Editors Note: Dandelion Stories is a series Arkansas Pagans will be sharing throughout the year, told by many different voices. These are stories of hope, of resilience, and of struggle. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we have.
The beginning isn’t always the best place to start. While each of us have a personal beginning, we each enter the world in medias res (Latin for starting in the middle of a story). My life didn’t play out in order. I converted to Christianity without ever believing anything else. I committed to change my ways before I had ways that needed changing. The closest I came to being a non-Christian was studying a book of world religions and thinking Sikhs were cool because they got daggers. But I digress. I have been asked to write about my journey from Christianity to Paganism. So let us begin.
Russia, 2014. I went on a mission trip to Siberia to save the lost souls. I was a strong Christian. I believed it all. If you didn’t believe that right thing, I had a duty to save you from Hell. I realize that must sound rather arrogant, and in hindsight, perhaps it was. But that was what I was taught to believe growing up, and I truly had the noblest intentions in presenting Christianity to the non-Christians in Russia. There were many rough spots in that trip, the least of which were homesickness and illness. The worst things I had to deal with were insomnia, a mentally unstable fundamentalist partner, and the stress of being a nineteen year old in charge of making things happen in a foreign country. Though I honestly felt at home in Russia, I did not feel at peace due to my position of forced leadership. Suffice to say that the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Hell is a frozen pit and that I took a field trip there emotionally and mentally on that mission trip. One strange bright spot was a visit to the First Museum of Slavic Mythology in Tomsk.
Here I was exposed to the Old Gods. Sadly, I couldn’t read any of the myths, but I could admire the artwork which captured my attention wholly. I still have a postcard of a painting depicting Svarog that I bought there. While this was not technically my first exposure to Paganism, it was the first time it struck a chord within me. The Greek gods always interested me, but never very deeply. The Slavic gods captured a foothold in my heart for Paganism, even if it would take a year for that rose to bloom.
I’ve always found Russia fascinating. It has long held my attention, so much so that in high school I chose Russian as my second language. However, despite that initial contact with Slavic mythology, they were not the gods I first turned to nor did I think much of them at the time. It’s important to let you know that I’m now going to skip a year of my life. It was not a good year, I try not to dwell on it, and honestly, were I to tell the story of that year you would be giving me free counseling. Let us simply say that I went through a difficult period and struggled with the Christian God.
By August of 2015, I was semi-seriously searching for something different. I found Asatru. For those who are unfamiliar with Asatru, it is a Pagan, or Heathen, religion based on the worship of the old Norse gods, the Aesir and Vanir. You’re probably most familiar with the names Thor, Odin, and Loki. Why Asatru and not Wicca? Because at the time I felt more comfortable with a tradition that traced its roots back further than my dad’s birth. I was searching for something solid, not eclectic (although I am now very eclectic), and I wanted something that I had a connection to. I knew I had German ancestors, though unbeknownst to me, I have more Celtic ancestors. But I turned to Asatru and began honoring Hel. I would meditate for hours every night, praying to Her on my porch. I carved swords and daggers and etched runes into them. I carved myself a pendant of the runic compass, which I, sadly, later burned (but a friend bought me a replacement for Christmas!).
Unfortunately, there were also some downsides. My family took the news of my conversion very badly. My mother even said she didn’t want me to visit her when she got older, although she later apologized for that statement. Things were tense with my family for a few months until I re-converted to Christianity. Why the flip flop? Because a friend of mine who is a non-practicing, hereditary witch told me I had a “demon” feeding off me. I now believe that to be either a side effect of my dealings with a chthonic deity or the whole reason I was drawn to such a deity in the first place. This is simply the working explanation I have come up with because I do not believe in demons in the Judaic sense. In any case, the dark shadow has remained largely dormant since last year.
During the time I returned to Christianity, I felt dissatisfied. I didn’t believe in only one god. I believed in many. I didn’t even believe that Yahweh was the nicest god out there. This left me in a quandary, as I did not want to hurt my family again, but I knew I shouldn’t have been so hasty in my abandonment of Paganism. In August of 2016 I returned to Paganism, but this time I came as a seeker unsure of what I would find. I was not looking for Asatru this time, I was searching for something I connected to on a deeper level. My mother recently found out I was searching religiously again, but we both avoid talking about it. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation if you will. Nonetheless, all my religious activities such as prayers, offerings, and even meditating are done surreptitiously. As it stands now my religious life is a very private affair with respect to my family.
In my current religious state, I believe that there are many gods, all separate and distinct entities. I believe also that there are a multitude of afterlives if you will, presided over by different deities. I have not returned to Asatru, and I am instead exploring several different gods, most currently the Slavic god Veles. It seems fitting since I first noticed the Slavic gods during the darkest time of my life. I hardly have my life together or my faith figured out, but I am working on both daily and slowly making progress.