Revelations Through Living
On 30 December 2008, I met my biological father for the first time in my life. That wonderful event came after about 15 years of searching for him. In that time, I experienced grief, anger, frustration, fear, despair,resignation, and hope. Having been raised Christian, I was expected to approach Deity only as my Father in Heaven. Not an easy task when one doesn’t have a loving father-figure in one’s life! This is one reason why I’ve found Goddess spirituality comes so naturally to me. And so, sometime at the beginning of 2008, when I read Athena’s words to Odysseus, “Go. Find your father,” and those words hit me like a bolt from the blue, I expected that the Goddess would somehow lead me into a greater appreciation of the God. I did not think that those words would play themselves out so very literally in my life!
It was in the August of 2008 that I decided to Google my father’s name. I had tried to find him using Google before without any luck. Safe in the knowledge that I had nothing to lose, I typed in his name, clicked on “search”, and then almost fell over. There was a search result that had never appeared in any of my previous searches. I telephoned my mother, telling her about what I had found, and after some silence, my mother said, “I think you’ve found him.” So I sent the man with my father’s name a carefully-worded email… and waited.
After some days had passed, none of them bringing a reply, my mother offered to telephone the number listed on the website. She found out that he was on holiday, and was told to call back in two weeks’ time. It was during that fortnight that several friends tried to talk me out of pursuing the search, or at least to try and be as pessimistic as possible because he may want nothing to do with me. “After all, he DID emigrate,” I was told.
It was a valid point. It was also something I had already considered – how could I not have thought about that? Yes, it was quite possible that he would want nothing to do with me. But even that would have answered questions I’ve had ever since I realized that I did not have a Daddy, when all of my other friends did. My mother often tells me to “live in hope, not in expectation”. I don’t think I ever really understood that until the days after sending that first email.
Eventually the day arrived when my mother telephoned me and told me that she had spoken to my father. The conversation we had that day was very emotional, and so very positive! The following day, I had an email from my father and not long after that, he telephoned me. I don’t think I shall ever forget that conversation. I was so excited and so horribly nervous, I ended up lying on the lounge floor, in a pool of sunshine, just so that I didn’t pace all over the house (which can cause its own problems when it comes to cell phone signal)! It was really from that day that I felt I had found not only my father, but my Dad. The only unfortunate thing was that I would not be able to meet my Dad for some time, as he now lives in London.
I received an early Christmas present (yes, this Pagan still celebrates Christmas with his family) at the beginning of December, when my father emailed me to say that he would be in South Africa for a few days at the end of December and that he would very much like to meet me for dinner on 30 December! I cannot find words adequate enough to describe what I felt during the day of 30 December 2008. The fact that I smoked an entire box of cigarettes (and then some) speaks volumes.
And when my Dad and I finally met? It was a moment of both knowing and of only now setting out on a journey of exploration and discovery. My father has been with me all through my life. In every cell in my body. In the shape of my eyes. In my smile. In the knowledge of his existence. In knowing his name. Joining us that night was his fiance, a gentle, funny, insightful woman I was very glad to have met.
I was immediately at ease in their company and my father showed such humility, gentleness and compassion that night, that I felt I could be so completely honest and open about so many aspects of my life. I have no doubt that his caring, sincerity and understanding have their roots in his owning of his humanity. The strength I sensed in him was neither macho bravado nor that which feeds upon the weakness of others. Rather it was the quiet strength of one who has survived and learned from difficult circumstances.
All this, along with the acceptance and love he has shown me in the few months we’ve been in contact, has finally given me the key I’ve needed to unlock the door through which I may approach, meet with and love the God as “Father”. One of the things that defines us as Pagans (we hope) is a connections to, a love for and a reverence of Nature. As we are so often reminded, the term Pagan has its origin in the Latin word paganus meaning country-dweller. Apparently, it was something of a derogatory term, akin to the English/American terms country bumpkin and hillbilly.
Most of the Pagans I know are quite happy to admit that Neo-Paganism is a spiritual path in which reconstruction and redefinition plays a large role and so we understand the term country-dweller differently. We use it positively, in the sense that we are people who are ever deepening our relationship with the Earth, regardless of whether we live in town or country. Living a Pagan life with sincerity and commitment will not leave one unchanged. One’s basic outlook is transformed and transfigured as one’s eyes open wide to the Mystery that burns and glows within absolutely EVERYTHING!
