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I’m a convert to Paganism.

I was born into a Christian tradition, and spent most of the first 25 years of my life identifying as a Christian. I’ve written of this before, but the subject keeps coming up for me. There’s something about how we arrive at our tradition that seems worth reflecting on, especially for a convert.

We hear much about conversion to Christianity, and I understand what that looks like. As I explained it to my husband, becoming a Christian involves accepting a certain set of beliefs about Divinity, specifically related to the God of Israel, Jesus -his humanity and his divinity- and about the role of the Divine in the course of human history. It also involves a certain engagement with Christian scripture, and a whole series of adjustments to whatever worldview you had before. For true conversion to take place, every part of you needs to change, or evolve (depending on your perspective). Your entire being needs to be made open to the development of a “relationship with God.”

But what does it mean for a Christian to convert to Paganism?

At first, this question seems problematic simply because Paganism is not a unified religion. There is no one form of Paganism; no core belief system. And, as anyone who’s paying attention will tell you, most Pagans aren’t fond of having their religious identities, with all of the diverse expressions and cultural lineages associated with them, roped into one, overarching religious title.

And yet, a Christian can become a Pagan, and in the process of doing so experience the inevitable inner-interfaith dialogue between what they believed before and what they believe now, or at least what they are moving toward believing. Those beliefs, old and new, must be in conversation with each other inside of the convert in order for that person to truly become what they’re becoming.

I’ve heard about the ills of Christianity — I’ve spoken about them, myself. I’ve heard reasons why the patriarchy is broken, why the “Big 3” are monopolizing most of the religious landscape in this country and around the world, and why Pagans would do good to let go of the damaging perspectives and social structures that they believe to be the direct product of a Christian worldview.

Those things are all arguable, but not really interesting to me right now. Conversion is more than just letting go of the beliefs you’ve had before. It has to be more than that. After all, being a Pagan is more than just not being a Christian.

What I want to know is – How does a Christian become a Pagan, and how do Pagans help Christian converts through that process?

With conversion to Christianity, the convert must engage in a process of developing a relationship with their God, with Jesus and with (in some sects) the Holy Spirit. The relationship is key. It’s where it all begins, and – as the belief goes – it’s where it all ends, too.

What, then, with Pagans? Are we not to develop relationships with our Gods and Goddesses, too? That seems like a natural parallel. But, how do we do that, exactly? What do we reference to teach us about how our Gods and Goddesses are working in the world — TODAY.

Christians have the Bible. It’s a useful tool in starting the conversation about how their God engaged with humanity in the past, and it can springboard Christians into an exposition of how their God is interacting with humanity in the present. There are inconsistencies in the text, yes, but it’s a starting point.

Why don’t Pagans have these kind of stories?

From what I’ve learned, there is literary fiction, poetry, historical record, and ample text on ritual practices. That’s what Pagans are working with. But, we don’t have a book, a volume, a testament which says — “This is what (insert god or goddess) said to me about the nature of reality, the place of humankind in the larger scheme of things, the will of the Divine. This is an account of my God/Goddess interacting with humanity. These words are holy, because they come from the Being whom I worship.”

There are the old myths, and these myths do much to inform our knowledge of ancient cultures; cultures which have been replaced many times over with new cultures, and new myths. They allow the Reconstructionists in our midst to have a go at forming something that resembles the “Old Ways.” But what do these old myths tell us about those Gods and Goddess as they exist in the world today?

This is what it boils down to for me. These very old Gods and Goddesses must be working in the world — this world — if they’re worth building a religion around. They have to be real in order to be deserving of altars, shrines, devotees. They have to be doing something in this place, otherwise they’re just characters in old stories, no different from Captain Ahab, Don Quixote, or Robin Hood.

Clearly, having been enculturated into Christianity, I have a need for finding some immediate relationship with the Divine, and perhaps Pagans reading this will tell me that this sort of relationship is unnecessary, or distinctly Christian. If that’s case, perhaps I’m not cut out to be a Pagan after all.

But, for the moment, I’d like to ask my fellow Pagans — especially those who, like me, didn’t start out as Pagans — the following question:

If the Gods and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians? If so, are we listening?

I’ve yet to find a Pagan perspective being voiced in books or blogs that speaks to these questions of conversion from Christianity to Paganism. If you have, please share them with me in the comment section, and share any insights you’d like to offer. It would be nice to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Then, feel free to share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or your network of choice.

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  • Hi Teo

    You say,”There is no one form of Paganism” and that is true.  Part of the beauty of it I think.  But yet you talk about Christianity as if your experience of it is how all who define themselves as Christian believe or express their Christianity.   I find this an interesting line of thought in your post.   I would also say that there is no one form of Christianity either.  There are the Christians like you speak of but there are and have always been those who view things very differently.  Reformists, those who embrace a liberation theology, mystic contemplatives who are more interested in direct experience, Gnostics and other esoteric groups, creation spirituality and on and on.  Ancient or modern there has never been one Christian way of thinking and believing and in fact many understand “the book” is myth and allegory just the same as any other.

    Maybe the reason for such diversity, Pagan or Christian, is that we are seeking to be free from the dogma of others and to experience divinity within ourselves.   Thing is when some break free and find it, they then want to turn it into the dogma for others to follow.   

    • Nice to hear from you, Fred. Thank you for your comment.

      I acknowledge that my experience of Christianity is my own, and that there are various groups that behave and believe differently than the one in which I came up. There has indeed been a great deal of variation throughout history, and even today you’ll find Christians who say that other Christians are not, in fact, Christian. There is hardly unity in the Christian world.

      I do like what you say about the experience of the Divine within, and I think I know what you speak of with regard to the transform inner freedom into a rigid dogma. Is that what you hear me doing in this post?

      • I certainly don’t see you calling for a rigid dogma.  I see more of a questioning that springs from finding ourselves outside boundaries of  formal tradition and the illusion of certainty that gives us.  True freedom can feel strange and uncertain.  I like your writing because you have a way of bringing up issues that trigger my thinking beyond just your words here.

        Maybe one of the gifts that the Pagan community has to offer is the fact that we are so different, yet we can still come together as a community.

        • I think you’re right. That is where I’m coming from. I’m glad the words bring that out in you, and I think yours are doing the same for me.

          Perhaps that is something that Pagan community has to offer. I’m not sure. I’m still a newbie, and I’ve yet to dive into the larger Pagan gatherings (I will be at Pantheacon, though).

          I think I’m searching for a way in which this new tradition, this new movement of thought and practice, can inform the way I come together not just with Pagans, but with all people. How is this movement towards identifying as a Druid, as a member of the Pagan community, still an extension of some universal human experience?

          • Anonymous

            You do have to make a jump from Christian ideas and conceptualizations of the way Deity is supposed to be.  The Pagan revelation is not in scripture, but in nature. We are in this world, of it and part of it.

            Nature is a universal human experience. Being alive is a human experience. Our Gods are woven into this experience.

  • Myrddin Mac Art

    Teo-  It has always been my belief the Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors, and the Spirits of Nature speak to us in subtle ways.  Sometimes they speak to us through the oracles we use.  Sometimes they speak to us in the wind through the trees, or a sudden warming sunbeam.  Sometimes they trip us up in our mad dash through life, or making it hard to find our car keys or remember where we placed out hat.  Sometims they speak to us in how they guide and aid the magic we use.  My peace is often restored simply spending time in the woods and wilds in the world around me.  These, then, are the sources to which I turn when developing my relationship with the elements of the divine in my faith.  Yes, the Bible contains truths, but the natural world contains guidance and truth to one who is willing to look and listen.

    Thanks!

    • Thank you for this comment, Myrddin. I appreciate hearing from you.

      Listening for the subtleties is a challenge. It’s one that the priests of my youth spoke of in listening for God, and clearly it’s one that’s true for seekers on all spiritual paths. The subjectivity inherent in our individual interpretations of Divine Speech (if you will) makes it challenging to feel unity among us, I think. Then again, that’s also what makes for an interesting, diverse community.

      So, I like the idea of there being divine messages everywhere in the world, everywhere we care to look. I wonder, though, if you – or anyone who is so receptive to these messages – feel like writing these messages down as “truths” feels like a betrayal of the message, or the source?

      • I don’t see writing the messages down as a betrayal — either of message or of the source.  Just, you know, as a data point.

      • Robert

        I don’t think that writing the message down is a betrayal, nor would declaring them as “truths”.  It’s when you declare your truths as the sole right ones, and/or that your possession of these truths entitles you to priviledge or power or control of some fashion that you betray the message.

