Being brought up in a Christian household I had always experienced Christmas with my blood family, mother, father, sisters, brother, aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents. At a very young age, however, I started questioning what all of it was about. My father was a deacon in the Baptist Church in Western New York State, and I had to go to church and Sunday school. But a lot of what I had learned just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, way back then. Even with the church stuff and Bible readings,it always seemed to me to be about getting stuff for Christmas. Sure, going to church with my family, setting through either Sunday School or as a teenager, sermons, something always was amiss. My thoughts, even as young as 6 or 7, would wander.
Sitting in any room at the church with windows I was always looking outside, wondering why we didn’t commune with nature and have services outside. It didn’t make any sense to me just sitting inside. Why couldn’t we be outside, standing under the trees on the grass, in a circle, like the Bible had said early religious leaders did in biblical times. I did mention it once, to no avail. Nobody wanted to hear that! I got told, stop dreaming and listen to the minister. Living on the farm, any time I could be outside, communing with nature, I felt a much higher power than what was preached at me by my father and the ministers and teachers at church.
I think now, looking back, that part of the problem was knowing in the 1940’s, that being “different” back then was understanding that a much higher power was involved in my Spiritual life. I had always thought of myself, oh around age 5, that I really was a girl. Of course, biology and societal norms, dictated that I was to be brought up as a boy. When I wanted to play with girl toys instead of boy toys, my father would discipline me rather harshly. Damnit, you’re a boy Barry (my given name). So every time I got “caught” there would be spankings when I was really young, worse as I got older. I had been taught in church that Jesus was a loving God, but a strict disciplinarian. It really didn’t make sense to me that if he was that way, why wouldn’t he love me just the way I was. So nature became my salvation so to speak.
My first Goddess was Luna. When it got dark, and as we lived outside the small village, I would go out and marvel at the moon, especially the full moon. When I was out past bedtime, that too became a problem with discipline. I had no idea then that I was, in truth, starting on a Pagan path. All I knew was what the church said about heaven and hell, the devil, Lucifer and Satan. If I deviated from that path, then I was a big time sinner. Oh well, way around that was to keep it quiet. By middle school, and learning in history about mythology with the Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses, it made me think there was way more to life than this churchy stuff. Was it really a sin to believe in a higher power than this masculine philosophy? By then, I was mostly keeping to myself as much as possible, doing my chores and avoiding my father. After my little sister, who was a twin, got killed in a farming accident right before she was five, I felt the family started to disintegrate into dysfunctuality. My mother blamed my father, but I saw the whole thing happen from the hay mow where I was working, and it truly wasn’t his fault. So again, questioning happened. If this God was a loving God, why did he take my little sister.
After that, the family Christmas dinners took on a much more solemn tone, almost bitter at times. So sitting around the table with the family, including aunt, uncle, cousins, and my Grandmother and Grandfather, I again drifted away in my mind. As soon as dinner was over, the adults would sit around smoking and at least maintaining some semblance of family unity. I would disappear into the kitchen and help Grandma with dishes and clearing away tables. It was my escape, and my siblings and cousins would go play with their new toys.
I truly believe my Grandmother was Pagan in her own way, even though her and my Grandfather called themselves Christian Scientists. She would encourage me, when things got a bit rough, why don’t you go outside and take a break from the noise and other stuff. So, bundled up and away I would go by myself to the peace and quiet of the winter. Most of the times, at that time of the year, it really wasn’t too cold, so I would go off walking to the fields and the woods. It ended up that I was to have an opportunity to stay with them a lot after my parents had them take over with them living at the farm, after all the animals were sold along with a lot of the farm equipment except for a tractor. We moved around a lot, with my father leaving General Motors and going to work for General Electric.
I had been in three high schools by the time I was 15. The last time my parents moved, it was to California from New York State. My mother actually suggested I stay with my grandparents, as it would have been a bit crowded in the car they were taking. Her thought was that I could help cut grass, shovel snow and help out my Grandfather outside. It probably saved my life. Now Christmas was spent in a less complicated way, quieter, and more loving. Yes, we still had Christmas dinner at the farm, with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, but it seemed there was still something missing. It always almost felt to me to be false. Something was definitely missing in my life.
