The Problem Is, It’s All Connected

While I respect that we all have varying political views, one thing that I draw a hard line on is when social justice/ human rights issues are turned into political ones. I do not view human rights as political, though many in positions of power seem to. Ideas that would deprive people of their rights to live and to seek happiness are not justifiable. Centrist ideas that acknowledge that human rights should be protected while not seeking to take actions that would do so, is also something I find issue with. If you’re willing to stand by while people are hurting and you have the power to help them, you’re part of the problem.

This is part of why ignoring issues that may not affect oneself can lead to systemic harm. One example of this is with environmental protection. An episode in the latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale highlighted this particular example. It can be said that it doesn’t matter what else humans do, if the earth becomes uninhabitable. While this is true, such a line of thinking, if taken to an extreme, can give way to fascist ideas ¹ that cause the loss of human rights. This is particularly a danger when religious extremists or white supremacists become involved. It can become far too easy for fascists to turn a movement that should be good for humankind (along with all other life on earth) into one that causes harm to many.

While the country is fighting for environmental protection, we should also be fighting for the myriad of other issues that also matter. These issues are all intersectional. For example, those living in poverty ² or who live in primarily BIPOC communities ³ are at greater risk of being subjected to health issues caused by a lack of environmental protections. Without affordable healthcare, they are also at greater risk of not being able to seek out healthcare when environmental issues make them sick. Because of this, to truly believe that the government should focus only on a single issue would be incredibly short sighted.

This also applies to other movements. Black, Indigenous, and other communties of color are at greater risk of poverty due to systemic racism. Therefore, actions to end poverty should also take racist policies into account. The fight for feminism has won women’s rights, but has also often excluded the concerns of BIPOC women and transgender/ nonbinary people. In recent news, trans exclusionary extremists have co-opted feminism and fed into the rise of transphobia. This puts black trans women in even greater danger of discrimination due to systemic racism combined with transphobia. None of the movements that our society needs in order to progress exist within a vaccuum. What happens in one can create a chain reaction.

While we are all limited in what we can do as individuals, the society that we live in is made up of many different people, organizations, and professions which can each center their focus on the problem they are most equipped to solve. A position stating that any issue is less important because it only affects a certain group of people often comes from a place of privilege. I would even dare to say that, in worst cases, it can come from an alarming lack of empathy for what others may be going through in the here and now. The United States is dealing with ongoing problems rooted in fascism: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, religious extremism, classism, ableism, etc. People are already dying. We can not afford to prioritize one thing over everything else. Our society must take advantage of the resources that we have to ensure that all of these issues, all of which matter, can be addressed. The problem with picking only one issue to care about? It’s all connected.

(Though I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale, it should be noted that the book/ show is problematic due to the historical treatment of BIPOC in the U.S. )

Further Reading:

¹ What is Ecofascism and Why It Has No Place in Environmental Progress by Nikita Shukla, Earth.org https://earth.org/what-is-ecofascism/

² Poverty and the Environment by Anup Shah, Global Issues. https://www.globalissues.org/article/425/poverty-and-the-environment

³ Environmental racism – the deliberate poisoning of BIPOC by Amaya McDonald, The Statesman. https://www.sbstatesman.com/2021/04/19/environmental-racism-the-deliberate-poisoning-of-bipoc/

⁴ Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America by Laurie Fickman, University of Houston. https://www.uh.edu/medicine/news-events/stories/2021/november-2021/poverty,-racism-and-the-public-health-crisis-in-america.php

⁵ What Is Intersectional Feminism? by Olivia Guy-Evans, Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/intersectional-feminism.html

⁶ Why ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Problematic by Kiarran T.L. Diaz, Black Feminist Collective. https://blackfeministcollective.com/2018/12/08/why-the-the-handmaids-tale-is-problematic/

(Disclaimer: A previous incarnation of this post was misinterpreted as being an attack on an individual’s character, so the post was removed until I could properly edit it. I acknowledge that the misinterpetation was due to poor writing and carelessness on my part to ensure that the intent was fully clear to others.)

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Musings On Religion In Appalachia

As a teenager who spent all of my time at home when I wasn’t in school, I spent quite a lot of that time talking to my dad. He had retired due to disability and my mom was often gone with babysitting/ housekeeping work. The conversations we had were often spiritual in nature. I never thought of my dad as particularly religious, though I was well aware that he was Christian. However, he did strike me as spiritual at times. Some of the things we discussed were of spiritual experiences. At the time, I was exploring Paganism and not yet open about it. I had begun playing around with the idea of Christo-Paganism, which felt somewhat safe enough to cautiously discuss. We talked about the possibility of the Christian god being neither male, nor female; as well as being both. We shared stories of spirits, out of body experiences, and connection to the divine. He was rather open-minded in his Christianity. Of course, I never used the word “Pagan” when talking to my dad. I feared that doing so might have triggered a different response than what I recieved, after all.

