How I became a Pagan #3 – Storytelling

1234678_10151612293294677_786420315_nA few years ago I signed up for OKCupid account and was stumped by the question of what my perfect Friday night looked like. Would I go out for a fancy dinner? Would I go to the movies and see an artsy film? Would I go dancing in a nightclub?

None of this sounded appealing to me. Instead, the perfect Friday night I dreamed of had me sitting around a fire listening to and telling stories. I love stories. I love telling them and I love hearing them. I sometimes remember people by their stories, not their names. Like the child-who-fell-out-the-window-and-bounced-off-a-mosquito-screen-and-survived or the guy-who-spilled-soda-all-over-his-girlfriend-on-their-first-date.* Continue reading

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How I became a Pagan #2 – Music

8822_153665209676_6626598_nThe walls of the medieval castle flicker in the light of the torches as crowds mill across the courtyard. The smell of cooking fires and stew waft from the kitchen and another group of people in medieval clothes, some in chain-mail, pass me on their way to the tavern. I watch them descend the well-trodden stone stairs, then turn toward the tower, hoping to get a break from the crowd and a better look at this medieval market from above. Continue reading

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How I became a Pagan #1 – Signs

blog copyIt’s been a year and a half since I began my journey into Paganism and almost a full year (Imbolc) since I chose a tradition (Reclaiming). I was the model Jesus Freak, the one my Christian community was sure about, the one who would never leave the fold. So how did I end up choosing a Pagan path?

My theological troubles started in Bible College when I asked difficult questions and didn’t find satisfactory answers. Eventually I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that most contemporary Christianity had very little to do with the man from Galilee, Jesus the Christ. I wrote extensively during those years and will revisit my theological journey another time.

A second challenge to my faith came through my extensive travels. I kept meeting non-Christians who had as deep and passionate a relationship their deities as I did with Jesus. But that also is another story.

Then there was the Dark Night. The companionship of Jesus, feeling his presence near me, the Holy Spirit in me, was my life. Long before I had any theological doubts I was thrust into a long season in which I no longer felt his presence. The emptiness I felt led me to the brink of suicide and back.

The politics of Jesus enthralled me once I separated them from the vocal politics of contemporary Christianity. In all of my journeying and questioning I never turned from the visionary Jesus and his take on society. I find his vision embodied in progressive Christianity, but also in the beliefs of my Pagan tradition, Reclaiming. The ethics of Jesus mirrored in Starhawk’s novel The Fifth Sacred thing deserves an blog post of its own.

Today I want to focus on how I made peace with my Pagan path. I was feeling isolated and spiritually dead. I had become connected to a Christian church that I love, but couldn’t make its style of worship mine, no matter how much I like the community. My atheist friends couldn’t understand why I was longing for more.

It began with a concert by the band Omnia, whose music I adore, when I felt a part of me coming to life again. Afterwards I had a brief conversation with the singer. I don’t remember how this happened, but somehow we ended up holding each other’s hands and looking into each others eyes. For a moment there was silence and I felt drawn in by something inside of him that was calling out to me. I had heard conversion stories of people meeting Christians and feeling like they “had something I didn’t have, something I wanted.” They believed that “something” to be a relationship with Jesus and converted. Growing up Christian I never experienced anything like this, but as I looked into the singer’s eyes, I thought of these stories: He had something I desperately wanted. I walked away from that concert determined to find my way back to God.

I talked to a Pagan friend and he recommended reading Starhawk and seeking out the Reclaiming tradition. Soon after this a different person invited me to a Reclaiming summer solstice ritual. The sense of having arrived, having found my way home, having found my “something”, consumed me that day. Half a year later I wrote about my first six months pursuing a Pagan path:

It was like a vision out of a fantasy novel, an imagining of times long past. That is how I experienced the summer solstice. Strangers gathered for ritual, lighting a bonfire on the beach, dropping their clothes in the cold summer fog, dashing into the ocean at sunset. Sky-clad bodies swaying to drum beats, the solstice flames reflected in their eyes, quivering lips chanting, singing, dancing, drumming.

The mental picture I took that night imprinted itself on my soul. I had come home into the strangest of realms that had been calling me all my life. It felt like an arrival that was only the very beginning.

The shortest night celebrating the passing of my dark night of the soul into distant memory. [...]

In the darkest hours of the solstice I was carried to a beloved place of worship I thought lost forever. It is the place where the creator of all pulses with the drum beat of every heart and each cell of the body bows in wild abandon to the great mystery. Each breath draws in the bliss of a love the mind cannot fathom.  

