Pagan Convert

Libby Edwards

Libby Edwards is a former neopagan witch of fifteen years. She is happily married and has one eleven year old son.

I am often asked by friends and family why I converted to the Catholic Church. They don't want a simple answer; they want to know how and why the Church "sucked me in." For most of my family, the response is usually one of surprise, but they are so thankful I am at least Christian now that there's little argument against it. But for my friends, people who have known me since at least college (and sometimes longer than that), the response is often some combination of anger and bewilderment. You see, before my conversion, I was neither Protestant, or Christian, or Jewish. I was a Neopagan Witch.

But! I didn't start out that way.

I was born into a nominally Protestant family, but shortly after my parents moved from Michigan (where my mother's family lived) to Nash County, North Carolina, my mother was visited by a pair of Mormon missionaries. These kind, affectionate ladies brought more than a new religion to my parents' doorstep. They brought a ready-made "family" of sorts to replace the one my mother had left behind. Mormon worship communities are extremely close-knit, and they must have seemed a welcoming godsend to my lonely mother. She converted first, my father shortly after, and I was baptized at eight years old, the Mormon age of reason. My two younger sisters were born around the same time.

By the time I was in junior high school, however, my parents had fallen away from the Mormon church and were token members at best. I was a typical unchurched teenager, with little interest in getting up early on Sunday mornings to attend any church, much less the Mormon one, and far more concerned with being cool than cultivating a relationship with God. Still, at some point I had developed an interest in religion, and living in the South with many Christian friends, I had ample opportunity for attending various churches. They were all Protestant, every one, and I never attended a particular church with any frequency, but I was exposed to a wide variety of Protestant denominations, and even flirted briefly with the Church of God during my senior year. This was not because I was attracted to the church--in fact, it scared me to death--but because I was dating a devout member of the church and thought I might marry him. Needless to say, I did not, and shortly after the end of our relationship, I stopped attending his church.

I knew exactly one Catholic family while I was growing up. They were more culturally Catholic than devout, but I was fascinated by them all the same. The Catholic Church was something I only knew from horror novels and movies like The Exorcist, but even then I was attracted to the "trappings" of the faith. Rosaries also intrigued me: When I found out this family had an entire drawer full of rosaries they never used, I remember feeling this vague sense of shock. I had never even seen a rosary in real life, so the thought that someone could have an entire collection and never even use them made zero sense to me. (I didn't even know what it meant to pray a rosary, but I still knew there was something special about it. Stuffed in a drawer, indeed!)

This touch-and-go interest in religion--any religion--would explode over the summer of my twentieth year. I have always been an avid book hound, and I frequented the fantasy and science-fiction section at my local bookstore. This section was directly across from the New Age/Astrology shelves. Not finding anything new to read, I casually turned to the section behind me, where a book on witchcraft immediately caught my attention. The cover was silly, the title even more so, but to an impressionable twenty year old with a love of all things "dark and mysterious" (did I mention I was born on Halloween?) and a deep-seated craving for something spiritual in my faith-starved life, the promises of the book's back cover struck a deeply resonant chord. Witchcraft wasn't just a fairy tale! It wasn't devil worship! And all I had to do was buy this book, and I could be a real Witch, too!

I bought the book that very day and smuggled it home. I was fascinated. Enthralled. I began studying the lessons contained in the book, and soon I met other like-minded people who shared my newfound faith. And while I'll admit to the obligatory period of newbie Witch "oogy-boogy, look at me," it didn't take long before I ditched the all-black wardrobe and ten pounds of silver pentacles to embrace a more serious, dedicated approach to the Craft. I cultivated a circle of Pagan and Craft friends. I found experienced real-world teachers to help me. And I read without ceasing anything Craft-related I could get my hands on. That's not to say there weren't things about Neopaganism and the Craft that I failed to agree with completely--I still couldn't entirely shake my Christian upbringing, and it would creep back at unexpected moments--but with time and continued practice, it became easier to sweep those doubts and questions under the rug.

I practiced Neopagan Witchcraft for fifteen years. I was active as a solitary, as a coven member, and eventually I began teaching the Craft to others. I organized Pagan events and networked extensively online. I cultivated occult "talents"--I seemed to have a particular gift for both divination and working with the dead--and learned to heal and curse, although I definitely had more success with the latter. I do not believe this was a coincidence. One of the great draws of Neopagan Witchcraft--and a favorite point of argument for Witches defending their faith--is its supposed focus on positive magic, but it's a milk-before-meat fairy tale with little basis in reality. "An in harm none, do what thou wilt" is quickly discarded for, "a witch who cannot hex, cannot heal."

