I'm hoping there are some people here who can relate to what I'm saying. Any advice or thoughts from anyone would be appreciated too, because I'm more than a bit lost.
I as raised as a cradle (Novus ordo) Catholic by a nominally Catholic family, and I am 21 years old as of this past May. I fell away from the Church at the onset of puberty because things stopped making sense to my adolescent brain. Around the age of 17, for reasons unknown to me, I had a renewed (quite zealous) interest in the Church. I only returned to the Church because I found out about the Traditional Latin Mass. I was a "trad" Catholic for a couple years, but a series of very disturbing events (namely, what I feel were demonic/ oppressively evil experiences while sleeping) I kind of became afraid of and lost fervor for my faith. This is a cycle that has been repeating itself in my spiritual life. There seem to be two sides to my personality, one is deeply attached and attracted to liturgically and theologically rich traditions of Christianity, and the other side loves pagan things.
When I lapsed from Catholicism the first time, I had this burning urge to investigate every belief system I could. In fact, it was mostly all I could think about for a long time; finding the path which led to the Truth. For a while I worked backwards, contemplating Judaism, and eventually wound up embracing a sort of post-modern Neo-Pagan mindset. I thought my intense inner turmoil regarding Christianity was stemming from its usurpation of the indigenous cultures of Old Europe. I only identified recently WHY that is, which I will explain in a minute.
Not surprisingly, my flirtation with and interest in Pre-Christian cultures was disappointing after a few years, and I found myself wondering about Catholicism again. I began pulling myself out of the pit of doubt I had been thrown into after my traumatic night time experiences and lackluster theology, and again found renewed fervor for my faith. I began attending the TLM again as well (I also had more demonic sleep experiences), even attending a traditional Catholic college for a semester (which I had to leave due to finances as well as a generalized feeling of being "let down" by the kind of spirituality I found there). Upon leaving said school it took a few months, but again, I fell back into a fascination with the occult, witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism.
There is a part of me which cannot find a place for my love of old myths, and the kind of eyes that see the whole world as imbued with a type of sacredness. It is a feeling that there is some hidden reality to all things, tangible to those who know how to access it. Really, it was all about communion. The promise of witchcraft was the ability to commune with these spirits of nature, in doing so, to truly "know" them and understand the nature of reality/the universe. There was a natural attraction to this idea of embracing creation "as is" and reveling in its "imperfect perfection". To the Pagan mind, the world in essence is the ultimate teacher, and you are your own latent god. There is no divine tyranny, and anything goes as long as you can "pay your coin" so to speak. I know this reeks of the original sin, but it is still oh, so tempting to imagine the world could be this way.
(As a minor note, I also felt, as a young woman, that the understanding of femininity was hopelessly shallow in the Church as well, and paganism allowed me a way to feel my womanhood had more dimension and meaning)
The problem comes for me in separating what is real and what is fantasy. I am an artistic, empathetic, and suggestible person. I love beauty, and the search for the spiritual and numinous, and have always been fascinated with those realms of life over most things. While this has blessed me with the gift of being able to have great zeal for my faith, it has also led to this kind of pendulum-like swing in the other direction when that happens. Whenever I have grown greatly in my faith in Christ, it seems I am open to attack. At my highest points, I began to have horrible nightmare type dreams or encounters with what I believe were demons in my sleep. I have never in life my experienced anything like it during times of average or low zeal. But, when I am making a concerted effort, I had experiences of being possessed in my dream. I felt bodily pain that was unimaginable to my waking mind and pressed down by the weight of absolute blackest evil. I remember one time going to confession after on of these attacks and the priest did not seem very surprised when I asked him about it. He didn't offer much in the way of advice, but he said my fear would just make it worse, as if this was utter confirmation for Satan that I am an easy target.
This is part of my problem, but I STILL have not included Orthodoxy in this equation, yet.
I concluded what the Church was primarily leaving out, which led me to paganism, was the focus on personal communion with God. I was deeply craving a more experiential and mystical approach to theology and salvation. The rote, legalistic, decidedly Western way to approach God is completely at odds with the way I work. It leaves me feeling like I am constantly thirsting for any sign of Life in the Church. Secondly, I felt that the Church as I known it had become completely desacrlized due to excessive rationalism, killing any true attempt at a deep spirituality. This I now know is what led to my substitution of old myths for the need of an experience of the sacred. I knew on an intellectual level that it was something the Church used to have, but my day to day experience left me wondering what, if any, hope there was of restoring the sacred or suprarational to the Roman church.
This is where Orthodoxy comes in...
What initially caught my attention regarding Orthodoxy was an article I read by Fr. Stephen Freeman on his blog many years ago (must be about 5 now) regarding the existential nature of salvation as opposed to the legalistic understanding. Essentially saying, Christ didn't come to make bad men good, but make dead men live.
I had NEVER read something I knew to be so true in my heart as that article within Catholicism. I don't know what distracted me from investigating Orthodoxy further at that moment, but it would come to be very important to me in recent times.
Just only a few weeks ago, I was still in my deep fascination with witchcraft and paganism. In fact, I performed my first ritual in attempt to commune with the spirits of the dead, and the King of Witches, better know as Puck or Robin Goodfellow (Or, really just the devil, though I didn't think so at the time). I performed the ritual at midnight, and uncannily as I began to perform it, my town was struck by a very intense electrical storm that knocked the power out completely in the surrounding area. Everything was pitch black outside, though that fervor did not mirror my internal feelings. I felt absolutely nothing while attending to the ritual, and even afterwards I felt a bit embarrassed of myself for being foolish.
I swear someone must be praying for me, because not even a week later I suddenly decided out of nowhere I need to read about Orthodoxy. I don't know how, but I remembered that article by Fr. Stephen I had read 5 years ago and remembered I still had it bookmarked. I went to read it, and as I did my mind suddenly became so much clearer, and the spell of paganism had been broken once more. I suddenly realized what I had been missing through all these years of experimentation, and for the first time in my life I feel settled in myself. I have been reading all I can about Orthodoxy these past few weeks and it is as if every single thing that trouble me in the Roman church is resolved in Orthodoxy. I find myself at odds with little it puts forth, and I still cannot understand how or why I felt remembered that article (of which I had not thought about in literal years).
What I am asking you all here is what advice, if any, do you have? I will be leaving to go back to school in a few weeks and am planning on attending a ROCOR parish located in my city as there are no parishes near where my home is. I don't know what to do about my fantastical mind, or how to deal with the attacks if they come on again. Mostly, I am concerned with guarding myself against what I know is the Pagan Temptation. Modern culture is infected with it, and it is almost as if the spiritual war between Christianity and its worldly enemies is taking place inside my very person all the time.
I would take any recommendations for books to read about the subject of how Orthodoxy/Christianity generally compares to, and triumphs paganism... whether they be historical or theological or otherwise
And, more importantly, any experiential knowledge one might have about this extreme kind of vacillation I am experiencing.
For now, I will continue to pray, and to open my heart to what Orthodoxy offers
Thank you for reading!