  • Nancy Batty

    The gods are as real – and not-real – as we are. They speak to us through sign and symbol, dream and vision, the subtle whispers in our hearts and the grand exploding moments of insight that push humanity forward. They can speak to us through books, too – but not A book, not A bible, and I don’t think we need one. I think the reason we’re pagan is because we want that direct communication, we want to find out this stuff from our gods ourselves, not from a book that lays it all out clear and easy for us or a clergyperson to interpret it for us. Most forms of Christianity don’t encourage that mystical experience – if they did, fewer people would leave the church, I think. For me, it’s been important to recognize that I don’t want an earthy/witchy version of Christianity. I avoid pagan “bibles,” and would respectfully decline to attend a “wiccaning” ceremony. Not that I’ve got a problem with my former religion – but I converted because I wanted a DIFFERENT paradigm.

    • I totally respect that, Nancy. This dialogue, for me, is a way at understanding how this paradigm is, in fact, different.

      When I read your comment, I find myself agreeing with your position on not needing One source, One truth. I get that. I really do.

      I think what I’m reaching for is this idea that if they gods are moving through the world, truly engaging with us in our lives, than doesn’t that turn the world into a completely magical and undeniably mystical place? (You might be nodding your head right now, because perhaps you already understand it that way.)

      • Nancy Batty

        I am totally nodding my head because that is totally the world I live in. Those conversations in sign and symbol and dream and vision happen all the time, and the world really IS a magical, mystical place. The gods aren’t off in some cloudy palace in the sky, they’re right here with us, interacting. Ain’t we lucky?! As far as the question of how we develop these relationships without holy writ to guide us, in my experience we learn as we go. We find clues in myth and history, and then I think if we’re doing it right, we start getting more clues from the spirits (gods included) themselves.

    • I agree with Nancy, and I would add that if what you’re looking for are modern Pagan sources of the gods interacting with our world, there’s starting to be a good selection out there. 🙂 

      What is the Bible anyways – honestly – but a bunch of humans writing about their experiences with the Abrahamic deity and/or his son? The only thing that elevates them to “scripture” is that a Church council got together and decided certain authors’ viewpoints had their stamp of approval and some didn’t.

      There’s a lot of creative types out there in the Pagan community, writing down their own experiences and creating new hymns and poems and stories to honor the gods. I belong to one group that puts out devotional anthologies for the gods of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian pantheons… http://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/

      I believe the gods speak to each of us in the ways we’re best able to comprehend… Nacny summed it up perfectly for me: “They speak to us through sign and symbol, dream and vision, the subtle whispers in our hearts and the grand exploding moments of insight that push humanity forward.” There can’t be just one “gospel” for all of us, because we are all unique and so are our interactions with the gods. 

      • I just visited your link, Khryseis. Brilliant!! It’s wonderful what your group is doing. I think the intention behind your work is exactly what I’m getting at here. I’m not looking for a single book, but I believe that Pagans are well poised to create “sacred libraries,” if you will, and should take it as a pious act to do so.

  • Saga Mockingbird

    You said “I’ve yet to find a Pagan perspective being voiced in books or blogs that
    speaks to these questions of conversion from Christianity to Paganism.”

    That is because every Pagan I know has entirely different experiences. Personally, I realized Christianity was no longer “working for me” and began seeking out other possibilities including the Eastern religions and Native American beliefs. On learning about Paganism from friends something “clicked” and I began to research more about it. I then discovered what I had been thinking and feeling for most of my life fit that spiritual paradigm. I also realized that most of these ideas and emotions had been with me for my entire life in spite of my “Christian upbringing.”

    As others said, we all experience our contact with the divine in different ways so if I were to publish a book saying “this is how it works,” it would be meaningless to most people. My divine contact can be as varied as a distinct voice speaking in my mind during meditation or sitting at a stoplight and realizing a hawk perched on a signpost is staring me right in the eye reminding me to “pay attention.” During magical/spiritual events, what I feel as a tingle in the back of my head or along my jaw will be a felt as heat in the hands or a tickle in the ear to someone else.

    Paganism will never be a “religion of the book” because, at it’s core is the wild diversity that exists in life. Sure, we could start collect stories of our individual experiences and place them in a Bible-like volume but it would not be scripture meant to be read and believed as “sacred.” The messages I receive from Deity are often only applicable to me and my life. Declaring that “This is the way it should be done because the Gods have spoken to me” to a group of Pagans will get you laughed out of the room. The gist of Paganism is the individual’s relationship with the Divine, not what somebody else says you should believe.

    • I appreciate the comment, Saga. It gives me plenty to think about. The one thing I’d like to ask about is this idea that Paganism will never be a “religion of the book.” 

      Can you conceive a way that an inspired writing could be considered “sacred” without necessarily being prescriptive? I see the connection being made all the time between the Christian texts and the Christian doctrine (rightly so, in most cases), but could we imagine of a way in which there is a sacred writing — perhaps inspired by an immediate connection to you God or Goddess — that is not attempting to dictate behavior or action?

      • Many retro-pagans do treat traditional literature as sacred writings.  Most heathens study the “lore”, meaning the sagas, eddas, etc.  Many Hellenists study Homer, the Orphic Hymns, etc.   Many Hermeticists read the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius.

        But what makes us pagans is not what we read, or what we think about it.  What makes us pagan is what we do.  Paganism in all societies has always been embedded in ritual action.

  • I’m probably in a very similar religious/spiritual ‘space’ to you, Teo. I’ve been a (very devoted) Christian most of my life, and now I’m becoming a Pagan. 

    I don’t know that ‘conversion’ is the right term for what’s going on with me, at least not in the straightforward religious sense. (As a sociological process I can relate to the idea a bit better). As a liberal-radical Christian with a very strong Gnostic influence, Paganism isn’t really all that much of a change of paradigm for me. Gnostics have the Sophia myth, as a kind of mother goddess concept; their beliefs are focused in the esoteric wisdom traditions; they have much in common with many Buddhists and other Eastern traditions. Christian Gnosticism is almost more of a spiritual philosophy than a religion. Which means that I’ve got all these Pagans around me going “Ooh, it’s going to be SO hard for you to adjust to these new concepts…” and so far, it just hasn’t been. It’s a step along on the journey, but not a huge leap off a cliff. So I do think that the type or flavor of Christianity is relevant to the kind of journey they might go on in a process of moving towards Paganism.

    But anyway. Concepts of deity. This is the one thing that *has* been a bit harder for me to get my head around (though not impossible, again because of Gnostic influence).  What I think we need to remember is that the god of the Bible, Yahweh, emerged from a very specific culture that valued the written world extremely highly. (The Bronze Age Hebrew people were among the first to use writing, and their gradual elevation of the Torah itself to near-sacred levels is today reflected in the way that Christians relate to the Bible.) To some extent, our society continues to experience the fallout of that – we might not have had such highly codified legal systems or valuing of academic study, for example, without it. 

    So, for those of us moving into Paganism with *any* kind of Christian influence behind us, we have to remember that we are going to be dragging in our own baggage about the written word. I do suffer from this, too – as a sociologist of religion, I can get critical of ‘unproven’ stuff (like whether the Celts worshipped a certain deity or not) and become focused in the wrong direction, on trying to ‘prove’ it. That’s baggage from both my Christian and my academic backgrounds. And it’s usually not the point. Do my Celtic deities speak to me today? Yes, but I can’t expect them to speak in the same way as a Bronze Age Middle Eastern tribal god. I believe that the gods of the Irish and British ancients spoke to their people in the trees, the wind, the birds and the The written word was valued in an *entirely* different way. I need to start by understanding some of these things if I’m going to get *anywhere* with hearing (/seeing/experiencing) these deities. Even the concept of gods ‘speaking’ is very word-centric. Just like the Bible is: “In the beginning was the Word…” What if we could stop worrying about the written/spoken word, in its modern Judeo-Christian narrowness, and instead ask how the gods sing, do magic, heal, manifest today? Once you throw off the veil of monotheism, and see everything much more metaphorically and esoterically, the word moves away from centre stage. And I think that’s a good thing.

    Just some thoughts on how different the paradigm is between Christian ideas and many other approaches to the Divine. 

    BTW, can I copy this reply to my own blog, with a link back here? It became a mega-response (sorry *grin*) and I’d love to hear what my readers think on the topic, too!

    • I love what you’ve written here. Yes – we are coming from a similar place.

      I suppose I am a bit hung up on the idea of the written/spoken word. It is so central to my earlier religious life, and I wasn’t even a “Bible-based Christian,” as they’re often called. I was an Episcopalian, and we spent a lot of time digging into the text in order to understand its context, its place in the world of its time. All heady stuff.

      I came to realize this morning after posting this that when I was a Christian, working within that more structured, literary paradigm, I had an easier time engaging with the metaphor and the esoteric mysticism on the periphery. I’m not sure why that shift in perspective has occurred.

