This month’s guest post is from Joshua Graham, and explores a personal perspective on urban Paganism.
I hate trees. Ok, so I don’t actually hate them, but most of the time, when I am speaking to other Pagans and Witches (terms which I use interchangeably to describe myself), I find I must make this strong a statement just to get my point across.
As a child growing up in Northwest part of the state of Georgia, USA, I was constantly surrounded by both forests and farmland. It wasn’t uncommon to watch deer and rabbits playing around my house, and my father still has his vegetable garden that stretches over an acre in the back of his house; when I moved back in my early 20s he took to raising his own chickens and pigs.
That, I did hate. You see, I started reading about Paganism at 13, and by 14 I had gently left Christianity behind to embrace this new religion. Everything I was reading at that point extolled the virtues of Paganism as a Nature based religion, and for years I struggled with how wrong I felt because of this.
I was in the woods every day, something I saw Witches online and in print fighting to get the chance to do, and I felt nothing. The voice of the wild felt slow and muted to me. It was almost like listening to a radio that was in another room – I could hear the words but something simply kept me from connecting the way everything was saying I should.
Turning 16 changed my journey with Place and Paganism completely; I got my first car, and suddenly I was able to get out of the woods! Soon I found myself driving the hour and a half down to Atlanta on an excuse I could find, and I would simply get on MARTA (the Atlanta public transit system) and ride.
I found myself falling in love with the city. I had always said, and still maintain, that Georgia red clay flows through my veins, but for the first time I felt The South, Georgia, and Atlanta talking back to me. As I rode in those ugly orange and yellow train cars I felt the spirits of asphalt and glass reaching out to me and holding me close.
In the evenings, while others slept as they rode home to the suburbs after long days working downtown, I finally found the peace to easily meditate. The presence of the Bank of America building and the Georgia Dome became my confidants in Spirit. Around age 18, I found a postcard depicting the version of Justice that stands atop the Georgia State Capitol, and that flimsy piece of cardboard became the first representation of divinity on my altar.
I realized that I loved the City, and as my identity as a Pagan and a Witch became more and more important to me, my old guilt returned to me. What was wrong with me? How could I call myself a Pagan with a straight face, and not long for this deeper connection with Nature. Even the Wheel of the Year gave me trouble. I was in my early 20s and had never spent any time not being a student. For me the year started in August. I sure as shooting wasn’t ready to call it over at the end of October. It was in the middle of a term!
I am someone who takes pride in my love of learning, so, funnily enough, it was not doing well at University that helped me break through this internal puzzle. I started my Undergrad at Auburn University because I was enamored with the reputation of their English department, but soon I found myself miserable. I was living my dream, at the school that I had dreamed of attending, and I could not for the life of me understand what was making me so unhappy. I saw a psychologist, and that didn’t help. I talked to peer mentors, and that didn’t help. I turned to anti-depressants, and that didn’t help. Finally I turned to meditation.
I tried to explore my scholastic issues, but for some reason I kept coming back to my guilt over my connection to Nature, and so, biting the bullet, I began to explore that. What I found was my connection to Divinity and the world as a whole. I found that my personal connection to Divinity tended towards the more Apollonian expressions than the Dionysian.
I had always made connections with gods and goddesses of society and civilization, and yet I repudiated myself for not finding them out in the wild. The history and the touch of humanity on the land awoke the fire in my soul, and the open expanses around Auburn just weren’t cutting it. I simply was not feeding my soul on a diet that it needed to stay healthy. I transferred schools and finished my degree away from the fields and forests.
It wasn’t until I decided to study for my Masters degree that I really had the opportunity to test and see if my ideas had been true, or if I was simply a young man missing the comforts of home and lying to myself. I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to study, and as soon as my feet touched the cobblestone (real cobblestone!) I knew I had made the right decision. A city so ancient, and still so alive, greeted me. I began my journey to learn Scotland not in the heather or the lochs but in the winding streets of Old Town.
Soon I will be moving to Bath, England to continue my education. If anyone is friends with Sulis Minerva please give her a heads up that I am on my way.
He is a witch and a social anthropologist. He recently completed a Masters dissertation on Drag Queen masculinities, and is beginning his PhD, looking into traditions of funeral foods in Scotland and the USA.