Witch: The Wild Ride From Wicked to Wicca
by Candace Savage
Published by Greystone
128 pages, 2000
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
These days, if most of us think of witches at all, it is in the context of halloween-costumed half pints or television blondes from the 1960s. It's just not a topic a lot of people dwell on anymore. In fact, if my neighbor were to waltz up to me and tell me she was a witch, I'd likely say, "Neat" and think she was referring to some new age Wiccan-type Wednesday night group that she attends. I'd imagine her in loose-fitting clothes talking to her fellow witches about the meanings of her dreams, global warming and winter solstice as they all sipped their wine. That is to say, her disclosure wouldn't alarm me in the least.
However, as Candace Savage reminds us in her highly entertaining and informative Witch: The Wild Ride From Wicked to Wicca, the word "witch," didn't always conjure up such benevolent images. In fact, quite the opposite. Remember the Salem Witch Trials? And that was just the tip of the iceberg. When you begin to think about it, a lot of the noise and bloodletting was, at least in part, about the mystique and power of woman and man's fear of that. As Savage writes in Witch:
Perhaps (as Jungian thought suggests) all humans are born with a vague, non-verbal "thought" of the bad mother, the evil woman, or of troublesome female power, which takes on the shape and coloring of each successive culture and era in which it is expressed. If the concept of the witch is ambiguous, that may simply reflect the unbounded nature of an archetype. The Renaissance was terrified by witchcraft, and even today we may find the subject disconcerting. Underlying these varying responses is a deeply human unease with dark and subversive aspects of femininity. Or so Jung and many of his followers would have us believe.
In Witch, Savage follows 500 years of witching history. It's a fascinating journey that flows between, "comedy and tragedy. Between innocent pleasure and cold brutality."
Savage's research for Witch: The Wild Ride From Wicked to Wicca was exhaustive and includes much of the modern work on the topic as well as all of the documentation that has survived the dark ages of witch burning: and there seems to have been rather a lot that has. She shares this research with us in the same gentle-yet-authoritative style that marked her previous works, among them Beauty Queens, Cowgirls and Aurora. Like those books, Witch provides aesthetic delight along with intellectual stimulation. Witch is lavishly illustrated with relevant historical artwork and interestingly broken up with not only parts and chapters but illustrated sidebars that form cohesive asides. The result is as enjoyable and accessible a take on this topic as can be imagined: From the witch hunts-turned-bloodbaths of the Middle Ages -- in which, Savage tells us, between 50 and 100,000 "witches" were murdered by church and state -- to the "inspired playfulness" that Wicca has become.
Witch is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Especially for those of us who aspire to getting a handle on their girl power. Savage -- through Witch -- gives us the inside. | October 2000
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.