religion

My Religious Roller-coaster Part 4

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After building years of fascination with Catholic ritual into a working knowledge of eclectic Witchcraft and then stripping out the spiritual aspects of the craft in favor of hard-line Satanism, I gave up priesthood of a small group of fellow high school students in favor of attendance at a fundamental Baptist church. This was not an overnight change by any means–the guy who eventually brought me into his church community pestered my friends and I for months of one school year and part of the next.

Pretty much THIS, every day, at lunchtime -- for months.

Keep in mind that we were not only asshole teenagers, but Satanist asshole teenagers, and this guy preached Jesus to all of us–in the cafeteria at breakfast andlunch, in the hallways, if he saw us outside–every chance he got. He totally had Attention Deficit Disorder, and I mean bad. He got detention sometimes for reading the Bible in class instead of doing his work, I’m dead serious. This guy was a sitting duck for pretty much anyone in the school, and even moreso for us. We did everything short of physical violence to this dude for months, I’m sorry to say. And he kept coming back.

Eventually, I tired of hostility and opted instead for simple cold dismissal. I forget why, but one day I said yes when he invited me to his house. That pretty much sealed it for me. He didn’t listen to any ‘worldly music’ or read any ‘wordly books,’ but the rest of his family were normal, except that they really loved God a whole lot. And after talking to this guy’s dad, a church deacon, for hours, I agreed to come out to their church. And while on the surface mixing me with a Fundamentalist church just seems like a recipe for disaster, it really wasn’t. I figured out a few things–that it wasn’t God that I hated, it was saying the same exact prayers and singing the same exact songs week after week during Mass. I was annoyed about things that didn’t make sense, like confessing your sins to another guy or having celibate priests despite the alleged first Pope being married–stuff like that. The church was independent of any other church–took it’s lead from the pastor, not a group of bishops or anything like that–and had strict moral standards, which was one of the things I liked about Satanism.

I still talk to that guy and his family sometimes to this day. That church played a big part in my seventeenth year of life. A few months after I started going regularly, my brother and I got into it over something stupid–we were living together, by ourselves, in New Jersey–and he kicked me out of the house for the second time (which is another story for another day). The church was there for me. I lived with the pastor and his family for a month or two, then with one of the other deacons, before finally moving in with my friend — we had absolutely become friends by this point — and his family for months. We don’t talk as much these days, but they are important to me to this day. I’m friends with the guy and his sister, and his father, on Facebook. I was upset for days when I found out his mother had passed away a couple years back. My life today is different because of them.

Faith Baptist Camp, 2011, much as I remember it being in 1999.

Pretty much what I did for the next six months or so was go to school, go to work and go to church. And I liked it. I joined the youth group. I helped bring other kids into church. Sometimes, I even preached. I took notes in my Bible and cross-referenced stuff. I studied. I crafted sermons just like the pastors, and gave ’em too, sometimes. I had Jesus in my life. I liked it. It was a struggle sometimes, but by and large, I liked the people I was associating with, and the guys at school that still spent time with me despite my changes — well, I can count on the fingers of one hand, the people I still talk to from high school, and they’re most of them.

Right around the tail end of the year, I had a few experiences I didn’t like: half the church completely ostracized one of our youth leaders for a relationship he was having with a woman in the church (they were both single, but not married, and had begun living together), and we’d recently attended a week of meetings at Faith Baptist Camp in Resaca, Georgia. Along with all the stuff you’d expect to hear from an old-school, Fundamentalist church camp, there were a few dudes who actually climbed into the pulpit to preach against things like women wearing pants and interracial marriage. Seriously. My friend even caught hell for the beard he was growing until my friend started quoting the guy verses from Isaiah where it was prophesied that Jesus’ beard would be ripped out. All emotion, lots of screaming, not a lot of measured, rational discourse. Not what I needed to be around as what some call a ‘babe in Christ.’

So when, at the end of the year, when events conspired to send my back to my mother’s home in Rochester, NY in 2000, I didn’t seek out another Fundamentalist church. I went back to what I was comfortable with — not Satanism, but eclectic Paganism with a bit stronger worldview than Gardner and Buckland’s ‘Harm None’ philosophy.

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My Religious Roller-coaster Part 3

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Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan

So, after a few years as of being the best Catholic I could be, followed by an approximately equal amount of time as a pagan-in-training, I dipped my toes in the pool of Satanism. I was probably around sixteen or so, and came across the works of Anton LaVey on the Internet, in school, most likely when I was supposed to be learning the right way to type or something. I was comfortable with the candles, herbs and spells of eclectic Wicca, but I’d turned into a bit of a hardass during my adolescence, and wasn’t in complete agreeance with the “Harm None” philosophy.

