A Decade of Paganism
When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I had a children’s Bible that I must have read a hundred times. I quickly noticed that it didn’t have any of the quotes that I heard in church, so I knew I had to get my hands on the real thing. I struggled with this mammoth book and its Jacobean writing style, and once I got past that I struggled with its contents. I had no trouble believing that Moses had parted the Red Sea or that Jesus could turn water into wine. What troubled me was the way the Bible regarded women.
You see, in my childhood I had a more fervent faith that any adult I’ve ever met. It wasn’t ever enough to read about all that stuff happening so long ago, I wanted that stuff to happen here, now. I wanted to be involved in my faith, not just have it spoon-fed to me on Sundays. I wanted to be a preacher, or a prophet, or a modern-day Biblical hero. Reading the real-life grown-up Bible made me realize that could never happen, and for no better reason than that I am female.
That’s how it came to be that at the age of fourteen, I was looking for new options. I didn’t have much to go on, just some vague idea that other religions existed plus a love for mythology and stories. Then one of the other kids in the neighborhood found a battered old brown book that was simply titled Wicca (no idea who the author was) . We never really knew where this book came from, but all the kids were fascinated with it because it mostly contained what we recognized as Witchcraft (in hindsight, this was not a very good book on Wicca) , but it opened us up to new possibilities, and the few mentions in the book of “The Goddess” caught my interest. Surely a Lady god would let women step up to the plate! There was no way to find out more about this Goddess at the time, but that problem soon disappeared, when we got the internet hooked up at the house.
Online, I ran into Wicca again when I met a lot of Witches on a site I frequented. This led me to do further research, and I liked what I found out. Soon my prayers were directed at an equal Goddess and God, and I worked out a plan to get the book that everyone online recommended to me as a great starting place- Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. This was a lot better than that battered old book we had been toying around with. I learned a lot from it, and for the next two or three years I was a devoted and enthusiastic Wiccan.
I’ve always heard a lot of complaints about teen witches, but people have got to start somewhere. I won’t say that I was always mature and grounded in my approach to Wicca at that time, but I don’t think I was a total Fluffbunny either. It wasn’t a phase. It wasn’t a fairy tale version of my life. It was my new path, and I’m still walking it, so I try to show respect to teen Pagans when I run across them on the net
When I was old enough to get a job, I bought more books on Wicca and Witchcraft, including more Cunningham books and Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. I liked all of these books, but I started to get a little bit disenchanted with Wicca. I might never have done so if I could have been a part of some organized Tradition or coven.
The problem was something I had trouble grasping at the time. Wicca was a hodge-podge of stuff borrowed from older religions and often watered down a lot. While I liked and believed in the idea that “All gods are one God”, I wasn’t really interested in worshipping some flavorless compilation of gods. It’s hard to put into words what I needed, but the closest thing I can think of is discipline. Wicca didn’t seem to have any standards to live up to outside of “harm none, ” and I thought there should be more to it than that. I also thought that Wicca, and many Wiccans, focused too much on sex, both as a part of the religion and as a major sign of freedom. It made me feel left out, because I had an “inexcusable” aversion to sex (will get into that later) .
Another thing was that I wanted to stick to one god or set of gods. I researched a number of Pagan paths, including Hellenic Reconstructionism, Celtic Reconstructionism, and Discordianism. I also read up a bit on Theraveda Buddhism. It was a while before I would settle for any one thing, however, and instead of moving on, I incorporated pieces of these other paths (especially Discordianism and Buddhism) into my faith.
Then there came a day when I stumbled across an article on The Witches’ Voice that talked about something called soul retrieval. I was interested in this, and resolved to contact the person mentioned in the article. I was now nineteen and no longer living with my Southern Baptist mother so it was no trouble for me to do so. I had progressed over the last five years, but not as much as I thought. The process of soul retrieval marked the beginning of the real growth, perhaps due as much to becoming an adult as to the soul retrieval itself.
When I talked to the woman, she told me about a lot of things. First off, she said that I was a “walk-in”, a person who steps into the body of another, sometimes for a specific purpose. According to her, my specific purpose was to get back into the world of life so I could repair myself of damage done in my last life.
