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Waking the Witch by Pam Grossman – NTE Book Review – Cannonball Read 11

picture of a blue book on top of a Ouija board

(This is one other a type of quote heavy evaluations, however :shrug:)

So, I can’t be the only one who’s hearing lots of speak about witches these days, right?  Podcasts?(including the writer of this e-book’s personal) Pals dabbling in crystals? Little sister shoving the Co-Star app at you and asking what time you have been born??  I really feel like witches are within the zeitgeist proper now, a method or one other, and as any The Craft-Matilda-Sensible Magic loving 90’s teenage woman can inform you, not even for the first time in my lifetime.  I am fairly happy with that, because at the least this time, I’m listening to a variety of voices I really feel have been excluded from the conversations the primary time round (I do know adults, of many cultures, this time.  And a few of them apply ancestral witchcraft.  Would’ve blown my then-Catholic thoughts, that’s for positive.) Anyhow: Witches… They’re in all places proper now.  Together with my native library, the place I wandered upon this pretty ebook simply sitting there within the new deliveries, like it was waiting for me.  Kismet.

So, the subtitle of the e-book is “Reflections on Ladies, Magic & Energy,” and it’s delightfully and undoubtedly that.  That is 100% a feminist take on witchcraft, well-liked takes on witchery, historic reflections on femininity and magic- and access to each and who controlled each – and I beloved almost each minute of it.  I wound up with two pages of google docs quotations, which I’m only going to include a couple of of here, but shall be putting into Goodreads after, because everybody ought to learn them, so hyperlink.  The thing concerning the e-book is it covers so much, and I’m only going to talk about a number of of the highlights (and one thing I might have appreciated some enchancment on), so I recommend you read it.  October is coming, you already know, guys.  Additionally: History/Scmistory, in case you want it.

The general theme is the facility that witchcraft allows ladies to wield, to play with, to inhabit, to possess.  Literal energy (in the event you’re a believer in that type of factor), but in addition all types of societal power – the facility of healers, and midwives; the facility of solitude; the facility of data; political power – countless quantities and avenues of power, principally.  Freedom, in so much methods, that was inaccessible in some other spheres to ladies, traditionally.  And Grossman manages to actually do a terrific job of discussing how magic is each individualized, and but intricately related to a group.  How it can be mystical, absolutely honoring the feminine, and nonetheless practical.  How the word itself is both “loaded and coded” – an epithet and a blessing multi functional.  Those are good elements; really helpful.  Not the place I need to focus though.


First, Grossman rehashes most of European witch history, just a little Haitian, Persian, Hebrew and a handful more along the best way.  There’s no method to speak about witches and skip over the 100,000+ deaths in Western Europe alone by the top of the 15th Century – almost 75-85% of whom have been ladies.

*Although my ‘favourite’ and by ‘favorite’, I imply ‘Thanks, I hate it’ piece of historic info was about how the Crucible is STILL being GROSSLY mis-taught in faculties so horrifically, nonetheless, to this present day.  Principally, it’s the difference between “based mostly on true events” and “true story”, however Arthur Miller wrote the Crucible as an allegory for/response to the McCarthy hearings and what we now call witch-hunts (we didn’t used to! Not even pre-20 century, actually), and the way he managed to put all of the blame on an 11 yr previous that he literally made up a story about and we train it as if it is a reality (or on the very least reality adjacent).  As Grossman puts it, she might additionally make up a narrative about how the then 11 yr previous and the 60 yr previous she accused of witchcraft, if they did have an ‘affair’ as Miller claims (despite the fact that there was zero historic proof of such), would, you recognize be pedophilia and perhaps it was a trauma response of a tiny. youngster?, “however that may be a fabrication, based mostly on nothing but my own biased, wild imaginings, and influenced by the conversations and occasions of my own time and place.”  You recognize: Precisely just like the Crucible?  So perhaps somebody ought to get on writing that version so we will train it to ninth graders yearly they usually might study that traumatizing young women can also be just as dangerous & damaging as calling individuals witches? sigh.*

Since I’m of an age with the writer, the perfect elements for me, though, are the pop-cultural touchstones she navigates the history lessons and narrative by means of.  She manages to revisit all the good fictional witches of my youth – From Ouncesto Salem, to Riverdale, Sunnydale, Hogwarts, Eastwick, Cherry Tree Lane and so forth – while introducing me to some I hadn’t heard of before, and makes them appear each worthy of revisiting and a stepping stone in a logical progression to a more inclusive witching group, which is a aim I can heartily endorse.

In YA fictional witches, for example, we frequently see the interaction and intersectionality of id, femininity, teenage girlhood, and entry to friendship, power, vengeance, justice, grief, management, crisis, chaos, and coming of age.  Teenage feminine witches are/have been typically written as a singular investigation into areas of insecurity, budding sexuality, trivializing, triumphs, talent, and tenacity.  Grossman also discusses how we see signs of progress in Hermione as the descendant of witches like the original Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Buffy’s Willow, or different teen witches of “previous”, as she’s allowed to study, adapt, thrive, and survive WITH her magic.  She’s allowed to grow into her energy and herself in a approach her predecessors have been typically forbidden. (I might argue that her Hogwarts cohorts – especially Luna – may even embody this more, however I get that no one actually needs to nitpick that with me.)


