Monday, 23 September 2019

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Review: Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman

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Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman

Published: 4th June 2019 | Publisher: Gallery Books | Source: Bought
Pam Grossman's Website

A whip-smart and illuminating exploration of the world’s fascination with witches from podcast host and practicing witch Pam Grossman (The Witch Wave), who delves deeply into why witches have intrigued us for centuries and why they’re more relevant now than ever.

When you think of a witch, what do you picture? Pointy black hat, maybe a broomstick. But witches in various guises have been with us for millennia. In Waking the Witch, Pam Grossman explores the cultural and historical impact of the world’s most magical icon. From the idea of the femme fatale in league with the devil in early modern Europe and Salem, to the bewitching pop culture archetypes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Harry Potter; from the spooky ladies in fairy tales and horror films to the rise of feminist covens and contemporary witchcraft, witches reflect the power and potential of women.

In this fascinating read that is part cultural analysis, part memoir, Pam opens up about her own journey on the path to witchcraft, and how her personal embrace of the witch helped her find strength, self-empowerment, and a deeper purpose.

A comprehensive meditation on one of the most mysterious and captivating figures of all time, Waking the Witch celebrates witches past, present, and future, and reveals the critical role they have played—and will continue to play—in shaping the world as we know it.
From Goodreads.

Book Depository | Wordery | Goodreads

Trigger Warnings: This book discusses the Burning Times, people being burned alive, the #MeToo movement, and sexual predators.

'[S]how me your witches, and I'll show you your feelings about women.' (p3)

I have been interested in witchcraft for most of my life, but my interest has grown quite recently as my affinity to nature has become more meaningful to me. During my research for books on witchcraft to study, I cam across Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman, and knew immediately I had to read it. While not about witchcraft per se, it looks at the role and importance we have given the witch throughout history, how she has been hated and revered, and how many are reclaiming the witch as a symbol of empowerment. And it's bloody brilliant.

'The witch is a relative of goddesses and fairies and devils and monsters, yet is wholly her own breed because of one crucial differential: she is usually human. And so we not only relate to her, we can become her.' (p276)

Waking the Witch takes three of my interests and brings them together; the witch trials, feminism, and witchcraft. It felt like this book was written for me. It looks at the misogynistic periods of history, when thousands of people, mostly women, were executed as witches. It looks at the people in power at the time, and how their hate for and fear of women to put people to death. The idea that witches consorted with the devil? Made up by the Church. There was no "evidence", or any reason that led to them believe that, but a desire to control and forbid and persecute.

Grossman looks at how the witch has evolved throughout pop culture, and how this shows shifting and changing attitudes to the witch. How teenage witches in all their iterations are relatable to teens during their own transformation as they go through puberty. The sexualisation of witches and their links to the devil in horror. How it was L. Frank Baum who introduced the idea of good witches in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and what led him to write them. Grossman also discusses her favourite women artists who have their own interest or connection to witchcraft.

The book also covers how the witch has been used in activism. It talks about how "witch" is hurled as an insult at women who do not conform and act the way the patriarchial society believes they should, and how feminists have reclaimed the witch as a symbol of female power. It discusses the #MeToo movement, and the disgust of and the desire to control women's bodies.

It looks at the histroy of Wicca and praciticing witchcraft, generlly, and Grossman discusses her own experiences of being a witch. It discusses covens - those that practice witchcraft, and those of sisterhood. Waking the Witch was absolutely fascinating.

'I've also come to realize that the witch has a tendency to reach the ones who need to be reached, and there's a reason her drumbeat is growing louder. I believe people need her more than ever, whether as a holy figure, a feminit statement, or a bit of frenetic fun.' (p259)

Not only is Waking the Witch an incredibly interesting piece of non-fiction, but there were also elements that meant a lot to me personally. As I've said, I've been studying witchcraft myself, learning more about it as it speaks to me. But I've also felt some confusion, as there are many different paths to go down, but also things I didn't quite understand. Grossman would say things about the practice of witchcraft specifically that clarified some things for me - not that she makes any suggestions, this isn't a guide or an introduction, but more that what she said would make me think, which would then solidify things for me.

But she also talked about something that I have been concerned about while studying; the idea of borrowing from other cultures. I had been concerned that gods and goddesses from other cultures can be invoked in certain spells - Hindu gods and goddesses, for example. This doesn't sit right with me, but I don't know a huge amount about witchcraft, maybe it's not cultural appropriation, because you can be of a certain religion and also a witch, so maybe it's Hindu witches who would invoke these gods? I was confused about what it meant. But Grossman does a fantastic job of discussing the topic. She doesn't give her opinion on whether doing so is right or wrong, but gives both sides of the argument, which was really fascinating, and helped me clear up my own thoughts on it. But what I loved was that Grossman said this:

'The histories of people of color have been systemically excluded and erased so often and for so long by a dominant white narrative, and it is crucial that those who practice contemporary witchcraft don't perpetuate this pattern. No matter what each of us thinks about a culturally mixed approach to magic, it's imperative that we remain sensitive to one another's perspectives and lived experiences, and open to recalibrating as we listen and learn. This is especially necessary for white practitioners like me, who've benefited from the cultural advantage of white privilege, and have an obligation to continuously confront and undo our own racism. There is a reason that the archetype of the witch resonates with those who feel different or oppressed: she is an outsider herself, after all. In declaring allegiance to her, one forges a sacred bond with anyone who has been overlooked, underrepresented, pushed aside or, cast out.' (p272)

There is so much about this book I love! I'm not really one of writing in or annotating books, it feels kind of sacrilegious to me, but I definitely felt tempted to highlight whole passages throughout the book. Waking the Witch was incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking, but also one that had an effect on me. I stumbled across this book at exactly the right time, when I had questions I didn't know how to find the answers to. Waking the Witch either provided them, or led to me figuring things out for myself. I was actually quite emotional and inspired as I reached the end of Waking the Witch, and I feel even more certain that I'm on a path that's right for me. I'll absolutely be checking out Grossman's podcast now, The Witch Wave. If you have an interest in witchcraft, in history and the witch trials, or the witch as a symbol, I highly recommend reading Waking the Witch.

'[The witch's] route to the top of popular consciousness has been riddled with contradiction. She's been dreaded and desired, executed and exalted. She's a murderer and a martyr, a being who honors nature even as she defies it. She's surrounded by beasts and demons and spirits and sisters, and she stands entirely alone.' (p276)

You may also like:

How I Came to Study Witchcraft Witchcraft Introductory Books Witchcraft Isn't that Strange

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What does the witch mean to you? Who are some of your favourite witches from pop culture? Or favourite artworks featuring witches? Do you have an interest in the witch trials, or witchcraft itself? Maybe the witch as a feminist symbol? Will you be picking up Waking the Witch? Let me know in the comments!

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