Forest Path. Courtesy of Carey Ward Photography
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family; especially my mother who sacrificed so much to single-handedly give us a better life. Whether or not I was loved was never a question in my mind because it was something that I was always reminded. I was raised by my mother and my grandparents since my mother and father were divorced when I was five years old. My father is an alcoholic who was never able to deal with the traumas of his own father’s death. He was both verbally and physically abusive, and my mother made the decision to leave this situation. I can only ponder where we would all be now if things had remained the way that they were. This was probably the first and foremost event of my childhood. Having memories of fighting and yelling, which I learned to mostly block out by going inside of myself, however it was the next couple of years after the divorce that really had an effect. Being able to see the pain and struggle that my mother was going through in order to find a better life for all of us. This was something that my younger sisters never saw first hand since they were so young. It also played a role in shaping my first concepts of good and bad, in my young mind, my parents were my first archetypes for how they Universe operated, and I quickly learned which side of the spectrum they both fell by their words and actions. However, things are not always so black and white.
My family has always been Christian, at least as far back as I can tell, with Irish Catholics on my father’s side and Anglo-Saxon Protestants on my mother’s. My father was never a spiritual man, and I only remember a couple of times we went to church as a family. However, my mother was raised with religion in her life, and taught the importance of going to Church and being a good person. My great-grandfather was a pastor in Pennsylvania at a small Protestant church, and his daughter, my grandmother on my mother’s side has always been a Church-goer. As far as my immediate family goes, I also have an uncle who worked as a pastor for various congregations, including Baptists. There could be more that I am unaware of but these are the individuals that had residual effect on my upbringing.
When my mother was going through her divorce, it was during the early nineties when divorce was really just starting to be a socially acceptable thing to do. I remember rumors other women would start about my mother, simply because she was a successful single mother. Surely, they thought there had to be some unsavory secret to her success. There wasn’t she just worked her ass off. Since she worked so hard and so often, most of my weekends and summers were spent with my grandparents. I have always had a close relationship with both of my grandparents, acting as another set of parents when mine got divorced, they were directly involved in my upbringing. I don’t have a story of abuse or torment at the hands of church organizations like many others have come forward with, however there were instances that as I look back as an adult, I realize how damaging they were to my young mind.
The Fear of Hell and the Apocalypse
Most of my memories of church are those of fear and shame. The sermons that stuck in my mind the most were those of fire and brimstone, condemning sin and sinners and teaching us that the only was to salvation was through Jesus Christ. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but for a while I sat in the sermons with the adults, and they would often cover topics that children do not need to be exposed to at such a young age. This would lead to a lot of questions and uncertainty, and finally I was put in Sunday school which covered topics appropriate to my age. I remember being so afraid as a child, constantly thinking about death and particularly what would happen to my loved ones when they died. I would often have nightmares that my grandparents had died or that my mother was killed at the hands of my father. I remember having fundamentalist inspired doctrine read to me under the guise of colorfully illustrated children’s books covering numerous topics from the Tower of Babel and Samson and Delilah. Every night I would say my bedtime prayers, blessing the souls of all those people that I loved the most, hoping that when they died we would all be reunited.
I was about eleven years old when the Y2K bug brought up questions of whether or not the world was going to end with the New Year, preceded by prophecies of Nostradamus that the apocalypse would happen in 1999. Magazines like National Enquirer put headlines of death and damnation on their front pages. Being a young and impressionable person, who was taught in Church that the world was going to come to an end struck real fear into my heart, giving me anxiety that lasted from 1998-New Year’s Eve 2000. I can’t tell you how relieved I was watching the ball drop on television with my grandparents, that they weren’t taken before my very eyes. I think that this was also around the time that many of my unanswered questions started to turn into skepticism and doubt; as there was something about these teachings that just felt wrong.
