Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Living an Urban life as a Pagan
Previously published to my Witchvox website.
What does being a pagan mean to you? We know most people nowadays believe it originally comes from the Latin ‘Paganus’ which meant ‘Rustic’ or a ‘country dweller’ but what does that actually mean to us today?
Nowadays Pagans are usually seen as someone who follows an Earth based spiritual path - honoring the Earth; living harmoniously with Her, usually believing She has Her own individual consciousness. Other Pagan beliefs can include animalism, pantheistic worship and possibly believing in other beings such as faery folk, spirits and devas.
As you know Pagans may follow several spiritual paths such as druidry, witchcraft, shamanism, asatru and so forth. Believe in multiple gods or one, worship a goddess or god singly, or a balance of male and female polarity. Feel attracted to a variety of different pantheons and traditions from Celtic to Greek. Or they may just feel a spiritual connection to the earth alone without any other beliefs or practices. All are different paths within the umbrella of Paganism.
And how does such a person usually live? When following a spiritual path as a Pagan, we are usually expected to be living in the archetypal country cottage. Or maybe a small holding – growing vegetables next to a quiet field with the gentle ‘chuk chuk’ sounds of some happy free-range hens. Herbs are growing in the garden among a sprawling vegetable patch. Trees abundant with their apples, cherries or whatever fruit is in season. Through the fields that border the garden, you can see the hills and forests in the distance, or the atmospheric crashing of waves on a rocky coastline.
Or maybe we have built ourselves a straw bale or hobbit type house, with the roof covered in grass. Maybe we have a semi permanent Yurt or roundhouse, or wooden shack – self-built and wonderful with its quirky shape and decorations. It may have a solar panel or two installed too, or even a small wind turbine spins in the breeze.
Perhaps in the trees there are wind chimes and other meaningful hanging ornaments? A carved statue of Pan sits overlooking an unkempt pond, which attracts the insects loved by the organic gardener. An area designated as a meditation spot or temple has a pergola covered in a mass of honeysuckle and climbing roses. A simple stone table as an altar on which a half consumed candle sits along side some holey stones, crystals laid out to soak up the energy of the coming full moon and the solar rays gently dappling through the leaves of the drooping trees.
Aah... the wonderful life of the pagan! The country dweller. Spiritually sustained daily by such a picture of peace and tranquility.
Or maybe not
Maybe we are in a two up two down, little room to swing a cat, tiny terraced house in the middle of London or an apartment in downtown NY. The traffic non-stop passing by with its exhaust belching into the air. Or you might live 10 flights up in a concrete grey apartment block in the middle of some other town or city, with austere stairs climbing eternally up to your floor, or having to risk getting into a small, claustrophobic box like lift with the smell of unpleasant questionable aromas, to reach your home.
You might possibly be living in a bed-sit over a corner shop or pizza takeout in Manchester or Glasgow, listening to the wails of sirens in the night.
Not a romantic idea of the pagan is it? Though for most of us it is a truer picture of our lives, rather than the romantic image I just painted. Oh yes, there are the lucky ones that live that lifestyle, but they are not in the majority. And of course there are some who follow a pagan path that prefer to live in the towns and cities for a variety of reasons, not necessarily due to economics and what they can afford.
Some enjoy the accessibility of shops and social activities.
There can be ‘get togethers’ with other like-minded people to consider. Many towns and cities have adult education classes that cover more unusual subjects nowadays such as healing, crystals, reiki, permaculture and so forth.
I myself live on the edge of a city in Kent in the UK. I now live in a small house with a garden the size of a shoebox, but previously I lived in a first floor flat in Canterbury, with a balcony. I am lucky enough to be on the edge of the city so I do have access to the nearby countryside and also access to the benefits of city dwellers too. For two years I had to make do with a small concrete space to put pots and containers on for some connection to nature in my home environment. However I preferred to think of this as a challenge rather than something to worry about. It meant I had to put a bit more thought into my spirituality. A bit more effort into making sure I connect to nature regularly.
Now some of you may think this might be a bit of a ‘Pollyanna’ attitude. In fact I have been accused of this before. But surely from a spiritual perspective, looking for the strength I might gain from such a challenge is better than being bitter or complaining about the hand I had been dealt!
It also means looking at things from a different perspective. Whether we are in the middle of a field or a concrete parking space, we are still walking on our Mother Earth. We are still in contact with the elements even if some of the layers are man made. If there is a spirit of the stone, there must be a spirit of the tarmac!
Oh now I hear you laughing! This may sound comical but I believe it to be true. After all, the tarmac is still produced from ingredients that came from nature. Iron and steel come from minerals in the Earth. The watch you are wearing may be powered by quartz crystals.
Take some time to think about the things we have in our urban lives. The things we have around us; cars, roads, houses, supermarkets. What can you find in them that connect it to our surroundings and us? We can still celebrate our meals and thank the Earth for providing it, even if it is now cellophane shrink-wrapped and date stamped.
Even if we don’t catch, kill or grow our own food, it’s still important to teach our children where it all comes from originally and how it’s been treated. Do I really want to take into my body the meat from an animal that has spent its short life in distress? This makes many issues for us to consider.
Having a car I try to appreciated it - understanding its components are all made from natural things and is part of the Earth on which I live. It means I try to think about my carbon footprint on the Earth too - car-pooling where possible and only using where necessary. its convenience and time saving maybe – but am I as eco-friendly as I want to be?
My point is that being a Pagan is following a spiritual path regardless of whether you live in a field in the middle of nowhere, or behind the motorway in a block of flats, or an apartment in the middle of London, or New York or anywhere really. A pagan may drive a car, ride a motorbike or walk. We may live in a tepee, or in a brick house – none of that matters.
Paganism is many things. It is a spiritual path, a state of mind and a way of life that honors the Earth and all its inhabitants whether animal vegetable or mineral. We need to look beyond the generalizations and honor our connection to our Earthly home where ever or however we live. May the spirit of the breezeblock bless your home.