WellREAD and The Wonder of Witches

Last weekend I was sick with a cold, and because I was sick I turned on the tv and thereby caught this program about books, WellREAD, on OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting).  I’m always excited to find a show about books, and it was doubly exciting to come in on a show discussing books on witches with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff. She was talking about her latest, The Witches: Salem, 1692, which is another exploration of the witch trials.

Schiff clearly has a real passion for her subject. I also liked that she said she can’t seem to write a book in less than four or five years when authors now are pressured to crank out a book every few months to keep up momentum (although this likely applies solely to fiction. I can’t see any sort of respectably researched historical book being done well in less than a couple of years). As much as I’ve read over the years on the witch trials I will consider adding Ms. Schiff’s book to my TBR pile. The reviews on Amazon are split pretty evenly between those who loved it and those who thought it was a ‘tedious slog’ so my expectations are tempered.

Be that as it may, the show itself was going great until about the last five minutes when Mary Ann Gwinn, who gives further reading suggestions, excitedly talked about Alex Mar’s “Witches of America.” Mar’s book has been roundly criticized by the pagan/witchcraft community, and you can read one take on that here. It’s obvious Gwinn knows absolutely nothing about modern witchcraft, or was even aware of its existence. I got the impression neither of the show’s hosts has ever met anyone who didn’t believe exactly what they do; they both seemed amazed that there are people today who call themselves witches. Gwinn went on to mockingly describe modern witches saying, “In one way you want to make fun of these subjects: the weird tattoos, the costumes, blue hair, the free-form sex, the witches’ convention at a Doubletree Inn. Really?” Nice. She openly wants to make fun of them. Ok, I admit the Doubletree Inn is a little weird seeing as how my coven always meets in Lucifer’s penthouse. But what the hell.

Maybe she thinks we should all look as bland and asexual as she does. Finally, the show’s host Terry Tazioli gives a shudder and says “I’m done with witches.” Good for you, buddy. Very disappointing to see such a derisive dismissal of alternative spirituality in this day and age. Their way or the highway, it would seem. They might be interested to know witchcraft practitioners and practices are as varied as any segment of the population, and many hold advanced degrees, including PhDs, and careers in the sciences and academia. I, for one, look more like a Sunday school teacher. My hair is not blue (although I really like the look) because I need to fit in in Corporate America. But not everyone does, and this is not the 1950s. You can watch the show here.

I shudder to think of the judgment the two of them sit in towards other marginalized population groups.

And for your edification and enlightenment, here are some reading suggestions if you really want to learn about paganism and/or Witchcraft in the modern world:

Margot Adler, “Drawing Down the Moon”

Scott Cunningham, “The Truth About Witchcraft Today”

Scott Cunningham, “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”

Pauline Campanelli, “The Wheel of the Year”

Starhawk, “The Spiral Dance”

For real basics, The Witches’ Voice website has “Witchcraft 101: So You Wanna Be a Witch?”

If nothing else, Mar’s book introduced people at The New York Times to the idea that there are practicing witches today. We may not fly on brooms (the old joke is we ride Hoovers now) but we have been known to dance under a full moon.

Full moon

10 thoughts on “WellREAD and The Wonder of Witches

  1. Although I don’t identify as a witch, I know a few people who do and I can say whole-hardheartedly that they are some of the kindest folks I’ve met. The prejudice that still exists today is astounding. Shame on those presenters.

    Recently I’ve been trying to learn more about witchcraft. Partly because I’m interested and partly because my next novel has a witchcraft element to it. When I wrote the first draft I knew very little about the subject. Reading through it I can see I played to some of society’s stereotypes. In the next draft I’m determined to not only tell the story but to make sure that I’m not giving in to those stereotypes.

    Great post!


  2. I’m wondering if society isn’t still going through a reactionary period post-2000? it’s 2016 and in many ways I see more open expressions of prejudice and outright ignorance passed on as fact. (or maybe I’m just old enough now to see it more clearly?) Makes me wonder what the years 1900 — 1920 were like…. oh right, the Gilded Age and open discrimination against people of color and “foreigners.”

    It’s strange to see these views on a public broadcast platform though.

    Great post, D.D.


    1. I think witches will always be fair game for mockery. We’re outside all the ‘accepted’ religions so everyone feels comfortable taking potshots at us. Hollywood hasn’t helped much, with movies like “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and Vin Diesel’s latest, “The Last Witch Hunter.” They just keep cranking on the stereotype.


    2. I’m pretty much convinced that there’s a personality type – a body chemistry, really – that fears/rejects/reviles the unfamiliar. Anything outside the coventions to which they’re accustomed freaks them out. . And y’know, I could almost accept their discomfort if they’d just ADMIT it and leave the free thinkers in peace.
      For some really good historical fiction re: how all that change played out in the year 1919, rocommend The Given Day by Dennis Lehane: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/books/18masl.html?_r=0

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      1. I’m not sure it’s a physical thing. I went through different phases (even a “born-again” period if you can believe it, when I was probably as obnoxious about my beliefs as any of them), but I was very young at the time and outgrew it. They seem a little old to still be so smug and closed-minded, especially in view of the fact that they read and recommend books for a living.


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