Oh no, here we go. Another story about religion that has the potential to cause chaos and create havoc. Another story to bash those who are religious and to ruin the relationship I have with my family if they were to stumble across this piece.
But, hear me out on this one, ok? Be patient with me and this story, please? Because I don’t hate religions or religious people; I actually find it all quite fascinating in conjunction with the human mind, perception, and desire for hope and survival. I only wish to tell my story about my religious experience with the hope that others find a sort of connection or new insight. I only ask readers to keep an open mind.
And if this is not your cup of camomille tea, then this is your cue to politely stop reading. I recommend, instead, my “Abroad” story about my recent trip to Italy with my grandmother.
If you look at my immediate family, it’s fair to say they’re all religious - devout Catholics. My (maternal) grandfather was always the one to say grace during our holiday meals, while my (paternal) grandmother - in her aging state - insisted on going to church every Sunday. Knowing how my grandparents were, it’s no surprise to see how devoted my parents are. And when I was born, I was baptized into the Catholic church and grew up experiencing pretty much all that my parents had. I went to Sunday school, then mass right after, had my First Communion, and Confirmation, attended mass every Saturday night or Sunday morning, and went during every Easter and Christmas service. I celebrated Advent, and Ash Wednesday, gave up something during this period that usually consisted of candy or anything sweet, and then enjoyed that first bite of chocolate after Palm Sunday.
And that was all normal to me. I was born into all of this without knowing much of anything else when it came to “religion”, especially when I was younger. Even the town I grew up in was mostly Catholic/Christian-centric, limiting my knowledge to: you were either a part of those two religious groups or were Athiest - not believing in God.
For a while, I went with it. Of course, when you’re young, you have no choice but to go where your parents tell you and do as they say - no questions asked. So, I’d wake up early on Sunday mornings, sometimes rather begrudgingly, and sit through an hour/two-hour-long session with volunteer CCD teachers only to attend another hour-long mass immediately after with my parents. Sometimes the teachers were nice and gave you candy, sometimes you got to play fun little games or spend some time outside if the weather was good. Otherwise, it was an hour or two that completely evades my memory now, my younger self was too tired that early on a weekend morning to retain anything. Nothing except that I was an outcast of sorts. The church and Sunday school I went to was about 25-30 minutes from where my family lived a couple of towns over. And most of the other kids in my Sunday school classes all went to (normal) school together and were friends. I was usually not welcomed in their friend group.
But, at the ripe age of 8, I can remember that’s when things started appearing very funny and strange to me both at Sunday school and church in general.
Eight Years Old
For some reason, at this age, is when my conscious stream of understanding started to become a little more coherent. I started questioning things, in the privacy of my thoughts, and observing things for what they were. This applied to everywhere in my life, and where I started to pick up on creative projects, writing, and so on. I started soccer at this age and found out I had asthma. But, this is also the age where other elements in my life, such as church, really became something I was questioning constantly and - in retrospect - something I was starting to grow increasingly apprehensive about.
It was scary to me. Standing in a large congregation with adults towering over me, my palms gripping the back of the wooden pew in front of me. My fingers resting and digging into the little decorative groove spanning the backrest of the pew. The gutteral groaning of the organ reaching from floor to ceiling in the corner off to my right, a choir almost drowned out by the instrument. But the melody would reach far up into the arching and pointed ceiling, a ceiling that appeared to stretch thousands of feet above. And the music would hang there, heavy, like an anvil on a fraying rope. Defying gravity and threatening to fall at any minute if the tune stumbled out of place. It was haunting hearing a hundred or so voices singing, chanting, and pages flipping in unison to follow the chorus or readings for the day.
And, a rough memory serves me, but no one had ever told me why. Why do we do this? Why are hundreds of people gathered together chanting, singing, sitting and standing - up and down, up and down, up and down, up - And even when I did get an answer, it was always semi-satisfactory. Because I was told the same stories again and again. Every Easter, every Christmas, even the stories in between during Sunday school; they were all the same to me with context that never made sense.