I’m afraid I’m one of those Pagans who sometimes tends to see Nature only in terms of the forests and deserts, rivers and oceans, and the myriad creatures that inhabit them. It is very easy to be drawn into an encounter with Deity when sitting on a beach in the Eastern Cape, or while climbing in the Berg. How often has my whole being been hushed into silent wonder while watching our little sisters, the bees, moving from flower to flower in my own garden?
But how easy it is to encounter Deity through the people in my life, whether they’re family I’ve known forever or have just met, or people who are there for only a time and a season, friends, or the stranger who smiled at me in the morning traffic? I’ve had to ask myself if I see people as part of Nature. I know there are times when I would rather not see them as such, simply because I am ashamed of what we are doing to our Mother Earth. But, despite being something of a cancer on our planet, we human beings are part of Nature. We are each of us (and not just Pagans) part of the very Nature-based spiritual path that we Pagans follow.
I am seeing Paganism more and more as an ‘incarnational spirituality’. I’m borrowing the term from Christian theology, where it refers to the belief that the ineffable Deity became en-fleshed as a human being – and the implications that has for the human race. The reason for my use of it is simply because I like it. ‘Incarnate’ has a very physical sense to it… Flesh, blood, marrow, throbbing with life…
Of course, the idea of the Gods walking among humanity was not new. A quick glance at the myths of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Britain are filled with stories of encounters between humans and Deity-in-the-form-of-humans. Now, where the Christian view of the Incarnation is very literal and very much limited to a specific person at a specific point in history, Pagan incarnation spirituality is timeless and wholly inclusive.
Joseph Campbell, in his book “The Power of Myth”, quotes a letter written in about 1852 by Chief Seattle, which I feel sums up this concept beautifully…
“We know the sap which course through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the giant eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family… The earth is our mother… What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is mere a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself…”
I see in these wise and beautiful words a way of being that goes deeper than the idea of inter-dependence. There is something here so much more profound than just acknowledging and respecting relationship.
Again, quoting from Joseph Campbell,
“The incarnation appears either as male or as female, and each of us is the incarnation of God. You’ve been born in only one aspect of your actual metaphysical duality… This is represented in the mystery religions, where an individual goes through a series of initiations opening him out inside into a deeper and deeper depth of himself, and there comes a moment where he realizes that he is both mortal and immortal, both male and female.”
As Pagans, we need to enter ever more deeply into that Mystery. The knowledge of oneself being the incarnation of Deity MUST lead to the experience of EVERYTHING being the incarnation of Deity. I think that the African concept of Ubuntu (a person is a person through people) can help us in achieving that moment of realization. Echoes of Ubuntu may be found in the philosophy of the existentialist Martin Buber, in his writings about the ‘I-Thou’ relationship versus the ‘I-it’ relationship. The general idea is that we receive ourselves from others. We live out our relationship with the ancient forces of Life and Love in our dealings with others. Do we present the ancient forces of Life and Love to others?
Treating people as people (and keeping in mind human nature, with all its glories and weaknesses) affirms one’s own humanity. Treating people as objects, as things, destroys the essence of humanity within one.
It’s probably more easy to see the Divine in others when they treat us well. But what about when others cause us pain? When they seem to seek nothing but to steal, kill, and destroy? I know it’s too easy to say it, but are we not living for the EXPERIENCE of life? Even in the face of our darkest terrors and greatest aversions, we may find the Divine. The Tantrics and worshipers of Ma Kali have known that for centuries.
I can look back at the twenty seven years of my life without a father, with all the pain and confusion it caused me. There were many times were I was almost consumed by the most awful emotions and I cannot say that I ever accepted the status quo in its entirety. Prayer, meditation, loving the Goddess as both Bright and Dark Mother is what led me to the point where I was able to forgive the man for his actions, which had their origin in the frailty of being human. The circumstances of my birth became very much a part of the Inner Journey for me and they still are one of my greatest teachers as I walk along a path that is based on personal experience, and not the mediation of dusty dogmas through a patriarchal hierarchy.
Striving to live in the awareness of Deity in all and through all and then co-operating with that is when we can be said to be truly practicing the Craft of the Wise. By co-operation, I do not mean the blind following of orders. I mean being a co-worker, a co-creator with Deity. A web-weaver. A channel, close to the Source, but not THE Source. Someone whose Nature-based spiritual path encompasses ALL of Nature, as it is in ALL of Nature that we encounter and are transformed by the Ground of All Being, and are led further and further into the mysteries of Life and Love.
As Robin Artisson wrote, “Remember: You are not in a world, you ARE a world.”
1 Joseph Campbell, THE POWER OF MYTH, pp 42-43. Anchor Books, 1991
2 ibid, pg 58