What is New is Old Again.

Last week, I attended the funeral Mass of my uncle. This in and of itself is not so shocking for a Wiccan priest. However, let me give you some background. I left my spiritual home of Atlanta in December. A job and family led me back to my native Southern California after being away for 15 years. Upon arriving, I made it a point to visit my uncle who was terminally ill. This process turned out to be not only an opportunity to reconnect with him, but also with the rest of my extended family, almost all of whom live within one or two hours of my home in San Diego county.

Once my uncle succumbed to the ravages of late-stage cancer, the family directed its energy to the planning of the funeral. After a few hectic, last-minute schedule changes, the funeral was planned for a Saturday morning. In all the rush to attend, to connect with family whom I’ve not seen in a long time, I forgot that I hadn’t attended a Catholic mass since 1991, at my grandmother’s funeral.

I did make a conscious decision to attend, however, and to honor my uncle and my family, I felt it important to attend and participate in the mass. As pagans, we are sometimes befuddled by what to do with the religion of our childhood. Many of us came to the pagan path because something was left unfulfilled, we felt rejected or excluded, or we simply sought more resonance with Spirit elsewhere. For me, it was a little of everything. And, as such, the challenge for many of us is to embrace other religions, and take an attitude of tolerance, even those that we felt let us down. During my life, this feeling was sometimes so acute that the symbols of Catholicism took on sometimes ominous overtones, symbolizing oppression. Much as the Nazis usurped the swastika, it occurred to me one evening while watching a special on fundamentalist Christians, that in some ways Christianity was usurping and twisting the beautiful, rich symbolism of the cross.

As the mass proceeded, I found it easy to remember the responses and the flow of the Catholic mass. I was in Catholic education for over 12 years, after all. In the middle of it, something wonderful happened. I saw the mass as an ancient ritual with roots that stretched much further back than Christianity itself. I saw the altar as an archetypal representation of our need as humans to commune and supplicate to our notion of the Divine. I saw the chalice as a symbol of the Goddess, the Host as a symbol of the bounty of the earth and as a Divine offering. I saw the candles that flanked the altar as a reminder of the polarity of our nature. In fact, this mass ceased to be a mass. It was a collection of western religious tools and symbols that touched me deeper than it ever had. I almost felt like my still-practicing-Catholic family, who didn’t have the benefit of distance that I had, was missing many of the deeper truths contained in this path.

This all happened in a matter of seconds. Once it did, the air seemed different. And, with a smile on my face, I noticed that a statue of Mary was in an alcove to the left of the priest, on the “feminine” side of the altar. The Divine Feminine was smiling on the whole scene.

The lesson here is that before you completely throw away the path in which you were brought up, remember that there is goodness in every path—and relevance. So, in a sense, the “New Religion” can have in it, what initially attracted you to the Old Religion. Do not be surprised by this. All paths intertwine. The more practiced we become in the Craft, the more we recognize the universality in all paths, so that the distinction between “new” and “old” starts to matter less.

There was another lesson here for me about letting go. Many of us Wiccans feel the need to reject before we can get to that place of reconciling ourselves to Christianity or whatever the path of our parents may have been. This is often a necessary step and it can take time. Be gentle with yourself and let that happen if it needs to, but remember, too, to let go of letting go. Make sure you don’t get stuck. Resentment has a way of building on itself, deepening its roots in your heart and keeping you in a place of darkness.

Your negative opinions of patriarchal religion may be accurate, but that does not help you, in the long run. True followers of the Craft let go of the negativity that holds them back and they look for the truth in the old saying that “there are many paths up the mountain.” But, it takes practice. That, by the way, is why we call it “The Craft.”