Let’s start from the beginning.
After I was born, and before my parents and I moved to the U.S., I was baptized, with a cross and everything. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Russian Orthodox and they then decided to go the Eastern European route when it comes to religion, found me a godmother, and proceeded to dunk me (none of which I remember, obviously). I still have the cross although I barely ever wear it anymore but I think it is something that will always have significance to me.
Other than the baptism and visiting churches every now and then (mostly for Passover), I didn’t have much experience with the religion. During my summers in Ukraine as a kid, we would sometimes go to the town church with my best friend and her family. But once I got old enough and realized I had a choice whether or no to go, I chose to sleep in haha.
I did enjoy the times we did go, though, besides the waking-up-early-in-the-morning part. I liked when, after standing in a circle around the church for at least an hour, the priest finally came out and started spraying everyone and their baskets with holy water and I liked how in sync everyone was and how good the singing sounded (I could barely understand what they were singing usually). But like I said, once I realized I didn’t have to go, I stopped going.
My parents and I were never religious so even though I was exposed to it, I did not grow up in a religious household. As I said earlier, my mom is Jewish and never lets me forget it. She is proud of our Jewish heritage, although she did say that if her mom was still alive when she met my dad, she wouldn’t have let them get married because he isn’t Jewish. So I grew up in a kind of weird mix where even though I was baptized, I didn’t follow that at all and due to my mom’s constant need to remind me of it and my dad’s nonchalant nature, I was much more aware of the fact that I was Jewish rather than Russian Orthodox.
Even though I’m Jewish, I did not have a Bat Mitzvah (but I did have a Sweet 16), I do not know Hebrew and all in all I am not very educated in it. Knowing about the Holocaust and a few religious details here and there is the extent of my Jewish education. Of course, part of my mom constantly reminding me that I’m Jewish is reminding me that half our family died in the Holocaust and to be honest, I’m appalled to have found out recently that there are people out there that don’t know about this historic tragedy. To not know about such a significant piece of history, whether or not you have a Jewish background, is unacceptable and kind of blows my mind.
While we’re on the topic, every time May 9th comes around, it becomes a very emotionally charged day for my family, especially for my mom. To give you some context, May 9th was my grandfather’s (mom’s dad’s) birthday and it is also Victory Day for the Soviets because that is the day the Nazi’s surrendered in the war my grandfather fought in. It’s actually a pretty crazy story. He lied about his age so he could join the military and said he was 16, both his parents died then, etc.
So that day has a very strong emotional and historical significance to us and every year my mom tries to get me to watch movies and documentaries about the Holocaust. As you can probably guess, that gives way for a very sad day. When I was younger, I didn’t say anything and just watched with her but as I got older, I started refusing to watch these things with her. The way I looked at it was: I know what happened. I’m very much aware of it; I understand the meaning it holds for me and my family, but I do not want to dedicate a whole day of my life every year to worry about something I can’t change now. It’s mentally and physically draining and I don’t want to do it. She tells me that I’m being disrespectful because I’m not acknowledging the day. But I prefer to preserve what little piece of sanity I have left.
Now on to my other experiences.
When I was in high school, I dated a Mormon.
We met the summer before senior year on a trip that was part of a program that sends kids to all kinds of different countries. (It’s called People to People Ambassador Program and I’d really recommend it) My group consisted of kids from different high schools from New York, including one of my family friends, and then a few kids from random places like Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina. He was one of those kids not from New York. My family friend and I became friends with two other girls and then the four of us became friends with a few of the guys and formed our mini friendship gang. He was in that group.
