OH PYE, PYE, PYEWACKET – The End of Witch Awareness Month

Oh, Pye, Pye, Pyewacket. What’s the matter with me? Why do I feel this way?
~ Gillian Holroyd Bell, Book, and Candle
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The time has come to put up the brooms, lid the caldron, pull off our pointy shoes, and tuck the striped socks back in the drawer. Witch Awareness Month is over and I’m feeling fairly glum about that. Yes, I know. I know! It’s been a perfectly magical month and I’ve no business complaining. Still, I will miss it tomorrow. I will miss the excuse to linger daily on all things witchy and dark.

This April we’ve seen many good and/or black and white movies, enjoyed lots of reviews, read some excellent short fiction by the likes of Simon Kewin, and reminisced about the witches who filled our childhood with fear and warm-fuzzies and fun. We’ve also learned a bit about young Madoka Kaname, the Salem witch trials, Tansy and Norman, witchcraft in the time of the Crusades, Rebecca Hamilton’s new book, the adventures of Willow and Madmartigan, witches in computer games, a highly unique film from the 70s, the Wyrd Sisters, the greatness of Oz, and the spooky ways of the Pendle Witch area of England and the town of Burkittsville.

Oh, how can I say goodbye to such things?!

Fortunately, like Christmas, Appreciation Months come once a year, and there’s always something special to look forward to, be it zombies, ghosts, or vampires. You never know what you’re going to get, which keeps things interesting. My favorite part about Witch Awareness Month has been unlocking and re-visiting old memories that were buried under dust. No sooner had WAM opened up shop, when a flurry of old picture books came flooding back to me. Like a zap of lightning, I suddenly remembered my girlhood wish to twitch my nose and have my room be sparkling clean. Cats I’ve known, Halloween costumes I’ve worn, spells I’ve whispered under my breath… these things were alive for me once more this month, and I’m glad. It was a joy.

I’d like to say thanks to the WAM team for keeping us up to our ears in charmers, conjurers, and all manner of lovely sorcery. And a big thanks to all who participated, or even just stopped in for a little spell. If you’d care to leave a comment here or on FB, we’d love to hear what you liked most about WAM. Got a feeling I’m not the only one whose feeling sad that we’ve come to the end.

BWP

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Witches Abound! New fiction from Carole Lanham

A little while ago, we at Witch Awareness Month, announced that Morrigan Books YA novel, Hedge Witch by Simon Kewin is to be released Halloween this year and now we announce that Morrigan Books will also release a new novella from Carole Lanham, author of The Whisper Jar.

Cleopatra’s Needle will be released as an e-book soon, followed by a paperback version and a special edition hardback (containing extra artwork). All commenters to this post and/or the Witch Awareness Month Facebook page entry will be submitted to a draw and the winner will receive a personalized, signed copy of the hardback when it is released.

To whet your appetite, we have chosen a short passage from the book, to give you a taste of what is to come…

15 April 1896

We’re taking turns doing it. Every afternoon, we sit in the wash house and try our hand at calling him with our minds. Practice is vital, according to Bethan. Well, it goes without saying, she got her turn first. Sure enough, five minutes later, he appeared at the door, broom in hand, smiling sheepishly. Most of the time, he acts grumpy about that time we tied him to the chair but when Bethan called him, he behaved as though all was forgiven. ‘Do you want another kiss?’ Bethan asked. ‘Yes please,’ he said then shook his head, as if to clear it, and scurried away. We laughed to see him so rattled. 

When it was my turn, I pictured him kissing me like he did that day in the kitchen.  I remembered the feel of his lips on mine and how hard he was breathing when he opened his mouth. It took longer for me to summon him and when he finally came, he looked hesitant. I closed my eyes and thought of what I’d most like him to do. Boy leaned forward and ran his tongue slowly along the seam of my lips. ‘M-mm,’ he said. Then he ran away. 

Bethan pronounced it a failure because I wasn’t able to hold him there, but I don’t care. He didn’t put his tongue on her. Gwendraith made him touch her breast yesterday before he ran off but that only made her giggle. It wasn’t good like when he kissed me.

(More information and release date soon.)

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Hedge Witch – Chapter One

Hedge_Witch_final

And now, we at Witch Awareness Month, have a real treat for you all, as we publish, exclusively, the first chapter of the novel, Hedge Witch, by Simon Kewin, which will be released 31st October, 2013.

Enjoy and keep a look out for more information at the Morrigan Books site.

1 – Cait

Manchester, England

Cait nearly missed her stop that day on the tram. If she had, everything would have turned out very, very different.

