Memoir of a Witch


By Amanda Yates Garcia

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes meets Women Who Run With The Wolves in this “gorgeously written, fierce, political, personal, and deeply inspiring” (Michelle Tea) memoir about finding meaning, beauty, and power through a life in witchcraft.

An initiation signals a beginning: a door opens and you step through. Traditional Wiccan initiates are usually brought into the craft through a ceremony with a High Priestess. But even though Amanda Yates Garcia’s mother, a practicing witch herself, initiated her into the earth-centered practice of witchcraft when she was 13 years old, Amanda’s real life as a witch only began when she underwent a series of spontaneous initiations of her own.

Descending into the underworlds of poverty, sex work, and misogyny, Initiated describes Amanda’s journey to return to her body, harness her power, and create the magical world she longed for through witchcraft. Hailed by crows, seduced by magicians, and haunted by ancestors broken beneath the wheels of patriarchy, Amanda’s quest for self-discovery and empowerment is a deep exploration of a modern witch’s trials – healing ancient wounds, chafing against cultural expectations, creating intimacy – all while on a mission to re-enchant the world. Peppered with mythology, tales of the goddesses and magical women throughout history, Initiated stands squarely at the intersection of witchcraft and feminism. With generosity and heart, this book speaks to the question: is it possible to live a life of beauty and integrity in a world that feels like it’s dying?

Declaring oneself a witch and practicing magic has everything to do with claiming authority and power for oneself, of taking back our planet in the name of Love. Initiated is both memoir and manifesto calling the magical people of the world to take up their wands: stand up, be brave, describe the world they want, then create it like a witch.


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This book is an alchemical mixture of memoir, mythology, manifesto, theory, visions, and dreams. As in dreams, sometimes it was necessary to bend time, make grand leaps between events. I had to keep some stories in my Book of Shadows, to be told another time. Sometimes mythological figures that may be familiar to you surface here in unorthodox forms. All this is to be expected in a book written by a witch. As unconventional, unorthodox, and alchemical as these stories may be, they are also true.

For behold, I have been with you from the beginning and I am That which is attained at the end of desire.

Doreen Valiente, as adapted by Starhawk, "The Charge of the Star Goddess"


Now, I—woman am going to blow up the Law: an explosion henceforth possible and ineluctable; let it be done, right now, in language.

Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"


when you are in your trouble

and turn from death

this is what to do

find the meeting place:


under stars

way to gnosis

saying this is the place

this is indeed the place

with many layers

lie down here…

Anne Waldman, Trickster Feminism

Search for the three stars that make up the belt of Orion. I squinted through the starlight, tracing my finger along a line of instructions I'd written in my Book of Shadows, the place where witches inscribe their favorite spells. Alone at a crossroads deep in the Mojave Desert, it was to the constellation of Orion that I was to address my invocation. Into the night I chanted, "AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ." Hot wind seared up from the borderlands near Mexico. My candles in their safety glass sputtered and died. I clamped down on the pages of my notebook lest they vanish into the spectral scrub surrounding me on all sides.

I was in the desert to perform the Headless Rite, an arcane piece of ceremonial magic where you declare yourself divine. You call down the goddess Isis to enter you; you speak in her voice: I am the one who makes the lightning flash and the thunder roll; I am the one whose sweat falls upon the earth as rain so that life can begin. I was there because I didn't want to, because I could not, play by the rules of the status quo anymore. I was done. Done capitulating. The Headless Rite was to be the last in a series of magical initiations I saw myself as having begun at birth.

Barefoot and virtually naked, the sheer cotton dress I used during my solitary rituals snapped around my legs like wolves in the dark. I stood inside a towering cove of red rocks, each a million years old and warm to the touch, still radiating the sun's heat at midnight. Spiny fields of jumping cactus, luminous in the starlight, formed a sea around me, waiting to leap out and pierce my bare legs with their thorns. It was dangerous land. Rattlesnakes, coyotes skulking through the creosote brambles. But I was mostly worried about the desert dwellers: macho, meth-addled young men in their monster trucks, out there somewhere guzzling 40s, howling their bloodlust into the desert void.