      • Yep – I’m an Anglican/Episcopalian too. But in that church, too, the written and spoken word is deified. Look at how we process to the centre of the church with the gospel, and shape the Mass around the words of Jesus (which he may or not have ever spoken). We might claim that the experience of the Mass/Eucharist is central to our services, but we sit and listen to three Bible passages before we get anywhere near our direct experience of God. We believe that we have to approach God via the Word (with all the Christian punning on that term). It’s taken me a long time to stop waiting for direct, *verbal* revelation from the deities I only met less than a year ago. It will probably be far, far longer before I can completely shake off the need for a clear, language-defined theology about them. But I do know that I don’t need one. It would get in the way of real encounters. 

        As you say, it’s the ‘heady stuff’ that is a big part of a problem here. Us non-literalist Christians have learned to take the Bible apart, analyse it to death, and then try to put it back together again. When I try to do that with the Irish and British myths, they defy my attempts to analyse and categorise. They slip in and out of focus, as though the gods were playing with me and my need to understand everything intellectually. I love that. It stops me from deifying something that, in the end, was never written as direct revelation of the gods.

        I always had an easier time with the esoteric stuff in Christianity, too. It’s why I partly identify/ied as a Gnostic. Gnosticism, too, can take us to the edge of our literal, literary, intellectual understanding. It’s when we look over the edge of that cliff of our own knowledge, and realise that we’ve reached the end of our capacity for reason, that things start to happen. I think…!

        How do you relate to the myths of deities, if you read them at all? I find them helpful, as long as I’m reading them as a kind of deeply metaphorical archeological remains of cultures that related to the gods in ways now almost lost to us, except where the gods themselves manifest.

      • I’m of the opinion that that Anglican tradition is actually more intensely book-focused than most (all?) other denominations.  I grew up Roman Catholic and came to Anglicanism after many years of paganism.  One of the things I love about the Anglican tradition is beauty of the Book of Common Prayer.  If I don’t feel up to making it to church on Sunday morning, I can read Morning Prayer at home.  And I’ve joked with our deacon (as one of us staggers under the stack of books necessary for *one* liturgy) that Muslims would have to call us “the people of the bookS”.

  • Oh and I’m posting as the ‘wrong’ profile (as always!) – the blog I’m referring to is my http://lightingmycandle.blogspot.com/ blog.

    • And yes – I would love for you to engage your readership about this!

  • Sunnydays1941

    I have been studying about 2 months. I am blogging about my thoughts and progress in embrassing Paganism. I don’t think what I have written so far is what you are referring to, but I hope that others having the same bumps in the road will benefit from my experiences.

    http://croneplace.blogspot.com

    • Thank you for your comment, and for sharing this link. If the writing you’re doing is centered in the new thoughts and experiences you have as you embrace Paganism, than you’re working in the vein I was speaking of. I’ll certainly give your blog a read!

      My hope is to uncover some writing that deals specifically with Christian to Pagan conversion. That’s something I would be very interested in.

  • DeAnna

    Hello Teo,
    When I “converted” to paganism 5 years ago (was a Christian from ages 15 – 40) it was the culmination of many years of questioning the old beliefs, researching alternative viewpoints and opening myself to the possibility of the existence of a different paradigm.  I didn’t want new gods and goddesses to simply replace the old one in a conceptualized switcheroo — I wanted something true to who I am in the authenticity of the Essence of my being.  Since I was fed up with being told by others what to believe, I came to the path of shamanism with great joy: my beliefs about the afterlife, the divine, the nature of the Universe and my relationship to it are all directly informed by what I have personally experienced.  And yes, I have spoken to elementals, gods and goddesses, archetypes, ancestors, animals, trees, rocks, the sun…I love books and I love reading, but I certainly wouldn’t want one “pagan holy text” to tell me what to believe.  After all, that’s what I left.

    • Hi DeAnna — thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I’m reading in your comment, and the stories told by others, that the motivation to “convert” came from a lifetime of experiences that defied the Christian paradigm that they were working in. I get that, and to a degree I share that experience.

      There is another part of me, however, that found great truth in Christianity, and that is – I think – what I continue to wrestle with on this pagan, druidic path.

      • DeAnna

        Teo, history shows us that much of the tenets of Christianity are pagan in origin, from the time that the christians invaded Europe.  I mean, Lughnasadh is the celebration of the Sun of god (as heat and light) coming to earth, impregnating Her with Life, then “dying” (changing forms) and giving his “life” in sacrifice to be reborn as flesh.   

        Yule is the celebration not only of the shortest day, but also of the Sun’s northernmost point — where it pauses for three days (under the constellation of the cross) before rising 1 degree farther south on December 25th.  The three “kings” of Orion’s Belt follow the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, which points to where the Sun will be “reborn” when it rises on that day. 

        The mythology of Jesus is just one more solar messiah in a long line of pagan solar gods that got twisted by those who wanted power and whose story was rewritten to benefit them.  Only if you look at that story from a larger, mythological view is there still much to learn from it. 

        I think perhaps what you’re yearning for is a repository of knowledge like the Library at Alexandria, which unfortunately was completely destroyed by christians.   However, the time is obviously right for such a library to be reborn, where all those who can read can access the sacred knowledge of many cultures for themselves.

        It’s called the internet. It’s already here.  🙂

  • Jorja

    Warning
    this is pretty long!

    Teo
    you ask how Pagans can help converts (specifically converts from Christianity)
    and I tell you we can’t. Part of this is because (most) Pagans don’t believe
    that there is one “right” path of belief, but mostly this is because unlike Christianity,
    Paganism is not a reveled path. I can’t tell you (nor can anyone one else) what
    the meaning of life is, who and what the Gods are, how can you attain the afterlife
    (or even if there is one or a series of lives to be lived). I can tell you what
    I think, give you my opinion, and point you in a direction to find these answers
    for yourself, but ultimately you (the convert) is responsible for figuring this
    stuff out.

    Some
    religions (Christianity is by any means the only one) gives you all the answers
    and the hard part is walking the path between what is “right” no matter how
    hard it gets, and having been Christian I can tell you that can be pretty damn
    hard sometimes. In Paganism the hard part is finding the path because there are
    so many. In Christianity the path is like a labyrinth there is only one way you
    can go the hard part is staying in the lines as you go. In Paganism the Path is
    a maze, there are many ways to go but only one is the right way to get to where
    you are going, which ultimately is the your decision.  A Pagan may have to go back several times and
    start again and re-examine they choice they made in the past to find a new way
    through the maze. As a person who was Christian for as long as I have been
    Pagan I can’t tell you what was harder because each way has its own pitfalls.

    When
    a person converts to Christianity they have to have a lot of instruction and indoctrination
    because they need to know what the “rules of the game” are, so they can follow
    that path. When you are Christian there is only one way to be Christian (this
    ironically will vary from sect to sect). When someone converts to Paganism they
    need much less instruction, because there are a million “right” ways to be
    Pagan. I can’t tell you what Paganism is because it’s your job to find out.

    There can’t be a Pagan testament and here’s why:
    every person has their own view of each god or goddess. Someone who is a member
    of the Golden Dawn has a very different view of the Goddess Isis than I do.
    What is true about Isis to them pisses me off, and what is true about Aset to
    me is all wrong to them.

    If
    someone comes to this path hoping to have all the answers handed to them they
    need to know upfront they are in the wrong place. Probably the ONLY thing that
    every Pagan, Druid, Wiccan, Heathen, Asatru, and Kemetic has in common is the
    belief that no one can tell you what is “right” you have to go out and find it
    yourself. You ask:

    “If the Gods
    and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their
    voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians? If so, are we
    listening?”

    I’m not trying to be a bitch but I am going to ask
    you a question in return: Why are you asking me? If you want to talk to the
    Gods and Goddess go talk to them. Talk to them in words and songs and dancing,
    and stillness. Talk them at their shrines at alters, on mountains and standing in
    water, in your head and out loud. Talk to them in general and to Gods and
    Goddess in specific, and as much as you talk listen with your ears and your
    heart. And if for the first week (or month or year) you feel like a dork
    talking to “nothing because how do you even know the Gods are even there” (and
    you will feel this way sometimes) still talk.

    In my experience they Gods and Goddess do speak to
    us, occasionally through another human, sometimes through some sort of oracle
    (like runes, tarot, or dreams) and sometimes they just talk to us. Forming a relatioship is like finding true love, you can’t forces it, you can work for years to find it, the serch can make you feel lonlier then you ever have and drive you half mad, but once you get there it is a sweetness that is worth every second of pain that it ever caused and then some. 

