This is the last part of the Origin Story, and this is the compressed version:
I devoured books (including Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon), attended a few open circles, performed a private dedication ceremony for myself (lots of happy tears, it was pretty great), and my poor husband was becoming increasingly alarmed. His family is Catholic and his estranged dad is born again – so he didn’t know what was going on with me, but he definitely knows a crisis of faith (or non-faith) when he sees one. He was understandably a little panicky about it.
In the meantime, I’d also learned that my friend (See Origin Story Part 4) was a Gardnerian High Priestess. After reading Hutton I had a pretty good grasp (for a non-initiate) on what that meant. I knew enough to see that not only had I stumbled onto witchcraft in the figure of my friend, but onto the frikkin’ magical unicorn of witchcraft.
But what I’d read about Gerald Gardner in Hutton’s book didn’t really sit easily with what I knew of my friend. She was (and is) a powerful, self-possessed, intelligent, confident woman, a woman, and scholar who took no shits from anyone. And I couldn’t connect the dots from that to this bizarro nude, hierarchical, secretive witch cult. So I found her coven’s Witchvox page (R.I.P.) and read the books she recommended for seekers, one of which was Gardner’s own Meaning of Witchcraft.
Yup, I read that and Witchcraft Today as well, though my head hurt from my eyes rolling so far back in my head sometimes. And it was still a mystery to me why she’d be a part of this tradition. But, as another friend once said, “there was a There there.”
I don’t think I can explain it any better now than I could back then. There was something there I wanted to know more about, the things that Gerald didn’t write about, the things that connected this goofy old nudist guy with this epically amazing woman I knew. I wasn’t interested in secrets for the sake of secrets. And I wasn’t even interested in lineage or tradition. But I had a fierce sense that I’d been pulled towards this my whole life. Maybe that’s one of those Mysteries people talk about, I can’t say. But I knew I wanted to know more – and that I would ditch it in a heartbeat if it didn’t jibe right – but the pull was there and it was mighty strong. That’s the best I can describe it.
So I snail-mailed my Seeker letter (which is its own hilarious story), was admitted into Thorn’s Outer Court, eventually initiated, later elevated to the second degree, and yup, here I am.
There’s so much that happened between that Seeker letter and now. I’ll probably touch on aspects of that here, but everyone’s journey is their own, of course.
Again, that’s the very compressed version, of course. Things got better with my husband though it will always be just one of those things we don’t share. He doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to get it, but we respect each other and care about each other, so it works pretty darn well, actually. There were some things that were important to be honest about and discuss – skyclad ritual, for one, which was not a hard conversation, but I can imagine it would be much more challenging for other couples. But when I was initiated we had a conversation about how there would be things I wouldn’t be able to discuss with him in order to maintain my oaths– but that our marriage came first. And that’s worked fine so far. My son was pretty young when this all kicked in, but now at 12, he takes a certain pride in my ‘Wiccan Witchcraft’ as he calls it. Again, he doesn’t share the interest – but it means a lot to me that it’s just part of who I am to him.
Quarantine has sort of forced some changes to both my magical practice and house dynamics, but aside from a few rough spots, we’ve all evolved and adapted. My ritual room is right off the kitchen, and I realized (through experience) that it’s hard for me to do ritual if my husband is making beer at the same – he likes to sing very loudly as he brews wort. It’s adorable, actually, but adds a layer of challenge to magical focus, I’ll tell you what. But we work around each other – they’re very small problems at the end of the day.
Part of the COVID lockdown turned in a series of research rabbit holes for me. I actually had less time when my classes moved online and was grateful for my job at the same time. But since our coven necessarily stopped meeting, I started filling up my magical space by filling notable gaps in my magical knowledge. This mostly focusing on late medieval through early 20th-century ritual magic.
It started with a deep dive into Eliphas Levi, then morphed into a sort of tandem consideration of the PGM (Greek Magical Papyri) and Solomonic grimoire magic in general. This has not been a comfortable rabbit hole, and I’m tempted periodically to abandon it. But then, sending my Seeker letter wasn’t comfortable either: there were real moments of ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ panic. I know discomfort can be important to growth.
But the wild time investment of March and April is sort of burning itself out. I find Neoplatonist and hermetic world views (which are integral to much of Solomonic magic) a tough pill to swallow. I just have a hard time seeing humankind as the center of the divine universe. And there’s so much emphasis on the Abrahamic god (who is not an easy pill to swallow for an intersectional feminist such as myself), that it just keeps pushing me away from every angle, even as I try to chase down the Olympic spirts, angels, and yes, even saints, who I find so appealing.
The problem is, you don’t have to know much about Solomonic magic before you know that you have to engage with Abrahamic religious texts first. And I am exactly the sort of person who these texts are not meant for. I’m a woman, first and foremost. I’m not Jewish or Christian (although I very much respect and appreciate both faiths) and, well, I am a witch. And this isn’t even getting into the implicit and explicit racism in both the source texts and the subsequent colonization that happened over the following 2000+ years.
Now, Hutton’s newer book The Witch tracks the history of the idea of the witch through western history (which a brief survey of the idea in a global comparison as well), and I know that when I say “I’m a witch” that means something absolutely and utterly different (and likely inconceivable) to what was meant by ‘witch’ in the Old or New Testaments. But, time and again, if you were a woman, and you were practicing magic, you were a witch, with all the negative connotations that go along with that. It’s hard to shake that as a woman – and self-affirmed witch – working with Solomonic magic.
While I’m fortunately spared the hang-ups of a lot of people who were raised in an Abrahamic faith, I still live in a society largely shaped by it. In my dream world, I stumble upon an early modern grimoire written and worked by a woman. It’s possible these texts exist (or existed), but from what little I have found, such women functioned as cunning folk, performing service magic rather than theurgy. And if they did theurgy, none of the surviving texts (written by men) mention it.
But I have to believe women practiced theurgical magic with Solomonic magical texts prior to the 20th century. It just seems improbable that it didn’t happen. Maybe she was a nun who loved Jesus and magic was a way for her to be closer to him and the Blessed Virgin Mary – honestly, I’d take it at this point. But even better if she engaged with the Kings of the Four Quarters and the Olympic Spirits of the wandering stars….
So I find myself in this conundrum. I’ve got piles of early modern grimoires lying all around me, all sorts of operations in progress or planned – but simply being in my own female body, I’m already inherently adapting the texts. They were not meant for women, but for men of God. And I’m a woman who honors many gods and goddesses, and many spirits of this land, place, and time, and if there is a higher Divinity which has a personal interest in human affairs— well, I don’t see that divinity in any of the Abrahamic texts, or even the gnostic ones. These seem like much smaller gods.
Because I think I’m asking the wrong question still. There is something in the grimoires to which I’m drawn. This is both different from Gardnerian Witchcraft and deeply intertwined. I have some theories I’ll have to keep to myself but, just like with my feelings about Gardnerian Witchcraft, “there’s a There there.”
Meanwhile, my world is just as full of spirits as ever – I just need to carve the space for them in my hectic, contemporary, locked-down life. The woods are thick and dense with the Horned God and he’s filled, filled, my yard with wrens. Wrens for fucking days, I can hardly believe it! And the goddess of the moon is bright in ever. I see her in every humble cup of salt, I see her in the dark pools of our spring, full of pollywogs. And the spirits of this land a humming and buzzing something fierce, so loud, I can hardly make out the individual words in my fevered chase to follow the conversation.