On the night of December 24, 1996 there was a full moon, and I was standing outside a tiny Catholic church in my hometown of Magee, MS waiting for my first boyfriend to finish up his duties as choir director for the Midnight Mass that just happened. It was a bit chilly, and the sky was clear. My boyfriend’s father was standing nearby talking with a fellow parishioner, and I overheard him say something about the winter solstice and the full moon, so I looked up. When my eyes made contact with that lunar orb this electric, tingling sensation ran all over my body. Shocked, my eyes focused on the moon, and it was as if everything else quickly melted away. All I could see was a tapestry of white, blue, silver, and black. From nowhere, inside my head, and all around me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “You will find your path soon,” and as quickly as it came on, the whole thing ended. I remembered where I was when my boyfriend walked up and started talking. I probably looked all deer in headlights, but shook it off and went about the night.
That next week on New Year’s Eve I found myself in a bookstore in one of the malls in Jackson, MS, and I wondered into the tiny New Age section and started browsing through all the titles. I squatted down to look at the bottom shelf and one cover caught my attention. A guy in a yellowish robe was standing near a stone altar holding something with smoke coming off it. As I reached for it and stood up, another electric rush went through me, and I felt the spirit of my mother standing behind me. She died when I was 8, and I’d felt her from time to time growing up, but never this strongly before. It felt as if she placed her hand on my left shoulder, then faded away. Well, I’m not that thick-headed, so I bought the book! It was Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” I devoured it and went back to buy as many books as my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed. So many new and exciting concepts and things to try, and so many questions! Like, was the voice I heard the night of the full moon my mother’s or someone else’s? If it was her, was she actually guiding me towards this path? I grew up Pentecostal but left the church after I realized I was always staring at the butts of the football players and not the cheerleaders, but witchcraft? Wicca? Isn’t that the devil? I mean, I'd had a long fascination with it growing up, reading all the books in the library about it, and all, having dead relatives visit me in dreams, but... I’m going to Hell now, right? I’m fucked.
It would be years later before my mom’s sister (now my stepmother…welcome to the South!) told me that Momma had started practicing witchcraft before she died. Of course she did! Red headed, one of ten kids who couldn’t get away from home fast enough, so she stole my dad out from under her sister and ran for it. The adventurous black sheep that she was, Sagittarius sun sign, housewife in the 80s, of course she practiced witchcraft! Looking back I think it’s probably safe to assume her spirit was really there, giving me that nudge I needed to begin what’s now been a two decade journey into the fascinating, frustrating, exciting, disappointing, and ever renewing world of modern witchcraft and Wicca. Try as I have over the years to quit this addiction, it seems to be my drug, and the sight of a full moon always brings on a craving. In fact, I had a conversation with Her last night, which is why I’m writing this today. I want to share my story in hopes that it helps or inspires others in some way. Maybe others are struggling with a similar type of thing.
Ok, enough with the after school special, back to the story.
So there I was, back at my community college dorm reading all these books. (Yes, Llewellyn books…every single one…whatever, it’s all I could find/afford back then.) Dashing off to the crafts and fabric section of the local Wal-Mart, I started fashioning my tools and making my robe. By hand; no sewing machine. My Aunt Yvonna (no, no…where I’m from we pronounce that WHY-VONE-AH) taught me to hand stich before she died. (Yes, there were a lot of deaths in my family growing up, and that plays into another area of my spiritual life that comes in years later, but that’s a different thing.) Before I could blink, I had all the things! I was the witchiest Wicca witchlet in Wesson, MS, which is where my college was. Gay and a witch in rural south MS in the 90s. I have no idea how I survived, but by the grace of the gods I did, and by 1998 I wound up attending Mississippi State after having taken a year off school to live it up in the state capital. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the wild, legendary gay nightlife of that one gay club in Jackson that kept closing down, moving locations, and changing its name. What were its names again? The Birdcage? Jack and Jill’s? Polyester? The Village? Yeah, that one.
My time at Mississippi State opened me up to other eclectic, pagany people, as well as ceremonial magicians, vampires, and other goth kids of many flavors. I got some folks together, and we created the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Which is a fancy title for the handful of us that would meet once a month and talk about things we had absolutely no real experience in, because that’s what college kids do. But it was the first one of its kind in the state, and we were all proud of that. This opened us up to some expected situations, like all the Christian groups trying to tell us we were all going to hell at our fall festival booth. And some unexpected ones like me becoming friends with one of the Campus Crusade for Christ counselors to the point that I stayed in her minimalist apartment one summer while I took summer classes and she was off on a mission trip. Curiously, it was that summer where I was listening to a radio show on NPR (seriously, she did not have a TV!) when I first discovered anything Afro-Caribbean. They were doing a special on Santeria, so after the program I went to the university library and started doing some research. Like the good eclectic Wiccan I was, I immediately started to pray to the Orishas, and they must have answered cause I lit some incense, called to Shango, and there was a thunderstorm half an hour later! Yeah? No? Ok, well, whatever.
