have just fallen in to isn’t there; kidding yourself that you are stone dry when you take a shower…
Now back away from nature and from faerie energy, I notice myself falling back in to that crater of my habits, of my addictions, of my lack of being able to feel the loving connection of all and everything.
Sitting here, as I look back, great Spirit is slowly letting me re-read my solstice script. It’s beginning to seem that those 10 days under the energy of the Torr were the abridged summation of my life.
I have “wants”; I have “desires”; I have need to “control”; I have lack of self-belief; I have cynicism; I find it hard to trust others…
I cling to the idea that I have to make choices and the fate and flow of the universe hangs from every one of those decisions ….
I dragged myself in to the gathering at the start and I ran away from it at the end and I see it is so easy for me to let the cold and wet grow in my sole and let the love, the dancing, the sharing, the connection, the vulnerability, the holding – the faerie spirit – fade and die.
I can “choose” to let that happen but of course it won’t actually since deep down the good is still there, waiting to resurface at the next gathering – so my choice is just a closing of my eyes, a denying of what is there.
Keeping your eyes open when you feel tired is hard; Seeing what you don’t want to see is painful.
Perhaps the solution is to embrace spending time with Captain Caffeine, with Molly Mandy and with others?
But the message seems clear – those elephants will keep on coming even if my eyes are closed!
There was something truly magical about the Solstice Gathering. It may only be my second but I sensed something quite out of the ordinary going on, even by Faerie standards. I’d be surprised if anyone went home unchanged and reading other people’s accounts of the week only confirms to me what I already felt. Transformative magic descended on Glastonbury for us and as a community, its presence was both welcomed and embraced.
The magic worked at so many levels within me but not least with my self-image. Without realizing, I’d arrived at Paddington Farm feeling middle aged in all the wrong ways. Call it mid-life crisis, call it whatever, but I haven’t been dealing with the approach to Fifty as confidently as I wanted to portray. Two botched relationships had eroded my emotional and sexual confidence and looking in the mirror only affirmed the grey and sagging aspects of my 48 year old being to my mind. Imagine therefore the astonishment of being gently and spontaneously embraced, then kissed by a handsome Faerie you have come to love and admire. He only whispers two words, as he looks me fully in the eye before continuing his embrace. The words are, “You’re beautiful.”
The words mean so much, but the sincerity was unmistakable and managed to reach within me like nothing else over the past eighteen months. C.S. Lewis once said through the character of Jane in “That Hideous Strength”, “I don’t think we were meant to see ourselves. We’re mirrors enough to see another.” Searching myself in the mirror over the last eighteen months has brought little but negativity. By contrast, being mirrored by a loving Faerie brother gave me a long overdue vision of my true self, along with the courage to step into it.
Another great joy for me was the opportunity to run a Tarot workshop and to spend time reading for people one on one. It’s a joy to guide someone through a reading and watch them as realisations dawn and inner connections are made. There are sometimes tears, both of grief and joy but there are also tears of relief when fears are faced or the wisdom to face obstacles becomes clear through the messages in the pictures. For me, each reading is a privilege but don’t ever be fooled into thinking it’s a selfless process on my part. Reading for someone gives me the rare privilege of connecting on a level that wouldn’t be possible in another setting. The barriers come down and you get to see the real person and in every instance of reading for one of the tribe, I came away knowing my connection with that person was deepened profoundly.
In several instances my negative preconceptions were challenged and I came away with whole new levels of respect for the people in front of me. If I read for you, you may also have noticed how I calm down and let the real me begin to show. That’s because it’s the one place where I feel safe enough to let the brash, camp humour drop and be myself. When I can be that person outside the reading room I’ll have made my own progress. All in all, the cards can be a powerful tool for healing and self-discovery but they can also be a tool for bonding, sharing, trusting and understanding within our community.
Perhaps my most important breakthrough came around the fire on Solstice Eve. I’d given plenty of eloquent excuses why I was going to spend a quiet Solstice back on the field, in my tent or in the Farm House living room until Octopus called me out wonderfully on my bullshit: “Honey, I think I can hear your shame speaking.” No fooling that Faerie as they say.
