My husband and I used to be Catholic. We gave our kids Catholic names. We got them all Catholic baptisms. We went to church every Sunday, no matter what. Our middle and youngest sons had started Sunday School. Our oldest went all the way through to make his First Communion and First Confession when I realized: I am not Catholic. Between the icky hierarchy and the molestation crisis, it’s a big fat no. I took my husband with me. I didn’t think my about my then-eight-year-old — who had absorbed enough dogma to believe that I was going to hell.
He kept it to himself. He went to church with my mother on Christmas and Easter — she also thought I was going to hell, but she didn’t make a secret of it. “Your kids need to go to church,” she’d say. “No, they don’t,” I’d reply. Maybe they can go to Confession and tell the priest they’re being molested, and he can tell them they’re forgiven and send them on their merry way, like when I was seven, I wanted to shout in her face.
We’d occasionally read Bible stories in school for historical and literary purposes, careful to point out that they weren’t quite literally true, or true in the way some people claimed they were. My youngest two sons, now ages seven and nine, barely know what a crucifix is. I didn’t think my now-eleven-year-old had kept any vestige of his Catholicism.
I was so wrong.
I became pagan and made no secret about it. Mostly, think candles and good intentions and meditation; lots of being outside in nature, energy work, and spiritually getting in tune with the Earth. But yeah: I’ve got a giant-ass crystal collection and too much incense and probably too many candles. Those last two probably describe a lot of basic bitches in America, but my candles are actual sticks and don’t come from the mall. Most of America would probably agree, at this point, with my eleven-year-old: I’m going to hell. But let’s persevere.
He stayed okay with it for a while. I saw the first hints of trouble when the four of us, sans husband, were hiking alone in Virginia and my two youngest wanted to understand what I believed. “Well, everything is connected,” I said. “We can understand things the Earth is trying to tell us if we pay attention, and there’s no scary person in the sky that punishes us. When we do bad things, we learn lessons, we’re not punished. Now, those lessons might be pretty miserable, but we need to learn them so that when we come back, we’re better people.”
“When we come back?” my littlest asked.
“Yeah, when we die we don’t go away for good or something. We just become another person.”
“Can we be an animal?” asked my animal-loving middle son.
“Maybe sometimes,” I said. “I don’t know.”
My oldest huffed off and began walking about fifty feet in front of us, as if we were way too embarrassing for words. The younger two had a million questions about reincarnation, and I told them that one of my friends, who they love, remembers a (very) little bit about reincarnating, so they began wondering if they did, too. My oldest sulked until we met his dad again and the conversation had long-ended. I knew he didn’t like it. I knew he was rolling his eyes and muttering. I didn’t realize that included, “You’re going to hell.”
In fact, I didn’t realize how much he hated it for a long time. My youngest son was holding crystals and going to The Witch Store™ with me. My middle son was still asking questions and curious. Then my 11 year-old had a total meltdown one afternoon. Typical 11 year-old stuff: we’d probably told him to turn off Roblox or something. I don’t remember why. But I sure remember what he screamed at me.
“Why’s it matter what you say?” he shouted in my face, eyes narrowed with all the rage he could muster. “You’re a WITCH!” Then he took off running.
Well, hell. The boy wasn’t wrong. He was missing plenty of nuance (pagans aren’t necessarily witches but I happen to be both); maybe he wanted to call me a “bitch” and knew that would have him scrubbing pots until the end of time. But nonetheless, my path was invalid and something to be ridiculed — enough that it could be used as an insult. He’s still got his crucifix next to his bed. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live and all that. I’m going to hell.
I respect his Christianity, like I respect my husband’s. While I don’t believe in it, I’m more careful now when we discuss the Bible during homeschooling: Some people believe these narratives are true, I’ll say. Daddy does. And while there’s a lot in the Bible that I don’t agree with, and I’m not a Christian, I believe there is good things there, too.
One of my kids can’t even hold a piece of selenite (my family has a history of crystal stuff. Go with it). My oldest… well, I simply don’t mention anything about my own religion around him anymore. Roll your eyes all you want: I know what you, too, probably think of my religion. But it’s painful when you can’t share something so personally important with your child, especially when you believe that he’s been inculcated into a toxic doctrine (for which I take full responsibility, but then again, I’d also been inculcated into that same toxic doctrine, and I’m speaking of Catholicism here and how it’s practiced in its current form). I want to hug him and say: Baby, no one’s going to hell. Not me, and especially not you.
That’s the saddest part of all.
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