Where did God come from? Why doesn’t anyone question that? Why Mary? Why were only very specific events and points in Jesus’ life written about and not all of them - if he was supposed to be this really important person? Was he ever married? Why do we depict him as a typical white male when he comes from Israel? If God and Jesus say to love all…why don’t we love all?
And I don’t mean to be offensive with these questions, they’re coming from the mind of an 8-year-old who’s followed this routine pretty much all her life. But they were questions that arose and plagued my thoughts during Sunday school and church.
Sometimes the answer to these questions would be as simple as “pay attention to the Bible, to readings,” which would confuse me even more because the words in the Bible weren’t even originally English. The Bible is a book that’s been translated into 736 different languages. The New Testament was translated into 1,658 languages with a majority of modern-day Bibles not even accurate to its original text because of how many times it’s been translated and revised (over 30,000 changes beginning in 1871)! So, those scriptures and stories and passages in the Bible were incredibly confusing with its wording, especially to an 8-year-old who has a reading level to an elementary extent of about 20,000 - 40,000 words. The Bible has 783,137 words. It was a lot for a child to comprehend, absorb, and make sense of.
So, as a young kid to be sitting on a hard wooden bench, hungry, listening to haunting melodies and chanting adults, already having been in a one - two-hour “class” on a Sunday morning, with nothing to do but sit and listen - it was difficult to comprehend anything being said during those masses.
Quite honestly, when I was very young as well, these stories seemed very…fiction to me. Like I was being read a book written by an author too old and advanced for me to be reading for leisure. I mean, I was proud of myself for reading and completing Charlotte’s Web around that time. I didn’t hate it, it was just…strange.
I was hoping around this time, things would become easier. That I would just get it. Understand it.
It was 8th grade when I completed my Confirmation and became more of an “official” member of the church. At this point, I got to see what my parents always did after they’d drop my sister and me off at Sunday school. My sister is 3 years younger, and when I “graduated” she still had another couple of years to go. Leaving my parents to bring me along to breakfast and whatever other activities they’d do to keep themselves busy in the meantime. It was Panera for breakfast usually, then some time spent at Lowes or Home Depot as my dad was always working on some sort of project at home that required multiple trips to either hardware store. And this extra time with my parents was enjoyable, certainly a lot better than squeezed into a desk for 4th graders staring at the clock in a foreign classroom I’d only venture to once a week.
But, of course, even after getting my sister we’d still attend that mass service after. As a 13-year-old now, I’d always thought things would be different when it came to paying attention, understanding, and singing along to the haunting melody. Things, however, just seemed even more strange. The stories, the readings, the music, it didn’t make sense in the 21st century to be “learning” from these ancient written morals and ethics and underlying themes of a story I even questioned was real when I was 8. Because things have changed. Society has changed, morals, perspectives, perceptions, and thoughts.
And I tried. I tried around this age to be more serious with it, to try to attempt to read the Bible and highlight sections that seemed important, to try and understand the words written and repeated. But I just…couldn’t. There was a bizarre transparent wall where I saw what was on the other side, what I saw every Sunday at church, the dedication of these religious folk. The dedication of my parents and grandparents. I just couldn’t. The more I think about it now, I believe one aspect of it crushed the overall trust I had in the religious community and overall faith. It was something I started recognizing when I was around this age that started causing more cracks to scatter in an already wavering faith.
To put it out there, I did not live on campus during college. I commuted all 4 years since my parent’s house was only about 25 minutes from my college campus. So, for all those years, I still lived with my parents. And, as the oldest daughter especially, I had to conform to a “you’re under my roof, you follow my rules” standard with my parents. Even as I was now 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, whatever my parents said I could or couldn’t do, I had to follow - church was included. During this time is also when I started my second job that I would then have throughout college. Working as a cashier at a retail store, I worked very little during the week as a majority of my time was dedicated to classes and commuting to and from the campus. Then, on the weekends, I would have the usual 8-4 or 8-5 schedule in the mornings. School during the week and work on the weekends, it gave me little personal time or time with friends - especially with church tugging at my wrist to go with my parents those Saturday nights.
College is where things started to get a little sticky for me and my relationship with the church. Remember that hypocrisy? This is when it started to become too much, and that confusion, that fear boiled to anger and frustration. Because it wasn’t just a hypocritical attitude I was seeing outside of church from religious communities and society as a whole, but from my own family.
