Generation Witch

a witch in the skies

Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original image by unknown author c. 1897 (CC0).

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Original Air Date: 
October 30, 2021

As a culture we’ve long been fascinated by witchcraft, with witches through the ages practicing magic and making spells. Even through the spread of misinformation, and when they’ve been hunted and silenced. We take you from the 17th century to the online witch communities of today.
 

Honey Rose
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Honey Rose is part of the next generation of witches. They perform traditional magic on TikTok, do tarot readings via email, and seek to control social media algorithms with spells. Producer Angelo Bautista wanted to learn more.

Length: 
13:02
The hangman of Stuttgart shows Kepler's mother instruments of torture.
Articles

In 17th century Germany, the mother of famed astronomer Johannes Kepler, Katharina Kepler, was accused of being a witch. Centuries later, author Rivka Galchen has taken her story and spun it into fiction in her book "Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch."

Length: 
13:18
witches
Audio

Archaeologist Chris Gosden has written a global history of magic, from the Ice Age to the internet. He told Steve Paulson he’s come to believe our own culture would be healthier and happier if we took magic more seriously.

Length: 
9:26
field hockey witch
Audio

The 1980s were a golden age for witches. Women everywhere started covens. Among them, the girls field hockey team at Danvers High School in Massachusetts. At least, that’s how Quan Barry imagines it in her recent novel, “We Ride Upon Sticks.”

Length: 
12:08
Show Details 📻
Airdates
October 30, 2021
Guests: 
Hoodoo Practitioner, TikToker and Forensic Science Graduate Student
Author and Physician
Author and Archaeology Professor
Author and Poet
Full Transcript 📄

Anne Strainchamps (00:21):

It's To The Best of Our Knowledge. I'm Anne Strainchamps, and with Halloween in the air, there's someone I think you should meet.

Honey Rose (00:33):

Hi, my name's Honey Rose. I'm 23-years-old. I'm a TikToker. I'm queer. I'm a witch.

Honey Rose (00:47):

When I was just getting started learning properties of herbs, candles, synchronicities, understanding that a sign is important to you and to no one else. That's something that really was important for me to learn in the beginning.

Honey Rose (01:09):

For me, hawks are often a sign. Also sometimes it's just a feeling. I work with my ancestors and your body works with your ancestors.

Honey Rose (01:34):

So my grandmother who passed, we called her bird. Her birthday is actually on Halloween. And every Halloween, we go to the cemetery to visit her as a matriarch of our family and someone that raised me. I love her so much. And two birds flew right above us, and then we saw a hawks. Right after that. A Whirlpool of leaves encased us. As soon as it got past us, it fell away.

Honey Rose (02:18):

You can't tell me that's not a sign from my grandmother. The fact that someone is coming to me and I can understand that clearly, I can send back messages and offerings, and it will be received. That to me is power.

Speaker 4 (03:09):

(singing)

Anne Strainchamps (03:09):

Welcome to the next generation of witches. They're young, they're magical. And as producer Angelo Batista discovered, they're everywhere.

Angelo Batista (03:29):

If you haven't heard already, witches are cool now. They're all over the popular video app, TikTok.

Honey Rose (03:40):

It's kind of a hub for witches.

Honey Rose (03:43):

Hello, my name's Honey and I am a witch. So if you have some questions that you haven't been able to answer in your research, maybe I can help you out with them.

Angelo Batista (03:55):

Honey Rose has over 120,000 followers and goes by the username @thathoneywitch. Although, as Honey explained to me...

Honey Rose (04:04):

I'm not a witch. I'm a practitioner. I say witch, because it's easier for people to understand.

Speaker 5 (04:09):

(singing)

Angelo Batista (04:22):

Can you describe your craft and what you do?

Honey Rose (04:26):

I'm not a hexer if that's the question. I'm not like out here putting people in the freezer.

Angelo Batista (04:35):

Honey is a practitioner of Hoodoo a spiritual practice born out of the African diaspora.

Honey Rose (04:41):

I look at Hoodoo as a way to reconnect to my ancestors that were enslaved here in America.

Angelo Batista (04:50):

Hoodoo is just one of the many varieties of magic you'll find on the witchy side of TikTok, or as it's known WitchTok.

Honey Rose (04:57):

You'll find Jewish witches, Christian witches. You'll find demonologists, just straight occultists, astrologers, sea witches, green witches, mediums, people that work with the Norse gods, people that work with Egyptian gods. Array of everything, honestly.

Angelo Batista (05:17):

Would you consider WitchTok to be kind of the new coven?

Honey Rose (05:21):

Yeah, in a way, honestly. Because there are mass rituals that some people do. There's spreading of information, calling out misinformation. Yeah. That's a very good way to look at it, a new coven.

Speaker 8 (05:38):

When practicing magic, the color of your candle is really important. Each one of these colors has different properties that can benefit your practice and your energy. Let's get into them.

Angelo Batista (05:49):

On WitchTok you'll find jokes about summoning demons by accident, crystals that could ruin your life if you're not careful. There's livestream tarot readings, spell jar recipes, tutorials on candle magic.

