New Pagan Interview Series: I’m talking to people from international Pagan communities about their spiritual path, and the Facebook groups they help to organise and run.
Richard Levy, admin on the Centre for Pagan Studies FB Group.
When and where did your interest in Pagan/Earth based Spirituality begin?
Whilst my vocabulary and intellectual understanding did not go far till I was twelve I would say it was present from my earliest memories. This came through in my interest and love of myths and faerie tales, which I still have. I give talks on this subject and perform storytelling to this day.
I talked to everything: trees, toys and animals and loved films that involved magic, witches and wizards. I always wanted to be one.
With this I also had psychic experiences, some I interpreted as evil or dangerous which I have learnt as I matured were not. I would see and speak with faerie and other beings and in some ways it held such a common place I didn’t realise it was magical though I still wanted magic.
How did you practically go about getting started, and what resources did you have available to you – eg. books, teaching courses, events, people you met?
I wanted to explore all this more and when I was 12, an esoteric shop opened in my local high street. I can’t recall how but I had funds for some books and used my local library to take on as many books as I could on magic, paganism and divination.
I met some pagans early on but they wore glittery robes and to my mind were more style over substance, this made me keep my distance.
As I got older I tried again and found some intelligent, interesting and wonderful people.
Additionally I joined a spiritualist circle which allowed me to practice my communication with spirits as well as divination and healing.
What does being Pagan mean to you? (or your term of choice, please explain!)
Pagan to me today is an umbrella term for those practicing earth based spirituality, often reinvented or restructured, which is good as a religion of the earth should evolve, which a religion of the book tends to struggle with. I am more inclined to use the term witch or magician as my focus is on magical work. To me these are working titles, I am not interested in hierarchical titles or being called adept etc (which I am not) simply I work with various powers and in doing so these terms are titles of that.
Some see more in them and that is fine and some romanticise the terms and I am not sure how I feel about that. For me I have simply answered a calling but I still have to clean the kitchen and iron my clothes.
To me a Pagan path is essentially, a narrative of the earth, within various traditions are its own nuances.
What sort of things do you do on a daily/weekly, monthly or seasonal basis to explore or express your Spirituality?
I do daily meditations and simple rituals of stillness. Seasonally I perform basic rituals to bring in the power of the season to flow through myself, home and land. Or I just walk amongst nature and let myself connect. On Spring Equinox I like to go to Kew Garden for example. I like to walk in my local woods and see how things are growing and how it feels.
What advice do you wish someone had given you, that you would like to give people starting out on this path?
I realise that magic is in all things. It is in ritual and conversation it is in the kabbalah and the sun, the moon and the rain. It is all around us all the time and in our childhoods. I realised one day I knew more than I realised and that the bible I was raised in (not fundamentally) was full of magic, along with the faerie tales I grew up with.
It may seem obvious that faerie tales are full of magic, but getting at the patterns within them and the magical messages took me time. When we mature we think magic isn’t faerie tales, we know it as something practical and powerful. In being mature we let go of Childish things, but there is a difference being childish and being childlike and being childlike. Being childlike is a gift.
I think mystery is in that we know more than we are aware of and that awareness comes from experience.
What is the name of the Facebook Group you admin, and how did you get involved there? (please feel free to provide group details eg. member numbers or general guidelines, and a link to group)
The Centre of Pagan Studies has been going on for some time. I got involved last year after reading Philip Heselton’s biography of Doreen Valiente. I had been looking to give back to the Pagan community and found Doreen to be an inspiration person who had been involved so decided to offer to help. [The Centre for Pagan Studies FB Group is Here.]
What is the most frustrating thing for you about being involved with that group?
I think it can be frustrating to find the right vocabulary. In magic and Paganism we do not really have our own language so we have to work quite philosophically to communicate effectively. I have seen people essentially agree with each other but end up arguing as their words are interpreted differently. Ultimately it is not really a problem just a shame it’s hard to bypass.
What is the most satisfying thing for you about being involved with that group?
The fact that we remember those who came before us who made strides for Paganism. We have set up blue plaques for people like Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. Also people involved are very engaged in the subject matter and we discuss often some ancient practices which some people still practice or have come across. We attempt to provide both an educational resource (giving talks for example) and discussing these subject matters keeping it organic and shifting.
If you could guarantee that each group member had read AT LEAST one book before joining, what book would that be?
I think it would be hard to pin point one book but I would go back to faerie tales. To have read some of the Grimm brothers work and look into the early stories as well as the colour books (The yellow fairy book, red fairy book etc compiled by Andrew Lang).
There are some great occult books out there and some bad ones, though I found all of those helped me develop a magical vocabulary.
Further to this I would encourage to read history and anthropology as well as classical texts.
Anything else you’d like to share?!
Whilst books are great the essence of magic is doing it and living it. The essence of paganism is in practicing it and living it. Keep it simple and embrace the stories you were told growing up and the cartoons you may have seen (often based on these books). When you have conversations remember language is insufficient to express magic and spirituality. So take care. When I talk to magical practitioners of various traditions if you work to find a common language, we find we have a lot in common.
I would encourage people to tread lightly and to take their time and to listen.
Richard Levy works with the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation.
BIO: I began my pagan path at a young age but and magic is something I feel was always a part of my life. But with time I learned how to nourish this part of myself. I feel today we are encouraged to ignore these parts of who we are and it is something we re-learn. It is in many ways learning to do what breeze and river and bird do naturally. I studied philosophy and theology at university and whilst I did not have formal training I learned a lot from people I met along my path from Children to adults. Should people want to contact me about the interview they can contact me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Doreen Valiente: Witch’, by Philip Heselton (Author) – on Amazon.com (affiliate links, fyi)