Paganism and Holyness

I’ve been watching an incredible program on the BBC called Extreme Pilgrim. It’s a documentary about a Christian Vicar who spends about a month with devotees of three major religions to try and experience their way of connecting with God. Last week he was with Buddhist Monks who connected with the devine through Kung Fu, and this week he spent a month learning the ways of the Saddhu, the mystic Hindu holy men.

What struck me was the way in which religion was a part of everyday life in India. The passion of their beliefs really came across in the program. When he arrived in a small mountain village to spend time meditating in a nearby cave, the villagers gave him gifts and food – they treated him as a special holy man, someone with honour. They believed that his presence would bring good fortune to the village. And he pondered that only a few centuries ago, he, as a Christian priest might well have been offered the same within villages in Britain, before our society became so secular.

It got me wondering about Paganism, and Holyness. How would local Pagans react if, say, a Wiccan Priest set up camp in the woods near Wilmington, living simply, with daily meditations – spending time with the land, connecting with the Spirits of Place. Would they visit him with gifts, and honour his Journey? Or would they view his actions with suspicion, thinking that somehow he was being ego-driven, and wanted to ‘be someone important’. I’m sure some would see the honesty in his personal Path, but sadly, because of some of the posts I’ve read on some Pagan message boards, I think many would also respond with the latter.

What does this say of the way some Pagans value their our own spiritual path? If someone is naturally inclined to view a spiritual practice with suspicion, where is the foundation of their own beliefs? I would love to live in a place and time where this kind of practice was encouraged, not viewed with cynicism, wouldn’t you?

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From the Cauldron 7: Exorcising a Demon

evans.jpgI’d like to introduce my music teacher from my secondary school. His name is Mr Evans, and he was a real inspiration – he’s the one in the middle, by the way. I went to Oathall Community College from 1981 to 1986 and like many people really screwed up my education. When my teachers used to ask me to try harder, I used to say, “Hey, don’t worry, I’m going to be a musician. It’s all part of the plan!” It’s amazing how certain a teenager can be – I’m seeing it now in my own children as they reach that age. When it came to my options I made a huge mistake – I didn’t take music! Mr Evans was really upset about that. He said that I was one of four students in the school who, he thought, could go on a take music at University. But, you see, I just didn’t want to learn about dead composers! I mean, how can that teach me about music….? What a daft sod I was.
But this blog isn’t about Mr Evans. If it was it would stop there. No the main reason for this post is to talk about the head of the music department at the time, Mr Treble. Amazing isn’t it – we had Evans the Tune, and Mr Treble as music teachers. Can you imagine the ribbing they got! Well, Mr. Evans did, but Mr Treble was a more imposing, old-school teacher who believed in the cane and detentions.
For a number of weeks me and a friend, Mark Skinner, worked on a musical piece to perform in front of the year group. We gave up our free time and finally it was ready. It was the words of the poem Excelsior by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow set to a guitar tune I’d written, complete with vocal harmonies between myself and Mark. Mr Evans gathered the year group in our class room, and also called in Mr Treble. I knew it’d be okay, but I was really nervous – I so wanted things to go well.
Well, we performed the song, and the two teachers came up to us during the applause. Mr Evans congratulated us both, then Mr Treble came over and furiously shook Mark’s hand, telling him how wonderful he’d done. I asked, “Did you like what I did, Sir?” Mr Treble looked at me in the eyes, his faced dropped, and he said, “David, anyone can sing through their nose!” and walked off.
I was devastated. So much effort, and my confidence was destroyed by the head of the music department. I guess that one incident was the main reason I decided not to take music as an option a couple of years later – it changed my life. It’s amazing how delicate the relationship is between a child and a person of authority like a teacher or parent. Their opinion counts. I guess I was about 12 at the time, and it took me until I recorded my third album, Spirit of Albion, when I was 40 years old to actually begin to have faith in my voice – to feel free of that voice in my head that kept saying, “David, anyone can sing through their nose!”
So why am I typing this today? Well, CD number four is at the point when I’m about to begin laying down the main vocal lines to the songs I’ve already recorded. This has always been a time I’ve dreaded in the past. A time that has caused me a lot of pain, trying to push through that self-doubt. But this time things are different. I have so many people now telling me how my songs emotionally move them, that they help them in their lives. Some of my songs have been played at handfastings to mark the celebration of love, others at funerals to help the process of grief. I no longer have that voice in my head – it has been well and truly exorcised. But I wanted to write this up because I know I’m not the only one whose dreams have been challenged by self doubt caused by thoughtless words. If you have fear of failure, take some strength from me, and fight for your dreams anyway. Exorcise your Mr Treble!