The Witching Hour

Hello! Yes, it’s been a long time. I haven’t done much blogging lately. Then again, I also have blogs for The Witching Hour on Medium (where, in addition to blog posts, I sometimes re-post articles and reviews that have been published elsewhere) and on Substack (where I am also co-author Hare Moon Musings, a nature blog I created some years back with Wren Walker). I guess I’m trying to figure out which platform I like the best. I also have a very active account on Twitter (plus this one, Witches Wear Daily), but the news that it may be bought in its entirety by Elon Musk is causing many people to reconsider whether they want to stay there.

I’ve decided to try and get back to blogging a bit more because it seems like the form is making a comeback! Also it helps me stay organized when I’m working on a larger writing project. Yes, I am still working on my book! The title has changed slightly: The Witching Hour: How Witches Enchanted the World. I am currently on a writing retreat to put in some heavy duty work on it, and then with any luck will have it ready for publication this summer. I will definitely be keeping you posted about it!

I hope you’re all doing well out there. I hope there are spring flowers where you are. I hope life is good where you are. Check in and say hi.

The Celebration of Spring by Auguste Alexandre Hirsch

Fritz Jung, October 31 1952 ~ May 4, 2021

Fritz in his home studio where he recorded with his band “The Blackbirds”

Fritz and Wren at Starwood, 1993

Fritz loved guitars.
Fritz in his home music studio in New Hampshire.

Fritz and Wren, 2021
Fritz on Samhain (his birthday!) in Salem, Mass. with friends, 1993

Dear friends,

On May 4th, 2021, on the festival day of Beltane, Harold Fritz Jung died after a brief illness. His wife, soulmate and best friend Wren was with him. Fritz was a loving husband, devoted son, and wonderful brother, as well as a beloved friend to many. He was a gifted musician and songwriter, a wizard with computers, a talented recording engineer, a lover of cats, a devotee of baked goods, and a passionate cyclist.

Fritz co-founded The Witches’ Voice with his wife Wren in 1997, creating an innovative website for the non-profit organization that provided networking, education, and assistance to the international pagan community, receiving accolades from the technology community for his stellar design work. Fritz chose the name “Witchvox” and its legacy lives on in the many friendships and connections made, thousands of articles published, stories and life passages shared, the art and music discovered, and the memories of our community’s growth and evolution stretching over more than two decades of its existence.

Fritz and Wren had recently moved from Florida (where Fritz worked for Dean Guitars) back to New England, and Fritz had often mentioned missing the smell of the forest over the last twenty years. Fritz loved the beauty of nature, even the dramatic thunderstorms of western Florida, and was excited about experiencing all four seasons again. Fritz believed in generosity, in optimism, in kindness, in hugs, and in being thankful for everything. He worked tirelessly, laughed loudly, and lived his life with boundless energy, humor and love. May his memory be a bright light to all who knew and loved him. 

The Awakening of Spring

1912078_613193945436429_1943433691_oEaster is a day of seasonal splendor for me. Raised Catholic as many witches were, Easter has always held a special magic of memory, in that way children remember sensory impressions of seasonal rituals, rather than religious dogma: waking up to an Easter basket full of goodies prepared by my mom, putting on colorful outfits, planting flowers, and going to church where I heard and sang beautiful hymns I still remember to this day. Sometimes it was raining, or even snowing, but there would still be a nice dinner (usually baked ham) and a family gathering. This always felt like the point where spring was finally arriving.

As a child I didn’t understand fully the notion that a religious tradition could be honoring the seasons, as the Catholic liturgy didn’t really contain that imagery (though I realized much later that Christ’s rebirth was a metaphor of spring). But the trappings of holidays like Easter and Christmas were unmistakably pagan, and I feel lucky my family made these holidays feel connected to nature.

Many years later, becoming a witch and learning more about the origins of seasonal festivals, I became more attuned to the shift of seasons and the signs of spring in particular. Spring in the Northeast United States is a particularly beautiful season, and one that signals hope and renewal as buds and flowers arrive after what can be long and cold winters. When I joined my coven in the 1990s, I began performing a series of season rites that were part of an original ritual cycle known as The Book of the Provider. The beginning of this cycle began with the first full moon following the Spring Equinox (often in April) known as The Day of the Awakening. The Awakening usually arrived when spring bulbs began to poke up and begin to flower: snowdrops, followed by crocuses and scilla, then daffodil, hyacinths and tulips. Birdsong begins to ring louder and more varied, rain is often followed by warm winds, the sun burns a bit brighter. Hope returns to the land.

Spirit of SpringThis year, as we avoid social gatherings in churches and covensteads, and as we witness death and sickness and difficulties of many kinds, we may feel bereft and without hope. We may feel fearful, sad, lonely, helpless. And we should not turn away from those feelings. But we must also look to nature for signs of renewal and resilience. We must look within us for strength and courage and compassion. This season of solitude and pain and loss will be a long one and the future is full of unsurety. But the trees blossoming and the bees buzzing after a season of snow and ice: this means something. It means change is constant, and often follows a reliable pattern. There may be upheaval, but there is also balance, and rest. There is worry; there is also comfort.