At one point, I had discussed the idea of someday becoming a preacher for an earth-centered church. My dad’s reponse to this? His perception was that his religion was already earth-centered, as his god was a part of everything. Naturally, it made sense, being that he viewed the earth and everything on it as being his god’s creation.

In retrospect, I have come to realize that old-fashioned Appalachian religion isn’t always so cut and dry as the form of it that Christian churches have often tried to enforce. Though both of my parents’ families had Baptist backgrounds, they still spoke matter of fact about the existence of ghosts and what popular culture would consider psychic abilities. Where movies and certain other church-going types would say it’s all demons and “the Devil”, my family often knew better. The superstitions and magic that the elders practiced was all just a part of life. Even the rumors, often hushed as they were, about certain elders/ ancestors being witches were mostly seen as an interesting fact rather than a point of shame.

Furthermore, I have learned as an adult that religion in Appalachia is truly more diverse than just the Christianity that is in the majority. It wasn’t entirely a shock to me when I started talking to Christians who professed an interest in “New Age” spirituality and witchcraft, particularly when they mentioned the folk practices they saw from the elders of their family. What was a pleasant surprise, was just how many other Pagans there are. (Though I am aware of other minority religions such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Satanism in the region, these are not religious communities that I am a member of and so I will not speak on them.)

I lived in a rural, small town area in southern West Virginia from my teens up through my mid-twenties. The most religious diversity I saw in the open was a Catholic church in town, whereas most of the churches were some brand of Protestant. The only Pagans I knew were Wiccans, a couple of whom were only exploring the religion as a phase in high school before returning to Christianity. There weren’t any covens, kindreds, or other Pagan gatherings in the county I lived in. The closest ones I’d heard of were about an hour away from where I lived. I slowly became more aware of other Pagans in the surrounding area, still mostly Wiccans, but not all. As it turned out, there were more of us Pagans in West Virginia than I had dared to imagine.

I moved to Charleston, West Virginia’s capitol city, several years ago. Part of my draw for the city was in knowing that I could more easily meet other Pagans here. (There were, of course, a handful of other reasons; but I’d be going off topic if I went into all of that.) Charleston is home to a few Pagan/witch owned businesses, at least one or two covens and kindreds, a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs) group, and a few public Pagan/ witchy events throughout the year. There may well be more that I haven’t been made aware of. Some groups and events are private. I joined the CUUPs group as soon as I was able to make it work with my schedule. This got me involved with the Unitarian Universalist church that the group is hosted by, which I was aware of, but had not experienced firsthand.

For those unaware, Unitarian Universalism as it stands now is a humanist interfaith religion. Though it began as a denomination within Christianity, UU churches are open to people of many faiths and many of their congregations hold services that draw from varying religions. During my few short years thus far with the UUC of Charleston, I have seen Sunday services composed of liberal Christian sermons, Buddhist teachings, secular issues, Pagan rituals, and more. Being a member of our CUUPs group, I’ve assisted in a few of the Pagan-centered Sunday services. Although the members there vary in their beliefs and aren’t always very knowledgeable of minority religions, they do their best to remain respectful of each other with a willingness to learn.

West Virginia isn’t alone in being home to Appalachians of varying religious and spiritual beliefs. While Appalachian culture is, without a doubt, strongly steeped in Christianity; there have always been pockets of folk practioners who practice magic. There have always been people of varying beliefs here, especially as ideas spread into these mountains, bringing new life to ancient religions and to entirely new ones.

All of this said, it can not be denied that the brand of Christianity that shapes Appalachia (as well as the rest of the United States) is rooted in fascist ideals. Many here hold firmly that there is only “one true religion” and they use their idea of that religion as an excuse to hate, discriminate, and abuse people who don’t fit neatly into their worldview of what is “good”. While I detest the role that this form of organized religion has played on Appalachian culture and her people, I still hold out some hope that we can someday move beyond that pain. Surely, if any place can overcome the hold of Christo-fascism, Appalachia can.

