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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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How I became a Pagan #3 - Storytelling


A few years ago I signed up for OKCupid account and was stumped by the question of what my perfect Friday night looked like. Would I go out for a fancy dinner? Would I go to the movies and see an artsy film? Would I go dancing in a nightclub?

None of this sounded appealing to me. Instead, the perfect Friday night I dreamed of had me sitting around a fire listening to and telling stories. I love stories. I love telling them and I love hearing them. I sometimes remember people by their stories, not their names. Like the child-who-fell-out-the-window-and-bounced-off-a-mosquito-screen-and-survived or the guy-who-spilled-soda-all-over-his-girlfriend-on-their-first-date.*

Witches don’t have a monopoly on storytelling; it is part of the Christian tradition in which I was raised. Jesus was a great storyteller. The Hebrew scriptures are full of storytellers, and we did tell stories in my Christian community. We went through familiar bible stories and sought to understand their relevance for our lives today. Sometimes it got old, as in how-to-face-the-Goliaths-in-your-life sermons, but we also found new and exciting angles, background information, and applications for our own lives. And I saw the beauty of the Bible as literature when one of my professors, Ray Lubeck, introduced me to narrative theology.

But my favorite were always the conversion stories. And I don’t mean the “testimonies” shared in church, where we’d hear about how Jesus saved someone from drug addiction or provided someone with a parking spot at the mall. I mean the stories that happened outside of church, after the sermon, the testimonies and bible studies. I lived for those times, when people poured out their hearts and got real and talked about their struggles. I remember stories told at campouts or in living rooms, long after we'd all said our goodnights and then stayed up anyways, talking.

I don’t know why most of our best stories were told outside of church and late at night. Maybe we felt like we shouldn’t talk about the hard stuff at church, or maybe we felt guilty for indulging the self with our personal stories. But those were my favorite parts and I wished we could replace Sunday sermons with that kind of storytelling. I longed for more stories and I didn’t know where to find them.

Nowadays I live in a Pagan community and we don’t wait until dark to tell stories. I’ve grown used to having storytellers around and it wasn’t until last weekend that I realized how much storytelling played a role in my coming home to Paganism. We were gathered in our ritual room listening to a friend. He talked of his time working in theater, his marriage, his adventures as a bed salesman (I'll leave those to your imagination), and most excitingly, he told stories of Witchcamp.

Witchcamp is an annual Reclaiming retreat in the Redwoods of Northern California. If you haven’t heard that I am going this year, consider yourself lucky. I have been talking about little else. In fact, I got so excited about it I accidentally came out to my family, ranting about it IN ALL CAPS on Facebook. The point is, last weekend I realized how excited I was for all of the rituals, the people I would meet, the magickal workings, the time in nature, the drumming and music, but maybe even more so, the storytelling around the fire.

I first realized the importance stories have in the Pagan community in a class I took last year. We had been discussing magickal tools when our teacher surprised us by telling us to “grab a blankie, come closer, and snuggle up”. Once she felt we were settled and properly expectant, she pulled out a children’s story book and held it up so we could all see the cover. East of the Sun and West of the Moon. A candle flickered on the altar and hundreds of fairy lights illuminated the room as we ooo-ed and aaah-ed. Slowly, theatrically, she opened the cover and let the book sink into her lap. Far away to the north, where the land is covered in thick, dark forests and the wind blows bitterly cold...  A dozen adults, sitting in a half circle, eyes closed, listening. It was another moment of coming home, a moment in which the art of storytelling, the need for it, the spiritual practice, was woven into my story.

 

* both are real people, the former is alive and well today, the latter has been married to said girlfriend for 14 years.
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Born and raised an evangelical Christian in Germany, I joined the Jesus Freak movement as a teenager and became a passionate evangelist and worship leader. No one was 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 with highest honors and post traumatic stress disorder. I deepened both my theology and trauma on the road by traveling the country in a big yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music and leading bible studies, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, from Amish groups casting demons out of school busses to Roman Catholic priests breaking into government buildings. I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous Witch in a Pagan community in California.

Comments

  • Camille
    Camille Thursday, 12 June 2014

    I love narratives, too. And I love your blog, and I would buy your chocolate if I lived in the East Bay.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Thursday, 12 June 2014

    Thanks, Camille!

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Thursday, 12 June 2014

    What a lovely post! Storytelling is such a wonderful part of our lives, whether we are telling time-honoured tales, esoteric myths or our own personal experiences.

    I'm looking forward to hearing many more tales from witchcamp in your ritual room!

  • roland morman
    roland morman Thursday, 12 June 2014

    I so thank you for sharing..; ] I needed to hear that because I have journeyed a similar path. Story telling is so powerful and you are right about how people are in church with story telling as a pose to telling a harder story outside. We are now living in a shut down society and it's sad this is why the numbers are down in ALL faiths ....thanks again! ; ]

  • Hobbes
    Hobbes Friday, 13 June 2014

    If you're interested, I'm a Pagan Storyteller from Montreal. You can listen to my stories at http://shorteningtheroad.blogspot.ca/

    If you click the "story" label, you'll see only the stories I've recorded. I hope you enjoy them!

  • Eara
    Eara Saturday, 14 June 2014

    There are so many great myths and lore in the community of witches and or pagans. I don't why we don't tell them more often. I love stories, too, particularly reading and listening to them!

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