Thomas_Wilmer_Dewing_-_Spring_-_1890Let’s do our best to support others at this time. Let’s find ways to make this time of isolation one of replenishment. Weed the garden; fill a birdfeeder with seed; read books on nature; write poetry; do your spring cleaning; sew some face masks; make care packages for those in need, if you can. Take care with your own health and safety and help support others. There is no more profound act of magic than to sow seeds of compassion and kindness. On dark days, on troubling nights, open the window to the sun, to warm breezes, to the refreshing scent of rain. Let spring’s burgeoning growth renew your sense of purpose.

I wish I had words of deep wisdom to impart. I don’t. But I can share this passage, from my coven’s Rite of the Awakening, from a poem called “The Immortal” by Cale Young Rice (1911), to offer some comfort and hope and beauty.

Spring has come up from the South again,

With soft mists in Her hair,

And a warm wind in Her mouth again,

And budding everywhere.

Spring has come up from the South again,

And Her skies are azure fire,

And around Her is the awakening

Of all the world’s desire.

Spring has come up from the South again,

And dreams are in Her eyes,

And music is in her mouth again,

Of love, the never-wise.

Spring has come up from the South again,

And bird and flower and bee,

Know that She is their life and joy–

–and immortality!


Actually, Witchcraft is Hard

download-2My coven has a little framed bit of calligraphy hanging by the entrance door to our temple, hung there back in the 1970s I believe, that says “The Lyf so short, the Craft so long to lerne.” It’s Hippocrates by way of Chaucer, but of course it applies beautifully to witchcraft. I found myself thinking about this all week after this article came out, wherein a journalist claims she spent a week learning witchcraft and then made a whole bunch of insulting claims and assumptions about it. I took to Twitter and posted a long rant and this was the result, so I gathered those tweets together (with a few comments added here and there for clarity) to share here.

I just spoke with a filmmaker (from Paris) who’s making a documentary on witches. I mentioned a witch I saw on Twitter who recently admitted to having a crisis of faith, that she didn’t really “believe” in witchcraft anymore, that she deleted all her tweets and no longer wanted to be known as a witchcraft influencer, and it’s been haunting me.

The current explosion of witchcraft on social media paints a rather misleading picture of the depth, complexity and knowledge underpinning a spiritual movement that’s been reinventing itself since the 1960s.


Witchy imagery on Instagram is wonderful; as are encouraging articles about self-care that encourage exploration of herbs, tarot, crystals, meditation and/or spell-work as modes of engagement with identity and self-transformation. BUT there are real problems in media coverage.
Partly the issue is one that’s always plagued journalistic coverage of the witchcraft movement: what intrigues people most (practitioners included!) is often the dark, mysterious, fantastical, forbidden, occult aspects; so, amid the effervescent chatter about empowerment and healing and feminism and intersectionality and secular integrity etc. there is also the problem that witches have always been characterized as Other; and many witches still wish to be identified in this way.


Sybil Leek and her jackdaw familiar

And there’s nothing wrong with that: outsiders and rebels and outlaws are figures that can inspire us with their courage and confidence. But the notion of persecution is the flip-side of this, and it’s a tricky one.
On the one hand, yes, women are still oppressed in many ways. Certainly we’re seeing sexism flourish these days in ways it hasn’t for decades and I think we can all point to some pretty obvious reasons why. Also, that’s not to exclude my brother witches from the movement: but the current zeitgeist has seized upon witchcraft as a feminine mode of expression, and, many of us are hoping, one that may yet allow us to smash the patriarchy once and for all. And maybe take our stewardship of this planet we call home more seriously, before it’s too late. For witches and pagans have generally failed as torch bearers for the environmental movement (more on that another time perhaps)
What I see as the most vexing aspect of the current movement is its general lack of seriousness, and almost utter failure to consider its own rather fascinating history. The seekers and renegades who embraced witchcraft and paganism in the 1950s and 1960s relied largely upon BOOKS to learn about things like folklore, archaeology, comparative religion, the occult and any number of other topics from herbal healing to tarot to sex magic to ecology.

With the rise of the internet in the 1990s, came access to vast stores of knowledge, but also a decline in book reading (even as pagan publishers like Llewellyn leapt at the chance to publish tons of new titles aimed at attracting newcomers to paganism and witchcraft). and a move towards short-cut modes of learning. The witches and pagans I’ve met over the years who’ve been doing this a while are, without exception, extremely well-read. (They’ve also seen THE WICKER MAN at least a dozen times but that’s another thread)


A Beltane fertility circle in The Wicker Man (1973)

But in the mad rush to BE A WITCH and, perhaps in the process, build one’s social media following, we’re seeing an awful lot of shallow posturing and soup-of-the-day sorts of trends that have no connection what witchcraft is or what it means to its millions of practitioners.
Remember when those grunge bands got popular in the 1990s (forgive me this Gen X woolgathering) and those scrappy kids wore lots of flannel shirts and wool hats, cuz it was cold where they lived, and then that mode of dress became a FASHION MOVEMENT? Yeah, it’s like that. People glommed onto the look and vibe without really understanding it was wholly unintentional, and that look came to also define the music and its underlying intentions, somehow.
By watering down witchcraft, by reducing it to its sparkly trappings or its most basic Hollywood-inspired stereotypes, we fail to acknowledge what all these articles and influencers are (perhaps inadvertently) trying to tell us: that witchcraft is actually A FORCE FOR CHANGE. But we can’t necessarily see past all the feel-good visuals and clever memes to pick up on why this obsessions is happening here and now.


