Updated: Mar 12, 2020
By Alaina Riley
I am a born-and-raised Pagan.
No, that doesn’t mean I partake in human sacrifice or worship Satan.
I’ll get into specifics in a moment. First, some context of why I want to talk about this now, so close to Easter Sunday.
My family moved to Scio, OR when I was about five. It’s a small town in which most people are Christian. During school, we celebrated holidays such as Christmas and Easter -- normal holidays for everyone else, but some don’t know that they actually integrate traditions from Pagan holidays.
At a young age, I realized I was not the same. My belief was not shared by my peers, or the adults that surrounded me, except for my parents, of course.
Most people have never even met a Pagan.
I still remember the first time I was really taught about Christianity. I was no older than six.
My uncle, who's only a year or so older, asked if I believed in Christ and God. I told him as best I could what I believed in: Gaia, Mother Earth.
He immediately seemed worried, saying that if I didn't believe in the one true God I would spend eternity in Hell. I had no idea what Hell was, and as he explained it, I got scared. I sobbed and ran to the comfort of my mom.
Just before I turned seven, my family moved to a small town outside of Salem called Dallas. Most of the roughly 14,000 residents believe in an Abrahamic religion.
Starting a new school is often frightening, even more so when you know your peers are not going to understand something as basic as your belief system.
As early as first grade, I remember being asked by my classmates if my mom was a witch and if I believed in God. I did believe in a god or goddess, but I didn't have the words to explain it.
Through the years, my friends and peers would joke that I was a Satan worshipper. I lost friends because I was “weird” or different.
But, I was raised to be polite, so I tried not to hold grudges for other people’s beliefs.
Around 4th or 5th grade, I remember asking my mom if I had to say “one nation under God” as we said the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t believe the words, “Under God,” and they made me uncomfortable.
It may seem silly or simple. Just say it, you don't have to believe it.
But in going along with a reality I didn’t believe, I grew bitter about organized religion as I grew up. I always struggled to look past the hypocrisy that seemed embedded into each of them. But I studied them because I wanted to understand what everyone else did.
The Christian holidays that so many Americans celebrate are actually intertwined with Paganism.
If you know your history, that’s because the Catholic Church tolerated some Pagan rituals in Christian holidays in order to convert more Pagans.
The Easter bunny, and the eggs he brings, are a Pagan symbol of fertility and new life. Decorating a Christmas tree is based on ancient Pagan traditions of cutting down trees from a sacred grove, a way of paying homage to our ancestors who have become a part of the Earth.
So, some parts of my faith are seen as tradition while others are seen as blasphemy.
I think one thing that always irritated me was how often I was told I was a ‘good Christian’ from people that didn't know I was a Pagan. I desperately wanted to look at it from their moral standpoint because a lot of religious people derive their morality from their religion. By them telling me I’m a good Christian what they meant was I’m a good person.
But people don’t understand that Paganism teaches a lot of the same morality, just in different ways.
It isn't a structured religion so much as a belief system that rarely looks the same for two people. My belief differs from my parents’ and what I hold true might be quite different from someone else's experience within Paganism.
That said, as a modern Pagan, I was raised to believe that the Earth - Gaia - is a goddess. It’s different than the way Christians view their god, as an omnipotent and all-knowing being. But Gaia is connected to a vast energy that connects and flows through each of us and the whole universe.
I follow an earth-based lifestyle as much as possible and I celebrate the 8 Sabbats, which are festivals celebrated throughout the year to honor the Earth’s seasons. This cycle is called the ‘Wheel of the Year.’
“The word ‘sabbat’ itself comes from the witches' sabbaths attested to in Early Modern witch trials,” according to Witchcraft and Witches, an online resource.
“Most of the names of the individual Sabbats derive from historical Celtic and Germanic Pagan festivals, although some non-traditional names [like] Litha and Mabon … have become popular in North America.” (Learn More Here)
The following are seen as the “traditional” Pagan holidays: Beltane, Litha (summer solstice), Ostara (spring equinox, which is where the name ‘Easter’ comes from), Lughnasadh, Mabon (the autumnal equinox), Samhain (halloween), Yule (winter solstice, celebrated just before Christmas) and Imbolc.
I was also raised believing that all things are energy that can be used to heal ourselves, our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.
Like the concept of karma, we get back the energy we put into the world.
I was taught we have a path that is connected to the paths of others. When our paths intersect, we teach or learn from each other's experiences.
That ebb and flow is kind of our collective consciousness where one person helps one person who helps the next and so on, until we are all better off collectively.
This taught me to look at every friendship as a learning experience and every hardship, something to grow from and become a stronger person.
I recently reconnected with my spirituality in a meaningful way.
Now, what I value most is to keep love in my heart, love myself as much as possible, and then try to spread as much of that loving energy as far as I can. If my positive energy can influence even one person, that would be amazing.
For a long time, I couldn’t separate the inconsistency in others viewing my religion as invalid when I knew it to be spiritually rich. Ultimately, that made me look down on members of organized religions.
I became a hypocrite: So stuck on feeling like my spirituality was not validated the way I felt I deserved, I began to invalidate others the same way
But that energy of change I believe in can’t come from a place of ego or perceived moral high ground. My belief doesn't make me better or worse than anyone else and neither does yours.
It took me many years to stop waiting around for other people to make me feel valid. Because that isn't the point.
Believing in something that is bigger than us helps us be motivated to make change in ourselves and our lives. That belief is what makes us strong, no matter what form it takes.