A conversation with Dartmoor-based author and Wiccan, Rebecca Beattie. on how a life without nature manifested in her life, her Wiccan path, and about her new book, The Wheel of the Year, your nurturing guide to discovering nature’s seasons and cycles.

Rebecca Beattie and Scout

BB: How would you like to describe yourself, you have so many strings to your bow

RB: I was convinced from the age of about seven that my life’s purpose was to be an actor. My whole teenage years and then my 20s was all about getting to be an actor somewhere and that took me to London.  I found this slightly odd experience where I was doing the thing that I thought I was meant to do and loved, the creative thing, but by the end of my 20s, I was just feeling completely disconnected and out of sorts and not really understanding why. Then I had this revelatory experience whilst on a tour of Macbeth in the home counties and staying in farms and kind of rural locations and then realised it was nature that I was missing. 

Nowadays my primary focus is writing alongside my spiritual path, which is Wicca.  I self-label as a witch, which freaks a lot of people out because it’s a word that comes with a lot of history and backstory in terms of what that means to people. But for me, that witch label means that I find my spiritual connection in nature. 

For me; spiritual, creative, healing, all of it’s in nature, the whole thing. And it’s all different sides of the same coin, really. A spiritual life is the same as a creative life. 

I also have other creative strings to my bow. So I take photos when I’m in nature and I make jewellery that is inspired by what I see in nature and all sorts of other things alongside a full-time day job. How I identify tends to change according to what I’m, my primary focus is at any one time. And that depends on what my time is focusing on, if that makes sense. But my main undercurrent that goes through all of that is the writing and the spiritual path.

BB: That spiritual path, was that always there and the association with Wicca come later in London when you were feeling disconnected?? 

RB: I grew up on Dartmoor on the high moors, so I spent a lot of my childhood and my adolescence in nature. The link to modern paganism and Wicca came later and it came as a result of realising that something was really missing in my life and I was very unsatisfied spiritually in terms of acting as my creative expression. I decided to take a year off from acting because I realised I was getting quite jaded and a little bit bitter about it and I wanted to explore what would make me happy. That coincided with a post on the internet from somebody who is now a friend and who was my teacher, about a course on modern paganism and solitary witchcraft.

Nature came before paganism and the paganism was a natural development of realising that nature was essential to my spiritual and mental well-being and physical as well.

BB: Did you feel it was important for you to have a guide to explore this new spirituality?

RB: I was looking for a guide because whilst touring in Macbeth, I’d started walking in nature, I’d started really reconnecting to natural spaces and was  my best friend started sharing her interest in crystals and oracle decks and all sorts of things with me.

Then I started picking up books and reading about modern paganism and realising that they were describing how I was feeling. 

I realised that of all the different paths in modern paganism of which there are many,  witchcraft was the thing that did it for me because it was it meant I was working with herbs and essential oils and crystals and plants and all these things that I’d always been drawn to as a child and it enabled me to find playful time in that in those spaces. 

I sat on a rock in Cornwall and said to the universe, the gods, the you know, source, or  whatever we want to label it as, can I have a teacher now I’m ready, I need a teacher and then this internet post about a course in Covent Garden popped into my experience.  It all followed a path. that just unfolded and then eventually the classes turned into more formal learning and then I found a coven which I was with for probably 15 years or so.

“In order to keep an equilibrium, I’ve learned I need certain things in my life;  nature is one, the creative flow is another, the spiritual flow is a third”

BB: It feels strange to have a nature-based religion based in a major city, like London.

RB: Absolutely. London’s where the main bulk of the covens that I know are. Once I’d realised nature was missing and I needed it, I then had to find it in the urban spaces and start to think, how do I connect to that Dartmoor feeling? I lived in London for 30 years and I have to say I was homesick for every day of 30 years until I took the decision to come back home to Dartmoor and I even hear myself saying it, I came back home to Dartmoor. 

I love London, I think it’s a marvellous place, but for me, Dartmoor is home. It’s the source of everything for me. It’s where I’m plugged in directly to the electrical mains, if you like. In London, the challenge was how to find that natural connection in an urban space. And usually it’s parks, gardens, it’s the tree-lined streets, it’s, you know, window boxes, it’s all the places where nature is there, you just have to be looking for it. Most people don’t look for it because they’re busy, but I would find on my commute to work, I would find the natural spaces and the quiet spaces and go and sit and just commune with it on my way into work every day or at lunchtime or, you know, it’s finding those little pockets of time and those spaces in the parks.

BB: How did that feeling of disassociation from nature manifest for you? Was it a creative block or a physical feeling?

