If much of today’s pagan propaganda is to be believed, anyone who doesn’t live a stone’s throw from, or have regular access to the rural heartlands of England, is hardly qualified to call themselves ‘pagan’. And if the unfortunate town-dweller can’t be found at weekends rooting about in country hedgerows, then ‘witch’ is also a label to which they apparently have no right!
Tosh, tosh! And thrice tosh!
Yes, of course, we can haul out the old chestnut of ‘pagan’ deriving from the Latin pagus, which properly means ‘belonging to a village’ but it was used in a derogative sense, just as contemporary town dwellers might refer to country folk as ‘swede bashers’ or ‘carrot crunchers’. Long after the Christian Church was first established in the cities and towns (centres of learning), what they saw as idolatrous practices continued to be observed in rural districts and villages, so ‘pagan’ and ‘villager’ came to mean the same thing. Similarly, the word ‘heathen’ (from the Anglo-Saxon hathen, hath) referred to a ‘dweller on a heath or common’. Christian doctrine would not have reached these remote people until long after it had integrated town and city, and in both cases, ‘pagan’ and ‘heathen’ implied a lack of worldliness, sophistication and learning. It was intended as an insult.
In contemporary society, ‘pagan’ is now the accepted umbrella term for those who follow any eclectic, reconstructionalist doctrines of pre-Christian beliefs, while ‘heathen’ tends to refer more specifically to those of the revivalist Norse traditions. Ironically, the vast majority of followers of both traditions live in towns and cities. And let’s face it, people live in urban communities for a variety of reasons: the most common being the close proximity to work and/or family.
For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanised environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.
There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children. Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room.
So how do we manage?
We get up close and personal. And we reject the textbook clichés of what is, and what is not, recommended witchcraft practice. We do not follow stereotyping when it comes to when, where and how we perform our rituals simply because it may not be practically possible to follow the instructions to the letter.
For example: I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experience what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness, but as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and, more recently, to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia. Not once, in all that time did I have the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a real witch.
In my experience, the greatest problem a solitary urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses!
Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So …
Accustom yourself to tuning-in to your environment, even if you’ve lived there for some time. Try to imagine visiting the place for the first time. Buy a detailed street map or guidebook, and familiarise yourself with all the hidden nooks and crannies in the immediate vicinity. Is there a park nearby? Public gardens? Churchyard? Cemetery? What trees are growing locally? Which are the most important/attractive buildings? Where is the nearest river or canal? Where is the oldest church? Take your time … explore … rediscover … acclimatise.
Modify or adjust the way you look at things. There is no point in wishing you were elsewhere when circumstances dictate that you remain where you are. But on the other hand there’s nothing quite so mind-numbing as doing the same thing, day in day out, for weeks on end. For a change, try walking to the shops, school, or travelling to work, via a different route. Examine what’s growing in all the front gardens along the way to the shop, school, station or bus stop. Make sure you take time out for lunch - and get out of the home or working environment for an hour - even if it’s a wet Wednesday afternoon: after all, a witch shouldn’t
be afraid of a little drop of Elemental Water! Start seriously interacting with your environment … adapt.
Be prepared to perform a magical working at any time, without preparation, and without what is considered to be the ‘proper regalia’. Be aware of the magical signs Nature has to offer and be ready to act spontaneously, even in the middle of a crowded railway station or shopping mall during rush hour! It may also come as a bit of a shock to realise that a large number of books mentioned in this text are not about witchcraft, or written by witches. This is because we are learning to improvise and look at things from a different or unexpected perspective.
Before we go out and meet Nature face to face, however, there may be one or two changes needed to enable us to re-connect with the natural, elemental energies that are an essential ingredient within any magical environment. Sorry … we’re not talking about symbolic bowls of water, salt, night-lights and a joss stick to mark the quarters on the sitting room rug, we’re talking about encountering real Elemental Air, real Elemental Water, real Elemental Earth and real Elemental Fire - up close and personal! ...