I call in the spirits of my Circle Sisters, both living and dead. Witness my truth. So I will it, so let it be. In the Name of God Herself in the presence of the Universe Herself.
Tell you one thing
I’m gonna make noise when I go down
For ten square blocks
They’re gonna know I died
All the goddesses will come up
To the ripped screen door
What do you want, dear?
And I’ll say,
I want inside – Ani Difranco, “If He Tries Anything”
When I say the word “Sister”, I mean this word to be inclusively for everyone of all genders. If that’s something that’s difficult for you, feel free to use a word of your own choosing and know that I mean it as a word of respect.
When I say the word “woman” and other words in that vein, know that I include every woman who calls herself woman. I see you. I hear you. I hold space for your experiences that brought you here to be with me today. For everyone who identifies as a man or a non binary person or as something else all together. I see you. I hear you. I hold space for your experiences that brought you here to be with me today.
My name is Deb Castellano, my book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What Want came out with Llewellyn in 2017. I blog over at CharmedFinishingSchool.com and I reside in the US in New Jersey with my husband, Jow and our cat Max II.
An Origin Story
It’s 1998. I’m a sophomore at the largest women’s college in the US. They had not sold us out yet to join a giant university conglomerate. We were supposed to be really learning to lead as women. I didn’t really know what that meant yet, but I did know that it was a good place to be for the staring contest I’d been having with Jesus since burying my father two years ago. I was taking a lot of classes in religion because in my opinion, something was off the rails between me, Jesus and the Roman Catholic Church so obviously if I could just take enough classes in Jesus and women’s studies or whatever, this would all make sense. Instead, I was getting increasing rage migraines during Sunday masses and would leave just shy of screaming about how god wants us to be able to have safe abortions, being queer is just fine and also, if that jackass deacon could give a crap homily and be married, obviously I could give an actually good homily and be a deacon and we could all be fine again. My mother, despite secret radical feminist leanings, had a very laissez-faire attitude that conveyed that the pope says a lot of things and didn’t understand why I needed to make such a big deal about it. Whatever. I would just keep Hermione Granger’ing out at school until me and Jesus figured this out. I had known a lot of kind and progressive priests so it felt like all the pieces were there, I just had to mash them all back in together somehow. I was learning about all the badass magical dead chicks we had roaming around in the Bible in college, so why weren’t we talking about them in Church? Why weren’t we talking about them in Church????? I mean, come on! We’ve got Mary M. who is the apostle to the apostles and her sister Martha who told off Jesus and tamed a dragon, Jael and Deborah who started a revolution and that’s not even all the weirdo saint girls doing strange and wonderful things.
Long story short, I was interviewing my then-best friend’s stepmom for a women’s studies project and I had to go to a religious ceremony that was not in my home religion and I couldn’t make the class field trip. Skip, our circle’s founding sister invited me to circle. I went.
In a way, ever since then I’ve been apologizing. Super sorry about turning my back on centuries of familial tradition. Super sorry that one of our movement’s founding mothers keeps bringing shame to us by defining something so sacred and important as womanhood by something so incidental as biology. Totally sorry that this space is exclusionary to you if you don’t define yourself as a woman. We talk about The Goddess which is not cool at all when we should be talking about specific goddesses and saints at the very least, apologies. Oh and right, because no boys allowed, all our magic is garbage and made up, totally sorry about that.
Twenty years later, I’m finally done with apologizing, Sisters. I will no longer apologize for something that has been so beautiful and important to me and I want to share everything I can with you about why this magical experience has shaped me into who I am today.
When I first started attending The Amethyst Circle of Sisters, I thought that a women’s only space was a charming antiquated notion that was at once time important, in the murky second wave before I was born. I didn’t know how powerful women’s space could be. But I came to need that space in my life both in practicing witchcraft and eventually, other spaces in my life as well. I know x, y, z gender space isn’t for everyone, but it’s been a powerful part of my practice personally. When I was a younger witch, women’s space helped give me strength to be brave and to find my voice. I processed some really difficult trauma in that space, I asked for healing before I knew I had fibromyalgia and just knew I was sick all the time, I did magic to honor my body and my spirit. Now, as a middle aged witch, I find that women’s space helps soften my hard edges and to open my heart. I talk about my doubts and fears as well as my triumphs, I do magic to reclaim my power and manifest my intentions, I feel the tiny beginning of becoming an older witch and the inkling of desire to pass on my knowledge to others. When we cast a circle, we enclose ourselves into a snowglobe-like space together and I feel really safe in that space. Regardless to what magic we cast, there hasn’t been a time where I haven’t come home more centered and grounded, with new ideas and re-charged. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is in this life, honestly.