    Teo
    you ask how Pagans can help converts (specifically converts from Christianity)
    and I tell you we can’t. Part of this is because (most) Pagans don’t believe
    that there is one “right” path of belief, but mostly this is because unlike Christianity,
    Paganism is not a reveled path. I can’t tell you (nor can anyone one else) what
    the meaning of life is, who and what the Gods are, how can you attain the afterlife
    (or even if there is one or a series of lives to be lived). I can tell you what
    I think, give you my opinion, and point you in a direction to find these answers
    for yourself, but ultimately you (the convert) is responsible for figuring this
    stuff out.

    Some
    religions (Christianity is by any means the only one) gives you all the answers
    and the hard part is walking the path between what is “right” no matter how
    hard it gets, and having been Christian I can tell you that can be pretty damn
    hard sometimes. In Paganism the hard part is finding the path because there are
    so many. In Christianity the path is like a labyrinth there is only one way you
    can go the hard part is staying in the lines as you go. In Paganism the Path is
    a maze, there are many ways to go but only one is the right way to get to where
    you are going, which ultimately is the your decision.  A Pagan may have to go back several times and
    start again and re-examine they choice they made in the past to find a new way
    through the maze. As a person who was Christian for as long as I have been
    Pagan I can’t tell you what was harder because each way has its own pitfalls.

    When
    a person converts to Christianity they have to have a lot of instruction and indoctrination
    because they need to know what the “rules of the game” are, so they can follow
    that path. When you are Christian there is only one way to be Christian (this
    ironically will vary from sect to sect). When someone converts to Paganism they
    need much less instruction, because there are a million “right” ways to be
    Pagan. I can’t tell you what Paganism is because it’s your job to find out.

    There can’t be a Pagan testament and here’s why:
    every person has their own view of each god or goddess. Someone who is a member
    of the Golden Dawn has a very different view of the Goddess Isis than I do.
    What is true about Isis to them pisses me off, and what is true about Aset to
    me is all wrong to them.

    If
    someone comes to this path hoping to have all the answers handed to them they
    need to know upfront they are in the wrong place. Probably the ONLY thing that
    every Pagan, Druid, Wiccan, Heathen, Asatru, and Kemetic has in common is the
    belief that no one can tell you what is “right” you have to go out and find it
    yourself. You ask:

    “If the Gods
    and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their
    voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians? If so, are we
    listening?”

    I’m not trying to be a bitch but I am going to ask
    you a question in return: Why are you asking me? If you want to talk to the
    Gods and Goddess go talk to them. Talk to them in words and songs and dancing,
    and stillness. Talk them at their shrines at alters, on mountains and standing in
    water, in your head and out loud. Talk to them in general and to Gods and
    Goddess in specific, and as much as you talk listen with your ears and your
    heart. And if for the first week (or month or year) you feel like a dork
    talking to “nothing because how do you even know the Gods are even there” (and
    you will feel this way sometimes) still talk.

    In my experience they Gods and Goddess do speak to
    us, occasionally through another human, sometimes through some sort of oracle
    (like runes, tarot, or dreams) and sometimes they just talk to us. Forming a relatioship is like finding true love, you can’t forces it, you can work for years to find it, the serch can make you feel lonlier then you ever have and drive you half mad, but once you get there it is a sweetness that is worth every second of pain that it ever caused and then some. 

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jorja.

      I understand that many Christians experience being a Christian as a series of instructions handed to them, which if followed will lead to Heaven, and if ignored will not. But to say that is all that Christianity is seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the faith. There’s more to it that doing what is “right,” as I tried to point out in my post; so much of what I experienced as a Christian was in discovering how to be in relationship with the Divine. That was key, and that – in a way – is what is motivating this conversation about Paganism.

      If there is nothing that Pagans can do to help engage a recent convert in discussion about moving from Christianity to Paganism, than perhaps Pagans need to reevaluate when our ideas of individuality are at odds with the needs of our neighbors. We may all have an distinctly individual path, but do we not experience any sense of calling (to use a word that I recognize has overtly Christian connotations) to aid one another in developing their newfound Pagan tradition?

      I don’t take you for a bitch, Jorja. I know you well enough to know that you’re outspoken and bold in your speech. The reason that I ask the question to you, and to all those reading this, is because I find it to be valuable to compare experiences in order to discern whether the interaction I’m having with the Divine is rooted in something universal. If you and I are having different interactions or perceptions of a God or Goddess, does that say something about us, or about the God or Goddess? It is safe to say that it is only a reflection on the individual, but I don’t know that’s always true.

      Plus, when we’re seeking to form relationship with deities from cultures and traditions from which *none of us* originate, our shared experience can help to inform that process.

      I appreciate the subjective experience of finding one’s own truth. But then I wonder – where’s the thread that connects us all? Is there one? If so, can we find it in our religious traditions?

  • Helen

    Hi Ted
    This is a very interesting topic.
    “I have a need for finding some immediate relationship with the Divine, and perhaps Pagans reading this will tell me that this sort of relationship is unnecessary, or distinctly Christian.”
    I know many Pagans who feel the same way and I believe it boils down to personality and personal preference, not religious affiliation.

    “If the Gods and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians?” Please can you explain what you mean by “as does the God of the Christians”? Are you referring to the Bible and/or the priest/minister? If that is the case, you could pick up any inspirational book, poetry even, or spend time in nature to experience their voices.

    • Hi Helen – thank you for your comment and perspective.

      I think in a way I’m speaking about the Bible, but I’m also speaking about the commonly held belief by many Christians that God is moving and acting in the world. There is an immediacy to that belief, and I wonder if there is evidence of a similar belief in the Pagan world.

      • Thanks for clarifying Teo. 🙂

        First let me say that it is dangerous to talk about general beliefs in the Pagan world, so please note that this is my opinion only. 🙂

        I would say that all life and activity on earth exists due to Divine forces, which are easily observable in the forces of Nature. The gods and goddesses, where applicable, are a way to give names and faces to those Divine forces and make it easier to interact with them. To some Pagans they are abstract archetypes and to others they are very real. If you want to develop a personal relationship with one or more of them (which is optional, pure pantheist Pagans do not), you will have to get to know them via reading books about them, meditation, ritual, etc. 

        I also want to say that for me the God of my Christian days (i.e. the main one, “God the Father”) is the same God that I believe in now as a Pagan. He/she was always a pretty abstract figure to me. I never saw God as “the Christian God” versus the God of other religions as some do, God was everyone’s God regardless of what people called him/her. I never ditched one God for other(s), I expanded my view of God and religion.

        • This is an amazing response, Helen. Thank you.

          Talking about beliefs does seem dangerous in the Pagan world, and I’m troubled by that. It feels like defensiveness, or baggage from a tradition that mandated belief. Belief seems necessary to me in order to make a clear decision about action. In saying that, I don’t mean that one must assume a very complicated belief system, but in order to act you must have some idea about what you’re doing, and why. Belief is a part of the process.

          I love your description of the “Divine forces,” and I’m really excited by your experience of the continuity of God between your traditions. Hard polytheism is difficult for me at times, because it necessarily informs the nature of “the Christian God” in a way that is contrary to how Christians understand God to be, but it does nothing to address that change. It just dismisses God as “just like any other god,” which then dismisses most of what Christianity understands about Deity. Perhaps that’s a tactic of sorts. I don’t know.

          Seriously though – your comment is really great. I feel like printing it out and re-reading it. It’s so simple, and it feels to true to me.

  • Kirk Thomas

    Teo, you probably know how I feel about this, but heck, I’ll answer anyway. (smile)

    I think that one of the bits of baggage folks bring to Paganism from the monotheisms is the idea that Spirits are all knowing, all powerful, or always present, which strikes me as forms of social control more than anything else. Think of the myths about Santa Claus, “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” This Santa knows all, sees all, and if you don’t believe and behave, you get no presents.

    We don’t tend to grovel before our gods, begging for any scrap They may feel like sending us. For one thing, They are bound by the laws of nature just as we are. The ancients understood this – even mighty Zeus could not alter fate once it had been set. The gods and the other Spirits have more power than we do, and may be able to influence events for us to some degree or another, but why should They do so? The Spirits don’t exist to serve us particularly, They have Their own existences to worry about.

    But the ancients did understand that we are all in this together, and like human society, even the Gods are bound by obligation and duty. This is where reciprocity comes in – I give so that you may give. And if you wish to hear Their voices, you first need to get Their attention, to make friends, as it were, through offerings, praise, and love.

    But there’s also an awful lot of noise in our minds, and it can be difficult to hear Spirit. Many people like to walk alone in the woods, or in the desert, or by the sea, and just listen. I believe that the overwhelming magnitude of nature can, through awe, open pathways in our minds that may allow Their voices to come through. But what do we do when we don’t happen to have a seashore, forest, or desert handy? Well, meditation can help us learn to quiet our minds. And if we can quiet ourselves, and create relationships with the Gods, we will be able to hear Them. For They are there.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Rev. Kirk.

