I was baptised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. I would not say we were an active religious family but appreciate that my mum certainly made an effort during my early life and mid teens.
When I got to secondary school, my ideas and mind shifted, like it probably does for most people and most boys at that age. Other things just became more important, more interesting or just more relevant. There was no defining, cataclysmic event that made me say 'No!' to the Church, I just drifted away.
I did resent the teachings of my school at the time and the way it delivered RE and Catholic thought and ideas. No other option was discussed and explored and effectively wanted to explore other options. I knew there were other religions out there but growing up in the rural North East (Durham) I would not describe it as a hot bed of multiculturalism.
I was never confirmed Catholic but did commit to my first confession and communion. Religion or at the very least, faith or belief in something was always very important to me. Perhaps not overtly so but was always conscious of an ongoing search for 'my truth'. On leaving school and entering Sixth Form, my interest diverted to Buddhism and general Eastern Philosophy. I liked the idea of Meditation and more so Reincarnation. I had a real issue and fear of death and Buddhist philosophy of this really helped me.
Whilst at University, this interest continued but so to did my search. I was heavily involved in the Goth and Geek subculture and as such hung around with a lot of Atheists, LGBTQ members and others who were often hostile to mass, organised and specifically Abrahamic religions. It was through this that my interest in the Occult, Witchcraft, Magik and the Left Hand path really grew and this was a defining moment for me.
For those who do not know, Witchcraft, Magik, Satanism, Paganism, Wiccan etc are all very different and do different things for different people. They are not the same and adherents can get quite grumpy if you mislabel someone or assign someone to the wrong label. But for me, the loose nature and openness of this path really appealed to me. It was very much more like a spiritual belief system than an actual church or organised belief system per se. Again this was appealing. No rules, no right or wrong answer, just do what you feel.
Straight away, one may identify that this lack of structure becomes problematic. And in the long term it does. I am the type of person who likes a yes/no, black/white answer to things. So when doing my Magik Spells and rituals (yes I did this!) I'd have three different books or sources that detail three different formats, processes or ways to do the spell. Which is the correct way? Have I done it right? Did it work? I never knew.
My interest and reading grew and as I went further down the rabbit hole, the interests and subject content got darker. From a few little bits of 'White' Magik, it began to get darker. I started reading some very old Occult material, Satanic and Lucifarian books and most notably by Anton Szandor Lavey, the head of the US based Church of Satan.
Satanism contrary to popular belief does not believe or worship an actual or spiritual Satan. Instead it uses the image and symbolism to represent self worship and self indulgence. 'Do whatever you want' is basically their message.
Now you probably think by this point I am well and truly done for. I was really committed to this idea of using Black Magik to achieve my aims and goals. It is however at this point that the brakes begin to be gently applied.
Of all my time reading, studying and committing to Magik and the whole Pagan pathway, I never felt, ever, once, that this was real. I never felt a calling. I never felt a single spell actually worked. In order to get my results, I felt I had to get darker and deeper and needed something very powerful on my team. Satan or a Demon. However I had a major clash. I am a nice, God person.
This sounds really naff but bear with me. When you think or Goths you probably think of some moody, unwashed, long haired, metal music loving depressive who hates everything (massive stereotype). I was not that at all. I have always been a largely happy, positive and friendly person.
Whilst my style and look was quite eclectic, my personality shone through this and I have always been liked, valued and trusted. I have largely been successful in life without religion, faith or Magik for that matter. I have a good job, married and own a home. All of this came without any need or desire for a faith driven response, need or requirement. So why do I need do go down this dark and devilish path were I feel I am not getting any response or reply from my spells, Magik or requests?
The real nail in the coffin came at the beginning of this year. I went to a spiritual hypnotherapist. Basically a clairvoyant type person. In a nut shell, it was absolute crap! A waste of £50! I felt that if I had any magical or spiritual connection or link to this path I was followng, it would reveal itself in this seance. It didn't.
As I mentioned, I was always looking and reading and felt maybe I should go full circle and look back at my roots with the Catholic Church. An odd thing to think of especially given the furthest point away from the Church is where I had been. However, key events happened that all fell into place (and this is why the Catholic faith is for me).
When I was at school, it transpired that our school parish priest, Fr Colm, had baptised me at birth. I was very ill as a child and had been baptised in hospital as well as received my last rights. It was the same priest. And now he was at my school. We ended up having a number of really great conversations. One revolved around a visit to Ampleforth Abbey I had in year 13. It was something our school did for years but it never appealed to me. But in my last year, my friends all said they had such a great time I decided to sign up and go. We would listen to the offices and chants on the monks, have mass etc. It was basically like a mini youth ministry camp ran by the school.
To this day, me and my priest truly believe I had a religious calling whilst I was there. A calling to the Priesthood. Or at the very least, a calling to the Church. At age 16, this was certainly unexpected and not on the life plan at that time. I had my life planned out at this time and it was not that.
So I put it to one side and left it. But I never discounted it and certainly never forgot this conversation. It was in a coffee shop in Durham City. Back to this year, this maybe explains why it wasn't completely impossible to return to considering the church again. Sadly, at this time my grandad died. He had recently converted to Catholicism and got his marriage to my grandma recognised in the church also. I was so happy for him when it happened and on reviewing things for my eulogy, I found that he had truly known his faith, studied the Bible and had certainly committed to his conversion. This inspired me. My Grandad was my best friend and meant the world to me.
When I learnt he was gravely ill, I felt a real and genuine calling to go to church. So I did and who would be there but the priest from my school. Fr Colm. I spoke to him after mass about things and we arranged to catch up that week. Sadly my grandad died the next day but had a full day to pray for him.
On coming back from the funeral (he lived in Spain) I committed to learning more about the faith and the church. If I was going to commit I wanted to do it right, and truly learn my faith and the Catholic way, as my Grandad had.
Since that day I committed my Lenten promise to really embrace the church and Jesus message for me. I nearly died at birth, lost my way at University and denied an obvious religious calling. But still Jesus wanted me there, with him.
I hope to pursue Confirmation at some point (albeit Covid-19 has put a stop to this). But even in lock down I have been allowed to explore my faith far more than I ever would have without it.
I now pray the Rosary, read the Divine Office and help my parish by distributing Prayer Parcels to the old, vulnerable and locked in. Unlike the Dark Magik I had followed before, I feel the presence of Jesus in my life and his hand guiding this new and exciting journey. A religious figure who truly calls to me is Bartolo Longo, a former Satanist who returned to the light of Jesus.
God bless everyone and hope this helps or inspires people in a similar way. No matter how far you may feel, Jesus is always right by your side.