I have tea, chocolate, and an empty apartment. It seems as good as a time as any for another entry, and I mentioned in the last that I would probably do one about my religious beliefs. I figured better to write the more boring, vanilla post now before delving into the juicy, soul searching stuff.
Outside, the moon is full and beautiful, and for once visible from my apartment window. I’ve worshipped Mama Moon for more than half my life.
As far as my religious path goes, I got lucky growing up. My parents are incredibly open-minded, especially my dad, though it didn’t always appear that way to me.
I started as a Catholic, though I honestly remember very little of it, other than escaping to the local diner with my grandparents and mother after communion because that was apparently long enough to sit through service. When I was eight, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and got mad at god, and so we stopped going. When the family matriarch says don’t go to church, you listen.
When I was ten books were my best friends (some of them still are), and I used to go through a chapter book almost every day. I soaked up stories like a sponge and craved new tales. I loved fantasy, fairies, and magic, and was still determined to find my way to Neverland and be the very first Lost Girl with Peter Pan. In my never-ending quest for tales I stumbled across a book called Teen Witchy by Silver RavenWolf. Thinking it fiction, I begged my parents to let me get it (the book had a cover with several bad-ass looking chicks on the front that screamed GIRL POWER, which was enough to appear appealing to me), and they relented.
This was (ironically) around the same time that my family started going to a Dutch Christian reform church a couple towns away. We had become incredibly involved in the church youth programs, less for the religious aspect of it all and more for the socialization aspect, by the time I began flipping through Teen Witch’s pages. Not only was the book anything but fiction, but it was a how-to on a religion I hadn’t known was real. Witches were REAL, and so was magic. I couldn’t help it. I fell in love and decided I wanted to be a witch.
Of course, I wanted to be one without understanding what that meant. It’s impossible to, at ten. But still, I showed the book to my parents and told them I was a witch very proudly. They, in turn, confiscated my book and told me that we lived in a Christian household and that I was forbidden from practicing witchcraft.
I was a relatively good kid growing up. That was the first, and only, time my parents ever forbade me from doing anything. I had a meltdown. I screamed, I cried, and I proved to them what I child I was. They did not relent, and I did not get my books back.
I took baby steps back into the world of Wicca. At twelve I accidentally discovered a deck of tarot cards in the ‘self help’ section at the end of the Young Adult books in my Barnes and Noble. I bought it with my allowance money, drawn to the pictures, and was shocked when my cards got confiscated during a church retreat. My parents knew I had them, and they hardly mentioned when they saw me shuffling that I was communing with the devil, or that telling the future was black magic. I was told this by others. I let it slip at a church retreat when I was thirteen that I had discovered what Wicca was, and wanted to understand it more. I was told by a woman that I had rather admired that Wicca was the devil’s work, and that she was so thankful that the devil hadn’t claimed my good Christian soul. Wicca was evil. It was made by sinners and demons to pull you back to the old pagan gods.
That explanation didn’t compute. Her fire and brimstone speech didn’t match at all with the religion that seemed so peaceful and nature based. When I got home from the retreat I immediately snuck into my parent’s bedroom and retrieved my book from under their bed, where it had laid covered in dust for three years. I began reading it, REALLY reading it, and attempting to understand what had piqued my interest in the religion in the first place.
I collected more books as time went on, becoming familiar with more authors. I discovered Silver RavenWolf was..showy, but not someone I was particularly drawn to and began to admire straightforward work by Edain McCoy and the sassy southern charm of Dorothy Morrison. At sixteen I sat my parents down again and told them that I wanted to be a witch. I explained why, what I felt as if I believed, and tried to pass on the knowledge I had learned so that they could understand the religion wasn’t evil, or the devil’s work. They surprised me by smiling at the end of my speech. “We know”, my dad said. “We knew when you picked out that book at ten what you would be. We just wouldn’t let you take on a title until you earned it; until you learned what taking on that title really meant.”
It turns out that my daddy has dabbled in religions left and right, including schools of thought that would be considered “New Age”. Even though he practiced nothing, he began teaching me. Little things he had done to me as a child, like pressing my pressure points to make my headaches go away or touching my hands and making me feel a ‘zap’ feeling finally made sense; I was like my dad. At this point we had long since fallen out with the church, and my dad had no qualms with me practicing magick or learning what he could teach.
