I’ve had so many people encourage me to leave the South over the years, because they think I don’t belong here. They’re sure I’d be happier somewhere above the Mason-Dixon, despite my aversion to cold weather. I’m not convinced that my journey would be any easier, just different.

I was born and raised in the mountains of North Georgia near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I spent 17 years in Atlanta, six years in Savannah, and I’m currently residing in lower Alabama. If anything, life keeps pushing me deeper into the South instead of carrying me away from her. I have to believe there’s a reason for that, so I’ve decided to embrace the two aspects of my identity that don’t seem to go together at all: witchiness and southernness.

Being pagan in the buckle of the Bible Belt comes with a unique set of challenges, but those challenges also birth some exceptionally resilient souls. Most of us southern witches have several things in common:

  • We were raised in church, usually a Protestant church. Either we never agreed with the church’s dogma, or we reached a point in life where we began questioning everything we were taught, much to the shock and dismay of those around us.

  • We experienced a profound awakening that put us on the path towards earth-based spirituality.

  • We always felt different from our family of origin in some way.

  • Many of us were alienated from our families because of our beliefs, or we hid our witchy ways in order to maintain peace with our relatives.

  • Our influences come from many sources, including British Traditional, Celtic, Druidic, Ceremonial, Native American, Hoodoo, Rootwork, and Appalachian Folk Magick to name a few. We are a mixed bag of traditions and cultures that intersect and weave a rich, colorful tapestry.

  • It’s harder for us to find pagan groups sometimes, especially in smaller towns. This is changing gradually, as I’m seeing more Pagan Pride Day celebrations and other gatherings that offer opportunities for learning and socializing.

  • We often feel the need to be cautious in talking about our beliefs and practices with people we don’t know very well.

  • Many of us were lucky enough to grow up in a rural setting, so we established an inseparable bond with Nature from an early age.

The bond I have with the land is at least half the reason I’ve stayed. I still feel connected to the mystical mountains that nurtured me through my formative years. They will always be my anchor and my strength. I have a bit of swampland in my blood from the years I spent on the Georgia coast and the deep lessons I learned there. I’m feeling my roots spread into the rolling hills and rich farmland of southern Alabama, which has a peaceful, motherly quality that I wasn’t expecting. Every place has its own imprint within the larger framework of the South. It’s all a little different, and it’s all very much the same. The gods and goddesses of old are certainly here for those of us who seek them.

I also feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the southern pagan community. We are a minority religion here; yet, we forge ahead with our rituals and public gatherings, despite prejudice and opposition. There is some unexplainable part of me that still wants to be of service as witch and priestess in my home ground, even though it’s complicated and messy. It’s called the Dirty South for a reason, but there is more to the story.

When I think of the South as a direction in a sacred circle, it is the place of fire, creativity, and the noonday sun. It is passion, lightning, expansion, and action. It is the destruction and transformation of the phoenix as well. All of that is here, and it is not for the faint of heart.

I believe that I endured a Southern Baptist upbringing so that I would know the dark underbelly of the patriarchy firsthand. I recognized misogyny from an early age in almost every aspect of church. That painful introduction ignited a flame that grew inside of me, but it wasn’t evangelical or biblical. My flame was much older, deeper, and fueled by the Goddess.

I stay, because that fire still burns. I work my magick and do what I can in the place where I am planted and rooted. I appreciate my well-meaning friends who would see me living elsewhere, and I listen to their warnings to be careful and cautious. Even so, I’m a southern witch. I have to write about what I know, and all my roads lead south.