Waking the Witch (Book Review)

Part memoir, part exploration of the witch archetype, Waking the Witch is not your typical witchcraft book, which is to say it won’t teach you how to do anything. That’s not what it’s trying to do, so it isn’t a failing of the book. Rather, it’s a series of long essays on how witches have been portrayed historically and in pop culture through current shows like Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which will end with part four later this year.

She talks about Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner, Charles Leland, Ronald Hutton. She also talks about The Craft, The Wizard of Oz, and Hermione Granger. She delves into the witch hunts and Malleus Maleficatum, but also delves into her adolescence as a young woman coming of age in New Jersey in the late1990s. The book’s theme is expressed on page 3, “show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.”

She goes on:

The witch is a shining and shadowy symbol of female power and a force for subverting the status quo. No matter what form she takes, she remains an electric source of magical agitation that we can all plug into whenever we need a high-voltage charge.

She is also a vessel that contains our conflicting feelings about female power: our fear of it, our desire for it, and our hope that it can — and will — grow stronger, despite the flames that are thrown at it.

Whether the witch is depicted as villainous or valorous, she is always a figure of freedom — both its loss and its gain. She is perhaps the only female archetype who is an independent operator. Virgins, whores, daughters, mothers, wives — each of these is defined by whom she is sleeping with or not, the care that she is giving or that is given to her, or some sort of symbiotic debt that she must eventually pay.

The witch owes nothing. That is what makes her dangerous. And that is what makes her divine.

Witches have power on their own terms.

page 8

If you’re new to witchcraft, this ode to the witch will get you up to speed on who witches are and how society has thought about them over the centuries. If you’ve been around awhile, you will enjoy reminiscing alongside the author. The book won’t teach you how to cast spells, but it will remind you why you wanted to in the first place.

5 out of 5 stars

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Pam Grossman

Gallery Books, 2019

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