(originally posted 8/31/09) I have been a Pagan for my entire adult life. I could mimic hundreds of others and say "I was always Pagan, I just didn't know there was a name for it." but that would be a flat out lie. I was a devout Lutheran once. In fact, if my parents hadn't converted to Presbyterian when I was a teenager, I might still be a devout Lutheran. Don't get me wrong, I have never liked their God. Jesus was okay, but the big guy. Woah. That is one sadistic, omnipotent entity. Why anyone would declare undying love to someone like that, even without any other options, I couldn't imagine. But I loved my church. I loved my minister and Sunday school, my confirmation classes and I carried out my acolyte duties with passion. I loved the ritual and the liturgy. (Not to say I loved Sunday mornings, but once I got there I was usually transfixed.)I had my own book of liturgy and I regularly had weddings and funerals for fish and gerbils. I knew all of the liturgy and most of the songs by heart. Yes. I could've been a Lutheran minister if only we hadn't switched to that other church and messed everything up! It was huge and beautiful and I didn't know anyone there. I never even learned the pastor's name. Just as well because there was a new one every few months. Without the ritual I loved, there was nothing to hold me. I started making up my own rituals based on things I read in books (I have always been a history and historical fiction buff) and the next thing I knew I was Pagan. All it took was the revelation that these Gods were just as real as that God and that I could still worship them. It was still some years before I noticed that other people worshipped them too, of course.
I don't miss the Lutheran church. In honesty I'm still a member. I still use their financial services but I haven't visited in years and of course we have nothing in common anymore. I don't miss the angry God and confessing my sins. I enjoy now a closeness and personal relationship with my Gods that I never had with that other guy. I don't miss the guilt and the feelings of inadequacy or the shame of desire- mostly the desire to experiment. Sometimes with sex, but also with the occult, for I never could understand as a Christian why I had to keep my study of alchemy and herbal healing secret and why my Christian boyfriend was certain I was going to drag him to hell when I made him a potion for his pneumonia.
But there are some things I do miss:
I miss the familiarity of rituals. I miss the idea that I can go to a gathering and take part in a ritual with which I am wholly familiar and yet still find it meaningful. As a neo-Hellenic polytheist, I have never really been able to get into the whole quarter calling thing, besides, people are always trying to spice them up in new and unique ways. The ADF liturgy is more comfortable for me but ADF groves are few and far between. I thought of trying to form one myself but there's just not a lot of local interest and besides, I'm tired of leading the rituals all the time. I want someone else to start one, so I can join. Sometimes I feel like the more stuff I do for other people, the more I'm losing my own religion for the sake of theirs. Which leads me to the other thing I miss.
The ability to just sit back and get fed once in awhile. Okay, yes, it's true that one of the great things about Pagan religions is that it's experiential and personal and that each person is encouraged to think for him or herself instead of allowing oneself to be spoon fed. But you know what, just once in awhile I want to hear a Pagan sermon. I want some charismatic Pagan to get up on a pulpit and lead the group- or just me, screw the group, in some revelation that doesn't require any work on my part. I'm tired and I'm getting old. I imagine a Pagan sermon will be more like a guided journey and that is awesome. I would like that. Yes, it's nice to get together and spend some time doing hands-on stuff between opening and closings, but too often this involves magic and more often than not involves some scattered general worship of some God-or-Goddess-of-many-names that isn't mine (or having one or more of mine be listed as one of the many names which always makes me wonder if that's offensive or not), leaving me feeling just as uncomfortable and squirmy as I would in a Christian church. I think maybe those folks who want to do all-path rituals would be better off leading some sort of ecstatic experience or "sermon" of personal revelation than trying to lump everyones' Gods into their offertory anyway. After all, some of us are hard polytheists. And some of us are exhausted from making our own personal revelations and might find having one handed to us occasionally refreshing.
But mostly, I miss leadership. I miss being led, just a little. Yes, I know that my path is my own and I value that but sometimes I'm tired and I'd like to put down the proverbial cross for a minute. I'd like someone to ask questions of and to unload on. Sometimes, yes, I want to confess my sins (though certainly they'll be different sins than they would've been 20 years ago). Sometimes I need someone else to lean on. Someone who isn't a friend (or lover) but understands my concerns from a spiritual point of view. There is nothing like that for me. I don't belong to a Coven or a Grove, though I imagine members of those would turn to their High Priestess or Arch Druid. But who does the High Priestess lean on?
When I have a problem with someone else in the community, who can we turn to for unbiased mediation. Who is there that we can both trust not to gossip about us or take sides? When I have need of a marriage ceremonial, burial or naming - something I can't do myself I'm looking on Witchvox or Motor City Pagans listings- how do I know any of these people are competent. How do I know what their style is like? I have no experience with most of these people and the experience I have with most of them is quite limited. Can my husband and I go to them for marriage counseling after the wedding, grief counseling after the funeral?
I can't help it. I guess I'm a traditionalist. My girlfriend had a big Catholic wedding on the anniversary of her grandparents big Catholic wedding. Not because she's a believer but because it's tradition. I remember thinking it was weird. But you know, until my generation my whole family was married, buried and baptized in the same Lutheran church since they got off the boat in the mid 1800s. There was never any question for them who to call when someone got engaged, was born or died or who to go to when the stress of the world was weighing them down or they had a conflict with a family member or neighbor. We Pagans do not have that, and it is something that I bemoan in my most stressed out periods which invariably occur about this time of year.
I have been thinking very deeply about why I tend to lose it late August every year. I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that my children have been trashing my house and eating vast quantities of food since the middle of June and another big portion can be allotted to my day job, as my contract is up for renewal in August but I never get final notice about that until November. But another big chunk of blame for my annual August angst is directly related to being Pagan. We are just coming down off of a hectic festival season. Now I don't do festivals. I have kids home from school, two jobs and a husband in the same predicament. To take that much time off, much less travel and spend the money that festivals cost isn't even something we consider. But our friends go. So we have a whole summer of missing our friends. A whole stressful 3-5 months of having nobody to vent to because they're all gone somewhere being enlightened in primitive camping. Of course we're insanly jealous but that's not the source of our stress. Everyone knows that the key to managing stress is having someone else to bitch to about it and my husband and I can only bitch to each other so much before we have to start looking for marital counseling and since we have no clergy and we can't afford a therapist (not that, I am coming to suspect, a good therapist exists in Michigan the land that mental health forgot) that's not in our cards. We also have NO TIME in the summer. Despite the fact that we have packaged the big festivals in that category known as "things we'll do one day when the kids move out and we have some extra money" there are tons of little festivals to go to all summer. From Pagan Picnic to Pagan Pride Day, various midsummer gatherings all through June and harvest festivals just about every week from the first of August to the end of October. Well, it's no wonder I'm losing it.
It's time to gather what ladies I can and have a grounding ritual. We are not organized (yet). Our clergy are, for the most part, not trained to be counselors(yet). (I am told that Cherry Hill Seminary has a counseling program for Pagan clergy.) and so it is up to us to be our own clergy and our own counselors. There is no one to lean on. We have only ourselves and our Gods but that also makes us stronger. (If it doesn't kill us!)
PS Writing helps.
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