EP 186 Yvonne Aburrow: Changing Paths

Are you leaving a religion, entering Paganism, leaving Paganism, changing traditions within it, or leaving religion altogether?

Risa Dickens
Apr 13, 2023
42 min read
Embodied MagicSTEM MagicQueer MagicTranscripts
Photo by Susanne Schwarz / Unsplash

Yvonne is multi-dimensional. A software developer, poet, and Wiccan theorist. A non-binary bisexual person who brings to their practice a huge compassion for all of us out here just trying to find our paths.

Yvonne Aburrow has an MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University and lives and works in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. They have written four books on the mythology and folklore of trees, birds, and animals, two anthologies of poetry, and various books on contemporary Wicca.

Their latest is Changing Paths.

Are you leaving a religion, entering Paganism, leaving Paganism, changing traditions within it, or leaving religion altogether? Changing Paths is a companion for the journey.

How do you explain your new path to friends, family, former co-religionists, and yourself? How do you extricate yourself from your previous tradition and its associated ideas? How do you unpack your complex feelings about your path and why you are changing direction?

Individuals have many reasons for leaving a faith, including being in conflict with bad theology, bristling against a high-control religion, and disagreeing with conservative positions on gender, sexuality, and the body. Changing Paths offers resources for examining religious attitudes to gender, sexuality, other religions, and whether your religion supports you effectively through life’s ups and downs.

There are various routes into Paganism and Changing Paths offers resources on how to decide which tradition is right for you, how you know you’re a member of a group, and reasons for joining a group—or not. Exercises, journal prompts, and reflections explore how to deal with unexamined baggage from your previous tradition, the role of leaders, and how to find a beloved community.

You aren’t alone in your journey. A range of contributors who have trod this same path—from a former Christian who is now a Wiccan to a former Pagan who now avoids labels—also share their experience and wisdom.

References in this episode:

Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon
Dawkins, God Delusion
All Acts of Love and Pleasure
John Beckett, https://undertheancientoaks.com/

Full transcript:

Yvonne Aburrow - Changing Paths

Hi folks. It's Risa and Amy here from Missing Witches, inviting you to get involved in our annual raffle. In support of the native women's shelter of Montreal and indigenous-run nonprofits wherever you live, we have a ridiculously fun witchy heap of prizes donated by a whole community of folks joining together to make a magical wave of reparations magic.

There's a prize pack from Jinx Monsoon, a one-on-one Tarot session with Sarah Goddess Diener. Magic classes from Pam Grossman. A full year of writing workshops with Kate Belew in the Bardo Art pieces, jewelry pieces, readings, books, and so much more. Make a donation to your local indigenous support org or the native women's shelter of Montreal. And then just forward the receipt to missing witches gmail.com with the subject line reparations before May 31st. For every $10 you donate, you'll get one entry into the draw. Check out all the details at missing witches.com/reparations and uh, bless fucking me. Bless Fucking be.

[00:01:17] Risa: Welcome back to The Missing Witches podcast. Welcome strangers. Welcome friends. Welcome kin, welcome listeners, and witches of all kinds. We're so happy to be nearing what is possibly the end of this raging screaming season for us. It's been winter here the wind is howling outside. The kids are howling upstairs, and Yvonne Aburrow is here. If you're a member of the coven you may have been in circle with Yvonne before, they joined us to lead a circle once, and it was so moving and fun. Yvonne has the ability to be both like incredibly magical and Rooted in a way that makes you feel like you're in the comforting presence of the universe and also really fucking practical.

And that's a, a kind of magic I find really reassuring to be around. And I'm so excited to hear about your new book. And just to hang out and talk with you, it's always a pleasure. Welcome to The Missing Witches podcast.  

[00:02:20] Yvonne: Thank you so much. And for your very kind words. I, I like that cuz I, I do like to try and create a, a reassuring, safe nurturing space for people.  

So I'm glad that came through.  

[00:02:33] Risa: Do you wanna start by just doing like an unmasked intro? Like not your cocktail party intro, although feel free if that's what comes naturally, if that's truly who you are. But like, how are you today? Who are you today? What are you thinking about?

[00:02:48] Yvonne: So looking out the window at the blue sky, I'm thinking yay spring. Snow's nearly all gone here, so that's good. I've got a bit of a headache, so cuz I was grinding my teeth in the night, which is not good.

[00:02:59] Risa: Oh, oh, you, you're bearing the anxiety of birthing new book along with being in this fucking world  

[00:03:06] Yvonne: work related stress, work stress, yeah.

[00:03:10] Risa: Yeah. Oh, well thanks. Thanks for being honest about that. I mean, I think we all come with the things we're, we're wearing in our bodies and it's not always easy to bring them. Welcome those things into conversation. So thanks for opening with that.  

[00:03:24] Yvonne: And how are. For real.  

[00:03:27] Risa: How am I? For real? Thanks for asking.

Yeah, like web stressed out, I'm trying to weave this bit of magic between like a new community portal site for missing witches and our new website. Website. And I just am hitting my head on something I don't know how to do yet, and I don't even really know how to ask the questions that I need to ask of the support people to weave it.

And so my brain suddenly just drops all the pieces and I, I have to call Amy and be like, these, these are the small things I can't make decisions about because of this big thing I can't resolve yet. Do you know, do you know that feeling? Yeah. You're a, you're a web witch too. I wasn't gonna, I was gonna talk to you about changing paths, but let's talk about web witchcraft first a little bit.

[00:04:11] Yvonne: Yeah. I, I've been a software developer since about 2000. And started out as an IT teacher and then migrated to web development and yeah, so it's interesting. It's the the first time I've been called a web witch. Pretty cool. So yeah. I think the things that bugs me about that is that either I get, oh, you are a web designer.

It's like, no, I'm a web developer. Cuz people like to stereotype the assigned female at birth people that we must be like designer developers. Right. And the other aspect of it is, is that you get people assuming that you are not creative. Which I find incredibly frustrating cuz I also write poetry and, and I'm, you know, I'm.

