Cross and Pentacle: Two religions at the crossroads

I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.

Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.

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Annika Mongan

Annika Mongan

As unlikely as it sounds, I was born and raised in an evangelical Christian family in Germany. Everyone knew me as a Jesus Freak. No one was very surprised when I went to the US at age 19 and came back a tattooed and pierced fundamentalist Christian, betrothed to a Chrispie (a Christian hippie, that is). I was a virgin the day we married. Five years later I graduated bible college in highest honors, with academic awards and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I took my theology and trauma on the road and deepened both by traveling the country in a  yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music at festivals, teaching seminars at conferences, and bringing my expanding understanding of Christianity to churches from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America is as diverse as the Amish exorcising school busses and catholic priests breaking into government buildings - I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous witch owning a chocolate factory in California.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
 
Over the past few months I have been a silent observer of troubling waters within the Pagan community. I was saddened to read many eulogies of Pagan leaders and authors. I watched firestorms of disagreement rage through the community, kindling arguments, sometimes productive, sometimes ugly. I listened as leaders discussed toxic influences of racism, cases of cultural appropriation, and issues of privilege. I met burnt out leaders and frustrated elders and saw dysfunctional group dynamics. And now I am following the blogosphere's reactions to the latest news of Pagan author Kenny Klein

This is a hard time for the Pagan community and I am deeply saddened by all of the losses, conflicts, and problems. But rather than wanting to distance myself from the community I feel more at home in the Pagan community than ever, and here's why. 
 
For over a decade I traveled the US and Europe,  visiting communities as far right as Christian reconstructionism, as far left as radical anarchism, and plenty in between. Conflict, discrimination, in-fighting, leader-bashing, and scandals were found in all of them, no exceptions. Since coming out as a Pagan, several Christians confided in me regarding their "secret lives" and I learned just how deeply communities are plagued by secrets and hypocrisy. 
 
When I was a Christian I responded first with denial, then disgust, despair, and finally bitterness. I struggled through jadedness and finally found renewed hope in humanity. I have seen too much in too many communities to feel shocked by the recent allegations, but my heart aches for all of those whose trust was betrayed, whose voices were not heard, and those now left to sort out conflicting emotions. 
 
While much of this feels familiar, the reaction of the wider community is taking me by surprise. There is the typical denial, flight from the community, the "I-told-you-so" attitude, the "no true Scotsman" argument, etc. But there is also an outpouring of thoughtful responses by Pagan leaders and writers from all over the country. 
 
The openness and courage with which Pagans are facing this news is different from anything I have ever experienced. Likewise, despite heated and sometimes ugly arguments, the overall tone of controversies in the Pagan community is significantly more friendly than what I am used to. I have tried to explain this to some leaders in the Pagan community. I understand their frustration and astonishment at my claim that it could be much worse, so much worse. Despite all of the difficulties, there is so much depth and beauty in how this community deals with it. 
 
I don't know why the Pagan community is so different. My best guess is the different basis for ethics between Paganism and Christianity. In our Christian communities, we expected to be transformed by our faith and through the influence of the Holy Spirit. We expected to be spiritually healthier than the rest of the world. We expected our communities to be more ethical, more "Christ-like". Non-Christians were supposed to be able to tell we were Christians by the sincerity of our love for one another. 
 
In Paganism we don't have this expectation. Several writers have pointed out that as our community grows, we will have the same problems as society. Jason Pitzl-Waters, among others, anticipated we would be faced with a story like the arrest of Kenny Klein sooner or later. This willingness to face reality is incredibly refreshing and valuable to me. Expectations of moral superiority or even perfection leave communities blind to dysfunction and ill equipped for dealing with scandals. Abuse gets covered up, predators are moved around within the community while victims are blamed and cast out.  
 
As Pagans we have no rules handed down to us from a holy book, catechism, or priest. Each Pagan has to wrestle with their own ethical framework. Maybe it is this struggle that causes Pagans to respond with such a level of honesty, integrity and humility.  Our Pagan community is far from perfect and the problems we are facing are real and serious. But after all I have seen in other communities, I can't help but also feel grateful for what we have. We have people speaking out with courage. We have leaders sacrificing much for a community that often shows little gratitude. And we have the freedom to acknowledge the complexity of our problems with honesty, depth, and integrity. 
 
