In New York city in the 1990’s everyone was a lesbian.
The 1990’s was the birth of lesbian chic. Even if you weren’t lesbian, it was cool to look like one (bald Sinead O’Connor), dress like one (Darlene from Roseanne creating the “Lesbian Lumberjack Look”) and have ambiguously lesbian “friendships” (the armor-wearing heroine of Xena: Warrior Princess and her “sidekick” Gabrielle).
The early 90s NYC was a powerful time and place to be gay. Lipstick lesbians were emerging as glamorous and sexy; breaking formerly inflexible definitions of lesbian identity.
I don’t know if that’s why I fell in love with Nicolette, my beautiful impossibly bitchy lesbian girlfriend. As I young girl I remember being just a little too excited for Charlie’s Angels on Wednesday nights.
And never really following or caring about the plot.
While besotted with Nicolette I became a frequent patron of several lesbian bars in the village. Lesbian nightlife was thriving fiercely down in the Village, where I lived. We hung out at Crazy Nanny’s, Meow Mix, Clit Club.
And then there was Café Tabac.
Never before or since has there been such an elegant, renowned, celebrity studded lesbian hangout as Sunday nights at this “see and be seen” legendary salon. Café Tabac was always packed with semi-famous gay artists and musicians, as well as full throttle celebrities like Madonna. It was THAT kind of place.
And it was there that I met Sapphire.
Sapphire was a tiny smoldering inferno of lesbian sexuality. Not even quite 5 feet tall, she had waist length black hair, green eyes, and the kind of presence that makes everyone nervous. For no reason.
Or else maybe it was her huge rack.
Nicolette and I were winding down, but I still frequented all the lesby hangouts (because, why NOT?) One Sunday night at Café Tabac, I noticed Sapphire noticing me. Of course I knew who she was. Everyone knew her. She ran a downtown experimental lesbian theatre troupe that was fast becoming famous.
I went to the bar and ordered a drink, standing strategically next to her. She spoke.
“I know you. Have you ever auditioned for me?”
She stared into my face, in a way that would make most normal people uncomfortable. Thank God I wasn’t normal.
“It’s your Divine Feminine Energy. We’re Sisters. We all know each other.”
At this point, she seemed like a crazy person, but one with magnificent breasts. When she fingered the pentacle around her neck, I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about.
Because I had an insatiable book habit, I had read “Drawing Down the Moon” and “Spiral Dance.” I said to her, “Happy Beltane!”
Sapphire was High Priestess of a Dianic Wiccan ‘Circle,’ or coven. Dianic Wicca is mostly, if not completely, made up of lesbians. They had 12 members, and Sapphire was looking for a 13th. Guess who that ended up being?
First, I had to be “initiated.”
Which meant I had to get naked (or “skyclad”) in front of all of them.
Shit just got real, right?
I was assigned several books to read. I had to choose a Craft name. That, I will not share with you. But Wiccans typically go by three names; the first being something appropriately witchy, the second something nature related but with a jacked up spelling, and then their own surname. So, you might get, “Bronwyn Forrest Goldberg.”
The initiation ritual took place in the woods. Where I was to get naked and into a bathtub.
Yes. They had a bathtub in the woods. One of the women owned a house in upstate New York. On her property, she had a “staging area” and the path leading to it had a motherfucking bathtub.
I had met the other women in the coven by now, but that did not make this any less bizarre.
I was told to dress in clothes that could be “cut away” easily, which I thought was metaphorical. I wore black tights and a black tank top.
Sapphire led me down the path, and one of the women, whose role that evening was that of ‘Challenger,’ approached me. She was carrying a sword and wearing a mask – a handpainted leather combination fairy/moth sorta thing.
I was wondering if I was having an acid flashback.
Next there was a whole lot of Monty Python-esque dialogue.
She asked, “Who comes to the gate?”
I had to say,
“It is I, (my Craft name), child of earth and starry heaven.”
Her: “You are about to enter a vortex of power, a place beyond imagining, where birth and death, dark and light, meet and make one. You are about to step between the worlds, outside the realm of your human life. Have you the courage?”
Why not? They were 12 extremely hot women.
Me: “I tread the path with perfect love and perfect trust.”
Her: “Prepare for death and rebirth.”
Woah, woah, wait a minute!
Then this bitch took her sword and cut my clothes off. Not in a hot way. In a creepy, Rosemary’s Baby way.
Then, I had to get bathed in the outdoor tub. Afterwards, I dried off and knelt before Sapphire.
She asked, “Are you willing to swear the oath?”
She asked, “Are you willing to suffer to learn?”
She pricked her finger with a needle, squeezing out a few drops of blood.
“Repeat after me: ‘I, of my own free will most solemnly swear to protect, help and defend my sisters of the Art and to keep the Coven’s Charge.
I will always keep secret all that must not be revealed.”
I guess I kinda blew that one with this blog post. Oopsie.
Sapphire: “Arise and be anointed.”
She then made an X mark on my forehead. In BLOOD.
“May your mind be free. May your heart be free. May your body be free. I give you the Craft!”
The rest of the Coven members grabbed me, lifted me, and carried me three times around the Circle, laughing and shrieking. Chanting my new name.
Freaky shit, right?
It was the 90’s. I was very young.
We met every month, more frequently if there were holidays or specific urgent rituals that needed to be performed.
I would come home from work and play my answering machine.
“Hi, you’ve reached Samara. I’m not in, so please leave a message at the beep.”
And then Sapphire’s throaty voice:
“Take my hands and let us dance naked. Let’s unleash the stars from our chest and swim within the power of our souls.”
Since she was the High Priestess and I was a lowly Apprentice, I’d get the list:
“I need a double-action reversing candle and a statue of the Virgin Mary.”
“The stupid supermarket spice aisle doesn’t carry vervain! Can you go to Enchantments and get some?”
“I need something to clean a wine stain from a white robe.”
“Oh, and ask Byron at Enchantments how to get wax off the cat.”
Ugh. Jasper, her idiotic cat.
When the coven met in her apartment, it was non stop:
“Jasper, off the altar and away from the cauldron!”
“Jasper, stop attacking my feet while I am casting the circle!”
”Jasper, STOP DRINKING WEST!!!”
The coven was taking over my life, becoming my primary focus of attention. I spent less and less time with my non Wiccan friends.
I now found myself constantly burning sage in my apartment. Spending all my money on Wiccan accoutrement.
I actually carried on conversations which included,
“My third eye chakra is KILLING me.”
“Clearly she’s not a witch if she’s breaking the Reed.”
I even started a conversation with a woman one evening at Café Tabac with, “So. What’s your element?”
Sapphire, as High Priestess, became increasingly more controlling over my life. And finally, it just became Too Much.
Apparently, fluoride is bad for the brain-located pineal gland. Sapphire claimed this was harmful to our Third Eye Chakras. She demanded that we all purchase expense Reverse Osmosis Filtration systems, which she was conveniently selling to remove the fluoride from our drinking water.
I finally realized that she was, not to be punny, bat shit crazy.
And my Wiccan days were over. (Kind of. Don’t piss me off, unless you know how to banish a Magick spell…)
What do you think of Wicca? Does this all just seem crazy to you?
Did you watch Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie Practical Magic, and most recently, American Horror Story: Coven?
Are you a witch?
Talk to me. I’m listening.
For your Halloween listening pleasure…