While reflecting on the question posed to second year students in the Temple of Witchcraft as to why we started to practice Witchcraft, I have come to realize that I do not have a typical answer. I think the main reason that I became a Witch was to finally be true to myself instead of pleasing others—wanting their approval and even the approval of “God.”
As usual for me now, a few days before I even read the above question I was reminded in a meditation that I was drawn to Witchcraft long before I even knew what that was, being attracted to anything I thought of as “supernatural.” In my meditation I remembered my favorite books when I was very young. One was called, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, and the other was the Berenstain Bears: Bears in the Night. As a 3 or 4-year-old child, they were magickal to me. One of my earliest memories is of watching Sesame Street and waiting for the Count to come on because I thought I would see something scary. I remember thinking in a child’s way that I knew I had seen something before that was supernatural and I wanted to see it again. I remember being disappointed that nothing really happened.
I would sneak over to the adult section of the library and look at pictures and later read about Big Foot and UFOs. I also remember watching scary movies in the afternoon on weekends and rooting for the Witches when they were persecuted or even when they were portrayed to kidnap children to convert them. I wanted to be one of those kids so badly and thought it was horrible that in the end the Witches were always defeated. Somehow even though I thought I wanted to be scared by reading or watching those things, it wasn’t scary to me. I really identified with those who were portrayed as mystical and didn’t buy the Hollywood message that they were evil or would hurt children. I wanted to be a Witch from as young as I can remember.
Besides my family indulging in my love of real haunted houses, UFOs, and scary movies, the overwhelming message was that there was a real possibility of going to Hell and only through pleasing those in religious authority could I go to Heaven. So, I hid my desire to become a Witch in Halloween costumes and things that were marginal, but still accepted by society. From the time I was 18 I had taken an astrology class, had Tarot cards, and a crystal ball that I never could get to work. I thought I’d get into parapsychology but wound up with a degree in Counseling Psychology instead—as parapsychology was being phased out and the aspect of what we call Holistic Psychology today was just being created.
Around the time I was 20 I went from being a Catholic to following family members to a Baptist church and then a few years later to a non-denominational church that was more on the evangelical side (for New Jersey at least). I thought this was the be-all and end-all of assurance of entering heaven. I said the Sinner’s Prayer more times than I can remember now, but always in the back of my head I knew something wasn’t right and that I truly did not believe. All the things that were promised about being fulfilled and confident of our salvation eluded me. I left church more times than not angry at the black and white answers and attitudes that went against the core of my being. I tried very hard to commit and could be successful for short periods of time. With eternal salvation hanging over my head it was something I just thought I’d have to live with.
Even though I attended these strict Christian churches, I pursued one form of studying the occult or another until I was in my thirties. I learned about people like Aleister Crowley as an evil figure who lent to the destruction of civilization as we knew it and ghost hunters trying to exorcise the demons that Witches had called into this world to do their bidding. It was safe to learn about things from the perspective that they were bad and had to be combated, although secretly I really wanted to know how Witches worked to do such things.
Finally disgruntled enough with God’s people more than God, I left organized religion in my early thirties. It wasn’t until I was 40-years-old, married, and had my own house when I encountered a crisis that caused me to walk into a local metaphysical store and purchase a black skull candle and hex-breaking oil. One night, as the candle burned, my husband and I heard a scratching in our recessed lights. My husband pulled out the light to discover a large beetle had gotten in there. I looked at my candle that was burning on the counter, the beetle flew away, and then the candle put itself out. I didn’t feel powerful when I did the spell and although the beetle was cool, I still didn’t know if it could have been a coincidence, but the act of creating something to say and lighting the candle felt like the thing I was searching for my whole life. In the midst of a crisis that’s all I could think about.
I still wasn’t ready to pursue actual Witchcraft but I started to read books about lightworkers and New Age techniques, although I was already familiar with a lot from my years of researching. Every time I would find something that I could do magickally but yet not technically be a Witch made me yearn to find something even closer. I read a lot of books and searched the Internet only to find differing strong opinions about who could be a Witch and what Witches had to believe or practice. I came across Christopher Penczak’s books and found that the no-pressure to believe or practice things exactly the way he did helped me to decide what I really wanted to do and that was to be a Witch. I didn’t have all the details worked out as to what I actually believed in terms of deities and how magick worked but once I made the decision and did a dedication ritual things just took off from there.
I wanted formal training and to meet other Witches who at least had some similarity to their teachings so I finally entered the Temple of Witchcraft’s Mystery School in October of 2012. My life has changed tremendously for the better. I’ve met such wonderful friends and teachers along the way. I finally know that this is where I belong and this is who I always wanted to be and will be forever grateful to Christopher Penczak and the Temple of Witchcraft. For me, becoming a Witch has been about breaking away from what society and mainstream religions say is “good” and the “right way” and trusting in myself that I know who I am and what way is right for me: the way of the Witch.
Deborah Stellhorn lives in New Jersey with her husband. She is starting her second year in the Temple Mystery School. She has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and works as a grant writer in non-profit organization.