The town I live in, I’ve been in most of my life. Though I was born elsewhere, I grew up here. From age 3 to 15, a day shy of 16, I lived in this place. When I was a child, from 5 to 12, I went to a local Baptist church. I was like any kid that age. I liked to play outside, play with my toys, watch cartoons. And of course, since I was sent along to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, I was a devout child of Christ.
I began to question my faith around 11 years old, and by 12 it was a chore to get me up on Sunday and send me off. I found myself asking the touch questions that no one in Sunday school really wanted to answer. Questions such as “If God created Earth and man 3000 years ago, then how come the dinosaurs were here first? How did they get here? Why would God create fossils and show that the Earth is older than we think it is without a reason?” I also wanted to know things, as all humans do, like what is the point of it all? Why would God deliberately let bad things happen to good people? And so on and so forth.
The only answer I ever received was “You have to have faith that God knows what he is doing.”
For a curious 11-12 year old who, as a 1st grader took a serious interest in all things dinosaur and science, this is a rather big thing to ask of them.
I left the church at 13. I could not take the blind faith any more. I began my searching for a new belief, a new faith, at this time. I went to my local library and I read up on every religion I could find. I educated myself on the different beliefs across the globe. I found a lot of the material useful and that it was similar across all religions. So these things, I took and applied. I cobbled together a belief that worked personally for me. Little did I know at the time I was starting down the path of paganism.
And this worked for me for quite some time.
The day before my 16th birthday, my family moved to a new town in a new state. I had no friends, and I had no family that I could actually get along with. My dad’s relatives were… not the greatest or nicest of people. What kept me safe and secure at the time was the hodgepodge of beliefs I had pieced together. The belief that there is a reason for everything, and that the Universe would provide.
When we finally found a house and moved in, it turned out we lived within walking distance of a small new age metaphysical store. It was your typical new age shop. Candles, herbs, pagan oriented books, tarot and incense. Knick-knacks and some hippie-like clothing. The woman who ran it was really nice, if a bit too trusting at times.
It was with her help that both me and my mother were able to learn more about our non-conventional beliefs and spiritual paths. We frequented this shop until it closed down, and then discovered one Halloween the small town of Cassadaga, FL. which had hosted a family friendly haunted hike with street vendors of all sorts and open house for their bookstore and hotel after hours. Cassadaga is a Spiritualist camp where the main attractions are the the temple, the bookstore, the haunted hotel, a post office, and the numerous psychics and mediums that populate the very small place. (Seriously, there’s ONE main intersection and a small pond. THAT’S IT.)
In this town, we found a small shop where I would later take a job. It was here we met people that would shape my spiritual education in the next few years to come. But at this time, we had found a new place to expand our knowledge and gather our supplies for our belief practices.
My mother became a solitary practitioner of Wicca. Myself, I continued my hodgepodge, and could confidently call myself an eclectic pagan. A label I continue to use to this day, though I am closer to a Witch than anything else really.
Two years later, I found myself responding to a very small index card sized Help Wanted sign in the window. I was hired less than 72 hours later, and would remain cashiering and acting as receptionist/secretary at this job for the next year and a half.
It was at this time I met Mr. and Mrs. Sekunna, the owners of the shop. Dawn Casseday, a shaman psychic medium. Sherre Wellins, an astrologer and numerologist, DruAnn Welch, a tarot card reader and collector, and Rae Moonwind, a psychic medium on the weekends and a school teacher during the week.
These people taught me so much in my short time working with them. Not just spiritually, but emotionally as well. At the time I was hired I was a completely different person than I am now. I was emotionally numb. I had allowed depression to rule my life. Dawn’s unyielding kindness, even to those who showed her only bile, helped me to start reaching out to people in kindness and love rather than skepticism and distrust. DruAnn’s life mishaps taught me perseverance and confidence in myself no matter what problem arose. Sherre’s carefree attitude taught me to loosen up and not take myself so seriously anymore. To accept that things happen, and I can still smile and laugh about it afterwards. And Rae… Rae taught me perhaps one of the most important lessons of all. To take care of myself. My WHOLE self. To listen to my body and take direction from it rather than put myself through hoops and let myself collapse. To push myself, to my limits and beyond, but to do it safely and in a manner that my body can handle.
Mr. and (now former) Mrs. Sekunna taught me the value of hard work. To stand up for myself and have confidence in my abilities. To expand my horizons and lead rather than be led.
To these people, I am forever grateful. Without them I would not be here today. The only reason I had even left that job in the end was financial. It was, and will always be, the best job I have ever had in my life. I helped others, but also rediscovered myself.
