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.


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.

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?

Seeing the Spectrum in Religion

What comes to mind when one hears the word, “religion”? It depends on one’s own spiritual and cultural background, doesn’t it? For many in the United States, Christianity is the religion. If someone “finds religion” or is said to be religious, they might be assumed to be Christian. Even those speaking from an atheistic or agnostic point of view often seem to make assumptions about religion based on their own experiences with the Christian religion in their culture. It’s difficult to get away from. Still, there are over 4,000 religions in the world. A quick search on the internet shows that only 5 of these are widely considered major religions. They include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (Some search results show up to 12 listed.) These are the religions with the highest percentages of practioners in the world. They hold the most political and cultural influences in our modern societies. Other religions, such as those that fall under the neo-Pagan umbrella or practiced by Indigenous peoples, often go ignored in mainstream discussions unless reduced to a fluff piece or for shock value.



• the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”ideas about the relationship between science and religion”

• a particular system of faith and worship.plural noun: religions“the world’s great religions”

• a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.”consumerism is the new religion”

Oxford Languages

The dictionary definition of religion allows plenty of room for the plethora of spiritual beliefs and practices that are recognized by people across the world. Yet, when the subject of religion comes up, assumptions that leave out certain types of religion are oft made by those in the majority. Articles written from an atheistic/ agnostic/ secular viewpoint may speak of a singular god or issues with “the church” without specifying any one religion. Yet, it is clear that the religion being referenced is Christianity, with Judaism and Islam typically being treated as an after thought. When major religions are viewed as negligible in conversation, what hope is there for smaller religious communities to be taken seriously? In a society where discussions about religion center around a specific monotheistic religion versus atheism, a lack of wider understanding on the topic as a whole arises. The idea of religion becomes restricted to a certain set of beliefs and practices as influenced by political powers who have historically used religion in one form as a weapon.

It is folly to make judgments on religion as a whole based on a single religion and it’s history. Not only does it sow division, it also further reinforces the false idea that there is only one valid religion or a singular way of practicing said religion. It not only encourages stigma against those who practice minority religions, it also creates misunderstandings about why people hold certain practices and beliefs. Rather than potential enrichment of life being at the heart of the topic, the misconception spreads that ignorance or abuse of power alone breeds religion. What with the overall histories of major religions and even a small few well-known cults that have made news, it can be difficult to look past the horrors that it can be used for. That said, those particular issues sometimes tend to push other conversations to the wayside.

As mentioned previously, religion encompasses a diverse set of beliefs and practices. Some who follow certain traditions may be hesitant to use the term “religious” as a self descriptor due to the connotations that the label can take on. Some find offense at the idea of their spiritual traditions being considered religions at all for this same reason. Nobody should be forced to use a label they are uncomfortable with, however it is a problem that certain labels are so often incorrectly implied to belong to a single type of modern religion. Just as there are those who prefer the “spiritual, not religious” identifier, there are those who embrace religious labels in their own non-monotheistic traditions. Some polytheist Pagans are reclaiming language that the mainstream cultures typically view as belonging to Christians. While it can’t truly be said that Unitarian Universalism is or is not monotheistic (that depends on the individual in UUism), many of the congregations within the religion still use religious language whether their membership leans more Christian, more humanistic atheist, or more of another faith. Whether one believes in many individual gods, one god, many aspects of a singular god, or no god at all; it is possible to be religious and to engage in worship.

For many, the idea of religion requires some sort of spiritual element rooted in the supernatural. While this is commonly the case, the idea of spirituality has also evolved to take on a more psychological approach. Someone who leans more toward atheism or agnosticism may find spirituality and religion in what science has discovered of the universe surrounding us. They may also find a spiritual connection in humanism, meditation, secular ritual, or any number of other things. These ideas, of course, aren’t limited to a skeptical mind. Likewise, anyone from monotheists to polytheists and animists may find spiritual enrichment from these things in addition to the unverifiable beliefs they may hold. Religion and spirituality is how we find connection within ourselves and with the universe around us. Simplified to the barest core, that’s it.

Yet, it is not enough to simplify the idea of religion to find common grounds. Acknowledging the many different types of belief systems is also crucial if one is to discuss religion in more general terms. After all, there are a great many misconceptions about varying belief systems. It can be othering to members of minority religions when their beliefs are either spoken of incorrectly or entirely ignored. The context of one’s religion matters. To assume, for instance, the idea that Neo-Pagans worship the Earth is both a falsehood and sometimes true. To assume that Christians don’t practice witchcraft or another magical folk tradition is, again, a partial truth blended with ignorance. In both of these examples, it depends on the specific religious denomination/ tradition and the individual practitioner. It doesn’t exactly help to simplify the matter in either case that both Paganism and Christianity each have many different traditions, some of which are syncretic between the two. Paganism takes it a step further, as well, in that it is an umbrella term for many different religions which vary greatly in source material, beliefs, and practices.

