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.
Baptism by Fire|
Posted: January 16th. 2000
Times Viewed: 4,303
Finding Paganism was something I expected to happen to me sometime in my life. I did not know it would be Paganism that I would find, but I knew I would find some religion that "fit" me if I kept looking. Little did I know that I would have what my father would call a "Baptism by Fire" as my introduction to my newly found religion. My father used that expression a lot, and my father figures prominently into this essay. Before anybody goes ballistic over the term, let me explain what it meansit means, for reasons unknown, one must go through an ordeal to attain some either literal or figurative goal or end. This ordeal is not something that other people must experience to get to the same place, or to make the same thing happen. So, you see, it is just an expression, which has nothing to do with either Christian Baptism or fire.
I was raised as an Episcopalian, though my paternal grandparents and my father were raised as Southern Baptists. My maternal grandmother who was a first generation Czech American and her parents had been what she termed "free thinkers, " I can only imagine that was a very radical thing to be in Minnesota at the turn of the last century. My mother was raised an Episcopalian. My best friends in high school were Catholic. My first boyfriend in high school is now a Catholic Missionary in Haiti. While in college in the mid-1980's, I studied Religion and Classical History, though I majored in English Literature. Later I married a Jewish man (who in truth was an atheist), I attempted to learn Hebrew, and did celebrate the Jewish holidays with him and his family. The marriage did not last, but that had nothing to do with his religion, or a lack thereof. I lived in England for a while, and there I attend the Anglican Church. Wherever I traveled, either here in the US, in Europe or elsewhere, I intentionally searched out different religious traditions. My parents divorced when I was in my early twenties, my father remained an Episcopalian. My mother, however, did her own spiritual search and became a Buddhist. I recently graduated from a Catholic (Jesuit) law school.
How does any of this relate to Paganism and a time of crisis... in many ways, actually, as does the Internet. I discovered AOL in early December 1996. I signed up for my free month and went out into the vast playground of cyberspace for the very first time. Though I have not done it lately, I discovered the guilty pleasure of lurking in chat rooms. I found a room on AOL called the Pagan Tea HouseI had no way of knowing my venture into that room would change my life. By the end of December 1996, just four weeks later, I knew my search for a religion was over, though many new chapters in my life were just beginning.
The Pagan Tea House (PTH), back then seemed to be full of Pagans who were genuinely interested in giving patient and gentle suggestions regarding books to read or links to follow for those who were curious about Paganism in its various forms. From the room 'regulars' whom I silently watched for a time before I approached them, I was able to get links to various resources on Paganism, and suggestions for some good "intro" books to read. It was through suggestions in the PTH that I eventually found The Witches' Voice among other terrific web resources.
I know that I am NOT the first person to say that when I found 'my' religion I was beyond ecstatic. The joyous throes of trying to find any and all information I could about Paganism consumed my time, I scoured the shelves of bookstores for suggested titles. I searched the Internet for any Paganism links, and quickly distinguished between the good, bad and the ugly of web sites. It seemed I signed up for every Pagan mailing list I could find. I was so happy and felt so connected to a religion, a life and a world of which I had only dreamed. Suddenly, that world threatened to shatter. I received a phone call that my father, who I had just seen days before, had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhagea stroke.
I must tell you one other thing about my past. In 1982, a brother of mine was in terrible car wreck. He died three years later. He had suffered terrible head injuries in the crash and had become infected with HIV during one of the many surgeries that followed his accident (1982 was before they screened blood for HIV). I knew, as the rest of my family knew, that 'only time will tell' how a massive head trauma will turn out. With head injuries (and HIV), you are either fighting for or against timesometimes it seems you must do both simultaneously. There are two types of strokes, blood clot strokes and cerebral hemorrhage - aneurysm - strokes. The latter, which my father suffered, is fatal 80% of the time. This type of stroke is just another type of massive head injury.
At the news of my father's stroke all of my joy was gone, all of my newfound happiness was gone. The doctors gave my father a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. My father lived 500 miles from my home in Chicago. I could not get a plane out that night, so I made a reservation for the next day not knowing if I was going to my father's bedside or funeral.
