A couple days ago, I picked up Alex Mar’s book Witches of America, and I knew it was going to piss me off, just not in the way I expected. I’m not faulting Mar for her healthy curiosity of something that has fascinated people for centuries. She had an experience, she wrote about it, awesome. It’s the lack of reverence for any of it, and I’m sure that’s why everyone calls her a “witchy tourist”. I’m only two chapters in and when she writes about herself and how she doesn’t “get it but wants it”, I wish she wrote about that more. Her book would be more useful if she allowed herself to examine how this experience is really affecting her. I want to see this through to the end though, what if I’m wrong?
I want to really look at Mar’s book. She can’t be the only semi-sheltered person who thinks this way and approaches witchcraft this way. But mind you she’s dead set on focusing on Wicca. In her work, I see the disconnect between what she expected and she’s experiencing so clearly it’ll give me a headache if I don’t talk about it. I want to make sure that when I say I don’t like her book, you better believe I went over this puppy with a fine tooth comb. However, I don’t expect to dislike it. If anything, I’m arming myself for when the witchy tourists show up and want to teach me a thing or two. I’m not a practitioner myself, but I do know a little bit more than I think you’d expect.
In “Stone City”, the first chapter of Witches of America, we get a nice little primer on why Mar is so curious about witchcraft. Already we can see how important appearances will be in all of this, from the opening description of typical Californianess to the iconic images of witches from pop culture “The Wizard of Oz taught me that there are “good” witches (pretty blondes) and “bad” witches (green skinned brunettes).” And while I’m willing to accept half of them being jokes designed to connect with the reader, the other half seem to highlight how personal this exploration is for Mar. Every other page displays the clash between what she expected and what she’s experiencing and I imagine it will only grow as the book continues.
There is another trait of Mar’s that comes out in this book and it might be the basis of how she put some people off. It’s how she tells the story. She’s not an anthropologist, at least not today and the book reads like a memoir mingled with reports of what she learned that day, and that’s fine. But I think she enjoys the elevation of status from “look what I found, isn’t it cool” to “I have returned from the mountain with knowledge to bestow upon you”. It’s what happens isn’t it? We, as individuals, embark on a new quest for information or experiences, and whatever we learn, it changes us, how we see ourselves and what we’d like to be tomorrow or next year. It might be too soon to say, but this journey of Mar’s isn’t about learning witchcraft at all, is it?
Mar pissed me off in the next chapter, “Little Witch” where she talks about Morpheus’s childhood. “At sixteen, she’d start cutting herself, for typical adolescent reasons- she was unhappy and numb, and the cuts made her feel something-and she became fascinated with blood as a kind of “concentrated power”.” It’s the callousness of Mar’s delivery of that information that irks me, and furthermore a missed opportunity to reflect on the absence of purpose or direction. Even a single sentence about how witchcraft, I don’t know, turned Morpheus’s sixteen year old mind away from self harm would be enough for me. Furthermore, even if Mar is writing this as a light read to discuss over brunch, there is a chance some teenager is going pick up this book and take this shit as gospel. That’s why I’m reading this book and writing about it because god damn it, think it through woman!
Never mind her revealing the location of a site for witch congregation, because that’s never done harm for anyone anywhere. So far, this book is a prime example of the relationship between witches and those who want to learn about it and be like them. I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet.
I’ll try to push multiple chapters in a single post as often as I can, Chapter Three is a little on the long side. Follow this blog by Joining the Strange Collective at the top of this page. In the meantime, when I’m not reading about personal discoveries, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and now Twitter. Stop by the store, The Dream Lounge, where stock only gets weirder every day.
Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels