Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (mmm…rose quartz!), then I probably do not need to inform you that Pam Grossman –writer, podcaster, practicing witch, and all-around mistress of magic, myth, and moxie–has conjured forth an incredible book to share with the world: Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power.
I recently had the ideal opportunity to devour its wonderments whilst whizzing through the skies on a mammoth metal broomstick, dizzying views of watercolor clouds in the early dawn’s cauldron bubbling and churning below. Free from obligations, phone calls, and miraculously (!) even a seatmate, it was the perfect setting to dive into this powerful collection of meditations and celebrations focused on the evocative, influential archetype of the witch.
I have since arrived back home and I am so pleased to share with you today my thoughts on Waking The Witch, and, in celebration of the summer solstice, Haute Macabre and Pam have an exciting giveaway announcement for you below, as well!
As with anything Pam creates, and which I know I may eventually write about, I’m initially intimidated at the prospect of reviewing Waking the Witch, which debuted on June 4th and is already a best selling new release on Amazon. But, as in the past, once I have cracked the cover and peeked inside, I am inexplicably drawn in with a whoosh as through a magic portal, and having begun to read the material, I’m immediately awestruck. And then! It’s off to the races and I’m scribbling notes and observations faster than I can read the material or even properly parse what I’ve written about it, and I tell you what: no one–no one!– has the ability to grab my attention and my imagination quite that way that Pam does.
[And if you don’t believe me, check out the bundles of blurbs brimming with words of praise in the book’s opening pages, penned by a veritable who’s who of contemporary neopaganism and witchcraft– the likes of Kristin Solee, Gabriela Herstik, Neko Case, etc. If your Sarah E. doesn’t know what she’s talking about (and let’s face it, sometimes she doesn’t), then, by goddess, these writers, artists, and magic-makers do.)
If that doesn’t grab you, I will steal the lines right out of art critic Morf Vandewalt’s mouth (played with campy panache by Jake Gyllenhal in the Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw.) “Mesmeric… I’m ensorcelled,” he sighs with embellished, unbridled enthusiasm at the sight of …something or other. It doesn’t matter. That movie has nothing to do with this book. All you need to know is that I too, was ensorcelled during my airborne afternoons with Waking The Witch, and I don’t mean that with any amount of smarmy irony or the puffed up, self-importance of a critic who thinks their words are going to make or break someone’s career. From the book’s electrifying introduction right through the emotional acknowledgments at the end, I was, for a time lost to this world, utterly immersed in its resplendent thrall. If that’s not ensorcelled, then I just don’t know what is.
Visually, texturally, Waking The Witch is an eye-pleasing, tactile delight. Bound in material cool to the touch and satiny-not-quite-slippery to grip, the matte cover glimmers with gold foil motifs that glow gratifyingly when the light hits them just so and is boldly punctuated with flashes of flaming scarlet. The mystical patterns and symbols–hands conjuring bolts of lightning, fingertips twinkling with tiny stars, crescent moons, curving arrows, and circling paths– are nestled against a deep celestial blue echoing the velvet vault of heaven at midnight. As to these observations, Pam shared a few magical, behind-the-scenes insights: “[The cover] reminds me of the sky and sea, and also looks like lapis lazuli, a gemstone associated with elevating the spirit and having clear communication – which is certainly what I hope the book will do! The triangle is associated with the triple goddess, and I love the way the fiery red pops against the background like some sort of amulet or jewel…”
Though at first glance this appears no slim tome, balanced on the palm, the book possesses a peculiar weightlessness that belies the scholarly and spiritual heft of the wisdom, wit, and warmth contained within. A beautiful, brilliant, biblio-treat, I found this is not so much a casual book for the nightstand so much as a magical grimoire/memoir for my altar. But whether your interest lies in witches and witchcraft or feminism, culture, and gender, I believe you’ll find yourself too ensnared in its spell to leave it lay long in either place.
If you’re already familiar with Pam’s evocative writing through her essays and articles, her illuminated manifesto What Is A Witch, or perhaps even from her artful blog posts, then you are no stranger to the beat and the pulse of her words, and how they sing with a wonderful rhythm in your blood. The lyrical language with which she crafts her assorted observations and myriad musings have a profoundly poetic, incantatory quality that you can’t just passively read without also, in a heady, personal way, simultaneously experiencing. They’re a song, a chant, a spell; you feel them, and they move you. ” There is a line between witchcraft and wordsmithery,” she notes, and later references the poem “Spelling”, by Margaret Atwood: “A word after a word after a word is power–” and I believe there is no more powerful word on contemporary witchcraft that those that Pam shares within Waking The Witch.
Early in I’m struck by her words of inclusivity. It makes me a little sad to note that sometimes (it seems to me, at least) our various alt-communities can seem anything but inclusive. Do you ever notice that the weirdos, the strangelings, the outcasts, and outsiders–those friends and familiars on the fringe–can sometimes be the most vicious gatekeepers? (But listen, I’m not here to judge; the meme “who hurt you?” comes to mind, which can be so funny/unfunny, because it’s so painfully true. I’m sorry that someone, somewhere gave you a hard time, spooky friends.) I love how Pam makes her opinion clear that whether your interest is heartfelt or cheeky, budding or established, your beliefs and practices public or private—the witch is an elastic archetype accessible to all, and we might call ourselves witch for manifold reasons.
The word “witch”, she further elucidates, represents “a means of identifying how I carry myself through the world and the kind of energetic current that I wish to be a conduit for.”