      I appreciate the reminder about reciprocity. That’s a teaching which ADF offers that I think is interesting, and probably useful in terms of building a hospitable relationship with the Gods. Whether it is absolutely necessary in order to get their attention, their favor, or their aid in our lives and magical workings is something that we’ll never truly know. Every individual’s will is secret, locked inside of their heart, and the will of the Divine may be even more shrouded in mystery.

      I also value the reminder of the importance of meditation. Interestingly, this is the second time today that this message has come my way, so I take it to mean that I should return to the daily practice (or some variation of it) that sustained me for so much of the first half of this year.

      You may be right about omniscience being baggage for many Pagans, and there’s likely a long laundry list of more Christian theologies that one must readdress in order to become more fully Pagan. But, in a way, that’s not what I’m talking about here.

      The beliefs of any once culture — ours or that of the Ancients — seem arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. This is one of the issues I have with Reconstructionism. What does it matter what they believed thousands of years ago? The important question to me is – what is happening in Spirit NOW? What’s relevant TODAY?

      These are questions being asked by Christians to Christians, but I don’t know that I hear many Pagans asking them to Pagans. We’re all about our subjective truths, and some of us find and realize those truths within more formalized, structured traditions (like ADF), but are we willing to inquire as to what are Gods are doing at this very moment?

      Perhaps, as you suggest, this is where meditation comes in.

      Can you speak at all to how one can engage in a dialogue about their personal experiences of relationship to the Gods, developed as they may be through meditation, with a larger body of people, who themselves may be having different subjective experiences of the Divine?

      • Kirk Thomas

        You wrote:
        Whether it is absolutely necessary in order to get their attention,
        their favor, or their aid in our lives and magical workings is something
        that we’ll never truly know.

        Kirk: Perhaps not. But what I do know is that this has worked very well for me.

        You wrote:
        The beliefs of any once culture — ours or
        that of the Ancients — seem arbitrary in the grand scheme of things.
        This is one of the issues I have with Reconstructionism. What does it
        matter what they believed thousands of years ago?

        Kirk: What matters for me is that their ancient beliefs are a starting place, a jumping off point, if you will, or a baseline against which I can compare my own experiences. We, and the Gods, have certainly changed in all that time (or at least our understanding of Them has). I certainly don’t expect Them to be the same. I agree with you about reconstructionism – it certainly has its drawbacks.

        You wrote:
        The important question
        to me is – what is happening in Spirit NOW? What’s relevant TODAY?

        Kirk: Exactly! That’s what the listening is all about. I find that I hear those Spirits I have relationship with far better than those I don’t. Not that I hear all that well – this is hard work.

        You wrote:
         but are we willing to
        inquire as to what are Gods are doing at this very moment?

        Kirk: Of course! Many of us do – what’s what journeying can be all about. When the Spirits come to me, it’s all about Them in the now. How could it be otherwise?

        You wrote:
        Perhaps, as you suggest, this is where meditation comes in.

        Kirk: Yes, it surely helps me.

        You wrote:
        Can
        you speak at all to how one can engage in a dialogue about their
        personal experiences of relationship to the Gods, developed as they may
        be through meditation, with a larger body of people, who themselves may
        be having different subjective experiences of the Divine?

        Kirk: Yes, I see your point. It helps if everyone in the dialogue is actively trying. Also, if you try journeying together, the experiences really do mesh well. This is something our clergy are doing as a group when we get together, and individually (but at the same time) on a monthly basis.

        I see the Spirits as multi-faceted (much like people are), and we only experience those parts of Them that we can relate to – They show us what we need so that communication is possible. The god-forms that we see in the lore are ones that many people in the past experienced, because it worked for them. That doesn’t mean that these forms won’t change for us. Let’s face it, we’re not 2nd century BCE Celts or 9th century CE Norsemen, and we’re going to experience the Spirits differently.

        I still think that we need to have a common language and experience of the Divine in order to talk about it creatively. Working in groups is the one way I’ve experienced (so far) where has happened.

  • P.S. I wrote a blog post “Many paths, one mountain” which touches on the different types of spiritual paths suited to different personalities (not specific to any religion), and different ways to achieve union with the Divine.

    http://mywingsofdesireblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/many-paths-one-mountain.html

    • Wonderful! Thank you for sharing, Helen.

    • Kay P.

      As I’ve been reading this conversation I’ve been frustrated because I’ve liked what you (Helen) had to say so much that I’ve wished you had a blog so I could read more of  what you have to say (but your Disqus username doesn’t link to one). 

      Lo and behold – you DO have a blog! 🙂 Yay!

  • Teo, like you I was born into a Christian setting, and like you I have become Pagan.  My conversion was a long process involving a life-long love of Nature, an intellectual and ethical rejection of “my way or hell” in favor of universalism, and a gradual response to the call of the Old Ways and of the Old Gods and Goddesses.

    I could be a liberal, universalist Christian and be one with integrity.  But I realized I was called to Paganism and to Druidry and that I would do far more good as an enthusiastic Pagan than as a reluctant Christian. 

    Stories are important. We have the stories of our ancestors. We have the stories of the lives of Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols and Isaac Bonewits and dozens of others who helped us get from “there” to “here”.  We have the stories of the big bang and evolution and quantum physics.  But ultimately our religion is not a religion of the Word.

    Paganism is a religion of experience, a religion of the soul and of the body.  Oh yes, our Gods and Goddesses are speaking.   We hear them in a walk through the woods, standing under the full moon, watching squirrels play in the trees.  We smell them in the fragrance of the fertile soil.  We touch them in feel of the water washing us and the fire warming us.  We taste them in the plants and animals we eat.  We feel them in the caress of a lover and the embrace of a friend. 

    How do you help someone who wishes to convert from Christianity to Paganism?  Certainly reading helps (at least if you read the right books).  Finding a coven or a grove or another assembly of like-minded folks is invaluable. 

    But there is no substitute for experiencing the Gods and Goddesses, for turning off the computer and going outside and letting them speak to us, just as they spoke to our earliest ancestors all those years ago.

    • “I could be a liberal, universalist Christian and be one with integrity.  But I realized I was called to Paganism and to Druidry and that I would do far more good as an enthusiastic Pagan than as a reluctant Christian.  ”
      Honestly, John – these words speak to me more than you know. Your whole comment resonates with me, and inspires me to spend a little time away from the computer and out in the world. 🙂

  • Gale

     As you did, I formerly identified as Christian for many years; coming to a pagan perspective was a process of several years and a continual progression of thought and change.  One of the things that I’ve personally found the most freeing is the lack of a solid answer – there are many things that I just don’t know, no one knows and there is great freedom in not knowing.

    “Building a religion” as you put it and building one’s spirituality are two completely opposite actions.  A religion is a framework for a belief system.  Spirituality is an individual’s relationship with what they consider to be deity.  Being unique individuals such as we are, most pagans do not look for a framework.  Building on the experiences of those who have been down the path you are walking before you is fairly normal; turning that experience into a religion is a form of control, something that many pagans will quickly run from.  I think it’s a normal reaction coming from a Christian perspective to consider a set format the norm.

    My personal viewpoint on deity is this:  if you are busy with your life and never calm you inner voices, you never listen to the wind blow, or the bird sing, or the bee hum or the storm brew.  And if you’re not listening, you won’t ever hear the messages they have for you.  If you’re so busy talking,  and thinking, and seeking, you can’t find what’s right inside you.   Most Christians are taught to talk to God, rarely to listen.  So as you grow as a pagan, in whatever path you find your feet walking, you should find your skills in listening growing as well.  In Love & Light.

  • This is not only a good article to open discussion with, but the conversation in this comment section is amazing. I can’t answer the questions as a Pagan, because I’m a Christ follower..but my path is incredibly organic and some might say my path is more on the pagan side than anything else. As one person mentioned, there are many ways to approach the Christian walk and there’s a stark difference between traditional Christianity and organic Christianity. I do understand how much of it is more like a labyrinth than a maze, but some areas of Christianity aren’t anything like a labyrinth. 

    I find truth from Deity in several ways and do not believe the Bible is the only way to understand God. It’s a book that contains several books, stories, parables etc on how mankind viewed God through history. (Even though the history of the bible is debatable). I personally take in spiritual nutrition from various texts, nature, even from movies that speak to my soul. That’s the beauty of this Divine Spirit…it speaks to us through anything. We could each write texts of our own, based on our experiences with Deity and when we share them with others…they might find it spiritually enlightening too…thus making it sacred to them. 

    However….I find the pagan paths to be so refreshing because pagans don’t have this ‘one way to learn it’ type of bible and I like it this way. Once pagans come up with a ‘bible’ type book of their own and make it a rule to live by, I’ll leave it instantly. I prefer to be free. I don’t ever want to get caught up in another box the way tradition fundamental Christianity suffocated me with.

