How I came to be a Pagan
My personal ramblings on becoming a member of a minority religious group
I thought I could try to describe some of my beliefs/feelings/whatevers regarding my personal faith. What some would call religion is more likely intended as a way of life for me. I don't exactly call it religion, but I think the word *faith* fits fairly well. This essay was originally written as a personal letter, over a year ago. I am having a grand time noticing the changes and unchanged things about myself since then. Recently, my own mother informed me that I was descended from an established family of traditional Danish witches, whose working line ended with my grandmother at her death in the early 1970's. Well, that certainly explained a lot! Since that time, I have been on a quest to re-build that tradition so that I may pass the learning on to my own daughter and sons.
Although I consider myself Pagan (as the term is associated with Nature worship), that is primarily because I haven't really taken any opportunity to search for a more fitting moniker for my group of personal views. Not that I have really spent much time looking, mind you- until recently (the last few years or so) it wasn't something I truly considered a necessary element in my life, until I realized something very important was missing- some driving force giving definition to my life or means/method of personal expression.
Having years before discarded the typical Judeo-Christian garbage as a "nice history book for the masses- not something I am interested in, really, thank you", I decided I would simply not participate in any of the common practices- these tended to require one to worship a man, and I was fairly adamant about not worshipping ANY man- certainly not a living man, and definately not a dead one, but that's another story altogether :). This attitude was enough for me for over a decade, but seemed a very empty and expressionless life as time went on.
Between the births of my second and third children, I started to feel that I was leaving my family with little or no legacy, no spiritual guidance whatsoever. It was about this time that my interest in herbal and natural medicines began to take root, and I felt an increasing need to be more in tune with the expressions of nature. This included the normal processes of birth and death, which I had always had a healthy respect for, and the knowledge that our lives can be sustained almost completely by the Earth, independant of modern scientific intervention and fiddling around with what was already a perfect balance, in my mind's eye. This manifest as an interest in midwifery and natural healing, and began to shape my spiritual outlook on life.
Some research on the history of midwifery indicated that these important women had been dealt a bad hand in the historical card game, having been persecuted for their knowledge and healing abilities, and for their worship of the forces of nature and (as?) womyn- all symbols I could readily identify with, which seemed facets of one another to me. A little more digging gave me the link I needed to see the terms *witch* and *midwife* as almost interchangeable- both being of the Old English for Wise Woman (the term midwife is currently referred to as *with woman*- it was reportedly changed during the Burnings, since it simply was not safe to go around claiming to be a witch:)- and the association was close enough to convince me that the two were synonymous. That led me to view the historical records of witch burnings, mostly that of midwives- and question whether my participation in such a worthy profession might in fact *make* of me a witch as well, which I wasn't very comfortable with. At any rate, I decided to check out the possibilities and decide for myself.
Being completely ignorant of everything but the most outrageous stage-witchery, I started looking for a few worthy resources. One of these turned out to be a lady on my *Midwife* email list, Janie Young. A student midwife like myself, with a keen interest in natural parenting and spiritual womynhood, she was an invaluable resource for me for the next several months. Another aquaintence, David Sands from England, was also incredibly helpful. Both would readily answer whatever email I sent filled with questions- and the answers inevitably turned out to be *study, look, read, find, search out the answers within yourself*. That was enough for me for the time being, and since I was incredibly busy, I sort of put everything on the back burner to stew for awhile. In my searching, I had found considerable information on the Gardnerian Wiccan beliefs and practices, but it didn't seem quite suited to my tastes- I had a definate lack of interest in staged rituals and ceremony. All I wanted was to connect *my* self with my*self*, and fill a growing need in the process. I had no interest or need of pageantry and group gatherings.
After almost a year of doing little more than loosely relating to myself as Pagan, certainly not Wiccan by any means, I determined I was probably not interested in being/becoming a *witch*, or buying into most of the hooplah one normally finds in the Circle and company of other witches. I slowly developed answers to many of my own questions and if the typical Wiccan belief didn't fit that answer, then "Oh, well- The Craft wasn't really *me* anyway". In this manner I grew away from personally accepting the term *witch* as something I would feel comfortable with as a name for myself. Having done a little peering into the numerous deities one could dedicate themselves to, I figured maybe it was time to search further and see if one of the less established belief systems was more suited- the Craft was obviously not my home. To date, that has been the extent of my journey- effectively eliminating all the major religions for failing to recognize the power of womyn, and Wicca for being too ostentatious and full of what I would consider trappings and materialistic value. What did that leave? What do I call myself in relation to my spiritual senses? I am still looking for that answer.
I can say that I have very specific beliefs that are sometimes contradictory and maybe a little quirky. There are many other things I am very uncertain about or simply remain undecided on. And, of course, others I simply reject altogether. I have discovered that there is more personal power-energy-lifeforce-*whatever-you-want- to-call-it* associated with me than I was previously willing to take responsibility for or believe in. That knowledge has caused me to re-view beliefs I had already set aside or discarded for various reasons. Having had to redefine my terminology a bit, I would not be quite so uncomfortable being called a witch at this point, though that still feels a little incorrect to me. I have, however, been forced to take a few steps toward learning to control and shape that energy for my own purposes, so it does not control me or harm those I care for. These steps have been my only acknowledgement of any personal use for modern witchcraft. I choose not to associate myself with any single deity. I have no interest in being dedicated to only one small aspect of anything- when I give myself to something it is with all my heart and soul. With intentions like that, the recipient must be grand indeed :).