Speaker 8 (06:00):

Green is associated with earthly possessions and materialism. It's useful for money magic. Blue is for clarity, peace of mind.

Angelo Batista (06:08):

How do you know like what's real or what's not?

Honey Rose (06:12):

When you say what's real and what's not, it's really about who's done their research-

Angelo Batista (06:20):

But we're talking about magic here.

Honey Rose (06:22):

Magic works with reality. I'm a scientist in real life, and I'm a witch in real life. For example, I do bone divination. I have bones, that are ethically sourced of course.

Angelo Batista (06:36):

Of course.

Honey Rose (06:36):

And I cast them, but just like any experiment, you have to test it. I ask questions that I know the answer to. If it doesn't tell me the correct answer, I'm not going to do that reading. I have to fix my bones.

Angelo Batista (06:56):

One thing I find fascinating about WitchTok is that you'll see witches using old magic to solve really modern day problems, like getting someone who's ignoring you to text you back.

Speaker 4 (07:07):

(singing)

Honey Rose (07:13):

I know I said earlier I don't put people in the freezer, but someone had ghosted me and wasn't answering me. And I was like, you're going to the freezer. And like, you're going in the freezer.

Angelo Batista (07:24):

What did you do?

Honey Rose (07:25):

So putting in the freezer, the basic tools, you can have like a piece of their hair or just their name, their birthday, a photo of them, something like that in a jar in the freezer. And you put some aluminum foil around it.

Angelo Batista (07:38):

Oh, literally in the freezer.

Honey Rose (07:40):

Literally in the freezer. It kind of blocks all light from shining in. It puts a stop on their life.

Angelo Batista (07:48):

And did it work?

Honey Rose (07:49):

It works.

Angelo Batista (07:49):

It did?

Honey Rose (07:50):

It did work.

Angelo Batista (07:52):

What happened?

Honey Rose (07:53):

They texted me the next day. They were like, I'm sorry. I'm like, hmm, because you were the freezer.

Speaker 4 (07:57):

(singing)

Angelo Batista (08:03):

WitchTok does have its bad side. And I don't mean evil. WitchTok like many online spaces is not immune to toxic behaviors, misinformation, trolls, and conflict.

Speaker 9 (08:16):

WitchTok drama you need to know. Everyone's favorite Voodoo priest is at it again, and this time his target is Afro spiritual.

Speaker 7 (08:22):

Y'all want to be petty witches and fight it out video after video, I don't care.

Speaker 11 (08:27):

It's getting to the point that I can't figure out, which is better. Facebook mom group drama or WitchTok drama.

Angelo Batista (08:33):

What kind of drama? What drama do the witches get into?

Honey Rose (08:38):

There was the debacle last year, I believe, about someone hexing the moon.

Speaker 10 (08:51):

So many people have been asking how they can help with the moon situation, witch or not.

Angelo Batista (08:59):

I am not magically inclined, so I had to look this up, but a hex is like a spell of negative energy and restraint. And the moon is a powerful entity for witches. Hexing the moon sounds like a big no-no.

Honey Rose (09:14):

People think it was like baby witches or new witches that threatened to hex the moon. But that's not what happened. A troll, some random guy that was like, I wanted to see if I could stir something up, and he did. And we fell for it and it was all over Twitter. It is everywhere.

Angelo Batista (09:38):

Honey assures me that it is impossible to hex the moon. So the moon is doing just fine.

Speaker 5 (09:45):

(singing)

Angelo Batista (09:53):

I know what you're thinking, hexing the moon sounds silly. But on WitchTok, there's also a more serious, ongoing conversation amongst witches about what is and isn't culturally acceptable, who is allowed to do what magic, and that can get pretty loaded when it comes to issues of race, identity, and ancestry.

Speaker 12 (10:16):

I'm tired of sugar coating it. Just stop using white sage. I don't care if you grow it yourself, I don't care if it was gifted to you by a Native American, I don't care that doesn't matter.

Speaker 13 (10:25):

Claiming that the Romani invented the tarot and that it is close to us, this is not the advocacy that you think it is.

Speaker 14 (10:33):

I have a question for white witches in white, spiritualists on TikTok. Why are our practices in your mouth? Why are you talking about chakras, karmas, and all the other [inaudible 00:10:44] when it's not yours?

Honey Rose (10:46):

I've actually had people say, I'm not going to listen to you, a person of color, on this issue. That was specifically on the term black magic, I believe.

Angelo Batista (10:56):

Oh.

Honey Rose (10:58):

As a black practitioner, black magic is a racist term. It demonizes African traditional religions and the people that follow them. I was told like, no, it's not racist. It's not demonizing. I've had people come on and say that African traditional religions are primitive. That's just... It's hard to hear.

Angelo Batista (11:30):

With witches becoming so mainstream, sometimes I'm on WitchTok and I feel like I'm being sold a mystical aesthetic and I'm buying into it trend.

Honey Rose (11:40):

Good morning.