A Good Christian Boy
I tried to be a Christian. I tried to believe what they were telling me and to go along with it, but something deep inside me new how wrong this was for me. The Left Behind series was being published around the time I was entering into my adolescence. During one of my attempts at being the good Christian that my family raised me as I read some of the books, further enlightening me on fundamentalist ideas of the rapture and judgement day. It was also during this time that I really started to realize and process some feelings I was having that were contradictory to how normal people should feel. I found myself attracted to other men. This was something that I came to terms with at a very young age, with the help of a close girlfriend, I was able to put words to many of the emotions that I was feeling. Other people were able to pick up on this as well. I was always a quiet and gentle boy, with a compassionate heart and those with less compassion quickly recognized my differences and I was subject to the usual bullying that one experiences growing up gay. My time in the closet allowed me to come to an understanding of who I was and where these feelings came from, but it also allowed me to see what the rest of the world thought of people like me, and that was not a positive realization.
It was around this time also that we were in the midst of the Satanic panic of the nineties, and between television and music people started to believe that they were in the middle of a spiritual war. I have been indirectly effected by many of these factors, as they also influenced how my family responded to my homosexuality. I know that my family just wanted what was best for me, and genuinely believed that they were doing the right thing by raising me in a Christian home. I remember my grandma talking about so and so being “a good Christian boy,” helping me memorize the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, she has always seen me as that good Christian boy. Up to this very day she asks me if I am still saying my prayers, and I tell her yes because I’m not technically lying, I’m just praying to something else entirely. These things were not overtly forced upon me in an abusive way, however, there was always the expectation, or assumption that this was necessary and the right thing to do.
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The Black Sheep
Even before coming out of the closet, there were things that I was attracted to that had my mother fearing for my immortal soul. I have gravitated toward all things magical since I can remember, and this fascination was always something that disturbed my family. I learned quickly how my mother/family and conservative society felt about such things. These topics were taboo, the work of the Devil, and exposure to such things should be avoided at all costs. I remember wanting so badly to watch the movie The Craft, granted I was only eight years old when the R-rated movie came out, but I believe the reason my mother was so adamant about me not seeing it was because of the witchcraft. For some reason this has always resulted in a response of great fear, making me wonder if maybe something didn’t happen with her and my father when they were together in regards to the occult. I quickly learned that if this was something that I wanted to explore, I would have to do so in secret, and I did.I bought my first book on witchcraft when I was around 10 years old. It was a grocery-store checkout booklet on love spells, but it was the first time I had experienced magic presented as something that could be realistically achieved. This realization sparked the hunger in me for knowledge of these forbidden practices; maybe it was their taboo nature that was so seductive. I began my research into the world of witchcraft before I started fifth grade, I remember this because this is when we got out first computer with internet. I started exploring, the first website that I used the most was an ‘angelfire’ site called The Wiccan Garden. Reading about the elements, gods, and magic spells for the first time in a non-fictional presentation was like coming home. These were my first steps on the long winding path.
I remember times when my mom would find things I had written down, or walk in while I was researching something “extra witchy” and her dramatic reactions quickly taught me that the topic of Witchcraft was something to be feared and avoided. This did not deter my exploration, but there would be many times over the next few years that I would let my self-doubt and Christian guilt get the best of me. I would get rid of everything, and turn my back on the practice. Strangely enough without any apparent reason, my interest in these topics would creep back into my psyche and it was just a matter of time before I was back into the fold. There was a time that I believed what I was doing was sinful, if at least to the people who believed it to be so, but I continued almost without a choice, it was more of a need. This led me to act very secretively, hiding large parts of who I was for various reasons. The secrecy, and idea that I was doing something wrong, led to a sense of guilt that was not easy to shake.
I have often felt like an outsider in my own family, and I think that would serve as a fair assessment. I left my childhood home at age fifteen so that I could live my truth; the catch was my only option to do that was with my estranged father. I met my first boyfriend when I was a freshman in high school. He was someone I had known of and watched from afar for some time, so it was a huge deal when we actually met and started dating. I think he may have been the first gay person that I met. Although, I do remember at a young age my mother getting very upset when she thought a young man working reception at a hotel was a predator simply because he was obviously gay. So the social cues that I received from an early age were negative when it came to homosexuality.
