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 random thoughts, writing

Recapturing the Magick

As some of you know, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with all things ‘occult.’ This is an interest that blossomed in me back in the Mesozoic Era (yanno, when I was kid). Actually, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in anything that fell under the umbrella heading of “supernatural” or “occult.” Where did this interest come from? Who the hell knows? I think it’s somehow encoded in my DNA.

When I was growing up, the racks by the checkout stands in just about any store were full of little 3”x4” books on all manner of things: numerology, palmistry, astrology, ESP, etc., as well as other non-occult subjects. I must have had quite a collection, but they are long since gone. I read books like “The Occult Explosion” by Nat Freedland that were surveys of the entire metaphysical movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. What a revelation, I wasn’t alone, there were lots of other people feeling the same way. I got my first Tarot deck, a 1971 Rider-Waite, which I still have. I discovered Alexandrian Witchcraft through the writing of Stewart Farrar in “What Witches Do”. For years after that book was the gold standard to me in building my own practice.

I was absolutely mad for anything about the Salem Witch trials, which is silly since none of those people were witches (with the possible exception of the slave Tituba, but that’s conjecture). Also, please note, no one was burned at the stake in Salem. Nineteen people were hanged, and one man was pressed to death. This was a horrific death, with a board being placed on the victim’s chest, and stone after stone placed on top of it, causing the chest to be crushed. It was an attempt to extract a confession, but Giles Corey was mum and so went to his death without confessing to try to save himself. Don’t feel too bad for him, though. He’d been a witness against his own wife Martha Corey at her trial. She was one of the ones hanged on September 22, 1692. Others died in prison awaiting their trials, but the exact number is not known.

laurieLaurie Cabot, dubbed “The official witch of Salem”  and profiled on “In Search Of…” and written up in National Geographic Magazine was another source of inspiration. Sneer at her if you must, but she was an inspiration to me, and paved the way for many of the witches who came after her. She did a lot to raise the profile of Wiccans and made it easier for us to practice without persecution. Laurie long ago vowed to the Goddess that she would wear her ritual robes every day, so that’s why she dresses the way she does. I can hear the eye-rolling from here, but it’s her thing and I say bravo for being that brave. Society has never been kind to non-conformists. I can only imagine what she and her daughters went through.

The famous psychic and witch Sybil Leek, with her jackdaw familiar, Mr. Hotfoot Jackson, sybil06was another high profile witch of those days and another role model for me. She faced a lot of persecution, including having leases cancelled, and being hounded by the media. Even the tv show “Bewitched” got some good stuff in, like the Halloween episode when Samantha related how Endora used to take her out of the country every Halloween so she wouldn’t be subjected to the hideous hook-nosed warty hag stereotypes of witches for the season. The show didn’t have much truth in it, but there were a couple of episodes at least that painted witches in a much better light than any other show or movie had at that time.

I feel lucky to have been introduced to the Old Religion in those days. It was a heady time for the magickal and neo-pagan community as things became more open and information became readily available, occult shops sprang up to cater to the needs of practitioners. Just the sight of the full moon inspired feelings of excitement, like an electrical circuit switched on and I could feel the current surge through me. Ok, so I’m weird. So sue me.

What’s the point of all this? The point is, I’ve been trying to create that sense of wonder, mysticism, ‘otherness’ about the whole scene from those early days in my writing, and I’m not having a lot of success. Having been a part of the pagan community for so long and it being part and parcel of my daily life, seeing up close and first-hand the reality of life as a pagan . Not entirely, to be sure, or I wouldn’t still be in it.  I suppose this is the root of my general gothiness. I like the aura of mystery, the sense of magick, the feeling of connection to the Otherworld. There is a wonder and beauty to it, but trying to work that into my stories is proving to be an amazing challenge. Without falling back on stereotypes it’s a difficult atmosphere to create. Maybe not all stereotypes are  bad or to be avoided. It may be partly the new convert zeal that someone experiences when they stumble onto a path that speaks to them, but it’s more than that.

I wonder if being there in the early days of the neo-pagan movement was the same as being in on the early days of any endeavor. I can imagine those who participated in the early days of the space program at NASA felt much the same way about that. I think there’s a special excitement to something that’s new and groundbreaking, something that will affect the course of future events. Ok, so being a witch isn’t putting anyone on the moon or colonizing Mars, but it was a seismic shift in my world view. I’m not a very ‘out’ witch. I’m still largely ‘in the broom closet’ as we say. Most of the time I could more easily pass for a Sunday school teacher than a witch, and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’ve suppressed it to the point where even I can’t find it.

I have no idea what this song is about, but it always sounded to me like it was describing a bunch of witches out dancing around the esbat fire in the moonlight.

P.S. The spelling of ‘magick’ throughout is deliberate. Aleister Crowley is said to have added the ‘k’ on the end to distinguish esoteric practices from sleight-of-hand stage tricks. Since then, it’s gone into general use in the pagan world.

Posted in fantasy, writing

Bewitched! The Reboot

Ok, people, Variety reports Bewitched is getting a reboot! While I’m all kinds of excited about this, my enthusiasm for this dropped several notches when I read who the producers are.

Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, the married couple behind the 2005 film version, are onboard to exec produce through their Red Wagon shingle. Marc Lawrence (“Did You Hear About the Morgans?”), who will write the script, is also an exec producer.

But let’s think good thoughts.

I think if they can get the right cast it could succeed. Will Ferrell may not have been the worst choice they could have made for Darren in the movie, but he wasn’t good. There, I said it. So, any suggestions for casting?

Posted in writing

Fantasy, or Reality?

I am very torn in my story about whether to inject what I know to be true about modern practicing Wiccans and Wicca, or just take off on flights of fancy and jazz it up, Hollywood style.

On one hand, I would like the story to reflect elements of what Wicca really is, and what practicing witches/Wiccans really do, but I fear it will be too dull. The real thing is nothing like Hollywood portrays it, nobody flies around on broomsticks or has the power to freeze time or blow up demons with a hand flick (or going back further, twitch their nose to make things happen).

On the other hand, if I stick too close to reality, the Craft almost has to become secondary, or backstory, rather than a crucial element. But do I want to perpetuate the hype and the nonsense? I suppose it will have to have some elements of the fantastic, or who will want to read it? I’ll have to find a balance between reality and the glitz. How much reality is too much, though? How much do people really want to know? I guess all I can do is write the story as I’d like to read it, and if someone else likes it, all the better.