Speaker 15 (11:41):

A lot of you have asked where I get my crystals from on Etsy, so I'm going to show you some of my favorite shops. First up is Wild Moon Child by [Amara 00:11:48]. Her shop is really affordable and I found her on TikTok.

Angelo Batista (11:54):

But for honey, it's all part of keeping the craft going, which is supporting witches.

Honey Rose (12:01):

I can understand where you're coming from. I make the witchy aesthetic, literally I make cauldrons and tarot cardholders, but if WitchTok wasn't trending, then I probably wouldn't be able to sell the cauldrons that I love to make. I wouldn't have gotten so good at my tarot readings. I wouldn't have so many people to practice on, you know?

Honey Rose (12:26):

My favorite type of reading to do is an ancestor reading. Just to tell you what they want to tell you, because some of y'all ancestors are so nice and they just want to talk to you and tell you how good you are doing. Like it's so sweet.

Angelo Batista (12:43):

I don't know if any amount of tarot reading or divination can tell us what will become of this next generation of witches, but I do know that TikTok would be a lot more mundane and a lot less magical without them.

Anne Strainchamps (13:08):

Angelo Batista talking with Honey Rose, known online as @thathoneywitch.

Anne Strainchamps (13:17):

So while today's witches congregate online, let's go back. Way back, about 400 years, give or take. To Europe in the early 1600s, not an especially safe or comfortable time to live. Religious wars were tearing up the countryside, plague stalked cities and towns. There were crop failures, pestilence, famine, and just like today, when times get tough, people looked around for a scapegoat and they found one, witchcraft.

Anne Strainchamps (13:53):

The witch hunts of early modern Europe were the worst in history. Between 1580 and 1630, an estimated 50,000 people were burned at the stake, most of them women. So imagine you're an older woman, a widow in a small town, you can't read or write, but you have a little garden, a cow, a few chickens. You make wine for your neighbors. You sell a few herbal medicines. But then one day there's a knock at the door, one of your neighbors has denounced you as a witch. And now the local magistrate and the jailer with his collection of thumb screws would like to see you.

Rivka Galchen (14:36):

Here I am, I begin my account. I maintain that I am not a witch, never have been a witch. I'm a relative to no witches.

Rivka Galchen (14:57):

I've never before had even the smallest run in with the law. Not for fighting, not for cursing, not for licentiousness, not for the pettiest theft. Yet a attributed to me in this trial is the power to poison, to make lame, to pass through locked doors, to be the death of sheep, goats, cows, infants, and grape vines, even to cure, at will. I can't even win at backgammon, as you know.

Anne Strainchamps (15:38):

This is the beginning of Rivka Galchen new novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, and it's based on a true story of a real woman. Her name was Katharina Kepler. She lived in the small town of Leonberg, Germany and on a nice May morning in 1615, she was accused of being a witch. She was put on trial, but unlike so many other women, Katharina Kepler was eventually acquitted, because she had something unusual. She had a famous son. You might have heard of him.

Rivka Galchen (16:15):

Katharina Kepler was the mother of Johannes Kepler, but I personally had started thinking of Johannes Kepler, the great mathematician and astronomer, as the son of Katharina Kepler.

Anne Strainchamps (16:27):

Can I just say, when I heard that you had written a novel about how the mother of Johannes Kepler, one of the key figures in the scientific revolution, was tried for witchcraft. I thought this is such a brilliant premise for a novel, but it never occurred to me that it was actually true. What was she actually accused of?

Rivka Galchen (16:47):

The central accusation was that there was a woman in town, and the historical record seems to suggest that she was probably suffering from some sort of neurologic disease. My guess is neurosyphilis. Not that I know, but she was convinced that she had been given a bitter drink by Katharina and that she'd been given a poison. But then, once the idea was out there in the town, it just kind of went everywhere. And so she was accused of passing through doors that were locked. She was accused of looking at a pig and making that pig lame. She was accused of making a cow sick, and the evidence would be that she walked by that cow every day. And it just sort of opened up all the anxiety that different people in the town had about frankly, all the terrible things that were happening to them. Babies dying, other people dying painful deaths and unexpected deaths, mysterious deaths, their livestock and their livelihood being affected. It somehow just opened this channel and they found a place to send all these anxieties.

Anne Strainchamps (17:58):

So I completely get being just fascinated by the story and the history and wanting to dig into it, but what made you want to then go from doing the research to actually writing a novel, bringing Katharina herself to life?

Rivka Galchen (18:17):

There was something, and it's hard to describe, and feels kind of mystical, but there was something about this woman, or story that, for me, it transmitted across time and space. I felt very close to her, even though that's a fantasy. And I don't know, it seemed like a voice I was interested in. And there are these kind of remarkable moments when you read the trial. And one thing that's wonderful about Katharina having had this famous son and Germany being in love with keeping very accurate records, is the records of the trial are available.

Anne Strainchamps (18:50):

Did she say much?