This was a dark time for me, although I wouldn't realize how dark until after I had put that lifestyle behind me. There is a level of permissiveness in the Craft I've yet to find anywhere else, and in many ways it's a faith-enshrined species of hedonism. I began pushing the envelope in every way I could think of, determined to shake up the narrow, close-minded views of the Christian majority, and in the process I found my inhibitions and moral checkpoints being gleefully tossed aside in a spirit of newfound "freedom." Practicing magic was really the least of my problems. I had adopted an entirely new worldview that left me walking a spiritual tightrope without a safety net.

God never abandoned me, however--I just couldn't see it at the time. And because I had turned my back on all organized religion, he reached out to me in surprising ways. I continued to read horror novels and enjoy horror movies, and I noticed that whenever real evil threatened in these stories, no one called on the local Protestant minister or voodoo mambo...or Pagan priestess, for that matter. They called on the Catholic Church. I didn't realize how that fact had seeped into my subconscious until I said (jokingly, I thought) to a friend of mine that if something evil ever manifested in my house, I would call the local Catholic priest before I called on a Wiccan priestess to help me. There was a power and authority in the Catholic Church that I unconsciously acknowledged even then.

I also enjoyed comic books. (Bear with me; this will all tie together in a moment.) My favorite character was from The Uncanny X-Men, a blue, fuzzy mutant with a spaded tail and a penchant for swashbuckling with a sword. His name was Nightcrawler, and he was a devout Catholic--possibly the only devout Catholic to ever star in comic books. He was something new in my (admittedly limited) experience at the time--a Catholic clearly in love with God, and clearly happy about it.

My affection for the character soon translated to my creative free time. I started writing stories for my friends, and eventually role-playing the character in a comic book RPG. I played in other RPGs as well, and wrote on a semi-pro level in the fantasy and horror genres. Far more often than I intended, my original characters would end up Catholic, too. As a result, I was often challenged by other players and readers about my characters' motivations, which forced me to turn to Catholic apologetics so I could accurately defend the reasoning behind my characters' actions.

By this point, the Church was beginning to saturate everything I thought and everything I wrote, but it was when I began studying the Church in earnest (purely for research, or so I told myself) that the first real doubts began to creep in. I was thirty-five by this time, and had lived the majority of my young-adult life as a diehard Neopagan Witch. But enough doubt was sowed by the histories I read, the apologetics I devoured--and yes, the Catechism of the Church--that I began to wonder if I'd been off the mark all along. I was already in love with the trappings of the Church--the smells and bells, art and music, even the grandeur of the rituals, which is probably unsurprising given my love for the similar trappings of Neopaganism and Witchcraft. But I began reading truth in the apologetics as well. Hard truth, but Truth all the same. The rituals and spells of the Craft began to seem cheap by comparison--mere shadows of that Truth-- and I was hungry for something real.

I signed up for RCIA at my local Catholic parish, and I gave myself a year. It took far less time than that; I was already His, you see. I had one foot in the door, and I only needed someone holding my hand to help me through the rest of the way. That's not to say it was an easy road. Far from it. I was going from a religion of extreme permissiveness to one that actually demanded things of me, and as much as it shames me to admit it, I had never been the sort to stick things out when the going got tough. But as Cardinal Newman famously said, "to be steeped in history is to cease to be Protestant," and it is also to cease to be Pagan. Despite the difficulty, despite how well I dug in my heels and balked at every turn, I knew I'd seen a glimpse of that Truth, and my soul was crying out for more.

During Lent--and especially during Holy Week--something deeply personal happened. Up until that point, I had been a Catholic of logic, my journey to the faith resting solely on what I had read and the common sense of it all. But during Holy Week, I became a Catholic of the heart. I experienced God in the Holy Spirit, in a very real and life-changing way, and in that moment I left Paganism behind for good. There have been other moments since, but it is that moment I hold close to my heart. It was then that I fell in love with God, and I never want to be parted from him again.

I was baptized Catholic at the Easter Vigil Mass, 2010. At the time of this writing, I have been Catholic for one year; I look forward to the time when my years as a Catholic will outnumber my years as a Pagan! It hasn't always been easy--giving up fifteen years of Paganism is much like breaking an addiction--but God continues to give me the grace to muddle through. It is incredibly difficult to be a devout Catholic, compared to the anything-goes mentality of Pagan Witchcraft. But my life is also simpler, more beautiful, and more peaceful now than it ever was under Paganism.

Witchcraft offers incredible freedom, but oh, it's a clever lie.

True freedom... That rests with God.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.(Matthew 11:29-30)

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20 comments

  • Comment Link Smoochagator Tuesday, 05 April 2011 18:19 posted by Smoochagator

    "There is a level of permissiveness in the Craft I've yet to find anywhere else, and in many ways it's a faith-enshrined species of hedonism. I began pushing the envelope in every way I could think of, determined to shake up the narrow, close-minded views of the Christian majority, and in the process I found my inhibitions and moral checkpoints being gleefully tossed aside in a spirit of newfound 'freedom.'"

