Reflecting on that last post I did, all the way back in June – and it honestly doesn’t feel as recent as that: I really should update this blog more often – I realised I’d made a lot of statements without really explaining any of them. Maybe that’s not very important to you, but what’s a blog for if not to explain stuff the world could probably manage without having an explanation for?
So I thought I’d elaborate.
I hang out with druids a lot.
Well, no – actually, that’s not entirely true. I don’t hang out with druids very much at all, because of late I’ve been thoroughly unsociable. But let’s settle on “I know several druids”. If by ‘know’ we mean ‘either know or am vaguely aware of, even if they might not know I exist’.
Perhaps I should say ‘Druid’ rather than ‘druid’ – since it seems it’s a proper religion with a specific set of tenets and orthodoxy, even if the orthodoxy is, traditionally, “Don’t accept orthodoxy”.
And if someone asks me, if they say, “What’s your religion”, then – for the most part – I’ll mumble something about paganism or, if pushed, I’ll say, perhaps, ‘Druid’. Or, if I’m feeling mischievous, ‘Roman Druid’. And I’ll explain that I’m a polytheistic pagan of the Roman tradition (Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Vesta, and all that crowd), but am also a Druid, and they – if they know anything about history – will say, “How does that even work?”
And I’ll tell them, “I’ve got no idea.”
Roman pagans and druids – the old druids of ancient Britannia – never got on too well. Let’s just say there was ruckus. A fracas, as it might be.
But modern Druids aren’t what the old druids were. They – we – have a rough idea, but most of our rough idea is based on scraps from here and there. Mostly it’s based on what the Romans wrote about Druids – and that’s not necessarily going to get you an objective anthropological study.
“Some of them are okay, but they’re all bloodthirsty lunatics who howl at the Moon and would sacrifice their own grannies if they thought it’d gain them some divine favour.”
…is what the druids might have written about the Romans. A-har do you see what I did there, etc and so forth.
The Druid Network – a nationwide organisation of which I am nominally a member even if I never really get involved and have never actually registered for their members’ website, so it does make you wonder why I bother, really – seems to avoid specifically defining what a Druid is, but it does make various statements about revering Nature, observing the workings of Nature and of humanity, and generally trying to Fit In and help others to Fit In.
So let’s recap:
I profess a recognition of ancient Roman gods and also claim to be following an equally ancient Britannic tradition that nobody really knows anything about but which is generally considered to be in opposition to the Roman thing (due in large part to the Roman insistence on wiping that tradition out). I’m a member of a society that broadly specifies what Druids do and believe – if not what they are – but I’m not really involved in said society and generally don’t pay too much attention to the things I’m supposed to learn and do (for example, I don’t speak Gaelic or Welsh, I’ve never read the Mabinogion, and I don’t generally go to festivals and can’t even spell ‘Eisteddfod’).
Finally, if a great part of being a Druid is learning to Fit In with or to Nature, I flunk that too, since I do not feel that I’m in the right place. This Nature is not mine.
My religious views – like anyone’s, I suppose – have evolved as I’ve aged. I started out as a tiny individual with, I presume, no religious views beyond “These big beings feed me and control my world so they’re probably gods of some sort”. When I was a bit older and got properly acquainted with the beings in question they introduced me to their god, whom they called God, and brought me into His house and taught me ceremonies and songs and prayers and such. This was never particularly strict or rigid: it was just What You Do.
And probably I could’ve carried on doing that, and never really thought much more about it. But it never sat quite right with me, and I found myself probing a bit more. The trouble with poking holes in things is that sooner or later you find you’re left with a thing full of holes and it doesn’t really serve the purpose any more, and you can see other things through it. So I saw glimpses of other ways of looking at things, and I started to test.
Like all serious teenagers, I did spend a bit of time as a Satanist. I think it was about three months, which period mainly involved dressing in black a lot (I always wore a lot of black, so no-one really noticed), and drawing decorative pentagrams in fiery colours on the paint program I had on my Amiga computer. My Satanistic viewpoint was essentially just the basic, rather simplistic, “Yeah? Well, right, what if God’s the oppressor, and it’s actually Satan who wants us to be free? Huh? What do you think about that, Christianity?”