I do pottery and I like singing. So it, it kind of frustrates me and everybody wants to put you in a little box. Yeah, no, stop putting me in a box. I'm, I'm multidimensional. Yeah.  

[00:05:08] Risa: I feel like a lot of your work and a lot of your life is about, sort of elbowing out against those boxes.  

[00:05:14] Yvonne: Yeah, I like to say that I'm, you know, I'm non-binary.

I'm bisexual. I'm I think I used to think I was a liberal in the, not, not like Canadian sense of liberal, but I, yeah. Liberal part, liberal democratic party. But then they got into bed with the Tories and I was like right by off now. So so that's my one, not fence sitting thing. I am like on the political compass thing, I'm down in the.

The economically left, liberal, left lib, libertarian corner. Other than that, I'm kind of in the middle for everything.  

[00:05:49] Risa: Hedge rider. Yeah. Do you feel like there are more people who ride that particular hedge between developing and building web and software and who also have an approach to spirituality that isn't inside the sort of mainstream religions than people realize?

Do you think that there's more sort of techno paganism than people realize who are not in web worlds?  

[00:06:18] Yvonne: Sure. It's really interesting cause Margot Adler was the first person to observe this in drawing down the moon where she went round and interviewed a, a very large sample of pagans and found that. A lot of them were in some kind of technical work.

And I found, I mean, I did a, for my master's degree, I did a study on pagans and science. And because I was having an argument with a work colleague who, who was really into Dawkins God delusion, and, and I was trying to explain that no, paganism is different. You can't use the same arguments. And so I wanted to show that yes, you know, like pagans have an approach to science or an understanding of, or a way of reconciling our beliefs with science.

And so I did that. And some of the findings are actually in my the Wicca think I call it, yeah, wicker and science chapter. In all acts of love and pleasure, inclusive Wicca. Because inclusive wicca is not just about I mean the, including L G B T people is very important, but it's also about including neurodivergent people and different theological perspectives and stuff like that.

So anyway, as part of that, I asked people what their job was and a lot of them were in a sciencey related field. And now that could be because the study was about pagans and science and people were self-selecting to be in the study were just sent out links all over the web and waited for people to come.

The kind of people who, who were worried about the con, the supposed conflict between science and paganism, were gonna answer the survey maybe. But anyway, there were a lot of people from that field who answered the questions.

[00:07:57] Risa: So. Huh. And from those experiences and from your own experience, what do you think is the draw?

Like, why do you think we're here? I, I mean, I'm one of those people, I've always worked in tech and always been like a solitary witch practitioner. I, and for me, the, those two worlds are just like a really natural fit. But I, I think I would struggle to put into words why. Yeah. Do you have any, any ideas?

[00:08:25] Yvonne: I think it's maybe cause, I mean, I've, my kind of, I mean, I, I did a undergraduate degree in psychology and I wanted to know what made people tick.

And I think I didn't find out, but the motivation in magic is what makes. What's the underlying, you know, occult hidden causes of things. And the same applies to science and technology, that you want to know what, how stuff works, right? So and if you think about the, or the earliest origins of science, were in fact in magic.

So, you know, astrology becomes astronomy. Chemistry sorry. Alchemy becomes chemistry and natural science becomes physics. So I think that the cul, you know, whilst science likes to go, no, no, no, we, with nothing to do with the cul river. In fact the, the, the wellspring of the scientific inquiry. What makes stuff tick, how does it work?

And you know, how do I, how do I find the hidden levers of the universe kind of thing.  

[00:09:31] Risa: Right, exactly. And then I think there's also, so I interviewed Carol Gigliotti who wrote the Creative Lives of Animals. And she describes after getting really sick, I think it was after a stroke, she was spending time with a grandson or a son, and they were, she started to learn computer programming, like some basics of computer programming.

She was in computer arts or ended up going into computer arts. And she talks about having this moment of realization where it was like, oh, You write the code and the thing happens, like someone is behind everything I see and has written these if then statements that are shaping the entire world of what is becoming possible online.

And I think having that moment of, I mean, that's literally when we talk about words having magic, like we're, we're people who work at Deck are literally seeing that happen every day. So that's another piece of it for me.  

[00:10:30] Yvonne: Yeah, that's a very cool way of looking at it. I like it. Cause you know, if you do something on the web that involves an interaction, there's code underly, all of it .

[00:10:39] Risa: Yeah. And I mean, you're a software developer. You're literally making these virtual spaces that people move through. What decisions are possible in those spaces? What doors open, what portals open? Yeah, that's rad. Can you talk about changing paths a little bit? Like how does this book fit within your, what, maybe you don't see your writing project this way, but I, I think looking at all of these books you've written, it feels like there's sort of an evolving writer's project.

There's an evolving questioning and evolving voice. Can you talk about how this one relates to the previous ones for you?  

[00:11:16] Yvonne: Oh, that's cool. Yeah, I mean there are, I think it's sort of if, if you were, if it was a novel and the other thing novels, it would be like one of those novels where there's a character from the previous novel in the new novel, but they're not actually this in and they're in the same universe.

Right? Right. So I, I mean, I think I've sort of hinted at, I mean, changing Paths contains a lot more of my personal journey and my personal story by the very nature of what it's about. Because I became you know, I, I left Christianity as a teenager because of the homophobia and the, the negative attitude towards other religions.

And I was looking for something that was more inclusive. And also that was more celebratory of life and found paganism and went, yep, this is it. This is good. And so about 15 years ago now, I actually, I had this huge wobble where and the book Changing Paths was originally gonna be called Spiritual Wobbles.

At the time I thought this is gonna be worth writing about some time. But I can't write about it yet. So it's related in terms of the fact that I was looking for something more inclusive, right? And I realized that actually, you know, Christianity wasn't well, there are bits of Christianity that are not as homophobic as other bits of Christianity.

So and I became interested in liberation theology and queer theology and full stuff like that. And so I had to kind of deal with my underlying fear and anger with Christianity in order to move forward. And so once I'd got through that I then went, okay. Right.

