I have yet to come up with a succinct Witch “origin story.”
You know, one of those quick “and that was the exact moment I knew I was a Witch” or “how I found my path in 300 words or less.” It makes me a bit uncomfortable because for some unknown reason, I feel like I should be able to spit it out in a sentence, or pinpoint one moment in time.
And I have been reminded of this a lot in the last few weeks on tour, as multiple people have asked me about it – oh and we’ve got writing prompts this month (which is a great idea) at the Pword channel here on Patheos – and the first one is “how did you find your path?” (Technically I’m posting this after the deadline…sorry Jason.)
I’ve talked about the evolution of my path several times over the last two years, and on various podcasts (including the latest episode of Down at the Crossroads – check it out!), and you would think all of that writing and talking would help codify that origin story into a neat little format. I feel like it has had the opposite effect. Like, instead, I’m even more aware of all of the MANY factors that have contributed to this path.
The first witch I remember seeing in popular media?
Mommy Fortuna from The Last Unicorn. I watched that movie on repeat, probably driving everyone in my family crazy. I found her both scary and fascinating. Her image has stayed in the back of my head for decades, bleeding through first when I called up the archetype of the crone for art reference.
The first culture that fueled exploration outside the Judeo-Christian model?
Egypt. I spent endless hours pouring over the Museums of the World reference book collection in my parents’ library, especially the ones focusing on Egypt, from first to third grade. I attended a summer camp at the shore library where the focus was on Egypt – and I internalized the myths, gods, and hieroglyphics. Around this time, I also read The Egypt Game – which involves a group of kids finding a replica bust of Nefertiti and they make a clubhouse temple for her and start to devise rituals devoted to her. (It was also the most culturally diverse cover I had seen up until that point in my life.)
I also was exposed to Native American imagery very early on. We would frequently fly to Arizona to visit my Aunt Milly and Uncle Paul. Aunt Milly was retired, childless, and taking up painting. I idolized her, and she and my uncle brought me to all sorts of interesting places in Arizona, showing me Kachinas, rugs, jewelry, pottery, and much more. That probably sparked my interest in prehistoric and Native American-inspired historical fiction – where the spirits, myths, and gods of the people were part of daily life.
Shells, Stones, & Bones
Spending my summers at the Jersey shore, and so I spent a lot of time occupying myself with shells and exploring sealife on the beach and in the marshes. Armed with a small illustrated guide to the seashells of the world, I developed a shell collecting habit, which led to me learning a lot about the life of mollusks and the diverse practices involving shells (commerce and trade, divination, decoration, etc). Stores and shows that would sell shells would also carry fossils, stones, and other crystals, so my love spread. I had quite the shell and rock collection (some of which I still have). I still love shells, though I can’t say I’m big on crystals/stonework – though I do find them pretty.
Wait, People Still Do This?
While I was quite familiar with Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and Native American mythology very early on, it didn’t really register in my brain that such practices (outside of the Native Americans) were still a thing. Reading The Mists of Avalon filled me with rage – over the loss of those cultures and the rise of patriarchal bullshit. (FYI: the Beltane scene is cemented in my head as an amazing moment.) Somehow from there, I discovered Neo-Paganism was a thing – and I acquired Drawing Down The Moon – the most serious-looking book in the witchy section at the local bookstore. I devoured it.
Connecting with Real P-words
But it’s one thing to read about Pagans or to talk to them online (#paganteahouse on IRC). I had yet to meet another one in “real life.” I don’t think I consciously met my first real Witch I could relate to until my freshman year of college. This pivotal point involved finding a Pagan magazine at the RISD bookstore. I was doing work-study there, and the guy in charge of the magazines told me that a fellow student published the magazine. I about died. He pointed her out one day, and I melted: she looked like she stepped out of a Klimt painting by way of Carpe Noctem magazine – tall with long dark curly hair with big dark eyes, swathed in layers of black. A few days later I managed to work up the courage to talk to her, and we hit it off. I got involved in the magazine, I founded a Pagan society at RISD after she graduated to find more folks, and the rest is history.
Looking back, I don’t think I found the path at any one point. It seems like I have been walking on it all along, with markers along the way.