Somehow, I didn't realize what a bunch of women hugging and kissing each other really meant ...
I held my hands up to the ceiling, staring at a candle and welcoming nature's presence, trying to hold in the giggles racking my body. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. If you looked at my posture, it only buckled into a weird disjointed twitch every now and then.
But I couldn't hide the smirk, and the four women around me knew it. They gave me stern looks in the mirror we faced, which only made me giggle more.
It's not that I thought our activity was silly — we were performing a pagan ritual to usher in the spring and I found it fascinating — just at that particular moment, standing behind the only man (a cross-dresser) in the group, I realized that I wasn't just in a coven ... I was in a lesbian coven.
And I had been for several months without knowing.
So how could this have happened? Let me back up a bit.
I've never been the best judge of someone's sexuality. It's not really something I think about because I don't really care whom someone chooses to love as long as they're happy, but the writing was on the wall here and I totally missed it.
The very first meeting I attended should have given it away. I've been interested in pagan culture and covens — basically a group of witches who get together on pagan holidays to do ritual work and cast spells — since I was small, and I've always looked to learn more. So I loaded up a profile on Witchvox.com, a networking site for witches and other groups involved in pagan and paranormal pursuits, and searched for a local group to teach me.
I struck gold with a meditation and spell-casting class. I thought it would just be people sitting around and learning how to do these things. But when I arrived at the address (which was, by the way, a kind of scummy apartment instead of a cute shop like I was expecting) I found something different.
"Hi, nice to meet you. I'm Nicole, and this is my girlfriend, Stephanie."
This should have been my first clue.
See, Nicole was in her 40s and Stephanie looked like she was maybe 22. I thought it was the royal "girlfriend," the one older women use to describe friends that are girls. So I didn't think anything of it. At this point, I realized it was a coven. Nicole introduced herself as the high priestess, the initiated leader of a coven. It wasn't a problem for me, so I stayed, still hoping to learn some things.
When the rest of the group showed up, they were all girls.
That's not unusual in covens so I didn't think much of that, either. I was intrigued because they were all very inclusive and protective of one another.
One girl had a bad experience with the local pagan community (all the area groups, covens or otherwise, like to get together for picnics and events) so the whole coven removed themselves from it. Another hated shopping at Walmart, so everyone refused to go. And god help those who would talk down to any of these girls ... they'd have the coven on their ass.
I actually really enjoyed that aspect of it. I liked the idea of being there for each other, no matter what.
It created an atmosphere of trust and openness, which is how I started to feel. But then ... there was the cuddling.
It started small, with one girl snuggling up next to another. Slowly, the girls started to switch and move around, laying into each other, hugging and kissing cheeks, regardless of partner.
There was a lot of giggling. And still, I didn't get it. Girls can be like that. I have friends that I cuddle up with sometimes. I didn't think it was a big thing, even though they had vaguely crossed the line into flirting.
The clincher came when the man arrived. "Man" isn't necessarily the right word — he was a teenager from a local high school with gothic makeup, a corset, and a skirt.
The girls loved him. They would sit around him in a circle, gazing up at him with awe, listening to him talk about where he loves to shop and why he likes laces instead of hook closures on his corsets. He was their dream. They seemed to consider him their in-transition feminine equal and he was instantly invited to join their "family."
I had received no such invitation. Maybe I spoke of my husband too much?
As it turned out, the entire group was in a committed relationship with each other, sharing their lives freely and openly, to a point that would be reserved for spouses or significant others. They didn't all live in the same house, but they were all practically walking distance from one another and spent every possible moment together.
Everything anyone did was shared with the group, from minor irritations and eating habits to major events and financial stability. Any decision was brought forward to the group and discussed. Should I quit my job? Ask the girls. I'm thinking of going back to school. Better ask the girls! And at the end of each meeting, they would convene into a loose pile on the floor or couch and snuggle with each other.
Sometimes two of them, it didn't matter which two, would go into another room for a "private discussion," the announcement of which was met with knowing glances and little smiles. It was all too much.
Apparently, my giggles during the ritual when I first realized the lesbian situation didn't go over well.
During the time reserved for socializing and eating afterwards, I was ostracized — I assume because my laughter at my lack of understanding irritated them enough to dislike me. No one spoke to me and no one said goodbye when I left. I never heard from them again.
And to be honest, I wasn't too upset about it. It seemed like all they did was complain about everyone and then cuddle, and I wasn't really into that. But to each their own, I guess.