Why I changed my mind about Religion – A guest article by Jay Byrd

MagicI have been asked to answer the question “What made you change your mind about religion?” Why did I go from being very anti-religion to being fully immersed in Gnosticism?

To my friends and family it must seem as if I’ve entered into some strange cult…

First let me start by saying; I understand why people feel a little disgusted at the thought of children growing up “in” a certain religion. How can you say a baby “is” Jewish, Christian or Muslim? Surely it is the right of every individual to choose their own faith at whatever time they feel ready to do so. And they’re right to change their minds at any later date.  I was brought up in, what I considered to be, an Atheist home. Recent discussions with my parents have brought me to the conclusion that it might not be this cut and dry but I certainly felt that they believed “God” was a ridiculous concept and that science and logic were the way to go.

Despite this, many of the games I played as a child involved some element of magic and my favourite books were fairytales where witches, goblins and ghosts roamed the pages unashamedly. Growing up I discovered Terry Pratchett and have read every book he has written, revelling in the witchcraft, occultism and symbolism (as well as the humour and social commentary of course).

I now believe that the reason I read this particular genre (fantasy for those who haven’t heard of Terry!) so voraciously, was that it offered me a socially acceptable (in my eyes) way to engage with something other-worldly, something I now call “God”.  I do not use the word God lightly, I understand that it has become heavily weighed down with centuries of misuse, abuse, confusion and pain. But I do not apologise for using that word. Whatever your concept of God is, mine is my own and it is with that concept that I write this word, so I respectfully request that  you keep your mind open and unpeel those layers that have been laid upon it.


My God

My God is an energy that flows through everything, my God is within me and within you. My God is not the vengeful creator of the Old Testament. My God is love and consciousness. Even now I cringe slightly as I write these words; because my journey into spirituality and towards God is still in its early days and I have heard similar words from people who then go on to do awful things. Nevertheless, I write these words because this is what I believe. It is allowing me to believe this that is the tricky part.

In the same way that the word “God” carries the weight of the centuries, Religion is also out of favour. Think on this: if your own young child tells a lie or hits another child, does that make you a liar or a violent person? As a parent, I know that young children have to undergo a learning process. Part of this process is making mistakes and some of those mistakes may involve displaying behaviour I neither display myself nor condone in my child. My point is, just because people who claim to be on a spiritual path of some kind make mistakes, abuse their situation and misuse their power, does not mean that there is anything wrong with being on a spiritual path.

Using the analogy of pathways – if a driver on a road crashes into another car because he is drunk or stupid or distracted, it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the road or the destination he is trying to reach.

Looking back I think that I felt ashamed that I felt presences that I could not explain through logic, I felt that I was being silly by believing that plants and trees had consciousness, I felt that I had to hide my intuitions because science (and therefore my family and society) didn’t understand them or dismissed them. I think that is every bit as bad as a child being raised “in” a faith. To be raised without recognition of the possibility of a spiritual life.

Apart from reading books and dabbling in tarot, my first steps on my spiritual path came about because of a relationship I had with a man who is deeply spiritual and a little bit magic. As I travelled back to my birthplace (Peru) I think I was looking for the magic I had always wanted to be a part of.

Being the land of the Incas, Peru is a naturally magical place anyway and the indigenous people use a lot of herbal medicine and rituals to this day. We met a shaman on our honeymoon and considered going on an ayahuasca journey but it was something less “trendy” that ended up changing my mind.

Gnosis is hard to describe, for me at least, but I conceive of it as a very personal journey towards self-actualisation. As a Psychology graduate, self-actualisation is a concept I have been aware of since college but as a person it is something I think I was aware of from a much younger age.

I have always wanted to be a better person than I was yesterday and Gnosis really provides me with a tool box to achieve this. Many religions tell you what you should and should not do what you should and should not feel but there are few that actually empower and enable you to change for the better.

