Overcoming Personal Skepticism and Childhood Guilt

To give a little background, I was raised in a strict Christian household. My parents were (and still are) missionaries to India. I even went with them to India on a missionary trip when I was 13. This was an unexplainable wonder and joy to me for so many reasons but also became a catalyst for my religious curiosity, much to my parents dismay. There was a moment on that trip when we had stopped at a store and I wandered into a small Hindu temple next door to it. I was enthralled, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and so different from anything I had ever experienced. I felt things when I stood there. My dad came to find me and I was reluctant to leave. He scolded me quite harshly for this and actually looked embarrassed because I wanted to stay and look around.

I had many books about Greek and Egyptian mythologies growing up (which were considered “safe” because they were fictional according to my parents) and became even more fascinated with learning all I could about other religions once we got back from India but all my research had to be done in secret.

I had never felt any kind of connection to my parents faith and resented them and it very much. Since the Christian religion had been so forced upon me since literally birth, it has been extremely hard overcoming that way of thinking. Even though I don’t believe (and never have) what they do, any time I have tried to set up my own path I feel blocked by so many years of Christian influence.

I feel very drawn to Ganesha, Aphrodite, Hathor and Thoth. I have read so much about them all and continue to do so. I have had a small altar for a while and I have loose rituals I perform. I find it beautiful and comforting.

But there is always a tiny voice in the back of my head that is saying, “This is wrong, there are no other gods! It’s Sunday morning, why aren’t you putting on your church shoes!” It weighs me down and is so discouraging.

I know this is probably something that will never go away but I feel that it hampers any real personal spiritual progress that I long for.

Have any of you dealt with something similar? What helped you overcome it?

Can Spirits Be Man-Made?

When I think of spirits (disclaimer: as a very “soft” polytheist, my view of supernatural entities in general is very loose), I tend to think of wild locations: the spirit of a river, a particular woods, etc. But can there also be spirits for things that wouldn’t exist but for human effort?

For example: Is there a spirit of Hoover Dam? Of the cities some of us live in?

I tend to think the answer is yes, but I’m unsure of the permanence of such spirits, or how they “rank” relative to the spirits of natural phenomena. (On the other hand, what happens to the spirit of a West Virginia hollow destroyed by the strip mining of the mountaintop above it?) I guess a lot depends on your definition of spirit.

I’m so convinced my garden in the middle of Manhattan has a spirit that I’ve named him (Verdanus), his focal point being the green man plaque perched on the ivy-covered chimney, from which he peers out and keeps protective watch on his domain, a tiny patch of roof bounded by the corners of the building, and no further. The fact that he may be nothing more than the manifestation of my own dedication to this oasis of green in a concrete jungle matters not at all.

What I find fascinating is that Verdanus didn’t exist until 13 years ago, when I moved in and grew this garden on the bare rooftop.

On a larger scale in terms of time and space occupied, I think the city I live in, New York, has a spirit. A cranky one, but magnificent nonetheless. But again, unlike natural phenomena like rivers and mountains, NYC is the resultant accumulation of the activity of people (lots of them), and it hasn’t always been here.

(But then, mountains and rivers haven’t *always* been here either; just on the time scale of humanity’s brief perspective, they’ve “always” been here.)

I’m rambling a bit, but I’m curious what other people’s takes are on man-made spirits and their viability.

You’re Gonna Show up to a Ritual in That? (Dressing up During Spells)

I want to talk about what kind of things a person can wear when they’re performing their magick.For me, I think I want something that reminds me of the ocean – a symbol of where my energy is drawn and what I carry with me as I perform. Granted, I know you don’t need anything fancy, but I’m really passionate about immersing myself into my practice, so I’d actually love to try and find more ‘formal’ wear, you know?

What kinds of things do you like to dress up in? How often? Do you feel closer to your practice when you do?

The Ethics of Tourism around Religious Sites

It is 3:08 am in Japan, still not quite recovered from jet lag….

So I went on my first little outing yesterday, and thanks to the wonderful ladies at the front desk (whose English sounds better than mine!) I was able to find the religious spots near my hotel. But here’s where things get strange. I visited the Gasshoji thinking I would be fine to take a couple of pictures, but when I walked in, I saw the cemetery and realized “this is where people keep their dead. People WORSHIP here.” Not only that, but it just had this aura of a place where I should not take pictures. It just didn’t seem appropriate.

I went on to the Benten chapel in Inokashima, but was too busy fangirling to even consider snapping a picture before entering. However, as I was in there, some other Western tourists crossed onto the little bridge and just stopped. They were talking loudly (I couldn’t understand about what; I think they were speaking in French). Then one of them took out their camera and started taking pictures.

