I’m unsure when my obsession with magic first took root, but I blame my mother.
I vividly remember how she handed me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the playroom of a McDonald’s, a gift she’d bought on recommendation from a People magazine. After years of mental review, this moment still seems the most likely beginning.
I could also blame my dad, who signed me up for my first library card in an effort to reduce the constant trips to Barnes and Noble. For several years, I woke up every Saturday morning, rode my bike to the closest branch of the public library, and spent hours tearing through their section of Young Adult Fiction.
Or maybe there’s nobody to blame and I was merely a casualty in fantasy’s post-Harry Potter cultural resurgence.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that I was, from an early age, obsessed with the occult; the otherworldly, the magical. As I grew older, my interest sprawled outwards, off the pages of books. Anything that resisted immediate comprehensionaliens, cryptids, vampires, ancient anomaliescaptured my imagination. I began spending time in the New Age/ Spirituality sections of bookstores, surreptitiously reading Wiccan manuals and biographies of Aleister Crowley. A few friends and I began calling ourselves a coven and spent afternoons discussing the properties of crystal and candles and the phases of the moon.
Of course, none of this went unnoticed. Initially, adults encouraged the constant reading, but my slow transformation into a tiny occultist caused visible concern. The teachers at my Catholic school were wholly unequipped to deal with my requests to do reports on the Salem witch trials, the fact I spent reading periods poring over astrological almanacs, or, most glaringly, the time I was caught bringing a spell doll to school in an attempt to hex a bully into oblivion.
My father, in particular, developed an aversion to my newfound interests. Always suspicious of my femininity, my sudden transformation into a full-blown witch seemed just a shade too strange for him to handle. He began refusing to buy specific books for me and aggressively encouraged me to join the football team. Things came to a head one afternoon when, in the midst of a meltdown I was having about being picked on at school, he informed me that if I continued with all the “witch shit,” then I shouldn’t be surprised when people teased me for being weird.
As I got older, my interest in the fantastic changed somewhat, tempered by the knowledge that many of the things I’d once considered make-believe were, for some people, real spiritual practices. When I moved to Seattle after college, I was suddenly surrounded by people, many of them queer, who practiced witchcraft, wrote natal charts, read tarot cards, and proselytized the virtues of crystals. Their reasons for their practice varied, but they were all earnest.
Almost overnight I realized that my fascination wasn’t unique. I wasn’t a freak. In fact, it seemed almost a given that most people I encountered in my day-to-day life had at least a passing interest astrology or divination. A few months ago, an acquaintance, a queer person themself, created waves by taking to Facebook to announce their mistrust of astrology. The practice, they argued, was nonsense, unfounded and unsubstantiated by science. The response was swift. The overwhelming majority jumped in to defend their belief in the power of the stars. Several people argued that their belief in astrology represented a personal rejection of patriarchal monotheism and its historical atrocities.
Others pointed out that astrology provides a rough framework through which to contextualize human behavior. A few just liked that it was counter-cultural.
It was a fascinating discussion because it seemed to mirror a debate in which I had participated for years. On one side, those who eschew the mystical. It can’t be substantiated. It’s a waste of time, they argue. On the other, those who have found some kind of solace in something larger than themselves, even if they understand that something to be fictitious.
Unsurprisingly, I ally myself with the second group. How could I not? When I was young, imaginative, and deeply unhappy with my surroundingsthough I couldn’t have articulated it thenthe fantasy worlds I found in books allowed me to escape the tyranny of religion, and school, and my turbulent home life. God wasn’t supposed ro be a fan of people like me, and I had doubts about him anyway. My belief in the magicalcobbled together from things I read in books, things I found on the internet, and things I completely made upallowed me a level of personal agency that until that point felt out of reach.
I suspect this is the same reason why many of the queer people I meet seem to maintain at least a casual interest in some variety of mysticism. Or why so many queer people are fantasists of one sort or another. Gaymers, drag queens, artists, club kids, musicians, writerswe’re all trying to create a world better than the one we’ve got. When the world around you lacks the imagination to perceive you clearly, you have to make up the difference.
The past year has shown that, despite what many had hoped, there is still so much for queer people to escape from. Magic and fantasy are a kind of radical world building that allow us to escape the onslaught of depressing cable news chyrons and envision a place in which we are safe and powerful. It could all just be make-believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. The revolution will not be televised because it must first take place in our imaginations. I suspect that most of us have understood this for a long time.
So every week I check my favorite astrology blogs, I burn spell candles, and I perform small rituals for success. I’m not sure that these things do anything, but they make me feel less nervous and more like myself. I remember that these things that once made me feel strange now make me feel connected, in a small way, to my friends and community. For a a little bit the world feels slightly more manageable. To me that feels like magic.