“At any given time I am a feminist; someone who celebrates freedom and will fight against injustice using every tool at her disposal; a person who values intuition and self-expression; a kindred spirit with those who favor the unconventional, the uncanny, the underground. I am a woman who dares speak her mind and display the full gamut of human emotion–behavior that is still met by society with judgement or disdain.”
From the current state of my copy of Waking The Witch, you’d think it had undergone the fabled test of the 7 Wonders and come out the other side scrappier, scarred, and deeply changed for the experience. Never have I underlined with such feverish intensity, dog-eared with so much unreserved enthusiasm, and highlighted with cackling, demented glee. Contained within these pages was a fascinating exploration brimming with nuanced insights of witches in history, politics, cinema, literature, and the arts–and which will surely remain a perpetual font of inspiration and sagacity that I will no doubt revisit again and again. I didn’t want to forget a single word. (And trust me, this book has been forever marked in such a way to ensure that I will not!)
From chapters encompassing the awkward, rebellious magic of the Teen Witch, to the old-timey Girls Gone Wild idea that witches were thought to be horned-up, power-hungry consorts of Satan, all kissing his butthole and eating dead baby parts and whatnot; the cruel brutality of witch hunts which arose from that foolishness, to how those collective perceptions and experiences shaped the notion of witches and witchcraft over time–when I initially remarked that I devoured this book, that was no exaggeration. Waking The Witch serves up a boundless buffet of brilliance and I greedily consumed every course.
Chapter 4: “Body Monsters” which struck a deep, dark chord within me; amongst other items of relevance, Pam discusses childlessness and the right to that reality, bodily autonomy, and growing older in a society punitive of repulsive, repugnant wrinkles and sags.
In Chapter 6: “The Dark Arts: Magic Makers And Craft Women,” we are introduced to a handful of women who wield their wands creatively, and in particular: surrealist artists and friends, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. “Steeped in kitchens and cauldrons and laboratories and labyrinths,” these artists speak to my particular flavor of witchery and spell-craft–that which involves puttering and muttering around boiling pots, cursing and curing, chopping and chanting–all of the toil and trouble and cauldron bubble, without, you know, the eye of newt and toe of frog. And then when you’re through, you’ve got a nice meal! (Or a not so nice meal, as the case may be. Not that I’m endorsing this.)
Finally, with Chapter 7: “Power In Numbers: Covens And Collectives”, Pam presents us with the idea of joining forces with like-minded practitioners. Ooof! This is an unnerving thought, as Pam, like me, was concerned that the individuals involved might be “…too flaky or too corny or too serious or not serious enough.” But this resistance, she reveals, really might be more about us:
To practice in a group requires both a loosening of self-consciousness and a tightening grip on the rudder of sincerity. You have to care and you have to let others see you caring. And you have to bear witness to their caring in turn. You will most likely grow to care about them. And heaven forfend, you may even allow them to care about you too.
When we decided to be part of any community, we are making a commitment to literally be there for ourselves and for each other. Once you’ve identified a group that you may want to be part of–and that group has signaled that you are indeed invited to join them–the next step you take is to simply show up.
For in that moment, you are choosing to say, “Here I am,” and for many of us that may be a scary prospect.
Before I sign off (TLDR; Waking The Witch is a rare treasure! Go out and buy this book!) I thought I might share a few words from the author. As someone who continually struggles with starting creative projects, sustaining forward momentum throughout the process, and who stresses with the oftentimes depressing aftermath of putting a thing out into the world and wondering, “what now?”… and also realizing that I am not the only one among us to work through these challenges, I thought it might be illuminating and valuable to find out how this witchy writer handles these concerns for herself. See below, wherein Pam shares a few insights for us egarding the processes, practices, and rituals that she utilized while writing Waking The Witch…
“I had so many different rituals and magic workings I was doing throughout the process of this book. It was a constant process of burning candles and lighting incense, and surrounding myself with helpful talismans. My friend Peter had me do a magic square and sigil for Jupiter, which is a planet associated with power and authority. This was to help me step into my confidence because I must say, at times it felt rather daunting to try to write about such a big subject, especially when so many brilliant people have already done so. The magic square is on my desk – right near my RuPaul candle in fact, which I also light when I need to feel extra fierce!
But it was also important to me that I marked each step of the process, as well as giving thanks to my various spirits along the way for their guidance. When I handed in the final first draft, for example, my husband and I went for a walk in our neighborhood late that night to get a celebratory candy bar. We ended up in this pharmacy that happened to be open late and there I saw that this gorgeous, iridescent candle I had my eye on for months was on sale for 50% off! And this may sound strange, but my late Grandma Trudy was the queen of bargains, and I write about her in the book as well, so I knew it was her way of sending me a little congratulatory sign! So I bought the candle and lit it that night to thank her, and I still light it when I need an extra boost of support from her.
When I got the galley for the book, I put it on my altar and also brought it to my coven whenever we met, for extra good vibes, too. And now that the actual book is out, I replaced the galley on my altar with the final product. My wish for it is not only that it is successful – whatever that may mean – but more so that it will be of service to Spirit and will reach those who need it. I hope it brings more compassion, love, fun, and freedom into people’s lives, and that it helps wake the witch within them. We’re going to need a lot of wide-open hearts and transformational power to change this world for the better, so I hope in some small way this book contributes to that. I truly believe that witches are the future.”