Obviously, we liked each other and at the end of the trip decided to start dating. At first, I thought nothing of the fact that he was Mormon. I’ve actually never heard of the religion until I met him and there was nothing really about him that seemed off to me, at least nothing that stood out right away. He just seemed like a regular kid. He was cool, he was funny, he liked to crack jokes, and he had an inner emotional side to him that all of us in the mini-group shared and I think is the reason we all became so close then. I remember the first day all of us actually started talking and hanging out was when we were in France, specifically at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There was another boy in our ambassador group that was kind of the “popular guy.” He was tall, blonde, and very loud. When we were at the top, the boy commented on my Ex being Mormon. I think the boy said something about having multiple wives and I remember seeing my Ex’s reaction. He looked kind of sad and tried explaining that Mormons don’t do that. That was actually a detail that he felt really passionate about and kept reminding me, and everyone else, that they used to do that but don’t anymore. I now know that he wasn’t entirely wrong but it was mainly the fact that his sect didn’t do that anymore and while most don’t, there are still some die-hard Mormons out there that still do this.
As the trip went on, we got closer and it became obvious to us and everyone around us that we really liked each other. We even did that corny shit somewhere in Europe (Austria, I think) where we carved our initials in a heart onto a tree while our gang was out and about the city and we stopped in a park.
After the trip ended and we came back to the U.S., we dated for about 7 months. He visited me, I visited him and then he cheated on me. Now keep in mind, this was my first “real relationship.” Before this, I had some summer flings in Ukraine but nothing in the U.S.
Before that happened, nothing seemed weird. At least not from first glance. To me, his cheating was entirely out of the blue. During our 7 months long-distance relationship, we talked every day, we skyped about once a week, and about once a month, he would give me a Mormonism lesson, in a sense. I called it his man-period because it was actually once a month that this happened. I didn’t mind it at first. I liked learning about it. It was interesting to me. What I did mind though, was when he would go a little further and try to convince me to become Mormon. A big part of that issue was that they have something called a Temple Marriage which is very sacred and can involve your entire family. The premise of it is that even after death, you and your loved ones will end up together. The problem with that was that to participate, you had to be Mormon. They have churches and they have temples and anyone is allowed in a church but only Mormons are allowed in temples. So as two people in a relationship, when talking about our future, that would come up quite a bit. That and also him going away on his mission and what we would do when that happens.
Fortunately, we never had to figure that out because he cheated on me before he went on any mission, and yes he did eventually go on one. So there I was, freshly cheated on by a Mormon boyfriend, trying to figure out how to make sense of it. I’m not going to go into the details of what happened (maybe another day) but essentially, at first I was in shock, then I was disgusted, then I was sad, then I was mad. Senior year, my grades dropped and I’d come to school crying almost every day for at least a month or two after that. I’d have my hood up so no one can see me crying in class sometimes. One of my teachers actually noticed and asked me if something was wrong. I told him what happened and he suggested I go to the guidance counselor. I went for a little bit but I don’t know how much that helped. It mostly just felt awkward telling some random lady about why I’m hurting and looking at a picture of her husband and kid on her desk, thinking there’s no way she can possibly relate to me.
One day in my creative writing class, we watched an old black and white movie and the family in it was very religious. I don’t remember what it was about but I do remember getting angrier the more we watched it and when the bell rang I practically flew out of there.
After that I became an Atheist. Prior to that, I wasn’t religious but I still believed in something. I always believed there was a force or energy that is helping me. After being cheated on by a “good Mormon boy” who saw marriage as the most important thing in the world, religion made absolutely no sense to me. How can someone who says one thing and feel so strongly about his beliefs go completely against them?
So I was Atheist for some time while I blew off steam about what happened.
And then I got to college.
