I want to tell you a story, it’s not a fairy tale or even fantastical in anyway, there are no mystical creatures or ancient artefacts involved, no revelations from heaven, no family secrets and definitely no grannies or long lost aunts. In fact this is a very ordinary tale about a very ordinary boy living a very ordinary life.
As a young lad I used to play in the street collecting snails and eating dirt, I spent my summers in the country with family baking, gardening, riding horses through the woods. As I grew up and became a teenager I became more interested in friends, alcohol and cigarettes, such is life. Yet I was always fascinated by the supernatural and what I guess we call ‘the occult’. I had been watching horror films for most of my life and loved ghost stories, ouija boards, haunted houses and so on and no matter how adolescence changed me, my interest in the ‘other’ was pretty constant.
When I was a young teenager in secondary school I became good friends with a girl who I just happened to sit next to in Maths. It turns out she held a similar fascination as I did and she told me about a relative she had who was ‘spiritual’ and was a practising medium. She used to tell me about her crystals and so on and we used to talk about ghosts and haunted places we had visited. She talked about her relative’s ‘spirit guides’, crystal balls and pendulums…all very what we would call ‘New Agey’ now I suppose, but this was back in the early 90’s and I couldn’t have been much older than 12 or 13…to me it was all just fascinating information which peaked my interest and I loved talking about it…much more than I enjoyed learning about fractions or algebra.
I remember around this time visiting an indoor market with my parents, somewhere like Hastings or Canterbury I think although I can’t remember exactly where. It was here I picked up a tarot deck. It was the classic Rider-Waite, one I still have in my possession to this day. I remember telling my friend about my new tarot deck that week in Maths class (I never paid much attention in school) and even took them in to show her. She told me about a shop in Rochester high street…a new age / metaphysical store which sold all different tarot decks (I was surprised to learn there was more than one), crystals, pendulums, books and all manner of similar things. I had to go, the curiosity was indescribable, and a few months later I got on a bus to Rochester and visited this shop.
Being a school kid I didn’t have much money but I must have spent the better part of two hours walking around the shop, touching, feeling, inhaling the smell of joss sticks and listening to the plinky plonky music, punctuated by whale song or chanting from some foreign distant culture. In retrospect it was amazing I wasn’t asked to leave but it was more like a museum to me than a shop. I was scanning the shelves containing books covering all sorts of subjects from crystal healing, herbal medicine, angels, tarot, dowsing…Wicca and Witchcraft. I felt my eyes widen, my heart skip a beat…Witchcraft was real!! I picked up a single book, slowly, wondering if something would happen, perhaps I would be stopped, I was anxious, nervous, excited. It was a book called ‘Wicca Craft’ by Gerina Dunwich. As I slowly thumbed the pages, scanning each one my wonder and amazement grew with every page turned…rituals, spells, herbs. This was it…!!
When I look back on this event, and I know many may roll their eyes and think “so what?” but I often wonder about all the simple, tiny moments that led me there… I sometimes wonder whether that particular book stood out from the others…no…it didn’t. It didn’t fall on my head, I didn’t trip over it and it didn’t bite me. Yet had I not sat next to that girl in maths, perhaps I would never have gone to that shop…. This was my wyrd. Of course I had choices…did I have to then proceed with buying that book? Of course not…however I did buy that book along with another by Scott Cunningham! Fate doesn’t always reveal her plans in a flashing array of spectacle and fireworks!
Over the years I devoured everything I could read on Wicca…everything. School was a harrowing time for me, for not only was I awakening sexually, I was finding myself attracted to members of the same sex, I was badly bullied on a daily basis and my parents were separating…there was nothing about my life I could be certain of or explain, except Wicca. It was my support and my structure, the Gods became the one thing in my life I could be sure of and depend on. I would stay up late at night just reading, the night was peaceful…no arguing parents, no bullying kids…just me, the Gods, my books and my thoughts. I used to skip afternoon classes in school, especially days when I had PE or French because these were the days I got bullied the most. I remember one icy cold winter’s afternoon during PE we had to play football. I remember slipping in the snow which other boys used to their advantage. One sat on me to hold me down whilst the others used my face as target practise…kicking the ball at my frozen skin over and over. It stung of course, but all I can remember thinking was that someday they would suffer for this, for that was what I at the time, as a Wiccan, believed. I lived by the laws, respected the laws and in return the laws comforted me. My life could easily have been very different had it not been for Wicca…it’s a wonder I survived those few years at all! There are many who didn’t…and many who still don’t. I suppose in a small way Wicca made me feel special, I never told anyone and still even now keep my craft very private. Wicca was mine, and I used to enjoy having a secret life, a part of me which was just for me, no one could taint with their jests or hurtful taunts.