After graduation I hung around for another semester to apply for grad schools, which translates into: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and the new Bachelor’s in philosophy and world religious studies. (Really? What the hell was I thinking? I was thinking a LOT because of all those philosophy papers I had to write!) But there was one thing I knew I had to do, as it had been a burning desire for the last few years. I had to move to New Orleans. My mom’s family had lived in New Orleans long ago, and I grew up with stories about it, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I first visited. Friends brought me down here to party at the gay clubs (back when 18 year olds could still get in, you just got this huge black X on your hand), and I absolutely fell in love with it. Obsessively. I drove down every chance I got. Shopped at the witch shops, as there were a lot more back then, walked around the French Quarter, marveling at the history and architecture, and danced in the clubs. For a poor little gay Mississippi boy, living in New Orleans would be a dream come true.
And I made it happen. January 2001 I started the Master’s program in religious studies at Loyola University, and almost immediately started meeting Pagans, Wiccans, and many others in the city. This was a lot different from my mild Mississippi State meetings with the WPSA, lemmetellya! The local Wiccan church, which held all the public circles, had just had this huge blow up between the two head priestesses, and everyone was all up in arms over this or that, and I had no idea what was going on! So, I just focused on completing my correspondence training with this coven in Connecticut I’d made contact with towards the end of my time at MSU. The Sacred Garden Tradition of Wicca, it was called, and I did all my training via email and degree initiations in my little solitary circles. I did eventually start up my own coven in this, but it didn’t quite last that long. I had no leadership experience, and the rituals were a bit like a bad high school theater version of the movie The Craft. Bad acting and really crappy special effects. I did manage to meet the Gardnerian coven around that time and started their Outer Court training, but after my friend got busted having an affair with the High Priest’s boyfriend I got blackballed. No matter, as I’d found Haitian Vodou at that point, and from there a whole other adventure started…which I’ll write about later.
Ok, fast forward a few years to 2005. Witchcraft and Wicca had been on the backburner for a couple of years because of Vodou, and I was starting to feel that percolating feeling inside, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Oh, but wait! Remember the Gardnerian High Priest I mentioned? Yeah, we totally started dating, and I moved in with him. I know, it was fast, but the house I was living in sold, and I couldn’t find another place in time. Well, this High Priest held a few different Craft traditions, and he brought me into the Minoan Brotherhood, the BTW offshoot tradition for gay/bi men started in NYC by Eddie Buczynski in the 70s. Finally! I was initiated into a legit tradition of witchcraft! And connected to an oathbound community…er, Brotherhood…um, secret online group where no one seemed to be able to get along. But you kind of have to expect that when you have a bunch of queens with titles arguing over, I mean discussing, things behind the safety of a computer screen. Anyway, plans were being made for me to be brought into the Gardnerian coven (the same one that I got kicked out of their Outer Court), but the High Priestess wasn’t all that keen on the idea. She had a distaste for my involvement in Vodou, and it took a lot of convincing, but she finally agreed. And it almost happened! But….late August 2005…y’all remember what happened in New Orleans around that time? Yep. HURRICANE KATRINA.
After realizing how bad it was about to get in the city, my partner and I packed up two Chows, some clothes and all our ritual tools and Books of Shadows (like ya do) and got the hell out of town. We evacuated to the High Priestess’ restored antebellum plantation house in Port Allen, just over the river from Baton Rouge. Two hellish weeks we spent there with 12 people, 12 dogs, and 20 cats. Hellish not because of the conditions, which were pretty comfortable all things considered, but hellish because of what happened next. A couple days after the storm hit, because I was a probation and parole officer at the time, I was sent back into the ruins of my beloved city to help evacuate all the prisoners who were still sweltering in the prisons and jails. It was a nightmare. Worst thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. When I got back I pushed all those images to the back of my mind and focused on doing what I could with the house and those staying there. Not knowing what any of us where going to do with our homes flooded and jobs closing down, and everything in complete chaos, my partner got word from his family in Massachusetts, and we decided to go up and re-start our lives in a place I’d never even visited. In fact, I’d never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A whole new way of life. I’d be trading in my sultry Southern summers and everything and everyone I knew, for four seasons in that fantasy land called The North. Given the circumstances, it was the most logical choice, but truly I was excited. Of course, I’d be leaving my dear New Orleans, but the city was a wreck, and I was not about to be reassigned to some parish out in the middle of Louisiana to live in a place much like the conservative Mississippi I’d worked so hard to get away from. Also, his family lived in Beverly, which is just across the bay from….SALEM! The place where the witches are! Little did I know what was in store for me there.