Because sure as bananas is yellow, no-one had thought of that before. I was a revolutionary iconoclast.
There Is No God; Life Is Meaningless.
Not quite what atheism is about, I’ll grant – but that was the model I adopted at the time. I went through what, a few years later, might have been called my ‘emo’ phase. I wore a lot of black. This was probably the point at which I was most well equipped to deal with gloomy things, and if I’d thought about it I could’ve spent that time constructing a healthy attitude of Stoic acceptance for things like the inevitability of death and the unending cycles of Nature. Instead, I spent it listening to vaguely angry music and writing stroppy posts on message boards which, thanks to bloody Google buying the Deja archiving service, are probably still out there somewhere.
I’m not proud.
But atheism didn’t last long either, because underneath it all I was well aware that I believed in something more than just what empirical, rational experimentation and scientific observation put in front of me. I just wasn’t sure what.
Courtesy of a young lady I was seeing at the time, I found myself going along to a rather Pentecostal church in her home town – one of those very celebratory, personal-relationship-with-our-friend-Jesus places; lots of clapping, lots of singing with arms outstretched; lots of Speaking In Tongues and suchlike – although the Speaking In Tongues generally seemed to take the form of ‘repeatedly reciting short foreign-language phrases we’ve memorised in advance’, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Still, everyone got very excited about it all, and there was lots of falling over theatrically into the arms of supportive deacons (they called it ‘being Slain In The Spirit’).
I can’t say I was entirely comfortable with all this – I admit it all seemed very weird to me. Plus, I felt I probably still had a degree of residual sympathy for Satan’s point of view, which meant I was probably due to be struck down in fairly short order. But after failing to be lightninged to death after a few weeks, I was persuaded by members of the church youth group (I was youthful at this point) that my discomfort was purely due to my being spiritually resistant to God’s call.
“Just let Him in,” they said, “And you’ll feel better.”
It was Nottingham that did it. For some reason, I’d agreed to go on a church outing to a football stadium in Nottingham, where a small band of popular evangelists were putting on a show. I don’t remember a deal about said show. I can’t even remember if there was food, which is unusual for me, since that’s generally my measure of time passing and events experienced.
I do remember some singing, which I joined in with for form’s sake. And I remember the preachy guy who was up at the time (were there others? Or was it just his show? Who was he? I’ve no idea on any count) told the crowd that a song would be played, and that if anyone felt inspired during that song to Dedicate Themselves To Jesus, they should come down to the front and be prayed at. For. With. Whatever.
They played Amazing Grace – a song I’ve always quite liked – and I was physically picked up, by something unseen, and pushed down to the front of the stage. I maintain, even now, I could not have resisted that force with all my will. I was duly prayed at – can’t remember a word – and before I knew what was what we were on the coach heading home.
During that coach trip, I went through absolutely every emotion humans are capable of, including some weird combos that I still don’t think should be entirely possible. Cognitive dissonance without the cognition. Just dissonance. I was elated, and crushed, and furious, and… You don’t need me to list human emotions. Assuming you aren’t reading this a thousand years in the future in a society of Borg drones or Vulcans (we should be so lucky), you’ve probably got a pretty good idea what feelings are like.
Anyway, those. All of them. In the time it took a bus to get from Nottingham to Chesterfield.
And then I was a Christian again, only this time a Pentecostal evangelical one, not like the Church of England one I used to be. Now I said things like ‘Hallelujah’, and actually meant it, and the Second Coming of Christ seemed like a good and desirable thing, and I even went so far as to join a rather exclusive, somewhat secretive ‘ministry’ – a section of the church that dedicated itself to confronting Satanic cults and challenging the Dark Lord’s influences in the local community and…
I was wrapped up in things and, for whatever reason, hadn’t really thought it through. But for what it’s worth, this period didn’t last. I think there’d always been a little voice at the back of my head trying to get through to me, trying to make me see that I was (to put it bluntly) hallucinating. It was my anti-cult ministry that finally let that voice break through: there were many books locked away in the office, only made available to ministry members, because they dealt with dangerous things, things one should only approach with due training and spiritual strength. (Except that’s clearly nonsense, because they let me in there with little more than a lecture on the importance of not doing Satanic stuff.)
