Live Through This

Make Believe

My path to Wicca.

Illustration by Emma D.

I used to be a devout member of the Weirdo Religion. I founded it with my best friend Juliet* and my little brother, Sam, when Juliet and I were in fifth grade. We made a bunch of “lost” scrolls out of construction paper and used calligraphy markers to draw symbols on them—our version of Egyptian hieroglyphics. We “worshipped” our gods by listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. There was a candle ceremony, because why not? They worked for Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

The Weirdo Religion needed to exist because other people had scared me into thinking I was going to hell. A few weeks earlier, Juliet and I had gone to a sleepover at the house of the most popular girl in our school, and she turned on a show about an exorcism. The other girls were really into horror and using the Ouija board, but I wasn’t even allowed to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street and had yet to discover Stephen King, so I scared pretty easily. The possessed girl vomited feathers. Feathers!

When the host, whom I’ll call Liza, saw how freaked I was, she claimed that the girl had been possessed because she didn’t love God enough. She said: “That could totally happen to you, since you weren’t baptized.” Most of my classmates went to CCD or Hebrew school. I didn’t, and I considered myself lucky—I mean, really, who wants to go to extra school? My father had been raised Lutheran, but in the course of protesting the Vietnam War, he decided he was an atheist. My mother had been raised Catholic, but after marrying an atheist, she cut ties with the church. Plus, being a nurse and a feminist, she had a lot of issues with the church’s stances on birth control, abortion, and homosexuality.

As a result, my brother and I were never baptized, taught to pray, or given a Bible, but I do recall attending an excruciatingly long Catholic service with my mom’s family once. That was probably the first time I felt left out when it came to religion, because my aunts, uncles, and cousins got to go up and eat a wafer, but I couldn’t leave the uncomfortable pew, even though I was starving. My mom attempted to explain to me baptism, communion, and the “body of Christ” host, which she said wasn’t very tasty anyway. Regardless, I was still frustrated and confused (and hungry).

In fourth grade, my dad developed a close friendship with a neighbor who was a Mennonite minister. The Mennonites are known for their commitment to pacifism, which appealed to both of my parents, so eventually we started going to his church. Even though I was allowed to eat the bread and drink the grape juice (my mom was right, I hadn’t really been missing out), this change to our Sunday routine annoyed me. I had to listen to our neighbor talk for an hour, then sit in a group with six to eight other kids learning about the Bible for another hour before the one tolerable thing finally happened: we went out for lunch. The Bible stories didn’t interest me. In fact, they bothered me, because it seemed like the woman was always at fault—Eve ate the apple, Delilah cut Samson’s hair. So to avoid Sunday school, I often snuck down to the church basement after the service and hid out in the bathroom. I’d buy the extra-large maxi-pads from the machine and try them on, pondering how the hell I’d deal with wearing one of those enormous diapers when my period came—because unlike Margaret, I wouldn’t be able to ask for God’s help.

By the time I went to that sleepover, my parents, while still involved with the church, weren’t dragging me there that often. I was relieved—until I was suddenly faced with the possibility of being possessed by the devil. There had never been talk of hell in my house or at Sunday service. Loving God and Jesus was pitched to me as a nice, happy thing, but I didn’t relate, and my parents let it go. No one had told me there might be horrific consequences! I was seriously worried. I couldn’t sleep that night, because sleeping meant I wouldn’t be focusing on God, and the devil might be able to sneak into my thoughts and possess me. I spent most of the night in the bathroom, mentally reciting “hate the devil, love God” over and over.

If the idea of possession upset Juliet, she didn’t show it, but after a couple weeks of obsessive-compulsively doing my hate-the-devil mantra, I admitted that the not-being-baptized thing was bothering me. Together we determined that we were weirdos and should baptize ourselves (and my little brother) into our own religion. I’d stopped playing with Barbies and doing roller-skate routines with Juliet, so the Weirdo Religion was something we could “play” when we were bored, but we told ourselves that it was a real grown-up thing—and my motivations for playing were grown-up. I didn’t have to feel different or scared about not going to CCD or Hebrew School with everyone else. And when my parents bugged me to go to church with them, I could point out that I had a religion—one that didn’t require waking up early on the weekend or restrict the wearing of funky hats.

