Long ago, in 2006, I think, I was asked to submit an article for a webzine column entitled “I am” wherein folks would share the story of how they found their pagan path, and how they define themselves within their practice.
For the launching of this new blog, I’ve been rethinking those questions and how the subsequent 8 years continued that story, for better and for worse. At the time of the first writing I had only *just* finished my formal year and a day of studies, but had not yet approached the gates of initiation. Now that I peek into the viewpoint of my 2006 self I can honestly say that I was a wide-eyed infant lost in the woods with absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into.
Today, I remain…a Pisces, a daughter, a sovereign woman, and a single mother of two precocious and vibrant children. Since 2006, I have reestablished my independence (otherwise known as divorce); become a witch, priestess, teacher, clairvoyant, Reiki master, mehndi artist and a business owner. I am Divine! I have identified as a pagan-seeker since 1992 at the age of 18. I continue to recover from a Christian upbringing, but after many years of study and walking the spiral path I can now define myself as who I AM instead of who I am NOT–without apology.
My journey toward witchcraft started much like anyone else in the southeast US. I was raised in the ordinary, middle-class, suburban, Southern Baptist sort of way in Taylors, South Carolina. My childhood was fabulous; full of freedom and adventure, including a few years living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, my mom suffered a massive hemorrhage and near-death experience two weeks after the birth of my little sister. She called out to Jesus to save her so that she could raise her children. She would dedicate her life to his service if she lived, and live she did. That vow changed a lot of things…
Mom’s number one agenda became raising us in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.” We were at the church for every class, service and event. Thinking about the fine points of theology was hardly encouraged, but I had this annoying habit of resolutely disagreeing with our minister. Picture a 7 year old actually *listening* to a fire and brimstone sermon and just knowing he had it all wrong, then arguing about it. Despite being a small child I had a different truth, a stone foundation that was ancient, upon which my brand-new childlike house was sitting.
My whole life I’ve been “differently aware.” When I first learned of reincarnation I had a eureka experience. I’d always remembered flashes and bits like another person’s memories. I knew that somehow, just around that last bend in the road, I was an adult man. Occasionally, when going into public restrooms, I had to be reminded that I was a little girl. There were times when I wouldn’t answer to my name as if it wasn’t mine at all and times when I’d catch my reflection and be startled. The deja-vu was so constant and over-powering that I’d lose track of whether it was past, present or future.
You can imagine the gender identity issues this would cause. I intimately understood being a man, a soldier in WWI. I remembered the fear, and adrenaline of warfare, reacting with PTSD-like behavior when triggered. I had erotic dreams, that I now recognize as past-life recollection, about being with women. Yet, I liked being a little girl just fine, and had crushes on the boys. In the eighth grade, I confessed to a friend that I was afraid I might be a lesbian. She asked, “Do you like girls?” Well, no, not specifically. “Then what makes you a lesbian?” Good question!
Almost 3 years old, and pretty happy about becoming a little girl.
Now that I have a clairvoyant practice of retrieving past-life information for others, I know that gender is a very temporal and fluctuating thing that can be explored flexibly; however, being raised in a church that tried to “pray away the gay,” you can imagine the sense of crises in which I was raised. Today I prefer the term, “heteroflexible” and I take a namaste approach; the Spirit in me, is attracted to (or not, as the case may be) the Spirit within you. Personally, I think the style of meat-suit people happen to be wearing should be of of far less consequence in matters of love. (1)
I also could see the material world as energy if I shifted focus. I see flashing, multicolored particles flowing and swirling and would lie in bed at night and practice moving the flow with my mind as a way to get to sleep at night. I’ve also perceived the thoughts of those around me (telepathy), and I usually know who is on the phone just before it rings. I see auras when someone is very emotional. As a kid, I called them halos and boy could our minister work up a bright “halo” when he was preaching that hellfire and damnation!
Starting in the 5th grade and going through early adolescence I suffered some very deep depression. I was in existential turmoil, having rejected the hatefulness, bigotry and isolation taught me by my mother’s church. But, if I wasn’t a christian, was I doomed? In that black/white world of “with us or against us” I thought I had only two options: Christian or Atheist (Atheism=Devil, in that small world). Yet, if there was no higher purpose to life, why bother?