W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) activists, circa 1968

Of course, many people realize it’s a response to misogyny and fascism and environmental degradation (as it was in 1968 when W.I.T.C.H. came on the scene), at least in part, but plenty of people don’t make these connections. And many of the people who are expressing witchcraft as an identity, alas, also don’t offer much depth or context to what they’re doing. The shallow frippery promulgated by the very people claiming or aspiring to be at the forefront of this movement reduces this rich, life-affirming, culturally-evocative, potentially game-changing movement to trendy baubles of clickbait, and makes witches YET AGAIN the subject of widespread mockery, ridicule, disrespect and, yes, probably persecution.

I mean.
Here’s an example of what all your witchy hashtags (and, oh dear goddess, my own as well) have wrought: I Spent a Week Becoming a Witch and the Results were Worrying. 
Among other things, one conclusion drawn by this journalist who spent a WHOLE WEEK “becoming a witch” (a spiritual undertaking that takes most people months if not years) was this: “however benign or even beneficial the rituals, it’s all built on a wobbling base of bats***.”
Batshit. She called it batshit. As in, “batshit crazy.”


Magazine Advertisement, 1973, (Amazing Science Fiction)

Now, I don’t dispute this journalist did some research to prepare this article. Heck, she even throws in some context here and there. But her foregone conclusion does indeed seem to be that witchcraft, because trendy, must automatically be nonsense. And you know, fair enough. I get it. It’s weird to call yourself a witch. It’s weird to try and use magic or divination to effect change in your life. But millions, heck, billions, of people use prayer or art or manipulation or the mechanics of capitalism to try and do that, too, and, well, here we are.

What I said earlier about persecution? Today’s witches may not be facing the stake or the gallows or the dunking stool (though in parts of Africa accused witches are still sometimes tortured). But the sort of media-informed privilege that allows us to proclaim ourselves witches or pagans or druids or heathens or what have you is, strangely enough, not the sort of privilege that protects us from the ridicule that is dished out by the likes of Ceri Radford or David Brooks or any number of cynical, willfully under-informed journalists who are more than happy to spin stories that makes us look like insipid fools, or delusional cultists.
Radford’s choice of a recent book by a virtually unknown author (The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness: Self-Care Rituals, Mystic Guidance and Magick Spells to Harness Your Power by Luna Bailey), as opposed to a book that had years of proven popularity among contemporary witches (like The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, or What Witches Do by Janet and Stewart Farrar, or even Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham), shows she was not actually interested in learning anything solid or significant about the witchcraft movement, or serious about learning anything about actual witchcraft practice. For all I know, Bailey’s book is perfectly fine. But given how many books exist on this subject,  it’s telling that Radford chose a brand new one whose title echoes the current social media zeitgeist so explicitly.


We Intend to Create Havoc

It’s déja vu all over again. The current crop of books aimed at newly-converted witches is remarkably similar to the explosion of pagan books in the 1980s and 1990s, with a handful of publishers printing books madly to keep up with the demand. Some of them were very good books. Many were derivative drivel, or poorly-written claptrap. The same can be said of the current situation.

The difference is: in those days, if the contemporary books were lacking, we turned to older ones to make up for it. The Golden Bough. The White Goddess. Yeats, Keats, Blavatsky. Sybil Leek. Leo Martello. Dion Fortune. Aubrey Burl. Merlin Stone. Gerald Gardner. Patricia Crowther. We turned to the poets, to the scholars, the archeologists, the feminists, the occultists, heck, anyone who seemed to have some insight. We took notes, we had discussions, we shared books, we created zines, we devoured everything we could in the quest for knowledge.
Then, the internet happened, and with it, witchcraft lost some its secrecy, and perhaps, some of its mystery. Having the movement and the community out in the open had pros and cons, of course. Hello, Satanic Panic! But overall, growing familiarity was a good thing. Except the same technology that allowed for ease of networking so important for solitaries who lived in remote regions) and sharing of information also led, eventually, and unfortunately, to a pall of laziness. After seeing so much dynamic energy and creativity and passion in the pagan community from my years working with The Witches’ Voice (founded in 1997), the new apathy was depressing, even though it took a few years to get there.
At first, being able to order books at the click of a mouse was amazing; magical even! But, then more and more websites began to appear, and multiply, and resources popped up everywhere, like wildflower seeds, or religious tracts, or porn (choose your metaphor). The pagan-curious stopped turning to books or even study as a method to learn witchcraft.


Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur (1980)

Why, when one could learn spells from a colorful website, would someone put the effort into reading a book? Why spend time memorizing correspondences when you could enter a chatroom with a bunch of other witches and argue about the right or wrong way to do things? (Yes, the internet also brought us a new and exciting way to engage in Witch Wars.) Why go to the trouble and spend the time to become knowledgeable when it was possible to simply declare yourself a powerful witch or warlock, or someone descended from occult royalty, or a reincarnation of, I dunno, Isobel Gowdie or Merlin or Morgan le Fay or Marie Laveau? I mean, why bother?

