From Catholicism to Wicca
Article ID: 12084
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Janice Van Cleve
Posted: November 4th. 2007
Times Viewed: 6,938
I left my Catholic faith on the floor of the Washington State House of Representatives on March 2, 1993. (For all I know, it may still be banging around there, but most likely it was long since buried by the less spiritual matters cast away in that place.)
For years I had worked with other queer activists across the state of Washington for the Gay Rights Bill. I marched, I rallied, and I testified before state committees. The bill, numbered HB1443 that year, was a modest proposal to treat queer people equally in housing, employment, insurance, and credit (it was finally passed in 2006). We had assurances from the Archbishop of Seattle that the Catholic Church would remain neutral.
Then came the Green Badge People. Hundreds of them.
They sported green badges to emphasize their numbers. They packed their evangelical busses and jammed the Capitol. Representative (later Senator) Cal Anderson had to move the public hearing from the committee room to the house chamber to accommodate the throng.
It was nasty.
The Green Badge People hooted and booed every witness who testified in favor of the bill. Teenagers crowding the aisles spat their unwitting hate on cue when directed by their coaches. One blonde woman in a prim blue suit testified that she was a born-again Christian to the cheers of the right-wingers, until she said she supported the bill.
Then like a rattlesnake, the Green Badge People snapped around at her, whipped out their venom, and shouted her down.
Finally the Catholic spokesperson took the microphone. All eyes turned on him in glaring silence. The archbishop was out of town. Bishop Skylstad of Spokane (who was shuttling pedophile priests around his diocese at the time) was pulling the strings. He ordered the spokesperson to come out against the bill and he prevailed upon one Catholic Democratic senator to switch his position. That one vote defeated HB1443.
I was devastated, lost, and angry. I had left the Carmelite Monastery to worship in the only gay-friendly Catholic island left in Seattle – Dignity – the Catholic gay/lesbian organization that gathered every Sunday night at St. Joseph Church.
We would circle the altar holding hands as the priest transformed the bread and wine into the holy body and blood.
I used to watch in rapt attention, believing I could actually see the transubstantiation happening right before my human eyes. I was a true believer. I was a baptized and confirmed Catholic, a graduate of Catholic grade school and of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. I had even become a Eucharistic minister, dispensing the sacred wafers with my own hands.
But I am a lesbian and the Church had declared war upon me. Cardinal Ratzinger (formerly a Hitler Youth and now Pope Benedict the XVI) declared that we queers were “intrinsically disordered” and my Dignity family was banned from mass. I faced a profound choice – do I give up my faith in which I was raised and so thoroughly steeped or do I give up my integrity as a person?
I truly believed that if I did not “eat his flesh and drink his blood I would have no life in me” (Jn 6:53), which made leaving the church tantamount to spiritual suicide. I had the keys to the tabernacle and I even momentarily entertained the thought of stealing wafers to store in my freezer – a little Jesus on ice.
Yet my sexual orientation is an integral part of me and denying it would be a psychological suicide.
After a hard couple of days, I chose my integrity. I spoke out at the Dignity meeting and hand delivered my resignation from the church to archbishop Murphy.
I was no longer a Catholic.
Yet no river has only one current and neither did my spiritual life. I did not see it at the time, but my conversion to Wicca had been advancing along a simultaneous if completely separate path from my disillusion with the Catholic Church. Funny thing is, that it all happened within the very walls of the church itself.
My first introduction to things Wiccan was from another Dignity member who introduced the subject of “women’s’ mysteries” in one of our Catholic women’s’ groups. I rejected it out of hand as pagan, but the memories stuck with me.
Then just eight days before the Night Of The Green Badge People, I enrolled in a class on women in the gospels. It was taught by a female Catholic theologian right in the cathedral school next to St. James Cathedral itself. There I learned about how women really did much of the heavy lifting to get Christianity started and how later male writers played down and ultimately almost erased women from the story.
The teacher would start class with a little symbolic ritual like lighting a candle or explaining the significance of Mary Magdalene’s red egg. I was still approaching all this intellectually so I found the little rituals annoying.
Yet I came away from the class with the same awakening that I got from Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. The latter demonstrated how male historians lied to us and now I discovered that male theologians had lied, too. Both downplayed the roles of women to enforce and justify patriarchy.
I met three other women in the class and we started a reading group that met once a week through the summer. We investigated our spirituality on our own.
Soon, I cannot remember why or when, we began integrating candles and then incense into our weekly get-togethers. Of course we began pot lucking, too! (Whenever women gather, sharing food is never far behind.) When we came upon Judith Duerk’s book, Circle of Stones, we were profoundly affected and each of us adopted a stone.
By the time the summer was over, we had four women gathering in the park every week, sitting in circle around a candle, incense, and a small circle of stones participating in what can only be described as a religious ritual.
We had no name for our little reading group and not once did we try to adopt affiliation with a larger group. When it came time for us to break up – one to a marriage, one to school, etc. – we met in a small intimate restaurant for a last meal together. After the waiter left, we moved the candle to the center of the table and put our stones around it.
We each in turn picked up the stone of another and spoke to its owner how she had contributed to our spiritual awakening. No Catholic mass ever touched me as deeply personal as this little ceremony. (Five years later I reverently deposited that stone on top of the Tor at Glastonbury, England. Sure enough, another stone on the Tor called to me and it is on my home altar to this day.)
By then I had moved on as well. Two weeks before our little “Last Supper”, another girlfriend invited me to the Lesbian Resource Center where she had heard of a women’s’ circle. It was September 12, 1993. Inside I found a group of women sitting around a black circular cloth and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go up.
“The nuns aren’t going to like this!” I muttered to myself.
Then I saw the candles, incense, communion, and a collection plate. It was not that different after all. The women were friendly and the ritual felt true. Ten days later I found myself out in a forest near Duvall on a moonlit night. I was dancing with women around a bonfire to celebrate the Autumn Equinox.
It was real. It was home.
I embraced Wicca.
Copyright: Janice Van Cleve Copyright 2007.
Janice Van Cleve
Location: Seattle, Washington
Author's Profile: To learn more about Janice Van Cleve - Click HERE
Bio: Janice Van Cleve is a writer, teacher, and priestess in the Dianic tradition of Wicca and frequent facilitator for women’s rituals at pagan conventions statewide. She has studied and practiced much since that first year. Her most influential resource is still Ruth Barrett’s audiotape, “Invocation To Free Women.” Copyright 2007.
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