October is here, and Halloween is just around the corner; we’re getting ready this week with fiction and non-fiction titles featuring witches.
Did you know that there are approximately one million people who practice Paganism in the United States? Wicca, a new religious movement associated with witchcraft, nature, and polytheism, can be found in large metropolitan areas to small rural communities throughout America. In Witches of America, journalist and documentarist Alex Mar takes readers on her five-year study of the occult, including Wicca’s contemporary founding in England to the largest practicing enclave in San Francisco. From rituals to ceremonies, Mar delves into present-day practices, but also briefly touches on what Wicca does not condone, like black magic and Satanic cults. Far from cackling, broomsticks, and black cats, this journey into America’s bewitching counterculture explores and challenges faith on multiple levels.
Three burgeoning witches – Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont –experience mysterious, occult-like powers after divorcing their husbands. Alexandra, for example, can summon thunderstorms; Jane can lift herself off the ground; and Sukie can change milk into cream. The three form a cohesive coven, but their happiness is challenged when the dark and derelict Daryl Van Horne comes to town. Devil-like in nature, Daryl offers the women to use the Lenox mansion as their playground, but scandal and dark forces emanate. Set in a snug Rhode Island seacoast town after the Vietnam War, Updike utilizes witchcraft and superstition to explore themes of female power in patriarchal societies in this classic bewitching tale.
Stacy Schiff, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Cleopatra: A Life, brings another historical period to life in her new book, The Witches, Salem 1692. Focusing on the occurrences and actions of a singular year, Schiff recounts the stories of the fourteen women, five men, and two dogs that were wrongfully executed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692. Chock full of details, Schiff follows the witch hunts from accusation to courtroom proceedings to execution while exploring socioeconomic, religious, political, and cultural undertones. From convulsing “victims” to town paranoia, Schiff illustrates that truth is stranger than fiction in this dark, mysterious, and bizarre chapter of America history.