From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that Wicca was not a complete fit for me. I was still grappling with the concept of duality (God and Goddess) within the bounds of what I had been taught. In trying to understand that both God and Goddess were separate entities, I fell back to my Catholic roots. Much like there was Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the concept of God and Goddess found fertile ground in my understanding of my personal spirituality. It still wasn’t quite what I believed, but I barely had any manner of explaining how I really felt about the concept of God, Goddess, and my own personal approach. So, this was enough for me for the time being. I could shoehorn my own beliefs into this, at least for the time being. Perhaps the terminology and concepts I would learn going forward would be helpful in generating my own perceptions. So like a lady trying on shoes in Al Bundy’s shoe store, I pushed as much as I could into the boundaries provided, and pretended that it fit.
Now, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, so here I was just a little over a year in and I found my first area of controversy. I worked the night shift at the Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth) data processing facility. My shift was comprised of five individuals and myself. Of those five, four were charismatic Christians. Like charismatics in the military, they were over-the-top about their beliefs, and not afraid to shove their beliefs down your throat. My first night on shift, with Drawing Down the Moon to read, lead to all kinds of problems. I caught attitude from all four of these preacher-types. One of them lived three doors down from me in the dorms. He continued the same in-your-face moments with me outside of the work place. Complaints to my chain of command about my work ethic started to crop up. I went from being the guy who knew the mainframe system better than the civilian engineers from UniSys to being the problem child. In 1990, my transfer orders for Germany came in, and I danced inside at the idea of being away from these people.
Germany proved no different. I wound up in another duty section with a born-again Christian, but here my beliefs were respected. As long as I kept my beliefs to myself, there were no problems. Religious discussions were typically avoided. And I found a group of individuals who were not only sympathetic to my position as a Pagan, when I was featured in the centerfold story of “Practicing Pagans” for the Stars and Stripes newspaper – they kindly poked fun at me (my last name was misspelled as “Ban Hook” in the story). This was also the time frame where I parted ways with Wicca.
As I noted before, Wicca never really fit what I understood as my own personal Spirituality. I just never had the words to understand. But I did have the companionship of the people that were part of the coven I studied with. When I left for Germany, I had none of that. I was on my own. And I had a better understanding of Paganism; a better understanding of the dual concepts of the God and Goddess; and a stronger understanding of polytheism. I finally had concepts that fit what I believed – a wider, more expansive view of the perspective of Deities, specifically Gods and Goddesses. With no group to provide an anchorage, I started to explore my own concepts of Paganism. Without that safe harbor of a coven, I found other Pagans in my nearby communities. We banded together under the moniker of “The Pagan Support Group” (which always seemed silly for a title), and I started to learn more about how other Pagans approached their beliefs, their rituals, and their Spirituality. It was here that I started describing myself as a “neo-Pagan”. I wasn’t trying to recreate something from earlier history. I was constructing my own Path through the forests.
And the forests of Germany was where I once again found myself feeling free. Much like the years where I spent time volksmarching as a kid through the woods – I found myself taking long walks in the woods very near to the military base housing I lived in. And it was in these woods that I had my first experience with a Spirit of Place.
I was walking along a ridge above the Celtic/Roman shrine that you see in the picture. This is just west of a small town called Kindsbach, which itself is just west of the outskirts of the city of Kasierslautern. It is in the wooded area just to the south of the football field on the west side of Kindsbach. The ridge above this comes to the edge of a small 40-ish foot cliff to the path that runs right part this shrine. The area is frequently walked by the residents of the area, and they pick up most of the trash. I spent time getting the stuff that they generally missed or was a bit too far for them to reach. On this particular day, I had gotten close to the edge of the ridge, which kicks my Acrophobia into high gear. So I sat down with my back against a tree and tried to collect my breath. I shut my eyes, and felt a presence. I neither heard nor felt any specific communication, but felt a feeling of “thanks”. At first I took no notice of it. But every single time I came back, I felt that same feeling. And on the day I knew would be my last time there – when I knew I was going back to the States the next day – I could feel sorrow at my leaving. I stayed there until nightfall, which is not advised because of the wild boar population. When I walked back to my microbus (what I was driving at the time), I stopped and turned back to look at the wooded visage in front of me. It felt like a small child was hugging both of my legs tightly. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and will return some time in my lifetime to revisit this place.
That single experience opened my eyes to a much wider world of Spirituality. Monotheism, and Duotheism would never be workable concepts for me. I finally had the words to understand what I believed. I believe in many Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestors….polytheism. The belief in many, individual Gods and Entities. Now my Spiritual Path would lead me to find a framework on which to build my personal Spiritual beliefs upon.