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.
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