An Interview with J.J. Middleway (Part One)
December 1, 2015
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Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Numbering: Issue 9.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Five)
Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal
Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com
Individual Publication Date: December 8, 2015
Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2016.
Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing
Frequency: Three Times Per Year
An Interview with J.J. Middleway.
He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background; pivotal moments leading into druidism; responsibilities to the druid community with public exposure; “the love of all existences” and its meaning; the ways in which “the love of all existences” affects thinking and behavior in personal life; and broad-based interests and convergence on the druid path.
Keywords: culture, druid, druidism, geography, J.J. Middleway, linguistic, meaning, responsibilities.
An Interview with J.J. Middleway (Part One),
*Please see the footnotes and citation style listing after the interview, respectively.*
1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?
That’s an interesting question. Each of us being so strongly influenced and moulded by these factors.
I was born and brought up in Birmingham, the second largest city in England, after London. My early years were in Handsworth, a very multicultural environment and immigrant area, near the centre of the city. It was a very poor area financially, yet very rich culturally, and – as I now see it – spiritually. The majority of the neighbourhood were of Afro Caribbean or Indian subcontinent origin, with a smattering of Irish and Polish immigrants. And then there was us. Handsworth offered cheap accommodation in an industrial city needing labour.
My Mother was effectively a refugee of the Second World War and originated from a small village in the mountains of Tirol in the Austrian Alps. I can trace my ancestors back several hundred years in the same valley; in the same farmhouse even; with the glaciers and mountains all around. I was deeply influenced and affected by my visits there; once as a three year old, then twice in my teens, learning the local dialect by living with my uncle and aunt and my four cousins, on their farm with cows and hens and pigs living under the old wooden farmhouse. Also spending days in the high pasture, as my uncle and three sons scythed hay and I raked and helped bring it in on huge wooden sledges to a log cabin where we slept in the new mown grass. My Father came from Kinross in central Scotland, a small town near Perth, with the lochs and Highlands of Scotland nearby: Very scenic and rural – yet a distinctly impoverished background, with his ten brothers and sisters in a very small two bedroomed house. At 14, he left school and went down the local coal mine to work. So, I found myself as an outsider amongst outsiders – a white child living in a predominantly black community. An Englishman with no English blood on either side whatsoever. Brought up a Catholic, because that was my Mother’s faith, yet with a staunchly Atheist Father. I learned through that, how love transcends religious boundaries: My parents loved each other deeply and I was fortunate in being deeply loved by each of them. I thought at the time that this was ‘the norm’; I have learned since, how relatively unusual it is.
So, into this world of paradox and opposites, add the fact that my Father was 21 years older than my Mother, and thus had personal experience as a signalman of fighting in Afghanistan in the early part of the 20th century (the first time round, with the British Army) He also served in India while it was still part of the British Empire, and in Palestine before the formation of Israel.
I gained a range of perspectives on the Second World War from my parents’ direct experience and found that each was very different. My Mother’s experience of loss and deprivation in particular, gave me the ‘outsiders’ view. I see now how my whole life was shaped and based on ‘walking between worlds’ – I was an outsider who somehow learned the capacity to ‘go anywhere’ and be comfortable wherever that was. I learned how to cross bridges and how to be a bridge myself.
2. What seem like pivotal moments in personal life leading into druidism?
I have always felt extremely close to nature, even though I was brought up in the middle of a city with very little greenery around. I think it fair to say that as a child I was a natural mystic. I could seemingly ‘feel into’ persons or situations. I could somehow ‘almost become’ and therefore ‘understand from within’, pretty much anything or anyone – because I sensed how deeply we are ultimately ‘all one’. What I later learned in Sanskrit – Tat Tvam Asi – ‘That Art Thou’ – I somehow knew intuitively as being true from birth. Although this capacity became less vivid and somewhat attenuated as I grew older, I have never lost that sense of connection: So my birth is perhaps the pivotal moment in my Druidry.
