My Evangelical Church Taught Me Witchcraft
Since I was a little girl I knew magic was real. Some of my fondest memories are of running through the forests of Ohio looking for the faeries and other mythical creatures I had read about in my Hans Christian Andersen bedtime stories. I also have a not-so-fond memory of my Evangelical Christian mother finding a mock newsletter I had created for a “magical academy” where I imagined I would learn to be a faerie like in all the stories I loved. I was promptly sat down and explained that only witches practice magic and that my mother was concerned about me. This confused me - how could something so happy and natural be evil? Of course, not wanting my loving mother to be disappointed in me or think of me as evil, I took the scolding to heart and immediately started trying to remove my love of fire, water, earth, and air (what witches worshiped, according to my mother) out of my life.
But this thing my mother called “witchcraft” didn’t stop, because my mother couldn’t save my immortal soul from my own natural tendencies. I believe that all children are born knowing how to interact with the ethereal realm and I was no different. I didn’t have names for everything I did and had no idea the world and my mother would classify those things as witchcraft, yet I still scried into the darkness at night - even though I didn’t know what scrying was. And danced in circles while making up songs about what I or the world needed - even though I didn’t know that heightened energy with a partitioning song makes a spell. And never was this inclination so useful and encouraged as at my charismatic, evangelical church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Evangelical Christianity is very common in American Christian practices. Their theology teaches three things: all other Gods besides their God is false, the Christian Bible is the ultimate truth and tells no lies, and we were put on this earth to spread the message of that one true God and one true bible. Within this belief system are multiple ways to express and interact with these beliefs. The churches I had attended before our move to Atlanta had been about standing when you needed to and following biblical rules to the T. But this church was charismatic and “crazy”, grounded in the belief that the Holy Spirit could speak directly to us. At first it was strange to me. They prioritized listening to the Holy Spirit over memorizing scripture. They worshipped with a deep reverence and prayed with each other in liturgy. They practiced “guided prayer” (where they would have you envision heaven while praying and guide you through talking to God and angels) and spoke in the unearthly language of heaven. They prophesied to each other. They danced as they worshipped. The congregation moved with the Holy Spirit and, once I grew comfortable with the new setting, the freedom was divine to my soul.
I never had a sense of true belonging, but I did feel a sense of freedom I hadn’t before. So I began using their teachings.
I began writing during services as a form of worship and connecting to what I understood was the Holy Spirit. I would lie on the floor during worship and astral project myself to other places with the heightened energies of worshippers flowing around me. We prayed for each other. We approached each other with love when we believed the Holy Spirit to have a Word for someone.
But most of all, I learned to quiet my heart and hear the Holy Spirit speak. Looking back, I don’t think I ever connected with God in the way He was taught to me. Every time I would close my eyes and pray I felt a much wider pull than one single being, but their teachings opened the door my childhood self had been told to shut.
When I turned 18, I attended cosmetology school in Atlanta and, as a result, broadened my community outside of the church. The cosmetology community is filled with creatives who reject the norm, making it a playground for individuals who practice alternative spiritualities. This opened the door for me to meet people who also listen to Spirit, yet prayed to different gods and deities.
At first this confused me. I had always been taught the Christian god was the “one true god” and anything outside of the gifts He gave you were either evil or false. Yet here they were, people worshipping other deities with the same gifting I practiced. They got images just like I did. They astral projected just like I did. But they were also examples of how those same things could be given different names like psychic and used in the world to help and heal, whereas my church leaders always became noticeably uncomfortable when the terms “psychic” and “medium” were mentioned. My church leaders loved that I could hear directly from God and even came to me for that prophetic guidance, but they had always been quick to shut down any questions I had regarding the spirit of my grandmother visiting me, opting instead to tell me I was imagining things or that it could be a demon. Or when I asked them about the “prophecy cards” they used to do outreach at new age fairs and how they were different from tarot cards. Fear was almost palpable in any room I asked these questions. The leaders would get quiet and clearly not know how to answer me. “Because we believe in the one true God and those other people don’t” was a standard answer. That answer might have been good enough in my younger years when I was desperate to not cause trouble, but now I rolled my eyes.