Trans From A Pagan Perspective

Growing up as a southern kid raised with Appalachian roots, the line that seemed to divide binary gender was somewhat blurred for those raised as girls. Both boys and girls were expected to be tough, to play outside in the dirt, to be what society called tomboys. Of course, girls were still expected to wear dresses from time to time; which boys were never allowed to do. I felt a strange confusion of feelings when my mom always insisted on a dress for Picture Days. Why couldn’t I wear pants like the other kids? It felt pretty, but also awkward and uncomfortable. As I grew older, the line that society drew between masculine and feminine genders grew stronger. Applachian women were still expected to be tough and unafraid of doing “a man’s work”, but there was also more pressure to lean into the traditional feminine roles. Nonbinary genders weren’t heard of, and any deviation from binary gendered expectations would often lead to bullying for many. I suppose this is all why it took me so long to begin questioning my gender as a teenager, and even longer to realize that I am trans-masc nonbinary, or a nonbinary trans guy. I realized that I was nonbinary in my 20’s, but didn’t make that step into accepting my trans-masculinity until a couple of years ago as I reached my 30’s.

When I first started questioning whether I might be trans, I was a teenage baby Pagan who was still going through that exploration phase from Christo-Paganism to eclectic soft polytheist Paganism. That break away from the version of Christianity that my parents raised me with started to give me room to view all sorts of things differently. I had become aware that transgender people exist, but wasn’t at the point yet where the idea of nonbinary gender was anywhere on my radar. (I was in southern West Virginia by that point in the early 2000’s, which is only now starting to become more progressive in the 2020’s.) I only knew that my gender isn’t what I was assigned at birth.

All of that said, my focus here will be on my trans experience and how my path as a polytheist Pagan has aided me so far in my journey. Other trans Pagans will, of course, have different perspectives and varying experiences.

By the time I found out more about gender diversity and began exploring my nonbinary gender, my spiritual path was firmly set into a polytheist worldview. I had heeded the call of The Morrígan and Loki had also started calling me. In my experience, these gods don’t play around when they want somebody’s attention. I suppose that is just the way gods in general tend to be. I hadn’t considered early on how my working with these deities could affect how I view myself. My gender and my relationships with the gods have been completely separate. Looking back, though, I realize that some of the lessons They taught me – whether directly or through learning their stories and getting to know Them – helped me to better know myself.

One of the common themes that those who work with The Morrígan often talk about is concerning personal sovereignity. This is the ability to make one’s own decisions, to shape oneself as one feels fit, and to stand one’s ground. Well, that’s my simplified explanation, at least. Though this isn’t directly related to gender issues; it ties in to the ideas of knowing oneself, gaining self confidence, making own’s own decisions, and having the courage to simply exist. All of these are things that I, along with many other trans people, have had to work on. (And in truth, I am still working on these.) The Morrígan has helped me to face the darkest parts of my Self. She has beat it in to my head that the feelings of low self esteem, worthlessness, and shame are feelings that I need to acknowledge in order to fight. Burying them down doesn’t make them go away. Getting to know them, finding their weaknesses (ie- where they come from), at the very least makes it easier to overcome them. In regards to accepting my gender, I had to learn self acceptance; in addition to acceptance of the fact that I am allowed to make my own decisions concerning who I am. Though The Morrígan may not have set out to specifically assist me with my gender issues, the lessons that She taught me have nonetheless been valuable in addressing them.

Loki has a much more straightforward connection to gender diversity. Due to His shapeshifting nature, taking on both traditionally male and female forms at times, some who work with this god view Him as transgender or nonbinary. I am of this same mind, although I recognize that the modern view of gender is surely not the same as it was when people first started telling the stories of the gods. It can’t be denied that Loki’s gender roles have been malleable in the myths and stories that He plays part in, after all. In my exploration of my own gender, I have found comfort in seeing how this god whom I feel so strongly for has embodied both masculine and feminine. It has given me strength in knowing that gender diversity is divine. Loki has helped me on my journey toward self-acceptance, self-compassion, and knowing that my choices are my own. These lessons from my beloved Gift-Bringer¹ and The Morrígan have helped shape me in beginning to connect to my most authentic self.

Paganism, in general, is largely a trans-friendly set of religions. There are some traditions that hold transphobic views, but many recognize that transgender and nonbinary people are a completely natural piece of the human condition. Some Pagans view transgender and nonbinary folks as sacred, either because all people are sacred or because gender diversity in itself is. Our mythologies and folklore that shapes our religions include gods whose genders aren’t only male or female. Some are intersex, some change their genders from male to female/ female to male, some don’t have a gender, some are fluid in their genders, so on and so forth. The gods are a reflection of humankind’s diversity, or perhaps it goes the other way. Maybe the fact that transgender and nonbinary people like me exist is a reflection of the gender diversity of the gods.

