A Post-Conversion Story

Jun 8, 2006
The first real post on a Pagan blog seems like a good place for a conversion story, and I wish I had one. I don't have a good "moment" to tell you about, or even a clearly definable process that I can recall. The story of my conversion can be summed up in my hazy recollections of one summer in high school (seven years ago? eight?), reading poorly-designed webpages on Wicca and alt-tab-ing away quickly whenever someone came up the stairs behind me.

A conversion story is too definite to apply to me, anyway; I have a serious lack of demarcation points in my life, and I tend to float vaguely from one idea to another, never settling long enough to say, "this is what I do." It's a mark of how strongly I feel about Paganism that I call myself a Pagan at all. So instead of imposing a false initiation on my past, I'll start with something that can at least be marked out clearly in space and time. Besides, if all I do is talk about me all the time, this blog ain't going nowhere.

The Celtic tradition had always seemed natural to me; my mother is a genealogist, and much of her family was Irish, which she always identified strongly with and passed down to me. I never had to read up on Celtic gods or legends because we always had books lying around the house. So when I went to college and everyone told me I should study abroad, I leapt at the chance to go on the Ireland program. Five months in Galway; what could be better?

I wanted my term in Ireland to be a spiritual re-awakening, a pilgrimage to a holy land where I could re-focus and rediscover the emotional core of my conversion. Instead (among other things), I got all hung up on this issue of authenticity. I don't understand enough, I kept telling myself; I don't belong here; I'm stealing this thing I want from someone else; maybe I'll just do some more research.

All of which is bullshit, of course. First of all, Ireland's been Catholic for fifteen hundred years, I'm not stealing anything from anybody that they didn't already give away. Hell, I knew more about pre-Christian Irish religion than the Irish students I talked to about it (and they were archaeology students, they ought to know something). The writing there about Celtic spirituality is just as made-up as most of it here, the only difference being that it's slightly easier to find modern translations of Old Irish manuscripts (which were written down by monks anyway). I didn't meet any Pagans while I was there, but you know what, I bet they do pretty much what I do -- read a bit, practice a bit, keep an eye on the calendar and schedule the Yule ritual to match up with the Christmas holidays.

Living on that particular patch of earth didn't make much difference to me, as a rule. Seeing Knocknarea did, but in much the same way that seeing Galway Bay did: it's a part of the history of something I belong to, and seeing that is always moving. The most important thing I took away from those five months is the realization that I don't have to live at the foot of Ben Bulben to have a real spiritual connection to the world. We always learn best when our illusions are shattered.

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