|All pictures drawn by Wren Doloro|
I share with you today a little slice of my soul. A story I have kept to myself for many years.
I don’t remember anything remarkable about my early childhood. The important point happened at age three--my mother died.
At twenty, I would hear recordings of her reading Pinocchio in Italian, her native tongue. It gave me mixed feelings, because she didn’t sound familiar at all. I spoke Italian with her, but I don’t remember that either. I had to learn it over again at an older age.
My first memory is running around in back of my dad’s apartment. Mango juice dripped all over my chin as I ate off the seed.
A wonder of the world has always existed for me. As a kid I was fascinated by everything and loved learning. This would follow me into school.
Since my quest for knowledge has never been sated, I’m not sure what I’ve been searching for. I crave a deep understanding of the world and all it's randomness. Could be I hoped to conquer that twinge of sadness every time I explained about my mom. Or maybe I liked impressing people so I'd get positive attention and loyal friends.
In elementary school we made cards for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I gave them both to my dad. He took good care of me, but he’s not an extrovert. When I got home, he didn't pounce on me with a big hug, cookies and milk, or anything like that.
I probably shared the details my day or the songs I liked to make up, but often he was in another world with his music. He tried to share that with me but I was overwhelmed as a child, him being a master of three or four instruments. (It’s more now)
I am grateful for his presence and care; being a single parent and a widower is no easy feat. But my point is that something has always been missing in my life. Especially a nurturing female presence. A goddess.
My desires for affection and praise translated into an early independent streak. I loved making my own meals at eight. I completed every homework assignment and got bumped up in math. School was a thrill for me, although sometimes I felt awkward around the other girls.
I dressed myself in bright leggings and whatever made me happy. If I was made fun of, I would climb the monkeybars on my own, or read a book. Having a strong front was important even if I felt lonely. From an early age, I felt different. It wasn’t just about having a man’s name on my Mother’s Day card.
Reading became my thing once I discovered the Babysitter’s Club series. I loved all the characters—especially bookish Mary Ann, fashionable Claudia, and sporty Kristy. I collected as many as possible.
Eventually I branched into fantasy, like Tamora Pierce, Lord of the Rings, and especially Sabriel by Garth Nix. Sabriel didn’t have living parents but she still learned how to save the world from death. I wished I was as strong as she was, or at least had some magical powers.
Around fifth grade I took on a number of writing exercises. I wrote about how my best friend had moved away the summer before. The friends I had left were fine, though the the proximity of our houses was the most we had in common. They weren’t into reading.
The bookstore was my favorite place to wander. My father would drop me off with my allowance while he ran errands. That’s when I began to explore the New Age section.
I always felt spooked about it. If I thought my father was coming, I would step over to look at something else. Kindof like how I felt when I glanced at the *erm* bachelor mags around the house.
Over several visits I decided to buy Teen Witch by Silver Ravenwolf. Shortly after this, I added books by Scott Cunningham to my growing collection.
Not only did I read them, but I got my friend to try an Ostara or spring ritual with me. Nothing really happened. I was pretty sure I wasn’t missing some key information, but had no access to teachers. Adult witches are afraid to teach to kids for legal reasons.
Meanwhile I transitioned into middle school just as my Dad’s girlfriend moved in with us. She was an artist, which I liked. But when my dad wasn’t around, she showed her true bitch colors to me.
Before they married and before I lost faith in her, she warned me of my chosen path. “People won’t ever understand you. You’ll make your life more difficult than you need to. All they are going to know is this.” She pointed to a preview for the Rugrats Movie, where the evil sister Angelica wore a witch hat and cackled.
To start off, if you are not familiar with Wicca, witchcraft, Neo-paganism or any of that jargon, these practices should not be confused with Satanism. These modern day spiritualities revive what we know about the traditions of pre-Christian religion. This mythology predates the devil, so there is no devil-worshipping. Christianity actually incorporated many fun pagan traditions such as Yule logs, (Christmas) trees, Easter eggs, and St. Brigid. Originally they were markers of the changing of the seasons.
