I found Wicca when I was 15 thanks to a friend who was undergoing her own quest, which ultimately led her back to Christ. She found a book, she read it, she told me the basics of what it was about–and it struck a chord. There was a name for what I’d always believed, and there were other people who shared my point of view. I went searching.
My search started with the Internet. At that point I had been spending an inordinate amount of time in AOL chat rooms. I was involved in text-based roleplaying (I was the Goddess of Dice in Rhy’Din–I’m morbidly curious to see if that rings a bell for anyone). When I started learning about Wicca, I spent less time in the roleplaying rooms and more in the religion and spirituality rooms. Rarely, I would find one for pagans. Mostly I’d traipse from room to room trying to gain a broader understanding of…well, everything. Then, like many new Pagans in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the road signs directed me to Witchvox.com. Witchvox is still operating and functions as a hub of Pagan information exchange, listings for services, and personals for networking. If you follow them on Facebook they post news related to Paganism and topics the community typically finds interesting, such as science and history.
I was 15, and I posted a personal on the Ohio page, and then went thumbing through the local listings. Among the listings I found a few teenagers my age, whom I arranged to meet, none who turned into lasting friendships. There were shops–I’ve seen all of them at least once between Canton, Cleveland, and Youngstown. Amdist all these people and places, I found a listing for a Cleveland coven–and the listing for its leader. I e-mailed him, inquiring about teaching. He told me that I’d have to be at least 16, and to contact him again after my birthday in nine months. A little sleuthing later, I saw the screen name associated with his e-mail address from our conversation in an AOL chatroom: “tom and syls wicca.”
I went into the room, introduced myself–and there were more than a few groans at the fact that I was a teenager. The regulars were all older, late thirties through early seventies. You can imagine how many kids they’d had come in and troll the room or claim to see spirits and be reincarnated from the Salem witches–and it’s not unusual for teenagers to question their parents and culture, seek something different if for no other reason than to rebel or as a fad, and never seriously commit to a new ideology. It’s part of self-actualization and identity forming, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating to our elders. Realizing this, even then, I did a lot of watching. I would come in–and read. I would be polite, say hello, and eventually my presence went from a source of annoyance to acceptance to appreciation. This is the informal way in which my education began with my teacher–he was one of the chat room’s leaders, and because it was a public chat room, he could see no cause to not allow me to be present as long as I was respectful. My parents were fully aware, and I made sure all the adults were involved and consenting. This is a hint to you teens out there who are reading this: I understand being afraid, I understand parents who wouldn’t accept this as your path. You have to be respectful and responsible. I will likely write a post on this later, or share the article I wrote on the topic when I, too, was a teenager.
What started open and public eventually denigrated into mistrust and rejection. When we started getting several hateful people coming into the chatroom and attacking the character of our High Priestess, calling us crazy and elitist in the same breath, we decided to take our regulars into a private chat room. Some of the regulars started behaving differently in the private chat room, and a meeting between our high priestess and a couple of the others went very poorly. Our leaders were saddened and frustrated and they gradually stopped discussing Wicca altogether. I was initiated to my first degree, and my learning left the Internet entirely for in-person instruction. The chat room fell apart.
My high priestess lived in England. My high priest was local. She came overseas since we couldn’t afford to go over there. She was looking to expand her tradition, and in me they saw hope–I was young, serious about my path, and I would be around for a long time to teach our tradition to others. We would survive.
Their experience online, however, colored their in-person interactions with our local Pagan community. They had gone to Samhain on the Square when it was hosted by a different organization than the one who last did it a couple years ago, and they had a very negative experience. My High Priestess was appalled at the rude and sensationalist behaviors she saw. My High Priest would immediately become edgy when approached by someone new who claimed to be Pagan. When I started with him he considered several new students–but the negative experiences he had with almost all of them turned into him gradually not even considering the few e-mail inquiries he was still getting.
Fear, mistrust, anger, frustration–these things, I believe, seeped into our circle. Amongst the few of us who were present and active, there was Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, but we failed to extend this to our Brothers and Sisters outside of our circle. This has kept us small and cut off from the community. Instead of patience and a discerning eye, we closed ourselves off completely.
Now my High Priestess has passed beyond veil. This past February, my High Priest followed her. I miss them terribly. What they taught me has been invaluable, I could never put a price on the gift of their tutelage. They were family to me, a spiritual mother and father. And I must carry on the family business.
So for many reasons I’ve decided to end my long hermitage. It is true that I have been affected by their mistrust of others–I am wary of anyone who tells me they are Wiccan or Pagan. I don’t know where they are coming from, their motive, or their understanding of what “Wicca” means. This is not necessarily a bad attitude, but my approach needs to change from running away to engaging in a conversation. Instead of mistrust, curiosity needs to take seed. If I hope to help my tradition survive and grow my circle, we must become open.
It may be surprising to some that I am being so honest about this. Well, it is a step to openness is it not? It is my belief that to move forward into something positive and growing, we have to acknowledge, without equivocation, what came before. I do not blame my mentors, I do not think of them negatively, I merely recognize the pattern that we had only begun to see just before my high priest passed away. I have an old e-mail somewhere from my High Priest speaking about this very issue, but we wound up not having the time to address it.
I will not hide our past. I will, however, work to make a positive and loving future that allows for spiritual growth for seekers. I am slowly putting feelers back out into the local community to re-familiarize myself with my brethren and begin the process. Besides, it hinders my own growth, and a High Priestess must be an example to her community, both small and large. It is good, it is necessary, both for the microcosm and macrocosm.