I sat quietly in the pew while eight elderly parishioners filed into the church. One of them, a small woman wearing a white prayer scarf, smiled at me as her body began its crooked decent into a kneeling position. In a Catholic church, it is traditional to kneel at the side of the pew and make the sign of the cross before entering the row of benches. The woman’s hands, covered in dark spots and stiff with age, shook with the unmistakable cadence of Parkinson’s Disease. She closed her eyes as she reached first for her forehead, then the middle of her chest. She followed this with a gentle tap on each shoulder. Her body pitched forward as she fought to control her arms. I thought she might collapse and I moved to help her.
“No, no.” She whispered. “I’ll manage.” I nodded at her as I settled back into my seat.
“Are you here for confession?” She asked as she sat down next to me.
“Yes.” I replied quietly.
“You’re first. Go on, now.” She said, waiving me forward with her quivering arms. I was keenly aware of the same sinking feeling in my stomach as I’d had the day my Druid teacher singled me out for my Bardic initiation. I glanced at the statues of Mary and Joseph as I walked toward the confessinal door. I tenatively grasped the gold plated door knob, taking a sharp inhale as I turned it to the right. I slowly pushed open the door.
The room felt like a large closet with windows. Late afternoon sun trailed down the walls in soft, white pools. One side of the room was used for storage while the other was dedicated to the purging of sins. On my left, candle holders, music stands, and folding chairs were arranged haphazardly against the walls, spilling out apologetically toward the middle of the room. To my right sat the priest. He was dressed in white robes with a purple prayer sash around his neck. He was much younger than I’d expected. His hands were clasped in front of his slender body, resting over the knee of his crossed leg. His hair had yet to show signs of grey and his skin held the elasticity of a man still in his prime. He felt elegant and refined against the wildness of my bristling Soul.
There were two ways to make confession – behind a small divider for the semblance of privacy or face to face.
“Where do I sit?” I asked.
“Wherever you’re most comfortable.” He replied, readjusting his posture as I cleared my throat.
I chose the option of sitting face to face. I nervously lowered myself into a simple metal chair with thin black vinyl cushions. I looked at the priest for a moment before reciting the words I’d memorized in second grade catechism. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned.” My voice felt thick and heavy with the guilt of a Catholic who hadn’t seen a priest for over half her life. “It’s been at least 30 years since my last confession.”
I paused, not knowing what to say next. I stared at the floor while my brain unraveled in a million different directions.
“What do you wish to confess?” The priest asked.
“Well…” I said, dragging the word slowly across my tongue while I figited in my chair. “I guess I want to confess that I’m a Druid and a Witch and I want to go to church tomorrow.” I raised my eyes to his face, studying his reaction.
It was his turn to look at the floor. He shifted again as he fought to maintain his composure. The bluntness of my confession caught him off guard. His knuckles turned white as he clentched his fingers tighter around his knee. I watched as fear traveled over him, tickling his skin like the legs of a thousand little insects.
It was a fear I knew all too well. Memories of sleepless nights spent clutching a rosary with a bible under my pillow and a cross on the wall above my head poured into the forefront of my consciousness. The little Catholic girl in me remembered the horror stories of witches and heretics and how they would burn in hell for all eternity for consorting with the devil.
“I grew up Catholic and I’ve always loved churches.” I spoke gently, trying to ease the tension in the room.
I spent the next few minutes explaining the twists and turns of my Spiritual path through Druidry, Shamanism, and Pagan Witchery. I watched the Priest’s face as my words filled the room. He was listening, thinking, trying his best to determine how to be both brave enough and safe enough to minister to the woman sitting in front of him. I did not begrudge his discomfort. After all, I was probably the first person to come into his church and openly admit to being a witch.
I finished speaking and waited for his response.
“The first thing that comes to mind are the Harry Potter books.” He said nervously.
“They talk about many of the same things you described.” He took a long, labored breath as he thought about what to say next.
“There are a lot of connotations around the word witch.” I replied, moving the conversation along a thin line between spiritual counseling and outright blasphemy. “It scares people, especially in the church. There’s a misconception in the Christian community that witches are evil and they do bad things. That’s not true. At least, it’s not true among the witches I know. Some of the kindest, most loving people I’ve met call themselves witches.”
“I see.” he said, eying me carefully. “I suppose it is a word that can be misinterpreted, and, as with Harry Potter, I suppose it’s possible to call yourself a – witch…”
He physically choked over the word. It scratched and clawed its way up his throat, coming out as a hoarse stutter in the small corner of his confessional. I could see how difficult it was for him to continue. To say things that might displease God in His holy house. He wore his struggle openly.
I admired him. I watched as he wrestled with his virtue, his faith, and his commitment as a priest to do the good Lord’s work. I imagined the questions forming in his head.
Why would God put a witch in front of me? What is His plan? Will He protect me? Will I succumb to temptation? What if I fail Him in this moment of doubt?
All the Catholic worries I grew up with and the terror they inspired permeated the room. His fearful questions were my childhood nightmares. I knew them intimately.
I honored his courage. It took decades for me to heal from the religious trauma of my youth. When was the last time I felt as courageous as this man looked? My mind dug out the memory of the day I found Buddah while walking through a typhoon.