The next night I saw my father. I was alone with him in his ICU room, he was unconscious (as he would be for two more weeks), and I felt so alone, so utterly alone. There lay, helpless, a man who had always been bigger than life to me. A former Naval aviator, a man who had made his living for the past three decades as an artist, a man not without a myriad of faults, but still my father who had taken me outside on a covered porch during thunderstorms and taught me not to be afraid. As I stood there, looking down at him, all I could think was "Oh, I am so afraid, you never taught me about this daddy." The next thought that passed through my mind was that the Christian God was punishing me for turning my back on Him, by embracing Paganism. Then I realized that my thoughts were just centuries worth of propagandapropaganda popping into my head as it was skillfully designed to do at moments of crisis, and that was all. What kind of god would punish me by hurting somebody I loved? Not any god that I would ever believe in was the answer that came ROARING into me. I then thought, what do I do? What is there that I know how to do?
I began talking to my father, I told him I was there, I was so sorry this had happened, that I loved him. I put my hands on his head and imagined the blood vessels sealing, the bleeding stopping, the blood flow returning to the parts of his brain that were starving for it. I realized that my father did not need pity, he needed strength. He needed me to be strong. He needed my physical and mental strength. I told my father what had happened, and that if I had anything to do with it he was going to make it, and make it out whole. I told him that he could have all the strength in me, and I asked him to feel it in my hands. I asked the Goddess and the God for strength. I lost track of everything around me but "seeing" my father well. I have no idea if any of this worked. But, my father did not die that night, or the next, or the next. I believed at that moment if there was anything I could do that would help, that was it. I drew my strength from my newly found religion, a religion that I had no doubt at that moment had been part of me in countless past lifetimes. I felt a spiritual warmth around us, I knew my father and I were not alone in that room. I left the room exhausted, but I did not sleep for the next 24 hours.
My family was never one that aired publicly our religious feelings. Perhaps that was the residual Episcopalian in us. Our prayers were quiet and to ourselves. We were taught religion should be a private and personal thing. Therefore, there was no reason at that time to tell anybody in my family of the religious epiphany I had just experienced at my father's bedside. My family would not have wanted to hear about it anymore than I would have wanted to hear them praying to Jesus.
The next morning my siblings and I, along with my father's wife, met with the neurologist. After my brother's injury and illness I believed I had seen the best and worst of all that can be in the medical profession. I was wrong, I had not seen the worst. The neurologist walked up to us and told us without an ounce of compassion "Your father's CT scan from yesterday is the CT scan of a dead man. He should not still be alive. You have one chance to save him, and that is to allow me to do immediate surgery. I must go into his brain and stop the bleeding, or he will die." We asked him what the optimum results would be with this surgery. He told us that the surgery itself would undoubtedly cause severe brain damage, the optimum results would be that my father would live, though there were no guarantees. None of us hesitated a heartbeat to say no to the surgery. We had seen what brain damage had done to my brother. We all knew that my father would rather go "meet his Maker" (his term for his God), than be left alive with a severely damaged brain. If it were my father's time to go, he would go. The doctor walked away obviously disappointed in our decision.
My hope is that none of you ever have to make this sort of decision. It is the most difficult one you will ever makethe life of another is literally in your hands. I encourage each and every one of you reading this to write a Will and include a Living Will if you have not done so already. Do this if you are 18 or 108. Let others know what your wishes are, that way if they ever find themselves in such a situation with you they will know what you want and you will know your wishes will be followed. Also, sign that organ donor card with the appropriate witnesses present, if you intend to donate your organs. Let at least two people in your family know of your wishes. If you are under 18 and reading this you can still let your parents, your siblingssomebody know what your wishes are even if you do not yet have a Will, a Living Will or the legal ability to sign an organ donor card.
My father did not die. His recovery was, and is, slow as we approach the third anniversary of his stroke. Months passed before he was able to return home from the hospital and rehab centers. In terms of his memory, my father is "all there." He is partially paralyzed on his right side. He has problems with his speech. He will never pilot his planes again, one of his biggest joys in life. But he has picked up a paintbrush again, albeit with his left hand. He paints and draws better with his left hand now (he was right handed before the stroke) than I ever will with my right hand (and I am right handed). He is an avid reader, and enjoys his morning newspaper, paperback novels and sports on TV as much as he ever did. He lives in the same home as before his stroke with his wife and his dog, his life is much different than before the stroke, but in essential ways it is the same.
