Articles/Essays From Pagans
May 19th. 2013 ...
The Role of Identity in Magic
Talking Trash? It's a Dirty Subject but Waste Happens.
My Wiccan Journey
13 Keys: The Victory of Netzach
May 12th. 2013 ...
Pagan Studies I: How Should We Define Modern Paganism?
The Third Path
Nothing Special... Part Two
May 5th. 2013 ...
The Value of Multicultural Awareness
Put Your Back Into It (Our Lady of the Sacred Honey Badger)
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Red Lipped Bat Fish
April 28th. 2013 ...
Lessons from the Lessers: Iris
April 21st. 2013 ...
Taken By The Goddess: The Crescent Moon Tattoo
The Gods/Being Godbothered
To Be A Witch
The Archetypes are Gods: Re-godding the Archetypes
April 14th. 2013 ...
On The Inclusion of Children
'Wand Fun' With Grandson
Lessons from a Baby
Lessons of Freedom: On Divinity and Healing
April 7th. 2013 ...
Out of the Broom Closet... Sorta
A Journey Through the Witches Tarot
History and Science Behind Numerology
March 31st. 2013 ...
What is the Magickal Self?
Ethics and Numerology
March 24th. 2013 ...
Keystones of the Sacred Land
March 17th. 2013 ...
Why Some Pagans and Witches Still Hide
Witch Heritage 101: What Happens When Witch Haters Joke about anti-Witch Films
I'm Not a Broom. So What's with the Closet?
March 10th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Things I Did as a New Pagan: Part 3
Hunting for the Real Witch in Film
The Collective Shadow
Lies - The Opposite of Truth
March 3rd. 2013 ...
Grounding and Releasing Negative Energy
A Patchwork of Magick
February 24th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I Made as a New Pagan (Part Two)
February 17th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I made as a New Pagan... Part One
Gardening with Crystal Energies
A Call from the Ancestors
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Black Water Snakes
February 10th. 2013 ...
We Are the Weirdos, Mister: A Completely Uncool Story of Origin
February 3rd. 2013 ...
"I'll Grind Your Bones to Make my Bread": Pagans and Animal Husbandry
The Role of Contemporary Culture in Magic
A Pagan Response to Endangered Earth
The Great Mother's Gift, Heinlein, and the Nature of Squirrels
13 Keys: The Glory of Hod
January 27th. 2013 ...
Why We Do Need Wicca
The Cosmos In the Coffee Shop
On Travel Spirituality and Magick
January 20th. 2013 ...
Beloved Backs and How to Save Them
Building or Burning Bridges?
Plants, Magic and Intuition
Plagiarism - How It Harms Our Community
January 13th. 2013 ...
Ramblings of a Pagan Guy: Stupid Clichés
The Magick and Power of Words
Aging Is Not Easy
The Riddle of Who We Are?
January 6th. 2013 ...
Wicca v Witchcraft
A Witch in the Closet
How Many People Can You Fit Under An Umbrella?
Gut Hunches, Mouse Dreams, and Pinkie Sense
December 30th. 2012 ...
Ritual "Cheat Sheet" Bracelet
Magick is All Around Us
Confessions of a Living Satyr
A Tiny Bit of Belly Dance History
December 23rd. 2012 ...
The Warrior Goddess and You.
World Change: A Message from Greece
What's the Meaning of Life, Anyway?
My Brother's Keeper
December 16th. 2012 ...
Keeping Christ in Xmas
Love is the Law
Listen to Your Heart's Wisdom
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
To Some Conversion, To Others Perversion: How Are You a Pagan?
Article ID: 12554
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 14th. 2008
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[Note: This was originally intended as my term paper for World Religions. Hopefully it will be a springboard for others to discuss more in-depth about conversion. We seem to not talk about it much, and from my experience as a newbie, I know I felt doubts about what was going on inside me. Also, many thanks to the people here on Witchvox that made this possible! I've gotta tell you, you guys are the chattiest bunch, and it's wonderful.]
I am a Pagan, but I have not always been. In fact, most Pagans today started off in another religion, almost always Christianity, but sometimes from other traditions like Judaism. What spurs the need to change? And how does one go about rewiring everything they were ever taught to think something different? Well, with my own experiences and those of others I interviewed, I hope I can explain.
For starters, most of us are the proverbial black sheep of the faith anyway. We have crazy thoughts that do not mesh with what the Church teaches, or feel like some of the ideas are good, but the overall thing does not work. Some just feel like outsiders from the beginning.