And now we find that contemporary witchcraft, as it is now understood via social media’s portrayals, is little more than a hobby, barely even a craft anymore. Witchcraft is a mode of expression. It’s an aesthetic. It’s fashion. It’s political. It’s self care. It’s activism.
Witchcraft is taking photos of our cool-looking altars (or the sparkly sarongs we’re packing to bring to Burning Man, or the tarot card we just laid down next to our morning coffee), and posting them on our timelines.
Witchcraft, that most spectacular of spiritual pursuits, has become mere spectacle, devoid of ritual, devoid of magic, devoid of spiritual intent.
And while I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with adopting some of witchcraft’s imagery or tropes to try and enhance whatever you’re doing, those things you’re doing, well, they’re not witchcraft. Sorry, but no.
They’re still worthy activities! Activism and self care and empowerment and fighting for justice and equality and smashing the patriarchy, yes, they’re all tangential to witchcraft. But they’re not, in and of themselves, witchcraft.
And that’s a thing we need to talk about. And I think we will indeed be talking about this much more in the days and weeks to come.Thanks for reading. More anon.


‘The Magic Circle’ by John William Waterhouse

A Poem for Hallows

I wrote this poem a number of years ago, on the long plane ride home from Holland where I had attended a lovely and small academic conference, where I gave a paper on poetry in pagan ritual. It was inspired by a delightful evening spent with new friends. Goblin Fruit, the excellent poetry magazine (boy do I miss them, but their archives are still active), agreed to publish it. Then the wonderful Terri Windling featured it in her blog; what a great day that was! Her newer blog, Myth & Moor, is a constant source of delight, wisdom and inspiration.

I hope you enjoy.

pan dance

Transplendent We

It’s deceptive, this light at Hallows.
A mask of wind and water, spinning, sparkling,
like silver spokes, or falling leaves, or candy floss,
or false conviviality, too-fast friends.
As the river curves to meet us, we shamble along,
soaked with mist, parched for ale,
like troubadours, or troubled ghosts,
on our way to a midnight market,
there to choose cakes and berries from the goblin stalls,
in the shadow of forbidden castles and glowing maples,
the walkways bright as coins beneath our feet.

Here where the sloping banks converge,
the trees lean in, as if to kiss,
thorned and black on the right, airy and golden on the left,
Bacchus, Hecate, Apollo, Aphrodite,
nuzzling, glancing approval as we invent words
to mark this season of harvest.
No yellow moon, no sheaves of wheat, no bawdy lyric,
but ploughshares swinging,
hoofed beasts clocking over wet grey streets to sleep in tranquil barns.

The red blush creeping up your throat surprises us all,
like brazen hollyhocks that suddenly realize
they’ve reached the second floor.
Dizzy with drink and drunk on autumn’s ether,
we find the otherworld we’ve sought all evening.
Its hollow hills ring, empty as dessicated bulbs,
yet bright with color, flowing with nectar,
its great halls lit with rustic lanterns,
candles set in carved-out turnips, meant to keep spirits at bay,
and yet soon the very air is keening.
The sky is slowly tinted green.
Our tongues are slippery with juice.
The clock strikes three, three times,
and we are younger than we were.

I started to like you, your small hands like Proustian sweets.
I started to like you, you and your words like dark abundant rain,
poppyseeds poured out on cobblestones.
Simple folk we, laughing long songs like books of fruited verse.
There where the cats consider the canal,
the moon at last emerges, and we become
more and more unfashionable by the minute.
I conjure a forest from a single tree:
like ardent sloths, we hold fast to its mutant trunk,
hard, rough, pulsing with faint heat.
It multiplies into a fairy-tale wood, varied as Paradise,
thick with English bluebells and rhetorical mushrooms;
it smells of sex and stagnant water,
hashish, leafmold, bile and burnt sugar, rotting velvet,
and tobacco that ought to be Turkish.

We could be anywhere: a Holland of the Mind,
or drowned Ys, forgotten Brittany,
a temple of jewels in Morocco,
a chalk hillside hewn by pagan muralists,
a Danish bog stuffed with dead druids,
a green field in America,
Constantinople, Brigadoon,
or a fragrant churchyard that beckons in dreams,
like mementos from a love lost in war-time,
coal-dust in your hair, violets in your pocket.

The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, tonight.
And if we walk now to the marketplace
(we fancy it built of fog and fireflies)
the goblins will smile, cry hail and welcome!
They nod their heads, stroke our hair, grasp our fingers,
whisper, yes, the veil grows thin, grows thin.
They hand us three lengths of shimmering cloth,
dyed the colour of winter plums, smelling of old roses.
We give them all the gold we have.
We wrap ourselves in purple.
We wake, and seven days have passed, or seven years.
Our fingers are torn, stained red with fruit.
Our lips are bruised, and taste of truth.
I touch your mouth, and it is the sun.