After I returned home to Chicago in early January 1997, I began making some major changes in my life. I had discovered my "new" religion but I was only beginning to really learn about it. I had temporarily questioned it, but had come out stronger and more certain of it from the questioning. I had not told any of my family about my religious discoveries during the end of 1996 or the beginning of 1997. However, I did start taking charge of a few things that needed changing. I started the painful legal process of ending my marriage. Both my husband and I had known that it was over for quite some time, but neither of us had taken the step of seeing a lawyer to officially end it. I began looking for a new place to live. At this time I also began looking for a teacher, though it didn't consciously register that was what I was doing at the time.
I found my teacher in the PTH during the second week of January 1997. Of course, neither of us knew at that moment that we were going to be student and teacherthat would come months later. What I did find was somebody that I felt an immediate connection to and with. I found a friend, and I trusted him to be what and who he said he wasnot the sort of trust I recommend anybody to give anyone they meet in a chat room on the Internet. His family and Coven suggested to him that he too should be very, very, very careful. In March of 1997, I became a student. My teacher was just a year my senior, but at the time of our meeting he had been the High Priest of his Coven for several years and a practicing Pagan since the mid-1980's. Lessons were taught in private chat rooms on AOL and through email. Brave New World! I was hesitant to tell my family too much about my religion. I was sure they would all think that my 'conversion' to Paganism, and my divorce were all a reaction to my father's stroke. Later that spring I did begin telling them... and they took it well. My sister, a Christian, worried that I might be joining a cult. I think her fears on that frontafter almost three yearshave finally been assuaged. My brother, who had no specific religious leanings, went out to research my new faith on his own (unbeknownst to me at the time), and came back thinking that it was ok. My mother, always supportive of even my oddest adventures, was again very supportive - recently she informed me that she does not "buy" the idea of magick (and I didn't bring it up - she did, which means she too has been reading about Wicca!). I just smiled and said "that's fine mom, " and it is! Though I must add, she didn't believe in ghosts until she saw one - but that is another story. I have not told my father about my religion.
My father's speech, as I said before, is limited. It would be very difficult for him to ask questions, and I do not want to worry him. My father's wife was raised as a Southern Baptist... and she is still affiliated with that churchthere seem to be some bridges that are just not worth crossing if it means they later burn, if you catch my drift. Perhaps one day I will tell them.
As for my teacher and I, it worked out well. We met in person in August of 1997, I was living in Illinois and he was living in Wyoming. Neither of us knew really what to expect. What we found was that we were both what and who we said we were, and from there it didn't take long to fall completely and romantically in love. A month later he moved from Wyoming to Illinois. To make a long story short we were legally handfasted on a sailboat off the coast of Key West, Florida in May of 1999, a week after I graduated from law school. The moon was full and thunderstorms surrounded us, it was one fantastic sunset. A local minister presided, and did a wonderful job with the ceremony that we wrote. (The minister has asked that I not disclose his name or Protestant church affiliation as this church does not permit its ministers to perform non-Christian religious ceremonies.) The Goddess truly does work in mysterious ways! The only other people in attendance at the ceremony were our mothers, one slightly amused sailboat captain (a retired Constitutional Law professor), his first mate, and one crazy photographer. Soon after our handfasting I found out I was pregnant. We were so happy. There is no way to describe the joy and apprehension I simultaneously felt.
At the beginning of my second trimester I lost the baby. There, too, is no way to describe the pain and anger I felt and, to a degree, still do. My grief is personal.
As I was going through the miscarriage I knew that if I lost the baby it was not due to anything I had done that was wrong, it was because this was a pregnancy that just was not biologically meant to be. Rationally I can tell myself that and believe it, emotionally I have yet to buy it. My husband, who is a rock of a man and the most compassionate soul I have ever met, has tried so hard to comfort me. I know that the pain belongs to him as well. The worst thing that was said to me during the time of the miscarriage itself was by one of the nurses in my doctor's office. She said, "God just needed another little flower for his garden." I had to really bite my tongue not to verbally go off on her with all of my pent up emotions and raging hormones. It would not only be a Pagan mother that would take offense at such an inane sentiment, a Christian, JewishANYmother would and should be equally outraged. I wanted to scream in her face, "What kind of god would rip a fetus from its mother's womb to decorate his backyard?" I knew the nurse meant well, and I tried to take all comments like thatand there were othersin the spirit they were given.
