Being raised an atheist gives you something of a desire to find spirituality wherever you can. There is this part of the human brain, it seems, that just needs to believe in something. Perhaps it’s simply fear of death, perhaps it’s something more profound, but either way–it’s there. And when navigating the tumultuous waters of adolescence, the need is overwhelming. I left no stone unturned in my quest to give meaning to a world that was confusing, rapidly changing, and beginning to involve boys. I needed answers, and my mother’s biology textbooks proved insufficient. I knew what, I wanted to know why.
And so, as with any girl at that age who wanted to find somewhere to belong and wasn’t exactly the captain of the cheerleading squad, I found comfort and community in that bastion of “Come One, Come All,” the Unitarian Universalist church. A friend of mine at school had an “I’M UU R U?” bumper sticker on his notebook and, after months of wondering what the hell it was, I asked him. He explained the premise and told me about a Labyrinth he was doing with his parents that coming Friday evening. I decided to tag along.
It was truly lovely. The Labyrinth, a giant maze printed on the floor of the cathedral-like central room in the church, was to be walked from the outside to the center, holding a stone. The stone was to represent something you wanted to let go of. When you got to the center, you dropped the stone in a large pot of water with the others, and walked slowly back out. Your head was down, your breathing was slow, the music was gentle. Regardless of the placebo effect it might have been, I truly felt better upon leaving. I felt clear-headed, I felt happy, I felt lighter. And while mingling over a glass of sparkling cider at the discussion afterwards, I met a young woman who changed my 13-year-old life.
At 25, she seemed so much older and wiser to me, an adult in the truest sense of the word. Impossibly poised with her chignon brushing the nape of her neck and her simple, floor-sweeping black dress, she represented the alternative beauty that was so appealing to my confused aesthetic. She was different, but she was gorgeous. And most fascinating of all was the silver pentacle she wore proudly around her neck. I asked her what must have been endless questions about it, about her, about this church. In every answer she was gracious, kind, and patient. She explained to me the concept of Wicca as best one could in twenty minutes, and told me it was fate that she caught me here, as it was the only Labyrinth she’d ever come to at this church. She told me she felt my energy. It all seemed so…magical.
After inviting me to a reading at a small pagan bookshop in the area that following week, she drifted off in her beat-up old CRX and I felt like I’d just been touched by a princess. I ran home to tell my parents every little detail about my newfound religion, about how I felt like a different person, about how things had changed. And true to form, my parents smiled and nodded at every one of my breathless proclamations, happy to see me experimenting. (Despite their firm atheism, they were always encouraging of my own spiritual explorations.) I ran upstairs and hopped on my computer, eager to find out everything I could about my new Way of Life.
After constructing my wand out of a dogwood branch and rose quartz, after forming a coven with two friends who were only too happy to rebel against their Evangelical parents, after several afternoon-long question-and-answer sessions with the friendly old Pagans at the bookshop, I felt like a real Wiccan.
I attended guided sessions where we found our fairies by channeling the astral plane, I learned how to do some simple spells (and was sure to only use them for good, lest I anger the Goddesses), I spent all of my laundry folding and dog-walking money on oils and herbs. It was a lovely time. And on my birthday that year, my parents gave me a beautiful, handcrafted pentacle with a delicate pink stone in the center. I felt as though I’d found my place.
And the people couldn’t have been nicer. Every Wiccan I met, without exception, was more welcoming and genuine and supportive than the last. Whether at a handfasting or the bookstore or at a prayer session, everyone was a model of spiritual community. They were a community that felt at once extremely welcoming and very respectful. They never seemed to condescend or assume, even given my age. I spoke with 75-year-old Wiccan priests who were happy to teach but also eager to listen. And I, more curious and eager than I’d been in my young life, soaked it all in as much as I could.
Wicca proved to fill the void in me that was left from school cafeterias, long bus rides, and crowded locker banks that felt much more like prisons. Teenage angst can be a powerful, consuming emotion–the sense of isolation and being “different” can become all a life consists of. And this was most certainly the case for me. Wicca felt like a place for the misfits of society to gather and lick their wounds. I know that, for many, it is much more–but for me, at that time in my life, the sense of community and acceptance was more powerful than any concept of a spell or an aura. Having a coven, having elders to speak with, being a part of something, was enough for me. Sure, I believed in what I was doing–but I believed far more in the people I was doing it with.
But as time wore on, Wicca began to lose its luster. I found myself questioning so many things about what I was learning that it was hard to put my heart into it. There was so much conflicting information, so many unproven assertions, so many things that just didn’t make sense. It became harder and harder to convince myself that I truly believed in fairies or spells or even the Gods and Goddesses. I wanted, wanted so desperately, to believe in things the way I once had, but as I neared 15 I found myself simply incapable. It appeared that that time in my youth when I was ready to accept what I was told and believe under any circumstances was drawing to a close.
I remember the last time I used my wand. I remember putting it back in its soft little case and thinking, really knowing, that I wasn’t going to take it out again. I remember feeling disappointed, but deeply happy that I had ever used it. It represented something for me, regardless of whether or not I still thought it contained magical powers.
And though it is easy to mock Wiccans, though most people I know will laugh in superiority at how foolish their beliefs and overwrought their rituals are, I cannot. They took me under their wing and tried in earnest and openness to show me what it is they believe–and I cannot say that for many. They were kind, they were sincere, and for that I will remain forever grateful. Wicca may not be my religion, but it will always feel a bit like home.