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By Markos Zouridakis

By Markos Zouridakis

Faitheist serves as an example to Pagans, polytheists, Witches, Druids and Heathens (I think it’s time we get our own LGBTQAI abbreve, no?) of the impact and power that storytelling can have on furthering our ideals.

Browse the bookshelf at a local metaphysical bookstore, and you will find book after book which explains the hows of our different systems. You may find a title or two that dives deeper into the why, but you will be hard pressed to find many books which unpack the personal stories of the author. We don’t do memoir very often, and I’m not sure why.

As I was reading to the end of the first chapter of Make Magic of Your Life by T. Thorn Coyle, the March BITG Book Club title (which I am enjoying very much, and which I encourage you all to start reading), I was struck with a sense of longing to know more about Thorn’s life. I was curious about what had transpired that led to these deep and expansive awarenesses.

Last week, in response to a blog comment that asked something to the effect of, “How does love permeate a hostile universe?,” Thorn quoted an old blog post of hers to illustrate her point about love’s presence:

“This week, while cleaning the old sixteen burner stove at the house of hospitality, pressing the rough green scrubber against the tough metal “I love you” rose unbidden to my thoughts. This was not some practice of connecting to the stove, this was connection to the stove. The divine presence was there.”

This.

This is what I mean. This is what I was longing for.

To be fair, I’m only in the introductory portion of Make Magic of Your Life, and I’m not criticizing Thorn or the book. I just found myself, having moved from Chris’s memoir to what I suppose you might call an empowerment guidebook, wanting to be reading Thorn’s memoir so that I could better understand her (and, in turn, so that I might better understand myself).

Stories do that for me. I think they do that for all of us.

Stories provide context that instruction does not. Parables get at meaning in ways that user manuals do not. Our stories are what make us who we are, and the telling of our stories is what affirms our interconnectedness, our sameness, our differences, and the sacredness that weaves it all together.

A good memoir (which I believe Faitheist to be) weaves the messages and teachings that are important to the author directly into the narrative. My copy of Chris’s book has a couple dozen dog-eared pages, and the statements I underlined were (I think) the meat of Chris’s message:

“[Our world needs] people of all different stripes and convictions coming together to deal with things that matter, announcing our differences without fear, enthusiastically embracing our commonalities, and intentionally seeking out points of mutuality and understanding in the face of vastly different metaphysical commitments.”

Or,

“A bit of intellectual humility and self-awareness goes a long way; a quick perusal of human history shows that when one person’s idea of “rationality” trumps basic human decency for others, we all suffer.”

Or,

“To build a strong society, my Humanistic ethics encourage me to engage. This is much more than mere atheism, which is only a statment about what I don’t believe in. After years of witnessing the ugliness that arises when rejection-based beliefs lead to the rejection of people, I now seek out ties that will bind us together.”

These are messages that our community — that every community – needs desperately to hear.

Chris could have written a book that explained how to be a Humanist, but he didn’t. And I’m glad that he didn’t. I don’t think it would have made the profound impact that it is making on our culture. His messages would have read as platitudes, and we would be missing the valuable context.

Context is key.

I would like to see a Pagan Memoir section at Isis Books or online, and I’d like to read the stories of our teachers, leaders, magick workers, priests and priestesses. I would like to know what all of this spiritual and religious work has meant in their lives. I’d like to know when they felt doubt, or when they encountered something transformative. I’d like to read their lives and not just their instructions. I think it would be revelatory, really. (I’m putting In the Center of the Fire on my reading list.)

Chris told stories, and then stepped back to allow the conversation to begin.

And that’s what I’d like to happen here.

What story in Faitheist resonated most with you? Was there any one piece of Chris’s narrative that led you to a new awareness about interfaith work? About religious pluralism?

How did Chris’s storytelling affect you, personally?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

    Whelp, this post has cemented my decision on what to write about today.

  • http://twitter.com/ericoscott Eric Scott

    Working on it, geez.

  • Elysia

    There are a growing number of memoirs in the Pagan community. Maxine Sander’s Firechild was published several years ago. Two of Lon Milo DuQuette’s books are hilarious memoirs of the magic that he’s done, and the life he’s led: My Life with the Spirits, and Low Magick. (And he has a third coming up in 2014 about family life.) Vampire In Their Own Words was a collection of essays written by people in the vampire subculture (a good many of whom intersect with Paganism because of their energy work, ritual, and belief in and practice of magic). Aidan Kelly has a self-published book online titled “Hippy Commie Beatnik Witches.” We just published Deborah Lipp’s memoir, Merry Meet Again, this February. And next year we’ll publish Oberon and Morning Glory Zell’s autobiography (compiled as an oral history by John Sulak) titled The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick, and Paganism.

