So, Let’s Talk Paganism

(I probably don’t need to do this, but let me just say that the following post is going to contain a bunch of woo-woo crap. If that’s not your thing, please don’t make a big issue about how stupid it is or how I’m going to Hell or how we all need to embrace Christianity or secular humanism or whatever. I understand that, if you’re born and raised in certain religious traditions, the kinds of stuff that may come up here can be very shocking and distressing. I also understand that, if you think that spirituality is hokum, the urge to share how stupid and deluded people with religious beliefs are can be overwhelming.  I’m still going to ask y’all to treat anyone who will share openly with respect. And I will try to talk gracefully and unselfconsciously about it, myself.)

It’s hard for me to untwist whether I was a feminist before I became pagan or if I became pagan before I became a full-fledged feminist.  Probably the two things were always hand-in-hand for me.  I was raised in a very religious household.  My dad is a Methodist minister, now retired, and my mom is one of those people who suggests praying about everything that troubles anyone, because she firmly believes that it will help.  We often lived next door to the churches my father served and I would say that I was at church, for one reason or another, at least five days a week.

Women in my Dad’s church could perform all the duties men could. I myself was often acolyte and liturgist and, for many years, I gave the message at the sunrise service at Easter (I had written up something about meeting Jesus at the tomb from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Basically, if you’ve ever sung “I come to the garden alone,” you’ve got the gist of it).  My dad also had close female minister friends.

So, while I have my… differences… with the Methodist church, I wasn’t raised to believe that women were somehow less holy than men.

Still, I wanted desperately to have some female religious role models, some stories that I could relate to.  I wanted to look in the Bible and read about someone like me.  And the whole “I know it says ‘God the Father’ but God doesn’t really have a gender” and “Just look for the minor female characters and imagine whole lives for them” and “Well, you have to understand that when this was written…”just didn’t cut it.  It was like, in order to find my place in my own religious text, I had to close one eye and squint and do five mental leaps, and frankly, I just wanted to be able to take the damn thing at its word.

I didn’t want to have to say “Mother” or “Parent” softly to myself when it said “God the Father.” I wanted to believe that what God said about Himself was true. Not literal, necessarily, but true.  Because the way I was doing it was exhausting and wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t making me feel closer to God; it made me feel like a girl who makes excuses for her abusive boyfriend–he didn’t really mean those mean things he says about me, he’s just stressed.

So, I decided to read the Bible as if what it said was true. Again, not literally true, but that, if God said He’s a dude, I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, well, that’s just metaphorical.” I’m going to take Him at His word.

And then I encountered the passage–Proverbs 8:22-31. If you’re not familiar with it, at the beginning of Proverbs, Wisdom, who is female, talks at great length about herself.  And Wisdom doesn’t say, “I’m a metaphor! Don’t worry folks! Everything’s cool in Monotheism land! I’m not real.”  Instead what she says is, “I was there before everything.” Instead what she says is, “Then I was the craftsman at his side.”

Holy shit.  That sure doesn’t sound like monotheism. Even if God “birthed” her before everything, she was His aid in creation.

I felt lied to and kind of cheated.

About this time (and I told you we would get to the woo-woo crap), I noticed that I was drawing the Hanged Man in every tarot reading I did and that it never seemed to fit in with the rest of the cards. In other words, it didn’t seem to be a card for the person sitting across the table, but for me.

I didn’t know what to make of it, so I went back to all the books on tarot cards I could find in the library and read up on all their explanations for the card and in one of them, I found these words, “I know I hung from the windswept tree, nine whole nights.”  Ha, it gives me chills to even type it to you, just from an aesthetic standpoint, something about the “o”s in “know” and “whole” maybe, or just that nice turn of phrase “windswept tree.”

The speaker there is Odin.

And Odin does something I had never, in my life, heard of a god doing: he listens to women, hangs out with them even. No, it’s more than that: he assumes that women know things that he doesn’t know and that they can teach him. And that the things he can learn from us are of such value that he’s willing to risk public ridicule to learn them (see, for instance, Loki’s claim in the Lokasenna that hanging out with witches has made Odin unmanly).

And I thought, okay, then I’m throwing my lot in with these folks.

As I said, I’m not a very formal heathen. I don’t really hang out with other heathens doing heatheny things. My heart is with my family and my community and my home and land.  I feel my ancestors are with me, always, and that the gods are just the most ancient, most powerful of those ancestors and that the thing that would be most fortunate for me and the people and things that hold my heart is for me to work to be in right relationship with them. I believe that luck, or fortune, or what happens is the driving force in our world (a girl can have a long discussion about that, but I’ll point you here and here, for starters, but be warned, I was still pussyfooting around coming out and saying, “Yes this is my truth.”) and I do what I can to try to ensure that our luck is good.