By junior high, I had gotten past my fears about puking feathers, and I didn’t practice the Weirdo Religion anymore, but I’d developed new fears, namely about my future. I’d become thoroughly obsessed with reading my horoscope and using the Ouija board in the hopes that a ghost or the stars or something would be able to tell me when I’d start dating and going to parties and basically having a life like the characters in teen movies do.

I found a New Age/occult bookstore, where I bought incense that would attract love and luck, and a book called Secrets of Gypsy Love Magick. I decided I needed to develop psychic powers so I could foresee if the cute, shaggy-haired guy in my gym class whom I was “just friends” with would ask me to our eighth-grade graduation dance. Despite not belonging to an organized religion, I wanted to believe that something powerful and magical was out there, guiding me toward a cool destiny that would make surviving the awfulness of junior high worthwhile. I didn’t necessarily think that this was God, but I thought that at the very least there were unknowable energies at work, and I wanted to find a way to get in touch with those energies, mostly so I could bend them to my will and control my own fate.

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19 Comments

  • jenaimarley December 17th, 2012 3:32 PM

    Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my Wiccan Goddess!

  • Kal December 17th, 2012 3:52 PM

    It is almost creepy how much this reminds me of myself. I too struggled with not finding faith when I was younger. I distinctly remember not being able to go up and get the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus. It made me feel inferior and just plain stupid compared to everyone else!
    I also explored many faiths trying to find one I believe in, eventually I rekindled my faith in Christian roots but the Tao also really speaks to me.
    Great article, something I have been wanting to cover for a long time-ones personal finding of faith is such an amazing experience.

    zymurgyprocess.wordpress.com

  • marimba_girl December 17th, 2012 3:53 PM

    Yay for solitary witchcraft! The book Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler is also really great, it is a history of the modern pagan movement. It is so interesting to read and is very clear.

  • Mary the freak December 17th, 2012 5:12 PM

    I feel quite bad to say this, but before this month, I have never been seriously thinking about the stuff I do believe in. as a child, I did and found out that god was crushed in tiny pieces and to be found in each and every person (which is a beautiful thought, I guess!) but this seems now untrue and it would be amazing to have something,like a faith. I mean, I believe in unicorns (don’t laugh, I really do!)but this just is not enough to really believe… I have been very interested in hinduism and stuff, also occult sometimes,, I think I should learn about those things more. My fav lesson at school is religious education, our teacher is great and we are having great discussions (without the rest of class,, during the lesson.) . She promised we will talk about hinduism soon yay! I am exited how this journey of my faith wilk go on…

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • redblueblueberry December 17th, 2012 6:10 PM

    WWBD – what would buffy do? I really do ask myself this in difficult situations. She’s such a kiss-ass gal. Love her

  • sophiethewitch December 17th, 2012 6:34 PM

    So I’m becoming more and more convinced that I have an alter ego named Stephanie who’s a few years older than me and writes for Rookie. I’m having pretty much exactly the same confusion about Wicca that you had before. I call myself pagan, though I’ve never been able to actually go to a ceremony (timing and my own uncertainty) or done magic successfully. And I can’t seem to believe in anything without it turning into paranoia and superstition. And I also have doubts about how, as a logical, liberal person, I should be an atheist.

  • Abby December 17th, 2012 7:06 PM

    I really liked this… thank you. I’ve always felt like I needed something to believe in. It feels weird not believing in anything (I’m an atheist), because I was raised christian, but just never “got” it. I only recently kind of admitted to myself that I was an atheist, so it’s still weird to me. Today my college did a vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, and when we had a moment of silence, my mind automatically went, “Dear God…” but then I realized… I don’t believe in a god. And that really hurt, because it hurts me to think that these little kids are just… totally gone. I want them to be angels in heaven, still “there” in some way… but… I just… don’t believe it, and that’s hard.

    • thebrownette December 17th, 2012 8:50 PM

      Wow, Abby. When I read your comment, I was truly struck by what you said. I’m a Lutheran, but sometimes I feel that alot of the traditional worship stuff isn’t for me. I actually haven’t told anyone that yet. Personally, I do believe in God most of the time. I talk to him a lot, and sometimes it feels like there’s no one listening, but sometimes, I can just…feel him. Thank you for sharing your perspective…it really got my brain going!