Like most women and femmes, witches are familiar with the demons of patriarchy. They follow us everywhere. Even out in the desert wilderness, we can't be alone in our rites. The shadow of violence falls unbidden, and for many of us, just the threat of it, the lifetime of warnings to be careful, the accumulation of micro and macro assaults, are enough to keep us home, "safe" under the protective aegis of the patriarchal father gods. Every time I saw headlights advancing along the horizon or heard the low growl of a motorcycle bounce off the canyon walls, I fought the urge to run and hide. But I would not be chased from my magic by bad boy bros who thought they owned the world. I was there on principle. I was there out of a commitment to create the kind of world I wanted to live in. A world where witches raise power in the desert. A world where a woman could chant hymns to the Goddess miles away from civilization without worrying that she might be attacked. So I chanted my incantations and spattered my libations into the red earth. And tried not to think about how I'd never had to test my magic against men who, should they appear, I felt sure would have guns.

I've always made it a policy to do things that scare me.


An initiation is a beginning, a rite of passage, a ceremony that signals an advance of some kind, into adulthood or a new form of knowledge. During my ceremonial initiation into witchcraft on my thirteenth birthday, my mother and I sat with a skein of red cord binding my wrist to hers inside a circle of mothers and daughters from our community. Called the Rite of Roses for the rose wands our mothers brushed against our dewy young cheeks, this was the ceremony for the adolescent witches of my coven as we dedicated our lives to the Goddess, and to each other. Lit by the glow of red candles, bouquets of roses festooned with ferns and puffs of baby's breath perfumed our living room. Women and girls warmed the room like coals; we were there to celebrate our blood, that life force that passes through our veins, throbbing its way back to the beginning of all life on earth, carrying us forward into the unknown future we must create for ourselves. That night, we chanted the names of our matrilineal ancestors, beginning as far back into the historical mist as we could reach. When we finally spoke my mother's name, and then mine, we used a pair of scissors as an athame—a ceremonial knife—to cut the red umbilicus that bound us together. I was now my own woman, a free agent. To celebrate, we took a walk through an overgrown suburban park, the full moon transmuting my girlfriends and me into silhouettes as we skipped ahead, giggling, through the weeds. It was an initiation in name only; I was still just a girl. And my life was about to explode.

Since then I've learned that more than any formal initiation ceremony given to you by an authority, your true initiation process is the one Life creates just for you. Your life initiates you to the work that only you can do. You don't need to be born to a witch mother or receive an initiation from a high priestess to become a witch; you just need to pay attention to the lessons the Goddess is teaching you through your own experiences, and then rise up and take action.

Furthermore, witchcraft isn't just for women. It's for men, and trans folx, and fairy creatures and animal spirits and anything in between. You don't need to menstruate or have a uterus to be a witch. You can find your power in being whoever you are. However, throughout this book, I refer to witches as "she," because that's my pronoun, and also because this book is a love letter to the femmes of the world. If you're not a femme, this book is still for you. Any lover of the Goddess is welcome here, and even those who are just "questioning."


In his book Rites and Symbols of Initiation, anthropologist Mircea Eliade says that puberty initiations usually begin with an act of rupture. The child is separated from her mother. Persephone is dragged down to Hades. A brutal process. Yet in Ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries were rites of initiation almost everyone chose to perform. Initiates were sworn to secrecy, killed if they ever spoke or wrote of their experience. In the fourth century CE, Christian invaders came from the north. They tore down the temple at Eleusis, ground the remains into dust, and built their churches on the rubble. Hardly any record remains of the Eleusinian mysteries. But we do know they were in honor of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, and Persephone, her maiden daughter who was abducted to hell by the Lord of the Underworld, where she was forced to be his "bride."

Ready or not, our traumas drag us into the underworld, initiating us, often unwillingly, into the mysteries of sex and death and, eventually, hopefully, if we're lucky—rebirth. The latter only if somehow, by our wiles, we manage to escape the underworld labyrinth. And if we don't, if we fail to master our initiations, we stay there, trapped, undead shades, our bones crushed beneath the temples of the oppressor.


