It was around the second month of my 7th grade year, I was 13 and sat in history class minding my own business, listening to the teacher and doodling on my notebook. I didn’t know anyone in class. Generally a shy child, I dutifully blossomed into an introverted teenager. A tall, dark haired girl sits next to me, striking because she looks older than her age, and she exudes the confidence I lack. We’ve only exchange brief conversations. When one afternoon, I am waiting to be picked up after school, and she sits next to me.
No teacher nor classroom was there to filter my shyness, and with words and kindness she cracks my shell. We talk about everything a typical teenager is preoccupied with, school, classes, home life, insecurities, and dreams. The topic, unexpectedly for me, turns into darker matters, magic, witchcraft, and spirits. Halloween looms close, and she begins sharing more personal things. After half an hour of talking she confesses that she is a witch, and I am stunned into silence. What am I supposed to say to this? Being raised in a strictly christian (in the odious fundamental, slightly schizophrenic form) I lacked the proper thinking tools to process her revelation. Curiously enough, part of me, a hidden part, was excited. She began telling me about what she did, what she believed, nothing too detailed. Truthfully, we were just young girls exploring the world and ourselves in the world. Magic for her was empowering and enriching. Admittedly, I was enthralled, I had never before met a self-proclaimed witch, much less someone beyond my perspective of things.
Then she shared with me how she celebrated the seasons, and how Autumn, especially Halloween, was her favorite, because for her this was a time to inhabit a different skin by dressing up, slipping into a different personality that existed outside convention, outside of her normal teenage life. This piqued my interest even more, donning different personalities, inhabiting a self outside of the restrictions imposed by home life. My heart lept with excitement, devouring her words, imagining her life.
What she was sharing swam in my head, and my mind ran wild. That a different way of living was possible? That dressing up could afford me a way of being different, of pretending I was someone other than my self? Not only pretend, but that I could break free from the fears and insecurities that bound me by dressing up, by acting as if I were free of said binds? This was magic to me at that moment. My mom drove up to the entrance some time later, and she handed me a beige folder. Inside were spells. She said, “Take a look, play around* with what you read, and keep it safe, let no one see it.” I got up and said goodbye, she responded with, “See you tomorrow.”
I interrupt here to confess that one of my favorite movies growing up was Teen Witch starring Robyn Lively. I see now how the idea of being different, and the many ways of being has been an ongoing theme for me.
Needless to say, I got home, opened the folder and inside were spells written on white copy paper. I riffled through them, but quickly stashed it in my closet to keep it away from prying eyes. At the moment of first seeing the pages I felt at odd trepidation, exhilaration at breaking the rules, but also fear. All the fear that had been instilled in me since childhood came rushing into me. My mother did not disappoint, I had kept the folder for several weeks, only looking at it furtively when I got the chance, which was mostly at night. When one day, she was in my bedroom for reasons I don’t know to this day, she found the folder. Livid, she strode up to me and threw the papers in my face, demanding to know why I had this stuff. She called me everything from Devil, to demon possessed, filthy, a disgrace, etc. I just cried. I also never spoke to that girl again.
Looking back, I chuckle, but I’m also glad that I met someone different at a moment in my life when I needed to see that there were other ways of being in the world. I am reminded of her words now, as she described what being a witch meant to her. I also still recall how she described her process of dressing up during the last weeks of October leading up to Halloween, taking the time to put thought into how different she would be from her normal self. Who she wanted to be. She was serious when she spoke of this, describing how she relished the days leading up to and during Halloween because she put aside her normal self and donned another self. During those days she would do rituals, and create a place for acting and being different. It was a drama. From one perspective, one can see how she was an impressionable girl, just like I was, who liked taking part in the theatricality of October and the allure of being a witch. On the other, she has a point. Of course, Halloween has a less alluring† history, but from where I stand there is no denying that the quality of shedding skins, like a snake, and of daring to explore different ways of living in the world is underneath as well. And if Halloween was her moment for participating in the drama of her choosing and creation, than good for her.
Outside of the flashy and sleazy commercial day October 31st has become, I admit that I see a particular kind of power in my friend’s way of approaching this time of the year. To conscientiously dress as someone else for a day or two, to let the different attire stimulate different parts of the self is a challenge in my eyes, a challenge to restraints, to binds, to identity constructs, to conventions, to what is normative. And I am not talking about dressing up as a sexy nurse, going to a party and being the center of attention, then getting wasted. Although, I can’t deny that perhaps for many many people dressing up as a sexy nurse stimulates self-confidence and unleashes a sexually confident persona. And it is about exactly this that I am talking about, the indwelling potential in exploring different parts of our self through the act of dressing up in a different way, of engaging in a drama of our own creation. There is also the element of stealth, of hiding one’s habitual identity to unleash more darker aspects, corners of our psyche that have been deprived, starved, and neglected.
Frankly, a subtle burst of freedom lurks behind my friend’s attempts at being more than just a normal teenager. Freedom in acknowledging that identity is in many deep seated ways a construct of society, familial relationships and culture. Moreover, exploring different forms of being in the world is empowering, keeping identity malleable as we open the self to engage and learn from the World is enriching.
On this day, which for me is just a preparation for the following two days which are very important to me, consider your self, how you present your self to the world, and maybe ask yourself, what is hidden that wants to be released, even if it is for one or two nights?
*I am sure she meant play around in the sense that I should experiment and try out some of the spells. I unfortunately did not play with any of the spells. Curiously, I got into automatic writing and started having conversations with a spirit that I met through automatic writing in trance.
†Alluring in a Hollywood woo-woo sense.