Believe it or not, when I was a child I very much loved studying the Bible and the life of Jesus. I had my own nativity set, Christmas was my favorite holiday, and I would regularly read the Bible to see what it was all about. But the more I read, along with the irregular church and Sunday school visits I attended, the more I started poking holes in the story. The more I learned about the history of the church, the hypocrisies within stories of the Bible, and experience the indifference of more vocally proclaimed Christians, the more I realized that Christ and the Abrahamic religions were not for me. So I began experimenting with ALL religions, learning their histories and teachings and making connections between them.
The conclusion I eventually came to was that religious dogma of any sort was fundamentally flawed. Especially when people tried to justify excluding or harming others because of their faith. This quote by Greek philosopher Epicurus is what really stuck with me, not only about God, but people who are claiming to do his will:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
So I continued to learn about religion so I could tear arguments citing it apart. This was also when I experimented with atheism, but strangely my internal loneliness was only made worse. Because I was learning about Ancient Egypt at the time, I clung to their anthropomorphic, knowingly flawed deities. I found picking and choosing practices from the Hindu Vedas, Abrahamic peace, works of science-fiction and fantasy, and the variety of polytheistic traditions from history and different cultures helped me define my personal values. This is only how my faith came into puberty however. Its inception happened at recess with a borrowed book of shadows.
Not my own book of shadows mind you, but one of the few friends I had at the time, Destiny. We were 9 years old in forth grade. She had just returned from visiting her estranged mother in Alaska. I always found myself identifying with the outcasts, as I felt they always seemed to have a unique and inspired outlook on the world. While others might shun them because they thought differently, I did my best to embrace and be embraced by them. Anyway, Destiny had this book of shadows that her mom had given to her and she was trying to explain it to me. The only time I had heard the phrase book of shadows was in reference to Hollywood witches like Hocus Pocus. The idea that people actually in real life practiced witchcraft was fascinating to me. I don’t ever remember being frightened by the idea, just passionately curious.
This friend passionately explained how witchcraft wasn’t just about making potions or cursing people, but that those things could be done with practice. She explained the concepts of the different elements and how they represented different energies in our lives. We played “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” we dragged our feet through the kickball diamonds trying to perfect our pentagrams, then went on treasure hunts to find things that represented the elements. It was great fun, didn’t seem that different to me than any of the other games kids played. When we were bullied, we would use big multisylabic words and wiggle our fingers to “curse” them, then laugh when they ran off terrified. Going to hell?- We held our fingers up to our head like horns and bleated, “I’m a goat! SA-AAA-CRIFICE ME!” I still get fits of laughter thinking how this upset people.
What I was less aware of was that this was causing some of the teachers concern as well. Apparently they called in my parents because of one of our “light as a feather” rituals. Mind you, this was a public elementary school in a pretty liberal part of the country, or so I thought. The teachers sat down and told my parents how I was observed practicing witchcraft and “scaring” the other children. And my parents, bless their hearts, apparently could hardly control their laughter. According to my mother, the way she addressed it was by asking the teacher, “So you want to infringe on her practicing her religion?” Apparently all the blood rushed out of my teacher’s face. My parents we also semi-practicing Christians, but I think this was the turning point for them to identify closer to Agnostic as well. They were always very protective of me, but none the less supported my self-expression.
These experiences opened my mind to new possibilities, and began to explain some of the unexplained phenomenon I have experienced over the course of my life. Knowing I was not alone in wanting to think and worship differently really made a difference in my critical thinking. And because I found the subject so interesting, I became more and more compassionate to other points of view. This became especially relevant after the 9/11 attacks and suddenly everyone is talking about and has an opinion about Islam. My high school senior thesis was titled: “Who is this God Person Anyway?” after the passing joke in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of my early boyfriends introduced me to the youth community at the Unitarian Universalist church, which also holds many of my beliefs about inclusiveness, education, and practicing what feels right to you. I have attended pagan conventions and workshops expanding my knowledge and knowing why we believe the things that we tend to. I find it to be an ongoing and empowering hobby that there is no one right way to do.
I identify as Pagan. I do not cast spells, but study magic and faith. I believe in the power of symbolism, and use the metaphorical connection of the elements to guide and empower me. Despite my fire heavy astrology, I identify closest with water. I imagine figures through history, mythology, fiction, and the spirit world as my guides. I have a close connection to animals and shamanism. I practice shapeshifting my mind and physical actions to mirror these animals and the lessons I believe I can learn from them. That is a big part of why I made my tarot cards the way I am. Thank you for allowing me to share this experience with you.