Sybil Leek, the original Media Witch



A friend reminds me that yesterday was the anniversary of the death of English witch Sybil Leek. She was in many ways the original “Media Witch” as she was featured in many magazines, newspaper articles and on television and radio shows in the 1960s. BBC commentators dubbed her “Britain’s Most Famous Witch.” She had a pet jackdaw named Mr. Hotfoot Jackson, and was an eccentric but intelligent and wise spokeswoman for the craft. She loved to pose for photos, sometimes dressed as a typical English lady and sometimes in witchy black finery.

download-2.jpgShe was a noted and prolific author also; I own her books Diary of a Witch, The Complete Art of Witchcraft (both highly recommended for their insider view of the pagan/witchcraft movement of the time), Sybil Leek’s Astrological Guide to Successful Everyday Living, and a later book she wrote with her husband Stephen called A Ring of Magic Islands, that is a photographic, historical and folkloric tour of the smaller outer islands of Great Britain.

download-1.jpgShe moved to the United States in her later years, befriended many American witches throughout the country. I met an astrologer who knew her back in the day, when they were both living in Arizona, and he spoke highly of her kindness). She died in Melbourne, Florida in 1982.

D. J. Conway, Raven Grimassi, Edain McCoy, Ralph Metzner: What is Read and Remembered, Lives


Image from Mondazzi Book, Bead & Crystal

Four prominent authors have passed in the past month: D. J. (Deanna) Conway, Raven Grimassi (aka Gary Charles Erbe), Edain McCoy and Ralph Metzner. We lost D. J. Conway in early February, and Raven Grimassi and Edain McCoy and Ralph Metzner in March. What links these four prolific authors is the fact that their books, focused on slightly different paths in modern paganism, were all well loved and popular during a time when the pagan community was passionately devoted to reading and supporting its authors.

There were some books about the nascent witchcraft movement in the 1960s and 1970s (like those by Hans Holzer, Colin Wilson, Marian Weinstein, Doreen Valiente, Leo Martello and Sybil Leek, among others), but American paganism didn’t really start to take off in a systemic way until the late 1970s. Prior to that, many seekers read books by British authors, or books on folklore or archeology. Two prominent books first drew many who were interested in the pagan worldview: 1979’s Drawing Down the Moon (journalist Margot Adler’s famous survey of pagan religious traditions and organizations), and 1979’s The Spiral Dance (Starhawk’s primer on goddess worship and basic pagan witchcraft rituals) catalyzed a rush of interest in goddess worship and feminist witchcraft. Then came books by Raymond Buckland and Scott Cunningham in the 1980s, and soon enough Llewellyn Publishing was putting out books in droves, feeding a hunger for information  on witchcraft, Wicca, paganism and its many related paths, like druidry, heathenism, and faery.

If you discovered Wicca or neo-paganism in the 1990s, as many people did, then you came to the path at a time when books were still the valorous monarchs of our learning. There were technopagans, but the internet was in its infancy, and the first pagan website to really gain a following was The Witches’ Voice founded in 1997. Before that, people wanting to learn more about pagan pathways turned to books. Indeed, the pagan internet offered an opportunity for people who were still not public about their beliefs (“in the broom closet” we used to call it) to explore and network with greater privacy; and they could order books too!

One branch of paganism that drew enormous amounts of interest was anything under the auspices of “Celtic” (including Irish, Scottish, Breton, Manx or Welsh ways), and D. J. Conway’s first book in 1990, Celtic Magic, became a huge best seller that seemed to be on every pagan’s bookshelf. She wrote many more books, of course, on Celtic topics, on mythology, on dream magic, goddesses, Wicca and more. Like most Llewellyn authors, Conway’s writings were not particularly scholarly; but her books, like many of those written by her compatriots and sold by this publisher, answered the need for books on many topics from a burgeoning community that sought knowledge.

Edwin McCoy also wrote about Celtic topics: Her Celtic Myth and Magic, published in 1993, found its way to my shelf helped by the colorful cover of a knight riding a white horse. Ah, those colorful covers: Llewellyn had that aspect of marketing down pat, and their books of that era all had a signature look and vibe. McCoy also wrote about faery folk, moon rituals, and folk magic, among other topics. It did seem that Llewellyn got its authors at the time to write on diverse topics, but most of a single author’s oeuvre included titles that seemed related.

Just as Conway and McCoy wrote about mostly Celtic topics, Raven Grimassi’s books also centered on a particular branch of modern paganism: Italian witchcraft, or strega/stregheria. As the pagan community became more diverse and people wanted to explore their own ancestral roots and magical traditions contained in them, Llewelyn and other publishers responded with books on more divergent aspects of the Craft. Grimassi’s Ways of the Strega was published in 1994, with Llewellyn reissuing it the following year and changing the title to Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, ensuring, perhaps, that readers unfamiliar with the word “strega” might still find resonance in this witchcraft tradition. Grimassi wrote a number of books about Wicca as well, and about rituals, spell craft, and divination. In 2011 he began publishing books with Samuel Weiser, another popular publisher who have put forth many titles of interest to pagan readers.

