Looking back on some of the experiences I’ve had in my life, I’m realizing that the witch didn’t pop out of nowhere.
As a young kid I was very much the queen bee. I liked having people listen to me. It fit with my personality then that I was a performer — dance, piano, voice. I was very close to my piano and voice teacher, who took my diva mentality and channeled it into music. She owned a second-hand bookstore several blocks from where I went to school. Since my parents both worked, they arranged for me and my best friend (an extended relation of my teacher’s) to walk there after school and stay at the bookstore until our parents could pick us up. I would also have my piano and voice lessons there once a week.
My teacher and her aging mother ran the store. They kept a table in the middle of the shop stocked with different tea accouterments, cookies and candies. My friend and I would make ourselves a cup and a plate and curl up under the table. We’d play all sorts of make believe games. We’d peruse the shelves for forbidden and exotic subjects. It was paradise, free from the prying eyes of our Catholic parents.
As I was reflecting on my time at the bookstore the other day, some of the details I had forgotten started coming back to me. There was a display of different types of crystals by the tea table. Sometimes, if my friend was not there, I’d read the descriptions of each crystal and collect a few. I’d curl up under the tea table and squeeze each crystal in my hand, imagining that it was having its purported effect on me. At the register in the front, I was fascinated by postcards with pictures and descriptions of different Egyptian gods and goddesses, so much so that my dad let me buy one of each. I taped them to the wall of my bedroom above my bed. I was watched over by Bast, Sekhmet and the entire Egyptian pantheon as I slept.
Back in recent times, during one of my first intentional experiences in the spirit realm, I was determined to find the space where my spirit lives. I tried to imagine a door, but I was surprised to find myself in my old room. The Egyptian pantheon was there, taped to the wall. I was there too, sleeping in my bed. My older self walked up to my closet, where I had gotten trapped as a child when the door jammed. My grandfather tore off the door to get me out. But in the spirit world that door was intact. It was the one that took me to my place.
I’m realizing now that my teacher may have been a pagan, which is incredible given the fact that she was for a time the music teacher at my Catholic elementary school. Even as she left that job and opened her bookstore, she still created a safe space to express and introduce the occult all while not raising the suspicions of our parents. In the almost 20 years since my family moved away from my hometown, I’ve lost touch with my teacher. It would be amazing to reconnect with her and to truly talk to her about the paganism she so gently introduced me to.
Maybe this is just my impression, but in reading through other’s memoirs (or at least Adelina St. Clair’s), it seems like people drawn to paganism seem to have some level of spiritual awareness that’s been present their whole lives. In her book, The Path of the Christian Witch, St. Clair talks about how as a child she learned to see auras and had vivid dream conversations with Jesus and the Virgin Mary. As a college student she spontaneously experienced something called the Green Light enveloping her.
I felt a bit despondent as I read that part of her memoir, like I was some sort of wannabe. I had never had a close personal relationship with Jesus or Mary. I had never seen auras or lights. As I was reflecting more on my pagan beginnings though, I guess I realized that I did have some strange experiences, but just different ones.
Again, in my old room as a child, I saw what I think was a fairy. I was in bed, daydreaming the night away as always. I was not invoking anything to my knowledge or seeking a fairy’s presence. But one faded into my sight on the other side of my room, a soft, bright green. I could see her head, her wings, her little legs. She hovered and shined, watching me. My heart stopped in my chest and I thought I was imagining it, but I called for my dad anyway. The fairy didn’t leave at the sound of my voice, but faded away as my dad, exhausted and disgruntled, stumbled into my room. But as he was standing in the doorway, she appeared again, just as before. I pointed to her and asked frantically if my dad could see her. He couldn’t. She just hovered there, somewhat jovially, as my dad looked straight through her. Then she faded away again.
To this day, my parents think that someone was playing a joke on me, that some neighboring teenager was shining a laser pointer into my room. But she hovered. She didn’t jitter around like some laser pointer. She was real.
My other childhood experience with the spirit world was the few months after my aunt died. She was my mother’s sister. My dad and I waited until the summer to visit her sick bed in the Philippines, while, tragically, my mother’s passport was not renewed in time for her to see my aunt before she died. My mom and aunt were extremely close. They came from a very, very large family, one in which several of the siblings took on parental roles where my grandparents could not. My aunt cared for my mother emotionally while they stayed with their own aunt, my grandfather’s sister, because my grandmother was running a store and still trying to care for even younger children. My aunt became an engineer and sent my mom to college. They lived together even as my mom graduated and began working, even as my mom started her relationship with my dad and eventually got married and moved away to the U.S.
My aunt never had any children of her own. She remained unmarried until she reached her forties, tirelessly working and helping to support her brothers, my uncles. Just a few years before her death, she married the town doctor, who was over thirty years her senior. He had seven grown children, the oldest of which was just a few years younger than her. I played the piano at her wedding reception. She was always giving — time, energy, money. She gave until there wasn’t anything left. She died of bone cancer when she was 47.
She was the first person that I ever saw die. I was fearful to walk into that hot room in that Filipino hospital. She was so weak when we arrived. I sang for her. She told me I was beautiful and that I had the voice of an angel. She really didn’t deserve to suffer so much.
The night she died most of our family members returned to the family home. I remember being in the car when I started to burn up. It felt like my body was on fire. I heard my aunt’s voice in my head. She was with us, there, in the car, and she would be with us for three more days. I told my cousin this and she started to cry, while her mother tried to comfort her and told us that it was a wonderful thing that our aunt was communicating with us.
The next night the same thing happened while I was trying to sleep. I got hotter and hotter and hotter and I started hearing voices, which I couldn’t entirely make out. I felt like my aunt was curled up next to me, hugging me. But I could hear and feel others there too. Others who had died horrible deaths, murdered and executed when the Japanese occupied the village during WWII. I ran out of the room and waited until I could sleep in bed with another one of my aunts. I was too afraid to be alone.
It continued after my dad and I returned to the U.S. My mom was devastated that she had not seen her sister and was grieving deeply. I continued to hear my aunt. Sometimes she would give me things to say to my mom and dad, other things to me. She was trying to comfort them, even then. My dad was going through a career change and used to try to ask my aunt for advice. Both she and I became a bit exasperated with the constant questions. She stayed with me though and was always there when I asked to speak to her in my mind.
But again, I started hearing others besides her. I heard my grandpa, my dad’s dad. My great-grandma, my dad’s maternal grandmother. They had died when I was a child, although I remember my great-grandma better. They would talk to me, sometimes give me advice, but nothing more that I can remember specifically.
In the following months, I stopped being able to sleep. I was having nightmares of shadows. I was hearing their voices. I was terrified to sleep. I turned on all the lights around me and read books all night until I’d fall asleep mid-sentence. I felt like I was being circled, surrounded. Some voices pretended to be my dead family members, but they said to do awful, horrible things. I yelled at them to go away, to leave me alone. I knew they were liars and imposters. It was soon after that I remember imagining standing outside of a door, with all those voices on the other side. Or was it a dream? I can’t remember anymore. “I shut the door,” I said. The voices stopped, and I’ve never heard my aunt’s since.
God, it sounds insane to recount it. I can’t recall a single friend that I’ve told any of this to. Ironically, much later in my life, I was committed for a short time to a mental health hospital, unrelated to hearing voices. But while I was there, I met many, many people who did. While it prevented them from living an ordinary life, I wonder how close they were to the spirit world?