However, I have learned since, how a series of experiences shortly after birth may have shaped my life and my Druidry. My parents lived in a rented room in an old house with a number of other occupants. As a baby, if I cried, my Mother would take a lot of flak from one woman in particular, who equated crying (a natural childhood expression) with maltreatment. And of course, if I cried at night, it caused resentment among other residents who couldn’t sleep. So my Mother, frightened and scared, developed a technique of putting her hand over my mouth and stopping me crying by suffocating me. I can still recall that very early experience. My Mother felt terrible about it in later years and we used to joke about it. However, I think in retrospect it gave me a link to the otherworld. In the weirdest and strangest of ways, it gave me an unintended initiation. I think it is perhaps another reason I am comfortable ‘between worlds’.
3. You have mention in a number of listings, publications, and reports.,,,,,,,,,,, What responsibilities to the druid community come with public exposure to you?
It’s a funny thing; Public exposure seems to have somehow ‘come to me’ and not ‘me to it’. So, for a large part, the listings, publications and reports you refer to, are at others behest, and often a surprise to me. The responsibilities that come with any ‘public exposure’ as you put it (though we need to be careful, since ‘public exposure’ can have a different connotation over here – and possibly with you too
) – are no less than if that public exposure were not there. I suppose that my responsibility to Druidry, the public and all I care for, starts and ends with responsibility to myself.
It is perhaps worth saying here, that Druidry is part of rich framework for me, encompassing and embodying a whole tapestry of other threads and colours. For instance I am privileged and grateful to be part of the MKP (ManKind Project) community. There, my mission statement is “I create a world of authenticity, courage, laughter, love and song, by daring to fully open my heart and by taking the risk of fully revealing my soul”. The shortened form might read ‘I create a world of love, by living a life of love’. That pretty much sums up my intention and what I aspire to. It doesn’t mean I get it right all the time. Far from it: – Perfection for me, is in the imperfection.
Similarly, Druidry for me (and if you ask a hundred Druids what Druidry is, you’ll likely receive a hundred and one answers
) – is an aspiration – something to work towards. In that sense, I believe that titles such as Druid and Poet are maybe best regarded as being posthumous.
4. In your LinkedIn profile, you write, “The love of all existences.” You define personal work in this manner beginning on January, 1994, and continue to say, “Honouring and healing ceremonies for the Land. Naming, Handfasting and Parting ceremonies for the people. Blessing and celebration of all that lives.” What does “The love of all existences” mean, in full, to you?
Wow; there’s a question and a half!
My involvement with The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) began in 1994. You could say that was manifesting my Druidry in the world, although as I’ve said, Druidry (though I didn’t know it by that name at the time) has been ever present in my life.
I’ve alluded to my innate sense of connection ‘with all that is’, when talking of my early childhood. It is what mystics have always talked of, and something that I have naturally felt – both simply yet deeply – from very earliest memories and experience. I took it that everyone would naturally feel similarly (what child doesn’t think that what they experience is ‘the norm’?). Clearly it is not the norm.
What hasn’t come out particularly thus far, is that poetry is also a key part of my ‘tapestry’. So the best way of me answering such a profound question, is perhaps not best done via prose, but rather through a poem I wrote around twenty to twenty five years ago:What hasn’t come out particularly thus far, is that poetry is also a key part of my ‘tapestry’. So the best way of me answering such a profound question, is perhaps not best done via prose, but rather through a poem I wrote around twenty to twenty five years ago:
A Passion for this Earth I feel
Compassion which is so, so real
My blood flows through Earth’s laval veins
My tears reflected in her rains.
The winds which circulate this Earth
Breath in and out of me from Birth
The cyclic rhythm of her tides
Is matched by how I feel inside
Yet most remarkable of all
Open your heart to hear the call
The essence which I know is me
Is here in everything I see.
– – – – –
The term “the love of all existences” is part of the Druid Prayer, so that is why I quote it.
Here is the prayer in full:
“Grant oh God/dess thy protection
And in protection, strength
And in strength, understanding
And in understanding, knowledge
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it
And in the love of it, the love of all existences
And in the love of all existences, the love of the god/dess and all goodness.
