It took me a long time to say that sentence. Like, over 30 years.
I have a feeling I’m older than most of the audience for whom I’m writing, so my story needs a preface:
When I was growing up, computers fit in buildings, not pockets; the Internet existed only for the military; and the majority of the witchcraft-y authors you’re reading today were also still kids. (Some weren’t even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes.) Unless you belonged to a family of witches, there was nothing available to tell you what was going on.
I’m not one of those lucky ones. I started hearing plants speak at a very early age and no one in my family was able to tell me it was normal. Quite the opposite. At first, I was indulged – children have such marvelous imaginations, don’t they? Then, without being told, I understood it was something I shouldn’t speak of unless I wanted to spend time in a psychiatrist’s office. That the houseplants in my bedroom grew better than any other plant in the house was put down to lighting, soil, something…
Then there’s hearing and seeing spirits. The earliest encounter I still remember vividly happened when I was about twelve. We lived in a house that had been converted to apartments; the house next door was the same. The bedroom across from mine was occupied by a boy around my age and we would spend hot summer nights leaning out the windows, talking to each other until we got sleepy – or were caught by one of the mothers.
Late one night, his house caught fire and the boy died from smoke inhalation. A night or two later, as I was staring out my window, missing him, he leaned out the now-blackened window to tell me he wouldn’t be able to talk to me anymore – he had to go somewhere else. I was sad but we said our goodbyes. When I told my mother about it the next morning, she put it down to me being distraught over his death. Obviously, I missed him and my imagination had conjured him up. I knew better but didn’t contradict her. Nor did I ever tell her anything else along those lines.
But that’s not the whole of it. As I entered my teenage years and wondered how to control or change certain situations, spirits guided me on how to wish real hard while burning paper on which I’d written that wish, or tossing a pinch of herbs “borrowed” from Mom’s spice rack into the wind. Thankfully I was, and still am, a night owl. I could do my wishing long after my parents went to bed. I didn’t want to explain to them the “voices in my head told me to do it”. I knew
how that conversation would have ended.
I had no idea what I was doing was spellwork. But I trusted those voices – even more than I trusted the humans who, in theory, were guiding me to adulthood. Many times what the spirits said helped me through teenaged problems – real and imagined. Mom and my stepfather (probably rightly) assumed most of my issues were simply teenage angst and rather than offer advice, told me, “You’ll have to figure out how to handle it on your own”.
(As an aside, despite my guides’ admonishments, I did the whole Ouija board thing most teenagers did – once. My friends thought it was a joke. I got the pants scared off me because I could feel what they were attracting and it wasn’t pleasant. Thankfully, they stopped before anything unfortunate could happen.)
Fast forward a few years. As an independent adult, I had more things to worry about than making wishes come true, like paying bills. Wishing didn’t exactly fall by the wayside…it became more of a leisure activity, ranking somewhat down the list from barhopping. I did both, just not often because I didn’t have time.
The spirits didn’t abandon me, though. When times were tough (and there were a lot of tough times), I could feel their presence. I was always wrapped in a cocoon of love. That was nice but when I asked for help and didn’t get any, it was more than frustrating.
In retrospect, the spirits couldn’t offer guidance. Surprise! My parents were actually right – I had to figure it out on my own. There are so many things in life you just have to experience – it’s what forms the person you become. As an example, my guides could have suggested a better way to wish for money (a larger pay rise, perhaps) but if I’d not learned how to manage on a very tight budget, my husband and I probably wouldn’t be comfortable today.
I was in my mid-30’s when I realized those wishes (that worked!) were actually spellwork. I don’t remember what triggered that epiphany but what I did was just a little less spectacular than what witches in my favorite fiction books did. No sparkles came out of my fingertips and I never did see the point of turning a handsome man into a frog (however much a cad he may have been), but I got what I needed done. Whatever it was, ‘witch’ became part of my private vocabulary.
I also finally had a house with room for a garden. I hate to cook so growing herbs for culinary use isn’t appealing but I put in a small plot next to the house for herbs I liked the smell of – among them, Rosemary, Peppermint, and of course, Catnip for my feline housemates. I re-established my relationship with the plants I’d come to love in my grandmother’s garden so many years prior. A friend loaned me books on herbal medicine and that was the start of learning how to combine what I knew with the science I learned from those books.
It took until my 40’s when I could surf this new-fangled Internet – and had some disposable income to buy now-available books – to find out there were other ways of working magic. Some are much more involved than my methods, some incorporating religion, others just different.
It’s fun learning about how others go about their magical practices, which are almost as diverse as the human race. I can respect and appreciate that diversity. This isn’t to say I’ve changed my ways. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My practice today may be a little more sophisticated than just wishing but it’s still fairly simple. I do pick up an interesting tidbit every now and again that fits with or can be adapted to the way I work.
I’ve been most of the way out of the broom closet for a few years but it’s not something I blatantly throw in people’s faces. Outwardly I look “normal” for a businesswoman who has enough gray hair to justify her status as grandmother. Not only do I live in a part of the world where most of the population thinks witchcraft is bad but there are some in my life who wouldn’t accept anything more than what they see. And that’s OK. I’ve learned to pick my battles and revealing that part of me to an 80-year-old Christian client isn’t a fight I want.
But to those I know are accepting of all of me,
I am a witch.
Deborah J. “DJ” Martin, known to many as The Herby Lady, is a practicing witch living in the north Georgia (US) mountains. She is the author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Learn more about her at http://www.authordjmartin.com.
Image: Author's own