Sometimes my brother and I joke that we are witches. It’s an on going joke. It’s a joke that comes from place of magical realism, magical thinking, magical restlessness. Witches get shit done. Witches don’t mess around. We look at the the history of witches as endlessly fascinating and endlessly sad. Among the historically accurate prosecution of men and women - mostly women - who did little but get caught in the crossfires of madness, there is a lot to learn. Here is the story of women who chose to live a different sort of life, often single, old, living independently and practicing of a craft that threatened the livelihood of men (ie midwifery, medicine). These were women who pushed back against organized religion, questioning the teaching of God and the Church, and then were prosecuted, imprisoned, tortured and hanged. Prison. Torture. Hanging. Sometimes they were burned, though this was less common past the middle ages. And there was often little way of proclaiming your innocence except to die. Death seemed to free the innocent. So we joke that we are witches. We joke.
Our father was an atheist but subscribed to some new age religious practices and philosophies. Many Eastern. Others Western. He liked to do yoga and trance meditation. He wasn’t allowed to do much of either since my mom thought these things satanic. Not figurative but quite literally. She still does, I suppose. She is religious. She is religious in the born again religious sort of way. She is a fundamentalist Christian and practicing Baptist. Growing up, we were told that everything in the Bible was real and, more troubling still, that Satan, demons and witches were VERY real. These things walked the earth in the same way that we do, perhaps invisible, but here they walked. They sought to rule every aspect of our lives and they were to blame for everything They looked to tempt us in evil things but also in thoughts free of God, sought to confuse people with things like “science” and “evolution”. It was a strange thing to grow up in a household where our parents, so much opposed to each other’s practices that the strife was palpable through the walls, impossible to escape, but more so confusing since we had no idea what was real. And so we grew up thinking a lot was real that turned out to be made up. We grew afraid of demons and witches. Hell was a thing just waiting to swallow us whole. There were hundreds, if not thousands of things, that would result in us ending up in Hell. Demons lived in the dark parts of the house, under beds and inside closets. VHS covers of horror films - Alien, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Chucky, Rosemary’s Baby, Candyman, Silence of the Lambs and countless more -found a home in the recesses of our mind. We could not escape the sheer madness that were these films. They were evil. Forbidden. The stories we imagined were worse than anything that these films would turned out to be since they lived on in our mind like endless reels of films, lopping on and forever, and even the smallest glimpse of them brought on horror and sleepless nights. But, of course, so much like Eve who was tempted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, so too was I tempted to look outside the teachings of my mother. I picked up books at the library that I wasn’t suppose to borrow, some innocent, explaining space and science, and others explaining the history of witchcraft. The occult became a thing that transfixed me because it was so completely forbidden. The lithographs of the past, showing medieval men and women encountering Satan and demons, were beautiful. I found further solace in television which allowed for me to learn that things were not quite so black and white. The X-Files ruled my teenage years, skepticism finally settling into my thinking and my debt to Scully beyond anything I could ever hope to repay. So my brother found answers in other places. Videos games and horror films that he rented when staying in my fathers home, coming around to many of them early on, scared but relishing so much of the gore and silly horror. So many of these films were downright stupid. These were not so scary. The latex masks and fake blood were just that; Fake. It was fake. And in learning that things were not what they seemed, we grew more demanding of the truth. We questioned everything. We pushed back against religious thinking until they was nothing left to question because it was all fake. It was fantasy. There was nothing under the bed. There was nothing the closets.
I am an atheist today. More so than even my father who believed in some new age stuff I consider silly. My brother is as well. One of the greatest misconceptions of atheist and skeptics is that we don’t want to believe in anything. It isn’t that we don’t want to believe. We just need proof. Scientific and tested proof. I want ghosts to be real. I want there to be mysteries greater than anything that I can possibly imagine but so far, nothing has surpassed what I hold in my imagination. So much of what we don’t understand can be explained. And if we can’t, it doesn’t mean it is magic. I want to believe. But I won’t believe for the sake of belief. I won’t believe something because it is comfortable, or easy, or I have been told that things are just so. Because nothing is just so. My mother is still a Christian Baptist Fundamentalist. She thinks demons are real. She thinks that being gay is a sin. She thinks that to surround yourself in anything even remotely resembling the occult is an invitation to evil. Is it? Here I wonder, in the darkness of my room, so what if it is invited? Should I find myself named among those women of the past who thought independently, practiced a craft, spoke to animals (who doesn’t?) and then pushed back against the religious practices of my day, what then? What am I? A witch. Witches. I would rather be a witch. There is much more magic in the things that we cannot be rather than all the things we should be. I feel for the women of history, damned and forgotten; rendered voiceless. So much fear striking them and casting them out. Look for marks on their skin. Look for them walking with animals. Look for them performing feats of magic, such as medicine, or else speaking too loudly, speaking their minds. Motherless. Childless. Alone. Sometimes these women were everything they were supposed to be - meek, married, mothers - and still something happened so that they were singled out by someone in the village. These men and women, once accused, stood little chance of absolution. I consider it an honor to call myself a witch. Joke or not, I will consider myself a witch until the day I die. I am a witch. My brother is a witch. Our house is filled with books and films and many of the things that are forbidden because Eve wanted to know more about the world around her. So she was tempted. And I am descended from this idea of Eve and ever tempted to know more. Bad bitches rule the Cimpoe Gallery coven. I look at Tilda Swinton in Suspiria and she is beautiful. We allow the mysterious man in black to enter our home and we choose to live deliciously because we have lived the alternative as children and it was darker than anything we could have made up.
Live Deliciously, my friends.
Credit to the films Suspira and The Witch. Both of them fucking amazing.