Ralph Metzner was an author of a somewhat different topic area from these other three, being a researcher mainly interested in consciousness, shamanism and psychedelics. But his books were written alongside these other authors and found their way into the seeming cauldron of knowledge and wisdom during the pagan publishing boom of the 1990s. Perhaps his most well-known book during this period The Well of Remembrance: Rediscovering the Earth Wisdom Myths of Northern Europe, published in 1994 by Shambhala Press. I owned this book and loved it, for its contemporary blend of theories about shamanic practices and their relevance to modern seekers in the realms of magic and witchcraft. Metzner also wrote books about alchemy, ecology and new models of transformative practice.

What passes from the world when we lose authors whose work defines an era is not just their ability to ever write books again; but their ability to comment upon the changes that the world has gone through since their words became indelible. A book is not a stone circle, or a building; it’s made of paper, and necessarily ephemeral. And of course, in our digital age, books are not necessarily made from paper anymore. But our memories of having read them caressed their covers, nodded over them late at night, glimpsed them on our bookshelves alongside others, these memories define our own lives in ways that are difficult to express. They tell us who we are at the time we choose to read them: what we believe, what we question, what we hope to find out about the world, and about ourselves. Our personal history of books is a history of our own minds, our own seeking, our own experiences. They are the building blocks of our own legacy.



Poets of Pandemonium series at MOMI

“Poets of Pandaemonium”: Jennings and Jarman

This program, running through February 17 at the Museum of the Moving Image , pairs up these two iconic British filmmakers whose work was made about four decades apart. Humphrey Jennings referred to the post-industrial world as ”pandaemonium” and Jarman interpreted contemporary Britain as a place where nostalgia for a lost rural past gave way to an indulgent embrace of pleasure and beauty. Most of the program includes a short film by Humphreys followed by a longer one by Jarman, suggesting a continuity and a legacy of inspiration that affected Jarman’s work. All of Humpreys’ work in this series will be projected in 35mm.

chromaBoth filmmakers died tragically young: Jennings as a result of a fall while working on a film at age 43, and Jarman of AIDS at 52. Jarman, knowing he was dying, mused upon his mortality in his writings and his films. His final film Blue opens the program on January 8 (shown with Jennings’ short film of wartime imagery, Listen to Britain) and is not shown very often unless as part of a Jarman retrospective. It is simply a screen of blue, with Jarman, Tilda Swinton (who appeared in a number of Jarman’s films) and John Quentin reading from the filmmaker’s essay about the color blue, collected in his book of essays on color, Chroma. The final line of the essay, “I place a delphinium, blue, upon  your grave” inspired the title of a short film made in 2009 about Jarman’s childhood, Delphinium.  Jarman’s The Last of England follows Jennings’ The Dim Little Island, both films that use upon England’s rich artistic past and its uncertain but vibrant future.

Jennings’ eight minute film Words for Battle precedes Jarman’s An Angelic Conversation, one of Jarman’s few films shot partially in black and white. A young Lawrence Olivier reads poems of Blake, Kiping and Milton in Humphreys’ film, surely inspiring Jarman to cast Olivier in his glorious War Requiem, featuring a story of stunning wartime imagery (including a young Tilda Swinton as a nurse who grieves the loss of her soldier lover) that plays out over Benjamin Britten’s short opera, based on poet Wilfred Owen’s writings (showing February 16th). In An Angelic Conversation, Jarman has Dame Judi Dench read Shakespeare, to accompany an expressionistic and personal story of love and desire.

UnknownJarman’s Sebastiane, a powerful vision of the life and death of Saint Sebastian, steeped in Jarman’s unmistakable expression of sensual homoeroticism, is paired with Jennings’ powerful docudrama The Silent Village. Longer than many of Jennings’ works in this program at 36 minutes, this elegant film relocates the Lidice massacre in Czechoslovakia, where hundreds were slaughtered under Hitler’s orders in 1942, to a mining village in Wales. Both films feature largely unprofessional casts of actors.

On Saturday February 16th,  the aforementioned War Requiem, projected in 35 mm (a rare opportunity for cinephiles), is preceded by Jennings’ fascinating docudrama exploration of a well-loved wartime song, The True Story of Lili Marlene (1944). These films represent perhaps the most emotional subject matter of both filmmakers’ respective oeuvres, offering lyrical yet heartbreaking backdrops for examining the impact of war and the redemptive power of music to soothe war’s ravages upon the human psyche.

JubileeOn February 17, a double feature soles the series, and begins with Jennings’ only feature film (63 minutes), Fires Were Started (1943), a docudrama about firefighters battling the blazes of World War 2. Jarman’s Jubilee (1978) is his rowdy, colorful portrait of angry, disaffected urban punks who enjoy physical and emotional mayhem.


2018: The Year of The Devil

Well, if we needed any further evidence that everything is going to hell these days, we need look no further than the local cinema or the latest streaming series on our TV. Usually my year end round up features examples of witchcraft and the occult in media, but 2018’s offerings contained more than the usual amount of demonic stories, and it makes me wonder if we’re seeing a trend that could be continuing. Thanks in large part to some very popular media texts, mainstream audiences were hit over the head with more Satan than usual. There’s plenty of occult narratives out there in the horror genre but usually it’s weirdos like me heading slightly off the beaten path to seek them out, to the local arthouse, or IFC Midnight, or some of the darker offerings on Shudder. But this year’s devilish trifecta was front and center in the big cineplexes, on FX, and Netflix.

