For the first three years of my practice, the Autumn Equinox was a big deal for me. Since coming back to academia, it’s still a very meaningful time, but it also coincides with one of the busiest times of year—the beginning of a new academic year. I haven’t so much as written a blog post about the equinox since then.
This year, on the back of what I wrote about in my last post, this equinox feels all about bringing different parts of myself into balance. It occurred to me last night that I have been thinking about this issue as though I am not already a coherent whole—a single multifacted human. Where the “Órga” and “Warren” versions of me come together is in my legal surname—which is neither of the previous. Both Áine Órga and Áine Warren are pseudonyms and personas of sorts. I have never been constricted to being one or the other, and neither of them constitute the whole of myself, either.
I have been making an active effort to refocus my practice on devotion, on observing and celebrating life as it is—rather than using the observances of the Wheel of the Year as a time to berate myself for not having changed and improved myself enough since the last one. My religion is not therapy, I told myself last night. For some people, that works. But I am too self-reflexive for my own good on a daily basis; so I need my devotion to be more outward-focussed rather than inwardly-focussed.
But thinking about these facets of myself, how they interact and meld together, doesn’t just feel like an exercise in self-improvement. It raises questions about what I experience when I sit at the altar; whether I carry this experience into other components of my life; and to what extent I let—or should let—the more “mundane” aspects of my personality and experience of the world into that “sacred space”.
Right now, I don’t have answers to those questions. Previously, I think I have made my altar and my practice a sort of safe haven split away from my sceptical, “mundane” self. This was largely a conscious action—a choice to have a time and place where I could act out the feelings and beliefs I have that conflict with the scientistic worldview I have largely learned from my university education and peers. But if I maintain this strict boundary, how can I bring those “spiritual experiences” back into my everyday life? It’s all very well for me to suspend disbelief and engage in enchanted worldviews in the space of my spiritual practice, but it seems somewhat pointless to me if the end result doesn’t feed back into the rest of my life.
I’m all for embracing cognitive dissonance and the power of using belief as a tool; but perhaps I need my core practice to feel a little more in the middle. When I sit at the altar, I don’t want to feel as though I’m just performing “Áine Órga”; I want to feel like there is space there for all of my inconsistencies and conflicting beliefs and perspectives.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to be chucking anything out of my practice—and if anything, it’s made me feel more empowered about embracing the Pagan label. But as time goes by, I want to stay aware of this tension, and respect it. My kneejerk response to these thoughts was that I might weaken my spirituality if I allow the “non-spiritual” parts into that space. But who knows: maybe my practice will deepen as a result.