I have been out of the broom closet for a while now, as it were. Once in a while friends will reach out and enquire about my Pagan ways and practices. Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a good friend. She had read a news report about a woman who called herself a Wiccan, who was killing cats, burning them, and using their ashes in her rituals. My instant retort: “Baby girl, that is not Wicca. Wicca celebrates life and the light. That woman is terribly confused and possibly slightly off.” This is a good example of the things you hear when you are openly Wiccan. You have probably seen those memes that demonstrate what your friends think you do, what your mom thinks you do, what the movies think you do, and what you actually do. This is one of those moments. Pagans have the unfortunate luck of being misrepresented in film, books, and other modes of entertainment. The reality of Wicca is much less pentagram drawn in blood and more pentacle formed out of lavender.
Wicca, as it is commonly defined by dictionary.com is “a nature-oriented religion having rituals and practices derived from pre-Christian religious beliefs and typically incorporating modern witchcraft of a benevolent kind.”
Benevolence and nature, not kitty death.
As an openly practicing Pagan, I get a lot of questions about my spiritual practices. One of the most often asked question is why Wicca and Paganism are appealing to me. I always respond that I was literally born into the hands of the Goddess because my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother were both West Virginia Hill Women, or, Granny Witches. The idea of the Granny Woman or Hill Woman runs deep in the veins of the West Virginia hills, deeper than the coal seams. These wise women imparted the nature of healing and blessing through herbs, plants, oils, tinctures, poultices, and words. In many cases, they were the only healers or physicians nearby and were depended on greatly by their surrounding neighbors for any assistance they could give. My Grandmother Molly raised me from a newborn babe, having been left in her arms by my mother. She took me about and introduced me to the art of healing early on, imparting knowledge as we walked to our favorite fishing hole and it grew from there.
As a child growing up in the mountains, I found a magical mixture of old hill folklore, religion, spirituality, beliefs brought to the hills from the diverse cultures that settled there. Lastly, the mountains themselves hold a spiritual aspect for anyone from Appalachia. The mountains are your first, and, in some cases, only church. When all these things mix, what you get at the end are very different forms of religion. For instance, my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother would have considered themselves Christian; their love of the Lord and of his Son were well known by everyone in the community. However, in addition to deep Christian beliefs, they were as likely to believe in and ask assistance of the Goddess, the female aspect of the God. When crops were going to be planted, my Grandmother would give a sacrifice to the Goddess and ask the Good Lord in prayer for a fertile year. And – please – when I say “sacrifice,” think a goblet of wine and the best apples off her backyard tree, not kitties. For her, it was about honoring the powers that were in place on high and being respectful of all. If it meant a bumper crop in order to feed her own people and the people of the community, she did whatever she felt would bring about the best result. She was a practical woman, after all.
As I grew and became older, it just made logical sense to me. When I went into the Army and left West Virginia to see the world, I dabbled in other things and tried on other religions for a time. I was interested in different spiritual and religious practices; and my Grandmother had always taught me that being open to other belief systems and being eternally curious were all good things. I attended different religious ceremonies, bought a lot of books, and did a lot of investigating on my own to see if something else was going to stick. I married and my husband’s family were all very devout Southern Baptists, so, I tried to fit myself into that religion for a while. The parts of organized religion which are hard for me were still there. I have never felt, as a human common to erring, that I had the right to look down my nose at anyone else for their religious beliefs or spiritual practices. My Grandmother taught me to show all forms of love the respect they were due, whether I agreed with them or not. She would also have switched me if she’d caught me mocking or putting down someone else for any reason. For my Grandmother, the best way to move through this world each and everyday was with love in your heart. She taught me early on that kindness was the first rule of being a good human being and then she demonstrated how to show that kindness through acts, words, and meaning.
As I grew more uncomfortable in the church, my mind and heart kept revisiting the walks down the dirt roads of West Virginia alongside my Grandmother. I would close my eyes and be transported back to my Great-Grandmother’s kitchen that smelled like Mother Earth, all the green things, and hand pies. I would see my Grandmother helping a distressed new mother settle her teething baby. I saw the grateful smiles and the kindness paid, and my heart ran towards it with both arms thrown wide open. I tell folks all the time that Wicca encompasses the love and kindness with which I wish to move through the world; and it smells, feels, and tastes like the Home of My Heart.
Wicca and Paganism honor the old ways. You can be eclectic or focused. You can love God, Allah, Buddha, hold your Granny in reverence, and think that Jesus was a fine man who did amazing work for others while he was on this earth and continued on in heaven. You can focus your prayers for others with words and with actions that are meant to show the love you have for that person and the wishes you have for them in your heart. You ask for help, for assistance, from those greater than you. I often ask my ancestors for their help. On my back porch, I grow good things to eat, plants with which to make healing teas and tinctures, and herbs that bless my home. When I walk outdoors at night with my service dog Claymore, we often stop in the driveway to stare up at the moon, no matter her phase, and I take the time to remember my loved ones in whispered hopes. Wicca is about being able to defend the peace of your home without doing harm to others. It is centered in nature and wrapped in the hope, love, and prayers of those who came before us.
When I am in front of my altar, I can feel my Grandmother and my Great-Grandmother there beside me. When I am speaking words of healing for people I love, I can hear them saying those words with me. It is about connection with the force of life in nature and with those who have gone before us. As I have aged and grown in my studies, I have incorporated a great deal of other practices into mine as an eclectic Pagan. I have statues of Ganesha, the Mover of Obstacles; Buddha watches over the corner of my office; often the words of prayer I utter include the Good Lord Above in them as well as the Goddess. If it feels right, I incorporate it. My altar shows this better than I can put into words, as the Goddess Diana shares the same space with the Egyptian Goddess Bast, covered in dried herbs, crystals, rocks from my favorite places, and my hand-burned work area that has bits of colorful candles and other things collected over time. It is like me, different, and never the same thing twice. But a peace lies in the familiar and the well-loved. I breathe deeper, can settle into myself, and find a peace on the other side of the day-to-day insanity standing before the Goddess, and I am grateful for it.
Like many other religions, falsities float around out there about Wicca, mostly fueled by movies that often depict it as dark or as devil worship, or from viewpoints in Christianity that label practicing witches as evil and opposed to God. My retort to this? Do not believe everything you see in a movie, on a paranormal show, or from the jaded religious folks who believe they own the only keys to the Kingdom, as it were. Read a book; find an actual practicing Pagan and ask them questions, and please know that we would rather you ask us than run around spreading false notions of a spiritual practice we hold close to our hearts. Here are a few facts you should know: Wiccans do not worship the Devil. He isn’t even a thing in Wicca. What we do recognize is the darkness and we attempt to battle that by being and loving the light. When people start talking about witchcraft in general, I always imagine they think I have a blood-filled pentagram painted on my living room floor, hidden by a well-placed rug, that I spend my time lurking and searching for Beelzebub. It is ridiculous, but a scary number of people will only believe what they hear.
Certainly, Wicca and Paganism are not going to be a fit for everyone and that is okay. In this life, it is all about what brings you that “peace that passes all understanding.” I was fortunate to find it here, in Appalachia, amongst the old Gods and the Goddess. The thing I can tell you is this: When you find peace and that feeling of home, hold on with both hands tightly and never let go. Life is too short to walk around being miserable or unsure, and religion and spirituality should never be about guilt or shame. It should be a celebration each day, and, if it doesn’t start a party in your heart and put a smile on your face, it is not the right thing for you. You will always be welcome at my altar. Blessed, Blessed Be.
**Featured Image found on Snappygoat