Over on the Starlight Witch blog, Astrea has an interesting piece titled Kiddie Witchcraft: Witchy Things We Did As Kids. I never played “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” or “Bloody Mary” but I broke plenty of wishbones, got a few dimes and quarters from the Tooth Fairy, and looked for four leaf clovers (though I don’t remember ever finding any). And of course, I loved Halloween.
Two years ago I wrote about Paganism as an Orientation and I wondered how I ended up Pagan. It’s not uncommon for people to change religions, but they usually do so from one version of the same religion to another. Why didn’t I become an Episcopalian or a UU Christian? Or, given my rationality and skepticism, why did I never even consider becoming an atheist? I’m convinced I have a Pagan orientation – it’s part of who and what I am.
And there were early signs I was headed in this direction.
Trying to practice magic
I knew the magic I saw on TV wasn’t real. But I figured there had to be some truth behind it. And while everyone I knew assumed witchcraft was powered by the devil, there were plenty of mainstream shows and books discussing psychic phenomena in a rational manner.
I remember trying to move things with my mind – I never got anywhere with it. I tried to mix potions made from various plants. They also never did anything, helpful or harmful.
The lack of quick, dramatic results caused me to give up on this fairly quickly.
Attempts at divination
I tried everything I could think of to see the future. Scrying. Bibliomancy. Signs in Nature. The local Baptists thought astrology was “of the devil” but signs and omens were “a gift from God.” If I ever hit on anything I don’t remember it, which means I probably didn’t.
And then there was the time I was snooping in my older brother’s room and found his Tarot cards. I tried to read them using the little white book – I got nothing. Once I became Pagan I got my own cards, but it would take years of practice and two in-person classes before I got competent at reading them.
I grew up near a small city but far enough away that the skies were fairly dark. I could see hundreds of stars on a clear night, as opposed to the couple dozen I can see here in suburban North Texas. And of course, I could see the clouds during the day. Interestingly, I never paid much attention to the moon.
But I loved the stars. I looked at them with a combination of scientific curiosity and religious awe – the universe is so big, and we are so small. And yet, here we are, contemplating it all.
That feeling has never changed.
Unlike the spells and potions I tried, this actually worked – and dramatically so. I just didn’t have the context to recognize it as magic.
The playground of my kindergarten had the usual set of equipment, including a “jungle gym,” a cube of steel pipes for climbing on (do they still have those or have insurance companies outlawed them?). I climbed on it like all the other kids, but I was afraid to go higher than the first rung – I was afraid of heights. I didn’t like being afraid of heights, but I was.
Then one night I had a dream where I climbed to the top. The next day at recess, I calmly climbed all the way to the top of the jungle gym and sat on the top rung. I knew I could do it, because I had seen myself do it in my dream.
I’ve always remembered that, but it took a long time before I found out I could use conscious, intentional visualization to do the same thing.
Looking for arcane books and knowledgeI’ve always loved books. I’ve always seen books as wealth. And I’ve always known that some books are special: they’re sacred, or they’re dangerous, or both. I’ve always wanted to acquire as many of those as possible.
I’m envious of the generation that learned witchcraft and Paganism from the well-stocked shelves of Barnes & Noble. I had Gateway Books at Eastgate Mall, an independent store about the size of a Waldenbooks. For those too young to remember any of that, it was small. There was no “alternative religions” section. And even if there had been such a section, there would have been very few books to fill it in the early 1970s.
I looked through all the books I could find on psychic development, paranormal phenomena, and anything of the sort. I never found anything worth spending my very limited allowance on.
I read horror and science fiction instead. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it kept the dream alive.
A love of the woods
The “about the author” section of this blog and in my books says
I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God.
When I was bored, the woods had something new to discover. When I was angry, the woods were a place where I could say all the things I wasn’t allowed to say at home or in school. The woods were where I could get away from everyone, where I could dream and plan.
Where I am today – especially what I write about here – is a direct result of those dreams and plans.
Magic in the woods
All I knew about Gods and spirits was what I had been taught at the Baptist church. Which is to say, not much and mostly wrong. I had no context for the variety of spiritual persons that now fill my life. But I’m convinced they were there.
That voice just behind my head, or in some cases hidden in the trees and brush, whispering to keep going, that things would get better, that there was more to life? I’m convinced that was Cernunnos.
Was He moved by compassion? Did He see the potential for a future priest? I don’t know. If He had shown Himself to me as He did when I was much older I would have run away in fear. So He quietly said what needed to be said, and then reintroduced Himself when I was ready to see Him.
Some persons in the woods were scary. I assumed they were angry ghosts, or perhaps demons. While some of them probably were ghosts, I now think others were the Fair Folk. I left them alone and they left me alone.
And the magic wasn’t just the persons in the woods, it was the woods themselves. There was always something new and strange just over the next hill. There were times when I found something truly extraordinary one day, but then could never find it again. I assumed I just couldn’t remember the way, but I now think I may have wandered into the Otherworld, or at least into a liminal zone “neither here nor there.” I’m less certain about this than I am about the other stuff, but I think it’s likely.
A Druid, not a witch
I always wanted to be a witch. I saw witches in movies, books, and folklore. Witches had power, and as a child I had very little power of my own. When I finally learned the reality behind the fiction I tried to become a witch, but it didn’t work. I’m a magician who often plays in the witchcraft sandbox, but I’m not a witch.
But when I first picked up a book on Druidry – after eight years of dabbling – something clicked. This is what I was supposed to be. And now this is what I am.
Looking back, it all makes sense: the magic (both the successes and the failures), the search for knowledge and wisdom, and the love of Nature.
My childhood foreshadowed my Druidry.