Monday, 21 May 2007

Knowledge Pupates: how I left paganism for science

Part 1

With my birthday once again marching merrily toward me, I have been reflecting on how my mindset of memes has gotten me to where I am today as a skeptic in love with imaginative things. Knowledge pupates. It's a phrase I wrote on the bottom of the drawing to the left, when I gave this piece to a friend & co-worker. I've come a long way from my disorganised muddle of pagan ideas in my teen years. Over the next few weeks, I would like to indulge (it's my birfday!) in noting some of the mental roads I believe helped me travel to where I am now. I will continue to link from each part of the series on each post. Comments about other people's experiences are most welcome.


In my larval stage, (kids can be gross, it's an appropriate metaphor...watch one eat a popsicle), I was raised mostly without organised religion. My father was raised under the United Church, and my mom's family was "high" Anglican. Our family heritage is mostly English-Canadian from my dad, and my mom's was a mixture of English, Irish, Jamaican & Panamanian, and both my parents were born & raised in Ontario, Canada. My mom became a single parent when I was 8 years old, and had always filled the house with books. My siblings & I had books on just about any topic in the house. Tons were about science, and many books, fiction or not, had excellent illustrations. I learned to read for pleasure at an early age. On one school project, I listed dinosaurs, Star Wars, the Muppets and dragons as my biggest influences.

We got a dog. I would take him for long walks, in any season, from hot summer to tall snow drifts and we usually went to a wooded park nearby. I'd sit under the creaking branches, and draw or read or think, while my dog enjoyed the air and the many things his olfactory system could sniff. Around the same time, when I was about 12, I began reading folklore & mythology, and began taking a "Saturday Morning Class" called When Knighthood was in Flower with an amazing teacher, who introduced himself as Salard of Eagle's Haven. Cool indeed.

Salard was a member of The Society for Creative Anachronism, and taught the class about the middle ages, and about sword-fighting. It was amazing, and coupled with my growing interest in celtic folklore, as well as teenage hormones beginning to run amok, I began to find belief in magic more & more appealing.

But for a society class, we had to do a project on "counter-culture" groups, and I focussed on modern witchcraft. I was disappointed with what I learned. Since most traditions had been oral, and since men did not write them down, much of modern witchcraft had been revived (or outright invented) by Gardener & Crowley. This was a bit of a blow. I wanted the real stuff. In my teenage arrogance, I assumed I could figure it out. (I was in a program for "gifted" students...we'd been taught to do research and critically think on just about everything, including pop music lyrics. Most teenagers would benefit from the teaching style in my opinion, but that would be a whole other post.) I kept looking for as many fairy tale books as old as I could find, and read everything voraciously. I looked for patterns, and saw significance in the number 3 as an element of change (ladders make a 3-way portal, I was convinced this would lead to change, not bad luck. I walked under a lot of ladders.) Most of the world's mythologies that I could find had the moon female and the sun male, except in ancient Japan, so I read what I could about the hero Raiko, and kept reading about Arthur & Cu Chulain and the Morrigan and her aspects.

I should have been paying more attention. The Society for Creative Anachronism was not about fantasy or the supernatural, it was about how people used to live. The classes Salard taught for the Board of Ed. were taught in a secular way, and the religious component was left out of it. (He's a fantastic blacksmith by the way...hit the link on his name).

Somewhere along the way, I decided I did not want to share a lot of these thoughts with others, even if they were people I could trust or assume to be like-minded. It was a private worship, taking place in the trees and the wind while spending time with my dog. I made up a few tiny rituals that never worked, and I did not repeat.

I had always been fidgety and liked to draw, and I found I liked to write. I worked on a book off & on for a few years of high school, and novel of vampires and magick that incorporated many of my ideas (it was called "Tears of Blood", and was full of high melodrama). A lot of the drawings & paintings were an impetus for the story. (At some point, I may be persuaded to post one.) The artwork of Alan Lee (below) was what first inspired me to develop my drawing and painting skills. Eventually I won an award in high school for the book, and I felt it had been a large part of my life.

And, one night in a flurry of creative outburst, I finished the thing. About another 60 pages, if I recall (it was about 300 hand-written scribble). It was cathartic. The book had seen me through major friendships, girlfriends, and my forming, pupating years as a teenager, and I had finished it. And although for a while I planned two more parts, they just weren't in me. It was an ending of one part of my life.

In Part Two of Knowledge Pupates: How a fantasy novel about vampires led me back to rationality! Parrots & Astrology! Eve & Richard Dawkins!



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