Being a Pagan blogger and podcaster, I get a lot of contact with folks that are stepping onto their Pagan Paths for the first time, or have not been on the Path for a fairly long time. To be honest, it is refreshing to meet these folks. They are enthusiastic about their first steps, excited about connecting with their new found Spirituality, and it can be quite an intoxicating brew – even for someone like me who has been continually stepping along this path since the mid-1980s. However, one interesting side-effect that I have noticed is the manner in which their previous Path is shed. Sometimes in a very dramatic, and sudden ending.
Now, let me be clear here in the beginning: I am not saying that every single Pagan I encounter does this. Nor am I saying that this is necessarily “bad” or “good” — as with any experience, different people will have different needs and experiences. All of this is merely my own observations, which are definitely colored by my own experiences (obviously – since it is my opinion).
I have heard it before – this new Path [x] is far better than what I was experiencing when I was on [y] for reasons [a], [b], and [c]. Thus, I will completely reject Path [y] as being invalid from this day forth. While I understand this stance quite well, I sometimes find it mind-boggling. Perhaps, it might be better for me to relate my own personal experience here.
Growing up, my Spiritual upbringing was through a series of Catholic schools. My parents thought it would be better for me to get a private school education over a public school one. My parents were Methodists, but religion never played a key role in their lives, so their decision to bring me along this line of education had more to do with the more concentrated education side than it did with the Spiritual side. But Catholic schools do not allow you to move beyond the religious indoctrination one receives there, so I took classes on the Sacraments, Church History, Catholic Theology, and was required to attend Mass with the rest of my class once per month. I attended the classes, I listened, I even participated in a few of the Masses. It was not long that I knew this was not for me.
Once I graduated from high school, I immediately branched out to try and find another Path that was more suited to me. I attended and joined a Southern Baptist church. I enjoyed the fellowship of other folks, who were genuinely interested in who I was and what made me who I was. The social side of the church was an awesome thing. Singing with folks in the choir, bringing my version of toasted garlic bread to Spaghetti put-lucks, even sitting in the bed of a pickup truck in the freezing December cold, huddled under a mass of blankets with others so that we could sing Christmas carols – all of that was awesome. I even joined the softball team in a church league. The fellowship side was amazing. However, the hellfire and brimstone of the sermons was off-putting for me, as well as the theology of humans being doomed to an eternal punishment, simply because we are fallible, just never really resonated with me.
When I joined the Air Force, I decided to not attend any religious aspect. I felt that my Spirituality was something that I had to practice on my own – privately. I felt that there had to be more than just a singular God who was placed at the top of a Trinity, which was treated as a singular aspect. I felt the pull of Nature. I spent time outdoors, even in the hot Texas heat. I could not understand a doctrine that doomed the rest of the animals on the Earth to be nothing more than “stock” placed there for the usage of mankind by an angry, jealous God. Eventually, I stumbled into Paganism, and I found pieces – major pieces of the puzzle – that clicked.
In the first steps of my time on this Path – I completely rejected the Christian faith that I had been a part of. Not just the theology, but the entire aspect. It was wasted time in my eyes. And I will admit, I became very antagonistic towards people who mentioned that I had previously been Christian. What did they know? They needed to open their eyes and see the world for what it was. I lived that arrogant position for nearly a decade.
Eventually, as I was starting to explore the ideas of theology on my own, I started to see similarities between my older positions of faith, and my continual expansion and exploration on my Pagan Path. And the realization eventually was made – I never truly left those particular beliefs completely behind. Sure, I do not believe the divinity aspect of the Christian faith, I see more than one singular aspect of “God”. But that does not mean that all those people who follow that aspect are wrong. They are right for themselves. Its what works for them. But there are parts of their practices and faiths that I have continually held on to: helping others, fostering the sense of “community”, finding charity in my heart for others who are currently in the rocky stretches of their lives – even when its just a smile, and a hug.
That’s right. My understanding of compassion, humility, and my expressions of hope for the better parts of human beings comes from my steps on the Christian Path. And it took me the better part of fifteen years to understand that this never left me. No, embracing these ideals is not going to make me a Christian again. In fact, these same ideals can be found throughout our wider-ranging Pagan community. Here in DFW, one only has to look at the outpouring of our Pagan community through the Food Drive and the Blood Drive that happened during Pagan Pride Day in October of last year. Nor will embracing where these ideals initially took their root in my Life is not going to make me a Christian nor will it invalidate the Path that I am currently on.
Like any Path that we walk, its merely a collection of the steps that got us to where we currently are. Without my steps on the Christian Path, my feet would likely have not brought me to the Pagan Path where I currently am. Or maybe it would have at some point. I can’t say for sure. All I can do is acknowledge where I walked before, and where I am walking now.