I grew up Neopagan. When I was twelve or thirteen, my dad picked up a Silver RavenWolf book from the bargain table at the bookstore. A lot of the occult books ended up on that shelf, and he thought it sounded cool, you know, for the kids.
Reading SRW books as a preteen/teen was odd because a lot of the word count is dedicated to helping teens practice Neopaganism without their parents finding out, and my parents and I would drive down to Hannibal, MO, to participate in religious rituals. The emphasis on secrecy was a bit weird.
I never felt like a great Neopagan. I didn’t really care about doing magic(k) or spells and mostly wanted to pray. Devotional instruction was something that I craved.
Enter one of the few books from my pre-Hellenic Polytheism years that survived KonMari, not because it brings me joy, but because I owe it to my past and future self to remember not to follow instructions given by One-Goddess writers who do not write effective disclaimers into their Introductions.
I am referring, of course, to the book 365 Goddess by Patricia Telesco. When I was Neopagan, she had two goddess-focused devotional books that were extremely helpful to my sense of self-efficacy when I was feeling bad about not being really into spells and magic(k). She is probably an effective person who does some level of research, and in her defense, sixteen-year-old girls were probably not her target audience.
365 Goddess was published in 1998. It contains daily meditations, prayers, and propitiatory rituals for a variety of goddesses worldwide, all viewed through the lens of Neopaganism. I was always iffy on the inclusion of American indigenous goddesses, and I question whether a book like this could be published today in 2017 just due to how conscious people are about cultural appropriation.
Two decades after its publication, I will also say that it’s hard enough (as a Hellenist) to be on top of all of the ancient and contemporary sources of gods within one’s own pantheon, let alone when looking at the abundance of feminine gods worldwide. I was too young to really know that at the time. Today, I wonder just how much Telesco knew about each of them.
I told my girlfriend about this book earlier today and brought it out to show her, and I realized that I have never talked about my experience with this book on my religious blog. Basically, what I will say is this: Never, ever, ever pray to a goddess you don’t know for something extremely vague based on a book that might have been less-than-thoroughly researched because sometimes goddesses answer your prayers. There are only 6 Helpful Hints for Using This Book. They’re all statements of encouragement about engaging with the goddesses in 365 Goddess. What I wrote in bold should be Helpful Hint #7.
I legit did the 365 Goddess ritual on September 7th, 2003, by coating a yellow candle with Dragon’s Blood oil and praying to Durga for “Awakening.” It’s detailed in my journal from that period followed by a bunch of peppy and bubbly things with exclamation points. I don’t know what kind of Awakening that was, just that it was Awakening, not awakening. I was sixteen, so that’s unsurprising. (What’s more telling is that the journal then went back into my anxieties about school because I was taking 200/300-level college classes and felt challenged outside of math classes for the first time in my life.) I spent a lot of the September 7th entry pointing to the ways in which I felt Durga was answering these prayers.
Of course, goddesses don’t answer prayers immediately. I prayed for change and Awakening, and I got it. It’s not something I regret, but a lot of things happened before September 2004 rolled around. At sixteen, I hung out with other weirdo teens online and engaged in some unhealthy web-based escapism. I was bullied in school, so all of that is unsurprising. That year, my online friendship group imploded into teen drama. I left an online community. I stopped fearing that one of my few remaining Internet friends would leave me digitally alone forever and started challenging her conspiracy theory beliefs. I became more religiously active in my local community. I found Sannion’s Sanctuary and (unfortunately) listened to other Neopagans who said that polytheists weren’t spiritual enough, but I would continue to be drawn to Hellenism until I decided it was a better religious framework at 20. I started realizing I was gay, it terrified me, and I tried really hard to be straight for what would ultimately be a long ordeal — I didn’t come out to my mom until 2015. The rest of what happened was highly personal stuff that I won’t describe on the open Internet.
If I had known what I know now about prayer, I would have dealt with all of this a lot better. I won’t claim to know what the goddess was thinking, but my headcanon is that she said, “I don’t even know who the hell this is. Um, Awakening? Um, that’s super vague, but okay. Sure. Here’s an assortment, knock yourself out.” I won’t recant what I did because I only regret my lack of education and experience. By doing this prayer ritual, I learned a lot about what not to do, and what happened that year was extremely valuable to my current construct of self. Thank you, Durga. ❤️🙏❤️
The weird, circuitous path I took as a teen on the Internet is actually one of two reasons I am so tolerant of young people figuring out their own stuff.