Author: Circe's Child [a WitchVox Sponsor] Posted: May 7th. 2006 Times Viewed: 144
As I look back at more than 25 years in the Craft, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a teacher during my early years. Would they have helped me become better, stronger, smarter, and more balanced? Or would they have weighted me down like a lead balloon with all of the shoulds and should nots that people like to impose when they’re reconstructing a religion, using 25 percent original material from good archaeological sources and 75 percent “things that sound plausible”?
The question is moot. For me there was no option. There’s no way a teacher would have been in my life during the most important phase, when I first understood that the Goddess had my heart.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, there weren’t too many Witches out of the broom closet in Cleveland, Ohio. Even if I had stumbled across one I seriously doubt they would have taken a kid from the ‘burbs as a student. Something about that age-of-consent thing loomed large even in the freewheeling decompression the country as a whole was going through in those years.
True, our paths were backlit by cracking disco balls and haunted by the faint strains of New Wave music and the gleams of blue Mohawks drifting over the far horizon. We were still years away from smashing into the brick walls of AIDS and massive rates of addiction to cocaine and heroin. But we did have realities.
There were plenty of stories going around about kids who had fallen in with cults, only to be kidnapped by their own families and handed over to self-appointed deprogrammers. No adult in their right mind, or even their not-so-right-thanks-to-those-Haight-Ashbury-days mind, would want to be accused of abducting a kid and initiating them into some non-mainstream religion. So I really doubt whether any Wiccan in the Cleveland area would have taken me on as a student
And in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to ask for help even if I had found a bona fide Witch. But I certainly had the guts to help myself. That, plus an inexplicable fascination with magic, and a love of Greek mythology fostered by my parents, pretty much sealed my fate by the time I was in third grade.
I’d always loved the whole idea of magic. I grew up on re-runs of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. I thought it would be great to just blink my eyes, or say a little rhyme, and get whatever I wanted. OK, I’ll admit the chance to wear the harem outfit and live in a pink satin bedroom with lots of pillows like Jeannie did was really a big part of the allure. But I gladly would have settled for the killer black outfit Samantha wore when she was in full-metal Witch mode.
Yes, I was a fey little lad. But really, really wanting something--in other words, intent-- is one of the most important powers we must groom within ourselves along the path. It’s certainly what will help us find what we need when we need it, and give us the strength to persevere even when the going gets rough and things are discouraging.
And (no wonder here) thing were plenty discouraging for me at first. No matter how hard I tried, reciting the ditties that Sam and company used to create all sorts of wonderful events didn’t work for me. Darrin’s in-laws had no problem turning him into a monkey, but my kid brother just looked at me like I was insane when I pointed my finger at him and said the exact same words.
But I don’t want you to think that TV was my only inspiration. I also loved the magic I found in books (this was way before Harry Potter, but we still had some killer material available).
I’d been given a copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths when I was in first grade. I loved the stories of Circe and Medea, abbreviated as they were, and I really loved the stories of the Deities of Olympus. Especially the Goddesses. But those darn mythology books didn’t spell out (no pun intended) the incantations Medea and Circe used to get the desired results. I knew there was a missing piece of the puzzle somewhere.
So I just followed the advice I’d gotten from teachers and my parents when I had a question about how something really worked: I went to the library to get a book. (Neither my teachers nor parents, by the way, would have given me that advice if I’d asked them how I could become a Witch. It would have been straight to one of the parish priests for a lecture on Hell).
But all I found for those first few years were tomes that paraphrased and dissected medieval magic. It seemed as if the only ways for me to work real magic would be to either get myself a whole heap of expensive tools like magic swords and silk robes, or else make a bargain with the Devil. Still, I kept checking the shelves in the musty old back room, second floor, of the library, where the Dewey decimals for occult non-fiction had ended up. I was always hoping that I might find something that would open up new opportunities for me.
Then a few years later, when I was 13, opportunity knocked. I happened to stumble upon a newly-arrived book in the library that changed my whole view of things. It was called “Heather, Confessions of a Witch” by Hans Holzer. After reading a few chapters, you could have heard my jaw hit the ground all the way in China.
There were people who worshipped the Gods! My old friends, the Gods, as I’d come to love them through D’Aulaire and countless other books on mythology which I’d studied. And they called themselves Witches! I must have renewed that book for a solid month while I copied down everything inside that seemed to have to do with Wicca. For a wonder, much of the information was accurate. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have stumbled onto something that informative back then.