As it was she pushed her way through the crowded carriage and just made it to the doors before they slid shut. Outside, she stood for a moment and breathed. Her eyes had closed more than once on the journey into Manchester, the result of a long day at school and the rocking of the tram as it rattled into the city. It was good to be in the open air. A breeze blew down Mosley Street, warm on her face.

The street was busy: office workers sweating in their suits and ties, shoppers burdened with purchases, rowdy children clouting each other with their backpacks. Beyond them all rose the grey, curving walls of the Central Library, like a round fortress built in the heart of the city.

She sighed. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t get off here. She thought about Devi, Rachel, Val and Jen, the friends she’d promised to meet one stop up the line at the Arndale. She watched the tram thundering off that way now, ploughing through the traffic towards Piccadilly Square. They’d be there already, cruising through the crowds, laughing and shouting, never bothering to move out of anyone’s way. As a group they were invincible. She imagined them veering from shop window to shop window, shouting their disgust at this, their burning desire for that. And no-one, no grown-up, no security guard, would dare confront them.

She loved them all, but in her mind she saw herself at the back of the group, saying nothing, not involved. It was like that some days. She would look at them from a distance, marvelling at how they all talked at once but still seemed to hear what each other said. Other times, without really knowing how, she was a part of that. But not today. She couldn’t face them today.

She looked back down the tracks the way the tram had come. The rails gleamed in the sun, past the oblong bulk of the cenotaph and away out of the city, south towards the suburbs.

Her mother would be getting home about now. Cait imagined her switching on the television, pulling steaming food from the microwave. She should be there, too. Another promise. But she couldn’t face going home just now either. She’d left a message, done the right thing. She’d go back later.

She sighed again. The tram had vanished and she hadn’t moved. She couldn’t just stand there, people would stare. Come on Cait. Back to the real world.

She thought about last Saturday, her disastrous attempt to secure a weekend job at Bling Thing. He’d said that, the manager, as he explained to her why she was so unsuitable for the job.

‘Look, love. You have to live in the real world now. You have to smile, be happy to serve the customers. Be enthusiastic about the products. Be excited by them.’

His words amused her and then annoyed her. He wanted her to be something she wasn’t. She felt trapped, had to fight down the urge to flee. It was all so mundane. Where was the beauty in it? Where was the magic? She’d imagined the man would be old but he was only in his twenties or something. He was smartly dressed, polite, but his staring eyes, the way he gushed about retailing, made her shudder and say little.

His office was a square, shabby room at the back of the store, its walls just breeze-blocks painted lime-green. A kettle and a jar of instant coffee sat on a tray on the floor. Boxes of stock were strewn all around, in contrast to the manicured layout of the shop. When he took his jacket off, she saw the sweat-rings creeping out around his armpits, circles widening towards the white stains of other days’ sweat-rings. And all this was something she was expected to aspire to. To be like him. She thought of herself still there in five, ten years’ time. Interviewing some other girl for a job. Would she be saying the same things by then?

A poster on the wall, the blu-tac holding it up visible as dark smudges in each corner, said Smile – it costs nothing. It wasn’t true. Right then, a smile would have cost her more than she could ever give. And what she actually said to himwas, ‘Hmm.’

And so she hadn’t got the job. She was a failure, it was clear. She knew she was no good at school. She tried, she really did, but she always ended up antagonizing her teachers for some reason. She’d always assumed she could get a job at least, make something of herself. It turned out she couldn’t. Couldn’t even make it as a Saturday girl in Bling Thing. She was a failure, going nowhere. Already it seemed her life was over.

She threw her rucksack over one shoulder and set off, a small pile of text books cradled in one arm. How she hated her black school uniform. She’d tried to subvert it with heels that were slightly too long, a skirt that was slightly too short, the tiny ruby in her pierced nose. None of it really helped. She hated how she looked. She scowled as she walked, warning everyone not to bother her.

Slumped against the grey stone wall of the library, out of the way of hurrying feet and the light of the sun, a man sat on a piece of tatty cardboard. A threadbare blanket was wrapped around his shoulders. On the ground before him lay a hat containing a paltry four or five coins, all coppers. He held a sign in his hands that said simply, Please. The rest of the message, whatever he was begging for, had been torn away. He was asleep, his head nodding forwards, long, matted hair covering his face. The crowd ignored him, probably didn’t even see him.

She wondered who he was, where he’d come from, what his story was. A fantasy came to her that he was one of the few who’d escaped the fire: the blaze in the factory that had killed her father. He had limped out, choking, his clothes smoking, his skin burned. He was disfigured now, unable to work, unable to do anything but sit and beg. The formless pleading of that single word on his sign.