Left to their own devices, most teenage girls are natural witches, and I was no exception. I played fortune-telling games with folded paper and contacted spirits with Ouija boards. I let the spirit of the Lover possess me as I made out with my friends. At slumber parties we used rhythmic chants to lift each other to the ceiling with our pinky fingers. We wore mood rings and ankhs and vials of blood around our necks. The world was once an enchanted place for me and my little coven of teenage witches. But even though my mother was a witch, even though I was initiated into witchcraft before I even completed my first year of high school, it never occurred to me that I could be a witch. That witchcraft could be my profession. And in our world, unless you have a trust fund, you have to have a profession. You have to work. It's a moral imperative. And by the accounts of virtually every adult in my life, that meant you had to be miserable. Eight hours a day, sometimes more, five days a week, sometimes more, until you retired, sick and exhausted. That was what my elementary school education was training me to do and what the world expected of me. And by the time I'd skidded into my thirties, I'd tried almost every job a young woman could think of, and each one was miserable in its own special way. Yet, through it all, I resisted the imperatives of capitalist patriarchy. My goal was to avoid playing by the rules of a status quo that had actively sought to disempower me, keep me small, and utilize my labor to amass ungoddessly resources for itself. You might say that I wanted to witch the system. But every time I thought I'd found a way to escape, I always seemed to find myself back in the same place: the underworld.

By the time I was in the desert conducting the Headless Rite, it was deep summer, I'd been supporting myself as a witch for several years, and I felt more liberated and empowered than ever. In the months after my desert rite, every time I tuned in, I heard the Goddess asking me to come out of the broom closet in a big way, to stake a claim for us witches. She told me that now was not the time when the wild womxn of the world could afford to stand on decorum. It was time that we activated. It was time that we sought to inspire others. Even if we worried that we'd be laughed at or get death threats. Even if we were afraid it would be a waste of our time, that we'd lose, be judged, or get it wrong. By Her grace, I found myself holding rituals at art museums, interviewed by the LA Times, arguing politics with conservative pundits on Fox News. Mixed in with the threats of rape and beheading that I received after these appearances were hundreds of emails from people thanking me for pointing their path toward witchcraft. In the lectures I gave on witchcraft at universities, students, especially the young women, would line up, eyes hungry and shining as they gripped their binders, asking for ways they could start practicing at home. Witchcraft is an act of healing and an act of resistance. Declaring oneself a witch, practicing magic, has everything to do with claiming authority and power for oneself. Life itself initiates each of us according to our own peculiar stories. Our stories lead us toward our purpose in this world. Each initiation strips something away and gives us a gift. If we want to meet our full form, we are obligated to give that gift to the world.

I write this book because I know you, dear witches, I see you, wherever you are, pulling like a demon horse against the bridle this patriarchal world has put on you. We are allies; we are each other's guardians. And just as I hope for this book to help you, your presence—just the knowledge that you exist—helps me to keep going myself, to flesh out my world, to make it sacred. I see you, surrounded by stones, a pleasure-seeking beast with resistance tattooed across your chest. I see you, face turned up to the moon, fists full of desert flowers. You, untamable creature, barefoot and slipping into trances. Weaving the voices of the wilderness into your songs. The seeds that drip from your fingers will regenerate the earth. All acts of love and pleasure are your rituals. You are an initiate of the Goddess of Love, even if you don't know it yet. Take heart, dear witch, because by the end of this book, you will.

Chapter 1


For many people, ordinary life itself is already a more or less unconscious process of initiation through the fire trial…

Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds

My mother's body resisted letting me come into this world; she knew the brutal way witches are treated here. One thousand years ago, my mother would have leaned into the arms of her midwives, chanting hymns to Hecate and baptizing me in a bath of mugwort tea. Ten thousand years ago, I'd have sprung into being from a peat bog, guarded by stags, under the silver light of a waning moon. As it was, I came into the world at a teaching hospital near Sacramento, under a glare of fluorescent lights, flocked by a panic of medical students still reeking of last night's kegger. They were unprepared for such a difficult birth.

Only twenty-three years old, but already well acquainted with the corrupting influence of the material world, my mother's body wanted to keep me inside where I'd be safe. Her cervix wouldn't dilate. But I insisted on making it here. I insisted on freedom. I kicked and clawed from her watery world like a reptile, until my umbilical cord tangled around my neck. I was turned the wrong way around. When my mother's water broke, it was black; I was more Goth at birth than I ever was in my teenage years. My mother remembers being rushed on a gurney down the halls of the hospital. Flashing lights, a tube in her arm. The lightning zigzag monitoring my heart rate sagged to a flat line. One minute, two minutes, three minutes, five; my heart was still. The Goddess of the netherworld had claimed me for her own.


I died before I was born. I saw the face of the Goddess. Witches have many goddesses and Hecate is primary among them. As Guardian of the Crossroads, Hecate is a sorceress; she knows the secrets of the herbs and can speak to the dead. As Queen of Witches, she is a traveler between the worlds. She leaps through hell, a black dog by her side. She soars into the future, into the past, into the body and beyond riding on the black wings of a crow. It was Hecate I saw in my mother's womb as I was struggling to breathe. Near-death experiences pull you into witchcraft. The Goddess pulls you under, and there you see Her face, and you know you are not alone in this world. You are a child of nature, and She will never leave you.