Amongst all the frankly fascinating books I found about philosophies, heresies, witchcraft, the occult, ceremonial magic, alchemy, druids (yep), pagans and demonology, I found a treatise warning us Soldiers of God about… the Smurfs.
You know? Those little blue guys with the funny floppy hats, who live in the woods and spend their time cheesing off the local sorcerer and his cat?
Yeah, them. They’re ‘woodland spirits’, and as such are dangerous Satanic propaganda being fed to unwary kids via their unwitting, misguided parents.
Ban This Sick Filth!
Down With This Sort of Thing! (Careful, Now.)
This was so clearly a massive, massive overreaction to harmless childhood TV that I seriously began to wonder whether I was on the right track at all. Honestly, I think I already knew I wasn’t, but this noticeably exacerbated things for me. Coupled with the fact that my reaction to all these books on assorted wickedness was less horror and revulsion and more utter absorbed fascination, I found myself starting to wonder whether I’d been right, and I was a Satanist after all. Was I some sort of demonic sleeper agent? Reprogrammed by the Great Adversary, and sent into a church to destroy it from within, my true purpose hidden even from my own waking mind?
(I hadn’t heard of Cylons then, or I’d have been all over that. I was the Assembly of God’s very own Sharon Valerii. Spoiler, by the way.)
But then, what if…
What if Satan actually wasn’t anything to do with it? What if the reason I wasn’t rejecting these terrible, evil things was that I just knew, deep down, that they weren’t actually evil at all, but just different? Different ways of looking at the world; different ways of approaching the same basic questions?
I took a book about witchcraft. Modern witchcraft, and something called ‘Wicca’ – a religion based on reverence for Nature and the worship of multiple deities: Mother Earth, Father Sky, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. A religion that observed festivals based on the passing of the seasons; that acknowledged the role of sex and sensuality in the human experience; that made the gods something to be experienced, rather than something simply to be obeyed.
“Of course I have good reason to be reading this. I’m working on a case. Besides, I’m a member of the Ministry – we’re allowed access to this sort of material. No, you can’t look at it. It’s, erm. It’s very… dangerous…? Yeah. That.”
Except it wasn’t dangerous. Not at all. Well, not in that sense. Yes, Nature religions are dangerous in the sense that Nature is dangerous; but it’s beautiful as well. It’s challenging, and it’s nurturing; and, as I sat and read that book, I felt everything that the Pentecostals had taught me just draining away. Thiswas who I was. This book was my holy text; the Bible was not.
I should take a moment here, since I’ve been concentrated on my brush with Christianity for some while now, to put in a disclaimer. I have no issues with Christianity whatsoever. None of this should be taken to be a criticism, in general, of Christians or their beliefs. What it’s supposed to be describing is my personal incompatibility with those beliefs. Yes, I did go through a phase of blanket rejection of all religion. Religion was stupid and caused wars, and people who followed religions were all mindless zealots, programmed zombies who could be made to do anything, however immoral, just by dressing it up as the Word of God.
That phase lasted a few weeks, while I was being an atheist (and no, it’s not how I see atheists, bar a loud and unfortunate few – it’s mostly just how I was when I was one, because I was still quite young and didn’t want to bother with complexity). My final parting with Christianity, which came just weeks after I finished reading that book on Wicca, was, to borrow a famously derided celebrity phrase, a ‘conscious uncoupling’. It wasn’t an antagonistic departure: I just stopped attending that church.
But this brings me a little closer to where I am now, and although there’s more ground to cover, it’ll have to be the subject of my next post, because this one’s more than long enough already.