She wanted to go up to him, sit with him, talk to him. She felt suddenly closer to him than all the people around her. They had so much in common, this shared bond of not belonging to the crowd. She stopped walking. A woman dressed in a smart blue business-suit, her gold necklace expensive, white earphones in her ears, tutted loudly at Cait for being in the way.

A flap of the cardboard on which the beggar sat caught the breeze and she saw the words This Way Up in red letters. Underneath, smaller, the name of some company.

The man looked sharply up and directly at her. Or rather, through her to something beyond, as if he couldn’t get his eyes to focus properly. He was young. He couldn’t possibly have worked with her father. Of course. His skin was unscarred, his features thin and pale. Anger flashed through her, an anger that was part adrenalin. The stupid ideas she had. What was she thinking?

‘The hunt! The hunt is coming! Monsters! Run and hide, run and hide!’ the man shouted. No-one paid him any attention. ‘They’ll chase you down, corner you. You’ll see! Sleep safe in your beds, that’s when they come. The dead of night, down these streets, knives flashing. Run and hide, run and hide …’ He tailed off, his head lolling forward again as if he was a toy whose battery had run down.

Cait stood for a moment, feeling ridiculous. He was just some loser, disgusting, probably mad.

Then he looked up again, this time directly at her, focusing on her. A look of surprise filled his face.

‘You?’ he said, not shouting now, but still speaking loudly. ‘Here?’

His mouth moved quickly without any words coming out. Concern, then fear, then amusement flashed across his features. He started shouting again, this time pointing directly at her.

‘They will hunt you! Once they find you, who you are and what you are, they will come! Day or night! You … here all along! All along!’

He started to laugh. A crazy, utterly uninhibited laugh. He flicked his head from side to side, expecting everyone to see the joke.

It was too much for Cait. She turned and ran for the library doors, her eyes down, shutting out the crowd, shutting out the beggar, his words knives in her mind.

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Puella Hagi Madoka Magica – Review

[Written by Witch Awareness Month contributor, Sharon Kae Reamer

madokamagica

Puella Hagi Madoka Magica

The Complete Series

Episodes 1-12

2012 Magica Quartet/Manga Ariplex, Madoka Partners MBS

Original Story: Magica Quartet

Director: Akiyuki Shinbo

Screenplay: Gen Urobuchi (Nitroplus)

Character Concepts: aokiume

Character Design: Takahiro Kishida

DVD Description: Madoka Kaname is an average 14-year-old girl who loves her family and friends. One fateful day, this all changes when she has a very magical encounter with a strange creature called a Kyubey. Kyubey have the power to grant one wish to chosen girls. However, in exchange, those chosen must become magical girls and use their powers to fight against witches, evil creatures born from darkness and catalysts of despair.

First off, despite the Japanese schoolgirl costumes, Puella Hagi Madoka Magica is Dark. The story centers around a group of five girls – one of whom is Madoka Kaname, some of whom are confronted with the choice of becoming magical girls, and some who are already are.

Sayaka, Homura, Madoka, Kyoko, Mami

Sayaka, Homura, Madoka, Kyoko, Mami

The anime itself is gorgeous, from the quality and sharpness of the animation to the rich colors and effective surrealism of some of the settings that fit well with the excellent soundtrack, music composed by Yuki Kajiura. That alone makes it a pleasure to watch. The DVD I own has the choice of English or Japanese with English subtitles. I think anime is only truly authentic viewed as the latter, at least for me. I did watch a couple of the episodes in English, and it just didn’t work for me. English is too tame a language for anime. There isn’t any graphic violence (rating of 15), but this may have been edited for North American sensibilities.

As implied by the description, magical girls are the good guys. Witches are the bad guys. They’re all female. In fact, the minimal male presence in the series is secondary except for possibly Kyubey, who looks like a white cat with gold-ringed pigtails coming out of his ears. There is a subliminal amount of girl love going on; it’s really not more than a hint and done very elegantly (it’s an implied rather than explicit form of yuri).

Kyubey

Kyubey

Before meeting Kyubey, Madoka and her friend Sayaka Miki encounter a new transfer student at their school, Homura Akemi. She’s beautiful and mysterious with a strong Japanese-Goth vibe about her. Shortly thereafter, Madoka and Sayaka encounter Kyubey and are drawn into a surreal alternate reality landscape – a witch’s labyrinth – where they are in mortal danger until rescued by magical girl Mami Tohoe, who dispatches the witch.

