You could say idolatry is in my blood.

I was raised Catholic, which included attending Catholic school from kindergarten through freshman year of high school, and mass every week (plus the high holy days). Which meant I spent a lot of time studying the art and architecture of the churches we attended – my grandparents' church in South Philadelphia, the incredibly ornate from floor to ceiling St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (the first Italian parish in the US) to our home base St. Charles Borromeo in South Jersey which was very mid-century modern, clean yet with very colorful, large stained glass windows.

Growing up in an environment where Catholicism was the majority, I wasn't exactly prepared at age when we moved to South Carolina (3% Catholic at the time), and discovered that Protestants considered Catholics idol-worshipers and not “true Christians.”

Not that I took it personally, as I was called “the little heathen” by most of my family growing up. One of my earliest memories was at age 6, getting sent to the principal's office after a class visit to the church, because it didn't sit well with me that only altar boys (like my brothers) and priests could sit in the sanctuary behind the altar. (Me and my Pagan butt had other thoughts.) As I grew older, my laundry list of complaints concerning Church doctrine and theory grew, and I focused my attention on the only prominent female figure Catholicism provided – Mary. Queen of the May indeed – and all of the fascinating rituals, icons, and symbolism associated with her.

Adding to the turmoil of my search for spirituality, my father is Jewish – Reform and not particularly active publicly. I only got peeks of Judaism at certain family functions growing up – funerals, Hanukkah parties, those cousins making Bat or Bar Mitzvah. So when I discovered the work of Chaim Potok in high school – first The Chosen, and then more importantly My Name is Asher Lev – I was fascinated. As a developing artist, I was particularly intrigued about the issues Asher faced in making fine art, that it was considered blasphemy – though artistry in sacred structures and objects was greatly praised. (Chaim Potok was also an artist in addition to being a writer, so I believe he was voicing his own experience too.)

For college I attended and graduated from RISD (The Rhode Island School of Design). In Freshman Foundation Art History, I was finally able to start to connect the context and reasoning found between art and religion – a perspective I was unable to full grasp while previously immersed in those respective communities. How the schisms of religions and development of wealth mandated church structures and decoration – and in turn either furthered or hindered the development of art. And most importantly, I was shown in depth how mankind viewed the sacred prior to the advent of Judeo-Christian religion.

Through art I made my first effective explorations into understanding my own spirituality and discovering ancient and modern Paganism. It was in the studio that I discovered the power of the man-made object, the energy that could instilled into a painting, the sense of wonder evoked from successful design. I found that a drawing could be a spell, that magick could be worked in layers upon a canvas, that a sculpture could be a divine conduit, that music could fill the void between us and heaven, that dance could transcend the physical into metaphysical, and that poems could be the voice of the gods.

I came to understand why some religions fear art or keep it designated to safe places, under control: there is power in art. Art says you don't need to have a sanctioned middleman between you and the Divine. Art says we can all talk to the gods and have them talk back to us. Art says that the Divine is present in all things.

And so I invite you on journey to explore how our ancestors used art to connect with the gods, and how we can use it now as well.