Rivka Galchen (18:52):

The way the trial works is there was women in this area would be asked to publicly display how much they regretted the harm they had caused. And if they cried in public or showed the judges that they felt remorse, their sentence would be mitigated, or pity would be shown to them. But of course it's a bind. So they're sort of asking her to cry. And there's also the record of her simply saying, I've cried so many tears in my life, I just don't have any left.

Anne Strainchamps (19:22):

So she wouldn't cry?

Rivka Galchen (19:24):

She wouldn't cry. I almost feel like there's like a ray of incurable sincerity there, under that much duress, I would fake anything that I needed to.

Anne Strainchamps (19:36):

I would've cried.

Rivka Galchen (19:37):

I would've cried.

Anne Strainchamps (19:38):

I mean, if it means they're not going to, actually, what was at stake? What would they have done?

Rivka Galchen (19:44):

It's genuinely so grotesque and horrifying that you almost run the risk of that sort of pornography of suffering and misery. And it really was terrible. They were burned or they were sort of had like gunpowder put on their neck so that they would be exploded. They were put on racks, they were stretched. They did have thumb screws, and they themselves, I mean, this, I also think is part of, you envision. It was quite common for women to go to an expert to find out if maybe they were a witch and just didn't know about it.

Anne Strainchamps (20:16):

Really?

Rivka Galchen (20:17):

And that also, I think, is like a quite amazing form of violence into one's own kind of belief about one's self.

Anne Strainchamps (20:24):

Yeah. All the people who are accusing her are, people who know her, who have seen her every day for years and years in this small town. And they know the horrific things that could happen to her. And yet there's a kind of... I don't know, they seem almost blithe about it. It's just the intimacy of the cruelty that's so chilling.

Rivka Galchen (20:49):

Absolutely. It's almost like those photos of people who were working at the concentration camps, running the gas chambers.

Anne Strainchamps (20:57):

Yeah.

Rivka Galchen (20:58):

These sorts of things. And then the photos that they took on the weekends of their picnics and...

Anne Strainchamps (21:04):

Yeah.

Rivka Galchen (21:04):

You know?

Anne Strainchamps (21:04):

Exactly. I found myself halfway through the book, thinking about Hannah Arendt writing about, The Banality of Evil, just how ordinary it can look.

Rivka Galchen (21:17):

I often sort of feel like a monster would be kind of interesting to battle, but a sort of diffuse indifference, mixed with stupidity, mixed with pettiness, mixed with genuine fearfulness is so much more terrifying.

Anne Strainchamps (21:33):

You could be describing today, also.

Rivka Galchen (21:36):

Yeah.

Anne Strainchamps (21:38):

So I want to think a little bit about witches and women. Why did people accuse women of being witches? I know it's a huge question. I know there's not just one reason, but you must have thought about that yourself.

Rivka Galchen (21:54):

Absolutely. And I did think that it is specifically something we do to the group that retains power despite it being their job to be powerless. So I sort of feel like there are different kinds of witches. There are the young witches, and what do they have? They have, they're attractive, right? And that's like a kind of power. You can't sort of take get away from them. I guess you can cover them up or sort of give them a lot of rules about how they can dress and what they can do, but it's power. And I sort of can see how it's frightening to other people to see that group of people have this power. So I thought, well, that one sort of makes sense. And then a lot of the cases with the older women, which is more what was happening in Germany, these were people that were perceived as a burden. And so, I think with Katharina was like a mix of so many things. She was an old woman and therefore sort of a burden. And at the same time, she was just mysteriously powerful. Her children had done so well and I think that that was threatening.

Anne Strainchamps (23:00):

Do you either have people in your life who are witches or have you ever practiced or thought about practicing yourself?

Rivka Galchen (23:09):

I wish I could would say I had, but no, I'm sort of still in a kind of like nerdy, sciencey, strange down to earth kind of crowd.

Anne Strainchamps (23:19):

Maybe you should try.

Rivka Galchen (23:21):

I know, I think you're-

Anne Strainchamps (23:23):

At the very least sprinkle some salt in corners just to clear the air.

Rivka Galchen (23:28):

Exactly.

Anne Strainchamps (23:28):

Do some basic house magic.

Rivka Galchen (23:30):

I love superstition, because I feel like it's almost like a form of anxiety management. It's like a great form of relating to the possible.

Anne Strainchamps (23:40):

Yeah. I guess also, almost all witchcraft that I've ever heard of. It is very earth-based. All the rituals are about connecting with the natural world. And so, I'm thinking back to this period of time and the irony of its being Johannes Kepler's mother who's accused of being a witch in the beginning of the scientific revolution when a whole new level of rational abstraction was being birthed, which would lead to things like the industrial revolution and our continuing march away from being part of the natural world.

Rivka Galchen (24:18):

You know, that's so interesting. And also like something that I haven't really had a strong sense of before was the way that it's a funny moment in time, because it actually is the peasants and the women who have developed, mostly through an oral tradition, a tremendous and much of it, very accurate knowledge about herbs, and plants, and treatments, and the medicine. I mean, not that it was perfect, just as it's still not perfect, but just that it was like an experiential evidence based kind of research project that had been going on for hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of years. It was actually not an exclusively feminine project, but a particularly feminine project. And then there is this like weird transition where they're quote unquote casting out superstitious beliefs, but also weirdly casting shade on what was actually a foundational knowledge that wasn't superstitious. So it's just like a funny lighting.