To further understand the complexity of religion, one must also recognize that religion is cultural. Religion influences the holidays one celebrates, the media one consumes, the way one expresses themselves, the laws of one’s country, and many other aspects of culture. This is, in part, how syncretic religions form to begin with. The cultural aspect of religion is how someone can be a Jewish atheist, Christian Buddhist, or any other number of examples. When one is part of a specific culture and converts to another religion, it is not always desirable to leave all parts of their cultural origin behind. Whether it’s about connection to one’s heritage, fun/ nostalgic traditions that have become secular, or practices that still hold a deep spiritual meaning; the blending of one religious culture with another is an important part of many traditions. In order to fully understand the context of any religion, one must understand it’s culture. In the case of closed and semi-closed religious traditions, this cannot be done without being part of their cultures.

For people of differing backgrounds, religion can mean different things. It can conjure up images that are positive or negative. It can bring up trauma or comfort. It can take place in churches, forests, hidden altars, or soup kitchens. Religion isn’t an either/ or thing. It is a kaleidoscope, a spectrum of the many different ways of looking at our existence. Religion in it’s entirety can not be reduced to only one idea without watering down all that it has been, now is, and can be.

Being Enough

There are many times wherein I feel that I am not enough. I find that I am not as well [formally] educated as some of my friends and acquaintances. I don’t have a job that’s as distinguished or well respected as some of them. I didn’t grow into adulthood with the same amount of financial privilege as some. There are too many “should” and “should not” expectations that I put on myself. These are expectations that this society reinforces via it’s broken values, media, and structural/ systemic factors. These are expectations that, up until adulthood, were completely out of my control. Even as an adult, because some of these expectations were not previously met, I was not in the same starting place as those who had more privileges at the get-go. Why then, do I still feel the need to compare myself to them? Just as I don’t have their experiences, they don’t have mine.

My therapist once told me that “should” doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson that I am still working on internalizing. These expectations set by “should” or “should not” result in guilt and loss of self worth. They aren’t useful to us. They are often a hindrance to our happiness and our desired paths in life. If one is held down by feelings of unworthiness, they may not feel as if they deserve to reach for the things they want for themselves. It then becomes a cycle that can be difficult to escape from. What I find more useful is acknowledging what has been, what is, and what can be. This does not mean making judgments on our past or present, but only seeing how it has and currently is affecting our lives.

If someone was not given shoes, they can not be expected to walk across a street covered in broken glass. If someone was given material to make shoes to walk across, they can not be expected to know how to make them without either trial and error or being taught. Whether one makes it without injury, with a few scratches, with deep wounds, or they are unable to cross at all; the circumstances that led to where they end up aren’t a reflection of their worth. Likewise, the past and present are naught but a reflection of one’s circumstances.

Just as I am still learning to accept that “should” is arbitrary, I am still learning to accept that I am enough as I am. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is as follows: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.” The worth and dignity of every person. No matter our background, no matter where we currently are in life, each of us is worthy and deserves dignity. If only all people treated others, as well as ourselves, with this principle in mind.

Despite my feelings of not being enough, compared to what was and what could have been, I actually am somewhat proud of myself. It helps to look at how far I’ve come, rather than how far I wish to be. It helps further to remember that circumstances aren’t linear. We don’t simply move from point A to B to C. We may also move from -3 to A to B to 1 to A again to green to something parallel to C. It’s messy and can get confusing. In all reality, it makes no sense to place strict expectations of “should” on individual human achievements. It makes no sense to judge someone’s worth based on unreasonable ideals.


When I was a teenager, I had a friend who introduced me to the idea of vampires and werewolves as a real thing. I can’t say now whether they were involved in some RPG or LARP (role playing game, live action role play), if they were pulling my leg, or if they were actually serious in some sense. It never occured to me to ask. Whatever the intentions were, it fueled my imagination and gave me incentive to look these seemingly impossible things up.

Because of my family’s background, I knew already about what my relatives called “feelings” and “that stuff” in hushed tones. Premonitions, prophetic dreams, spirits, superstitions… these were already a part of my normal, to a point. My mawmaw was rumored to be a witch, which I didn’t get a chance to confirm directly with her until much later. It wasn’t much of a stretch for me to wonder what other possibilites were out there.
Wicca, Paganism, and other alternative forms of spirituality didn’t truly hit my radar until that same friend also introduced me to Wicca. Around that time, she had let me borrow another friend’s Book of Shadows. I copied down the information, which is now easily found on various websites and blogs online. I didn’t have access to the internet from home at first, but I used the school’s computers in the library to do my own research until my family got our hand me down desktop connected to the internet.
It was as if I had fallen down a rabbit hole. I learned of an entire world that I didn’t know existed. And, sure, it wasn’t anything like the fantasy books I’d read or tv shows I enjoyed watching. But, it was real! And that was what mattered.

