Had my grandmother lived long enough, today would have been her 90th birthday. Diana Patricia Beatrice Barton (Barty to her friends) died a few years ago, and I still miss her. At the date closest to her birthday, I sing songs of hers at folk club, as a way of honouring her memory. In previous years that’s been a private thing, but my son is sharing it this time round.
In many ways, I am a pagan because of my grandmother. Both of my parents explored Wicca when I was a child, and I grew up in a house full of books on myth, folklore, magic… I met witches, had a few interesting experiences along the way. But none of these things actually made me pagan, they just helped when I realised I was.
It all came down to one conversation with my grandmother.
Like many teenagers, I wasn’t an especially happy creature. There were reasons. Not extraordinary reasons, most of them to do with being a lost and confused young person with low self esteem, convinced that I was too fat to be loved, struggling with my parents separating, hungry for affection but not knowing how to do relationship, socially inept, painfully shy, self conscious, and full of need that nothing seemed able to answer. At the time it seemed like a very big deal, but I had only seen molehills and had yet to learn that mountains are something else entirely.
My grandmother had a much harder life. Hers included horrendous poverty, divorce when that kind of thing wasn’t very socially acceptable, abuse, and dreadfully poor health. She had far more to be unhappy about than I did, but she handled it with grace, and stoicism. As a self obsessed teen, I didn’t really appreciate that, but I think I see more looking back than I did at the time.
I can’t remember why I was having a bad day. Which says a lot about whatever had made me miserable. She told me, quietly and without judgement, that when things were getting to her, she would go outside, and look at the sky and the hills. She reminded me that nature is beautiful, and always around us, and that whatever else is happening, the beauty of nature is something to find joy in, take comfort from, and trust.
I took those words onboard, and from that day I started looking around me more, taking notice, and learning to care. Boys might be fickle and unkind. School might be stifling. Family life might be uncomfortable. The hills were always there, constant, dependable, full of beauty and their own kind of magic. Thanks to her words, I learned to see.
Since then it’s been a process, deepening that relationship with the natural world, letting it feed my soul and ease my heart. Most people are not much use in that regard, and it took me a long time to learn not to be so people-centric in my affections. The hills do not approve of me. I do not need them to. That works. I can cry into the wind, howl to the soil when my heart is breaking. Being able to do so makes it easier to manage those ever-challenging human relationships that tend to cause all the pain.
My grandmother considered herself Christian, but on her own terms. She could tell a person’s character from their handwriting, and had premonitions. She saw ghosts. I don’t know much about what she believed, I think it was a private thing for her. But she took me chasing rainbows as a child, taught me to bake, and some needlecraft, shared her art, stoicism, and love of nature. That I am a pagan now, is very much due to her. So today, I honour her memory.