Anne Strainchamps (25:18):

But it's also a period of time when medicine, what we think of as modern medicine, is just starting up and men are taking it over. And so, there's also this kind of gendered who are the healers thing going on.

Rivka Galchen (25:34):

And especially you sort of see, like you can see men who were trying to make their living as a doctor and who found these alternative, basically cheaper practitioners, women, threatening.

Anne Strainchamps (25:45):

Right.

Rivka Galchen (25:46):

And so it was as if they had to be discarded completely and had to have all this shade cast on them.

Anne Strainchamps (25:52):

It's so interesting to me that after all these centuries, just the word witch still has so much power.

Rivka Galchen (25:59):

Yeah, no, it is shocking. And everyone's trying to use that power, because it summarizes something for people.

Anne Strainchamps (26:07):

Well, thank you so much for bringing Katharina back to life.

Rivka Galchen (26:10):

Okay, thank you so much for your time, and your attention, and your thoughts.

Anne Strainchamps (26:24):

Rivka Galchen, her new novel is called Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. And coming up with the planet in crisis and global warming threatening everyone and everything, could magic and witchcraft perhaps offer some hope for the future? We'll find out next, on To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio and PRX.

Anne Strainchamps (26:50):

(silence).

Anne Strainchamps (27:01):

Every generation has its witches. Just like every culture has its own magical beliefs and practices. So why do we persist in regarding them as part of the loony fringe? When in fact, something like 75% of the adult population of the Western world holds some belief in magic or the paranormal. So what if instead of dismissing it as make believe, we treated magic as a legitimate way of knowing and relating to the world. Archeologist, Chris Gosden has just written a global history of magic from the ice age to the internet. And he told Steve Paulson he's come to believe our own culture would be healthier and happier if we took magic a lot more seriously.

Chris Gosden (27:43):

So I worked in Papua New Guinea for a long time where everyone believes in magic. They don't have any doubt that the landscape is full of spirits, that the dead are all around them, that the world is broadly [anima 00:27:58]. There was an instance, which I mention in the book, where I went with a group of people and they said there was series of stones on the ground, and under certain circumstances they felt those stones could fly around just above the ground. And if you knew how to read the movements of the stones, then it would tell you the future. And I never got to see the stones move, but I was always dead keen to do so. So part of many people's common sense in the world was a notion of magic.

Steve Paulson (28:29):

So what did you make of that experience when people told you this? Were you a sort of the skeptical Western scientist or did you immerse yourself in that world?

Chris Gosden (28:38):

That's a very good question. I was ambiguous, I think. So on the one hand, I had no doubt at all that my friends were intelligent, sensible people and that they thought this happened. Can I quite bring myself to believe it happens? I'm not so sure. So I'm in this weird state as to does it or doesn't it. And I think maybe, I've never particularly seen a ghost, but I don't disbelieve even ghosts as it were. So one of the things I'm doing at the moment is experimenting with a greater belief in magic to see where it takes me, but I'm still constrained by my rational background.

Steve Paulson (29:24):

So you talk about what you call the triple helix of human culture, religion science, and magic, which I found so interesting because there is a common narrative about human history that first we had magic for many thousands of years.

Chris Gosden (29:39):

Yeah.

Steve Paulson (29:40):

Then religion. And then finally science came along as the one credible way to understand the world, and magic essentially is written off as a kind of pre-modern antiquated worldview.

Chris Gosden (29:50):

Yeah.

Steve Paulson (29:51):

You don't believe that at all do you?

Chris Gosden (29:52):

I don't. No. No, no, no. I'm quite opposed to that view. So I think all these three strands, magic, religion, and science are important. A belief in magic doesn't make you irrational, doesn't make you anti-science. So for me, magic is about a participation in the universe, a sort of openness to the possibility of a great range of cause and effects. The stone moving as it were, not all of which can be explained by science.

Steve Paulson (30:25):

Aren't these three ways of knowing, magic, religion and science, all making claims on what is real, what is true. And to some degrees aren't they competing claims about what's real?

Chris Gosden (30:37):

Yes, they definitely have been set up in those ways. The battle is between religion and science, a well known science and magic are well known. But for me, I think that's a wrong way of looking at things. So I think the more we can be accepting of all three of them, clear thinking, logical approaches to the world and then rather more intuitive ways and then a sense of awe and something beyond us. And I think it's only once you get all three of those that we're allowing ourselves to be fully human.

Steve Paulson (31:13):

So if magic is so fundamental to what it means to be human, why has it gotten such a bad reputation in the modern world at least? There's this phrase magical thinking, which is usually not a compliment.

Chris Gosden (31:27):

No.

Steve Paulson (31:28):

It usually means, oh, it's sort of like you're going into woo woo land.