Over cake and coffee, Mami explains the basics of being a magical girl. Witches have to be destroyed. It’s a full-time occupation and doesn’t leave time for any kind of normal life including boyfriends or careers or even growing up. It’s a non-reversible contract made with Kyubey. The contract is sealed by Kyubey granting the girl any wish she chooses. The physical contract manifests as a soul gem which contains the magical girls’ power and their soul. Witches are born when their despair manifests as a grief seed. What Mami – and Kyubey – don’t tell Madoka or Sanaka at this point is what’s hidden in the fine print. All magical girls are destined to become witches when their good magical energy turns dark. The magical girl can evade this fate for a time as long as she collects enough grief seeds to cleanse her soul gem. And magical girls who are not strong enough can be killed by witches and their familiars as well. Homura pits herself against Mami (and Kyubey) in an effort to prevent Madoka from becoming a magical girl. There’s also fierce rivalries and territorialism among the magical girls due to the necessity of obtaining enough grief seeds to keep themselves from turning into witches.

Mami Tohoe battling a witch

Mami Tohoe battling a witch

As the story progresses, magical girls die during the course of battling witches. These battles take place in the witch labyrinths which are really creepy manifestations of the witches’ power and are cool enough on their own to make another viewing of the anime worthwhile. It is unclear at first whether Kyubey is a force for good or evil and Homura, even though a magical girl, comes across as not-so-clearly on the side of the forces for good. This conflict would be enough to carry the story forward, but things become inordinately more complicated as the series progresses. I can best describe it without too many spoilers as a cross between Groundhog Day meets Highlander (substituting short schoolgirl skirts for kilts). It is a science fiction-magic mix, but I don’t want to reveal too much about that. Suffice to say that the plot turns interesting and even darker around the eighth episode; up until the final episode, the darkness seems unrelenting – there doesn’t seem to be any redemption possible for the magical girls.

My main critique is that the middle four episodes are relatively action-poor compared to the first four and the last four with backstory as filler and too few witch battles. Some reviewers have called PHMM a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, but I found it more of a creative reconstruction, fully self-aware and with sly asides about anime and cosplay from the characters themselves. Taken as a whole, the series is completely satisfying. I viewed all twelve episodes in one go, jet-lagged and armed only with a few glasses of wine and tomato sandwiches, and was not bored in the least. What surprised me in a good way was the brief but interesting tie-in with global witch history. The final witch battle is even with an über witch with the name of Walpurgisnacht. Although I would have enjoyed a bit more background about this witch, it was a nice touch.

Highly recommended.

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The Crucible – Review

[Written by Witch Awareness Month team member, Carole Lanham]

The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone…

~Arthur Miller The Crucible

I have a real soft spot for this story, having played doomed old Rebecca Nurse in a stage performance a couple of years ago.  It’s an intense show when done live on stage. It adds a certain weight of responsibility to the telling when you realize that the people whose lives we glimpse in both the play and the film are not simply characters, but real souls who were forever marked by this nightmare. None of the names have been changed. The trial, the hangings, these are difficult to imagine when you live in a world where young girls get gobs of candy for dressing up as witches once a year, but The Crucible really happened.

JohnProctor

The real John Proctor

In my opinion, there is a certain extra bit of excitement that comes with any live production, but director Nicolas Hytner has taken a much-loved theatrical script and created a biting film that raises goose pimples and stirs up an added level of complexity. By giving life to scenes that happen off stage in the play, the film hits with a powerful punch.

The theatrical version begins after the girls have been discovered dancing at night, thus, an intriguing and critical piece of this grim puzzle is left to the imagination. It works in the play but Hytner begins his film by rubbing your face in a scene that is as shocking as it is illuminating.  The girls bear their breasts as they dance around a boiling pot and Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) drinks animal blood. Smeared lips and fevered words expose the depth of these girls’ desperation in this repressed society to conjure the forbidden.  When Abigail’s uncle, the Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison) spies them in the woods, it sets off an insidious chain reaction. Accusations fly and hysteria ensues.  Denial becomes ”proof” of guilt. A mad paranoia overtakes the village.

Paranoia

Abigail’s secret love affair with an older man, John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) is brought to light.  Proctor is a farmer whose household once employed Abigail as a servant. His prim wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), has never forgiven him for betraying her. Still smitten with John, Abigail accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft and, despite her lily-white reputation, the woman is taken away and locked up.

Day-Lewis

Allen plays Elizabeth pitch perfect.  Pious and just a shade sanctimonious, she is a cold fish in the face of Ryder’s mesmerizing schoolgirl tantrums and spellbound eye rolling.  Likewise, Day-Lewis is an actor who never disappoints and his layered performance of John Proctor is no exception. Between his fiery confrontations with Ryder and his frustrated, regretful, battle-wearied scenes with Allen, he makes for a sympathetic character, past mistakes not withstanding.

