Freedom of belief and freedom to choose the specifics of one’s path are some of the most highly valued ideas in Pagan religion and practice. It is something that I have come to almost take for granted. Recently I was exposed in a visceral way to the alternate viewpoints that other religions proscribe to. This exposure triggered some memories from my teenage years, when my quest for spiritual fulfillment became an important facet of those formative years.
I was a very religious and devout kid. I desperately wanted to be good and do God's will and perform my purpose in life. I wanted to live right and be a good person. I was obsessed with Sunday morning service and had memorized all of the rituals of the ministers, acolytes, and cross bearers by the time I was 5. I had all the liturgy for communion memorized and even knew all the sung choral responses throughout the service. I dreamt about being able to carry the light into the church and tend the altar. (I think it is fitting that after so many years, praying with a lit candle by my bed, that I wound up working very closely with Brigid when I became Pagan). In that way, I still tend the flame and pray and meditate in a very similar way as I did all those years ago.
When I was 14, I attended a Christian camp for a week with my best friend. I felt so close and cared about. I listened to sermons and bible study, made new friends, and watched as young people got in trouble for foolish acting out. There was hazing, and a bit of brainwashing, in the name of God. I found it confusing. And at the same time, I wished so bad to be pure, to be God's chosen, that I desperately wanted to be Baptized. At the time, I was very upset to find out that there had to be parental permission. I petitioned my parents to let me be baptized and join my friends church. My mom told me confusing words, "Wait until you're 18. If you still want to be Baptized then, go ahead." I felt like she had abandoned me. I wanted something holy, sacred, and pure, and I was not allowed. I wasn't allowed to go to the YMCA church lock in, or the 24 famine fund raiser. I thought she was being cruel. She was worried about me being taken advantage of. She did let me continue being a part of the church's youth group and I made great friends. I threw out all my vampire and new age books I had collected all through childhood. I quit celebrating Halloween, threw out a massive vampire novel collection, and wanted to be a good Christian girl in every way. In fact, I suppressed a lot of my natural predilections and desires in order to try to fit into a very strict, judgmental group of people.
It just occurred to me tonight, that the scare tactics I was subjected to as an impressionable 14 year old were cruel and unfair. How could adults trained in this sort of psychological conditioning, brainwashing, and bullying use such tactics on children? They are brainwashed themselves out of thinking. They think they are justified and holy. Even then at that camp, I thought the hazing was unfair and completely outside of what Jesus would have done. Jesus always seemed like an accepting, loving, tolerant, pacifist to me.
Shortly after turning 18, I told my mother that I wanted to tell her about the new spirituality I had discovered and chosen for myself, called Wicca. I explained a bit about it and she immediately responded, "I am so glad you've found your spirituality so young!" It was so easy and I've always had so much support from my family. They knew I'd found what I'd been looking for. Ever since then I've flourished and grown stronger, happier, and healthier.
I'm going to have to thank my mom for making me wait. That must have been a hard decision for her to stick by. Too bad I felt so alone and hurt because she was doing what she thought was in my best interest. I couldn’t understand her reasoning, but I do now.
My family had always valued critical thinking, independence, and education. My father even read to me every night Greek mythology and bible stories. I understood at a young age that the parables in the bible were metaphors to teach us lessons and were not to be taken literally. I do not feel that this idea hindered my ability to believe or have faith, but gave me more ways to find meaning in literature and later, belief in the world’s mythologies.
I left that church at 15 after a youth group meeting when they preached against gays. I had a major problem with the hate and prejudice they all exhibited on fellow humans. How could external judgment be valid. I felt that judgment was for God alone. In fact, in the questions of the 42 assessors in the Egyptian rites of the dead, you are questions and assessed before Ma’at, not a human, earthly court.
Later, when I was 17, I had the opportunity to give the sermon for the youth run service at my family’s church. I delivered a talk about the acceptance of our fellows, that judgment was for God alone, and Jesus taught us to love one another. Love is giving, forgiving, accepting, and graceful. It can't be wrong or sinful. Love is love. We all know that, deep down inside.
Ten years later, I'm still preparing talks and classes. I'm teaching Love in the world as I see it to be true. I can think for myself and encourage people to question things and create their own beliefs to stand by. I still tend the flame, and keep rituals in my home. I am closer than ever to the Gods and to my Faith. I hope that as a Priestess I can make a major difference in this world. Even if it’s one moon, one month at a time.