Please keep in mind that the witches in movies and fairytales differ from real life. I still like them, even the image of the evil witch or *cough* step-mother. But the point of magic is not to hurt or gain control of others.
For me the most important part of my spirituality is that the divine is both male and female. That means that I have power, too. Magic connects me to an energy weaving through the world. Witches access this through ritual. No sacrifices are required, and rituals are akin to prayers and meditation.
Magical forces, or divine power, is both within each person as well as out in nature around us. Witches believe we can connect to that universal force (Gaia, God, spirit, whatever you call it), and tap into the strength within ourselves to live a better life.
Oh. And the most important thing is witches believe in a saying, “Do what you will an it harm none.” This means live as freely as you want to until the consequences may harm someone. Stop. Freedom is all American, right?
I knew all this from my research, but as I began to read online, I began to fear the misguided reactions of others. Kids in the Bible Belt reported violence, and harassment for wearing pentagrams. From the forums and comments, I could tell that, in her way, my step-mom was right. People did seem to say life was harder as a witch.
My anxiety level was very high for such a young age. I shared my house with someone who busted down my door and screamed at me when I stayed up reading (my bedtime was 9 PM until I was 14), or when I left a trace of my existence with a yogurt lid on the coffeetable. My door had no lock, and I made some terrible mistake on a daily basis.
I suspected people would begin to talk about me, so I gave my witchbooks away. I gave them to my best friend and said, “Hide these, they are yours now and I never saw them.”
But it was too late. The rumors had started. My budding friendship with the most popular girl in school only made it worse. She elaborated on how near Halloween I had left a voicemail saying I would "kill her” if she didn’t call me back. It had been days since I had left a first message, I was 11, and it’s an expression. An expression!
When girls mock you, they don’t care if it’s in the middle of class, or if you can hear and look right at them. She didn’t look at me back, though.
People made comments like “Witch” in the hallways, which almost gave me panic attacks. I tried to do chakra meditation before bed but I often had insomnia. Eventually I tried going to church with a new cool friend (who loved reading), and took Confirmation classes.
But by the second year I just wasn’t feeling it. After all my underlining in my bible and memorizing verses, it didn’t resonate. And the reason was as a woman, I didn’t see what my place was. There were no role models for me except the Virgin Mary, who gave me no practical guideline for how to live life. I knew that at eleven.
I didn’t have a mom or a nice step-mom and I needed guidance. All the stories seemed really random, and they didn’t mention how the stars formed, or why we have the moon and the sun.
One day my cat died. A girl turned around in class and mocked, “Ohh, was it black?” I should’ve punched her. But instead I took my flute down to the band room and put my energies into learning to read music.
Growing up with a very musical Dad I could never hope to equal, I never played flute freestyle like he did. I was shy singing to the radio. Though I can belt out a chorus, my memory for lyrics is patchy and others made fun of me. As a child I would make up songs about flowers and rainbows, but as a teen, I shut up. (When later I posted a song on this blog, it was a big deal.)
Rather than go to church, I spent my spare time playing Pokemon, as well as hanging out with new friends into that. I started copying my friends by writing fanfiction. This is when something amazing and magical happened.
The most popular girl in school looked over my shoulder, “Your ‘Pokemon Adventure?’ Oh my god, you're such a dork!”
Suddenly I had a whole new social class. I wasn’t a threatening, evil, despicable witch anymore. I was just a goofy, bookish nerd.
This switch in my social alignment was my route to safety. And I took it without looking back. Even though I didn’t go to Church anymore, knowing that wasn’t my path, I didn’t resume my spiritual practice.
The exception being one day when my good friend told me she was cutting herself. I did a small ritual with the intention of harming no one, and giving her my help only if she wanted. It was all I could think of to do in the situation that troubled me. I felt a tad bit better.
But my heart still pounded as I searched in the kitchen for a lighter late at night. My Dad asked me what I was doing and I was to scared to tell the truth.
I still gazed out my window through the magnolia tree out my window, seeking the moon. Sometimes I took walks to escape my home stress, and gazed in awe at the sun streaming through the leaves.
