I remember my gran’ma from when, in my childhood days, she would walk with me across the morning lawn near the Allegheny River and explain the workings of life as we would go. “Don’t step on the angels’ tables,” she would warn me while pointing out the many dew-laden webs I had already destroyed. I remember pausing from my romping to look back at the amount of them that no longer glowed in the morning sun and attempt to swallow my shame. “Why are they right where people walk?” I asked. She tousled my hair and told me, “The fairies make them so the angels can have their breakfast. They can’t know where you’re going to go, nor how careless you might be. Wouldn’t you feel upset if somebody stomped across your breakfast before you could sit down to it? You don’t want to get the angels mad at you.”

I thought about an earlier time I had gone to the mailbox with her. A storm had started brewing. Lightning flashed across the morning sky like it could never make up its mind which way to go. Thunder boomed in a disconnected manner my five year old brain had never associated with its cause. “Why is it so loud, Gran’ma?” I inquired while shrinking down to make myself less of a target.

“The Devil is trying to get back into Heaven,” she replied. “God kicked him out for being bad, and now they’re at war with each other. The Devil never wins. Those who do bad things always lose when they go against God.” She would, at such times, lay a protective hand around the back of my head and steer me along the closest course toward the house.

I smile a lot when I remember all those things my gran’ma told me all those years ago. My own mom had a different story. “The angels are dancing to show their joy at living in heaven,” she would say about the rumbling thunder. “That’s their feet you hear, beating on Heaven’s floor. But, pretty soon they will be crying over all the bad boys there are down here. I hope they won’t be shedding tears on account of you.”

I, of course, silently recounted all the mischief for which guilt had been piling up against me. Mom might not know about much of it, but I had become convinced the angels knew my every secret. Such early training might have stuck with me for life, were it not for the advanced training I got when Mom and Dad decided I needed to start going to church. “Those are children’s tales,” the teachers told me to discount what I had already learned. Their stories about the Devil being the most beautiful angel in Heaven rang true with gran’ma’s tales, but the grim, bloody stories the preacher read from the book he called a Bible painted gory pictures in my mind that wiped away my happy feelings and replaced them with an awareness of evil, sin and degradation. The world became no longer a good place, but a place of decadence and risk. I waffled between doubt and tentative acceptance—not of God, but of the messengers whose tales still lack verisimilitude.

I achieved adulthood in a directionless kind of stasis. Proselytizers of all sorts began to accost me on sidewalks, and I began to argue against some of their more asinine claims. As time passed it became obvious there were several versions of their tales, all from the same source, that seemed contrary to each other. My folks, meanwhile, had changed churches. I argued from the system they had abandoned to negate their insistence that I join them, then took their adopted side to argue against the old with others. Both sides seemed able to find support for their views. I felt mystified.

I soon learned the two sides with whom I had been involved were only two faces of a multifaceted structure with seemingly endless variations, all claiming to hold the key to unlock Heaven. All could not be right, I knew. The world seemed filled with earnest liars that had convinced themselves of things about which they must warn the rest of us. I would have to discover for myself, I decided, which if any of their ideas I should adopt. I had a good talk with God, and informed Him/Her/It about the lifelong journey of my intentions.

All the many sides involved in the eternal argument agreed that whatever they were calling ‘God’ knew everything present, past and future and suffered no limitations of any kind. I drew from that to decide that God would know the serious nature of my quest, would know what needed to be done so I would recognize the truth, and to convince me about whatever that might be. I promised that, in return, I would adopt whatever it might be, no matter what. I knew, from the general consensus, that I could not get away with the feigned belief I would find necessary for adoption of the many creeds vying for new minds to inhabit.

God would know. I would waste my entire life pretending, only to earn God’s spite in the end. I would know, and God would find it in my thoughts. I had no way to hide. I had to keep my promise, or burn forever in Hell, no matter what. It would seem, looking back, that a really bright and all-seeing god like God was said to be would know how to give an instant brain burn to such a promise-making, sincere student. Maybe I sort of expected such, that I would awaken early with a head suddenly full of new knowledge, insights, bubbling over with ideas that showed me the way things are. No! What I got instead was ears ringing with tinnitus from a factory full of noisy machines, an urge to read strange books that only increased the amount of my confusion, and an inexplicable urge to write notes on scraps of paper.

And, songs. I wrote songs. And, poetry. Little of it seemed relevant.

Time accelerated. We moved to Florida, and then to Tennessee. California had been full of tiggers and chicks. God’s Country is full of chiggers and ticks. People came into the woods to argue religion with us. Most of them left bad feelings behind. All of them increased the amount of wonder that I felt. If their stories disagreed with one another, how could they expect me to jibe with any of them. I got out the boxes filled with my note-covered scraps, and engaged our two oldest daughters at typing them into notebooks after I had arranged them into long scrolls held together with cellophane tape. About that time, I read an old copy of George Vetter’s Magic and Religion, a strange (to me) book that asserted a connection between the two practices. I grokked his meaning, and pursued what more I could learn about it with spirits soaring.

Questions had always bothered my mind about the monotheism into which I had been inculcated: Whom do I believe had God’s real message loomed first and largest, as I have already stated. Why should I believe any of them, if never one showed other than circular evidence? Why call God a ‘He’ who was originally ‘She’? Why impose limits on a limitless God by either gender? God, I eventually decided, must be neither or both. The god named God must be an ‘It’. Why do the systems of belief chasing after me not show evidence of more than a maximum of 4000 years of history?—and the belief-set of my raising, the one pursuing the hardest, only go back to about 300 years short of the time of Christ? Where, in any believable flowchart or timeline, is a verifiable connection to a god demonstrated? How can I have faith when the storytellers cannot be believed?—and their information originates in unsigned documents collected together by a group whose followers the existence of every Protestant serves to discredit? Do you, personally, know even one person who can make him/herself actually believe something that seems ridiculous, such as one plus one equals thirty-three? Only by ignoring, or ignorance of, all the evidence against it can it be done.

Look here, at just one example out of many historical references I have run across: Excerpted from: http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Easter_-_Easter_controversies/id/1348406 “Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (‘Ecclesiastic History of the English People’) contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Pope suggests that converting heathens is easier if they are allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards the one true God instead of to their pagan gods (whom the Pope refers to as ‘devils’), ‘…to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God’. The Pope sanctions such conversion tactics as biblically acceptable, pointing out that God did much the same thing with the ancient Israelites and their pagan sacrifices. This practice might explain the incorporation of Eostre traditions into the Christian holiday.” Shay ‘Ishtar’ and shink of all the shaliva shpeaking children wish whom you have convershed. Now, say ‘Eashter’. You sheenk?

I once drew a timeline of religious evolution over a ten-thousand year period extending into the present, that ended up as a verification of Vetter’s thesis, and as discredit to religious claims of infinite aging. The world’s oldest beliefs were in tokens, runes, pieces of stone, and in spirits that inhabited seemingly everything. The world’s newest beliefs are in stories interpreted with enough variety to appeal to almost everybody raised in the cultures those stories infest. A person must have to feign belief to remain a part of that. Does all the high population of such people think they will escape God’s wrath with their deceit?—or, do they have such confidence in the truth behind their doubt, so they endure the stories for their entertainment and the association with otherwise good company they get to keep? We love to pretend things as children. Why should we abandon that as adults?