What are your religious beliefs?
Have they changed, or have they always stayed the same?
Hmm. Okay. I figured this would come up sooner or later. Everyone is fascinated by, haunted by, inspired by, frightened by, annoyed by, heartened by, comforted by religion.
Me… I find it difficult.
I was raised Christian. Church of England in fact and in the early days I went to church every Sunday with my mum and my sister (with my father less often) and I would listen to the sermons and enjoy them. I attended Sunday school until I was too old to go and then would sit through the whole service. I was christened at a very young ages (I was so cute! The photos are lovely!) and grew with intent to get confirmed.
I remember when I was confirmed. It was great; there was a whole load of us that went through Sunday school at the same time and went through the ceremony together. I remember it well because we all had the same dress. Very clearly every mother went to the same shop and bought the same dress for their little girl; making them look like a bride in smooth, silky satin. Not my mum. Oh no. ^_^ We got the same dress, but we got in lace. I looked bloody brilliant, if I do say so myself, with cute little white shoes and my (natural, unpermed) hair up in a bun that was decorated with a band of white flowers made of cotton. I spoke the words and took communion for the very first time and was so super duper proud of myself.
Talking about it at school was pleasant too; it was a Church of England school connected to the church and then when I went to secondary school it was another Church of England school. I had to have a letter signed off by my priest which would go to the head master along with my application to join the school. Both me and my sister did I believe.
I think it was in secondary school that it started to change. Or at least my priorities did. I still went to church, but Sundays were becoming days of late mornings and lazing around and getting up to go to a 10am service was hard work. I didn’t want to do it. And, as I grew older and that hateful stage of your life called ‘the teenage years’ comes along (I take that back, I was a very lucky teenager, I had it bloody good!), I found things in the world to complain about. I found things in the world that frightened me. I found things in the world that I hated. And all the while there was a vague idea that God should have made it better for me and there was resentment that he didn’t.
I think it was Religious Education (or Divinity as the school pretentiously called it) that eventually made me think hard about it. The school was C&E (still is to my understanding) but they had an educational obligation to ensure that we all grew up as well educated, accepting and understanding adults and this lead us into other religions. Well… can I just say that so many other religions out there make so much sense. Most of them are, if you boil it down, are just saying ‘be nice to people, eh? Don’t kill, cheat, steal or lie… its not nice.’ All religions are saying that. And those who follow them are trying to do just that. But learning about other religions and understanding that there were lots of people out there who had faith, very strong, if not stronger than mine, that was different to my own, was really cool. But it conflicted. The Bible advises us that there is one true god and that he shall lay his wrath upon those who worship false gods. But surely all those other people can’t be wrong? Millions of people the world over? And what about all the different legs of Christianity? Church of England versus Catholic, versus Protestants versus Orthodoxy versus Pentecostal beliefs. o.O And there’s more! If Christians can’t even form a consensus amongst themselves, who says they’re right?
Anyway that was that. I thought about it more and more until I talked myself in a massive circle and got confused. Really confused.
When I was old enough to start paying attention to the news (and elements of my history lessons which, previous to that had been boring as hell), I began to see that the debate about religion was really big. Bigger than my own little head. Even the brief confusion over a copy of The Bible I was given when I was younger didn’t match this (I was given a beautiful illustrated copy of The Bible though from the point of view of a Jehovah’s Witness. I wasn’t even allowed to take it to church with me). I began to understand that wars are started over religion. People kill and are killed over religion. Some religions permitted killings of those within their faith over marrying outside the religion, or for being gay. It was horrible! The revelation came to me slowly and horrified me the more and more I heard/saw/read about it.
A few months later, I was writing a fantasy story. I never finished it – though I may try to one of these days – but it was about a girl named Brandi who one day discovered that she had magical powers. She was a witch. I went onto the internet and tore it apart looking for references to spells I could use to give the writing flavour.
It was probably the very first time I’d ever heard the word ‘wicca.’ Let me tell you… I was fascinated by it. Absolutely fascinated. As an idea for a book, casting magical circles, lighting candles and calling upon the powers of the elements was fabulous. As religious following, I didn’t get it. But I looked more and more into how the faith worked, what people believed and started to pull books from the library about runes and crystal healing and spells. Lots of New Age hippy kinds of stuff. I loved the idea of a Book Of Shadows, that would act both as a diary and a record of a witch’s spells. I adored the idea that nature was such a massive part of the faith and that wiccans revere the earth, the sky and Mother Nature as a whole; they respect her. They respect the earth. They respect each other.
What I said earlier about all religions saying ‘just be nice’ is encapsulated, for me, perfectly in the Rule Of Three which advises that any action (or energy) that a person puts into the world, good or negative will be returned to that person three times over. And of course the Wiccan Rede: ‘An’ it harm none, Do what ye will.’
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect love and perfect trust
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fullfill:
An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.
What ye send forth comes back to thee
So ever mind the law of three
Follow this with mind an d heart,
Merry ye met and merry ye part.
I had found what I was looking for. A belief system that allowed you – and encouraged you – to worship in unique, innovate and most of all personal ways. In the middle of the night, or sat at your desk at work, or on the bus. It was a faith that linked closely with the powers of nature and allowed one to become close to the earth and understand life cycles. Before discovering these things I had never looked at a withered tree in winter and seen the tightly furled buds of new growth just waiting to be freed come the spring time.
It was a bit of a blow when I went to America and realised that not everybody appreciated it the same way I did. I was staying with family and on one of our trips to the massive shopping centres in New York I slipped away into a HUGE bookstore and picked up some wiccan books. When my aunt saw them after demanding to know what I’d bought, she ordered that I not let any of my cousins see them and told me in plain, no uncertain terms that such books were not welcome in her home. That I was not welcome in her home with those ‘devil books’ under my arm. -_-
I’ve never, ever forgotten that.
But even that infatuation faded off after a while. I don’t cast the circle any more or keep a Book of Shadows, though I still perform my own little ceremony on each Solstice and Equinox. Its only something small, like the breaking of bread within sight of the moon, or a quick, skyclad dance in my room but I like to acknowledge that those days are special to me.
These days I have Christian friends, Wiccan friends, Sikh friends, Agnostic friends, Muslim friends, Jedi friends (yes… seriously…) Hindu friends, Atheist friends,. I also have friends (many more of these) who feel as I have begun to believe and I guess this is the actual answer to today’s question:
I believe in people. I believe in mankind’s ability to great and wonderful things but equally in their ability to be cold and cruel. I believe that we all have to free will to do exactly as we choose and it is our responsibility to be responsible and thoughtful towards ourselves, other people and the world we live in.
There is most certainly a higher force in the world that, in some measure, guides and governs us. But I like to feel that such a force is the collective will of those of us still living and of those lives past, grouping together in an inexplicable and yet very much present way.
We are not supposed to understand it. We are supposed to spend time trying but not at the risk of forgetting how to live at the same time.
We are supposed to be here; the world and its history and people are too amazingly intricate and complicated to be an accident, but we’re not supposed to understand why. We are just supposed to enjoy that we are.
Hmm. I don’t know how clear that is… but there’s my answer.
Chew on it.
My 80 Post Challenge is brought to you with help from Tom Slatin’s 80 Journal Writing Prompts.