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Hi! I’m Melissa Zupan, the author behind Three Hundred and Sixty Six. By day, I’m a thirty-something high school English teacher doing the best I can to figure out life, the universe, and everything. Unfortunately, I figured out early on that “42” wasn’t quite going to cut it, so I turned to spirituality and found Wicca.
Thank you for reading!
About My Journey in Wicca
This whole mess started in October of 1999 when I was fifteen, and Harry Potter is entirely to blame.
Prior to that October, there had been a lot of media coverage on Harry Potter leading up to the American release of the third book, and it had caught my mother’s attention. I had a younger brother, then six, who had not shown much interest in reading, and she’d seen lots of daytime TV clips raving about how kids couldn’t put the Harry Potter books down. She was all in favor of getting him the first two books. I didn’t know anything about them at the time other than the fact that a lot of the popular Christian kids at school had banded together to prevent our district from purchasing copies for the school libraries. I blindly assumed that the books must really be diabolical if people were reacting to them so strongly. I told my mother so, and that was the end of Harry Potter in our house. But during a trip to my grandmother’s that fall break, I got bored and noticed a cousin had left her copies of the first two books there. Eternal damnation was far more appealing than a Price is Right marathon, so I risked it and read them. Obviously, I discovered the books were amazing and about as Satanic as a puppy. I remember being so furious at myself for listening to the school gossip without investigating it for myself…I could have been enjoying Hogwarts escapism for months if I’d only acted fairly!
The very next day, I suffered a mall shopping trip with my mother. Eventually she sent me off to do what I liked while she finished her list, and I ran off to Waldenbooks to score a copy of Prisoner of Azkaban, which had just been released. I remember coming face-to-face with an end cap display of Witch books, prominently arranged for the Halloween season, and staring with mild horror at Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch. I remember thinking to myself how sad it was that the store would market something so unwholesome to teenagers, but then I looked down at the Prisoner of Azkaban in my hands and paused. It occurred to me that I knew nothing of Wicca other than the fact that its practitioners called themselves witches. I decided I should probably take my Harry Potter lesson to heart and educate myself before I passed judgment on those weirdos…so I picked up Teen Witch and gave it a flip through.
Now, Teen Witch is not a perfect text, and I was skeptical even at that first read about how ethical it would be to do some of the spells, but I was very intrigued by the beliefs Silver outlined. I remember that as I read those opening chapters, I kept saying to myself, “Well, I believe that! I believe that, too!”
Harry Potter ended up not being the only Witch book I brought home with me that day. Eventually, I read more from other authors as my teenage funds and the local library’s collection allowed. Starhawk, Scott Cunningham, Phyllis Curott, Margo Adler, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Ellen Cannon Reed, and Isaac Bonewits all had texts I devoured. By the summer of 2000, I knew that my studies were no passing phase and that I had found my spiritual path.
I did not join a group at that time. Even as an impatient teenager, I knew that no ethical group would take on teaching someone under 18 without parental consent, and I wasn’t willing to risk parental wrath just to join a group I’d have to leave in a couple years anyway when I went to college. Besides, my parents had agreed to pay for my undergraduate degree so long as I got scholarships to pay for at least half the cost. My parents are quite open minded individuals, but they are Roman Catholic and products of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 90s. I knew even back then that student loans would be very problematic, and I didn’t even want to risk them withdrawing their generous offer. So I played “the good kid” very well.
In college, however, I was free to practice more publicly. I wasn’t as good at being broom-closeted as I thought, for one very enthusiastic and observant young man spotted me within a couple months of that first semester. Eventually, he found alsall the pagan students on my campus and convinced us to form a student pagan organization. I was elected treasurer that first official year and served as a co-president for the next two years. We were open to all pagan paths and had a fantastic time of it. We held Sabbats and Esbats with different members volunteering to plan and lead it in their own preferred path, hung out during plenty of “Buffy and Tarot” nights, and banded together to explore the different pagan haunts of central Indiana. It was a fantastic way to learn how to navigate group dynamics and develop a broader exposure to pagan practices. We were also invited to be part of the university’s Chaplain’s Advisory Committee and worked strongly with campus government on Interfaith matters. It was a tremendously productive and respectful relationship and taught me just how much can be accomplished through cooperation.
After college, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but my family had gone through some major upheaval in my senior year, and I had to delay applying for a couple years. By this point, I also knew that I was very interested in British Traditional Witchcraft and wanted to pursue that path. I spent a ton of time trying to track down all the Gardnerian covens I could find and figuring out which ones were reasonably near universities with decent graduate programs in British and American literature. I ended up in Eugene, Oregon which had a Gardnerian coven, Fiodh Sidhe. By the end of 2009, its first High Priestess and one of the third-degree priests had decided to begin another group. They put together a 101 class with the goal of becoming a coven. I signed up, and by March 2010 the group was actively meeting for class. In September of that year, I officially became a dedicant.
