In my eighth grade class photo, I am wearing a pentacle necklace and a black dress. I’m sure that my parents fielded many uncomfortable questions from the relatives who received a wallet-sized copy that year — or maybe they never sent any at all, to avoid their raised eyebrows — but they always supported me. Because of how insistent they were on letting me explore my spirituality (despite both being fairly staunchly atheist themselves), I was able to spend nearly two whole years as a self-identified Wiccan. It’s a luxury that I know most people don’t have, especially at that age, but one I probably didn’t appreciate the way I should have at the time. The fact that they helped me finance my altar and wand, that I was allowed to hold the meetings of our coven in our basement, and that I could be open with how seriously I took it all — I didn’t realize how lucky I was.
Witchcraft provided me a safe haven in years that were otherwise tumultuous and lacking in a team with which to declare my colors. With the witches, I belonged. I could be a part of something, and everything — from the black clothes I wore, to the stones I blessed, to the incantations I memorized — was made all the more important because it seemed to want me in return. There was a world that I could belong to, if I was willing to learn enough about it.
At the time, I never thought of Wicca in terms of my femininity, but looking back on it, it seems like the best thing a young woman could have done in early adolescence. Unlike the organized religions to which so many of my friends’ families belonged, Wicca is a religion which wholly and centrally embraces all that is feminine. The menstrual cycle, childbirth, spiritual sisterhood, and the natural power of women are all celebrated and uplifted. Growing breasts or bleeding or simply being a girl were not things to be embarrassed over, but rather things that confirmed our essential role in the universe. In many ways, because of the kinds of things I learned about the power of womanhood as a Wiccan, I was far more comfortable with my own body — and its place in the world — growing up.
We often don’t realize how insidious our puritanical values can be, especially as we are growing up and navigating the world of sexual maturity. The fact that our monthly cycles would be a source of embarrassment at all — and not an affirming, welcome sign that you are healthy and ready to contribute the most powerful thing a human can to the world — is a backwards view of our lives that we have simply come to accept as normal. Only in being a witch was I able to free myself from these harmful, shame-filled thoughts, and to accept that my humanity had nothing to do with my purity. I’m sure that other people are and were capable of embracing their femininity in other, non-spiritual ways, but for me, Wicca came at the perfect time.
I am no longer in touch with the other two women from my coven. At least, not in any meaningful way. I don’t still have an altar, or wear a pentacle. But ever since my experiences with Wicca, I still feel within me a profound spiritual power that is inextricably linked with my womanhood. I see it in myself, and I see it within every woman around me. Sometimes I channel it by wearing all black (something that has always made me feel unusually vibrant), or by meditating on something I want to actualize in my life. But most of the time I just feel a calm, understated joy in the fact that I get to be in the greatest coven of all, that of universal womanhood.
Autumn is a hard time not to feel even more spiritually charged, especially as a witch. Everything seems to be changing, and growing, and renewing itself. The earth sheds its fertile lining, just as a woman does, and everything is made more beautiful by this reminder that it can still bear life. It’s not just the cheesy-but-wonderful Halloween movies, or the increased sightings of black cats, that make it a perfect time to embrace a spirituality which has always been falsely perceived as dark. There is something that becomes electric in all women during this season, and maybe it is the reminder that as the earth grows cold and shuttered for the reparative winter, it is up to us to keep the world’s blood flowing.