With tomorrow being the first of three holidays my family celebrates at this time of year (the winter solstice / Christmas / New Year), I wanted to share this song and kind of come out of a spiritual closet I’ve still had one leg, an arm, and I dunno, a bum cheek hiding in. This was going to be a facebook post, but it turned out I had too much to say, so now I have a blog where I’m going to dump spiritual, witchy, writerly, and any number of other things from my brain from time to time.
I’ve always loved this song, ‘The Christians and the Pagans’, but didn’t realise until this week that it’s not only because it’s sweet, and about people understanding each other, and families reuniting (and because it’s Dar Williams who is the queen of everything) – it’s because I belong to both of these faiths, and always have.
“We love the trees, we love the snow / the friends we have, the world we share / you find magic from your god / and we find magic everywhere” – yes. All of those things. Including the God part.
Roughly 18 months to 2 years ago I shifted from being a confirmed agnostic theist (“I know that I cannot know” was my mantra) to being comfortably Christopagan (“I… believe – at last I can admit I believe in things! I believe in the interconnectedness of life, and a god, oh and goddess figures too, and one of the aspects of this god is Jesus Christ, who was sent to us to shake humanity right up with his teachings, and wanted to save us from ourselves, he wanted to show us a new way to love one another. Also he liked wine, you know, he was a fun dude. Also saints and angels and prayer alongside magic and ritual matter to me. Psalms can be spells. My great-grandma knew that – time I honoured it.” And so on…).
I was raised Baptist in southern Ohio, and in my early teens I turned away from Christianity for so many reasons, mostly because I didn’t agree with the churches I was raised in (and still don’t). Growing up I wanted so badly to be Catholic. It sounds mad now, I know, because for so many people their experience of turning away from faith is because they were raised Catholic. But the Catholic kids always seemed to have the good life in my eyes. They used a rosary for prayers; they had prettier prayers. Prettier churches. I wanted to be allowed to show my respect for the Virgin, and Mary Magdalene and the rest of the saints. I wanted to be allowed to believe in angels as a very real presence. And none of this was allowed – it was idolatry, etc.
I did not like the feeling of everything spiritual being removed from the religion so it’s just a set of rules you learn by rote, scripture empty of meaning you are coerced into learning for ‘prizes’ (chocolate bunnies at Easter, I remember this vividly), being talked into accepting Jesus Christ as your saviour so you won’t go to hell when you grow up and die. Part of being Baptist, I now understand, is that you come to believing in Jesus by choice, you are baptised as a believer only. So I never was, even though little Kate said her prayers every. single. night and always believed in God. But I didn’t trust those church people – regardless of how many questions I asked, no one could answer them, no one wanted to answer them. They just wanted to repeatedly tell me I would go to hell if I didn’t listen to them. I had panic attacks, hid in the toilets at Sunday school because all the hellfire talk left me unable to breathe. Where was the love of Christ in all of this? Oh apparently you’d be alright during armageddon / after death if you accept him as your saviour and let the preacher dunk you under the water. We won’t explain why though, you’re five years old, six years old – and we’re grown ups, just trust us. Hell. Fire.
All of this led me to eventually choosing agnosticism, finding some solace in paganism, and having no qualms with practising witchcraft. But the thing is, Jesus never really left me and neither did the other figures I have a lot of time for within Christian traditions, whether biblical or later on – the Marys, John the Baptist, St Martha, St Brigid, Lazarus, St Leonard, Joan of Arc, among others. You get the idea.
Obviously everyone knows about my pagan leanings, and most know I have been a practicing witch for 20-odd years; many people know I studied Buddhism, Taoism; some people know I used to hang out in the New Age groups online; I’ve studied spiritualism and psychic development; and of course, here’s the crazy thing – I also believe in science, and evolution, and I don’t think any of that means there’s no room for god/s… but probably a lot don’t realise how important the Christian side of things has always been to me.
I didn’t realise how much it meant to me until slowly, over the past 5-6 years, I couldn’t get away from it and I didn’t want to either. Last year I just had to come clean to myself, really. A handful of friends (and my husband) have been there to hear out my last doubts during this shift – all of them Christians. It is much appreciated.
But again, it’s important to remember, this isn’t a conversion, it’s an integration of my spiritual roots with what I’ve learned as I’ve grown, far far away from the preachers and Sunday school teachers who left such a negative impact. I am not religious; I do have spiritual beliefs. And I know this is a spiritual path that gets you side-eye from a lot of people – pagans, Christians, atheists, whoever. But I also know there are others out there walking a similar road to mine. It isn’t full of rules and moral codes for large groups of people, because it’s syncretic, and some are uncomfortable with that. But what can you do? This belief is mine, because of how I have lived, and what I’ve experienced, and strange things that have happened to me, and because this and that make sense to me but other ideas don’t.
Anyway, this was a long-winded way to get this off my chest. And it doesn’t change anything at all. Are you queer? Cool, me too. Had an abortion? Your choice, your body, your reasons – no one else’s business. Divorced? Same, same, I am on my third marriage and this one is actually working. Made mistakes, any mistakes, ever? Is your life a whole bunch of colouring outside the lines? Good. I’m not surprised, because being human is a sticky situation for all of us. And this is why I’m always going to be the person who loves and wants the best for folks. God doesn’t make people assholes, people make people assholes. So believe or don’t believe whatever you want. Have a lovely Midwinter either way.