I grew up in a small southern town, a horrible place that I will only refer to as “the town”. It was a total hillbilly redneck town, filled with alcoholics, homophobes and racists. There’s really no nice way to put it. If you were perceived as anything other than a white heterosexual, you were ostracized and targeted. Bigotry, discrimination and racism were rampant and unchecked. Ironically, the people claimed to be religious and most considered themselves Christian. They would go to church on Sunday and call you a faggot on Monday. The overall mentality of the town had a way of squashing all creativity and ambition out of a person. Any expression of dreams or goals was immediately met with negativity. “You can’t do that”. “You need a lot of training for that”. “You’re not qualified”. “You shouldn’t do that”. No one in the town had lofty ambitions. The people were very simple minded. Favorite pastimes were getting high, getting drunk, watching wrestling on TV or going to the drag car races at the run-down amusement park on the edge of town. I had no interest in any of it. I always felt I had been born in the wrong place, the wrong country and even to the wrong family. I had nothing in common with any of them. Few people in the town had ever traveled outside the state in their lives, much less the town itself. The town seemed to exist in a bubble, with the people completely unaware or willfully ignorant of the world outside. I’m fairly certain two-thirds of them had very little education, and it showed in the way they spoke. The people spoke with a thick southern drawl that to me sounded uneducated and uncultured. Country music was extremely popular there. With no disrespect to my friends who like country music, I personally cannot stand it, most likely because I associate it with the people of the town. That ‘twang’ just reminds me of where I grew up and the bad experiences I had there.
I was forced to watch far too many episodes of Hee-Haw and The Waltons. To this day these programs still make me cringe. I absolutely did not fit in with this ultra-conservative, backwoods mentality, nor did I want to. If growing up there taught me anything, it was the kind of person I did not want to become. The people just seemed to passively coast through life, with no drive or ambition. The church I was forced to attend was Southern Baptist, the typical hellfire and brimstone variety. The pastor made it a weekly habit of pointing down at us younger folks from his lofty pulpit, pointing his finger and shouting “YOU’RE THE ONES GOING TO HELL, NOT ME!”. Whenever we had to stand and sing one of the dirges from the hymnbook, I would turn and look around at a sea of cheap polyester suits and plain-faced housewives piously holding up their hymnals. I knew that some of them would be having arguments on the way home, and the men would return to their drinking and bigoted lives. I saw all of the hypocrisy and pretense.
I spent most of my childhood living with my grandmother. This was due to the fact that my mother was only 15 when I was born, and she had poor taste in men. She was lonely, and married a string of physically abusive men. She left me with my grandmother and took my younger brother with her to live with her husbands. She had five husbands in all, each of which mistreated her. Over the years, my mother and I had a volatile relationship, as we were both strong-willed and stubborn. When I was 20 years old I told her I was gay, but she already knew. It took years for her to finally accept it. “You’ll catch AIDS”, she warned me and would open her King James Bible to show me where it says “man shall not lie with man”. The usual bullshit. I am now in my fifties, I still don’t have AIDS, and I have happily lain with several men. No regrets. Desire, lust and sexuality are all things to be celebrated and embraced, they are not things to be ashamed of. My mother and I never really became close until shortly before her death in 2011. I later learned she had always referred to me as “the strong one”. It was a long time until I realized she had left me with my grandmother for my own safety. However, my grandmother had major issues of her own, which you will soon discover. My father was absent for most of my life. I have scattered memories of him. I know he was in the military. At certain points he was a carpet salesman, a bricklayer and a security guard. He was also an alcoholic. I remember visiting him briefly at different locations. I remember he had a collie dog named Charlie. I remember him asking me if I was a coward. I remember at least two of his wives other than my mother. I also remember his phone calls and empty promises. He would promise to pick me up from my grandmother’s house so we could spend some time together. This happened many times. We made plans, I waited and waited, and he just never showed up.
