After a very long cross country car ride with chows in the back seat and everything we had access to in the trunk, we finally arrived in the Northeast…New Jersey, actually, to the home of who would become my Gardnerian High Priestess and later Witch Queen. We spent the night with her and the next morning made it up to Massachusetts. I have to admit, the first couple of months are still some of my most exciting memories of the entire experience. The rocky landscape, the wild European herbs growing alongside the roads, the small fishing towns that look like they were made for Stephen King novels, and the difference in the air and sky were just all new, fantastic experiences. The cute cemeteries, the rocky coastlines, the quaint coffee shops and local pubs, and that the temperature at night went below 80 degrees in September was so exciting. The people, not so much. It was a bit of a culture shock, really. Most folks were very understanding when they heard we were just up from New Orleans and the Katrina thing, but otherwise they were kind of prickly and rude. But I guess that’s the Southerner in me. And don’t get me started on the accent!
My partner’s sister and brother-in-law owned a three family in Beverly, and at first we stayed with his mother on the second floor. Later, the third floor tenants were evicted and we moved in up there. When they opened up New Orleans, we rented a truck, drove all the way down there, packed up whatever we could salvage, and drove all the way back. That week sucked. However, right before that and just in time for my birthday, I was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca by the New Jersey HPS in the temple of a well-known HPS in New York. Woohoo, I was finally in! With all these new exciting things happening for me, and with this Southern boy experiencing his first New England Autumn (holy crap it was magical!)…what’s the phrase from Practical Magic…oh, yes, “with the sweet, comes the sour.” Salem. And Salem Witches. Looking back on it, I’m not really sure what I expected, but considering the whole scene is a tourist industry based on a tragic piece of American history, started and kept going by business owners who tattoo their faces based on works of fiction and practice daily occult cosplay? Well, I don’t know what to say about all that. However, I can say that it didn’t matter that my partner and I had just had our lives turned upside by the worst natural disaster in the history of the country, a few Salem Witches decided to pick up old axes and began to grind in very petty ways. This was in part due to my partner’s history with several of them, and I was convicted as guilty by association without ever having met any of them. Hanged without a fair trial. How fitting for Salem.
Enough about all that, just suffice it to say that it never got any better and continues to this day. Ignoring it is the best medicine for that ailment. So, aside from petty pagan politics, the next three years were like existing inside this bubble of witchcraft and coven meetings. My partner and I moved into another house, and started up a grove of the Minoan Brotherhood as well as set the stage for a Gardnerian and Alexandrian coven. Every other weekend it seems was full of gatherings to meet new people, training classes, circles, initiations, elevations, sabbats, adopting other initiates into our groups and lineages, making magical tools...vacuuming the floors, loading and unloading the dishwasher, picking up after people left, getting little rest before the workweek started up again. It was exciting and exhausting at the same time. Oh, and I can’t forget SO MUCH HANDCOPYING of Books of Shadows! But having the High Priest as a partner meant lots of conversations about Craft matters pretty much on a nightly basis, and that made the copying go easier. I absorbed so much Craft information, experienced so many circles, witnessed and participated in so many initiations during that time it seems like it should have been nine years instead of three! I think time moves differently in the North.
Well, as goes the way of all things, this chapter in my life came to an end as my partner and I split, and I moved closer to my job in Boston. I continued my Minoan Brotherhood grove, but put Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and the NY Welsh (which I received right before the split) on hold, save for a few circles here and there with other covens. After a year of this I was approved, and rather quickly, for a transfer to…New Orleans! I was so excited to be going back to my spiritual home, especially considering how the city had recovered in the four-ish years since I’d left. And to be bringing these Craft traditions with me! I flew down that January for the birth of my sister’s first child, and while passing through New Orleans, stopped and picked up some key things around the city. I used those in my working to have my transfer go through as fast as possible and promised that if it did I’d work to establish these traditions down there. Well, something worked cause not only did my transfer go through in record time for a government position, but my job paid for it and hired movers to move all my stuff! It was the easiest move of my life, and considering how many times I moved during my pre-Katrina NOLA days, that’s saying a lot! Two months later I was back in time for the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day parade and starting over again, but this time I was home.
I wasted no time in establishing my Minoan grove and starting things up with the one third degree Gardnerian High Priestess in the whole region, who was pretty much the only one left from the pre-Katrina coven. The one in Baton Rouge we stayed with during the storm, I heard, had left for California. My grove flourished, the coven though didn’t get very far, and after about a year things changed. The Gard HPS moved to Florida, and my spiritual life took a rather strange turn. I’d already gone back to Haiti in 2007 and become an Houngan (priest) in Vodou, but then other spiritual forces started creeping in. Much darker ones than I’d dealt with before. I blame it on New Orleans in general having a very active dead scene and living two blocks from the beginning of the Cemetery District. (Not really, but sounds good, doesn't it?) Enter La Santisima Muerte, Palo Mayombe, and in some ways Quimbanda…all stories for another time because this is about witchcraft! But, yes, I placed my Craft practices on hold for a couple of years in order to deal with these systems and forces and integrate them into my life. Those were…interesting years. I learned a lot about love, death, despair, drugs, depression, suicide, anxiety, more petty politics, betrayal, paranoia…many of these things I experienced indirectly, but all of these things are ones usually hidden by night and shadow, which I’d stepped willingly into without knowing.
During all this, though, and as the gods would have it, one of the people who attended the Santa Muerte chaplet services approached me for Craft training. At first, I really didn’t want to start all that back up again considering everything I had on my plate, but she asked a few more times over the course of some months, so I agreed. I geared myself up for BTW work, blew the dust off my Book of Shadows, and to my surprise it was refreshing to be circling again. Things flowed nicely and we started up a coven. Now I’m not gonna lie and say it’s been Woohoo! Wicca! over the last three years. There’s been some ups and downs, but as it currently stands the coven is active, I’ve decided to reboot my Minoan grove, and there are new people popping up for both. So, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me still with one hell of a juggling act to manage.
Post-Katrina has been just as much of a ride as pre-Katrina was, and of course I’ve struggled quite a bit. Having European-descended modern witchcraft and BTW on one side and the ADRs on the other has most certainly been a challenge. (And of course Santa Muerte comes in and fucks up everything I thought I knew.) For instance, with the ADRs you have a direct, unbroken history and sets of practices, necessarily altered to work in the New World, and the spiritual beings that have distinct personalities and backstories. Then you have the New World syncretic folk practices and “saints” that have popped up from the merging of different cultures and spiritual traditions, but still the timelines are relatively easy to follow. But looking at BTW and modern witchcraft from this point of view, it’s like who the fuck are these gods and spirits? Yes, I know we have secret names for them, but where the hell are their stories, outside Doreen Valiente, that is? Who the hell is THE GODDESS? Which one are you talking about? And wtf with all the waving around of wands and knives? Did that particular patch of air just piss you off or something? It’s taken me a while to reconcile these very different approaches to the spiritual, and in all honesty it’s a continual thing. I don’t claim to have any solid answers about any of this crazy shit, but I’ve managed to arrive at certain points on how it all works…FOR ME. I can’t speak for anyone else, and the struggle has been real, but at least I sleep better at night the more I just let it happen and keep following where my gods, spirits, and ancestors lead.
I wonder what these next 10 years are going to be like.