One of my interviewee’s for this endeavor, Devi, put it best:
“I remember questioning the faith as it was interpreted and practiced as young as three or four. The very strict, literalist interpretations made no real sense to me, and the attitude of intolerance that they tried to portray God and Jesus with just felt damn wrong. I felt that whenever I had a spiritual question, I was given a cookie-cutter answer that was designed to scare me into not thinking for myself, and just relying on what I was being fed from the pastors.
As I got older, it got harder and harder for me to resolve the inconsistencies. I felt that what I was feeling from my relationship with Jesus (unconditional love and acceptance, compassion, and sense of spiritual fun and adventure) was very different than what I was being taught was the opinion of God/Jesus (all non-Christians will burn in hell for eternity, etc.) The way I saw and experienced the world spiritually just wasn’t compatible with the Christian institution.”
This is where I started as well. I grew up in a fairly active church going family, and went along for a long time because that is what the family did. I did not really question things because as a kid I was in it for the sandwiches Mom would bring for us, and the Biblical coloring pages they passed out for us during the service. At about the age of nine I really started getting involved.
One day in Sunday school I was given a paper with the Lord’s Prayer on it and ideas to pray to God about. I took it home and stuck it on the wall and tried to pray every night. I did not know what to expect, so I just went through the routine of saying hi, please forgive me of my sins, here’s some things I want, here are some people I like that you should bless, and an amen tacked on the end. It felt like writing a letter.
And at some point I even tried writing letters, thinking it might help keep me awake during evening prayers. Over time I lapsed out of praying every night and only ended up praying when I thought I was dying from the stomach flu, and then I would tell God that I was never going to do bad things again, so long as I stopped puking.
It stayed that way for quite some time until I started confirmation classes and going to a Christian school at the same time, around 13 years old. Between the two of them, I was surrounded by Christianity and was absorbed into the idea of it. I found the Bible from that year a little while ago and noticed a page where I had “rededicated” myself to studying the Word. I learned so much from those two years, and my parents still deem me a better scholar in the history of the Bible than they because of it, but it was ironically also when I first learned of Paganism.
I was, and still am a real book nerd, and somehow came across a website online whilst looking for fan fiction about the idea of Otherkin. Otherkin are people who believe that they are reincarnated, but in their past life they were something more mythical, such as dragons or werewolves or elves. I did not get into this myself, but I did read into it a lot because I thought it was an entertaining idea.
One day I brought a print out about it to my Bible teacher at school and he made fun of me and called me “The Little Elf” for the rest of the year. Soon after that my parents checked my Internet history and flipped out, giving me a stern lecture on the real world and not to be so stupid. Of course, when a parent forbids something, it becomes all the more appealing.
Before the year was out, I was bored with the idea of Otherkin and had just about given up reading it when I surfed to a page on Paganism. Luckily for me, this was not one of the many crappy web pages dedicated to it, but as I was to find out, one of the best.
Again, I researched this out of curiosity and not of belief. We even had to research other religions for Bible class, and I was so mad when the girl who got Wicca would not trade for me for my religion. I still giggled at the nonsense that people practiced magic and called themselves Witches. That was stuff out of a book, and no crazy would really believe that! So I looked into it out of boredom, and after checking more reliable websites, began to wonder about Paganism. All these things they believed were just what I believed! But at 14, I was still terrified of going to Hell for such horrible things, so I put it out of my mind.
I was confirmed into my church in May, and although I have now forgotten the exact verse, the idea still rings in my mind, “I will not forsake thee God.” Choosing this particular verse made it all the harder when the time came that I began to let go.
Time passed and I went back to public school for high school. Back in the real world, I tried doubly hard to be a good Christian. I checked out all the Youth groups in the school, tried to read my way straight through the Bible (I failed on that one.) , and tried to be a generally good kid. All this time though, I heard no voice, no comfort from God. The only thing that ever came remotely close was when I prayed for encouragement and then my CD player happened to switch to a really uplifting song. That was the only time I heard God talk to me. After that it was like the prayer line was turned off, and I must have done something wrong to deserve it.
This really upset me, and so I tried everything in hopes of reconnecting. I went to church twice a week, was active in the youth group, the choir, the hand bells, and the kitchen. I joined online mailing lists of people who sent in prayer requests thinking maybe if I prayed for others than God will listen. And though I made friends and had fun, it was never something spiritual. Finally, I just began to give up.