When I read LaVey, I didn’t feel like I was learning a new religion as much as I was discovering a name for something I was already living: kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates; vengeance instead of turning the other cheek; do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself; do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked and a host of other virtues and guidelines for life embodied by the Biblical Satan, whom Satanists view as an archetype rather than an actual being. I quickly discovered that Satanists didn’t harm children, rape people or worship Teh Ebil Goat Man–that pretty much it was common sense with psychological “magic” thrown into the mix. Perfect for a kid who’d been screwed with most of his life and was sick to freakin’ death of it.

So I jumped in head-first–took notes, studied websites, bought books, joined Internet message boards, read the shit out of everything in sight for about a year, and then launched my own Satanic coven, complete with website, original essays written by me, and a small membership eventually spanning three states. I shaved my head. My sophomore year of high school I roamed the halls in a black trenchcoat, handing fellow students printouts of my devilish diatribes. To say I developed a reputation was an understatement. Years later, when I began to catch fire as a fiction writer with a major online presence, I spent months scouring search engines for traces of this stuff in order to have it eradicated–one email to Google, Yahoo, etc. at a time. And it worked. I know of exactly one trace of my “High Priesthood” online,  and you’d need to know very specific information to even find it.

Kinda like this, but older, wider and in the woods behind a cemetery rather than out in the desert.

We weren’t the school freaks–we were a sub-section even of thatspecialized clique. We hung out together all the time, chain-smoked across the street from the school before homeroom and hung out in the woods behind the cemetery next door, where we’d found an abandoned stone altar that looked over a century old and which was probably erected by Christians for outdoor funerals before being abandoned and taken over for pagan usage (if I remember right, we could barely make out the words Holy Holy Holy carved into the rock).

One day, maybe a month after the Columbine killings, a janitor pulled a fire alarm (unbeknownst to anyone at the time) after supposedly hearing a bomb threat, and I was dragged back into the building by the cops in front of the whole school, because It Must Have Been Me. I hadn’t done shit, of course, but they searched me, my belongings and my wall locker before letting me return to class.

I enjoyed what I had. A lot of people screwed with me for it, but I had just enough friends to make me not care about the majority. Some people thought I was pretty badass. A good number even sought me out for advice, and I helped  quite a few of them, I’m happy to say. I dated at least three of my buddy’s sister’s friends because I was involved in the occult and they found it fascinating. For a kid who’d grown up with hardly a damned thing, it was a pretty heady mixture of odd power and newfound confidence.

Then, after a couple years of what essentially boiled down to the worship of myself, I gave in to another year’s worth of pestering–to go to church.

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My Religious Roller-coaster Part 2

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Author’s Note: When I mapped this series out in my mind, I totally thought I’d cover everything in three chapters. Now, we’re definitely looking at at least two more after this. I hope you’re digging it.

Fr. Dave Mura. Probably from the late 70s-early 80s.

Last week, I gave you the lowdown on my dance with Catholicism–short but furious, all things considered. It lasted less than three years, but included four Holy Sacraments and a long stint as one of St. Anthony’s most badass altar boys of the ’90s. Or something like that.

It ended with an exorcism. Well, an attempted exorcism. And some death.

I didn’t get to witness the exorcism myself. My mother wouldn’t let me, of course–what mother would? I asked her about it though, today, as a matter of fact, just to make sure I got everything straight. Back in the early 90’s, my mom and I and several of her pagan friends all lived in the same apartment building or nearby. One of her friends’ adult son moved into the house next door, and discovered it was haunted.

My mom and one of her other friends got into the basement and found evidence of four graves in the area of the water heater, and a big hole in one of the walls. The rumor she learned was that someone had killed his family a while back and cut off one of his fingers before killing himself. My mom swears she and her friend could feel his ghost while they were in the house, and her friends reported other screwy things going on. Two of the friends have since passed away and the others, I couldn’t find today if I had the Batcave at my disposal, but I digress. Long story short, her friends living there asked her to make the ghosts go bye-bye.

I guess it could have been worse...