I consider myself a hardcore polytheist, but within limits. I think, for instance, that Wodan and Odin are the same god. I don’t think that Mercury is. But I’m also not blind to the fact that Zeus, Jupiter, Tyr, and others all seem to share at least variation in the same name, if not similar characteristics. What can I tell you? I still don’t want to think of Zeus and Tyr as being two versions of the same god. So, I don’t.

So, what about you?  If you’re a pagan, what brought you here?  Do you see your paganism and your feminism intertwined? What are your gods like? Why do you like them? I’ve rambled on long enough. Your turn.

(Cross-posted at Feministe)

21 thoughts on “So, Let’s Talk Paganism

  1. Also a heathen. I credit my (very Catholic) mother with the first introductions… she got me this big purple children’s book of Norse myth when I was 9 or 10. The stories stuck. I left Catholicism at 18 or so after receiving no satisfactory answers about why, exactly, I could not be a priest if I wanted to, and why the Church thought that divorce was wrong even if husbands beat their wives, and how my own divorced grandmother fit into that, and, and, and. I was a terror at Confirmation classes. Bounced off Wicca, which was too… ungrounded for my liking, and too binary male/female. And then I read Beowulf in college and that was that.

    I call myself a soft recon and a hard polytheist. Sure, there’s a lot of Indo-European similarities among certain powers, but whaddya expect among families? I think of the gods as kin. We have a reciprocal relationship. They do not expect bended-knee worship, and I do not expect them to hold my hand or be my diary. We share drinks now and then, and they’re welcome in my house. It’s all good.

  2. I was born and raised feminist and came to paganism through taking religious studies classes in college. Although I went to (Methodist) church all through my childhood, it never resonated with me, nothing spiritual did–until I discovered a feminist, open-minded, nature-based spirituality at about age 19. That felt like coming home. I call myself a witch and believe more in practice than in belief, if that makes sense.

  3. (Firstly, I have wandered over from TheWildHunt and will be sticking around) I was raised Roman Catholic by a Father who got kicked out of Seminary for voicing a contrary opinion and a Mother who is ‘Christian by creed, Catholic by convenience’. Becoming a pagan was just a matter of time. My family always went ‘church shopping’ when we moved and wouldn’t stop looking until we found the right ‘fit’. My parents taught me a lot about faith and religion and how they are not always the same thing. They showed that you can have your own opinions and still be a part of a community while respectfully disagreeing with some doctrine. Basically they set me up to be the eclectic pagan I am. I feel just as comfortable with the divine in my parents’ parish as I do with the local coven. I can raise a horn with the local heathens and spiral dance with my Reclaiming cousins.

  4. When my dad spent several months in Bible class teaching us what the different denominations believed, I really wish he’d expanded his scope. LDS was about as “out there” has he got back then (although he also very briefly touched on Satanism). Reading about this is really interesting; please keep blogging about it!

    I don’t really have a good contribution here, just wanted to say I enjoy reading about different people’s path, particularly when it’s delivered without prejudice.

  5. I was raised christian(in a small town) so I believed with all my heart. Then I discovered that other people liked me/treated me better than the christians so I started exploring my options very vaguely over the years.

    I’ve finally ended up in a polytheistic non-worship. Mostly because if I go to the trouble of worshipping someone they’d better give results. And I want the results I want-not the ‘this is really what’s good for you’ kind.

  6. Another Pagan here (and ex-Catholic), but I’m a rather low-woo Pantheist, except that I’m an odd sort of polytheist as well (it’s complicated, and quite possibly ‘silly’).

  7. I can . . . spiral dance with my Reclaiming cousins.

    I have no idea whatsoever what this means. What is Reclaiming, and how does a spiral dance fit in? I’d love to know, EmraldeKat, if you’d care to explain.

  8. RE: Spiral dance and Reclaiming

    A Spiral Dance is a method of gathering energy in a ritual towards a purpose (usualy the intent of the ritual). As for Reclaiming, it’s a branch of paganisim/wicca/witchcraft. Please checkout for more information. I mentioned them simply as an example. I also have been known to do ritual with wiccans, British Tradional Wiccans, ADF Druids and OTO Thelemites. I find comfortability involves respect for one’s faith and it’s boundries as well as the faith and boundries of the people one chooses to celebrate/worship/do magic with.

  9. The Bible has several strong female characters for you to relate to. Mary – the Mother of God – is the only perfect human to have ever lived. Yes, Jesus only selected men to be his immediate Apostles, and based on this tradition, the Catholic Church has only ordained men to be priests. However, there are several venerated saints that are women in the history of the Church.

  10. i’ve been holding off with a… bit of a bemused attitude.

    but, speaking as an atheist, i have to say i (generally, rule of thumb, has exceptions) prefer folks who’ve changed their religion to ones who haven’t. the more drastic changes, the better. because such folks have usually thought about the matter, weighed their opinions, and are more likely to show respect for the conclusions and opinions of others.

    or perhaps even to reevaluate their position once again, and come to the (ahem) more mature conclusion that it’s all a bunch of needless bunkum. one can hope, anyway.

    plus, of course, i’ve never been proselytized by a pagan. that gives me a favorable impression right there. not seen any heathen street preachers either — although i tend to think those folks serve the cause of atheism more than any other cause…

    (try #4)

  11. This is really, really hitting me right now because I’m kind of at a crossroads, I guess, for some guidance? Does that sound really corny?

