Seven years ago today I moved to California from the frozen tundra of Michigan. The day after we landed my wife and I went for a walk near our apartment and were delighted to find flowers in bloom, green growing things, and sunshine. Five days before landing in our new home we had been snowed in at my father’s house . . . . .
I’ve been doing the Witchcraft thing for about twenty-five years now, and when I look back it’s easy to see that there were several distinct stages along the way. Some of them I look back on with sadness and regret, but mostly I acknowledge that they were all needed to get me to where I am today.
Solitary (What the Hell Am I Doing?)
My first five years as a Witch were spent as a solitary. Periodically I’d stumble into someone who would hint at being involved in Paganism or the occult, but it never evolved into a shared practice, or even several shared cups of coffee discussing all things esoteric. Though I did not like the loneliness that marked my solitary years, it did provide a strong foundation for what was to come.
I remember my magick working (and often being a bit selfish), finding the Goddess, and for the first time in my life, truly appreciating the Turn of the Wheel. There was also a lot of reading, probably too much reading if you want to know the truth. Books and magazines (this was a moment in time when one could still find Pagan magazines, and they were in big bookstores and places like Tower Records) were my connection to a larger Pagan world, one I probably overly romanticized.
I even went to a Pagan festival in my solitary days. I drove four hours to a small gathering in Ohio where I didn’t really talk to anyone (and no one really talked to me) and mostly read a Terry Goodkind novel in my car.
Witchling! Proud Pagan! Still Don’t Know What I’m Doing
My solitary years ended when I joined a Pagan student group at Michigan State University called Green Spiral. Because I was a few years older than most of the people in that group, I often found myself leading and writing ritual, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. Those years were so formative, that many of the people I met during those days are still a part of my life twenty years later. (And one of them is my wife Ari.)
Though these were mostly good times, looking back, they were also stupid times. I was probably a better “Party Pagan” than an active practicing Witch. There were a lot of powerful rituals during this time, but there was a lot less magick than there should have been. (I should have been doing more stuff.) Instead I was far more interested in beer and sex, which are magickal in their own way, but there should have been a better balance between things.
It was also a time of spiritual dabbling, which is something one can do in the Pagan Community pretty easily and without a lot of judgements. I participated in Druid rituals, and Thelemic ones in addition to my semi-regular Witch stuff. These experiences set my preferences going forward into the future when it comes to ritual. I also began to feel the call of specific deities during those period, most notably the Greek God Pan, but also the Irish-Celtic Brigit, and the Gallic Cernunnos.
A Witch Who Doesn’t Witch
College towns are great for several reasons. They are generally liberal, people from all over the country show up in them, and they have a lot of cultural opportunities. On the downside, they are also very transient areas, with people coming and going, and graduating and moving on towards greener pastures. After a pretty good run in my “Proud Pagan, Still Don’t Know What I’m Doing” stage my best friends had all moved away. Within four years of getting married all of my groomsmen were living somewhere else.
We had a nice community of Pagans during this period of my life, but we didn’t really practice together. We got together for social events and one huge blowout every year at Beltane, but we were mostly going our own ways. A lot of my friends became Druids, while Ari and I started working with a British Traditional Witchcraft coven. We didn’t stick with that coven, but we’d come back to it later on. We also tried to put together circles and rituals during this period of time, but it never quite stuck for whatever reason.
There were good things that happened during this phase of my life. I became an initiate, but because our coven was very small we didn’t get to practice as much as we would have liked. There were other issues too, I was a lousy husband for several years, and Ari was actively involved in bellydance (along with working a full-time job and putting up with me) and there’s sometimes not enough time for everything.
Scott Cunningham wrote something in his one of his books along the lines of “practice Witchcraft everyday, and reading about it doesn’t count.” For much of my life as a Witch I’ve forgotten this maxim, and very much so during this particular period of time. I read a lot about Witchcraft and Paganism during this phase, but reading isn’t practice, and looking back on things I’m saddened by what I could have accomplished if I’d just worked a little harder.
If you thought this piece was about how moving to California fixed all of those problems, you’d be wrong. Our first year out here was one of the hardest of our lives. We had no money, very little in the way of everyday friends, and adrift when it came to rituals and groups. One thing that did improve tremendously was our marriage. We were told when we moved that we’d probably hit a rough patch just because we’d most likely be together all the time, instead that drew us closer together, and by the end of that first year the clouds were starting to part.
Putting It All Together
After our first year in the California Wilderness we moved into a small house in a different town from the one we had been living in. Because we now had a house we started inviting people over for ritual, within ten months that circle had become a coven. That coven allowed us to take everything we’d learned over the years and actually implement it in rituals.
Our group had a few months of very eclectic circles, until it became apparent to me that the system that worked the best (at least for me and us) was the one we had learned in British Traditional Witchcraft (in Outer Court). This revelation led to us wanting to further our Craft along that path, and over the next few years we were elevated and eventually began our own initiate-only coven. This opened up a wider-Witch world to me and has strengthened relationships both mortal and divine.
Actually doing shit also resulted in another thing: I suddenly had things to write about. I began writing here at Patheos Pagan, first at our shared blog Agora, and then on this here blog. Writing with regularity eventually led me to become less crappy at it, and I was approached by Llewellyn to write a book. I then began approaching them to write more books, and surprisingly they’ve been very agreeable in that department. (The Witch’s Altar co-written with Laura Tempest Zakroff, comes out this November, and another one written just by me early next year.) There would be no writing without my actual practice.
California’s Bay Area is full of Pagan things, and there’s always an open ritual or two within an hour’s drive every month. I began going to a lot of these, which was another learning experience. There is so much to be learned from watching other people facilitate rituals, and a “bad ritual” is an even better learning opportunity than a good one!
Looking back I feel that there were a lot of missed opportunities, but I probably wouldn’t change very much. A lot of who we are is the sum result of our interactions and our experiences, and it’s those things that have turned me into the Witch I am today. And I’m mostly happy with who I am. I’m a bit too thin-skinned to be a Public Pagan sometimes, but I love my covens and my practice fiercely, and writing has opened up all sorts of new historical rabbit-holes to jump into. I also have the best working partner any Witch could have. It’s been a long, winding, and sometimes crooked path, but it got me where I needed to be.