Photo by Paloma Todd.

My Journey
to the Goddess

I was raised in a secular, non-observant but culturally religious home. I don't recall anyone in my family ever talking to me about God. When I was a small child I longed to know and learn more about the Jewish religion. I'm not sure why I wanted to have a connection to religion or to God. It was something that was always part of my DNA. The desire was ever present and yet always denied because of my parent's lack of religiosity.

Perhaps my longing to understand, know and experience the divine has something to do with the strange events surrounding my birth. From the time of my first breath, I had one foot in the world of the living and one foot in the realm of the dead.

My mother tells me that when I was born, the doctors told her it was unlikely that I would live. The doctors claimed I had meningitis and that the swelling of my brain would make me mentally retarded if I was lucky enough to recover. She was also told that I needed a complete blood transfusion; furthermore, the doctors said I would be unable to walk properly unless they broke both of my legs to reset them. At the time I was born, my mother was very young, just 19 years old, and in an abusive relationship with my father. So I'm not sure what her process was for making decisions, particularly the medical decision that had to be made when I was born, but for some reason she would not let the doctors break both of my legs, or give me a complete blood transfusion. I turned out not to have meningitis. Most newborns in 1963 did not recover from these kinds of medical complications. Much too everyone's surprise, whatever was wrong with me, I lived.

As I grew up, every now and then it seemed like "someone" heard all the questions I asked myself about God, and that "someone" would send something my way that gave me an idea that I was not the only person in the world interested in knowing God.

When I was very, very young I remember being given an Illustrated Children's Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. I loved to read and I devoured the book, read and re-read it. I have no idea why in the world my parents gave this to me. It was just one of the small Chanukah presents I had received that year. Each year we would receive one really "BIG" gift and then another almost as big gift and then incrementally the gifts would get smaller, translation, less expensive.

I can't remember the exact year The Ten Commandments was re-released in movie theatres but I do remember that my mom took me to see it. I was simply transfixed by the story. I remember wanting to know which of the 12 tribes of Israel my family was from after watching Moses, a.k.a. Charlton Heston, lead the 12 Tribes out of Egypt.

I'm not sure how it came to pass that we actually joined a temple for one year but we did and I begged my parents to take me there on Friday nights for Shabbat and on the High Holy Days. I remember fasting on Yom Kippur with my Great Grandpa Jack when I was about 11 and going to High Holy Day services with him. No one else in my family wanted to go so it was a special thing he and I did together.

I went to Hebrew school hoping to have a Bat Mitzvah. I was told that Bat Mitzvah's were a fairly recent invention. One of the stories I heard was that renegade Rabbis had caved into the modern desire for girls to have the same rite of passage into Jewish life as boys. It's hard to know what is true when it comes to religious traditions. It didn't really matter because my parents didn't renew their membership to the temple the following year. I never did get to have a Bat Mitzvah.

In spite of my desire to be a part of my religion of birth, I no longer felt at home in the Jewish religion. Hearing that girls were different and didn't have the same rights as boys in the Jewish religion was the first of many nails in the proverbial coffin of my Jewish faith. It is important to understand that a conversation with any Rabbi or Jewish scholar would reveal intelligent, well thought out explanations for why there must be differences between the role God expected women and men to play in Jewish religious life. My personal feelings of "not belonging" are part of my own spiritual evolution, and not any kind of indictment of the Jewish faith. To this day, I still identify with my Jewish roots. I am proud of my heritage and I seem to naturally incorporate aspects of Jewish ritual into my current spiritual and religious path of Wicca.

When I look back I know I always, always believed in God. I just didn't know how to make the relationship happen. My vision of what that relationship would look like just didn't seem to be compatible with the Jewish religion.

Throughout my childhood, I was severely abused both physically and emotionally. The only feelings I was able to experience as a child were fear and sadness. Anger wasn't really part of my repertoire. In retrospect, I understand one can only feel anger when they feel wronged in some way. I was repeatedly told I was stupid, ugly, and lazy and did not even really deserve to exist. I was not happy about the way I was abused but I was indoctrinated to believe I deserved to be abused. The gestalt of abuse is that it is not wrong to abuse someone who deserves it.

