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[review] Witches of Eastwick

I know I’m totally behind the times, but I just finished reading John Updike’s “The Witches of Eastwick”. Having never seen the movie (it’s on my to-do list!), I had been enjoying watching a show on ABC called Eastwick, that is sort of like Desperate Housewives with magic. There’s a really great review of the show here. It got canceled, of course, after one season, and I’m not honestly sure if they showed the entire season. There was a break for a few weeks, and I got busy and may not have gotten back to it. But feeling deprived of my weekly witch-fix, I decided to go to the source and picked up the book.

The story takes place in a sleepy town in Rhode Island, in the blossoming era between the 60’s and 70’s. Three women work to find their inner power as they struggle against the small-minded town folk. Being sexually liberated and very in tune with their power as women, Updike manifests them as three types of witches; the Earth mother artist type who can’t can tomatoes fast enough, Alexandra; the young, sexy journalist who seems to be able to get whatever information she wants, Jane; and the musician whose cello playing transports her in rhapsody and moves people, a woman who goes by Sukie. These three women are drawn together by their similar lifestyles of loving other people’s husbands, and have a small coven where they drink, gossip and raise a cone of power.

Along comes a rich man, who buys the big house by the water, Daryll Van Horne, who butts into all of their lives and encourages them to be more. While he is cold, awkward and extremely off-putting, before long he has all of them wishing they were his, which begets this strange polyamorous relationship of group sex, marijuana, spicy food and booze. When Alexandra’s lover dies (well, murders his wife and then hangs himself), leaving his adult children to clean up after his mess, Alexandra invites his kids Jenny and Chris to their sabbat. But the new blood doesn’t mix in as expected, and the three witches find themselves increasingly on the outside of Daryll’s affections. When Jenny and Daryll marry, it all goes to shit as the women focus their malice on a spell that would slowly kill her. I’ll leave the ending out so you can enjoy the book yourself.

In the end, the book is really about making your life what you want it to be. But when our characters figure it out, it doesn’t bring them closer together.

The writing itself was very lyrical and descriptive–something I find to be lacking in much of our modern writing. The author will go into detail about the feeling of nature, making it almost a character,which relates to the other people in the book, and it pulls on these characters in particular:

Easter evening turned out to be a warm spring night with a south wind pulling the moon backwards through wild, blanched clouds. The tide had left silver puddles on the causeway. New green marsh grass was starting up in the spaces between the rocks; Alexandra’s headlights swung shadows among the boulders and across the tree-intertwined entrance gate.

Updike weaves witch mythology together to create something very interesting. He relies on the old medieval witchcraft trials for his rituals and spells, so lots of Latin in the book. His witches are drawn together around a devil-type character which brings the dubachery to a whole new level. He weaves in some more modern commentary on the women’s movement. For example, it seems that in order to become a witch and gain powers, you must be divorced.

As a witch myself, I could understand the closeness these three women feel for each other (I have a small coven of sisters who also meet and raise an informal cone of power). Updike really captures the bond of sisterhood that I believe is unique to women. His women aren’t perfect wives and mothers, but find that their children almost get in the way of their lives. They don’t judge themselves by societies morals and expectations, but do what they want. Yet each one has a place in society; Alexandra’s sculptures of rotund women are bought up quickly by tourists and townfolk alike, Jane’s penetrating eye makes her a smart and quick journalist, and Sukie’s musical ability is tamed by teaching piano lessons and working on Sundays as a church organist around town.

However, there is a pettiness to Updike’s women that bothers me, not that the men are any better drawn. The sisters will turn on each other as fast as they will turn on somebody else, and their grudges run deep and for a long time. The concept of good and evil is blurred, and even characters you like end up doing distasteful things. The book encourages the stereotype of witches that is barely a reflection of what we do today. I wouldn’t have anyone who is concerned about witchcraft read it, because I wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea. For all the book is fiction, I have to say that I’ve known people in the community to reflect some of these practices.

This is a hard book to put down. The scenes and events flow into each other very organically, and there are very few natural breaks in the narrative. This might be a great summer read for when you are on an airplane and have many hours to devote to your reading. The book, rather like the TV show, left me going “hey! I was watching that!” Luckily Updike returns to these characters in “The Widows of Eastwick”, which came out in 2008 to lukewarm reviews.

SpiralScouts Fundraisers

Along with the deer, birds and flowers, the SpiralScouts too are emerging from their Hearths and circles to back out into the world. Soon there will be camping, cookouts and fun in the sun. SpiralScouts is a co-ed scouting group for Pagan children and their families which teaches a love for the Earth in fun activities that include earning badges and pins.

