The witch is on the rise. Women and men alike are embracing this powerful symbol of femininity, creativity, and nature. Along with the great strides made in female empowerment, the witch herself has also evolved since the turn of the century.
Once solely manifesting in mainstream culture as an evil crone donning a black cone hat, today’s witch takes on a variety of different incarnations. And the notion of “evil” is no longer the primary association with witches, which is why you may have heard the term “good witch.”
October is a magical time of year that culminates, for many, in Halloween. But Halloween is widely believed to have its roots in Samhain, a Gaelic festival with Celtic pagan origins that marks the end of the harvest season. It’s also thought to be a time when the boundary between our world and the spirit world can more easily be crossed.
Since Samhain is coming up, I caught up with Pam Grossman, a writer, researcher, and curator of magical practice and history who runs the esoteric art and culture blog Phantasmaphile. Her recent illustrated manifesto What is a Witch, which she authored with artist Tin Can Forest, explores the many different shapes a witch can take.
In this interview, Pam talks about modern witch practice, warlocks, what Samhain looks like today, her favorite witch, and more.
What does it mean to be a “good” witch?
It means you don’t do anything with the intention of harming another living being. Same as being a good person, really. Even if you feel you are under threat by a malevolent force, it means you don’t try to attack it. Rather, you try to contain it and/or focus on strengthening your own protective energies.
How can one bring witchery into their daily life practice?
I always advise creating some sacred space in your home that is only meant for ritual, contemplation, and centering. Can be a room, an altar, or the tiniest bit of window ledge, and filled with sacred objects and candles, or nothing at all. But it’s a place you can always go to focus on connecting to the Spirit the dwells within and around you.
Witches are being embraced more as a powerful feminine identity connected to nature in recent years. What would you attribute this new embrace of the witch archetype to?
For so long, our shared stories have focused on male gods, male heroes, male protagonists, and that’s led to a very lopsided, toxic way of approaching the world. The rising embrace of the witch is a collective course-corrective: it celebrates a current that is feminine and Other, and honors an alternative way of being, which I believe is crucial to healing our society and our selves. Women are stepping into their own power, honoring nature and their bodied experiences, and the witch is a guiding light for us as we unlearn centuries of shame and move past eons of abuse into a new era of wholeness and integration.
Why is the “witch” a distinctly feminine archetype? What implication does that have for warlocks?
She is linked to the moon, the night, nature, the physiology of the female, and the creative power that exists within all of us, regardless of whether we become literal parents. She matters because she is solitary and whole. She isn’t defined by her marital status, her sexuality, or her role in the family. So many male archetypes exist on their own terms. But the witch (and her other incarnations: priestess, sorceress, sibyl) is the sole female archetype who is able to do this. I don’t know many men who identify themselves as warlocks – they usually just call themselves witches or magicians. But to your point, warlocks are male witches as far as I’m concerned. They are valid male-identified expressions of a female archetype.
Do you observe Samhain? What does a modern day observation of Samhain look like?
Yes. It is a day to connect with ancestors who have passed – they say it’s when the veil between worlds is thinnest, so you can communicate more clearly with the spirits. It’s a day to honor where we come from, to give thanks for those watching over us and, when appropriate, to ask them for guidance. It’s also an excellent time for divination. It is the Witches’ New Year, so it’s also a time for reflection, setting new intentions, and mulling over next steps on our path. Everyone celebrates it differently, but it is a deeply magickal, and for me, contemplative time.
Do you have a favorite witch?
Too many to count! A few favorite fictional witches are Lolly Willowes, Juniper from the Wise Child series, and Rowan Black from the Black Magick comics series. Favorite non-fictional witches include such artistic enchantresses as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Marjorie Cameron. And of course the witches I know and love in my personal life are beyond precious to me.