I had chronic asthma as a child and was in and out of hospitals. My father seemed to hate me for being sick. He told me often that he never wanted me. I remember him getting very angry at me for having an asthma attack when I was around 5 years old and he told me that he was just going to call "the people" to come take me away. I am 43 years old now, but I can still remember to this day watching in terror as he picked up the phone and pretended to call "the people".

When I was 10 years old I suddenly came down with a high fever and a sore throat. Each breath was accompanied by loud raspy gasps for air and a strange noise. My father beat me and sent me to my room for being a faker. I was clearly ill but my mother didn't take me to the doctor or the hospital; she claims my father stopped her from doing so.

I had epiglottitis, a swelling of the epiglottis. In order to breathe, air has to be able to pass by the epiglottis. Mine was swelling, and the result was that I was suffocating alone in my darkened bedroom, for nearly 14 hours as I inched closer to death. I was afraid to make anymore of fuss; I didn't want to get beaten again so I just quietly lay in my bed. I knew I was dying. When I look back I feel that my father knew this too, but my death by natural causes was his way out of having a child he never wanted to have. My mother always blamed me and my asthma for preventing her from having the ability to leave my father so on a lot of levels my natural death would have solved both of their problems.

I was taken to the hospital at the moment my parents realized that death was imminent and the doctor did an emergency tracheotomy. I remember waking up during the surgery and wondering why they had not given me enough anesthesia. I watched all the doctors and nurses working frantically as they held my body down. They did something to me I had never seen before and did not have a name for. It was not until decades later I realized I had what was called an out of body experience when my heart stopped beating during the surgery. For a moment I was neither dead nor alive. I had flatlined.

I remember opening my eyes in the recovery room and seeing my father hunched over my bed telling me he was sorry. I couldn't speak because there was hole in my neck and tubes everywhere. I doubt I would have spoken if I could have, because leaning over the figure of my 10 year old helpless body was the man I felt had just tried to kill me.

In spite of all the bad things that happened when I was a child, in spite of all the hardships and challenges I had experienced in life, I can honestly say I always believed in God. I just thought he hated me. I didn't know why but I had been programmed to believe as a result of my abuse to believe I deserved it, so I didn't really blame God for hating me, I just figured there must be a reason.

I was 17 years old when my father abused me for the very last time. What I remember most all these years later is the thumping noises my body made as my father pulled my body up and down the stairs by my hair. A neighbor called the police. I left my fathers home under their protection and I never went back. All of my questions about religion, God and spirituality faded into the background. I did whatever I had to do to survive.

I found a job, worked hard and did all the right things I thought I was supposed to do to be worthy of a good life. When I was 27 years old I joined a local synagogue. I wanted to be "normal" and to fit in. I met a "nice Jewish boy" and we began to make plans to marry.

When I was 29 years old, I went with my fiancé to the Rabbi who was to marry us. This Rabbi had known my fiancé his whole life and had even presided over his Bar Mitzvah. I was handed a questionnaire about my Jewish lineage to fill out. As I read it, I could feel my heart sinking because one of the questions addressed my grandmother's conversion to the Jewish religion. There was a family secret that had only been recently revealed to me when my sister converted to the Catholic religion, and it had to do with my Jewish lineage.

In order to be considered authentically Jewish, I had to be born of a Jewish mother. Something I was raised to believe was true. As it had turned out, my grandmother converted to Judaism for my grandfather when my mother was 9 years old. Since she converted after my mother's birth, according to Jewish law, my mother was not of Jewish birth. Therefore according to Jewish law, I was not Jewish. According to the Rabbi I was actually Episcopalian, since that was my grandmothers religion before her conversion.

When I look back I realize that this was a defining moment in my life. As the years would go by, I often would attribute the feelings I had about "not belonging" in the Jewish faith to my blemished lineage. Maybe the reason I didn't feel a sense of belonging had to do with the blood in my mothers veins not being Jewish after all.

The Rabbi said he could fix this problem with a ceremony. I needed $500.00 and then we could go to Mikvah (a Jewish ritual bath) in Teaneck, New Jersey. Other Rabbi's would meet us there and they would do a ritual and then I would be Jewish, if not by blood at least then according to the laws of conversion.

I might have done that ritual, but no one wanted to spend the $500.00. The fact that I considered myself Jewish was good enough for my future husband and so we found a Rabbi from a Reform temple to marry us. Throughout our marriage I tried to "be" Jewish but I came to learn that being Jewish to my former husband and his family meant that we ate latkes at Chanukah, matzo at Passover and nothing at all on Yom Kippur.

