Self Interview, pt. 2: My Life with the Gods

Religion has always been very important in my life. I am very devoted to my Gods. Gods? Did I just read that correctly, Valentina? You may wonder. Yes, you did. I don’t worship one big Father God in the sky. I am a Polytheist, I believe in and worship multiple gods and goddesses, and I respect and revere the gods of many cultures and places. Yet there is much more to my beliefs than just that simple explanation. I have Animistic and Pantheistic leanings to my beliefs as well. Let me explain… I believe in non-human spiritual beings and gods, and that sometimes the Gods and the Universe are the same. Human beings aren’t the only ones with souls. The Gods do not always wear human masks or appear human at all, sometimes they aren’t even animals, they inhabit things and places, arrive and announce themselves as natural phenomena such as thunder or gusts of wind, and they can even be present in plants and inanimate objects we’d never normally associate as spiritual.  Most people do not, and can not, believe and perceive the Divine. I have discovered that the Gods are not some distant powerful beings existing in Heaven. Divinity is not always a personal, anthropomorphic, or creator entity either. At times I have sensed the presence of the Gods as forces beyond or outside of the universe, as well as within it, and they are also the universe itself all at once. Perhaps They are existence — the essence that makes up our souls to begin with. Leading me to say next that Panentheism may also be what I believe; that not only do the Gods exist, but that they have personalities, they inhabit every part of nature and the universe, perhaps are the universe and our souls’ genesis as well, yet also are endless and existing beyond our universe. Truth be told, the Gods are SO not human and beyond our understanding, in order to comprehend them we see the Gods in Our Own Image or as a reflection of ourselves.  God did not make us in His or Her image.  We are too little.

Second to the Gods are other just as powerful and important spiritual beings who exist in and share this world with us.  A Divine Presence can be found anywhere and be in anything, but most people don’t think such things are possible. Until something odd or unexplained happens, something that can’t be debunked by science, and therefore frightening to experience because it seems to exist beyond our senses, people will never experience the Gods or spirits. But even if that Divine Presence can’t be seen, and can only be felt or heard, existing only in a seemingly disembodied state, is it really something that lies outside of nature? Is it truly SUPERnatural? What someone would think is a “ghost” may actually be a visiting God who has never forgotten the people who once lived in the place where They were worshiped, or the so-called spirit could be a deified ancestor connected to an old house a family owned for many generations. What’s a deified ancestor?  A great grandparent or other loved one’s spirit who, in life, did great deeds or was famous, connected to a family or has become a legend in history, deeply regarded as an important person to the point where this reverence has given them a Divine Presence.  One of your ancestors, even if they weren’t well known, could have had such a deep connection to a deity in their life that the God associated with them has become a sort of family guardian angel, but much more powerful.  Even the place where ghosts are said to haunt may have its own Divine Spark — not just a connection to a God, it has its own consciousness and personality, and only by going there can we experience Them.  The spirit-place is not a ghost tied to a physical place because of a bad memory, nor are they the trapped soul of someone who doesn’t know they are dead, They are content to Be, and even if that place is destroyed and another building put over it, They never cease to Be.

Places aren’t the only things that can contain consciousness and power, the elements of nature also exist with their own personalities. Known as Elementals, Devas, or Nature Spirits, They are like little gods but quite unlike people. Witches are taught to respect all forms of life, even the unseen are called by name and remembered, we even thank them and ask permission from them when we cut wood, draw water from a well, or blow out the flame from a candle. One could go paranoid thinking that there are spirits spying on us everywhere, looking in on us, touching us while we sleep, taking naked pictures of us while we shower… But it’s not crazy like that! Spirits in the world are as common as squirrels and mice, but how often does one of them get up close and personal and sleep with you? I don’t know about you, but as far as me and my house is concerned, the rodents and spirits here are content to stay in their designated corners, if you know what I mean. Since we share this world, it’s only fair to make sure that what I do doesn’t hurt them as well. Same goes for the spirits. If you’re kind to Them, They will make luck good for you.