¹ Gift-Bringer – A reference to Loki’s role in attaining the Dwarven-made gifts for the Aesir (including mjolnir), as well as Loki’s gift of Her child Sleipnir to Odin. This also has personal meaning to me, as I feel that Loki’s prescence in my life has been a gift.

Making My Path

As it was for many other modern Pagans and witches, I didn’t entirely grow up with the religion and spiritual practices that I now follow. What I did have was the Appalachian folk beliefs of my family. Or, rather perhaps, what remained of them. The superstitions and folk cures passed down to me weren’t much, but I’ve realized that they’re the foundation my spirituality was built upon. They’re the seeds from which it all sprouted for me.

It never occurred to me that other families didn’t always believe in prophetic dreams, spirits, and signs until I was older. As a child, I didn’t think twice about my dad blowing smoke in my ear to cure an earache I had. These things were simply a part of life.

I don’t recall when it was that I realized these things weren’t a part of everyone’s truth, though I obviously did learn so at some point. Was it when somebody had a mocking tone when they talked about spirits and superstitions? Or maybe it was just that I didn’t hear many people talk about such things as openly as my family did amongst each other.

If it weren’t for the family stories of ghosts, dreaming about the future, and out of body experiences; would I have become so interested in the spirit world and spirituality? Sure, I greatly enjoyed popular fantasy on tv and in books. A friend and I once made up ridiculous pretend spells because we were fans of these things. But, that was all fiction. Playing pretend was one thing – belief is entirely another. My belief at the time was part of my heritage.

Despite these firmly rooted beliefs, a large part of my family’s Appalachian religious heritage didn’t stick for me. I left Christianity in search of religion that made me feel more whole, more like I had found home. In a span of a few years, as a teenager, I became a Pagan. I knew it was the right path for me because it was one I was experiencing. Instead of simply hearing some preacher on a pulpit yelling about his (very ignorant) interpretation of the NKJ version of the Bible, I was able to feel a personal connection to the divine. One of my first spiritual experiences was walking home and becoming suddenly aware of the sacred spirits that were around me. The trees, the sky, the earth itself; I realized that they had spirits as much as humans do. I realized that they are divine. I learned that the Earth, herself, is living being.

As time went on and I learned more, experienced more, my interpretation of deity changed. Instead of just one god or goddess, I realized that there are many. Some of Them spoke to me. They visited me in the Dreaming and in meditation, whispered into my waking subconscious, sent me signs. These are deities who feel real to me. They’re not some far off being watching from above, who I could never hope to know.

(All of this is not to say that those who don’t experience religion in the ways that I have are wrong. I would imagine that anyone who feels a connection to a religion will find meaning in it one way or another.)

It is likely that many of my recent ancestors may not be happy with my choice to worship the old gods. There are many things about me that they likely aren’t thrilled about, to be fair. That is, of course, assuming that the ancestors don’t learn and grow in whatever afterlife they are in. It’s entirely possible that those who would have been disapproving in life are more supportive in death.

Many Pagan traditions have a strong focus on ancestral veneration. Norse Heathenry, one of my strongest influences, is very much one of them. So, too, is the importance of family history for many Appalachians. It was never outright said, but rather implied throughout my life, that knowing where we come from and who came before us is important. That’s why pieces of family history have been passed down for so long. Though my ancestors and I are very different people, many whom I would not want to associate with in life, many whose lived experiences would be very different from mine even if we had lived in the same time period; they are important to me. Whatever they were like during their lives, there is something I can learn from them (even if it’s only a recognition of where toxic family traits and traumas came from).

I digress. Whatever my ancestors think of my religion is on them. My experiences with the gods Whom I have connected with has been wonderful. Yes, even in times when They needed to teach me difficult lessons. Even, too, in times when They feel distant, when I long to feel close to Them again.

My relationships with Them have also changed over the years. Since I came to a polytheist worldview, the gods I worship have been teachers, parental figures, friends, lovers, and more. My view of divinity has shifted from being the Unknowable, to one shaped by the personal connections which I have made with a very few of the innumerable number of gods in existence.

Sharing spiritual connections with humans is important, too. I realized this at some point after a number of years spent as a mostly solitary Pagan. Some of that connection was found online, in groups where people shared many of my beliefs. It took some time, but I found an online Rökkatru group where the members feel like a long distance family. Knowing that there are people out there who share a common belief in these gods, who find inspiration in the mythologies, and who care for one another, is comforting.

