Walking The Path As A Public Witch
I am a ‘public Witch’. The phrase means different things to different people but generally it means I am one who has come ‘out of the broom closet’. That has come to mean different things to me as the years have gone by.
I never was really in the ‘broom closet’. From the time I was introduced to The Craft by way of The Tarot at age eighteen, I was very open about it. Sometimes the openness was just for ‘shock value’. Sometimes it was just to be ‘different’. More often than not my openness was just a part of my personality. Like a puppy, I gleefully and playfully was just ‘me’ all over the place.
Now, at the age of forty-seven (can I really be that old?) and High Priestess in my tradition, I am still open about it, yet in very different ways. I rarely go for ‘shock value’ anymore (there are, however, those occasions when I cannot seem to help myself) . I have been a professional Nurse for twenty plus years and have learned in some instances the less said, the better. This learned, of course, the hard way. In many, many areas of my life I am much more tolerant and not so quick to take offense. I cannot attribute this to age or wisdom, as in many ways I am very immature and like it that way. It is a by-product of the path in which I have chosen to walk. One of the many, many gifts I receive.
I no longer feel the need to flash a Pentacle ring or necklace every chance I get. Most jewelry associated with the Craft and my religion are worn in private or under my clothes, close to my heart, as they should be. Yet, if I choose to wear such things in public (or forget to take them off) I make no effort to hide them, give no explanations, and make no apologies. My car is no longer adorned with bumper stickers proclaiming me ‘Witch’ or ‘Happy Heathen’. I didn’t take them off, but simply quit feeling the need to replace them each time I had to replace a vehicle. Yet I would not refrain from putting one on my bumper if it caught my fancy.
These days when I find it necessary or appropriate to speak of the Divine in general company I am as apt to say ‘God’ as ‘Goddess’ or ‘The Gods’. I have seen that getting caught up in nomenclature or schematics lessons somehow the sacredness of what one speaks of. If I am asked what Church I go to (a common question here in the South) I tell them. I don’t use flowery or holier- than -thou phrases such as ‘Nature is my Church’.
I say I am Pagan, if need be I say I am ‘Witch’, but more than that, I say I am a person of faith. And in some eyes I see the flash of recognition and in others I see distrust and incomprehension. These things no longer bother me. I am not meant to crusade. Neither am I, or my life, meant to be perfect. I can lapse in my old ways from time to time without being ‘lost’. I can make mistakes.
These days my Pentacle hangs on the lamppost in my yard. It hangs there for protection of my home and property as well as a nod to The Craft. It matters not who sees it and who does not. My home is Pagan and I call it a Temple House. It is where our rituals are mostly held. Where our classes are held. Where I sit and work on my computer on things that are important to the Temple. It is filled with altars which range from very simple to elaborate. Like all things, they change as they should, and I understand one does not need the trappings of religion to walk one’s faith. The house is lived in. It is welcoming to The Gods and Spirits I call, to my blood family and my Temple family and to visitors who come and go. It is meant to be welcoming to visitors of all faith and I believe for the most part it is. It is a work in progress, like the Temple itself. Like all things which grow and change. Like me.
I returned to the place I was born and raised after a twenty-year hiatus. It is a rural area in the Wilds of Tennessee, deep in the Bible Belt. It is a wonderful and beautiful place and the people are wonderful and beautiful too. Yet suspicions and prejudices linger along side traditions that smack of the Old Religion. I am known as a Witch and there is no mistake I am ‘the Real Thing’. At first I was humored, seen as a local girl who went ‘Out West’ and got some very strange ideas. There is often surprise when it is learned I was first introduced to the Craft in good ol’ Nashville, Tennessee. But here in the Wilds, Nashville, too, is a long way and there are many strange ideas to be found there. Maybe not as strange as ‘Out West’, but still strange.
