In my previous post, I laid out the foundation of my childhood and how mental illness solidly stunted my growth in a lot of ways.
The story I want to tell focuses on my interactions with paganism and religion, though I dealt with similar struggles in other areas of my life. Any large changes I made before the age of twenty-six or so I made with my eyes shut tight, breath caught in my chest. There was no such thing as a rational, well-reasoned decision for me, so incapable of trusting my own judgement was I.
My first brush with anything outside the accepted “monotheist vs. atheist” sphere occurred when I was sixteen or seventeen. I bought a copy of To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver RavenWolf. I loved the ideas put forward– that magic was real, that I could take back some measure of control, that I could have real power, and strength.
I never tried any of the exercises in the book. I would have had to go outside (where people could see me) and to imagine energy fields I wasn’t even sure existed. The book was, unfortunately, written back before people thought to include instructions for folks who couldn’t be open about their practice, or those who doubted.
Even if I could have made myself disregard the possible consequences, I still didn’t really believe, and I felt ridiculous posturing around in my room. Even if I had felt anything, I would have convinced myself I was imagining it and playing make-believe. I put the book on my shelf, where it stayed for a few years until I moved to college and tossed it.
By then I was an avowed atheist and stood for everything the “church” was against as a sign of contrarianism. Luckily, I’ve since found a more stable basis for my moral position and work to excise the deep-seated biases I inherited.
For a lot of boring reasons that did little to make it seem like a good choice for me to my family, I joined the military. This may have been the most out-of-character thing I could have done at the time, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. It features little in this story, except that it was the first place I encountered paganism being taken seriously. We had pagan services on Sunday, just the same as every other religion. I met my best friend there (though I didn’t know it at the time), meditated for the first time in my life, and danced in a wild spiral with fifty other trainees. It was the first time I could remember seeing people have fun at church!
I wasn’t convinced: I’d only gone to get away from the barracks and I still clung tightly to my side of the science versus faith false dichotomy. I put Jedi on my dog tags because I’m a troll and it was satisfying to push back against the monotheist establishment.
Fast forward six years, I’ve finished my contract, married, gone back to school, and finally had names to put to the things I’ve felt. Medication literally changed my life, and I felt like a capable, semi-functional adult!
My husband is one of the sweetest, most understanding and accepting people I’ve ever met. With him, I was able to start letting go of my self-monitoring thought patterns and the fear they brought. Even so, it wasn’t until I moved into my own apartment (we live separately for practical reasons) that I had the free time and comfort level necessary to really start exploring myself.
By now I’d opened up enough to develop my passions, at least. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up and how to achieve it. I’d essentially cleared off my mental workspace and was ready to get down to business.
I was still incredibly cagey about the entire idea of religion, so I came at paganism from the angle of witchcraft. I wanted.. something like folklore, or superstitions. Little actions one did that had no obvious effect but were done just because. It felt like that would give me some sort of connection to some kind of tradition.
I worried about what my friends would say, and what my husband would say. Would they think I was crazy? Or deluded? It turns out, my friends are amazing and my husband is perfect (if baffled) and I’ve received nothing but wholehearted support from everyone.
The knowledge that people I respected so much didn’t recoil in horror at my interest gave me courage to go deeper. It felt like I’d bricked myself into this tiny, stuffy, dark box and their approval was a breath of cool air and sunlight. Tearing out that first brick had shaken my entire belief system.
I should point out that every important person in my life until recently has been pretty solidly agnostic if not completely atheist. It wasn’t a question of getting acceptance from people who understand belief, even if theirs is different from mine. Rather, these were all people who did not believe at all, but they loved me anyway and supported me.
Even so, I was still “practicing” on my own. There was a lot of gathering supplies, but very little action. I still didn’t believe, but I felt like it was a “fake it until you make it” kind of situation. I was determined to fake it for as long as it took because everyone else seemed to be having fun.
In the next chapter, we’ll meet some new characters who turn everything upside-down.