So paganism and wicca have the potential to be more. Inclusive than they are. So let's write about that. So in a way, the inclusive wicker books were born outta the, the wobble and the crisis. And this is also born out of that crisis and that, that searching.  

[00:13:12] Risa: So are you saying that you found a liberation philosophy within Christianity that you then realized needed to be applied to Wicca?

[00:13:25] Yvonne: No, I don't think I'm saying. I think inclusive wicca is very firmly rooted in pagan ideas of sexuality and gender not in Christian ideas. If you look back at ancient paganism there, I mean, different ancient paganism had a different approach to sexuality. The Greeks were famously you know, okay. With L G B T people. The Romans were a bit more you know, a bit more stuffy. I mean, I just thought liberation theology was cool. Really?  

Yeah, me too, for sure.

I don't think I drew on it cuz I didn't read enough about it. I mean there are homophobic wickens and homophobic pagans, just if they were right wing, you know, pagans and wickens and heats and various other things.

Cuz you know, we'd love, we'd love to think that we're all nice left-wing folks who are all inclusive all the time. Right. But unfortunately that's not the case and you know, we have to be aware of that. What I was noticing was not so much a conscious deliberate exclusionary thing, but the heterocentric approach to wicker that Yeah. can become so, you know, it is very, it is, it's not intentionally excluding anyone. But it, its effect is exclusionary, and that's what I was complaining about. So like, for example, talking about the idea that women are always nurturing and men are always warriors or some stuff like that, you know or making people stand male, female, male female in the circle, or always having all the consecrations done by a man on a woman or a woman on a man.

And then, then there's always a question of like, when you have that situation, people are like, oh, well, don't know how to deal with non-binary. People don't know how to deal with trans people. And it's like, well, you know, and, and then people were like, oh, well obviously we'll let the trans people be the gender you know, their actual gender, not their assigned birth, gender.

And then they're like, They say to non-binary people, well just be the gender you feel like you are today. And I'm like, I feel non-binary all the time, so I still, I still don't fit in your gender binary stuff. And yeah, it's not a solution that goes very deep, right? No, exactly right. And, and so I'm like, well, can we move beyond the gender binary and Yeah.

You know, think of ways to do, do ritual and talk about mythology and deities and archetypes and all that. In a non, in a less gendered, you know, obviously there's room for if people identify with one of the binary genders, good for them. But there has to be, you know, we have to not have stereotypes applied to these things.

And I think that the, the whole gender binary thing Like the fact that paganism was absolutely riddled with it really became a big, you know, cuz initially when I joined Paganism I was like, oh great, we have goddesses. That's awesome. Right? Yeah. cuz that was such a refreshing change back in the day.

And then, and then it's like, well actually we need non-binary deities as well. And thankfully the branch of Wicca that I'm involved in actually has a non-binary deity in it. So like, I'm like, yay. Well that's sorted then. And I'm a polytheist anyway cuz I think that there are many deities, many different expressions of gender within those deities.

But anyway, I think it's just sort of opening our minds to, okay, what did ancient paganism do around these issues? It's about working with what we've got, working with what's actually real as opposed to some gender binary construct that doesn't even exist.  

[00:17:06] Risa: I mean I think that that is such a driver for why we see people changing paths.

Not to segue so casually into talking about your new book, I do see a lot of people coming to make friends in our coven driven by a sense of you know, marginalization or like real church trauma, loneliness coming from a version.

And it could you, you know, so for some people the traumatizing childhood religion was Wicca, and for other people it was like evangelical Christianity. And for other people it was like an abusive form of Buddhism that, you know, is something that we all, if we came from those religions that were traumatic, And I say we only because I had a similar one to you where I, I was raised in a Christianity and then realized that it was, you know, blanketly justifying and hiding child rapists, and I just never got over it, you know?

But we carry that with us and then try to find something that feels better and can retraumatize ourselves, finding places that get a bit closer, but then put us back into a box. I think the need for a book, like Changing Paths is pretty massive. Can you tell us about what the experience was like interviewing, finding those people?

What were some of the stories you were really moved by?  

[00:18:23] Yvonne: Yeah, so I I, it was hard to get people to contribute actually. And part of that was because, for the same reason that it took me 10, 12 years to, to start writing about my experiences that people aren't ready to. To dig back into the, that trauma, you know you know, even if you've taken it to therapy or you know, you, you need to have some considerable distance from it before you can write about it.

So I was approaching people and saying, who'd recently gone through one of these kind of marbles in their path and, and saying, Hey, do you wanna write about, do you wanna write about your recent experiences? No, it's too soon. So it got, it became tricky to to actually find people who were at the right stage in their journey that it hadn't faded so far into the past that they couldn't remember anything about it.

And also that it wasn't too close too soon. So that was interesting. And I found I found all the stories really moving and I think. I think in majority of the contributors, there was some personal reasons why they were excluded. So we've got one contributor who is a natural priestess but couldn't be a priestess in the religion of her birth.

We've got somebody who was, knew they were a witch but was trying to be something else because it would be like more respectable and easier to navigate through the world with that particular hat on and finding that, no, that just didn't fit. Then had somebody who has a Somebody who's hard to summarize cause I know them too well.

So he's dyslexic and found a lot of the, the wordiness of wicker kind of overwhelming is much more into kind of silent contemplation and not really into ritual. And then we had somebody who had left evangelical Christianity because he had an encounter, a direct encounter with the goddess.

So really interesting mixed bag of people ended up with. And I think the, the contributions to the book really lend a whole multidimensional perspective to it, which wouldn't have been there if we hadn't had those extra stories. The first, the first part of the book is about leaving a religion. And I specifically, although obviously my experiences of leaving Christianity and a lot of people who read the book will also have that experience.

I deliberately made it sort of generic because people might be, and I also point out several times in the book that, you know, it's possible to have traumatizing versions of Paganism, sadly. Because as soon as one person is trying to impose their vision of what spirituality or religion is on someone else, it becomes oppressive.

