Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Who's Sorry Now?

Male friend: “I lost my job yesterday.”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
Male Friend: “It’s not your fault.”
Me: “That’s not what I meant.”

I’ve had a number of exchanges almost exactly like this one over the past year or two and I’m beginning to think the perceived meaning of the phrase “I’m sorry” has an unwitting gender bias. Yes, from my experience it appears that, in general, men ascribe a different meaning to the phrase than women do. To be more precise, the men I know allow the phrase only one meaning while women ascribe it two distinct definitions. Please bear with me while I explain my ideas to you, then you can let me know whether or not I’m just going crazy.

Wikimedia Commons - myguitarzz

When we’re small, our parents teach us to say “I’m sorry” when we have harmed someone, accidentally or on purpose. The meaning is clear: I regret what I have done. I apologize. Not that the average three-year-old necessarily regrets whacking their sibling with a toy, but eventually they understand the other person’s point of view and generate sincere apologies.

This meaning of “I’m sorry” follows us throughout our lives. When I bump into someone as I’m rounding the corner in the grocery story, I automatically use that phrase. Every English-speaking adult I know says “I’m sorry” when they mean “I apologize.” There is no confusion here.

The problem is that some people attach a second meaning to those words. It’s the second meaning that I employed in the sample conversation above, and it’s this second meaning that many men apparently don’t recognize. In this case, “I’m sorry” means “I sympathize, I feel your pain.”

Within my hearing, the most common use of this second meaning occurs around the unfortunate circumstance of the death of loved ones. In this sort of situation, I hear women say “I’m sorry” and in that situation whoever they’re talking to will usually understand their meaning as “I sympathize.” I have occasionally (OK, rarely) heard men use the same words in the same situation and the recipient of their comments also understands this second meaning. But outside this narrow circumstance, the sympathy meaning of “I’m sorry” seems to disappear from men’s mental dictionaries and they automatically ascribe the apology meaning to the phrase, resulting in my having to explain myself, as in the sample conversation at the top of this post.

Is it just me? Women, has this ever happened to you? Men, do you assume “I’m sorry” means “I apologize” or have I just managed to experience an unusual slice of the population that uses the phrase this way?

In thinking back over the past few years, I can’t remember a single conversation in which a man has used the phrase “I’m sorry” to mean “I sympathize.” Of course, men do sympathize with others, but in my experience they express their meaning with words such as “That’s awful” or “That totally sucks.”

“I’m sorry” is such a reflex response for me in so many situations, I expect it would be hard to retrain myself to use different phrases. But I’m seriously considering switching to “I apologize” and “I sympathize” simply so I don’t have to explain myself so often. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review: The Druid Shaman

Today I'm reviewing a book in the Shaman Pathways series, titled The Druid Shaman: Exploring the Celtic Otherworld, by Danu Forest. Find all my book reviews here.

I really didn't know what to expect from this book; Druidry and shamanism are two traditions that are not often linked, and as a shamanic practitioner, I'm far more familiar with the latter. But as I read, I was fascinated and impressed. Danu Forest makes the case for Druidry, in its original form, as the native shamanic tradition of the Celts. The shape-shifting and world-traveling heroes from ancient Celtic tales draw us into the customs and practices of the ancestral Celts with their music, their tools, their rituals.

While Ms. Forest gives plenty of  background regarding the Celtic spiritual traditions, particularly those with a shamanic bent, this is largely a practical book. It takes the reader through the process of creating shamanic tools, finding spirit allies in nature, connecting with the ancestors, traveling among the worlds and seeking knowledge of the future through divination. I do recommend following it up with further training if you intend to continue with shamanic practice but this book provides a firm foundation for basic shamanic practice in a Celtic style and is an excellent starting point for those who are interested in this path.

Find more information about this book on the publisher's website. It is available on,, and other online and brick-and-mortar booksellers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: The Casquette Girls

If you're looking for a bit of fiction to take you away from the dreariness of winter (or the exhaustion of summer, if you're in the southern hemisphere), I recommend The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden.

