The Conversion Narrative

January 31, 2014 at 12:00 am 1 comment

Over on the Cauldron Forum, there was a thread about conversion and Naomi J  made a comment about the concept in sociology of religion of conversion narratives that many converts to a new religion create a “spin” on their life story that explains how it was destiny or somehow inevitable that they would convert. (see post #9) I think that’s perfectly understandable, after all, when looking for a religion a person is often trying to find a way to make sense of the world and their life, but the problem is when they begin to distort events so that they fit into the narrative and deny and invalidate their past.

I wonder about this myself. As time has gone I’ve realized how some of the ways I viewed things spiritually as a kid ultimately led me to paganism. Also upon more conversations with my parents, I’ve realized how theologically liberal they are compared to their peers in the churches we attended.  At this point my dad is basically agnostic but OK with (non-fundie) religious people, and my mother is from my conversations with her, an animist essentially. I think she’s always believed in fairies to some degree, and rocks and plants (and of course animals) hold an importance to her that they don’t to other people.  My mother’s family is from Montana, and being good Westerners they all have a certain reverence for nature, and sense of wonder and respect for it. My mom’s twin is a retired park ranger who worked for many years in Yellowstone National Park. My uncles like to go hunting, and I know for them respect for the animals and the ecosystem is key. My oldest uncle even belongs to multiple hunter conservation groups, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Another uncle has lived for many years on a Crow Indian reservation, and has kind of been “adopted” by them to some degree, he is even a trained sweat lodge leader.

Back to myself- sometime in toddlerhood my parents realized that I was different – I threw tantrums more than other kids. A doctor labelled me as having “fragile moods”, a brilliant deduction that did not impress my mother.  Later this was identified as “autism” and my brother was labeled autistic as well.  One situation in which I would often throw tantrums was in church. I had to sit quietly and listen to some guy drone about stuff I didn’t understand. So naturally (to me anyway) I protested with “This is BORING!” and demanded to leave. My parents ended up taking turns going to church or staying home with me until I matured more.  But I still had anxiety and social problems which made fitting it at church, school or any other setting difficult.  So I’ve often thought the me ending up pagan is related to me being autistic- not fitting in, and looking for someplace else where I did, following my interests avidly, and just plain thinking differently than other people.

I was a voracious reader from a young age, and my fascination with fairy tales continued as I got older. The fairy tales were next to the mythology books in the library and so I got into those even further. I became an expert on Greek Mythology by the time I was in junior high, and I began exploring other topics I came across- Atlantis, Theosophy, Buddhism. It was more “New Age” than Pagan to begin with, as that was what was available.  I remember feeling sad that the worship of the Greek Gods had gone away. I remember wondering in Sunday School class about  the contradictions I felt between the religious tolerance that my parents taught me and the “thou shalt have no other gods before me” and idol-smashing that went on in the Bible. Wasn’t that intolerant? What’s wrong with Baal or Asherah? What made them “false gods”?  I also remember my mother talking about Mother Nature, and coming to the conclusion that Mother Nature/Earth must be God’s wife. God, Our Father who art in Heaven- that seemed to fit together just right. But then I learned that “Mother Nature” was just a poetic metaphor.   And once again, the contradictions- I was taught to believe in gender equality by my parents, and yet God was always male.

I dutifully went to confirmation class at my Methodist Church and was confirmed. (Back in Iowa, I dropped out of confirmation class in junior high due to bullying- the bullies in question were the children of the Queen of the Church Ladies, hence they could do no wrong)  I remember telling my teacher that the concept of the Trinity didn’t make sense to me, and she tried to use the metaphor that water can be liquid, solid or gas but it is still water. That answer didn’t quite satisfy me, but I went ahead and was confirmed anyway.  Reciting a creed in front of the congregation was a big mistake. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know what I believed. Who was Jesus? Who was God? How can someone else “die for your sins”? My parents never knew how to answer my questions, and they became rather uncomfortable when I asked them.  So, I looked for my own answers. I briefly considered plain ol’ atheism/agnosticism but I found religion much too fascinating to give up, so I went to the Hamline University library and the St. Paul Public library and hit the books.  I found books on feminist theology at Hamline, like Womanspirit Rising and yes, good ol’ Drawing Down the Moon. I know some people find that one to be a rather tedious tome, but I was fascinated. There are other people who want to worship the old Gods? I was amazed, and I knew I was one of them. This was who I was meant to be.

(Next chapter- me entering the Twin Cities Pagan Communit(ies)

Other Cauldron Blog Project Posts on Conversion:

The Conversion Narrative by Naomi J (she explains it a lot better than me)

Seeking & Conversion by Juni 

Childhood Religion & Conversion: from Buddhism to Witchcraft and Back Again by Morag Spinner

Conversion & NRE (New Relationship Energy) by Veggiewolf

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Entry filed under: Christianity, Concepts & Definitions, Pagan Communities. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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