It was a Saturday afternoon and I’m in one of the big downtown bookstores. Naturally, I spend most of my time in the “New Age/ Metaphysics” aisle. I absolutely LOVE bookstores, and I especially love scoping out the other people in the aisle (discreetly of course). Some of the most helpful encounters I’ve had have been with strangers I started talking with in the New Age section.
For instance, when I was 15 and just getting actively interested in “alternative spirituality,” I started off by researching Wicca and magick. To be honest, I was intimidated by the whole thing and had no idea how to start. But I was determined! My friends and I would go after school to the bookstore that was close by, and they would let me drag them into the New Age section. (Luckily I had a few friends who were also interested in exploring Wicca, so we were like a support group for each other). Anyway, we usually had the aisle to ourselves, but one afternoon an older teenage boy was in there perusing the shelves. I don’t even know how it started, but he ended up coming over to talk to me and we ended up talking for the longest time. I was hesitant at first, because like everyone else, I had been taught – don’t talk to strangers! But he had such positive energy and I got a genuine “helpful-with-no-ulterior-motive” vibe from him.* He told me all about his own experiences with clairvoyance, spell work, and a whole bunch of other things. And he let me ask a TON of questions! I felt so relieved! A kindred spirit. Someone my own age who understood. I told him I was looking for books to help me get started and he picked one up with confident ease and knowledge, and told me it would be a great one to start off with.
Well OF COURSE I wanted it, but I didn’t have any money with me (hey, I was a broke high schooler). I told him I would come back and buy it later. But he did the most amazing thing. He pulled out his wallet and handed me the money to buy it. I started to protest but he told me that it was important I get started learning, and that he wanted to help. So we went to the register and I bought my first book about magick EVER.** I can’t even express how grateful and moved I was. To this day I remember that encounter as one of the most significant experiences of my life.
Which brings me back to present day, almost 8 years later. It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’m standing in the New Age section of the same chain of bookstores (different store location, but same chain) and I see the Revised and Expanded version of the book the boy got me. It’s been out for a while and I never felt like I HAD to have it. I’ve definitely thought about it (especially since I no longer have my original copy. (I loan my books out and sometimes they never get returned – it happens!). But this time I just really felt like I should get it. It felt important for me to go back to the beginning and revisit the basics that I had learned so long ago. It felt wonderful to once again buy the book that was my first introduction into the world of magick – and this time I had years of learning, teaching, and….my own money!
Soooo I head to the checkout with a spring in my step! I make it through the long-ish line pretty quickly.
I’m at the register. I put the book on the checkout counter. I’m reaching into my wallet. Then it happens: I hear the sales lady say to me (in a fairly loud voice) “It seems like everyone is getting into magic these days.” I tense. I feel the other cashier’s head turn and look at me. I can feel the gazes of the people in the line land on me. I’ve been placed in a spotlight.
People want to see what kind of person buys a book on magick, I guess. If they were expecting to see someone wearing all black with pentacles draped all over them, than I’m sure I disappointed. (There isn’t ANYTHING wrong with dressing that way, but it’s just not really my style). I’m in jeans, flat black shoes, and I have on a long sleeve black shirt with a lavender polo shirt layered on top. I have small amethyst earrings, a stylish gray purse, and my hair is pulled back into a very ordinary ponytail. I look…boringly normal. If the sales lady had drawn attention to me by exclaiming over some other book…like a cook book…or even a romance novel, people would have glanced over and then returned their attention to something else. But now that magick has been mention, the curious looks linger, sharp and attentive. (And no I wasn’t just being paranoid, I promise!)
In all my years of book purchasing I have never had someone comment on the “strange” books I was buying. Not even when I was in high school and I was making the purchase in my Catholic School uniform. Sure, I got some lifted eyebrows, but no one ever voiced an observation.
