There is Power in the Witch

Wednesday Letter #22

I was given my first Tarot deck in the 90s. I lost interest pretty quickly—like most teenage girls going through an occult phase—but now I’m in my 30s, I find myself drawn to Tarot again. 

A quick look at my social media feeds tells me I am not alone. From Tarot to crystals and astrology to ritual baths, the season of the witch has gone mainstream.

In her 2016 essay for The Establishment, Anne Theriault explores the power dynamic involved with witchcraft and why women are drawn to beliefs which allow them to connect with and reclaim their power. Theriault says of modern uses of the terms witch or witchy “Beneath all that glossy packaging hums the same idea that has tantalised girls for millennia: the fact that to be a witch is to be a woman with power in a world where women are often otherwise powerless.”

But why is the witch powerful? Because, at her heart, a witch is a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of doing the work involved in building the life she knows she deserves. Even when society tells her to do only what she is told. 

To be a witch is also political. There are “resistance witches” who cast binding spells on Donald Trump. Homemade “Witches for Repeal” and “Witches for Abortion” placards were a regular occurance at pro-choice protests and rallies in the run up to last year’s referendum.

In her book Witch, Lisa Lister describes the witch as representing “the part of each of us that has been censored, ignored, punished and demonised. And it’s a part that wants - no, needs - to be accessed and fully expressed.” This fits with witchcraft’s role in feminist and social justice spaces. If you seek to ensure marginalised people have less rights, we will fight back. We will show you that we are powerful and should be feared. 

It’s not difficult to see why the witch resonates. 

For many people witchcraft is a spiritual practise tied to their Pagan, Neo-Pagan or Wiccan religion. For others, myself included, there is no religion involved. I use Tarot as a form of self-care.

Ritual and spellwork remains a deeply personal practice regardless of the belief system underpinning it. Yet, if your social media timelines are anything like mine, it is a practice people are increasingly comfortable talking about.

Why?

The short answer, Tarot cards and crystals make for good photos. The long answer is more complex—no surprise there!—but I suspect there is an element of screwing with the patriarchy involved.

Who knows what’s next for pop culture representations of the witch, but it is clear witchcraft shows no signs of returning to the shadows.

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Revisiting The Hours

Wednesday Letter #21

I spent the weekend re-reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve revisited it now. I joke that if you cut me open you’ll find Cunningham’s words running through my veins. I first read it soon after its publication and have returned to it almost annually since. 

For those not familiar with the book or the film, The Hours tells the story of three women who have all been affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

The first is Virginia Woolf herself. The prologue opens with her suicide in 1941, but it is a fictionalised day in 1923, when she begins to write Mrs. Dalloway, that Cunningham chooses to focus on.

Laura Brown is living in Los Angeles in 1949. As we join her she is reading Mrs. Dalloway and planning a birthday celebration for her husband, a World War II veteran.

Clarissa Vaughan is living in New York in the 1990s. She is planning a party for a dear and dying friend who has won a poetry prize. Clarissa Vaughan is a modern incarnation of Clarissa Dalloway.

So far, so unexceptional. Right?! But something about the way Cunningham weaves the lives of these three women together gets under my skin and refuses to leave. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why it affects me the way it does. The best I can come up with is a combination of reading it as a teenager and so much of the focus being on the interior lives of the characters. 

What teenager doesn’t love an inner monologue or three?

It still makes me cry regardless of knowing the plot inside out at the stage. Turning the pages of my well worn copy—I lent my original copy to so many people it fell apart as a result, so my current copy was a gift from a friend—is like catching up with an old friend. Maybe that’s a good enough reason for a re-read. 

Maybe re-reading doesn’t need a reason.

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Rediscovered writing

Wednesday Letter #20

In an effort to organise the hell out of my life or as a result of kidney trouble (full story here) induced boredom, I’m not sure which, I tidied the files on my laptop. I now know where everything is and stuff is saved under filenames that make finding them a whole lot easier than the original “system” I had.

As a result, I’ve found a bunch of writing I’d forgotten about. It’s interesting and, if I’m honest, a little strange to see how my writing styles have evolved. Without checking the dates I can pinpoint what my mental health status was at the time.

Some of it is from a previous incarnation of my blog, like this piece of flash fiction I wrote back in 2012.

The world is spinning, her legs are trembling and she can feel her heart pounding so fiercely it’s entirely possible it will explode at any minute.