When I first became a Pagan, I was terrified of spiritual communities and took refuge in the option of becoming a solitary practitioner. Shortly afterwards I received a calling to serve the Pagan community. I often felt inadequate and frightened but made the choice to commit. I am glad I did. For someone coming from a culture of victim blaming, cover up, and shame, the responses of the Pagan community have been deeply moving. I thank everyone who found the courage to tell their story and all of the leaders who have offered thoughtful responses on how to make our community safe. 
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How I became a Pagan #1 - Signs

 

It's been a year and a half since I began my journey into Paganism and almost a full year (Imbolc) since I chose a tradition (Reclaiming). I was the model Jesus Freak, the one my Christian community was sure about, the one who would never leave the fold. So how did I end up choosing a Pagan path?

My theological troubles started in Bible College when I asked difficult questions and didn't find satisfactory answers. Eventually I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that most contemporary Christianity had very little to do with the man from Galilee, Jesus the Christ. I wrote extensively during those years and will revisit my theological journey another time. 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Kevin Thomas
    Kevin Thomas says #
    I too came from a strong Pentecostal/Evangelical background, which is very common among African-Americans. Now, ordained metaphysi
  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers says #
    That's great, Kevin! And LOL about embracing "everything you were taught to hate." I know what you mean!
  • Cynthia Savage
    Cynthia Savage says #
    So, really, you are still Christian....

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
An Open Letter to Teo Bishop

Dear Teo, 

like so many other Pagans I was moved when I read your Disruptive and Inconvenient Realization. As a recent convert from Christianity to Paganism your honest confession stirred up emotions for me. 

Many Pagans are former Christians. Those of us who converted from Christianity generally have Christian friends and family praying that we will "repent" and "come back." We're seen as prodigals on the wrong path who will realize our error and return to the Christian church. Sometimes the pressure is tremendous, especially where family is involved. We find strength in our Pagan community. We sometimes deal with the pressure by feeding our own us-vs-them mentality. We tell each other how much better our new path is and how glad we are to be done with Christianity. And then one of our own leaves our ranks and does exactly what we vowed we'd never do: "coming back" to Christianity. 

You express concern that some will see journey as a betrayal. If Teo Bishop goes back to Jesus, does that mean I will some day return as well? Will I lose my community? Will I lose the freedom I have gained? What if my struggle and all of the work of rebuilding my life after my conversion was for nothing? What if "they" were right and everything I have come to treasure is the lie they keep saying it is?

Those are scary thoughts and most of us are no strangers to doubt and worry. I couldn't help but think some of those thoughts when I first read your blog. I remembered all of the bad times, the oppression, the abuse, and I pictured myself back in the midst of it all. But then I took a step back and disentangled your story from my own. 

Isn't it funny how easily we confuse someone else's journey with the stories woven by our own fears? You are returning to your roots and moving forward on your own path. Sometimes we need to focus on our roots so we can continue to grow. Returning to your roots for the purpose of growth is not going backwards. 

But you say you were never fully committed to your path with ADF. It makes me wonder, should we measure commitment by how we follow one particular path? Most Pagans are converts, clearly we were not overly committed to our previous religions. Instead we were committed to our values. Wanting to grow brought us to a different path. Wasn't it our commitment to integrity that gave us the strength to leave our former religion and explore Paganism?

Jason Mankey writes "There’s no betrayal when someone leaves the Pagan fold. We don’t renounce any gods before stepping onto the path and don’t pledge eternal loyalty to any gods when we step on it." Paganism is a pluralistic path. We don't bat an eye when  someone decides to follow a Greek pantheon instead of the Celtic Gods. So why would following Jesus and the Christian God be so different?

Maybe our problem is our narrow understanding of Christianity. The claim to exclusivity, absolute truth, and the condemnation of all other Gods certainly sets Evangelical Christianity at odds with Paganism. But you never signed up for the Christian Right. "I’ve come to recognize, even more so than I already believed, that there are many, many ways for people to live out a meaningful spiritual life." If more people like you join Christian churches, it's a win for us all. 

As a Pagan I value pluralism. I value diversity. I believe that divinity is expressed in many forms and that we all understand Spirit differently. We have hard polytheists, monists, pantheists, syncretists, and atheists in our midst. We have endless debates on who is a "real" Pagan and who isn't, and in the end we still find ourselves under the same umbrella. The Christo-Pagan debate has been getting old for a while now and yet the movement continues to grow. Are we really afraid of Christianity or are we worried about exclusivity? Are we so worried about exclusivity that we exclude Christians from the interfaith table because we fear they might be exclusive? Do we recognize irony when it slaps us in the face? 

