Growing up in the UK I have been blessed with a strong cultural identity that is rooted in its past, and is the product of hundreds, if not thousands of years of evolution. Admittedly our modern culture differs significantly from that of our ancestors, but we are still products of that history.
I live in a rural county, Lincolnshire, and there is history everywhere. Churches are not the only reminder we have of our past, we have many Medieval and Roman relics still remaining, in various states of disrepair, and just over from the village I live in there is a Neolithic Long Barrow. As a child, although we lived near Birmingham, in a built-up area, my parents often took my brother and I to places of historic interest such as castles and houses on grand estates. We were taken to museums on school trips and learnt about various stages of our nation’s history. Although a lot of focus was on the First and Scond World Wars in secondary school we also learnt about the Romans, the Vikings, the Angles, Saxons and Normans. The UK is the product of many successive waves of immigration and conquest, and we were taught to respect that. Of course we also learnt about the post-Medieval era, where the Church became part of the fabric of life, paticularly in England, and about the Age of Enlightnment and the pull away from blind religious belief in favour of science and facts. Something, I think, was lost at this time. The old ways became sneered at as little more than ‘superstition’ and ‘old wives tales’. Part of our cultural identity was lost, and some of it is now gone forever.
Tales, however, live on, and can live long after the people who wrote them pass from this earth. As a child my parents often read to me, and this instilled a love of not only reading but of stories. I devoured books on dragons and fairies, and then moved on to mythology. That love has never left me, and even when my secondary school friends thought I was a bit eccentric in my obsession with Egyptian mythology in particular, I didn’t let it bother me. Not long after I left that school and started another to take my A-Levels I got very ill, and I was diagnosed with M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It tore my world apart as I could no longer do the things normal healthy people do. I never gave up, but it was some time before I felt there must be more to life than being stuck in bed feeling so isolated from everything. I picked up my history and mythology books again, and found the old Celtic texts. Having Irish ancestry I felt a connection to the spirituality, the otherworldliness of it, yet also found it rooted me in unexpected ways. The land became a living being, the world was no longer so flat and dull, but alive with possibilities. Then there were the Gods and Goddesses, the tales of the Old Ones, and a whole new world opened up.
I started exploring the Egyptian pantheon again, building up data and research on its Deities, yet not really knowing why. When I finally got to Egypt in 2007 I felt I’d come home. The Gods and Goddesses I loved learning so much about came alive. I saw them on the temple walls, I sat with a statue of Mut as Sekhmet at Karnak Temple and wept. She welcomed me; I felt a connection I have never forgotten. Although I grew up around history in the UK it came alive for me in that moment, the Gods became REAL. This, I think, is what some people in America miss out on; those roots, that living expression of where they come from and what they are called to.
Since then my health has deteriorated, but I managed to persuade my parents to take us on a holiday to Glastonbury in 2013, and again I felt such a connection it still lingers. Since Egypt my appreciation for the place history and historic places have for those of us with Spiritual, Pagan or Polytheistic beliefs had increased. Glastonbury Tor has such a strong, primal feel to it that you can’t help but be connected to the romance of the tales associated with it. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Chalice Well Gardens. Although only a relatively recent addition, the Well itself is very old indeed, and the Gardens have a feeling of being out of time and place within the modern world. Likewise, the chapel of Mary Magdalene we found down a little alley. It was peaceful there, restful, and the chapel itself had a lovely warm, inviting energy to it. It was very plainly furnished, nothing fancy, but there were a few candles lit and you could feel the love in the fabric of the building. It is a place for comtemplation and quiet, a sign on the door explaining such and requesting people respect this.
We moved on to Stonehenge as well, and although it is impressive, all the energy felt somewhat flat. I think, perhaps, it has become too commercialised. When you get so many people in one place trivialising it, just because it’s a national monument and forgetting it’s a site of religious and spiritual significance, some of the magic can get lost. In stark contrast was Avebury. Ye Gods, Avebury… It is such a huge site, and the stones are right there for you to touch and connect with – that for me is right up there with my experience at Karnak. Touching that piece of history, being able to sit with your back to one of these ancient monoliths roots you to the past in a way just looking at them can’t. Observing from a distance or looking at pictures in a book or on TV can never compare to physically being able to feel the grain of the stone, the indentations, observing the whorls and patterns.
This is where someone who doesn’t have this opportunity misses out. Observation and research are one thing, but touching history, walking amongst it gives you a whole other level of connection. It makes you think differently about the culture you study, the mythology and tales you love so much. It puts you in line with the mind of the Ancestors. Resurrection of the Old Ways is bringing back something vital and ancient within us, but in seeing it as a relic, not experiencing it and understanding that these ways would have evolved over time too is a mistake. We shouldn’t merely observe the past and the tales of our Gods and Goddesses and treat it and Them as a fossil or a fly in amber. Regardless of the Christian influence that virtually wiped out these Ways, they would have evolved and changed over time, they would have grown with their people. That is what is needed now. We need to experience and live these beliefs, not get caught up in the ‘right way’ to do it.
Since Glastonbury my love for my Norse ancestry has become as strong as my love for the Egyptian pantheon. I still have close relatives living in Denmark, and on the few occasions I have been able to visit I have felt at home. Although Copenhagen dosn’t really have Viking sites to visit the Museums are a window into that world. I have not visited since my love of the Norse Deities has evolved to become such an important part of my life, so shamefully I passed over the Viking sections in favour of the Egyptian ones. I did, however, get to visit the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde. Because you can get right up close to the boats you have a feel of living history, not a relic. The Museum itself is right next to the water, and you can almost imagine one of the boats being pushed out to sea, Norsemen with axes and shields at the ready.
We need a living history. Reconstructionsim has its benefits – it allows you to inhabit the mind of the Ancestors and experience how they lived in a certain window of time – but we do not live in that time. Yes, our world today is not perfct, but it is the world we live in, and finding ways to connect with the past in ways relevant today is more important than ever. The Deities have ancient aspects we cannot fathom, or perhaps we don’t even have records of, and sometimes aproaching Them in the ways of Old is a respectful sign of acknowldging this and learning more. At the same time, we mustn’t become bogged down in ways that fossilize Them into those ancient, or older aspets. By evolving the way we engage with Them we give Them new ways to engage with us.
Just some food for thought.