Even if you think that what you're doing is somehow liberatory because it's the imposition, that's the, the problem. I recall very well giving a talk about inclusive wicca and there was a trans man there and it just broke my heart cuz he said but what do you do about all the talk about wombs all the time?

And I'm like, well, we just don't talk about wombs all the time. If your coven does, it's probably time to get a different coven. And but I really felt for him because it's like, oh my God, that is just painful, you know? So So anyway, the first part of the book is about leaving any religion. Cuz in the end I think leaving a religion for whatever reason is very similar cuz it's quite often it's either about their oppressive, nasty theology about gods or the afterlife or other religions, or it's about gender and sexuality a lot of the time.

And sometimes it's about their appalling attitude into disability as well. And I, I've just realized that I did not in fact have a chapter about that, and I probably should have, but but I do talk about the, the idea of miracles being. Just a terrible idea and bad theology in general. Because people are holding out for a miracle and then disappointed and they somehow think it's their fault and the miracle doesn't happen cuz they didn't pray hard enough or something.

And it's like, well, no, you just have to kind of get to grips with suffering somehow. Sorry. You know, there is no divine meaning to suffering. The divine meaning is in how we draw on the deep well of spirituality inside ourselves to cope with that suffering. You know, it's not being inflicted on us for some higher purpose, it just exists.

[00:23:07] Risa: I mean, that alone is such a, a sad relief, you know. It really is. It's like that's something you have to mourn when you, when you put it down that part. If you had that faith that like, if I just pray hard enough or do the right things, I will have a special relationship with the divine and I won't suffer.  

The suffering will be taken from me. I will be protected. You know? And once you've come to a place where you can put that down and be like, no, the suffering is just always there. It's there for all of us. The love of the divine is not conditional upon how much I pray. And like, there aren't some people who prayed enough and they were, you know, that's just isn't, that's not a part of it.

You can be free from that and it'll hurt.  

[00:23:52] Yvonne: Yeah. Well, I, I mean, for me it was just a tremendous relief. Cause it's like, oh good, okay. I don't have to think, oh, if only I'd prayed harder, or if only I'd magic tarter, or Yeah. Is, you know, it's like, I. And I actually find the kind of people who believe that sort of stuff.

Sadly del Diluted. Like I saw an article ages ago about people who claimed that they had been in a traffic jam in New York on September the 11th, 2001, and they were on their way to the World Trade Center, but there was a huge traffic jam. And so they claimed that God had put them in the traffic jam so they wouldn't get killed in the World Trade Center.

I was like, well, what about all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful people who were killed in the World Trade Center? Didn't, didn't God care about them too? So I just think that, that this idea that, you know, there's a special providence looking out for you is just very, can be very, very judgmental towards other people.

And that's why I will speak out against it. I don't like it at all. So I've talked about that. And I think I've probably put in a couple of things about, you know not if I, I, I should have put in, if I didn't stuff about like not telling disabled people that they're blind or disabled because I don't know, because they're somehow lacking.

They, I don't know, they, they did something wrong in a previous life or, or you know, and if only they had faith. That the gods or God would heal them. Like that's just an awful, obnoxious thing to say to a disabled person. And it happens far too often in many different spiritual traditions.

[00:25:30] Risa: Definitely still happening. I think a pastor just recently went to jail for telling a child that they were healed of polio and then the child died of the polio and the, I'm, it's just horrifying. Just leave, leave, leave people alone.  

[00:25:46] Yvonne: Yeah. Like I, there's a similar story to that I'm put in the book of child who was convinced.

He, he himself was convinced, but also the parents were convinced that he was healed of diabetes. And it took him three days to die. Without the medicine. I was just like, oh my God, just don't do that. People. And there are unfortunately a lot of stories like that. So that, that is why I'm just like, no, no miracles not happening.

So, yeah, so that's the first half of the book is about leaving religion I've got a chapter on sexuality.  

[00:26:15] Risa: And and I think you also offer people sort of prompts or journaling things or at like, actions, things you can do when you're at that stage.

Would you give us an example of one of those for the leaving stage?  

[00:26:29] Yvonne: Yeah, sure so one of the things would be just reflecting on your reasons for believing and whether you can, you know, can, could it be changed from within?

And you know so one of the things that I found really helpful was. Devised by a friend of mine. And it was the idea of really imagining yourself fully inhabiting the, the situation you're currently in. And imagining what your life will be like if you stay in that where, in whatever situation it is.

So this doesn't just apply to religion, it can apply to relationships or jobs or anything. So you imagine yourself fully inhibiting that, that choice, that path, and you take a moment to really feel how that feels in your body. So if that's activating your fight or flight response, you're just like, no, that'd be horrific.

Oh my God, I felt so trapped. It's probably that's the wrong choice. And then what you do is you, you leave take a moment to leave that behind, and then you move to the other option, which is like, okay, if I leave this situation and go do something else how will that feel? And you really fully inhabit that choice so that your body feels like what that would feel like.

And then hopefully you know the answer and, and that is a really helpful thing for any kind of situation where you've got a difficult choice to make. And I found that really helpful.  

[00:27:50] Risa: It was only when I learned that aside from fight or flight, the other tr like sort of cortisol responses, there are also fawn or freeze that I understood what my reaction o I'm often like a freeze person when I'm, when I triggered like that.

So if I, if I start to imagine what a future will be like in my body and it feels like I, like I habit at time and times in my life said that I felt like a robot that had been turned off. So I was both like being puppeted or being like roboticized by a, a dynamic that I was in. And something about that dynamic now had.

Like I was shut down completely. And that's what my freeze response feels like. So if I can imagine, if I imagine a future where I just go into that freeze response, I know that's, that's not a future that I wanna be in, right? I don't wanna be a robot or frozen.  

[00:28:48] Yvonne: Yeah. I think that's so true. Like I I also talk about like, once you've left the, the oppressive situation and you are in the situation that feels right you are, it's like you are like a sponge that was dry and is now filled with water and mm-hmm.