And I felt irritated. They didn’t come in and look around. They just stood there and stared like it was another tourist site, and not a place where people (including me, actually!) were praying.

I wonder about all this because I know plenty of tourists flock to the Vatican and other famous churches, for example. That doesn’t make me so uncomfortable, even if the tourists are non-Western and know little about Catholicism. Maybe it’s because those big churches are different from a little Benten chapel somehow? Perhaps because the Catholic Church is a massive sociopolitical cultural organization, and a better analogy would be Japanese tourists walking into a small Baptist church and just gawking at the worshipers.


Your Personal Book List?

So some discussion in chat and a recent thread led me to ponder the following question: If I were to recommend, say, twenty books to someone so that they could become enlightened about my religious/spiritual practice or background, what would they be?

And that struck me as an interesting thread, so I’m starting the thread. If you had to recommend twenty books to give someone guidance about your religious life, what would they be?

(Note, I’m not asking “What are your twenty pagan religion recommendation” books, though I expect that a chunk of most people’s lists will have pagan books relevant to their paths. I’m asking for the books that are relevant to what you as an individual do/believe/know about the world.)

Link Between Maturity and Spirituality?

I seem to have noticed in the past year or so that the teenagers that consciously chose a religious (or nonreligious) path for themselves (without doing it to piss off family) seem to be more emotionally mature than their counterparts who have not done so. It doesn’t even have to be that they’re concrete in the specifics, only that they’ve made the decision to begin searching.

My questions are these:

1. For those of you that spend time with teens (or are teens yourselves), do you notice this at all?

2. Do you think that teens who pick their general spiritual paths now do so because they are mature, or do you think that their spirituality makes them mature? To rephrase, did the maturity come first, or did the religion?

I look forward to seeing your answers!

I have an extra question for anyone who’s willing: Do you think that kids raised some kind of Pagan are more self-aware (and just aware in general) than kids raised JIC?

Peculiarities when you use Tarot/Oracle Cards

I have really, really gotten into Tarot the past couple of days. I’m using my Hanson-Roberts deck, which my parents gave me (best stocking stuffer EVER!). Even within just this past couple of days, I’ve noticed my reading seems to be forming a “style.” And I am gaining more personal interpretations of some things. So I’d like to hear about similar experiences from others.

Since all my divination is a conscious effort to ask the counsel or opinion of either Sarasvati (using oracle cards, tarot, or a pendulum) or Loki (runes), I think I’m having to work out some kinks in using them. Like, I’ll draw a card and immediately get a strong nudge that “No, put it back. That’s the wrong one.” This morning, Sarasvati INSISTED that the last card in the spread was The High Priestess. So I often end up shuffling cards back in and redrawing, as odd as that seems.

Certain cards have also formed definite meanings in my head. The High Priestess trump is a very positive card for me. It is an auspicious omen, and also a symbol of my ideals and values. When Sarasvati demanded that it be placed as the last card in the spread – the outcome – I knew that was an excellent sign. The Star trump is a symbol of Sarasvati’s influence in my life. It keeps showing up in spreads indicating a source of support and guidance. Finally, my significator is the Page of Cups; it works better than using the traditional correspondence, which would be either the Queen of Wands or the Queen of Pentacles.

So…this is just what is forming in my practice. I’d love to hear from others.

If you could give your past self advice…

As I’ve been dipping my toes in witchcraft more, I’ve also been thinking about the start I got in it when I was 14 that led me to quit for a long time.

If I could give my younger self any advice now, it would be to stay way, way, WAY far away from summoning and to not rely entirely on my friend as a learning resource (as he was also learning).

If you could go back to speak to yourself when you began practicing, what advice would you give?

Finding Religion?

Throughout my life, I have participated in more than one religion, and many variations of the ones I have tried. I see this as a natural part of attempting to find my own truth and way.

I know there are folks that say “There is only one right way” as pertaining to various things, and others that say that whatever works for the individual is fine … and then there are all the degrees in between. I have been, throughout my life, one of the “just winging it” sorts, who was very solitary and very internal. I find I am at a spot in my life where I want to change that, at least a bit. Perhaps a bit more community, and a bit more regimen and ritual in my life. It feels right when I think about it.

As I start exploring my own thoughts and feelings as I read and talk to people, I find that I am unable (thus far) to find an exact match of my own belief-set or preferences. So I start something, and then I pull back, going “Noooo, this doesn’t feel right.”

Does it ever “feel right” in entirety?