After my sophomore year, my father wanted me in California so I took a plane there. After 6 months, he was transferred to Omaha, Nebraska in the winter. That Christmas, I had to go with the flow. In early January had to go to an advanced training course back in Syracuse, NY. I had wanted to finish high school where I had started. My mother again, encouraged him to let me do it. Yea, back to living with Grandma and Grandpa. I did have to go each Sunday to the Christian Science Reading room with my Grandfather, but I knew it was only an hour. Then, lunch and outside, as he believed we should not work on Sundays.
But through all of these 17 years, by the time I had graduated, Christmas always found me wondering if maybe I was adopted or something. I never really “felt” like part of this Christian family. I went into the Air Force in October 1961, and as we were required to put a religion on our dog-tags, I did choose Christian Science. I stopped going to any church, again taking to the outside, walking and thinking about the greater power. Then, a light bulb went off in my head when I read an article about “two-spirit” Native Americans. Wow…I knew somehow that I too was one, and that I had past lives. But I still wouldn’t call myself Pagan. But liking history, I kept reading about ancient indigenous societies, including the Anasazi, cliff dwellers. I suddenly was able to identify with my previous life. In most indigenous societies, the family was very important. This made sense to me.
Until mid-2016 I had been a solitary practitioner. Before my two marriages and divorces, I did all my personal rituals outside, with my altar being rocks, and my temple being trees, fields, or parks while walking or hiking. Totally nature based and very, very simple. I gave silent thanks to my deities every evening before I went to bed. I was just “out” as Trans to my second wife in 2003, only a very few of my gay and lesbian clients, and still had a lot of crap in my life I was dealing with. I had first met Selena Fox when she was a photography client way back in the 1980’s. Because of a lot of business and personal matters, most of my friends didn’t know I was Pagan. I didn’t pursue going to Circle until my first Sanctuary work day making Spirit Bags for PSG 2016. It really wasn’t planned, I just had a message from my Goddess that I should go.
When I first walked into the Temple Room that morning Ashleigh came up to me and introduced herself, hi, “I’m Ashleigh.” I told her I was Bree, and I came to help in whatever she needed me to help with. I was immediately welcomed by the women I was helping, not as Trans, but just being me, Bree. That was a very happy moment for me. I wasn’t able to go to PSG 2016 because of business concerns. The next week, while a lot of people were at PSG, I attended my first Solstice Ritual, around the maypole at Circle Sanctuary. It was a wonderful and profound experience for me. It was great being able to attend, and having the Ritual outside the same time the Ritual at PSG was going on. It was one of the best Spiritual moments I had ever had, and many more were to come. I ended up joining Circle Sanctuary in August of 2016. Yuletide 2016 was cancelled because of bad winter weather. By then I had become an active volunteer, and really have enjoyed being with my Pagan family.
Yuletide 2017 at Circle Sanctuary was a watershed event for me. We decorated the Temple Room, had some nice workshops and a wonderful Ritual. Warm weather made it possible to go to the cemetery and lay wreaths in our cemetery there for the veterans, and it was truly a blessing, for me an Air Force veteran, to be able to lay a wreath on the headstone of Patrick Dana Stewart, killed in action. His was the first gravesite I had seen the first time I went up to military ridge. Afterward, we all met for a feast in the Temple Room. I was out burning paper trash when it all started so I got there a bit late. One of the only chairs that was vacant was next to Moonfeather, who is also one of my mentors, as I have learned a lot from her, as well as Selena. That turned out to be another wonderful Spiritual moment for me. I really didn’t feel like eating, except for some bread. When she asked me what was wrong, I got real teary eyed, including now as I write this, I told her this was the first time in my entire life that I felt I was with a real loving family at Yuletide. Welcome home Bree!