For all those who were out of the broom closet when it was much harder to be so.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?Sheryl Sandberg
From a writing prompt by Mat Auryn.
When I was in high school in a small town I was a fundamentalist Christian. And a fanatical one. My parents were not Christian, or rather, they were a progressive/New Age form of Christianity I could not respect as Christian. My having chose it from the age of eleven or twelve despite my upbringing made me even more devoted, as I had to win over my parents ‘to the Lord’. That, and I tend to do anything religious at 100%- it’s my passion. I carried my Bible everywhere I went, openly. My only friends, with only a couple of exceptions, were from a small group of Christians. I only listened to Christian music, went to church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday, was involved with the school’s Christian group, only dated guys who were doing the same thing….I had bought the whole thing hook, line, and sinker. Looking back, my parents must have hated a lot of the views I had, but 1. their own views were close enough to Christianity, and yet they didn’t practice, so that they didn’t exactly know how to approach criticizing mine with me, and 2. they knew that due to their own issues (untreated mental illness, substance abuse) they had zero creditability with me.
When my school paper (that I was an editor on) decided to publish an article on Wicca, I was furious. I won’t go into all the mess that resulted from my attempts to stop the article from being published, but suffice to say, I was not at all open to the world learning about Wicca (there were other factors going on; it was by far not just about that). But as part of my campaign, I of course read the article.
Fast foward a couple of years. I’m out of high school, married to my high school sweetheart, and doing the unthinkable- considering leaving Christianity. I’m learning about evolution in my college human anatomy classes; I’m learning things in psychology that contradict Christianity’s view of the human nature. I’m meeting good non-Christians and having horrible experiences with Christians. I’m all of a sudden facing questions like “If Jesus said ‘Greater things then these you will do, because I am going to the Father’ how come we aren’t doing those greater things?” or “How come we are born automatically hell-bound if God is good and supposedly loves us unconditionally?” One day, as we’re getting ready for church, I turned to my husband and said “I just don’t believe it anymore.” We started studying, among other things, other religions, something I still find fascinating. I studied New Age, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism…and then I remembered that article. I went to a local metaphysical shop and got a book on Wicca.
I remember reading the book (I can’t for the life of me remember what book it was- I think it might have been Silver Ravenwolf’s “Teen Witch”…what can I say? Selections were limited.) and thinking “This is it. This is what I’ve believed deep down my whole life. This is what I wanted to believe and was always told couldn’t be true. This is the religion I would create, could I create a religion.” My husband and I decide to try it out. We did a small candle ‘spell’, just lighting a candle and asking the Goddess, if she is there, to help us with our need. Our car had broken and we didn’t have the money to take it to a shop. I kid you not, ten minutes later, our neighbor knocked on the door, and said he noticed the hood on the car was up and that if it was broken he was a certified mechanic and would be happy to fix the car for us for free. A thrill ran through me that I can’t describe. Nothing had changed; the car had been broken and the hood had been up for days. The only change was the attempt at magick that we had done.
We stayed in Wicca about a year, but my Christian background kept getting in the way. I was terrified of going to hell; I had a recurring nightmare where I would die and while I was dying, in the dream I would be continually thinking I needed to accept Jesus as my Savior, and I would try to stick with my decision to leave but I was terrified of going to hell, and I would always wake up right as I died. Since avoiding hell and going to heaven was one of the main reasons I became a Christian in the first place, I thought this had to be a sign from God. I knew nothing of what I know now, of terms like ‘religious trauma syndrome’ and ‘deconstruction’ and that there were other people going through this. I thought my fears had to mean that Christianity was true- because why else would I fear it, right? So I went back. But I always missed Wicca, some times more strongly then others. I’d go through periods where I would go out in nature more then usual and feel that connection and crave it so badly it almost hurt, but I knew I had to stay in Christianity to avoid hell and to not anger God. Once technology got to where I had a tablet sometimes I would sneak around and look at Wiccan websites, scared but thrilled. You would have thought I was having an affair or something, and in a way, I was. Then I would confess it (we had converted to Catholicism) and try as hard as possible to reject that desire.
