Religion stopped being of much importance around the time D stopped writing to me. I started actually dating, hanging out with friends, being a normal teenager. Even getting into trouble now and then. Nothing serious, mostly just sneaking around with my friends or breaking curfew.
It was around that time that one of my girlfriends first got me interested in Wicca. It was very appealing to me, because the anti-woman attitudes I’d found in Christianity were one of my main objections. Plus, the atmosphere seemed so much more welcoming. When I’d gone to Bible study groups, I’d felt judged and found wanting. When I hung out in the “pagan store” in town, I felt welcome. I loved the smell of the incense and candles, and all the beautiful goddess imagery.
I would skip class (can you imagine doing that in a class of five students?) and hang out at the pagan store for hours, and took a pile of books by Scott Cunningham and Silver Ravenwolf with me to college. I studied many different Pantheons and mythologies, feeling more “at home” with these spiritual paths than I ever did with Christianity. It just seemed to make more sense; seeking the divinity in nature and humanity rather than in a self-contradictory book of rules from the Bronze Age. It seemed a bit more scientifically plausible as well, considering that nature was something you lived in harmony with, not struggled against.
I couldn’t really commit to it though. Part of it was that whole “busy living life” thing. I was in a tumultuous and somewhat abusive relationship and was living away from my parents for the first time. I was still very sheltered and straight-edge; I had deliberately chosen a small university, close to home, with no Greek community. It also was (and is) the only “dry” campus in the only “dry” town in the state of Oregon. It was not a school where one went to party.
But there was another layer. Despite all the recreational reading I had been doing, and as drawn to Wicca as I felt, I couldn’t quite identify myself as one. I had this lingering, nagging fear that somehow, Jesus (who I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in) would be disappointed in me. Not that I’d go to Hell, exactly, but that somehow He would disapprove. Even though He doesn’t exist. It was very much like when I stopped believing in Santa Claus (when I was nine!); I was afraid to say I didn’t believe, because then Santa (who I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in) would disapprove.
It took until my Junior year to shake that low anxiety about Jesus. I finally realized that Christmas had been just as good after I admitted I didn’t believe in Santa. There was no reprisal because there was no one to disapprove. Life went on when I admitted I didn’t believe in Jesus. But learning about Wicca wasn’t as easy as trying out churches had been. I had no idea how to find a coven or drum circle or anything else like that. Bear in mind, “the web” was still pretty new, and I think I was still using WebCrawler. Even if I had thought to search the internet, the chance of anything in that small town being listed was pretty limited. But I read my copy of Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner so many times I had to buy a replacement.
I took it very seriously (as I tend to). When I felt ready, I planned a fairly elaborate Self-Dedication Ceremony. I planned to have the house to myself (by then, I was living with my future ex-husband). I lovingly constructed an altar, using things I felt were spiritually charged (e.g. a wand made from driftwood from the beach I grew up on). I had a little leather-bound Book of Shadows that I’d carefully prepared. I bought my very first bottle of wine (and it was an extremely poor choice) and went so far as to make a crown of fall leaves. I cast a circle at sunset on the Autumnal Equinox and opened my heart completely.
And felt absolutely ridiculous the entire time.
It just felt absurd. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t stomach the ritual, couldn’t feel a connection with anything. I was embarrassed. I scaled back to a small altar in my bedroom and to doing “meditation” on holidays and full moons. I also abandoned any Magick or Spell casting. I claimed that it was because I felt it was “disrespectful” to do Magick, as it was interfering with the Gods and Nature. In reality, I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief that far.
I think I was probably pretty pretentious at that age. I felt very wise and sure of myself, which is never a good sign. I always insisted I was Pagan, not Wiccan because those were totally different. I didn’t “worship” a specific deity. All different religions are following the same deity, really, it’s just the different systems we use to name the un-nameable! And…feminism! Yay!
I was not completely away from Christianity, though. My best friend and housemate was (and is) Mormon, and pretty devout at that. We would talk for hours about our similar and different beliefs, and occasionally would look up each others religions in the occult section at Barnes & Noble. I felt like I was almost hitting what I really believed, so long as I didn’t get too carried away with the rituals. It was okay to carve some sacred symbols in my unity candle at my wedding to M, but definitely not to have a handfasting.
This tepid Paganism got me through until I had real problems in my life. I was spiraling into some pretty catastrophic depression. My marriage was empty and unsatisfying, my job as a receptionist was isolating and unchallenging, and I was very lonely socially now that my best friend had moved out. I still had a few local friends, but I was just not doing well. I should have gone to a therapist, but instead I got online to fill the hours. And when I had a very bad night, someone said just the right words about how the Mother Goddess was reaching out to me. And that’s when shit got weird.