If the Roman Catholic Church is perpetually paused at allowing women any kind of actual voice during Mass, my sisters are all in. Within a year and a half of study, attending rituals, leading rituals as a dedicant and asking many questions of myself and my sisters, I was self initiated as a Priestess with my Sisters as witnesses. It’s taken me a really long time to see how truly radical that was – I was given the opportunity to lead rituals that I created and lead magical workings that I designed before I was old enough to drink.
I was given space to make mistakes – to overplan and micromange while my sisters gamely participated, to learn actual time management through showing up late to my own rituals, to figure out how to plan and serve feasts that sometimes included overbaked ziti, to do things incorrectly during ritual space where my sisters would softly murmur, it’s okay, the Goddess is forgiving, was nothing short of revolutionary. I was always treated as an equal by my older sisters, they listened to what I had to say, they would give encouragement which built confidence in me, they helped me heal my open trauma wounds through magic and gentle words, they gently kicked my ass when I needed it, they gave me wisdom even knowing I would probably disregard 75% of it.
So much of who I am comes from having sisters who were younger than me and working on giving them the same respect and care that my older sisters gave me, having sisters who were my age and learning to work together, having sisters who were my mom’s age and learning and growing from their experiences and sisters who were closer to my grandmother’s age and seeing that being an older woman doesn’t have to look like one thing. I saw their struggles, I saw their triumphs, I saw the differences in what we got out of our circle, I saw what everyone brought to the table and that was so powerful for me. Sometimes still, with my older sisters, I will tease them and say, Are you pleased with how circle raised me as a woman? And they will laugh and say, Always.
DIY as Revolution
There comes a point in almost every Witch’s upbringing where she looks at her new magical roots and considers them baby-ish in some way. There’s always some other tradition that’s newer (to you), shinier (to you), more hardcore (to you), more legit (to you). I was no different. I mean, as a young Witch it was easy to wrinkle my nose with the other young Witches and roll our eyes about glory day stories the older Witches had about menstruation being used in ritual, but I inevitably wound up learning how to use a menstrual cup and water my plants with a mixture of menstrual blood and water so there were practical applications for me, though I still have trouble envisioning menstrual blood being used in group ritual now more due to health reasons and skewing the ritual to cis-women.
But eventually, I would squirm about how made up our ritual magic was. Our magic only kind of sometimes came from books. Our magic was super touchy-feely. Our magic didn’t usually involve a lot of complicated correspondences. Our magic didn’t often involve a lot of specific work with a particular goddess. Our magic didn’t involve the crossroads or hexing.
While I always attended circle, I did start wandering. To ADF Druidic groves. To rudimentary Hindu practices. To Hoodoo. To sweat lodges. And while I had many amazing experiences in those places and continue to grow and evolve and even circle back to folk Catholicism lately, I was overlooking one small thing. The point.
Our magic worked.
Maybe it sometimes lacked ritual theater. Maybe it wasn’t terribly oogie boogie. But lordess, it worked, Sisters. In almost every ritual, we created something beautiful and functional. We created witchcraft that healed, that manifested and that left a little tealight inside each of us. And that is the point. For me, at least.
Magic as Consent
Consent culture looked pretty different twenty years ago. Even ten years ago. There was more of a focus on people clearly saying no and the other person taking no for answer. Now there’s more of a focus on enthusiastic consent, which I really like.
As feminists, we extended consent to our magical practice. Participation in everything involved in circle is consent based, giving all sister autonomy over their bodies, minds and spirits.
Our Bodies, Ourselves
Many of our ritual practices involve our bodies that our goddess spirits dwell in. We recognize the strength our bodies give us, our frustrations when our bodies have medical issues, the sacredness of the home our spirits dwell in and the beauty of the bodies we inhabit. This has been a powerful part of our practice while living in a world telling us our bodies will never correctly represent us as women.
In my circle, if someone has been through a traumatic experience or is experiencing a body trauma, we will lay our hands on our sister as healing. Some of us have Reiki training and some of us don’t. We focus on covering the sister’s body with our hands as much as possible and take a few minutes to put healing energy through our hands up from the Earth and into our sister. Many of our sisters have gotten diagnoses as needed, shorter healing time from medical procedures and assistance in healing traumas through this practice.