Supernatural living beings only seem “super” to us because they defy what we believe is normal, logical, and proven to be real. I can’t prove to you what is real, I can only state what I have found to be real.

How did you come up with these beliefs, Valentina?
Personal experience, first figuring it out and thinking it was something new and uniquely my own, then later after research and, even later,  meeting other people from different cultures who practiced other religions.   Finally I met the right teachers at the right time.  Even my “bad” teachers gave me examples to learn from.  Disillusionment was a great teacher of mine!

I had visions from an early age on through adulthood. I talked to a lot of spirits who were my imaginary friends that kept me company when I was lonely.  I also believe that it was something innate or inherited, passed on to me from my Menominee heritage.  Yet even that can defy explanation because I didn’t grow up on the reservation.  I grew up with my mother.  My parents weren’t together. I was brought up the very “white people” way, possibly the whitest way I could have been brought up.  I didn’t start to explore what the Native American Church was all about until I was a young adult, but I never grew accustomed to the taste of peyote. I can have visions without it.

I could also have inherited some of my intuition and love of religion from my German ancestry as well.  Perhaps there were, long ago, witches in the Belt family…  who knows?  From both my parents, I got magic in my blood.

I didn’t come up with my beliefs, nor did I create them, and I never was right or wrong, it just was.  I didn’t follow any one book or path right away. Eventually Wicca or Witchcraft fit me fine because of its feminist and Goddess emphasis.  It felt like home and that’s where I stayed.

What was your childhood like and how did it influence your religious beliefs?
My family traveled A LOT and we were never in one place for longer than two years or so. My mother was always on a mission to save souls and our lives revolved around religion. Everyday was an adventure, but growing in unstable and ever-changing environments took a toll. Every time I made friends, I had to tell them good-bye. I never got to have the kind of life-long friends most people cherish. So being in that whirlpool of agitated social circumstances, exposed to many different kinds of people who needed help, I started to pick up on little subtle things in these unfamiliar places. I did my best to follow what my mother taught me like every good daughter should, especially since it was all I knew. Also since I was a lonely kid who had a hard time making friends because of all the moves we made, it’s no wonder I tended to attract spirits who knew I could see and hear them. I tried to ignore the spirits, but it was too easy to befriend them because they were fun!  I had a hard time articulating what I was perceiving, and when I did report to adults what I experienced, I was scoffed at or, worst situation ever, punished for communicating with THE DEVIL! Because any powerful unseen spiritual being I talked to that existed outside the reality of the Christian faith was deemed demonic and unnatural. But to me these beings weren’t evil or abnormal, they were just living beings like everyone else. Sure, I had a lot of imagination, and occasionally I dreamed up silly things, but I had real visions I was forced to keep to myself. It was only when I got into college that I started to formulate intelligently an explanation for my spiritual experiences.

To tell the truth, I grew up in college!  Even before my mother was moving us from state to state preaching the word of God, she worked at colleges.  My earliest, fondest memories are all from times spent in classrooms and being surrounded by students from all walks of life.  When Mom had to work late, my brother and I got to attend special classes for the kids of college staff workers. Right after school I’d go straight to Cardinal Stritch University and got to learn how to draw from life. This encouraged a lifelong interest in and helped me develop my talent for art.  I find more comfort being in a college atmosphere than being in a church.

What was your childhood religious education like and how did your mother influence your spiritual beliefs?

 I was very curious as a kid because I was forbidden to know more about the world, and yet my mother would let me spend a great deal of time in the public library. My Mom was a single parent and she would’ve never got a higher education if it weren’t for donations from her church. When she went to Central Bible College, I was just about to turn 12, we were uprooted from a nice Milwaukee apartment to a shabby one room trailer that looked like a tin can! This sudden shift from inner city life to one smack dab in the middle of Springfield, Missouri (the buckle of the Bible Belt) was not an easy adjustment. Mom was often very busy with missionary work and her studies, so “my babysitter” was the student library. Even though it was a religious institution’s library, there were plenty of books about world religions, philosophy, and cults. Most of the books were all written with a very biased, Christian point-of-view, much of the literature were all warnings about what to look out for about other religions and how they are all going to Hell for leading people away from Christ, but not all of them were so jam-packed with foreboding. It took me many years to really understand what I was reading. Eventually, come bible study time at church, I began to openly question the material I was told was the only way, truth, and light. I couldn’t believe that all other people in the world were wrong. How could God create it that way?  It didn’t make sense.