Mom tried clearing the spirits out of the house with candles and rituals, but it didn’t work. She went to our church’s priest, Father Dave Mura, and asked for his help (there’s very little about Father Dave on the Internet, but I found some stuff here and here). He couldn’t get rid of the ghosts, either. My mom believed the spirit of the murderer cursed Father Dave; a week or two after the attempted exorcism, he died of a heart attack during a family outing. I remember Father Dave being a funny guy, and one of the few Catholic priests I’ve heard speak who can make a homily interesting. I’m sure that being married with a family, a rarity among priests, had something to do with it. But again, I digress.

We didn’t go back to the church that often, after that. It just wasn’t the same without Father Dave, and I wonder if maybe my mom felt bad about getting him involved. Eventually we didn’t go at all. Mom still wouldn’t let me read her occult books, but they were in plain sight on bookshelves in the living room and I snuck them into my room one at a time, reading them and eventually making my own notebook (a very electic Book of Shadows!). For those interested, here are a few of the books I read as a beginning eclectic Wiccan:

After several months, probably around the age of twelve or thirteen, my mom started teaching me things: how to meditate, read auras and the like. I got really good at meditating and making knot charms for protection. I had a great collection of stones: tigers eye, malachite, amethyst, hematite and the like, which were good for things like getting rid of negative energy, protection and healing. I carried a small leather medicine pouch on my keys. I watched my mother and her friends travel astrally, allegedly to combat bad spirits and the like. I learned about the elements, how to call the corners and what herbs were good for different things. And I practiced ritual witchcraft, albeit in a very eclectic form (the practitioners my mother knew were all solitary and self-taught–I guess we were kind of like a coven, and I was somewhat of an acolyte, but there was no formal group) up until the age of sixteen or so. I did a pretty in-depth interview a couple years ago, where I discussed a lot of this stuff in greater detail:

When I discovered Satanism.

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My Religious Roller-coaster Part 1

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My religious experiences from birth to about—I’d have to say nine or ten—were virtually nonexistent. My parents had both been raised Catholic, but other than having me baptized at birth, I don’t recall setting foot in a church as a young child. I’m sure I did once or twice, for Christmas or Easter at least, and they would have held Mass for my grandmother when she passed. I do have a picture of myself as a small boy dressed for Easter in a suit matching my father’s, but I don’t remember attending Mass. I knew about He-Man and Optimus Prime and Lion-O, but not Christ or the Devil or angels.

After my dad left, we were able to stay in the home we were renting for a few months. When we got evicted, my mom and the pot-head she was seeing at the time went to stay at a friend’s place and I went to live with my aunt and her lesbian lover. After at least six months, but maybe as much as a year, I moved back with my mother when she and her new fiancee found an apartment. Shortly after that, Mom rediscovered her Catholic roots, for the most part, with an eclectic twist.

She started taking me to church with her—Saint Anthony of Padua on Lorimer Street, near Jones Park, for any Rochesterians reading this. It’s been gone for something like seven years now, but their sister church, Holy Apostles, is still up and running. At any rate, I was entranced by the Mass. The music, the chanting, the participation—the only thing I had participated in up until that point was school, and as a poor, scrawny, white kid in a New York public school, to say I tended toward introvertedness would be an understatement. The best part is that I came into religion for the first time already in a question-asking frame of mind. I wasn’t taught from birth that things happened ‘because the Bible said so’ or anything like that. I went to church from day one because I wanted to.

Our robes were brown rather than white, but you get the idea.

I volunteered to serve as an altar boy maybe a month after we started attending. For some reason, with regards to religious practices, I’m in all the way or not at all. You’ll see that thread in these recountings. In this instance, I wasn’t content to just sit in the pew. I wanted to help make the Mass happen. The parish deacon taught me what to do—Deacon Bill Hunt, his name was. We had a couple of other servers, but I became known in the church for being an altar boy before too long. On more than one occasion the little old Catholic grannies would pull me to the side and give me a hug for doing a good job—sometimes a buck to buy candy, too. I was Confirmed—I chose the name Patrick, for those interested—and took my first Eucharist as soon as possible. I even attended Confession on a fairly regular basis.

After a couple of years—not more than two, I don’t think—my mother stopped going to Mass regularly. It was within walking distance, so I still went. She’d begun to collect these books with strange symbols on the covers; some about rocks and herbs, others about fortune-telling and others I had no idea about. She still believed in God and encouraged me to go to church. She also forbid me to read the books. On occasion she’d still go to Mass with me. The last time I remember us ever attending was a week or two before our priest, Father David Mura, died. One of the last things he did on Earth was perform an off-the-record exorcism in our apartment building at my mother’s request.

More about that next week.

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