It wasn’t until shortly after moved to the city that I sought out local religious community. I found that first in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where I began meeting with the Pagan group for a while before also joining the rest of the congregation for Sunday services when I was able. My connection with this group of humans is more centered around community and secular humanism. Though it is not deity-centered, it is still spiritual.

This all leads me to where I am now. My path is a blend of Appalachian folk belief, Norse and Irish polytheist Paganism, and Unitarian Universalism. My path is also deeply influenced by animism, pantheism, herbalism, intuition, and an appreciation of science. Each person will have a different story, different experiences and influences that define their spiritual and religious beliefs and practices. We all have to find our own paths, in our own ways.

When I was just starting out, I never imagined the course that my spiritual path would take. I think that it will continue to grow throughout my life. Perhaps I will come to believe things, as I have in the past, that I never considered a possibility. Or maybe, I will be drawn to revisit a practice that I have long since neglected. Whatever route it takes me, I know that it will continue to enrich my life.

Hey, It’s Me: They/ He

While I was never a consistent writer, I must acknowledge that I have really slacked off. For that, readers, I must apologize. There were a couple of blog articles that I had begun and simply could not bring myself to finish as of yet. I suppose the time wasn’t right for them to come to fruition. All of that said, I do feel a calling to write an update of sorts. I have been dealing with, among the usual ebbs and flows of life, some inner work that needed done regarding my identity. One aspect of that is still too raw for me to discuss here, but another wants to be said.

In the past, I have discussed my gender on this blog. I believe that the last thing I mentioned regarding who I am in terms of gender is that I’m non-binary. But, that may have been before I became sure that I wanted to drop she/her pronouns. I’m they/them, leaning toward he/him. Feminine pronouns and language directed toward me has become increasingly uncomfortable for me. Truthfully, it’s not an entirely new revelation. It’s more that the recent development is my acknowledgement of my feelings.

Ever since I was a child, being called a “girl” and “she/her” felt wrong. I pushed it under the rug, largely because I didn’t have the language or support to understand why I felt that way. I was a bit of a tomboy who didn’t quite understand why it was that I couldn’t be more like boys. As a teenager, I had found some of that language and questioned whether I might be a trans boy. Yet, I was still missing some of the language and any of the support I needed in order to further explore who I was.

Enter my twenties: This was in the 2010’s, when more information regarding nonbinary genders was become easier to happen across online. Something about that clicked with me. And yet, and yet… It took until I was about to turn thirty before I was able to allow myself to fully accept that I really am not a cisgender woman.

Pretending to be a woman was easier than facing the task of coming out as nonbinary. It hurt, but that pain of pushing who I am down was easier than telling people who I feared may reject me. Or so, I thought it was easier. Eventually, I had to stop playing the ill-fitting role that I was assigned.

At first, I only told those who were close to me, who I trusted. As is the case for most in the LGBTQIA+ community. Then, I slowly started updating my pronouns on social media and even started openly discussing it here and there online. I was becoming more confident in accepting and exploring who I am. I tried on the label of genderfluid, which fit like a comfy sweater. But there was a hole in that sweater. Something was missing and, any time I tried to express femininity in my appearance, I felt wrong all over again.

Just over a month ago, after many months of deliberation, I started T. I cannot express how freeing taking this step has already been. I now feel ready to say that I am transmasc nonbinary. (To be clear, medical transition of any sort is not required to be transmasc. Testosterone has only given me the push I needed.) I finally came out at work. I think the genderfluid label might still fit me, but I do definitely lean more toward the transmasc side of things. Perhaps, once I can pass as a guy more easily, I will become comfortable with presenting with femininity again. If so, I suspect it would be because then, I will not always be automatically seen as a woman by outsiders. I will be more free to express myself as a genderqueer person.

I am finally becoming more comfortable with myself. And, though I know I still have a long way to go, I am beginning to understand what it means to love oneself.

Growing Pains

When my child was little, seeing xem hit new milestones and gain more independence was bittersweet. It was a relief to have xem rely on me less and less, little by little. It brought me pride to see my little one growing up. It still does, but I’ve been feeling more sad about it lately. My “little” one doesn’t seem like the same child I once knew. It’s probably past time that I face it: My child is continuously becoming their own person. That’s part of growing up. As a parent, that is perhaps the best goal to aim for. Anything that puts strict expectations on a child to be a certain way ends up missing the mark. Too many children have grown up to feel the pain caused by their parents who tried to set limits on who they can be. Many of us have experienced that pain for ourselves. Why should we want to hurt our own kids in the same way? Isn’t it enough to raise a child with compassion for others and theirself?

