I grew up on America Online. Running man, screeching handshake, watching the clock so I wouldn’t rack up too many minutes on my parents’ phone bill. I spent hours perfecting my profile and putting up clever away messages with lyrics to my favorite songs. I changed screen names a few times over the years — SMWstage, PinkFonz, suddenred — but I never had an account with a number in it, as a matter of principle.
Even though AOL was a carefully curated walled garden, I spent a lot of time in its darker corners. Namely, I spent a lot of time in the Wiccan chatrooms. There, not as many creeps were asking for A/S/L. People were conversing about rites, elements, divination, and strange happenings. In retrospect, it was remarkable that out of the very limited interests represented by AOL chatrooms that “Wicca” was one of them.
In middle school I ran with a group of girls who were obsessed with witchcraft. We took out books from the school library — anything we could get our hands on. With sticks we mashed up berries, leaves, and spices on the shaded hill during recess. Sleepovers circled around Ouija boards and ‘light as a feather stiff as a board.’ We saved our allowance for crystals and books on our pilgrimages to Salem. I sought out stories from my aunt’s genealogical files on my distant relative Ann Pudeator, accused and hung for witchcraft. I couldn’t get enough information with my limited means offline, so I was thrilled to find others with more to share online.
Connecting with people, exploring this subversive and potently dangerous interest, my first forays into the internet were enchanting. I only appreciated later how very limited my early internet experience was on AOL, and how widespread my quirky interest in the occult had been. Years later watching The Craft, I understood we had gotten swept up in something bigger.
Still, at twelve years old, the internet—however limited—offered me power. And I found my little circle of middle school misfits wasn’t alone. That’s all all us budding young preteen witches were looking for, anyway.