Once upon a great long while ago, though it was really only about 12 years, I was a young Pagan without a driver's license and a decent disposable income for a kid that age. But unlike most 14 year olds, my disposable income went towards filling my bookshelves and purchasing things like candles and mugwort.
Not having a driver's license, or living in a place with public transport, I had to beg my mother to drive me the 45 minutes to a neighboring city to go to bookstores. Being an insanely well-behaved child, she usually went along with it.
It was on just such a day that I met my first ever openly identified Pagan.
Her name was Bambie, and no I'm not kidding.
I saw Bambie before she saw me. It's hard to miss a woman who looks like a middle-aged Stevie Nicks on meth in a long leather trenchcoat with a huge quartz crystal tied around her neck. Did I mention it was summer? Because it was. And summer in Texas is not a time for leather, or trenchcoats, or the wearing of much of anything.
I also happened to notice Bambie because she appeared to be attempting to banish the books in the Christianity section, which was one row over from the New Age books. Dramatic arm-gestures, banishing pentagrams, and lots of flailing. My Spidey-Senses immediately alerted me to danger, but before I could make a quiet get-away, she rounded the corner and focused her sights on me. A young person with a stack of Witchcraft books in his arms.
She introduced herself and I gave a fake name. She invited me to sit on the floor with her, an offer I declined, and began launching into an explanation of Wicca, the Goddess, broomsticks, and asked if I had any questions she could answer for me.
I said I didn't, which was clearly not the answer she wanted to hear.
She went through the shelves, removing books she said gave Real Witches a bad name. The culprits? Mostly the Crowley, Margot Adler, Laurie Cabot, and everything by Starhawk. She moved those books to where the Bibles were stocked. More flailing.
I attempted to
She scolded me for wanting "power-over" and put all of my choices back on the shelf, and then handed me a copy of Buckland's Big Blue Book. Which I already owned. She handed me a copy of Silver RavenWolf's Spells For Protection. Which I find detestable. She handed me the Waite tarot deck. When I said that I already had a tarot deck, she suggested I burn it and replace it with this one. Any deck a 14 year old would choose would be filled with "Dark Majicks."
I'd already spent quite a bit of time at the store, and more time than was really safe talking with Bambie, and when I offered my good-byes, saying that I had to leave since my mother was waiting for me...Bambie grabbed me by the ankle and told me I didn't have to go anywhere. And she didn't let go.
She asked for my name, address, and phone number so she could contact me for further teaching. I rambled off a fake name and the memorized number of the local police station, and then I very quickly got the fuck out of there. I told my mother what happened, and she alerted the store manager.
And, if you knew my mother, that was a lot better than whooping Bambie's ass right there in public.
Growing up with Stranger-Danger, why on earth would I have stuck around, continuing a conversation with someone who was so clearly unstable and likely did not have the best of intentions? I'm not sure. I suppose part of it was the excitement of "OMG A REAL LIFE PAGAN IS TALKING WITH ME!" But the strong message inside my head was that Bambie was off, and that I needed to get away from her. Quickly.
I was lucky. A lot of people aren't.
That could have been the end of Paganism for me. I could have decided that all Pagan's were nuts, weirdos, creepy people who grabbed teenagers by the leg and encouraged them to do things behind their parents backs. Or, more likely, my parents could have put their foot down and forbade any further involvement with something that put me in contact with such people.
But thankfully, it didn't work out that way. Instead, I did a lot banishing rituals, cleansings, and protection spells that did not come from SRW. I hoped that Bambie dialed the number for the local police station, trying to contact a 14 year old boy, and got in an awful lot of trouble.
That was my first lesson that not everyone huddled under the umbrella of The Community is safe, sane, ethical, or anyone's friend.