I always had a sense that I didn’t quite fit in as a boy.
Maybe my stammer was to blame for this disconnect with other folk. And when my parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses and took me along with them my social alienation deepened.
Already unable to have conversations with classmates, having to be excluded from so many school activities certainly set me up as different. Religious eduction lessons, morning assemblies, lessons that mentioned evolution or sex, all after school activities not to mention Christmas, Easter, Hallowe’en and birthday parties were out for me. Often left to sit alone in a classroom I’d be given ‘copying’ activities by a teacher to keep me out of trouble. It really did feel like a punishment and made me an easy target for bullies.
But you know what… I had the overarching sense that I was right and everyone else was wrong, even as a junior school lad. That was the power of the religious indoctrination I’d been inculcated with. I was happy to be a martyr for my god. Looking back I can see just how damaging that was. Fortunately I did have memories of a deep connection with the nature and land around me even though I had turned my back on it, being told that talking to animals and plants was ‘the Devil’s work’.
A Moorland Childhood
Brought up on the edge of the moors of Anglezarke in Lancashire the woods and hills were my childhood playground and out there I had my voice. Even as a young lad I had a deep sense of connection with the place which was probably due to my ancestors walking the same landscape for many generations.
My mum was born not 50 yards away from where I lived (and still do), her mum was born some 400 yards away and the 5 generations before her appear to have been birthed at a hamlet called Haddock Fold just a stone’s throw from there. Many of my ancestors lived and farmed in small holdings on what is now Anglezarke Moor, my homeland.
This land imbued me with a power that I didn’t know I had, and which lay dormant within me until I was ready. The power of the land never did abandon me, although I turned my back on it for much of my life.
Photography kept me going.
It was my way of connecting with my world. I lived to bring back images and share them in family slideshows. I held a secret desire to become a nature film maker, but knew this was a dream that would never be realised. You see, from being 9 I was taught that God’s war was due any time soon and that everyone who was not a good, practising JW would be destroyed. We were told to live as if we only had 6 months left before this world changing event and that it would be better to spend that time door knocking and evangelising rather than pursuing personal dreams and careers, lest we be marked for death. I fell for this hook line and sinker.
The ramifications of living through my first 40 years of life truly thinking it would all end within a few month were vastly debilitating. And as a growing teenager I was convinced that because I was curious about things that drew my eye and could lead to sin (girls!) I would certainly be marked for destruction by fire and sulphur when God’s legions brought their justice.
However nature kept calling me back, relentlessly. She never gave up on me, even though I always turned my back on her. Even as an adult I clung to ‘the Truth’ as the Jehovah’s Witnesses called their path. I married in the faith and even brought up two daughters within the confines of the ‘only months until God’s war principle’. We are still unravelling the deep trauma of this patterning from our bones, although we left those beliefs long years ago.
Working now as a photo journalist I did eventually begin to question certain points of faith, but the Elders always silenced me. I was flagged as a doubting Thomas by the organisation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society which was the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Becoming more and more disenchanted I kept my questions to myself, seeing no other way to live than the JW way. I had no power, no sovereignty, no autonomy. I was told what to believe, what opinions to have, what material to read and who I could listen to.But secretly I read BBC Wildlife magazine! My fascination with nature began to raise more and more questions. And then I stumbled upon a book called The Raptor and The Lamb which caused the dominoes to tumble around me as I realised that what I saw in nature couldn’t possibly sit with many of the core beliefs that I held as The Truth.
Yet still I clung on. I lacked the courage to step away as the ramifications would be disastrous. Nature had other ideas though. Seeing me ripe for connection she hurled me into a personal crisis due to an accident which yanked me away from the 5 weekly meetings by the scruff of my neck and helped me find the courage to know myself.
True I lost virtually all my friends, my family were hugely disappointed in me and divorce inevitable. It felt as if I’d pulled the Tower Tarot card, cast the Hagalaz rune and drawn the Yew ogham stave all at once as my world tumbled. But there I stood, small and vulnerable, but smelling the heady scent of freedom.
Walking the Land
I began to walk the land once more and to see the real Truth shining through. I stepped into the Earth path and took many learnings from Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidry, Sorcery, Heathenism and Alchemy until shaman Robyn Fell showed me the way home. And the land rose to meet me. One day, as I walked with my distant ancestors and Tommy my dear hound we heard the far away throb of drums ebbing and flowing from Anglezarke, circling around us. Bells tinkled in the peaty ground beneath our feet and I saw the shadowy spirit of place welcoming me back to the old valley.
I’d begun to explore the shamanic toolkit and knew I was on to something as I realised it underpinned and supported much of what I had learned to be the old ways. I moved between pagan communities for a while, making friends and learning much and, having now found my voice, I began to see the important of building a community. How many others were trapped in a life that snuffed out their dreams, stole their power and taught conformity rather than creativity, division rather than cooperation?
As I sated my thirst to learn more I met Nicola and together we wove a plan to build community and share our stories with folk who hungered for the real life. This has grown from the tiny seed of a Cheshire drumming circle into The Mystery School, our offering to you as we step together into whatever is around the corner.
Ironically this has also given me the opportunity to live my childhood dream of becoming a nature film maker, but not to line the pockets of a production company. I’m able to create films for our clan, to bring the stories of nature home just like the slideshows of my childhood, only bigger. Much bigger and with truth and beauty at their core.
As I sit here now, between the massif of Winter Hill and the mystery of Round Loaf burial mound I feel the kiss of the moorland breeze on my face and burst with gratitude for the land. This land holds a power deep within its bones and so do we.
As ever, those who govern our lives seek to keep us quiet, subservient and limited in our belief of personal power. But the land tells us no, we must not stay small, we must not wither and give up on our dreams.
A full, natural and compelling life is waiting and the shamanic toolkit holds the keys to unlock the cage that dares confine us. Within our Mystery School Nicola and I lay out these trusty old keys and invite you to take them, one by one, and release those locks that bind you.