"A Witch guest during Holy Week? Getting worried about this show..." tweeted a regular listener. It was a British radio show and I, a Wiccan Priestess, was the special guest this past Tuesday.
The Tweeter's "about me" description read CATHOLIC AND PROUD. MY VIEWS ARE MY OWN. They might be his own, but he wasn't alone. Oddly enough, it's a secular show. It generally focuses on sports and pop culture. This week, they thought it might be fun to interview a real, live Witch. Secular or not, more than a few of their listeners tweeted concerns about my presence on the show during Holy Week, as though I might personally prevent the celebration of the resurrection of their Lord and Savior this weekend just by being on the radio.
My interest was in talking about Witchcraft with those fine gentlemen. I had no intention of interfering with Jesus.
As a Wiccan Priestess, I often get a lot of explanations from Christians during this time of year. "It's our most sacred holiday!" "It's more important than Christmas!" "Easter is the reason we are Christians, period!" "It's not just about bunnies and chocolate!!!" They may assume I'm unfamiliar with the holiday. They also may assume that I've been away from the Church for so long that I don't remember the story about Christ on the cross. Maybe they've assumed I've never left my house during the months of March or April. Who knows?
Easter is quite familiar to me.
I grew up Catholic--a very devout young Catholic, in fact. I gave up candy for Lent each year and ate fish on Fridays. I searched the house every Easter morning to find where the damn Bunny had hidden my basket. I wore new, flamboyantly frilly bonnets and dresses each year to packed Easter Sunday Masses. I dyed eggs, stuffed myself sick at Easter brunches, and had nightmares about the Crucifixion. Easter was great, bad dreams and all. My move from Christianity to Wicca wasn't one in anger or defiance, but one more akin to a young person traveling from the town in which they grew up to a brand new city, looking around and saying, "I'm not sure why, but this is my real home." Christianity was where I grew up. Wicca is where I settled.
Easter, naturally, isn't a holiday in the Wiccan faith. We celebrate a holiday called Ostara that, depending on the lunar calendar, can fall very close to Easter. Ostara celebrates the beginning of Spring (roughly March 21). It's a time when the Earth comes back to life after a winter snooze. For many Wiccans, it's a time to metaphorically plant personal intentions for the rest of the year. In Wicca, the natural Earth is our Church and whenever possible, we prefer to worship outdoors. In many places, worship must happen inside during the winter. Can you imagine not being able to worship in your Church for six months out of the year? How wonderful would it feel to enter your Sanctuary again? This is how we Wiccans feel when we step outside at Ostara. The snow is usually gone. We can dance and sing freely, welcoming the return of the flowers and the birds, and breathing in the fresh air, honoring our Divine in the way most natural to us. We are renewed.
This time of year celebrates the greatest miracle of this Earth of ours: the return of life.
For me, this time of year is also about getting out of my winter ruts. I like to cocoon. I'd prefer to stay home with my husband and cats, never leaving the house. The return of warmer days and blooming blossoms reminds me that it's time to break out of my own proverbial seed-shells. Where is my life constrained? From what do I need to break free? What kinds of symbolic seeds of renewal can I plant in the world? This year, I'm doing it literally, by planting seeds with my goddaughters in Central Park. These seeds happen to be ones I received a UN event honoring peacekeepers. These little girls and I will be planting seeds infused with hope for a just world. It's a simple rite, but a meaningful one for me and hopefully, for them as well.
I may not attend Easter services anymore, but Easter is not lost on me. Each year, I paint Easter eggs in the Ukrainian style, as my Nana taught me. It's a wonderful way to connect with my Ancestors. I think about the sacrifice Jesus made--giving his life in an attempt to attain peace and equality in his society. I like to think of myself as a social justice warrior, but I have to ask myself during this Holy Week: would I really give my life to any of my causes? I can't say that I would. I can't even say that I think it's a good idea that anyone does that. But it does lead me to think about the limits we impose on ourselves. Ostara and Easter both teach us that there are no limits. A seedling bursts from its acorn and becomes the largest and strongest tree in the forest. Sometimes, a tree grows out of a rock. How does that happen??? How can a tree grow out of a rock???? A person undergoes torture and loses his life, but his work and message grows stronger and louder. How does anyone do that??? How could anyone find that strength???
They're not so different. Not at all.
A few years ago, I was enrolled in a Seminary program. It was a cold day in early spring when a classmate approached me and asked what I, a Wiccan, might be getting out of a Seminary program that while attempting to be interfaith, was still heavily Christian. Did the curriculum speak something to me? How could it when its very theology was so different from mine? I pointed to the newly budding trees, the flowers desperate to open despite the stubborn winter chill. I said, "It's no coincidence that your God resurrects at the same time of year as my Goddess." She looked at the tree and smiled.
This time of year, whether you call it Easter, Ostara, or something else, is far bigger than one religion can hold. It is renewal, growth, and finding strength when it could not seem further from us. Let's unfurl our roots, dig deeply into it, and draw from this blessed season.
Take a look, Mr. CATHOLIC AND PROUD! You have nothing to fear. I didn't ruin Holy Week! I couldn't have, even if I'd wanted to.