I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.

Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.

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A Pagan in Bible College

Alumni visit their colleges to re-connect with old friends and relive memories of the good old days. Unless, of course, they graduated from Bible College and then left the faith. In that case, visiting the college feels more like being a stranger in a strange land.

Eight years after earning a BA in theology and biblical languages I returned to Multnomah University as a Pagan. After leaving my Christian faith, I lamented that my theological education was a "waste of time". But with my embrace of Paganism my perspective changed. It didn't take long for me to discover that my theological education was an invaluable asset for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Pagans.

So I went to Multnomah University to meet with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of New Wine, New Wineskins, author of Connecting Christ, and a Patheos blogger deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue. I had been following the growing dialogue between Pagans and Christians on Jason Pitzl-Water's blog The Wild Hunt and was excited to meet with Paul. 

Paul was very pleasant to speak with and time flew as I answered his deep and interesting questions. I hear the question "so how did you go from being a Christian to becoming a Pagan?" constantly and I rarely give the same answer. There are too many aspects and layers to my journey. Since Paul is a theologian and professor of doctrine, I figured I would provide a very short version of my journey and then talk about Christian versus Pagan theology. 

That was the plan, but I surprised myself by talking primarily about my experience and practice. When Jason visited Paul's class, he noticed that the students' focus was on belief whereas his own focus was on practice. Evangelical Christianity puts emphasis on "right thinking" whereas paganism is more interested in how we practice and live.

Yes, I know this. I know the importance of theology and dogma in Christianity. I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between Christian theology and my Pagan worldview. I thought I was prepared to offer a theological perspective. Just recently I had been thinking about Christian eschatology in relationship to Paganism. Why then did I not share my thoughts on eschatology or soteriology when asked for the theological reasons behind my conversion?

I would start with theology and suddenly shift into telling my experience at last year's summer solstice. I would make an attempt to discuss gender, but found myself relating an encounter with the goddess Brigid. I tried to explain my understanding of universalism and told the story of how I re-discovered worship during a yule vigil. 

In many ways I didn't answer Metzger's questions. I thought it would be easy to "talk theology" and explain my love for my Pagan path from an Christian perspective, but it wasn't. I thought I could simply put myself back into my old mindset, but I only partially succeeded.

Theology just didn't seem nearly as interesting or relevant as experience. Metzger concluded that Evangelicals should probably spend more time thinking about the importance of "phenomenology" in understanding other religions. I agreed, but was disappointed that I had not been able to stick to discussing theology. 

I spent another hour on campus reflecting and writing notes. I made a list of theological reasons for my conversion. I tried to understand why I didn't mention any of the points on my list. Then it struck me. I expected to turn back time and think like an Evangelical but underestimated how much my Pagan path has already changed me. And I realized that I gave the most important answer to Paul's questions indirectly. This is the biggest reason I went from Evangelical Christian to Pagan: to experience the mystery, nature, the gods, and myself fully, ecstatically, and freely, without the boundaries of theology and the restrictions of dogma. 

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As unlikely as it sounds, I was born and raised in an evangelical Christian family in Germany. Everyone knew me as a Jesus Freak. No one was very surprised when I went to the US at age 19 and came back a tattooed and pierced fundamentalist Christian, betrothed to a Chrispie (a Christian hippie, that is). I was a virgin the day we married. Five years later I graduated bible college in highest honors, with academic awards and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I took my theology and trauma on the road and deepened both by traveling the country in a  yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music at festivals, teaching seminars at conferences, and bringing my expanding understanding of Christianity to churches from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America is as diverse as the Amish exorcising school busses and catholic priests breaking into government buildings - I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous witch owning a chocolate factory in California.

Comments

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Saturday, 10 August 2013

    Gracias Annika !!

    For me, Jesus the Christ was a Mystic, Shaman and yes to the Christian the Second Person of the Trinity which i find to be a wonderful mystery Itself- well, me being a Taoist - Shaman - Catholic.

    Jesus said some truly wonderful, mysterious things that some Pagans might find remarkable;...