My mother had seen Hecate too, on Mother's Day, five years before I was born, when she was eighteen years old. She was inner-tubing with her friends on the American River. At some point she slipped, caught in the boiling froth, the rapids pulling her downriver, away from her friends who called out and reached for her to no avail. Trapped beneath a stone, she struggled upward for breath, panicked and hit her elbow on a rock, then gasped. Water flooded her lungs. Everything started moving in slow motion. Green light called her through a long spiraling tunnel. When she emerged, the Goddess was all around her. She could see 360 degrees in all directions, the face of the Goddess: Earth! Bright and shining. Drifting peacefully in the atmosphere of our world, my mother was still herself, but expanded somehow. Soon she noticed a group of people below gathered around a pale and lifeless woman, beside whom a man crouched, pounding on the woman's ribs. My mother didn't care. The world around her shone, a breathing, living planet awash with light. Still, she descended, closer and closer, until she was nose to nose with the lifeless body beneath her. Then she felt a yank. Jerked back into her body as if by rope, her first feeling was outrage that she'd been forced to return. She didn't want to be back in the human realm of violence and treachery. But come back she must; she had more work to do in this world.


When I was born, after my mother awoke, she thought I was dead. Alone in the hospital room, her belly had been hacked open and sewn shut with black wires. Finally, the nurse appeared and dropped me in her arms. People tell her there is no way this could've happened, but my mother swears when I first opened my eyes, I smiled. Having already died before I was born, I was grateful just to be in this strange and beautiful world, to enter conversation with its beauty through the rituals of witchcraft.

My mother says that during my birth, my father was at the bar across the street turning a violent shade of drunk. My father counters that he was in the waiting room of the hospital, crying and terrified we'd both died. Either way, six months after I was born, my mother hatched a plan to leave him. She spirited us away from the foggy vineyard farmhouse they were renting in Northern California and brought me to a tiny wooden bungalow on the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo. One of my first memories is of my mother standing above a cauldron of bubbling water in our tiny apartment, singing blessings over our Kraft macaroni and cheese.


Witchcraft has always existed. The term comes from the Old English word wicce, pronounced "witch": a wise woman. She practices oracular arts and sings incantations; she knows the secrets of herb craft and can talk to spirits. The word wit and witch share the same root: "to know, to understand, to be a person of intelligence." Etymologically, the word witch refers to a kind of Northern European shamanness. That's the root of the word, though witchcraft is practiced throughout the world, by folks of all genders. You don't have to have Northern European ancestry to identify as a witch. In Spanish witchcraft is called brujeria; in African American folk magic, it's called conjure. In Italian, a witch is a strega. In Mandarin Chinese, a witch is a wūpó. Witches exist throughout space and time. Witchcraft brings together the magical people throughout the world for the shared goals of justice, liberation, and celebration of the life force of the earth.

The witch gene has traveled through my lineage. Eileen, meaning hazelnut, fruit of the Celtic tree of wisdom, is the middle name of each firstborn daughter in my family going back generations, back to the old country. My mother practiced witchcraft before she even knew that's what she was doing. Women in Northern Europe probably stopped calling themselves witches around the same time you could have your tongue ripped out for saying you were one. So instead, my mother called herself an activist when I was a child. Years later, she told me that she saw activism and witchcraft as two parts of the same practice: devotion to the Goddess. From an early age, she always wanted to protect women and children. Claimed by the goddess Demeter even before I, her eldest child, was born, my mother identified with the mother archetype.

In her early twenties, during Vietnam, my mother joined Mothers for Peace, to protest the war. Then, when the war was over and the activists turned their attention to preventing the destruction of the earth, she joined the Mothers in that work too. When I was about five years old, I remember she took me to a protest at Diablo Canyon, a nuclear power plant looming over the cliffs lining the Pacific Ocean, built on an active fault line. The Mothers dragged a brass bed to the beach with a muslin canopy. In the bed, a skull-faced capitalist in a top hat and tuxedo ravished his bride, a naïve woman in white, representing the people of Central California who were in bed with their doom. My mother didn't know her then, but Starhawk (grandmother of Reclaiming, a contemporary witch movement, whose book The Spiral Dance launched the rebirth of Goddess culture) was at that protest, and many others like it. Later, they would meet each other, but even then, they were working in service of the same Goddess, the earth herself.


