Being Pagan

The best place to start any quest is right at the beginning, and my own quest began as a child when my parents packed me off to sunday school every week to give them some peace and quiet. That was at a Methodist Church, the nearest church so that my sister and I could easily get there on our own. I enjoyed it as the emphasis was on Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild and it was fun to compete with my rival over who could remember the most Bible verses and get the most stickers. My parents never attended church themselves though my father was nominally Methodist and my mother, nominally Anglican.

I don't think that I was then aware of any spirituality in my personality at that time. It was enough that my parents thought that going to sunday school would be "good" for me in some unspecified way. My mother's opinion, which she gave me later, was that it is "nice" to believe in God but it is best not to take it too seriously. By which she meant regular attendence at church as an adult. She had some vague fears about Catholicism being too serious and therefore dangerous. My father had read the "Chariots of the Gods" books and said he believed in them, though whether he did or not, is a mystery.

When I became a teenager I began to question everything, as you do. We were living in New Zealand and when I wanted to go to church, my parents chose the local Methodist church as being closest to the one I had been to as a child. What I really wanted was to find out the answers for myself but I had to have my father with me every week, as the church was in town and we lived in a village. All they would allow me to do was go to the services, which was all very nice but I wanted to know. I wanted someone I could ask about the spiritual questions that bothered me. Even as a teenager I knew that what I wanted was a faith, not a religion.

Then the quest led me, as an adult, to befriend a Baptist woman, which whom I shared a flat. That experience was not happy: I think that part of it was my trying to please her to hold her friendship. We lived in a flat nextdoor to the church; in fact the church owned our flat. I remember feeling uneasy as the church was quite Evangelical and its members went in for speaking in tongues and all that. They held their arms up a lot while singing hymns, which I also found rather unnerving. I think the reason for my feelings is that I tend to view any kind of religion, which expects its practitioners to attain a state of ecstatic oblivion, to be suspect. The rush one gets from the act of "high-octane" worship in the company of others is invigorating but temporary. The actual process of living one's sunday faith tends not to be so attractive to these people.

When that friend realised that I was not 100% committed to the path she followed, and I began to question the things I saw and heard each sunday, alienation followed. I drifted for a while, actually became a communicant member of the Anglican church, but it was not until I found the Quakers that I began to understand something of what it was I was searching for: spirituality, not religion.

The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends to give them their proper name, are unlike any other religious group I have ever known. To begin with, they believe that all paths lead to God and that we all have the divine spark within us. There are no leaders, except for the more experienced "elders", who do not enforce their will on the rest of the Meeting. Any decisions are made by a consensus and one of the aspects of Quakerism is that they do talk and talk and talk!

A Meeting has to be experienced at least once in a person's life and I still miss the peaceful Meeting House in Newcastle. I would sit, silent through it all, never once called upon by the spirit to speak, for which I was very grateful! I liked to sit at the back, near the big windows so that I could look out into the walled garden. It was sheltered from the cold winds so flowers would grow in there well into autumn and it was wonderful to just sit in the peace and quiet and contemplate the wonder of the world we live in. But then we moved from the north-east of England and came to live in south Wales. There was no Meeting within easy reach and as we don't have a car and cannot drive, we had to stop going. Which was a shame since even my husband, who had never shown an interest in religion, liked going to Meeting and our daughter loved the children's own Meeting.

It seemed so significant that my birthday should fall on Ostara and the Spring Equinox. My evening prayers to Epona, that night, were my way of reaffirming my dedication to Her. Ostara celebrates the birth of Spring and the reawakening of life from the earth after the long winter sleep. The God is growing and the Goddess is fertile again. Wiccans celebrate the festival by worshipping the Goddess in her incarnation of the Green Goddess and the God as the Lord of the Greenwood. A symbolic animal for this time is the hare, a symbol of fertility and resurrection.

The hare became the Easter bunny and other Ostra symbols, such as the egg -- symbolising perfection in it's rounded shape and the beginning of new life -- were appropriated by the Christian religion for their version of Ostra, Easter. But whatever religion one belongs to, this is the time of new life, new hope and new beginnings. And this is why this festival was especially important to me, coming as it did on my 39th birthday, or, the first day of my 40th year of life.

As Vivianne Crowley wrote, in her book "The Principles of Wicca", people who are attracted to Paganism often find that someone in their family had spiritual powers. My paternal grandfather was a dowser, who would find water for farmers in return for meat and vegetables for his large family. I seem to have inherited the ability though I haven't made a practice of it! I find that, when I hold the wands, I can feel a magnetic force running through them and into my body, as they pass over underground water. I can feel a force dragging the wands, and me, down towards the source of that force.

There is a sense that everything around us is alive; trees, water and rocks. As I pass by trees, chopped and mutilated by the council, I can almost feel the tree's pain. I am attracted to the idea that Pagan people are interested in the world and are grounded in it, instead of continually trying to deny it. Conventional religions are full of "thou shalt nots" and try to destroy the spiritual or at least, to carve and shape it into something more acceptable.

And then, there is the fact that women are denied a spiritual life in religions such as Christianity, except in male dictated terms, as Nuns or subordinates to the male priest. Even where there are female leaders, they must always remember that their holiest book teaches that women are inferior and secondary. Whereas in Pagansim, men and women are equal.

In today's world, women especially are turning to images of femininity in their quest for a meaningful spiritual life. We are returning to a gentler time, when birth was still a mystery and women walked close to the center of things. Women were holy, created in the image of the Lady, the Mother of all. We were not creatures of the devil, created to cause havoc and chaos in men's lives; demons to be shunned, feared and hated. Our grandmothers took back some dignity and freedom for us as Suffragettes and now it is our turn to return to the Mother, in all her forms.

I also like the fact that there are no limits, no one banging on about sin and no one is better qualified than anyone to speak to the "god". Also, there is the fact that, unlike most religions, Paganism does not demand that its practitioners renounce the world. I have always wondered why other faiths ask that; putting so much emphasis on self-denial, the death of self in fact. We are given lives and it is up to us to do something with us. I do not think that the creator would have meant for us to act as if living were somehow dirty and shameful.

There are other reasons why I am attracted to Paganism and I hope that they will become clear as this site develops.