Pluralism is one of the values that drew me to Paganism. I love my new path and I cannot see myself ever returning to Christianity. Then again, not too long ago I couldn't see myself ever becoming a Pagan. My commitment first and foremost is to live a life of honesty, integrity, love, compassion, and devotion to Deity. That commitment has taken me from one religion into another and as unlikely as it seems now, it could do that again.

Some have accused you for taking the easy route by returning to a majority religion. In my opinion you have chosen the hard road. Being a progressive Christian in the US is hard. Sure, there's a certain privilege that comes with Christianity, period. But being progressive and Christian means you are at odds with the loudest expression of Christianity and you'll be certain to have your path decried and profaned by others who call themselves Christians. And when non-Christian progressives hear you identify as Christian, you'll get written off as "one of those."

I tried to be a progressive Christian but being shot at from both sides while walking a tightrope was too difficult for me. Being a Pagan is easier; I feel like I fit and am no longer straddling the gap between two chairs. Honestly, I admire those who can walk the path of a progressive Christian. I admire those who have left and return to be met with suspicion by Christians and Pagans alike. And even more so, I admire those who do so publicly. 

I refuse to close with "I wish you well" sentiments because this is not a farewell. Your path might lead you into new communities and you might write on different platforms. But if I were forced to create circles of "us" and "them" I would not base them on religious labels. I would base them on values. And as much as you value integrity, honesty, compassion, and love for Deity, I can't help but think we'll be in the same tribe no matter what religious paths we travel. 
 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell says #
    I as a Wiccan and a Pagan see no way that I can follow my path and then condemn anyone for changing their path. After all I certai
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I've seen a lot of reactions to the negative reactions to Mr Bishop's post . . . but I haven't actually read any negative reaction
  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan says #
    I have also been encouraged by how many positive reaction there have been.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Dear Christians, can you see me?

I was married five years ago. Now I am not. My divorce was awful (surprise). My ex-husband was abusive. I had a bad experience in bible college. I was hurt by the church.

When I talk to Christians, I inevitably face a myriad of questions about these experiences, followed by condolences and apologies and reflections of how sad and hard it must have all been. It was sad and hard. And in the years that followed I have healed, I have learned, I have grown, I have fallen in love, with wonderful people, with my life, with my community, with Spirit, and with myself. I am happier now than ever before. My life is not a collection of knee-jerk reactions to pain.

So I had an awful divorce (ever heard of a pleasant one?) but that is not the reason I am polyamorous. After my divorce I spent a year of self-imposed celibacy. I worked through painful memories, learning forgiveness. I released much anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear. After a while I felt excited at the prospect of once again meeting a man to whom I would make a life-long commitment of marriage. But instead I met someone with whom I chose to explore polyamory. It was with much trepidation that I stepped outside of the familiar framework of monogamy. To my surprise I felt an instant resonance with polyamory. It was like a missing piece of my life snapped into its proper place. Last week I celebrated my 2 year anniversary with one partner and am looking forward to celebrating 3 year with another one soon. Yet in the eyes of my Christian friends, these relationships are reduced to a pathological response to a divorce that happened half a decade ago.

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  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers says #
    I was drawing down the moon before I knew what that was, too!! And I am SO glad I have found your blog. Everything you've said in
  • Camille
    Camille says #
    I joined this site just so I could follow your excellent and thought-provoking blog. I want to read more!
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for sharing your story Annika. I was lucky in that the Christian denomination I became part of in middle school is very

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Pagan in Bible College

Alumni visit their colleges to re-connect with old friends and relive memories of the good old days. Unless, of course, they graduated from Bible College and then left the faith. In that case, visiting the college feels more like being a stranger in a strange land.

Eight years after earning a BA in theology and biblical languages I returned to Multnomah University as a Pagan. After leaving my Christian faith, I lamented that my theological education was a "waste of time". But with my embrace of Paganism my perspective changed. It didn't take long for me to discover that my theological education was an invaluable asset for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Pagans.

So I went to Multnomah University to meet with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of New Wine, New Wineskins, author of Connecting Christ, and a Patheos blogger deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue. I had been following the growing dialogue between Pagans and Christians on Jason Pitzl-Water's blog The Wild Hunt and was excited to meet with Paul. 

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  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    i read your short blog - thank you for sharing it here. i must say i was confused at first when you said; "I miss being a Witch"
  • Suzy Jacobson Cherry
    Suzy Jacobson Cherry says #
    Excellent piece. We end up sharing our experiences because experience is, I think, one of the most defining aspects of our spirit
  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan says #
    John, thank you for your comment. While there have always been voices calling for a greater emphasis on practice, ritual, and disc

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
In death we meet

I had never been present with anyone dying. It's not that I've been afraid of death, I haven't. But if I had been, I would have lost all fear after Arwen's passage through the veil. 

