Pagan News and Views Since 1998

I was born in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid 1970s, a place where a large Baptist mega-church plays a dominant role in local politics, and where, just twenty years earlier, a strong vein of anti-Semitism was evidenced in signs in storefronts that said things like “No Dogs or Jews Allowed”. Not that I was Jewish, no, my family were predominantly Baptist, with a small number of exceptions – an atheist grandfather, two Catholic great-grandparents, and a handful of Methodists, and then in the early 1980s, my father's sister became very involved in a Pentecostal church – so my early religious experiences were primarily Baptist with a good additional dollop of Pentecostal churchgoing. Yet at the same time, my father was quite interested in Native American spirituality, and because we lived on the edge of a forest, I had a great deal of contact with nature, and thought it was absolutely magical waking up in the mornings, going outside to sit on the back steps or on the front patio, and watching the deer, raccoons, and rabbits eat the grass peacefully. It was equally enjoyable and magical going outside at night to look at the stars and the moon. The sounds of the birds and the crickets were my lullabies, and during the summer, trips to the beach on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean were far better than any toys or trips to Disney World. Because of my father's interest in Native American spirituality, I saw nature as more than just something pretty. At the same time, my father was a big fan of science fiction and my mother a fan of horror and fantasy, and these influences also helped me to see the world as having more potential than just the day to day mundane reality that we could see. And to top it all off, among the women on my mother's side of the family, we always had a belief in our psychic ability – for them it was mostly just having dreams that came true or knowing who was calling whenever the phone rang, but for me, I always noticed more – I knew when someone was coming to visit, and I could tell when things were going to happen – in large part, my abilities are not exactly extraordinary – they're more what fantasy writer Melanie Rawn has termed “gut-jumping”, or in other words, being able to piece together all of the available information more quickly and to make conclusions and inferences based on that information much more intuitively and instinctively than most. And I could see what I like to call “shadows” of the past – perhaps ghosts, or perhaps just imprints of past events, or a little of both. The others in my family never had such experiences, but I did, perhaps because I nurtured it the most? I'm not really sure. At any rate, all of these things – these experiences – were already a part of me long before I found Paganism. Both a concept of nature as sacred and magical and a nurturing of my psychic potential were only a small part of what led me to the sacred spiritual journey I am now making.

As I grew older, attending Baptist churches with my grandmothers, and spending summers with my aunt attending her Pentecostal church, I realized how unhappy I was with the intolerance, sexism, and hellfire and brimstone mentality of these churches. At the same time, social conditions were changing. It was the 1980s and the AIDS crisis was upon us; the depletion of the ozone layer, disappearance of endangered species, and other environmental crises such as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill were taking place; an increased emphasis on women's equality, as well as on racial equality and combating homophobia, were becoming the priorities of progressive politics; and we were experiencing the end of the Cold War. My mother, sister, and I lived with my mother's second husband, who was an abusive ass to say the least, and that, combined with the extremely oppressive teachings at my aunt's church, which taught that the man is the head of the household as Christ was head of the church and that women were to conform to rigid clothing, hair, makeup, and jewelry standards, led me to seek refuge in books, television, and film. It was from these that I was introduced to ideas outside of the narrow religious and social ones I was being exposed to within my own family, and to see that there were alternatives – other ways of thinking and living. I was also very interested in mythology and paranormal studies and read as much as I could about them, and I was interested I social issues such as the AIDS crisis and women's equality.

By the time I was in high school, my mother had left her husband with the help of a domestic violence center and I was, well, a high-achieving academic geek to say the least. Around the age of 15, I started to realize that I was bisexual, and I was also becoming increasingly socially conscious as I got older. I was beginning to make plans for going away to college, and I wanted, more than anything else, to escape the very poor, very crime-filled neighborhood where we were living. I didn't want to end up living in trailer parks like I'd done my entire childhood, and I didn't want to end up pregnant at 16 like my mother (and later, my little sister). I wanted to go to college and make something of myself.

Once in college, I got involved in a variety of student organizations – the campus LGBSU, the Women's Studies Student Association, Campus NOW, and more – and began taking women's studies courses. I began attending a different sort of church to those I'd grown up with, but still teaching Sunday school at my Grandma's church when I went home on the weekends – I figured I'd try to teach them positive lessons rather than the hellfire and brimstone lessons I'd learned in Sunday school. When I took an Anthropology of Religion course at school, one of the people who came to speak to us was a Dianic Wiccan priestess, and I definitely recognized in what she described my own experiences and beliefs that were emerging and becoming more organized and arranged, the more educated I became on feminism and Paganism, into a Pagan spirituality. I found far more for me in a spirituality connected to the earth, to nature, and to feminism, than I ever had in the Christian churches, including the Metropolitan Community Church I had attended in college.

