Objectively, she was nothing special. A smallish woman with a bit of a pudge around her middle, and a fleeting smile. This was Morgana, the High Priestess of the Temple. Again I was struck at her use of the name. She had chosen to be named after what was considered a very evil character in the Arthurian legends. But everyone there looked at her with such respect that I was in awe of her almost immediately. She spoke for awhile, telling us the basic rules of the temple. After about ten minutes, and in the middle of a sentence, she caught my eye.
I had been sitting on a cushion in the middle of this crowd of students. She looked right at me, pointed one long manicured fingernail, and said “Is it you?”
“Yes. No. Who?” Was all I could reply.
She gazed at me for a long moment, her eyes searching, and then she said “You look like someone I loved very much once” And that was it. I never knew who she was talking about, never bothered to ask. I kind of wish I would have. That moment in time has weighed on me for the last 12 years.
The basics of the classes were easy. We were all to attend class once a week. Wednesday nights at 7pm. Every night of the week except Saturdays, the Temple held classes. On Saturdays the group held what was called “fundraisers”. These fundraisers were parties held in the store, generally themed in some way. Sometimes they were lectures, but for the most part it was just and excuse for us all to get together, get to know one another, and have some fun. You were expected to bring a dish, possibly drinks, and $10 to support the Temple. Every six to eight weeks the Sabbat arrived. Everyone who was able would camp in the local mountains from Friday until Sunday, and on Saturday night we held the holiday ritual. We were told what we would need for the classes, and what book we would be studying out of. And then we were given our first assignment. We took a short break, and during this break we were to find something in common with someone we did not already know. Since I knew nobody at all, this was easy. I don’t remember who I talked to, I don’t remember what I had in common with them.
What I do remember is that the rooms were crowded with people and product, and still felt comfortable. I remember the welcoming smiles, and knowing smirks, of the older members as they appraised us all. I remember the energy that surrounded all of us new students, a cross of fear and exhilaration. I remember that the air was thick with the smells which would mean home to me for the next 4 years. Cigarettes. Incense. Coffee. Too many people in too little space. And I remember that for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by complete strangers, and I didn’t have a touch of anxiety about it. I guess those things are much more important than remembering that I had a dog, and so did someone else in the group.
When the two bells rang again, it was easy to see which of us had been paying attention earlier. Conversations ceased and many of us made our way back to our seats without being told. Some of us did not, but they were brought back and settled in before three bells. I finally took a moment to look around me, as each of us stood and told the class what we had found in common. There were 32 of us. The new students that is. Sitting on cushions on the floor, chairs in the very back row, practically on top of one another. Right next to me was a mother and daughter who looked remarkably similar to one another. They were quiet and sweet. Mom had short spiked blonde hair, and her daughter had the same color hair, but long and shining. They both had easy smiles, and I knew immediately I was going to like them. There was an older woman, who sat in a chair close to the back door of the Temple room. She looked very reserved and I wasn’t sure what to make of her in this room full of eager young faces. A younger woman with long red hair and a face full of freckles. A woman in a wheelchair, and her boyfriend standing behind the chair watching everyone with his dark eyes. One girl was from the UK, and it turns out her boyfriend was the young man who had rung the bell. Another young woman, in the back of the class, that all of the other members seemed to know, and with her I got to see how the Temple community joked with it’s members, as they teased her mercilessly. Not in a bad way mind you, but in that brotherly/sisterly way that makes you smile in spite of wanting to slap the shit out of the person doing the teasing. There were others, but these are the faces of my classmates as I remember them that first night.
I found out things too. Like the inverted pentagram is used in some circles, including theirs, to indicate the second degree initiation. Nothing evil, nothing wrong or unnatural, simply a symbol that your spirit is still dominated by the Earthly elements. I learned that Morgana, and her husband Mordred were the only ones allowed to use Arthurian names, and that theirs were chosen for them by their High Priestess and Priest. I learned how to determine my “number” and we were assigned to create a magical name for ourselves, which resonated to our number.
The class went on until about 10:30 that night. As everyone was cleaning up to leave at the end of the class, I found out something else. Nobody was ever left in the parking lot alone. I know that’s an utterly ridiculous thing to have made such a big impression on me. But it’s important. It shows that these people genuinely cared about one another, that the last people to leave always made sure that one another’s cars were able to start, before they drove away.
We were all invited to attend that Saturday’s fundraiser, a Game Night, so that we could get to know the other Temple members in a less formal setting. I decided immediately that I would attend. In fact, I had already decided that I was going to become initiated. This place was where I belonged, and I don’t know how I knew it, but I had never known anything so powerfully before in my life.