rituals of buying and selling

Sunday morning.
I unlock the door of the little apothecary, switch on the lights, and choose some music for the day. Then, when I’m ready, I light some incense and mist some ‘Prosperity‘ Findhorn flower essence blend around the space – a ritual to start the working day. Perhaps a little superstitious, but it works.

‘The Restorers’ – Druid Animal Oracle, by Will Worthington and Phillip Carr Gomm

I wouldn’t pride myself on selling snow to the Inuit – not unless they needed snow, which seems alarmingly possible these days – because where is the pride in selling someone something they don’t need? But, in this little shop above the river, I pride myself on helping people find the things they do need, which brings a modest kind of financial prosperity to the apothecary, and a spiritual kind of prosperity, comfort and joy, to me.
The truth is, I am quite good at selling, for a sort-of-anti-capitalist. I value things which have been made with skill and love, and I am good at helping others to find appreciation of these things, where there is genuine appreciation to be found. I never push, but I am good at understanding what people need and want, and at helping them to find their way towards it; sometimes by buying something, sometimes by taking away samples, or by trying something new. A lot of people coming in for Echinacea pastilles recently have also left the store with my tried-and-tested sage gargle recipe for sore throats:
Put two heaped teaspoons of dried sage – the supermarket stuff is fine – in a mug. Cover the herb with boiling water, place a plate (or any kind of cover) on top to stop the volatile oils from evaporating, and leave to cool naturally with the plate still in place. Strain into another cup, removing all the sage, and gargle with this infusion for as long as you can manage.
This kills sore throats better than almost anything else I have encountered (tincture of sage works best, but this is more difficult to come by).
I love doing this. It is profoundly empowering to help people discover that they can treat their own coughs and sniffles at home with everyday kitchen herbs. It gives them a friendly, helpful introduction to the world of complementary therapies – which can sometimes seem like an intimidating barrage of quasi-religious mysticism from the perspective of a nervous or skeptical newcomer. Much like newcomers to paganism, people are often pleased to find that things are friendlier, more practical and more down-to-earth than might be expected. Skepticism is honoured, questions are welcomed.

‘Bee’ – Druid Animal Oracle, by Will Worthington and Phillip Carr Gomm

 Little hints and tips like my sage gargle might cheat the store of a sale or two in the short term (though they are more likely to encourage people to come forward and buy something they might have felt shy about buying, before we struck up a rapport), but they establish a relationship. And any kind of exchange – financial or otherwise – is built on the foundations of relationship. So even in the world of retail, I manage to find sanctity in what I do: work as worship, work as love made visible.
And making a little bit of money from it, to keep me going in the short term, doesn’t hurt.

~ another interlude: happiness ~

This post is inspired – and partly lifted from – an email I sent to the Scotsman, which I found while sifting through my inbox for electronic paperwork. I’m about to make some pretty major changes: the decisions have been made, and their consequences are waiting to become reality. If you read some of my forthcoming posts for Manawydan, you will find out that I am moving away from the Wirral, from the shores which have been such an inspiration to me these past few years; the estuary of the Dee with its tidal islands, the heaths with their red sandstone paths and rock carvings, the springs and the marshes. I will miss it all so much. But it is time to move on; these aerial roots need a loosening of the soil around them… a bit of a conundrum, because so much of my idea of happiness is centred on the hearth; on a grounded idea of ‘husbandry’; on living the good life.

Being mostly bed-bound this week has given me plenty of time for reflection. There’s a famous quotation, attributed to John Lennon: “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” Some psychological studies (which I read but misplaced – links to be added later!) have shown that people whose life goal is “to be happy” often, ironically, grow to be less happy than those who have more clearly defined goals – goals such as, I don’t know, becoming a train driver, or living on the Isle of Skye.

Of course, clear-cut achievements work well in this kind of society, where wealth and status still count for a lot, and work forms a large part of our social identity. It is hardly surprising that people who follow less clearly-defined or socially-sanctioned paths might find it harder to attain happiness. But I have started to wonder whether there might not be more to it than that… Happiness means something so different to each of us, and is experienced so differently. Perhaps the vague, ill-defined kind of happiness expressed by internet-meme John Lennon is an irresponsible kind – perhaps the more we define it, the more responsibility we take to create it. When effecting change in conformity with will (which is, after all, one standard definition of magic), intention is everything.

My ambition has always been to live a good life; happiness, to me, is a feeling and not a fixed state. But even the idea of a good life can be unhelpfully ill-undefined. Over the years, I have fallen into the habit of following the path of least resistance; sometimes good, in that it kept me open to opportunities I might have overlooked; but also bad, in that I had no overall sense of where I wanted to be, except that I wasn’t there yet. Things came to a head this summer, not so much because of my depression, but because of the physical/psychological hangover it left. I had done all the groundwork – facing the shadow, embracing the darkness, uprooting the depression – but still didn’t find it any easier to cope with everyday life. So I started thinking about what I had to cope with, and why, and whether I could (or should) start to change all of that.

Starting with work…

I often joke that my life is one long experiment in determining the exact extent to which it is better to be poor but happy. This is not strictly true, because a proper experiment would require a period of outrageously high earnings for a full comparison… But one thing I have learned is that budgeting – for me, at least – is not just linear and rational; it’s elastic and emotional. The happier I am, the less I need. There is a fine art to striking that balance, but I am finally in a place where I feel ready to tinker with it, to get it better than it has been. For the lack of happiness in my present situation, I really need much more money than I currently earn – money to call abroad, to buy train tickets for visits to friends, to buy treats that make the long hours in the office-like environment feel worthwhile. No more money is forthcoming, so the only part of that equation I can change is the happiness.

From that perspective, the only way to change my life is to find more ways to do the things I love.

So I applied, speculatively, for a job that involved doing everything that had made me want to become an archivist in the first place. I didn’t expect to be successful, because the employer was notoriously picky, and anyway the wages were so low that I went to the interview with the attitude that I probably wouldn’t accept the job if offered. But the interview was an eye-opener. People are willing to give up so much, and travel so far, just for a chance of doing something they love. And I was lucky enough to be there with relatively little sacrifice. Needless to say, I fell in love with the place and its collections, and remembered my deeply-buried ambition to work in curating (“you’ll never do that, it’s too competitive, it pays too little…” etc – part of the reason I went for archive work is because nobody understood it well enough to tell me it was hopeless). The job that I was offered, and accepted, is curatorial.

I would say I had accidentally stumbled into fulfilling a dream, but I don’t think it was an accident; it just took a bit more work to clarify my intention, because I had forgotten how to describe what I wanted, after giving up hope of ever getting it.

On a more mystical note, this time of year is always particularly good for me, in terms of taking stock and checking whether my efforts are tending in the right direction; not so much because of the symbolism of the harvest, but because the rowan berries are ripe. They sing. I can hear their note, and I can feel whether or not it’s in harmony with my own; if it is, I’m heading in the right direction, if it’s not, I know I need to make adjustments. And each adjustment has its own pitch, so I can listen for its harmony or discord with the rowan berries as I consider it. This is something I’ve been doing since before I consciously identified as druid, and I’ve never been open about it before; I suppose it’s a very specific, very personal form of divination. It’s one of the reasons why autumn is my favourite time of year.

Hail to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness /|\

n.b. What makes you happy? Comment below if you like – it’s something I find interesting to read, and figure others might enjoy as well :)