Witches of America
A Halloween read for you:
"October is the time of year, they say, when the veil between the worlds becomes thin and the multitudes of the dead can reach across to touch you, brush your cheek, whisper in your ear, drink your whiskey."
Alex Mar set out to research and understand the practice of witches in America, and ends up learning how to practice herself. Witches of America is not just a survey text on the practice of paganism in America, but on her experience within these communities. There's sex magic, blood offerings, gnostic mass - but also the realities of everyday life in these "witchy" communities. She develops a relationship with a Feri priestess named Morpheus (who she describes as similar to the Game of Thrones Red Priestes Melissandre), writing, "I wanted to know just how this person, an American woman my age--my peer, I guess--became not only a believer but a priest. A Pagan priestess. A witch."
The book takes you slowly along Alex's journey, as NYT Book Review explains,
The book is wisely structured to progress from lightest magic to darkest — the early chapters tell quaint stories of earth-loving nudist Wiccans, while the chapters about the Church of Satan and necromancy are not ventured until the end (and it certainly seems a sort of magic that Mar is able to write so compassionately about a grave robber who decapitates corpses).
The book is strange; not because of the communities its discussing, but because Mar once tries to distance herself (as a writer) but become a part (as a burgeoning witch). She writes on this disconnect: she is "training at a distance." I wish she had just fully leaned in, or fully stayed apart; there's an indecisiveness within her. But maybe that's the honesty of this story; it is, after all, part memoir.
There's also the specter of whiteness that Mar doesn't address; the question of race, socio-economic status, family history of religion are all left undiscussed. However, it's still a fascinating journey through a part of America that is shrouded in mystery and taboo. Rating: ★★★★