I take what I hear about past lives and such with a grain of salt, as I’m not even sure how reincarnation works, or if it works at all, but what I was told about my past life in this conversation answered some very important questions about things in my life, most notably my big sexual hang-up. A lot of family members had been thinking that I had been molested at some point, but the truth is that such a thing never happened in my childhood. I had no real reason for my unnatural fear and aversion that made me feel weak, ashamed, and confused. That’s why I was inclined to believe her when she told me that I had been brutally assaulted in a past life.
Believing in those gory details opened me up more to the rest of what she said. She explained that she was a “Plant Woman”, and that I was training to be a sort of Norse version of that in this past life. “Plant Woman” was her preferred term for what we might call a Medicine Woman or a Shaman.
After the soul retrieval, I felt revitalized, and there was a definite feel of beginning. I felt like an apprentice or acolyte, just beginning my spiritual path. I decided to check out Norse mythology and Heathen faiths such as Asatru and Odinism, and (how had I not already done so by that point? I have no idea) , and I loved what I found.
From then on, my primary focus would be on Heathen gods and Heathen lore. The only exceptions have been two occasions wherein I implemented Chaos Magic in order to use another belief to further my path. The first time was in order to understand better the rifts between my Christian family and myself by sliding back into the Christian paradigm for a while. The second was a time I felt that I specifically needed to the energies of the Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet. Both of these experiences were very powerful, but I was happy to get back to my Heathen comfort zone.
Being a Heathen fulfilled a lot of my personal needs that Wicca just didn’t fulfill. I’m not saying Wicca isn’t a good religion, it’s just that being a Heathen rocks my socks. I liked that the structure was just a little more rigid (even though I never joined up with any specific Heathen path) and that there were ancient, poetic texts to study and ponder. I suppose I had missed these things since leaving Christianity. I started reading the Eddas on sacred-texts.com and eventually bought a copy of each one.
As I’m reviewing the last ten years (going on eleven- I am now 25 years of age) , I can’t help but think about exactly what it means to be Pagan. Oh, I know about the standard definition, but there’s also a tiny but unique culture we have. Even though I’ve primarily been solitary, only attending one full-on Pagan Festival the entire time and one year’s celebration of the NYC Pagan Pride gathering, there is this very real culture of which I am a part.
I’ve seen this culture change over time, watching from underneath my little rock. At first, Wicca seemed to be the only form of Paganism I ran across. Within five years, there were tons of people claiming this little religion or that, and many people seemed to open fire on Wicca the same way they would on Christianity. For the most part, though, no matter what religion we claim, we all seem to go our own way (I’d like to see whether it works that way with more organized Pagans) . And somehow, all those little roads go in roughly the same direction and get us to roughly the same place. Modern Pagan culture, because of its diversity, is less about the Gods we believe in and more about a spiritual journey, a process of growth and learning.
It changes the way we see the world. I know Christians and atheists and even Asian Buddhists, and all of them have a different way of seeing things than I do. It’s hard to explain exactly what this difference is. Christians and Buddhists have texts to guide them in religious conduct and thought. Atheists prefer to just live life and not think about any spiritual aspect in life. As for us, I think we tend to look at the same situations through a different lens. We try to understand things. That doesn’t make us any better than anyone else, nor does it guarantee that we will always come to the most logical conclusions, but it is something.
There are other things Pagans tend to have in common, such as knowledge of other Pagan paths, a certain degree of Occult knowledge, and the experience of being a tiny religious minority. This what makes us into a single large community (well… roughly speaking, anyway) . Though my practice is solitary, there are a lot of big things in my life that could not have happened without the existence of this community.
Ten years, you guys. What now? There aren’t any books or guides to tell a Pagan what to do at this point. (Should there be?) I know what I’d like to do next, though. I want to be more involved in this community. I feel like it still has a lot to offer me, and I finally feel like maybe I have some things to contribute. That remains to be seen. It’s the next chapter I choose to embark upon, now that my first decade of Paganism has come to a close.