My marriage ended when my former husband met someone in an AOL chat room and filed for divorce. The divorce was a train wreck at the end of which my ex-husband disappeared with my children, then 2 and 4 years of age, after a long and ugly court battle.

I didn't go looking for a new religion or any religion at all for that matter. After my divorce and the subsequent disappearance of my children I was mostly just looking for a reason to live. Since my identity had been completely stripped and I was no longer a wife and mother, I was going to have to re-create myself. That was not easy to do in the throes of deep grief.

Ironically, in 1998, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I went to a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for a lecture I had seen advertised in the newspaper. I had spent the last three months hiding under the bed and was going to use the "New Year" as a jumping off point to getting a fresh start. As it turned out, this particular UU congregation was 90 percent Pagan and Wiccan. I learned that Pagans and Wiccans don't proselytize. I was told that proselytizing was distinctly against their religious and spiritual beliefs. No one tried to convert me and they only answered the questions I asked. All I knew is that the people I met at this UU were kind and wonderful people.

The new friends I made were not concerned with who I used to be or what religion I was or wasn't practicing. My very first friend was a Pagan psychologist. She knew I was in pretty bad shape and used to call me every single morning to make sure that "the bubble gum and bailing wire" holding me together were still in place.

There was no ceremony, no moment of conversion. Slowly, as I began to see, hear and read what Pagans and Wiccans believed, I realized that I had always believed these things but I had never known that those beliefs were a religion that had a name. Even more amazingly, the rituals and practices of Wicca helped me heal.

Many Wiccans believe that everything is interconnected. The moment I really understood that I was a part of that interconnectedness, was the moment I realized that I did have the right to exist, to take up space on this earth and breath the air. I found my voice the moment I realized that, as a part of all that is connected, I have a right to a having a voice and to being heard. My life then began to fall into place in ways I never could have dreamed.

I had my first experience of connecting to the divine, in the middle of the night, by the ocean when a Wiccan High Priest took me to meet "the mother of all fish." I was deeply grieving my missing children, bewildered that my ex-husband could have done such a thing because I truly loved him. I was dangerously functional. No one could tell by looking at me that I was on the brink of suicide. Max knew I was on shaky ground and he told me that he was introducing me to the "Ocean Goddess" so that I would have another mother to talk to when I felt really sad about my children. She would understand because the Goddess was a mother too.

For many years, until the day I found my children, I returned to this spot in the middle of the night to talk to the Goddess and to cry, and pray. I would sit in the sand, listen to the sounds of the waves and look at the moon in its various phases. The Goddess always told me to hang on, that my children would be returned to me. I remember one particular occasion, when standing by the edge of the ocean, I was feeling a bit too sorry for myself and a huge wave seemed to manifest from nowhere and it knocked me over. As I sat in the wet sand and ocean water, stunned, I heard the Goddess tell me to cut it out. She told me that she had given me the tools I needed to make a good life and I needed to use them and trust that all would work out the way it was supposed to in the end.

I know that my relationship with the Goddess saved my life. I still believe in, honor and worship God but the Goddess will always be the mother I never had and never will have a chance to be. That is a hard thing to say, because I do get to see my children and I do play a role in their lives that appears to many to be that of their mother. But I will never be the mother I wanted to be because some things, like a baby's first steps, are forever lost and can never be recaptured.

When I found my children, I brought them to the place by the ocean where for me the "mother of all fish" lives and I told my children this story and why this place would always be sacred to me. As little as they were, I know they understood. Before their father told them it was wrong for me to believe in the Goddess, they would watch me thank her for bringing us back together as I threw her pennies in gratitude. There is something so joyful about throwing pennies into water. To me the pennies represented a gift to the Goddess. I'm pretty sure my children thought I was merely making a wish as so many do at wishing fountains all over the world.

The great parade of life continues to march on but I still return to the ocean as frequently as I can. And each time that I do I thank the Goddess for all the beautiful people in my life and for the all the gifts I have been given. We talk to each other and she continues to help me understand the many mysteries of life and see things from many points of view and perspectives. It is from her I draw my strength, passion and love.

It is through her eyes I can see the Goddess in me, and my path laid down clearly, forever in her service.

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Planet Waves 2007 Almanac

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