Personal

Spiritual Identity & Connection

I was raised in a Christian home, made the choice to be baptized at 12, volunteered at a Christian summer camp for at-risk youth, and went on mission trips to the Navajo Nation every summer.

When I was 15, I started asking some uncomfortable questions of my dad, the youth minister, and even the minister of our church. The main one being, “If every religion proclaims that it is the ‘right’ path and those who follow the others are essentially going to Hell, how do we know that we’re in the right one?”

I honestly can’t remember the answers any of them gave, but I know that none of them satisfied the question. So I took it upon myself to figure it out. How best to understand why my faith was the right path than to understand why the others were wrong?

So I took to the library and started checking out books on every major religion and as many minor religions as I could find. It sent me down some Yahoo rabbit holes as I dug deeper into the minor religions and discovered more to learn about (this is pre-Google as the go-to search engine – I still had a Hotmail account).

You know what I found? Every single one of these religions (whether they identified as a religion or not) had exactly one thing in common – they all said to treat others as you would be treated. Basically, don’t be a dick.

I was already skeptical of the literal nature of the resurrection belief and more, so it didn’t take much for me to back away from Christianity as a religion at that point. Instead, I dedicated myself to that one, consistent, prime tenet. To be a good person.

Feeling the Draw of Something New

In all my religious and spiritual research, only one area kept pulling me back to it for further digging and desire to understand – Wicca and pagan ideologies. I couldn’t say at the time why they were so intriguing to me, but I was unable to let them go.

I started reading more and more books on practicing magick (at the time, I was under the belief that the only way to distinguish magic tricks from real magic was to add the “k” at the end – plus it made me feel fancy). I found online communities full of acceptance and love. Most particularly, the forums following the amazing web comic Oh My Gods! and a guild in Neopets called The Rising Phoenix. Members of each of these groups are still close friends of mine, some of whom I have traveled halfway across to world to spend time with (and even attend a wedding). Among these people, I had found new family. A family I had chosen.

In the first year or two of my foray into Wicca and Paganism, I tried to jump straight in to the fun and exciting aspect of it – having a practice. I gathered crystals, kept a journal of magickal knowledge (meanings and uses of colors, herbs, etc.), engaged in self-guided meditations where I met my spirit guide (a stag named Kristoff), and even held a few rituals.

It all felt thrilling and rebellious. Here I was, closed up in my room in this Christian household, calling on the Four Corners and waving incense around the room.

Pulling Away

With time, my focus shifted from the practice to the community. I began to feel uncomfortable with the religious and magickal side of things. I drifted away from the other aspects of the community and practice that were anything beyond my personal friendships.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been in a state of limbo regarding this. I still considered myself spiritual, but would beat down on myself and call myself naive for having believed that I could say a few words, wave around some incense, and expect a result (as I saw it). Despite that, I never stopped feeling drawn to this religion and these ideologies.

I never stopped browsing the occult section in bookstores. I never stopped picking one item among many by feeling their energies to find the right one. I never stopped focusing my mental energies to send positive intent to others. But I wouldn’t let myself entertain the possibility that any of this meant anything.

My recent struggles with extreme depression brought a change I didn’t expect. Once the medications had started working on the physical aspect of my depression, it got me thinking about other factors. The obvious came first – toddler, buying a house (again), work stress, money, pandemic… But then I realized it was something more – a feeling of being disconnected. Not just from family and friends, but from the world, nature, my own sense of being.

Recognizing Rebellion

Thinking on when I had last felt truly connected in that way, I kept coming back to those brief years of surface-level practice.

I started recognizing the patterns that led me to draw away from Wicca and Paganism. In my youth, I felt a self-conscious embarrassment that others would judge me for having this interest. I felt like I had to keep it hidden, and that added stress to my life. So I dropped the thing that added stress. But even more than that, I rebelled against the idea of personifying deity. Against even a vaguely organized religion. Against the concept of religion itself. I hadn’t extricated myself from Christianity just to fall into that same trap.

So I pulled away. Convinced myself it was a load of bollocks anyway, but was still grateful for the amazing people that it had brought into my life.

Moving Forward

Back to the present, I decided to test a theory. I purchased the ebook version of the Scott Cunningham book for the solitary practitioner (which, incidentally, I already had in my wish list), and started to read. I’d give it one more shot and, if it wasn’t for me, I could finally move on and start removing these occult books from my wish lists.

At the first mention of the Goddess and the God, my knee-jerk reaction was to stop right there and be done with it. Instead, I asked myself why I was so against these names. I considered what the concept of deity and the Goddess and the God meant to me.

They are not the black and white, literal individuals who are omniscient and omnipresent like the gods of monotheism. They are a projection of the intertwined energies of our world, allowing us silly humans to understand them better. It meant that I have a choice in how I think of them. Anytime I read “the Goddess” or “the God,” I could simply substitute the image of a physical being for the broader understanding I have of the energies and what they represent.

Coming to this conclusion lifted a weight out of me that I didn’t realize I had been carrying for who knows how long.

As I continued reading, I started seeing the connections between the spiritual and magical beliefs and science as we know it. I will happily get into that thought process in a future post, but suffice to say that my science-minded intellectualism is no longer at odds with my beliefs of this nature.

What Next?

I feel like I have an understanding of Wicca and magic now that I was nowhere near the last time I studied it. I’m such a vastly different person that I feel that I am finally ready to move forward in joy.

I’ve decided to give it a real, proper go at a true practice. I will take my time, learning what I want or need to know without pushing myself to just know everything already. I may find that aspects of it aren’t for me, while others are. But I won’t let my self-consciousness get in the way of discovering what works for me.

I’ve even talked with my husband about it at length and, you guys, I chose well. He has been nothing but supportive and inquisitive. There have been no judgmental or sarcastic remarks. He expresses a genuine desire to understand more while sharing his own spiritual history and evolution (he’s an optimistic nihilist).

Identity

I don’t know how I identify within this spirituality, to be honest. But the fact that I’m walking this road gives me hope that someday I will have language for that as well. Since making these decisions, I have found myself more optimistic, patient, determined, and energized than I’ve been for some time now. That alone tells me that this is the right path for me for right now.

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