    I was raised without much religion until my mom got pregnant with my youngest sister and decided to go back to her Catholic roots and drag the rest of us with her. I went to all the classes, went to mass on Sunday, blah blah, but the only thing I really connected with was the old-school chanting and the creepy imagery of the church. (I’d also like to point out here that our church didn’t come down hard on divorce or birth control, and I actually heard it discussed very openly at times.) As soon as I was confirmed, I told my mom I didn’t want to go to church anymore (to be able to sleep in more than anything, really), and she was ok with it. She said my soul was my own at that point, and she wasn’t responsible for what I did with it. :)

    At 18 I moved from Chicago to Murfreesboro for college, and immediately was taken aback by all of the Christian propaganda. And my new “Christian” friends were taken aback that I was raised Catholic. A few told me that I was better off atheist. What is the deal with southerners hating on the Catholics, anyway?

    After years of saying I was “just spiritual” to everyone who tried to get me to go to their church, eventually I got up the courage to say out loud that I was not a Christian. It just didn’t feel right. Actually, it felt gross. Slimy, judgmental and wrong. Sorry if that seems harsh, but all of the prosthelytizing and propaganda and finger-pointing really gets to me.

    ANYWAY. So here I am today: Trying to figure out “what I am,” if such a thing can be figured out. If I use my brain, I decide I am an atheist, because logically the idea of some god sitting up there in the clouds is stupid. But when I get out into the middle of the forest (it’s always in trees, never a field, that I feel this way), I feel what I assume is what people would call “god.” I can just feel something all around me, and I guess I connect with that feeling. If I try to consider a higher power in the Universe, I imagine it in my mind as the earth… the trees, the grass, the wind, etc.

    I don’t want to be an atheist because my experiences with Christianity have had such a negative impact on me, but I don’t want to believe in something else just for the sake of believing in something.

    I’m sorry for hijacking your post, B, but I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction to it. I guess I just need to explore this more, I’m just not really sure how to go about that.

  12. A few told me that I was better off atheist.

    well, if you were to ask me…

    and with me, it’s sea shores. with the wind coming in enough to raise some waves to crash on some rocks, and the cries of seagulls in the air. does it for me every time, same as with you and forests. it happens because nature is amazing and wonderful and awe-inspiring, and us humans have emotions to be stirred by that. it’s not a bad thing at all, i just don’t think there’s anything divine involved — plain old non-supernatural reality is that great and cool, all on its own, is all.

    (lessee if B.’s suggestion works…)

  13. Nomen, it did! Whew. I am a computer genius! I charge myself $150 for that work, but then I forgive myself the debt because I am willing to sleep with me.

    Now the trick will be to see if it keeps working.

    Megan, I think the anti-Catholic sentiment comes from two things. 1.) The Scots-Irish who white-guy settled the South were Protestant with anti-Catholic beefs going back hundreds of years. 2.) The New Orleans diocese of the Catholic church segregated late and desegregated early.

    But those are just my guesses.

    And if I had any advice for you, it would be this: just be open to it, whatever it is. If it turns out that it is just that nature is that awesome, great. You’re a happy atheist.

    If it turns out that there is something stirring there in the woods, trying to get your attention, just be open to it and see how it plays out.

  14. I’m very glad to have found the emphasis on mysticism awakened in my Christianity, and also very glad to have the writings of Julian of Norwich and other followers of the mystic gospel with faith in I AM.

    And I’m very sad that this most interesting of dialogues is coming up during my absence.

  15. 1) You were at church five nights a week? As JD says to Thelma in Thelma and Louise when she tells him she’s been with her husband Darryl since she was fourteen and hasn’t known any other men–Oh, I”m sorry.

    2) You don’t consider yourself a formal pagan because what you like is your family, your land, your community and your home? What is a pagan but that? Land based religion, girl.

    3) Nomen Nescio: you live where I live. I don’t need nothin’ but nature.

  16. Well, it wasn’t all worshipping crap. But someone’s got to make sure lights are turned out or that so-and-so has help getting the dishes done, etc. etc.

  17. Being raised Catholic seems to be the route that runs straight to paganism. I would define myself as pagan, although I have chosen a Reconciling Congregation of Methodists to pray with on Sunday. I prefer the idea of an immanent god(ess) as opposed to the single transcendant god who sits apart and pokes at us from time to time. I prefer some kind of fellowship, and the local Methodists are more practical and service minded than the local pagans, so here I am. Blessed Be.

  18. Well, it wasn’t all worshipping crap. But someone’s got to make sure lights are turned out or that so-and-so has help getting the dishes done. lol

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