I made my way somewhat apprehensively to the fire, having avoided it for several days previously and it didn’t take me long to realise my fear; wildness and raw masculinity. There was plenty of it round the fire and for once I learned to fully let go. I’ve drummed at two previous gatherings but it’s here that I realised I was born to drum. It’s in my blood and my blood goes wild with the pulse and the rhythm. This time I learned not to resist; just to give myself wholly to the flow.
To my surprise, I found myself screaming wildly to the treetops as I drummed and for the first time in my life I connected fully with my raw masculine spirit. It felt liberating to be wholly queer and wholly man at the same time and that feeling has stayed with me ever since. My minds eye only sees a magical blur of fire, ecstasy and dance when I look back to Solstice eve, yet several clear moments jump out at me. I see Earthsong across the fire and she really is the fairy Godmother of the Drums. I see two precious Faerie sisters weaving a dance of astonishing feminine power and beauty through the pulsating rhythms of male revelry. The Dryad is more than a match for the Faun and in this instance she truly is Lady of the Dance. Most precious of all I remember sharing the drum with Octopus. We co-created Faerie Fire together momentarily – so fitting, as I wouldn’t have been there without his honest calling.
If this wasn’t all enough, two big miracles happened for me during the course of the week. I’ve always yearned to see the Aurora Borealis and an unusually strong Solar Storm happened to coincide with our gathering, making the Aurora visible as far south as the English Channel. Call it what you like but I call it my gift from the God and the Goddess. My other miracle was in the form of an individual Faerie. The meeting and the connection are too personal to share in full but this sharing realised a dream for me and revealed threads of inspiration and common experience that reach way back to my teenage years. That Faerie knows who they are and the revelation of their real self was the most priceless gift of the week; one that makes me respect and value them all the more, not less.
My final gift came on the morning of my departure. Throughout this and the Spring Gathering, I’d used my real name as no Faerie name seemed to fit. I’d given up hope and stopped looking but the name found me when it wasn’t expected. Turret called me ‘Bright Eyes’ that morning and it stuck to my heart instantly. It takes me back to C.S. Lewis and his view of the mirror. Yet again, a beloved Faerie brother became an authentic mirror, revealing a hidden part of the real me. When you next see me at a gathering, I’ll still be Chris, but I’ll have been Bright Eyes for some time by then.
So it’s been just over a week since I heaved my rucksack onto my back, kissed/hugged some new found friends goodbye and tearily made my way back to civilisation. After what was one of the most cathartic and honest experiences of my life.
Due to prior commitments, the last seven days have been wildly different to the previously wonderful 4.5 days spent on that great farm in Glastonbury. The very next day I was surrounded by about 300 other gays at a pool-party for Sitges Pride. For the first time in my life I’m actually enjoying the spectacle of it all and not feeling body shamed or self-conscious. Followed the next day by a BBQ with a bunch of old friends who’ve recently come back into my life, and I realised I have very much missed. Then I easyjetted it over to the beautiful city of Rome – for a week’s crash course on people and crisis management. Strange but true.
It is in that great Italian city, where I am now, in a cute little Air bnb flat, just off the beautiful Plaza Cavour – where about an hour ago, I felt compelled to commit some thoughts to paper. Due to the cancellation of one of my friends’ flights I have found myself alone in Rome this weekend, with only my wits to keep me company. Not such a wise thing sometimes.
Today having spent the afternoon walking around the stunning city, whilst marvelling at the remnants of 3000 years of human endeavour, something fundamental happened for me. Something within me shifted and like the parting of the curtain within the emerald city, I suddenly could see the truth of the old man behind the illusion of the Wizard. Stick with me friends of Dorothy, you will see what I mean.
Since my departure from the land of the Faeries I have been getting these sweet little after-shocks of emotional realization, that can and have hit me out of the blue. One such aftershock hit me today, and it nearly knocked my off my feet. For the truth of it was so strong and clear that I had to steady myself. It was something I have known for many years, but have never, ever been able to give it voice or shape before.
I hate myself or rather, I am racked with self-loathing. It is like a cloak of shadow that I have wound so tightly around my soul that it is always with me. It consumes me. It shapes how I see, feel and perceive the world around me. It provides me with vitriol that I use against myself and against all those whom I can target – in a bid to make my shadow-self feel better.
