This spring I had my heart broken. What made it so much worse than your garden-variety heartbreak was that it became painfully clear how unequal the relationship had always been. He had always held the power, and I had always ignored that inconvenient fact. I ignored it because I felt privileged to be with him at all. The vacuum left by his departure, then, left a hole much worse than the simple fact of his absence. It left me in a space of feeling powerless. Of wondering if I had any power of my own at all.
Luckily, earlier that year I had begun a strange obsession. I’d been drawn to the world of the occult: tarot cards, goddess mythology, moon magic. Anything that felt dark, mysterious, and strong. Once the aforementioned heartbreaker made his exit, rather than getting stuck in mourning for too long, I turned instead to this blooming new interest. I didn’t even yet know why; it just felt good. We are often drawn to what we most need, without knowing the reason. Some deep and undiscovered part of me knew that I needed Witchcraft.
The world of goddesses, of Witches and their magic, felt so intoxicating to me because of its emphasis on the female. I’ve long considered myself a feminist; yet here I was, having idolized a man in all his masculine power for years. I’d felt better about myself for being associated with him. And this wasn’t new. In high school I’d felt validated for being the “chill” girl, hanging out with a group of guys. I’d never have admitted it, but their company somehow elevated me. I was cool because the guys liked me. But something was missing. The sense of coolness I felt wasn’t generated by me; it was granted to me, by their approval.
Perhaps I needed his departure to see this. In the absence of the man’s approving presence, I was left with myself, and with the phenomenal group of female friends with whom I lived (we called ourselves The Coven). I was left with my desire to feel powerful, and the new realization that the only way to maintain this power was to give it to myself. I could no longer rely on a man, or anyone else, to make me feel worthy. The time had come for a dramatic shift.
Witchcraft and goddess mythology (which, to me, are intimately related as two forms of feminist spirituality) both follow the fundamental tenet of the Divine Feminine. This essence exists in women, but also in men and in the world at large, and it celebrates an eternal and magical feminine energy. It regards feminine energy as essential, holy, revered. Although it embraces female sexuality, it does not reduce the female to only the sexual. This reverence was so radically new to me that I was positively bursting with excitement. I felt electric, vivid, new. Images of goddesses, their stories, the magic they produced with their own bodies and fingers; this was true power, and it was a power I had never known existed.
I have long been drawn to the image of the crescent moon, without knowing why. Then I discovered Diana (Artemis, in the Greek tradition), the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt. She is young, has sworn never to marry, and adventures on her own, always with her bow and arrow and a deer by her side. Diana doesn’t only represent aloneness; she is also a protector of female fertility and childbirth. She supports women’s camaraderie. And she is a complete badass. I got the crescent moon tattooed on my inner right arm; now I look at it every day and think of her, this holy hunting goddess, strong and free and driving her own life.
I sought out stories about Witches, becoming obsessed with the TV show Salem. The show follows the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, imagining that there were indeed true Witches in the town. But, in this re-telling, the Witches were running the show. They used their magic to turn the Puritans against each other, attempting to create a world in which they could exist unprosecuted. The show is genius, and it’s extremely feminist; the heroes are all women, serving their own complex interests and desires. There is one love story central to the plot, but it’s rather bland and unexciting. It struck me how rare this phenomenon is in mainstream media: the following of women’s triumphs and adventures, unrelated to romance. Salem certainly passes the Bechdel test; not a common feat, unfortunately.
I was on the cusp of something fiery and huge. I was finally seeing examples of women who granted themselves power. Strong, commanding, interesting women; women I wanted to be. And I was finally following their example. It wasn’t a fate that fell onto me; it was something I decided. And this, for me, is the true power of Witchcraft. It is an identity one grants oneself. It is a source of power that is internal, and therefore cannot be taken away. It doesn’t matter if you think magic is “real” or not; the magic is the feeling I get, bright and radiating from within, when I identify as a Witch. The magic is the choice to do so. The magic is the reverence for the feminine, in a world that constantly reduces and silences it. The magic is that I don’t need an outside source to validate me anymore. And that is true power.