I became involved with a group of witches, and was one of the youngest open Pagans (with parental permission, of course) openly practicing in my area. I continually sopped up knowledge where I could and practiced with a vigor and love that still lives somewhere in me. While my friends were making their Confirmation I was getting my first degree and on my way to being a High Priestess someday.
My high priestess was… clever, and much too big for her britches. She wanted more power than she actually had. Technically, she never should have been a high priestess at all. She led the coven and taught all the degree classes with only her second degree herself; you need your third to start your own coven. She was rebelling against her teacher, however, and decided that I would be a wonderful tool for just that.
I was young and impressionable. I called her my Witchy Mommy and I wanted to make her proud. And I did, for several years, until she started more and more taking over my mundane life as well as my magickal. I wasn’t allowed to do anything unless I got a reading from her or my roommate (also a witch and also in her coven) first. I was not allowed to speak to witches from outside groups. If they spoke to me I was supposed to report back to her, because there was some big “witch war” going on.
It sounds so ridiculous now, looking back, but I was young and incredibly naive. I never thought anyone would try to take advantage of me. I was a kid; what did I have for them to take?
I didn’t rebel against her fully until I entered my last serious relationship; the one with a man who is still very much one of my best friends. She informed me when the relationship started that I was going to cause his death because I made him manifest too soon, and that I should let him go. Why? He was from California. I lived in New Jersey. The longer we dated, the more I considered moving my life out there. That would mean me leaving the coven, and leaving my high priestess.
It ended up happening, of course; the whole thing unraveled around the same time the committed relationship unraveled (before the clusterfuck stage of things began). I left the coven over a mundane issue that cost me my roommate and my coven, but gained me my furry familiar named Jynx who is so much more than a cat. At the time I was trying to figure out how I could leave, and it turned into a serendipitous excuse to run.
The fallout was bad. My high priestess took it upon herself to trash my reputation to all the neighboring groups. She slandered me left to right, swearing that I would never be a successful witch in New Jersey.
Two things she hadn’t counted on: 1- I had no plans to stay in New Jersey for more than a couple months. 2- She knew me by my Craft name, a persona I only went by during ritual with a group. It was that name she was slandering, not my actual birth name. Everyone close to me knew that I was a witch as it was, and so continuing to practice but going by my given name was hardly something difficult to me.
I still practice, though I have no desire to join a coven again anytime soon. West coast witches seem different than east; they’re somehow calmer. It’s less about egos and more about the work, which I’m enjoying, but my practice has become incredibly personal. I don’t feel like I belong in any set tradition, although at this point I’ve studied long enough to have received my second degree if not my third. I take on students, from time to time, for just a basic Wicca 101 course, and try my best to give them a good first step into understanding the religion and the people they will encounter. There are a lot of phonies and a lot of egos, and If I can help people avoid women like my ex high priestess I will. No one should have to go through what I went through.
I don’t regret it, however. My journey has made me stronger. My faith at this point is an engrained part of my everyday life, it’s not something I have to remind myself to practice. I very rarely do complicated formal rituals anymore, although I do acknowledge and celebrate the holidays on the Wheel of the Year, and have learned I don’t need to wear my Witch badge every time I meet someone knew. My faith does not define me. I am a woman. I just happen to dance naked under the moon from time to time.
One reason I wanted to write about my journey, and my faith in general, is because it ties into me fighting my urges to submit for so long. Wicca is full of girl power; it’s got Dianic lesbian feminists who can’t stand the sight of a penis and more metrosexual and gay men than you can shake a stick at. It screams about the power of the woman to reclaim our rightful place of power; turn history into herstory and bring back the feminine Divine to society. Being completely surrounded by this culture conflicted with some of my inner desires..to be dominated, to have a man take control and take complete care of me. To give up any and all control to him and in return serve him faithfully. The two trains of thought just didn’t jive.
I noticed when I was in the thick of the coven that the inner circle consisted of all single women. Most were divorced, some were in the process, and others just had no luck in love. “When the Goddess wills it, we will find love” they would say. No, in fact, they wouldn’t. Their thoughts about men and their actions drove potential lovers away clutching their dicks to protect them. The women wanted love, but they didn’t want to surrender the power to the males around them. Loving meant giving up control. It was a risk none of them were willing to take.
It is almost 1 a.m., and this post has already turned out much longer than I thought it would.. Hopefully someone out there finds it informative. Beware of the Nikis out there; the charming high priestesses that lure you in with honey-coated words of praise. There’s arsenic laced through the honey.