My parents are only nominally Christian. My father came from a Roman Catholic family but later joined a Baptist church, and my mother was in the Church of the Brethren. Neither of them discussed Jesus or the Bible very much with me as a child, and while they did take me and my little sister to church on Sundays back in the 1980s, I think this was just a social gesture. They never made a serious attempt at raising me to be a Christian, and I for one am grateful to them for this. It gave me an opportunity to be as objective toward religion as any child in my position could be, and I think I’ve done pretty well for myself over the years. This was helped by the fact that we had many family friends who immigrated to America from China and India. They were Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus, and they were always willing to answer my questions about their faiths. I was a pretty agnostic kid for my own part, neither believing nor disbelieving in much of anything (though if you asked me if I believed in ghosts, Bigfoot, or UFOs, I’d have given you a resounding “Yes!”).
One of my favorite books from elementary school.
I also really loved monster movies, especially when it came to Godzilla and the Mummy. Their stories took place in foreign cultures, and they validated the beliefs of those cultures to boot. The Godzilla movies aren’t just about mutant monsters created by nuclear muck; they’re also about primal forces (e.g., Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, etc.) working together to repel much more destructive forces (e.g., King Ghidorah), which is really very Shinto. And in the Mummy movies, the ancient Egyptian Gods always turn out to be real, and people have to at least play lip service to Them if they want to defeat the bad guys. When I reached middle school, I graduated to the films of John Carpenter, which I’ve always felt are more than “just movies.” Carpenter’s fascination with grizzled anti-heroes repelling embodiments of pure evil really resonated with me on a deep, spiritual level. In particular, films like Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995) led me to start thinking about things in a different way. Maybe Halloween was more than just an excuse to wear costumes and beg for candy; maybe there was a real, cosmic purpose to it. Maybe Gods are more than just myths; maybe They’re actually alien intelligences that control the universe through quantum mechanics. And maybe “reality” is much more fluid than people think it is; maybe all it takes for something to be “real” is for people to believe in it. This was all some pretty heavy shit for a goofball kid to be thinking about, but I loved it.
I also remember being really obsessed with tornadoes and hurricanes; I guess I’ve always felt they were really living things, big animals that know how to put human beings back in their place. Whenever the thunderclouds got heavy and the wind would start picking up, I’d run outside with a pair of binoculars, scanning the horizon for tornadoes. I never actually saw one (and I suppose that’s good!), but I sure did read a lot about things you were supposed to do when and if one came along, like running for the basement or some other interior room or hallway with no windows. I even made a tornado emergency kit while I was in elementary school, just in case my family ever needed one; it had a crank-powered radio, some granola bars, and a shit-ton of toilet paper.
I never cared much for the Bible stories I heard as a kid; something about them seemed really dark and menacing to me. I didn’t like how the stories were all about human beings being pushed around by this God who had all kinds of crazy rules. I understood the part about honoring your parents and not murdering people, but what was so bad about worshiping other Gods or practicing witchcraft? Neither of those things struck me as warranting eternal punishment after death. It disturbed me deeply to think that according to the Bible, all my Buddhist and Hindu friends were going straight to hell simply because they didn’t worship Jesus. Things got even more disturbing when I finally learned there isn’t a Santa Claus (or at least not in the way kids are encouraged to think). I remember being really hurt by this revelation, and my dad, Gods bless him, tried to comfort me by telling me that while Santa isn’t real, Jesus sure is, and He loves me. I blinked at my dad through teary eyes, wondering why on Earth he would expect me to believe in one mythical superhero when he had just finished telling me that another one wasn’t real.
I received this children’s Bible for Christmas one year, and it included a lot of things that really disturbed me.
One thing I did care for, however, was polytheist mythology; it just always made more sense to me. I liked the fact that these stories were based on things that actually happen in Nature, and that I can witness even today with my own two eyes. With these tales, there was no need (or expectation) to take them literally; their power didn’t depend on believing they had actually happened at a specific time and place in history. I also liked the fact that the Gods in these stories were often depicted in human or animal form, which made Them seem more personable than Their biblical competitor. I especially enjoyed Egyptian mythology, with its emphasis on zoomorphism and its more optimistic view of the afterlife. In particular, I was drawn to jackal-headed Anubis, God of mortuary science and funerary rites. I hadn’t really experienced death yet at that point – though I would soon lose my maternal grandfather, which hit me pretty hard – but I liked the idea of a God who dealt with grief and who helped the recently deceased reach safety in the next world. I remarked once to my parents that I wished that Anubis was still worshiped in modern times, and that I would totally practice that religion if it were still practiced today. They both laughed and told me that was silly, that nobody believes in such Gods anymore, and that They were never real to begin with.
I was really upset by that statement, and I would remember it years later when my dad and I were discussing Santa Claus. If my parents were so quick to dismiss Divinities like Anubis, what did they think of the Divinities our Hindu friends acknowledged? Did they think these people were “silly” for believing in their many-armed Gods, as opposed to a Jewish carpenter who allegedly rose from the dead? And what gave them the right to think that way, considering that there is literally no more reason to believe in Jesus than there is to believe in any other God? Even as an third-grader, I understood that there is absolutely no way to prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of any Deity. It therefore seemed to me that if I’m going to show respect for any Deity, I might as well respect all of Them, whether I actually believed in all of Them or not.
