Last week, I had a milestone.
It hit me while I was in the tub, mulling over a personal essay on witchraft written by a young, budding-Pagan friend of mine.* I was thinking about how he mentioned how much I resisted teaching him anything about witchcraft or involving him in any working or ritual. That's a story for another post, but now, here was my little buddy, all grown up and reflecting on his early witchy days. It made me think back to my own beginnings and how far I've come.
From the days when my spiritual knowledge amounted to, 'don't set your hair on fire while lighting the Goddess candle,' I am now confident in my ability to write a multi-participant ritual from beginning to end, and lead it if need be.** From the days when I preached a brand of Wicca I had copied word-for-word from an introductory website, I now find myself more and more deconstructing accepted tenants of belief and asking myself why I believe them and what that belief means to me and my daily life. From days when I wore a teensy, tiny pentacle on a chain long enough to hide under my shirt and spent half my time staring at my chest to be sure my little charm was safely hidden between Bennie and June, I am now open about my faith with my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my colleagues, my classmates, the entirety of the internet, and anyone on the street who asks. From the days when I lit candles and asked for things, now I light candles and listen and feel and be. Point is, at this moment in my life, I know I am still just barely on the upward slant of my learning curve, but I have grown up.
In Smalltown, USA, I was raised agnostic. No one ever sat me down and said, “Look, God's probably not real,” but when other families were saying grace over dinner, my parents were trading anecdotes about whatever wacky thing the Christian babysitter had said that day. We never talk about religion or our own personal faith, although probability says that out of the whole damn dozen of us, I can't be the only believer. I didn't see the inside of a church until I was in high school. And while I didn't get kicked out of Vacation Bible School (ahem, Nuwanda, coughcough), I had such a hard time not giggling through the inspirational songs on the first day that I knew I could never go back. Religion was a shill, a crutch for the naïve.
The cynicism has lasted me well into adult life, but I did began to notice a spiritual bankruptcy in my life, and false start after false start, I eventually found my way into witchcraft. And when I did find my new path, the first people who knew about it were my friends, followed by my mother, then eventually the rest of my family. Although it's not a frequent occurrence, I've had serious conversations about my faith with my atheist brother and father, burned sage with my Jesus-email-forwarding stepmom, and had very long, very drunk conversations with my mom about exactly how many goats will be present for sacrifice at my wedding.*** The one thing I have never done is EVER mentioned my religion to either of my sisters, let alone talked about it at any sort of length. I know they're both aware of what I do; in my family, rumor and gossip passes osmotically from person to person like the Deadly Motaba Virus, so once that shit was out of the bag, I always assumed it was out of the bag in a big way. But since one of my neurotic fears is unwittingly turning into an attention whore, I don't run around going, “Hey, sis! Have you heard I'm a witch? Guess what's up in my witchety witch life lately?!” The topic has never come up.
And honestly, I was glad, and I'll tell you why, albeit a little shame-facedly. I was glad not to talk religion with my sisters because I, public pagan, founder of clubs, waver of athames, reader of Tarot cards, corrupter of precocious minor witchlets, was afraid of what they'd think. Having “the Talk” with my science-minded, physics-spewing boyfriend had been scary enough, and in fact, I'd put it off for a long time because I knew my heart would break if he laughed at me. But my sisters? Couldn't do it. Wouldn't and didn't.
You have to understand something here. My sisters? Yeah, they're my frickin' heroes.
Nuwanda and I often trade tales of hard times and social inequities, and when in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, we'll tell each other, “Just think, WWCD? What would C. (my younger sister) do?” This is because C. is the toughest woman I know. She takes no shit. She lets no one push her around, keep her down, make her feel bad about herself. She is the walking goddess of not giving a single fuck, and if one day I can be as self-assured and capable as she is, I will die happy.
On the other hand, my older sister was my first roommate, my first rival, my first friend, and my first idol. She is my best friend to this day. I followed her around from kindergarten till graduation as often as she'd let me. A large part of my self-esteem is built on the fact that she thinks I'm funny. Once, after a play I was in, she told me she'd forgotten it was me on the stage, and I still hold that compliment as the dearest one I've ever received. I love her. I respect her. And because of that, I feared her scorn.
Which brings me around to my milestone. Last week, my older sister and her boyfriend came to see a show.**** They crashed in my living room, a corner of which is devoted to my altar and library. Every time she has come to visit, my sister has walked back and forth past that altar with barely a second glance. The only comment either of us has ever made about it was when she asked, “Can I put my earrings here tonight?” and I said, “Yeah, sure.”
Last week, out of the blue, my sister took a look at the altar and asked hesitantly, “So... Does all this stuff mean something, or do you just like the way it looks?”
And for a second, even though it's Witchcraft 101, even though I had explained the set-up on numerous occasions, even though it was my freaking altar for fuck's sake, I couldn't answer because I honestly didn't know how.
Finally, I told her that it all meant something, and she replied that she'd always wondered, but had been too afraid of offending me to ask. To which I replied with my greatest, stupidest fear:
“I never mentioned it before. I was afraid you'd laugh because you think religion is stupid.”
She reminded me that she thinks organized religion is stupid, and I showed her the pentacle my Frog Hollow Coven girls had made for me, the silver apple stuffed with rose petals, the incense burner (which she recognized, having spotted me 15 bucks in New Orleans to purchase it), and pointed out that there was a symbol for each of the four compass points.
Then we went to Denny's. And that was the end of the conversation I'd been dreading for five years.
Was I unfair to my sister in thinking she'd be too cynical to accept the choices I'd made as valid? Yes. Was it wrong to assume she'd immediately put aside her affection and our friendship because I was dumb enough to believe in not just one god, but multiple aspects of deity? Yes. Had I been selling her short for years because I was chickenshit? Yes.
In the end, did it make any difference? No.
Not on the surface anyway. Not in the sense that now everything has changed and our relationship will never be the same and blah blah blah. Not in the way I feared.
But was a big deal? Yes. The biggest, best deal in a long time.
*I don't always think of underage boys in the tub, but when I do please forget I ever started that sentence. Christ.
**Although I get weirdly high right before grounding and have to be ear-flicked to quiet the giggling.
***One hundred and eight. One for every pre-marital lover.
****If you love musical asskickery, you will love Sirsy. Get on iTunes this minute, and follow it up with Ticketmaster, cuz that's some shit you need to see for yourself.