(Warning: there may be plot spoilers ahead)

First came Hereditary, a bold film debut by Ari Aster, starring Toni Collette as Ellen, an artist whose family is torn apart by tragedy. After the death of her elderly mother, Ellen feels strangely calm and relieved, and moves on with her art. But a tragic accident leads her to seek comfort in support group meetings, where she meets an odd woman (Ann Dowd) who introduces Ellen to some occult practices. The film avoids spelling anything out in detail, so when strange things happen, viewers are left to wonder at their cause and meaning. But the occult context is clear: there are strange symbols on the walls of the family home, and terrifying figures who lurk in the shadows, grinning. Gruesome rituals reveal demonic conjuring and possession. It’s all very unsettling, particularly because this family seems so “normal.” But that trope has been with us since the late 1960s, when Rosemary’s Baby taught us that the eccentric old folks living next door just might be devil worshipping witches.


Rafe Spall in THE RITUAL

The came The Ritual, a Netflix UK original film about a quartet of friends whose hiking excursion turns terrifying when they happen upon a demonic pagan cult in the woods of Norway. The four men are grieving over the loss of a fifth, who used to take this regular trip with them, and feelings of guilt and anger are also affecting their misadventures. There are subtle nods to films like The Wicker Man, The Blair Witch Project and Kill List. Atmospheric and psychologically-compelling, The Ritual is a contemporary masterpiece of folk horror. This newly-popular genre is getting plenty of attention in recent years, and a new book in 2018, We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror by Howard Ingham, is a great comprehensive guide.



Film festival hit I Am Not a Witch is a satirical but also hard-hitting film from Zambia that tells the story of a young girl accused of witchcraft in a rural village, who goes from being ostracized to being a celebrity. Witchcraft accusations resulting in torture, imprisonment and murder are an enormous problem in parts of Africa, and this film explores the corruption and media manipulation behind some of these cases.

The reboot of Charmed (on the CW network) attracted much attention, partly due to the new show’s diverse casting of Latina actresses. There was also a bit of controversy from the get-go, as actress Holly-Marie Combs protested the idea of a reboot which did not simply cast the original actresses but instead wanted to create new, younger characters. In addressing issues of racial diversity, did the reboot inadvertently fail to consider ageism? Hmm. Like other witchy narratives we saw this year, contemporary gender issues and politics found their way into this show. About time, I say: witchcraft has long been a powerful framework for exploring the damaging legacy of the patriarchy. As Kramer and Sprenger (co-authors of the Malleus Maleficarum) once said: “All witchcraft stems from carnal knowledge, which is, in women, insatiable.”


Nicole Muñoz in PYEWACKET

Then there was Pyewacket, a low budget indie fave from IFC Midnight about a teenage girl named Leah whose occult dabbing turns treacherous when she indulges in black magic to strike out in anger at her mother. The witchcraft content was fairly eclectic here: “Pyewacket” is of course one of several “familiar” names mentioned in the Witchfinder General’s account of witches in Essex in the 17th century, but here it seems to become a sort of demonic force. These teen dabblers have LOTS of occult books, fancy white-handled athames, and if you listen carefully, you hear Leah reciting some snippets from Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess” mixed in with her ritual in the woods. I think the occult content could have been stronger; and possibly more plausible (Leah’s video chat with an occult author advising her on a ritual run amok seems far-fetched and ill-informed). But I liked this film’s overall subtlety, and the emphasis on belief, panic and illusion, rather than unexplained supernatural activity.

Not exactly a horror film, the coming of age drama Blame is a stunning debut by young filmmaker Quinn Shephard, who co-wrote, directed and starred. Using a high school production of The Crucible as a backdrop, Blame portrays the cruelty and pain of being an adolescent girl who knows she deserves to be treated better than she is. Another film that references the Salem Witch Trials in a contemporary context is the edgy thriller Assassination Nation, about a quartet of friends under siege by their entire town, accused of things they didn’t do. It’s clever, topical, erotic and very violent.



The newest season of the FX show American Horror Story, subtitled Apocalypse, was a bit of a mess: like many of the other seasons that came before it, the premise starts out promising. However, the usual way it goes with this show is that the plot and writing start to fall apart as the season progresses (thinking of how great AHS: Coven was when it started out); whereas Apocalypse starts out rather weakly and gets stronger once it seems to find its footing. The world is indeed ending, and a few select people are sheltering in underground bunkers. Then some of the witches of Coven make a re-appearance (some are even raised from the dead!) for a satanic show down with some gorgeous gay warlocks. Yes, the end of the world is a basically a (very well-dressed) battle of black magic and it’s pretty cool. Be prepared to hear the words “Hail, Satan!” uttered numerous times, mostly by the fabulous Kathy Bates. Stylish, sexy, shocking and often hilarious, this show is best enjoyed like a slice of decadent chocolate cake that’s maybe three inches wider than it ought to be. Too much? Maybe, but it sure is delicious.