    Wow. Yes. This is exactly what I experienced during my (comparatively brief) foray into paganism before returning to the Christian faith.

    I loved your story, Libby, and will be following your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  • Comment Link Nicole Wednesday, 06 April 2011 13:42 posted by Nicole

    Love you on Facebook and love you here. God be with you always, sister. You are so beautiful and your story is so, so edifying for so many. You rock.

  • Comment Link Ryan Thursday, 07 April 2011 03:31 posted by Ryan

    I found your story very heartwarming and inspiring. Thank you for writing this. I will pray that it will be of assistance to others. God Bless you.

  • Comment Link Amy Thursday, 07 April 2011 17:43 posted by Amy

    Thanks for sharing your amazing story. God proves himself over and over again. He certianly does work in the most incredible ways!
    God Bless you and know that I will be offering many special prayers this easter for you!
    Amy

  • Comment Link bt Thursday, 07 April 2011 19:46 posted by bt

    Thanks for relating your story, Libby. I think you will find in the Catholic Church a richness in history, doctrine, and the lives of the saints that is almost impossible to completely mine. I am presently reading a book on the life of Saint Francis of Paola, which is very interesting. May God always be with you and your family.

  • Comment Link Kris Thursday, 07 April 2011 20:12 posted by Kris

    Hi Libby,
    Just discovered your conversion story which I loved and I will be adding your blog to my list of blogs to follow.

  • Comment Link Jeffrey Quick Thursday, 07 April 2011 20:49 posted by Jeffrey Quick

    Libby, you're smarter than I was. It took me about 25 years of Wicca and a Gardnerian 2nd before I left. I looked around and realized that the Christians I knew had more functional lives than the Witches I knew, and that in practice "An it harm none..." foundered on the subjective definition of "harm." Plus I always liked Renaissance polyphony better than drum circles. Glad you're home...pray for my wife who is still there.

  • Comment Link Ryan Thursday, 07 April 2011 21:32 posted by Ryan

    Great and uplifting story. A testimony of how God so gently moves each of us to conversion whether or not we're even aware of it! I was never a serious pagan, but from the time I was 15 until 24 I certainly lived a hedonistic lifestyle! At 24 I converted to Christianity at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. Then, through 10 years of church hopping, marriage, and children, my wife and I were received into the Holy Catholic Church on Easter vigil of '08! God bless you and strengthen you on your journey!

  • Comment Link mk Friday, 08 April 2011 00:08 posted by mk

    I too was sucked into the pagan void. I have always been drawn to the supernatural. Had my first seance when I was 10. Almost burnt the house down...did the whole spiel. Covens, Cards, Charts...then when I was 33 (go figure) I had a mind blowing conversion. Never looked back. I had to give up a lot of friends who just didn't understand. The loneliness was the hardest. I prayed so hard for some Catholic Friends. Raised six kids. 3 before, 3 after. Call them the "A" team and the "B" team. Man, can you tell which ones were raised by a mother with Faith. I'm 52 now. I've got tons of Catholic Friends now. It gets easier. Confession Mass, Adoration, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet...all of these keep me safe. I'll never forget where I came from and I never, ever, ever want to go back. I thank Him every day for pickin' me up out of the gutter...and I thank her too, for believing in me and bringing me to her son.

    God bless you and keep you.

  • Comment Link Mariadevotee Friday, 08 April 2011 02:40 posted by Mariadevotee

    Libby,
    Great story, so glad you are back home. Don't worry about being Catholic longer than you were pagan. You will be Catholic for eternity so even now, you will always be Catholic longer than you were not.

  • Comment Link John Friday, 08 April 2011 14:39 posted by John

    Paganism is the soul of the world, the cosmos.

    Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.

    If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

    For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

    And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

    God Bless you Libby.

    Pray for us as I pray for you.

  • Comment Link Liinus Friday, 08 April 2011 16:28 posted by Liinus

    Good for you. There will always be difficulties, they are nothing but crosses. Keep at it.

  • Comment Link KathleenLM Saturday, 09 April 2011 00:40 posted by KathleenLM

    Thanks for sharing your story! I was a "re-vert" who had 16 years of Catholic education but somehow failed to grasp the "why" of our Catholic beliefs - and I embraced the "what" to believe rather loosely. I am very grateful to the many fascinating Catholic convert/apologists who helped God touch my soul and who provided the WHY of my Catholic roots.

    One of my favorite sayings is the famous passage from St. Augustine's Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5) in which Saint Augustine states "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

    God is so good - He NEVER gives up on us!

    God Bless!

  • Comment Link Manny Monday, 23 May 2011 02:52 posted by Manny

    What a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing and providing me with a view into paganism. I don't want to insult anyone, but paganism seems so creepy.