Again, going back to Psychology – it seems to me that this approach would leave many with an external locus of control, so they feel that their lives are out of their control, making them more susceptible to the abuse of power I spoke about previously. Gnosis, conversely, puts a lot of emphasis on the power to change being within yourself, with help available from outside (in the form of the Gnostic community as well as from God).

This gives people an Internal Locus of control – the belief that whatever happens to us is our own responsibility and that we have the power to change and shape our lives. Problems are seen as opportunities, much like the approach Buddhism takes. Meditation, Mantralisation, Care of the Physical Body, Interaction with Nature, Prayer, Mindfulness and Voluntary work are all encouraged. Inner work is core to the practice of Gnosis and there are many similarities with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which I have always been drawn to and hope to practice in the future.

Having written this piece it becomes clear to me that I didn’t really change my mind, I just found a spiritual path which already encompassed many ideas and practices that I already subscribed to and therefore allowed me to take that final step and begin to explore further this esoteric existence I had always been ashamedly curious about.

These are early days in my spiritual journey, there are things I don’t understand about Gnosis, there are things I do not fully agree with and perhaps I will change my mind in the future and decide I do not want to label myself as “Gnostic”. That is my right, my choice as I grow and learn. But the important thing is that I have allowed myself to open up, to take my first unsteady steps on this journey.

As well as being a journey, I also like to talk of my experience as being an experiment. I try to conduct it in as scientific way as is possible, although more towards the qualitative end of the scale most of the time. I try things out, I don’t just accept a theory or idea, I experiment with it and see how it works for me.

Everything is about personal experience. I believe firmly that we are all different, and that we are all different for a reason. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the generalisations and assumptions that were made from research I was told about throughout my degree.

In the last semester of the last year I took a module which ripped the carpet out from under the feet of Psychology and talked about why Psychologists are now realising that we cannot generalise cross-culturally, across genders, ages etc. I felt really disappointed and let down that I had been labouring under a misapprehension for most of my degree and part of the reason I didn’t seek employment in this field.

So, if generalisation doesn’t work, the only sensible course is to test things out for yourself and repeat any behaviour which works for you.  I apply this ethos to my spiritual life as well as my mental and physical one.

There have been some breakthroughs during my research. Personal epiphanies which moved me forward in a rush, but mostly I think it has been a slow gathering of evidence, much of it very exciting to me. It has been the very slow drawing aside of the veil and I know that I have barely scratched the surface.

In addition to being a journey, and my research, it is also a kind of exercise program I have embarked upon. There are senses as well as muscles, which I have not been making full use of. I am stretching them out; I am beginning to do gentle exercise, working up their strength and endurance. Gradually they improve and I can do more and more with them.

The bottom line is that being on the spiritual path (or conducting this research, or starting this exercise regime) has made my life, and me, better and happier.

It has taken a lot of hard work, it is certainly not easy but it has definitely been worthwhile for me.

Rather than the blind leap of faith I thought religion was all about, I found a different way.

Gnosis has led me towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of pretty much everything.

Rather than closing my eyes, ears and heart to everything else, I have opened up. I have found strength I never would have thought possible, not from God, but inside me. I have embarked on an inner adventure towards enlightenment, and I have found the magic in life.

2 comments for “Why I changed my mind about Religion – A guest article by Jay Byrd

  1. December 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    It all seems pretty reasonable. Though if you do not agree with some elements of Gnosism then why can’t you identify as ‘spiritual’ rather that Gnostic? I also don’t understand the choice to eat meat when it is unnecessary to do so in Britain, it seems a very sad aspect of the faith. and Finally! ;D I your God is not “in me”, and if he is, that’s a bit rapey.

  2. December 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Kaye, Thanks for your comment.

    The meat eating is not really to do with conventionally understood nutrition, but rather with the element the food brings to your body. I did ask various people if there was any alternative that could provide the same effect and the answer was always “no”.

    If my God is “in you” then he is in you in the same way that an unborn child is in their mother, or that potential lies within you. Are those “rapey”?

    New blogs coming from me in the New Year so I look forward to reading your future comments :-)

    Have a great festive season!

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