Nonfiction Reads to Strengthen Your Relationship with the Witch
November is always a transitional month for me. I’m still clutching onto Halloween with all its tricks and treats, but I’m also reaching for winter, which is probably my second favorite time of year. I love the cold, the magic, the solitude, and I always find myself wanting to curl up with ghost stories and haunted houses, maybe even have a séance and a nice cup of cinnamon spice tea. There’s just something beautifully introspective that happens between Samhain and Yule, and I’m always excited to speak to the shadows and bury the sun.
This winter, for me, is all about witches as I get ready to teach my third installment of Witch Lit. As such, it has me thinking about history and lore, archetypes and all those quiet, thin moments that exist as the leaves fall and the world prepares to hibernate. I like to ask my students to consider what (or who) they think of when they hear the word “witch.” Does the word—the name, the title—make you feel nervous, comforted? Does it make you feel empowered, strong? Our relationship with the witch is forever evolving, and as I continue working with her and teaching her history, I invite you all to do the same in an effort to better understand both violence against women and the oppressive and complex past and present that surrounds and continues to birth the witch.
Below are some of my favorite nonfiction reads to help you on your journey into the occult and the enchanted.
1. "Waking the Witch" by Pam Grossman
Waking the Witch was instrumental in helping me reframe and rebuild my relationship with the witch. I had been researching archetypes associated with folk horror and the craft for quite some time at this point, but my relationship with the witch was something I had been personally and professionally wanting to nourish and strengthen over the last few years. Grossman’s book is a treasure trove of history, lore, art, poetry, and power, and I find myself returning to it for guidance and inspiration, and I often quote it and her in my classes. If you’re working on writing a witchy novel/collection, or perhaps looking for something to help you embrace the fire within, I highly recommend picking up a copy of her book in addition to listening to her podcast, The Witch Wave.
2. "Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch" by Kristen J. Solee
I can’t say enough wonderful things about Kristen J. Solee’s work. My first introduction to her was her book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, and not only did it help me to reshape, revisit, and undo some patriarchal bias and leftover religious teachings that I no longer agreed with, it also opened my eyes to a different way to connect with women, our choices, and our bodily autonomy. Needless to say, at this point I was already a huge fan, and so when Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch came out, I could not add it to my cart fast enough. Plus, it came out during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and quickly became my vacation and my way to sightsee and learn and be exposed to different cultures and belief systems without leaving my house. I learned so much reading this book, and my travel list has easily doubled.
3. "Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers" by Taisia Kitaiskaia
Taisia Kitaiskaia is a brilliant writer and poet, and so if she’s not on your radar, you’ll definitely want to spend some time getting familiar with her work. In 2017 she put out Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers (with artwork by Katy Horan) and this book not only works to introduce us to some of our favorite writers through a different lens, but it also offers a unique way to analyze how and why we label someone a witch. As I read the biographies and the creative interpretations throughout, I felt better connected to some of my favorite writers while also finding communion with new writers I had yet to explore and get to know. Plus, as a gorgeous bonus, there is an oracle deck/guidebook that you can also purchase to help foster a relationship with these women and the symbols associated with them. I personally use this in my classes a lot, both for introspection and for writing exercises, so it’s a great tool to have at your disposal.
4. "Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers" by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
I’m fascinated with the intersection of witchcraft and modern medicine, and during the pandemic, I threw myself into studying botany and herbalism (and books like Plant Witchery by Juliet Diaz were and continue to be a fabulous guide). When it came to the history and persecution of healers though, I wanted something that provided discourse around record and fact, and this book was a fantastic and digestible introduction to the topic. It’s always one of my go-to recommendations when someone is curious about the history of witchcraft and wants to dive deeper and expand their knowledge on the subject.
5. "Weave the Liminal: Living Modern Traditional Witchcraft" by Laura Tempest Zakroff
Laura Tempest Zakroff tackles the liminal in a beautiful, authentic way as she talks about how to deepen your practice or understanding of modern traditional witchcraft. Something that I’ve appreciated about all of her books is how inclusive and gentle her language is; nothing ever reads as gospel and there’s always a lot of room for reflection and personal application when it comes to how you specifically want to interpret the material and/or apply it to your life. This is a great guide if you’re looking for something to make your writing (or practice) more authentic, and from a character study perspective, I think this book will help you better bring your witches to life, all while honoring the spiritual path you’re writing about so you’re not cementing your fiction in stereotypes or negative clichés.
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