For me Summer and Paganism are inter-connected in a very personal way. I was thirteen the first time I read about a “real Witch.” It was the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years and I had picked up Sybil Leek’s Cast Your Own Spell at my local library. I kind of find it hard to believe that Cast Your Own Spell was even available there back in 1986. It was book on real Witchcraft featuring a real Witch, and there it was in Gallatin Tennessee just outside of Nashville. The librarian didn’t even bat an eye when I checked it out (and neither did my father, gods bless him!).
I don’t remember very much about Leek’s book nearly thirty years later, just that there were spells in it and the mention of a “Triple Goddess.” At age thirteen I knew goddesses, but I didn’t know about The Goddess. I was a huge fan of Greek myth and had even muttered a few prayers to a some of the Olympians, but I never saw any of them as part of a greater whole. When Cast Your Own Spell was due to be returned one of the other books I had checked out that day turned up missing. I could sense my father getting agitated with my inability to find the lost book and in desperation I turned to the back of Cast Your Own Spell. Alone in my bedroom I read one of Leek’s incantations out loud.
I don’t remember the words of the spell only the words “O Triple Goddess.” Upon saying those words I felt a jolt of energy rush through me. My head immediately cleared and the desperation I felt instantly ceased. I walked over to my bed, crawled onto the floor and instantly found my lost book. It was awesome that the spell worked but what stuck with me the most was the feeling I got when invoking Her. It was the type of energy I had always imagined that I’d feel at church. It was old. It was powerful. It was also extremely frightening. I was happy to get that particular Witch book out of my house and back to the library.
It’s experiences like this one that sometimes make it hard for me to relate to my more atheist of Pagan brethren. Speaking the names of the gods results in things. Sometimes it’s an energy, other times I feel a presence beside me. As a more experienced Witchling I know when my gods have arrived whether inside the circle or not. The experiences aren’t always as dramatic as the one that happened to my much younger self, but I continue to have them, and they continue to shape me.
About a year and a half later I built a temple to Aphrodite in my ninth grade art class. It was nothing to look at, but as a mopey teenager it seemed like the best way to get a girlfriend. If you want to fall in love, I reasoned, best to leave offerings to the goddess of love in a portable temple. It didn’t work as intended, but it was a step in the right direction.
Religion is a strange beast. It’s generally thought of as a choice made for spiritual reasons, but I’m not sure that’s always the case. Judaism is as a religion as much as it is a cultural identity, same too with Catholicism in certain parts of the world. Some religions are chosen for economic and social reasons. My church in high school ended up with a few new members after we finished construction of our gymnasium. Some people have a genuine conversion experience, others adopt a particular faith because it “makes sense” to them. I’ve always felt like my religious choice wasn’t much of a choice at all, that I was continually being guided towards it by a higher power. I know how arrogant that sounds to write, but Goddess worship and Paganism just kept popping up in my life no matter how hard I tried to avoid them.
Two years after the Aphrodite temple-experiment my church youth group conducted a guided meditation during one of our weekly gatherings. I think the point of the meditation was to encounter Jesus, but it didn’t quite work out that way for me. At the end of my journey I came face to face with the Goddess (though at the time I thought of her as “Goddess like figure”). I remember that encounter in some detail. She wasn’t a Moon-Goddess that evening, but a Lady of Spring and early summer. She was also no Maiden, very much a full grown woman. She shined like the sun. It was serene. It was calm. It was awe-inspiring. It was scary. I decided to keep the experience to myself . . . . .I’ve made mention of fear a few times in this article, and it’s a word I’m using with a lot of thought. The Goddess was never scary, but the experience and its repercussions definitely were. I was a committed Christian when I first came face to face with Her, and seeing Her meant my reality was going to be changed forever. I had certain ideas about religion and truth, and here was this figure, this power, this Goddess, and it was very much upsetting the status quo. I was scared of Pan too when I met him . . . . . . Deity is far more wise and powerful than I will ever be, caution and trepidation often feel appropriate.
A few months after the meditation I remember another experience at my local United Methodist Church. It wasn’t as powerful as the first, but I sometimes still reflect on it. One of our counselors was talking about Witchcraft and the Devil and I interrupted him (or her, can’t remember which one was speaking) to say that Witches don’t worship the Devil but some sort of “Triple Goddess.” Anytime I said those two words together She became a part of my conscious thought for the next few weeks. It’s like remembering a friend and then having that memory linger for another month. So close, yet so far.
Four years later I had the moment. It came during The World Cup over a Fourth of July weekend and remains one of the defining experiences of my existance. After all of those early encounters and near misses I finally allowed Her to fully arrive in my life. I spoke to Her and She answered. I remember my first prayer to Her and the giant bolt of cosmic energy I felt while saying Her name. It was one of those things that felt so natural when I finally did it. I had finally acknowledged what I had known to be true all along. In hindsight I feel like a cliche from Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess:
And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.
I was never going to find Her without some sort of acknowledgement from within myself.
The picture* you see to your left I picked up within a year of that first prayer to Her. It was how I saw Her. Cosmic. Powerful. A part of all things. Her shawl is the night sky, the edge of her gown the waves. She’s the a part of the natural world, and in some ways is that world, and yet she can still be glimpsed when we all look just a little bit harder.
I sometimes get lost in the spell of The God’s horns and he’s often easier to relate to, but I stand here because of The Goddess. Without those early experiences decades ago I would have never come to walk this path. I am a child of the Great Mother, a devotee of you O Triple Goddess . . . . . .
*I got that picture as a poster. It was published shortly after I became a Pagan in 1994. The artist, Myles Pinkney, has lots of cool art on his website, but not that particular print. (At least I couldn’t find it.)