Why I became pagan
I don’t know how to boil down why I became pagan.
I didn’t care for pretty much anything about Christianity. The whole Old Testament needs to go. A god asks you to kill your first born child, you’re supposed to tell him to go fuck himself, not wait around for him to laugh and say, “Just kidding.”
I don’t want to worship a deity who according to his own holy book wanted humanity to be ignorant and punished them when they learned too much. He lies about them dying if they eat of the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent (some how cast as the villain) is the one who’s telling the truth. I don’t want to worship a deity who by his own holy book is a drowner of infants. This guy gives the finger to every man, woman and child on earth except Noah and his family and even kills all the animals except the ones on the Ark. That’s just fucked up.
I don’t like how Christians go on and on and on about the Bible being the One True Word of God — when it suits them — and ignoring it because “well, you just have to follow Jesus’ teaching of compassion” whenever it doesn’t. I mean really. I can’t remember how many arguments started with a quotation of an obscure verse from the Bible that backed somebody’s pet theory. I can’t remember how many times I heard someone want to ignore some tenet of the Old Testament because “Jesus brought a new covenant.” Don’t tell me this is the literal word of God and then treat it like a salad bar.
I don’t like how judgemental Christians are. I had a co-worker who was talking with some nurses. The nurses get into a religious discussion and ask him to participate. He says no thank you, I don’t want to get into trouble. They say, no, no, we’re inviting you to participate. It’s okay. So he says fine. One woman says, “I don’t see how you can resolve a belief in reincarnation with a belief that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And my friend says, “I DON’T BELIEVE THIS (emphasis mine) but it does say that you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The nurse doesn’t like this answer. She complains to her nurse supervisor. The nurse supervisor calls our home office in Mobile. The manager responsible for the site calls my friend’s manager who calls him into his office and says, “Don’t discuss weird things in front of the nurses.” I nearly started a shitstorm over that one until my own manager simply said, “Look — you just shouldn’t talk about religion in front of customers. The other manager just didn’t phrase it right.”
I don’t care for the “unspoken rules” that have cropped up around Christianity. When I was a teenager, I assumed that it was a bad idea, religiously mind you, to date outside my race. Nobody told me in those words not to date white girls but no one in my Baptist church ever did it and since everyone was always proclaiming how moral and better than the “people of the world” they were — it logically followed that actions you didn’t see any of the congregation conducting were immoral actions. Now that might be a race thing. African Americans, as a minority, have always had a “group think” that I’ve found distressing. But that it took one of my fellow high school students asking me: “Let me get this straight: you come home. Your parents are out of the house and won’t be back for hours. There’s this white girl on your bed and she’s naked and beautiful and ready to go. You’re gonna tell her no?” for me to realize “No, I’m not going to tell her no.” and that it was okay to date white women, that’s just fucked up. And it took me until college to be okay with the idea of dating a woman older than me. And I wasn’t the only one. I have a friend — he’s black too — who thought the same way. No one ever told us you couldn’t date a woman older than yourself — it was just assumed — and it was assumed to be because of religious reasons. The Christianity we were taught was the legs holding up the status quo — and without any rhyme or reason given. “Lean not to your own understanding” is the most fucked up concept imaginable — it’s just created for abuse.
I left Christianity because it made no sense. It had no rules, no rhyme, no reason, no structure. Killing was bad — unless the Israelites did it — or God did it to little kids. It’s the worst thing imaginable for you or I to kill children but I had a girl in my Sunday school class actually say to me “You don’t understand — God made us so He can destroy us.” Like your parents can just murder you and it’s okay. That’s fucked up. I was in the car with my Mom once and she’s listening some preacher on the radio and this guy is whipping his congregation into a frenzy. I think he was talking about David. He made some statement about David killing so many enemies of the Israelites that he was unclean and thus unwelcome in the temple. And the crowd is eating this up. And I just start shaking my head. And my Mom looks over at me and asks why I’m shaking my head and I just say, “Uh — thou shalt not kill?”
