Witch Week: Welcome To Our Coven

A witch is a woman flying on a broomstick, silhouetted against the night sky, a pointed hat on her head, a cat at her feet. A witch is that woman at the farmer’s market, carrying a reusable shopping bag and wearing sensible gardening clogs, looking for purslane. A witch is the IT person at your job, who spends weekdays answering your insufferable questions about how to set the printer and her weekends kneeling at her altar and lighting a candle to her goddess. Witches are everywhere, but we just don’t know it. As a society, we can’t get enough.

With some friends whom I love. We're all over 40. Don't call us a squad. We're a fucking coven.

A photo posted by Carrie Brownstein (@carrie_rachel) on

In the popular imagination, witches are wizened crones, older women on the fringes of society, single, childless, uninterested in the traditional trappings of marriage, women who would rather spend their time foraging herbs for potions and burning pungent bundles of incense in their dark, one-bedroom apartments. We’re fascinated with witches because of the power — perceived or actual — that they possess. A witch can bring illness, plague and harm to your family, but a witch can also heal and protect. A witch can charm. A witch can provide succor in times of great unrest. Turning to witchcraft and magic is the same as turning to religion in times of great strife. Sometimes, it’s nice to have something other than yourself to count on.

What most Americans know about witchcraft is gleaned from a mandatory reading of The Crucible in ninth grade English and a yearly viewing of “Hocus Pocus.” We know of cauldrons and books made of human skin, of black cats slinking around the ankles of a woman with flowing gray hair and a wart on her nose, standing on the doorstep of the darkest house on the block. We know that witches are capable of inhuman power, but we don’t know how much. We fear them, if we believe, because they are an unknown.

This Halloween week, to celebrate the power of witches, witchcraft and magic, we’re exploring the rise of witches as a cultural phenomenon, from all angles. Halloween can be about slutty costumes, eating a lot of candy and making eyes at a stranger at a house party while dressed like Oscar the Grouch, but it can mean more than that. While we give Snickers mini-bars to children dressed as Dora the Explorer, Wiccans celebrate Samhain, the day of the year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its weakest.

So, to celebrate this week of manufactured spookiness and things that go bump in the night, we’re taking a hard look at the scariest thing of all: powerful women who live on the outskirts of conventional societal practices, doing what they need to do to get by. Welcome to our coven.