Posted in authors, books, full moon, photography, religion, witchcraft, witchcraft, writing

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

Posted in books, Quotes, writing

Neil Gaiman on Reading

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

This is a snippet of a lecture Neil Gaiman gave to the Reading Agency in London, on Monday, October 14, about the importance of reading, libraries, and librarians. Read the rest here in The Guardian. It is a long-ish read, but worth it. Gaiman makes the case for reading, libraries, books and daydreaming better than anyone I’ve ever seen (or read). Pass it on.

Now if only people would put down their smart phones and tablets and turn off the tv long enough to read a book.

book shelf

Posted in random thoughts, writing

The Beginning of the End of Cursive

And so it begins. Indiana schools are no longer going to be teaching cursive writing. You remember cursive, right? The curly, flowy letters that all connect as you write. With a pen. By hand. On paper. No? Maybe it’s already dead.


Why do I care when I scarcely write anything by hand anymore myself? I’m not sure. I guess it’s my inner Luddite stirring. I realize it’s more than a little schizophrenic to be tweeting and blogging my lament about the death of handwriting, but hey, it works for me. As much as I love my gadgets and toys and playing online (and believe me, I do) part of me still sees value in the quieter, slower times of yesteryear. I try not to look back with the rose-colored glasses, I try to keep in mind all the ways modern life is superior to the level of daily life of one-hundred, two-hundred, and a thousand years ago (small things, like hygiene, and medicine, and women’s rights, education, not to mention not having to wear underwear that deforms you and destroys internal organs) but still. Is there anything more treasured or personal than a hand-written note?

But apart from all the romanticism, one effect of not learning cursive is someday no one will be able to read old documents. This will make historical and genealogical research more difficult by an untold factor. Handwritten forms, census records, birth and death certificates, church records and the like will be nearly incomprehensible to all but a few specialist scholars. Handwriting will be the new hieroglyphics before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. However, having said that, some of them already are. Penmanship oddly does not seem to have been a consideration for people whose job it was to fill in these forms in the days of yore. If you’ve done any research into your own family and seen some of these documents, you now what I mean.

I wonder what other unforeseen fallout from this will be. Eventually company logos now written in script or cursive will have to be changed because no one will be able to read them. Someday people will look back on pens and pencils the way we look at quill pens and inkwells, with fond nostalgia. They’ll wonder how we ever got anything done like that. Ink blots and smears from those old ballpoint pens that globbed up if you didn’t use them all the time and the pocket protectors that only the nerdiest used, pencils that always needed sharpening or the mechanical ones with the little leads that always break will be as outdated as sealing wax and leather scrolls are to us. Handwritten communications will be relegated to only the most extraordinary occasions, and the exclusive province of artists and calligraphers. Unsurprisingly, I do a little calligraphy and have a nice collection of inks and dip pens and nibs. I find it relaxing, kind of Zen practicing letter forms. It’s my one and only foray into the art world, and if you’ve seen my little sketches on my blog here, I think you’ll agree it’s for the best.

Posted in writing

Reading Good Writing

Just some high level musings about reading classic literature, vs. whatever is on the best seller list. I’ve been on a classics kick lately, probably because I didn’t read them in school, or not enough of them anyway. I remember a short course on Shakespeare in high school, and I took a semester of Shakespeare in college, along with a Middles Ages & Renaissance class that covered Song of Roland and The Canterbury Tales, along with other stuff I have long since forgotten. But I missed out on studying Jane Austen’s works and her contemporaries, and the Brontës, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott (does anyone read The Last of the Mohicans or Ivanhoe anymore?). I recently picked up a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, but have yet to read it.

At my last job, my co-workers organized a book club, and we met once a month to discuss a book, and decide what to read next. These women were largely college-educated, great readers, and yet almost none of them had heard of Jack Kerouac. I was appalled. Instead one month we read a paperback crime novel, written by the sister of another co-worker. I won’t name it, it was dreadful. Factually, the author seemed to have done a good deal of research into the subject matter, but the characters were cardboard-thin stereotypes of the genre. My reading time is precious, and limited. I don’t want to waste another minute of my life reading that kind of drivel.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good writing teacher.”