I feel like I need to preface this article with a disclaimer. I have nothing against Christians; these are just my experiences and not many of them are positive. I’ve grown up with two moms and being queer myself, in the Midwestern United States. I have religious trauma that I work every day to recover from. I’ll also be talking about my experience in a cult, which will remain nameless for the sake of the people still trapped in it. There is a trigger warning for talking about religion and mild mentions of abuse. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this.
I’m extremely pleased with where I am spiritually, but it hasn’t always been that way. I hopped from church to church to try and be satisfied in a faith that hated my very existence. Growing up in a religiously saturated midwestern town gave me a fair bit of religious trauma that I won't go into detail about because I have just come to terms with it myself.
I started in a small nondenominational church in Nebraska. I stayed here for five years until I moved to Oklahoma. While at the surface level it seemed to be a very positive environment, I only saw it that way because I was a small child. One day in Sunday school we were forced to walk around the basement carrying multiple chairs on our backs, with the justification that this is what our sins were like. Please remember that the majority of us were four to eight years old. This was one of the many times I've realized something that happened was wrong, but this is the one I've chosen to share.
Then I joined a cult. Well, it was more my Grandma joined and I got dragged along. It was disguised as a small family church run out of an abandoned gas station. It seemed innocent at first, though that was due to the way it was run. The leaders would slowly phase you up until you were either brainwashed or realized it was a cult. I was in their youth program considering the fact I was 7-10 years old. When we misbehaved or questioned what they told us, we were sent to our “spiritual guide”, who would most of the time punish us physically. That is as far as I’m willing to go into my experience there. I’m still trying to reconnect with the child I was before that experience. I left after I was told to wear a skirt and “boycott” pants or go to Hell.
My grandma is extremely spiritual and was desperate to find another church, so after a while, we found ourselves in a Catholic Mass. I was ushered into the youth group, where I started crying asking to not be taken to the guide because I was in pants. The youth pastor then looked at me with a puzzled expression, whispered something to her assistant, and I was ushered off as sobs racked my body and I had my first ever panic attack. I was dragged to a separate room where I was told to step into the small pool, and I was forcefully baptized to “get rid of my demons”. We went to that church for about a year where I was baptized a total of ten times because my mental illness and trauma were seen as demons trying to possess me. I was 11.
After the constant torment, I was done with religion. I was an atheist for a good two years, with pent up anger and trauma. But then one of my friends invited me to her church, and I sucked in a breath as I saw a gas station up ahead and we turned into it. It was the cult. Her mom parked the car and I tried to say something, but nothing came out. What was said to me that night was unforgettable and traumatic.
I cut her out of my life and I never went back there; in fact, I moved right after that happened and was dragged to another church. This was a megachurch, and I’m sure anyone from Oklahoma can guess which one it was. I went for a year until I broke down to my mom, who is agnostic, unlike my grandmother who is ultra-Christian. I was told I was a sin for existing because my mom had me out of wedlock, and their homophobia and transphobia had become apparent. That was the last time I stepped into a church or looked towards the Christian faith. I’m happily a Pagan witch and I’m healing from what organized religion has done to me. So here’s a list of signs I’ve compiled of when a church/religion is becoming toxic:
As for leaving your parent’s religion, there are a few things to consider. If your safety will be in danger, don’t do it until you are independent. By independent, I mean financially withdrawn from them, moved out into a place you rent or own, and fully prepared to cut them out of your life. If you won’t be in danger, start with excuses to miss religious services and break them in slowly. If you are accepted then feel free to practice your new religion freely.
Please remember that these are just my experiences. If you are happy in any of these religions, please don’t take offense to this, it’s just my experience. Religion means a lot to many groups of people, which means it is one of the easiest ways to be manipulated. Be safe and love yourself no matter what and you’ll be fine.
Trigger Warning for mentions of death and drowning.
I pull a card from the stack along with gathering the two that had fallen out onto the floor. It’s getting tiring being called out time and time again by a stack of cards, yet I keep doing it to help better myself. I know this is right for me, yet I still feel there is something missing. I flip over the yellow-backed cards and read each one aloud, hoping to remember their meanings. It’s been two years since I’ve gone headfirst into this, yet it still feels brand new. Most people say the beginner stage lasts five years, but I fear it may take me longer than others.
“Strength reversed, recent obstacles have made me doubt my abilities, perhaps feeling ashamed of them.”
I take the next card off of the ground and flip it over, the three of cups stares me right in the face.
“A group I’m around is causing me to no longer be independent. It is time for a change.”
The third card was still on the ground. Did I want to pick it up? What if I didn’t like what it said? I picked it up to rip it off like a bandage, it's better to do it now rather than wait.
“The Queen of Cups reversed. I need to focus on myself. I’ve been too kind and run myself to the point of collapse.”
I once again put the cards back in their box, placing them in their proper spot by the blue seven-day candle on my altar. My phone buzzes next to me and I pick it up by the Popsocket, which promptly falls off.
“I guess adhesive can only last so long,” I say as I toss it across the room. I look at the notification and see it says trial.
“I don’t remember setting this,” I said to myself as I click on it.
The room around me started to change and disappear as I frantically looked around, swiveling my head side to side waiting for it to stop. I had no idea what was happening, maybe it’s just that I fell asleep and this is just a very realistic dream.
“Who are you? Where did you come from?” I heard someone frantically scream, waving a broom at me.
“I don’t know! I just kind of appeared here.”
“Matt, we’ve got one! We have a witch! She's wearing Trousers and everything. Why are you covering your head with that thing?”
“It’s my veil. Where I am, why I’m not in my bedroom? And who are you?”
“Matt, go get the hunter. She has to go to trial right now. Before she kills everyone in this town.”
“Oh calm down it’s not like I do hexes, I believe in the rule of three.”
“And she’s speaking in a different tone. Please hurry!”
A tall man with a long brown beard knocks down the door and grabs onto my arm, dragging me out onto the dirt road in what looks to be a centuries-old town.
“Let go of me, don’t touch me!”
“You don’t have a choice now, witch. Why do you have trousers on? And why do you have that on your head?”
“For the last time, it’s my veil, now where am I?”
“You very well know where you are. You are trying to curse the great town of Salem!”
And that’s when it hits me. I’m in Salem during the witch trials. The people of the town began to surround me as I thrashed around in his arms trying to escape. I had done research on this earlier for a class project and pondered my fate. Drowning or burning alive? I’ll choose to drown, water has always been my favorite element, with fire intimidating me despite being a fire sign.
“As with the others we have found, if she floats, she’s a witch! If she drowns, she is innocent.”
As I was carried over to a lake I went limp and accepted my fate. I, Maya Green, a woman from 2020 who practices witchcraft, was going to die in 1693:the Salem witch trials. I’m tossed into the lake and allow myself to sink, no longer having the desire to struggle. If it’s not this, it’s fire. I become one with the water, it fills my lungs as I struggle for breath, gasp for air, and slowly sink into oblivion. The world around me goes dark, and I became the twenty-third victim of the trials.
In 2020, Maya Green was reported missing by her mother and never found. Maya was presumed dead and her funeral was held in a small church in the town of Salem Massachusetts. She was outlived by her mother, sister, grandmother, and grandfather.