  • Ladymia69 December 17th, 2012 8:47 PM

    The books of Francesca De Grandis and Starhawk changed my life. I come and go from my own goddess-centered practice. It’s hard to stay consistent with faith.

  • Suzy X. December 17th, 2012 10:07 PM

    Yeah grrrl! Starhawk rules. I spent a lot of time searching for the right coven; but after spending my whole childhood being forced to mediate my spirituality through a large institution like the Catholic church, being solitary is the best thing for me right now. I really enjoyed reading this!

  • Janice December 18th, 2012 12:17 AM

    I am so lost and so confused and so in need of a religion.

    http://figuringthingsoutdaybyday.blogspot.mx

  • pialuna December 18th, 2012 3:26 AM

    Thank you for writing this article, Stephanie!
    I can really relate to the doubts about faith that you expressed, as well as the pull towards Wicca and writers like Starhawk.
    I’m happy to find an article about these things on Rookie, as most of my friends and family are not very openminded towards Wicca and Paganism, in spite of being fairly liberal.

  • LittleMissE December 18th, 2012 10:48 AM

    Perfect timing with this article! I’ve been so lost in the world of religion this past year but this month’s theme and all the articles, especially this piece, have helped me a lot.
    I was raised Christian but it never really clicked with me. I always felt stupid and weak going to church and having to ask someone for strength or blessings, things that I think should come from within. When I was about eleven I started researching Wicca, the occult, etc, and got really interested. I bought a book, some candles, did a ritual, and felt, well, awesome. I loved calling myself Wiccan, but at the same time, I couldn’t help wondering if I really qualified as one. After about a year of practicing Wicca, I started to drift away from it, after hearing some snide remarks about my faith from peers, family, and even friends. I’ve been wandering, all aloney on my owney, through the maze of religion, doing research and talking to people, sometimes doing rituals or attending church. I don’t know what’s keeping me from going back to Wicca, but I want to find it, confront it, get over it, and go back to when I was excited and happy with my choice of religion.

  • chiara_ December 18th, 2012 1:46 PM

    I think am an atheist, but I so envy people who have faith. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed by the fear of death, and I pray again and again my brain to get the concept of the infinity of soul, or just the existence of it, but it simply can’t. I have a well-developed spiritual part though, but each time I think about a god, I realize I do that just because believing in one would make me less scared of death. That’s basically not a god, just an easy answear for the questions I feel bad to ask. What’s the meaning of life? Where did the Universe come from and what is it made by? How can everything exist? And if nothing existed, then how could have ‘nothing’ even existed?
    I feel like ‘giving myself something to believe in’ would be a shortcut, a golden prison. I don’t know.

    (sorry for any misspelling, English isn’t my native language)

  • sleepyschoolgirl December 21st, 2012 5:37 PM

    I think it’s sweet that you tried to help your cat, it’s not weird at all :)

  • Aimiliona December 31st, 2012 7:12 PM

    This was beautiful…and very close to home. I became Wiccan in a very similar way- and I’m still learning; every day. :3 Thank you so much for this!

    confectionsofacreativemind.tumblr.com

  • SwissRoll February 14th, 2013 7:47 PM

    This is a great article! I love learning about Neo-Pagan religions, and I find that the people I know of such religions are some of the nicest people. C:

    I just wanted to point at that the usage of terminology is wrong! Wiccan =/= Witch (if you guys mind me using that term.)

    Everything is right- it’s just Neo-Pagan, not Wiccan. Wicca is an oathbound, fertility-based cult religion, and it is required to be in a coven (no solitary!) to properly practice, because of the secrecy. Cunningham, Ravenwolf and the like are great! They are just selling their Neo-Pagan books off as “Wicca”. I don’t mean to be rude towards you all and your religions, I just wanted to point that out!

  • roxy189 February 15th, 2013 8:31 PM

    Thanks for this. Throughout my life I have been struggling with religion. My parents don’t practice any faith, but my friend is a member of a christian church and I do activities there. However it never seemed right, and for a while I have been unsure about what to believe in. Recently I have learned about occultism, and I guess I am an occultist in belief, however I have been too scared to actually practice it for fear of judgement. Your article will hopefully inspire me to try out some of the occultist rituals without worry.

  • Atalanta February 28th, 2013 5:38 AM

    inspirational & beautiful. thank you for this article