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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.

Meditation Is Hard!

March 19, 2010 2 comments

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I really dislike traditional forms of meditation. I understand that it is very important to cultivate the discipline to be able to meditate, and I try to work on it, but I am really not enjoying what I’m doing. The process feels too unnatural for me, and I find it to be boring and irritating at best. I believe that the frustration of forcing myself to sit down and meditate regularly is counteracting all of the gains that I make from actually doing the meditation.

I have tried sitting down and quieting my mind, I’ve tried guided meditations of all ilk, including downloading countless podcasts, reading meditation books and on occasion recording myself or making a friend record a meditation for me to listen to. I know that I have the ability to meditate — I’ve had some success doing free writing, and I can get into that artist’s head space when I do activities like knitting, spinning or doing life drawings — but I am still frustrated, because meditation still doesn’t really feel right to me yet.

Is my problem a discipline issue? Or is meditation like birth control, and I just haven’t found the right kind of “birth control” to fit my lifestyle yet. I hope its the latter.

Thanks!
Cassie

P.S. You’re a gem and I absolutely love your blog!

Dear Cassie,

Great question! I think you’ll find that a lot of people share your feelings about the practice of meditation.

Krishna's meditations often involved sexy times!

There are several definitions of meditation that I want to get straight. In the East, meditation is the act of stilling the body so you can still the mind in an attempt to reach enlightenment. Over here, we use it to guide the mind to our inner self, or use it to still the body to do astral work. So the question is, Cassie, what is your purpose for meditating?

You mentioned discipline as a possible goal for meditation. There are many ways to achieve this goal. In Zen Buddhism, the monks don’t meditate as often as other sects, but rather look for enlightenment through other forms of mental discipline such as work, humor, exercise, writing and thinking. Some stories tell of monks who gained enlightenment from a blow to the head–no meditation required!

So there are many ways of achieving a goal, and I suspect that you haven’t identified your goal in your meditation practice. If the goal is discipline, and you want to do it every day for 30 minutes, then that is what you are aiming for–the success or failure of your meditation doesn’t matter as long as you give it a try every day for 30 minutes. You could also practice discipline by going for a run every day, going to bed at the same time, or going vegitarian–all of which are meditation-free but require your original goal of discipline.

Meditation is about bettering the self by being more self-aware. It is a tool that can be the basis for many things. In my opinion, you have given it a really good try, spending a lot of time at it and using lots of different methods, and you’ve come to the conclusion that meditation is not for you. I see that as a valid piece of self-knowledge! In Witchcraft, we use things because they work, but obviously this isn’t working for you! So let’s think of other things you can do.

The Farrars believe meditation is important because it disciplines the mind for visualization, so that your magical intent can be clear, but that “artist head space” you talked about is the same thing. You’ve already met this goal. So use this to your advantage. If a group is doing a guided meditation, consider taking out a big blank piece of paper and doing a free-draw while the group leader describes the meditation.

If you are really stubborn about working on your meditation abilities, try doing some shamanic work with drumming. The rhythmic and steady sound can get  you in that headspace so you can do some work. It is the same way that knitting or spinning gets you in that brainwave pattern that allows many to see the future. If that doesn’t work after a few times, try something else.

If your goal for meditation is to ground yourself, consider some other magical grounding techniques. You could make a charm or amulet out of hematite or metal to carry with you. It will serve the same purpose without requiring actual meditation. You could also use some of the parts of meditation that do work, such as three deep breaths when you feel loopy, or sitting with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.

If you are doing some astral work in meditation, you can try other ways to do the same goal. Instead of visiting the Gods and spirits in their realms in your mind, visualize the space around you and act out your actions. Use ritual theatre by yourself or with a group. Ask the Gods or spirits to come to you (in a magical circle) so you can talk to them.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single goal for meditation that requires you do the goal with successful meditation. That is why the practice of magic is so vast–it covers all the possibilities and it is up to us to figure out are particularities and use what is available and useful to us. Bottom line–if meditation isn’t useful, do something else!

Best of luck to you in your magical endeavors!

P.S. Thanks! I think you are a gem too. Thanks for your letter! 🙂