I grew up strictly Pentecostal Christian. My mother was a very devout Born Again Christian, and a very active member of the Assembly of God church.  She made it her life’s mission to preach the word of God. I was brought up in a household where religion was a lifestyle and a job, not just an every Sunday worship event. We went to church four times a week! Mom did her best to make sure I was never exposed to any other beliefs and religions. We weren’t allowed to watch TV or listen to secular music. Everything was Jesus-centered and it was really hard to be a child with an intuitive imagination like mine in that kind of atmosphere.

While some kids were focused on homework after supper, I had double the amount of work to do because I also had to study the Bible and memorize scripture.  Wednesday nights were Bible Study and it was serious business.  It wasn’t just a group of Christians gathered around for fellowship, pastors and deacons volunteered extra time to help us go deeper into the word of God.  It also wasn’t just the King James Bible we studied, there were other versions, many different translations, and I even got to be exposed to a little bit of Hebrew.  All of the studying had to do with how to apply what was written in ancient times to modern day living.  It was also like group therapy, too.  Kids and adults were encouraged to let their emotions out, confess their sins openly, and ask for forgiveness.  This could be very depressing!  But then towards the end, the service would shift into rock-and-roll gear.

The most enjoyable part of my religious education was getting to PRAISE THE LORD.  This meant a lot of singing, dancing in the aisles, clapping, and playing music.  I was never able to read music, but I could carry a tune well.  Even though the music was often sappy, in the church choir you could become the congregation’s star!  It was better than karaoke because I actually got to really learn how to perform and I was given lots of practice time.  Church provided musical education for free.  All you had to do was bring your enthusiasm and talent.  If you proved to be good at it, you were asked to sing during prayer services and other functions.  This was a huge honor.  Some of my proudest moments were the times when I got to sing during a baptism and after a New Year’s Eve service.  It seemed to me that there was a bit of showmanship in our church services.  For many years I got to go on tour with my church choir and sing solos as if I really were a star.  Every Christmas and Easter there was a church musical.  My brother was usually the one who got all the big parts, so sometimes I was content to be in the background, but eventually it got very annoying.

If you were a girl, you weren’t allowed to do things the boys could do.  One thing that was very strongly encouraged was that the men were “the promise makers” and that women, according to God, were created second and therefore were the handmaidens.  Instead of being encouraged to be a strong, independent kind of woman, I was taught to be more submissive and that the greatest thing to expect in life was to become a wife and mother.  Nothing more.  I had a problem with that!  I envied my brother because, since there was such a focus on nurturing the more masculine values, this meant the boys got to go on adventures like camping trips and cave exploring, while I often was bored waiting around for them to come back.  But that was the least of my grief.  I wanted to do more, be more, look forward to a future that did not mean I would have to revolve my life around a husband and children.

I also think I was too smart to submit.  I was taught not to question things, but that’s not what I learned.  My mother’s example of being actively involved in church, above all, taught me that a woman could lead and make a big difference in other people’s lives.  She didn’t have to be under the thumb of a husband to accomplish this sort of mission.  My mother helped build churches!  She sacrificed her time, energy, and even her health and her children’s comfort all for the sake of God.  Sure, I grew angry about it, even jealous of the people she helped, but in time I appreciated the positive impact my mother made.

Eventually I would discover the rest of the world, and come to spiritual conclusions of my own without someone converting me or convincing me to believe against my conscience.  For many years I felt a little guilty for leaving my mother’s religion because the conditioning — that upbringing — the education side of it was so emotional, it polices your every decision and action, so whenever you dare to think beyond it, the community that drives it shuns you and then makes you think God will turn His back on you, too.  So wrong! Such a misunderstanding and so sad.

