Finding the Pagan Way

I was sitting and gazing out across the fields this morning in the bright sunshine. My mind was wandering,- as it often does, and I was pondering on the concept of “Faith “ or “Belief”.
Many years ago, as a Christian child, “Faith” was deemed a very important thing to have.
We were expected to accept everything we were told, “on Faith”,- even though those individuals who held themselves up as examples were very obviously flawed. In the end I simply accepted that those who were in charge of my education were somewhat lacking in honesty.
I looked it up in the dictionary, later on today. According to the Oxford Dictionary,- “Faith is the… “Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”.
For most of my life, I have refused to take anything on faith. This, more than anything, has fuelled my journey towards paganism.

Why am I a pagan? I am a pagan because the mainstream explanations for what I see and feel and hear, have never fully satisfied me. They always seem to ask me to abandon my intellect at some stage, in order to fully accept their view of the cosmos. I am not denigrating the beliefs of others when I say this. I am simply explaining why I must chose a different path. My path is right for me, but it may not be helpful to the person next to me. We can only understand those things we are ready to understand, and only in the terms with which we are familiar.
I grew up in a world of faeries and fortune tellers. We sat around, as children, and listened to real-life ghost stories. I heard my own mum tell people things which she had no logical way of knowing. She even foretold very specific events in my own future which came to pass. Even as a child, I was no stranger to the operation of “Spirit” in the everyday lives of very ordinary people.
Omens and dreams were taken very seriously and it was impossible to separate out the real cause of unfortunate incidences which followed various “bad omens”.
To hear trusted relatives speak of ghostly happenings was much more convincing that anything that was read in a book or heard in the classroom. It was quite chilling to hear about the howl of the ‘Black Dog’ being heard, just before the passing of a neighbour into spirit. Yet in a strange way it was comforting to get even that vague sense of the connectedness of the world. I did not “believe” that ghosts existed,- I knew they did. This knowledge was based on my own experience and the testimony of trusted people.
My favourite story was one told by my mum and her sister, my aunt ‘Cissie’.
They were crossing the little bridge near my grandmothers flat in Ringsend, Dublin one night, when they were teenagers. Two sailors were sitting on the handrail and hailed them as they passed. I cannot remember the words spoken,- I think it was just light banter, and they walked on by. For some reason,- just as they passed them, they realised at the same time that the sailors had been dressed as ‘old tars’ and they turned around to find that they had vanished.
So many of the people I knew could see spirit, that I never thought of it as anything but natural.
Life was hard and often short, and more children died than survived. There was comfort in the church and its rituals, so we walked both worlds and never questioned the possible conflicts.

Be Gentle

Be gentle with your heart,
The world can change within a single beat.
Tread lightly in the world,
And treat with kindness, all the people you may meet.

Wisdom costs us dearly,
The price we have to pay,- we pay in sorrow and in loss.
And all the times we try,- we ask ourselves the reason why,
But still we carry on the burden of survival, for the sake of those we love.
And gaze in silent question at the grey and silent sky.

Rage against the storms that carry all we love away.
Turn your back against the setting sun that leaves us cold, or hungry or alone at end of day.
Shake your fist and cry out to the moon,- howling out with sorrow like the solitary wolf.
Touch the earth with dewy tears as sunrise makes us face another day.
But still the earth will turn and we will heal,- for that is nature’s way.

Patrick W Kavanagh


{Picture by Tina Kavanagh}

I realised that belief had a strong causal effect on life, but I felt that to abandon rationality was to abandon all hope of ever truly understanding the cosmos. I experimented with divination. “Cheiro’s Secrets of the Hand” was fascinating and fun. But, I never got around to practising it enough to become proficient at it. My biggest shock was when I tried to use the ‘I Ching’. I used coins instead of yarrow stalks, yet time after time, it was both very apt, and pretty specific within reason,- given the huge cultural change since it had last been added to.
Then, in my twelfth year, I bought a pack of Tarot cards. I had taken an after-school job in a local pub as a bar waiter, after my dad’s passing, and I now had the money to buy all the books and curiosities that were not available in the libraries. It was a deck by Richard Gardner, and both the cards and his books were to have a huge impact on my life.
I offered to give a reading for my oldest sister, Anne, at her home. My sister-in-law, turned up and asked for a reading. With the instruction book in one hand, I read for her, and told her that she would move home within one week. At the time she was living in a small flat across the road from my sisters cottage. She laughed at the reading and explained that she was on a very long waiting list, so I shuffled and read the cards again and got the same message. She left in good mood,- still laughing at my prediction. The following Monday she received an offer of a house.
I became a minor celebrity after that, and requests for readings came rolling in on a regular basis.

I found myself in the strange position of giving successful readings without really knowing how, or why it even worked. Having abandoned all association with the church, and all thoughts of becoming a priest,- I was faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that something intangible, but powerful, was still working in my life. My dearest wish was to step away from any form of spirituality or restriction, but to do so, I felt that I had to find some rational explanation for what was happening.
In many ways I was angry with the world for the death of my father. I did not want to find that there was a god to deal with or rules to be obeyed. I had even forgotten, somehow, that I had grown up in a world where magic was an everyday event. I had forgotten the ghosts and the faeries and the Banshee.
I had forgotten my vision of the Goddess in her aspect of “Our Lady of Sorrows.
I spent the next fifteen years in attempting to ‘debunk’ my own talents and every belief system that I encountered. I tested and analysed every spiritual encounter, despite being saved and warned on many occasions, by what I now realise was a guiding spirit.
Finally at the age of twenty seven, I visited my dad’s grave for the first time ever. Finally, I was ready to let go of the terrible anger for the imagined desertion. It was the beginning of a long slow process of healing and learning.

Childhoods Dream.

Twinkling eyes that shimmer like a dew drop on a sunlit rose.
In my mind I hear the singing of the birds to greet the day.
As if I shared the magic and the mystery that live in childhood dreams.
As If I was still young enough to know what magic means.

The magic of a butterfly with eyes upon her wings.
The ladybird that creeps along your finger-tips before she flies away.
The wonder of a robin as the winter turns to spring.
The mystery of all the colours of a sunset at the end of fun-filled days.

Every rainbow hides a tiny pot of faery gold.
Every tree a perilous ascent to castles in the sky.
Every patch of shrub’s a forest,- with a story to be told.
Every woodland trail a huge adventure waiting to unfold.

Would that I still had such twinkling eyes,
Living in a world of endless mystery and play.
Would that I still gazed in wonder at the evening skies.
What sweet amazing dreams I’d have to share with you each day.

Patrick W Kavanagh

Art By Bill Oliver boysoblue.com