It's sort of coming unc clenched. And that is just a really lovely feeling, the, the coming un unclenched feeling. So I found. Really, really helpful too, that just, just be aware of the sensations in your body is a huge thing.  

[00:29:23] Risa: It's funny how some of the most powerful spiritual practices for me are have nothing to do with the deity like I am I'm sort of, you know, atheistic like 90% of the time except. Talk to the lake or, or, you know, cry for help from the wind or whatever. But all of my, my most rooted and successful in my, my practice, spiritual practices have a lot to do with like, art therapy or somatic therapy, is really just like taking authority away from a patriarchy or a book or an official or an authoritarian and coming back, putting authority back into our bodies.

Right. I think that's the path I wanna switch off of all the time. It's like, come back into myself and my community.  

[00:30:09] Yvonne: Yeah. I love that. And, and it's also about, you know, just feeling safe with the people you're with, you know? Yes.  

As I recall, one time I was doing a workshop and there were a couple of people who came to the workshop and I asked them if they wanted to do to.

Do it take an active part in the ritual we were doing. And they were like, oh, oh, I dunno if we're allowed. I'm like, well, you are allowed in this space. But it took me like 15 minutes to calm these poor people down enough that they could just relax and be and, and just feel safe. It was, you know, disturbing.

[00:30:44] Risa: Totally. Can I ask you your, your opinion on another piece of this? Sometimes leaving a path or a religion or something behind that is not working for you, that isn't allowing you to be that sponge, that expansive sponge baby. The like, tiny complicated parts of that can be like, who do you keep from your previous life?

And sometimes it's clear cut, like, you know, this person was abusive, this person didn't accept me or my kids for who we are. So that's a line, and for some people that can be an easier line to draw. We're going forward without that still really painful and traumatic, but at least it's like real clear cut.

Don't fuck with my kids, or whatever it is. But then there's like, there's more complicated ones, like people who depend on you but maybe don't have your best interest at heart. I see a lot of that, especially for older caregiving badass witches who are like trying to get a little space for themselves in their life, but really struggling with like, how much care do I have to offer when I'm trying to find a place for myself too.

I know that's a big question, but do you have thoughts on that? Have you seen stuff like that?  

[00:32:01] Yvonne: Yeah, you know, we talk about the immediate, practical thing of, okay you are leaving your religion and your spouse isn't how is that gonna pan out? And there's whole conversations to be had about, you know, how you deal with the fact that your parents are likely to talk to you about, you know, about if your parents were part of your previous religion, then you're, they're gonna talk to you about it probably at length.

Sometimes people just have to kind of cut off contact with people who can't stop going on about the, the previous tradition. But I think you know, we should all be able to have more conversations about how to navigate those kind of situations because it's really difficult, especially when, you know, we live in a majority Christian culture.

So the reality is that, you know, people are going to be framing things within that paradigm and and somehow you have to like have a strong enough sense of your own spirituality to be able to deal with that. And one of the, one of the things is like, okay, great, you've moved away from your previous thing.

And it's always tempting when somebody comes at you with. Fundamentalist Christian argument that you, you frame your reply within that paradigm. So you go like, all right, well, you know, if you, you are reading the Bible wrong, you should read it like this instead. And one of the best pieces of advice that I've seen was from John Beckett saying, don't frame things from within that paradigm.

Because it sucks you back into that frame of mind and what you want is to to move away from that framework and into your framework, whatever that is. And it's really hard cuz you know, sometimes one of my family will say to me something like, oh, what do you think this, that or the other thing about God, and I'm like, well, I don't think about your God because I don't believe in your God. And so from my paradigm, this is what it looks like. And I specifically say from my paradigm, it's like this. And then they go, yeah, but what do you think about it? In my paradigm?

Alright, I'll tell you, but just mind, just wanna remind you, that is not my paradigm.  

[00:34:15] Risa: right. Or like, I think it's your job to think about it in your paradigm and if your paradigm doesn't have space for it, maybe work on your paradigm. Give back to me. Yeah.  

[00:34:26] Yvonne: Sometimes you just, you have to answer in within their paradigm out of compassion. But it's also the case that like, I'm making it very, very clear that this is not my paradigm.  

[00:34:37] Risa: And what do you think about this piece about. Cutting people out saying, yeah, I'm just, I'm not gonna, I I can't support you. I don't have space for, I, I, my, my, my, like the, the brain I was raised in, the social justice Christian I was raised in is like, well burn yourself out trying to save everybody all the time.

That's all we can do is just go until you fall apart, desperately worrying about everything and everyone all the time until you don't exist. Good luck. Like, that's sort of the model I have and I, I need to find models for not that. Oh, sure. Yeah.  

[00:35:14] Yvonne: Yeah. I mean, I think sometimes there are some situations where it is just not safe.

Right. I mean, you know, if you are a trans person in the US and your parents vote Republican and espouse all the anti-trans nonsense, and you know, or if your parents are radically misgendering you or you know, that kind of stuff and or voting for these like nasty Republican anti-trans legislation things, then you know, you can't have a relationship with that person without endangering yourself physically.

And that's why it's like, right, I'm off. Bye. You know, sometimes, or like if I don't know, to take a different example, what if your one of your par one, like let's say your mom is married to a, a man who abused you as a child, right? And she refuses to acknowledge that or see that that that happened You're gonna have to cut yourself out of that situation for your own safety.

I mean, that's just reality. So there are some things that should really, really clear cut and other things where you just have to go, okay, well how harmful is this? Can I come up with a strategy for working around it? Or you know, it depends on the severity of the, the issue, I guess. And as to the sort of, you know, social justice, we've gotta burn ourselves out in the surface in the service of other people.

So the Christian model of, of the spiritual journey is this. And I find it deeply harmful. It is that we must pour out our humanity on the altar of the divine. And that process is called kenosis. And in return God will fill us up with divine essence, and that is called theosis. But in order to get to theosis, you have to do kenosis, right?

