Back in 1998, when for the first time I was in a Wicca 101 class and actually being trained by a priestess rather than just reading voraciously and working solitary as best I could, I wrote the following essay...
When I come home in the evening, I do the ordinary things we all do: put away my work things, feed my pets, get supper started. But I also have a little ritual that has become important in my life. I go to the table that serves as an altar in my apartment, and I light a white candle for the Goddess, and a yellow one for the God, and I light a cone of incense and put it in a brass censer. And then I sit for a little while before the altar, just being quiet and spending time with this God and Goddess whom I met only a few years ago -- but who, I think, I have really known, deep inside, over many lifetimes.
What is this religion? It is Witchcraft.
Much misunderstood and often maligned, Witchcraft is an ancient Pagan religion, the dominant pre-Christian religion of Europe and Britain. Its origins disappear into prehistory, and it was forced to hide (and thus seem even more mysterious) when zealous Christians spread throughout Europe, "converting" or just wiping out the Pagan peoples who lived there.
It's hard for modern people, largely brought up in an atmosphere of 'tolerance' and diversity, to imagine the grand scale of the persecution that took place; by numbers it rivals the Holocaust of World War II. And yet enough Witches survived to pass on their wisdom and their ways to ensure the continuance of Witchcraft in the following generations.
Today Witchcraft is recognized by the law as a legitimate religion, and our right to worship the God and Goddess is protected under the American Constitution. Groups of Witches, whose congregations are called "covens," meet and flourish now, as in ancient times, all around the world. And many, many thousands of Witches called "solitaries" practice the religion without being affiliated with any particular coven.
Witchcraft is characterized by its broad variety of beliefs and worship styles; a great deal of it is left to the discretion of the individual Witch. All Witches believe in a Goddess as well as a God; all Witches revere nature and hold the Earth sacred; all Witches understand the "Threefold Law" that dictates that whatever energies -- positive or negative -- that are put out will return threefold to the sender. All Witches live by the "Witches' Rede" -- "An harm ye none, do what ye will." The Rede is both beautiful and far-reaching in its simplicity.
The longer I live as a Witch and the more I learn about my Craft, the more I find in Witchcraft to appreciate and respect. I no longer need feel that I stand helpless before a bloodthirsty God, begging forgiveness for sins committed before I was born. I have learned that we really do have the power to do good for one another, that we have responsibilities to each other and to our Mother Earth. Witchcraft continually teaches me to honor these obligations and to find joy in doing so.
And it was perfectly fine for that place and time, but I've come many miles farther along the path in the intervening years. When I read that essay now, I have to smile at the sweet naiveté of my former self. What a cute little baby witch I was! But we all have to start somewhere, and there is no dishonor in naiveté. It goes hand-in-hand with the enthusiasm of any neophyte.
I am a Witch, but I am not Wiccan, for I have found that the terms are not interchangeable; I am not a member of any of the branches of Traditional Wicca, for that path did not call to me. I am a Thelemite.
I still call myself a Witch -- I will always call myself a Witch -- but I have come to appreciate how much more there is to the Craft, how many more subtle shadings and nuances there are than I perceived then. I understand that however many of those shadings I have learned to see, there are infinitely more for me to discover.
Thelema makes a deep and resonant sense to me. It challenges my intellect as well as my spirit. It has been called a hard path, but I find that the harder I am called to work, the greater the rewards of that work. I am honored and proud to have been called to the accomplishment of the Great Work.
And so I continue on the path, finding meaning and wonder in the earth and all her creatures, and in the Unseen World that envelops and overlaps all that we can see and touch and hear. 'There is more in heaven and earth... than is dreamt of in your philosophy.'
I am on my way to finding it, both in darkness and in light.