At around thirteen years old, I lie in bed wide-awake one night when the room seemed particularly moonlit. Clearly in my mind’s inner dialogue I admitted my worst adolescent fear: “There is no God. I am a freak. I am absolutely alone and this is all pointless.” Immediately, my senses were arrested. I lost control of my body and was pressed into the bed as though the gravity of god-almighty was in the room. I was unable to move, heart beating like crazy; flooded with adrenaline, I became hyper-aware. The room became 10 times brighter, filled with bluish moonlight, the silence screamed and my mind rang with the surety that I was NOT alone and I DID have a purpose to fulfill. This did not come as a voice or in words and gave no clues to its identity, or gender. I struggled against this force until I gave in and admitted, “OK, OK–Maybe there is a God!”
A quickly as it began, it was gone. I was released and all returned to normal. Still panting and tingling, I looked around at the ordinary room with the ordinary darkness. I moved my fingers and stretched. My rational mind kicked-in, skeptical. I thought, “That was weird. I’m losing it. God did NOT just speak to me.”
I am here to tell you that the whole thing repeated itself again twice as strong; I was taken hostage by my own body! The moon light intensified once again and this time a voiceless scream was in my head. I thought, “OK, OK, I believe!” And it was all over, never to be repeated since. Today I believe that the greatness of the Universe quickened within me, and spoke through my body and Spirit. At the time, I thought I’d been “called” to christian ministry. I was horror-struck. I started running from that fate by way of binge drinking, partying, and non-christian behavior of all self-defeating kinds. I do not regret those free-thinking, free-living days, but they were hardly pious.
I have this theory that I was being groomed for something specific: I modeled for years, learning poise and grace. I majored in creative writing at The Fine Arts Center, a special high school. In college, I extensively studied religion, anthropology, psychology, history, and writing for several years, before transferring to ECU for a BS in Interior Design, cognate in business, and a specialty in sustainable design. For the next 5 years I worked as a NCIDQ certified, professional Interior Designer, designing healthcare facilities for architecture firms in Raleigh and Houston.
But I digress…back when I’d been eighteen years old, I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s, The Mists of Avalon. In this fictional Avalon, I found the goddess-centered lifestyle and spirituality that felt like home, but I assumed those ways were dead and trapped in a distant past. Shortly thereafter I became friends with a Wiccan priest in my hometown. He opened my world to neo-paganism. He shared books with me and we talked in generalities, but despite my expressed interest, he remained very private about Wicca. A deep, familial love and spiritual intimacy developed between us, but I was never invited to train with him or his coven and I still don’t know why, for sure…Perhaps it was the old Wiccan requirement that the seeker must ask for training 3 times and be denied, before being accepted. I didn’t know that. That experience gave me to believe (wrongly) that Wiccan Witchcraft was a private club, and that I somehow did not qualify.
So, for the next 10 years I considered myself pagan, by philosophy only, and remained locked tightly in my broom closet with a stack of books. I married a scientist who had no need for spirituality, nor a belief in spirit at all. I was successful in a my career as an Interior Designer, while lurking on message boards for the pagan communities in Raleigh, Houston, and Charlotte. Fear of what my family would think, or that I might be disregarded professionally, kept me mute. I once worked a block away from a metaphysical store that I walked past longingly every day, and yet not once stepped inside.
Then in 2002, I gave birth to my daughter, just after my 28th birthday, just after my Saturn return began. I’d spent weeks of bed rest cloistered with my books, Raven Grimassi’s Wiccan Mysteries, and Spiral Dance, by Starhawk. During the labor a recurring vision of the goddess pushing open the portal at the end of a long tunnel guided me. I came face to face to the Mother of us all, and she looked me right in the eyes, turned as though to invite me to pass her, said “you are ready, come through,” then guided me through the rites of birth. I wanted an all-natural, right of passage to motherhood and I got it! As I gave life to that baby, I called on strength within myself I’d never dreamed possible. I was surrounded by all the ancestors of my line before me to one side, and after me to the other side. I knew that it was already done, therefore I could do it! It was ecstatic! It was a proving ground, and I emerged victorious! I had a sense of belonging in the great creation of the Universe where I could be so small, but equally divine and powerful. I named my daughter from a word that means Victory!