And kenosis is not a healthy thing to do cause people have burned themselves out in the service of others, and that's not good. Whereas I think the pagan paradigm is we, our genuine, authentic self lives within us. And that is our, our wild animist witchy inner inner child in the best possible sense of that word.

You know, the authentic self is, is our, the, the purest, and I don't mean Christian pure, I mean pure, as in. Unalloyed version of ourselves, right? And what happens when we move through the world is that other things get encrusted on us by other people putting another image of ourselves onto us.

And our job as, as our spiritual journey is to scrape away those accretions that we don't want and get to the, the real version of who we are. And once we've done that, we've achieved something called apotheosis, which is becoming a God. And that, as you can see, that's a completely different journey than the kenosis Theosis one.

And I think that once again, it's like, don't just kind of scrape the serial numbers off, off the Christian thing and, and label it Pagan. Find out what the. Pagan or animist or, or even the atheist journey is, and go for that.  

[00:38:40] Risa: I love that because it's so structural. Like it, it's the first time since the beginning of our conversation that I remembered that you were a software developer because it's like, go back to the operating system of this way of thinking.

It's not the same. It's not right. It's like, really, how does this actually work? If you take on this way of thinking, it's not just, you know, we, we added a female version of the deity and put on different hats, you know? Can you, can you talk more and, you know, maybe you've answered this in a different way already, but the piece that I wanted to hear more about was, you know, when you're identifying that unalloyed version of yourself and choosing the accretions or relationships or ideas that you do wanna keep making that dis distinction, which one of these do I keep?

Which ones do I not keep? How do we do that? How do I identify those things? And maybe it comes back to that in the body time, noticing what triggers the feeling.  

[00:39:48] Yvonne: I think there's a bodily element to it that you are like, okay, how do I feel inhabiting this accretion?

Right. You know so for instance, I'm really interested in archeology which I, something I've acquired along the way, I guess. And that fits very well with the authentic self because it's like, Ooh, old stuff. I like burial mounds and stone circles. Things like that. It's really about noticing what makes you happy you know, if the thing that you are doing.

So somebody said to me while I was going through my exploration, during my wobble or just after my wobble, really it was like so I was involved with Unitarianism at the time, which is the UK version of Unitarian Universalism. And he said to me, Unitarianism is helping to heal a wound that you've, you are carrying around with you.

Paganism seems to spring up from a sort of wellspring within you. And I thought that was a beautiful, that was exactly right. And so, you know, I'm super grateful to Unitarianism for helping to heal the wound. But it's not coming from that, that core place. Much as I appreciate it. So I think and that's why I had to kind of, I couldn't do two religions at the same time, although I talk about how you might manage that in one of the chapters.

Cuz some people do like to do two religions at the same time. God is how they have time, but they do. And good for them. But like, it wasn't me. So I had to kind of go, all right, I'm gonna, what's the thing that really feeds my soul? I once put up a, an Instagram post that said, if witchcraft isn't fun, you're not doing it right.

So, you know, it's like one of the books I consulted as part of the as part of the research for the book was a book by Griffith and Griffith, which has a long title that I can never remember. But they talk about, you know, is your religion making you happy? Is it making, does it make you feel more fulfilled?

Does it help you more than it harms you? Does it make you feel at one with the universe? Does it connected to everything having a sense of wellbeing, or does it make you anxious and afraid and miserable? And if if it increases your resilience and, and it's helping you, then great.

Keep it. And if it's harming you and, and making you sad and unhappy and, and depressed and oppressed to then run, run the fuck away. Right? So I think it's just actually, it's, it's, remember that thing from Marie Condo where she talks about, you know, yeah. Take, take this object and hold it in your hands and, and thank it for being with you.

And then, does this bring me joy? Right? And if it doesn't bring you joy, let it go.  

[00:42:30] Risa: Right? And I think, like, let's acknowledge that the distance between having the flicker of that realization that where you are, the relationship you're in, the job you're in, the spiritual practice you're in, does not spark joy.

And then being able to fully make the change to get to the joy. Like that's, there's a lot of labor in there. We're not trying to, we're not trying to brush that aside. Yeah. There's a lot, there's a lot of taking care of yourself. There's a lot of safety. In there, you might need to hide in plain sight for a long time while you get your funds and your community and your shit together to get out.

And it might take a lot of tries and it might take therapy and like, so we don't want to, we don't wanna brush past all that by, I, I don't wanna brush past that, but, and I know you don't either by y Yvonne, but I, I, I can be flippant sometimes when I'm making like a joke about get the fuck out. So I just wanna be clear.

Yeah, absolutely.  

We're, we're with you in, in knowing, at least on some level, knowing the stages of what that can really be like.

[00:43:37] Yvonne: Yeah, absolutely. And I, I, you know, the, the I talk about, well, how do you educate yourself, especially if, if your housing and your job and your, and your entire friendship group is in your original religion, how are you gonna, how will, how are you going to extricate yourself?

And so there's a lot of things about, you know, where to get help and how to evaluate. Whether you can change things from within or whether you can just move to a less oppressive version of the same thing, if that helps. Or, you know, like all the different processes you're gonna go through in thinking about all of that.

And then once you are, you know, that's, so the first, that's the whole first half of the book, and then the second half is about will. Okay, now you are thinking about joining Paganism. And what I say to people as well is like, you know, have, have a period of rest between, yeah. Don't just like, leave one tradition and immediately join another one.

Take some time to smell the flowers, paint the town red. Just, you know, have a good time and find out who you really are because one of the interesting things about cult type or high control religions, as I prefer to call them Is that they actually impose a sort of false personality on top of your real one.

So that's part of the scraping off the accretions thing. So, you know, when you are joining a new thing is, you know, take your time to suss out the territory and look at all the different groups that are available and, you know, read around the subject and, and work through, you know even your baggage behind.