I am only just realising this, only today have I seen this truth for what it is. There is a part of me that hates myself so much, it would actually happily see me destroyed. This revelation was so strong that I almost had an out-of-body experience. I felt, for a while, as though I was outside myself, looking at a strange being inhabiting my own body, someone/something that I didn’t recognise or like. Or to put it another way, I felt how I imagine the perpetually handsome Dorian Gray would have felt each and every time he lifted the cover from the painting, to see how truly ugly it had become. Somehow separate and distinct from the ugliness – yet still one and the same with it.
Then a second thought hit me.
Why have hated I myself and for how long? Why did this start? Then a third.
When did this start? When did I first look in the mirror and only see my faults? The answer is that I don’t know and I never want to know. A very, very LONG time. Almost for as long as I can remember.
Then I thought about how these thoughts manifested. What I had heard the voice in my head say to me, over and over again:
My eyes are too deeply set! My brow too Neanderthal! My stomach is too big! My nose too wide! My legs too thin! My hairline too low…On and on I went, listing the ways the negative voice could always find fault, when all others saw something completely different.
All were very real thoughts I have entertained, things I have said to myself repeatedly, building up a mental image of myself as some sort of missing link in the chain of human evolution. Somewhere between Neanderthal and homo-sapien, but even less attractive.
And then all at once, a new realisation hit. All of this was total and utter BOLLOCKS. These were untruths, negative opinions of myself. With no basis in reality and no evidence for their existence. Bullshit and rubbish I have been carrying around with me for far too long.
The negative thoughts/voices – whatever you want to call them, have been so loud, for so long that they have shaped me. NO that word isn’t strong enough. RESTRAINED me. Forced me into contorted, twisted shapes that were uncomfortable and unnatural to me.
I stoop, because I feel I am too tall. And thus I now have rounded shoulders and a painful lower back. I breath in because my stomach sticks out – which it would do if I stoop. On and on these thoughts have taken physical and emotional manifestations that have become so overpowering that I nearly lost all sense of self in the vortex of negativity.
Jesus H Christ! This has even destroyed my love life and my relationships. I am too scared to talk to people I am attracted to for fear they will see an ugly wretch, barely worthy of their contempt – when this frankly isn’t true. Then, even with those whom I am not entirely attracted to but want to try to connect with, I become so self-conscious – that they can only see someone who is nervous, agitated and clearly not happy in themselves, so they run for the trees.
Well, enough is enough. This is bullshit and I can now see it for what it is. It genuinely does feel as though the exploitative old man, whispering negative thoughts from behind the curtain has been exposed, and now I know he is there I have vowed to destroy him. No longer will I listen to such crap about myself.
I know I am fairly good-looking. I know this as I have been told it many, many a time, and have always shrugged it off. Well from now on, I shall accept that compliment in the manner that it was intended and not recoil from it, as though someone had poked me in the eye with a hot branding iron. So when I look in the mirror I will see what is there. I may not be perfect, but I am happy and that suits me just fine!
I know I am respected in my job and career. I actually have the awards / accolades and experience to prove that. So old man, nothing you can say can / will take that away from me.
I also know I am strong, for over my 39 years, I have survived many different trials. Not only those that are caused by the chaos that is external life. But battles that have raged within, those created by the thoughts / feelings of self-loathing. For here I stand, at 39 years of age discovering myself, liking myself, and growing into a much stronger, happier me.
Last week I found a new me. A confident me. A me that I can see myself truly becoming. So I am owning that new me. Today I am WOLF. WOLF is a work in progress. But WOLF is happy and there is no self-loathing here.
WOLF is Giles. Giles is WOLF. The two will always be one. But WOLF is the good, positive, strong Giles. The real Giles, not the shadow self – the shadow self is dead!
Thanks Faeries. You don’t know the gift you have given me. The gift of freedom, it was only 4 days, but such an important four days.
This year, as part of the Albion Faeries summer solstice celebrations, a circle of courageous faeries came together to share our experiences of embodiment: to talk about how our body issues; anxieties, fears, comparisons, resentments and projections shape our experience of the world, our intimacies and relationships.
Our circle was well attended by a diversity of bodies vis a vis size, shape and age: slim and skinny, big and wholesome, young and old. Our collective was mostly white, mostly male and cisgender – but also genderqueer.
We recognised the lack of representation by our female, trans, black and brown brothers and sisters and honoured their unique experiences. We hope our thoughts and process help initiate further circles where all bodies; their histories, narratives and futures can be held and welcomed, seen and heard, loved and supported.
