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Jon O’Sullivan

We are often contacted by folks wondering what Being Pagan means to us, or how we practice Irish Paganism in our modern world. To be honest I get quite uncomfortable being asked this type of question. Not out of any shame or reluctance to say that I’m pagan. It’s more that I still see myself as figuring a lot of this out for my own path so who am I to instruct or inform other people’s opinions or practices. 

So in the interest of living my values, I will attempt to feel the fear, but do it anyway. In this post I will do my very best to explain my path to becoming pagan, but also what it means for me on a daily basis.

The Origin Story

As with any good story we need to try to find a compelling beginning for my pagan path. Do we start with my service to the Dagda? Do we go back to the Morrigan’s call? 

I’m afraid not. To really understand my path as a pagan we need to go right the way back to the small child who followed his mother and siblings to mass every Sunday. I was raised in a catholic household in the 80’s in Ireland. 

My little island was still riding the wave of devoted practice that had followed the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979. I remember as a kid finding the stories that the priest told very interesting. Not the boring bits about sin and consequences, but the bits about letters sent from some bloke to an entire tribe and how perspectives could be shared and even changed through the communication. 

In these early years I was rather invested in my perceptions of fairness, so when my older siblings joined the church choir, I outright demanded that for fairness to be maintained I should get to join too. Little did I know that it was not all fun and performances but despite the effort I stuck to it until puberty arrived and my voice broke. From choir to mass parade in the local scout troop, Sunday services formed a bookend to my week as a youth and as an avid reader I did peruse the bible on a few occasions looking for those interesting stories. 

Still for all of that active engagement in religious activities, I did not consider myself a person of faith. I was just following the path laid out by my mother and wondering if one day I would have the same passionate spirituality that she had. 

Of course with any good story there comes a moment where change must occur for there to be progress to the narrative. In 1992 the scandal of Bishop Eamon Casey became a major talking point in Catholic Ireland, but also a source of confusion for an eleven year old me. I didn’t get why a priest couldn’t be in love and share their life with someone and still perform their role as a spiritual guide and advisor. It didn’t make sense to me, but over the next few years, more and more of the illicit activities of the catholic church came to light and that more than anything else led me to forsake the term catholic and refer to myself only as christian. 

What came next would lay the groundwork for my pagan path, because what came next were a lot of questions. 

Questions and Seeking Answers

I have been known to say that I love a good question and I guess that has been true of me since I first learned to speak, because all I did was ask questions. Even in my school, where asking too many questions in class could get you a beating in the school yard, I never stopped asking, because there is always more to know. 

I realised that though I have been given a religion at home, that didn’t mean I had to keep it when I grew up and left. The value of a thing doesn’t solely stem from where we receive it. Nor does letting go of it act as a detractor from wherever we receive it. In fact one of the people I have had the most interesting conversations and growths in spirituality with is my mother, regardless of the religious dogma that initially formed both of our understandings of belief, faith and spirit. 

In the interest of exploration I learned to embrace questions. To make questions an active thing in my life, not just a passing consideration, easily discarded. Some questions are easily answered, whilst some questions need to be considered and reappraised until they are refined enough to find a fitting answer.

At this point as a self professed a-religious christian, I tried to expose my reading to stuff outside the dogma. I found myself seeking religious text from other faiths, and even exploring the dustier corners of old bookshops for odd or esoteric works, some of which I found out were considered apocryphal to the religion I had been raised in. It was a fascinating time for me, even though it aligns with a period of my past I refer to as ‘the dark times’. 

Through all of this I held a regular arrangement of exercise with myself and my loyal hound. No matter the weather or levels of exhaustion, workplace, emotional or other, my personal commitment to getting through the darkness of the worst depressive period of my life saw me setting foot on the Hill of Tara almost everyday of the week. Of course I didn’t know this at the time, but it turned out the answers I was seeking were no further from me than the very Hill I walked upon.