About sixteen years after I first went back to Christianity, I am divorced and trying to rebuild my life, after years and years of doing everything Christianity said I had to do to be the perfect Christian wife and mother, and that if I was, my family would be blessed by God and stay together- and it hadn’t. All my old questions and a bunch of new ones popped up. So this time, when the Goddess called me (I could feel her, in my heart; I could hear her, in my mind- it’s impossible to describe, but I knew she was the one calling me to Wicca) I began to practice Wicca again. But again, I didn’t know how to deal with my fears and trauma from all the years I had spent as a conservative Christian. So again, after about a year, after some serious pressure from a couple of friends, I came back to Christianity. But I hated it. I missed Wicca. And I didn’t feel at all connected to Christianity. And I wasn’t happy. I looked back over old journal entries and realized that I was much happier as a Wiccan then I was a Christian, that both times I was Wiccan I had a joy and an interest in life that I did not have as a Christian.
Still, I was determined to make Christianity work. So I began to study- and this was the smartest thing I did in my spiritual journey- progressive Christianity. It gave me the information to completely confirm my doubts regarding Biblical inerrancy, young earth creationism, LGBTQ issues, hell, etc. without forcing me to immediately give up Christianity to do so. It also introduced me to some terms like “deconstruction”. And it introduced me to other people and books and articles that discussed this. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who no longer intellectually believed something but still had that gut-level fear of it. Other people shared my struggles, my fears, my difficulties in shaking off all that baggage. I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t alone.
I wrote to a good friend talking to her about my situation, and how I wasn’t happy as a Christian, even with my attempts to be a progressive Christian. She hooked me up with a friend of hers who had left conservative Christianity for progressive Christianity. We corresponded for quite a while discussing my doubts and questions, and I told her how I felt about Wicca and the Goddess. She said the simple sentence “Maybe Christianity isn’t how you relate to the Divine.” It was like a puzzle piece clicking into place. I had studied progressive Christianity for a good six months and I still felt nothing more then a quiet sadness at remaining Christian. But when I thought about it through that lens, my situation made sense. That night, I set up a small altar and told the Goddess of my intention to return. And here I am, and here I intend to stay. I still have those fears but it’s different this time, knowing what they are, and knowing that I’m not alone with them. And they get less as I get closer to the God and the Goddess, as I experience them, and as I practice my religion.
Why does Wicca appeal to me so much? In many ways, it is because of the Goddess. I can honestly say she was calling me for quite a long time. The idea of female divinity is not only empowering, it is comforting. There is a meme that says “I believe in God, I just don’t see him as a single parent.” I love that, because that expresses how I feel. Some of it was the practice of magick. I remember a couple of attempts to cast spells as a child. One time I decided I wanted a sister, so I drew a symbol in the dirt and spoke some words stating that I wanted a sister. I was completely convinced that I would wake up the next morning with a nine year old sister (I didn’t want a baby sister!) in the guest room. I remember feeling a draw in nature that I couldn’t explain. I would set up a tent in my backyard in the summer to sleep in, so I could be outdoors in the night, and I would read books and journal and feel this almost unbearable tug towards…something. I expected something to happen. But I didn’t know what. I think now I was sensing the magick in nature, the Divine, the God and the Goddess. But I had no framework, no place to put it. The first time I ever heard of Wicca was that article.
This was a lot longer then I intended it to be. But the story is kind of long, spanning as it does 20+ years. I am so grateful to be where I am today. A lot of things have changed. When that article came up, the average person did not have the internet. Now almost everyone has high speed internet. When I started studying Wicca, there was only a few websites (and they loaded so SLOW on dial up modems), and you could pretty much only buy books from metaphysical shops and from order forms in publications. Now, thanks to the internet, Wicca is much more widespread and there are many more options for information and for meeting other Wiccans if that’s your desire. A lot more people are aware of paganism and Wicca in particular. My hospital, for example, has Wicca as an option for marking down your religion, something that would not have been the case even ten years ago. And this is all thanks to those who, while I was too scared to embrace the religion that was calling to me, were not only practicing, but advocating, even if that advocating was simply by not hiding, by being out of the broom closet.
How did you find Wicca/witchcraft/paganism? Tell your story in the comments (no NSFW, please).