I was thinking about the impulses that motivated me to give up Christianity. It felt like a huge act of rebellion given how church-going my family was. Mom was a Sunday school teacher who loved Jesus and only gave up teaching when her last illness made her body too weak to continue.
When I was seven, I was happy to go to church and strive for the ideals my family taught. But then the family cat got hit by a car. It was on an Easter weekend – “good” Friday to be specific. The cat did not come when Dad called him. Acting on intuition I looked behind the shrubs in the front of the house, and there Buffy lay, still alive, but with his tummy torn open. Dad tenderly got an orange crate from the garage and put Buffy on a towel he lined the crate with. Dad promised that if Buffy lived over the weekend we would take him to the vet.
As a little kid who believed what I’d been told, I prayed hard, but Buffy died on Easter Sunday. There would be no veterinarian, only a burial under the evergreen tree. Knowing I would never see Buffy again strolling to me making me feel like his favorite person hurt. I grieved. To comfort myself, I commented to Mom that I would see Buffy again in heaven. Mom said, “Animals don’t go to heaven.”
In research I’ve done for my next book, I learned that my trauma did not end, because the narrative was never allowed to finish its story in my mind. I was a seven year old, so I believed my mother. People who suffer traumatic stress replay the incident in their limbic memory – it becomes an episodic memory that does not end. Only recently, fifty-five years later, has the story gained a new ending in my narrative. Buffy now acts as a Guide on my journeys into the death realms.
Without Buffy’s passing the way he did, I would not have grown up with the questions I had that made me strive to seek the truth inherent within a religion instead of accepting the status quo that the myths within the religions are the reality. I studied a lot of religions, and I found so much beauty in all of them. The transcendence of the soul became a shining truth for me. I meet many people who allow their disgruntlement with religion to turn their faith aside into atheism, but I could never do that. There is a message in the mythology of any religion that speaks to the heart and the soul and often bypasses the intellect. This feels true because the intellect cannot always accept the Mystery.
There is a Mystery that accompanies the Gods, whether someone is a tried and true Christian believer, or one who has give that up for a religion that feels truer to my heart and soul like the pre-Christian religion of my Swedish ancestors. Heathenism offers the beautiful symbology of the Evergreen Yggdrasil, Tree of Life and Worlds to the Scandinavian folk. Below the Tree stands a Well, the Well of Wyrd, Urd’s Well, that nourishes the cosmology of the Tree and the Worlds and all who dwell therein. Humanity is enfolded into the expansive branches of Midgard, central world on that great and mighty and best of trees. Plants, Animals, Humanity, Gods, Elves, Dwarves, and Giants all make a home here and are nourished by the Holy Waters of Urd’s Well as it nourishes the Tree daily.
We are nourished by the Waters of that Tree, by the actions and memories laid down by our Ancestors. Our own actions expand that strata as we lay down our own actions and experiences to take part in the immense undertaking of the Norns, that great Weave of Life.
Just thinking upon these things, I am humbled and proud to be of service in that Weave. In my new -old- religion, Animals do live in heaven. They are all around us, as the Tree stands over us. And Buffy lives on again in my mind and heart guiding me on journeys to new experiences and adventures.