I’ve spent all day today in transit: walking, bus, tube, aeroplane. I’m currently sitting in the International terminal at Atlanta airport. “What’s that got to do with why I’m a Pagan?” I hear you ask. Well, nothing, except that it’s its opposite.
Vehicular transport is a peculiarly human experience. No other animal, that I am aware of, creates systems for transport which involve mechanical, social and economic engineering the way that we humans do. If we accept, just for a moment, the idea that ‘nature’ means ‘not human’, then car, bus, train, plane, and even bicycle transport are the opposite of natural.
Now, that’s not a definition of ‘nature’ that I normally accept, but it is one that has a lot of emotional resonance. Sitting in a metal tube for nine hours is one of the most specifically human, unnatural experiences I’ve had; it’s also an experience which, while I voluntarily repeat it, I find very, very difficult to cope with.
My reaction to being in these environments is an extremely concentrated version of that I have to being in an urban environment – even more so than being in a large shopping mall. Everything is new, shiny, ‘modern’ in these places. They are inward-facing spaces, hiding their links to other places and times.
My coping strategies for urban living included not only spending time with non-human beings – both animal and plant – but also visiting museums, and even more nourishing for me, cemeteries. These experiences, spaces and places bring attention to connection and to continuity: how our lives touch and are touched by other lives; how life itself occurs over time, by way of small and large changes which – however dramatic they may be – yet still have their roots in what has gone before.
And this is why I am Pagan. I need that sense of connection, that sense of continuity, and of change as part of a broader continuity. I need to know, not only intellectually, but as a lived experience, that I am part of something greater not only than myself, but also greater than my species, greater than this place, greater than this time.
For me, that knowledge is what makes life in these hyper-human environments we have created bearable.