In a day, December and the calendar year of 2015 will come to an end. Although December still reigns as one of the most festive months due to its many intersecting religious and secular observances throughout its days, the year of 2015 has continued a path of turbulence for many. For many, the year was a growing awareness of the balance or imbalance in the outside. For some, it was the yearly time to battle or celebrate with one’s family, whether of origin or of choice. For a few, this is a time when the soul questions whether a continued choice to live and practice a tradition under the Pagan umbrella would last into 2016. This year, I found out that one didn’t make it.
Ten years after swearing off Christianity as too controlling and embracing not just Paganism, but a hard polytheist tradition as freedom, one of my friends abruptly left the faith last Tuesday, the day after Winter Solstice – for Catholicism. There was no prior notice or indication of dissatisfaction with Gods worshipped, any particular individuals, or even with the Pagan umbrella-structure in general. After more than a decade of living, loving and fighting as a Pagan, she decided that those she left behind were just poor souls meant to be saved, if possible, and pitied through prayer and ignored, if not. Any hope that she was coming back was destroyed by a glance at her Facebook page: any Pagan friends were erased; any Pagan references for the past decade were deleted.
At first, I was furious. How could someone swear loyalty, love, and devotion to the Gods only to walk away? What happened to the joys shared, and the visible public pride at being a Pagan during celebrations at Pagan Pride in September, Paganicon in March, and TC Pride in the summer? This was not a Seeker, a newcomer to our side of the fence trying to decide a flavor of the year from among the Druids, Wiccas, Yoruba, Asatru, Santeria, Shamanism and the like. After all, our community understands that these paths are not for everyone. We welcome those who come and don’t try to hold those who leave. This openness is what makes choosing to find and to follow a Pagan path of any type easy. It is what makes many paths under this tradition attractive.
In my anger, I reached out to the Gods. I wanted to know why someone might choose to leave a religious home, even after years or decades of choosing to stay in one or more traditions under the Pagan umbrella. Why could most of those whom I’ve met in our large community of Pagans choose to stay, year after year, while others just walk for seemingly trivial reasons or none at all? Although I spoke with many, the answers so far have come through the most clearly from Hecate, Hestia, and Kwan Yin: Commitment, Courage, and Compassion.
One of the things I have heard repeatedly over a number of years from a variety of folk as to why “home” is a Pagan tradition was a strong dislike of “organized” religion. The irony is that for those who are in a circle or even practice as a solitary, there is a type of organization implicit in the nature of practice. For Discordians and any who consider themselves to be eclectic in nature and in practice, devotion to this very principle is a type of rule or method of organization. In short, any Pagan path, including that of the solitary practitioner is a form of organized religion, since humans gather (even as just one person), and there is a familiarity in ritual (even if the ritual changes or is done in a new way every time or without a pattern). Non-organization is a type of organization. Each of these requires commitment to the journey, even if one is a solitary practitioner. Commitment to a path includes making promises of honesty to the self and to any deities of one’s chosen devotion. It also means renewing that commitment to keep your faith strong. Personally, I find this solace and renewed commitment through daily prayer, regular ritual, and frequent conversations with the Gods. Others find strength through fighting for causes dear to the hearts of many such as the environment and keeping our planet whole and safe as a legacy for those who will come after us.
For those who do decide to join a particular group or whose solitary practice includes the taking of oaths to the Gods, these promises and oaths to the Gods however, are not so easily broken by simply walking away. Courage is the second element that is required to both know the self and to stay the course, especially during the rough times, such as the so-called “Dark Night of the Soul”. Forget political correctness. In some areas, it is still not safe to be openly non-monotheist or non-Christian. This does not negate the commitment and maybe courage means practicing at home, in private, rather than in the middle of a park. Were recent events in her life, with the apparent pressure of conforming to a pro-monotheist, pro-Christian appearance too much to handle? It takes courage to function as a minority religious practitioner in a majority monotheist world. Sometimes the difference between accepting the commitment and staying the course with courage is simply reaching out to someone, anyone, and asking for help. I’ve been struggling with these questions over the past week and have reached out to a few Pagans from different paths who have been in our big community for varying lengths of time. Talking to others, in person, on Facebook, and on the phone has helped me to face my own internal fears about how to stay strong, committed, and fully present in my faith. This is why having Pagan friends who know and understand the walk, whether they are in a tradition or not, is so important. We grow as a community and support each other when we have the courage to reinforce our existence with pride.
In the end, however, there are some who may choose to go. I go through waves of anger with my friend and her decision. In speaking with Kwan Yin, I recall the use and purpose of compassion in this type of situation. It is not just giving someone who chooses to leave our path a pass, simply because on the surface we are non-proselytizing and accepting of those who come and go. Compassion means that perhaps the path the person walks is one that will involve pain. There is pain in committing to the Gods, embracing the wealth of a community, and then giving it all up for a sense of perceived normalcy.
Friendships made are not easily mended. For some time to come, I know that when I run into my friend, who now considers my workings as a witch and polythesist to be evil and dark, there will be an awareness: who I am and what our community happens to be will not be good enough. I strive now for compassion for the fear that I see in her last written words to me, for the anxiety that I still hear in her voice. She is scared. Perhaps one day she will change her mind and try to come back, although I do not expect that to happen.
Like her final message to me, I will keep her in my prayers to the Gods. In 2016, I pray that the lessons I have learned from her choices will keep me strong in my own journey with the Gods. I pray that if she is meant to return that she does so for the right reasons, as determined between the Gods and herself. And I pray that one day, being Pagan does not mean having to make such choices in this land, or any other.