The Landscape of Story and Faith

The Hill of Tara is situated less than an hour’s drive from Dublin city centre but at this time of my life I was living less than twenty minutes from this ancient seat of Irish Kingship and heritage. I knew some of the stories from my school days, but I had yet to really connect those amazing myths to the landscape in which they took place. 

Sometimes our lives provide what we need without us realising. Then the challenge becomes recognising what is right in front of our noses, or in this case, right beneath my feet. I had taken an angel practitioner workshop which helped me settle some of that divine influence in my existence, and had even found myself supporting others on their spiritual journey, even though I was only a few steps ahead on my own. 

Yet for all of that other seeking and questioning and exploring, one thing remained a constant daily practice. Me, my loyal hound, and the Hill. In all types of weather, every season, and every time of year, I would be on that Hill. Of course I would see the buses of visitors coming and going at the weekend or in tourist times, but I always felt most comfortable leaving the well worn paths and taking my own way around. 

Despite its renown and its regular visits from interested folk, I still found a few wilder, less traveled spots. There I found that I could just be, and breath, gazing out over the island when the clouds pulled back and allowed. I found a few trees that felt almost completely at home, and I will confess the odd nap beneath their leafy boughs. 

As they say, hindsight is twenty twenty and it is only now as I look back that I realise I was on a personal pilgrimage to connect with my own island. I know that, albeit unintentionally, I observed all of the big seasonal shifts and festivals on that Hill, long before I even knew anything more than their names. I know that more often than not, when I stood in what had become ‘my spot’ I was casting my gaze out to the West of the island and learning to just feel my feet in the land of my ancestors. 

I can only presume that it was this which caught the attention of the Morrigan and led to her summons, but that part might be a story for a different time. 

The Recognition and the Choice

Eventually I came to realise that my journey towards knowledge had in some way organically mixed with practice. I had overtime developed an experience which didn’t fit with what I had initially thought of as my path. 

As that old poem goes, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…’ and almost unintentionally I took the ‘one less traveled by’. Eventually my perspectives grew broad enough for recognition to arrive as I realised that what I had been seeking, was actually something I had inadvertently been living for a number of years.

 I had been engaging in a reverence of nature. I had begun and progressed my journey of self exploration through introspection and meditation. I had always known of the existence of other Gods, but knowing is but the first step. The Morrigan had bridged the gap between knowledge and belief in me, and though I told her ‘no thanks’ when she offered me a job I still hold her in high regard and respect. Lastly my experiences with others I had helped, and the island itself had opened me up to the energies that existed all around me.

These things I experienced, knew and believed in. In some cases even more strongly than I believed in myself. Yet when I was present with the word which defined all of these things under one term I shied away from it. That word? Pagan. 

Given my upbringing and the challenges of exposure to derogatory and sometimes disrespectful media representation, I found it hard to connect what I was experiencing with what that term meant in my mind. Not to mention the many layers of concern I had for how such a term might be taken by my family and friends, or even indeed strangers in a still very Catholic Ireland. 

As I write this I still feel those concerns. The worries about how I might be perceived by others and how they might change their opinions of me, or react to me as different, other, or worse, dangerous because of my beliefs. So given all of that, how did I become pagan? 

I chose it. 

There will always be people who misunderstand, misconstrue, or straight up misbehave when it comes to their opinions and perspectives. What I have come to realise is that they only have relevance if I allow it. They only have power and influence, if I accept that they do, and so I chose. 

I chose to revere the natural world. I chose to acknowledge many Gods. I chose to live with introspection and meditation. I chose to be a person for whom the energies of this world are as much a part of me as they are any other thing of this world. 

Being pagan is just a way of living one’s life and expressing the values that fulfill the personal spiritual aspect of oneself as a living being. 

Being pagan, for me it’s about Choice, and living to the spiritual path that serves me, my family, and my community best. 

Thing is, this is my story. Maybe yours might be similar, maybe not. What matters is the choice and how you choose to live to that choice each day. 

Where To Now?

If you think that the Dagda is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always:

Visit the Irish Pagan School YouTube Channel

Take a Class about the Dagda

Or… Take a Free Class to Learn More about Irish Paganism

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