She lets go of his hand and turns to walk away. Walking is proving difficult in her current giddy state, it takes all the concentration she can muster to put one foot in front of the other and actually move.

She can feel his eyes watching her as she totters toward the waiting taxi. The very thought of him makes her stomach flip in ways she didn’t realise were possible, so for fear of actually passing out she doesn’t turn back.

As the car pulls off she catches his eye and he flashes her a smile. Oh god, the smile! It was the smile that did it you know, led to the kiss. How could anyone resist a smile as captivating as that?

A wave of adrenaline rushes over her and she can feel his hands on her waist even though he’s nowhere near. 

It has been a long time since she felt like this. Actually, she’s not even sure she’s ever felt like this before. Yes, she’s felt the rush of a first kiss but it was never this strong. Every inch of her is still feeling this one.

How she managed to focus enough to give directions to her house is beyond her, but here they are. Her legs wobble again as she steps out of the car and she can see from the driver’s expression that he thinks she’s completely wasted.

Closing the front door behind her, she lets out a sigh and runs her finger over her lips. The lips that not too long ago were in the middle of the most intense and exhilarating kiss of her life.

A kiss she can’t wait to experience again!

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Hell is A&E at 4am

Wednesday Letter #19

Hell is being stuck in A&E at 4am with the same ten Virgin Media One ads playing on a loop. I found this saved in my Twitter drafts folder. I stand by it.

My teflon kidney (read my previous adventures in kidney related issues here) has gone rogue again, so the last few weeks were spent toing and froing to hospitals trying to get it under control. I should be used to hospitals by now, but there is something about them which induces anxiety even when my appointments are routine.

The A&E was local, but the resulting surgery meant going to Cork. I’m six years living in Kerry, yet I still find it strange having to travel to another country for medical care. Dublin privilege, how are ya?!

It’s impossible to spend even a small amount of time dealing with our health system, without realising the whole thing is a disaster. Nurses are heroes doing trojan work, while hospitals continue to be under resourced. Doctors too, most of the time (these OB/GYNS and their refusal to perform abortions at a Kilkenny hospital can FRO), but being looked after mainly by nurses makes the difficulties they face more pronounced.

I really don’t know why we haven’t burned the whole country to the ground and started again. Actually, I do. The majority would continue to vote for centre-right parties (I say this as a former member of a centre-right political party), so history would repeat itself.

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Who gets to be angry?

Wednesday Letter #18

I have a somewhat complicated relationship with anger. I’d say a lot of people do. More often than not, anger is seen as an unproductive negative emotion with no redeeming features. And it can be, but it is also a normal human reaction to things happening in our lives and the lives of others. Sure, there are times it can be all consuming but anger can also be a catalyst for positive change.

Anger is political. It is political because not everyone is allowed to express their anger publicly. Women are told we shouldn’t be angry because it is not lady like, whatever the hell that means. This is especially evident for women of colour and Black women in particular who face the “angry Black woman” stereotype, which is clearly rooted in misogynoir.

The anger LGBTQ+ people feel about cops in uniform marching at Dublin Pride is dismissed as an overreaction because Irish cops are not the same as American cops. People living in Direct Provision are told to stop complaining and be grateful Ireland took them in. Migrant and ethnic minority women who, rightfully, express anger and frustration at not only the racism they experienced while canvassing for Repeal, but also about the way the national campaign silenced them for fear of alienating “middle Ireland” are said to be unnecessarily causing division between feminist groups.

You’re seeing the pattern, right?

Dismissing the anger of a marginalised group of people is a deliberate tactic to make their demands seem unreasonable. It is tone policing x 1000. We expect it from people who are fundamentally opposed to abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, migrants rights, and equality in general, but as my final example above shows our feminist spaces are not immune from it either.

As is the theme of this newsletter, I am a White woman with all the privileges whiteness affords me. One of those privileges is that the anger of White women holds more weight in certain social justice circles. Channelling this anger in ways that are productive for people from marginalised groups is part of being a better ally.

When we tell people “if you are not angry, then you aren’t paying attention”, or the many variations of this phrase I see floating around the internet, we must be willing to accept and work with that anger.

That is when the real social justice work can begin.

Enjoy this newsletter? Forward it to a friend and tell them to subscribe here. Come say hello on InstagramTwitter or Facebook.

P.S. If you spot any typos, please let me know. I can’t change the fact said typos landed in your inbox, but I can update the online version so others don’t have to suffer them!

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