When the realization came that this is not a passing fad for me, and that not only did I practice what I believed but ‘preached’ what I practiced the attitudes began to change. Family members and childhood friends, some I loved dearly and had missed for a long time, began to avoid me. Their attempts to ‘save my soul’ fell on deaf ears, and I took offense to being prayed for in Churches that I would ‘find my way and be saved’. They could not convert me, could not understand when I asked ‘saved from what?’ or said ‘I’m already saved’. And so I became a lost cause and to some a threat. There is no brand of persecution as scorching as that of those we know and love. My invitations to my home were unanswered by some. It became clear there were homes in which I was no longer welcome.
The Goddess does not demand sacrifice though at times it may seem so. I eventually came to understand that in order to have the things I found important in my life there were some things that by nature had to go. There is always grief, but as all things it passes and is, if not understood, accepted.
There were those who came and went. And there are those who stayed. Rituals of one became rituals of two and then three and then as many as fifteen at any given time. Others want card readings or advice or a little magick to ‘help out a situation’. Sometimes they are open about it and do not care who knows or what is thought of their association with me. Sometimes they come on the sly. I have learned to recognize those who come for a reason, such as the Goddess may have, and those who want what I can give and firmly believe me to be going to a Christian hell. There are those who do not care what becomes of me, but care about what it is I can do. Sometimes I still grow angry, usually out of hurt from the fall of one who I may have at some point respected. Mostly I do what I feel to be right and it has become very easy.
Inevitably the question will come from somewhere: ‘How did you get into that?’ that, of course, being Paganism or Witchcraft and sometimes thinly veiled ‘in league with The Devil’. I no longer feel the need to explain how Christianity never ‘felt right’ for me, implying of course I was somehow superior to that particular belief. These days I usually shrug and say ‘Like anyone of faith, I was called to it.’ This leaves little to argue about.
In my tradition today we celebrate Lenaia at the time of Imbolc, yet like so many things, the lines are blurred and the messages are the same. This Imbolc season I find myself taking stock and reflecting on many things about my life and the Path I walk. They, this life and this path, have somewhere along the line become one and the same. Perhaps it is the knowledge of having achieved this very thing, without setting out to do so or even hoping that I could, which is causing me to reflect. Perhaps it is my age, and the realization that, though I am not so old, I have most certainly lived longer in this life than I am going to live. It could be the weathering of so many changes over the last several years, some devastating enough to make me question my faith. Having come to terms with myself I have accepted many things I thought I could not. I can do this; accept these things, because at some point I began to trust that my Gods know what they are doing.
In January of 2001, I performed a solitary ritual outside in the yard at the old house my brother and I shared, divorced siblings clinging together in the changes of life. This was many years after I had picked up my first Tarot deck and felt the power of Otherworlds and the promise of mysteries revealed in them. It was cold and the Full Winter Moon rose high in a dark and starless sky. The moon was the color of ecru and its light brightened and dimmed with my incantation and my song. I had felt and witnessed the Power of the presence of the Divine before. I had seen first hand the workings of magick. Yet this was different. It was as if I were tapped on the shoulder. I had the feeling that Someone had finally gotten my attention. She had been waiting patiently for me to notice She wanted my attention. The voice I heard on the Wind, though the night was Windless, was real even though I could not make out the words. It was as if there was one voice, no, a thousand voices, and though the words were unintelligible I knew they said ‘Follow Me’.
I did not call the God and Goddess by name then, a last holdout of my Pentecost upbringing. They were to me The Lord and Lady. Yet I knew there were names, many names, and I would come to know Them. Although I became a Priestess of Hekate, it was Diana, the Huntress Mother, who called to me that night. I now know Her feel and Her smell and I recognize Her voice. When I hear Her name mentioned I see in my mind’s eye the silver disk floating in the Winter Sky. I often thank Her for calling me.
It wasn’t long after that I held my first private Imbolc ritual, as I have ever since, as I will continue to do. The day was sunny, bright, and cold. The kind of day that often depressed me. With stick incense in hand (patchouli because that is all I had) and the instructions from Scott Cunningham’s ‘Wicca’ in my head I picked my way through the thickets behind our rental house. I found a clearing and sat down, my nose running and the frozen ground pressing against my too thin pants for the weather. I meditated in silence, one thing I was only beginning to get good at. I sat there a long while, sometimes registering the sound of small animals in the thickets. Somehow understanding the sounds of the animals were gifts. I then told the Gods the things I have told them many times since:
I am Your daughter and Your lover. I give myself to You in this life and in any others to come. Set my feet upon the path You wish for me. Teach me the things I need to know. Give me the strength to learn them. I honor You and I love You. So Mote it be.