I spent many nights watching for him out the window, tears running down my face, waiting for a father who never appeared. I finally accepted the fact that he could not be counted on and was not a man of his word. I believe he was a product of the town, the same mentality, the same attitudes. During these times, I considered that maybe my grandmother was right, and I was truly unwanted. Today I have only a few pictures of this man they say was my father. In one photo, a faded polaroid, he has his arm around another man. They are both wearing military uniforms. In a newspaper clipping he is wearing a security guard uniform, and there is a dog at his feet. When I learned he died in the early 1980’s it was not a big deal for me. I had not seen or heard from him in many years. He was killed while drunk driving. He was 47 at the time, and I remember wondering if I myself would live past 47. I determined that I would not be an alcoholic like he was. When I learned he had died, my reaction was admittedly cold.“Oh, my dad died…okay. What’s for dinner?” I know he had other children, whom I have no desire to meet. People ask if I missed having a father, but how can you miss something you never had? When I was growing up I thought it was strange when other kids still lived with both their biological parents. I had at least two step-mothers and four step-fathers, one of whom was younger than me. The Waltons we were not. I’m pretty certain I have PTSD from the years I lived with my grandmother. She never cleaned the house, and if I didn’t do any cleaning it did not get done. She rarely bathed, had terrible body odor and never brushed her teeth. In fact, she was missing a few. She was constantly swearing and cursing. I endured daily verbal abuse from her. There was a lot of darkness in that house. She didn’t care about her appearance, and the house eventually became nearly uninhabitable. It wasn’t long before the house became infested with cochroaches and mice. I would wake up in the middle of the night with cochroaches crawling on my arms.
If I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, I would see half a dozen mice jump off the kitchen table, and several cochroaches run from the light to hide under the fridge. There were a few rats in the house, too. I would hear them in the attic at night, and once when I was in the kitchen there was a large rat sitting on top of the fridge, hissing at me.
My grandmother saw how different I was from everyone else, and she made it a point to remind me every day. She said I was left with her because my parents didn’t want me. She said I was “strange and abnormal”. Her exact words. I didn’t play sports and I wasn’t interested in girls. I was always reading. She repeatedly told me that I would be a failure in life and never amount to anything. When you hear things like this enough times, especially when you’re young, you might start to believe them. It was clear that I was unwelcome and unwanted. I became very depressed and tried to kill myself by swallowing a bottle of aspirin. I lay down in bed and went to sleep. I wanted to die. Hours later I awoke with severe stomach pain, but I didn’t tell anyone what I had done. Who would believe me? I just suffered through it until the pain subsided. My grandmother had been telling people that I was constantly lying, or that I would disappear for days at a time. She painted me as some sort of delinquent. She was not the typical sweater-knitting, rocking chair sort of grandmother. She’d had very little education herself. She was also a chain smoker and had only one lung. The other had been removed due to her incessant smoking, but this did not deter her from continuing the habit. I’m sure I breathed in a lot of second-hand smoke while I lived there. The livingroom curtains and the furniture were stained with it. I remember one night she woke me up at three in the morning, because she was out of cigarettes. It was pouring rain outside and the nearest store was a twenty minute walk. She told me I had to get her more cigarettes, so off I went, walking the streets at 3am, in a torrential downpour, because she needed cigarettes. I remember feeling angry and frustrated. Did she realize this was dangerous? Would she care if I was kidnapped? Her cigarettes were more important than my safety. I was still in my early teens and as I recall, they did not ask me for identification.
My grandmother had very few friends, but one of them was a woman whose real name was Lois Lane, just like Superman’s girlfriend. Lois Lane had a big bouffant hairdo that sat high on her head and a sense of humor that always had me laughing. She would come to visit my grandmother sometimes or if she needed help running errands. On one occasion I was in my bedroom, and I heard my grandmother telling Lois Lane that she hadn’t seen me for days and didn’t know where I was. A flat-out lie. I promptly strolled into the living room and sat down in a chair so I could see the look on both their faces. I wanted Lois Lane to see what a liar my grandmother was. We rarely went to visit Lois Lane at her place. My grandmother didn’t like going there, because she said Lois Lane had an Ouija board and wanted the two of them to use it together. I wondered if Lois Lane had already used it. I never asked.