Before a Catholic mass usually ends, the priest would always say something along the lines of “peace be with you - now, go and spread the peace”. And the thing that was always strange to me, even when I was a kid, was that after my family would leave - immediate judgment, drama, complaining, and shit-talking would ensue.
“That stupid kid in front of us kept dropping his crayons on the pew.”
“Did you hear the old lady behind us? She wouldn’t stop coughing or blowing her nose.”
“That one lady who sings, her voice drives me crazy, I hate it so much.”
“Do you see that guy walking over there? He came in 15 minutes late, if he really cared he would have left early.”
“Did you see the dress the one lady was wearing across the room? It was hideous. But, not as bad as the one guy in jeans with tennis shoes. I mean, it’s church, come on. Put some effort into it.”
“I couldn’t stand the lady’s perfume behind us. My eyes were watering the entire time.”
Most of these comments were so common, as soon as we’d step foot outside those church doors, that I started to get really annoyed by them over time. And also just completely surprised that these comments would be spoken right…after church, after the priest has just said “Now go and spread the peace”.
And these comments weren’t limited to just after church, they were common everywhere. While grocery shopping, while out and about at dinner, and so on. It was a trait I saw consistently in my grandparents and parents. And while it’s human to observe and “judge” whether harshly or not, it was the fact that - from a religious viewpoint, that’s not ok. Reading these texts and scriptures and so on - from what I could remember - hate, judgment, and discernment were things that just aren’t supposed to be ok in the religious community. For years, from when I was 8 till this point, I’d even question my parent’s own religious devotion. If they were doing it because they were actually earnest about their religion, or doing it because they had years of their own parents influencing them? Because those comments I’d sometimes hear were harsh.
College is also when the shattering took place. When the fights happened. When I had enough.
In 2017, while I was a Sophomore in college, January 13th - it was a Friday - my (maternal) grandfather had passed away.
Before him, my (paternal) grandfather had also passed, but my sister and I were unfortunately not as close to him. He lived in a different state, and we only visited that side of my family during Christmas. I wish I knew him more and grieved more when he passed, but there was a sort of detachment that I regret and feel guilty about even to this day.
But with my maternal grandfather, we were much closer. My grandfather started taking me out to lunches before he got very sick, and I cherish those few moments we had before his passing. It was a dark time in both my life and my family’s life. My grandfather had been the glue that pulled my family together during the holidays, and someone with a heart of gold who always inspired each of us to keep moving forward, no matter how rocky the road was in front of us. Losing him felt like losing a piece of my life, and the grieving period was the most intense I’ve experienced.
This was when any sort of faith I had left, any sliver of the divine that had been instilled in me since I was baptized, a baby, shattered completely into a million jagged pieces.
If God was so good, if God was so great - why did he take my grandfather? Why did he make him suffer as he did before his death? Why didn’t he convince me otherwise as I fought with myself the night I got the call from my mom?
I was heading into work for the evening, doing a 4-10 shift at my retail job, when my mom called to deliver the news he might not make it through the night. I was torn. The hospital was 15 minutes away from where I was working, and if I left work to see him, I would have to pick up my sister to see him as well. But…I didn’t want to…I didn’t want to see him hooked up to all these tubes and wires and monitors. I didn’t want my last memory of my grandfather to be lying in that hospital bed. It was a scary thought. Just the week prior I had helped him and my grandmother move into their new house, the last time I saw him he had a smile on his face, sitting in the dining room just observing everyone and giving instructions on what to move where.
And I didn’t go. Instead, my mom called me during my 15-minute break at work to talk to him, to say goodbye. And not a day goes by when I don’t think about the regret of not going to see him. Where I don’t think about how I didn’t take my sister to see him - how I’m the cause of why she didn’t get to say goodbye. Not a day goes by - and if God’s so good - why didn’t he convince me? Why didn’t he talk me out of not going? Why did he take my grandfather at 70? Why did he have to suffer? Slow, painful, heartbreaking, helpless. Why?
It was just another question I never got the answer to.