When I dedicated into what eventually became Soma Sidhe coven. I was taught that my HPS and HP had dual lineage in the Long Island line and California line/tradition. They were completely upfront about the fact that while many California line Gardnerians consider themselves to be Gardnerian witches, the majority of the Gardnerian community in North America does not consider the California line to be a legitimate line, but rather a separate tradition. They explained that they were part of a family branch of the California line that had been “redone” by a Long Island priestess and that they were very careful to make sure our initiations and elevations were done “by the book” according to Long Island practice, but that our general circle “script” blended both Long Island and California praxis. That all sounded good to me, and my coven leaders were vouched for by other Gardnerians, so I happily continued my studies with them.
In December 2011, I asked for initiation into Soma Sidhe. Everyone was overjoyed, and we agreed to talk about setting a date for after Candlemas. But when we resumed coven activities in January 2012, everyone’s lives had drastically changed over that short month. In that time, a marriage fell apart, a loved one passed away, a job delivered notice that someone would be transferred halfway across the country, and I had decided to pause my graduate work. We decided not to initiate until we were certain there would be a coven to initiate into. The coven went into hiatus a couple months later, and by August 2012, I moved from Eugene, Oregon to Olympia, Washington to stay with a fellow coven student who generously opened her home to me and gave me space to recover from graduate school stress and figure out what I wanted out of life. Few people in this world are as kind and as giving as she is, and I owe her tremendously.
Luckily for me, by March of 2013, the HPS moved to Tacoma, just 30 minutes north of Olympia. Thanks to her proximity to Sea-Tac airport, our HP was able to secure regular travel to her. Travel schedules were made with the coveners still in Eugene, so the coven came out of hiatus and relocated the covenstead to Tacoma. Shortly thereafter, I underwent the first degree initiation on April 27th, 2013 and began serving as the coven’s maiden.
Things progressed pretty well for the next couple of years, but by 2015 I had become frustrated with my unfulfilling and exploitative day job. It had, however, shown me how profoundly inadequate the access to quality education is for minority and economically disadvantaged people, and I wanted to do more to right that wrong. In January 2015, I applied to a social justice program that sought to ensure poor and minority students had access to effective teachers. In February, I learned that I had been accepted into that program as well as an education graduate program in Indianapolis. I would need to relocate by the end of May.
I was heartbroken at the thought of leaving my coven family. I loved Soma Sidhe immensely. They had become just as important to me as my own family, and the pain I felt upon realizing that I wouldn’t see them frequently was worse than my realization that the move might end my practice of Gardnerian craft. As a first degree, I could not start my own coven (nor would I have had time to do so), and it wasn’t as though there were loads of groups in Indianapolis for me to join. After much discussion with my High Priest about what I was ready for magically, emotionally, and practically, we decided that I would take the second degree elevation that we’d kept postponing so that I could start training people when I felt able to do so, and we also began looking for Hoosier covens outside central Indiana.
Eventually I made contact with a couple in northwest Indiana who were far-flung members of Birchstone, a Whitecroft line Gardnerian coven in Canada. They had begun training with an eye to eventually hive and agreed to meet me. After I moved and had a chance to meet and work with them, they found me to be a proper person and a decently trained initiate, and they invited me to join them. However, they wanted to ensure I would know, practice, and pass their tradition exclusively. Therefore, they asked if I would be fine with being adopted as a first degree instead of my newly minted second and be retrained in the praxis of the Whitecroft line. I saw no problems with that — the more training the better! — so we set the adoption date for November and continued working together as we planned logistics.
In late August, a small wrinkle developed in the plan. Thanks to an exchange of information at the Portland Lammas Gather, the HPS of Soma Sidhe learned that she did not, in fact, carry a legitimate lineage to the Long Island line. This meant that while she and all her downline were legitimate Californian Gardnerians, they were not — as most would have it — legitimate Gardnerians. She immediately made arrangements to receive the appropriate training, initiations, and elevations through a Long Island working pair in Portland and offered to re-do my initiation and elevation when that had been accomplished. As I was content with Birchstone and with the Whitecroft praxis, I declined the offer. Birchstone changed the adoption plans into an initiation, and I became an initiate (again?) on November 13, 2015. The ritual was so lovely and all the coven members so amazing and generous that even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.
In 2017, the Indiana contingent officially hived from Birchstone upon our acting HPS’s elevation to the third degree and formed Oakwood Coven. I took the second degree in September 2018 not terribly long after we initiated two more members. Today, Oakwood is a healthy group of five, with an additional student on the cusp of initiation and talk of beginning another training cycle. I serve as the coven’s maiden, and I’m starting to ponder the finer points of coven leadership and teaching and whether or not I’d like to start training for third (in Whitecroft, one can be autonomous at second, and third is a degree you pursue for yourself). At this point, I am happily growing my Craft and am excited to see how the future unfolds.
