September 22, 2016

This time four years ago, I wrote my first blog post about my spiritual journey. The night before, I had done ritual to mark the autumn equinox, and with that ritual I began an unbroken trend of celebrating the wheel of the year. The closest I have yet come to not performing some ritual for a Sabbat in those four years was this last Lughnasadh, when I was days from submitting my Master’s dissertation—but I did light candles, I did have a special supper and watch the sun set with my girlfriend. I’m not sure if I really knew, four years ago, that I would still be maintaining the habit to this day. But I am proud, in a way, that I have. It has been the one consistent rock in a life of avalanching pebbles.

This time five years ago marked the beginning proper of my spiritual quest. I did ritual then, too—though the rest of the year slipped by unmarked, as I was only in the very beginning stages of figuring out what I wanted and needed ritual to be. I was still using a very Wiccan framework; I still had not figured out what I believed, what really rang true for me cosmologically and theologically. I had real moments of revelation in the twelve months between September 2011 and September 2012.

One in particular was on my birthday, Samhain, when I discovered a pantheist sub-forum on a Pagan site I had been frequenting. Another was the day I printed out and started reading Glenys Livingstone’s Pagaian Cosmology the following May. It took a few more months, but by the time September rolled around, and the leaves started turning and falling, I was already closer than I realised to the core of my beliefs about God/dess and the Cosmos. I have taken many winding paths since then in my spiritual exploration—but ultimately, I find myself falling back on those first months of exploration and clarification. Scientific pantheism and cosmic symbolism is where I feel most at home.

 

This realisation really struck home the other night as I was participating in a Pagan Musings Podcast alongside the editor of, and other contributors to, John Halstead’s Godless Paganism. The naturalistic pagan community was the first spiritual community in which I truly felt at home. But after I had created my first rituals reflecting those pantheistic beliefs, that science-based cosmology, I then spent many years striving to distance myself from it. I felt as though it didn’t run deep enough. I wanted more than what science can show us—I wanted something more emotional, more mystical, than the surface-level symbolism I had drawn together.

I still want those things, and I don’t think I was wrong in chasing after them, in hunting down and trying on other paradigms. But I think I let myself get a little lost in the process. I adopted something slightly alien; I pulled on a cloak that just never quite sat right on me. Heart Story was a product of that shift in paradigm, and the shift in community I experienced during those years. And while everything I did with Heart Story was honest and heartfelt, it jarred uncomfortably with who I felt I was in every other aspect of my life.

At first I thought I was just unused to being seen by others as a spiritual person—someone with beliefs a little different to the dominant paradigm of scientific naturalism. But over time I’ve come to realise that I was glossing over a deeper truth; that, at a core level, my personal inner paradigm is different to that slightly ill-fitting cloak. It was a highly attractive cloak, and one I admired and respected on others. But it was something I picked up, particularly from the Tarot and YouTube spiritual communities, that was never going to be fully me.

Now that I have immersed myself in the academic community, it is becoming more and more imperative to me that these two sides of my life can speak to one another, can comfortably coexist. I have no problem with the fact that I don different caps at different times—one cap for thinking and talking about religion academically; and another cap for doing it, and engaging with the community from that place of personal investment. But I don’t ever want to feel embarrassed or ashamed by one area of my foray into religion when I’m in the other. I don’t want my academic writing to be an embarrassment to my spiritual self. And I don’t want my spiritual self to be an embarrassment to my academic life.

 

My first year in Edinburgh, studying religion academically, has seen me fail at comfortably balancing these aspects of myself. But now, as I start to re-embrace my roots as a spiritual practitioner, I feel like it’s finally within my grasp. This time of year is always a productive, balancing one for me. There is something about the autumn equinox that brings me back to centre every year. The beauty of the turning trees and the ever-lower sun stretching across the leaf-strewn ground that jolts me into remembering the full reverence that this Earth inspires in me.

As we turn to the dark half of the year, I am excited to explore new territory in my practice. I’m excited to clarify the thoughts I’ve been having for some months on deities and dark goddesses. But this time I think I will carry with me a slightly more authentic grounding in my naturalistic background. This time, I will hold myself to the reality that for me, truth and revelation is available primarily through scientific exploration.

The personal, intuitive revelations that wash over me from time to time are just as important. But they will never eclipse the paradigm I’ve been immersed in all my life, for better or for worse. The scientific paradigm is part of who I am; but it’s never stopped me from being religious, it’s never stopped me from feeling awe and reverence, it’s never stopped me from touching the face of God/dess in those rare, sweet moments of communion. And this autumn equinox, I am ready to bring all those sides of me together again.

August 31, 2016

This year has been hard.

In many ways, it has also been the best year of my life. I’ve felt myself coming closer to the happiness and purpose I’ve been striving after for years. But all this change has also unseated me from myself a little.