I spent too much of my kid’s childhood influenced by the opinions of my in-laws. I let my mother-in-law tell me that my kid shouldn’t have colored hair or certain haircuts for too long, despite my internal disagreement with such restrictions. I was afraid to really raise my child as a Pagan, limiting myself only to telling stories until we moved an hour away. To be real, I regret some of the parenting choices that I made. Some of them were based on fear of judgement from people who I now realize don’t care as much about my family as I had thought. Once we failed to meet their expectations, the in-laws stopped trying to reach out. Go figure.

At the same time, despite my feeling like I didn’t make enough of my own decisions in my earlier years of parenting, I know that I got some things right. My wife and I stood our ground with our decision against spanking. I always gave my child a choice in what to believe in, spiritually. When he asked me if Loki or fairies are real, I told xem: “I believe they are. What about you?”. The same happened with Santa and the Tooth Fairy, although I never outright claimed to believe in those two. I even allowed my kid to go to church with my in-laws until he decided that he didn’t want to. (To be fair, that decision on their part may have been influenced by my informing xem of the flaws with that particular church’s harmful beliefs.) I always told xem that love is love and that transgender and nonbinary people are valid. When my kiddo came out as liking the same gender and then as exploring their gender identity, thank the gods I had already gotten away from the strong toxic influence of my in-laws, my wife and I embraced their identity.

I’d be lying if there wasn’t one part of my child’s current identity that I am struggling with, though. As a polytheist, knowing that my kid doesn’t share my spiritual beliefs kind of hurts. It feels almost like I did something wrong. Maybe I explained my beliefs too simplisticly. But the truth of the matter is that forcing my religion onto my child is what would be wrong. As much as I would love to have a Pagan kid, religion should always be a choice. Or, at least as much of a choice that I believe it can be. If the gods call to xem one day and he recognizes it, I will be happy and willing to offer whatever help I can. If not, that is just something that I will have to continue to accept.

These preteen years are an introduction to what I may expect the teenage years to be like. This is my only kid, though, so that statement is purely an assumption. My kid still comes to me for comfort and I hope that continues, but he also spends more time hidden away in the privacy of their room. This child is now more willing to speak their mind when he disagrees with something, but is also still learning how to regulate their emotions as all adolescents are. It’s not always easy to parent with all of that in mind, though I do try.

I don’t know yet what my kid will be like throughout their teen years or as an adult. I am expecting some stumbles and troubles – we all go through them and he won’t get to be an exception. I am also hoping for the best. Not necessarily that he be the best at anything in particular, mind you. I am hoping that my parenting allows my kid to continue to be a compassionate person, able to think for xemself, able to be self sufficient and yet unafraid to ask for help when needed.

I do miss the little one that my child used to be. But, it’s a fact of life that children can’t remain the same forever. Nor should we parents want them to.

We Are The Weirdos

I was drawn to Unitarian Universalism because a Pagan friend recommended it as a safe place for Pagans who wanted a “church home”. It was described as a space where people of many faiths can worship together. Which sounds complicated, but really the services don’t feel overcomplicated. They mostly focus on what it means to be human and compassion for others. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, to be fair.

My real introduction into this congregation was through it’s Pagan goup. More than anything, I needed a space where I could connect in person to people who hold similar beliefs and practices. I love that the group is eclectic. I love that we can discuss spirituality and religion without many assumptions being made. It’s wonderful to share in ritual with them. As a whole, the people at the UUC are nice and everyone’s supportive of each other.

And yet, I often feel a disconnect. It could be that we’ve only had a handful of in-person events for the past two years. Or maybe it’s also because I’m the only active member of the group who is a polytheist and worships deities some consider “dark”. (There may be others, but they’re not often present during our discussions.) It’s difficult sometimes to click with them on a spiritual level when we talk about our paths.

It kind of hurts feeling like I’m still somehow the odd one out: The weird one among the group. It leads me to having to tone down what I disclose about my own beliefs and practices so I don’t risk being “too much” for the others. Even then, I sometimes worry I’ve said too much.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t intend on leaving the group or the UUC. The connections I make there are important to me. The people in my Pagan group feel like a family. It’s just a fact that even chosen family doesn’t always “get it” when it comes to certain things.

It’s a common enough theme in our discussions when the Pagan group is helping with a Sunday service, such as for Beltaine or Samhain, that we “tone it down” for our non-Pagan members. We usually use a shortened version of our rituals that leave some things out. To me, our rituals are tame already. There’s no invocations of deities that results in “horsing” or possession, or other “heavy” ritual work. Not that I would necessarily want to partake in these practices with my group. That would be too personal for me. My “heavy” work is private or occasionally shared with someone I am intimately close with. Besides, I get the feeling that some of those practices are something most of them would be uncomfortable with, anyway. Still, it would be nice to be able to openly talk about such things in a general way without fearing judgment from them or causing them discomfort.