Then there was perhaps one of the most-anticipated witchy TV series of the year, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a Netflix original spun off the CW’s Riverdale. Starring Mad Men‘s Kieran Shipka as Sabrina, a teenage girl who is “half witch/half mortal” (thereby setting up the construct that witches are, well, NOT HUMAN) about to undergo a “dark baptism” for her sweet sixteenth birthday, the show is, much like Riverdale, campy, sexy and rather dark. Sabrina’s aunt’s Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) are like perfect foils for Sabrina’s light and dark tendencies. Lovers of British film and TV will recognize some favorites in this stellar cast. I like that the show is set in a sort of fifties-looking netherworld while it tackles contemporary social issues, like gender identity and institutional patriarchy. Satan is referred to as the Dark Lord, and Sabrina is reluctant to proclaim her loyalty to him, setting up a consistent tension between her mortal and witch identities. The first season was followed up with a Solstice special, and after the second season begins in spring of 2019, a prequel episode is also planned (probably delving into the story of Sabrina’s parents, and their untimely deaths).


Witches! in SUSPIRIA

A major cinematic event, the remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria was eagerly awaited this year. It tells the story of a young American dancer studying at a prestigious dance academy in Berlin, where rumors of witchcraft are connected to the sudden disappearance of several students. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), the new version has a very different look and feel: where Argento’s film is all gaudy color and eerie music, the remake is more subtle and naturalistic. But the new Suspiria is plenty terrifying, not to mention violent, and there’s a wild bacchanalian ritual dance sequence that must be seen to be believed. The witches in this version are more numerous and, in a subtle way, much more menacing than the ones from 1977; they’ve been haunting my dreams. They don’t worship Satan; their allegiance is to an ancient trio of mothers whose names mean Darkness, Tears, and Sighs. Tilda Swinton plays three roles; see if you can figure out the two that are less obvious.

Those are my top witchy and occult picks for the year of media, my darlings. I hope you’ll be able to see them and would love hear what you think. Please also let me know if there were other notable films or TV shows this past year that had themes of witchcraft.






Witchy Media, Samhain 2018 edition!

Greetings witches, pagans, nymphs, sprites, druids, daimons, and denizens of the dark forest realms of magic etc etc. Happy October! It’s been a while, and your witchy media correspondent has had a very busy and crazy year. Good news though: there is so much witchy media out there it is hard to know where to begin, and I have no doubt I will be adding to this list soon, so watch this space. Witches are very much in the news lately, and witchcraft is very trendy on social media and pretty much everywhere, and I realize we may all have mixed feelings about that, but one sure sign ‘o the times is the number of witches we’re seeing at the movies and on television.


Stevie and Misty, together again!

First off, if you’ve been watching American Horror Story: Apocalypse (on FX), you know it’s gone from being a rather silly and snarky (and not terribly interesting) end of the world scenario to a flat out war between the witches of AHS: Coven and a group of fabulously-dressed warlocks in an underground bunker somewhere in the desert. It’s not entirely clear where it’s all going, but they brought back Misty Day and Stevie Nicks sang to her and that certainly should have happened the first time around! Fiona Goode will be back this week. The witchery is delicious in this season, and I will keep watching. Working on a review and will be posting my weekly thoughts soon. The notion that the end of the world will be bought about by a feud between witches and warlocks is…interesting, no?


The new Charmed reboot looks great! I see that huge grimoire is still a thing.

The new reboot of Charmed premieres TONIGHT on CW. There’s been much talk of this already (some of it asking, simply, do we really need this reboot?), but the casting is bold, and the shifting of the characters away from white to Latina promises to be interesting at the very least. Will you be tuning in? Share your comments! I’m looking forward to it, even as I was not such a huge fan of the original series; but obviously my opinion did not matter since it ran for almost a decade! There was some controversy when the reboot was announced, mainly from former actresses who felt their input was ignored (since they were all involved in storylines and production decisions during the original series).


Suspiria (1977) starring Jessica Harper

The remake of Suspiria (Dario Argento’s cult classic about a secret witch cult at an exclusive dance academy premiered in 1977) is wowing audiences at film festivals around the world. It premieres in the US on October 26th, going nationwide on November 2. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name and I am Love), this is already drawing rave reviews for its lush visuals. It stars Tilda Swinton and is full of witchery and that’s enough for me; I’ll be seeing a premiere of it in New York the day before my birthday! Do see the original, too; it’s wonderful, and lead actress Jessica Harper also makes an appearance in the remake.


Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina, an Archie Comics character updated for darker times…

The new Riverdale spinoff, hot on the heels of the show’s third season, which promises to have some dark, occult undertones (or is it overtones?), is the eagerly-awaited Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also premiering on October 26th, on Netflix. Starring Mad Men‘s Kieran Shipka as a sixteen year old who is forced to assert her witch identity even though she is half “mortal” (does this mean witches are immortal?), the series features a fabulous eclectic cast (including Mirada Otto from the Lord of the Rings trilogy), beautiful visuals and a heady mix of humor and horror. I’m only one episode in, but it’s very promising, and I am planning to have my review up this week!

There’s more to come, believe me! Still planning to review Apostle, Killing Eve, and some other new TV shows, and I’ll post some Hallowe’en week movie suggestions as usual, but is that enough to get you excited and in the mood? I hope so. Let me know what you’re watching and please share your suggestions.