The rest of the year was rough. Outside of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, outside of what would be the start of my weight gain, the fights started. I was done with faith, the church, society, and the religious community being hypocritical. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
That didn’t go so well with my parents.
I was 20 that year and I was still under my parent’s roof. And because of that, I still had to go anywhere and do anything my parents said. Go to church, no questions. Don’t stay out past 10 pm, no questions. Don’t go anywhere with whichever guy I was dating at the time alone and unsupervised, no questions.
Until I did question.
I remember the fight so vividly as it’s practically burned in my memory. My parents were going to church on a Saturday night, and of course, they’re telling my sister and me to get ready to go too. I said no. I had worked that morning, from 8 to 4 p.m., and wanted the time in the evening to get some homework done for classes. My parents, for one, probably didn’t believe me and how I wanted to use that time for classwork. I legitimately did, but I have a feeling they saw it as an excuse, and the backlash was instant.
It’s not about you.
Your opinion doesn’t matter because it’s not about you.
This isn’t about you, go to church because your mother wants you to.
It’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s not aboutyouIt’snotaboutyou
It never was.
I never had a voice in that house, under their roof because my opinions didn’t matter. Especially if it came to religion, to church.
It didn’t matter if I had schoolwork to do or not because it was not about me.
Who was it about? My mom? My dad? Their unwavering faith? Their deep and almost instinctual need to attend church, to have their kids attend church?
It’s not about you. It wasn’t about me.
For years even before that and years after, speaking my opinions and voicing my thoughts made me hyperaware that I’d be talking about me. So I didn’t anymore.
And the guilt was flesh-eating as my parents left that evening with tears in their eyes for church, my sister going with them. I sat at my desk that evening, trying to get whatever classwork done I could before work the next morning, Sunday morning. But the spotted dots of tears speckling my notes and the keyboard of my laptop barely concealed the whirlpool of emotions lying beneath. I hate making people upset, hated seeing my mom cry and my dad get angry with me. All I ever wanted in life was to make everyone around me happy.
But I didn’t want to keep living a lie. I didn’t want to keep surrounding myself with the hypocrisy, the negativity, and the feeling of guilt that I wasn’t embracing this religion as a part of my life - like I should have been since I was young. And I just remember chanting to myself over and over that night: I’m not evil, I’m not a bad person - at least I didn’t think I was - I’m not a horrible Catholic. Because…you have to act like a Catholic to be one, right? And I felt like I never was. Just putting on a front for the sake of my family.
Because it was never about me.
I’m 26 now, as I write this. I’ve been living on my own for the last almost 4 years - two different apartments now in two different towns. My current apartment actually sits next to a church, not a Catholic one, but a church where I honestly cannot tell if it’s still in use or not. But, it is interesting to say how much my spirituality has evolved since I moved out and since I’ve been able to choose for myself what I believe in.
Very quick - in college I took a class my senior year (as an elective) called Science and Religion. It was a class where we looked at the overall history of religion and spirituality and how it’s mingled with science since its inception until now. It was a very interesting class with an amazing professor and a group of very open-minded students. We had some very respectful and knowledgeable conversations in that class about religion and science as well as personal discussions and experiences with both. It was a class I grew to love very quickly and participated in almost all conversations. It was very intellectually stimulating.
But, one thing that sticks out to me is something we learned during one of the first classes: the origin of religion. And I’m not talking about Christianity or Buddhism or even the Roman Catholic Church, the origin of spirituality and religion to the human species during a time where the light from our campfires was all we had against the dark and communities hunting and scavenging was our only way of survival. So, with the language we had at the time, with the very simplistic way of life and way of communities - how do you explain natural phenomena? The weather? The abundance or lack thereof of food sources? Well, you create higher beings. You create higher forces to help explain, to give people hope, and methods of survival. To keep fear at bay. Because when you have a higher being to help explain a thunderstorm, a hurricane, a tornado, or a draught - that alleviates the initial fear and gives some explanation to the phenomena. This being isn’t happy with how we’re treating the land: drought. This god is answering our calls and prayers for more rain to help grow our crops: storms, and rain. We pray to this goddess for fertility. We give offerings to this god for good weather and healthy crops. We perform this ritual for prosperity and good fortune.