I have always loved stories that combine the mythical with the mundane, the historical with the modern. The Casquette Girls delivers, in spades. New Orleans in post-hurricane devastation is the setting for this intriguing tale that weaves together the history of the city with the experiences of one young woman whose life turns upside down thanks not only to the storm damage but also to the eruption of magical forces – both benevolent and malign – in her life.

This gripping novel could easily be categorized as paranormal suspense, young adult fiction, fantasy, even thriller, but I think it transcends all those genres. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the city of New Orleans itself is the main character, in all its entrancing, charismatic timelessness. The city draws the reader in, the same way it draws Adele and her friends, twining us around the tendrils of its myths and legends, mesmerizing us with its magic. I admit, I fell under its spell as I read this story, eager not only to know what happens to each character as the story unfolds but also hungry for every new glimpse of the city in its mysterious splendor. I have only visited New Orleans once, but now I feel I have participated in many of its secrets, with Ms. Arden as my guide.

The usual compliments for a novel of this sort include ‘couldn’t put it down’ and ‘enthralling’ and words to that effect. Those are all accurate, but to me, the most striking aspect of The Casquette Girls is its ability to collapse both time and space, to hold centuries of history together in a few words, and to make magic believable in a modern-world context. The next time you want a gripping read that draws you in and holds you there, pick up The Casquette Girls. You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: The Handbook of Urban Druidry

Today I'm reviewing Brendan Howlin's new book about following the Druid path in a modern urban setting. The official publication date is March 2014 but you can pre-order it now from and as well as all the other Amazon platforms.

The term ‘Druid’ brings to mind groups of people in long white robes chanting in circles in the middle of the forest. How on earth is it possible to be a Druid in the middle of a concrete-and-steel city? Mr. Howlin explains exactly how it is not only possible, but valuable and even pleasurable. There is life everywhere, even in the most built-up of manmade places, and learning to truly see that life and connect with it is the start of a special kind of spirituality.

Rather than outlining the tenets and practices of Druidry in encyclopedic form, Mr. Howlin takes the reader through a series of exercises which bring recognition of the living world and connection with it as well as the ability to relax and focus on life as it happens in each moment. He also stresses personal responsibility throughout the book, a focus that I find both refreshing and helpful. Overall, the book is a practical introduction to the path of Druidry that requires no specialist paraphernalia, just your own eyes, ears, hands and heart. Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: A Modern Celt by Mabh Savage

A Modern Celt is my favorite kind of pagan book: one that makes historical traditions and sources relevant for the modern reader. Mabh Savage has turned out a useful work that will resonate with anyone interested in Celtic spirituality.

Steeped in Celtic lore and mythology from an early age, Ms. Savage understands that not every person will connect with every deity, but that the Celtic tradition as a whole has deep meaning for many modern Pagans. To this end she introduces us to the Irish gods and goddesses, not just as they appear in the ancient tales, but as they have shown themselves in her life and the lives of those close to her.

In addition to discussing the deities, Ms. Savage takes the reader through the wheel of the year from the viewpoint of modern Celtic spirituality, offering glimpses into the meaning of each major point on the circle and inviting us to explore them more deeply ourselves. She also shares wonderful stories from her fellow Celtic Pagans, showing us that magic is very much alive in the world and that it touches those who are open to it.

I was especially moved by the chapter about the ancestors. My personal spiritual practice revolves around my ancestors, which is unusual in today's Pagan community, as far as I have been able to tell. Ms. Savage's conversations about the ancestors, on whose shoulders we stand, offer helpful advice and information about how to approach this aspect of spirituality and incorporate it into modern Pagan practice.

The book includes a useful set of appendices in the form of a little encyclopedia of Celtic lore, from sacred trees to symbolic animals to the major figures of Celtic mythology.

I'd like to share a quote that resonates with me:

"I don't so much 'believe' in gods and goddesses, but accept their existence; I've always found that belief implies doubt, and I have no doubts about the beings that share my world with me."

Ms. Savage experiences the Celtic deities as living beings, as current and relevant as you or I, and she shares this experience in vibrant, approachable prose. This is real, current, living spirituality, a connection from the deep past to the most recent moment.

Read the first chapter for free HERE.

Preview A Modern Celt on Google Books.