The neopagan movement is fairly new. While there are people who come from a background with family traditions, many of us who are interested in practicing paganism don’t have a specific teacher. We must learn through books and scholarship. In this essay, SJ of Witchling in Flight talks about xyr journey and how Drawing Down The Moon reveals history and context for pagan practice.
This is a part of the Summer Reading Coven series hosted by Northern Lights Witch. Throughout the summer, we will be highlighting books that have moved us deeply and impacted our practices as witches and occult practitioners.
What does it mean to be a witch? I’m starting to wonder if the word “witch” means something different to the others in this coven than it does to me. I’ve talked with Abbie enough to think that she and I have similar backgrounds when it comes to witchcraft, and because of those backgrounds she encouraged me to read Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America.
Guys, this is the book I needed five years ago when I wondered what to do next in my Pagan path. Let’s travel in time for a minute so that I can explain.
I grew up in a non-religious household, with parents who had definite values but no firm beliefs and spiritual life. My mom cleanses her spaces with sage when she feels the need to, but as far as I know that’s the extent of her spiritual practice. My dad never seemed to have a spiritual practice, just a deep commitment to social justice – which I’m happy he shared with me.
But when I turned 13, I wanted more.
I found out that Wicca existed and read All The Books. I never committed, not realizing until just a few years ago what Wicca lacked for me. If I’d had Drawing Down the Moon sooner, I think I would have found my path, or at least a better approximation of it.
Drawing Down the Moon isn’t a guide book. It’s not Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance. Not Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I’ve read so many books on Paganism and Wicca in the last fifteen years, and so few of them satisfied me: books like Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch, which gave an overview of a simplified version of Wicca, then listed “spells” to try so that you, too, could be a witch. Manifesting good grades, great boyfriends, and beautiful skin.
I never tried those spells, because those were never the things I was interested in, and I ached to find something new, better, different.
So I didn’t explore the elements, practice creating sacred space, and invoking the Goddess and God. I always wanted to be a witch, but Wicca never fulfilled that craving, and I tried to make peace with that.
Fast-forward to reading Drawing Down the Moon. First written in 1979, then revised in 1985 and most recently in 2005, Drawing Down the Moon is a chronicle of Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Margot Adler collected so much information, I hardly know how she kept it straight in her head. She weaves interviews with research, her own first-hand accounts with the larger picture of Pagan practices. Most of the book chronicles the 1970s, and what drove the explosion into Paganism, how it fit into feminism, and how people during that time – a time before I was born – worked to change the world. My copy included updates and revisions from 2005, meaning Adler can reflect on the past and what worked and what didn’t.
Between written documents, letters, interviews, and her own experiences of participating in rituals across the country, Adler covers everything in this book.
Wicca and Witchcraft is not boiled down to what I was exposed to as a teen, but rather the practice is given room to be complex, created by many individuals with differing views, opinions, and practices. There were women’s-only circles in a time when women weren’t used to having space to have feelings and needs. There were groups envisioning the religions of the future. There were groups attempting to recreate the religions of the past. There were groups who didn’t make a lot of sense to outside observers.
And Adler somehow manages to weave all of these different strains of Paganism into a book that shows an intricate, complex picture of how Paganism opened people’s minds to create their own paths. It’s inspiring to me, to realize that there are so many ways to practice Paganism. And that I’m not the first one to forge my own path. That there are pioneers who I can take inspiration from.
That who I am is okay.
That being a Witch doesn’t boil down to Wicca, and that I can have a completely different experience of religious witchcraft than what I was presented with as a young person.
Finally, I’m making some progress in my spiritual journey!
SJ is a genderqueer witchy pagan who appreciates being referred to as xe/xyr or they/them. Xe’s a person of many identities: disabled, environmental activist, knitter, sci-fi geek, future law student. Xe’s obsessed with the Tarot and its ability to tap in to something greater than ourselves to help us comprehend truth. SJ has felt the call to the path of the Witch for over half xyr life, but SJ is still figuring out how to walk that path and integrate all xyr identities, because they come from the same place: valuing life in all its forms and working to protect it. Check out xyr work: Witchling in Flight.