The title of this post is taken from one of my favourite songs; ‘Celebrity Skin’ by Hole.
The lyrics of the 1998 album are about the opulent LA lifestyle but I only heard the line listed above and in my head, I spelt out ‘Daemonologie’.
Are your senses attracted to witchcraft narratives? Mine are.
Twice this week, I was asked ‘What do I think of witchcraft?’ And I was unable to give a satisfactory answer. This troubled me until I realised that I couldn’t answer because it is something that’s always been in the background. What do I think about witchcraft is like asking me what do I think about music? I don’t have an answer because music is ever present.
Sorcery, magical thinking and a clove-scented antagonist filled my head and dreams while writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister last year.
There will most definitely be a sequel but I must write another book first (the idea has pecked my head for quite some time). AND Pippa took so much out of me when I recounted her story. I realised on revisiting witch-based media that there are certain things that I do and have always done that could be interpreted as sorcery, I ‘have my ways’ (that could also be put down to quirks and foibles).
In the interest of researching my novel’s sequel, having fun and spending time with my good friend Lindsay*, I visited the ‘I AM WITCH’ exhibition hosted by The Silver Spoons Collective in Lancaster.
*Lindsay McKinnon is the talented actress responsible for narrating the audiobook version of my books.
We didn’t go into Lancaster Castle but the exhibition was a ‘no photos allowed’ type of event so here are some snaps I took just outside (Lindsay and I stood outside the castle and had a conversation where both of us recounted we had been here before).
The exhibition itself I AM WITCH (tales from the Roundhouse) was both peaceful and powerful and explored the history of The Burning Times. This is an umbrella term for the past’s hysterical and ultimately brutal reaction to witchcraft -though I believe they only burned witches in Scotland in this part of the world. When we entered the space, we were given a red ribbon to tie around our wrists to commemorate our ancestors who were victimised during The Burning Times. Mine kept falling off – and although Scotland popped up in only four per cent of my DNA search I can’t help worrying if this means something. My overly sensitive mind told me I didn’t belong (but I absolutely do). The ribbon is now safely tucked in the cauldron of a doll I keep at the side of my bed named after my grandmother, Ethel. I’m not sure which side of my family kept magical thinking although Mum’s side was collectively superstitious.
Bunting decorated with the names of convicted witches and spoon motifs hung around the room and posters lined the walls telling the history and individual meaning. I had to ask about the significance of some of the displays; spoons were symbolic of medicine. I do trust the medical model (former nurse and I’ve lived with MS for seventeen years), so this was good news for me. In the centre of the room was a piece specifically about spoons, visitors were invited to add their own spoon (red ribbons provided). I don’t mind sharing that I left a silver baby spoon. I have one daughter and she is about to turn twenty-five; at forty-six years old I needed to let go of it. I ‘birth’ books now and I thanked my ancestors for my creative genes (I wasn’t quite sure how to do this, so I just thought a while about relatives I met, and relatives I haven’t, yet am connected to – I wouldn’t know if any of them were witches – too suspicious to advertise such a label).
Before we left, we had a really interesting conversation about literature, language and witchcraft. I learnt there is a resurging interest in all things witchy because of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter. I wanted to say that I had a similar experience as a child because I’m named Samantha, and I enjoyed children’s literature with witch characters. It is common knowledge about Shakespeare, the Scottish play and King James I but I don’t think this was reflected in children’s books when I was young. Jill Murphy’s ‘The Worst Witch‘ is a book I related to at the time and still love now. The inclusion of the word ‘worst’ in the title did not and does not mean that witches are the worst things you’ll ever encounter. Same with Grotbags, she rocked her green face and stripy tights.
The Worst Witch is about Mildred Hubble. She doesn’t fit in, she is the WORST pupil in the spells class at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches and has all the stereotypical interests required to look like a witch. Sound familiar? I clung to this narrative or a marginalised girl, and on rereading my childhood copy today, it seems the words are imprinted on my brain. I don’t know much about Jill Murphy, but a quick glance at Wikipedia informed me that ‘The Worst Witch‘ was rejected in the early 70s because it was deemed too scary for children. I didn’t find it scary; knowing that another girl was struggling to fit in gave me strength, I have a lot to thank Mildred Hubble for.
I had no reason to think I was hard done to or an outcast at the time, so why did I? Did I need to heal my ancestral wounds? Am I included in this celebration of witchcraft?
I think it runs deeper. The Burning Times are one of a marathon of injustices. Rich meets poor, xenophobia, the north-south divide (by coincidence, I rewatched Mike Leigh’s Peterloo before setting out to Lancaster – my DNA is made up of 96% North West England so this is where my ancestral wounds come from).
Have I answered the question ‘What do I think about witchcraft?’ I think lots of things. I wrote the prologue to My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister as Pippa sharing a memory of swim class. She is petrified of getting into the water, and subconsciously, Pippa was feared for the potential outcome. She was about to sink or swim, and neither option was favourable.
I was able to describe this in detail because I went through exactly the same thing. It could be that I felt unnecessarily marginalised by some genetic memory, or it could have just been a simple case of low confidence. Either way is fine by me – sensitive people are highly creative.
What do you think?
Have a great day, Samantha 🙂
PS: Along with My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, I wrote the series below. Curmudgeon Avenue is a funny Coronation Street.