It’s an odd feeling to sit among others who also follow an “alternative” spiritual path and still feel like the weirdo. It’s strange to realize that we sometimes view certain subjects so differently even when the surface of our conversations sound like we’re completely on the same page. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just makes it difficult to ascertain whether we’re actually talking about the same thing, or if we’re discussing separate concepts with shared language.

All of that said, perhaps what is needed is more openness. Not too much, mind you. I’m not setting out to divulge all of my secrets. It may be that I need to speak up more when I feel uncomfortable with feeling like I have to hide.

What Is Paganism?

A number of years ago, I was discussing a Beltaine festival with somebody and another person pitched in with interest. Knowing that this third person didn’t know what Beltaine was, I explained to him that it’s a Pagan festival. To keep a somewhat longer story short, he thought I was talking about the motorcycle group called “Pagans”. He had no idea that Paganism is a religion. To be somewhat fair, I had no idea that there was a group of bikers by that name, either.

At other times, I have heard others respond to hearing the word “Pagan” with varied confused responses from “What’s that mean?” to “You mean those weird people who believe in fairies?”.

Let’s face it: The general population doesn’t typically know what Paganism is. Why should they? It’s a religious group that many don’t ever come across. In most of my years as a Pagan, I’ve been fairly (carefully) open about my religion. I don’t go into details and, when I do, what details are given are carefully chosen. If somebody asks about religion and I feel safe, I tell them. If they ask what that means, I do my best to explain it in a way I think they’ll understand. That’s not always particularly easy. As time lingers on, I’ve found that my worldview has changed in such a way that I sometimes have a disconnect with the Christian-centered mindset of most around me. Yes, that typically includes the atheists, agnostics, and some other non-Christian folk. Not that this mindset is entirely absent from me – it’s simply not as strong as it used to be, I suppose.

By this point in time, many Pagans are already familiar with some variation of the quote, “If you ask 10 Pagans what Paganism is, you’ll get 10 different answers.” There’s a good reason for this: Paganism is not a singular religion. There are a multitude of religions within Paganism, and numbers of differing traditions within many of these individual religions. Nope, not all Pagans are Wiccan. Nor do all Pagans practice witchcraft of any given tradition, though many do. (Witchcraft, though a related subject, is it’s own thing which is just as diverse in traditions as Paganism. It is also not just Wicca.) And, yes, there are also many eclectic neo-Pagans who don’t practice a specific religious tradition.

To explain to somebody new to Paganism what it is can feel overwhelming. I don’t want to misconstrue it as a singular religion or tradition. I don’t want to make generalized claims that are true to some aspects of Paganism, but completely false about others. I also don’t want to give so much information as to overwhelm anyone. It can be a bit of a tricky tightrope to walk for somebody who cares so deeply about honesty in their practices. Or, perhaps it’s my social awkwardness and anxiety that makes it so difficult for me.

This my best definition of Paganism: “An umbrella term which encompasses many different religions and traditions. Some of which are earth-centered, some not. Some of which are polytheist (a belief in many gods), some not. Some of which believe in fairies or other spirits, some may not. Some of which incorporate witchcraft, some do not. Some of which attempt to reconstruct ancient pre-Christian religions, some do not. Some of which were entirely created in the 1900’s, some not. Some of which are open traditions (anybody can practice), while some are closed traditions (must be part of a specific culture to practice).” On and on this attempt to define something so complex can go… It doesn’t quite feel like an answer, and yet it’s much more of an answer than many of the others I’ve come across.

It is said by many Pagans that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to practice. While technically true, this generalization does lead to a lot of cultural harm and misinformation within the wider Pagan community. (I wrote more in depth on this in a previous post, Paganism: Accountability Matters.) Personally, I hate using this phrase because it can be misconstrued so badly. I always feel as if I am doing a disservice to new Pagans if I don’t follow up with some sort of “yes, but…” explanation when they’re told to do “whatever feels right”. Unfortunately, lots of people don’t like being corrected when they are contributing to misinformation, cultural misappropriation, or other harmful ideas. Those exploring Paganism need to know early on to be wary of certain sources, and how to respectfully practice in a way that feels right to them.

All of that said, when done in a respectful and fully honest manner, there is no wrong way to practice Paganism. That’s the caveat that gets so many in trouble. Respect and honesty in one’s practice: It really shouldn’t be too much to expect. It’s okay to get something wrong – we all do. Owning up to our mistakes and correcting them is what matters.