My favourite of Grossman’s conclusions is that it isn’t till ladies start writing (or at the least getting revealed, & power in, writing witches), that their satan pacts are probably seen as liberating, slightly that stunting, useful slightly than useful.  Fairy tale witches all get a reasonably sore deal/dangerous rap – It’s when ladies begin telling witch tales that we start seeing witches as a path to fulfilling potential, relatively than eternal damnation.  One of many clearest examples of that is in relation to witches and the roles of girls’s bodies.  There’s the apparent dialogue surrounding childless ladies, and historically, their position in witch-tales.  (Even these with lower than the typical number of youngsters have been suspected, relying on the occasions, and the toddler mortality charges within the space.)  In older tales – non-mothers have been in anti-mother roles: that is they have been enemies of youngsters, and sometimes everybody else (Mom Gothel, Maleficent, whoever tries to eat Hansel & Gretel).  And but, probably the most magical non-mother witches in pop-culture, once ladies began telling the stories?  Mary Freaking Poppins.  As Grossman puts it, “I aspire to be such a lady to the youngsters I know.  To swirl into their lives with nice magic and devotion, however to have the freedom to go away when the winds change.”  Stated every fairy godmother/favourite aunt, ever.

The liberty that witchcraft provides to more taboo elements of girls and their bodies can also be to not be missed – many rituals use menstrual blood, for example, and that ‘ickiness’ is portrayed in common tradition as one other disgusting thing about witches (Carrie, for instance).   Ageing can also be taboo – “typically fiction witches are themselves afraid of mortality [from the Wicked Queen in Snow White to the Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus to Laria in …Stardust].  As such, they’re double sure – punished by society by ageing, then vilified for going to extremes to take care of their beauty and their youth.” I mean, positive… however it still pretty excessive to need to eat youngsters, so I’m unsure they should get a move their either, but I do take her level.  There’s also the position of the hag – Baba Yaga, or another crone -, which Grossman discusses in relation to post-menopausal ladies as society’s version of girls at their “most horrifying”.   But, for religious witches, especially, crones present consolation, knowledge, steerage, mentorship, and that exhibits up in tales as well- The “Mrs.” witches in A Wrinkle In Time, Hecate, Mama Odie from The Princess and the Frog.

Anyhow: Do you need to study so much you didn’t find out about witches, and keep in mind that there are some kick-ass witch books/films/exhibits it is best to revisit soon? Then you must examine this guide out.  Drawbacks? For me, it’s a bit disappointing that a e-book that proclaims that “Magic is made in the margins” doesn’t explore as lots of those margins as I, personally, may need appreciated. Whereas I felt that the writer did a very good job of addressing some questions of multicultural variations and similarities – and I’m going to offer a selected shoutout to the YA fiction section, where I felt like she went into a substantial amount of depth on the subject, including LGBTQ witches – I just needed more of it, all around – to have it’s much less of a sidedish and extra of the primary course?  It’s onerous to know what the line is here though, as a result of if it’s a ebook that focuses on (at totally different points) pop-culture or historical touchpoints in relationship to witches, than clearly so lots of these touchpoints are going to be the whitewashed, heteronormative, classist examples we’ve principally heard of before, and I can’t actually fault her for allowing the e-book to focus totally on these.  I assume it’s simply that I see the shortage of inclusivity on some issues – particularly incapacity when she was speaking about witches and physique horror, and the interaction of that historic significance, or the prevalence of non-white witches and what has their history been when not seen by means of a Eurocentric lenses – that I might’ve appreciated to read much more about.

And there’s also lots to be stated about operating out of area.  Grossman does handle to cowl a few of this and the thought of witch as style icon, prophet, artist, craftsman, religious leader, source of political energy and extra.  Including: What is a witch now, in 2019? Every little thing from witchblr and spells for binding the “evil within the white home” on Pintrest, to precise information witch-hunts rising in numbers, violence and deaths throughout the globe since 2009 (together with four individuals put to dying in Saudi Arabia, and a 20-yr-old mother murdered, and her 5-yr-old daughter tortured within the midst of an ‘anti-sorcery epidemic’ in Papua New Guinea).  There’s numerous witch stuff to discover, is all I’m saying, so I feel the writer did a particularly admirable job.

Want more proof?  Right here’s a couple of of the aforementioned quotes.

“The witch is notorious shape-shifter and is available in many guises.  More than anything, although, the witch is a shifting and shadowy symbol of female energy and a drive for subverting the established order.  She can also be a vessel that incorporates our conflicting feelings about female energy: our worry of it, our want for it, our hope that it could actually and will grow stronger despite the flames which might be thrown at it.”

“Whereas a witchy wardrobe can definitely be attractive at occasions, it doesn’t are likely to prioritize physique consciousness.  Most of the time, witch trend is about unfastened layers that veil the shape or materials that cloak and canopy.  It conceals greater than it reveals.  It creates a shroud, albeit one emblazoned with spangles and talismanic symbols.  And so the wearer is self-modulating and self-protected, a strolling woven spell.  If she’s surprising, it’s because she needs to be.  This witch is a voluntary disturbance.  Ladies have been informed over many lifetimes that their our bodies are improper and unbecoming – that they belong to other individuals.  The fashion witch is self-possessed, in the beginning.  She controls how a lot of herself she shares.  Whether others contemplate her anatomy a monstrosity, or a factor of splendor, is of little concern.  She knows her body is her own.  And that’s true power.”

“Books have been my broomstick.  They allowed me to fly to different realms where something was attainable.”


Y’all: She’s a ebook witch.  I feel I want to determine where right here coven meets.