Image: The path down from Glastonbury Tor. Sunset, Samhain 2015. Credit: Pan Avalon.
Around the recent Autumn Equinox, I had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Ronald Hutton for lunch. An esteemed academic at the University of Bristol, and long-time friend of the pagan community, I first encountered Professor Hutton during a characteristically absorbing lecture on the Wheel of the Year and its associated rituals at the annual pagan gathering, Witchfest. Since then I’ve enjoyed his talks at various pagan-affiliated events, as well as acquiring several of his books on related subjects. His academic approach to the history of witchcraft and paganism has inspired some of my own approaches to the path in recent years, and I was thrilled at the prospect of our meeting.
Without going into any detail about the wonderfully enjoyable meeting itself (which would be both extraneous to the purposes of this blog post, as well as an intrusion on Professor Hutton’s privacy), what is relevant here is that it jump-started a development in my spiritual journey that had been gestating for quite some time previously. Strangely, it was the simple fact of Professor Hutton immediately identifying me as a non-denominational pagan in my use of the term ‘Mabon’ for the Autumnal Equinox that really crystallised and prompted this new phase of my journey.
This identification – combined with our further fascinating discussions – made me painfully aware of the state of ignorance and naiveté under which I had hitherto pursued my religious and spiritual path. I have self-identified as pagan since adolescence at least, but I think it has always – ALWAYS – been my inner state – even from a very, very young age. I’ve never stopped to think about the processes by which I’ve acquired my own set of particular beliefs, but something about the combination of turning thirty this year, allied with my conversation with Professor Hutton, made me want to take a step forward to develop my spirituality in a more mature and responsible way, but also to step back and consciously analyse its form, origins, and whether I am indeed a non-denominational (or ‘eclectic’) pagan – or whether I am something else.
Examining my own paganism
What is certain is that I am a solitary pagan. My paganism is characterised foremost by a deep love and respect for nature, and an observance of its cycles. I spend as much time as I possibly can (though not nearly as much as I’d like) outdoors in woodlands, moors, and by the sea – or just in my garden listening to the rustle of the trees in the wind. I mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year with personal observances at the solstices and equinoxes, as well as at the four mid-points of Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. I believe in the processes of cause and effect, of ‘An it harm none, do what ye will’, and of karmic return (although I’m aware this term is often misused – I used it here as a convenient shorthand). I have always believed in magic – my own definition of this phenomenon being the power of the human will to effect change in both the outer world, as well as in the self (for health purposes, for instance). I also believe that magic exists in the universe in the form of some higher power. To me, this power – or energy – is both masculine and feminine – and neither. This is also reflected in the mixture of energies I sense within myself. I routinely refer to this power as ‘the Lord and the Lady’, and I don’t conceive of this force to be a particular deity (or deities), although I do occasionally refer to this male/female/other force by the names of particular gods or goddesses when the mood, time, or place feels right – I address Pan when in the woods, for instance. I don’t worship any pantheon in particular, but am fond of the Norse, Celtic, Roman, and Greek sets, and mythology in general. I blow kisses to the moon, wish on the stars, and read messages and auguries in the signs of nature. I dance and sing, and offer both up as worship. More practically, I use herbs and essential oils for healing, and forage for fruits and berries when they are ripe in my local area. I offer love, advice, and support to a wide network of friends and family.
But where does all of this come from? And where is it going?
This is what my conversation with Professor Hutton has prompted me to ask myself.
Now that I am thirty (an age imbued with portentous significance for many women – myself included), I feel a need to honour my path, and myself. I must do us both justice by considering where and how my pagan path originated, and in which direction(s) it is heading – as well as asking if it can have any significance in the wider world, for the power of good (e.g. environmental activism).
Thus far my pagan spirituality has been a piecemeal, intuitive, personal thing – and very beautiful for that, too. However, it’s time to branch out – to explore more – and to branch ‘in’, as well, and try to better understand how the path unfolds within my own spirit.
This blog and its associated Twitter account (@Pan_Avalon) are intended to help me to document this journey, to reach out to the wider world of paganism, and hopefully perhaps to help inspire others venturing out on the path, too.
Join me on my journey…