Once, about 10 years ago now, I was asked to be part of a question/answer style round table at a local library about different pagan paths. It basically consisted on myself, and two Wiccans who sat at the table and fielded questions from the audience. Although I had moved on from Wicca at that point I had much respect for both of the Wiccans, who were elders in their trads. I will never forget what one of them said… I was simultaneously horrified and impressed. She said (and I’m paraphrasing because after 10 years I don’t remember her words verbatim):
‘If you have a choice in the matter, don’t be a pagan. You have to figure it out all for yourself. You have to take care of your own spiritual care. There is no priest who is going to tell you exactly what to do or think, no holy book to go to ready made answers for. You’ll be on your own, and have to figure out what you really believe by yourself. It’s all up to you and you alone. It’s very hard work and if you have a choice, stick with a ready made orthodox religion. You’ll be happier.‘
I never forgot her words. It turns out I don’t have a choice. I am pagan. It is in my blood, and in my soul. I always have been as long as I can remember. I still remember when I was young; my first memory is pretending my Disney books were spell books. When most kids were playing baseball I was hunting for “herbs” to make infusions out of. Of course I didn’t know anything about real herbs, so I gave all the weeds around my neighborhood their own names and correspondences as I saw fit (I would then sell the infusions by the side of the road. I guess there’s a bit of snake oil salesman in me as well. Who needs a lemonade stand?).
I remember loving the woods and swamps outside my home and feeling truly connected to the divine in a way that I could never feel in church. I felt safe there, as if I belonged. I remember one Halloween when I was 10 years old, feeling such a deep sense reverence and knowing that the day was special in a way that goes beyond costumes and candy, but not knowing how to honor it sufficiently (I think I ended up doing a little dance in the woods to honor the tree spirits, heh). I remember reading the worlds mythology voraciously and wishing so hard that I could get as excited about my “own religion” (Christianity) as much as I did about those myths. At that time I thought that God and Jesus was something that I would grow into believing like the other grown ups did. That if I just waited it out, one day I would be grown up, have a job, and a family and love Jesus like everyone else. It’s not that I disliked Christianity. It brings peace to many wonderful people who I love and I think that’s great. It’s just not my religion and never was. To quote from the song “Worship Trees”:
Church bells ring, I’m so glad they do,
But I can’t join in.
Something old has my name,
Nothing will ever be the same.
I never did grow up to believe. One day I decided that even if I was the only one in the world who believed in the Old Gods, so be it. I informed my mother that I was never going to church again (and she was good enough to respect that and not make me). It was then that I opened my heart to Them. Imagine my joy and surprise years later to discover there where others who felt the same way!
The fact is I love paganism. LOVE it. I love the smell of incense and the sight of candles on my shrines, flickering off the statues and my beloved devotional items. It brings me true peace. I love the herbs and scented oils. I love the people and the wide range of ideas and beliefs everyone brings to the table. I love the connection to the Earth and Gods that I feel when I give an offering with nothing other than love and devotion in my heart. I love the deep sense of reverence and being wrapped up in the divine I feel when I am in Their presence. My entire world is magical. I see evidence of the old gods everywhere and the nature spirits are all around me. In a world filled with interest rates and property taxes, I enjoy knowing that the world is not exactly as it presents itself and I am only a breath away from True Magic.
Not only do I love being pagan, I love other pagans as well! I love Witches, Druids, Reconstructionists, left-hand-pathers, you name it! I think you are all wonderful. You are my people, even if we disagree on various points I feel a bond with you. I raise my drinking glass to you.
However my co-round-tabler was right. Paganism is hard work. I’m currently trying to find exactly where I fit in the pagan spectrum, and let me tell you all that introspection begins to hurt after awhile. There is so much conflicting information! If you do practice A, you get labeled as “fluffy” (and no one wants to be fluffy! Ack!). Yet if you except that if you do A, you must do B, C, and D as well you feel constrained. The “Your doing it wrong” police are on the prowl, on the look out for ways that they can criticize other peoples practices and bring us all into the fold of The One Right Pagan Way. I shudder at the implications. It’s enough to make any curious seeker take one look at us and run for the hills. Even an old hat like myself feels intimidated and is constantly looking over his shoulder. Which brings me to my current conundrum. Exactly what kind of pagan am I anyway? What do I believe? I’ve been asking myself this my entire life.
My path has taken on many twists and turns. In the end I decided to walk the path as a Hedge Druid, though I incorporate Sorcery into my work quite a bit.