(And can we please appreciate the thumbnail for this video. I love it when it’s this awkward.)
Back in my Teen Witch days I longed for a coven with the sort of desperate urgency that can only be generated by out-of-control hormones and the bewildering lack of self-awareness characteristic of overly-privileged suburban white kids. I needed people to understand me. To appreciate my latent talents. To spur me on in what I just knew in my soul was my fated path. My bones fucking vibrated with destiny. I was coming home. Wicca was who-I-was-oh-Goddess.
I was fucking determined, I tell you what. I combed the Internet (the second the Internet was a thing I could comb), posted ads on every witchcraft website that would let me, stalked the regulars at the local New Age store, and snuck off to open rituals with unwitting teenaged friends (“Hey I thought you said this was a book club.”) who had cars and less attentive parents. Before I got to college, I e-mailed every person within a fifty-mile radius who had a listing on Witchvox. Once I arrived, I tried to start a Pagan student group. Later on, I transferred schools and was able to join an already established club. I went to drum circles, open rituals, psychic fairs, and New Age book clubs, scanning for people who might have something in common with me. I would talk to anyone who stood still long enough, and I spent more time with ill-suited people than I should have.
When I was finally old enough (well, and even before then), I sent seeker letters to every coven I could find in the state that even sort of looked like it might be functional (even a “Norse Wicca” group, I’m telling you because I feel like we’ve know each other long enough). I tried to sound mature and collected, but that feeling of desperation never really went away, even when I was smugly assuring people that “being solitary is just as good if not better.” When I finally did find my first coven, I stayed longer than I should have because I’d already worked so hard to get there. They weren’t quite right-—not traditional enough, not stable enough, not healthy enough—-but it had already taken me so long to just find them. What if that’s the closest I could ever get?
In retrospect, I can see that a lot of what I was looking for was validation. In searching for “real” Wicca I made a lot of unfair compromises, met a lot of astonishingly broken people, and became more disillusioned by Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft, and everything in between than I can meaningfully convey.
But I also found myself. Haha, psych. No, what I found was that it pays to have standards. Because some groups and some people are just better and healthier and more effective than others.
There’s a lot to be said for the experience of seeking. Man, it can blow pretty hard, but it does make you more capable of recognizing worthwhile teachers, leaders, and groups. It also makes you more humble, slower to anger, and more patient with other seekers. Not to mention you acquire more mundane skills like recognizing good reading material from bad, asking worthwhile questions of the right people, and dealing with the constant barrage of naysayers (be they Christians or realer-than-thou witches).
I eventually found exactly what I’d been looking for (minus that scene in The Craft where butterflies pour out of the sky in happy acknowledgment from the gods). It’s easy to overlook, but there are stable, grounded people who identify as Pagan, too. Some versions of Wicca make more objective sense than others, leading to more useful places and more meaningful experiences. Some witches are more effective than others (and some are not witches at all, when it comes right down to it). Some people make productive contributions to your life and others should be avoided entirely. Sometimes it pays to wait it out instead of jumping into whatever comes along.
The sorts of judgments you make as far as identifying these things is totally up to you and your own agendas and experiences. I’m grateful for many of the opportunities I’ve had as a seeker—-I feel like they’ve made me a better coven leader, if for no other reason than I know what not to do—-but I also wish I’d had more patience. I’m a step or two closer to disillusionment than I would like, even though I can see now that there’s more good in Pagan communities than bad. I can also be cynical when meeting new people, figuring that I can quickly stereotype them and file them away without consequence (categories include “secretly misogynistic male witch chasing ass,” “self-hating New Ager trying to justify poor life choices,” and “know-it-all twenty-something guru who thinks tumblr reblogs constitute authority”).
The bad comes with the good.
But I think teenaged Thorn would have been pleased in the end.