I was a Child Bride of Satan
The summer of 1983 I was 9 years old and I was going to marry Satan. I didn’t care if the only wall between me and the hoards of hell was my Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag. I was going to usher forth this dark union and Grandma was going to help me do it.
Before we get into the details of my spiritual undoing, you need to understand my family a little.
1. My mother let me watch horror movies way too young and I loved them. Say what you will about this questionable parenting choice, here I am alive and fairly functional today.
2. When you’re raised Catholic, everything is a sin and therefore everything is wildly sexy. Hello, Thornbirds anyone? The Exorcist?
3. I read a lot and a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.
4. I was largely unsupervised.
5. I'd made my first communion the year before and after all the buildup, it proved fairly disappointing. Sure, I got a pretty dress and a rosary but it's not like I actually got to drink blood.
6. I’d read Lives of the Saints over and over again and things never seemed to go well for them.
My slide into damnation began where all good things are found, a garage sale.
Saturdays and Sundays in our family were often reserved for antique hunting or garage sale-ing (sailing?) with my grandmother, a sometimes antique dealer and full time bargain hunter. She’d wake us up at 5 am and we’d climb into her pacer and set off for the far flung corners of Mahoning county armed only with the newspaper and some cold hard dollars.
Garage Sale-ing Rule 1: You have to get there early, you can sleep in the car.
Rule 2: Always haggle, never accept the first price.
Rule 3: You have to be able to make it fit in the car or you can’t buy it. See photo of a pacer below for our size restrictions. We called it the pregnant roller skate.
It was lucky I was such a skinny and bendy kid because on more than one occasion I would be forced to carefully weave my limbs around the legs of a vintage smoking cabinet or a chair that, once reupholstered, could really pull the living room together. This was the eighties and seat belt laws regarding children were apparently very lax. I'm not even sure if the pacer had backseat seat belts. A more pressing concern was that I got carsick pretty much all the time in the pacer so if I had to barf, it was no easy feat to get out from under the second hand treasures piled on top of me. I did learn to look out of the pacer's ample windows while the car was moving and that seemed to work. It truly didn’t matter, nothing would have kept me from the hunt.
On this particular sale day, we pulled up to a rather robust spread in the fancier part of town. This house purportedly had it all: antique furniture for my mother’s unexplainable Victorian sensibility, early iridescent carnival glassware for my grandmother, and mountains of old books for me. I had five crisp dollars burning a hole through my daisy sundress. Little did I know how cheaply one could buy their eternal damnation.
We went our separate ways to explore (see note about parental supervision). No one thought it was odd that a nine year old was wandering around alone, again thank the 80’s. This garage sale was my favorite kind. It was huge and spanned not just the garage, but both front and back yards and also filled parts of the house. Being a shy but snoopy kid, I headed into the house first.
Boxes of records were lined up against the wall, racks of winter coats were in the hallway, a table of half used Avon products in the dining room. None of this interested me. I headed to the boxes of books and I suppose you can say it was love at first sight. The minute I laid eyes on the cover, I knew this book was meant to be mine.
Allow me to introduce you to the visual splendor that is the Man, Myth and Magic volume 1 cover art. Gaze upon it. Look deeply into the eyes of the dark lord. What nine year old wouldn’t be enticed? As I turned the pages I felt my scalp tingle with excitement. I took the book and slipped it into the pile of things my mother and grandmother were buying.
“My treat,” Grandma said as she handed the owner of the house a twenty dollar bill. I didn’t even have to pay for it! Grandma bought me my ticket to the dark side. If she registered the cover and nature of the book, she certainly didn’t seem to care.
Now if you are unfamiliar with the content in Man, Myth and Magic, allow me to enlighten you further. If you took a Dario Argento movie and married it to Funk and Wagnall, you’d birth this series of books. They’re like your own personal occult reading library from the 70’s and, much like everything in the 70’s, are just plain groovy and matter of fact in their delivery. While definitely lacking in the facts department, that book filled my bored little brain with wonder and terror. I wouldn’t know until I graduated college that the volume I’d purchased when I was nine was only the first of an entire series, but when I did find out, I was determined to hunt down the rest.
Never before has the full range of this fascinating subject been assembled in a single work of reference-all the facets of man's experience of the supernatural seen together as a whole.
-Richard Cavendish, Editor
At the time, I poured over that book for weeks, maybe months, memorizing as much as I could, searching for secrets to the universe. One day my mother finally caught wind of it and took it away which frankly, I always found peculiar. Here's the thing, I could watch horror movies, I owned multiple ouija boards which I played with on the regular so why was this particular book verboten? I blame the free and abundant images of fat naked man demons and 1970’s witch covens in their full bush natural splendor. Horror movies and channeling the dead? No problem, even witchcraft was tolerated but please don’t look at naked people. I told you, victorian sensibilities.
Thankfully she hid my precious tome where she hid everything, pushed way way back under the couch and so I could visit my bad boyfriend on the sly. Oh and the visits we would have. Curious about the Aberdeen Witches? Why, that’s the first topic in the book, precious. How about the possessed nuns of Aix-En-Provence? I direct you to page 42. Alchemy? Well, if you must, turn to page 50. Nine year old Melissa was, however, disappointed to find “Antichrist” woefully underrepresented. How was I to bring about the apocalypse if you didn't give me clear instructions? Astral projection? Dutifully tried every night for two years to no avail. Astrology? Sure, in fact that’s the last topic covered in volume 1, so my knowledge of the occult stalled there for a few years. Then I discovered boys and I shelved my witchy aspirations in pursuit of romance. No one told me I could have both back then.
Fast forward to 2012 when I am scouring ebay for things to fill my dark heart with joy and suddenly there they were, the holy grail. Out of print for decades, nearly impossible to find, and prohibitively expensive as a rule, here was my heart’s desire. A complete set of 1970 Man, Myth, and Magic at the shockingly low price of one hundred dollars. Never in my life of flea market mania have I clicked the “buy now” button faster.
Take that, Mom!
I’m a grown ass woman, I can read badly written and factually inaccurate occult encyclopedias any time I want.**
**It should be noted that my mother really doesn't care anymore.**
At last it is possible to bring discussion of the supernatural out of the dark-a privilege denied even to our parents...
-Richard Cavendish, editor
So the million dollar question: Do they hold up? Oh no. They're cringeworthy at times. They’re wildly un-PC and lack facts all over the place. For example, the entire continent of Africa is "explored" as an occult topic (whaaaaat?) and done so in the span of about five meager pages by a bunch of old white dudes. Acupuncture is also considered an occult topic and so is surrealist art and guys, that’s just volume 1. That said, I take them for what they are: my (shockingly early) introduction to living deliciously and for that I am grateful. For the same reason that I love the Cryptozoology Museum in Maine, I love these books and for the same reason I will always rewatch Humanoids from the Deep, I love these books. They're nostalgic for me. They launched my creepy. They made me want to travel the world and seek out awe. They made me want to run towards the things I'm afraid of.
So you can pry them from my cold dead hands, Mom.
What was your witchy start in life? Tell me your tale.