RB: What I found frustrating about the acting life is it is very artificial in terms of creativity because you’re being given permission by somebody when you go for an audition and you get a part, if you’re lucky enough to get a part, you then have this experience where somebody saying to you, right now you can be creative.  

I found it was a general malaise, because my creative energy was being blocked by that and I wasn’t spending time in nature because I was living in one of the most urban parts of the city. It was a loss of enchantment with life and a general feeling of this isn’t really doing it for me and there must be more to life than this. 

Both a lack of connection to nature and lack of creative flow, but which one was the root cause I’m not sure but I do think that both two things are equally as important.

In order to keep an equilibrium, I’ve learned I need certain things in my life;  nature is one, the creative flow is another, the spiritual flow is a third. So they’re all connected.

“I always think that if you’re faced with the blockage, the first thing you should do is go with the path of least resistance”

BB: I agree that if you have a creative block,  take yourself outside and it tends to shift. You obviously are not blocked creatively anymore because you’ve just published a book!

RB: Yes, the Wheel of the Year.  It was a topic that I’ve been practising for over 23 years now and teaching for the last six or seven years. It’s a cycle of festivals that are completely set by the natural world and we follow the path of nature through the year as things grow and develop and then die back and go into resting periods in winter. We have eight festivals, one every six weeks or so. 

I’d been writing fiction for quite a few years and I did a PhD in creative writing and I was thinking about what I wanted to write and I was really hoping that I could write a book on the wheel of the year, but the pagan publisher that I usually work with already had commissioned one. 

I always think that if you’re faced with the blockage, the first thing you should do is go with the path of least resistance, so whichever area is blocked, go and do the thing that isn’t. So, I couldn’t write on this particular topic, at least I can carry on teaching it. So I was teaching the classes and enjoying that as a process and then one of my students mentioned a friend who is a commissioning editor and who wanted to commission a book on the Wheel of the Year. I was: whose arm do I have to chew off to do this? 

The thing that makes this book different to the other Wheel of the Year books is that my publisher, Elliot and Thompson, aren’t pagan. They are mainstream nature publishers and they were interested in the Wheel of the Year from the perspective of somebody who’s practising it, but somebody who’s essentially a nature writer. 

It’s a guide to the wheel of the year in celebrating those festivals, but it’s also there to help people connect to themselves. We’ve all had the trauma of a global pandemic that’s been going on that’s changed our lives irrevocably and we’ve all got our own things going on in our lives, in addition to that. What I wanted to do was marry those two things together. 

The underpinning  thing that I ask people to do as part of the book is get out into nature and look at what’s in front of you, where are you and what’s in season. You don’t have to identify as pagan, it’s written by a modern pagan, but it’s written for everybody, it’s a non-denominational book. 

I’ve written in references to the fact that for every pagan festival that we celebrate, there are also internationally other festivals from other religions that have very similar themes all happening around the same time. So when it’s spring for us, it’s also spring for the Zoroastrian faith, or in China or Japan. Whilst Christians are celebrating Harvest Festival, pagans are celebrating the wheat harvest, and then across the globe, people are also celebrating various harvests. 

If you start to look at other faiths and other people, you start to see the patterns in the human condition, if you like. We all need certain things in our lives to connect to nature. If you simplify your life and just bring things back to what’s happening in nature at this time, what you find is that the natural world tends to reflect what’s happening in your own life and vice versa. 

“there’s something about just stopping and taking a deep breath. and just seeing what’s right in front of you with all of your senses”

BB: Is there a ceremonial aspect to this?

RB: There is, but there doesn’t have to be. As part of my working group, my coven, there is a ceremonial aspect. When we get together, we hold rituals to celebrate the Wheel of the Year festivals. It’s not compulsory that you do that. 

As an individual, I might also celebrate something in a particular way. For example, we’ve got the winter solstice. in December. I’ll see my coven for an actual ritual but I’ll also probably mark something –  I might go up to Merrivale and watch the sunrise, or I might, go to one of the many sacred sites on Dartmoor that we have access to, and just mark that moment of the sun rising on Solstice, which humans have been celebrating for millennia.  I’ll also celebrate Christmas with my family.

BB: What would you encourage your readers to try as a first step?

 RB: I think if you can, get out in nature physically and spend time there then I would urge people to do that. Not everybody has the luxury of a national park on their doorstep, so for some people it might be a garden, a park or it might just be focusing on a tree that’s growing outside your house, your office or wherever you spend your time. It’s just about noticing and stopping . We all rush through life and there’s something about just stopping and taking a deep breath. and just seeing what’s right in front of you with all of your senses.