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Unchurched

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Though my people are Methodists on one side and Baptists on the other, I was not raised in either church. I got formal religious training from a parochial Lutheran elementary school and my own intellectual curiosity. Friends and neighbors invited me to visit their churches with them and I sometimes did--giving me an interesting smattering of all kinds of ceremonies and observances.  My grandmother sang in the choir of a small Methodist church and I sometimes went to church with her and my grandfather. I sat in the second row between him and a former mayor of our little town and I was very well-behaved. Of course.

I have never been christened or baptized because I grew up "unchurched," as we say in the South. One of the best parts of that sort of upbringing is that I don't carry around a load of anger or fear or resentment for my treatment at the hands of a monolithic institution like The Church. And I got to make macaroni picture frames in vacation bible school and I was a sure winner at the Sword Drill.

Can I get a Blessed Be?

But I am one of the lucky ones.  I talk with people on a weekly basis who suffered at the hands of family and church in an effort to keep them on the straight and narrow pathway that leads to a glorious afterlife.  Once these people escaped from that place, they are, naturally reluctant to return.  They have come back to the garden that is the vast pool of Pagan spiritual systems but they still carry with them scars and heavy, awkward baggage.

All acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals--but that is sometimes hard to see when you finish a phone call from home and want to run away and hide.

Modern Pagans are seekers by nature.  We ramble down all sorts of paths and may begin as an Alexandrian Wiccan, move on for a stint in Druidry, plow the fertile fields of Celtic Reconstructionism and finally settle into a sort of pleasant and near-generic Paganism. You follow the Wheel of the Year and have a helpful Pantheon, do a little Ancestor worship at Samhain and get your knickers in a twist when people don't begin the word "pagan" with a capital P.

Nice.

And we love--o, love!--our BNPs. We read their books and attend their workshops at festivals and buy their products, if they do such things.  We all have our favorites and we all have the ones we disdain. We are eternal students on the lookout for the sorts of teachers that don't actually exist--the wise woman or man tucked away on a rural farmstead who invites the student in as a kind of apprentice and teaches all the ancient Lore and Secrets in a way that is difficult but somehow understandable. A sort of Obiwan Kenobi--except one who brews their own mead and bakes their own bread.

So we look and look and get our magical and spiritual training piecemeal and we make it work.  And when those BNPs rise up in the firmament, we are so grateful for their clarity and insight and snark and coolness. We can aspire to that our ownselves--we can blog and teach and...

And then the stars skid a bit in the firmament. It happened with Star Foster, it happened with Teo Bishop and it will happen again and again, as long as we hero-worship people who are, like ourselves, eternal and questing students. To be a fully-engaged spiritual human is to keep learning and growing and rethinking and subtracting. And practicing, always refining our practice.

Sometimes we got from Asatru to Druidry. But sometimes we go from Druidry back to a place that is so triggering for so many in our convert-religions. Sometimes we go home to Mother Church.  And that is scary for those people who left the church in fear and guilt, joyous to escape the prison that was their childhood religion.

Except for some people, it wasn't a prison. It was a comfortable place with a long tradition--a tradition that ones' family may have been part of for literally hundreds of years--the lovingly-held religion of our Ancestors. It may be a place of deepest connection that one returns to--not as a prodigal--but as an Eternal Seeker. It is the place to which some people return with a taste of the wider world, a sanctuary where the weary traveler comes home, like Bilbo to the Shire, with a magic ring in his pocket. 

There are several prayers from Caitlin Matthews useful and beautiful Celtic Devotional that I put together to read as a long prayer at funerals. Nary a dry eye--including my own--when it is finished. It is what I wish for all of us Eternal Seekers as we cobble together and experience and indulge in UPG and make a spiritual life of the bits and bobs that are left to us.

May the road rise up under your feet and lead you, gladly, home.

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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at info@myvillagewitch.com,

Comments

  • David Polllard
    David Polllard Thursday, 05 December 2013

    There are some Pagan traditions which come closer to the social aspects of churches, like the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, or if you're OK with interfaith worship, the Unitarian Universalists. So this there's more to this than just covens and solitaries.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Thursday, 05 December 2013

    Obviously so.

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