Waking the Witch
by Pam Grossman
Waking the Witch by Pam Grossman has a decidedly different “feel” than most of the books currently on the market about Witches, Witchcraft and what it means to be a Witch in the 21st century. Her academic background of a degree in cultural anthropology with minors in art history, creative writing and comparative religion has served her well in crafting a book that is beautifully woven with very thorough research and on point references that are easily recognizable by anyone reading.
Waking the Witch begins with the traditional Introduction, is separated into eight (8) chapters and ends with the “Afterwyrd”, a purposeful play on words and apt ending to the journey laid out. Each of these offerings is rich in contemporary reference that evolves from well researched historical references that brought to light many nuances of the why’s, and where’s of identity of the Witch that I would venture to guess many are not aware of. The result is one of being able to engage both the seasoned practitioner and the seeker new to the path in ways that are relevant, thought-provoking and empowering.
What Ms. Grossman finished in approximately a year and a half until completion is clearly a reflection of a lifetime of experience, reading, learning and research that has produced the clarity of intention and a distinctly palpable feeling in Waking the Witch.
I particularly appreciated the content of Chapter 1: The Good, the Bad and the Wicked,which sets the tone for what follows with a lengthy and very in-depth introduction to the archetype of the Witch that has pervaded much of our cultural bias and misunderstanding of what a Witch is. Ms. Grossman brings to light the impact that the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum and its concept of the “good” Witch and the “bad” Witch laid as the groundwork for an enduring and over simplified polarity of positive and negative. We learn that this classic tome was not only influential in its archetyping of the witch, but that the author himself had long been interested and (part) of spiritual practice and philosophies as a theosophist. Add to this Ms. Grossman’s introduction to the reader of the first threads of her alignment of the Feminist component of the Witch….
… It’s a spectacular story, not only as a parable about friendship and truth-seeking, but also due to its exceptional originality. The Emerald City, the
Yellow Brick Road, magical slippers, a brave farm-girl protagonist, and
of course, the good and bad witches are all now seemingly timeless
icons from what some have called “the first American fairy tale.”
But several of these ideas were not invented by Baum ….
In fact, a great many of them can be traced to the influence
of his mother-in-law, the suffragist and equal rights
pioneer Matilda Joslyn Gage…(Chapter 1)
We go on to learn more about Gage and the overlapping of the efforts of the suffragists and abolitionists, theosophy’s philosophies and the far reaching effects of these on society’s concepts of power; specifically feminine empowerment.
Finishing this chapter, my curiosity was piqued. So, when the opportunity to speak at length with Ms. Grossman about this treasure of a book, saying yes meant looking behind the curtain to reveal the Witch who was in control and find out a bit more about her thoughts, hopes and intentions in writing Waking the Witch. These are some of the key points from our conversation.
Ms. Grossman’s book takes a deep look into the Feminist ideology and identification and how many of these are the same assignations given to the Witch as their individual underpinnings tread a similar path. I wanted to dive a little more deeply into her experience as a feminist and as a Witch.
Robin Fennelly (RF): There are many different layers to the word “Feminist”. What does being a Feminist mean to you?
Pam Grossman (PG): I was raised to believe that the definition of a feminist is simply to believe that people of all genders should have equal worth and therefore should be treated equally. And, it really is that simple. Now, there are others who use the word “womanist” or “humanist”. I realized there are associations with the feminist movement, especially those who believed the second wave of the movement was for middle-class white straight women and so for some the word feminist is not their favorite word.
RF: When we hear the word “Feminist” automatically a specific gender comes mind, versus the polarities offered. How does that fall into gender identity?
PG: I think it is a word that has evolved. A third wave of feminists was what I grew up to know in the nineties. And, now we are allegedly experiencing the fourth wave which is more intersectional and driven by digital communities and dialogues. So, it is a word that is really important to me because just like the word “Witch” people have for so long tried to shame those of us who have chosen to describe ourselves as such. I am really glad that we have moved past the stereotypical image of a feminist and it is now more inclusive of all genders and preferences.
RF: How do you see this evolving?
PG: I feel the big drive for Feminism and Witchcraft alike has to be about us being as compassionate and intersexual and interconnected as possible. And that means both honoring your individual experience and your background. This means not saying we are all the same, because we aren’t. We all have different amounts of privilege we are born with. We all have different amounts of pain we are born with. So, I don’t think it is correct to say that we are all the same, and therefore we should never talk about how we are different. I think what we need to do is listen to each other and honor one another’s differences while at the same time celebrating the larger values of humanity (as a whole) that I believe we all need to be fighting for together.
(The humanities flow strongly through this book and are used as a vehicle for highlighting the influence culture has on our perceptions. This thought process is clearly evidenced in the subtleties of application of the product of these two worlds of overlap giving new meaning to the conceptualization of the archetype, the semantics and the deeper meanings of the Witch. Using this format, Ms. Grossman provides us with enough evidence that you can find the Witch in most anything whether transparent or in all of her power. I was curious about the development of these sensibilities in Ms. Grossman’s own experience and her choice in using the arts so prominently in her book.)
