Sometimes the answer to why someone is religious is as simple as knowing what religion/culture they were raised in. The familiar is often comforting, and most large religions have enough to offer people nowadays that there wouldn’t necessarily be big reasons to look for something else.
I grew up in a Christian community, going to a Christian church that was unique in that it was influenced by very eastern ideas. The congregation believed in reincarnation, karma, astrology, etc. We learned all these things side by side with Bible stories. I remember when I was old enough to start going to the “young adult” services (the children were given a more participatory, separate service to keep their attention). The young adult service was the third tier, and the last one before you graduated to the adult services. There’s a particular one that sticks in my mind.
We were performing the normal meditations and prayers, lighting candles and speaking devotionals and so forth. I remember looking up into the corner of the room, near the ceiling. And I asked the Christian God in my head, not in a demanding way, just a curious way…are you there? It was, more specifically, an “Are you there for me?” type of question. And even though He didn’t answer, I could feel Him there. For many people, that’s enough. To know, or to believe, that He exists. Feeling a godly presence is something that can impact your emotions and psyche for a long time. It definitely creates ripples.
I don’t want to sound selfish or demanding, though you could probably interpret this as such. But a divine Presence wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted an answer. I wanted attention and visibility and above all LOVE. I didn’t feel like the Christian God was all that interested in me, personally. He’s got better things to do, I guess, though I don’t understand how you can be omnipresent and omnipotent and not be able to divide your attention a billion ways to give each person individual time and love.
It occurs to me that I should probably also write about why I’m religious, which ties more into my writing. But this essay is specifically about why I’m Pagan, so I’ll keep running with that.
I wasn’t even aware I was searching for something else when I found a book at a weekly outing with my best friend. It was at a Borders (makes you feel old, huh? Remembering when they were still around…). The book was in the teen section, titled Where to Park Your Broomstick. It was the perfect intro to Paganism/Wicca. It stressed the religious beliefs, while still touching on the witchcraft and personal acts and rituals of worship. I stayed up most of that night reading it, and then by the next morning I was ready to devote myself to being Pagan. It wasn’t until a few months later that I did a meditation where I actually came into contact with the Goddess.
To give you a bit of background, my relationship with my mother hasn’t always been easy. To say it’s strained doesn’t even describe it well. It’s more like…it’s complicated. I wanted desperately to please her, when I was a kid. I noticed that if I did well, or didn’t upset her, that she’d be happy. And I wanted her to be happy. She invested a lot of time and effort in the care of myself and my sister. She loves children, and still views our young years as the best of her life. I think her identity as a mother is her favorite and predominant one. And as a little kid, I must have sensed that, and wanted to feed into it to make her happy. The problem that I think we had was a sense of imbalance. If I’m her life, and I’m trying so hard to make her happy–where is my life? I got all tangled up in my mom and my sister, until I wasn’t sure where I stopped and they started. Then as an independent, fiery Aries, age thirteen, I was trying to define myself. Except I didn’t have a self.
So I created one. I fought to find the beliefs and passions and motivations that would sustain me the rest of my life. I read some very influential books, the predominant ones being the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Humanism, I could get behind. Organized religion? Sure, there’s a lot of potential for corruptness there. The best thing those books taught me was personal accountability, though. You can be a young kid, with no special powers, and the fate of all the worlds can rest on your shoulders and on the decisions you make in innocence and faith.
I want to change the world, of course. I want to make an impact. I think because I have so much gratitude for the people whose creative work, philosophical thinking, or lasting historical impacts gave me my sense of purpose. I think about the men who died recently on a Portland bus and I am heartbroken by it. It does help bolster my faith in humanity, though. There are good people out there. People who will stand up for others. In this situation they were cut down for doing so. That isn’t right, or good, or just. The intentions, though, the actions to protect others–there is a purity in that. A faith, and a decency, that I think everyone should aspire to embody.
So as someone who was largely invisible and had no sense of self as a kid, there I was thirteen years old, reading books that were teaching me how to look at the world, how to be a responsible world citizen. I had English teachers encouraging me to write–prose, poetry, anything at all. In my writing I found much of myself, as well. And then I was introduced to a religion where the God and Goddess were participatory. They were right there. You were allowed to talk directly to them, and they would answer back. All I needed was a faith in the fantastical, a belief in the inherent magic of the world. I had that in spades. I was raised to be religious, after all. Meditations were easy. You mean I just have to see things in my head? You mean that the voices that respond to my questions are actually my psyche’s connection to the divine, speaking through my mind?
It was the easiest thing in the world. To go from playing by myself (I didn’t have many friends as a young kid), creating stories and adventures for my stuffed animals and toys, to move up to meditations and astral travel and spiritual self-discovery. I’ve got imagination in spades, and if a spark of that is all that’s needed to contact the divine, I was more than eager to sign up.
That first meditation where I met the Lady was more influential than I could possibly describe. I had been starving. I had ideas about what a mother should be, and for some reason they didn’t jive with what my actual, biological mother provided for me. I experienced a lot of grief over that, constantly wondering if I just wasn’t good enough to merit her attention and love the way that I wanted to be attended to and loved. Then in steps the Goddess, and She is warm and soft and ever so strong. She is unwavering in her support of me. Her love is legendary and offers me everything I could ever hope for. Here were a Mother and Father who didn’t want me to fit some version of what they wanted me to be. They just wanted me to be who I am. That’s all. Be true to yourself, They said, and remember Us. So that’s what I did. That’s what I continue to do. That’s what I consider being a good Witch, and a good person.
So Paganism, for me, fills the void of feeling invisible and un-important, as well as unloved by a certain kind of Mother.
As far as the Nature aspect goes (since that is a big part of being Pagan, too), I have my grandpa to thank for that. He was in the field of sustainable agriculture, and he loved to teach. He used to take me puddle jumping every time it rained when I was growing up (which wasn’t often, since I grew up in Southern California). Then when he moved to Washington state he had me help him design his backyard garden, and build a pond and waterfall. He sent me across the street to a big pond (which has since been mostly built over) to catch frogs to set loose in the back yard, so he could hear their singing at night and they could bring life to his pond. He took me out to sites that were going to be cleared for new houses so that we could save saplings and replant them elsewhere. One that I picked out specially still grows by that house.
When you put it all together, it’s 0% surprising that I am Pagan. I’m glad I found it so young, of course, so that I could really absorb it and not have to try too hard to adjust my mental processes later on. I would have found it eventually no matter what, though.
If you have any questions about my beliefs or anything at all, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Blessed Be.