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The Easter Gospel According to a Witch
When I was very young, Easter would begin with baskets filled with candy and something soft and stuffed, like a bunny or a duck or some other woodland creature. During the sugar high, my mother would wrestle my sisters and I into linen dresses and lace-cuffed socks before taking us to church. Easter is supposed to be the most important day in the Catholic faith, but it always fell way short of Christmas in terms of childish anticipation. Most of what I remember from those masses are tapping the heels of my white-buckled shoes on the wooden pew, watching the dust flicker in and out of the morning light.
When I was still young, I would still wake up to a candy-filled basket, though the stuffed animal had been exchanged for a CD or DVD. I was allowed to wear a nice pair of jeans to mass (which was decidedly Protestant for a Catholic church) and would sit in white folding chairs, no longer able to click my heels on wood. Instead, I would watch the rest of the church move in graceful unison as they lifted their faces towards the light, trying to ignore the ache in my stomach as I fell even further out of step.
When I was young and living abroad, I spent my last Easter service in Paroisse Ste Marguerite on Rue Saint-Bernard. The service was in French and I understood not a word of it, but I saw the same rising upwards, hands clasped together like a daisy chain. The old woman next to me reached out her hand, and I took it without a word. I may not have been connected like they were, a knot in a stem rather than white petals in bloom, but our palms fit together anyway. I whispered something, a word of gratitude to my hosts for allowing a stranger in their house.
My fall from Catholicism was less like a stone plummeting from a cliff and more like a feather floating. My descent was languid, spiraling where the wind took me, drifting when I had nowhere to go. I had called myself Catholic for so long, ever since I was young, that it almost didn’t occur to me that I could be anything else. That I didn’t have to wear that faith like an ill-fitting coat, one clearly made for someone else even if my name was written on the tag.
When I was older, I met the Goddess for the first time. When I had sat alone in churches filled with people, it was Her voice that had called to me, coaxing me to come outside and become one of Hers. In the Rocky Mountains, I saw Her face in the shadow of crags and heard Her laughter in the wind through the pine. My best friend had been raised in a pagan household, and her footsteps matched mine as we walked the path together, a journey that I had waited my whole life to walk.
I had never felt magic before until the first time I called myself a witch.
When I was ready, I celebrated my first Ostara. My altar was a T.V tray I had commandeered from the living room and had tucked beneath my bedroom window. On it, I had laid flowers plucked from the park, dandelions and buttercups and chickweed. My chalice was a repurposed wine glass, filled with cider and honey, and white tea candles formed a semicircle. In the pale afternoon light, I lit the candles and felt the sun warming my cheeks, a glow that seemed to light my very bones. I raised my glass, toasted to the arrival of spring, and drank to the very last, golden drop.
My parents sometimes still worry that I have fallen, that the path I walk is shadowed and tangled. And sometimes it is, just like any forest can become. What they don’t understand is that there are parts of me that are also shadowed and tangled, and they are just as sacred as the spaces filled with light.
When Easter came around last year, I found myself once again in a Catholic church. I sat in a long pew with my family, my heels gently kicking against the wood. My niece was eight months old, a sweet, smiling thing with wisps of brown-gold hair, and she was cooing happily in my sister’s arms as she and her husband presented her to be baptized. I watched my family look on, their faces beaming with joy, as the priest anointed her with oil and water, promising her new life.
I closed my eyes, whispering a prayer to the Goddess, and raised my face to the light.
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