My philosophy for some time has been this, and I don't expect anybody else to buy it: The Goddess and the God had nothing more to do with my miscarriage, my father's stroke, or my brother's death than they have to do with any other tragedy that strikes. They have nothing and everything to do with everything and nothing. They are, and, at the same time are not the cause. One thing I have learned, there are no easy answers to the big questions of why or how. There may be simple answers, but here simple does not equal easy. Easy answers are the fast food of religion. They may temporarily fill a hunger. In the end they are never very satisfying, especially if you compare them to a really well made meal. To take this metaphor to possibly ridiculous extremes, a diet made entirely of these fast food answers will eventually take its toll with clogged spiritual arteries, and spiritual death. I never trust an easy answer, but I often embrace the simple ones.
The world is filled with wonderful, caring and compassionate people. The world is also filled with people who may raise an eyebrow to the term Pagan, Wicca or Witch in conjunction with a 'real' religion. In my experience many if not most people, once they understand that what you are talking about is not a cult or involving human/animal sacrifices, will attempt to understand your religion, even if they do not embrace it. You will never find these people if you do not search for them. But you must remember we do have 2000 or so years of bad press working against us. (My sister once told me that it would be a lot easier to talk about my religion if we called ourselves something other than WitchesI reminded her that it was not the Witch who created all the negative associations with the word Witch. I asked her what she would feel comfortable using as a term for my religion, she did not have an answer.). You must, however, use your judgment as to whom you approach. Bob Barr, George W. Bush, Jr., my step mother, and their ilk are likely not the folks to approach with your Pagan crisis. However, you never know until you try. I never fully believed the Protestant minister (of a very conservative Protestant denomination) who married my husband and I would agree to do a handfasting for two Witches. I was not even sure he would talk to us. I approached him a couple of months before the ceremony with a phone call, I told him we were Wiccan, he knew we wrote the ceremony we wanted preformed, I faxed it to him. He said yes. A week prior to the ceremony we met him in neutral spot (a Key West restaurant) for lunch. We went over the ceremony, he liked us, we liked him, and all the details were settled for the handfasting! If we had never asked, we would have never met this wonderful, caring man, and we are better people for knowing him.
My feeling has always been that religion should be kept a personal matter. Nobody wants to have somebody else's religious beliefs thrust upon them - that goes for Christians as well as Wiccans. If you feel a need, and there are times that you will need or want to express your religious sentiments to non-Pagans, remember to approach those around you, not defensively, but with a self-assuredness and dignity. Be as open as you want those who you are talking to be open to you. If those whom you approach in this manner react badly and refuse to listen to your point of view or condemn you, you must just remember they are subscribing to one of the fast food versions of religion. It is not your fault, you have done everything you can, and for your own mental well being you should just move onthough I know sometimes that is easier said than done. There are many, many people out there who will listen, understand and care.
One more thing, I just want to add this because I have been talking about my teacher who is now my husband. Our situation, though not unheard of, is unique, rare and special. There are people out there who call themselves Pagan teachers (priests, priestesses, shamans, gurus, sages, etc) who will prey upon others in times of weakness and need. My advice is to run, don't walk, RUN away from any so called teacher who asks that you pay substantial monetary sums or requires sex in return for (or as part of) his or her teachings. Obviously if you are studying certain tantric practices this last warning is not applicable - but 99.9% of the time it is. We need to heed the advice we give to our children: No matter who somebody is or who they claim to be, if a person makes you feel uncomfortable or wants you to do something that you know or feel is wrong, get away from that person and tell somebody. I recently came across a web site of woman who calls herself by several of the above teacher 'titles, ' she says that knowledge "is best remembered when a price is paid" and charges $1200 a year for her online "Wiccan apprenticeship" program. My opinion, which will never change, is that this is crap. People like this woman are hopefully few and are far between, but their karmic negligence harms us all.
Light and Love,
Location: , USA
Bio: Iko and her husband live in Chicago, IL with their four cats. Iko will be sitting for the Illinois Bar in February 2000 (all good thoughts with regards to passing are welcome!), she hopes to practice in the areas of family law and employment discrimination. Her husband is a co-owner of a small computer business. Iko attended Kenyon College, Exeter University (England) and Loyola University Chicago School Of Law. Her email is: Starrspath@aol.com.
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