Writing Witches


Every so often, a book I read as a child will pop back up in my memory. I was always a great reader, from the time I was eight or so and got my first library card. Back then, I didn’t understand why someone would check out more than one book at a time. I remember the first time I checked out three books at once. I took them home and rotated reading them, so I’m not sure I finished any, but started them all. I think at least one was a Nancy Drew book. I read many of those, along with “Little Women”, “Little Men”, “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”… and so many others I can’t recall now.

Now that the weather has given us a preview of autumn, I’ve started scouting (no, that’s not true. I do this all year long) for new Halloween decorations. I treat myself to a couple new ones every year, and have a small collection of witch figurines that I want to keep adding to. From the time I was very young, eight or nine, I have always been fascinated with witches. Historical, fictional, present-day, I read anything that dealt with witchcraft, the supernatural, ghosts, and so on. One of my all-time favorite books was “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s set in the late 17th century, just as Salem Village was about to experience the witch hunts although there are in fact no witch characters in the book. Perhaps I was drawn to the character of Hannah Tupper, the old woman who lived on her own and was suspected of being a witch. I think part of me wanted to be her.

I read books about the actual witch trials, and at one time knew the names of most of the people who were accused and executed as witches in Salem. To this day I can rattle off that 19 people were hanged, and one man, Giles Cory, was pressed to death (this was accomplished by putting a board on his chest, and piling on more and more large stones in an effort to extract a confession of being a witch. He died rather than give such a confession). No one was burned at the stake in Salem, but others died in prison awaiting their trials.

Another favorite was “The Witch Family” by Eleanor Estes. Oh my, what a magical book. I think I read this when I was ten. At the time I’d never heard the name Malachi, so I pronounced the bumblebee’s name like “Ma-LATCH-ee”. Malachi, Malachi, the Bumblebee… These were spells and rhymes, magic coming to life. THIS was what witches were supposed to be! I think part of my head is still in that book.

Now as a grown-up, I’ve devoured the entire Harry Potter series, and am always on the lookout for more along these lines. I’m desperately hoping for a sequel to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke, and if you haven’t read this yet, treat yourself. It’s wonderfully original and imaginative, even though there’s not a witch in sight. I thought I read somewhere that Clarke had a three-book contract with the publisher, but perhaps they were not all going to be Jonathan Strange novels.

So where am I wandering with all this? Well, I’m working on my own story about witches. Modern witches, less Hollywood, but a good dose of the supernatural. The problem I’m having is (no surprise here) I keep wandering off on tangents and can’t decide where I want to take the story. I’m sort of following the advice from Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I’m trying to write the kind of book I would read. I want to be able to create characters who become as real to me as my friends. When I read a book I love, I don’t want to finish it because it’s like having to say goodbye to dear friends with whom I can never spend enough time. Do I live too much in my head? That’s a scary thought. I’m not sure that’s the best neighborhood to be traveling through alone.

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8 thoughts on “Writing Witches

  1. Hi
    I think it must be providence that I’m writing to you as I sit here with my black cat in my lap:). You said you wanted to meet a modern witch…well, here I am. I woke up this morning feeling directed and thinking about my favorite book “The Witch of Blackbird Pond”. I just thought a couple of days ago that it is time this book was made into a movie. So I looked it up and somehow I found you.

    I never thought about it much but looking back my brothers alway’s called me a witch:) So I thought I was ugly. But as time went by…many years…I realized that I was beautiful and that has it’s own curse as I’ve seen with many beautiful women. I would like to tell you a great story. Are you still looking for a modern witch? I have much to tell….and that is the truth.

    I would like to know you as I see that you see:) I hope you will respond.
    Sincerely
    Mary Nell
    RubyChicBoutique.etsy.com

    My Etsy site is my vintage clothing.

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    1. Hi Mary,

      No, I’m not looking to meet a modern witch, I’m not sure how you got that impression. As a practicing witch myself, I have a pretty good feel for the reality versus the fictionalized versions of the Craft. Which tradition do you follow?

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      1. Well, actually I don’t know and would like to know more. I like to think of myself as a modern witch. I don’t dress witchy or look witchy I just know strange things happen around me…it’s a lot to get in to so I won’t bore you with details. I am now trying to learn to use that power in the best way. Maybe you could clue me in…and no, I’m not a nut case:). I just realized it one day. I would love to know what you thought of “The Witch of Prague”. Is it a good read.

        I would love your input. What do you practice? I would love to know if you have the time to write.

        “The Ghost of Opalina” was written and illustrated by Peggy Bacon. I read it first when I was probably twelve. I loved it and never forgot it. There was only one printing and since then the book has become very valuable. About the cheapest you can find a copy is $300.00.

        Opalina is a ghost cat who inhabits an old home and only the children can see her and it takes her through several generations. It’s a wonderful read and a great concept for a story. I suspect you might enjoy reading it if you could procure a copy.

        And thank you for responding:)

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      2. Ok, well, first off, being a witch is a conscious choice, it’s not something you are born. What I suspect you mean is you have some kind of psychic abilities. I’ve been through this with a lot of people over the years, and being a witch is something you have to choose to be, it’s a whole lot more than casting spells. It’s a religion, a practice, a Craft, a way of life. I would encourage you to pick up a small book called “The Truth About Witchcraft Today” by Scott Cunningham. It explains things pretty clearly and succinctly. There’s also a lot of information at a Web site called The Witches Voice. A word of caution though when reading anything: there are as many ways of doing things as there are witches. There are probably hundreds of different traditions (like sects are to Christianity) and they each have their own specific ways of doing certain things. There is no “One True Way” in the Craft. At the bottom of their homepage is a section called News and Information/Chapters. You might start out reading the “Pagan/Heathen Basics” section, lots of info there.

        My practice is rooted in pre-Wiccan beliefs, the old pagan ways of my ancestors. I am a solitary practitioner at the moment, but have worked with a group in the past.

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      3. Thank you for the information and I ordered the book by Cunningham and am looking forward to reading it. As for phychic abilities I think it is more like being attuned and observent. I looked at The Witches Voice and one woman likened it to being confident, compassionate and loving. And she mentioned being in tune with the animals…who I learn much from. I have also ordered “The Witch of Prague” and am looking forward to reading it also. Especially since I used to be married to someone from Prague:). I think I have much to learn about witches.

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      4. Glad to be of help. There are so many aspects of the practice, there’s no way to sum it up in ten words or less. One thing I’ve had to point out repeatedly over the years is that it’s not about “power” in the sense of power over others, it’s about power over yourself. My general thumbnail description I used to give to people is the Craft is a pre-Christian, pagan religion, honoring the Goddess and her consort, the Horned God, following the cycles of nature, with many similarities to Native American beliefs.

        As far as “The Witch of Prague,” bear in mind it’s fiction, written by a non-pagan. I read it because I am interested in depictions of witches in literature, as I am writing a story about witches and like to see what has been done before.

        Good luck with your research.

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