So I wrote down all of the chants and invocations in the book, along with directions for casting a circle and the few other rites Holzer details. This was something I could do!
Yeah, they had a few special tools. Well, what magician or sorceress worth their salt doesn’t have a few special tools? But they were easy to get. I already had an incense burner, and permission from my parents to use it upstairs in my bedroom as long as I was careful and didn’t burn too much of it. (Of course they wouldn’t have been so blasé if they’d known that other kids my age were using incense to cover up the smell of something else they were burning in their bedrooms.) .
The other tools proved fairly easy to obtain from local dime stores (stout black-handled knife, yarn for the cords, candles) or our own house (stemmed juice glass for the chalice, which no one missed because we never broke out the stemmed juice glasses). And hey, no need to make my own robes. They did this stuff naked! Certainly a blessing for my very limited adolescent budget.
Great Rite? Well, I just leafed past those sections of the book. I mean, I was alone anyway, although no one called it being “solitary” back then. I suppose I could have done what any other teenage boy would have done if he was by himself (although I don’t think most of them would have chanted “Eko, Eko, Azarak” while doing it) but that seemed to be going a bit far. I was more interested in the ceremonial part of the rituals anyway. That’s where the really cool stuff could happen.
OK, so maybe at that point I could have used a teacher to give me a reality check on the phrase “really cool” before I dismissed the whole Great Rite. Let’s just say I’ve since learned to give it its proper due.
In the meantime, I started keeping the Sabbats as best I could during the time I could steal away for myself. It wasn’t very easy, because I shared a room with my brother (who by this time didn’t even bat an eyelash if he heard me muttering an incantation under my breath, but who certainly would have batted me if I woke him up chanting “Darksome night and shining moon…” at the stroke of midnight). So I had to do it fairly quickly in the “me” time I was allowed to have in our room between dinner and lights out. After a few tries, I became very comfortable with the basics of casting a circle, calling the quarters, and dismissing the circle.
Needless to say, the Sabbats were sometimes pretty hurried. But I kept them nonetheless. Even if they happened to fall on a Sunday, meaning the ceremony came just a few hours after I attended Church with my family. Oh yes. I knew I had to keep it all under cover. My parents would have rushed me off to the deprogrammers in a heartbeat if they’d known what I was doing in my spare time.
Over the next couple of years, I was given leave to go explore the Big City by myself occasionally. Cleveland wasn’t 100 percent safe, but back then a teenager could walk down the street during the day without getting hassled unless they went to the really bad neighborhoods. It was during those explorations that I found Summerland on Earth: it was a New Age bookstore right in one of the historic arcades.
And it was thanks to this store, and the very dedicated owner/operator who wanted to make sure that his merchandise gave a reasonable representation of different philosophies and paths, that I came to gain such a wonderfully diverse background. He was always ready to help out a budding scholar in Ways of the Wise.
Key of Solomon? No problem. Right there next to the Golden Dawn stuff. More on Wicca and Witchcraft? Try Paul Huson (“Mastering Witchcraft”, which takes an admittedly eclectic view of the Craft, combining it with some good old fashioned hedge Witchery and some of the more ceremonial aspects of Elizabethan magic and Frances Bartlett). And here’s something by Sybil Leek. (“The Complete Art of Witchcraft”, which contained some of the most beautiful prayers to the Lady I’ve seen to date). Aleister Crowley? Well, yeah I have his stuff, but… maybe you should wait on that one a bit. Of course, I was also able to get Lady Sheba’s grimoire at the store. It backed up most of the elements from the Gardnerian tradition I gleaned from Holzer’s book.
It was also here that I first stumbled across Dion Fortune’s work. I fell in love with “The Sea Priestess” when I was still a sophomore in high school. And only a few years later, I was re-creating the invocation of Isis from the book’s climax as part of my own third-degree initiation, along with the blessing and help of a group I’d met in college. And because I was so inspired by the main character in the book, during the initiation I took Morgan as my craft name. (Stop laughing. This was a couple of years before “Mists of Avalon” came out, and if I’d know then that I’d eventually have to share the name with 80,000 other Witches along the Eastern Seaboard, I would have picked something different...)