RF: When did the synthesis of these ideas emerge for you and take shape?
PG: It has been a gradual evolution. But, the first group of artists who really opened my eyes to the fact that art could be magic, and vice-versa were the female surrealists. I fell in love with the work of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington when I was a teenager. Another major influence was the book, “Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement” by author Whitney Chadwick. I happened upon this book in the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum at the age of fourteen and it just blew my mind. Through these images it was as though they (Varo and Carrington) were painting the stories of the fairy tales and myths that I loved, but adding their own personal details to them; making it almost autobiographical. This became the big key for me with the realization that you could make works of art and infuse them with magical intention and magical truths, and in doing so it would occupy this nether space between art and magic where the two overlapped.
(In Chapter 6: The Dark Arts: Magic Makers and Craft Women, Ms. Grossman delves more deeply into the world of art and its influence in our perceptions of the Witch and her depiction. In what she calls the “magico-artistic” family tree she includes five women who exemplify the uniting of art and the craft. I wanted to know more about this alignment.)
RF: You talk about the word craft and its deeper meaning to you as a synthesis of arts and magick. Could you speak more to that?
PG: I love the fact that this word can be used when it comes to making art, but it is also part of “Witchcraft”, and some people say we are “crafting” our own lives. To me it means working with intention and focus and being actively in relationship with the work. So it is neither passive such as…”I am simply a receptacle for something”, but it is also not completely based in the ego, ie: “I am responsible for all of this”. I think craft implies that it is part of you and part of the divine or at least coming from an unconscious base and that you are actively working with it with intention and with the idea that it can grow and evolve as a living, fluid system.
(Throughout Waking the Witch, Ms. Grossman really drives home the concept of the Witch as a truly Universal Archetype that can be found throughout many cultures and spiritual practices. Staying with that idea, I wanted to know more.)
RF: How do you see or perceive some of the now popular Eastern practices aligning with what your definition of the Witch is?
PG: I feel they are very relevant. In the book, I am writing about the Witch archetypally and sometimes that archetype is just a character in a film, or can be someone’s political stance as a feminist or it can have many other meanings. But, I am also a practitioner and it was important to represent that too. When I say I am a Witch, sometimes I mean that as a metaphor and sometimes I mean it literally. I cast spells. I am pagan. I have an altar. A lot of practices I have learned, certainly meditation, any type of body-work, such as yoga or any of the things popularized through the “New Age“ movement, I have incorporated into my own practice. I am certainly using more of the Western Witch (British Witch) as an archetype, because that portrayal is one that most people associate the Witch with.
(As our conversation neared conclusion and my reading of the book felt like the first reading of what would become a frequently returned to favorite, I was intrigued about the origin of the title. Being “woke” has been used in a variety of ways and I didn’t have a sense that this was yet another derivation of that word’s intention. So, inquiring minds wanted to know.)
RF: Why did you choose the title of “Waking the Witch” for this book?
PG: “Waking the Witch” is a song by Kate Bush that I really love. So, it is a wink to her and that song. But, what she is really referencing is a really dark bit of witch history. During the witch craze in Europe and later in the New England colonies one of the ways to get confessions from accused witches was to torture them. And one of the forms of torture was sleep deprivation. You would wake them in the middle of the night and ask them all of your questions and if they were tired and weak enough they may confess to being a witch. So, it does have a really dark connotation. I love reclaiming dark things and making them sparkle but it really is more of a multi-layered meaning.
I am also seeing more and more people in my life and in society waking up to their own power, and their potential. And, many of them are gravitating towards Witchcraft or some sort of magical expression, or an alternative spiritual practice. I don’t believe that everyone has to be a Witch, but I do believe that this waking up and raising of consciousness is a really crucial one for us all to become better citizens of this planet if we want a future of sustainability and the type of societies we desire to rebuild we need people to awaken spirituality. Love really is the answer. Loving our planet, the bodies we are in and the people who share this world. So, the title, “Waking the Witch”, really gives me a lot of hope and the idea that people are waking up to what I hope to be a new chapter of humanity.
(My sense after hearing this explanation is that Ms. Grossman has offered an opportunity to the reader to uncover the bits and pieces of our memory of those deeper connections with the Witch and give a poke to what can be the evolution of that reclaiming of power within oneself and the writing of a new history and archetype. In keeping with her thoughts I wanted to know what she envisioned for us collectively.)
RF: What do you feel we could do as a collective (community) to empower the feminine and awaken this power to change those beliefs and challenges that are failing us?
PG: One thing that I find frustrating about those who purport to be spiritual or get involved in Witchcraft for a sense of self-empowerment. That’s great, but it won’t get you very far unless you take that empowerment and healing and make use of it to be in service to something greater than just yourself. I believe a lot of people are attracted to alternative spirituality because they need healing and to be told that they are valuable because our governments, religious structures and businesses don’t currently support the fact that people of all genders, backgrounds or sexual orientation are of equal worth. So I understand why Witchcraft is very attractive. But that is just step one and we need to then talk about what is next. To me the what’s next is connecting to other people and being of service to them, the planet and all that inhabits this space with us, seen and unseen.