And religion only evolved from there, and it continues to alleviate fear and explain what our developed science cannot.
As I’m a bit older now and have had some time to grow in my independence, I’ve come to learn a few things. While I may no longer be “religious” I still find myself to hold a sort of spirituality. After finding out that Easter is pagan, that Christmas and traditions surrounding both holidays - as well as many others - are pagan; I’ve wanted to keep those celebrations alive in my life…but in a different manner. Their original manner. Ostara, Litha, Mabon, Samhain, and Yule. The Summer, Spring, Autumn, and Winter solstaces. Why do we put pine trees in our homes during Christmas, and what’s the story behind the Easter bunny (that one’s a good one)? And, over the course of a few weeks of researching everything and learning what I could about these “original” holidays and celebrations, I came across a revelation: I wanted to practice witchcraft.
The devil’s work, Satanism, black magic, and curses. Black cats crossing your path equals bad luck, Friday the 13th - the evil day where bad luck also follows you around like the plague. Women dancing naked under the moon chanting in tongues and sacrificing babies. You, the reader, had to have been told at least one of these about witchcraft and the evilness that resides within it and anyone who practices it - or maybe assumed it yourself. But, witchcraft was not Christianity - so during the infamous Salem Witch Trials (and other occurrences around the world), it was deemed evil and unknown. When, in fact, witchcraft and paganism have been around for much longer than Christianity. And, when boiled down, witchcraft is essentially respecting nature and loving yourself.
Also, side note, Friday the 13th was originally considered to be a day of luck with Friday (associated with the Norse Goddess Freya) and the number 13 regarded in history as a harbinger of good fortune. Why was it eventually deemed unlucky? Christianity. Because when you think of 13, you think of Jesus’ followers and Judas being the 13th follower who betrayed Jesus. 13 is generally not recognized as a good number to Christians - so it became another thing influenced by this upcoming religion (at the time).
But, in retrospect, what was mentioned before sounds simple, right? Respecting nature and loving yourself. That’s the core of witchcraft.
And when I started reading and learning more about witchcraft did I find there to almost be endless possibilities and opportunities on how to practice it. But, there was one rule that seemed to be unanimous amongst all witches: black magic is bad. Black magic brings about bad karma and harms - not only the person you’re directing the black magic to - but to the person performing such dangerous and “evil” magic. And no one wants bad karma, not even a witch.
And yet, black magic aside, there was an indescribable feeling I was getting while researching all of this. It all felt…inviting. It felt endless with its opportunities and what witchcraft can do for the individual. It was the constant message; you already have that magick inside you, that connection to nature and the world above your head and below your feet. Witchcraft is there to enhance that, is there to enhance the self-worth you already have, or work to grow that worth you might not have yet. That the individual is strong with willpower, persistent, and ambitious in following their heart and thriving with passions that call to them in dreams. Whether you have a connection to the forests, to the kitchen and cooking or baking, to the moon and stars, or plants and botany or herbalism, to the ocean and seas, to divination with tarot readings and palmistry, or to folk magick with an interest in all sorts of spells and eclectic rituals. Whether it’s Witchcraft, Wiccan, or Paganism. Respecting Greek, Roman, Celtic, Eastern, or Norse deities and traditions. There’s something for everyone to practice how they want, to respect the craft, nature, themselves, and others around them.
It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t intimidating, and it didn’t seem evil. It was something I genuinely wanted to start doing, and it’s honestly been a wonderful, unique experience that’s helped to shape my spirituality and allow me to stay open-minded. And as someone who loves the ocean and has an immense love for all sea creatures residing within, I’ve recently started looking into what’s encapsulated with being a Sea Witch. I’ve never felt so happy to be able to use my inner magick and love for the ocean to influence my everyday. I also love crystals and their physicality - as someone with anxiety - being able to hold these beautiful stones, rocks, and crystals, and taking them around with me during my daily routines; to continue to add a bit more magick to my life. I have always and currently collect *cough* hoard *cough* sea shells and all things that relate to the ocean, keeping close the one place I love the most, and makes me feel at peace.