After her birth, I overcame my fear and through Witchvox.com found a family coven in Charlotte. As a seeker, I joined them for my first Midsummer Sabbat celebration. Shortly afterward my husband and I relocated yet again. I was devastated to arrive here in Greenville, NC, and find that (at the time) there were no pagan groups in town, very few individuals listed on-line, and certainly no training circles. Well, no one who meant to be found, anyway. A few days prior to Samhain, I grabbed the bull by the horns and started my own yahoo group called East NC Pagans and invited every local pagan who had a listing on witchvox within 100 miles.
I began to realize how different my spiritual needs were when I was eighteen compared to thirty years old. My beliefs about deity ranged from wanting an ancient, monotheistic Goddess, to a godless Scientific Pantheism with many stops in between, but there was one defining moment that brought my spiritual journey full circle.
Again, I gave birth naturally to a huge and beautiful baby boy. His birth was quick and perfect, but medical complications afterward caused an uncontrollable hemorrhage. This sent me on a panicked ER-style ride to a D&C procedure. I signed consents for possible hysterectomy and parted from my stricken husband with a “take good care of my babies for me.”
I really thought my time in this life was over. My blood pressure was so low it wouldn’t register on the automatic cuff. As they strapped me, still painfully conscious, to the table in crucifixion position, yelling for the physician to get in there NOW! I could FEEL the panic in the nurses’ voices shouted over me as they rushed to save my life. I stared up at the ceiling and thought to myself, Here I am just like Mom was when she almost died with a toddler and new infant waiting for her. Is there a higher power to call on? Am I alone here? Hellooo??” I opened my heart to the void and listened…to silence… I let go and put my fate in the hands of the medical team.
My son is born, and I live to raise him!
Coming back from that was tough. I briefly handed over the moderator job of East NC Pagans to someone else and walked away from everything. But, I found that ignoring my own spirit wasn’t possible. During the very slow beginnings of that group I renewed my study and visited open circles out of town. It took over a year before I could convince anyone on that board to meet me in public for coffee and conversation, then suddenly it was a break through, thanks to the good folks at the local Unitarian Universalist church. The community building took off like wild fire! Over the next years the membership of East NC Pagans grew to almost 200 people with large monthly meet-ups, classes, and affiliated groups forming in different cities.
From East NC Pagans a circle of friends coalesced who were all seeking, as I was, and hungry for more. Over beers one night, while bemoaning the lack of teachers in our areas, my dear friend Alice quoted the old Chinese proverb, “‘Tis better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.”
Profound gnosis hit me. The great cosmic “Clue by Four” knocked me for a loop. If we were going to grow, we had to take responsibility for ourselves.
By Yule of 2005, we’d formed a study group called Wisecraft Circle. It was a non-traditional, eclectic and egalitarian circle that used the published training guides by Christopher Penczak (2) and Timothy Roderick (3) as our curriculum (among a bunch of other reading we all liked.) We turned the wheel together one full cycle and began again at Imbolc with new friends, this time holding a covening and formalizing our organizational structure. That was February 1(ish). March 9th my mother passed from this world, kicking off a period of intense awakening for me, guided directly by the Spirit of my mother.
Unfortunately, the “F” word, fundamentalism, reared its ugly head. Questions of legitimacy, authority, ego, and sexual tension killed that circle before it’s second summer solstice. I learned a lot about who I was and who I was NOT, and what NOT to do within group practice.
Midsummer night, the first ritual I’d written and lead for Wisecraft Study Circle.
Nevertheless, I’d dedicated to a year and a day of study in Witchcraft and had some amazing things open up for me. My awareness expanded, I called and felt the presence of the Divine; become the conduit for Reiki healing energy; inadvertently began astral projecting in my sleep; and the bloom of my psychic ability opened. I experienced spiritual ecstasy that brought me to my knees, and learned to write and lead rituals for the community that expanded that transformative opportunity to others.