It is for each of us to find what works and what best reflects who and what we are. For me, ‘the love of all existences’ is what it says. I think that all that is perhaps truly left of us when we die is our legacy of love. (Or not of course
) So the question for me might be along the lines of “How much love can I generate, recycle, return, during my lifetime?”
5. How does this affect thinking and behavior in personal life?
It brings the challenge of being aware. Or rather of trying to bring awareness of that statement into being. Of course it is relatively easy for me to love trees and streams and mountains as part of my shared existence; who wouldn’t? – (yet some don’t). Less easy perhaps for me to love a concrete building or a drunken lout or a murderer. Yet that is where the challenge lies for me. To at least bring into awareness, that at some level we are all connected. It doesn’t mean condoning actions which might be branded evil or wrong. However, it does challenge me to at least consider that ‘there but for fortune, go you or I’ as the Joan Baez song so eloquently puts it. Or to at least try and open my heart to love and compassion in respect of the less loved and less loveable aspects or members of ‘planet earth’. In seeking to love everyone, it doesn’t mean I necessarily have the capacity to like everyone. And that’s ok.
It also means that in taking risks in life I will be foolish or even downright stupid on occasion.
“It takes so much to be a human being,
That there are very few who have the love and courage to pay the price.
One has to abandon all together the search for security,
And reach out to the risk of living, with both arms.
One has to embrace life like a lover”.
That quotation has been one of my guiding aphorisms in life. I think it originates from someone called Morris West- but I’m not sure, and the full name eludes me these days.
I aspire to bring compassionate awakening into being through my thoughts actions and deeds. It doesn’t mean I get it right – like everyone else, I screw things up regularly; however I try. At least some of the time.
It means for me, allowing for ‘not knowing’; of respecting others views if not always necessarily agreeing with them; of responding to situations with as much heart as I can summon in the moment. It’s not always easy, but without it life loses purpose and meaning.
6. Your interests remain broad-based in involvement with the druid community. These include “Ritualist, Celebrant And Master of Ceremonies,” “Ceremonies,” “Healing,” “Meditation,” “Wellbeing,” “Energy Healing,” “Parties,” “Personal Development,” “Stress Management,” “Coaching,” “Teaching,” “Chakra Balancing,” “Energy Work,” “Reiki,” “Relaxation,” “Mindfulness,” “Wellness,” “Holistic Health,” “Life Transitions,” “Self-Esteem,” “Stress,” and “Treatment.”, Each spreads across the landscape of relevant conceptual overlap with the druid and pagan paths. How does each of these come together to influence the personal druid path developed by you?
Many of those terms are what I might call ‘gifts from others’. I didn’t particularly choose them. Others have allocated them and I’ve chosen to accept that. In part this is a reflection and limitation of web-world, (in balance to its many benefits.). What it does reveal is the diverse and interlinked nature of a life; my life in this instance. It is also interesting for what it leaves out. For example Buddhism has played and continues to play a significant part in my life. I have come to see Druidry as a Western form of Buddhism and Buddhism as an Eastern form of Druidry. That’s just my take on it; others might disagree, and that’s fine. Despite obvious differences, I find that Zen Buddhism in particular embodies the Druid ethos and Druid way. What I particularly value, is that neither put much store on dogma.
A key phrase from the Buddhist side of my learning, which may help answer the question you ask, is “Love says I am everything. Wisdom says I am nothing. Between those two, my life flows freely”. The first sentence was a given in my life (unusual but true). The second sentence has been the the journey of much of my life. The third sentence seeks to bring it all together in balance – which ties in with the Druid prayer and the answers to previous questions.
How it perhaps relates to this question, is that in seeking to put everything into practice that I have talked about, has somehow resulted – almost magically as I look at it now – in the manifestation of all the streams referred to above. And others which aren’t referred to there. I don’t so much ‘bring all that together to influence my Druid path’; rather, it seems as though, ‘all that brings me together to reflect it’.