  • Comment Link Christie Wednesday, 08 June 2011 19:35 posted by Christie

    Libby, I'm struck by how you also saw your experience with Neopaganism as "addicting." It is a very clever lie. You hit the mark right on--exactly how it was with me.

  • Comment Link Laura M Friday, 24 June 2011 06:30 posted by Laura M

    Beautiful story, welcome home

  • Comment Link Ron Monday, 24 October 2011 01:15 posted by Ron

    Libby, have you had the privilege of attending a Traditional Solemn High Mass? It has everything you could ever dream of and truly is the best thing this side of heaven.

  • Comment Link Wita Thursday, 29 December 2011 01:48 posted by Wita

    Dear Libby,

    So this is why I can't find new contributions to Fuzzy's world any more.

    I hope you don't give up your gift for writing altogether though, you have a lot of literary talent. And the journey you're on can only serve to enrich the stories you have to tell the world.

    It saddens me that your experience with nature based faith left you unfullfilled (it is not so for me) but reading your account above, I am truely happy that your path has lead you to a faith that resonates so well for you. Some of the others commenting have said 'welcome home' and that is how it reads, as if you are home now. What perfect Joy to find your True Home. Congratulations. All my best wishes for your present and future.

    Wita

  • Comment Link Rachel Sunday, 01 January 2012 17:59 posted by Rachel

    Hi Libby,

    I love your story, thank you for sharing it. I was also confirmed into the Church on Easter Vigil 2010.

    I was a pagan before my conversion, too. For three years, I practiced Druidism. Like you, my intense studying eventually led me to its inconsistencies. The only religion with perfect logic is the Catholic Church. And with that logic comes a peace and safety that was so loudly absent from unstructured paganism.

    God Bless you :)

  • Comment Link V Wednesday, 03 October 2012 14:54 posted by V

    Hello:
    Thank you for sharing. It can be kinda lonely being a convert from paganism.

    I was a pagan... for 19 years. I too came into the Church on Easter of 2010. For a while I was considered a moral authority (laugh) on a pagan bbs. Ironically, my flaunted moral sense came from my father's crypto-Catholic upbringing. It took me a good deal of soul searching to discover that the only consistency I had was what my father's instruction brought to the party. As for my "tradition"... I was all over the map.

    I studied Hermetic Magic for a year or so, Native American (Lacota/Three Fires) for a few years, then Wicca, then ADF druidism, then Ancient Greek Recontstructionism, then delved into that murky area called Shamanism.

    I tried to be a pagan scholar, to find the link that tied everything together. "After all", I reasoned, "if we are all trying to get to the same place, wouldn't we find the same guideposts along the way?"

    However, what I did find were gaps in every "tradition" that did not line up. The normal solution was to glue everything to-gether with Blavatsky's feelgood nonsense-- that is New Age, or what Chesterton called "New Thought". That same nonsense was used in various forms and gives the community a false sense of cohesion-- while the great majority mocked it. Others simply took it to it's logical conclusions which leads to great horror and cruelty. Crowley is the logical conclusion of Blavatsky.

    I thought my spiritual "work" would help me see my way clear... it only confused issues even further.

    For a while I aspired to "create" my own path based on messages I got from the spirit world. Then I had an accident... and spent one year flat on my back recuperating. The only person I saw was my brother who brought me groceries, and a sweet guy who wanted to rescue me. I did not want to be rescued. I went through a period of extreme spiritual confusion.

    The upshot was, a good friend (who happened to be Catholic) gave me a call and offered me a job in another city. Feeling somewhat abandoned by my social group, I harried off to other said city.

    He'd changed-- for the better. I admired his sane stability, and great emotional strength against adversity. He was virtually drama-free, which was a breath of fresh air. And what I mean by this was that while the world howled and snapped all around him, he was a center of calm. Events that would have been big nasty crises for my group were simply background noise for him. Yet he could still operate with kindness and humility to others. (shock!) He gave me good advice, and respected me in all ways.

    I was tired of wandering around in circles trying to find something that was real, something that I could point to and say, "Yes, this is Truth." So I wondered what it was that gave him such strength. He told me of his conversion, and I started nibbling around the edges of my anti-Catholic bias. I then did some internet searches, and read Theology of the Body in one sitting. (It took me a weekend.)

    Once I had a cogent and spiritually fruitful explanation for the teachings I disagreed with, I came to recognize how those things were conclusions based on love and mercy-- not prejudice. Much of the unfortunate fallout from these teaching stems from flaws in teaching those truths as well as prodding from the Spirit of the Previous Age. Not to mention real prejudice in the current age. The World hates the Church. I suspect that this will be true until Our Lord returns.

    Said Catholic gentleman is now my husband, and I have a spiritual director to help me with specific spiritual matters. I feel that former neo-pagans especially should investigate and pray for spiritual direction with an orthodox teacher. It is very helpful.

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