I left school in 1997 and continued practising Wicca for many years. I met a small group of local Pagans, many whom I still consider good friends today, even though I don’t see them often. I went on to higher education where I thrived in a more mature environment, the bullying stopped and I excelled. It was around this time in my life, must’ve been about 18 or 19 I took a more active role in the Pagan Federation. They were crying out for volunteers to help run the local organisation and I was more than happy to help. I was answering member’s enquiries, processing memberships; I even put together a local newsletter all out of my own, very limited pocket. I had high hopes and big ideas, sure it was an eye opener to discover just how many of ‘us’ there were in this area…what I wasn’t anticipating however was the endemic apathy and laziness…no one wanted to contribute and no one wanted to do anything for the community, except moan about the lack of things going on in their community (Yes…Quite!!)
I started university in the autumn of 2001 I think it was. I didn’t really want to go but being the first in my entire family to ever have the opportunity to go to university made me feel obligated. So I reluctantly went and spent two years there studying Zoology. University was a massive turning point for me. Having spent a few years working for the PF, a thankless task which just made me resent the ‘community’, I began to question what it meant to be Wiccan. Many of the same ‘laws’ I had come to live by started to seem meaningless. Wicca…a supposed nature based religion had laws based on what exactly…? I didn’t see any evidence of threefold return in nature… everything in nature seemed to cause harm one way or the other, either knowingly or not…it didn’t make sense. Rituals became flat…something had gone…a sparkle, a deep sense of connection with my Gods. I wondered if I had become jaded, perhaps too damaged in my formative years to ever feel what I once felt. My burgeoning homosexuality felt like a noose around my neck…still unsatisfied, still deeply secretive. I was scared to drink too much with friends in case it slipped out, scared to get close to anyone in case they found out. Universities are like great melting pots of people from all back grounds and all walks of life…being Gay would never have been an issue for anyone I’m sure, but it was an issue for me…I didn’t want it, I just wanted to be normal. I suppose practising Wicca, as well as being deeply closeted was just another thing which made me different…what was once a comfort became yet another ‘disability’ another thing which made me different from everyone else. It had to go.
Now, one can’t simply turn off ones beliefs…but ones beliefs can change. I still had a deep love and reverence for the Gods…but Wiccan practise wasn’t serving me, my direct line to the Gods had been severed, through choice and necessity and I needed something more, something deeper, more emotional and primal. I looked to ceremonial Magic, I looked to the Qabalah and soaked it all up like a sponge, trying things out and experimenting…reading Dion Fortune over and over as well as Crowley etc. etc. etc. I joined BOTA and began studying the Western Mysteries with them. As much as I consumed, nothing satisfied this need in me for wildness…to let go and just feel. Looking back, I think being so ‘balance’ orientated I felt a little ‘expelled’ by Wicca and in many ways homosexuality was the one thing Wicca never had a place for… I didn’t want to ‘join’ with females and when I did I certainly didn’t feel any sort of spiritual oneness…everything in my life was too tight, too restrictive…Wicca, Uni, my sexuality, my girlfriend at the time, The PF….everything… and I was about ready to burst.
