[Read part i & part ii first]
Various dark coloured shades of satin and velvet. A talking stick. Women with flowers in their hair, layers of silver jewellery and long swooshing skirts. Sequins and sparkly things. Incense. Grown men and women in robes with hoods. And capes. Leather pouches tied to belts containing runes or tarot cards. The occasional new agey t-shirt with a wolf howling at the moon.
And much beer.
This was my introduction to Pagans in the Pub in Sydney, circa 1993.
A group of twenty or so people gathered in the back room of the Carlisle Castle Hotel (yes, Pagans in the Pub held in a pub with the name ‘castle’ in the title – the puns are free and keep on coming!).
The Carlisle Castle, courtesy of Google street view
Just an unassuming working class pub in the narrow backstreets of Newtown surrounded by workman’s cottages built snugly together. The front bar was populated with stoic and gruff older men, surprised at the repeated declarations of ‘Blessed be’ emanating from the back room.
I spotted T, dressed in a dark red long sleeved shirt, a black vest and jeans, meticulous dark hair and beard. He introduced me to a bunch of people whose names I immediately forgot.
Of course, it wasn’t just ‘hi, I’m Jason’, but ‘hi, I’m Jason-Lightworker and I’m a Druid’. Or ‘hi, I’m Silverstar and I’m a Shaman’. Everyone there, it seemed, was a something-or-other-magical-label which they revelled in.
There was discussion and debate. Plenty of opinions voiced and egos marched out for all to see. The topics were decidedly unusual, but hey, what could I expect from a mixed bag of pagans?
Overwhelming is one word. Colourful is another. Whacky, free-spirited and a little lost… they’re other words.
Let me just say the start of my search in no way resembled where I ended up. But if I hadn’t taken that first tentative step (followed by many others), I never would have met my guru. Even if it was just a slightly out of the way route.
Me and T
Turns out T was one of the movers and shakers in the Sydney pagan community. He was somewhat notorious, and had been around for a long time.
Although at the time I was questioning my sexual preferences (gay/straight/bi), and even though I didn’t find T (14 years my senior) physically attractive, somehow we ended up together.
And actually at the time we met, I was in fact, dating a woman. Clearly, not for long.
That part of the story alone, is worthy of its own focus. There’s no way to write about the how’s and why’s of my relationship with T without changing the point of this story, which is my journey through the world of neo-paganism.
It was a mad eighteen months of my life in which: we went to Egypt (my first overseas trip and T is well-versed in Egyptian mythology); we moved in together (bookshelves, skull candelabras, pentagram rugs and all!); I started belly dancing (he thought I’d like it – I did); he taught me about witchcraft (not as dark and dangerous as most would imagine); we started a coven (small group of people learning witchcraft); we ran a pretty awesome dress up event for the premiere of Interview with the Vampire (another story yet again); T contemplated faking his own death (I talked him out of it)… and more.
With T, I attended my first ever pagan type weekend gathering. You know the kind – a bush camp site with bunks and dorms, a mess hall, marquee tents and fire pits. Drums, full moon (and other) rituals, various workshops, late night jam sessions, hash, peace and love. He also took me to my very first Hare Krishna meal by donation/chanting session and we went often.
In some ways, T was the real deal and I learnt a lot from him. In other ways, he was completely stark raving crazy.
I had my doubts about T and I around eight months in. He was running away from his past, and stuck in a certain reality. I was still… learning. However, I was meeting plenty of people and being exposed to all kinds of new ideas.
That time in my life was somehow very important (which is part of that other story). I was still only twenty-two, impressively aimless and ashamed that I hadn’t gone to university.
What I learned
I was living life like it was some big adventure playground. But finally I was learning all kinds that made sense to me (at least some of it did) on spiritual topics. Things I’d written about many years ago. It was… helpful.
But the pagan scene, I found, was a little hollow. Many of the people putting on robes and turning up to full moon rituals could just as easily have been attending church. By that I mean, they seemed to want to belong and be a part of something. Have a label that worked for them. And there was little real magic going on.
I even met one guy who, despite his tattoos and piercings, eyeliner and 100% black wardrobe, claims to black magic and darkness… once said… Do you ever think about what will happen if the Christians are right?
Personally, I didn’t. I’ve never seen things quite as black and white as that.
Generally, the people were lovely and the experiences were cool. But I was looking for something else. I imagined it was like ringing a bell with a very specific tone and pitch that exactly matches my own.
And I hadn’t found it yet.
I even met a genuine yogi at that time – a Kali devotee – fond of naked puja. But it didn’t ring true, not with him. Which perhaps had something to do with the fact that I found him a little peculiar. Nice. But kinda whacked.
Endings & beginnings
Things ended with T as dramatically as they’d begun.
I’d been performing in some local theatre and he was jealous of my co-star (much closer to me in age, not to mention tall, dark & sexy). I found out later T had been following me as I walked to rehearsals!
Nothing had happened, except for the kissing required of our roles. But there was a definite flirtation going on.
T and I had put on another of our big costume parties. All our pagan friends, my theatre and belly dance friends were invited. It was a wild night with a band in the front room, local pop-rock stars in attendance, lots of dancing, drinking and madness.
For reasons known only to T, he flew into a rage after everyone had left, accusing me of sleeping with my co-star (I wasn’t, not yet). He didn’t believe me and threw me out of the bedroom, ordering me to move out the next day (with ominous threats of what would happen if I didn’t).
The threat I’ve never been able to forget is… a little too gruesome to write down.
I was sufficiently terrified and called one of my pagan friends. S said she’d help me move and I could stay with her until I found my own place.
[Read part iv]