Here is a guest post from Maria Ede-Weaving
When I lived on the Isle of Wight, I wrote much upon my own Blog about the island’s beauty and the yearning for rural spaces. Pagan spirituality is often associated with wild, natural places, Pagans seeking to experience the Divine at its heart. There is a strong thread of Romanticism that runs through the Pagan worldview. The Romantic movement grew out of the increasing rise of industrialism and the expansion of urban environments that were perceived as dirty, overcrowded and soulless; a place where God was absent -Blake wrote of ‘those dark satanic mills’. The polarisation between the natural world and the man-made urban space could well be seen as a reflection of Monotheism’s own internal split between God and Satan; God and his natural order pitted against Satan’s creation of – through the hubris of man – a world of smog that mocked nature and brought about the destruction of the rural idyll.
Of course, the rural idyll is a myth in itself. Most of our natural, wild places (in the UK at least) are not wild or natural at all. Britain’s truly wild landscapes are few, most places sculpted by farming or mining; humans shaping the landscape, and nature adapting to those changes.
Having recently moved back to a densely populated city, the notions of perceived beauty in both natural and urban worlds have been apparent to me. Living in Portsmouth for twenty three years before I moved to the Island, I had always seen myself as a rural lass trapped in an urban landscape, yearning for the green open spaces of my childhood woodland and downland home. In fact, yearning for even wilder, lonelier places to dwell. I harboured a dream to live on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, believing myself to be ideally suited to the isolation and peace, a great part of me feeling kinship with those starkly beautiful coastal places. The opportunity to move to the Isle of Wight – although a softer, less bleak environment – thrilled me.
I can’t deny that the natural beauty of the Island is magical. However, the isolation of island life had its impact and I quickly learnt that my Lewis dream was an illusion; beautiful surroundings are not enough if one’s internal landscape is a psychological wasteland and one’s soul tribe is scattered.
What has surprised me is the beauty of the urban environment I am currently re-acquainting myself with. Having left and now returned, I am seeing the city through fresh eyes. The film of weary familiarity has been swiped clean – I have been falling in love with its shapes and colours, the composition of tightly occupied vistas, its business, its full-on surge of human life and activity. What once had appeared dirty, overcrowded and ugly has now taken on a strangely magical aura. There is ugliness here but it dwells tooth by jowl with unexpected loveliness, the ugly possessing its own peculiar beauty when we look at it with neutral and open eyes.
The view from my partner’s flat shows lines of terraced housing, their gardens back to back; roofs in various shapes and shades of tile, warm browns, muddier greys; slate and brick and coloured rendering lashed together with washing lines stretching from house to garden shed, a scene that Stanley Spencer would have painted perfectly. These uneven structures possess their own emotional texture: friendly, warm, known, each a home containing countless lives and stories.
And then there are the moments when the drizzle at rush hour catches the neon, revealing the fine droplets carried in eddies and swirls; the wetness of the roads reflecting the headlights, the fine spray diffusing the light, softening the glare – the energy and movement of the busy streets contrasting and dissolving in the mizzle; hardness blurring at the edges.
Time and again, this surprising shift of perception shows me yet another angle by which to view this place that I have known so well but have barely ‘seen’ until now.
The truth is that the Divine lives in every landscape; those heightened moments when the Awen floods in and fires our senses and our souls, can be felt wherever we find ourselves.
I will finish with a useful quote from Arthur Schopenhauer which says much about the freedoms and restrictions of our ways of seeing:
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world…