My Paganism: Nature, Nurture, or Choice?

For this week, Pagan Channel Editor Jason Mankey asked all the Patheos Pagan bloggers to write on “How I Found Paganism.” That’s a hard one for me, since I’ve already written multiple variations on this theme over the years.

My Defining Moment tells the story of how I met a Wiccan for the first time (which is literally how I found Paganism), but mainly it’s the story of how I stopped dabbling and got serious about being a Pagan.

Losing My Religion, Twice explains how fundamentalists poisoned the Christianity of my childhood, and why a religion of pure rationality just doesn’t work for me.

Killing Your Inner Fundamentalist describes how a positive Pagan experience crowded out years of negative fundamentalist experience.

Cernunnos tells what little we know about the Lord of the Animals from ancient times, but mainly it’s my experience of him from a very early age.

Gateways to More explains the importance of the woods and horror movies in why I never became an atheist.

Rather than retelling or remixing these stories, I want to explore the question of why I’m a Pagan. In particular, I want to discuss whether my Paganism is a question of nature, nurture, or choice.

flowers 06.25.17

I was born a Pagan

That’s an odd thing for me to say, since I was born into a Christian family in a Christian church in a Christian society. I was a Christian during my childhood, and I tried to be a Christian in my early adult years. Atheists like to say that no child is born Christian or with any other religious affiliation – they all have to be taught. Certainly they all have to be taught myths and doctrines, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say children are born atheists either.

I’ve always had a love of Nature that borders on reverence. This wasn’t the admiration of “God’s handiwork” that some Christians have, it was an intuitive understanding that Nature is sacred in and of herself, a sacredness that does not depend on who made her. More than that, wild places (including the woods right outside my backdoor) have always been mystical and magical.

I’ve always craved ritual and first-hand religious experience. In that regard, I was probably born into worst possible religious environment short of atheism. Baptists don’t do ritual (many called it “Godless ritual”) and the only first-hand experience they offered (“whoopin’ and hollerin’ ”) wasn’t anything I wanted.

MORE PAGAN ORIGIN STORIES AT PATHEOS PAGAN

How I Found Paganism by Voodoo Priestess Lilith Dorsey at Voodoo Universe

Finding Paganism by Jason Mankey at Raise the Horns

How I Found Paganism When I Wasn’t Even Looking by Angus McMahan at Ask Angus

Amen And a Couple of Women by Annwyn Avalon at The Water Witch.

How I Found Paganism From a Kitchen Witch by Rachel Patterson at Beneath the Moon

The Many Phases of My Paganism by Bekah Evie Bel at Hearth Witch Down Under

How I Found Paganism: The Origin Story of a Druid Priestess by Melissa Hill at Dandelionlady

I was born with certain Pagan ideas, or at least, ideas that made me receptive to Paganism. Ideas like racial and gender equality, universalism, and a respect for the beliefs and practices of our ancient ancestors. I don’t know where I got those ideas. I didn’t get them from my family, my school, or especially my church. But I’ve always had them.

Most of all, I was born with both an insatiable curiosity and a logical mind that refused to accept what I was told. If it didn’t make sense, it didn’t make sense even if my parents said it, if the preacher said it, or if the Bible said it.

I learned Paganism

Growing up, I rarely heard the word “pagan” (it was never capitalized). If I did, it was used to mean someone who wasn’t a Christian, or someone who wasn’t the right kind of Christian. It certainly wasn’t anything anyone would want to be.

But I learned Paganism from our mainstream culture. I learned Greek and Roman mythology at a early age – I still have a copy of The Greek Gods I ordered through the in-class book sales program in 3rd or 4th grade. The Greek Revival architecture so popular in Tennessee was often an exact replica of ancient Greek temples. I learned about Egypt from The Mummy and The Ten Commandments.

the Parthenon - Nashville
the Parthenon – Nashville

I was introduced to magic in horror movies. Witches were sometimes portrayed as servants of Satan, but I can remember thinking “if you can do the magic, why do you need the devil?” My thinking hasn’t changed much in all these years. More frequently (at least in the movies I watched) witches were the victims of witch hunters who epitomized the real evil I saw in the real world – the abuse of the weak by those in power.

I learned Paganism from fundamentalism. Fundamentalist, Calvinist doctrine so offended my sense of right and wrong (and my sense of logic) I had to find a new religion. I couldn’t just find a more liberal Christianity – I had to make a clean break. Fundamentalism may not have introduced me to Paganism, but it put me firmly on the path that would lead to Paganism.

And of course, I learned Paganism once I discovered modern witchcraft and modern Pagan religion in 1993. I was introduced to it by a friend, and then started devouring all the books I could find.

I chose Paganism

For most people throughout most of history, the idea of changing your religion has been unthinkable. It still is in some places. But we live in the most religiously diverse society in the history of humanity – we have hundreds if not thousands of religious choices. Now, more choice isn’t always a good thing. More than three choices usually just confuses us – that’s why salesmen use a “good – better – best” approach.

For those of us who actually think about religion – as opposed to those who unreflectively accept what they’ve always been told – choices have to be made. Either religion is important to us or it isn’t. We stay in the religion of our childhood or we explore something new. We explore a small change (one Christian denomination to another) or we explore a big change (like when Leah Libresco converted and moved from the Patheos Atheist channel to the Catholic channel).

I explored Mainline Protestantism, liberal Christianity, Buddhism, and something I called vague deistic universalism. None of them worked.

Paganism works for me.

In advance of my first Pagan initiation in 2003, I was inundated with calls to turn back. I didn’t know what was in front of me, but I knew what was behind me, and I wasn’t going back to that. I chose to go forward in spite of my fears. The next day I wrote this in my personal journal:

I knew it “took” as it was happening. There were no flashes of light, no otherworldly presences, just a feeling that everything was right and good. Only today I realized that at no time last night did I have any thoughts or feelings that it wasn’t right, either from my fundamentalist childhood or from my skeptical nature.  I don’t know what’s next, but I’m sure it’s going to be good.

I took the vows of a priest in 2007 – that was another choice. In 2010 I screamed “what do you want?” in desperation at a stressful job situation that lasted for 18 months. What I got back was “keep moving.” I chose to keep moving. Last year I was asked (more told than asked, but I still had the option to say no) to take on some even deeper work – I said yes.

Time and time again I’ve been asked to make a choice. I’ve chosen to serve the Gods and my Pagan community.

Those haven’t been easy choices, but they’ve been good choices.

photo by Tesa Morin
photo by Tesa Morin

Life is complicated

Is my Paganism is a question of nature, nurture, or choice? By now I’m sure you realize it’s a combination of all three. I was born with a predilection for Paganism. I learned Pagan stories and Pagan concepts throughout my life. And I chose Paganism.

Change just one or two elements of my story and my religion would have been different. I could have been a liberal, mystical Catholic or Anglican. I could have been a Sufi. I probably should have been a Buddhist.

As it turned out, I’m a Pagan, a Druid, and a polytheist.

I think things worked out OK.

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