With more activities to go to, it means more funds are needed, and the SpiralScouts International has come up with a few really great fundraiser ideas.

First of all, you can always send your tax-deductable donation straight to headquarters, but if you’re anything like me, you love buying cool stuff that also helps out a good cause.

Moms, dads, grandparents, caretakers and other volunteers might like to purchase a new T-shirt to show their SpiralScout spirit. CafePress has offered to print the shirts, pins and other cool stuff as needed, and donates part of the proceed to this group.

They also have a handful of neat books and CDs that might appeal to the Pagan youngster in your life.

There is a Pagan activity book created by our friend Amber K, and a CD of really fun music that is decidedly great for the whole family—perfect for getting everyone to the festival!

Two books by Miles Batty are for sale: “The Green Prince’s Father” which is perfect for youth and teaches about sacrifice and what it means to be a man; and “Teaching Witchcraft: A guide for Teachers and Students of the Old Religion”, a complete Wicca 101 course!

There is a new book “Magic for the Kitchen Witch” by Deanna Anderson. These items cost between $10-30, so there is something for every price range. Most of them cost less than if you had bought them off Amazon! A great deal all around!

And one more thing…Don’t need a book or CD? Not Pagan?  Make a purchase from Mother Earth Fundraising. The site has wonderful eco-friendly products and information that can benefit anybody. If you choose to, SpiralScouts will get a portion of the proceeds as a donation. To credit SpiralScouts International, when you go to the opening page, under “Shop Now”, select North Carolina and then SpiralScouts International. Or you can ask your local Circle Leader if they have a seller account and their Circle can be credited as well!

Product Description:

Follow the pagan Green Man through the cycle of the year, as he grows from young Prince to proud King to sacrificial deity. “The Green Prince’s Father” is written for younger readers, to offer a first-hand understanding of the significance of the Sabbats and the annual cycle of life and rebirth.

88 pages

Book Excerpt:

The Forest was alive with celebration as preparations were made. A clearing near a stream was chosen as the perfect place, flower garlands were carefully strung, and the ground picked clean of sharp rocks or twigs. The Green Prince was given a special cloak of oak leaves and ivy, flowers were hung in his antlers, and people’s fur and feathers were washed extra carefully. The birds made sure that the clouds were especially friendly today, and the sun was invited.

Want Free Advanced Wiccan Books??

December 31, 2009 2 comments

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of Lelands “Aradia: Gospel of the Witches”. I was freaking excited because I knew this was a “first hand account” of Italian Witchcraft that had survived for so long under the radar of the dominant religion. I knew it had been out of print for probably fifty years. I totally paid, like, $12 for it and thought that was a deal for such a rare book. AND it had commentary by a fairly well known Pagan author, who has had his ups-and-downs in his career.

Study study study study...

And then I read it. It was, by all accounts, fascinating, although the scholarship was a little…well, Victorian. Victorian in the way that the author, Leland, never attended graduate school in any sense, and is basically what we call an “arm-chair” anthropologist. He did, however, travel to Italy and meet the source of this information, although she basically handed him a mansucript and talked to him about it–other than that, to my knowledge, he never met anyone else claiming to have any information about. (See Russell, Jeffrey (1982). A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans. Thames and Hudson. pp. 148–53. ISBN 0-19-820744-1.  and especially Hutton, Ronald (2000). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-500-27242-5.  for a discussion of the dispute). I’m not saying that knowledge only comes from university professors, I’m just saying that one has to take his info with a grain of salt.

So I was hoping to get some real good info out of it, with AJ Drew’s commentary. Unfortunately, he only seemed to have a passing familiarity with the work, and mostly just rephrased the information, or provided some rather obvious footnotes, like explaining who the Goddess Diana is.

Hey, not every book is a hit. It was then that I discovered I could have had this book for free if I’d just done a little more research. So here’s a list of books you can totally get for free that might help your studies in history, occult lore, and discovering our roots. There is a lot in the public domain that some companies are reprinting. If you prefer having a book on your shelf, then, by all means, purchase a reprint, or find an old copy. But if you just want some passing information, try Project Gutenberg, Ibiblio, and Wiki Source.

Some Free Books!

That should keep you busy for a little while!

Also, most mythology is not copyrighted. However, the translations often are. There are definitely some better ones than others! Consider searching for the poetry of Ishtar, Innana’s Descent into the Underworld, The Poetic Eddas and Vedas, or Eastern literature such as the Upanishads.

Happy studies, everyone!

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