Even for most Wiccans and Pagans, who tend to be more open to many things, werewolves and vampires are pretend. The laws of physics do not allow for human beings to rise from the dead and sustain themselves on blood, or to shapeshift into other creatures. Yet, despite these versions of the creatures being pure fantasy, I had learned in my teenage years that there are humans who identify as such. Instead of supernatural creatures, these are just regular people who have less common beliefs or practices. They are most often part of the therian and otherkin community – those who believe that their spirits and/or mental states are that of a nonhuman animal or being. (The vampire community also has members who don’t identify as otherkin, but simply as humans who have an obsession with blood.)

Today, we have many people still finding their spirituality and identities in similar ways. The Lokean community is one example that comes to the forefront of my mind. There has been much discussion about those who find the Norse gods via Marvel. It can cause confusion. Either they find a connection to the gods, or they remain stuck on their fandom’s watered down version. Some find that it’s not truly the gods they’re looking for, but an outlet for their imaginations. Truly, spirituality of any kind is an outlet to our collective imaginations. That I believe in real, individual gods does not mean that they don’t fuel my imagination as much as fantasy does. It does mean that I feel that they’re owed more respect and reverence, however. That I believe in the spirit worlds doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take imagination to accept what I view as truth.

The Unitarian Universalist church also incorporates imagination. From story time for all ages to sermons on how we can better the world, imagination is an integral part of their services. It is true that many UU’s aren’t quite as open to the possibilities that many Pagans and witches tend to be, but they certainly often have the imagination to find acceptance in that we each have our own spiritual paths to follow. That is enough. As humans, whatever our faith, we need imagination to flourish. Imagination empowers us to not only dream of the impossible, but to have hope for a better world and to create new possibilities.

Right now, in these difficult times, we humans are needing imagination more than ever. We need hope that we’ll come out of this pandemic okay. We need hope that we can create a better world once this has passed. We need art of all kinds to hold us through, and people from all walks of life to imagine “what if?” that we may be ready to accept the possibilities our futures may bring.

Adding UU To My Spiritual Path

When I first heard about Unitarian Universalism, it was from a member of a Pagan Families message board who recommended it. Unitarian Universalism is a humanitarian, liberal religion. Rather than a specific set of beliefs, they hold Seven Principles.
I lived about an hour away from the closest Unitarian Universalist church when I first learned of it, but I wanted to learn more. After I looked up information on this church, I decided that a trip for a Beltaine ritual at the capitol city UUC was in order. It was a memorable experience.

I didn’t actually return after that until several years later and a move to the city. I started with their CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) group late last year. I had been craving a connection with the local Pagan community. We meet weekly and hold rituals nearly every month for the more common Pagan holidays. I started attending Sunday services a few months or so later while I was in-between jobs, then recently signed the book as an official member.
I may not have much to offer. The spouse and I share a vehicle, so I don’t have my own transportation when they’re working. I don’t always have extra money to contribute. Yet, I have been made to feel welcome by the members of the congregation and the minister. The UU Pagan group in particular already feels like family to me.

Like the person who first made me aware of this religion, I highly recommend it for any liberal spiritual person looking for a “church home”. I love that my local UUC is overall supportive of it’s Pagan members. I love that UUism as a whole tries to be inclusive and has the focus on social justice that it does. Our services on Sundays usually include sermons focused on social justice, history, art, nature, and similar things. Since joining, I’ve learned that the local UUC has been active in social justice movements within our wider community. They’ve assisted in making real change to better the community. Also, our newly installed minister is a woman. Yes, that is a major plus for me.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed that I have some pretty strong beliefs as a Pagan. I don’t expect that to change, though I am always open to questioning and to my spiritual path evolving. Adding Unitarian Universalist to the list of spiritual labels is simply an important part of my existing path.

I feel that Paganism strongly needs to build it’s interfaith community. Becoming involved with Unitarian Universalism is my small, personal step toward that. I do not expect it to be a replacement for the wider Pagan community in my life. I still hope to slowly become involved in the local Pagan community outside of (and in addition to) UU.
That this spiritual organization is so vocally against racism and other acts of injustice gives me comfort in a society where white supremacy is infiltrating so many other communities and movements. I know the UUC strives to be a safe space. It certainly feels like one to me.

Not all Unitarian Universalist churches are carbon copies of each other. I’ve heard that there are some that more heavily use Christian terminology. (To be fair, UUism did start out as a Christian denomination.) Some do not have a CUUPS chapter. Some are more focused on specific aspects of social justice than others. However, I expect they should hold much in common and it is a living tradition. All I can recommend, if possible and available, is to check out your local UUC to see if it’s a good fit. I am thankful to have found this one.