Gerald Gardner was an old age pensioner when he began his mission to offer to the world his vision of an old religion for the modern age. Born in 1884, he was around 55 when he was initiated into the coven he had found in the New Forest and 70 when he published his most famous book, Witchcraft Today.
The Turning Wheel
So if you haven’t yet written your Great Work, take heart. For some people, the retirement years are the most productive. They feel free to be completely who they are 24/7 and do not have to be constrained by social norms. But we also have to recognize that time passes very quickly, and the pace appears to speed up the older we get. When as a five-year old, a year is 20 per cent of your life, it seems an eternity. When you reach 50 and a year is 2 per cent of your life, it passes by in a flash. Suddenly the Wheel of the Year turns faster and faster, summers pass more and more quickly. ‘Surely,’ you think, ‘Summer can’t be over already?’ But it is.
‘Tis age and fate against which we are powerless
Gerald Gardner was aware of his age. It was one of the drivers that pushed him to publicize his vision of witchcraft as quickly as possible. He knew that his time and energy were finite. When Gerald Gardner wrote about age and fate in his Book of Shadows, he was all too aware of the realities of ageing and death.
Life after life
The three spiritual traditions that have most influenced my life are Wicca, Kabbalah and Buddhism. One is a Goddess-oriented nature religion, one a Jewish mystical tradition, and the other an atheist spiritual philosophy. All three have reincarnation as an inherent part of the teaching. Do I believe in reincarnation? I feel no need to believe or disbelieve. Reincarnation is one of an interesting set of after-death possibilities. If we visit a medium who tells us about our previous incarnations, we can sense if what he or she says rings ‘true’ in some way. It will resonate with us and seem meaningful. But what is the status of the information – past memories, our conscious or unconscious fantasies, or random experiences from the collective unconscious? Are the ‘memories’ really thoughts, fantasies and symbols that represent different parts of our psyche? Do they represent what we lack? Are they qualities that we would like to make manifest, aspects of ourselves that need empowerment and expression?
Paganism teaches us to live in the here and now
Paganism teaches us to live in the here and now. This does not mean mindless hedonism; but that we see life as a precious and finite gift. We have our bodies on loan. At some point, we all have to give them back. Even if reincarnation exists incarnations are very short, so it is important to live them well. The source of reincarnation memories matters less than how we use them and whether they give us the insights about our lives now. Far memories can be harmful or helpful; a substitute for reality or a way of visualizing the future. Past incarnations can be fascinating, but if we are preoccupied with them, it is likely that we are dissatisfied with life in the present. And if we are dissatisfied with the present, we need to focus on changing it. Incarnation memories are useful if they point us to our hidden potential, or to unconscious barriers that stop us realizing our potential. They are helpful if they encourage us to open ourselves up to become all that we can be in this present incarnation.
Judy Harrow, Morning Glory Zell, Margot Adler
Gerald Gardner’s vision of death and what lies beyond is hopeful. Beyond death is the Summerland – a place of rest, renewal and reunion with loved ones, before reincarnating again with those we love. But there is also a recognition that magick does not turn back time. We cannot stop the inevitable ageing of our cells that leads an ending of this phase of existence.
The deaths of others can be important reminders that life may not be as long as we think. This year our community has lost in quick succession three very important pioneers of Paganism whose lives and writings have inspired us – Judy Harrow, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, and Margot Adler. None of them reached the age of 70, or what is now thought of as old age. Deaths of important movers and shakers are a terrible loss to our community. They are also an important reminder – life speeds on and does not wait for us to catch up. Days and years slip by. If there are things we want to do in life, we must to get on and do them.
Time to manifest True Will
In the lead up to the season’s change at the Equinox, it is good to take stock of where we are. Are we in a good place in our lives? Do we have a forward direction? Are we earnestly seeking to know and manifest our True Will? If we have no personal goals, it is difficult to prioritise our time and energies to achieve anything. Different things are important for each of us, but the really important thing is to remember that this incarnation if finite. However difficult it is, there are things we can learn and things we can achieve that will help us develop grow and make our future life or lives better. There is a wonderful quote by W.H. Murray, leader of the 1950 Himalayan climbing expedition. Sadly, it became clichéd with over-use a few years ago (and no, it’s not really by Goethe); but nevertheless it is true:
Until one is committed, there is always a hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. …
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it:
boldness has genius, power and magic in it; begin it now.
W.H. Murray (1951) The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Life is short – and gets shorter – let us make very moment count.