The Not-So-Secret Life of a Modern Witch

The Not-So-Secret Life of a Modern Witch

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I haven’t been a witch for long, at least not when compared to many of the wise men and women who I associate with. But I’ve been a witch since 2005 (the love spells I dabbled with in high school don’t count as “being a witch”) so I know a thing or two about reality verses fantasy in regards to witches.

At least I think I do.

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What I’ve come to learn about witchcraft is that it takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief combined with a delicate dose of skepticism. Too much of either one and you’re doomed. On one hand, as a witch, it’s important to indulge in flights of fancy, imagination, and whimsy. Witchcraft can potentially present a solution to every problem, and with an open mind any witch can solve anything.

But on the other hand, too much imagination can be a bad thing. I’ve encountered too many witches who get lost in paranoia or delusions of grandeur. These are the people who do spells or charms to summon house gnomes to clean their houses when all they really need is a broom and mop. (Not that I want to judge. House gnomes are super cool.)

Back when I dabbled in witchcraft in high school, I’d walk over to the bookstore on my lunch break from work. I wasn’t making enough money to actually buy books, so I’d sneak in my little composition book and copy down as many spells as I could copy in fifteen minutes and still have time to eat my dinner of chips and soda. (I was 17. This seemed like a great way to live my life.)

Looking back at those little spells and charms I did back in high school, I can testify that they did indeed work. And even though they worked, it wasn’t in the ways I had expected or hoped for, and these actions weren’t without consequences. But that’s the way it is with magic, I’ve come to realize. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

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Fast forward almost five years later, and I had decided to give magic a second try. I had lost interest when I first went to college. I was too distracted with school and writing and projects and making new friends and flirting with boys (okay, maybe just one boy…) But I eventually decided I was ready to try again.

This time I had real live people to talk to, and not just cheesy books with pictures of fairy gothic queens on the front cover, or dubious websites with questionable advice and information. (Looking back, witchy websites in the late 1990s were absolutely hilarious, with midis playing in the background, pixelated gifs of pentacles and cauldrons sparkling besides dark purple text on a black background. These websites were really something special to behold.)

I was really nervous for my first group ritual, and I was asking a friend about what to expect. She cracked a joke about glitter and butterflies descending upon us, and I admit, maybe I didn’t think it was a joke at first…

So while there were no otherworldly and mystical connections to butterflies or rainbows during my first ritual, it was nonetheless very lovely and very meaningful. Many rituals later and a little bit wiser, I still remember it fondly.

Soon, excited for my first spell, I cast a circle, called in the directions, invoked God and Goddess, and then realized I didn’t have my matches. So I broke the circle (major taboo) to go find something with which to create fire. I found one small matchbook, and while I had enough matches for my incense, I didn’t have enough to light candles or burn an item I had intended to burn. So I remember smashing the still-hot match against the paper, thinking “My intention is enough, right?” But then my housemate came into my bedroom asking “why did you spray so much insect repellent in the house?” because I guess whatever resin I was burning was strong enough to kill bugs or at least almost my housemate. And then I just threw the still-hot charcoal from the incense into the plastic trashcan, so the scent of melting plastic was awesome, too.

Such mishaps and annoyances tend to be pretty typical to my experience with being a witch: I don’t have matches or lighters, I don’t have candles, I don’t have incense, I catch something on fire, something won’t catch on fire that needs to be on fire. I forget my script, I read the wrong script, the wind blows my candles out or my spell components away. Spell components are out of my price range (European mandrake can be over $100 for one root) or my ritual items are cheaply made reproductions from China and they break or I feel unethical for using them. Or I spill the super expensive oil everywhere but where I needed it to be. Or my cat/housemate/partner interrupt me. I don’t have a bottle opener, I cut myself, the thing I want to cut won’t cut or break or…

Really, the options for a ritual or magical spell going any way but the right way are very high.

It wasn’t too long for me to realize that while being a witch is super cool, it’s nothing like it is in the movies or TV. For example and unfortunately, there is much less glitter. Chanting can be a bit hard without lots of practice beforehand. Most people wear jeans and t-shirts and not super special robes. I can’t fly or levitate. I can’t control cute boys with my piercing gaze or commanding words. I can talk to my cat all I want but he won’t talk back (unless “meow” counts.)

But really, my adventures in witchcraft have been awesome, life-changing, and sometimes memorably absurd. I don’t tell everyone I meet that I’m a witch, but when it does slip out for whatever reason, some of the reactions I get are hilarious.

“Can you meditate and make people trip?”

“Can you cast a spell on my boss so she’ll let me wear jeans to work?”

“So, like, you’re from Buffy/Charmed/Supernatural/American Horror Story/any show with a witch ever?”