College was such a roller coaster, in both good and bad ways. But college was when I really started becoming myself. I met a lot of different people and had a lot of different experiences. But the most significant turning point in my life to this day was the summer before sophomore year. I was back home that summer and I think it was probably the worst summer of my life. A lot of things started to hit me. I realized things about my life that I didn’t before. A lot of them were heavily related to my relationship with my parents and my depression. I felt completely alone. Twice that summer I got into an argument with my parents when we were on our way somewhere and stormed out of our car to wander aimlessly around and cry. (Both times we were stopped. I’m not a ninja. I didn’t jump out of a moving car) One of those times, after listening to myself and making the choice to live and grow and be whoever I wanted regardless of what people said, I talked on the phone and later met with one of my friends from high school. We met freshman year and have been friends since and that day she made me feel like I wasn’t alone. And although I already decided that I will keep trying to improve my life, with or without support, it was definitely a lot easier to do it with help. (Shoutout to Bryanna. You the real MVP)
So that is when I started to do some research and think deeper. I knew that whatever beliefs and value systems I had now weren’t working out and I knew I was a spiritual person but I didn’t know how to express it. Anyway, that’s when I started meditating, and reading a lot of spiritual books and article and just finding different information online that might help. I started watching a lot of inspirational YouTubers and I realized there was a common theme in all of this: Be who you are and don’t hurt others and yourself.
I realized that I have always been spiritual but that as I got older, I started suppressing it little by little because it didn’t align with my surroundings. Most of the people I was around weren’t religious but they were also rude, whether or not they knew it. I knew that there was something I was missing that was stopping me from being happy.
Then I realized I had always been interested in all things weird, spooky, supernatural and natural, and everything philosophy and psychology. I have always loved nature and always felt like there was something protecting me. And then I thought, there are so many different kinds of beliefs, philosophies, and religions out there and one or some have to fit me. I really got into Buddhism and I researched pagan religions and “found” Wicca. The funny thing is that Bryanna actually told me about Wicca back in freshman year but I thought she was joking about it. I didn’t believe that was a real religion that existed lol.
And then it hit me. I connected with western and/or pagan philosophies.
in Universal Consciousness. I believe that nature is everything and that we need to respect it. Just thinking about how unbelievably small we are compared to the grand scheme of things should be enough to tell us that we don’t run the world. There is so much about the universe that we don’t know.
I believe that we should all be aware of ourselves and our surroundings and to take everything with a grain of salt. I believe that taking life too seriously is a waste of time and energy and that you should focus on being happy instead. I believe that we all deserve happiness and success and being greedy and mean is not the way to do it.
I believe that we aren’t bodies with awareness but awareness with bodies. I believe in reincarnation. I believe that you can worship as many gods and goddesses as you desire. I believe that we are all intuitive and conscious people but that some of us lose that along the way when we grow up. The world takes over, our parents take over, our teachers take over, our friends take over and if we follow the wrong path, we start to forget what’s important. I believe that education needs a total overhaul and that we need to teach kids things about meditation, creative expression, nature and basic life skills like you know, cooking and growing food, or how to actually set up your life for success. I’m not saying every subject needs to get thrown out. I’m saying that we need to optimize and prioritize education to what is important now and what matters now as well as in the future. Right now, the school system is very outdated and does not serve most people.
If I had to put a label on my beliefs, I’d say I’m somewhere between Buddhist to Eclectic Wicca to just Pagan in general. I love the freedom of Paganism and that there are no true set of standards to follow but rather helpful guidelines and suggestions.
I think that every religion at its core shares the same meaning, which is to spread love and peace but as we’ve seen so many times throughout history, there is always someone who will take that meaning and twist the words around. There are so many religious people that say they stand for something, then go against it and do horrible things only to come back with “God will forgive me.” And at the same time, there are plenty of non-religious people who do bad things. I’m not saying that it’s bad to be religious. I’m saying it’s bad to be close-minded and hypocritical. I think we all need to do our own research and come to our own conclusions but only if we are willing to look at content other than that of our own biased beliefs. If you start researching and only read what already confirms your beliefs, you aren’t making much progress. You have to be willing to change your mind or at least actually hear someone out.
Even just doing some basic historical research, you’ll see that every religion stems from an older one we’ve probably forgotten about. And Paganism goes way back. Before Abrahamic religions became popular, Paganism was the way to do it. I think there is truth to every religion but many people get stuck on something and interpret it the wrong way. We are all connected and we all share the same planet and the same history. And I think it’d be much better to share happiness together rather than sadness.
***I did read a post about how this tree may need some changes but regardless I think it gives a good idea about just how many religions there are and have existed.