Pilgrim’s Progress, a 17th century tale by John Bunyan, allegorically recounts the experiences of Christian on his spiritual journey through places such as the “Hill of Difficulty” and the “Slough of Despond.” I encountered this story repeatedly as a child and was left feeling inadequate and condemned. Afraid of God and afraid of myself, namely, of my own capacity for evil. My walk has been redeemed, but not by the religion of my youth. I didn’t know when I started out that I was walking towards Goddess, but she’s met me in unexpected ways again and again.
Only She Speaks
As a child in an ultraconservative Christian church, women were not allowed to preach. God had ordained men for this task. In the 20+ years I attended the church in which I was baptized, there was only one exception to this rule, and she was a witch. Well, a former witch. I have no idea where this woman’s life intersected with that of my church’s, nor why she was chosen, but she was allowed to give the sermon one Sunday when I was a child, scaring the hell out of me. She described having sex with Satan himself and walking around with other witches to look for holes in people’s spiritual defenses of their houses in order to lay a curse.
I promptly swore off Halloween for many years and was terrified of the witches out there, just lurking. Through my adult eyes, I assume she might have been involved in some kind of practice of the Great Rite that went badly wrong for her, but, where I was from, we took it at face value. She had been a witch, and witches were evil. Women, really, were especially evil ever since Eve took that first bite. Womankind could speak only to condemn herself and her fellow sisters in sin.
Ghosts In Here
I have very few dreams from childhood that have stuck with me, but one that remains is layered with meaning. I was running, terrified, through a house with greenish-blue walls. Bad, dangerous men were outside chasing me. I entered a room with an old woman rocking in her chair. She sat faced mostly away from me with a woolen shawl gathered around her shoulders. I jumped in her lap, scared witless. She started to turn towards me, saying “There are ghosts in here.” I asked her how she knew. As she replied “Because I’m one of them,” her face settled on me, and I realized she had no pupils. Milky white eyes that saw nothing gazed at me and I startled awake, no refuge to be found.
For many years, I viewed this as a metaphor for mother and grandmother in my life, willfully blind to the sexual abuse I was suffering at the hands of my male relatives. Seeing but unseeing, aged and useless for defense but offering the shroud of protection and the lap of hope.
Now, through bewitched lenses, I’ve opened to a more complex interpretation. The crone unable to act yet full of insight. Telling me exactly what was happening in my life within two sentences. Letting me know that which seemed familiar and comfortable might not be a safe place after all. Keeping my eyes wide-open, unable to look away from the horrors the men “outside” continue to enact on women around the world.
Go Home, She’s Home
When I was 19, I faced the deepest dive into depression I’ve had thus far. Every day, I plotted how to kill myself. I settled on jumping off of a bridge, one that I drove over every day. I was still involved in the church and shared openly about my suicidality with some of the young women there.
Soon after this, we had a church potluck. After filling my plate, I tried to sit with the other young people, but no one joined me. I was alone in my hour of need. My 19 year old, depression-addled mind couldn’t see beyond that moment, and I snapped. I left—fled really—and drove towards my house in a rage-die now mindset.
As I neared the intersection where I needed to make a decision to either drive home or drive to the bridge, I heard a voice, clear as day, in my head. “Go home.” Instantly I thought of someone I could reach out to for help, and positive steps I could take. It was the thinnest the veil has been for me; darkness and death were within reach but She pulled me back out. I soon left behind the home I was raised in along with my abusive family, but I continue meeting her at the crossroads and she keeps calling me to my spiritual home. The wise woman unshackled from patriarchal religion that keeps her blinded and frail. She stands in her power and she guides me onward.