Sitting around a campfire with other folks is a memory that I cherish every single time it occurs. The little jumping flames of the fire are always a relaxing aspect, as is the ability to look up into a star filled night. However, the real draw for me is the conversations. No topic every seems to be off-limits. From politics to sexuality to sports to spirituality to history, philosophy, and beyond; my experience has been that the late-night/early-morning camp-fire talks are the highlights of any outdoor gathering I have attended. One topic always seems to rise to the top, even at non-Pagan events that I have attended: How did you become a Pagan?
My story of stepping into Paganism has been told before, here on the blog, as well as at camp-fire discussions. I am always interested to hear the “how” of a person coming to Paganism, but the “why” sometimes never makes the discussion. That single aspect of those discussions always leads me to the question of “what was the draw to Paganism for you?”
I stepped on to my Pagan path a long-time back. However, during the first five years of that time, if you asked me what drew me to Paganism – I honestly would struggle for an answer. I stumbled across Paganism through discussions on the local Bulletin Board Systems in the Dallas/Fort Worth area while I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base. I had just finished a short flirtation with the southern Baptists element of Christianity, which I found to be a distasteful moment in my search for something that had meaning for me. However, to be even more forthright, I was also searching for who I really was and what I was to be in my life, as well. I don’t have ties with very many folks from back in those days any longer, but those that I do remain in-touch with may describe me as a “lost puppy dog.”
A few years after my start on my path of Paganism, I was stationed overseas in Germany with the US Air Force. Here, I found myself completely alone as a Pagan. There were a few Pagan folk that I met, but I meshed with none of them. Seemingly, they all had aims towards being a “Big Name Pagan” within the military. I just wanted solid footing on my Path. I spent a lot of time taking long walks in the nearby forests – and Germany has a lot of gorgeous forests to walk through. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I read in various Pagan books that I would purchase through Circle Sanctuary’s mail-in store. My mind turned a lot of thoughts over in my mind. This was where I concluded that Wicca might not be appropriate for me. Nearly six years later, after another flirtation with Wicca, I knew it for a fact.
When I came back to the United States, ending my eight years in the United States Air Force, I understood a lot better why I was drawn towards the wider umbrella of Paganism. I could take elements of things that I had learned, put those into everyday practice for myself, and walk my Spiritual Path on my own. I had been taught in elementary and high school (Catholic parochial schools) that I need a Priest – an intercessory – to commune with God. Within Paganism, I needed no such middleman in my Spirituality. I alone was responsible for where I took my Spiritual path and what I did to further my growth.
However, that was not the only draw to Paganism for me. No, it wasn’t dancing around the fire with naked women. No, it wasn’t all the free booze that seemed to be shared in generous quantities. Don’t get me wrong, all that sounds nice. I have yet to experience the first one. The second? Well, I’m picky about what I drink, plus being a diabetic means that large quantities of alcohol are a no-no. So, I can’t say I have experienced the second to any grand aspect. No, another draw to Paganism is the people.
I am sure that there are creative folks in other belief systems out there, but Pagan folk are real outside-of-the-box thinkers. At least, in my experience. I have seen some real genius solutions to complicated issues, done with exquisite detail and amazing flair. In rituals, I have encountered some of the most gorgeous singing voices I have heard outside of Taylor Swift’s work (as an example), and some of the most amazing musicianship and storytelling. The creative nature of Pagans is just an amazing thing to behold. However, the personalities, the individual stories, the comradery, the fellowship, the way Pagans will reach out to help those in need – those big hearts are amazing to encounter.
Through all of that, I am also a realist. As I posted before, Paganism has its own in-house issues – just like any other Spiritual belief system or community of people does. While I have posted the rosier aspects of Paganism, at least according to me, there are just as many people that can refute what I have said with their own bad experiences. Just like a rose, when you pick a Path to walk, you will eventually find the thorns. So be prepared for that.
Most Pagans that I have encountered could care less about what Path you walk or the way you walk it. For every individual that takes slow, sensible steps on their Spiritual Path, there will be another running, skipping, and doing cartwheels in a minefield. Everyone has their own approach to things. Again, this is a massive appeal to paganism for me. Christianity, it seemed, had a Spiritual Path that was xeroxed and the copies handed out to every new adherent. Follow these rules. Walk at this speed, and this speed only. Don’t reach out and touch the trees. And most importantly, don’t question anything. This shit is holy writ. You just need to follow it. Sorry, I just cannot live that way.
Perhaps, I just have a rebellious attitude. Maybe, I just want to be “different.” Yeah. Maybe. For me, I just want to be myself. No limits. No forced changes. As Twisted Sister once intoned: “I am, I’m Me.” When I first came onto my Pagan Path, I couldn’t really articulate the reasoning behind its attractive nature to me. Now? I see the beauty of it everywhere. I understand the appeal. I’m allowed to be myself. To be who I am, not what someone else says I should be. I get to make my own choices in my Spirituality. I will make mistakes. I might even make the same mistakes more than once. However, I don’t need a Father Confessor to apology to my Gods on my behalf. I’m capable of doing that myself. My mistakes, my responsibility to own up to.
So, for fun, take a few moments and think back to when you first discovered and/or started down your own Spiritual Path? What drew you to this? Did you realize it right away? Keep it in the back of your mind. You might find yourself around a late-night campfire with others when the topic comes up. 😊