Due to my dysfunctional upbringing, I’m sure I developed some learning disabilities, though they were never officially diagnosed. I remember learning to read was a huge struggle, but once I learned how, I devoured every book I could find. I spent a lot of time at the local library. If I wasn’t at a park or with friends, that’s where I could be found. I read many books about meditation and various occult subjects. It all seemed familiar. I taught myself how to meditate at an early age, though when I first started I didn’t realize that what I was doing was something called Creative Visualization. When you continually picture a situation the way you want it to be, and allow yourself to feel it could be true, over time circumstances will align to make it happen. This and other meditative practices are essentially what helped unlock other doors for me spiritually. They awakened certain mystical gifts in me and increased my awareness of things I sensed but could not see. I often had a sudden awareness of personal things about people around me. Meditation also increased my intuitive skills. Intuition is powerful. If you learn to listen, it will take you where you want to go. When I still lived in the town, there were many times that I put my intuition to the test. During the winter months when it was too stressful to be at home, I would bundle up and go outside for a walk. I would bring a book and ask the universe to lead me somewhere warm and quiet. I would literally just start walking and let my inner voice guide the way. Turn left at this corner. Walk down that street. Turn right at the blue house. On different days I discovered different places to go for solitude. I didn’t mind where it was, as long as it was warm and quiet. At all of these places, the doors were always unlocked and there was never anyone else inside. I would stay until I felt guided to leave. An empty catholic church, a college campus classroom, once even an empty apartment at the top of a high-rise. I went where I was guided and found them all. They were refuges from the storm, and no one ever knew I was there.
I remember looking out the windows of this high-rise apartment, gazing down over the town I despised so, and uttering out loud that I wanted to live in California someday. This was many years before that was ever a possibility, long before my mother met the husband who would take her there. I eventually did live in California for over twenty years.
In the warmer months while still living with my grandmother, I spent a lot of time outside among the trees and flowers, where I would meditate, chant and visualize myself somewhere else, in better circumstances. Being outdoors among nature was a source of strength. I sensed a strong connection to the natural world, although I didn’t fully understand what it all meant at the time. I knew that I was different in some ways, because I could see things that others couldn’t. The first time I remember this happening, I was visiting my mother and her husband-at-the-time in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was around seven or eight years old. It was a hot summer day and I was sitting outside on the curb in front of their house. I was looking down the street, just watching the scenery. A neighborhood kid was riding his bicycle in my direction, at a slow pace. Following behind him was something I had never seen before. The best way I can describe it is that it was some sort of glowing entity. I don’t remember if it was walking or floating in mid-air, but it was following the kid on the bike. The kid was completely unaware of it, as were other people on the street. It seemed I was the only one who could see it. The entity itself did not react to me, and I don’t remember feeling afraid or threatened. As the kid passed me on his bike, the entity slowly vanished from sight. It was then that I learned there are energies and forces around us that not everyone can see. I’ve had many more experiences like this one from that time on, but I rarely talk about them. There are few people who believe in such things.
I’ve learned quite a lot over the years about spirit entities, thought-forms and such, and to avoid people thinking I’ve gone mad, I keep most of these encounters to myself. I know from experience that our visible world is not the only reality. What is reality? Some feel it is the rigidity of what we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. Magical people know there is more to reality than this. It is not so rigid as others would you have believe. There are energies, entities and forces around us that most people cannot see. This also is reality. Subtle energies can be influenced in such a way as to make things happen, often very specific things. This also is reality. When loved ones die, they are still with us in spirit, and through certain means, we can still interact with them. This also is reality. Plants, trees, stones and even the elements of earth, air, fire and water all contain a living essence or spirit. This also is reality. Other realms, other dimensions, other realities exist alongside our own. This also is reality. I am a pagan because my life experiences led me down this path. My beliefs are not based on faith, but on real experiences. I believe in spirit beings because they have materialized in front of me. I believe in magic because I have seen it work. I believe in other realities because I have encountered them. I know what it means to walk between the worlds, to traverse the boundary between the mundane and magical realms.
Mysticism and the Divine are not the sole domain of Christianity and the God of the Bible. There are mystics in every religion, every spiritual path, and not one of them is superior or inferior to another. Some say that the true purpose of mysticism is “Union with God”, but I see it more as Union with the Divine, in a broader sense, to include divinities of all cultures and pantheons, not just the rigid Father/Son/Holy Spirit of the Bible. I do not view the gods and goddesses as merely archetypes or energies, but as real living entities.
We need to get away from this idea that the only way to true spirituality and mystical enlightenment is through some connection to the biblical God. This falsehood has been hammered into the human psyche for millenia. There is no “one true way” to reach enlightenment. Also, I do not believe the popular New Age philosophy that “all religions are one” or that “all roads lead to center”. They do not. Different religions have different destinations and some of them are at odds with each other. Some extremist religions advocate killing or ostracizing anyone following a different path. All roads do not lead to center.
I do not view paganism as a religion but as a path of spirituality.
Religion oppresses. Spirituality awakens.
Religion exerts control and dominance. Spirituality offers freedom and release.
Religion commands you do it this way or else. Spirituality invites you to do whatever brings you peace.