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.