We set out our space with love and intention and our facilitator encouraged discussion around a number of talking points. As an introduction, participants were invited to reflect on why they had come to the workshop:
Why are we here? What moved you individually about the workshop title? What particular feelings and / or grievances do you have about you body that you want to share and / or understand?
Each individual was given space for five minutes to talk around this opening point. A variety of experiences / trauma / conflicts and reflections were offered. Some of us had experienced serious accidents and had been left with the pain and insecurities of scars and surgeries. Some of us, perceived as ‘not having body issues’, felt silenced, unheard and isolated in our pain; not ‘taken seriously’ by others about our anxieties and fears. Some of us were confused by our bodies and by others bodies too – feeling like the body and the symbolism around the ‘preferred’ and ‘body beautiful’ were barriers to finding connection and relationships. Most of us felt dismayed at the pervasiveness of such notions, feeling that even ‘spiritual’ and ‘queer’ communities were just as afflicted and affected by such exclusion and reductivism.
Some of us disliked particular areas of our bodies: our bellies, our faces, our stretch marks, acne, teeth, gums, varicose veins, grey hair and general appearance. Some of us felt a little resentful that just as we were embarking on newly discovered queer-trajectories and callings, our bodies betrayed us by ageing and becoming less appealing to those seeking out the youthful body, the adonis or its non-binary equivalent.
How does it feel to inhabit a body that doesn’t conform to mainstream prescriptions of beauty and allure? How does it feel to be disenchanted / depressed or resentful of your own body when it or parts of it feel ‘ugly’ or are sick and weak? How does this affect our lives and relationships?
This section was timed at around 10-15mins and was an open session with people volunteering reflections and insights. Here we uncovered a great sense of awareness and mourning around the painful experience of being in the world with a body that doesn’t ‘match up’ or that ‘plays up’. Some of us spoke of entertaining a love / hate duality with our bodies; recognising and appreciating its potency, capability and inherent beauty but feeling resentful of its ‘shortfalls’ and ‘weaknesses’. Some of us described the act of recoiling from others touch or interest – literally flinching at the approach of another body or intimate encounter. And also of second guessing and being suspicious of the others intentions: the internal narrative of ‘they’re not really interested’, or ‘I’m not enough’.
The common experience here was on of inadequacy, which was referenced continuously. Some of us spoke of an energetic experience of ‘closing inwards’ or ‘closing down’, a ‘shrinking feeling’ and a ‘peeling back’ from the world; a clammy fear of being seen and avoiding the gaze of others.
In times of complete disillusionment with our bodies, some of us spoke of adopting an asexual energy and position as a defensive strategy: ‘no one wants it anyway honey, so put it away’. Our natural impulses toward sexuality and intimacy were denied through fear of rejection or having to expose a body that we felt interminably shameful about. Some of us spoke about wanting to just disappear, to be invisible – in humour (but also, in deadly seriousness), some of us spoke of the magic trick of invisibility accompanying a visit to a gay bar, when the affected gaze of the audience to only detect certain bodies, denied the existence of our own.
We all blamed our bodies at some point for all kinds of events and misfortunes: ‘if only my body would do or be such and such, then such and such would be easier’. As a result, at times when our bodies needed the most compassion, in times of ill health or disease, we confessed to subjecting them to all manner of insults and scolding for their ‘lack of perfection’.
Ultimately, all of these experiences converged to instil in us an unbearable low self-esteem. Some of us were so distraught by our embodiment, that we actively retreated into disembodiment, or of taking notions of the energetic body to extremes by inhabiting them as a defensive alternative to being our bodies as material.
Some of us reflected on how all kinds of sexual practices and fetishes were explored as a way of coping with having a different body: how swim wear, leather and sports gear (not exhaustive) allow us to engage sexually and provocatively but to also hide our skins (well, at least partially). The significance of the dark-room in gay sex spaces was not lost on us.
Finally, we closed our section in realising how, whilst being so neurotic in our fear of rejection from others, we spend most of our waking day rejecting our embodied selves.
Where do our body anxieties stem from? Whose idealistic and normative prescriptions of the body are we trying to live up to? And where do they come from?
