August 25, 2021

How I Discovered I am an Atheist Witch.

 

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I feel strange writing this out loud, because I haven’t yet admitted it to anyone.

So, Elephant Journal, you’re who I’m choosing to “out” myself to—or, what the witches call, “coming out of the broom closet.”

I’ve always felt really weird about spirituality.

I grew up as a Roman Catholic but in name only, not in practice. My dad is an atheist and my mom—I don’t really know what she believes, but she was raised Roman Catholic, and that’s how it was passed on to me. Neither of my parents went to church or prayed or acted in any way spiritual that I remember, nor did they ask my brother and I to do so (save for a brief stint in Sunday School).

Unlike many, I’ve only had good experiences with Catholicism and the church, but that was probably because of my limited exposure. I enjoyed attending mass on Sunday mornings with my maternal grandparents when we visited them, even though I’ve never really believed in God, even as a youngster. It all felt sort of performative and ritualistic and fake, but in a comforting sense. Perhaps it’s tied more to my adoration of my grandparents than the church itself, which is responsible for so many atrocities.

As a young teen, I called myself agnostic, and as a young adult, I considered myself atheist. While I could relate to some aspects of different spiritual paths, none of them felt right and most included deities—and I just couldn’t get past that. I had my first son baptized Roman Catholic, but it had nothing to do with my beliefs and, again, everything to do with respect and love for my grandparents.

Buddhism was probably the closest to what I could get behind, and I became interested in my early 30s, but it still conflicted with some of my views. So, I called myself “a student of mindfulness” instead (and still do).

For the most part, though, spirituality has never played a part in my life. I was all logic and science and hard lines and “I’ll believe what I can physically see and touch”—and that was it. What did I need spirituality for, anyway?

Then, simply by chance, I came across the term “secular witchcraft.” That was the beginning—when I realized what spirituality can do for a person.

Secular witchcraft means to practice without believing in a higher power or a deity. Some secular witches use the deities as archetypes rather than believing in the actual gods/goddesses. But many secular witches still believe in the “hocus pocus” kind of magic, and that definitely didn’t work for me.

That’s when I started looking into being an atheist witch. While it’s still deity-free, atheist witchcraft also sways more toward reality and groundedness, and away from thinking you can simply believe something into being. Now, that felt more right. And once I started learning, I realized this was it for me. I was definitely an atheist witch.

It’s important to note, also, that Wicca and witchcraft are not interchangeable. Wicca is considered a religion and involves deities, while witchcraft is more of a “practice.” You don’t have to be Wiccan to consider yourself a witch.

Do I care if some consider my practice to be new-age, mystical hooey? Nope! I think it’s delightful and feminist and a thing of natural beauty. And while I don’t believe in deities like Hecate or the kind of magic you see in movies like “The Craft,” many do, and that’s just as okay as believing in the Buddha or God or Allah.

Here’s (some of) what it means to me to be an atheist witch:

1. Do I believe in magic?

Yes, but not in the “hocus pocus” sense as mentioned above.

I believe in the magic of everyday moments:

When a bird lands on the ground next to you, and you make eye contact, and it feels like you’ve connected in some small way. You think about him for the rest of the day. When you notice the sunlight filtering through tree leaves and everything around you feels just right—it feels magical. When you first experience a beautiful melody and it sticks with you for a month. It has a special quality about it, like no other little melody has ever held. When you’re sharing a moment of true, deep, can’t-catch-your-breath laughter with someone you’re half in love with. How the sunlight hits your stack of clean dishes on the counter just so. When you’re driving down the street at dusk, in the summer, the windows are open, everything’s neon-tinted, your favorite song is playing, and you’re free and energetic and chill all at the same time—and you wish you could bottle how that feels.

It’s when life just hits different.

But it’s not all love, light, and pentagrams.

It’s also witnessing the intensely sad and angry and heartbreaking moments and letting those flow through you, too. Some are like bolts of electricity: sharp and quick and they take your breath away. Some are like deep, murky ponds that sink you for days. And not just witnessing—it’s turning those times into something more, something meaningful, something darkly magical, too.

That’s the magic I believe in. The everyday moments. When you pay attention. When you’re mindful. When you’re actually awake and noticing the special little bits of life. You begin to see them more often. You water them and they bloom. They turn into something more with your influence and intent.

So do I think I can manipulate situations, people, things? Nah. To me, that’s nuts. But I can simply be more aware of those moments and allow them to influence me. And that’s a better way of explaining how I “harness” the magic.

Imagine going about your day-to-day life like it’s a to-do list and nothing more. That’s kind of how I operated. It’s depressing now that I think of it. If I had a “magical” moment, it was rare, and spectacular, and out of the norm for me. It was too brief.

When I realized I could call those moments “magic” and bring more of them into my life just by pausing and being mindful…[head exploding emoji]. Now, as a witch, I find magic all over the place. Life can be really nice when you’re actively finding and fattening the magic moments.

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Hearted by and 5 other readers

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2. How do I feel about tarot?

I use tarot as a tool, but not as a divination tool.

In fact, some mindful articles about tarot at Elephant, linked above and below, are also partly responsible for putting me on the path to witchcraft. I acquired my first tarot deck long before I called myself a witch.

Now, I don’t believe that a random, beautifully illustrated card will tell me what’s going to happen in my life. But it allows me to ask a question as a sort of prompt. It’s more of a self-reflection tool.

Essentially, I allow myself to explore both the question and answer within the parameters of the specific card.

For example, if I pull a card and get “Death,” which signifies finality, accepting change, and letting go, then I might contemplate what that means for my current situation. What am I struggling to let go of? Why? Is there something I need to change? Or has something changed that has impacted me more than I realize?

