On Coming Home to Witchcraft

I call myself a witch. This isn’t something that I talk about much, even on the internet where I tend to share a lot. And that’s mostly because it’s hard to talk about. For one, it is, in part, nothing more than an aesthetic choice. I read tarot cards! I grow medicinal plants! I keep a fair amount of bones and rocks around! So “witch” feels like an obvious catch-all term. That label is kind of loaded, though, so I sometimes keep quiet about it. People have their own notions about what makes a witch, and I don’t always have the energy or desire to sift through the stereotypes. This can also be a little difficult to talk about because I’m not willing to share all of my beliefs with everyone I know (some things even I like to keep close, believe it or not). What I’m willing to write about I couldn’t explain in a single blog post, or even in a book. I want to start detangling this, though, starting with a few threads of my childhood and how they led to a practice that I call witchcraft. It might help explain where I’m coming from, and make way for some writing that digs deeper into my beliefs on witchcraft, if I decide I want to share.

As a kid, the way I interacted with my environment was very witch-like. I left offerings for what I called fairies but were something closer to tree spirits. I talked to plants. (Quietly, where no one could see or hear. I was self-aware enough to know that it would get me side-eyed.) My friends and I made flower crowns and coronated ourselves queens of the forest. My favorite times of day were dawn and dusk. I didn’t know the word “liminal,” but I knew the quality that attracted me, that in-between time when the light and shadow makes things seem different than they are. I read every bit of folklore I could get my hands on, and I spent hours turning these stories over in my head. My dreams were always vivid and I took them seriously. I never named this as witchcraft, though, and I, a good Christian girl, would have been horrified if anyone called it that. This was just the way I moved through the world.

I also grew up going to church. My family hopped denominations quite a bit, but we were Catholic during the time that I was old enough for church to be noticeably impressionable. At the time, there were things I loved about Catholicism. It didn’t shy away from its mysteries. The Church took its magic seriously, and I appreciated that. I loved going to divine adoration, sitting in front of the eucharist in its halo of gold. (Honestly, what a pagan thing, paying homage to a piece of bread that is also, truly, the body of God.) There was also a strong sense of ritual. The mass is a deeply physical thing and I loved being a part of it. Standing and sitting and kneeling. Thick incense. Heavy robes. Dark wine. The physicality of the mass, the way it set off all my senses, was electrifying.

I don’t want this to be a post about why I left the Catholic Church. It happened a long time ago. Mostly, I grew up, started to think more for myself, and came to disagree, strongly, with a a lot of the Church’s social and theological beliefs. But I was bristling long before that break happened. I spent years angry that I couldn’t become a priest, that the option wasn’t open to me. I felt like I was always up against a locked door. I wanted to be a part of the mass in a way that wasn’t allowed for me. I was an altar server, something that the more puritan members of the church already had a problem with. And I liked it okay. But even though it got me closer to the magic, it still kept me on the literal sidelines. It wasn’t enough. What I really wanted, though I wouldn’t even admit it to myself, was to have the option of priesthood open to me. I wanted the possibility of being a conduit for the magic and mystery of the Eucharist. But I was, obviously, barred from that particular magic and my ego didn’t like it.

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I don’t remember any point where I consciously decided that witchcraft was a thing that I did. After I left the Catholic Church, there was some time where I really didn’t have any significant spiritual practice in my life. I know that works for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I eventually drifted back to the kinds of things I did when I was a child. It felt more natural than maybe anything I’ve ever done. Less a learning and more a remembering. There’s more structure now, though, because I’ve pulled my love of ritual into these ideas. It’s easy to call it a practice because there’s so much intention wrapped up in it. Most of the time it doesn’t feel complicated, though. I have a small altar. I grow plants. I read cards. I put my hands in the dirt. There are parts of it that are more difficult to explain and parts of it that I won’t explain, but at its root it’s a simple and physical practice. And it’s mine.