To say I worship anything in particular would be somewhat inaccurate. I honor many things in many ways. But I believe all these things are directly related to or are somehow attributable to what I call *The Mother*. Sometimes I refer to this force as Mother Nature (usually in jest) or simply *she*. It seems obvious to me as a mother that the creative energy that somehow managed to implant us here and provide for us must be feminine. I believe I am directly related to her, as are all womyn, through our foremothers- in the eggs provided to us at our birth, we carry on the connection through her to our future generations. By continuing to birth as her example has shown us, using the instincts given to us womyn as a gift, and the intelligence to use these gifts wisely, we honor her traditional mothering role. Being a mother is the most outward expression of how I honor her. Becoming a midwife in the service of her daughters and my sisters is as much a spiritual goal as a professional pursuit to me.
I don't find it necessary to provide any particular accoutrements to facilitate my devotion to her. I find I am content that the sky is my cathedral and the forest my walls; the sunset across the clouds becomes beautifully crafted stained-glass windows. My altar is my hands, as I feel she would never require a sacrifice too great for them to accomplish. And if she does, so be it. Anything my hands carry is an offering in her name, whatever that name truly is. Who are we puny humans to try to define and label something so vast and unexplainable? I respect her grace and dignity by not outshining her with dramatic displays of my intent to honor her. Everything she requires as tools of her worship she has given me, in my body- I have no need of special trappings or instruments to express my devotion at her service. Since I believe she is everything, in all places and all times, I assume everything she has permeated is sacred, and all times are holy. I try to make a special effort to toast her and commune with her at least twice a month- on the new and full moons- and occassionally I will celebrate once or twice a year as festival days. I like to keep my relationship with her as quiet as possible, as sometimes she whispers and I wouldn't want to miss the wisdom of her words.
Some of the many ways I honor or revere my Mother include not interfering in her intentions for her other children. I honor her wisdom by using the instincts she gave me, enhancing them with my own intelligence- which is also her gift. I honor her craftiness by using her healing substances with wisdom for their power and care for their intended purposes. I honor her example by providing for others whenever possible. I honor her solitude by enjoying her presence while I am alone- it seems I can hear her voice and laughter in the wind, feel her tears in the rain, sense her essence in the ground, and hear her pulse in the seas and rivers. In the quiet of a snowfall, I can almost hear her thoughts. I honor her by not interfering in her regular rhythms and processes, and by following her seasons and moons and tides with true interest and respect for their power over our lives- the power to provide for our own children and ourselves, and safely pass our time in her presence. She can be a harsh and cruel mother and teacher, but also infinately giving, caring, attentive, and affectionate. I honor her by nourishing my children from my body, then from her bounty, as she intended. By joyfully greeting my womynhood on a monthly basis, and the creative power associated with its rhythms, I also honor her, because I do not seek to disrupt her cycles and rhythms through artifical means. I believe she infuses children with her energy as they develop in the womb, and that this is why pregnant women and their babies glow- only to lose that glow as they grow out of her sphere of influence.
The instinctual force present in all of us is also of great interest to me. I feel that it is through our instincts that she speaks to our subconscious minds, and backs it up with the intelligence she provides to understand the directions our instinct gives us. This is probably most simply represented to others as a compatible *animal personality*, and one reason why I believe that each of us carries a *resident* animal, which I believe shapes our personalities to an extent (our more primitive reactions and instincts may be guided by, or in some cases completely given over to, one's animal). I feel this is one way we interconnect (and *innerconnect*) with her, and one way in which our universal brothers and sisters share her energy with us. While I appreciate the intelligence we humans have, I believe we have seriously abused this gift in favor of our own selfish ends, thinking she has *favored* us by providing it only to us. This is foolish- we are all her children and can learn from each other, and are certainly dependant on one another. I believe we are all related- plants, animals, minerals, gasses. We all carry some of her energy or force, and somehow re-create ourselves in future generations with this force. It is present everywhere in the universe, in all places all the time- formless, shapeless, directionless, nameless, genderless, and probably without conscious intent- yet always moving and shifting. This is apparent to me in my newly found ability to *move* this energy in myself, and to some extent in other people or places. To sense her energy at all is an incredible gift, with which I honor her by using her gift, hopefully as she intended I should. I would like to be able to develop it into a healing ability. I think we could all at one time sense and move this energy, but the practice and knowledge of it has been lost or forgotten over the generations, for the most part. I also believe the ability to sense or move this energy is probably one of the things that made one a witch or healer in the first place.
I believe she has invested each of us with certain talents and gifts, to use for the benefit of all. They may be as simple as being able to sit quietly while someone else speaks- and give that person some peace in themselves by doing so. It may be as profound as being able to enhance the lives of many others by providing something they need to survive. It doesn't really matter what the gift is. I don't find her to be vengeful if we don't use these gifts wisely or to benefit others; it simply seems right to me that I should use mine in this way. I believe the little things we do add up, and that there are enough negative elements present that I need not add any more negative energy to that atmosphere.
I try to respect her sense of humor by not assuming that others are wrong in the interpretations of her which she has provided to them. These other interpretaions allow for balance and harmony. There must be balance in all things- rhythm in our lives and bodies, and in the air around us. I believe we humans spend far too much time trying to coerce or control her upsetting that balance, without understanding and respecting her immense powers and abilities. That whole mindset seems truly counterproductive to me, like some ridiculous cosmic tug-of-war we can never possibly win. If we could simply ride her currents, we would find much more peace within ourselves and in her presence. It is what I strive to do daily, and sometimes, I even accomplish it :). As my limited understanding of the personal gifts and blessings I have received from her grows and changes and evolves, I think more and more often of the possibility that maybe, generations ago, there was a witch in my line- and subsequently the instinct for the Craft may be in my genes. I don't think I will ever refer to myself as anything other than Pagan, though I will eventually learn and undoubtedly use many of the teachings of other disciplines. The journey to find the true name for my beliefs is likely to be interesting and long. I prefer to travel quietly with my Mother and see where she leads me.
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