I meant those words the day I said them. And many times after, even as I wondered how hard this life has to get. I mean them now. The Gods listened and they knew I meant them and they have granted me the very things I asked for.
I love this life. It is at times messy and ugly, often chaotic, and on occasion extremely painful. It is equally interesting, comforting, and fun. And so there is balance. And so I am very, very blessed.
I love being Pagan. It is a wonderful thing to know what one’s path is and to be allowed to walk it. The Buddhist say ‘do the dishes for the sake of doing the dishes’. The clean dishes are only a result of doing the dishes correctly and wholeheartedly. Clean dishes are not the goal, doing the task well is the goal, everything else is, well, gravy. They say the same about the journey we call life. The journey is the point, the destination only the result of taking the journey well and wholeheartedly. Take the journey for the sake of taking the journey, walk the path for the sake of walking the path. Every now and then cast your eyes to the top of the mountain for a moment, but only a moment, focus on your goal, reassess your progress, make the proper adjustments, and get back to the task at hand.
In giving true love for the sake of giving true love, I have been given the truest of love. In giving friendship for the sake of giving friendship, I have received friendship. In being faithful for the sake of being faithful, I am given faithfulness. In giving mercy and kindness and justice for the sake of giving mercy and kindness and justice, I have received mercy and kindness and justice far beyond that I ever expected. In teaching the things I know for the sake of teaching the things I know I have been taught. And such fine teachers I have.
I walk the Pagan Path and the Path of the Priestess (and yes, Witch) for many reasons but mainly because it is my journey, what is put before me to do. It is an awesome task, an honor, and a door to many fleeting moments of happiness, which add up to a joyful life when all is said and done. Sometimes this path of mine is walked on nothing but faith because all else seems to elude me. Yet that which eludes me becomes mine if it is meant to be, and though I question and rail against the way, I am committed.
Along the way I catch the most peaceful sunrises, beautiful sunsets, healing breezes, and mighty storms. I am taught humility; I am reprimanded, led gently back when astray, and kicked hard when I need it. I am loved unconditionally and I know this without a doubt. I neither fear Death nor look for it, waiting for the rewards that I think might be my due. My rewards are many, and they are now. I may at times dread the act of dying and wonder if I will be granted a merciful death or if suffering at the end of this life is part of my lesson and task. Yet I trust that I will have what is needed for me and what is in the end the best. And I will not make that journey alone.
Those who have gone before will welcome me. The Gods will guide me and the Lady Hekate will walk with me as She always has. Cunningham pointed out that there is a difference in believing in something and knowing something. Many of the things I thought I believed I have come to know. To know a thing to be true is to accept it without having to understand it. There are many things I do understand and many things I will someday understand. But knowing, that is something that is not given lightly. It cannot be earned or bought; it can only come from walking the journey and walking it with an open heart and a willing soul.
I am one of many who aid this Phoenix we call Paganism to rise. My voice is among the silent ones who roar their presence into this world in this time. Our books and our Temples were burned and like so many things, though the way could have been easier, it had to be. Our Temples stand in our hearts and in our souls, in our country homes, and our suburban yards, in our small apartments in sprawling cities. This wonderful thing we call the Internet weaves us together across many, many miles. We have new books with words from Powerful hearts. We have remnants from the past which survive and which are important yet unimportant and therefore kept in perspective. We have the new and the old in which to learn and to build from. Balance. As it should be.
I am parched with thirst, and perishing,
But drink of me, the ever-flowing spring on the right (where) there is a fair cypress.
Who are you? Where are you from?
I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven, but my race is of Heaven (alone)
— Orphic Lamella from Thessaly