Now Entering October Country

originally posted at Pagan Bloggers

That country whose people are autumn people thinking only autumn thoughts - Ray BradburyWhat I believe has always been an intensely personal thing for me. Growing up Catholic, I would pick the brains of my Sunday School teachers, read my way through my small-town library, and borrow the mythologies of TV shows, comics and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology before I had internet. I lived in my head and in the woods, and I was spirit-taught, and I was satisfied with that.

What I do, on the other hand, has long been separate. When I started pinning photocopied pictures of Artemis and Athena on my bedroom wall, I was a lector at my church, involved in Sunday School, bible study, choir and social outreach. I didn’t see any reason not to do the latter just because Jesus and I seemed to be on the outs. I liked serving the church community and doing charity work regardless, and it was no different than liking scouts or any of my other extracurriculars.

When I tried to reach out to other people who seemed to have similar, or at least compatible beliefs, it tended not to go well. On a surface level, I met local pagans, learned to read tarot and playing cards, and took up tabletop roleplaying. I met people who shared my taste in movies and books and comics, but not people who understood where I was coming from. Either I held back, trying to fit in, or I overshared and got hurt.

I’ve found a very small number of people who I would call co-religionists and adopted family, but we all tend to be pretty quiet about what we do and believe. I wasted a lot of time trying to find people who believed what I did, as if figuring out how to describe it using other peoples’ words would make everything okay, and finally pulled back and spent a couple of years unpacking my actual beliefs out from under the weight of other peoples’ paradigms.

I poked around here and there looking for conversation, but for the most part my spouse and I had resigned ourselves to solitary work. We were outsiders, queer as in something not quite right, and I had begun what I would end up tagging monsterwork.

“October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain. . . .”
― Ray Bradbury, The October Country

Then we had a kid.

It’s a cliche that people go back to church when they have kids. My mom did, when she had me. My sister did, when my niece was born. My spouse and I did too, in large part enticed by the local Universalist Unitarian church’s offer of childcare during service. More than that, though, we talked about the importance having that “Sunday school” structure and community had held when we were kids. We wanted to find something that would serve as a scaffold for our kid when she’s ready for one.

It was at about that point that I realized I had no idea how to raise a child in my faith. I barely knew how to childproof my living room. Our kid was the product of magic and prayer as much as medical science, but I didn’t know how to introduce an infant or a toddler to a goddess. Would she pick it up by osmosis? What did I even want her to pick up?

The UU church had an awkward tension between humanism and Christianity. There was very little discussion about what we believed in on a metaphysical level. There wasn’t really esotericism or mysticism.

But there were potlucks and choirs, and kitchens where I could pitch in with the dishes. There were candles that needed to be lit and walls that needed painting and tables that needed moving. There was charity work and discussion about applying our values to political and social choices. It was all the parts I’d liked about church as a teenager, with shared values but no expectation of shared belief, and that was like a revelation.

Since then, I’ve been putting my effort into doing as the primary way I understand religion. It’s a huge paradigm shift, but I have much more success finding people who share my values and actions than I do people who share my faith. It’s also much easier to explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it than trying to put into words the vaguaries of my understanding of divinity.

Last year I was asked if I would train to teach Our Whole Lives for the young adults at my church. It’s not a small commitment, but the timing made it a clear manifestation of something I could do in service of one of my powers. It feels tangible where a lot of other things have felt abstract. That gave me a point of reference to find other things that felt tangible and real, actions that could be fit together like puzzle pieces to build a functioning religious household.

Bug is old enough now to be interested in what I’m doing at the altars. She likes to help light the candles, and she’ll join me in giving thanks if I prompt her. If I’m going to raise a child to understand her parents’ faith and values, I have to be able to demonstrate them to her, to live them and to point them out to her. For her, I’m figuring out holidays and how to celebrate them. For her, I’m figuring out how to explain magic and gods to a toddler. For her, I’m learning to understand the act of service that is being a better self, that is taking care of others, that is building something other people can depend on.

While there are pagans raised in the faith, most of us are still converts. We have to figure out what we want to pass down. My other blog ranges in topic all over the map, but this one will be about building those traditions from the ground up, figuring out what is meaningful and why, and hopefully finding ideas that are useful for other people too. I arrived in the October Country young, but I’m still learning what it means to be here.

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