While it seems that a majority of Witches were raised in non-religious families, or else had parents who had left their own families’ religion behind, many do come to the Craft from religious backgrounds. Most were brought up in a denomination of Christianity, but other faiths are represented as well.
A religious upbringing can be tricky for an aspiring Witch, particularly for those who grew disillusioned with a faith they once followed, and especially for those whose family lives were strongly infused with their religion.
If this is your situation, you might experience resistance to much of what you read and hear about Witchcraft, no matter how much it resonates with some parts of you. This resistance might be subtle or quite active, and can come from a variety ideas that you may have consciously let go of, but are deeply ingrained nonetheless.
For example, you might struggle with adopting a new concept of deity, such as the Wiccan God and Goddess, or any of their “lesser” aspects from the various pantheons that practitioners of Wicca and other forms of the Craft follow. You may have had it instilled in you from an early age that the deity (usually known simply as “God”) of your religion is the only one, and that any other deity is completely fabricated by human beings, or else somehow inappropriate to give your attention to.
Many sects of Christianity in particular havelong held that anything with the slightest whiff of paganism is inherently “evil,” but this idea is found within the other monotheistic religions as well. So even though you know in your heart that there’s nothing wrong with following a different deity, and doing so in an entirely different way, it can still feel rather strange.
You may also have been raised with a concept of deity (usually “God”) as one who is both benevolent and punishing, watching and judging your every action and providing you with plenty of opportunities to feel guilty if you’re not living up to what you’ve been taught is the ideal standard of behavior. In this kind of belief system, a rigid concept of the afterlife is often used as motivation for keeping oneself in line, and the rules involved can run from simple to complex, and from sensible to seemingly random and bizarre.
People who leave religions with strict dogma tend to be wary of the word “god,” whether it’s capitalized or not, and are generally resistant to anything resembling “rules.” So when you come across a Witch or a book that appears to take a dogmatic approach to the Craft (such as a fixed arrangement of the altar that must be followed consistently, or some other element of practice that can only be viewed from a specific perspective), it can be off-putting.
The concept of goddesses is also challenging for some who have been raised in the patriarchal religious systems of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although this is also a major draw, if not the major draw, for many Witches who work with deities.
The presence of a divine feminine and the balanced equality between the two genders in many forms of the Craft is a refreshing and welcoming experience for many who come from a patriarchal background. And some forms of Wicca actually leave male deities out of it altogether. Nonetheless, if your former notion of divinity was exclusively male, then goddesses can be a little hard to get used to.
Not all forms of Witchcraft recognize deities, however, and it should also be acknowledged that a vast number of Witches would reject the idea that their path is a religion. Wicca is officially recognized as a religion in many places, but even some Wiccans decline to identify it that way.
It should also be noted that there are Witches who continue to practice their religion of origin along with Witchcraft and see no conflict between the two—even if most members of that religion of origin would disagree!
If you’re feeling called to the Craft, but uncertain or hesitant about how the concept of deity fits with your worldview as a “religious refugee,” know that your experience of this path is yours alone.
No one can make you believe in anything, and no amount of worshiping or honoring or invoking a deity is going to make it real for you if you’re just going through the motions because it seems like you’re “supposed to.” Unless you belong to a Wiccan coven that worships particular aspects of the Goddess and God, you really have a wide range of possibilities to explore in this department.
If following a well-established path is what feels right, then you may be more predisposed to follow deities that are widely believed in by members of specific traditions. Or you can take the “eclectic” route and build your own practice, which may or may not include deities.
No matter how your path evolves, you can let go of the idea that any one religion or belief system is the “correct” one. In fact, it can be very useful to allow for the possibility that the infinite Universe has room for all deities and all beliefs, with no one particular set of ideas being any more correct than another.
You can also relax, take your time, and trust that you will find your way when you’re ready. Although some people do end up having a specific mystical or spiritual experience that immediately opens them up to a new understanding of the non-physical world in a particular and lasting way, most of us come to an understanding of our deities of choice (or lack thereof) more gradually.
So don’t let mixed feelings about “religion” stop you from following your inner guidance. Know that if you listen to yourself first, you’ll always end up where you’re meant to be.
Wicca Living a Magical Life: A Guide to Initiation, Self-Dedication and Navigating Your Journey in the Craft