  • Anonymous

    When I was in graduate school, I was a Christian. When I left, I was no longer a Christian, though I didn’t know I’d begun that journey. It was a decade and a half later that I took my first steps along an explicitly Pagan path.

    Here was the core of it, for me.

    In graduate school, “God had a perfect plan for my life.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. It sounds kind of nice, but there’s a problem: it wasn’t real clear to me what that “perfect plan” was, despite prayer and even fasting.

    Furthermore, if I stepped off that “perfect path” it was clearly a step onto a “less perfect path,” or perhaps even an “abysmal path” that would lead to God’s wrath. What if I didn’t finish my PhD? Was that stepping off the perfect path? What if I did finish: what specialization should I choose? I was married — had that been a mistake, or had it been part of the perfect path? Should I have children? How many?

    These are decisions that are difficult to unmake. You can’t just throw away children because you decide later they weren’t part of your sacred calling — well, actually, you can, if you’re a total asshat, but I certainly couldn’t walk down that path and call it “perfect.” 

    Perfection is such a bitch.

    So I found myself stumbling along a windy, rocky ridge, in the midst of a moonless, storm-drenched night; miles and years to walk along the perfect path, with inferior paths dozens of feet below me to either side should I slip even once, and no way back up. Somewhere at the end of the perfect path lay my calling. Assuming I didn’t screw it up. If I did screw it up, there would hopefully be some consolation yurts staked out on a rocky outcropping, at least?

    When I left graduate school, I was in a very different place: still on a path, but this one lay in a broad valley with gently rolling hills, deep forests, grottos and lakes and rivers, a few swamps, a few exhilarating peaks. The path under my feet forked every few steps, and each fork led to a different place. Some places had benches where you could rest for an hour or a year or a lifetime. Sometimes paths would cross each other — more often they would not, and if you set your foot to any turning, you would never see or know what lay down the path not taken. But here was the trick: every path was good. Every blessed path in the entire valley was good.

    PhD or Master’s? No matter. Industry or government or NGO? No matter. High income or low income? No matter. Married? Single? Kids? Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Pagan? Not a bit of difference.

    God doesn’t sweat the trivial things.

    This was an epiphany for me, and not one that set very well with the Christian communities I tried to stay within. They weren’t about walking a winding path through a Garden of Eden. They were about bemoaning the fact that we’d slipped off God’s perfect path in the original Garden, back in the mists of prehistory according to their Book; about begging for mercy and forgiveness, week after week, year after year. 

    Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
    Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

    Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
    That saved a wretch like me.

    Not compatible with Eden.

    Eden has plenty of thorns, but when I have my flesh ripped by the world, I don’t blame the gods, any more than I blame you, Teo Bishop. That would be kind of silly. I don’t ask their forgiveness, either. We collaborate. We co-create. We co-exist.

    That is the essence of the Pagan path for me.

    • This is beautiful, and I don’t really have much to add except to thank you for expressing so clearly something that I might have been seeing the edges of recently.  If Pagans ever put together a holy book, I think it would be composed of stories like yours – “This is how it has been for me.”  As a whole it would be uncohesive and contradictory, like a crazy quilt, but each story would provide a glimpse of another person’s experience of the world, another way of seeing – and maybe some of those ways of seeing and experiencing would stick for a particular reader, and open their eyes to some aspect of something that they hadn’t considered.  I mean, we all have our own journeys, but as our roads intersect surely we can share information along the way without being proscriptive?

  • Tara Miller

    Thank you so much Teo for writing about this. I was 18 when I began to explore other religions. I was lucky to have a wonderful professor who as a Church of Christ minister introduce me to Mathew Fox and Starhawk. “Creation Spirituality” by Matthew Fox helped me transition from Christianity to Paganism. Fox was a Catholic priest who was excommunicated for his views. “Passionate and provocative, Fox uncovers the ancient tradition of a
    creation-centered spirituality that melds Christian mysticism […] environmentalism” (http://www.amazon.com/Creation-Spirituality-Liberating-Gifts-Peoples/dp/0060629177) Fox writes that we are not born into sin. The earth and all life on it is a precious gift. One to be cherished and cared for. His contemplation on indigenous spirituality lead me to reading more about the topic. After reading about imminent Divinity in nature through the wording of Christianity with indigenous examples, I was ready to read more Pagan literature. Tara “Masery” Miller at the Staff of Asclepius blog

    • Thank you for sharing this information with me, Tara. I’ll give some thought to picking up a copy of that book. It looks like it’s a little hard to come by, but I’ll check through the used bookstores in my neighborhood.

      This is the thing — I don’t feel like the truths of Christianity, as I understood them, are in great conflict with my experience and expression of Paganism. Perhaps this is due to the more liberal, open-minded Christian messages that I received, or my own willingness to search out those messages. But, regardless of the “why,” I don’t feel much of the conflict that I know other converts to Paganism feel.

      That being said, I feel I’m still going through a process of reconciling the differences. That’s a part of why this post came into being, and why I think it lead to such a vibrant discussion here in the thread.

      Thank you for being a part of the discussion.

  • Anonymous

    I realize that I am in a minority here, but I have never been anything other than what I am – half of my family is Jewish, the other half reluctant Episcopalian.  I was kicked out of Sunday School the first day for declaring that I was pagan (at age 5 or 6).   Many of these stories of conversion are fascinating to me, because I’ve never experienced anything like that.

    Teo wrote:
    If the Gods and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians? If so, are we listening?
    If you have to ask this, then you aren’t listening.  They speak every day to all of us:

    My Voice is the Voice of the sea; calming, soothing and restful.
    My Voice is the call of the hunting hawk, joyous and free.
    My Voice is hum of the contented bee, gathering nectar.
    My Voice is the roar of thunder, shattering and riotous.

    I am the water that fills the cup you hold, but I remember being the mighty ocean.
    I am the pebble beneath your foot, but I remember being the great mountain.
    I am the staff within your hand, but I remember being an acorn and a great oak.
    I am the gentle breeze that ruffles your coat, but I remember being the hurricane.

    I would also like to add two quotes from Morehei Oeshiba, the Founder of Aikido (from the Art of Peace):

    14.Contemplate the workings of this world, listen to the words of the wise, and take all that is good as your own. With this as your base, open your own door to truth. Do not overlook the truth that is right before you. Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees — should be your teacher.

    and 

    2.  Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.

    • Thank you for your comment, Eran. I’m glad to hear the perspective of someone for whom this experience of conversion is foreign.

      You are not the first person in this thread to say something to the effect of, “If you have to ask, then you aren’t listening.” Honestly, I find that idea a little discomforting. Perhaps some of the discomfort comes from the possibility that you may be right — I may not be listening. But it also feels like an enigmatic response to what — in my mind — is more of a practical question. I’m not sure if that makes sense.

      I was never a “literalist” Christian, and yet I find myself searching for something less amorphous, less metaphoric; something more inscribed in text. This letting go of the primacy of text — even if I wasn’t interpreting it literally — is more challenging than I’d thought it would be.

      You present text to me in this comment. Not “sacred” in the way that biblical text is considered to be sacred, but text about the sacred in the world. The text reflects on the divine nature of nature, and this is another common theme in this comment thread.

      What I like about the #14 quote you listed was the idea that everything is the teacher, including the holy books and the wise people. I think I may be more comfortable approaching my spiritual path right with a sense of radical inclusion — “…take all this is good as your own.” Assessing what is good requires the type of inquiry that fuels my writing, I think.

      • Anonymous

        Teo – 
        The biggest thing that I can offer as far as perspective goes, is this:

        The Gods are around you.  You are sitting on Her, your Mother.  That stone that you kicked out of the way on your way to work remembers being part of the ocean bottom, of being thrust through thousands of miles of molten metals, of being violently ejected from the death throes of a distant star, of being born in fire.  Next time, pick up that stone and listen to its story – a tiny fragment of granite on an alluvial plain has traveled thousands of miles, carried on the back of rivers of ice, been worn down by the march of millenia from mighty boulder to humble pebble.  Imagine the tales it can tell you!

        My first two teachers were Grandfather Boulder (as I called Him) and the Daughter of Woods and River (my name for the spirit of the lake my parent’s house is next to).  Grandfather Boulder is a glacial erratic, a basaltic pyroclastic boulder sitting on the hill of granite.  Daughter is a man-made lake, built in the late 1790s by combining several smaller ponds via dams.  Both taught me that in order to really learn, the first lesson is always listening – and not just in an everyday ‘sit down and shut up, open your ears’ way, but rather an opening up of your ‘self’ – silencing your thoughts, silencing your opinions, and allowing everything to simply flow, to simply… experience… life, the Divine, whatever.