    Matthew 6:28

    Notice how the flowers grow in the field. They never work or spin yarn for clothes.
    -GOD'S WORD® Translation

    Learn a lesson from the wild lilies. Watch their growth. They neither toil nor spin,...
    -Weymouth New Testament

    Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26-34 NKJV

    New American Standard Bible - John 3:8
    "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

    King James Bible
    The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Sunday, 11 August 2013

    p.s.

    just in case my point was not that all apparent (sometimes that happens with me :p) - jesus to me was not doctrinaire or dogmatic. here you have a person who talks about wildflowers, the wind and birds, not abstract propositions - be they doctrines or creeds. he (jesus) also liked to tell strange little stories - parables about some women looking for a lost coin or kneading dough. and he said something about becoming like a little child. yes, christianity has it's traditions and one can discuss these traditions, of course - and i can dig that but i don't do it anymore. i was just adding another dimension to this topic - that jesus to me was interested in life not traditions.

    in my heart of hearts when some asks me; "what religion, spirituality, path or tradition i take?" i say; whatever warms the heart. what is in the heart. i go there. its more of a discovery of the human heart for me - like looking at a wildflower.

    again Annika - thanks for the fun and interesting post about your journey in life !!:D

  • John W. Morehead
    John W. Morehead Sunday, 11 August 2013

    Thanks so much for this post. It has been great to have conversations via Facebook with you about your journey. I'm glad that you connected with Paul and came to terms with your past Christian theological studies as part of this journey. For what it's worth, I think Christianity is missing the mark when it focuses largely on right thinking and doctrine. While this is an element of our tradition, there needs to be an emphasis on discipleship in following the way of Jesus, ritual in regards to the Lord's supper and baptism, and emphasis on practice in terms of his way of interreligious engagement in more positive fashion such as the inclusion of hospitality. There is also a great need for mystery, an element that get's lost in the emphasis on the rational and in alleged certitude in the faith. Through conversations and relationships with Pagans we Evangelicals can learn more about our own faith, and how elements of our tradition have been lost or neglected in our journey through history and cultures. Thanks again for this.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Sunday, 11 August 2013

    John, thank you for your comment. While there have always been voices calling for a greater emphasis on practice, ritual, and discipleship, my personal journey has been dominated by the emphasis of intellectual assent. This is due to the kinds of Christian communities I was a part of, but it seems that even in those the tides are shifting.

    As you can imagine, I welcome the change. There are many ways in which I will no longer see eye to eye with my Christian friends, but I rejoice in seeing Christian communities more deeply integrating practice, ritual, justice, hospitality, etc. I find more common ground there than I would have anticipated.

    There are some Christian mystical traditions that are universalist, but for the most part doctrine and orthodoxy will remain a part of Christianity. I respect Christians who balance those elements and for a while I was seeking to do the same. In the end, however, I wanted to live without any theological boundaries. It was then that I left the Christian fold in favor for another path, but in the process I have gained a deeper respect and appreciation for various expressions of Christianity.

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Sunday, 11 August 2013

    re:" I respect Christians who balance those elements and for a while I was seeking to do the same."

    yup! - i know what you mean (please read my p.s. to my own reply to your post). i tried to find the commonalities and there are some and i appreciate them. but in my heart of hearts the taoist life was something that finally became for me the center of my heart. When i said " Taoist - Shaman - Catholic" - it was to indicate the wonderful commonalities they can have in some respects.

  • Suzy Jacobson Cherry
    Suzy Jacobson Cherry Monday, 12 August 2013

    Excellent piece. We end up sharing our experiences because experience is, I think, one of the most defining aspects of our spirituality. So many get stuck on trying to explain what they believe and why (to others and to themselves) and forget how to actually connect spiritually with the Divine and with one another. I speak, of course, from my own experience. Read a short blog I just wrote yesterday on a similar subject here:

    http://suzyjacobsoncherry.blogspot.com/2013/08/woman-in-total-control-of-herself.html

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    i read your short blog - thank you for sharing it here. i must say i was confused at first when you said; "I miss being a Witch" and then at the end saying; "The more I think about it, I realize that I don’t miss being a Witch." and the reason you don't miss being one is you "realize"..... "I am a Witch, and always will be." i finally got it after a second reading.

    re: "It understands that standing beneath a full moon chanting about the relationship of our spirits to the waters of the ocean is as true an experience as standing in a sanctuary singing about the relationship between the Christ and the Church."

    a wonderful and unconventional statement/vision - you have a fluidity between the Church and "the Craft".

    p.s. and thank you for mentioning Lao Tzu - the author of the Tao Te Ching.

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