This section ran for another 10-15mins and was another open session. The intention here was to grasp some of the social factors that inform and influence the context for our bodies and our experience of them.
An interesting insight was into our similar experience as queers as growing up in a straight (white) man’s world: and how, our bodies would ‘betray’ us from an early age, appearing too effeminate or not masculine enough. This would provide the early context for a deep distrust of our bodies and sow the seeds for our delight or retreat into disembodiment. Or perhaps our love of costume and drag – to hide our skins of shame. Our ‘bodies as betrayal’ extends to the bodies expression of natural sexual interest and expression too – how we psychically punish our bodies as youngsters for exhibiting arousal for our same-sex attractors. Shame was recognised as a common emotion and experience for us all and a primary factor in distorting our own body-image.
Some of us commented on the unrealistic portrayals of the body in the media and in fashion especially. Some of us had worked specifically in this industry and reassured everyone of how much of a hot mess models look before being pampered, preened and photoshopped. All of us recognised the damaging effects of this propaganda. All of us felt beleaguered by the trend of a new style for assessing the validity and worth of bodies on ‘the scene’ by ‘rating them’. How our magnificence and complexity had now been reduced to two, three or four stars if-you-should-be-so-lucky.
Many of us felt this phenomena to be fascinating and relevant in the context of our capitalist and consumer culture: how our bodies have been reduced to commodities and forced to operate by the instrumental and transactional logic of capitalism. Dating apps like Grindr have only confounded this problem: we now ‘shop for cock’ and scroll menus of flesh completely disembodied from their human and spiritual realities. Grindr is commodity-fetishism at its zenith.
Further, categorisations and labeling of our bodies (most predominately on that gay scene) excluded those that aren’t deemed to fit and further inflamed the commodification frenzy of them. Not to mention, the fact that the idea of the solid, smooth, athletic body of prowess that is the now everywhere standard, especially within our LGBTQI communities, leaves no room for the visibility and compassion for bodies affected and depleted by a whole spectrum of social issues that affect us disproportionately (chronic and mental health conditions, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and poverty etc).
Some of us commented on how the lack of representation of bodies that are different from the mainstream accepted and celebrated types only bolsters our collective desensitization to bodies deemed ‘other’ or ‘out of control’. In particular, categorisations and labeling of our bodies (most predominately on the gay scene) excluded those that aren’t deemed fit and / or desirable and further inflame the commodification frenzy of them.
It was agreed that the situation has reached fever pitch: an ever narrowing self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion and shame accompanies the media-orgy and fetishisation of the body beautiful. We all acknowledged that non of us belonged to any such ‘boys club’ – and yet recognized that whilst those bodies weren’t represented amongst us, how their particular body issues were unique, significant and valid in their own right.
Yet, even in a state of some prescribed ‘non-perfection’, sickness or ill-health – what do our bodies allow? What are our bodies really, beyond biased and corrupt notions of beauty, capability and worth?
Another ten minute open session. Here we discussed ideas of what the body signified or represented ‘authentically’ (to us as disruptive, open-minded and spiritual queers). Here we enjoyed the notion that our bodies were vessels / vehicles / platforms from which to enjoy and celebrate the world and each other. Beyond the above reductivism, we smiled at our bodies as conferring gifts and abilities, such as our innate drive for creativity: our small circle for example, boasted dancers, gardeners, writers, artists, healers, actors, singers and songwriters, musicians and poets.
We agreed that our bodies, ultimately, are vehicles for connection, for love and intimacy and for building community – the notion that disability, disease or a failure to achieve or possess a certain body type should disqualify us from such bounty, are abstract and destructive concepts born of an abstract and destructive culture.
Some of us enjoyed the idea, inspired by our own journeying with medicine plants and otherwise, that our bodies are but magnificent containers for our consciousness. That what we perceive as individuality is a confusion and a distraction – that this is a momentary, transient and permeable experience: consciousness is eternal and our embodied lives are an experience. We rested together in the miracle and awesomeness of our bodies, the mystery and mystical nature of them. We found solace in reconnecting with their fundamental interdependence with and interconnection with the world around us – how our lives are a perfect symbiosis from the microbial and beyond.