And yet – I was afraid to commit. I had been hurt so deeply, I was worried about my Christian family, and deep down I was still afraid that a jealous God would punish me.

The Horned God of Paganism was troubling me. Even though I knew the image of a devil with horns was not in the bible and that the church simply appropriated and demonized a pagan god, the connotations troubled me. The cycles of life and death were hard to accept as I wanted to cling to the Christian belief in heaven. I couldn’t make peace with the Horned God.

So I asked for a sign. I prayed to Jesus. I felt his presence, the way I had before the Dark Night. I asked if I had his blessing to explore this new path. I felt peace. When I got up, I decided it was time to turn the backyard into an actual garden, so I went outside and started digging. After a while of moving dirt around, my shovel hit something hard. I dug in again, expecting a rock. Again, I hit something hard. I used my hands to dig out whatever object I was hitting.

And I pulled out a horned skull. I live deep in a city so it took me a moment to understand that I was holding the skull of a buck in my hands. I brushed off the remaining dirt and sat down, noticing that my knees had become wobbly. I caressed the antlers, laughed, and said “well, I suppose that will do for a sign”.

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Dear Christians, can you see me?

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 I was married five years ago. Now I am not. My divorce was awful (surprise). My ex-husband was abusive. I had a bad experience in bible college. I was hurt by the church.

When I talk to Christians, I inevitably face a myriad of questions about these experiences, followed by condolences and apologies and reflections of how sad and hard it must have all been. It was sad and hard. And in the years that followed I have healed, I have learned, I have grown, I have fallen in love, with wonderful people, with my life, with my community, with Spirit, and with myself. I am happier now than ever before. My life is not a collection of knee-jerk reactions to pain.

Continue reading

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A Pagan in Bible College

Alumni visit their colleges to re-connect with old friends and relive memories of the good old days. Unless, of course, they graduated from Bible College and then left the faith. In that case, visiting the college feels more like being a stranger in a strange land.

Eight years after earning a BA in theology and biblical languages I returned to Multnomah University as a Pagan. After leaving my Christian faith, I lamented that my theological education was a “waste of time”. But with my embrace of Paganism my perspective changed. It didn’t take long for me to discover that my theological education was an invaluable asset for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Pagans.

So I went to Multnomah University to meet with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of New Wine, New Wineskins, author of Connecting Christ, and a Patheos blogger deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue. I had been following the growing dialogue between Pagans and Christians on Jason Pitzl-Water’s blog The Wild Hunt and was excited to meet with Paul. Continue reading

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The most shocking Pantheacon moment

It wasn’t the presence of demonic forces. I kind of expected those to be there, it was a pagan event, after all. Intellectually I didn’t expect anything evil, but I have to admit that subconsciously I was a little worried about the demons. I was raised with the understanding that witches always have evil spirits in tow. With 2500 witches in one place, you’d think I would have run into at least one demon. I didn’t.

The lack of demonic forces was startling to my subconscious which had been trained to be afraid of the occult since childhood. But there were other things far more surprising at my first pagan convention. Like the presence of Jesus.

482446_10151301045759677_259678390_nYes, Jesus was at Pantheacon. Continue reading

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Pantheacon in one word

“Well, I have to disagree with that.” For a while I thought it would be fun to count how often I’d hear that phrase at Pantheacon, but I got bored pretty quickly. Ten pagans, a dozen opinions. I have been marveling at the diversity of people who gather under a common umbrella, including those who don’t like labels and go to great lengths to explain that they don’t want to be called pagans.

It’s the first day of my first Pantheacon and my head is spinning with the many fascinating conversations I have. I exchange stories with second generation Wiccan Eric Scott, talk with pagan writer Jason Pitzl-Waters who recently spoke at my former bible college, discuss inter-faith dialogue with a politically conservative heathen, listen to a talk on southern folk magick, and have several personal conversations with various people about their individual journeys.

The conversations range from heady intellectual to intimately emotional but there is a common thread that runs through all of them. Those I talk to all own their stories. Abuse survivors speak openly about their ongoing struggles and some recount experiences of rape without hushed voices. They also own their beliefs. The founder of Pantheacon mischievously declares herself an atheist, others explain that their goddess is the same as a christian god, and many talk about a confusing pantheon.

In the midst of disagreement and personal trauma, pagans are walking their paths and living through their struggles with a sense of faith and wonder. There is a theme in the presentations and conversations I have on my first day at Pantheacon. The word is “empowerment”.

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