Alas, I have gone off in a bit of a tangent. So, what is Paganism? It is many things. It is a religious community comprised of people from all walks of life. It is a desire to connect to spirituality in a way that feels right to each individual. For some, it’s also a desire to connect to one’s ancestry or culture. It can be neo-Paganism, Wicca, Asatru, Hellenism, Kemeticism, polytheism, pantheism, duotheism, animism, sometimes Indigenous and African-diasporic spiritualities (not all in such traditions are okay with being associated with Paganism), and over a thousand more religious traditions. Sometimes these traditions and belief systems overlap. Many Pagan religions (as well as non-Pagan ones) share much in common, and yet they are each different. They each draw from their own cultural sources, both ancient and modern. Paganism isn’t any one religion. It’s a plethora of religions and traditions which give life to our communities.

Halloween & Samhain

Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I have fond memories of dressing up in costume, going door to door for treats, and of being frightened by someone jumping out of a prop casket. That spooky time of the year was the one time of the year when I could freely explore the weird and supernatural without being judged as harshly. As I grew older, it became the time of year when I felt more like myself. The beginning of autumn and the sense of change leading up to Halloween were always energizing to me.

For several years, I struggled to really enjoy Halloween. My dad had passed away a few days before Halloween and so the date of his funeral fell on that day. By that time, I was a young Pagan and was aware of Samhain being the same date as Halloween. There was some sense of comfort in this. I wasn’t yet actively celebrating any of the Pagan sabbats, but I knew that Samhain was the time when “the veil between worlds was at it’s thinnest”. (That particular phrasing turned out to be a Victorian-era invention, but regardless…)

This autumnal harvest holiday is a day originating in Ireland. Samhain (pronounced “Sow-wen”) is the Irish/ Gaeilge word for the month of November, in fact. Many Pagans of various traditions celebrate Samhain to remember our ancestors and beloved dead. The “dumb supper” traditionally held at Samhain to honor the dead is an Irish tradition that has been adopted by those outside Ireland.

Because of the connection to the dead, I also have a personal/ UPG association of the day with Hel as caretaker of the dead. But, relevant to Samhain’s Irish origins, there is a mythic connection to The Morrígan in the Cath Maige Tuired that I feel should not be ignored. For these reasons, I like to honor both Hel and The Morrígan, separately, on Samhain. (The Morrígan is, after all, one of my primary deities.)

Though Halloween and Samhain are typically celebrated on the same day, it would be remiss to treat them as the same holiday. I love both, but I consider them separate. One is secular fun, while the other is sacred. And yet, at the same time, they are linked by popular culture in a way that perhaps cannot be fully undone. How many Halloween-themed movies and tv shows throw in the mention of Samhain (often while butchering the pronunciation) as a poorly researched plot tool? It can be difficult to untangle the threads between the two holidays. For me, these threads are further tangled by the loss of my dad just before Halloween and Samhain. They are tangled by the popular media association of witches with Halloween, and the celebration of Samhain by many modern day witches.

Halloween is still my favorite secular holiday. I love decorating, going to haunted houses, getting pumpkins, dressing up, watching spooky movies, and all of those sorts of things. Samhain probably ties with Bealtaine for my favorite spiritual holiday. It’s important to me to remember my beloved dead, celebrate the ongoing changing of the seasons, and honor my goddesses with whom I feel a stronger connection to on this day.

Poetry: Who Are We

[The UUC wherein I am a member had a wonderful Labor Day service that inspired me.]

I grow more weary with each passing day

Of this world, by which I mean to say,

This society that we humans have built

For what is it, if not a cage

These capitalist ideals chains

Which keep us from embracing

Who we truly are as a people

As individuals and as community

Our minds and bodies kept too busy

To care for ourselves or others

To do the things we love

Or to allow ourselves to be loved

Who are we

When stripped of these boundaries

When freedom truly reigns

In balance with a sense of humanity

Would we not be a better people

Were we not focused so on survival

In a world filled with greed?

If all were equal to each other

If all took their turns in caring

All allowed to share their gifts

Instead of time and labor stolen

Would it not be more beautiful?

Who are we

These creatures who have adapted so

Learned to build and imagine

And turned it into… this

This cruel society that cares not

For anyone deemed lesser

That decides people are less worthy

What kind of injustice is this?

Why have we allowed it for so long?

This is not the way

Senseless sorrows, we’ve been betrayed

By the entire system we created

Who are we?