Years later, I met some evangelical Christian kids in middle school. It all started one day during a study hall period, when one of these kids showed me some kind of role-playing cards that he’d collected. (I can’t remember what game they were for.) I immediately recognized Anubis on one of the cards and became excited; but my friend’s reaction to this wasn’t so enthusiastic. He thought it was really bizarre that I would get so excited about an Egyptian God; in fact, he felt it was necessary to remind me that Anubis “isn’t real.” This really pissed me off for some reason, and I wanted to know why he felt so sure about his claim. “Because the God of the Bible is the only God who’s real,” was the best answer he could give me. I thought that was a bullshit cop-out, and I told him so. He didn’t like that very much, and he and his friends soon launched a campaign to make me go to church with them, so that I could be “saved” from my blind, “Godless” ways.
These kids tried everything they could think of to win my exclusive devotion to Christ. They told me all about hell and damnation; they claimed I would be separated from my family in the afterlife; they even told me their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with me if I didn’t join their families for church on Sunday mornings. All this did was make me angry; if their God wanted to send people to hell just for not worshiping Him to the exclusion of all other Divinities (or for being gay, having sex out of wedlock, or voting for the wrong Presidential candidate), then I wanted no part in Him at all. I could understand sending someone to hell for murdering people or committing rape, but as far as I’m concerned, being an atheist, being gay, using contraception, or playing sonatas for solo organ (if you know what I mean, and I reckon you do) aren’t good enough reasons for anyone to roast for all eternity. My friends actually accomplished the opposite of their goal: they pushed me even farther away from Christianity than I was to begin with!
Alice Cooper did it first…but Marilyn did it his own way.
Then, during my eighth grade school year, I became aware of Marilyn Manson. I’ve shared most of this story in my review of his 1996 album, Antichrist Superstar, so I encourage you to read that post to get all the details. The short version is that Marilyn came in at just the right time in my life, and the things he said in his interviews were just the right things for me to hear at that time. Here was a fellow who echoed many of my own misgivings against evangelical Christianity, and who endorsed any number of alternative viewpoints. He also endorsed all kinds of consensual adult sex, and he created some pretty radical dark art. I started reading up on some of the things Manson spoke about, and that brings us to the single most important day of my entire life.
During the late afternoon and early evening of Friday, August 15, 1997 – just a week or two before I started my freshman year of high school – I was reading about something related to Marilyn Manson when it suddenly happened. It was triggered by an article I found on the internet about the Temple of Set. Set, I remembered, was another name for the Egyptian God of darkness and storms, whom I more often call Seth-Typhon today. Here was a group of people in today’s world who believed in and revered a Netjer (i.e., a member of the ancient Egyptian pantheon). Here was the answer to the wish I had vocalized several years before, when I yearned for people to still believe in Anubis and the other Netjeru. Here was an objective validation of something that had only seemed possible within my own subjective universe up to that point.
A snapshot of the Temple of Set website in 1997. (Click to enlarge.)
But that wasn’t all.
I wish I could say that I had some kind of vision or that I heard some kind of voice, for that would be much simpler for me to describe. But what happened was very different from either of those things. I suppose you could say there were two different dimensions to the experience. On the one hand, I suddenly realized that I was both a Pagan and a polytheist, and that I always had been. I think maybe I had begun to suspect this was true over the course of the past year (1996 to 1997), but reading about the Temple of Set was what cinched it for me. On the other hand, I experienced what the Egyptians called kheper (“coming into being”); I literally became a brand new creation. I just suddenly knew that I am a smaller version of Seth-Typhon, that He is a greater version of me, and that He has always been the guiding force in my life. He encouraged my parents to not indoctrinate me with any religion; He guided our family to become friends with so many Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu families; He spoke to me through all those Godzilla, Mummy and John Carpenter movies; He inspired my obsession with dangerous storms; He gave me the sharp-sightedness to see through the smug social privilege of my Christian peers; He gave me the strength to celebrate my body without guilt or fear; and He used heavy metal music to get me where I needed to be for my final awakening.
And while it was learning about the Temple of Set that caused these realizations to converge inside my head, I knew that I wasn’t meant to join the Temple, or any other Egyptian-based group that existed at the time. It was my destiny to become a priest of Seth-Typhon in my own way, and to start a new faith in His name. I didn’t know what kind of faith it would be just yet, or whether anyone else would ever join me in this crazy quest. Hell, I didn’t know that much about Seth Himself just yet; I didn’t even know that it was Wep Ronpet! But I did know one thing at least: that I would stand by the Red Lord in both this world and the next for all eternity.
There are any number of possible explanations for these events. Some might say that “Seth-Typhon” is really just an extension of my own psyche that I engage with in imaginative psychodramas. Some might argue that my rituals to Him are merely a form of self-hypnosis, and that the “fortunate things” that happen as a “result” of those rituals are merely coincidences (or the results of positive thinking). Others might think I’m actually contacting something divine, but that it’s the same thing as Buddha, Jehovah and Jesus, and that I’m merely imposing my own preferred name and semblance upon it. Still others will claim that I’m worshiping a false God and that I’ll go to hell when I die. Objectively speaking, I have no way to disprove either of these interpretations, and as far as I’m concerned, everyone is free to accept whichever explanation they like best.
However, I reserve the right to interpret my own experiences in any way that I see fit to do so, and I find the interpretation I’ve chosen to be the most practical option. I can’t claim to know the Truth (with a capital “T”) anymore than the next person, but I do know that regardless of how or why, worshiping and praying to Seth-Typhon works for me. Furthermore, treating Him as a real entity apart from myself – and apart from all other Gods and Goddesses – also works. I can see no reason to fix something when it ain’t broke, and while my personal religion has never made all of my problems go away, it has never failed to see me through those problems either. With that in mind, I’m willing to bet my eternity on the Red Lord. After all, I have no way of knowing if Moses or Muhammed actually experienced what they’re said to have experienced, but I can at least be certain that my own experiences have happened, and that’s enough for me.
Dua Sutekh! Khepera Kheper Kheperu!