by Ann Tomlin
Like many pagans I have met in the last twenty years since giving a name to my beliefs, I was unaware of the ‘title’ although I have been pagan/pantheist all of my life. I grew up in a money-poor family in a farm cottage but my life was nature-rich indeed. I was free to walk the lanes and meadows, and paddle in the stream in total freedom. I learned the names of plants and trees, and of the constellations. I and my friends knew which leaves and flowers were safe to eat. I was in the harvest field when John Barleycorn was sacrificed – although along with other farm children and farm hands I was chasing the rabbits from the centre of the field – a sacrifice for our dinner. Although there was ‘intensive’ farming – I was born during World War 2 when farms were part of the Home Front keeping the nation fed – there was still some respect for the soil (although the Soil Association had already been formed) and crops and seasonal tasks were to some extent controlled by the weather. Farm machines were not the vast ones which we see today, but smaller doing less harm to the soil. As a child I could lift and stack straw bales. There were not the modern fungicides, insecticides and herbicides which now do so much harm to wildlife and to bees. So I was ‘green’ before the word took on its modern connotations. Food was a valued resource and never wasted. I was lucky that we had fruit trees and bushes and a large vegetable garden, and we kept chickens. Anything not eaten on the day it was prepared was made into a meal for tomorrow. There were no freezers, but fruit was bottled in Kilner jars, eggs were pickled, beans were dried for winter. There was no plastic packaging – goods bought from a grocers were put in brown paper bags. There was no rubbish collection – so tins were buried and bottles and jars returned.
It was not all good. We were not aware of the harmful effects of carbon emissions and most homes were heated with coal or wood. Factories and trains were coal driven, gas was produced by coal. We often had yellow smog in urban areas, making it impossible to see a hand in front of you. This smog caused breathing and other health difficulties, and the ‘wireless’ would issue warnings not to go out unless absolutely necessary. There was DDT, which over the years caused so much harm to plants and to wildlife; it was hailed as a marvellous tool to help with crop yield. Looking back those in authority must have been aware of it’s harmful effects but food production was paramount.
As I helped in the garden, walked the lanes, picked the flowers – yes there was little protection for plants then and an abundance of wild scabious, knapweed, celandines and many more – I was always aware that there were other presences. Now I would call them spirits of place, then they were just part of my landscape. They were not always friendly – there was one spot in particular down a lane which was always icy cold, even in summer, and past which I ran as fast as I could. Now I honour the goddess and the god, the female and the male life force in fertility and procreation and to me they are a real presence in my life.
I grew up, worked, had children – a busy life. I attended church occasionally. I had been brought up to go to church and Sunday school, and went to a church-aided school where there was weekly attendance at church. These were not unpleasant experiences and as a teenager I went through a period of quite fervent belief in the christian faith. However, by the time I was twenty this had ceased to have real meaning for me, and underneath was always my sense of the divinity of nature, of those unseen presences. Twenty years ago I reached, as I suspect most people do, a time in my life when I was trying to make sense of my life and what the future held. I read a book, a gift – ‘Born in Albion’ by David Williams and Kate West – and began to realise that I did not need to search for my path, I had been born to it but had simply lost my way. I enrolled in a correspondence course on natural magic, found a ritual group and began to learn a structure for my belief system and to communicate with others of a like mind.
Since then, for the last twenty years, I have lived consciously as a pagan – although much of it is completely natural to me. As an older woman I find that I am often invisible to society in general, my views are not considered worth listening to, and I have to constantly work to keep my self-esteem. This is not the case with the pagan community. I have found there that, mostly, elders are accepted as equals if they care to become visible. Even though I was a complete novice at seasonal rituals and unaware of the many pagan paths my experience has been one of acceptance for all ages, sexes, and of my beliefs, which are very simplistic. So giving my belief system a name and learning about the many paths of modern paganism, has benefited me in friendship with ‘like-minds’ and in a learning process which is continuing.
Interestingly, the internet helps to promote this learning, with e-zines like Gaian Times and websites such as the Pagan Federation and others local to the area. There are many views and interesting articles to be found in this forum, and although it lacks the energy and warmth of a moot or ritual it does have the advantage of giving time for absorption of opinions and facts. So that has been a modern change which, when used wisely, can be a positive one.
Another change for the good is the knowledge now of the harmful effect of carbon emissions. There is also an awareness of the damage done by such agricultural chemicals as neonicotinides – although politicians and those out only for monetary gain are unwilling to acknowledge this. We have more people volunteering in conservation or eco-projects. We have more campaigning groups – some successful such as the campaign against selling off our woodlands. Again, the internet can be a useful tool here.
What is not so good is what has happened/is happening to the countryside, to wildlife, to the environment in the name of the great god of money. I think it was Jung who said something to the effect that if we lose touch with nature we lose touch with reality. Is a slightly faster train line from London to the North really of more value than the ancient woodlands which are being destroyed? How can we waste billions of pounds worth of food a year when half the world is starving? Why can nothing be done to stop the chemical companies who produce the insecticides such as neonicotinides, which are destroying our bees? The answer, of course, is again the god of money, combined with the other modern god of marketing. It is not possible to turn back the clock to the world into which I was born, but there seems to be little realisation that if we continue to destroy the links in the food chain such as insects and bees, then eventually there will be no food chain. That if we continue to cut down rainforests and woodlands then we are destroying carbon sinks for ever increasing carbon emissions. We need to keep the balance, but how to do this?
I have had/do have a privileged life. I have lived in a country which has not suffered a war in my lifetime. I live in the beautiful countryside, of which I have an understanding which is enhanced, I feel, by my many years of living through the seasonal changes. I have enough food and other necessities. I am blessed in being an elder pagan, with friends who are on the same path and who accept me for what I am. My belief system enhances my life in every respect and I have the joy of continuing to learn and to be part of a very wide and varied community.