The Way We Communicate These Days

“*gasp* Bad, bad!”

And thus, with the feigned playfulness that is a hallmark of the conflict-averse, my mother revealed that she is still, on some level, a fundamentalist Christian.

I’m not sure why my sister told her that I’d just read her (my sister’s) Tarot. I can’t imagine it was ignorance of Mom’s discomfort. I don’t see a world in which Sis would have expected Mom to respond with, “Oh, that’s interesting, how’d it go?” Maybe she expected Mom to more or less ignore it: “Oh. What do you guys want for dinner?” Maybe Sis just doesn’t have the investment I do in Not Talking About This Stuff with Mom. She’s not Pagan–at least, she’s never called herself that in my hearing, but she’s been talking with me more about spiritual, magical, and paranormal stuff lately. And she doesn’t have the same history with Mom as I do vis a vis religion.

Sis gave up on church in middle or elementary school. She just stopped going. I remember once, getting ready to leave, hearing Mom in Sis’s room lecturing her about how the boy bands in the posters on her walls had become her gods, and how awful that was, and how they were separating her from the love of Christ. I had way more posters (I made a point to cover as much paint as possible), and I got that lecture once, sort of, but I still went to church. I went with Mom through schisms and house churches. In four years I was the most consistent attendee of my youth Bible study group, including the instructors. I went to church when Mom stopped going. She often stopped going–she never stayed with one congregation long, and the minute the pastor said something she disagreed with she was out. Not a terrible practice, for sure, but I’m convinced that my trajectory would have been at least slightly different if she’d shared some of those disagreements with me.

I don’t know when my mom last went to church. I haven’t talked to her at length about religion in years. I told her a little bit about my crisis, early on, when I stopped believing in the Bible and then in Christianity and then in God. But never in divinity–she raised me in charismatic churches, and it’s hard to be an atheist when you’ve experienced religious ecstasy. I told her, early on, about my polytheism, my epiphany of the multiplicity of gods. She was obviously uncomfortable with it then, and she’s been obviously uncomfortable with it ever since, whenever it comes up in passing, so I don’t talk with her about it. I can only imagine what she’d do if I started wearing a pentagram. Be very uncomfortable, probably, and pointedly ignore it, maybe after making some “playful” remarks about the dangers of witchcraft.

I think about it more now, as my religion is becoming a bigger part of my life. What if, when I get married, we decide we want a Pagan, or Pagan-ish, ceremony? What if I get pregnant? I imagine her trying to convince me to raise my kids Christian, “for their own sake,” because it’s well enough if I want to reject Christ but how could I damn my children to Hell? I don’t know that she’d say that, but the people we went to church with when I was a kid would, and that conversation looms in my psyche. I think part of me had hoped that after years outside of that community, not going to church (that I’m aware, and I think she probably would have mentioned if she were going regularly), not keeping in touch with the people she was closest to when I was a kid, she would have given up some of the more fearful aspects of her beliefs. But maybe fear is the last thing to go.

The next thing she said, after Sis outed me as a Tarot reader, speaking in the same mock-playfully-mock-outraged tone (so many layers of mock), was, “Those pagan beliefs!”

“Yes, those terrifying Pagan beliefs,” I said sarcastically, playing along with her playfulness, mock though it be.

She dropped the pretense at that point. “Some of them are terrifying.” And, in expected conflict-averse fashion, fled to her bedroom to change out of her work clothes.

I called after her, “Which ones?” knowing full well that what she knows about Pagan beliefs is limited to the fearmongering of the fundamentalist Christians she raised me with, who spell it with a lowercase “p” and believe that they are literally soldiers in a spiritual war, and she said something I couldn’t hear. But I’m less conflict-averse than she is only because I’ve trained myself to be, so I didn’t push it past that point.

Maybe Sis did it on purpose. She’s clearly interested in some of the trappings of Paganism, at least, if not the religion. So maybe telling Mom, “Juliana just read my Tarot,” was, on some level, the same action as staying in bed that morning through Mom’s lecture, surrounded by posters of boy bands.

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