I am a Pagan and I am a Registered Nurse, therefore I live in two worlds, I straddle two hills. One is my private life and the other my public life, my personal life and that other life, one focused upon a profession, an occupation and another work. I exist in a spiritual realm and in a secular environment. I enjoy two social bubbles that touch. We all do the same, we all exist each of us; in two worlds. We all attempt to balance the demands of both or many. I say many because the truth is, we all live in more than two worlds but it is the primary two bubbles that I choose to concentrate upon.
Some would suggest that there is a potential for conflict, some may even go further and suggest that there is a conflict. I perceive no such thing. I am able to compartmentalise all of my worlds; to separate them and divide them. I allow for only a degree of overlap, in that green valley between the hills. How we perceive our worlds and how others perceive our own worlds, may not necessarily be identical. Our view, our opinions, experience and perception are internalised, remaining unique to us as individuals and differing from that of our viewers.
I am aware of these differences in perception, because I am acutely aware that my ‘faith’ places me outside the mainstream of our society. I belong to a minority and that minority is barely a significant one. Figures extrapolated from the census and other sources, estimate that there are less than a quarter of a million self-identifying Pagans in England and Wales. Indeed it is likely that we ‘Pagans’ barely number one hundred and fifty thousand. We have a voice, we are a loud and active minority, yet we are still a minority.
My position within this minority and the lack of awareness of those outside, has been acutely emphasised on occasion. This being when subjects obvious and acceptable to those within the esoteric environment, become the focus of those without. There is a lack of understanding within the secular world of those whose interests lie within the esoteric. They fail to comprehend the existence of the other, although it would be more appropriate to say ‘Other’ capitalised.
I have for example two black cats, which is of course very stereotypical of someone such as I and the story of their adoption can be found on the blog post ‘the Appreciation of Black Cats.’ The link to that post is below. I had decided prior to their adoption, to name both sisters after Goddesses and since one was reminiscent of a Persian but with not such a long coat, Eastern names had suggested themselves. This sister is named Tanith.
It was the name of the other kitten that is a domestic short hair, which was destined to cause bewilderment. From the very moment I saw her, I knew she was destined to be named after an Egyptian Goddess and her name is Isis. Both of these names are common within the Pagan and Craft movement for children and for pets. My choice of names has however, been the source of much puzzlement amongst my work colleagues.
A surprising but total ignorance of Eastern mythology and history, has meant that many had never heard of either Goddess. Furthermore and thanks to the media, the name Isis has become equated with a terrorist organisation. I found myself having to explain the origin of the name Isis, that the Goddess has a documented history of thousands of years and that her name predates any organisation of the same name.
I have no intention of renaming my cat, just as the Fellowship of Isis has no intention of changing their own name. So it is that the adoption of two black cats has acutely shown the divergence in perception, between the secular and esoteric worlds. There is a near total incomprehension with regards a differing lifestyle and social circle.
Another area in which I often experience total incomprehension, is my willing interaction with persons of other faiths and beliefs. Being brought up as an atheist before passing through popular wicca and out the other side to experience polytheism, means that I outgrew that immature but often prevalent antagonism towards the Abrahamic religions that many Pagans hold. Most grow out of it of course, as their spiritual maturity develops but some sadly hold onto it like a comfort blanket.
Now this is not to suggest that we should accept the proponents of other faiths or their teachings without question. A healthy scepticism and wariness is often necessary in all walks of life and what we should call Interfaith-relations is often no different. We all have our own particular agenda. Equally important however, is that we do not dismiss their views without due consideration. To quote a phase attributed to the prophet Mohammed; ‘Seek learning even as far as China.’
Within my nursing environment not only have I a general awareness of the faith needs of my patients but importantly, I am willing to accommodate their needs beyond the usual. I remember an incident some ten years ago, when a suicide survivor expressed a wish to have a Bible. For some unexplained reason, possibly due to refurbishment, the usual Gideon Bibles had been placed in store and were not available. So one day on the way home I called at a second hand bookshop and purchased one out of my own funds. On returning to work I presented the patient with his requested Holy Book.
My actions both impressed and puzzled my colleagues. They held this assumption that as a Pagan, I was closer to an aggressive atheism rather than Christianity and they could not quite comprehend my open acceptance of spirituality. The point lost on many of course, is that Christianity particularly of the ancient form, holds many esoteric or possibly Gnostic elements. These are Truths known to and found within many esoteric philosophies. Words and symbols that are Truth, cross the boundaries of immature sectarianism.
Christian symbols such as the Chi-Ro and the Sixways don’t just look similar but can be used as glyphs for meanings unknown in the secular world. The Pentagram, the foliate heads and many other symbols, all share a dual heritage often of great antiquity.
Even Christmas should not be ignored from the esoteric perspective, falling as it does a few days after the Winter Solstice the birth of Christ is a metaphor for the Oak King and his totem bird is the Wren. The same Wren that is killed on Saint Stephen’s Day in the ancient folk tradition of ‘Hunting the Wren’ and this is an allegory for the Christ Child’s coming sacrifice as a sacrificial king.
It is worth noting that here where I live in England, the longest and shortest days do not always fall on the precise date of the astronomical solstice when measured at the equator. Rather that due to our latitudinal position, the longest and shortest day may fall some days after the official solstice, nearer to Christmas in December or the Feast of Saint John in June.
This last festival the Feast of Saint John or rather the eve of the feast, is regarded as a traditional sabbat in some schools of Witchcraft. Comparisons are drawn between the decapitated saint and ocular heads, such as Bran in Welsh Mythology and Orpheus in the Greek. An area if truth be known, that I am not qualified to discuss further.
The feast day however, is a celebration of the birth of this saint as a metaphor for the Holly King, whose totem is the Robin. Therefore within a symbolic and allegorical presentation, John and the Christ, the Robin and the Wren, present us with an esoteric model representing the two halves of the year, growth and lustration balanced by consolidation and repose.
It is therefore possible for me to straddle worlds without conflict and I can do this, because I recognise the esoteric truths hidden within allegory and metaphor. Yet for others, they will see conflicting values placed in juxtaposition. Their lack of understanding is not my responsibility, their lack of awareness of the ‘Other’ is equally not my responsibility.
What these examples serve to illustrate however, is that those who stand outside the esoteric environment, will always look at those of us who stand within; as ‘Other’ and as different. Whether or not this will effect acceptance is a separate issue but ‘understanding’ is often beyond the mundane comprehension.