The second turning with Wisecraft, I’d dedicated to working with the element of Fire. Nothing touched by fire stays the same and all you can do is surrender to that tempering power. What did not serve my highest good, all that hindered my growth, was burned away: abusive relationships reached their pique so that I was forced to confront them; my mother passed away; the circle disintegrated with all manner of pyrotechnic, ego-spanking emotion; my marriage hit the skids; I had my heart broken by the dashing of old dreams…all by August. However, as I emerged from those fires, my resolve to live authentically outside the broom closet, and with the dignity and self-respect my mother had instilled within me, was honed to a razors edge.
Let me repeat: with the guidance of my fundamentalist, evangelical, ultra-conservative mother’s spirit, I realized the lessons she’d taught me to be the “peculiar people;” to let my “little light shine, not hide it under a bush,” to be a WITNESS for the Divine light within me, and that I deserved to be treated with love and respect by my partner. (4) By November, I announced my decision to open The Sojourner and the wheels of business development went into high gear.
After much betrayal, an emotional gauntlet through the burning wreckage of my marriage, the sale of two pieces of real estate in a depressed market, two families moving, the collection of life insurance money from my mother’s estate, false starts, re-imaginings at the last hour, and over a year to secure a location, The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions was opened to the public on March 28th, 2009. It took immense effort, sacrifice, generous investment by our families, and hard work by many dear friends and partners without any appreciable form of monetary compensation for years. That first day we were open, pagans and muggles alike arrived by the car-load from great distances and damn near cleaned us out! Lady Sojo is an entity in her own right, and I’m honored to be her care-taker.
As of 2014, we’ve now been open for 5 years, hanging in there despite a lousy economy, and I am now teaching the 5th full year of Modern Witchcraft students, in a program I created based on the books and experiences born of my time with Wisecraft Circle. From those who’ve completed the training and taken self-initiation, The Sojo Circle formed, and is still a wondrous tribe of beautiful, loving Witches. A second affiliated training circle now operates out of the Raleigh area concurrently, using this same curriculum.
I’ve passed through many more gates of initiation and taken service to Spirit as Their priestess. My sacred commission, given to me directly through another of my “burning bush” moments, was to be the light-house, shining brightly so that all people may know where to have their spiritual understandings validated; where seekers of enlightenment find an open, safe, welcoming, and responsible training ground on Main Street USA, not a “private club” shrouded in secrecy and bigotry in some hidden basement.
It is my belief that I was chosen and groomed by Spirit through a wandering path, to become a public face and voice, (hopefully a respectable and trustworthy one) with the resources, poise, skills, and wherewithal to build a beneficial environment for all followers of the less-traveled paths to flourish in eastern NC. So, here I find myself today in 2014.
As I reread the above I realize how much Personal Ego seems laced within these revelations. I put that pride in the scales of balance, and on the other side, I place the pant-wetting fear, the loss of some of my dearest relationships, the humiliation and heart-break, not to mention the repeated ego-spankings from those I loved the most, that it took to bring me to this re-balanced place.
Nope, I’m OK.
I am grateful, now, for this balance, though I’ve been the brat who wanted to break all the toys and storm home. I did learn from the losses, and am quite proud to report that I am NOT an alcoholic, NOT waned to nonexistence from grief, NOT bankrupt, and NOT in an abusive relationship, but it was a pretty slim victory over those forces of fear. I’ve come a long way, baby.
Here was the prayer I first uttered as my dedication back in 2005:
Spirit! Great Weaver of all things, I seek to know your nature. Ignite within me your fires; wash me clean of doubt; blow my mind. I dance to your rhythms with earthen shoes and the starry heavens tangled in my hair. Show me the way! As I will, it is so. Blessed be.
(1) Hindu scripture recognizes this emergence of a LGBT “third gender” as an evolutionary progression that is sacred. Native Americans revered homosexuals as shamans, calling them “Two-Spirit.”
(2) The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak
(3) Wicca: A Year and a Day in the Craft of the Wise by Timothy Roderick
(4) No doubt the subject of an upcoming blog