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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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. 

A second challenge to my faith came through my extensive travels. I kept meeting non-Christians who had as deep and passionate a relationship their deities as I did with Jesus. But that also is another story. 

Then there was the Dark Night. The companionship of Jesus, feeling his presence near me, the Holy Spirit in me, was my life. Long before I had any theological doubts I was thrust into a long season in which I no longer felt his presence. The emptiness I felt led me to the brink of suicide and back.

The politics of Jesus enthralled me once I separated them from the vocal politics of contemporary Christianity. In all of my journeying and questioning I never turned from the visionary Jesus and his take on society. I find his vision embodied in progressive Christianity, but also in the beliefs of my Pagan tradition, Reclaiming. The ethics of Jesus mirrored in Starhawk's novel The Fifth Sacred thing deserves an blog post of its own. 

Today I want to focus on how I made peace with my Pagan path. I was feeling isolated and spiritually dead. I had become connected to a Christian church that I love, but couldn't make its style of worship mine, no matter how much I like the community. My atheist friends couldn't understand why I was longing for more.

It began with a concert by the band Omnia, whose music I adore, when I felt a part of me coming to life again. Afterwards I had a brief conversation with the singer. I don't remember how this happened, but somehow we ended up holding each other's hands and looking into each others eyes. For a moment there was silence and I felt drawn in by something inside of him that was calling out to me. I had heard conversion stories of people meeting Christians and feeling like they "had something I didn't have, something I wanted." They believed that "something" to be a relationship with Jesus and converted. Growing up Christian I never experienced anything like this, but as I looked into the singer's eyes, I thought of these stories: He had something I desperately wanted. I walked away from that concert determined to find my way back to God. 

I talked to a Pagan friend and he recommended reading Starhawk and seeking out the Reclaiming tradition. Soon after this a different person invited me to a Reclaiming summer solstice ritual. The sense of having arrived, having found my way home, having found my "something", consumed me that day. Half a year later I wrote about my first six months pursuing a Pagan path:

It was like a vision out of a fantasy novel, an imagining of times long past. That is how I experienced the summer solstice. Strangers gathered for ritual, lighting a bonfire on the beach, dropping their clothes in the cold summer fog, dashing into the ocean at sunset. Sky-clad bodies swaying to drum beats, the solstice flames reflected in their eyes, quivering lips chanting, singing, dancing, drumming.

The mental picture I took that night imprinted itself on my soul. I had come home into the strangest of realms that had been calling me all my life. It felt like an arrival that was only the very beginning.

The shortest night celebrating the passing of my dark night of the soul into distant memory. [...]

In the darkest hours of the solstice I was carried to a beloved place of worship I thought lost forever. It is the place where the creator of all pulses with the drum beat of every heart and each cell of the body bows in wild abandon to the great mystery. Each breath draws in the bliss of a love the mind cannot fathom.  

And yet - I was afraid to commit. I had been hurt so deeply, I was worried about my Christian family, and deep down I was still afraid that a jealous God would punish me.

The Horned God of Paganism was troubling me. Even though I knew the image of a devil with horns was not in the bible and that the church simply appropriated and demonized a pagan god, the connotations troubled me. The cycles of life and death were hard to accept as I wanted to cling to the Christian belief in heaven. I couldn't make peace with the Horned God. 

So I asked for a sign. I prayed to Jesus. I felt his presence, the way I had before the Dark Night. I asked if I had his blessing to explore this new path. I felt peace. When I got up, I decided it was time to turn the backyard into an actual garden, so I went outside and started digging. After a while of moving dirt around, my shovel hit something hard. I dug in again, expecting a rock. Again, I hit something hard. I used my hands to dig out whatever object I was hitting. 

And I pulled out a horned skull. I live deep in a city so it took me a moment to understand that I was holding the skull of a buck in my hands. I brushed off the remaining dirt and sat down, noticing that my knees had become wobbly. I caressed the antlers, laughed, and said "well, I suppose that will do for a sign". 

 

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Tagged in: antler conversion signs
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.

Comments

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Saturday, 25 January 2014

    I only ever had one encounter with Jesus during my years on that path, and it didn't come until the very end. An Episcopal minister facilitating a workshop on healing led us on a guided meditation to encounter the Christ, and when I did, he told me that it was okay if I didn't want to worship him, and promptly turned into Herne. Antlers make for good signs.

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Saturday, 25 January 2014

    Do you ever miss Christianity? I find that I am missing the praise music and the charismatic worship experiences. And sometimes I miss Jesus. We've had conversations since I became pagan and I know he is still there, but I also know that he is vastly different than I once thought and I don't feel that same sense of connection I once felt.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Sunday, 26 January 2014

    Jeanine, yes, there are elements that I miss, particularly the praise and worship and the charismatic practices. However, neither have to be exclusive to Christianity. The solstice event I alluded to in this post felt a lot like a praise and worship event I would have been at when I was a Jesus Freak. I've been working on hosting Pagan events in similar nature and have been writing songs with very open Pagan theology that can be used in settings just like a praise and worship service.

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Monday, 27 January 2014

    Oh, how wonderful! I have tried to do that with songs I already know, just sort of changing the words, but it feels silly. :)

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Sunday, 02 February 2014

    I started writing my own music, but there is also some great Pagan music out there that works very well in devotional rituals. Check out Sharon Knight and T.Thorn Coyle's CDs, for example.

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Sunday, 02 February 2014

    Oh, thanks! I will check them out.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Saturday, 25 January 2014

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am both a Reclaiming witch and a Christian minister (in the United Church of Christ a Progressive Christian tradition) and find the two work very well together for me. Blessings on your journey!

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Sunday, 26 January 2014

    I totally agree, Lizann. I hope we run into each other one of these days!

  • Cynthia Savage
    Cynthia Savage Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    So, really, you are still Christian....

  • Kevin Thomas
    Kevin Thomas Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I too came from a strong Pentecostal/Evangelical background, which is very common among African-Americans. Now, ordained metaphysical minister, solitary, spiritualist, and everything else I was taught to hate as a youth, LOL.

    My Pentecostal background is very much with me still, especially when I give talks or minister, but in a good way.

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    That's great, Kevin! And LOL about embracing "everything you were taught to hate." I know what you mean!

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