I still get triggered if, I mean, not just cause I'm non-binary, but because of my previous childhood tradition. If somebody says, refers to somebody else as a sister or a brother, I'm just like, no. Totally right. Yeah. So so, you know, the, the baggage is real. And you know, so take your time. One of the things I appreciate about our traditions, that there's always a, there's always an option for people to just explore. Take your time, explore.

And only, and then, you know, when you are joining a group, how to evaluate what the warning signs are, if it's a dodgy group and stuff like that. And and then, you know, how we kind of move on with our lives after, after this big upheaval change.

[00:45:56] Risa: It's such. I mean, I, I can think of a hundred people who would like to have a copy of that book in their back pockets for what they're going through right now.

Do you wanna talk about where people can find it and find you?  

[00:46:10] Yvonne: Absolutely. Yeah. So you can go to thousand volt press.com, which has all the links to buy the book. Also changing paths, resources.ca has has all the resources as well. And not to mention the Spotify playlist.

[00:46:27] Risa: Ooh.  

[00:46:28] Yvonne: Yeah. Cuz as I was writing the book, I was like, oh, that's a bit like that song. I'll put that in the playlist. Fun. Yeah. And there's also, I've also made some YouTube videos on the topic as well, so people can check those out. And those are all from changing paths resources.Ca. It is going to be released on April the 11th. You can pre-order the, the, if you want it on Kindle, you can. Pre-order or Cobo or one of those you can pre-order that or if you want a physical copy, the the pre-order information for that will drop soon.

So stay tuned.  

[00:47:05] Reed: Thank you Risa, for putting out the invitation to be here. I have just really enjoyed listening to you. I am a PhD student in religious studies in the States, and I am studying why women are leaving Christianity to practice witchcraft.  

But even as I was listening to you speaking I, I had this realization this week that I've kind of been beating myself up, that I'm doing this PhD work, but not doing like the, like the kind of stuff like you are doing. You know, where it's like, how am I not, you know, I should be helping these people who have, you know, I felt very, very controlled in Christianity.

I I went from fundamentalism as a child to Lutheran clergy as an adult and renounced my credentials just because I, I think I learned enough and had experienced enough of that harm that you kept describing. You talk about allowing yourself time to heal and allowing time for yourself to just take a break I found that whenever I left Christianity, I went directly into like, I'm a witch. I have been a witch for a long time, but I think that's because little by little I was, you know, kind of the, the Christianity was going down while the embracing paganism witchcraft was, was coming up.

And so just talking about being gentle with yourself is something that I am so grateful to hear. Es and, you know, especially also too about the family and leaving those situations where, and you are in a cult. Yeah, you're in a cult. This is a worldwide cult whose d n a is in the very structural beams of the institution.

I mean, it is. So, and, and I've been having this conversation with some of my friends recently that even if someone's not Christian, Christianity is the default. Yes. So true. It is the default. Yeah. Even though you, like, there is kind of like, as a queer person myself who came out and had to come out again and come out again and come out again, I feel like leaving Christianity.

You have to leave again and you leave again. And like you were talking about it's so funny because Yvonne, I've considered going to a unitarian church. Because I'm like, I'll try this. It surely won't be that bad. But hearing you say, that was a place for healing for me, but I realized it wasn't my path.

I I knew that in my body when you've said that and, and realizing even though it's been so harmful. And I'm, I'm, I would like to hear you say more about this. Thank you for letting me gush for a minute because I'm gonna start following you and, and interacting with you on social media because I'm so fascinated by your books.

But there is a nostalgia, even if there was harm. Yep. There is a nostalgia. I know. One of the things I did as I was leaving my partner and I hosted a church in a gay bar for five years. Wonderful. We used secular music but also Hymns, and there were people who had come and seen hymns in this pub who had not been in a church in years, but were so nostalgic for these hymns.  

[00:50:34] Yvonne: There's a great unitarian joke about, you know, how do you know you are a unitarian? When You are reading ahead in the hymn to see if you agree with the theology.

I was like, oh my God, that's so true. So yeah, I, I, you know, I really still have a special place for the Unitarians in my heart always. Cuz they're really lovely people. But yeah, it was, and one of the things that's really interesting is that but I went to an interfaith service at a unitarian church in Canada recently.

Cuz I could go there with my witchy hat on and go, yes, I'm Wick, hello. But, you know so that was great. And they ha they were singing this little light of mine, which is a very, you know, in my world that's like evangelical. I'm like, I'm singing along. Yay. Singing this with Unitarians feels completely different.

So yeah, it was definitely a, a healing experience for sure. So, but yeah, I think the What you said about Christianity being in the d n a of everything. When we were talking about software development earlier, I was, I wrote a piece years ago about how Christianity is like Microsoft. Hmm. Their, their software is installed on everyone's everyone's hardware.

And once it's installed there, it's really, really hard to get rid of it. And and you know, and it keeps coming up and biting you on the ass. And then Unitarianism and the Quakers are like Apple Max. They're really cool, but nobody actually owns one. And, and then paganism is basically Linux cuz it's open source and and it's.

You know, in opposition to Microsoft.  

[00:52:05] Risa: I'm so here for that. I love that. That is such a lovely, so funny, lovely metaphor also, cuz no one owns the, the pagan theology. Right? And, and it's constantly, if, if you want your own version of it, just port it and go ahead. It's totally, totally works under the conditions of the license.

Off to go. Yeah. That's funny.

[00:52:31] Reed: I ask another question. Of course. I wonder, do you ad you, you did mention that you addressed this in your book, the idea of like a syncretism, so.

The particular brand of, of Witchcraft brand, the, the version I am descended. I am like 85% Scottish descent. And so, you know, then my people, whether they came on purpose or you know, along with a partner, a spouse is Appalachian, Appalachian folk magic, you know, which very heavily synchronizes the Bible.

And you know, you see it also in who do among you know, people of color, but like this tism it's, I, you know, and, and you've mentioned too about, you know, you can't just replace like X. F you, you know? Yeah. And even though this morning I, my, a friend of mine, you know, we've been who is formerly like almost clergy, but functioned that way in a church and, we've been during Holy Week exchanging messages, you know, about how lovely it is that we are, that we no longer do this.