I quit Uni in the summer of 2003 (-ish). I certainly wasn’t brave enough to come out and I hadn’t yet found a suitable replacement for Wicca. I could however quit the confines of Uni, of halls of residence and return to Kent, to retreat back to familiar surroundings which gave me time to think. I ended my relationship with the girl I was seeing at the time, and resigned from the PF it was time to regroup.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I discovered Shamanism around this time. The more I read (Harner, Eliade, John and Caitlin Matthews (amongst others) the more I came to realise what I had be missing…all these years I had been calling the Gods to me when I could have been going direct!!! (quite a revelation for me at the time). The only thing I couldn’t reconcile was that it all seemed to be from a very foreign perspective…Native American for example or very ‘celtic’. It felt alien and abstract and whilst the techniques themselves seemed to be very universal I needed the mythological context, I needed a road map to orientate myself upon which was rooted in my land and my ancestry, I guess what I was seeking was ‘tradition’ but where was it….? Kent seemed completely void of any lore or traditions of Her own, I was struggling and I felt adrift in a sea of information and techniques with no context, no story or anchor…I had no idea what to do. I had been presented with the tools but not the ability to use them, I felt like a child using cutlery for the first time, I wanted so much to eat the tempting food but had no idea how to coordinate my hands and the implements they held so ultimately the food goes everywhere except where it’s meant to…such was my practise and my relationship with the spirits at this time…disjointed, uncoordinated and a little scrambled.
I decided to place an ad on Witchvox (I think it was…or it may have even been ‘Kent Pagans’) asking to connect with other Shamanic practitioners in the area…I just wanted to pick brains and learn from others. What I ended up with was an email from someone in the West Country who later offered to teach me the ways. Naturally I was overjoyed…I was so fortunate to have been provided this opportunity…I had made a choice…Wyrd did the rest.
I visited my teacher every month for over a year or so. Our relationship was a strange one, even unhealthy. He taught me so much….so much! It was exactly what I had been looking for, communion with spirits directly through fire, the surface of sacred pools, pebbles from a beach…it really was a magical time and a period of immense growth. We fell in love and the relationship became more than just student-teacher. Consequently whilst I loved him as a person I forgot at times to respect him as a teacher, similarly he loved me deeply but forgot his obligations to me. There were times where I would just visit and felt I was learning nothing…I would get cross (my fiery temper) and he would withdraw…stubborn as he was. We always patched things up but the relationship became strained. My visits became less frequent but we still spoke every night on the phone. I so desperately wanted to speak up sometimes, yet felt afraid that he would withdraw his teaching if I did.
One night during our daily phone conversations I asked him a question. “Have you ever read any of Charles Leland or Margaret Murray’s books?” (he had been showing me how to use playing cards in divination and Charles Leland wrote a book on Gypsy Magic which I had recently read). He was silent…I remember it like it was yesterday! Eventually he answered “You’ve just turned a key” he said (he liked to sound all mysterious!) I didn’t understand his response and he wouldn’t explain. As his ‘lover’ I demanded to know what he meant and had a good old fashioned tantrum on the phone. Looking back I felt confused but I understand why he didn’t tell me everything I demanded to know and why my reaction meant I would never ever see him again! Little did I know that had I chosen to trust him as my teacher instead of lash out at him as lover I could have shaved years off what was to become another decade of arduous study!
In the latter months of my time with this teacher I had met another man through a mutual friend of a friend. He had contacted me via a Kent Pagan networking organisation and we met for a drink and a chat at a local pub. We instantly hit it off. He was twice my age and somehow I knew there was more to this than just a casual natter over a beer. I was attracted to him and something was telling me the feeling was mutual. I questioned him about his life…he seemed amazed that I seemed to know things about him without being told, but I had years of training and fine tuning my intuition…there wasn’t anything more to it than that! We agreed to meet the next day; we became lovers in the very real sense of the word. He was a Viking through and through, devoted to the Norse Gods and a practitioner of Galdr and Runecraft…he taught me a huge amount about the Saxon and Viking people who settled in Kent, taught me how to make a rune set of my own, about Seidr and how the runes are more than just a divination tool. We would spend many lazy days speculating together, talking magic, Runes, Shamanism. It all seemed to fit perfectly…I relised I didn’t ‘need’ a teacher at all and I was blissfully happy, my Gods and the spirits never felt closer, I truly had everything I had ever wanted, I was finally free of all those shackles….at least I thought so anyway!
Like all good things however, this too came to an end rather abruptly after a couple of years. Life had changed for both of us and I suppose like so many relationships, you walk so far along the road with someone and eventually paths diverge and we went our separate ways. Spiritually speaking I feel I had it all sussed, I was also earning good money and I had finally come to terms with being gay. I continued learning and developing on my own, in my own way. I had already established I was never going to be like other people, and what’s more I didn’t even seem to fit in with other Pagans…I was alone and to be honest I was OK with it, why waste time fighting futile battles when often surrender is the best way?!