But these people who carried the title ‘pagan’ and ‘witch’ did not shut down my questions. They accepted not only myself, but people of all background and sexualities without trying to change them, whereas my church leaders did not. They answered my questions on everything from mediumship to why the goddess Artemis had visited me in a dream. I had received nothing but shame from my pastor when my gifts had branched outside of the churches walls, yet from these pagans I received an open mind.
One morning I came into school distraught over a conflict I was having with my family. I could find no Biblical resolution to the toxic situation and knew I had been putting myself through unneeded paid. My pagan friend had brought me a breakfast sandwich because the “Universe had told her to” and had willingly sat to listen. After listening to my problems she looked in my eyes and said, “Why do you need the Bible? Ask your Higher Self, she already knows what to do.” It was like a loving slap in the face. My initial reaction was to defend the teachings I grew up with, but I couldn’t deny she was right. I didn’t really believe in most of it anymore, so why was I still letting it be a toxic roadmap?
I came to realize that we all hear God’s Spirit but have different names for it. Different ways of interpreting its energies and teachings.
So in December 2017 I left.
I had accepted a position at my church as a preschool teacher after cosmetology school a year prior and had used that time to really dig into my own beliefs and the new spiritualities I had opened up to in school. I also hoped to teach the children of the congregation a more open-hearted method of spirituality through God. But I couldn’t stomach it for long. For over a year I felt sick to my stomach every time I entered the building. Teaching children something I believed in less everyday would never sit well with my soul. So I finally quit everything: Church, fundamental Christianity, and my job.
I went to New Orleans the next month with two of my best friends who were also becoming spiritually open and we spent all of our free time wandering through the French Quarter. We toured through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the rain with a guide which recognized our interest in Marie Laveau and graciously took us to other Voodoo tombs. We visited witchcraft stores packed with herbs, books, and fixed candles and asked the store owners every question we had. It was a weekend of reprieve after a month of heartache and loneliness. There is a certain feeling of ease that comes from finally being on the correct path, almost as if your Spirit Guides have a hand on your back in comfort and direction. I now know that’s what I stepped into that weekend: my true path.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t a part of a church. It was a deeply lonely experience at first but one I knew I needed. I needed to be alone with my new freedom. I needed to listen and read and learn without any higher authority. I wrote letters to the people of the staff and congregation which had hurt me, meditated on them, thanked the Universe for the lesson it had taught me, and burned them. I had lost an entire congregation of support by leaving, yet loneliness was no longer a consequence for turning my back, it was now a tool to utilize. Yet even in those months of spiritual solitude and cleansing of my relationships, three people stayed. One from my evangelical church, one from my cosmetology school, and one who had come out of the blue as if Spirit themselves had divined the relationship. It was with them that I found my new community. I was no longer a spiritual leader, I was a learning about the magic of the world besides three other women. We were now on a journey together. They are, to this day, my Three Of Cups.
My evangelical church hurt me and people I love with the limited, shame-filled viewpoints it pushed on us, yet I can’t help but look back with appreciation. They were the first to encourage my gifts, the first to show me acceptance when even my mother had been afraid of me. They showed me an example of how community could be grounded in appreciation of the spiritual world. I wonder how the world would be different if the Christian community opened their hearts to people like me and acknowledged the vastness of the ethereal. That things which fall under the umbrella of “witchcraft” are not evil but just gifts and practices to expand the energy of the world for people who have no choice but to pay attention to it. That we are not so different from them, just more accepting and daring.
Now on every full and new moon my home is open to anyone and everyone needing a place to worship and commune. Pagans, mystic christians, satanists, witches, and the undecided are all welcome to gather for food and magic. These nights can be made up of anything from just drinking wine and celebrating the day to group tarot readings or spell work. There is no authority obtained through fear or anxiety of the unknown. Sometimes it’s just my Three Of Cups gathered, sometimes it’s many additional individuals looking for guidance and a place to rest their spirit for the night. All are welcome, no exceptions. This is a time for me to give people what I so desperately needed all along: freedom. Some nights I look around and can’t believe how blessed I’ve become. Being willing to walk away took me from a place of oppression and gave me the courage to create something new. This is my church. This is what my spirit has longed for.
Magic is love and energy and dreams and visions. It’s the light which we chase and the shadow we sometimes fear. It’s crystals and candles and herbs and chants. It’s communing with ancestors. It’s the language of the Other Realm. Most of all, it’s listening. And I am grateful to my evangelical church for teaching me just that.
By: Theadora Doss