And I heard myself this morning say the goddess is rising. She's rising indeed. Instead of when what you say in he has risen, he has risen indeed. You know, the goddess is rising. She's rising. Indeed. Part of that is a song that sings but part of that, you know, is just seeing all of the horrible but wonderful stuff that is happening.

Like, for example, in Nashville. So I'm, I'm wondering what of tism right now, people who maybe wanna take like the words of the brown-skinned man that was executed by the Empire. Hmm. You know, who had, who like is not Paul, who I'm convinced Paul was like the first world Christian cult leader. But like what of this?

I, there are so many different versions and I actually had someone in my program at the university where I'm at, at saying, well, you can't be Christian and a witch. And once upon a time I probably would have said, oh, you're absolutely right. Now I'm not. Now I'm like, you don't get to define. Yeah, right.  

[00:54:46] Yvonne: So just tell all the Christian witches I'm following on Instagram, that they can't be a Christian and a witch.

Right. Yeah. So, yeah. I think I actually wrote a paper on this as part of my master's degree about the different types of synchronism. So there's like the, there's a synchronism where the. You have the core values of one religion kind of wrapped up in the trappings or the or the symbolism of another one.

And then there's one where there's a sort of reverse of that. And then there's sort of actually melding the two things together so that you've got a unified synchronistic practice. And I think a lot of folk witchcraft of the Appalachian and Hudu variety that you're describing is just so melded together that you can't pull it apart and go, well, this bit's Christian, Miz, pagan.

And then the, the other one is a, a thing that the Russians called DeVry, which is dual mindedness, where you've kind of got okay, I'm doing my, my Christian thing over here and I'm doing my Pagan thing over here. Right. And obviously that's the hardest one to sustain. So the ideal is to kind of, you know, and I, it takes.

People who practice more than one tradition, it takes 'em a long time to get the two things in balance. And one of the people who's talked about that at great length in, in fascinating ways is cat shaping Bishop who has a blog called Quaker Pagan Reflections, which is well worth anyone's time.

And I quote it fairly extensively in the book cuz I found it really, really helpful while I was having my mobile. And so she's written very in depth about how to be a Quaker and a Pagan. And I think it helps if, you know, if you're actually, the thing is, if you were a, a solar sheet practitioner who does a istic thing, that's a lot easier to do than if you're actually trying to go to.

A Quaker meeting or a Unitarian church and also be a practicing wicken or a practicing, you know, because like, I mean, no Wickens ever asked me how I could be a Unitarian and a Wicken, but lots of Unitarians were like, well, how do you, how did you square those two things? Don't get it. So it, it depends on, you know, if, if like, I think as pagans we tend to expect that people will be you know, oh yeah.

If that person's a wicken and a Dr, that person's in the O t O and is also a wicken that person's in, does the limo and, and also wicked or whatever it is, you know, we are very used to the idea that you can be an adherent of multiple different, you know, like in antiquity, people were initiated into multiple mystery cults and also that did their, their religious practice at home.

And I think when you're coming at it from a sort of Christianized worldview where you are expected to adhere only to Christianity, then it's harder to understand how somebody could do both. So it depends on the version of it depends on what your version of Secretism is and whether you are actually trying to do it in company with other people or just as your solitary practice.

[00:57:51] Reed: Wow. Thank you. This is, this is just I, if it is. Okay. I will reach out to you. I just this to, to find someone who is doing this work and if nothing else, to, you know, just these resources that you've mentioned. Because I was writing a paper recently and our librarian at the university was like, there's just not a lot of people who've written about this.

But I'm finding that there are. So I think about someone like Carol Christ or Carol Christ who just is , who is demonized, who is a Yale trained theologian who, because she then embraced goddess religion. Was just, well, she's not a real scholar.  

[00:58:33] Yvonne: Yeah. I mean, and she's, but she's written stuff for the oh, various encyclopedias . Carol Krist is an interesting one. And I think all of the people who are involved in pagan studies, like Yeah, there is a Pagan studies group as part of the American Academy of Religion. Yes.

And there's some good people in that, and they have, there's always been that thing of how the, as soon as you are seen to be a practitioner and, and, and an academic that there's somehow seem to be a conflict between those two things, especially if you are a practitioner, is something that the academy deemed quote unquote wacky.

And the the Pagan studies division of the AAR has been really helpful in bringing people together to, to navigate that. And there's a great book called Researching Paganism, edited by Doug Azi and. I think Jenny Blaine was the co-editor of that. And that gives you like how to navigate the participant observer divide.

[00:59:35] Reed: Okay. That's, that, that is helpful. Be because, you know, this is like, this is my story. Like I am a woman who is leaving and looking at this, this other thing. And again, I just have to comment on how you said, you know, once you cross that practitioner, the observer practitioner divide, unless you're a Christian, unless you're a practitioner of Judaism or a practitioner of Islam and feel like those, you know, you can be all of those things, but as soon as you're this... this is lovely. Thank you so much and congratulations on your book. Super, super thankful to get to spend this time with y'all.  

[01:00:11] Yvonne: Yeah. And really wanna thank you for putting me in touch with two of the contributors, hey, to the, the third part of the book, which is the personal stories part. Because it would've been a lot thinner if I hadn't, if you hadn't invited me onto missing witches.

[01:00:26] Risa: I'm so happy people found you and a place to tell their stories, really. And yeah.  

[01:00:32] Yvonne: So you do get a Thank you Anna.

[01:00:36] Risa: Awesome. Let's, let's just keep all hanging out and having helpful conversations and doing cool magical shit together. Yeah. Yeah. And blessed fucking BE. Yeah.

The Missing Witches Podcast is created by Risa Dickens and Amy Toro with insight and support from the coven. Amy and Risa are the co-authors of missing witches, reclaiming true histories of feminist magic, which is available now wherever you get your books or audiobooks.

And of New Moon Magic 13 anti-capitalist tools for resistance and re-enchantment coming fall 2023.

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