Why Atheism?: Part II, Wicca
As I said in Part I, for my confirmation, I worked at a metaphysical bookstore in my home town. Let me set the stage for you, as I have many fond memories of the store and it’s owner.
Ram III Metaphysical Books was a small storefront on Main Street in Medford, NJ. This small section of Main Street was a small-town attempt to be another New Hope, PA but without the head shops, and minus about 300 stores and two miles of street. I remember my first visit to the store, when I wandered in looking for books on ghosts and UFOs. Shut up, I was young. The shop was facing the south, and the feeling of warmth that washed over me as I entered stayed with me throughout the rest of my visits, as does the memory of bright bands of white and rainbow light cast on the walls by the numerous crystals that hung in the bay window. With the warmth, there was a mix of every scent of incense that the store sold, which had seeped out of the little plastic bags and presented the shopper with an odd harmony that was never reproducable at home no matter how many bags of the shit you bought and burned.
In the background, there was always some kind of New Age music playing. I particularly remember Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast and Enya’s Shepherd Moons which had recently come out. The music that was chosen to play was perfect conversation music for people who don’t mind a break in talking to listen to some nice music once in a while.
The shop was also kept minutely tidy and well-lit, an attribute that I over the years learned was unique to Ram III. The only exception was a small, dark room sectioned off by a curtain that was used for psychic/tarot card readings and storage. In fact, I came to curse the cleanliness of the store as I became more responsible for it. You’d be amazed at how much dust a 20×30 store can accumulate in a day!
All these attributes of the store were maintained and enhanced by the proprietor, Carmen. Carmen was to the New Age as Voltron was to the five lions. When I first saw her, I felt like I was on display; she had these vivid blue eyes that looked deep into you and said, “If you even think about shoplifting, you are so dead!” She was also plump, in her upper fifties or early sixties (I never got brave enough to ask) with pure white hair about to her shoulders and almost always had some kind of sweater on. I was afraid to touch the books that I had come to browse, but I got over that feeling fairly quickly; after about two weeks and four more visits.
Carmen became a close friend, and I began to spend most of my afternoons at the store. Talking to Carmen, it was the first time that it seemed valid to have some kind of spirituality, and it was in this warm and fragrant store that my quest for a belief system really began. It was 1991, and I was 16.
One day, a middle-aged gentleman walked in, leaning on a white walking stick that was peppered with runes and topped with a leather strip for, I had guessed, hanging at home. He also had one of those magnificent, well-trimmed, 70s beards that I saw all the time on my parent’s record album covers. Carmen introduced us, and told me that the man was a Wiccan. I thought, “Wicked? Seems like a nice enough guy to me!” Two seconds of conversation then a book recommendation clarified.
That evening, I took home a copy of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I devoured that book, then all of Scott’s other books, then branched out to the other greats: Ray Buckland, Starhawk, Margot Adler, etc. From these authors, I learned a respect and reverence for nature that persists to this day, and other small things, like girls are more than just sexy. Please remember that I was just a teen!
No, it was during this time that my parents divorced, which initiated a completely different family dynamic which can only be described as “happier”. My father and I got much closer, and our times spent together going out stump shooting with the bows, hiking in the Pine Barrens, or just looking at the trees in silence were made all the more enjoyable by my blossoming faith. At this time, I never got a strong feeling of my father’s faith, which made it easy for me to talk to him about Wicca.
To me, Wicca was the polar opposite of Catholicism. Not because of doctrine, but because it made me interested in life, connected to the world, and excited about spirituality. Hell, it even made me cooler amongst my nerdy friends. It also helped me understand what it was to feel all of these things, that there could be more to morality and ethics than endlessly droned sermons that fall on deaf ears Sunday after Sunday. Plus, even more than all of these merits, Wicca was fun! I got to learn about trees, herbs, magic, and ritual that I could tailor to my own needs to connect myself to the world and to my own mind. In my numerous walks in the woods, following one stream or another, I could reflect and count that as worship.
However, as a religion it came up short. I had no connection to any of the gods that I was free to worship, and I tried a shitload of them: Odin, Freya, Pan, the featureless Mother Goddess and Father God. I even threw in Jesus and Mary in an odd concoction that lasted 15 minutes. The simple fact remained that, even though I had gotten some great things out of Wicca, a connection to god was not one of them.
I should say that Wicca is the religion that stayed with me most through the years, and I had many brief dalliances with it well into adulthood. Particularly memorable was my entrance into a group of practising Wiccans, a few of which are still close friends. When we first met through a friend’s sister, I came into the group as the “token Christian friend” even though I was still counting myself was Wiccan. Interestingly, it was because I was the only one in the group that didn’t dress in black. Ha! Once that embarassment was aside, our small coven/D&D group (of course) held ritual every once in a while, and it was still more of a “hang with your friends and make bad jokes” experience than a religious one. I particularly remember the first ritual where I learned that my two friends, Ed and Poe, channeled Christopher Walken when they spoke during circle. I almost gave myself an embolism holding in the laughter the first time I heard their darkly cloaked figures intone, “Oh, Heavenly Muthuh!” I still laugh, thinking about that. Sorry, Ed 🙂
It was at Ram III that an almost 20 year search for god began. Far more than that, it was where I learned that the search would be an important part of my life.