Most of the time, my answers aren’t surprising, but maybe I realize I’ve been holding onto emotion and not wanting to deal with it. By exploring that, I’m prompted to take meaningful action to resolve whatever’s on my mind—rather than letting it subconsciously rattle around and wreck the place. Sometimes, rarely, my answers take me by surprise—like changing my “I don’t need anyone” mindset to realizing I’m actually profoundly lonely. And further realizing it has less to do with wanting independence and more to do with my abandonment issues.

If the card makes no sense, I don’t wonder at its mystery. Because again, it’s not about divination or a “message from beyond.” It’s a tool. So I just pull another card and ask another question.

I often pull a card in the morning if I have time to relax and think. I definitely like pulling a few cards to celebrate an event, like a full moon.

3. And what do I think about astrology?

Well, for me, this is just for fun. I don’t seriously believe that being a Gemini/Cancer cusp means any specific thing about me. And yet, I kinda do—because I like to have fun with it. Do I consult my horoscope to make decisions? I guess I could in the same way I use tarot, as a self-reflection tool, but in all honesty, I don’t ever read my horoscope. Do I blame my personal attributes on my sign? No. That’s silly. I am who I am because of the entirety of my life, not simply when and where I was born. But when my ex says dating me is like dating two different people, I nod my head yes and shrug. It’s a Gemini thing.

Astronomy, though, I’ve fallen in love with. The moon, constellations, meteor showers, eclipses, the seasons, auroras, yes, yes, yes, give me all of it. Does it mean anything more than what it is? No. I don’t “charge my crystals under a full moon in a bowl of purified water.” I don’t even own any crystals. (No shade to those who use crystals in their own practice, as long as they’re ethically sourced!)

4. Do I cast spells?

Well…not really. For me, they’re more like mindfulness rituals. If I’m having a crappy day, I’ll brew myself some tea and use that as an opportunity to pause and find magic in the act of it: adding ingredients, brewing, sweetening, stirring, sipping—all done with an intent that relates to whatever’s going on that day. If I’m feeling pissed off at someone, it might be that with each part of making the tea, I think of one of their good qualities to balance out my perspective. Or, if I’m feeling mildly depressed, each stir is a thought of something I’m grateful for.

I do this also while gardening, cooking, bathing, cleaning the house, brushing the pets. Each is an opportunity to “cast a spell,” which is more like a practice of intent or being thoughtful. I’m essentially casting a spell on myself.

Although, I have to say, when an anti-masker followed me out of a store and into the parking lot to scream “sheep” at me, you bet your ass I wanted nothing more than to hex that mothertrucker—if I actually believed in such a thing. (I don’t.)

Yes, I don’t mix up potions and powders, or create “spell jars,” or pour salt in a circle on my living room floor and call the four corners. I don’t attempt to speak to the dead (not in the sense that I expect an answer, anyway). But I do hang rosemary on my front door. And I do celebrate special occasions with specific rituals—like the first thunderstorm of the season. And sometimes, I create sigils as ultra-personal reminders. They’re like beautiful, artsy, whispery secrets, and only you know what they mean: I am worthy. I can get through this. My neighbor’s kind of an asshole, but I forgive her.

5. Do I celebrate traditional “witchy” or Wiccan holidays like Yule, Litha, Beltane, and Samhain?

Not exactly. I love to acknowledge certain aspects of the wheel of the year, but where I live, the true seasons don’t really align well with the sabbats or even the solstices. For me, winter comes much sooner than December 21st. And summer arrives much sooner than June 21st. So I’ve created my own personal dates to mark and celebrate seasonal changes that fit my locality. I also still celebrate Christmas with my family. Again, it’s really all about what makes sense for us as individuals.

6. Do I follow a specific path or kind of witchcraft?

If I had to choose another label besides “atheist,” it would be “green.” I believe a large part of witchcraft is about respecting and loving our natural world and the magic found within it. This is where my practice agrees with Wicca, which places a large emphasis on nature. Most of my rituals and practices revolve around Mother Earth: the weather, the seasons, plants, animals, and trying to live a more eco lifestyle.

I also incorporate plants into many aspects of my living—cooking and baking, cleaning, self-care, and even regular everyday hobbies. For example, I make room sprays with lavender, lemon peel, rosemary, and sometimes calendula—and when I brew the spray, I stir in my intent for peace at home. When I’m feeling a bit unsettled or chaotic, or my home just feels stuffy, I use the spray to brighten things up, and it works both practically and emotionally for me.

There’s so much more I could share about my practice. It’s so varied and individual to me, but I am careful not to steal from other cultures and their closed practices. I like to bring in elements of my own mixed heritage though, namely Polish, Austrian, English, and Cree (plus a few others). That’s the beauty of witchcraft. It doesn’t have to be one specific thing. We can practice it in whatever way feels right for us (respectfully).

I’ll end with just one more:

8. So why don’t I just keep calling it mindfulness since it’s mostly that?

There are two reasons.

First, it’s so much more than just mindfulness. It’s taking a tiny seed and growing it into an award-winning rosebush. It’s cultivating those moments, crafting and shaping them, multiplying them. I pluck them out and savor them like a blue jay plucks a worm from the ground. Mindfulness, to me, is being aware and present. Witchcraft is doing something more with it.

That’s where the magic of the practice is; that’s why I call myself a witch. I’ve pulled those mindful moments of my existence out into the light of day and crafted an entirely new (to me) way of being in this world—whether that’s through finding everyday magic, self-care rituals, or self-exploration tools, like tarot.

Second, um, hello? The witchy aesthetic is gorgina and I’m 100 percent here for it.

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