Full Circle

I’ve spent the last 30+ years trying to define my spiritual path.

I never was a traditional Christian, even as a kid. I felt like I was going through the motions while not fully understanding what the motions meant.

I had a really religiously confusing childhood. My father was a completely non-religious former Catholic, but he put me in Catholic school. Kindergarten through second grade. Formative years. I went to a staid Methodist church with my grandparents on Sunday and mass at school on Fridays. The thing that I noticed was the fact that the Methodists ignored Mary except for at Christmas while Mary was venerated at school every day, and Mary Magdalene, a “bad woman,” was a saint at school.

That conflict probably started the conflict in my mind that led me out of church. At school, we prayed to a beautiful Lady. There was a shrine to Her next to the playground. The stained glass windows in the church, the beautiful, European-style old church, featured women saints. The walls had little alcoves depicting the Stations of the Cross. My grandparents’ church was boring, except for when my grandfather got bored and started drawing little doodles on the notebook he kept in his breast pocket. The doodles kept me and my sisters entertained and relatively quiet.

At home, we had no religion, except for the holidays when my grandfather said grace before dinner. To this day, none of us can remember his prayer. If we’re ever called upon to pray before a meal, we just say, “What PawPaw said. Amen.”

My father couldn’t afford two private school tuitions, so when it was time for my middle sister to start kindergarten, my father put me in public school with my sister. It was a dreadful rending. I lost my best friend, my kind teachers, some of whom were nuns, the amazing old church, the shrine to Mary, the female saints. I didn’t understand the public school world. I was bullied. I don’t remember anything of the playground except that there was a big field behind the school, the grass was tall, and there was a hillock some distance from the school. Every day at recess, I started walking towards the hillock. Every day, I got about halfway there before recess was over and a teacher called me back. Now I wonder if that was a fairy hill, and that’s why I never reached it.

Third and fourth grade were misery. Then my father abandoned us and my grandfather put me and my sisters–I had two by then–in private school. In my grandfather’s mind, private school meant higher education. He didn’t know what went on at the school. We were taught that Catholics weren’t Christians and were hell-bound. I was a great reader, thanks to my grandfather, and I was already reading fantasy and science fiction. That led me to mythology, folklore, and witchcraft.

The books gave me back female divinity while the school tried to scare me away from it. Within a couple of years, I was reading about Gnosticism and Mary Magdalene while awkward practicing Wicca. I no longer practice or study Wicca, but I still have those old books, and I’m so very glad that the study of Wicca became the study of paganism and witchcraft.

And then I got angry with my Goddesses because I didn’t heal from a devastating illness that took my ability to become a mother. I married a man who was a Buddhist. I, of course, became enamored of Kwan Yin. He was a severe Zen Buddhist and mocked anything that elevated the feminine. I came to the point that I gave up Buddhism and tried to go back to paganism. He wouldn’t let me. A Divine Feminine scared him. His family was Protestant, his former in-laws Catholic. I went to a religious store and bought a rosary and a figurine of Mary. Rosa Mistica. I still have both. We didn’t talk about religion.

I left him when his abuse went from verbal to controlling to sexual to physical to life-threatening. Back home in North Carolina, it is best and safest to appear to be some variety of Christian, but Catholics still are not considered Christians. I continued to study Gnosticism until I got so confused that I stopped. I remembered Wicca, paganism, and witchcraft. I stepped back into that world. I was drawn to goddesses from the Irish and Welsh pantheon. It felt right. It still does. It is partially my heritage. It resonates in my bones. I started studying re-constructionist paganism. I tried to follow the Old Ways and it felt right, but constricted at the same time.

I met a few goddesses with whom I connected. I learned so much about goddess archetypes. I met a witch online whose passion was Tarot. I had the Rider-Waite deck. In discussions with her, I became more interested in Tarot and oracle cards. She told me not to assign specific names to the goddess image I placed on my altar so that I could call upon any Goddess using one featureless statue.

That did not sit right with me. I had already connected with Rhiannon and The Morrigan (I do not choose difficult goddesses, they come to me). I was also still interested in Gnosticism and Mary Magdalene. She dismissed that. I tried to. I tried to put Mary and Mary Magdalene away in a box, actually a box, with my little figurines and rosary. I spent the last almost four years building a strictly pagan practice. I used my container gardening skills to create a small meadow surrounded by trees, a holy place where I could go and be alone with my Goddesses.

The meadow remains and becomes better each year, but I’ve been driven inside by asthma and hostile neighbors. I created a little “outdoor” space on my big altar/shrine that takes up my dresser. I fell in love with an odd green statue of Mary that seems to me very pagan and reminds me of the Mary at the church school of my childhood. I have also, over the years, collected many angels, large and small. Please understand that, because I can so seldom get outside, my altars are outside to me. I bring in leaves and sticks covered with lichen and six clover to put in a vase because I can’t spend the day outside wandering or sitting on my fallen tree.

I spoke on my Twitter account about my inability to shake Mary Magdalene. Someone suggested that She might want to stay with me and recommended a book, Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews. I’ve started reading this book and immediately pieces began clicking in my mind. I look at my black angels and see the Black Virgin. I look at my green Mary and see the Great Mother. I see specific goddesses and archetypes (the Crone, the Cailleach,) the Fair Folk, the Queen of the May. In the little angel I finally took off the grave of my cat, Mika, seven years after Mika’s death, I see the Goddess of the Underworld. In a remarkably non-religious angel, I see Arianrhod transforming into a tawny owl. And there is Nemetona, or perhaps Rauni, emerging from a tree trunk. Does it matter? I thought that Nemetona came to me at that shrine to Mary when I was six years old. Maybe it was Mary, or Mary Magdalene, or The Goddess. I no longer believe in a strict reconstructionist hierarchy, although the knowledge contained in books about the subject is priceless. I find myself believing in a Mother Goddess, Gaia, someone who doesn’t carry the burden of a specific mythology.

I also still devote myself to Rhiannon and The Morrigan, who stand side-by-side on their own altar. And yet a tall Black Madonna and a relatively tiny black angel/fairy stand side-by-side on my big altar.

I read. I work spells. I follow each day’s astrological information. I have recently started studying Tarot and oracle cards in earnest. I am working on a story about a witch who isn’t The Chosen One and only has the powers she’s developed through years of study and practice. I’m tentatively working on art that might possibly one day evolve into an oracle deck.

I did the hardest thing this week. I placed a small statue of Kwan Yin on my altar. My ex-husband terrorized me into rejecting anything related to Buddhism. I altered a mala for Her. I put a jade pendant in Her image onto a rosewood mala. I’ve come full circle. I regret so much my physical inability to spend hours outdoors, but I celebrate moving past old fears, and making sacred spaces inside that feel like outside.

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