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The Proposal | 2013 | Media Matter


Religions are different roads converging on the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? I believe that all religions of the world are true more or less. I say "more or less" because I believe that everything the human hand touches, by reason of the very fact that human beings are imperfect, becomes imperfect.  

-Mahatma Gandhi


Season of the Witch

When you find the right vocabulary.

I had been some flavor of Pagan since I was eleven. I likely was prior to that, but I did not have the right vocabulary to express theology. I could not properly encode my experiences in the language of the sacred, because it was all church quietness and agnostic holidays, proselytizing puppet shows and my mother's assurance that I bawled my eyes out when taken over holy thresholds.

I had always spent any extra money (which is to say, money not earmarked for the childhood guilty pleasures of atomic fireballs, Reese's Cups, or copies of the Weekly World News) at the local Waldenbooks. It was generally Goosebumps and their ilk or paranormal nonfiction, but I then found The Modern Witch's Spellbook. When I left the store to show my Episcopalian father this find, I could tell he was far from pleased, but this fell short of telling me to return it. (Not that this would have done him a bit of good. The only time one of my parents forbade me to read a book - Anais Nin's Delta of Venus - I promptly found a copy and regrettably read it cover-to-cover.)

The book was trashy misinformation, existing for sensationalism and diabolism, which I knew even at eleven. I was not evil, nor was how I saw the world. My goal was not to abuse nature or free will but to feel more integrated with the world, even those parts not easily seen. Aside from giving me a clear demarcation I can point to, that book's only utility was to give me a couple of weak rhymes I could pretend were proper spells (which I remember to this day) and a better vocabulary with which to describe my experiences.

Around this time, one of those kids' news shows that occasionally popped up after Saturday morning cartoons - the sort that gets any ratings at all by dint of the fact that some kids were too far into sugar crash comas by that point to bother getting up to change the channel - had a segment about a Wiccan girl and her family. I'm sure it played around Halloween - that type of piece always does, as though there are no other holidays celebrated - and, though I expect they pretended at objectivity, I recall it boiling down to "Look at this silly girl! She lights candles and does spells and thinks this is a real religion! Isn't that quaint? Don't you think her parents should be charged with child endangerment?" Still, this was a revelation because I was never previously aware Wicca was an option, beyond the spell book that told me I was to kiss goat haunches and avoid the stake. I could legitimately be a witch.

In middle school, I felt this moment of elation one day when I drew a pentacle (which tended to be my default doodle) and saw only the symbol of my religion, one that I loved and gave focus to my life. It was not a star abused by heavy metal bands (which I did listen to at that time and whom I could not really fault for being misinformed as to the import of their symbolism) or anything evil. I shared this realization with my friends, who I could tell did not really see my point, but their religious symbols were not maligned by the world at large.

I was never in the metaphorical broom closet, since I never saw the purpose, though I understandably stopped talking about it quite so much once I got over its novelty. If other people could wear crosses and stars of David openly, why shouldn't I wear a pentacle? This did not always make for smooth sailing. Around thirteen, I had a brief flirtation with Hindu deities in my practice, which led to insecure bullies haranguing me for worshiping "the cow god" (so much so that, over a decade later, I ran into one of these bullies stocking grocery store shelves and his first question was to ask if I still worshiped the cow god. He seemed unaware of my withering pity). Beyond those, I have few memories of discrimination and I firmly believe my theological orientation was rightly beneath the caring of most. They may not speak exactly my theological dialect, but we can understand one another fine.

I am not a Wiccan now, as I found a better vocabulary to express myself and every time felt this epiphany of "So, that's an option?" or "Yes, that's what I meant!" In fact, I am likely Discordian by way of Taoism and have been for years, but I don't deny that I could shift if I found something that matched my soul slightly better. Like language, I think any who have not acquired spirituality by a certain age are doomed to never really be fluent and you are likely to mimic the one that surrounds you. (And, like language, those who mouth your sacred words with an accent you deem wrong are bound to annoy you more than those speaking something you cannot understand.) My spirituality is why I met the woman I am going to marry, how I find my center when trying to educate gang members, how I process the world around me. It is not overt and I would never proselytize, though I am inclined to gently correct misapprehensions each October. I don't recall the last time I did an elaborate ritual that wasn't in honor of one of the sabbats. I imagine those teens dripping with pentacles would be shocked that I am Pagan, since I tend to wear my beliefs on the inside these days, but I know I speak my truth much more clearly now that I have found the words.

Soon in Xenology: Love notes. Enthusiasm.

last watched: The Frighteners
reading: An Anthropologist on Mars
listening: Tori Amos

The Proposal | 2013 | Media Matter

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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