It was also very hard to be myself because my mother was so devoted, so spiritually strong, and such a gifted counselor, she was like a nun or a saint. I felt depressed when I couldn’t share with her my spiritual experiences. I had to respect her beliefs even though she couldn’t even imagine how I came to mine, nor could she ever respect or tolerate mine.  She was my biggest religious influence, but she wasn’t my most negative one.  Even though I would become pagan, I am still my mother’s daughter, I still have that little preacher choir girl within me who looks up to her Mom, and in a very real way, she’s also why I’m a Witch.

What do you remember about your earliest experiences with the Gods? What God/dess did you meet first?

From a very early age on, I had spiritual experiences that I could not explain away, experiences that were pleasant and natural, friendly even. I had a lot of invisible friends and talked to them for hours. I was the kind of baby that was always making noise at night, later I grew to be a child that seemed to talk to herself a lot at night, but I was really talking to my friends! I didn’t know to keep this to myself. I didn’t think it was strange. Mom didn’t pay it much mind until I wasn’t growing out of it. “Who are you talking to all the time?” She’d sneak into my room to try to listen in on what was being said. I told her “Isis” and she was all instant worry. “Where did you hear that name?” She tried to keep her composure and carefully, sensing that she was unhappy, I said Isis told me who She was and that She was here to help us. At the time it was the mid-70s and one Saturday morning show was a spin-off of Shazam! called The Secrets of Isis (later called Isis), so it would not have been that unusual for me to have heard this name before. But I wasn’t allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons. The only way I could have seen the show was when I spent a weekend at a family friend’s home, or when a babysitter spent the weekend while Mom was busy at a church retreat. My mother was prepared to go on the war path if that were true! But when Mom asked me to describe to her who Isis looked like and if she was from the Devil or not, I was punished for my answer.

The first time I EVER heard the word “Goddess” and the plural form of god “GODS” was from my own mother’s mouth. I had only ever heard the word GOD. “Jesus doesn’t want you to put any GODS or GODDESSES before HIM!” My mother cried as she spanked me and then ordered me to stand in a corner. As I wept, my face firmly planted against the wall, I was determined to talk to Isis more often, but make it less obvious, and find out the truth behind all things.

I had described Isis as like an angel, but She was almost like a woman wrapped up in many wings and Her wings were like the sleeves of a robe. The sleeves were multi-fold, moving, breathing in and out as if Her wings acted as lungs, but lungs that were arms. The wings were gold, almost liquid, transparent, definitely not feathers, more like living light. At first Mom thought I was describing just an angel, and she would’ve been pleased to leave it at that, but I wasn’t finished. Isis also had cow’s ears and very large, wide eyes almost like an owl. Her feet and legs were like the roots of a tree but not rooted to the ground. As she opened and closed Her wings, inside She had multiple breasts.  She wasn’t human, no, not at all.  But She was all kinds of lovely and I looked forward to Her visits.  After telling my mother a more childlike description of what I wrote just now, Isis didn’t come back as often, and eventually it seemed like She was nothing but a dream.  I had other Gods to talk to, yet as I got older mundane life became more important and there seemed no more time for me to spend in solitude like that, talking with the Gods.

Did you ever have an experience with the Gods inside a church?

