A few months ago, Joshua Graham wrote about an urban sense of place and Pagan spirituality. This weekend I went to visit him in Bath, an English city watched over by the Goddess Sulis Minerva.
Before I became a rural dweller, I lived in the city of Bath for three years. It was a sight less urban than my home city of Birmingham, and also smaller than the other city I’d lived in for a similar length of time, Cambridge. It felt almost rural to me when I moved there, back in 1996.
It both has and hasn’t changed since I left to move to Scotland. There are new developments, but all except the bus station are in the local Bath stone. The make-up of the people who inhabit the city has changed – there are barely any hippies any more – but the feel of the place to me is the same. It’s not surprising, when most of the existing structures of the city have been standing for 200 years.
To me it almost seems like a fairy-tale environment – too perfect to be real – and the same goes for the surrounding countryside of Somerset: an example of English rurality so perfect as to be almost a Platonic ideal.
While we walked around Bath, Josh and I discussed our differing responses to urban environments. I have a more typically ‘Pagan’ response to them, which is to say that I find them socially easier than rural environments, but energetically and spiritually more challenging. It was an interesting conversation.
I am strongly aware that my current difficulties in coping with life in urban settings is a big drawback to my ability to engage in human social life. Our conversation helped me to recognise that I have skills in relating to the non-human in more-than-human rural and green environments that I can transfer to the human in human-dominated environments – distinguishing between different scales of life, of energy, and of being, and relating appropriately to each, in a way which enables me to function in an environment, without becoming energetically overwhelmed.
Part of me would love to ignore such an endeavour, and retreat to the green hills, peace, quiet, and relative solitude. But there is a drive within me to engage the human aspects of nature, as well as the non-human. I know and accept that, as a Witch, I am an edge-walker, and thus I am going to be at the margins of things.
However, to walk the edge is to straddle an often blurry boundary, not to teeter along a clearcut line. I aim to be able to bring to and draw from the urban as well as the rural, the civilised as well as the wild.
Is this something that you recognise in your own spirituality and religious practice? How do you manage living and working in environments that you find challenging?