Conceivably, a person could continue like this for the rest of her life, happily moving from one metaphysical practice to another, or from one deity to the next. Certainly this is what I did for a long while, stopping somewhere until the gnawing sense of emptiness grew unbearable and I started looking for something new to fill it. I was searching for a way to establish a firm relationship with God, yet paradoxically, the more options I was given to do so, the weaker that relationship became.
Finally, I grew desperate enough to seek out other people; to set down the books, to go see what I could find in the fellowship of fellow New Age/pagan/occult/notmembers of Organized Religion. I went to a meeting of the campus pagan support group, where I met half dozen or so people who should have been my kindred spirits. I should have felt some connection with them, these folks on a similar journey as I was. Maybe if we weren’t exactly on the same road, we’d at least be able to shout at each other across the distance.
What I found were six people with six wildly different ideas on everything remotely connected to God. One woman worshiped an obscure Egyptian goddess who had a name I’ve since forgotten. This was in stark relief to the only male in attendance, who worshiped a trio of Norse gods, the names of which he insisted were so sacred they could only be revealed to those who had been properly initiated. There were a few women who worshiped a vague sort of Earth goddess type, and someone who was an atheist, but came to the meetings because no one else would believe that she was in communication with alien life forms.
I was immediately struck by the fact that I wasn’t going to find spiritual guidance here. What I found was a hodgepodge of religious beliefs not substantially different than what I’d find while waiting at the dentist’s office, or while grocery shopping. Plus, like payments expected at the dentist or the grocery store, the pagan support group wanted me to cough up money, $20 to cover membership fees.
The whole thing wasn’t a wash, however. The experience got me thinking about the nature of worship. After all, to worship something is a pretty big deal. Even the constant misuse of the word in popular culture can’t water down its meaning completely. To worship something means to view it in a profound sense of admiration. You admire the object of worship in a manner that you admire nothing else.
Once I articulated this, fatal cracks in the New Age façade formed. The nature of pantheons, to which most of the deities in pagan religious structures belong, is a familial one. That means individual gods and goddesses were created from previous gods and goddesses. Think about all the Greek myths you learned in school. There was a family tree there, and you could trace Athena back to Zeus, back to Cronus, back and back, and what you had was a series of creatures. It seemed foolish to me to admire a created deity in a manner that I admired nothing else, since that deity owed its existence to another entity. It would be like admiring the Mona Lisa above all other things, even the person whose skill created the painting. Worship, to make any sense at all, had to be directed at the original source.
Most of the pagan gods and goddesses that have any historically documented pedigree can trace their lineage ultimately to some deification of the Earth. I didn’t need to be a geologist or an astronomer to know that the Earth was a created object as well, and so the trail couldn’t end there. Where to look next, however, I couldn’t even begin to guess.
My unquestioning love affair with all things New Agey ended at the same time my stint in college did. I left MSU with a bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate to teach middle and high school students, and I left the New Age movement with a vague set of metaphysical philosophies and a weaker grasp on the nature of God than what I started with.
Tomorrow in the second installment, Cari’s life “goes South.”