my catholic upbringing sparked my love for ritual magic

I grew up Catholic, although the seriousness with which I approached my faith certainly ebbed and flowed. Our small town Catholic church was tight knit and homey, and we went to mass and CCE (Catholic Sunday School) every week. I had friends at church that I didn't see at school, and, being the bossy know-it-all that I was, I loved memorizing the prayers and songs and answering questions correctly in class. My brother and I would take turns squeezing each others hands as hard as possible during the peace blessings, and color biblical scenes in the pew when the homily got too boring.

I especially loved the church during the holidays. At Christmas, the altar would be adorned with bright red poinsettias, colored Advent tapestries hanging from the beams; during Easter, the white lilies were crisp against the lavender and pink Lenten candles. The altar boys would process out with the priest, whose garb would change colors to reflect the theme of the mass, and light the candles, one by one. The same altar boys would lay out cloths and shiny bowls during the Communion prayers. Everything was the same each time, repeating cyclically and seasonally—the Gospel and homily would imbue each mass with its own unique qualities.

I was never a particularly strong believer as a child, but I enjoyed mass for the ritual tradition. Aside from a very strong flirtation with youth group leadership and Marian modesty in high school (I suspect my tumultuous relationship with my body and an undiagnosed eating disorder were partially to blame), I trusted my own instincts to guide my decisions, not God. What happens for many people happened for me: in college, and I found a chance to start fresh, redefine myself, and move away from religious faith towards secular humanism. It felt wonderful to revisit my spirituality and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and find a community that shared my own genuine beliefs and values.

My identity as a secular humanist fulfilled my moral and ideological needs, but I found myself lacking in spiritual expression. Although the Catholic church had never aligned very well with my beliefs, it appealed to my sense of aesthetic, of tradition, and imbuing objects and rituals with symbolic meaning. Secular humanism is wonderful, but heavily grounded in science, politics, and philosophy, all of which are male-dominated, reason-based, and, well, not very pretty. I sought out ways to complement my secular humanism with a practice that would fill the spiritual gap inside me—thus began my journey to secular witchcraft.

Obviously everyone is familiar with the concept of witchcraft, but I had only ever encountered a very specific, Wiccan view of witchcraft: covens, all black, bloody sacrifices, and worship of deities. I hold a firm disbelief in deities and any form of deity worship, even though I find their mythology extremely interesting from an academic standpoint, so witchcraft didn't seem like a good fit. Thanks to tumblr, however, I stumbled upon several blogs that promoted a secular version of witchcraft that involved no worship and was instead focused on harnessing an inner power and energy through rituals, spells, herbs, crystals, and an intense connection to nature and the self.  

As I've gotten older and more comfortable with defining my beliefs and values for myself rather than trying to fit into a community, it's been a wonderfully pleasant surprise to find so many witches who have similar practices as me. Some people might think it's strange to have a spiritual practice that doesn't involve prayer or deity worship, but I think it's important to remember that secularism doesn't directly equate to lack of spirituality, emotion, and beauty. I'm so glad that I have found ways to incorporate my love of colorful church candles into my own candle magic, and visual symbols of my strengths and intentions by having an altar full of crystals, and familiar incense smells from my childhood.