What I do is not evil. I am not an evil person for practicing witchcraft. I light incense and meditate, I keep a “Book of Tides” (Sea Witch equivalent of a Book of Shadows) where I store witchcraft tips, facts about the ocean, information about the crystals I collect, traits about different sea shells, information about Amphitrite, and so on. I keep spell jars in my car to protect me during commutes, I light (way too many) candles and use incense to cleanse crystals, I stare at the moon - always knowing its phase - and keep an altar with all of this to use for good fortune spells, protection from negativity spells, and luck spells for finding new jobs…Sort of similar to praying, right?
It’s evil to most, it’s not right to most, because it’s unknown - unfamiliar. And that’s a legitimate reason. To be fearful of something because it’s unknown. Hell, with my anxiety, I have issues even with watching new movies and shows because they’re unknown and unfamiliar because I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s a wall my anxiety creates for me. But, being fearful of something that - initially - isn’t dangerous and can be informed about, isn’t a good reason to be hateful towards it.
Well, “but magic’s also not real.” Magick is real, and it’s inside everyone. It might not be the type of magic you see in Dr. Strange or Hollywood in general. But superstitions, synchronicities, repeating numbers and patterns, acts of goodwill and fate, nature, love, moments with family and friends where your eyes are tearing with laughter, good memories, and things that just seem to happen - events that appear to move you onto the next chapter of your life; magick can be found in all of this. Some people just decide to dig a little deeper to use this magick to amplify themselves and their lives.
Now, I’m certainly not trying to convert anyone over to witchcraft. This practice is definitely something the individual needs to conclude with themselves first. But, I’m trying to explain to alleviate any fear and apprehension, and I honestly hope it works for some.
In the case that my parents, or family, do end up coming across this piece; I wanted to conclude with an apology.
I am sorry, truly.
My parents only want what’s best for me, all parents do for their children. They want you to be happy, prosperous, and safe. What more could they do than what they thought was the highest they could in terms of saving - baptizing me when I was a baby. Baptizing me into a faith they had been a part of all their lives and hoped to continue and integrate into my life.
But, I was a baby then. No conscious thoughts, no idea as to what was happening or what it meant. And as I grew older, I still never understood what it all meant, realizing that it just might not be for me. It’s an opinion - albeit a very strong one - and I feel incredibly guilty for feeling as if I’m just being selfish for having this opinion. But, I’m also an individual, and while I am influenced by a lot my family and friends; I still do have personal preferences, opinions, and beliefs. And I’m sorry they’re not the same, especially from a religious standpoint. The last thing I want is for any hard feelings to follow this story. There have been these thoughts, eating their way through my subconscious, needing to write them down and work through them. I needed to understand what had happened, what was happening, and what will happen in the future when it comes to these opinions and beliefs. Of faith.
None of this is my parent's fault, and I still highly respect my parent’s own religious beliefs. But religion has, generally, become something far from what it stemmed from and what it was supposed to have become. It’s used as weaponry against towns, cities, countries, people, and cultures. It’s used to manipulate, to enslave, to justify acts born of hatred and ignorance. It’s the hypocrisy I see in society, words and actions from the most devout - who claim to be righteous - but spit words saturated in venom about topics they fear and refuse to digest. Refuse to leave an open mind to. This coupled with remarks that an 8-year-old could understand enough in her young mind, was bound to shatter her faith but, somehow, maintain a spirituality that could eventually blossom into growth, happiness, and purpose. Because if my parents taught me anything, it's to have a good heart and intentions.
But, I don’t blame my parents. I only wish for their understanding, unconditional love, and unwavering support. To understand that my “obsession” with pretty rocks means a little more. That my fascination and love for the ocean have created a platform to build upon in a spiritual sense. To honor and respect the fierce nature of the ocean and her unforgiving wrath. But to also respect the thriving (and endangered) life she holds and hides within and under those unpredictable waves. It’s not dangerous, it’s not evil, and it’s not harmful - I promise this - but it is me, and my opinions do matter. I matter. And while everything may not always be about me, I usually don’t enjoy the spotlight anyway, I am a daughter, an older sister, a granddaughter, a friend, and an individual. A Witch.
And I only wish to be respected as such.
About the Creator
Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.