I thought that I could throw myself into a new sort of life—the life of academia and studying religion sociologically—without losing all of the purpose and meaning I had previously found. But because this Masters so completely took over my life, the more the year increased, the more I found that all of the powerful, nurturing, creative habits and feelings I had cultivated over the past few years slipped further and further out of my grasp.

The academic work, in and of itself, would have been challenging enough—but it would have been a challenge to relish without regret if it weren’t for this problem of a lack of balance in my life.

June 29, 2016

…and hello to something new.

 

Here’s the truth about this blog:

I feel like, somewhere along the way, while working at sounding passionate and authentic, while striving to do about ten different things in each leap of a paragraph, I lost my authentic writing voice. It got suffocated, maybe, under the weight of my muddied yet shrill aspirations. And it is this, more than anything, that has slowly ground the writing on this thing to a complete halt.

It is time for me to let Heart Story go. It will likely surface again either as an aspect of my website, or a project, or an e-book; but for now, I am rebranding again, turning to the simplicity of Áine Órga, and attempting to lay a more permanent cyber anchor for myself—something I can come back to again and again like a port in a storm, without feeling like it’s something I have to measure up to in some way. Áine Órga I can be, even on a bad day. Áine Órga makes no particular demands of me: she is just another name I call myself.

October 4, 2015

And so I have been living in this new city, in this new life, for just over three weeks. Already I feel totally immersed in this place, in what I’m doing. Already I have been through some major ups and downs. But I am settling in, I am happy and content with the new trajectory of my life. Here are some thoughts and some clips of my life and surroundings in the past three weeks.

 

August 30, 2015

Who is the Horned God?

The Horned God is an unusual deity, in that he’s not really a deity at all. He is an archetype, a category of deity, or a name for the God of the Wicca, the God who contains all gods. We see him depicted in Celtic art, sometimes called Cernunnos – but know little of his history or worship. We see him as Pan, one specific Greek deity, a god of the forest, of nature, of all things wild and untame.

Cards Chosen

king of wands ShadowscapesCourt Card: The King of Wands

The Horned God is associated with the forest, the natural world, and in this way he taps into the energy of the King of Pentacles – which is a card I chose when talking about the Green Man, a figure closely related to the Horned God. But the King of Wands also reflects the wildness of the Horned God, his primal energy, and his association with the sun and the animal kingdom.

The creative-destructive nature of the fiery King of Wands reflects the cycle of life and death that the Horned God represents. Connected to the hunt, and depicted in Wiccan myth as dying every year in sacrifice to the Goddess, this god embodies the life-death-life cycle and reminds us of the ferocity and finite energy of the blazing flame. His association with the sun links him to life-giving force, but there is a strong underlying sense of death and sacrifice.

five of wands shadowscapesMinor Arcana: Five of Wands

One of the primary images associated with the Horned God is that of two stags clashing antlers. The Horned God is an archetype not only of wildness and virility, but of challenge and combat. In Wicca, the life-death-life cycle is depicted as being set in motion by an annual battle between two faces of the God. While the Horned God is a slightly different archetype, this battle is highly reminiscent of stags fighting over their mates, and the usually stag-shaped antlers of the Horned God suggest a link between these myths.
This card challenges you to take up those challenges that life presents you with strength and grace. While violence is never to be lauded, it is important to acknowledge that life is a cycle of give and take, and we must roll with the ups and downs and seasonal shifts and tides.

the devil shadowscapesMajor Arcana: The Devil

The conflation of the Devil or Satan with Pan is likely a relatively recent phenomenon, and I am not of the belief that the figure of Satan was based on Pan in order to convert Pagans in early Christendom. But modern images of the Devil are certainly highly reminiscent of Pan, and it is from this trend that the concept of the Horned God likely arose.

But there is an undeniable relationship between the Devil, Pan, and the Horned God – and much of this lies in their associations with debauchery and excess. Pan is a god of the wild and of fertility – as is the Horned God. The Devil in many ways represents the shadow of a society obsessed with the control and restriction of all things natural.

the lovers shadowscapesMajor Arcana: The Lovers

As the primary depiction of the God of the Wicca, the Horned God is the consort of the Goddess. Here we see him as fertile Pan, in all the virile glory of his untamed sexuality. But this card also reminds us of the connectivity of everything, the reliance of each particle of cosmos on the next, and our own vulnerability and reliance on the All and each other.

Where the Devil warns of excess or relishes in the primal intoxication of sex, the Lovers speaks of the deep bond between the Horned God and his consort, and the sacrifice he makes as an innate part of that connectivity. This reminds us of our place as part of the web, and how we celebrate the wonder of our existence even as we gradually decline and return to the All. With our understanding of our oneness comes a knowledge of our inevitable return to the chaos of cosmos – and our celebration and our sacrifice are inextricably intertwined.

 

All images from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui Mun Law.