I came to paganism by chance. I was taking a creative non-fiction writing workshop at LSU and my instructor asked us to interview someone we were afraid to interview. I had heard of a group of witches in New Orleans and decided to interview them. I knew I was on to something when I pitched my project to the class and the table went “oooh!” I interviewed the then male co-coordinator of CUUPS (the Covenant of Unitarian-Universalist Pagans) and after listening to him go on about his politics for four hours, he invited me to attend their Wicca 101 classes as part of my project.
This is where I learned much of the basics of paganism — this and the books of Scott Cunningham, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject. Cunningham had a unique gift for simply, easily and quickly conveying not only the core ideas of the Wiccan religion but its inherent beauty as well.
Nature and ecology as the centre of one’s spirituality — this is a core concept. The Divine has wrought the world — by one means or another, who can say? And by understanding the natural world, we can understand the nature of the Divine Presence. And the first thing we note in Nature is plurality. There is nothing singular in Nature. We do not see ONE of anything. We see unique expressions of plurality — I am not you — you are not me — but we don’t see species of one. Even the Sun is just one star among many. Ecology — diversity — a dependence on interactive systems — these are at the heart of the Wiccan viewpoint.
Equality of the genders: Instead of a God, we have a God and a Goddess and all the myriad deities who comprise them. A Wiccan coven is led by a High Priest and a High Priestess working as a team, expressing the energies and force of their genders in tandem. Traditionally, initiation of a witch requires a member of the opposite sex. The understanding we have of the universe as being comprised of a multiplicity of forces is key here. Yin and Yang working together the way male and female come together to bring about new life. Fertility is key to Wicca. Other branches of paganism, particularly gay themed ones, de-emphasize this but the concept of a joining of diverse forces typically holds true.
Mysticism: We do not have a single holy book. Each of us is free to learn what lessons we will from Nature. I am fond of saying that “What is given for me to understand is not necessarily what is given for you to understand and vice versa.” Recall the story of blind men encountering an elephant. One man touches the trunk and says that an elephant is like a snake. One man touches the elephant’s side and says that an elephant is like a wall. One man touches the elephant’s leg and says no, an elephant is like a tree. The Divine Presence is like that. It is too complex an issue for everyone to have the same view as everyone else. We encounter different aspects of the Divine Presence in different ways. And we must always be true to that experience because I believe the Divine finds the best way to communicate to each and every one of us, if only we are willing to listen. So if you only encounter one God, then for you, there IS only one God. If when you encounter the Divine, you encounter the God and Goddess, then that’s what there is for you. If you encounter the whole Greek pantheon, the whole Greek pantheon is real for you. And you should structure your spiritual practice around these understandings. You should take no notice of anyone who tells you “This has to be done such-and-so a way or it’s wrong.” You should ignore that person entirely. Learn their reasons, give it a try if you care to but ultimately you must find the ways and means of religious practice that suit you and fulfil you and make you happy.
We do not proselytise: For the same reason as the above, we accept that you must find your own path. If you come to me and ask me to show you my path, I will but it’s with the understanding that my way up the mountain will not be your way up the mountain. We may walk similar paths near to one another and be able to talk as we go along the way but my path will always be a little different from yours.
Reincarnation: I like Babylon 5’s idea that “the soul is not a localised phenomenon.” It’s a bit more refined than my own simple idea that the Earth renews and reuses everything in its ecological sphere — so why not reuse consciousness? Living a single life to be tested and then die to go to some eternal reward just seems a primitive idea. That we, like matter or energy, cannot be destroyed but only transformed, just seems more valid, to me. We are renewed and then we go forth again to journey outwards to learn and to be.
Magick: Magick is a tough one but I do believe in it. I believe in the power of prayer — because that’s all magick really is — to change the world, literally. I believe we receive what we need from the universe and that we can take an active role in guiding the universe and it’s part of our tutelage by the gods that we learn how better to do that. But ultimately, magick is asking the universe for something and the universe is wise enough sometimes to tell us “No.”
So — that’s a little about why I’m a pagan.