My Path to the Craft

About a week ago, someone suggested that I write more about the “supernatural” stuff that informs my books: magic, spirituality, witchcraft, and the like.

It’s not like I’ve never thought about it, or even tried it. A few years ago, I started a blog called “The Pagan Coffeehouse,” which I intended to revolve around the topics my husband and I discuss when we–you guessed it–go out for coffee. But I got sick, and we didn’t go out for coffee or have those discussions anymore, and the blog ran only two posts. It’s still out there, if you want to look for it. More recently, Witches and Pagans magazine offered me a slot on their Pagan Square blogs. I turned it down. Looking at their blog roll and all the various topics covered there intimidated me. I didn’t think I had anything to add to the discussion.

When the idea came up again, I asked several people what in the world I could possibly say. I don’t think of myself as a teacher–in fact, I’m a very bad one. I have the relationship that I have with the world, both seen and unseen. It works for me, but I don’t feel any great need to promote or share it. I haven’t named a tradition after myself. In fact, I’m not sure anyone else would find it at all interesting. There’s just me, and sometimes my husband, and what I think and feel. What I do.

It seems I have a unique perspective, however: sometimes challenging, sometimes humorous, and often unpopular. This, according to those I asked, is what makes it interesting. I have the gift of seeing through things and saying what others don’t. Or so I’m told.

So, all right. I’m going to have a go at writing about magic according to me. And the first thing I’m going to write about is how I got where I am.

I identify as a Witch, but I don’t use the word to align myself with any particular path or tradition, as some do. To me, the word “Witch” encompasses so much, from the witches of folklore and fairy tale to the weird sisters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to frightening magic users of cultures that are not mine, to–yes–practitioners of Wicca and other Pagan religions who have worked so hard to reclaim the word and relieve it of some of its stigma in the common consciousness. It’s a word that suits me, as I have, since I can remember, had pieces in me of all those archetypes. And I think maybe leaving some of the stigma attached to the word is a good thing. Witches are not comfortable beings. They–we–can be the grandmother who bakes cookies and makes sure you have a dress for the ball, and we can be the crone who cooks wayward children in her oven. We can be the dream maiden of the Beltane fire and the Siren who lures sailors to death on the rocks. All of these things at once, without the need to distinguish. Most of all, witches tend to be terrifyingly practical and will suit actions to circumstances. I think this is what makes the Witch such an uncomfortable archetype to work with and be around. People like reassuring labels like “good” and “evil” and “beautiful” and “ugly.” People like boxes and the ability to identify those around them as one thing or another. Witches tend to defy these labels.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been a Witch, even before I applied the word to myself. I wasn’t raised as one. My father was a Presbyterian minister–in my estimation, not a very good one. He was a brilliant scholar and historian, but I believe he would have been happier working the academic side of religion than tending to a flock that–again in my estimation–neither understood nor appreciated him. Anyway, I was raised nominally Christian Presbyterian, but it never took. Some of that was undoubtedly that as a preacher’s kid I saw behind the curtain on a regular basis, and seeing behind the curtain is a sure impediment to easy faith. And some of it was that I had eclectic reading habits from a very young age. I devoured Greek, Norse, and Celtic mythology.  Later, I got interested in Eastern religions and hung out at the Hare Krishna temple a few blocks from my home. I never could see that these systems had any less validity than the Christian mythos I had been taught, and in fact I saw a good many sticky contradictions in Christianity. I remember once asking my dad why Christianity was right and Hinduism wrong. He couldn’t give me any answer other than, “Because Jesus said so,” and “Hindus worship idols.” Which didn’t satisfy me.

I’ve always known things I should have had no way of knowing. At an early Sunday school class on the expulsion from Eden, I asked why what Eve had done was wrong because apples and serpents are both symbols of wisdom, and both are aspects of women’s power. So Eve had every right to teach Adam her wisdom if she chose. I couldn’t have been more than eight at the time. I remember, because my sister had made a Garden of Eden mosaic in college–she was an Art major–and I had been thinking about it. But where did I get that? I’m sure no one else in my family had ever mentioned such an idea, and I don’t think it had appeared in anything I had read. Later, in another Sunday school class, I pointed out that Moses was one in a long line of supernatural warrior saviors who claimed to be sons of river deities (in fact, I think you could make a case for Achilles, although his mother was an ocean goddess). I shouldn’t have done that, because my dad was teaching the class and Moses was an especial favorite of his. I got in trouble for mouthing off and was asked to leave.

I was never a normal, middle class, Christian-raised child. I worshiped the moon. I invented spells in my bedroom. I had long conversations with invisible beings and animals. I burned incense, and walked at night, and studied the stars. At twelve, I became fascinated with Tarot cards and bugged my parents until they gave in a bought me a cheap deck for my birthday. I laid them out in patterns and told myself stories about the pictures I saw.

I think I freaked my parents out a bit. I remember one time in second grade, I found a talisman of sorts on the playground. It was white, an Easter Island head about three inches high. There were blue rhinestone chips for eyes. I thought it was cool. But that night, my mother found it and had a complete, frothing at the mouth, fit. She took it away from me and ranted about idols and Satanism and all manner of other things. I have no idea what she did with it. I’ve often wished I could get another look at it.

I picked up bits of magical philosophy from odd Fantasy and Gothic novels without knowing I was doing it. Sometimes I reread those books now and I think, “Oh, no wonder.” But how much did the books influence me, and how much did I choose the books because of the person I was born? I can’t say. It wasn’t until I hit my early 20s that things started to fall into place, and it was two books that did it: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance. As seems to have been the case for so many who embraced Paganism at that time, I didn’t discover anything new by reading those books. But I discovered what I already believed, what I had always believed, had a name and a form. I’m a Witch.

That was thirty years ago, and I’ve done a lot in that time. I’ve worked at an occult bookstore. I’ve read tarot professionally. I’ve served as High Priestess of a coven and taught classes in ritual magic. I was initiated into the Guild of the Grey Owl. I’ve made charms for my friends and invented rituals for myself and those who care to join in. I’ve never been afraid of calling myself a Witch and I’ve never hidden my beliefs, but I’ve never felt the need to shout it to the four winds, either. It’s just what I believe, what I do. Who I’ve always been.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

–T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “Little Gidding”

That’s my story. I intend to blog bi-weekly on magical and spiritual topics. I hope you will join me.