Sunday 29 March 2020

A Little Bit of Light

I've had an absolute spurt of writing the past couple of days. No idea if any of it's any good, and don't really mind. It's just nice to be writing anything again. It's been raining quite a bit today and my neighbour has just told me they heard my piano. His wife had come to gather amaranthus from the back garden and they explained to me how to cook it so that I can have some too. They have been amazing during the lockdown, offering potatoes and rice. Thankfully, I have enough in my stores for now but looking forward to the avocado tree being ripe enough to pick. There will be enough to share with everyone on the street when that happens. I feel fortunate to have such lovely neighbours that I care for and who care for me.

Without the nightclubs and traffic, life has been very peaceful lately. At night you hear the cicadas and frogs, but mostly it is silent. In the evenings, I have started to pay more attention to the little shrine on top of my piano. I light candles and scented oil. It's beautiful to look at and brings a sense of peace.

A few of my books are about the gods. The Children of Lir is about Irish mythology, and there are several Iranian folk tales and gods mentioned in Those Rosy Hours. For my part, as a living, breathing human being, it's more complicated. I went to primary school in Leicester, which is predominantly a Gujarati community in the UK. As such, I went to a mixed Hindu school and Diwali was a huge part of my early childhood. It's one of the largest Diwali celebrations outside India, with plenty of sweets and fireworks.

However, moving to a quintessentially English village (one famed for its witchcraft), I grew up with a strong sense of heathenry. 'A respect for the land upon which you are born and the spirits which dwell upon it,' as it was once explained. I became very much part of the Pagan community, running a large moot in Reading with my friend Cassie during our university years and attending many sabbat festivals from the New Forest to Fife. 

Later down the line, I turned more towards Humanism and put away the books and iconography. I'm all for science and rationalism, I don't dispute it, but I'm also a storyteller, and therefore mystery and magic is in my blood. I take a great deal of comfort from Einstein. He placed huge value on fairytales and is one of the great scientific minds who has not asked us to choose between science and stories: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."

So, that's why I still light the occasional candle, and why I feel more inspired when I do. 

When I moved to Africa, it was a bit of a shock as I came from a country where the seasons formed the mainstay of the celebratory calendar: May Day bonfires and maypoles, summer solstice, winter solstice, the start of spring and the death of the year at Samhain. I now live in a country where it is eternal equinox, and plants grow all year round, never decaying. Sometimes it's a little wetter, sometimes a little drier, but the seasons for me are marked more by wildlife than by weather: the season of the spiky black caterpillars, the season of the millipedes, the season of noisy crows on the roof and the season of avocados from my tree. It's an equatorial existence and not well suited to British paganism.

I did go looking for local traditions, but this part of East Africa was so completely Christianised that nothing much remains. What does remain is not on display to foreigners as it is in West Africa. No Vodoun priests or spirit parades. What gods there are stay quiet.

So, for a long time I didn't really bother. 

Then I went to India with my family for a holiday and came back with the above. A set of familiar faces from my early years, representing the things that every pantheon has a name for. On the far left is Saraswati Varnesvari, the goddess of letters and a fitting patron of authors. 

It is also pleasing to note that Saraswati, who in different avatars is the patron of musicians, poets and bibliophiles, is also the patron of history and science. How much nicer when these things are softly intertwined rather than harshly separated.

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