49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives
Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Wiccan and Witch.
Like many other Pagans, I was the black sheep of my family. My family were hard-working blue collar folk, with some low-level white collar aspirations here and there. They believed in the ethic of hard work. They were not at all religious, having had negative experiences with the Anglican church of their youth. They didn’t understand the mystical bend that shaped my life and experience from the earliest time I can remember. When I went to my best friend’s Mormon church for the first time, they sat me down to talk to me about it in the same manner that I later would experience when they sat me down to discuss drinking, drugs, and sex.
But I suppose the foundation of my Paganism was laid by the way in which I was raised. Though my parents shunned the Anglican Church they embraced a lot of Anglican values, and I’m convinced that Wicca is what happens when you expose an Anglican countercultural folklorist to Hinduism. I was a Brownie and then a Girl Guide, and as Ronald Hutton pointed out, the woodcraft movement was a powerful influence on the development of modern Wicca. Through my father’s imagination, I learned a sense of wonder; through my mother’s love of the natural world, I learned to find the sacred more keenly in nature than in any human building.
I had some pretty intense mystical experiences – events I would later recognize as higher states of consciousness and satori moments – from a very young age. I was ten, and in the beginning stages of puberty, when the world of the spirit opened up to me. I communed with the goddess of the moon Diana whom I’d discovered from school lessons in mythology. I talked to trees and urged the weather to change according to my mood. I spent hours communing with the lake near to where I grew up. I saw visions in the clouds, had dreams that came true, and wrote a poem about a moment of mystical communion with the Sun King that was the Baby Jesus at a nativity scene in a snowfall on the Winter Solstice; a poem my grade six teacher kept.
My poor parents were mystified. They wondered at my sanity. They worried when I started dancing under the moon with my best friend, and when I started doing candle spells that I learned from a wonderful book by Raymond Buckland that had somehow appeared in my school library. I quickly learned not to share my experiences with them, because it just made them anxious and unhappy. I withdrew further and further into myself, isolated from my cousins, my parents, and my peers.
My adolescence was a miserable experience. I was the girl everybody picked last for the softball team and tripped in the hallway or put gum in her hair. I became anorexic and bulimic when I was about fifteen. When I was sixteen, I exploded into a black leather and heavy metal stage, carried a knife with me at school, and eventually, when the school bully finally degenerated from tripping and pushing to punching me, beat the living crap out of her. After that I was avoided rather than bullied at school. It was a lonely existence.
I left home early, after my mother and I got into a fist-fight. Sometimes days would go by without me speaking to a living soul who wasn’t a shop clerk or a teacher. It was a surreal experience, calling myself in sick for school during my grade twelve year. But I never missed a day otherwise, and I graduated with honours. Then I moved in with my boyfriend, and I spent the next several years trying to forget everyone I had ever known in my childhood, convinced that I was a complete freak of nature and there wasn’t another living being who understood me.
I think every teenager thinks that at some point. Fortunately, it was during and just after that senior year that I finally met my pack of similar weirdoes. I’ve written recently about my discovery of Donald Michael Kraig’s book in my public library at fourteen; at eighteen, I discovered that there was a name for my belief system, or those like it, and that name was “Paganism.” I discovered other Pagans for the first time through the Society for Creative Anachronism and for the longest time I lived and breathed for that group, which is where my “real life” took place when I didn’t have to deal with the miserable, workaday, keep-up-with-the-Jones’ world all around me. How liberated I felt! And how wonderful it was to meet other people who thought like me!
It’s amazing how long it took me to look back at my roots and recognize that I wasn’t really any different from the people I grew up with. Last year was the twentieth year anniversary of my grad class; we’re doing the reunion this year. All of a sudden I am back in touch with people I haven’t spoken to for those twenty years. Suddenly I can recall good memories of the kids from my neighbourhood, playing with them in the back forty at the creek with the tire swing no adult wanted us to use. That Mormon friend I spoke of? She and I are phoning each other now and planning visits. She’s an artist and I’m a writer, and we both dabble in the other field. We have some great memories of campouts on her porch under the stars, and playing with Barbies (which we used to enact stories, not to dress up), and making homemade bread and things. She’s no longer a Mormon.
After sending each other memes on Facebook for a few years, this past weekend, I finally met in person with my cousins and my aunt in Vancouver, whom I haven’t seen in almost twenty years. I don’t really know why we ever lost touch, except that I felt that we didn’t have much in common. But this is far from the truth. My cousin Dina is recently widowed, and we shared our experiences of caregiving for our husbands (I was luckier; mine survived and we’re still together, thank Goddess!) Her daughter Kris is a psychiatric nurse, showing that we share an interest in health and in caring for others (I’m an herbalist and I do counselling work). Kris’ daughter Maddie is a precocious young lady who reminds me a lot of my ten-year-old self. My Aunt Ingrid is very much the strong matriarch I always wanted to be. And wonder of wonders, it turns out that my cousin Sonja, also a bit of a black sheep as I recall by the way the family used to fret about her antics, is an addictions counselor, and she is also a Witch! Guess I’m not as weird as I thought I was, hey?
I didn’t know how much I’d missed them until I saw them, and I was touched by how they all cleared their schedules and made time to see me; even Kris, who’d just gotten off a twelve hour shift. It was a wonderful reunion! I introduced them to my husband and my partner, who is eighteen years my elder; they accepted us all without batting an eye. I was nothing other than myself, and was accepted completely. They made rice and the best dolmades I’ve ever had. We shared stories of growing up together, and of my brother and my parents, who they’ve had more contact with in recent years than I have, largely because they live closer. I told them about my mom, who lives closer to me.
A lot of us Pagans have trauma around our families; a lot of us leave and never look back. But I think the older I get, the more than family connection becomes important to me.
My family was dysfunctional in a lot of ways. My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic; my father was raised by his aunt, who never let him forget what a charity case he was. This shaped my family and our relationships. My parents were damaged by their upbringing. It led to emotional distance and a lot of misunderstanding. I was really lonely through much of my growing up and felt unnurtured and disconnected. I don’t think it was intentional. I think it was just that they didn’t know how to reach me, in part because I made myself unreachable because I felt that they wouldn’t understand me. I didn’t give them enough credit. I was so afraid of their reactions to my unconventional ways that I didn’t want to show them, rather that have the courage of my convictions and demand acceptance anyway.
How many of us do this, I wonder? How many of us are so afraid to be vulnerable to those we love that we bury our true selves and suffer in loneliness? Maybe our families really are intolerant and cruel. Some of us have suffered terribly for coming out of our closets (broom or otherwise). But maybe you should give them a chance. My in-laws are all Seventh Day Adventists. They pray for our souls, but we’re still invited for dinner; all three of us.
Recently, I was agreeing with my partner as he lamented that one of the casualties of the two working parent model is that the women of the family, who were once the keepers of the ties that bind, no longer assign as much importance to this duty. Maybe in general this is true. But in my family it’s still alive and well; I’ve just been disconnected from it. Coming home is a really good feeling.
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