I felt the need to move out at such a young age because of fear. I was afraid due to my mother’s reaction to finding a note from my then boyfriend, that I would never be able to live my truth. After having just come out to myself and still in the process of accepting myself, I found myself at a crossroads. My boyfriend and I had only been together for a couple of months, and of course thought we were in love. I would’ve done anything to hang on to that, and that is why I felt that I had no other choice but to leave, so I did. This began the physical separation from me and my family, that reflected how different I felt from the rest of them.
Turning to the Church
I remember times in my life when my mother went to the Church for help. It isn’t easy for my mother to even admit that she needs help, but when she was trying to process everything that had happened with me coming out and then deciding to move out after only a week she turned to the place that she was raised to turn to in time like this, the Church. I remember when my mother and step-father got married, and they couldn’t find a Church that would marry them unless my mother became Catholic or my step-father went through classes to convert. This wouldn’t be the last time that my mother was let down by the Church. When she was dealing with my coming-out she turned to the ministry at the church that I had been confirmed at, where we had been going for a few years. I suppose she felt comfortable turning to them in this time of need, but the advice she was given was disheartening to say the least, filling her head with images of sin and punishment. I think this was one of the first times in my mother’s mind that there was a schism between Church and God.
Today, she goes to one of those non-denominational progressive Christian churches that plays upbeat music, and has young relatable ministers. I know that many of her views were influenced by her upbringing. Growing up in a small town in Ohio, where racism and prejudice were common in a place where there is little diversity, influenced her early years, but after going through some of the things that we have together I can see how much we both have grown in terms of out beliefs. It amazes me some of the similarities we have when it comes to how we feel about nature, and the uncanny ability we have to know when the other is thinking of us. Many of the seemingly dark days that we have gone through together and tested both of our faiths have brought us to a point of balance and understanding.
Learning to Cope
There was a lot of pain that was caused when I moved in with my father. It was a decision that reshaped the dynamic of my family forever. For a very long time I had feelings of guilt and abandonment. I was angry at the pain that I had been caused, and I felt remorseful for the ways in which I learned to deal with that pain. Pharmaceutical pain relievers are not only useful for coping with physical pain, but they also help to numb emotional pain. Substance abuse was one of my main coping strategies to deal with the guilt and sadness that I was feeling. I felt like a bad person, and my alcoholic father made it a point to tell me that I was and eventually I started to believe that. I made myself personally responsible for many of the painful things that had happened in the past and set out on a path of self-destruction to punish myself for those things.
Coming to terms with who I am in regards to my sexuality was one of the most formative times of my early adolescence. Coming out of the closet and living my truth, and being able to do so without fear was liberating in a way that cannot be described. It is a freedom that I never want to be taken, and one that has to be consistently fought for because there are people and forces in this world that do not want us here, and the moment we become complacent and think we are safe and just like everyone else is the moment they come in and steal everything we hold dear.
My study of magic and occultism has opened my mind to so many amazing things. It has served as a healthy escape from many of the traumas that I have dealt with and has been the single strongest motivating factor in my life. If I am completely honest with myself magic is who I am, and who I have always been. The story of my life has had many other sub-plots, and I look at those experiences as things that have helped hone me into to person I am today. I am more fully realized that before having gone through one of those ‘nigredo’ periods in life, where there is a blackening through incineration before becoming more refined. These stepping stones have led me to where I am and have made me more resilient than I could ever have imaged. Witchcraft has helped me to remember my personal power and ability to take control of my life. I am not at another crossroads, where it is time to completely come out of the second closet, in this case “the broom closet.” I have always filtered this part of who I am around certain people. To me it was never a viable career because I new for it to be such I would have to be open about who I am and what I do in the public eye, and this scares me because I already know how people can be. But the world has come a long way, and I need to give people more credit. I need to live my full truth and be everything that I am to its fullest potential. We are in the midst of a Pagan Movement, and my Voice is needed, just like all of the others to bring our message to the world.
“The gods are alive and well, and there are no locks on the gates of heaven.”