        I definitely recommend ‘The Art of Peace” as a useful guide – Master Oeshiba certainly knew the lessons that I am struggling to enumerate.  

      • kenneth

        I suspect what you’re having a hard time adjusting to is the fact that paganism, for the most part, is religion without middlemen and translators.  We don’t have prophets and exclusive authoritative religious texts telling us what “God really thinks” because we have no need of them. Our gods speak to us directly and as truly as they would any appointed caste of clergy or prophets. They ARE speaking to us all the time. 

        Listening is an acquired skill.  What may be frustrating and discomfiting to you is that they most often are not speaking to us from a burning bush on the mountain or in King James English read to us on a Sunday morning.  Their voices come to us in many more subtle ways, and in the omens and manifestations of the natural world that we have spent 300 years learning to tune out. 

         A lot of people come to pagan paths from Christianity figuring they’ll just find a kinder gentler version of what they already had. ALL such folks who hold to that idea sooner or later leave disappointed. What we have, in its many forms, is radically different from Christianity. It poses different questions and uses different methodologies to approach them. We don’t have salvation to sell nor the step by step plan to attain such a thing all written out for followers.  We do have some very good writings, both ancient and modern to draw on, but no statute book that someone will read to you once a week and then say if you’re saved or not.

        Paganism is a very different set of paths and a very rewarding one, but it doesn’t resonate with everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

        • Thanks for the comment, Kenneth.

          I don’t think I’m having such a problem with the “direct connection” aspect. I actually don’t come from a Christian tradition that says that lay persons cannot be in connection with the divine without an intermediary. So, that isn’t really what this is about for me.

          You have a point — listening is an acquired skill. Again, though, I feel like you’re mischaracterizing my experience based on your preconceptions. In fact, I was the person sitting in the pews during Sunday service who was thinking that the Divine was bigger than my one tradition would allow. [Incidentally, I think it could be argued that the burning bush is a wonderful example of animism. 🙂 ]

          I’m not approaching this as you think I am, or at least as you’re portraying me.

          When I’m asking about how the Gods speak, or holding up the differences between Pagan thinking and Christian thinking, I’m doing so in order to be more engaged with my path. My Pagan path. That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

          • kenneth

            I’ll back up a couple of steps and concede that I’m not certain what your core concern/struggle is in regards to the pagan path or religion in general.  Is it just generally speaking the issue of how to form the right relationship with divine or how to discern when it/they are really speaking to you?

          • More than anything, it’s about engaging in a deeper conversation about what we practice and what we believe; about our preconceptions and our definitions. It’s about a deeper level of engagement, which for me sometimes means being willing to examine what about my thinking is still very much “Christian,” and what about my former Christian identity was very much “Pagan.” 

            So, it’s complicated. But, complicated-good. 🙂

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  • Reading this post and the conversation in the comments has my brain stirring quite a bit with a lot of different things to say.  I’m going to try to shape it into some semblance of coherence, but please forgive me if I wander rather a bit.

    I’m not a convert to Paganism, so I feel some concern that I don’t have much to offer by way of help with regards to the conversion process, but I can tell you that, from my experience, learning *how* to listen is the hardest bit.  Yes, there are those among us who hear a calling to help Seekers (and I don’t hear “calling” as an overtly Christian word, either), but there’s a lot more at work here, I think, than a paucity of folk hearing such a call to service.

    Talking about belief and personal experience can be a very tricky thing amongst Paganfolk, particularly in a written medium.  So many modern Pagans /are/ converts, so many of them have come to Paganism as a /rejection/ of Abrahamic faith, and many of these converts hold sufficient animosity toward said Abrahamic faith that anything that has so much as a vaguely Abrahamic-shaped shadow can result in some very strong reactions.  So, many don’t feel particularly emotionally safe talking about their direct spiritual experiences (will I get laughed at?  Will I get yelled at?  Will someone tell me I’m “doing it wrong”?)… further, there are those among us who, for various reasons I’m sure Maslow could speak to more eloquently than I, regard any definitive statement that isn’t disclaimed nine ways to meaninglessness as, if they differ from said statement, /they’re/ “doing it wrong”, which is, I suspect, part of what provokes those strong responses in the first place.  All of which combine to ensure that many folks are loathe to write about their experiences.

    Beyond that, it’s challenging to put such ephemera into words.  How do you describe the voice of the wind when it whispers to your heart?  How do you explain the sleep-creaking voice of a grand old willow tree in the autumn as she’s going dormant?  So much of it is impressions, fleeting images that draw themselves in the mind’s eye… at least, that’s how it works for me.  I have friends who seem to have easy and quite casual conversations with Gods and Spirits, just as warm and informal and directly verbal as I might have with a friend over a cup of tea.  I envy them this, and often ask how they get such effortless-seeming relationships with the Spirits and Gods… most often, I’m told that that is “just how it is” for them.  Knowing that it is different for me from how it is for others, I would be disinclined to try to write a book or blog post about it.  I can imagine others might feel similarly hesitant, no matter where on the spectrum their communication falls.

    So, no, we *don’t* have a lot of written work about that, how to do that, or what people have heard in answer to their own questions, you’re absolutely right.  It tends to be taught as an oral tradition, handed down from teacher to student, or something that someone without a teacher needs to stumble through and pick up on their own through trial and error and a fair bit of effort with little to no real guidance.  Ted Andrews, for all his faults, did try to teach this sort of thing in his work… but, take a look at how he’s regarded by many outspoken folk.

    Should we change that?  Definitely.  I don’t know how many people will be willing to step forward to enact such a change, though.

    You asked about people who are working to experience and /converse/ with the Gods as they exist today.  I think you might find the work Janet Ferrar and Gavin Bone are doing of late interesting and potentially enlightening.  When last I heard, they were engaging in a series of possessory / channeling / invocational sessions (pardon my clumsy verbiage here, I don’t remember exactly what they called it) with Hekate.  I don’t know if  or how they’ve been recording them, but it seems to me that it might be of interest.  

    To speak more directly to the specific question of resources for the recently converted from Christianity, I would imagine that some of the trouble in finding such comes back to the rejection of Abrahamic faiths (and their shadows) resulting in people not wanting to produce resources that might in any way be taken as proselytising.  Even the very word “conversion” in this context has a tremendous amount of baggage.  You’ll find a lot of folks will tell you (quite vehemently) that you need to “let go of all that Christian paradigm”, to a degree that makes one sometimes think they would have you chuck the baby with the bathwater rather than risk even thinking about having the slightest vestige of Abrahamic dust clinging to the hem of one’s robe.

    I think they forget that all paths contain within them, somewhere, a kernel of the Truth.  There is beauty in that path, there are a number of things to be honoured, and there are things from that path that you can carry with you without being a sekrit Abrahamic.

    Whilst you walked that path, you experienced an immediate relationship with the Divine.  Your soul still longs for such immediacy and relation.  Reflect on what gave you the strongest feelings of having such relationship and communion.  Consider the Gods you walk with now.  What would give you that same sense of relation?  

    It can be easier to go into the wild places, the liminal spaces, to undertake the shift to an altered state of consciousness… walking meditation on a beach, or in the woods, seated meditation by a lake, river or stream… some place sacred to your new path and your new Gods.  Go at dawn or dusk or some other time that will help you slip between the worlds.  Prepare a chant or mantra, have a fire or gaze soft focus at a candle flame… do whatever helps you to calm the chattering, analytic portion of your mind, occupy it or otherwise get it out of the way. 

    The Divine is no less present, no less immanent and manifest, now than when you walked another path.

