Let’s go ahead and just speak frankly for a minute, because I’ve been drinking wine and Jon Snow might be dead and I figure there’s not a lot to lose at this point. If you’re my mom, please reconsider reading any of this. Seriously. I’m doing you a favor.
I got off the phone with one of my Craft sisters earlier this evening, and we got to talking about how we came to Gardnerian Craft. Not the stuff about reading books and “coming home” and blah blah blah, but the dirty, hair-pulling, sobbing-alone-on-the-bathroom-floor kind of stuff. The stuff people don’t want to talk about because it’s just awful.
I reached out to a group of Gardnerians one summer, lifetimes ago, from a hostel in Paris, France. I knew about Gardnerian Craft, of course. I’d been studying Wicca and practicing it as best I could alone for more than a decade. I’d scoured all of the books you could find at Barnes & Noble, been to festivals, participated in other kinds of covens, and had a bulleted list of things to Have In Place before really beginning to seek the tradition that I wanted. For a long time I was too young. Then I wanted to explore other options. Then I was busy with school. Then I didn’t have any contacts.
And then I was in a horrific relationship that almost destroyed me.
It’s weird talking about it now, like it happened to someone else who doesn’t exist anymore. For a long time I couldn’t talk about it, and now when I do it’s like I can’t believe the words that are coming out of my own mouth. I tell these short anecdotes, peppered with ironic laughter and gulps of wine, and it takes a minute to realize that my girlfriends are staring back at me with open mouths and looks of absolute horror. Who is this girl in the story, so unlike our friend, our high priestess? The woman with the bow and ax who surely would never allow herself to be so…victimized.
I was in Paris in the summer of 2011 because I was running away. City of Love, City of Art, City of Salvation, City of Getting the Hell Out and Disappearing.
No one could get to me in Paris.
I could get lost in a place that carried the weight of incredible history, a faceless girl wandering in the din of a language I only understood well enough to know how to get around and when I was being insulted or flirted with.
I brought my guitar. I played in pubs and metro stations. I read cards with a French copy of the Rider-Waite for the other English speakers in the hostel. I filled a blank book at the feet of Joan of Arc, in the cathedral of Notre Dame.
And I cried and drank a lot.
I’m not sure what happened.
I remember exhaling out of my window into an alley, and realizing that I was as free as I’d ever been. Now that he was gone—and I was no longer on the floor—I could do anything. I’d already almost died. I’d already hopped a plane to Europe. Why not just see?
I’d been away from Craft for three years. He had me convinced that I was stupid. That I was wrong. That I really belonged somewhere else. That I didn’t belong anywhere.
I used my roommate’s laptop to search for Gardnerians back home (Could it be home again? Was it ever?). I found a listing on Witchvox, but it said they weren’t taking students and not to bother. I e-mailed them anyway.
I told them everything. I told them I might be crazy. I told them I would wait. I told them I just wanted a chance.
I sent it off and turned on the computer’s camera and recorded my first YouTube vlog. Why not document everything?
It’s only been since 2011, but it feels like eternities. That girl is gone, dead just like she wanted in the first place. But not on a bathroom floor.
It was weird, retelling my story to my sister earlier tonight. I spent a lot of time studying evangelical conversion narratives in grad school, and I realize that my own isn’t much different. Except my gods didn’t appear to me and offer me redemption. I had to seek them out and build it myself, relying on people I’ve come to love as much as anyone I’m related to by blood.
I was initiated later that year.
I screwed up a lot on the way to third. I still screw up.
It’s hard running a coven alone, especially after training with a happily coupled high priestess and priest. It’s hard watching Craft siblings—people I love—falter and leave when things don’t go as planned. It’s hard negotiating the space between Lady Thorn of the Wica and just plain Thorn, who’d rather be friends than be in charge of anything. It’s hard feeling the weight of something heavy like tradition, especially in a wider community that thinks we’re irrelevant, or even on our way to extinction. It’s all on the Internet anyway, they say. It’s all just made up.
But I know different.
I found it in Paris (and I still wear a St. Joan medallion alongside of my coven necklace).
I found it in that moment when I traded my life for something incredible—something worth all of those hard times. Those hard times that are stones under my feet compared to the suffering of the three years before. I’ve got scars from both periods, and everyone can see them.
But it doesn’t matter, because I have the love of my family and the honor that comes with serving my gods.