To quote from the Afterwyrd (coming from the word “wryd” which means fate personified or the Anglo-Saxon view of personal destiny), Ms. Grossman offers up her vision of the destiny of the Witch…
The redemption of witches and the ascension of women will be
forever interlinked. That both are happening at this moment
in time is no coincidence. Each is a reflection of the other.
And, so my last question to her was a reflection of this.
RF: What would you say to someone picking up your book for the first time and unfamiliar with the Witch, the Feminist and the practice of Witchcraft?
PG: Everything matters greatly and, that we shouldn’t take anything too seriously. That there is a sense of sacred reverence needed, and play that is equally holy too. There are those who get lost in the gate keeping of Witchcraft and the stance of the Witch and Witchcraft having to be very tightly structured and restrictive in the do’s and don’ts of what is acceptable and what makes you a “Real” Witch. There is no room or flexibility to enjoy the mysteries and the unknowable. I think that so much of life is standing in mystery and not knowing everything and being open to continuing to use our imaginations to keep remaking the world. And because of that we can have fun as Witches and practitioners of the craft and continue to grow and evolve into our place of power.
I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ms. Grossman about her book, Waking the Witch. The book is dense with information and insights and much has been left out of this review as it is a work to be experienced and savored in its complexity and breadth of reach. One comes away from the reading realizing this is both a cautionary tale and a text for those who choose to step up in a way that is very empowering but also very pragmatic and practical in its use in a modern and continually evolving world.
Our conversation ended with my request for what Ms. Grossman would like to share about the writing of her book…
PG: Although I may not call myself Wiccan, I still owe such a debt of gratitude to all of the writers and amazing creative spirits who came before and the rich history they have preserved and created. I have learned so much from earlier writers and generations and I hope that this book honors them too. I hope this is a continuum of a conversation we have been having for a long time and I hope people who have grown up with a Wiccan or Pagan practice will feel honored and included too.
I believe this final statement sums up the overall hope and inspiration that flows throughout Waking the Witch. That being one of not simply a story about how the Witch came to be, but how intimately woven that word and all of its aligning descriptors are a model for the potential we have as humanity for change, resilience and growth once we allow ourselves to awaken to the possibilities.
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About the Author:
Robin Fennelly is a Third Degree Initiate within The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition and serves as High Priestess of Coven of the Mystic Path, the 12th Coven within the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition. She teaches and facilitates classes for the Pagan Experience Study Group that serves as foundation for membership within Coven of the Mystic Path.
Her spiritual journey is strongly rooted in both Eastern philosophy and the Western Magickal systems from which she has formed a core foundation that is diverse in knowledge and rich in spiritual practice. A life-long learner, her practice has evolved from the classical and philosophical teachings of books, practical experience and enrichment of this knowledge base by attending workshops of various spiritual traditions presented by master teachers.
Robin formally came to the Wiccan path in 1994. Following practice as a solitary for 2 years, she dedicated to Oak and Willow Coven of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition in November of 1996. She received her 1st, 2nd and finally 3rd degrees within the Assembly Tradition and has served as High Priestess of Oak and Willow since Samhain of 2001.
As a teacher of esoteric and magickal studies she has used Energetic Anatomy, Tarot, Astrology, Hermetic Qabala, Eastern Philosophy, and Numerology as the foundations of her diverse selection of workshops and writings for more than 25 years. Exploration of varied energetic protocol has been the focus of her work for some time now and the information gained through direct experience informs all of her magickal and spiritual work.
Robin’s writings have been featured online, and in print Internationally. She has authored several books incorporating her unique style of writing making use of poetry, prose and pathworking to enhance the concepts presented. She has taught extensively throughout the Pagan community, including Sacred Space Conference, Spring Magick, Between the Worlds Interfaith Conference and Free Spirit Gathering Festival this Summer. Her most recent project is hosting an online blogging community entitled The Pagan Experience.
Robin is the owner of Holistic Embrace providing services for mind, body and spirit such as Tarot readings, Astrology reports, Spiritual Guidance and other related offerings. She lives in Eastern Pennsylvania and her life is blessed by a 40+- year marriage, five children and the opportunity to work in the field of public education.
The Inner Chamber, Vol. 1 It’s Written in the Stars-Astrology
The Inner Chamber, Vol. 2 Poetry of the Spheres-Qabalah
The Inner Chamber, Vol. 3 Awakening the Paths-Qabalah
The Light of SELF: Consciousness, Spiritual Practice and Learning to Breathe
Magickal Verse: A Collection of Poetry and Prose
A Year of Gaia: The Eternal Cord
The Elemental Year: Aligning the Elements of SELF
Temple of the Sun and Moon: Luminous Devotions
Sleeping with the Goddess: Nights of Devotion
A Weekly Reflection: Musings for the Year
The Magickal Pen: A Collection of Esoteric Writings
The Enchanted Gate: Musings on the Magick of the Natural World
For more info: http://www.robinfennelly.com/books.html
Robin’s Website: www.robinfennelly.com
Coven of the Mystic Path, ASW: www.covenofthemysticpath.org