I went a little bit crazy for a while, a whole new world of clubs and gay men had suddenly been opened to me . I partied…hard…and I definitely enjoyed myself. I met someone after a year or two and never had I felt a fire like it in my life. Our relationship was short, relatively speaking, but ye Gods was it intense… he consumed me, all of me. I lived only for him and nothing else mattered….nothing. As I soon discovered, the fires which burn the hottest and brightest often die out the soonest…this fire had burnt away everything, my identity, my craft…everything was sacrificed! Soon the relationship ended and to cut a very long story short I was destroyed, I had sacrificed so much of myself to this one person that when that one person was no longer there I literally fell apart. It took months, if not years to fully recover.
I hadn’t opened a book or even spoken to my Gods for years by this time. I wasn’t even sure I could anymore, I was ashamed…I had been devoted for years…and now here I was approaching my 30s and I felt like I had forgotten it all and gone back to square one, back to the start.
In many ways that’s exactly what had happened. I can’t remember how exactly but in my quest to get my mojo back I discovered Traditional Witchcraft or specifically the Letters of Robert Cochrane. Everything I had done over the last 15 or so years had led me exactly here and I knew then what people meant when they talk about spirals…paths go around and round, twist and turn…predator hunts prey and prey turns round and “soon you don’t know who is chasing who”.
Robert Cochrane’s Witchcraft opened up a whole new way of working and thinking for me. The great thing about it is that whilst being inherently ‘British’ it fits into any corner of the British Isles unlike say Cornish or East Anglian Craft. I hoped that the techniques and rituals of Cochrane’s Craft would provide me with a way in, a means to access the more specific powers of my land and ancestors and it’s safe to say I developed more over those few years I studied and worked with his legacy than I had my entire life thus far. That’s when I decided to start this blog and it was around this time I met a small group of people who were working with Cochrane’s material and over the coming years I learnt a huge amount from them, we worked a few rituals together based on Cochrane’s methods and they were some of the most rewarding and fulfilling rituals I had ever participated in.
I soon found myself a little disillusioned with Cochrane however…I suppose I began to see the man behind the mystery. In addition I was reading more about the earthier, folk based Witchcraft traditions which appealed to me a great deal more. I found Cochrane’s tradition lacking in lifestyle… of course it’s full of mystery and ceremony yet I couldn’t see how one was to incorporate this into the everyday. Magic for me is a lifestyle, not a hobby, magic is something one lives and breathes every day, still spiritual and transformative of course, but also operative, relevant and based in the context of the landscape.
Through more folk based Witchcraft I again rediscovered my connection with the land and spirits, there is a simple beauty to the craft I now practise, free of lengthy complex ritual where paraphernalia is paramount. This is a craft where it’s OK to screw up, to be spontaneous and actually enjoy it…something I hadn’t done, ever if I’m honest! Through Cochrane’s tradition I began to touch upon an ancient perennial wisdom that ironically transcends all traditions and all religious labels and the folk ways taught me how to apply that wisdom everyday…now here I am… still learning, still growing still discovering and evolving but actually having a blast!
So you may be wondering why I’ve decided to tell this story. It may seem a little narcissistic; on the contrary, anyone who knows me personally will know I don’t even use my real name in Craft circles or online and many of my close friends don’t even know I practise! I do however believe everyone has a story to tell, and I believe every single story contains wisdom and truth which we can all learn from…even if it’s just recognising that someone else out there has experienced similar things. And what’s more, the majority of stories aren’t what most folks seem to think…that we all came to the craft via lightning bolts and visitations from God! The more folks realise this, the less inclined people will be to fabricate and fantasise their own tales….it’s just not necessary anymore!
Sharing our stories is something I feel is lacking in todays ‘Craft Community’ whether it’s online or in in person… we don’t gather round the hearth (metaphorically speaking) and just talk. We like to boast, we like to brag, we like to bitch and belittle each other and other beliefs and practises in order to feel empowered and worthwhile or discuss the latest academic research into antiquated witch trials but it’s often counterproductive and leads to nothing but disagreements! Whether you have been practising the craft for a month or a decade you have a vital story to tell which is valid and no one can dispute…its truth…it’s your experience, not opinion! I for one love to listen to people’s stories, maybe I’m nosey, maybe I just find people pretty fascinating!