Waking the Witch Book Review
When you think of a witch, what comes to mind? A wart-ridden crone with pointed black hat a la the Wicked Witch of the West? A mousey nerd with curious interests like Willow Rosenburg? A femme fatal as secretive as she is sexy?
In her part-memoire, part-analysis of the cultural impact of the Witch archetype, The Witch Wave host Pam Grossman takes readers on a broomstick ride through the history of the icon while sharing her own path to the Witch.
Genre: Non-fiction; Spirituality; Witchcraft
Rating: 4/5 Stars
“Most kids grew out of their 'magic phase.' I grew further into mine.”
“Books were my broomstick. They allowed me to fly to other realms where anything was possible.”
These statements resonate deeply with me, as I am sure it will for many of you. They're part of the reason reading Waking the Witch felt like coming to terms with myself, accepting all my weirdness and finding power where shame once resided.
Fun fact: Grossman's favorite book is Wise Child by Monica Furlong. I haven’t read it yet, but I cannot wait to try it with Grossman in mind. I imagine her hypnotic voice narrating in my head, making the experience more magical.
Much like my favorite witch, Jordan, Grossman has an unlimited supply of sarcasm at her disposal, and I am so here for it! She's not afraid to state her opinion, or worried about if she's anyone’s cup of tea. Her witty asides keep readers engaged and entertained, lend a conversational tone to heavier topics, and add an extra punch to drive her points home. I often found myself smirking or unable to hold back laughter, like with this bit in her discussion of the historic demonization of witches and powerful women:
“And so by the turn of the sixteenth century, our baby-killing, devil-fucking, creep-all-day, party-all-night witch was born.”
Female oppression is a major theme in the history of the Witch, as is the oppression and erasure of colored people in the realms of the occult. Grossman works to undo part of this by highlighting women of color who have impacted the witchy world, like Pamela Colman Smith: enchanting storyteller and artist of the iconic Smith-Rider-Waite tarot deck.
Like many tarot readers, I didn't know Smith’s story, or how she was F-ed over in classic White Man fashion: taking all the credit for Pamela’s hard work and initially leaving her name off the project altogether. (So if you ever want to purchase this classic deck, please be sure to shop around for a version with her name on it so she is given the honor she deserves.)
“…the witch is a shining and shadowy symbol of female power and a force for subverting the status quo,”
“…is the ultimate feminist icon because she is a fully rounded symbol of female oppression and liberation.”
White-washing and cultural appropriation aren’t the only political topics Grossman dives into. While it’s not exactly fun to read about the same political irritants we’ve been blasted with for the last 4+ years, there's importance in having these conversations, especially from members of the impacted communities.
Grossman tries to open our eyes to how often women and minorities are undermined and held down, in ways that are miniscule and monumental. Some readers will be okay with this, while others may be left asking, “okay, and…?”, especially if they are already well-informed on these topics.
Knowledge of the past informs the future, and we need to have a clear perspective to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes, robbing our communities of the treasures oppressed magical folks have to share.
Fun fact: Pamela Colman Smith was sometimes babysat by none other than Bram Stoker! No wonder “Pixie” had such a beautifully creative mind! Smith went on to write, illustrate, and publish Annancy Stories, a book of Jamaican tales that follows Annancy, a spider with supernatural and human-like characteristics who gets into many misadventures.
Another important point throughout this book (arguably the most important point) is that anyone, of any age/background/race/identity, can be a witch, as we all have inherent intuitive abilities. Grossman calls the witch a “notorious shape-shifter” before listing some of her many possible guises. My personal favorite:
“She lurks in the forests of fairy tales, in the gilded frames of paintings, in the plotlines of sitcoms and YA novels, and between the bars of ghostly blues songs.”
If you’re looking for a “how-to” guide, this is not the book for you, as Waking the Witch is more a historical analysis than a guide to awakening your abilities. Grossman doesn’t delve far into any one topic; instead, she touches on a number of figures and moments in history and pop culture, threading them together with personal experiences and opinions.
If you or someone you know is looking for an entertaining overview of what a witch is, what they do, and their history and cultural impact with personal insight from someone who's walked the path of The Witch, then this book is a perfect launchpad.
I recommend it to anyone curious about witches, baby witches looking for a primer into witch culture, and seasoned witches wanting to revisit The Witch’s historic struggle through a new lens.
“The witch is always at risk. Nevertheless, she persists.”
Thanks for tuning into another Coffee, Book, and Candle review! If you're interested in grabbing a copy of Waking the Witch, check with your local booksellers or order here! Let us know what you think of this book in the comments below, or find us on bookstagram and Twitter!