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Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.

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Holding Space

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

There is lots of talk in modern Paganism about 'holding space'. It's an idea I rather love - the focused intention and purpose of a (usually ritual) act. But how often do we consciously realize the holding of space in the everyday as well? How far do we become beholden to it as we take it for granted?


The simplest of things inspired this thought. Last month, the chairs and table which I use as my 'office' space broke and had to be removed, leaving a more-or-less empty room until we can find a replacement. I now have no set space in which to work, and so am typing this on my lap, on the living room sofa. It shouldn't make a difference, right? So why does it feel so different - and so difficult?

We demarcate our spaces for set purposes, and then react when those spaces are subject to upheaval. This is natural, it seems, as humans are creatures of habit with a preference for comfort and security.

But as I type this, I can hear the wind buffeting the walls of my home, as it blows a gale across the hilltop. Trees will fall; birds are blown into walls and injured or killed. If I want to go out, I have to dress appropriately, protected as much as I can for my own safety.

Space isn't set - it's wild. It doesn't conform to our rules, no matter how neatly we set things to our liking. Isn't that a good thing, though, as Pagans? The wildness is something we explore, learn from, truly aim to inhabit.

In scientific terms, the quest to find out exactly what 'space' is has been going on for more than a century: is it empty, or filled with something, and if so, what? Fascinating stuff. However, I don't believe that anyone has ever investigated the different relative energies of 'everyday' space - from the kitchen to the bedroom, these feel so very focused on their purpose, and are then pretty much taken for granted.

And what about ritual space? I've known hard-line Wiccans gasp in shock when someone 'breaks' Circle by not 'cutting a door' - or not cutting it 'properly'. But how often do you forget something in ritual and have to go find it (usually matches, if you're me)? You don't 'cut' a door between one room and another - the energy is already demarcated. Ritual space is as clearly set, felt, tangible, as your own front door. This is in, that is out. The space is clearly held for purpose by those present, who all know it.

We use the rooms of our house in this way, every day. From the preparation of food, to washing, to time with our loved ones, different spaces have different functions. The question, then, is why one space is better than (or just different to) another? If you take out the oven, the bed, the bath... surely space just IS, until our intention gives it purpose.

And this isn't even taking into account the Spirits of Place. Often, we're guests on a site, doing our thing and then leaving again. Many have been here before us, no matter where we are. Nothing is immortal. The land and everything on it is as changeable as we are - finding that connection with our own temporary nature and the wider world is crucial to my own understanding of Druidry. Even in my own home (parts of which are nearly 200 years old).


(My living room door...)


One thing that's always made me smile about modern Pagans is its 'civilised' nature (and there's an oxymoron). I've performed ritual in high winds, rainstorms and freezing cold. This has shocked some people: "But wouldn't you rather go indoors?"

OK, tell me which is better for you: Performing a rite out in the wilds of the world, subject to whatever comes as we call on those elements at their most frenetic... or inside, safely protected with warmth and light, with food and drink nearby. It's actually quite difficult not to bias this question to my own preference, but the options are fair enough. Some don't have such a choice, due to lack of privacy, illness or physical disability.

But this isn't a question of sincerity. It's about personal awareness, integrity - not OVER-ritualising, just holding the space. Challenging the 'easy' option and overcoming our fixation with rules, politeness, what we 'should' be doing. Seeing the truth, what's really there, and working with that in relationship and connection.

After all, isn't that something that Pagans do best?


(Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire, UK - photograph by author)

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Cat Treadwell is a Druid Priest living in Derbyshire, England with her partner and animal family. She is a professional ritual celebrant and multifaith worker, travelling throughout the East Midlands and beyond. Her first book, 'A Druid's Tale', is out now. Cat is a Trustee of The Druid Network, as well as Regional Coordinator for the East Midlands Pagan Federation and member of OBOD. She is a regular speaker on BBC Radio, and has appeared on BBC News representing The Druid Network and East Midlands Ambulance Service. Cat welcomes questions and comments - please feel free to get in touch!

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  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers Monday, 04 February 2013

    "If you take out the oven, the bed, the bath... surely space just IS, until our intention gives it purpose."

    There is a great conceptual difference between space and place. We all do ritual in places; we are not just holding space. Even if you would take out the over or the bed, the walls still give shape to the room. There may be a wooden floor, or a concrete one, there may be heat or not. Maybe space just is, but places aren't as malleable to our intention as you might think. We always hold space in a place.

    I am confused about your final paragraph. I assume you mean to say that you do not mean to question the sincerity of others in their personal choice of ritual places, but then I do not understand your use of the word 'integrity' directly after this. Can you explain this further? What is the difference between sincerity and integrity here?
    But this isn't a question of sincerity. It's about personal awareness, integrity - not OVER-ritualising, just holding the space.

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