We encouraged together a sense of gratefulness for this realisation and reflected at how easily these understandings were forgotten in the nexus of bodily-symbolic violence and commodification. We connected with the promise of our bodies for our personal development – our facing of fears, our learning and our embracing of the strange, unknown and of each other. We took refuge in the ability of our bodies to transform and for us to act upon our bodies in the pursuit of our personal transformations. A touching story came to the circle, when in her parting moments, one of our Mother’s declared: ‘I am not my body’. Closing, we all nodded in recognition of this familiar experience and knowledge of similar realisations.
Moving forward, what are our strategies for resisting commodification of our bodies? For celebrating the glory of our bodies and resisting mainstream prescriptions for allure and beauty?
A twenty minute session by accident. We first dealt with some conflict around what these strategies were and should be. We agreed that what they are not is yet more prescriptions for ‘what we should do’ to our bodies, or how we should be in them. We agreed that the cycle of violence must stop by learning to accept and love our bodies how they are in the moment, without change or regime on the route to some notion of perfection.
All of us pledged to investing in future co-created space where we could safely enjoy our bodies as they are, to be heard and seen in our vulnerability and to see and touch other bodies free from constraining bodily-ideals. We agreed to work to create spaces where we can progress in grappling with and ultimately transcending limiting and damaging ideas of what constitutes an acceptable and/or desirable body: to ‘fuck gender’ and do it anyway. Integral to this is to compliment the intellectual with ‘heart space’ – to bring love into our relationship with our own bodies and to approach other bodies with love too. To ‘be the change’ and to impact on culture by limiting our personal indulgence in reductive and exclusive desires.
We suggested that restricting our exposure to portrayals of the body beautiful via mainstream media would be nourishing for us: the TV must be sacrificed for our freedom. At the same time to ‘treat our bodies well’ by doing whatever it is to them that brings us nourishment, happiness, contentment or support: to indulge frequently in self-care and to reward ourselves continuously for the courageousness of just ‘being in the body’ and living out our embodied lives.
We promised to smile more, at our bodies and at others too – as a way of signalling our respect, adoration and acceptance of them. But we also recognised the importance of ‘being okay with not being okay’, to give space for sorrow when our bodies are not performing as we would have them, or when looking a certain way – whilst importantly, remembering our discussions and lessons here to guide us again to a place of ease and contentment.
Finally and in recognition that our time together put a limit on the diversity and infinite number of ways we can celebrate our bodies consistently as a way of being, we also set out to challenge ourselves. To step into vulnerability, safely – to celebrate our bodies from within, to allow them to be seen and celebrated more by others.
This process was undertaken on the day of the solstice and I can say that I saw some courageous celebrations of our bodies that evening – and it was beautiful. We were beautiful x
To: Faunalicious, Queever, Big Sister, Brunelle, Brother Sun, Marlena, Stan, Pink Dalek, Hagbard, Badger, Cunty and Swallow.
From my body to yours, Octopus x
You can read more by Octopus at his personal blog here.
Last year, we were blessed with some awesome weather, as our community descended on Paddington Farm to have one of the most revelatory, nourishing and joyful gatherings seen there – the whispers and energy from which propelled the community into some hungry and ecstatic energy that saw a real spike in community events, happenings and appearances throughout the rest of the year.
We WERQED out our shame and cast it off last summer. We danced naked and painted in the sunshine, in awe of each other and the world. We spoke and we listened, we cooked and we munched, meditated and stretched in the bounty of the Somerset landscape. We played a tribal intensity around the fire throughout the night; beating our drums hot handed and wildly, lost in each other and spirit. We were enchanted.
And now it’s time to gather again, to continue the story and officially break out our tribe into the bosom of summer.
This faerie-qweens, is our summer gathering! Let’s put it all aside for one week to weave some camp-chaos and sissy-serenity in our pop up headquarters, nestled in the ancient hills of Olde-Glasto.
Yes! Let our summer-sport be faerie-loving, and Paddington Farm our pitch. Breathe deep dears and open your hearts: raid your closets, set your intentions and spread the word.
Bring fabulous outfits, smiles, loving-appetites, raw passion, creative inclinations and soulful offerings – let’s co-create and supercharge our radical network the world over, by making this one go off in the brightest, most spectacular and conscious way possible.
It begins with you and ends with us all.
See you there.
If you have any other suggestions around encouraging a more inclusive, safe space that you would like us to consider, or would like to comment on any of these – please, get in touch.