I dreamed of escaping to foreign countries as a diplomat. German, French, Latin and Spanish were offered in high school and I took all but Spanish. I was teaching myself Italian and I thought it would be too confusing.
Meanwhile I took poetry classes in middle school and one in high school as well. Poetry comes in fits and starts. Practically the only person I shared with was my uncle. He has a masters in poetry so he is a great support to me. Some of it was truly terrible, though, and ended up on the internet. EGADS!
Eventually those wretched poems stopped showing up in Google. Eventually I went to college. Eventually I had access to writing classes but I could never get into them since I was a PoliSci major. My top priority was changing the world so I moved on. Eventually I also had access to a club for pagans on campus.
I don’t know why I never participated with the other pagans on campus. I suppose it was insecurity about my lack of knowledge mixed with that fear that other people would categorize me, judge me, or not want to be my friend in this new environment. I had a clean slate and I didn’t tarnish it. I didn’t light any candles in my bedroom. I did no rituals.
Music became my spirituality. I became a DJ, skulking about in the basement station hoping that no one would ask for my credentials. I knew about chick rock from “Cinderella’s Last Score” my uncle had given me, the bands my highschool friends loved—Weezer, Pixies, The Cure, Ben Folds Five, Nine Inch Nails. I started discovering my own music, and centered my show around the new and weird.
I began writing for the College News, BMC’s feminist monthly. I wrote a column on cool bands like The XX, Glass Candy, and Lykke Li. I even wrote a personal piece, about a dreamy man in a Superman costume who had slipped away from me at the annual Rhoads Halloween party.
Bryn Mawr has a magical environment of castles and trees and cherry blossoms. I left offerings like many other classmates did to the Statue of Athena in one of our buildings. I worked in the library and soaked in my awe of books.
Libraries are a kind of temple for me. In high school I shelved books for many years, able to listen to my iPod. I had access to a team of supportive women who became mothers to me. In college, I worked at three libraries at one point—that’s how much I love them.
In the world of digital information, I am scared that one day people will lack the library experience. That realm where knowledge is upheld and protected from viruses or propaganda. The books are as wise as the trees they are printed on, and sacred for that exchange of life. Wisdom.
As I have openly stated, Sofia is my true name. It’s meaning is wisdom, a driving force in my life.
After college I entered a very difficult year. I had realized by then that I’m neither cut for politics nor my dream of becoming a diplomat. Who was I kidding? Everyone in my family is self-employed. Most work at home. Traveling more extensively taught me to appreciate American convenience.
I became a volunteer in Philadelphia and struggled against the 50 hour workweek. But in that year after college, I truly embraced writing. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, participated in NaNoWriMo, and read my poetry aloud at my first open mics. To avoid losing my nerve, I always signed up for the first spot that all others left empty. I read Writing Down the Bones and everything else by Natalie Goldberg. She emphasizes writing as a zen practice.
I even when to Philadelphia’s Erotic Literary Salon, but it was too popular for me to be called up to read. I went alone to the meetings at the Absinthe bar, where I discovered absinthe is utterly disgusting. The stories were great thought.
This is the point where some friends from college started to lose sight of me. I had spent so long hiding that when I began to let the artist out—the one seeking synchronicity, and flow, and even zazen I learned about from my books on Buddhism—they didn’t know what to think.
A friend held me up to higher expectations than the others and told me I was depressed, which of course really bummed me out. I heard rumors that my clique thought I was weird now. Didn’t they know I was weird all along?
Finally out of women’s college, I dated around, got bruised, got over it and dove back in. Eventually, I met up with one of my online penpals and he broke my heart into a billion pieces. I spent the rest of the year cleaning it up. But luckily it did spur a sprint back to my spirituality.
I was completely lost. This man came into my life so unexpectedly. He came half a world away to visit and then destroyed me on his way out. I tried to fix things in my broken friendship from college, but she put all the blame and responsibility for her crappy attitude on my shoulders. Another implied I was losing it, when I admitted that I had tried acid with no regrets.
