Crosses to Pentacles
No one wakes up one day and says, “I want to be a witch.” Except for me. I had been an atheist for a couple of years, delving away from my Christian path in secret. Magick, or the natural use of energy to produce change, is a big “no no” in the Christian community, but I always wondered why. One morning, I went, as I regularly do, on YouTube, and a video about Green Witchcraft popped up. I didn’t feel spiritually lost at the time, nor was I looking for anything in particular. But something about that video grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Perhaps, it was the cinematography, or the gentleness of Annie, who presented witchcraft with such purity. Whatever it was, I felt an immediate connection to living things around me, a wave of “magical” certainty. I decided then and there I wanted to be a witch.
I grew up in a very religious household where we had Bible study every single evening. From the time I was really young, my family would read the Bible aloud all the way through, changing translations each year. To my dad, who considered himself the patriarch of the family and constantly worried for our eternal well-being, this was a big deal. No one imagined not reading or praying–his anger at an accidental snore or a late arrival was something my family didn’t dare to test. His voice boomed throughout the house, and when it did, it reverberated through my body because I knew that when I heard his voice so loud and clear, I was in trouble. As I got older, his voice no longer frightened me, but it was his threats for seemingly small things. The first time I decided to not read aloud at Bible study I was 20 years old. I hadn’t decided to forgo my religion altogether, but I was doubting my faith immensely. My dad yelled at me in front of my mom and my three younger brothers—demanding to know why I didn’t want to read a book I’d already read all the way through ten times. I was in college. I should have been studying. Later, he pulled me into his office and yelled at me some more. He told me I was being disobedient and that he worried for my soul. I don’t remember what I said, but it couldn’t have been much. I was too young and new to rebellion, afraid of where my newfound boldness would take me. What would he threaten me with? Disownment? Financial shut off? I wasn’t sure. All I remember thinking was I was on the path I wanted to walk down, in spite of his scolding. I knew my life as a Christian had come to a dead end.
I had started my “righteous” path when I was about seven years old. My parents like to boast that I “knew the Lord ” since I was two, as I babbled incoherently with my eyes closed and my palms together when we kneeled to pray, but I don’t really buy that. I was two. I didn’t know anyone, much less the Lord. I was mimicking my parents, who were my role models. I was loved by them, and they showed it, caring for me, teaching me, and feeding me. They fed me Bible stories and tales of God’s love. They taught me how to sing songs to the heavens, bringing glory to God and to them. I started performing dances in church and when I gave my life to Jesus at seven, well, they looked at me with scriptures on their tongues (“Raise up a child in the way they should go, and they will not depart from it”). They were so proud of me for “going down the right path” and I ate it up. I was a child, hungry for their approval. And for God’s.
But I was living in a cocoon. There were strict rules outside of the Bible that were placed upon me, rules that controlled which friends I hung out with at school (if they weren’t a Christian and proclaimed it, I wasn’t allowed at their house), banned Harry Potter (I had to smuggle books in from the library and hide them) and Pokémon (my brother’s Pokemon cards ended up cut up into pieces and thrown away). It was forbidden for me to be out of the house after 8:00 pm, even as an adult, because that was “The Lord’s Time” a.k.a. Bible Study. Being late had serious consequences, and we were never allowed to skip, even if we were exhausted, or studying for an exam, and certainly not because we wanted to hang out with friends. The reality of God’s love became very grim.
When I was sixteen, I felt my beliefs slide into what I thought of then as dangerous territory, doubting everything I had been groomed to believe but I didn’t tell anyone about my doubts. I began to ask questions and take note of prayers that had gone unanswered, but I was still too young to be taken seriously. When I went to my parents or the church when I was struggling with school and my emotions, I was met with the same answer, “Just pray.” It wasn’t working. I wondered why prayer seemed to work for some people, but not for me. I was unhappy, though I prayed constantly.
Then I started college, though only forty five minutes away, I felt a surge of independence and began to refuse to go to church. While in school I actually found a church that was different from my home life. I thought I finally fit in somewhere, but my doubts and questions were still there, and no one encouraged asking questions. You had faith, or you didn’t.
Back home things were the same, and I was tired of being a disappointment. I was tired of not being enough. When I graduated from college, I decided to leave Christianity for good. I kept my exodus a secret until I was able to move out of my parents’ house. To this day, they don’t know my life has taken me down the path to witchcraft. I still fear that if I say that word in front of them, I’ll burst into flames.
When I finally discovered witchcraft, I was twenty-five and struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. But I was free of the burden of my dad’s cloying expectations and I didn’t have to hear tales from scripture. Instead, I began learning how to sense the energy around me and cast spells. I study basic bookbinding so I can make my own grimoire, a textbook of spells, by hand. I grow plants from seeds and make salves with magical intention. I am growing a garden in the little patio space next to my bookstore, and I am quickly learning about the fairies who linger around the books from time to time. I am learning to read Tarot. I am studying my craft and reading, reading, reading. I am connecting with other practitioners. I am learning how to take care of myself in a way I never dreamed possible.
A large part of being a practitioner is to know oneself. In order to cast any spell successfully, one must first look into the parts of themselves they’d rather not look at and work on themselves. It’s not easy work. I do this—called shadow work—with my therapist because trauma comes up. I’m dealing with my past trauma in a healthier way and I’m getting the help I need and deserve. To some, I suppose, I might as well have a wand and a pointy hat, but to me, I am becoming something more than I ever thought I could. There is no spell to magically cure mental illness, but with medicine and coping skills I’m getting better.
The wonderful part of witchcraft is it teaches its practitioners to be lifelong learners and to never assume something is right. I can have years of training and still be quite wrong about a lot of things. All I must (and get to) do is keep learning. I still have a lot of work to undo the harm done me in my Christian past, but at least now I’m on a path I’ve chosen for myself. And, unlike with my experience with Christianity, on this path, questioning is welcomed.
Jazmine Cooper co-owns a bookstore in Detroit, MI called 27th Letter Books and is currently an MFA candidate in Fiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. She lives in Detroit.