Coming to my faith
[Author's note: this is the body of an email I sent in reply to a request to tell the story of 'coming to my faith'. Technically I have no actual quantifiable 'faith', only a constantly changing understanding of this Multiverse. This was my reply, with some minor editing. I use "Pagan" to delineate the majority of non-Christian, Western/European contemporary Earth-based or tribal religions.]
In my travels, I’ve come to learn that many Christians believe that Pagans come to their faith or beliefs in a manner similar to their own. Christians- particularly some of the evangelical and fundamentalist sects, tend to become converts as a result of trauma or extreme moments of crisis. It even has a term: “Snapping”. They have their ‘come to Jesus’ moment, and get baptised, then go loping off to try to convert everyone they can. This type of conversion process is generally not the same for Pagans.
For most Pagans, there isn’t a ‘snapping’ moment, or a conversion moment like there are in many of the evangelical Christian sects. I’ve noted that for these Christians, the conversion moment often happens under duress or extreme difficulty, and it is an act of surrender.
For Pagans, the conversion moment is profoundly different. It is an act of acceptance, of recognition, and of spiritual empowerment. For many of us, it might be a longer event- a gradual process of awakening, and questing. It is a process of stepping outside the cultural ‘boxes’ we inherit, and seeing the world in a different way. If anything is surrendered, it is the old dogma from their old beliefs. Magic, which is an element common to many (but not all!) Pagan sects, is not the property of an elect few- it is ubiquitous, and anyone can learn how it operates if they have both an open mind and an open heart. And the understanding and utilization of magic is not a religious process, although some would try to make you believe it is. Magic is real enough that many ancient peoples and religious sects made its knowledge and practice forbidden to the non-elect, because it was more effective than their own systems. (The Roman Catholics did not permit their laypeople to have Bibles for a very long time, because it was (and sometimes still is) considered a magical book meant for very few eyes.)
I speak from my own experience as a former Catholic. I tell people that the religion of my childhood never really ‘took’. For one thing, we moved a lot, so I was fortunate to remain out of the grasp of the Catholic schools and my very religious grandmother- who did succeed in getting me into a Catholic school when we were stationed in Texas. I lasted a single semester.
I was a questioning child. And a prodigy. The combination of that- and being female- was not a good one for a very traditional religion. In catechism (Catholic Sunday school), I was often told to stop asking questions, or given busy work to keep me from ‘disrupting’ the class. I asked questions like why I couldn’t serve at the altar, or be a priest, and other troubling questions. I was told to learn my place, and run the mill like a good little girl. I didn’t. Finally, I was asked to leave, and was permanently pulled out of the classes.
Leaving home broke my ties with the Church permanently, and I gave Catholicism (and Christianity in general) up for Lent in 1980. I never looked back.
I had always been interested in psychic and paranormal subjects, even while I was a child at home. I had certain sensitivities that revealed to me that the world was not what people taught me -or wanted me to believe- it was. We are not in a universe- we are in a multiverse- with cross-talk and bleedover from neighboring ‘verses. These manifest as many mythical creatures, beings, stories, phenomena and encounters across all humanity and history. Some people are more attuned to these than others. Everyone is capable of sensing and interacting with them if they learn what to watch for.
Being the curious and questing person I was, I learned about other systems of belief and religious faith. I can still whip seminarians with one hand tied behind my back- I know more about Christianity than most Christians. I had to learn it in self-defense! My seeking brought me to the Rosicrucian Order, who laid the foundation of my metaphysical understanding, in a way that was comfortable for the person I was at that time. From there, I progressed to British Traditional Wicca, and was trained and initiated by people with direct ties to both Gardener and Alex Sanders. From there, I learned from a Native American elder, and some of the members of the neo-Gnostic Church and New Golden Dawn, and finally from the Chaos Magicians of the late 90s. I then had a major belief-crash and went through a period of atheistic abstinence from any belief or faith at all. That helped me to shed most of the fluff and nonsense, and pick up the bones of what was the right fit for my mind. I learned that having no gods was as absurd as having only one. Both positions were untenable. What was the actual situation? This was the closest thing to a ‘crisis of faith’ I had.
What was the reality? If there are no gods, and there is no one god, are there gods at all? What lies between zero and one?
Terry Pratchett had the right idea with his “Small Gods”. I amplified and advanced that idea of myriad addressable god-motes, and my own understanding of Small Gods was created. I maintain it to this day.
I have no pantheon, no fixed sets of god-personalities that I work with. As a TechMage, my understanding of the magical Current (akin to the Force) is the mainstay of my mindset. Instead of a fixed pantheon and a fixed system of ritual and worship, I have an addressable, flexible, as-needed understanding of this multiverse. This permits me to address and acknowledge the myriad Small Gods that populate it, but not fix them into this universe with scripture, dogma, and worship. This is toxic to them- and to us. Religion is the byproduct of the mistaken belief that (captured) gods need to be praised, appeased, and worshipped. This is actually just a means for an elect few to gain power. It does nothing for the gods involved, except to trap them in this universe, radically harm them, and drive them to madness. Consider example #1: BibleGod. He made the mistake of revealing himself to a human. The human worshipped him, and the being became addicted to it, and was entrapped. He’s stuck. Probably forever. And we’re cursed with dogma, ‘sin’ and other man-made precepts that they apply to the worship of this being. He did his best to try to get free, and instead, his tantrums and madness are recorded in scripture. Kind of changes the whole perception of the Bible- it’s a bell-jar for a captured god. He is forever trapped in that web of scripture.
So, instead of having a fixed scripture and accompanying belief system and dogmatic traps, mine is a ‘catch-and-release’ of acknowledgement, energy exchange, and interaction with the Small Gods. Most of the time, I do not require their assistance- nor they mine. Yes, this is a two-way street. These beings benefit from our benevolent interaction. This is not worship. Belief is not required. Some of the ancient Mages understood this, which was why their lab-books -their grimoires- were destroyed at their death. (The surviving ones are full of deliberate errors. Use them with care- treat them like a historical document rather than an instruction manual.)
There’s a phrase that acknowledges the understanding of this multiversal reality: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
I’m sure you already realize that it’s not being literal. The road, the killing, and even the Buddha are symbolic.
The road is generally taken to mean the path to Enlightenment; that might be through meditation, study, prayer, or just some aspect of your way of life. Your life is your road. That’s fairly straightforward as far as metaphors go.
But how do you meet the Buddha on this road? Imagine meeting some symbolic Buddha. Would he be a great teacher that you might actually meet and follow in the real world? Could that Buddha be you yourself, having reached Enlightenment? Or maybe you have some idealized image of perfection that equates to your concept of the Buddha or Enlightenment.
Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it’s WRONG! Now kill that image and keep practicing. This all has to do with the idea that reality is an impermanent illusion. If you believe that you have a correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, then you need to throw out (kill) that image and keep meditating.
Most people have heard the first chapter of the Tao, The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. (So if you think you see the real Tao, kill it and move on).
This applies to all belief systems. If anyone says they have the ‘truth’, run away from them. That includes me. There is no ‘truth’- only understanding. And even that is fleeting- like the small gods and the Current itself. Nothing is true; everything is permitted. And Light is just as blinding and binding as Darkness. The Center exists, but is always changing. You must change along with it.
This sort of religious freedom is not for everyone. And I do not encourage- or discourage- anyone to follow my own particular Path- I have no students, only readers. They have to follow their own paths. You might find comfort with a certain pantheon or tradition within the Pagan umbrella- from the myriad subsects of Wicca to the Celtic faiths. I have found fellowship with them myself, and they accept me as the Seeker that I am.