I stopped going to the youth group, partially because I was becoming an outsider and the leaders had changed, but also because I was not getting anything out of it. I had read too much and started questioning the beliefs the church taught, and no one would give me a satisfactory answer.
I asked my dad why women were not able to be pastors and was told that they were not given that right, and that it was a man’s duty. Apparently this was shocking to quite a few girls, as one such girl, Amy, told me, “I read a paragraph in a book that quoted the Bible saying that women are subservient to men. I grabbed a Bible to see for myself, and saw it.”
After that I began to feel resentment and to feel incredibly angry whenever I came to church. Thank goodness though, I was not the only one, and as Athena put it, “Even as a child, I knew Christianity was never the right religion for me, and that feeling only grew stronger as I got older. The arguments with my Sunday school teachers every week didn’t help. I was always in hot water for asking questions that couldn’t be answered by merely quoting scripture.”
At this point, I started looking into Paganism again. I had rented a book from the library, and snuck it along on a trip to visit the grandparents in Texas. Stealthily reading in the far back seat of the minivan and at night when everyone was asleep, I absorbed even more, and really started to feel a tug. When I got home, I really wanted to try communing with these gods and seeing what happened.
Sitting on the floor in front of a table with Capri Sun poured into a wine glass and Ritz Crackers as cakes, I asked the gods to bless the food I ate. I felt kind of silly, sitting in my room and eating crackers while talking to an old god from my mythology book, but at the same time I actually felt something. Like they came down and enjoyed the meal with me, and left me with a feeling of peace, like a good hug. I finished that little communion feeling light inside, but as soon as night fell, I was struck with guilt that I would go to Hell for it.
Slowly over time I pushed the boundaries of what was going to send me to Hell. Anybody who has left Christianity knows there is a lot of deprogramming to do. I started by collecting any information I could and putting it into an old school folder.
One afternoon, I found a Tarot set at the bookstore that I found amusing (The Gummy Bear Tarot) and brought it home. I did some readings on my own, and found them eerily accurate. I know it is partially because they are just vague enough to do so, but it is still a helpful tool to clarify the problem in your mind. I even brought them to school and during breaks ended up doing a lot of readings for classmates. Tarot cards do not seem to have much of a stigma.
I started stocking up on books again and reading through them all, deciding if this was still right for me. And it was. I have had to learn to see things differently though. This is nothing to be forced, and some people retain some Christian practices because they are comfortable with them. It just takes a new sense of awareness to really make the change. Pagans have no uniform idea of what happens after we die, but no one seems worried.
At first that really bothered me, but the longer I stay with this, the more I feel the same way. Some people have ideas about what may happen, like a Summerland where you see your family and rest in eternal summer, some people take it very scientifically and say since our energy never dies but changes and that perhaps we go on somehow, or sometimes people subscribe to a form of reincarnation.
And then there are some people who will honestly tell you, like Joey, “That’s a great question, unfortunately I have no idea like saying what happens. I haven’t died before (that I’m aware of) so I don’t like saying for sure because I’m not 100% certain.” You trust in Deity that they know what is best.
Just because we do not have a holy book doesn’t mean the gods cannot teach us. We believe strongly in personal truths, those little “Ah ha!” moments in which you learned something new about yourself or the world.
Speaking to another interviewee, Ken, he stated that between personal and revealed truths he preferred “personal truth, although I never dismiss truths which may have been revealed to someone else. On the other hand, I don’t blindly accept revealed truth because some religious authority declares it to be the only legitimate source of knowledge.”
You would be surprised what insight you can gather just sitting back and passively watching the world. There is nothing like watching a little kid in an epic reenactment of a battle with a knight and a dragon, or sighting wild animals on a nature trail and just watching them. Mysteries happen in the death and rebirth of a dandelion every year, and in how we still have rituals in everyday life, whether we realize it or not.
Some people claim the secular world has squashed out all ritual and with no ritual the adolescents of the country feel lost. It is not that we do not have the ritual, but that we have degraded it into a common event. There does not need to be an elaborate ritual to the Goddess when a girl first gets her period, but how about just celebrating it? Take her out to the restaurant of her choice or let her pick some new makeup. Let her embrace this new wave of womanhood in what is right for her.
This is one of the joys of Paganism, making the little things mythical again.
