Dr. Sarah Guthu is a creative midwife who specializes in bringing others' dreams to fruition. She works as a professional fundraiser, writer, editor, marketing consultant, and strategic planner. An outspoken defender of the importance of health, balance, and support for the productivity of professional artists, she hopes to one day run an artist's retreat, where her hearth magic can nurture young artists in body and spirit as they launch their careers. She is currently working with her soulfriend Dr. Amal Eqeiq on an illustrated book of Eqeiq's poetry titled Diaries of a Hedgehog Feminist.
W&W: Do you consider yourself a witch? W&W: What does your magical practice look like? (i.e. Solitary, Coven, etc.)
You know, I’m funny about names and titles; to name a thing is to make it real. Like Schroedinger’s cat, it’s the act of observing that determines what’s there. So I like to take my time getting to know a concept before I claim it for myself; I like to have that deep, in-yer-guts knowledge of the Rightness of a thing before I open my mouth and claim it or claim myself for it. I’m not there with this word yet.
I observe, garden, and live my life in cycles governed by the Wheel of the Year. For me, intentional workings – where I am focusing energy or power, striving energetically to effect something – are rare and intensely private, reserved for significant, pivotal moments. I did a Lammas-eve working for our first home that I didn’t even tell my husband about until after our offer was accepted. That’s not to say that I’m entirely opposed to working with a coven at some point in the future; I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful woman in graduate school with whom I shared some ritual observances during our two years together, and those are some of my most precious, beloved memories. I think you just have to find your people, and that takes time, too. Sometimes they insist on living in Florida while you’re quite literally in the opposite corner of the country.
In terms of how I work or what I use for a serious working or a more casual offering, it’s always determined by instinct and observation: listening, watching, reflecting. The pieces are always there before you, and the body knows deep in its fibre what is called for. That Lammas working, for example: it utilized feathers from crows who were fighting over territory.
W&W: How do you feel about the rise of witchcraft as a popular trend?
I grew up in a crunchy hippie town where witchcraft was pretty normal among the entire population; it wasn’t the purview of rebellious teens or outcasts or fringe elements. I also grew up in a home where allopathic medicine was supplemented with homeopathic and herbal remedies to maintain health and balance. So my vantage point here might differ quite a bit from people who have grown up in communities where practicing witchcraft was risky or dangerous – where you could be ostracized or hurt for your beliefs.
For me, the witchcraft trend just reminds me of the late ‘90s. This has all happened before, and we asked the same questions then. I’m pretty sure I still have an old copy of Bust with a special feature on teenage witches. As far as I’m concerned, if the popular acceptance of witchcraft opens doors for anyone to find what feels like their true spiritual home, so much the better. The folks who are only here for the trendiness will move on to the next thing eventually; the people who are called to this will still be here when it’s passé or uncool again.
W&W: What influences your creative process?
Everything. Seriously, everything. Things people say – a child’s mispronunciation of a word sparked an idea for a future collab with a fantasy author. Other people’s art is super inspiring. Archetypes from folklore and fairy tales give structure to my imagination. Colors – all of them.
And always: the earth. The incense of loam. The salt, sea air. The falling notes of a gold-crowned sparrow. Old farmhouses on a summer morning. The metallic tang of winter’s cold. The gravity of bone, the smoothness of muscle moving under skin, pulled toward the earth and resisting. The ruby brightness of a rosehip. Sunrise, and dew. Thick, dense fog. Blue lichen. Bleached grasses.
W&W: Who is your favorite writer and why?
I was so delighted to see another contributor name her already: Virginia Woolf. Forever and always, Woolf. And while The Waves is definitely acknowledged as the pinnacle of Woolf’s modernist style, my favorite is To the Lighthouse. To the Lighthouse is that midpoint on the way to The Waves, that pregnant pause, that suspended breath, that metaphysical sublime strung with such delicate tension between the realistic and the abstract. It is perfect.
That moment when Mrs. Ramsay exerts her own charismatic power to bring together the family and friends, to knit them into a magical shining moment around that dinner table, is everything to me. It passes – like everything, like the middle section of the novel (titled “Time Passes”) – all too quickly, but the brevity of it is the key to its heartbreaking beauty, its perfection. (“Death is the mother of beauty,” Wallace Stevens reminds us.)
Virginia Woolf writes the ache of the human spirit, the imperfections, the longings, the grief, with the greatest tenderness and understanding of any author I’ve ever encountered. Her words sing me home to myself; a mere phrase from her makes my body physically hurt with pleasure and can bring hot tears stinging to my eyes. I like to read her on early spring evenings, at twilight, near an open window, when the birds are singing the day down to the first warm, soft nights of the year.
I always feel this deep, deep longing for her, this unutterable sorrow that our lives are separated by this deep gulf of time – and yet, across it, I feel she understands me better, even, than I understand myself. She is exquisite.
So other than being Witchy As Fuck, what do you do in the world of Muggles?
I manifest things for other people. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing.
I work full time as a grant writer and grants manager at a major R1 university where I support about 100 faculty working across basically the entire range of academia: from arts and history and anthropology to marine and environmental sciences and space and cyber tech. I also freelance as an editor with private clients and for Macmillan Publishers. (The first novel I ever worked on there was a reissue of Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret; I got to put all the dirty words back in that had been censored out in prior US editions – delicious!) I also write grants for arts organizations and work with individual artists to help them develop professional materials like artists’ statements and grant applications, or to translate their big “dream” projects into strategic, achievable plans.
Though I make my living by language and words, my passion is the visual arts. I’m painter and illustrator, currently working on a book project (titled Diaries of a Hedgehog Feminist) with my dear friend, the Palestinian poet, novelist, and scholar Dr. Amal Eqeiq.
And in the time that’s left, I sew and embroider and cook and garden and generally make things with my hands. My dear darling and I are working to turn our small plot of suburbia into a sustainable food forest. My next big life goal (my 25-year-plan) is to build a retreat/professional development intensive for young artists. I’m strongly opposed to our cultural myth of the artist as tortured genius; I think it’s dangerous and destructive. My dream is to create a place where artists can “come home”, to be nurtured and supported and create their best work from a place of health. It already has a name.
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