“Can you read my mind? What am I thinking right now?”

People’s reactions to my witchy items are hilarious, too. I had a lovely purse that had a popular goddess image embroidered onto it. One classmate asked me “is that a chili pepper?” I was a bit floored by this comment, but to be fair, I was living in Texas at the time, so chili peppers might be really important to her. Sacred, perhaps.

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A pentacle (a five pointed star with a circle around it) is very common in witchcraft, and witches are often asked “is that the Devil symbol?” “Do you worship the Devil?” “Is that a Star of David?” “Oh, I didn’t know you were Jewish!”

I realize that my life is a little different from most others, so I shouldn’t be so hard on people (Here in the South we’d say “bless their little hearts!”). Some of us have experienced discrimination or even hate crimes, so when we find kindred spirits, it’s a blessing.

But when you get witches in a room together, we can be a bit… goofy. Some of the more enthusiastic Goddess worshipers get caught up in saying stuff like “Goddess bless!” or “Oh my goddess!” or “I’m so happy to have you sisStars in my life” or “oh you Gaias!” (guy-ahs!)

Even though I’ve been doing this for years I still pause for a moment when people greet me with “merry meet!” or “blessed be!” It’s sweet, really, like our own personal code, but it still catches me by surprise.

And here’s a secret – if you get enough witches in the room, inevitably someone will crack a joke about eating babies or sacrificing virgins, which scares some people and actually upon hindsight might be a bit morbid and creepy.

But sometimes being a witch does give us access to esoteric knowledge. For example, I was watching a Very Supernatural Christmas recently (which is a holiday episode of the television show Supernatural, which isn’t like real witchcraft at all.) The two main characters, who hunt demons, were talking about strange herbs they saw in a person’s house. These were herbs such as vervain and mint. Vervain is often found in gardens around the world as a lovely flowering plant, and mint is, well… you probably have some mint tea in your house right now. To be fair, vervain and mint can be very magical, but they aren’t like, super-duper magical. At least, don’t be concerned if your neighbor has vervain and mint around their homes. They’re probably just regular people and not witches.

Pop culture divination is also pretty hilarious to watch, too. Death means a literal death! The pendulum points the way to the secret treasure! The runes reveal something so forbidden and horrible that the seer can’t even speak the unspeakable words! In these shows the tarot card reader or psychic puts down one or two cards and all is revealed, when in reality, we witches often are vexed by obscure tarot card readings and confusing and mixed messages from oracles.

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Divination is mostly just friends getting together to ask questions like “what is my life even?” or “what even is my life?” Not to say that divination isn’t fun because it’s really super awesome. But rather than revealing the secrets of the Cosmos or my own certain death, tarot cards just really lead to more tarot cards. (Though I did have a pal who became so fixated on his pendulum that he wouldn’t cross the street without consulting it. Not even lying.) I also have a Roman polytheist friend who I like to (gently) tease about the directions of the flightpath of birds or what foot she stepped out of her house on that day (since the Romans always left the house with their right foot, as the left foot was an ill-omen.) A proper Roman would stay home that day, but unfortunately, we all have to work, and our bosses won’t take “I used left instead of right” as an excuse.

I’m realizing more and more these days that my life isn’t quite like anyone else’s. I work part-time at a metaphysical supply shop, and my days are spent talking to people about herbs, crystals, and candles, and stocking up tonics, elixirs, magical oils, powders, and incenses. I had a major crisis recently when I was stuck between buying a hoodoo powder or a planetary incense to help me with some issues I was going through at the time. Seriously. This is my life.

Another way that my life isn’t like the lives of other people is that one time someone hexed me for leaving a less-than-positive review of their product on the popular website, Etsy. To be fair, I left her three out of five stars, but she sent me many threatening emails, ensuring me that my destiny was forever changed by my actions.

The reason that television and movies don’t depict witches accurately is that you can’t make this stuff up. My life is so delightful, strange, and absurd and painfully mundane, that no one would buy into it, not even the writers of American Horror Story or Salem.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to continue to indulge in pop culture witches. I’ll nitpick about the stuff they get wrong (for example, the Death card in tarot doesn’t mean a literal death, but the change of one thing into another, the necessary decay to fertilize the new) and I’ll get very excited when they depict something correctly. (Guys, mint is super awesome.) Maybe I’ll get a few ideas along the way, too. (Let’s be fair. Fionna Goode from American Horror Story was super awesome, and even though using her spit to cast spells on people was a bit unsanitary and gross, it was very clever.)

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And who knows what tomorrow brings? New questions, new answers, new tools, new rituals, new fun, new stories, new triumphs, new insights. And that’s exactly what being a witch is all about.

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