A Religious Past, A Spiritual Future
I was twelve years old when my mother passed away and my uncle, a Southern Baptist Minister, told me she went to Hell. I remember looking at him, and asking him how he could possibly say such a monstrous thing as my mother was a wonderful woman; let alone say it to her daughter. What did he possibly know? He, after all, wasn't God. How could he tell a child this? What purpose did it serve? What kind of God sent people to Hell even when they lived such exemplary lives? That was the beginning of my quest for religious knowledge. The death of my mother changed my life path in more ways than even my uncle could have imagined.
I began to question everything. Who wrote the Bible? Where did these interpretations come from? Did everyone believe this or were there others who had different ideas? It has been an unquenchable thirst for me since then, and as I have grown older and studied more, I have become even more questioning. How does religion affect the lives of the believers? How has religion evolved in different cultures? Are there patterns to the evolutions of different religions? Does the Divine play a role in altering the path of people and or religion itself? Why do some people believe and others do not? And so many more questions have often formulated in my mind. I believe in my most profound question I probably found my simplest of answers. What is it that all religions seem to have in common? Faith.
My religious background is eclectic to say the least. I was raised Southern Baptist and Jewish. I have attended Presbyterian services, Lutheran Services, and countless others. I have gone to Christian Youth Groups. I have studied different religions while at college and on my own. I have read books on the subject ranging from the classic novels such as Siddartha or Tao te Ching, to more historical books from classes I attended, to self-teaching books. I have even read more science-based books such as Many Masters, Many Lives by Dr. Brian Weiss, which offers a different perspective as to what happens at death. At 22, I converted to Catholicism. By 23, I was leaning towards a pagan path. I have been baptized, blessed, confirmed, and even initiated. Under my Pagan studies, I have studied Goddess traditions, Celtic paths, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so many smaller traditions based on magic and witchcraft.
And in all my studies and research, the only conclusion I have ever come to is that it is all the same; just different names applied to similar stories. We spend so much time focusing on the differences in religions and cultures that we often fail to notice the similarities. Today, I consider myself to be an ever-evolving Pagan, as well as a witch. I believe in all paths, and being pagan affords me that ability.
In many ways, I have created my own belief system by adopting certain aspects of other systems. I believe in a higher power that is both positive and negative and masculine and feminine. I do not believe that there is some God, or even gods, sitting on a throne in the heavens. I believe as humans we have an inability to accept the abstract so in an effort to better connect with the divine power, we create images that are easier for our minds to grasp. I choose to relate to the God and Goddess aspects as I find it more comforting to connect with less abstract concepts. I believe that the many different names for gods and goddesses are simply different aspects of the same force. I have a specific God and Goddess that guide my current phase in life, but tend to alter the names of the deities called in rituals based on my needs and specific desires at the time. I practice forms of magic, but I do not believe magic is any different from a prayer. More specifically, I do not believe a spell is any different from a prayer. Both are requests for a certain action. Magic is simply the outcome of a spell, just as a miracle may be the outcome of a prayer. In each case, asking for something doesn't guarantee receiving it in the end.
As a witch, I create potions which are nothing more than herbal remedies for many different ailments: mental, physical, and emotional. Some potions are nothing more than tools to be used in ritual. Some are to alter mind states while in sacred space to allow one to receive messages more openly. I am still in the infant stages of herbal studies so I can't say that I have actually used those that are mind altering. I perform rituals both in a group setting and in a solitary fashion. Rituals to me are something as simple as taking a bath or as complex as celebrating a sabbat. I celebrate the holidays that coincide with the Wheel of the Year, with my new year beginning on Samhain. I see the divine in everything, everyone and everywhere, from the smallest of pebbles to the very air itself. In a simplistic fashion, I see myself as a part of the divine. I feel the energy around me that I believe resides in all things.
I believe we are here as aspects of the divine, entities born of a larger entity. We learn and grow. We are born and die. We experience joy and sorrow. I do believe in reincarnation to a small degree. I believe that ultimately our souls will rejoin with the divine. Some of us may be reborn rather quickly, while others may wait longer periods of time. We reside on this particular plane of existence to learn. I believe there are other planes of existence to which we are born as well. To that end, I do believe in some sort of "heaven" which is more of a waiting station. Some may just stay for a longer "layover" than others. I do not believe that fate decides all aspects of our lives. Sometimes bad things just happen and there is no explanation. Sometimes good things just happen without explanation. How we are able to cope and accept these things is actually more important than why.
I find the older I get the more open I become to other ideas and other possibilities, even those that may seem very far stretched. I also find I become more attuned to my spiritual side. It is very much a part of who I am, what I do, where I go and the people I associate with throughout my daily life. As odd as I may sound, I talk to the trees, the animals, and even the wind. I listen to the world around me as if it were a living breathing being - Gaia, herself - with messages waiting to be heard. I have also become more open about my beliefs with those I meet. I do believe in salvation, but in the essence of self-salvation. One of my difficulties with Christianity was its inherent ability to allow people to deny responsibility for their actions. We are each responsible for our actions, and what we put out in this world will eventually return to us, whether we understand it or not. While I do believe in good and evil, I do not believe in sin. The idea of sin changes as morals and values of cultures change, thus it is an excellent way of controlling the masses. As humans, we seem to have this need to control everything, especially that which cannot be explained. Religion allows us to control without actually having any real power to do so.
When I was younger, I viewed sex as a something forbidden. Now, I view it as something sacred. While many pagans practice "sex magic", it is not a path I have completely walked upon as of yet. While, I do understand the power and energy that sexual acts create, I have yet to study the art of manipulating that energy. In many ways, we perform sex magic without even trying when we connect with others. That flutter that starts in your stomach and winds its way through your body; the "high" that you experience at the apex of a climax; the release of energy as your body winds down; all of these can be considered aspects of magic or ritual in that they are altering your physical being as well as the space you are residing. The energy can be felt outside the body as well as inside. The religions that are more earth-based or nature oriented in beliefs seem to have a more open sexuality. Sex is looked upon with reverence as opposed to being an act to be hidden and restrained. Tantra, a more widely known form of sexual power exchange, has even expanded across the borders of its own religious confines. As a culture, I believe Westerners are becoming more open to sex and are viewing it less as something taboo, and more as something worthy of exploration.
My spiritual practices have enhanced my life beyond even what I could have imagined when I began this quest, although I have reached a point in my life where I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious. I have devoted my life to this study, as well as to the idea that all should be allowed to worship as they see fit. I am the Co-coordinator for Pagan Pride Los Angeles, Inc., a religious tolerance organization designed to educate the public as to the true nature of paganism as a whole and part of a international movement to do the same. I have been involved in it for nearly five years now, and it is a joy to watch the positive changes this organization is having on the world. Through this grassroots effort, I meet so many wonderful people, Pagans and members of mainstream religions alike, who introduce me to so many other thoughts.
Even with all the studying I have done, I realize I am not nearly halfway done. I am a student of the spiritual realm. All I know is the more I search for answers, the more questions I have and the more I want to know. The only thing I know for sure is this whether I am wrong or right in my beliefs; I am the only one accountable for them. I expect no one to follow my beliefs, but instead, expect to be allowed to believe however it is I may choose. I am who I am --an eclectic, wide-eyed, pagan witch on a never-ending path to somewhere.