Religion was a method of exclusion. It was not fair. It was not kind. I learned this as a child. I felt it when I stayed overnight with my friends and ended up going to church on Sunday morning with them. When I had to stay awkwardly in my seat while all the good Catholics went to get their sacred snack. I didn’t know the code words or the songs, I was alone in a sea of people who knew the chorus. I was unclear about this Jesus guy.
They all said he was so great. I wasn’t so sure.
I had read the Bible, or parts of it at least. As a young person, probably 11 or 12, I started with Genesis and then read all the books of the Bible that were named after women: Ruth and Esther. I can’t say as I was super impressed. Time went on and my best friend in High School was a Jewish girl. Her family wasn’t very intense about their religion. They had a Hanukah bush and I learned to love the latkes that her mom made. My favorite lab partner was a Muslim girl who was shy about why she wore a hijab and so I learned not to ask because I didn’t want to upset her. I was just grateful that she was careful, competent, and was fair about sharing the fun tasks, unlike the boys in our AP chem class.
I decided I was not Christian. I refused to participate in a system that would send my friends to Hell because they were in a different religion club. Assigning someone to eternal torment because they had different songs and different handshakes seemed insane to me.
My boyfriend at the time was horrified. He wanted me to get in line and go to his cutsie poofy cloud land when I died. I told him I’d rather not.
So I entered into a time where I was agnostic. Because no matter how much I resisted their handshakes and their songs I was a deeply spiritual person. I knew there was spirit that resided within and throughout this world because I felt it. I interacted with it. As a young child there was no difference for me between the “unseen” and the “seen” worlds. I remember speaking with the gnomes that lived under the pin oak in my backyard. I also remember learning to talk to the cardinals by mimicking their speech. Those were both real things for me. I had dreams of the future and knew things I couldn’t have known. My mother told me the story of how when I was a baby she always knew when a relative died because the night before I would cry incessantly and then she’d get a phone call from her mother the next day.
This was just my experience of the world. Going to school was an education in many ways. I found out I was too sensitive, too smart, too weird, too awkward. I did not fit in with my bird songs and stories of the witch woman who lived in my basement.
I learned to keep silent about my visions. I learned to choose my own path independently of the crowd. This was in the days before Silver Ravenwolf and Harry Potter. I sought for traces of understanding of my own experience. Narnia, Dune, The Secret Garden, the fairy tales of Anderson and Grimm all taught me bits of wisdom. It was a fiction book I read in college that finally led me to find my religion club. I don’t even remember the name of it now. It was about people in modern North America who turned into these magical save the planet elf things. It mentioned two books: Starhawk’s Spiral Dance and Margo Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon.I skipped my classes and took the bus to the bookstore the next day. I had to know if they were real books.
They were real, as most of you reading this know.
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That rather silly story about people turning into elves changed my life completely. The words spoke to me of a religion club I could belong to. Some place where I was not insane, awkward, or going to Hell. A place where the things I had seen in fact had Names. Where the energy I had felt, the healing I had done, the spirits I had talked to were Real. My lived experience of life was validated by others who knew more than I did. I was ecstatic. I read Cunningham during lectures on the physiology of the brain. I built an altar in my dorm room and took it down every time my parents visited. I saw a chalked invitation to “Green Spiral: MSU’s Eclectic Pagan Network” written on the university sidewalk. It took a great deal of bravery for me to go to that first meeting, but go I did. I began long journey that has never ended, that led to me meeting my husband, my vocation, my children, my life.
I am a priest, a spiritworker, a friend, a teacher, a writer, an artist, and an activist for the earth and Her folk. In a very real way paganism has shaped my entire existence. I found the place where I was willing to learn the songs and the secret handshake. A place where no one was excluded who wanted to be included. Where no one had to go to eternal damnation for being different. Where more than one way to the divine was encouraged. I found my home.