Say the word "mysticism" and immediately people think about fanged witches cawing at the devil; a cult-of-the-occult; astral travel or air-headed nymphs floating somewhere in another dimension.
Worrying then, that Paganism is back.
But, what is it?
Traditionally, Paganism was the belief system of the ancients: people believed in the powers of nature - the elements, Gods of trees and sky, the mythologies of the ancient worlds, First Nations, whatever - and developed a range of practices to show their worship, some of which were a little questionable (cannibalism, human - baby - sacrifice, yes, agree, not exactly in line with modern ethics).So when Christianity took hold, it was on the grounds that pagan customs were dangerous and weird. We put Christmas and Easter in the place of Winter and Spring solstices and demonised all plant worship. It was an effective control and, frankly, made a lot of sense when it came to homogenising the world they knew.
But in doing so, they built a legacy that has still persisted today - that Paganism is evil.
But why? In early Britain, Pagans, in particular, "witches", were medicinal forest dwellers, the healers of old societies, that were in touch with the power of plants and nature directly (they made potions out of plants, basically). Technically, this would make my sister a witch, because she's using plants to make bath products and teas with medicinal qualities. She refuses to use chemical cleaning products because she feels that it damages the earth.
Today's world sees a rise of Yoga, Karma, New Age "energy" theories, environmental protection, holistic attitudes to cause and effect, all just really the nuts and bolts of glorified, glamorised Paganism. Are the vegans evil? The eco-warriors?
The thing that fascinates me most about belief systems, is that despite our best efforts, questions about the world didn't just evaporate because we are told not to believe them - they linger on, somewhere in our experience of life.
Personally, my beliefs have hurricaned so dramatically that I've given up looking for answers: philosophy taught me nothing; reading taught me a lot; travel even more. But it's my instincts that have been my greatest guides when it comes to finding answers.
Something happens when I'm in nature: I feel a... force. I would describe it as experiencing a form of God, I just don't call it God. I have Christian friends who agree with me. I am not alone in this.
Does that really mean I'm crazy? Really? Look at the sky and the sea and the mountains and flowers and bees and earth and wind and stars and trees and all the beautiful animals. I feel that I'm in the presence of something wondrous when I am around the natural world. From the depths of my instincts and bones. A power.
So my conclusion is: Nature = Spirit. Protect Nature. That's my basic religion.
And that makes me nuts?