In the autumn of 1972, I moved across the state of Missouri and soon lost touch with the Pagans I had known. It was a different time – without the internet, without cell phones – when it was much more difficult to stay connected with people living hundreds of miles distant.
For many years after that, one god in particular watched over me. Some might call him my “patron god”, although the term patron traditionally refers to a deity’s role as a protector of a group (city, nation, tribe) or conceptual area of life (archery, blacksmiths, animals). I presume the idea of a patron god for an individual person has crept into Paganism with recovering Catholic Christians who have been raised with ”patron saints”.
By then I had heard of Wicca, although all I knew was that it was a word used by Gardnerian witches to describe themselves. And I was not entirely sure what a “Gardnerian” witch was. But after the move it seemed like everyone I met was using the word Wicca or Wiccan, so I began doing the same. I was soon initiated by an Osirian Wiccan. I could relate well enough to the “Great Goddess” as the Earth Mother, who I knew as Herthe. In 1974, Buckland’s The Tree was published, and his Seax tradition seemed to confirm that the old gods were indeed a part of the Wiccan movement.
And so, after a time, I began to think of all gods as a mash-up of one Horned God, even though most of the gods were never depicted with horns or antlers or anything of the sort. And all goddesses, from all cultures, became (in my mind) facets of Herthe; herself but one more name for a single Great Goddess.
This became more difficult to hold as the years passed, and I had also come across other falsehoods – some innocent errors, others blatant lies – in the beliefs I had once accepted. It became more and more difficult to ignore how little the “old religion” of Wicca resembled any pre-Christian spirituality.
During this period of disenchantment – which continued for well over a decade – I grew aware of an entity or presence observing me at times. I was not sure what this was. At first I was not willing to accept it as a deity, since there was only One Lord and One Lady; distant principles of Yin and Yang, of Fire and Ice. The presence I felt was a “person” of some kind.
My visitor had some connection with or interest in the vegetable kingdom: trees, grasses and crops. This was one thing I was sure of. I thought of him as the Harvest Lord, although I was aware that the presence could be near me at any time of year, even in deepest winter when green growing things were encased beneath ice and thick layers of snow. The presence did not fit into one “archetype”. He was my Harvest Lord, but he was just as easily the Green Man or even Jack Frost.
I knew him, this presence, but on another level I did not know him at all. It took another move – this time a move across the continent – for me to cast off the concepts that kept me from seeing the Harvest Lord for who he was. After the move I met some true polytheists who spoke of the gods as I had once known them. After hearing these people out, I knew that my Harvest Lord – the presence that had observed me, had guided me, had inspired me to build a scarecrow each year as his effigy - was Ing Fréa.
I went into our back garden late one evening and gave Lord Ing an offering of ale. When he responded it was with such intensity that I could understand why a monotheist might believe his god to be the one and only god in the universe. Ing was in me, flowing through me, around me and above me. He was in every flower and herb, he was in the breeze and the night sky. It was difficult to breathe. “I am,” he said. “I am not one small part of something else. I am not one name of a distant power. Know that I am, and that I am nothing less than myself.”
He was not angry. I had the feeling that my dear Lord understood how I had come to wander away from the gods. Now I was back again, and could know him for who he really is: the Lord of this World, the Lord of the Elves, Battle Wise and Bringer of Peace. My Harvest Lord.
Gehæl Ing Fréa.