My Spiritual Path (so far…)
“It’s just a phase!“
If I had a dime for every time somebody said this to me, I would be able to pay off my student loans plus some really embarrassing credit card mistakes. It’s not that I don’t understand why they think it. How many millennial kids back in the nineties and early noughties watched The Craft and decided to grab three of their friends to play light as a feather, stiff as a board? They dabbled with Ouija boards, called on the four corners, wore the biggest pentagram pendants they could find, and told everyone they knew they were real witches and “you’ll never understand, grandma!” Or, you know… something like that. In fact, another common thing I hear a lot is, “Oh! I did that Wicca thing back when I was a kid.”
People generally don’t mean any offense by it. Many of them don’t realize this is basically like me saying, “Yeah, I tried that Jesus stuff back in the day, but I grew out of it.” It trivializes your faith and almost makes it sound juvenile. If it sounds bananas insulting to you, that’s because it is. And that’s exactly why I would never say that in seriousness to anyone.
“It’s not the same thing,” some might say. Why? Because your belief is legitimate? It’s this way of thinking that makes so many Wiccans and Pagans reluctant to be open. When they’re met with ridicule, even unknowingly, it can seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes, it’s just easier to say, “I’m not a Christian,” and leave it at that. Maybe your closest friends and trusted family members might know about your jars of moon water, the altar tucked secretly in your walk-in closet, and your deep love for rocks, but otherwise, you keep it to yourself.
I am not here to tell anyone that they should be shouting it from the rooftops. Or that silence is shame. First of all, that’s not true in the slightest, and secondly, it’s none of my business who you choose to share your journey with. But, for those who want to be open but aren’t quite there, I hope that, in some way, sharing my story helps.
A long time ago…
I was born and raised Catholic. My parents wavered back and forth between being holiday parishioners who went to church three times a year (Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas) to being regular Sunday morning attendees. Regardless of what cycle we were in, my mother was adamant that I become well versed in scripture and Catholic teachings. I remember having daily checklists pinned on my wall to mark off whether or not I’d said the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. As I got older, I graduated to full on Rosary time (which I don’t think I ever said correctly, but that’s not important).
I grew up in a suburb of a relatively large city, but the summer after my eighth grade year, my father moved us to the rural side of the state. To say it was a culture shock doesn’t quite encapsulate the differences. Not only did we have to adjust to the ‘dry’ heat, the stench of cow everywhere you went, the constant wind and dust that slapped you in the face, and the lack of anything fun to do pretty much ever, we also found ourselves smack dab in the middle of Bible country. Now, whether my parents were genuinely concerned about the state of their souls or they knew small-town life meant people would be in their business, they upped our church-going game. No more one-hour Sundays for us. Now we had youth group on Wednesdays, classes on Catholic apologetics (how to defend being Catholic) after mass, church choir practice… I know there’s more, but I honestly can’t remember them all. I blocked it out for good reason.
It was in this small town that I got my first taste of anti-Catholic sentiment. See, in the big city, nobody cared what we did or didn’t do. People used to ask my religion, I’d tell them, and we’d move on in the conversation. But suddenly, small-town people were very interested in what my family believed and people were always quick (and not at all shy) to tell me that Catholics were evil. That I wasn’t saved. Being quoted Bible verses became the new normal, and the apologetics classes started to make a lot more sense. It got to the point where I began telling people I was atheist because if they were going to get on my case and tell me I was going to hell, I might as well get some trolling in. However, it was in pretending to be an atheist that I started to really question some of what I’d been told to believe.
Now we get to toss in a church scandal to the mix. (No, not THAT one.) You would think that in a town where Catholics were a minority, the parish would come together in an us-against-the-world mentality. Strength in unity and all that jazz. That’s not at all what happened. The reality was, the church was split in two factions. It’s strange putting this to words, but what group you belonged to came down to whether you attended the English mass or the Spanish speaking mass. This isn’t an exaggeration. People were extremely vocal about their antipathy for the other group, and if, during church functions, the two groups were forced to mingle, it was almost like Moses himself split the activity hall down the middle. This was an extremely confusing time for me. On one hand, I only spoke English. On the other, I was clearly a Hispanic woman. Never was I made more aware of my ethnicity than at church. I felt like I didn’t belong at the English mass, and to this day, I’m convinced that’s how they wanted my family to feel. But, I didn’t really belong at the Spanish mass either.