    So it’s out there, and it’s growing; it’s just a matter of getting more of our elders, mentors, or teachers to put their life stories to paper. A lot of them are more focused on the work they are doing and don’t consider their own story worthy of any attention, but we must remind them that it is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fritterfae Eric Riley

      To this great list I would add Sybil Leek’s “Diary of a Witch” and Phyllis Curott’s “The Love Spell” which both approach magical learning from the standpoint of personal experience via memoir.

      • Elysia

        Good catches! I can’t believe I forgot those. There is also Curott’s “Book of Shadows” and Marta Moreno Vega’s “The Altar of My Soul” (Santeria) and Malidoma Patrice Some’s “Of Water and the Spirit” (African tribal religion). Teo, you should have a whole book club series just for these! : ) Also, I will have to check out Faitheist, sounds like a good read.

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          That’s a great idea, Elysia. Thanks for the recommendations.

          Are any of these books using the memoir style to impart lessons about their traditions? Are there ethical teachings woven into the stories, or is it more of a “this is how it went down” kind of approach?

          • Elysia

            Both – depending on the author, or even the section in the book. For example, Deborah Lipp’s memoir has a lot of stuff about “how things went down” (which is also interesting to see in a “this is how they used to do things in the ’70s” kind of way) but she also has stuff about how, for example, the Descent of the Goddess helped her cope with her grief over the loss of her fiance. And I would say most (good) memoirs strike this kind of balance, both informing the reader about the times, the structure of their faith or beliefs, as well as lessons that can be gleaned and transferred to anyone’s life. Of course not every life story can be wrapped up neatly with a bow, and it takes a perspicacious author to be able to recognize the universal truths of their story and how it can help others (i.e. removing the blinders) but I think a lot of these books accomplish that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WildChildWH Child Wild

    This was timely. I’ve been hostessing The Pagan Book Club at Living Earth and am constantly adding books to a list to suggest to interested readers. As yet the Book Club is slow getting going but it can take time to get the word out, find a day and time that works for the most people and get into the habit of attending. We don’t focus on books by Pagans so much as books that we think will appeal to a Pagan perspective. It can be fun discussing with others from within our very varied community.

  • Jared

    It’s been a few years since I read it, but I believe “Book of Shadows” by Phyllis Curott chapters back and forth between memoir and basic how-to, Grapes of Wrath style. I found it deeply moving and helpful.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the recommendation, Jared!

  • Martha Kuepper

    My shamanic teacher is a published author of several books. She has also written her memoir. It is not published because the publisher said those kind of titles don’t sell. Obviously there is a disconnect between them and their customers!

    My calling in service is evolving, and it’s challenging to deal with such a slippery thing. First I thought it was working one on one with people as healer, then that it was more as spiritual coach. Then it was a book to reach more people, but I have a hard time systemizing what worked for me. Perhaps I just need to share my story as it is, and allow those so moved to glean from it what they will. :)

    But I do agree that the stories have it. It is one of my favorite ways to learn. I’ll add Hank Wesselman’s Spiritwalker trilogy to the list. <3

  • Soli

    I’m with you and wanting to see more memoirs. They are happening, but I’m greedy. More more more! Maybe that is why I am such a fan of reading blogs from practitioners. You get both the personal and the religious.

    Luisah Teish’s Jambalaya is also a memoir for the first half of it. And agree on LMD’s memoirs, they are great reading!

  • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

    I agree that stories are important factors in how we share information, and in how we learn.

    (As you read further into “Make Magic…” you will find it is filled with stories, both mine and others. But don’t expect a memoir out of me any time soon! Maybe you’ll need to write one about the journey from Matt to Teo!)

  • http://twitter.com/wordnrrrd Jeremy

    I enjoyed Chris’ story about encountering some vocal evangelicals outside a gay bar and engaging them in conversation. Too often we take the defensive when faced with people who have an opinion different from our own, and it only escalates damaging rhetoric on both sides. The fact that he was able to engage these people in a productive conversation should serve as a reminder to us all that sometimes a gentle spirit is the best response to people casting stones our way.

    • http://twitter.com/wordnrrrd Jeremy

      To expand on my reply — and, specifically, to answer your question “How did Chris’ storytelling affect you personally?” — I started identifying as atheist just a few years ago, but I’ve told very few people that because I didn’t want to be associated with the militant atheists whose sole M.O. seems to be to belittle people with faith. As Chris says, “A world absent of religion would not necessarily be a more cooperative or peaceful one; a world absent of fanaticism, totalitarianism, and tribalism would certainly be.” So many atheists fail to see that they’re just as guilty of fanaticism as (maybe even more so than) the very people they vilify.

      If anything, I feel that “Faitheist” gave me permission to “come out” as atheist because it confirmed that the belligerent brand of atheists are the exception, not the rule. And before reading this book, I was unaware that there was any type of movement to join people of faith and people without faith together for The Common Good.

      I like the following challenge that Chris presents for people without faith: “I’d like to see our community find ways to not only be open to the religiosity of our friends and loved ones so that we do not miss opportunities to learn by listening, but I also hope that we will focus less on what sets us apart and more on articulating our positive values.”