It was only much later that I learned many of the people in Craft disparaged Fortune’s work, in part because she had written some material which quite understandably is considered racist in our day and age. I myself was pretty appalled when I read some of her other books.
So I have to wonder now: If I’d been working with a Craft teacher at the time, would Fortune’s reputation have preceded her? Would I have been told to avoid her work or, worse yet, not told about it at all?
Would that same Craft teacher have looked at Holzer’s book as exploitative (well, it did seem to me the Great Rite was happening quite a bit), tossed out Huson’s book as being too ceremonially-oriented, and just been lukewarm about Leek’s approach? If I’d been getting instructions from a teacher rather than learning as I went along, would I have been given a very specific and short list of reading materials?
For that matter, since I’m gay, would a Craft teacher have been willing to work with me at all back then, or would the “there must be polarity between male and female in the coven” tenet have slammed the door shut in my face?
I can hear some of the protests. That wouldn’t happen. Any good teacher would be willing to expose you to a variety of traditions, or at least not object if you decided to explore them on your own. And they wouldn’t discriminate against your sexual orientation. Your personal life is your business.
Ah, but this is now. Things are much more open in the community now and, Witch Wars and coven feuds aside, there is simply much more talk about and knowledge of the existence of other trads. (Whether that talk is accurate and fair depends on the temperament and humility of the talker) . There is also much more acceptance of the lesbian and gay community, much of it due to the hard and devoted work of Dianic Witches.
Remember, back when I was coming into my own Craft-wise, most of the trads were variations on a theme originally written by Gerald Gardner. Unless you lived in New York or California, you were pretty much stuck with that.
Here’s a way to bring home the vast differences between the time when I learned the Craft, and the present day. When I was in my teens, the Great Rite was still considered a Great Idea in many covens. Now, with AIDS and the awareness of other STDs, things have changed somewhat.
That, in a nutshell, is my assessment of the gap between what was acceptable in the Craft during my youth and where we stand now. There’s a world of difference, and thankfully, there is also a world of possibilities which didn’t really exist when I was coming of age. I was fortunate to find as much variety as I did in our local bookstore. Now, I can walk into any mega-bookstore and find nearly as much variety, and what they don’t have they can order. Not to mention what I can find on Amazon-dot-com.
Don’t think I’m oblivious about what those companies have done to places like the little bookstore where I bought so many of the books which fostered my growth in the Craft. I’m still sad when I think about the empty space in the arcade where that store used to be. It’s been many, many years since I even went down to that arcade when I return home, but I keenly remember seeing the empty store and feeling a sense of deep personal loss the last time around.
Which brings me to my final thought. It’s true that I didn’t have a formal Craft teacher, but I had many teachers who helped me become strong in the Craft.
The owner of that bookstore was one of them. He was always friendly and willing to give more than the time of day to a scrawny kid from the ‘burbs who kept wandering in to bug him. He was also genuinely interested in serving a wide variety of needs. I learned a lot just by the way he interacted with me and the other customers.
My greatest teachers were my parents. They taught me the basics of right-and-wrong, which I have found myself using quite frequently in deciding what to do and how to do it in the Craft as well as in other aspects of my life. But they also taught me to keep exploring, to never say never, and to always believe in myself. These are lessons that are truly important for every Witch!
My pets have also taught me. They have taught me the responsibility that comes when another living being is entrusted to one’s care, and the great joy of simply BEING without worrying about every little detail of life.
From one of my closest friends, who has become a brother-of-my-heart, I learned what it means to give without expecting anything in return. For a few years it meant virtually supporting him when he went through a prolonged rough patch, covering his share of the rent, utilities and sometimes even food for much of the time we lived together. We weren’t lovers, so it’s not as if there was an exchange of that sort occurring. I literally was supporting him. But giving is who I am, or rather, who I became thanks to him. It never occurred to me to say no. Isn’t developing the ability to give without reserve or resentment something that brings me closer to Goddess? Through Her, he became my teacher in a very special way.
Look around! Whether you believe in formal Craft training or not, you have teachers everywhere. Maybe they aren’t teaching you how to find east when you’re casting a circle in the in middle of the woods, or how to tell the difference between hemlock and Queen Anne’s Lace, or that you cannot use the “light as a feather stiff as a board” trick from “The Craft” to levitate your dead car off the cinderblocks in the front yard when the neighbors complain.
Maybe it’s because the Gods feel you have more important lessons to learn.
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