My Defining Moment

The Patheos Spirituality Channel is running a series on Defining Moments: “moments in your life that led you to the place you are now and the life you now lead.” When I heard about it I immediately knew what I had to write.

In 1993 I had a small moment – I met a Wiccan for the first time. We talked and the little boy who had grown up struggling with the fundamentalist religion he had been taught learned there were other ways of looking at things. The ideas that God was female as well as male, that the Divine could be found in Nature, and that there was something meaningful and helpful in the beliefs and practices of our pre-Christian ancestors appealed to me – and they made sense.

This was an important moment in my life, but it wasn’t my defining moment. It was a small moment. It led me to start exploring Wicca and Paganism. But for eight years, exploring was about all I did. Part of that was because I still had to work through some of the toxic religion of my childhood. Part was because I was busy, first finishing graduate school and then dealing with three job-related cross-country moves in six years. Part was because for all its attractiveness, Wicca has never spoken to my soul.

For whatever reasons, I spent eight years dabbling. I’d buy a book, try it out, have a little success, run into a complication, then put it down for months at a time. I’d realize tonight was the Full Moon or tomorrow was Beltane, throw something together at the last minute and wonder why I didn’t feel anything. I’d come across something at odds with what the Baptists preached, the old fears would come back and my spiritual journey would stall. Again.

On Thanksgiving night 2001 I was at my mother’s house, helping myself to leftover turkey, when I got a call from one of my best friends. He told me he had been hearing voices.

There are two things you need to know about this friend. First, he’s one of the most grounded, this-world oriented people I’ve ever met. There was absolutely no chance this was fantasy or an overactive imagination. Second, he’s a medical professional and is very aware of the physical or psychological problems that could cause him to “hear” something that’s not there.

He knew I had interest in such things, so he asked me what it might be. I told him it might be a ghost or a faerie or some other supernatural being. It might be an important message or it might be a mischievous spirit playing tricks on him. I offered to investigate further or to put him in touch with some of my witch friends who knew these things better than I did. We talked for a while, but after the call ended the subject never came up again.

My defining moment came the next morning when I started thinking about the last night’s conversation and I came to a clear and unpleasant realization: I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. And in that moment I too heard voices. They weren’t audible, but they couldn’t have been louder if Danu herself had screamed at me from across the table.

“GET SERIOUS OR MOVE ON!”

I knew the dabbling had to end. And I knew I had never moved beyond dabbling because I didn’t have a religious foundation. I had rejected the fundamentalism of my childhood, but I had replaced it with a vague deistic universalism that didn’t give me anything to build on. That had to change.

And so I studied religion. I read Buddhist books and started meditating. I read liberal Christian books and learned a very different perspective on the religion of my childhood. I caught Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth” during a PBS pledge drive and watched the whole series several times. I read the Welsh Mabinogion and the Norse Edda.

I decided that since eight years of Wicca – albeit half-hearted Wicca – hadn’t worked, I’d try something else. I read two books on Druidry and something clicked. This was what I had been looking for! The archetype of the Druid was every bit as strong as the archetype of the Witch, and the idea of Druids as priests of Nature was a religion I could support wholeheartedly.

For a whole year I read, studied, meditated, and practiced. I could see the progress and I could feel the progress – I was building the religious foundation I needed. Then I came to another realization: I had gone about as far as I could go on my own. I needed a group. I needed to hear a voice other than my own, I needed to celebrate the seasons in a circle, and I wanted a religious community.

There were (and still are) no Druid groves near me, so I decided to try a CUUPS group. I visited Denton CUUPS at Imbolc 2003 and I’m still there. I would go on to join the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, start writing and blogging, take on positions of leadership, begin teaching and speaking, and be ordained in the Universal Gnostic Church. Today I am a Druid and a priest with a calling to honor my gods and ancestors, to honor the Earth and its creatures, and to live in harmony with all of them.

The defining moment didn’t suddenly change everything. It didn’t suddenly change anything – except my commitment to follow the path to which I was called. There would be much work to do between then and now, just as much work remains to be done on the rest of the journey that is this lifetime. But in that moment, I realized I needed to do the work. More than that, I realized I wanted to do the work.

Maybe that really was Danu screaming at me…

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/ TommyElf

    Thanks for sharing that. Patheos seems to come up with some good challenges/writing-prompts.

  • http://www.wandererworshipper.blogspot.co.uk Ellie

    Hi John, I just wanted to say hello properly as I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I simply HAD to give you a virtual wave, because from some of your posts that I’ve read you seem to have a very similar view point to me and that’s a bit of a rarity for me ! Looking forward to reading more of what you have to say jn the future!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Thanks, Ellie! virtually waves back

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  • http://taurusathome.blogspot.com/ taurusathome

    I followed the link to this entry from your “Why I Am a Devotional Polytheist” post, and after reading both posts I now have an overwhelming sense of “He’s been where I am”. I’m only a few years past the “small moment” realization, and I’ve been floundering ever since. It’s comforting to read that others from a similar background have been in the same place and have ultimately found fulfilling answers. These posts give me courage that I’ll eventually find what works for me spiritually, even though I keep second-guessing myself because all I “know” is the Evangelical environment I grew up in. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      The fundamentalist religion of my childhood had tentacles that were very long, very deeply lodged and VERY difficult to unseat. What we’re taught to fear at age 5 or 6 or 7 is virtually impossible to rationalize away.

      Logic and intellect weren’t enough. I wasn’t able to make a clean break until I had multiple positive religious experiences of the Old Gods. I couldn’t extract fundamentalism – I had to crowd it out.

      Keep practicing. It will come.


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