Mystic Wicks is a lively online Pagan community that I recently discovered. In July 2009, Ben Gruagach (webmaster of WitchGrotto and one of the forum moderators) posted a poll asking people about what started their interest in Paganism. I thought I’d share my story.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t grow up in a religious family, but my parents saw any kind of spirituality as brainwashing. And yet, I was always drawn to the occult. The occult shelf was one of my regular stops at the library. I learned how to read regular playing cards as a teenager, and I was collecting Tarot decks even before I knew how to read them.

Painting of woman in red dress holding crystal ball

"The Crystal Ball" Originally oil on canvas by John William Waterhouse, 1902, in the public domain

Occult stores were my favorite places. I was also crazy about crystal shops. I could never afford the really big crystal balls, but I had a collection of smaller ones that sold between $15 and $25 (in the 1980s). Whenever I’d wander around these places, I felt like I could be whoever I was without feeling ashamed or questioning myself. That, of course, was a very different experience from what I had to put up with at home.

My parents were strangely tolerant of my interest. The most I worried about was ridicule. My mother, though, had some interest in the irrational, though it was more about holistic healing. She did go occasionally to a palm reader or astrologer, and she believed what they said, but it wasn’t like I felt I could share my interests with her. I think my father thought it was a harmless phase, but then he had trouble taking anything I did or said seriously.

Occult knowledge, though, isn’t exactly Neo-Paganism, and that was actually something I had to get used to. Not all occultists follow a religion. Neo-Paganism involves experiencing a higher power through rituals and following a set of behavioral codes (basic stuff like “harm none” and “what you send out comes back to you threefold”).

I didn’t really begin to explore Neo-Paganism as a religious practice until I was well away from my family. I began with Wicca, and while I still read Wiccan books and websites, I don’t exactly consider myself Wiccan. Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner were my main starter books. I liked his positive, fluid approach. I think spirituality should be creative and dynamic so that it grows as you grow.

Although I never grew up in a religious environment, I got strong messages about obeying authority. I really didn’t want to think of the divine power that was all around me as some kind of authority. As I learn more occult knowledge, I’ve come to believe that the Goddess and God are a kind of illusion. I really don’t believe there’s any separation of Spirit. I call that unified spiritual energy the Creative Force. The dualistic concept, though, of “female” and “male” energies is useful to us on this plane of existence, so I do think in terms of a Goddess and a God, but they’re not like divine beings that dwell on some higher plane.

I never think of myself as having to be obedient to some omnipotent deity. I think of my relationship with Spirit as one of cooperation. I believe we all receive messages from the Creative Force on a daily basis in multiple ways, some of which we understand and some of which we don’t. In my belief system, the Goddess and God aren’t in any way judgmental. If I screw up, as I often do, it’s only me who’s hard on myself.

Neo-Paganism fits into the worldview that I’ve been working so hard to cultivate since the spring of 2008: dynamic, growth-oriented, creative, adaptive. Very different from the rigid, rule-oriented worldview that I was raised on. It’s a tough transition. I don’t always cooperate so well with Spirit, but I’m learning.