I have written a bit about my time before I stumbled across Paganism. My parents, Protestants, wanted the best education for me when I was growing up, so they enrolled me in private schools – particularly Catholic schools. For them, these schools represented the best education with the lowest student/teacher ratio available. The reality was not that the education was any better, merely that the lower ratio provided for more individual attention towards my education. In theory, this meant that such specialized, intensive instruction would help me be a better student. However, I digress, slightly.
Growing up as a Protestant child in a Catholic school environment meant that my daily Spiritual upbringing was far different from that of the Catholic children. I received the same Catholic Spiritual education that the other students did. In time, I learned the pattern of genuflection far better than the Catholic students did. I know the ritual pattern of standing, sitting, and kneeling that the Catholic ritual required. I understood the symbolism in the process of the Eucharist; though I never received it. I was not a Catholic, so it never felt right to me.
Catholicism never felt appropriate to me, so when I graduated high school, I decided to try something different. In Shreveport, Louisiana there are numerous Baptist churches, so I gave this direction a try. I never really took really well to the constant sermonizing over how I was damned to Hell if I did not do things in my everyday life in the manner that the Pastor agreed with. I was berated, before and after church services, for my hair length and the metal/rock tshirts I always wore. I tried a few other churches, thinking that this was specific to this particular pastor. I found that the message was the same, while the beratement varied in intensity. Whenever I brought up the point that what one wore should never be a judgment of who they are – well, let us just say I caught Holy Hell over that.
So why do I bring all of this up? Well, as a Pagan, this is where I came from. My original understanding of Spiritual belief was molded and shaped by my time within the Catholic and Southern Baptist faith. Whether I like it or not, for better or worse, this was where my basis of understanding personal Spirituality had started. As is commonly stated, this was the baggage I brought with me into my first steps of Paganism.
I now realize that my first High Priestess had a handful of de-programming to accomplish with me. A lot of what had been done had to be undone. Plus, it had to be done a little carefully too. Pull too hard on a concept that needed to be removed, and the knee-jerk reaction could be far more negative than what was expected. Changing one’s perspective on something so deeply ingrained is not a quick process. Sometimes ripping the band-aid off causes more harm than good when the scab gets removed with it.
Recently, like within the past decade, folks have started talking about how the younger Pagans may have been Pagans all their lives. I’m fifty-four, turning fifty-five this year, and that is a very distinctive possibility. Even as individuals who have known Paganism all their lives, they will bring some baggage with them into their current understanding of their Spirituality. None of us are immune from abuse by individuals we see as Spiritual Leaders.
I hear and read a lot of people that violently oppose the beliefs that they were brought up in. Heavy anger towards their pasts, absolute venom for those that follow those Paths. I do understand those feelings. I had those feelings at one time. I, too, held on to that warm, inviting anger. But only for so long. After a time, I had to move on…constant and consistent anger is not an emotion I wish to dwell on throughout my life. However, that is what works for me…I can only hope that others find a peacefulness within their own Paganism, and let go of that anger to find another focus. I cannot and will not force that upon anyone, even if it is my desire that they would get there.
In my experience, nearly everyone brings their own baggage from their previous understanding of personal Spirituality. Sometimes, what one knows and understands needs to be taken apart, piece-by-piece, so that they can build a new foundation of understanding. But when such an approach is taken, we need to be careful, move slowly, with deliberate touch. A certain level of respect needs to be taken…at least in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with the inspirational aspects of one’s past. These can be held on to, set to the side, and cherished as milestones later in life. Or these can be completely shattered and broken – never to be seen or re-visited again. This is really up to the individual. My approach is a tender one. Yours…will be up to you.