We came then, the last children of Cerridwen,
daughters of Light and Darkness, and sons of Death.
We sought your presence on the wild hills of the North,
but in the loneliness, we found you not.
We sought your presence in the light of the East,
but in the mists of dawn, we discerned you not.
We sought your presence beneath the sun of the South,
but where shadows shrink, we could not see your face.
Then we sought your presence where the wind sleeps in the West,
but in the silence, we did not hear your voice.
Vivianne Crowley (1984)
My core spiritual practice is Wicca. I have practiced Wicca nearly all my life, and my life has been formed in service to it. A few weeks ago, when I was giving a public talk, someone who has been in Wicca even longer than me asked if I regretted dedicating my life to this path. The question came out of the blue in a public forum and took me by surprise. I had never thought about it. Then the answer came spontaneously that I could not regret it, because ‘I am what I am’. If I had not practiced Wicca, the stirrings of which began in my childhood and which I formally committed to in my teens, I would not be the person I am now. The ‘I’ that I am now cannot wish to be other than I am. If we pursue a spiritual path in depth, then it changes who and what we are. There is no turning back. We can only move forward.
I am fortunate to have many friends the same age or older than I am who have stayed the course too. How have we kept on the path all these years?
What keeps us on the path?
It is easy to see what attracts us to Wicca when we are young. Its symbolism is glamorous and exciting. It offers empowerment and, for women especially, an alluring role that we might not find elsewhere. But for a spiritual tradition to keep its adherents through all the different stages of the life cycle, it must able to answer the existentialist questions that arise as we face up to the problems we find in society, in our environment, and within ourselves. For a spiritual tradition to keep its members into mid-life and old age, it must provide a way of finding meaning in human existence, meaning in the universe.
At the beginning, the Wiccan journey may be easy. We develop new powers and new and valued relationships. We begin to be more confident about the latent potential within us. We start the spiritual quest and the barriers within are stripped away. We become as the card of the Star or the Sun in the Waite tarot. We open ourselves and stand naked beneath the light of inspiration and illumination. But the pattern of the universe is darkness and light, brightness and shadow, sun and cloud, night and star. Inevitably, the time of testing comes. Challenges arise in everyday life and maybe we try to overcome them and fail. We appeal to the Gods, we do our magick, and the Gods do not answer, the spells do not work.
The Dark Night of the Soul
All spiritual traditions recognize that there are times when it appears that the Gods have turned their backs on us. The Divine link that we may have sensed within us and within our rituals disappears. It is as though the Goddess has withdrawn herself. The door of the inner temple no longer opens. Maybe we sink into depression and despair. We enter the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’.
We have venerated our deities and pursued with enthusiasm the spiritual and magical path. We have encountered the power and energy of our Gods and they have spoken with us. They have inspired our hearts and minds and we have done their work. And there comes a time when the Gods do not speak; when the images fade. We distrust our vision and questions come. Is the path an illusion? Would we have been better going the way of everyone else? Should we have focused more on careers, making money, rather than pursuing the spiritual quest?
We know disillusionment as we see the shadow side of our path. We see people being people, riven with malice, jealousy and envy. We understand why these words appear in ritual text.
Returning to the source
And then, when there seems there is no way forward, something happens. We remember the words of the Goddess, ‘if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee….’ We go back. We go back to the beginning – to the book that first awakened us or, better still, the place in nature where we feel closest to the Gods. We go deep within and enter the interior silence. We listen and wait for the Gods to grant us a new vision – and the answer comes.
We discover that the way we saw the cosmos before was simplistic and that reality is both simpler and more complex than ever we dreamed. We find that behind the symbols and images of our tradition lies something more mysterious, powerful and beautiful than we had ever supposed. We find ourselves approaching a new realization, our understanding evolves. We come round on the spiral to a new vantage point – that we which sought without becomes internalized within. We deepen our connection to the Divine. Sometimes we lose that connection, sometimes it is strong, but it is always there.
Our vision widens. We become aware of the world’s suffering and we feel a connection with all of human- and animal kind. This vision sustains us for a long time. Perhaps now we see that our path is truly only one of many and that it has great pitfalls as well as great strengths; but we sense that mistaken though many of its ideas may be, within it is a deep and powerful truth. And then, in time, our vision evolves further; something moves within us that dissolves a little more the barrier between self and other. The personality that we have built in this incarnation becomes less important and an inner light shines though that draws people to us because it touches something deep within them.
We understand that we both are and are not this light that shines through us. And the ego identification with it that may have plagued our early days begins to fade. We take another step on our journey. The Wheel turns, our perspective changes, we move forward joyfully, embracing the Fool and going forward once more on the quest for reunification with the Divine; a journey of light and darkness, of pain and desolation, of laughter and love. And who can refuse the quest for the Grail, when the Grail itself calls?