Growing up I sometimes had premonitions and dreamed the future, but as I grew older, I suppressed my intuition. When I chose a pagan path, I figured my prescience would come back and at Samhain it did. During a ritual I slammed with the knowledge that a season of grace was ending and I would be experiencing the death of loved ones during this turn of the wheel.

So it didn't come as a complete shock when my beloved feline companion and familiar Arwen was diagnosed with a terminal illness. In her final weeks we connected more deeply than ever before. Arwen was with me through an abusive marriage, traumatic experiences, she was my constant support in dealing with PTSD, my intervention when I was suicidal, my most faithful comforter. In dreams she represented my soul, my most deeply held hopes and desires. I couldn't imagine living without her. 

And yet I found grace in the midst of this bittersweet journey. I deepened my relationship with the Divine which sustains me and gives me hope. I connected with a community of witches, made new friends, found fantastic new housemates, and saw a compassionate community form around me. All of my circumstances fell into place to give me the most supportive environment I could have asked for. 

In early June Arwen's condition worsened and I knew the time had come. On the day she died, we lay on my bed together and I pet her and hummed to her and held her. She grew weaker and weaker and I laid her on my chest with her tiny head buried into my neck. I felt each of her heartbeats race through my body, we breathed each breath together. She cried out twice and my heart tore. Then she became peaceful and melted into my body. I felt like I was breathing with her, for her. I couldn't tell where her spirit ended and mine began, in those moments we breathed and lived as one. 

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  • Kyndyl
    Kyndyl says #
    thank you for posting this. I just had to make the decision to let my puppy go across the bridge into the summerlands after almost
  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    Hi again a poem not exactly on topic of animal friends - nevertheless;... On The Death Of Friends In Childhood by Donald Justic

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Rebelling against Christianity?

I have met several young adults who became witches as an act of rebellion against Christianity. I am not one of them. In fact, I would have become a pagan years earlier if it hadn't met so many pagans who hated Christianity. I have no interest in a religion that exists primarily as a negation of another.

I didn't rebel against Christianity. I discovered paganism as a wholesome religion, on its own terms. The draw to paganism has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I used to interpret it as a calling to bring Christ to the pagans, i.e. the light to the darkness. But looking back now I know that the richness of mythology and the magic of nature has always beckoned to my spirit.

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  • terra gazelle
    terra gazelle says #
    sorry about the double post.
  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    hi again Annika you quoted Kahlil. may i share a poem that was a kind of resolution to that "seasonless world" for me?; Love Af
  • terra gazelle
    terra gazelle says #
    I did not make some transition from Christianity to being Wiccan..I was Wiccan, I was just raised as a Christian. I did not carry

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
My Pagan Theology

Yesterday was Walpurgisnacht, the night in which German witches are said to fly around on broomsticks and revel. Today is Beltane and my birthday. I was born in the early morning hours between Walpurgisnacht and Beltane, to a German mother and an Irish-German-American father  in the birth town of the Grim brothers. It makes me think that magic runs in my blood, and yet this is the first year in which I will dance the may pole.

It haven't even walked this pagan path for a full year and a day. I am still a new witchlet and yet I am practically watching my theology come together - like pieces rising from the ashes of a puzzle destroyed in the fire. When my previous Christian theology went up in flames I thought agnosticism was the best the world could offer me. The resurrection of belief has been more than an intellectual delight, it has been a breath of new life. To not only disbelieve the old things but to believe in new things. I believe again!

But what exactly do I believe? Teo Bishop put together a great list of pagan beliefs in his post Crowdsourcing Pagan Theology.

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"I once was found
but now I'm lost
could see
but now I'm blind"

That is how many Christians think of me these days. I was a Jesus Freak with a passion to convert Pagans, but it backfired. The Pagans won. And Christians and Pagans alike ask the same question: Why? What happened?

I look forward to exploring many aspects of my journey from Christianity to paganism. The role of gender, eschatology, ecclesiology, postmodernism, my German heritage, sexuality, music, and history. And while those are all complex and worthwhile topics, sometimes I think the root of the answer lies in the simplicity and depth of personal experience.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • katiJeffy62079e
    katiJeffy62079e says #
    im currently stuck in between. Trying to find my way out. My family raised as a baptist. However I never really followed the relig
  • Zanna Russell
    Zanna Russell says #
    Welcome home, Annika.
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    Welcome to PaganSquare! I look forward to reading future posts.

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