It was the things that I learned in Cassadaga that would see me through the next phases of my life. College, such as it was, didn’t pan out. My depression got the better of me and I had a breakdown resulting in a bipolar diagnoses, medication, and therapy to help me cope with the depression and mania cycles I kept going through. I worked as a scrap-booking and crafting teacher in a JoAnn’s in Sanford, FL for a while. Then, life happened, my family fell apart, and I had to move again.
My mother and I returned to that small town in which I grew up. Sure, we had visited a few times over the 8 years we had been gone. We still had relatives here after all. But it was an alien place. Much had changed, both geographically and within ourselves. Our relatives were and always have been severely Christian in their beliefs. And we had to live in the broom closet while living with them.
During this time, I took a brief 6 month stint back to Florida in search of employment. Had that panned out, I would still be there now. Obviously, it didn’t and I returned to this small town. I lived with relatives again, this time my aunt instead of my grandmother. While living with my aunt, I had to attend church every so often. I did this out of respect for her and her beliefs rather than because it was forced. At least, that is how I managed to muddle through it. I often found myself talking with one of my cousins who was curious about religions and beliefs outside of Christianity. Of my relatives, she was the only one who actually was outspoken about her support in alternative beliefs, but like all of us, did not speak thus in front of her mother.
Educating my cousin on paganism in general was for me a small blessing. The more she learned and understood, the more open and accepting she became not just of myself, but of others. I feel that this small act was my way of passing on the things I have learned along the way, and the values and lessons I learned in Cassadaga.
It was during the time living at my aunt’s house, near the end of that time actually, that I met my husband and his mother. I had taken to wearing my favorite pentacle when outside of my aunt’s home, and when I was not with my relatives. After making a comment about a DVD my now husband was holding at the time, I saw he wore a pentacle as well. He and his mother took notice of my choice of accessory that day, as I did theirs. I was flabberghasted, to say the least. In such a small and staunchly Christian town, there were others like myself.
We quickly became friends, and animatedly discussed our chosen paths, among many other non-spiritual topics as well. And while I now know of others in this community who believe differently from the norm, it is still difficult being a pagan in this community. I find that when I come across people I grew up with, I went to school and played with, I get strange or disgusted looks from them if my pentacle is showing. One man, who while we were in school together was my closest friend, accused me of worshiping Satan in the middle of Wal-Mart and immediately stopped communicating with me on Facebook. Now if he sees me in public, either alone or with others, he turns and deliberately walks the other direction away from me.
Not attending the local churches, as I am not Christian, is also a disadvantage in the job market here. Often I have found myself passed over for less qualified people due to the fact that Person A knows Person B (or a relative) from Sunday School. I do not have any jewelry or identifying markers of my beliefs when I attend these interviews. Churches, from an outsider’s perspective, are a primary networking tool rather than a place to worship. In this town, the church you attend is also a status symbol. The current “high status” church in this town is a local pentacostal megachurch (which happens to also be the one my aunt and cousins attend). While some in that particular church I have met are good eggs, the majority that I have met are egotistical and obsessed with status and prestige rather than faith and belief, even if it means being contradictory to their faith and downright obscene in their ignorance.
Another side-note on Christianity, Churches, and the job market in this town. Our local craft store, the only craft store really, is a Hobby Lobby. It is common knowledge that this is a staunchly Christian chain of stores. So much so that I can legitimately state that I have been discriminated against during the one interview I did managed to get with them, and before and after that interview. The only reason I got the interview was because the store had gotten a new manager and I managed to get hold of him as I was out shopping one day to ask a simple question about a brand of products they used to carry (it was a type of colored gesso used to prime canvases) and we started talking about teaching classes and when the store would be hiring again.
What got me? I said “Merry meet” when greeting the interviewer (a slip-up I realized rather quickly by the confused look I received) and “Blessed be” rather than “God Bless” or “Have a blessed day.” The two customary farewells of the employees at Hobby Lobby.
Not to say that I don’t like Christianity or hate Christians and churches and whatnot. I don’t. Matter of fact, the few I have met who are the good eggs, they have restored my faith in Christians as good honest people. In my personal view, a little misguided, but does not every person believe that about anyone who does not share in their beliefs?
Do the difficulties presented by my alternative beliefs and lifestyle make me reconsider returning to the church? Not in the least. If asked by a friend or family member to join them in attending a service, I would accept based on the fact that I respect them, something that I hope they would do in return.
The basic tenants I learned as a child from attending church still stick with me, as they are present in one form or another in all beliefs I have encountered. Love your enemy, even if they hate you. Show kindness to others, be they in a higher or lower station, it does not matter. Kindness and love are universal to all manner of creature, and all are deserving of it. Respect others as you would like to be respected. Share your knowledge so that others may learn from your wisdom and mistakes. Do not live in regret, and keep moving forward. The future is not set in stone, and it is up to us to shape it.
Have faith. In your chosen belief and path. In others. In life. In the universe. And most importantly, in yourself.