My Whole Witch Thing
I don't remember when it was exactly that I came to identify with the witch in fairy tales instead of the princess. I think it had to do with this page in this book:
I must've been five or six. The bad fairy looked so much more awesome, powerful, NAUGHTY, than the silly, puffy-sleeved princess. The bad fairy had wings and a way better dress. She could DO THINGS. She had agency, great hair, and boobs!
I didn't try to do spells when I was little, except the usual traumatized OCD child's superstitious burdens--no hat on the bed (it will make someone die), kiss a piece of bread before you throw it out (it will offend Jesus and you won't have enough food in the future), and, of course, step on a crack, break your mother's back. I was always disappointed with that one because I learned it after my mother died. I stamped on cracks to fuck up my stepmother but it never worked. The best "spell" against my stepmother was one I learned in 7th grade from a girl who had a bad stepmother, too. She taught me how to glare at the stepmother all through dinner and if accused of staring/glaring to deny it, look down for a second or two, and start right back up again.
In junior high, I met a very witchy friend who had tarot cards, crystals, and a controlling, skinny, diet mother. We didn't do spells as much as we did readings. We wanted to know the future, we wanted to know if things would ever be different. If we would ever be thin, pretty, happy, away from home and diet moms.
In high school, I drank a lot. In college, I read tarot cards, and looked at books about witchcraft. I was willing to do bad satanic things but didn't know how. I went to a store in Santa Monica that smelled like patchouli and sold crystals and books with boring diagrams. The women who worked there wore a lot of silver jewelry, never spoke to me, and looked poor. They were not inspiring.
My real witch breakthrough came when I was living in Northern California sort of going to college but more taking acid, snorting crystal, having clumsy sex, writing poetry, and making zines. One day, the used bookstore had a big sale table and I found an interesting book. It was The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker.
Around the same time, I was in a poetry writing group with older people. They were smart and they liked me. I felt lucky to be invited to the group. We used tarot cards as writing prompts. It was very witchy. It turned out that one of the poets was a witch, or a witch sympathizer/ally/ritual-goer. She invited me to a Beltane (May Day) ritual at a friend's house in the country. I wore a long green dress. The other people there were hippies but they were REAL ADULTS with REAL INTENTIONS. It turned out that intentions are what those witchy people called wishes. One of the women hoped to get pregnant and had painted pictures of sperm all over her legs.
At the beginning of the ritual in this big field, a few men brought out a long wooden pole out and carried it through a little hallway the women made--we stood across from each other in two rows and held hands above our heads like this:
The men carried the pole through our lady tunnel and we all cheered. Then the men planted the pole upright into the ground. It occurred to me that this procedure was a metaphor for some dirty stuff, for S-E-X. Then we put ribbons all over the pole and danced around each other weaving the ribbons around, like you do with a Maypole. The men drummed. It didn't raise my young agro-feminist energy with the men and women doing different things. It seemed like a special kind of ancient man-woman fun. It seemed magic.
I don't remember what my intention/wish was at that ritual, probably to be prettier or have a boyfriend or become famous and rich (my lifelong habitual wishes although now I always add, "world peace and hunger ended" to the end of my intentions). What I remember is the feeling I had. I felt like things in my life, in life and nature, and everything was totally perfect. I had the feeling that we were all sharing something that lifted up our wishes even though it seemed we didn't even need them anymore. It was one of the first times in my life that I wasn't high but I was HIGH. And, I was in love. I was in love with those people. I didn't feel gross clingy in love with them like I needed them all to call me and be my friends, I felt warm in my chest and all over my body love for them that was just there and didn't have to be made or manipulated or changed. Let's just say the whole event had a dramatic effect on young La Ganga.
And then, it was ON. I learned every witch thing I could learn. I made an altar on my dresser. I moved in with gay buddhists who had INTENTIONS that they MANIFESTED. I became friends with a lesbian couple who had goddess runes, goddess books, goddess art, and goddess-shaped pot pipes. They even had a dog that was half-wolf. She was gorgeous. You could still sense her wildness even though she was old and spent most of her time sleeping on the couch.
When I got sober and went crazy for a while, my delusions were pretty fucking witchy and I put away all things witchy for a while. It scared me. But later, a year or so sober, I met witch ladies in AA and went to rituals that took place in living rooms and everybody wrote wishes on pieces of paper and burned them in the fireplace. I did lots of spells with my friend Gabrielle. I became a hostess of living room lady spell circles. I did a spell that I will always believe brought me to my darling (now ex, but still very close, boyfriend) Billy.
At a certain point in the late nineties, when I was living in Seattle, I decided that I wanted to become an actual witch. A wiccan person. I wanted to learn real witch secrets and rituals, not just improvised lovefests with my women friends. I was beside myself with excitement when I found a witch bookstore/coffee house on Capitol Hill. They had a bulletin board and one of the advertisements was an invitation to visit the in house coven for a "gathering". I imagined it would be like this:
I was bitterly disappointed when I joined the circle of people sitting in a basement with fluorescent lights. First there was a reading of the minutes from the last meeting. There was contention about whether the Saturnalia potluck would be vegan or not. I was not at a ritual! I was at a long, boring, committee meeting. People were talking about things that made no sense to me and the snacks were bullshit--a tiny plastic tub of hummus, a few limp carrots and a bag of gingersnaps. I found this photo online and I think it is a good representation of the vibe there:
As a middle-aged lady now, I see that those people were serving their community. They were doing the hard work of making decisions so the people with whom they shared a spiritual practice, could participate in the religion in a meaningful (and highly organized) way. But at the time, I was crushed. It took a while for me to accept that a mature witchy spirituality, for me at least, probably wouldn't involve orgies with the Devil.
These days, I identify with the fairy tale witch way more than a legit Wiccan practioner. I see myself becoming more and more the spooky solo woman working it out with her demons in the apartment alone at night or lying down on the driveway staring at the full moon, breathing in whatever it wants to give me or occasionally gathering with my ladies to dance andmeditate. I see myself becoming THE HAG. According to Barbara G. Walker, THE HAG is a wise woman. According to Slavic folktales, THE HAG is the Baba Yaga who lives in the woods in a house on a chicken foot and her car is a mortar and pestle. According to Annie La Ganga, THE HAG is a shape-shifter who lives a bunch of different lives in one day--a writer, a lay-about, a depressive, a sex machine, a performer, a housewife, and of course, a cat lady.