At church camp, when I was younger, I was always the first to memorize our Bible verses—"God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his son"—and the first to participate in our church music groups, writing songs and singing them onstage during worship.
My favorite Bible story was about Noah and the ark. I loved how he and his family lived with so many animals, and no one was hurt. But I was also the one who questioned everything we were taught at camp: Sure, something had created us, but how did we know it/he/they had stayed around to watch over us? If God was real, why didn't he just show himself instead of working through other people? And how could we be sure we weren't just doing things on our own?
When the leaders at my church didn't answer my questions, or asked me to be quiet, I wondered if they actually knew what they where talking about. How could any of us actually know what Jesus and God wanted? If my teachers couldn't answer me, did that mean they were fakes?
Although they caused me a lot of confusion at the time, my questions became the basis for a new kind of spirituality—Wicca—that has taught me to remain calm and steady.
Over time, I became annoyed and stopped wanting to go to church, and eventually stopped attending. Not long after, Child Protective Services took me from my mother—it's a long story—and I stopped believing in God altogether. I didn't understand why this was happening to me and my family, and I wasn't sure who or what to believe. It felt as if everyone was trying to keep my family apart, like I had been lied to my whole life. I was confused, and my confusion became anger. Anger grew into physical violence.
I let my anger loose at my middle school. I didn't want to wait for answers anymore. I wanted to fight back and hurt anyone I could. I wanted others to feel how I felt. Looking back, I was detached from myself, living in a fog. But when I fought, and the other girls hit me hard enough, the fog would clear. But the fights only temporarily relieved me of my anger, offering an hour or two of peace to recuperate from the physical pain I had endured. I knew fighting was only a small relief, but I didn't know what else I could do. I needed an escape.
In one of my classes at the time, I talked with a friend about The Black Dagger Brotherhood, a series of books I was reading. In the books, the vampires had their own Goddess who had created them. One had a physical form and showed herself to all of her creations. I loved the idea of being able to actually see, hear and feel the very thing you worshipped, to have some form of confirmation, communication. Just before our teacher interrupted, my friend said one more thing to me: She was Wiccan.
At the time, I didn't know what Wicca was. But a quick Web search changed that. I learned that Wicca was a nature-based, neo-pagan belief system. The fact that Wiccans worshiped both a God and Goddess equally was surprising to me, as I was used to hearing that there was only a male divine figure. But I liked the idea and felt it was right—women are the ones who give birth to the next generation. Wouldn't it be fitting for a woman to give birth to the worlds' existence?
Soon, I started seeing signs of Wicca everywhere: in the fantasy books I read, a tattoo on someone's arm, a simple piece of jewelry. The idea seemed to haunt me. As I wandered around my school library, I found a book on Wicca for young adults in the reference section. I sat down on the floor and read.
As I read, I was most attracted to how Wicca could be practiced alone, and that solitary practice is common among teenagers.
Carol Garr, high priestess of the Tucson-based Silver Midnight Coven and co-founder of Mother Earth Ministries, which ministers to prison inmates, advises new Wiccans to choose how they practice carefully. Covens—close-knit groups of practitioners who share similar beliefs—are one option for Wiccans. But Garr cautions, "You're better off being solitary than being in the wrong coven." For example, it wouldn't be a helpful or pleasant experience to worship with people who do not share your values.
Equality is also central to Wiccans. According to Garr, "We teach that all paths are valid to those (who) believe them as long as it makes them a better person." Simply, Garr means that if the religion a person follows helps them to do good, then Wiccans will respect it.
I had been taught that there is only one right path, one true religion, one God, and only one way to worship him. To be able to be part of the Wiccan religion, but still have the choice to worship differently without being criticized, was comforting.
Something inside of me needed what Wicca offered. At the time I found Wicca, I was staying with a foster mother who was not happy about my newfound interest. As soon as she learned that I had books on Wicca in her house, she fought with me until I got rid of them. But a little more than a year later, when I was reunited with my mother, my practice got more serious. This time, I hid my studying from my mother until I was sure I wanted to dedicate myself and pick Wicca as my true religion.
Finally, I told my mother. Even though she had raised me as Christian, she accepted my decision and was proud of me for making my choice.
With my decision came change. I took Wicca seriously, because it gave so much to me: My readings in Wicca taught me that we are supposed to respect ourselves and others, neither of which I was doing. Soon after, when people tried to fight me, I didn't jump in. I started studying at a close friend's house, and my grades improved. I set aside time every night for homework and school projects, and I stopped ditching classes.
Wicca has given me a calm that I'd never felt as a Christian. Now, after choosing Wicca as my true religion, I no longer feel confused. I don't feel the need to fight. I don't feel as if I am talking to a mediator, like the meaning of my words gets lost by the time it gets to the Divine. I am finally getting answers to my questions.
Cathrine Suddarth spoke to Carol Garr, the co-founder of Mother Earth Ministries, which provides Wiccan guidance and counseling to prison inmates and their families. She is also the high priestess of the Silver Midnight Coven.
I was raised Jewish, but I never really felt like that was where I belonged. When I was your age, I just felt like I was weird. I believed that nature was sacred, and I felt the connection to all life. I always kind of thought of myself as a witch, but I never knew why. And then I read Diary of a Witch, by Sybil Leek. That was an awakening for me, because I read that book and said, "Oh yeah, that is what I am."
When I was in college, I saw a little ad in the paper, and it was a coven call. It gave the date, and it was at Himmel Park. So I went and I hung out in the background, and I liked the vibes and the people. So I started to go to what they still call the cauldronluck: a potluck for witches.
(Paganism) is an umbrella of nature-based religions. Native Americans who are not Christianized are pagan. Druids are pagan. Wicca is one facet of Paganism. And even within Wicca, there are many facets. There are the more traditional Gardnerians, and the next branch of the Gardnerians, the Alexandrians. I consider myself an eclectic Wiccan: I use what works. And that's because I didn't learn from a coven; I didn't learn from a book; I learned from the energies of life. I felt the Goddess' heartbeat.
Wicca always addresses at least some aspect of the feminine deity. There is one denomination within Wicca that downplays the masculine. Personally, that doesn't work for me. The complementary opposite of the Goddess and God energy makes sense to me—just like you can't have energy flow from a battery if you don't have a positive terminal and a negative terminal. You have to have both, or it doesn't work. None of us got here without both a mother and a father.
(Wicca) is a worldview. I notice the flowers when they're blowing (in the wind). I notice the scent of the breeze. I watch the moon phases. And (I) stop and say hello to the moon, and to the stars, and look at the sun, and draw the energy in and interact with the forces of nature in everything I do.
Magic is the direction of energy by force of will: faith-healing. You go to a church, and they say God did it. We as Wiccans know God didn't do it. We did it. We asked for energy help; we asked the energy to aid us; we asked the Goddess and the God to aid us.