People encouraged my mother to spank me. I was too wild, they said. When it was nap time, they'd find me dancing in the yard. I wanted to be out running in the grass, making proud crowns of juniper, singing my elaborate incantations in honor of the sun and moon and the light on the leaves. Despite the fact that the school administration called my mother in more than once, I refused to wear anything but my purple unicorn shirt every day for over a year. In department stores, I'd hide in the sacred circles of the clothes racks, wrapping myself in sequined scarves and whispering oracles to startled shoppers as they passed by with their carts.

I talked back to adults. A receptionist at my school told my mother I was the rudest child she'd ever met. She didn't mention that she'd brought it on herself; she'd embarrassed my friend for having wet her pants, and she told us to shut up when she heard me comforting her about it, so I told the receptionist she should lead by example and shut up herself. Through it all, my mother refused to hit me. The world I was born into was brutal enough, she said. She'd been beaten by her own father. And, too, one of my childhood playmates was murdered by her stepfather, ketchup shoved down her throat, then thrown against the wall for refusing to eat her pancakes. Even as a child, I knew I needed to find a place where the "Law of the Father" could not reach me.


Children don't just believe in magic; they live it. Early child psychologists like Bruno Bettelheim were convinced that children are by nature animists. Children see the sun, the moon, the rivers, the animals, the trees, and the stones as alive and full of intelligence. Everything that moves is alive, and everything moves. Atoms buzz, the planets spin. Nothing is still. Every bit of the universe vibrates with Spirit.

René Descartes, exemplar of Western philosophy and forefather of "the Enlightenment," is most remembered for his axiom cogito, ergo sum. "I think, therefore I exist." But, he argued, the existence of anything else must necessarily be doubted. The earth might be a trick. Your lover might not really be there. Other beings could all be a mirage, but you, dear individual thinking man, you exist for sure. On a roll, Descartes also said that animals are basically organic machines that cannot think or feel pain. It's pointless to feel compassion for them, he said. And from his argument, so celebrated within the canon of Western philosophy, evolve things like chattel slavery, factory farms, and the slash and burn of the Amazon. For Descartes, only humans—white male land-owning humans in particular—have minds and souls, and thus, only they have rights to consideration. But even in the seventeenth century, children knew that the world was speaking, calling out for love.

"Just because we don't understand what the animals are saying doesn't mean they're not saying anything," I remember telling my mother as a child as we were driving through the eucalyptus groves of San Luis, watching the hawks circle through the lazy sunshine. "We're just not listening right." But both Descartes and Bettelheim would have disagreed with me. Recognizing the intelligence of nature is just a temporary coping mechanism children and "primitive people" employ until they can be civilized into solving their problems through "reason" alone.

On the surface, the Enlightened Man's reason seems stronger than the magic of children, or even the magic of the witches and wizards and indigenous shamans of the world. But the Enlightened Man finds his power by imposing kyriarchy (a word for the master/slave, oppressor/oppressed dynamic), and kyriarchy is slowly asphyxiating our species and all life on the planet. Kyriarchy is like a virus; it kills the organism that sustains it. Even as a child, I wasn't going to give the Enlightened Man all the applause, gold ribbons, and Christmas bonuses with which he awarded himself such a regular and hearty congratulations.

Bettelheim might argue that I only want to persist in my belief in magic now as an adult because as a child I was forced to abandon my magical thinking too early. In his book The Uses of Enchantment, he says:

Many young people who today suddenly seek escape in drug-induced dreams, apprentice themselves to some guru, believe in astrology, engage in practicing "black magic," or who in some other fashion escape from reality into daydreams about magic experiences which are to change their life for the better, were prematurely pressed to view reality in an adult way.


On Sale
Oct 22, 2019
Page Count
352 pages

Amanda Yates Garcia

About the Author

Amanda Yates Garcia is a writer, artist, professional witch, and the Oracle of Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in The Millions, The LA Times, Time Out, LA Weekly, GOOP, Glamour, The London Times, CNN, Salon, as well as a viral appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight. She has led classes and workshops on magic and witchcraft at UCLA, UC Irvine, MOCA Los Angeles, The Hammer Museum, LACMA, The Getty and many other venues. Initiated is her first book.

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