I could have just shrugged off the sales lady’s comment and ended the conversation; but I didn’t want to do that. I know she didn’t mean any harm, but it felt as if I had been stereotyped in a way. I got the feeling that she (and the other people listening in) might see me as one of those people who are interested in magic because it’s in a lot of popular culture nowadays. And I couldn’t let myself be thought of that way. Especially not when I was buying this book – the book that had helped me start on my path. I’ve worked so hard and faced too much prejudice in the past 8 years to allow my faith and my way of living to be reduced to a cliche. It’s important for people to realize that the use of magick is an active part of people’s lives, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as something silly. So I continued the impossible conversation.
I made sure to smile even though I was still a little uncomfortable. Noooo need to come across as a bitchy little witchy since everyone was watching! I said “Well, this isn’t really new to me” or something like that. “I bought the original version a few years ago. This is the revised and expanded one.” The cashier (who was being very conversational about the whole thing and not the least bit accusatory or confrontational) goes on to tell me (still in a loud voice) “Oh yeah, I had some friends who were Wiccan and they invited me over to look at my aura and stuff with candles.” I’m thinking “Um, you don’t need candles to see auras! What technique were they using? Maybe what she means is that they used candles for lighting since overhead lights can be harsh.” Then I reminded myself that this was not the best time to go into Teacher mode. I should just complete my purchase and go. More heads are turning after that last comment. Out loud I say “Ooh…ok…well, were they being real about it or were they just kind of…joking around because it’s ‘cool’?” I really didn’t mean to be offensive, but I HAD to ask!
Luckily she doesn’t take offense and tells me “They were serious about it. They said I had a really big aura and that it would be easy for me to see spirits and stuff.” My thoughts: “Did you have to bring up the topic of spirits?? Great. It can be difficult enough approaching that topic with open minded people. You blurting that little tidbit out in the store probably just reinforced a lot of stereotypes.” I’m also thinking “Having a REALLY big aura actually isn’t healthy. You should pull it back in and shield.” At which point I had to stop myself from reaching out and scanning her energy to get a more in depth reading. That would have been rude.
She finally hands me the shopping bag and I realize she’s still telling me stuff. “…but I don’t want to see spirits because then I’d probably end up being one too soon” or something like that which really didn’t make much sense. But I guess seeing spirits is a legitimate scary idea for most people, so I could understand her aversion.
I realize this conversation has been kind of a big mess. My turn in line is over. I have my purchased item and other people are still waiting in line. I can’t linger to question and correct her statements. So I’ll have to let her comment about spirits go. At least I kept my composure and was polite. Hopefully people will realize that just because you’re buying a book on magick doesn’t mean your a wierdo. It’s not their judgment of me that really bothers me, it’s their impression about magick, wicca, witchcraft and the like that I’m concerned about. I really want to give an impromptu lecture on the topic, but like I said…my turn in line is over and people want to get on with their own purchases. So I laugh (because her statement WAS kind of ridiculously hilarious), smile again, shake my head and say “Ok, well I’ll see you later” and leave the store.
Maybe I didn’t handle the situation as gracefully as I could have. But at least I didn’t deny who I was. I’ve grown more confident and more determined to openly stand by my beliefs – despite whatever judgments people like to make. If I was buying that book for the first time 8 years ago and the same thing happened, I probably would have felt intimidated. I might even have felt like I had been caught doing something wrong. Now however, my concern is with re-shaping the way that alternative spirituality is viewed, and making sure that stereotypes are eradicated. The conversation with the sales lady definitely can’t be counted as a “win,” but at least I tried to remove part of the cliche…
It’ difficult to explain, but I feel like the whole thing was cyclical in nature. Like purchasing the book again and having that experience has brought me full circle somehow. And now it’s time to get started on a whole new phase. Maybe a “revised and expanded” edition of my own life…who knows!
*While it is great to meet like-minded people, ALWAYS be cautious! Sadly there are lots of “fake” teachers out there, so use your judgment and don’t trust blindly!
**That beloved book was True Magic: A Beginner’s Guide by Amber K. I highly recommend it and am excited about reading the Revised and Expanded version.
Have you ever been put in the “magickal spotlight”? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.