Magic to Tend Your Inner Terrarium
Much of our magic is used to heal ourselves, set our magical intentions, protect ourselves and plant seeds in our inner terrariums for growth. Examples of our past ritual work include: self blessing, letters to our younger selves, bindings, protection charms, candle magic, bread baking, self exam, ritualized self care, hand washing and artistic magical expression.
The mother, maiden, crone triad can be difficult for a lot of women for a lot of reasons – it relies heavily on biology which isn’t helpful for every woman. Since our circle is intergenerational, we talk often about being Amazons because that’s something we can all do together regardless of age and biology. Our Amazon rituals focus on gaining mental fortitude for difficult life experiences, finding strength in our bodies while each of us have different bodily functional ability, finding strength in our sisterhood, finding strength in the goddess, finding strength in our spirits. We’ve created masks to use for when we need strength, performed Thorn Coyle’s Iron Pentacle work, we’ve made amulets to draw on and we call in the spirits of Amazons that inspire us from the living and the dead.
Beltane as a time to share and educate
In my circle, Beltane is a time to invite friends and family to our open circle. Kids run around in floral crowns, friends laugh while they get tangled up in the Maypole and family gamely jump the small kitchen pot’s balefire. If the weather is good, we are outside picnicking and getting to know each other’s loved ones. We explain what we do and why we do it and give everyone a chance to participate in as much or as little as they feel comfortable with. Education has always been an important part of our circle whether it’s teaching why our circle does what it does, learning more about ourselves and our bodies or social issues that affect us as women.
Personal sharing is a sacred part of my circle’s practice. It is the bane and the blossom of our existence as circle sisters. Personal sharing is done within the circle. The intention is to share something that you are experiencing as part of your journey with the goddess with your sisters as witnesses. It should be something that is deeply impacting you. What’s shared within the circle is considered sacred and confidential. You always have the option to pass your turn. Encouragement can be given and advice upon your request can be given as well. It’s a deeply intimate experience. It’s been interesting for me in working with people who don’t do this because as soon as the words “sacred space” and “confidential” are uttered to me in any kind of witch space, I will empty my metaphorical purse with great enthusiasm as I’ve been doing for the last twenty + years. Most people are much shyer and less trusting of that concept. It’s a beautiful, sacred experience. But also a difficult one when many sisters worked a full day before circle and are tired and need to get home to their families. For personal sharing to work well, a skilled facilitator is required. You want every sister to get to talk about everything that’s important, but you also would like personal sharing to ideally last less than an hour. How do you get everyone to edit themselves while still sharing what they need to share? It’s been a challenge since the day I first attended circle, but one I strongly believe is worth engaging with because the reward is so great.
The Personal is Political
Witchcraft and politics have been entwined at least since the Middle Ages. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth. Queen Catherine de Medici and Cosme Ruggieri. Dianic witchcraft has its roots in second wave feminism in the U.S. so it’s not uncommon for our circle to include action like learning about the history of legalizing abortion and doing witchcraft to keep all medical procedures for women safe and accessible as well as turning the feast into a fund raising dinner for Planned Parenthood. It feels really satisfying to me to learn more about the local world around me and being able to take action both magically and politically to change my immediate world, especially when I often feel helpless as the US keeps inching closer to LARPing The Handmaid’s Tale.
My personal future
Upon turning forty this year, I’ve realized how important it is for me to continue learning, growing and teaching through my Dianic work. I am currently working on forming an outgrowth branch of my circle which will be called The Rose Quartz Collective of The Amethyst Circle of Sisters, with the blessing of my circle’s founder to continue the work started with The Amethyst Circle. I’m setting my intention to continue the work that Skip Drumm and my sisters started and to keep updating our practices to reflect how the world is changing and evolving.
Potential Practical Application for You to Experiment With:
Consider throwing a clothing swap for people who identify with your gender, see what it feels like. There may be people who are new to their gender identity and it can be an empowering experience to try on different variations of your gender’s expression as well as assisting others in experimenting with finding their own gender expression through clothing.
Hostess a tea and Tarot to see what divination feels like in a gender specific space.
Do a hand washing ritual that feels right to you with people you trust who have the same gender identity as you. Design the ritual so that it feels organic to you. Do personal sharing after the ritual but within sacred space.
What did that feel like? If it doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t do anything for you after experiencing it, that’s okay! I invite you to consider why that was for you and know that there’s no wrong answer.