Chris Gosden (31:33):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. I think it's a fairly concerted attempt in the 18th and particularly 19th century, and continue on into the 21st century. It must be said on the par often of scientists to poo poo any belief system that doesn't appear to be scientific. So it goes back partly to people like Max Weber, the sociologist who said in order to be modern, we needed to be rational. We needed to think our way through mass society, mass living.

Steve Paulson (32:08):

But he also worried about this. I mean, he talked about how society had become disenchanted, that we had lost something with-

Chris Gosden (32:15):

He did.

Steve Paulson (32:16):

The disappearance of this more magical way of thinking.

Chris Gosden (32:19):

Yeah, no, no. That's absolutely. But he was deeply ambiguous. I mean, I think he saw disenchantment as a necessary part of becoming modern, but then also, as you say, there was loss there. He said something along the lines of, we are becoming technicians without heart and specialists without soul.

Steve Paulson (32:39):

Yeah. Let's talk about one form of magic that has been especially controversial over the ages, and that's witchcraft. Is witchcraft practiced around the world? I'm assuming it comes in different forms depending on where you're talking about.

Chris Gosden (32:56):

Yeah. I would guess there isn't a culture of the world that doesn't practice witchcraft in some ways. And of course the Western world, there are lots of people who would now claim to be witches. I mean, modern days paganism and Wiccan beliefs and those sorts of things, again are very various, so is hard to sum up, but is often about summoning the powers of the earth, the regenerative powers, the powers of growth and health. But then again, there's maline forms of witchcraft. So the bit of New Guinea I worked in there were sorcerers and there was a very scary man who was seen as a sorcerer and I was quite scared of him. And he definitely, I mean, who knows whether he was a sorcerer or not. Nobody there had any doubt, but he played on that fact, and he died and then came back to life. They were about to bury him and then he sat up and that really cemented his reputation as a sorcerer, man who'd who cheated death.

Steve Paulson (34:05):

I bet it would.

Chris Gosden (34:07):

And that made me even more scared of him. Yeah.

Steve Paulson (34:13):

What about the modern Wiccan movement? Does that draw on this history that we've been talking about or is that kind of its own thing?

Chris Gosden (34:21):

Bit of both. So in Britain, people will talk about Druid beliefs and so on, which are, in any case, extraordinarily poorly known, but people feel like they're going back to iron age ways of doing things. But then there are other people who are much more modern. The TikTok witches and all those sorts of things. So, I mean, I think that's the fascinating thing about magic. It doesn't just sit there as a sort of old bit of belief that somehow survived into the modern world. People are always inventing it and reinventing it. All the apps for astrology and younger people I know consult their astrology apps and in a really interesting slightly tongue in cheek, but they keep doing it. They get out the tarot cards. I mean, I think there's all sorts of ways in which people are playing really, does this work?

Steve Paulson (35:16):

Yeah.

Chris Gosden (35:16):

Should I bother with it?

Steve Paulson (35:18):

Kind of bringing in a new piece of information to weigh alongside all the other stuff that you look at?

Chris Gosden (35:26):

Yes, and I think now in the 21st century, people are slightly are dubious about the claims that rationality makes to being the only way of understanding the universe. And also a pretty deep sense that we may not as a globe be going in anything like the right direction. That extracting material from the world continuously is not a good idea. And maybe we do need a more sort of kindly, caring, broader notion of our relationship with the world around us.

Anne Strainchamps (36:08):

Steve was talking with Chris Gosden. He's a professor of European archeology of the University of Oxford and author of the book Magic: A History.

Quan Barry (36:35):

[Bon courage 00:36:35] potion number two.

Quan Barry (36:45):

One cup bourbon, a third cup sweet vermouth, many shakes from the bottle of bitters, the pewter bear knickknack from the living room end table. Mix everything in a Mason jar, then chill overnight outside on the window sill in the waxing light of the moon. Steep a small bear figurine in the potion to infuse it with the courage of the bear. As we learned in world history, the word berserk derives from bear shirt, a garment made from the skin of a bear that Viking warriors dawned in order to give them inhuman strength in battle. Bear of night, walk the earth, fill my lungs with your breath. Give me courage, give me strength. Live in me bear of night.

Quan Barry (37:40):

Oh, and don't forget to refill dad's Jim Beam with water.

Anne Strainchamps (37:54):

Quan Barry takes us deep into a coven of field hockey playing, Janet Jackson listening teenage witches circa 1989 next. I'm Anne Strainchamps and this is To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio, and PRX.

Anne Strainchamps (38:16):

(silence).

Anne Strainchamps (38:24):

If there was ever a good time and place to be a witch, it was America in the late 1980s. Big hair, baggy acid-washed denim, Pat Benatar, Madonna, and Stevie Nicks told girls to express themselves. Feminists reclaimed the mother goddess, Neopagans revived earth magic, and women everywhere started covens. Among them the girls field hockey team at Danvers High School in Massachusetts. At least that's how Quan Barry imagines it in her recent novel, We Ride Upon Sticks. Shannon Henry Kleiber caught up with her.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (38:59):

I wanted to start with setting the scene in We Ride Upon Sticks. It's 1989 in Danvers, Massachusetts, the site of the Salem witch trials, 300 years later. So who are the Danvers Falcons?

