After the Magic
My journey to Catholicism was, ironically, the logical extension of applying Pagan principles to my life.
BY: Carl McColman
I visited numerous Irish holy wells, where Druids likely worshiped in ages past. I found inspiration in how they function as sites of thriving Catholic devotion to Mary and the saints. In Kildare, home of the Pagan goddess Brigid, I felt moved by a sense of sacred presence in the churches dedicated to the Christian saint who shares the goddess' name. Christian holy sites like Glendalough or Clonmacnoise seemed just as powerful portals to the otherworld as Pagan sites like Newgrange or Tara.
I visited Ireland to deepen my understanding of ancient paganism. But there I also found a deepened understanding of Christianity, and saw that the Celtic Church embodies a truly earth-based expression of that faith. Irish Catholicism took such root in my soul that it began to impact my spirituality back home in America. When I'd pray to the goddess Brigid, I'd feel more connected to St. Brigid instead. The Virgin Mary became more real to me than any Pagan goddess, and Christ likewise filled the void left in my heart by the silent Pagan gods. After months of resistance (and gentle encouragement from my mentors and friends, both Pagan and non-Pagan), I came to admit something I would have previously considered unthinkable: my heart was leading me to release Paganism-and embrace Catholicism instead.
Having been raised Protestant before becoming Pagan, I had plenty of anti-Catholic prejudice to overcome. For years I had self-righteously rejected Catholicism as a patriarchal, oppressive, obsolete, dysfunctional religion. But now I found myself adopting a much humbler position-of trying to balance my politically correct, liberal ecofeminist beliefs with my heart's desire for the sacramental heritage of Catholicism, warts and all. As of this writing, I still don't know how to fit all the pieces of my spiritual identity together. But I am not the first person who has felt called to integrate the mystical treasures of Catholicism with our generation's urgent need to spiritually honor nature and the divine feminine. It seems to me that most people who become progressive Catholics start out as Catholics and then become liberal. I just did it the other way around.
Eventually, I reached out to the priest of my local Catholic church. When I handed him a copy of my book "When Someone You Love is Wiccan," I was afraid he wouldn't give me the time of day. Instead, he welcomed me with open arms and responded to my questions and concerns with respect and understanding. At his suggestion, I enrolled in introductory classes on Catholicism. Then, after almost a year of searching and questioning, I decided to join the church. I shared my decision with my friends and students, and the news traveled fast within the Pagan community. As could be expected, reactions varied. Many Pagans applauded me for being true to my conscience, while a few excoriated me for my spiritual infidelity. It seems that every religion-even Paganism, the path of no dogma-has to protect itself against apostasy.
While I want to be clear that Paganism ultimately didn't work for me, I have no desire to attack my former faith. As a Pagan, I affirmed the essential worth of all ethical religious paths, and becoming a Catholic has not changed that conviction. Granted, plenty of Christians dismiss Paganism altogether, and many Pagans similarly reject Christianity. But I feel most at home among those Christians, Pagans, and seekers of other paths who recognize that honoring different religions can be a way of enriching your own.
Ironically, I would say that becoming a Catholic was the logical result of applying Pagan principles to my life. Paganism taught me to trust the authority of my inner, intuitive wisdom. When my inner guidance directed me to do the one thing I would have dismissed as unthinkable, I did it anyway. With respect to Robert Frost, that single act of trust has made all the difference.