I don’t talk to the gods. I don’t communicate with spirits. I’ve never felt the presence of the dead. I don’t really have a great deal to do with that sort of thing.
Like many of you out there in Internet-land, I call myself ‘pagan’. Now I do, anyway, although I’ve tried on various other labels throughout the course of my adventure in paganism, and before embarking on the same. In my childhood I called myself Christian, because that’s what I was brought up to be. I had then, and have now, no problem with Christianity at all, except inasmuch as it just doesn’t really work for me. A lot of pagans bear a degree of ill-will towards Christianity and other ‘organised’ religions. I only start to object to any religion, organised or not, when it’s bent into the shape of a weapon and used to harm and destroy. And every religion, organised or not, can be so abused.
Still, in my early teens I found that Christianity, for whatever reason, simply didn’t fit me. At first, having decided I couldn’t be Christian, not properly, I started calling myself an atheist for a week or two. It didn’t take: I couldn’t sit there and pretend I didn’t believe anything, when I very obviously did. I just didn’t know what it was that I believed. So, casting about wildly for something to align myself with, and being a teenager, I decided I was probably a Satanist. And I kept that up for several days before realising that I wasn’t. But I was certainly something – and something not very much at all like the Christianity in which I’d been raised.
After some time adrift, I found out that there were people out there called ‘pagans’. I read a few books, beginning, predictably enough, with the ubiquitous works of Scott Cunningham, and thus decided I was a Wiccan.
I should stress that I have no problems with Wicca either – but, after a relatively short time, I found that that didn’t fit me either. But I felt drawn to something about this strange new religion. Something about its aesthetic I found compelling. I left Wicca – I never really got into it, in truth – and simply decided I was a ‘witch’.
In more recent years, harkening perhaps to the call of the Ancient Within, I’ve called myself ‘Roman Reconstructionist’. And, more recently still, I’ve toyed – tentatively – with the label of ‘Druid’. None of these – worthy and valid traditions though they all may be – really fit. And I only approach ‘Druid’, even cautiously, because I do feel that I have, again, a powerful sense of that particular aesthetic that Druidry/Druidism (strike out whichever you think is the wrong term) seems to encapsulate. But it is the strong sense of wildness; the sense of darkness all around; of the world behind the world. That’s what I find myself drawn to. A lot of the other things that Druids believe or hold sacred is missing.
I am no priest. I am no poet. I am no judge. I am something else.
I said I couldn’t be an atheist because I couldn’t believe in nothing. I couldn’t believe in nothing because I know there’s something else there. There is another world; a world of which, during much of my childhood, I was constantly and entirely aware. But it started to trouble me, and cause trouble for me, and over the course of my last few years at secondary school, I began to systematically shut down my links to it. And it worked: for a long time now, I’ve been entirely isolated from that other world, and acknowledged only this one.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s helped.
For years now, any involvement I’ve had with what might be termed the ‘spiritual’ side of life has been experienced, if I’m honest, entirely at an intellectual, conscious, deliberate-decision-making level. Spirituality has, for me, been a matter of something I choose to do, rather than something I feel innately connected to. And having closed my connection to that other world, at least any connection I was consciously aware of, I’ve made do with memory and imagination to process the things I once saw, and heard, and felt.
Gods? I’ve never seen gods. I’ve never known them. I believe in gods, in a way. Perhaps in the same way that I believe in black holes, or the atmosphere of Titan: others who probably know better than I do have told me that they’re there; but they’re certainly a long, long way away, and completely inaccessible to me. I don’t pray to the gods. Any gods. Truth be told, I never really have, save rather mechanically when it’s the proper thing to do. And even then – perhaps especially then – I’ve never expected a god to reply to me; to show me a sign. I’d love – or I imagine I’d love – to have a truly religious experience one day. But I never have and, honestly, I don’t think I will. To paraphrase Popeye, we are what we are. I am what I am.
But recently, in the last few years, things for me have taken some strange turns. I’ve begun to look more closely at who, and what, I am. And I’ve begun to realise that, to borrow another well-worn phrase, you can take the tiger out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the tiger. I’m beginning to think that that connection might not have been closed after all – that it was just… in abeyance. And now that some changes have been permitted, so others have started to follow on in consequence.
I am what I am. And I see what I see. And it’s time to start opening my eyes again. There’s a world out there, and behind it and under it there are more worlds still, and they’re full of bizarre, and beautiful, and inexplicable and terrifying things.