Quan Barry (39:12):

So the Danvers Falcons, they're the varsity women's field hockey team. And they begin the 1989 season as definite rags to riches sort of story.

Speaker 23 (39:23):

I think our generation, we need...

Speaker 24 (39:25):

Shampoo and conditioner.

Speaker 25 (39:27):

Emilio Estevez. Young guns.

Quan Barry (39:36):

The book begins they're at a summer camp up in New Hampshire, Camp Wildcat. And they're basically the bottom of the bottom. The very first scene we see them losing a scrimmage, eight or nine to nothing. Nobody's even quite sure of the score, because there's so many goals that have been scored against them. So they're really pretty demoralized. It's kind of been the story of their lives. That they're the sort of the worst team in the New England Conference, right? But then, because they've hit their bottom, their goalie decides to take matters into her own hands and to look for alternative ways of winning.

Speaker 26 (40:15):

(singing)

Shannon Henry Kleiber (40:18):

I played field hockey on an all girls team in the late eighties in Maryland. I had the mouth guard, the shinguards, the kilt. Yeah. It just all brought so many memories back to me. I loved the pop culture references that you used. [Benaton 00:40:35] is free. Swatch. Pat Benatar. Did you live through this too? I mean, it seemed like you knew so much.

Speaker 26 (40:42):

Yes, yes. The book is definitely in that sense fairly autobiographical. I did indeed grow up in the Town of Danvers on the North Shore of Boston. As you mentioned, Danvers is where the young women, the girls first began the accusations that led to the Salem witch trials. Back in 1692, Danvers was actually known as Salem Village. So I always knew that aspect of things when I was growing up. And then, because I did come of age in the 1980s, which in many ways are just ridiculous. When you go back and you think about just the hair, the bands, the music, the clothes, all of that stuff. It's just a level of just again, just fun and camp is just present in that.

Emilio Estevez (41:30):

Leave her alone.

Judd Nelson (41:33):

You gonna make me?

Emilio Estevez (41:33):

Let's end this right now. You don't talk to her. You don't look at her. You don't even think about her. You understand me?

Shannon Henry Kleiber (41:47):

So what's the book with Emilio Estevez on the cover, and why him?

Quan Barry (41:54):

So Emilio Estevez, I knew that I wanted to have, an eighties heart throb be the person who was on the cover in which they make this pledge to the powers of darkness. It's a very generic powers of darkness. We never get any specific names like the devil, or Beelzebub, or anything like that.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (42:11):

And he's kind of their spell book, right? I mean, this is-

Quan Barry (42:14):

Yeah, yeah.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (42:14):

They're equivalent of a coven's book of spells.

Quan Barry (42:17):

Yeah. The book of spells, book of shadows, sometimes they're referred to. So book of shadows is where you keep your spells and all those kinds of things. I also think it's kind of funny because when I think of Emilio Estevez, he seems to have like these chipmunk cheeks, and he's all American, in many kinds of ways. And yet here he is being invoked as this power of darkness.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (42:39):

Your songs throughout the book, the eighties songs, it was like there was a soundtrack playing as I was reading it, which is so fun.

Quan Barry (42:46):

Yeah.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (42:46):

Was it like that writing it? Did you just keep hearing these songs in your head and then you wove them into the book?

Quan Barry (42:52):

It helped with the narrative at various times. Towards the end, for example, we get Cinderella pops up and there's a couple lines from a Cinderella song or Halloween, we get monster mash, which is not particularly eighties, but it helps with the Halloween vibe. I'm not saying that they're a shortcut, but they allow you really quickly to establish a mood.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (43:17):

Do you think of this as a feminist book?

Quan Barry (43:20):

I do. Yeah. I really do. Witchcraft to me has always been a feminist issue. It's the idea that women through the ages historically, who were accused of being witches were women who didn't fit into society for whatever reason, either they were too old, or they didn't have children, or they were too powerful. For example, one of the first women who was hung as part of the Salem witch trials is this woman, Bridget Bishop, and she had been accused before, somehow the charges were dropped, and the main accusations, one of the reasons why people think she was singled out is because she wasn't married. She was a Tavern owner. She was quite successful. And it's also said that allegedly she liked to wear red. And so when you think about that, those reasons as to why perhaps she was chosen and why these girls accused her, witchcraft has always been seen as women who are on the margins for whatever reason. But I think that particularly in the 20th century is you get Wiccans coming back into the scene, obviously there've always been Wiccans, there's always been pagans, but it has been about women reclaiming various spheres of power. And so, I do think that this book is very much a feminist book, and I was very much thinking about women and their voices and empowerment, and all those kinds of things.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (44:29):

Definitely, and their friendship too, their sisterhood. Can you read to me one of the potions? I'm looking at the irresistible potion on page 189.

