I have spent most of my life seeking the Divine. I looked first among the religions most familiar to me, the various shades of Protestantism (living in Alabama has a benefit for the seeker of the Divine: you can’t throw a rock without hitting the facade of a church). Much of the time, I searched in silence, on my own, only venturing to speak to friends who I knew would not be offended by the asking of pointed questions. Though they would disagree with me, I found nothing Divine in the practice of American Christianity — it is, to me, an ugly, cliquish religion that survives on blind devotion to dogma and fear; one of my first “church memories” is being told by a frothy Baptist preacher that I would surely be bound for Hell if I didn’t live the way Jesus intended (many years later, I would recall that he wore an expensive watch and drove a huge car . . . obviously, he was the poster-child for living as Jesus intended). That’s not a constructive way to engage a 9-year old, if your religion hinges on winning his heart and mind.
I went into my teens and early twenties with a healthy fear of religion — a fear that translated into a type of atheism that predicated itself not so much on a denial of God, but a fear that the god the Baptists worshipped really DID exist. This impulse was so strong, in fact, that I credit it for leading me to the study of ancient history. I wanted proof, you see, that this god, who would condemn me to hell for not loving him unconditionally, did not exist.
The study of history and the ancient religions that thrived prior to the advent of Christianity seemed to assuage my fear of God (I think time and maturity also played a role). I started to ask questions: Do I believe in God? If so, then how should God be worshipped? Many people I talked to are content, at that point, to declare themselves spiritual but not religious and go about their lives as a member of whatever sect they’re most familiar with. Some simply go it alone (my Father was that way — knew the Bible front to back, but rarely stepped foot in a church). Problem was, I didn’t have a religious sect I was familiar, or comfortable, with.
Quietly, because I was rather embarassed by my youthful outbursts of atheism (which many of my friends remember to this day), I began to look for my faith. Like many humans, I feel keenly the need to belong, to have others of the same faith to talk to, to question. I began my search with what I knew, and rejected wholly any sect of Protestantism; I found much to admire in Catholicism (and much to condemn), and could appreciate Anglicanism and even Judaism. I turned quickly from Islam. I also admired the Eastern faiths, though it took me a while not to feel scandalized by the aspect of polytheism. In Paganism, though, I found a certain resonance. I discovered I really liked Pagans. They are some of the most friendly, non-judgmental, and open people I’ve ever met in connection with religion. I explored Wicca but found it too eclectic, too “do-it-yourself” — and I couldn’t get past the whole witchcraft aspect. I’m not offended by it or scared of it — the ancient world had practitioners a-plenty — but I just don’t think it works, especially for me. Most recently, I’ve explored Asatru, the ancient Norse religion. It felt close, but not quite right.
An aside: I’m sure some people might wonder how anyone in the 21st century could believe in a plurality of gods. My answer is, it’s not that hard. The seen and unseen worlds are huge and mysterious places; we kid ourselves into thinking we understand even the slenderest portion. There’s much more to the cosmos than we can see or know. Whose to say divinity could not exist as multiple, distinct personalities as easily as it could manifest itself as a single deity? I’m not going to presume.
Last week, I experienced a moment that the Greeks called gnosis. It was small, like someone opened a door — but just a crack; research into “orthodoxy” led me to the term “orthopraxy”, I clicked through a few links and suddenly a little corner of the Internet I’d never noticed or heard of opened up. There’s a movement called Hellenic Reconstructionism (sometimes called Hellenismos or Dodekatheism) devoted to the revival of ancient Greek religious practices based on information found in primary source texts — not to be confused with Wiccans or Neopagans who worship the Greek pantheon (some Hellenic Reconstructionists find the practice of magic to be irreligious and not in keeping with the ancient Greek way). Discovering this was a distinct “a-ha!” moment, for me, as little things about myself suddenly fell into place — personal beliefs, attitudes, interests. I spent the weekend reading countless essays on the core beliefs of Dodekatheism, the historical versus eclectic schism, how it fits into the scheme of religion in the modern world; I joined an eGroup and had some of my questions answered. I have more to do, more to research, more books to read — some ancient, some modern — and more questions to ask, but this morning, as I write this, I don’t feel quite so lost. After 40-odd years, I finally feel like I belong somewhere . . .