It all came to a head when one of our priests, a small man from Mexico with a big voice and a no-nonsense attitude, was forced to leave our church. When I say forced, I don’t mean he was voted out or asked to leave politely. He received death threats. And that was it. I was done. I graduated, ran like hell away from that town, and haven’t been back there or to a Sunday mass again. Maybe the church wasn’t tainted for me, but the people who went to church were, and I realized that even if there was a place I belonged, I certainly didn’t feel like home there.
After that, I danced between being agnostic and atheist. I began to explore my beliefs and principles more, and while I felt it made sense that there was no God, I felt hesitant to call myself a non-believer. Non-religious, certainly. And until recently, I thought it had to do with Catholic guilt; being unable to let go of what had been drilled into my head from a young age. Looking at it in hindsight, though, I recognize that I was wrong.
I did believe in something. Even if I didn’t realize it, my spirit or my soul pulled me to keep searching. Still, I felt like there was an obstacle or a block that was preventing me from figuring out where I belonged. I chose not to dwell on it. Freshly out of college, I needed to focus on my career, on making money and paying off those massive student loans I mentioned at the start of this. Sadly, spirituality took a backseat. I felt tired all the time. Stressed out, anxious, and eventually I became depressed. But I never stopped to ask myself why nor did I think of what I needed to do to better myself.
Then I went to Australia.
I didn’t go to find myself or anything. I was visiting family, but damn, were things so different over there. How was it that when I stepped of the airplane in a country I’d never been to, I felt home? The air was clean and crisp. Things were uncomplicated and comfortable. Even in the city, the atmosphere was so far removed from the hustle and grind of where I came from. I stayed about a month exploring beaches, driving along the coast, walking along the cliffs, and seeing penguins come in at sundown (I mean, come on!). I drove through wooded areas, visited old towns, panned for gold, and more than anything, I felt connected to the earth, to nature, in a way I’d never felt before. And gods, it was incredible.
I wish I could say that’s a wrap. That in that moment, I decided to become a Pagan and that’s that. End of story. But it wasn’t that simple. For one, I had no idea where to start. For another, I still had that nagging Catholic voice in my head that kept telling me worshiping different gods was wrong. I turned to a close friend who I knew identified as Pagan and asked for her advice, finding comfort in knowing she once felt as I did. Torn between what was and what could be. I tried justifying that it was fine to make the conversion so long as my path fell along the line of Cristo-pagan; a combination of Christianity and Paganism.
It didn’t work for me. I kept feeling like something was holding me back. I had trouble trying to make both faiths work together. Slowly, I began to let go of the old… After all, I’d walked away from the church a long time ago. Maybe what was holding me back was the inability to cut that last thread. Once I did, it was like somebody opened a cage for me. Not only did I feel comfortable and confident in my spirituality, I felt motivated to delve even deeper. I bought every book I could find, pored over the internet, visited all the nearby ‘witchy’ stores in my area. I devoted more time to meditation, to being outdoors, towards becoming more attuned to the energies around me. I came alive, so to speak.
It’s not a phase. I did not come to where I am out of the blue. Every step I’ve taken on my spiritual journey led me to this point. I am proud of who I am, of what I believe, and what I practice. When people ask me questions about my faith, I’m happy to have a conversation with them. When people criticize me for my faith, I’m just as happy walking away. Of course, there are people in my life who don’t agree with where my path has led me, and in some measure, I know they hope it’s a phase. But… if you can’t please everyone, you might as well make yourself happy.
Bottom line is this: Everyone walks in their own shoes. One person’s journey may look similar to somebody else’s, but the thoughts, feelings, and motivations may be very different. If you’re going through your own personal spiritual journey, know that even though only you can walk your path, you don’t have to walk it alone. If you know somebody who’s in the midst of discovering who they are and where they belong, be mindful of the things you say to them. In the end, people need to do what makes them happy, but they will surely remember those who helped them (and hurt them) along the way.