Quan Barry (44:39):

So there's a character named Boy Cory, it's true that although field hockey's primarily a girl sport, occasionally there are boys who play it. And so Boy Cory is playing. He's the only a boy on the field hockey team. And he is experimenting with different kinds of spells and seeing what kinds of effects they have. And he's also keeping a diary which each of the players does. They keep an individual diary and then those diaries are collected each week and they're stapled into Emilio, and you're supposed to be keeping a diary of all the dark sinister things you're doing. And that that dark sinister energy is essentially what's fueling Emilio and giving the team their power. And so this is boy Corey's entry:

Quan Barry (45:30):

Monday, first week of November greetings and salutations. As I am quite sure you are well aware, ever since Halloween, the ladies and I are now in the business of casting spells and brewing potions. World, wish me luck. Irresistible potion number one. Half cup water. A dollop of honey, the ultimate attractor. One pinch of sugar cinnamon for taste. One of my baby teeth from mom's keepsake boxes, a mirror from a makeup compact. Put everything in a pot and bring to a boil. When cool, transfer to a Mason jar. Each night before or bed light a candle and visualize what you want. Fill a thimble with irresistible potion number one, trademark pending, and down the hatch. Obviously before drinking strain out the mirror and the tooth, which are only intended because A, once I sink my teeth into the intended, may I never be forgotten. And B, when I am gazed upon, may the intended see all the things they like best about themselves reflected back at them. Repeat for at least three nights.

Speaker 29 (46:45):

(singing).

Shannon Henry Kleiber (47:01):

Have you always loved Halloween? What's your relationship to it?

Quan Barry (47:06):

So it's true that the last couple of years I've worn the same costume every year. It's a costume that I created called the Quan. People who don't know, Dr. Seuss actually invented his own alphabet. And one of the letters that he invented is called Quan. It kind of looks like a Q, but it's very Dr. Seuss Q. So it's a Q that's not a traditional looking Q. And so every year I dress up as the Quan.

Quan Barry (47:29):

As a kid, from a family that didn't get a lot of candy, because my mom did not roll like that. Halloween was a big deal to us. For example, my mother didn't let us trick or treat off the street. Our street wasn't that big. My mother thought it's a fine amount of candy. You don't need to go to thousands of streets and come back with these pillow cases. She always thought that was terrible. So we could only trick or treat on our street.

Quan Barry (47:52):

After I graduated from college, I lived at home for a year before I went to graduate school. I saw Halloween in Salem.

Quan Barry (48:09):

Halloween in Salem now is very different. It's very family friendly. They figured out a way to really monopolize, and capitalize, and make money. They call it Halloween season. It basically is the entire month of October.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (48:21):

Oh.

Quan Barry (48:23):

But it used to be, when I saw Halloween in Salem on Halloween night, it's very similar to what happens in the book. They were actually protesters out holding signs saying, Three John 3:16. And saying things about suffer not a witch to live.

Quan Barry (48:49):

And the Wiccans and the pagans were actually marching in Salem and it was a celebration, a memorial to the people who had died. And yet there were still protestors, not tons of them, but people like yelling and screaming and things like that. So yes, I've always had a soft spot for Halloween.

Quan Barry (49:09):

And now I think about it, it's the transformation. The idea of mask wearing and just, in some ways, some people become more themselves when they have a costume on. It allows them, I don't know, for whatever reason to let something inside go. And so I am interested in that. Yeah.

Emilio Estevez (49:29):

She's a girl that I was madly in love with when we were freshman.

Speaker 30 (49:34):

Life's like a movie. Write your own ending.

Shannon Henry Kleiber (49:41):

Do you think there's a little witch in all of us?

Rivka Galchen (49:45):

I hope so. Because like I said, to me, it's about the idea of having dreams of figuring out how to make them come true, right? So we're all kind of magicians in certain kinds of ways, you know? And so the whole family, we went to see the Muppet movie. And I still remember at the end, when Kermit sings, life's like a movie, write your own ending. In some ways there's something kind of witchy about that. Life's like a movie, write your own ending. So it's the idea that we are, we're magicians creating our own realities. And in many ways, that's what I see witchcraft is doing.

Speaker 31 (50:14):

(singing)

Anne Strainchamps (50:24):

Novelist Quan Barry talking with producer, Shannon Henry Kleiber about her recent novel, We Ride Upon Sticks. And here's hoping you put some witchcraft in your own life soon, and not just at Halloween. We all deserve a bit of magic every day.

Anne Strainchamps (50:42):

To The Best of Our Knowledge comes to you from our little audio coven Madison, Wisconsin. Shannon Henry Kleiber was head witch this week, Angelo Batista, and Charles Monroe Cane stirred the cauldron. Mark Ricker has provided digital dark arts and Joe Harkey cast a web of sonic sorcery. Our executive wizard is Steve Paulson, and I am your witchy host, Anne Strainchamps. Be well and join us again next time.

Speaker 32 (51:09):

PRX.

Last modified: 
November 03, 2021