Over my 8 years in this witching business, a few special stories stand out in my memory. I wonder if sometimes the gods disguise themselves as my more interesting customers and come to confront me with some shadowy prejudice I still have. Do they offer me an initiatory test, the way the gods challenged the mythological heroes of old?
In my first year of business, I served someone who helped me learn the humble lessons of decency and responsibility when one is the first “real witch” a person meets…because you never know what personal challenges they may have, nor what misconceptions they are innocently holding.
The Hogwarts Disappointment
A young woman came into my shop by herself, and spent a fair few hours exploring all the witchy and metaphysical wares, asking questions, ooooing and ahhhhing over all the sparkling, mystical curiosities, and generally being sweet and pleasant. Eventually, she strikes up an animated conversation about some website she’s been reading, and all about these “amazing magic spells” she’s been trying. “Oh, yeah? What kind of spells?” I ask amicably.
“I’ve been practicing one to change my eye color to purple. I think it might have worked for just a second once, but I can’t get it to last very long. Would one of these crystals help me increase my power?” She asks as she gestures to the tumbled stone display. <okie dokie…sketchy website alert; need more intel>
I ask for the URL to this website, and bring it up on my shop computer. This was back in at least 2010, so my memory fails me as to the name, but it looked about as serious as a 13 year old girl’s myspace page, and read like a piece of fantasy fiction in the same genre of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. For the most part, it was just mystical mumbo-jumbo thrown in with glitter wishes and pictures of unicorns. “So, what do you think?” She eventually asks.
“I don’t think this website is going to be very useful for you in the long-run. If you’d like, I can recommend a few reputable resources of modern witchcraft that I’ve come to trust.” I grab a pen and paper, and turn back to her across the counter. She’s stopped dead in her tracks a few feet away, arms slack at her sides, face blank and staring at me like a doe caught in headlights.
“Wait…are you telling me that witchcraft is REAL?”
<<um…what? Sarcastic ShadowHeron wants desperately to gesture broadly at all these witchy things and just say, “NO, we devote our lives to selling this stuff because its all fake!” ResponsibleHeron shushes her naughty side and tries very hard to play nicely with others…>>
“Yes, though that depends on your definition of ‘real’ and the kind of ‘witchcraft’ you are looking for. The Modern Witchcraft tradition that I practice is a real thing, though I doubt you’ll find any spells to change your eye color. That sounds more like Hollywood magic, which is mostly just fantasy?”
She has now dropped everything she was carrying on the counter, and leaned in to clutch my edge of the glass with enormous, excited eyes. In a low rushed voice she asks, “Are you a REAL WITCH?”
<with trepidation> “Um…yes? I am as real a Witch as you are likely to find around here, anyway.”
With an energetic lunge into my personal space that had me reeling backward, her hands now clasped under her chin like a little kid about to ask a department store Santa Claus for a Red Rider BB Gun*, she practically shouts at me, “OH MY GOD DID YOU GO TO HOGWARTS!”
People, she was dead serious. I did take a moment to process the subtle information and carefully consider my next move, so her question hung in the air for some time before I answered. All my developing skills of straightfacery and subtle correction were in direct conflict with my overwhelming desire to burst out laughing, but I managed to collect myself just in time…
The innocent delight of childhood was standing on a cruel threshold of an adult reality smackdown. Do I have to be that cruel taskmaster of truth? Yet, this young woman was at least 18, out here on her own shopping in a REAL occult shop, and dabbling in questionable “magic” already. A witch ‘s gotta do, what a witch ‘s gotta do…
So I softened my demeanor and leaned back in, I touched her outstretched arm gently, and with my most motherly voice, said “Oh sweetheart, I really wish I did. I’m a huge fan of those books, too! If Harry Potter was a true story, I’d be the very first person to camp out on the steps of Hogwarts until they let me in! However, I’m afraid that those books aren’t about my kind of “real witchcraft” at all; they are works of fiction written by a Christian woman (as far as I know) within a Christian world-view of good vs. evil. I’m referring to a modern nature-centered religion, that has a very different kind of natural magick.”
As I spoke, she slowly retracted backward across the counter, eyes sad, her previous smile now flattened and lips now quivering just a little as she asked, “So nothing in the books is real?”
“There are many real and helpful lessons in those books that are the same in Modern Witchcraft, like taking personal responsibility for yourself, and the power of Love to overcome all evil! But no, there is no real Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as far as I know. But maybe I’m just a muggle! I never got my letter on my eleventh birthday, anyway.” At this we both laughed and the tension was broken.
Since I’m an UBERFAN of Harry Potter, we spent some time comparing our favorite parts of the books, what Hogwarts house we’d likely be sorted into (Ravenclaw!) I took her on a tour of some of the real witchy things that they mention in the books, like the herbs and cauldrons, and the hand-carved wands we had, and how Modern Witches like me actually use them.
By the time she left, she was restored to her bubbling good humor, and I had both a very interesting afternoon, and an important personal lesson.
Moral of the Story
- Some disabilities aren’t apparent at first glance. Be kind to everyone, because you have no clue what challenges an individual may have.
I haven’t seen that young woman in at least 7 years, but I did find out eventually that she had some sort of cognitive or developmental disability that meant she was operating at a much younger maturity level than her appearance would imply.
2. We are all just walking our own path up the mountain of personal evolution. We all start somewhere, but every step along that path is equally important.
Don’t get me wrong, in private company, we’ve had a good laugh over the comedy of the situation, because once you are middle aged with lots of life experience and education, and standing on the *real* witching side of the *actual* besom, the innocent bumblings of youth can be hilarious. But every sage and wizened old witch was, at some early point, a gullible and hopeful child who needed gentle guidance from an older person like myself. I am infinitely glad the older people I knew as a teenager weren’t assholes to me, because WOAH did I give them plenty to laugh about.
At the time of this story, I was pretty new to the “public witch” gig. Back then I was far less schooled in humility and personal responsibility required to do this sacred work, and I am so very glad I didn’t let the sarcastic, ego-bound, ShadowHeron out of her cage that day, because there was a time when I might have let her slip.
Oh yes, ShadowHeron still exists. Of course she does, everyone has a shadowy self they aren’t particularly proud of, but with years of practice and many a spanking – er, I mean lesson – in Divine Love from my patroness, Aphrodite, she quiets. If my sweet Hogwarts Customer really was one of the old gods come to challenge me, I hope I passed the test.
*Red Rider BB Gun, you know that kid in The Christmas Story Movie is just sure that if he asks Santa Claus for his deepest wish, that he’ll get what he wants for Christmas? Because he still believes just that innocently in that kind of magic.