Myth in general is very important. Some Pagans treat them as archetypes and follow them as lessons, while others take them as literally as they can be taken. That is another interesting decision to be made in the community: the difference between universal Deity and the polytheism where the gods are separate and unique Deities that coexist together. All Pagans will agree that they have the feeling of “wholeness” from the universe, but to quote Embreis:
“Everyone who has gone very far in any mystical practice will have a vision of the wholeness of the universe/multiverse, which is very comforting. I believe this vision is that which is call Ain Soph Aur in Kabala, Brahman in Hinduism, or the Tao of Lao-Tse. When mystics confuse this with their local war god, the monotheistic error arises.
But, from my point of view, that ‘wholeness’ is not god or Deity or the gods. The gods are part of it, but so are you and I and so are the cockroaches and viruses and clouds of gas in space. More importantly, this ‘wholeness’ doesn’t do anything, because every action and all of its consequences are already complete in it. The gods, on the other hand, are real, active and, to use Richard Eberhardt’s phrase ‘as sensual as tears.’ That, at least, is my experience.”
So what about our “commandments?” One sticks to the Pagan twist of the golden rule, and anything after that is up to you. In Wicca they have the simple rule of “An it harm none, do as thou will.” In Thelema, the rule is similar: “Do as Thou Wilt shall be the Whole of the Law; Love is the Law, Love under Will.” These are the key tenets of Paganism.
This does not mean that you should go crazy, but if you are truly sticking to the rule then nothing terrible should come of it. Almost as a deterrent is the Law of Three-Fold Return, which states that whatever you do returns to you three-fold, though this Law is debated among people. The most interesting thing about these though is that there is no big scary punishment for messing up. Everything you do reflects back on you, and you become your own moral judge.
Some religions argue that one cannot be moral without religion telling you how to be so, but in Paganism this myth has been debunked. Ask anyone why he or she chooses to be a moral person, and they say because they want to or choose to.
Most people tend to follow the particulars of a specific tradition, but all you really need at the very core is yourself and your beliefs. And everyone is okay with that. They do not believe that there can only be one true way, and even though many have difficulties accepting the religions that do, they still agree that all paths are ways to connect to the Divine.
The choice I made was not a rebellion. My parents still believe it is a phase I will work my way out of. They sigh when they see my books or the podcasts I listen to, and always try to sneak in some hint about going to church again, but at least they are not trying to eject me from the house and deny I am their child. Most parents will not go that far, although sometimes people who choose this faith become pariahs in the family.
But when you really believe something, sometimes it becomes necessary. Everyone I spoke with though had the same answer when I asked people if they started looking into Paganism as a rebellion, and Ken said it best:
“I suppose all of us start it as a rebellion, but I wanted to make sure it was my path, so I didn’t rush into it. In fact, I was 35 before I fully embraced it and pursued a serious study, joined a coven, etc. … One of the things I always try to emphasize to new seekers is that rebellion is not enough to root yourself in this path over the long term. You have to develop a broader sense of identity with it. Besides, I’m way too old to be going around trying to shock my folks with Goth clothing and big pentacles!”
So what do we do with ourselves when we start to feel comfortable on this new path? We stay the same. We do not go and buy out the nearest Goth store; neither do we purchase pentacle necklaces the size of a hubcap to proudly show our faith. (Well, some will, but that is a whole other issue.) Most of us will still be who we always were: students, nurses, lawyers, mothers, and sons. The list goes on.
I got mad one day because my boyfriend accused Pagans of dressing funny and looking like a bad crowd, so I found tons and tons of pictures of people who had put them up on Witchy sites and without telling him who they were, asked what they all had in common. And of course, he could not guess. We are average humans, just like anyone else. And the funniest part is that most Christians assume we are Christian too!
Most Pagans will politely tell you they are happy with their god when given pamphlets, or grin and tell you that it is okay because you worship the same god. There are some perks to a Divine that has facets everywhere. It just may be that I am not worshipping your facet. In fact, at the end of every survey I asked people if they wanted the world to all worship the same, or to be different and try to get along.
Every single one of them wanted us to be different. And that is awesome. Maybe world peace is attainable after all, if we would just agree to disagree. Probably will not happen, but it is at least a start.
And about Witches having an “agenda” and trying to take over the world? I asked what people wanted to accomplish before they die now that they have settled into their path and got some of the most mundane, but most human answers back.
Coale wants to be the best person she can be. Janet wants to be known for her love towards her husband and her baby boy. Rebecca wants to rescue cats and care for them. Rachael wants to be an organ donor so someone else may live. Joseph just wants to make a good impression on people and be happy.
After switching religions I can honestly say that it was just that one thing switching. Inside I am still me. Which is how it should be because if I am converting for any other reason than it feeling like the coming home of my soul, then I really did not convert at all.
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