I made no moves to start learning about Wicca or Paganism at that time, though I did become interested in Tarot and in reading more and more about the Goddesses and Gods of mythology. I took a New Testament course alongside a Myths of Greeks and Romans course and found more similarities than differences and realized that the story of Christ is undeniably influenced by Greek mythology – the book of Mark, the earliest of the New Testament books, did not speak of a virgin birth as the later books of the New Testament did, and the concept of a virgin birth and a son of God is far more reminiscent of Greek myths of demigods such as Hercules and Perseus than of anything native to the Judaism that Jesus would have practiced. I also recognized the hypocrisy in a Christianity that preached monotheism while having, to start with, the trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, as well as Mary, Satan, and a whole host of angels and demons within its cosmology. It also had an undeniably patriarchal and oppressive world view that taught, at its very core, intolerance for anything different from itself. It was a belief system that had led to widespread death, invasion, battle, and even genocide in the quest for the conversion of people all over the world, as well as in the quest for territory within the “Holy Land” throughout Christian-era history. And I felt such a connection to Nature as Divine, and to the idea of a female, positive, peaceful Divinity, that the Christianity that I had grown up with, long felt to be wrong, now felt totally alien, as my old world view gave way to an entirely new way of thinking and seeing the world and to seeing spirituality.

When I finished undergrad, I'd spent four years not only studying, but also being involved in a great deal of social activism and decided that I wanted to get paid to do that stuff, so I went on to do a dual degree Master's program in social work policy and administration and public administration and policy, where I did my first MSW internship at a domestic violence center, followed by nearly a year of working part-time for an HIV/AIDS organization, and then another internship with an organization that advocated for progressive children and families legislation. Following my Master's degree program, I got a job working for the state domestic violence coalition and spent four years working in that very feminist organization working primarily on public benefits issues and immigration issues, which further shaped my experiences and world views. During all of this time, from the time I began graduate school throughout my years at the DV coalition, I had begun reading as much as I could about Paganism and Goddess spirituality. I never got involved in formal groups, though I did attend a public Samhain Sabbat ritual, and regularly visited the local New Age shop to get supplies, books, and all the information I could get to further my knowledge. In 2005, following a year in which there had been a huge onslaught of hurricanes hitting Florida and at a time when the workload at work was beginning to be very unhealthy for my mental well-being, I decided to go back to school for a PhD in my first love (in which I did one of my Bachelor's degrees), Anthropology. In an effort to get as far away from Florida as possible, and on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, I went overseas to the United Kingdom for my studies.

In 2007 I signed on to the Wicca and Tarot courses offered by Magicka School, and some time later found the Dianic University, which teaches the Dianic Wiccan tradition, and signed up for it and am currently registered for the Holy Book of Women's Mysteries Leadership and Priestess Training course and the Dianic Philosophy and Thought course there, as well as being enrolled in several courses offered at Witch School and two courses at Magicka School at the time of this writing. I'm quite drawn to both the Dianic and Correllian traditions, and I'm particularly keen on the feminist, woman-centered bent of Dianic Wicca, while the very comprehensive approach of Correllian Wicca, and its encouragement to experiment with styles that work best for you, has also been very positive for me. I've completed the Wicca Revealed course at Magicka School, as well as the Beginner's Tarot course offered there, and I am a couple of months away from completing the Magicka School herbalism course. With Dianic University, I'm working wholeheartedly on my coursework for the Dianic Philosophy course and the Holy Book course. And as for Witch School, my course enrollment there is, perhaps, the most comprehensive of them all, with my having registered for courses including training for the First Degree of the tradition, as well as seven other courses ranging from divination and healing to basic aspects of magical practice, courses about different Deities and magical creatures, and courses specifically about the Correllian Tradition, with the aim of becoming a legally ordained member of the clergy within that tradition.

Even though I am working 20 hours a week at a very energy-consuming job, and doing a PhD dissertation write-up that deserves far more time than I have been giving to it, which I need to put a new focus onto now, I plan to keep up with my studies in all three of the online study courses for which I've registered, and I want to expand and develop my knowledge of Goddess spirituality, magical practice, and psychic potential. I want to expand my knowledge of natural healing through herbs, oils, and crystals, and I want to be better able to center and ground my energies and to focus myself through meditation. I am dedicated to improving myself and my spirit through my studies, though my PhD studies will, by necessity, always come first, and I will stick with it, always learning, always keeping myself open to new ideas and new experiences. I am not certain yet if I want to become full-fledged clergy, but I do want to study to the level of clergy and beyond. I want to be the best that I can be, to use a bit of a cliché, and to that end, I plan to stay involved with both Witch School and Dianic University and their respective traditions for as long as they are around to be involved with.

I am Wiccan, and I am a Witch, and I'm proud of it. The Goddess speaks to me in ways Christianity never did, and through magical, Goddess-oriented spiritual practice, I have found power and strength and peace.

I wrote the following poem in August 2008, shortly before my mother died. It speaks to me powerfully still.

Goddess

Goddess. Mother. Sister. Lover.
You are the earth that nurtures me.
You are the moon lighting my way in the darkness.
You are the sea, powerful, ebbing and flowing in an ancient rhythm.
You are my mother, who birthed me and raised me through good times and bad.
You are my grandmother, who loved unconditionally.
You are my sister, whose strength sustains her through her husband's abuse.
You are my niece, whose innocence shines like a beacon through her smile.
You are every woman, ever searching, ever learning, ever growing.
Through the strength and support of your sisters,
All the daughters of the Earth.
You are at once Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
You are a Goddess.
You are THE Goddess.
You are all the Goddesses there ever were or will be.
You are me.

© 2009

Thank you for reading. Blessed Be.

B.

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