I mean to tread lightly with this post; it's not my intent to offend anyone, and it's important to remember that I don't actually know the thoughts or intentions of other individuals and therefore can only pass conjecture on what I have observed. However, as someone with a (disturbingly) deep-rooted interest in style, personal image and how the above manifest in our bizarre social-media-driven consumer society, this topic is of great interest to me!
I was musing recently on how I'd managed to go from the relatively simple concept of a shopping ban to finding myself interested in Earth-based spirituality and considering a course in Druidry over the space of two years. But actually when I looked back it was quite easy to track the progression, a sort of spiralling journey from needing to do something to take my mind off shopping and get out of my own noggin; spending more time outside; falling back in love with the Earth and trying to live greener; taking up foraging and gardening, as well as environmental campaigning, which made me feel more and more connected to the Earth. This sense of connectedness then led me to start exploring Paganism - and here we are. Adding a spiritual or philosophical element to the green(ish) life, for me, helps to make it even more meaningful and fulfilling. The mythopoetic worldview (Sharon Blackie describes the mythic imagination here) ties into my lifelong love of the imagination and the liminal, and my staunch belief that all we can perceive with our limited human senses is far from being all there is.
However, knowing my tendency to cling to labels, not to mention my propensity for theatricality (I was goth for the better part of a decade - being at least a little bit theatrical is practically a job description), I determined to be slow and methodical about my studies, to make sure that what I was doing felt right for me and aligned with my actual lived experience (you can tell me all you want that amethyst and clear quartz are good for headaches, for example, and maybe for some people they are, but I might as well rub a custard cream on my forehead for all the good it does. Just because something is written in a book doesn't make it true for me).
I also didn't want to do what I often do and believe everything I read without question, especially on the internet. Accepting an animistic worldview is an easy step for me - hello, I am a person who, as a child, brought home sticks that 'looked lonely' - I'm pretty much there already. However, I'm not going to go 'full Glastonbury' as Dai calls it and start thinking I'm a starseed. Reminder to brain: believing some stuff that makes sense to you and fits with what you know and have experienced does not equal believing everything ever espoused by anyone who owns a pentacle necklace. In the age of self-publishing on Kindle, one must have a pinch of salt ever at the ready.
But it's that theatrical tendency I'm particularly on guard against. I've mentioned before that my previous forays into Paganism have been accompanied by much swishing of velvet and esoteric jewellery. I love the look, and I'm really only ever a heartbeat away from putting on elf ears and a flower crown and flouncing into the sunset in a flutter of tie dye and a jingle of silvery bells. What I didn't want to do this time around was buy into a Pagan 'image' without doing any real work, confusing witchcraft with shopping (to paraphrase Terry Pratchett); or worse, spend time on social media showing all my friends how earthy and spiritual I am...
This is where I need to watch my step. I understand that for many people, online communities, based around social media or otherwise, are very valuable. This is just as true within the Pagan community (the Resistance Witches with the 'Hex Trump' campaign are a memorable recent example!). And by no means does enjoying fashion (of any kind) or posting a selfie mean that someone is not participating in something real or valuable or meaningful.
But I have found that for me personally, it detracts. Maintaining an image, whether through fashion or an Instagram feed, takes energy, time and work. Energy, time and work that I could better use studying, or writing, improving my focus, tending my herbs (or my son), or just going down to the river and spending some time in nature. If I break away from that to craft a good photo, my focus is split; I am not as peaceful, the connection falters; some of the benefit is lost. Likewise if I am worrying about my hair, or concerned about snagging my skirt.
Dai and I also saw, on our last trip to Glastonbury, a fair amount of what Dai describes as 'Insta-witches' - a lot of the more 'mystical' areas in the village, such as the beautiful Chalice Well, were surrounded by people taking photos for social media - we couldn't actually get near the Well on that particular visit as two women had colonised the area to set up a jewellery display which they were photographing. And we queued for half an hour to drink from the Red Spring as we had to wait for another bevy of phone-clutching mystics to finish setting up crystal grids and photographing their bare feet. (Please see my opening remarks about not actually knowing what other people are doing. I don't intend to cast aspersions or be snarky! But from an observer's perspective, it seemed... like posturing?)
It certainly got me thinking about my own approach - I really want to avoid taking a sort of Anne Gwish approach to spirituality ('being myself, as long as it looks good and people are watching').
I've been reading a book by Penny Billington called The Path of Druidry, and when I read some online reviews I noted that some people were irritated by a remark she makes in one of the early chapters: "A Druid should fit in, should be able to be invisible; that's what gives us the freedom to get on with our work. [...] Being self-consciously eccentric as a way of life is like trying to appear wise - it takes too much energy away from what Druid life and work are all about."
Now, I can totally see why some people found this irritating - 'fitting in' isn't really something I'm big on either. But my daily nature-walking wear of jeans and t-shirts is, well, pretty invisible. And for me, this was such a refreshing thing to read - an instant antidote to the itchy eBay bidding finger (step away from the Jordash dresses).
I am someone who was recently described by a dear friend as "a New Age hippy... I think of you like one of those paper dolls, you mix it up and try different things, but your base setting is hippy fairy". (Naturally I'm delighted by this description.) So, believe me when I say, I can EASILY devote my time to being 'self-consciously eccentric'. I could start my own IG account of woodland selfies where I never look directly at the camera because I'm very mysterious and bohemian, or rip up flowers and fungi so I can take a photo of my hand holding them (I found a great post about this on an old blog by Grace Nuth - totally worth a read). Or, I can dress in a way that's pleasing enough, comfortable, and still allows me to tromp through muddy fields, and just get on with it! It was a RELIEF to have it spelt out for me that clothes do not maketh the Druid. It may not be even vaguely an issue for those who do not have my preoccupation with style and shopping, but it was a huge deal for me.
I've decided that balance is, as it often is, the key. My dramatic skirts have their place - when we visit our favourite canalside Pagan pub for a pint of ale, or roaming the streets of Burley or Glastonbury. But when I want to be able to crawl into hedges, cross streams or move through woodland, it's sensible coat and shoes all the way. This probably seems really obvious to you! But I, for whatever reason (gothy theatrical tendencies?) benefit from a reminder.