So the thing is, I’ve been leading a sort of double life for some time now.
I got into the habit of drawing strict boundaries around areas of my life when I was still a librarian/archivist, and first delving back into the world of pantheism, Paganism, and witchcraft. For a start, it was never relevant or even particularly appropriate for me to bring up these interests at work. As friendly as we all were, there was never any particular call to talk about our religion or lack thereof–never mind to discuss what was, at that point, a very tentative exploration with a large side of navel gazing.
Once I realised that this whole Pagan thing was going to stick–that I was starting not only to adopt regular Pagan-ish practices, but also to identify myself as part of this very diverse community–I started to open up to friends and family about it. I divulged the fact that I had been blogging and making videos, and even (gasp) engaging in a self-made religious practice that was pantheistically-oriented and Pagan-inclined. Even this simple step was a little tricky, which is something I talked about in a post from way back about Pagan pride.
Then I came to Edinburgh to study Religious Studies. Doing this was something like hitting a massive reset button on my life. I left behind almost everything from my old life, and the people I met here in Edinburgh had essentially no preconceived notions about me. I was free, or so I thought, to introduce myself to the world as someone who was a spiritual practitioner, who was interested in this stuff* from a personal perspective, and was moved to study it in an academic setting because that’s just sort of how my brain works.
I did do this initially, at least a little. But over time, much to my surprise and dismay, new boundaries began to erect themselves, almost wholly out of my conscious control. The more I critically analysed various forms of Paganism, the stranger and more hollow it seemed to practice. And the more time I dumped into academia, the less time I had to be practicing in the first place. By the time I realised what was happening, I had turned into another slightly different version of myself: Áine Warren, the Religious Studies scholar, who may-or-may-not-but-probably-was-not Pagan.
So who the hell, I find myself wondering, is Áine Órga?
It got to the point where Áine Órga seemed utterly disingenuous; where I was even embarrassed by much of what I have written and shared under that name. But you know what? Áine Warren, in so much as she is distinguished entirely from Áine Órga, is utterly disingenuous too.
I didn’t come here to study religion because I think it is sociologically interesting, or because I thought Paganism (on YouTube) would make a good research project. I came here because I care deeply about the narratives I tell myself on a daily basis about cosmos and my place in it, and engaging in a Pagan spiritual practice has been the best way for me to avoid a paralysing nihilism. I came here because Pagan pantheism became a lifeline for me in a storm of late modern meaninglessness. So why do I keep trying to hide away those motivations?
The reason is simple: at some point, I internalised the notion that that kind of emotion doesn’t make for good academia. Religious Studies, for better or worse, is hugely invested in separating itself from theology, and from any sort of confessional or normative stance. And I have swallowed that tenet hook, line, and sinker–and have, ever since, apparently been trying to turn myself into a kind of scholar that I am not.
So look, I didn’t come here to impress any academics. I didn’t come here to start on a path towards a professorship, to fit seamlessly into an academic debate and community. I came here because the way we ask questions about the nature of the universe fascinates me. I came here because I am more interested in what people designate as “religious” or “sacred” than in the social and historical contexts of their practices.
And so I’m sick of trying to keep that safe from my in-person relationships. Perhaps it has always just been a defense mechanism, a way of avoiding real-life confrontation. But I no longer want to be someone who hides her true feelings and opinions behind internet anonymity. I also no longer want to fall into the habit of aping the language of other people in the spiritual community to make myself more accessible or more relatable. So both identities need to talk to one another, inform one another, until I can find something more in the middle.
So, there it is. It’s time to start working on being Áine Órga Warren. Doing this will make me intensely uncomfortable, but hey, insert some inanity about comfort zones here.
*where “this stuff” is “religion”, Paganism, what have you…