Wednesday, January 24, 2001: “I started a coven of witchs and I was voted head witch!! Now we have 6 members and to top it off we need more spells to try out. There are so many ?’s like whats bellodonna? Or where do you find a cauldron? Or get an hardcover black book with empty pages? So many ?’s & so little answers. But we are trying.” —Ashleigh Smiley, age 10.
At age 27, I know the answers: Leading a coven is hard. Atropa Belladonna is commonly called Deadly Nightshade. Cauldrons can be found online, in antique and thrift stores, through Pagan emporiums, and even sometimes in the gardening section of your local Target. A Book of Shadows can be whatever you like, but covering a journal with black paper is easy enough.
Poor little witch… She did try.
At least two short-lived covens or “witch clubs,” before middle school; an attempt at an online tween-Pagan network; and finally, co-founding a high school coven (Circle of Silver Light), which survived until the first member went off to college.
Circle of Silver Light was composed of three members, and at 14, I was the baby. My coven sisters were 15 and 16, respectively. We gathered together, for Sabbats and sleepovers, as teenaged girls do.
There wasn’t much in the way of “community” for our little group. Everything we knew of greater Pagan Culture came from a motley collection of Myspace gifs, books, and Whatever-was-online at the time.
Freewebs were the rage. WitchVox was a vital resource. Facebook wasn’t quite there yet.
Around my sophomore year of high school, that changed. Yahoo Groups were a thing, then, and through them, my coven sister found Sacred Birch Society (SBS).
SBS was (as I cannot find a current web presence, I assume, now defunct) a collection of Pagan folks living near Lapeer, Michigan. Not a coven, per-say, SBS met at parks and rented out Masonic Temples to celebrate Sabbats.
Ostara, circa 2006, was my first experience of inter-generational Pagan Community. There were adults, of course. Elders, even. But more intriguing still, were the children.
I volunteered to help the little ones decoupage plastic eggs, which held their intentions for the Spring. Sitting there, doing magick with toddlers and elementary schoolers, I felt a particular sense of wonder.
I had lied to my family, to go to that Ostara. I had lied by omission to SBS, about my age, in order to attend. I had lied… to experience Community.
Community with a capital “C.”
And… I was hooked.
I began to babysit for a Pagan family with two young children. I told my guardians that I had met them through a babysitting referral program at school. This was a lie.
This family had a small clay Goddess figure on their kitchen windowsill, just above the sink. The little girl had a stuffed Goddess doll that she slept with at night, and a chunk of amethyst which she called her “monster rock,” charged to keep the bump-in-the-nights at bay.
These small tokens of “Paganess,” held tremendous meaning. They were beacons of hope, for a future I could only imagine.
At the Winter Solstice, we exchanged gifts. There were little silver bells in their tree, which rang when fairies passed by, and Mrs. Claus came on Solstice Eve, to take outgrown toys to less fortunate children.
I stopped lying to my blood relations about how I knew these people. I told them about the youth play I had written, to be performed at the SBS Yule gathering. My grandmother read the play, told me it was good, then forbade me from attending.
Almost a decade later, in 2015, I wrote another Yule pageant. This time, it was performed under the banner of Circle Sanctuary, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, for 200 people.
It is amazing what changes time brings.
This year, for the first time, I will not be spending Christmas with my blood family. Not out of some act of rebellion, but rather, because I am making a family of my own. One of my partners, has a child (let’s call them Munchkin), and so, I have a child now, too.
Above Munchkin’s bed, is a fairy door, with a small shelf serving as the balcony. Perched on either side of the doorway, are carved stone animals: an onyx lion and a goldstone tiger. Every night, after the lullaby, Munchkin talks to “the kitties.” Munchkin tells the Banishing Kitty to take the bad dreams away and asks the Summoning Kitty to bring good dreams instead.
This winter will be the first “Yule,” for Munchkin, just as this past Halloween was Munchkin’s first Samhain. I’m nervous and excited to be teaching them about Pagan traditions.
Saturday, December 16th, I will be participating in Circle Sanctuary’s Yule celebration; not as a staff person, but as a volunteer. My partners will not be with me. Munchkin will be with their birth mother. But, I will be with my Community, and that is blessing enough.
The Pagan Community is so much vaster than I ever imagined as a child. The same weekend as Circle’s Yule, I have been invited to attend four other Yule celebrations, both public and private, including the Sweetwood Temenos and Deeply Rooted. Juggling family and work, it was definitely difficult, deciding how far to drive and who to spend time with, and I’m looking forward to exploring these gatherings in the years to come.
I’m fortunate to live in the midst of thriving Pagan groups and friendly solitary practitioners. I know, too, that this good fortune is not universal.
If you’re living in a place without that Great Big Pagan Community, please know this: you are loved and wanted in places you have yet to travel.
Maybe there are other folks like you in your neck of the woods, just waiting to be discovered. Maybe, put up a “Happy Solstice,” sign on your door, and see what magick unfolds. Witchvox is still one of the best resources Pagans in rural and conservative areas have to find one another (I also welcome emails and would love to help).
As to Yules in the future… I am hopeful, that they are merry and bright. I envision Yule logs blazing, with enough room around the hearth for everyone. I dream of interfaith gatherings, where Christians, Pagans, and more, eat and laugh together, seeing the Divine manifested in one another. I picture our Pagan Community growing, leaving behind that word, “minority,” in favor of “extraordinary.”
Each of us has our part to play, in creating such a holiday season; in taking Community to its next level.
So, for now, let’s sip some cider by the fire (or LED votive candle, I don’t judge), and enjoy what we have… After all, Winter is the season of incubation; and as the days lengthen, we will Spring into action, creating all that we have dreamed.