Sort of. I remember going to a Christian rock concert, the first live concert I ever attended, Petra was the main act, and I looked around to see no one was dancing to the music. I think I was 14 at the time, I loved music, loved to sing, and was finally discovering secular pop music (thanks to my junior high school pals). I really wanted to cut loose and DANCE! How could anyone resist dancing? I prayed to God and asked, “If you’re here and you are holy and full of power, then enter me now! Let my dancing be everyone dancing!” So I jumped up from my seat and, despite my youth group pastor ordering me to get back, I ran up in front of the stage and just exploded into a dance. I remember members of the band really appreciating my enthusiasm. One of the guitarists moved with me, we went back and forth, head-banging a little bit. I took some glances back at the audience, no one was joining me in this dance. I almost started to feel dorky, but then… I felt a jolt of energy go up my spine and I started to spin like a top. It was like I was flying. I was no longer aware of where I was or who I was, I just WAS and it was all JOY. I don’t know how long this lasted. Then I heard a cry. It was a woman crying out as if she was in pain. I suddenly had this vision of a feminine figure wrapped up in fire. Her hair was all fire, her skin was all aflame, but she wasn’t burning. Around her waist there was a very large snake she wore as a belt. She floated above the audience and began to touch each forehead with her fingers of fire. The vision was a split-second sort of happening and then I stumbled into a chair. I came back into my own clumsy human consciousness to discover I was now in a crowd full of dancing people who were all “on fire” with passion, jumping and putting their hands up, but not in a holy-roller fashion. This was something beyond Christianity, it was more primal. As I regained my balance and wondered who the woman I saw was, one of the associate youth pastors from my church took hold of my arm to indicate to me that it was time to leave. We had to leave a bit early to beat the traffic, but I think my pastors were a tad uncomfortable. I later found out that I accidentally exposed my panties while I was dancing! So, yeah, no wonder I found myself surrounded by a lot of guys, too. I hadn’t even noticed. I was too much in the spirit!

How could you tell if you were seeing a spirit or a God? How could you tell it was good or evil, or just your imagination?

In the particular experience I mentioned above, you have to remember that I came from a Pentecostal background where I was taught that the Holy Spirit descends and “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” Acts 2:3. The Holy Spirit was always described to me as a being of fire touching the foreheads of worshipers, setting them “on fire” and compelling them to speak in tongues. The Holy Spirit, to me, was like a God or Goddess, a spirit being with a personality and purpose that directly interacted with people. But I do not believe she was the Holy Spirit spoken of in Christianity. I believe she was something far older and existing far beyond the understanding of Christians who were tapping into her energy. I knew she wasn’t my imagination, but I also knew she seemed to be the personification of the music I was dancing to. If she was seen by the audience, they would’ve ran away screaming, thinking she was demonic. She felt good to me and didn’t seem to be harming those she touched. Before I identified with Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft, I tried to fit these spirits and Gods into the context of the Christian experience, even exclaiming to my peers that I saw an angel of fire, yet this was only half true. I knew it was something deeper.

Was it a hallucination? A sign of mental illness? Was I imagining things and saying I saw them to get attention? No. I would experience hallucinations and mental illness later in life. The distinction between a true vision and just a dream is simply this:

There is an intelligence behind what you see that communicates with you inside of you and all around you when you experience a personal relationship with the Gods. A figment or fancy is empty, void of character, there is no life, just vapor, and it fades leaving you cold. You can’t interact with the dream. But the Gods move you.

________________________

There is SO much more for me to share that I have to break it up into other parts and/or subjects. I could write more about my experiences with the Gods, yet it will just take me too long, plus much of it is far too personal AND I have to ask permission.  I have to be careful about what Gods I talk about, not out of fear of them, but out of love and respect for them.  Also to talk about them is to invoke them and invite them in.  I have to be willing to take on the consequences of letting that happen!  There is another reason as well, to keep the mystery of them sacred.  I certainly don’t want to spoil the discovery of the Gods for other seekers, or set false hopes and expectations, much less invite ridicule.  I cannot give someone else Divine Revelation anyway, I can only share with you what I have done in my life to foster my relationships with the Gods.

After reviewing what I’ve written here, I realize I have delved more into my early spiritual experiences and my religious upbringing, yet I’ve barely scratched the surface, leaving no room at the moment to talk about my present relationship with the Gods. I want to share the joy of my everyday practices, too, yet this also might get too personal. Do I really want to expose my private self so much? I have to think about it a little more.  I want to share, but not OVER share, a tendency I developed due to living too much in solitude.  Yet it is in solitude that one can best listen and communicate with the Gods!

Coming Soon: Living with the Gods: The Witch’s Path

(or something titled like that because this Witch is still formulating what she is going to write next… which may change with my thoughts, and I am a poor editor of my thoughts!)

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