Ryder

As the movie progresses, there is a transfer of power from the town leaders to the hysterical young women who have the ability to point out witches. Those who will not confess are hanged.  The story ends in tragedy when John Proctor must choose between the truth and a lie that has the power to save his life.

Proctor

Playwright Arthur Miller used the witch trials as an allegory for McCarthyism.  In today’s society, one might look for similarities in the way the media inflames, corrupts, and all too often informs the way we think.  In this manner, the story of The Crucible is sadly timeless.

If you haven’t ever seen the film, don’t miss your chance. It’s a piece of thought-provoking work.

[Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar, The Reading Lessons, and Cleopatra’s Needle.  Please visit her at carolelanham.com
 and https://www.facebook.com/carole.lanham?ref=tn_tnmn]

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‘The Witch Family’ – Review

“BEEHOOVES YE TO BEEHAVE”

A review of The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, written by Witch Awareness Month, contributor, Ruth Merriam

Sometimes, a childhood book is so precious to us that we can recall with joy the numbers of times we read it and pieces of it stick forever in our memories. Such was the case for me with The Witch Family, a book I first read some 45 years ago. Oh Malachi, bumblebee so magical that from that time foreward all bumblebees assumed that name, you are forever imprinted in my memories.

There were, once upon a time, two not-quite-six-years-old girls by the names of Amy and Clarissa. They lived next door to each other on Garden Lane in Washington, DC and they loved to draw pictures and tell stories.

Amy was particularly fond of stories about old grandmother Old Witch because Amy’s mother made up scary tales. So one day, while Amy and Clarissa were drawing, Amy decided that because Old Witch was so very, very wicked, she must be “banquished.”

“Go, go, go! To the glass hill go!”

witchfamily1And so it was that Old Witch, the wickedest great-great-great grandmother Witch and her cat, Old Tom, were sent to live on the great glass hill with only herbs to eat and the strictest of instructions to never cause any wickedness at all until Halloween (because you can’t have a proper Halloween without witches). To ensure that Old Witch behaved, Amy sent her emissary Malachi the bumblebee who, due to the powerful effects of a magical Rune, was able to spell . . . and to sting and sting and sting to get his point across.

Old Witch was most perturbed by this turn of events, and most resentful. How could she do without her hurly-burlies and backanallies? Besides, it was lonesome and bleak on the great glass hill.

 witchfamily2

But Amy was not a cruel girl, and she sends letters to Old Witch via a bright red cardinal bird. With a carefully composed abracadabra, Old Witch gets herself the beginning of a family when a little witch named Hannah and her black kitten, Little Tom, come swooping in to stay.

Hannah, being a proper little witch girl, must go to Witch School. After all, Amy and Clarissa must go to school so it’s only natural. It’s never easy being the new kid, though.

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With Malachi there to protect her, things get sorted out pretty quickly!

And so the story goes between the lives of Amy and Clarissa, and the lives of the Witch Family, where the imaginations of two little girls become reality and the two worlds intersect.

Hannah is lonely on the glass hill and sometimes frightened of Old Witch. One day, while Old Witch is off causing trouble despite dire warnings from Malachi, Hannah finds a way into the glass hill and makes friends with a young mermaid who lives in crystal pools of water. She has a Mer-cow and a baby mermaid sister. Hannah realizes how lonely she is and wishes for a baby sister of her own. Amy and Clarissa feel this is an appropriate thing to wish for . . . so an abracadra or two later, a Weenie Witchie strapped to a tiny broom along with a scrawny black kitten come sailing into the house on the glass hill.

witchfamily4

Now, you know that Old Witch just cannot help being wicked for that is her nature, and mischief ensues as the days go by. There are adventures – but not too awful because the banquisher (Amy) doesn’t really want to have a Halloween without witches sailing through the air! Oh, but there are visits back and forth between the worlds, and a few hurly-burlies, and a scare or two besides.

The story seamlessly blends the mundane world with the magical world and the ways of children with a cleverness of phrasing usually reserved for more mature readers. It’s a tale full of heart and mystery, nervous adventure and the comfort of one’s favorite swing, of being alive, and of learning to love. And, in the words of Malachi,

“WICKEDNESS BE AFOOT!”

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Film viewing #7: The Crucible

Our seventh (and final) film for Witch Awareness Month, is the adaptation of the classic Arthur Miller play of the same name.

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow!

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