My progression from Church Youth Group President into Pagan Rock Star seems quite natural to me when I look back on it now, but to my former classmates it probably borders on nonsensical. My first steps on the Pagan Path date back to the third grade when I picked up my first books on Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Now Sasquatch, despite my best effort, is not a Pagan icon, but the books about him/here were in the "Occult/Paranormal" section. I knew who Aliester Crowley was in fourth grade. I devoured books on ghosts, werewolves, vampires, demons, UFO's, and general weirdness back then. I was aware of "The Key of Solomon" long before reading a Judy Blume book.
Talking to other Pagans, this doesn't make me unique, apparently lots of kids were drawn to a more "occult*" path in much the same way. My love of the paranormal never really abated and in seventh grade I read my first "Witch" book. Though I remember the author, Sybil Leek, I don't remember which of her terrible paperback books it was. What I most remember about that book is that it contained the words "O Triple Goddess" and that upon reading them, I instantly felt a power beside me that was older than Yahweh, something as ancient as the universe its self. It was like the whisper of an older person, full of wisdom, with the hint of the power they once had. That was Her, though I had no idea what to do with this knowledge.
The second thing about that book was that it contained a spell for finding lost items. That spell worked like a charm when I couldn't find another one of my library books. I literally found it within four minutes of reciting that spell. Instead of being elated that spell scared the shit out of me. It worked far too well, but I should have know that, since I had seen magick work back in the second grade.
When I was a kid I had warts on my fingers. Not a gross amount, but two that just wouldn't go away. We tried "Compound W" and burn those suckers down to the ground, but they would always come back. A friend of my Father's gave him a copy of what they called "The Full Moon Trick" where you recited a spell by the light of the full moon and held your warts up to the moonlight. I probably giggled while we Dad and I did the trick, but it worked. I was wart free within two weeks and they never came back. Hail the Goddess!
So by second grade I knew that magick worked, and I was heavily into Greek Myth at the time too. Yes, I called Persephone Purse-Ah-Phone but I still liked the stories. I remember trying to worship Zeus for a day or two as I wondered why no one worshipped the Greek Gods anymore. In ninth grade I built a clay "temple" in art class dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite. I thought that if I was ever going to fall in love, it was Aphrodite I should be petitioning. I remember rolling little tiny phalluses out of clay and setting them on the altar in my "temple." Little did I know that I was practicing sympathetic magick. Of course I was too stupid to word my request properly, asking to fall in love instead of asking for a reciprocated love. (I'd continue to make that mistake for at least another eight or nine years.)
I was spiritual in High School, no doubt about that. I had a relationship with Jesus, but I never saw that as "the one and only" pathway to the Divine. In the back of my mind I always had the "if there's only one way, why are there so many religions bug?" and when challenged by a Church Youth Group Counselor over whether or not an atheist who lived a good life should go to hell for not accepting Jesus, I came firmly down on the side of "A loving God would never condemn anyone to hell" if they lived a "good" life.
When you read paranormal books you end up reading lots of cool stories about reincarnation, so I was an early believer in that. Much like I do now, I didn't think everyone was reincarnated, just those who wanted to be. I don't want anyone to think I was "progressive" as a high schooler, I wasn't, these were mostly internal things, but in who I was I can see who I eventually became.
My senior class ring has a "Christian Symbol" on it, and to this day I have no regrets about that decision. Church played a large role in my high school years, but I didn't live in "Church," I lived a pretty secular lifestyle. I listened to Heavy Metal and had lots of cassette tapes with parental advisory stickers on them (my Dad was super cool about that). I had no desire to listen exclusively to Christian bands or get caught up in that "box" lifestyle where you try and separate yourself from whatever else is going around. I remember getting angry when a new Youth Group Leader tried to get our group to go that route (I was 17 at the time, so she didn't even really try with me, I think she could tell it was not my bag).
My secular music obsession lead me to Led Zeppelin, which was one of the other catalysts to becoming a full fledged Pagan. For a long time I was embarrassed that I had a religious conversion because of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but at this point it makes sense to me. Spirituality should be about things that make us happy, happiness brings us closer to the gods. If they didn't want us to be happy they wouldn't have put pleasurable things on this planet. Life is not some sort of cosmic test to see how many of those things we can avoid, but a challenge to see how many we can take advantage of (in a responsible way of course).
So while I sometimes have trouble recognizing Jason circa 1991 I realize that Jason circa 2011 wouldn't exist without him.
*I hate the world "Occult." Occult means secret knowledge, and I have no secret knowledge, well, other than a few things I know about Ari that I can't share. My religion is sunshine, moonbeams, hard cider, and music, not incantations and nightmares.
*More like "Pagan Lecturer, Now With Dick Jokes!" but Ari likes "Pagan Rock Star" better.