I found myself hiding tears from the kids at work as they practiced their dance to “Sweet Dreams” by Beyonce for the Talent Show. I felt utterly misunderstood, unaccepted and unlovable.
With the combined stress of heart, work, and friends, I did seek counseling. My counselor told me to distance myself from people who were draining me. She of course advised caution with my experimentation but found the lack of boundaries in my relationships to be of highest concern. Rather than being blinded by fear, she was a social work professor, and like me, she thought the drug war was a method to disenfranchise innovative thinkers and people of color.
I broke up with my pushy friend unofficially, but I still felt like a bus hit me. I went to a Harry's Occult Shop for help. They made me a strength oil, and prescribed my first crystals ever—flouride and rainbow quartz. That began a love of essential oils and stones. I flipped Tarot Cards, cleansed everything the heartbreaker gave me, and tried to spiritually cut the cord. The next time I went to my hometown, I brought back a few titles on Witchcraft and Wicca that had gathered dust.
Blessedly, my roommate was my best friend. He’s a Shaman, artist and amazing room decorator. I followed his example and made my room an expression of my art. I made collages, and began drawing with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. To console myself I bought a picture book of big cats and looked at it every day. I told myself my true nature was that of a panther or a lion and listened to The Rough Guide to the Indian Ocean on repeat.
I wrote short stories, a shelf of journals, a monthly newsletter for work. People applauded my efforts at organizing a Talent Show at my middle school, with 300 people in attendance. For some reason though, afterwards, I didn’t feel like I had done anything that special. Still stressed.
Through the year, I oversaw both talent show rehearsals and a club for kids who like to sing and write hiphop. I barely had the courage to sing in front of them, but if they had the courage, I could, too. Later my friends started the round of applause for me after I performed “I Want to Hold Your Hand” a cappella in a red dress in front of 250 people. I never realized how much I had wanted to make music.
Americorps ended, and I embarked on a lonely summer working on Martha’s Vineyard. Wrote a bunch, mostly circling around my heartbreak. By the fall I craved community. I moved off island and joined an online school for witches called Sacred Mists.
I am now a few lessons away from my First Degree as a priestess. For the two years since the beginning of my official study, I have marked every full moon, most new moons, and every Sabbat with ritual. Sabbats are equinox, solstices and the four points in between them. Last year, I joined a women’s group for full moon rites at a local Unitarian Universalist church. We eat a lot of chocolate.
Meditation plays a big role in my spiritual practice. Asking, listening, setting goals, deciding what to clear from my life. It’s not so tricky really. Most important is to observe the changes in the world and apply that quiet knowledge to my life. It is a slow process to become a witch, of research and doing not just thinking. Get off the computer and allow myself to be guided. Sloooow down. All this patience and focus goes into my goals. Self development is an onion with endless layers.
During this time I have continued my writing. Another shelf of journals. Another NaNoWriMo, yet another draft. I’ve now done several passes of revision through my draft about mermaids, Line of Isis. This month I began a new draft based on my experiences in Americorps for my third NaNoWriMo. My blog and reviews have been an exploration of what I want my book to be.
And writing has also been a journey in opening up the truth of who I am. I’m a good girl, a sweetheart, and an A student, but I’m also a writer, an artist, a musician, a singer, an organizer, a kinkster, a rebel, a visionary, a witch, and most importantly a dreamer.
It amazes me that I am finally able to be this honest.
The artistic world is scarier than college or 50 hours a week jobs. It is a dark void in which there is no map. I make the map. I edit the book to perfection. That’s a lot of pressure. But I have succeeded in everything else so far and I have no reason to believe I cannot do it again.
If you are wondering if you can, you can. You just need to decide to listen to that voice of confidence and forget about the ones who would pull you down. Whether out of friendship, ignorance, or animosity, it doesn’t matter.
Because if you have dreams, no one can see the real you until you achieve them. Only you know the form you were meant to take. And you have every right to transform and change as long as it harms none. Go get your dream.