  • Kilmrnock

    This is an interesting Discussion.I too am a convert from Christianity. Altho i must admit for almost 10 years b/f i found paganism i was agnostic.What sent me soul searching was a near death experience. I nearly died in a riptide at a local beach.After talking to many clergy, a online freind of mine from a scifi chatroom suggested i look into paganism . To no real surprise many scifi fans are pagan .For Almost 25 yrs now i’ve been one my pagan journey , was solitary at first , sorta wiccan , that morphed to warrior , now to Druid warrior, ADF /Sinnsreachd . i follow the old Celtic ways as best i can in the modern world , quess you could say i’m sorta Celtic Recon. As an ethnic celt these ways are secound nature and a natural fit to me. the Celt/Gael mindset works well /fits me . My spiritual journey has been long , strange and sometimes painful. But as a song i remember said its wisdom for the pain.I have felt our gods in ritual and been touched deeply never as before . I have a few deep experiences i can share . Last year just b/f  yule my father passed . He had a long declining illness w/ alsheimers .  At our yule ritual i went to our ancestors alter and asked them to welcome my dad and grant him an easy passing. The next  mourning he passed in his sleep.Also i just within the last 6 months had a heart attack. While at the Hospital in the throws and pain  i called to my gods while the docs were working on me . Danu , Bridhid, and the Dagda came to and comforted me as my stent was put in.I could clearly feel thier presence as i lay there in surgery.They don’t put you completly under for this type of proceedure i was under local , but not out .these kind of experiences tell me our gods are real , as are our ancestors and nature spirits . i must admit i could alway feel the presence of spirits while out and about in the nature , even as a child .Just didn’t have a name /explaination for what i felt .Now  i am home , where i belong .     Kilm

  • How does a Christian become a Pagan,
    Gradually.  That’s the core truth of it.  The paradigm of conversion in Christianity is Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.  But that’s not even the truth for most Christian converts.  In a real sense a Christian becomes a pagan by practicing some form of paganism…even if that practice is just taking long walks in the woods.
    and how do Pagans help Christian converts through that process?
    By being there for each other.  By caring and sharing and calling each other on our shit.  That’s why so many strands of modern paganism encourage the formation of intimate ritual groups, so we can nurture each other.  This is why I’m the co-coordinator for a monthly social here, called Pagans Night Out.  (It’s certainly not that I don’t have anything else to do with my time.  I always have too much on my plate.)  But so many pagans here don’t have the support of a ritual group.  So PNO gives them the opportunity to meet and build relationships.

    If the Gods and Goddesses are real and present in the world,
    where do we turn to hear their voices? Do they speak, as does the God
    of the Christians? If so, are we listening?

    You know, the answers here aren’t all that different for pagans and Christians.  The holy powers* are always present and always acting and always speaking.  The Holy Spirit is always present and always acting and always speaking.  We need to pay attention to not miss the messages.  One of the central purposes of creating sacred space at the beginning of ritual is to attune our attention to catch those messages.* My paganism isn’t limited to gods.  The holy powers include the gods, the ancestors, the nature spirits, and many more.

  • Ameth Jera

    I was a mainstream Christian minister who converted to Paganism.I discovered earth-based spirituality in my teens. I had always been spiritually connected to Nature, that’s where I’ve had my most enlightening moments with the Divine. My understand of Immanence has always been liberal and broad; I have degrees in Christian theology, comparative religion and Jungian psychology, so it was more of a natural progression for me to come to where I am today.

    My experience as both a Christian and a Pagan are interwoven throughout my on-going blog, Broom with a View at : amethjera.blogspot.com.

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  • Ragangarland

    When I decided to step away from Christianity I went through
    some of the very same issues.  It
    bothered me not to have a deity to communicate with.  I experimented with other beliefs and kept tweaking
    them to fit mine when it dawned on me it was important to follow my heart allow
    it to lead me to my inner truth. 
    That
    lead me to Paganism.  In a sense I didn’t
    convert to Paganism I was a Pagan before I knew I was a Pagan, I just found home..
    At least I found home for now… I’m a Pagan because it feels right. It also
    feels right to converse with a deity,  I
    do, my Spirit Guides, when I first decided to call them my “Spirit Guides” it
    felt weird because it was not the norm for me, but it is now.  I call them my “Spirit Guides” because not
    only are they “Spirits” that “Guide” me they are “Guiding my Spirit”..

    Making changes is always uncomfortable at first change is
    chaos, and change is necessary, The best advice I can give you is follow your
    heart.. Do what feels right even if it feels strange.  If you want to talk to a Deity Talk to one,
    even if you have to say I’m not sure who you are but I know that your there.

    I don’t believe in “God” the same way as others do but there
    is a common denominator.  To me what we perceive
    as God, Goddess, “The All” is The Ultimate Energy Source that started it all
    All Things came from that Source, including us, plants, animals molecules etc.  Therefore we are all one, we are all connected
    and Prayer, Meditation, Mantras etc are ways of communicating with The All…

    Although we are always in commination we are not always “Aware” of it.  Sometimes we need to take time out take Awareness
    of it..  It’s okay to be Pagan and
    Communicate with a Deity, Other Pagans communicate with their Gods… Heathens Communicate
    with the Norse Gods/Goddess of their choice like Oden or Thor or Freya etc.  Wiccan’s communicate with theirs. Etc.

    I choose no particular denomination, I just say Pagan, it
    allows me room to breathe and grow in accordance to my inner beliefs and my
    heart.   Therefore Follow Your Heart…. I hope this
    helped.

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  • I’ve decided to post my thoughts before reading any comments, so what you read here is from my own mind.  Upon reading your words, I felt the anger boil in me. Not in a bad way, I feel I have always been angry – anger fuels me. I also feel that is how I realized I was a Witch in the first place.

    (Edit: Please understand that I use pagan and Witch interchangeably, but being a pagan doesn’t mean you’re a witch, I just feel that way personally. Also, I apologize that I jump around… my brain just kinda spills stuff out 🙂 )

    The Gods have been speaking to me since I can remember. I grew up in a wonderful home, as it pertains to this, I grew up with a non-practicing Jewish father and a Methodist mother. On Christmas and Easter I would go with my mom to church so she wouldn’t have to go alone. I remember attempting to read the bible… I got through maybe 2 pages of genesis when I closed it deeming it unneccessary to read any further. I am a firm believer in science and well as believe in the magickal mysteries of the Universe. It makes it hard to believe what the bible says. I have always loved mythology. Always. I rejected genesis as I just cannot believe that women were created from a rib of a man. It goes against my very nature to even try to understand how any woman could be okay with. But that’s another story. ^_^

    While I have journeyed on my path, I have changed and evolved as I have aged (I’m 25 now but found my calling when I was between 11-13.) The path I chose is my very own, of course the label would be eclectic. The Gods speak to me every day. I think the best part of being Pagan is that you don’t have to believe what someone tells you to believe. By obtaining knowledge you are speaking with the Gods. Knowledge is Truth, without it you’re just doing what you were told to do/believe. By being Pagan, you are allowing yourself the right to believe what YOU want, not just because some old guy wrote it in a book to control the population.

    I believe in reincarnation so I believe that my soul is that of a witch’s therefore can never truly be of any other path. I also believe that once my soul is done learning it will dwell with the Gods… So in turn, I am of divinity, I am not saying that I am a God but I have the divine spark that I carry within my soul.

    I’ve had Christians try to tell me that maybe the Gods that speak to me are really their God or Jesus or something like that and one day I will be open to the Truth. My first boyfriend told me that to be truly happy I would have to accept Jesus as my savior (his version was a bit more elaborate but it’s not important). I broke up with him shortly after. I am not flawed. I was not born with Sin. I told NEED anyone to SAVE me. I am perfectly capable of “saving” myself. 

    That’s another reason I was drawn. The independence, the taking personal responsibility for my life. I hate that “God’s will” stuff. I am the master of my life. While I do believe in the Wyrd Sisters of fate, they do not control my life. I do. No one will take that from me. No one can MAKE me do anything I do not wish to do.

    I think I’ve said enough.. I’m not even sure if I needed to say all that, but in some way I did. ^_^

     

  • So I know I just commented, but in case you haven’t read this, Teo, I really think you should look into it (especially if you read my first comment and it doesn’t make any sense to you as I may have started ranting about past experiences. Sorry about that)

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pantheon/2010/08/reconciling-wiccas-gods/

    ^_^

  • Lore

    I’ll say this, as a convert from Christianity to Paganism, that I feel quite the same. The Christian Bible was such a convenient thing, an easy place to turn to for answers. I still find myself drawn to certain Christian traditions and verbiage. I didn’t leave Christianity in anger, so it doesn’t feel wrong for me to do so. So, as one convert to another, the easiest way for me to get that divine wisdom and guidance has been to listen to that “still, small voice”. In this case there are multiple gods and therefore multiple voices but it’s that thing that was missing for me in Christianity. As a Christian I never heard that voice and as a Pagan I have. I’ve also had visions and other experiences which have led me to write poems and prayers. Our tradition is a living one, thankfully, and while I’m not sure one Pagan Bible would be the answer, I think we will come to have a large body of sacred texts as time goes on. Glad to have found your blog.

    Blessings,
    Lore.

    • Thank you, Lore, for sharing your experience with us. I’m glad you found the blog, too, and I hope you continue to contribute to the dialogue.

      The “still, small voice” is a wonderful guide, I think; one that is profoundly mystical, and not bound to any one tradition. I love that, in your experience, you’ve heard that voice most clearly as a Pagan. That speaks to my heart.

      It occurs to me that Star Foster, the editor of the Patheos Pagan Portal, may be interested in some of your poems or prayers for a new site she’s created. There will be a page to showcase Pagan artistic work, so if you’d be interested in sharing some of that with her you should drop her a line (sfoster@patheos.com).

      Bright blessings to you!