About My Name
Before anyone goes Google-stalking me, I should be clear that Melissa Zupan is a pseudonym. ‘Melissa’ was my Craft name while I was a member of Soma Sidhe. I was led to it because it means ‘honeybee,’ and I was drawn to the bee’s connotations of strong community, industry, and wisdom. ‘Melissa’ is no longer my Craft name, as I did change it upon my Whitecroft initiation. I choose to keep that name private, as Whitecroft Gardnerians only use Craft names when they are actually in circle. As such, those names are only known to initiates.
The last name, ‘Zupan’, is also not my real last name. In Pagan publishing, the mononymous appellation doesn’t fly very well unless you are Starhawk. Since my maternal grandparents came from regions that are now in modern Slovakia, and Slovak traditions were the ones I was raised with, I decided to use a fairly common Slovak surname to honor that heritage. I chose ‘Zupan’ specifically to stand for my commitment to strengthening the Pagan community. In Slovakia, the word župa basically means a politically identified area of land, sort of like how we view counties in American states. A župa‘s community leader, then, is the župan.
For what it’s worth, I don’t view myself as a leader of anyone, save for maybe my own covens first-degree initiates and our students in the outer court. ‘Zupan’ is more of an aspirational name than anything else; something to remind myself of what a healthy, happy person really should be in the long run.
About the Blog
This blog began in 2008 as a private project between me and a couple of my college friends. We had all graduated in 2006 and 2007, and were struggling to transition from a time when we all lived, worked, and studied within a few blocks of each other to being spread across the state and the country. I had discovered Timothy Roderick’s workbook Wicca: A Year and A Day in 2005 and had tried to work through it, but abandoned the effort a month or so in. I thought it would be interesting to all work on the book together, write about our efforts, and cheer each other on. We made a very good go of it, too, though I think I’m the only one who actually finished the book (several years later…but still!)
Since that point, life has happened. I’ve also opened up Three Hundred and Sixty Six beyond the scope of Roderick’s book. I’ve got descriptions of my own personal projects, of things I do with my coven, of random life events and issues…this blog has definitely become a home for me, and is a comfortable hodge podge of mostly Craft-related stuff.
About Working with Timothy Roderick’s Book
This blog did start as a record of working through Timothy Roderick’s first year-and-a-day book, so there’s at least 366 entries pertaining to it on this site (though it is now less than half my total content…so yay?). I am a little worried that someday Llewellyn Publications will issue me a “cease and desist” order, given the sheer amount of material I’ve directly copied from this book. I do definitely try to make sure it is obvious which language is mine and which is Roderick’s, and I do definitely encourage anyone interested in undertaking a similar project to purchase a copy of Roderick’s book. It’s honestly not half bad, and if you’re interested in British Traditional Wicca and can’t connect with a group, it provides an excellent way to develop some great first-degree-level knowledge, so long as you keep a critical mind as you undertake some of the activities.
Do I consider myself a Roderick sycophant? No. Timothy Roderick is not my guru, and I don’t believe his book to be a perfect text. That being said, it is a very, very useful one. Now that I’ve finished his first book, I honestly can’t believe all the insights into my practice I experienced while working my way through his exercises. I was no neophyte before beginning the book, but forcing myself to go through each exercise (well, there are a handful I completely dismissed) has made me a sharper, more able witch than I would have been without it…even considering the fact that I joined a coven and became an initiate (well, I thought I was at the time!) while working through that first book.
About Intellectual Property
I have not obtained permission from any author or publisher to put direct quotes from printed text on this blog. I do try to credit the original work as best I can, but the tone of this blog is decidedly casual. Sometimes my entries are quickly composed, in-the-moment thoughts. I’ve got a lot of entries on this blog, so it is entirely possible I did not adequately attribute sources in some posts. If you do notice an instance where I could have done it better, I wholeheartedly welcome you bringing that to my attention. I will rectify it as soon as possible.
Images…lord, is that an intellectual property liability for me. Most of the images on this site are not images that began with me. I find things I like through Google Images and steal them. Very frequently I’ve found I’m stealing the images from someone else who stole the images. It’s not the most ethical of practices, but it sure looks like this is how the Internet is run these days. Obviously if anyone wants me to remove a specific image on the grounds of intellectual property infringement, I will do so.
In terms of video content, all the films that appear on this blog have been linked from somewhere else on YouTube. I do not control that content. If you find that a link has subsequently broken, please bring it to my attention. I will try to fix it and, failing that, I will remove the link from the page.
About the Title Header Image
If you’re interested in the image of the stone circle that appears in the blog header, I must admit I did not take that photograph and I have no idea where it originated. It is, however, an image of Castlerigg Stone Circle, which is located near Keswick in Cumbria, North West England. I chose the image simply because I like stone circles (I avidly stalk the blog Clonehenge), and because I thought the red-brown greys of this image looked well with the standard Vigilance WordPress theme. If you’d like to see the full image before I cropped it for the header, that picture can be found here.