Recommendations

Coven Reads: September

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Coven Reads is a monthly recommendation of witchy/magical books, written by our resident book witch and literary interviewer, Sara Blackthorne. Sara writes with fervor, edits with empathy, and manages people and projects in her daily life. She loves good coffee, a hammock in the shade, and spending countless hours in the kitchen conjuring delicious food for dinner parties. You can find her online most places @sarablackthorne.

Standing Up and Settling In

Mabon Greetings to you!

I am so excited to begin my time here with Wyrd and Wyse, sharing book recommendations for changing our world. I want to start by sharing a little about me, so you have a sense of my lens as I’m bringing you titles to consider for your shelves.

I have over 15 years of writing and editing experience, from technical manuals to creative non-fiction and poetry. From the time I was wee, I could be found with my nose in a book. It’s often cliché, but when I say books saved my life I truly mean it – books gave me power through knowledge, and that power gave me my voice and my freedom.

Photo by Thorn Coyle.  Used with permission.

Photo by Thorn Coyle. Used with permission.

As such, I have a high standard for books. I want toothy fiction that sinks into the fleshy part of my heart and doesn’t let go. I want non-fiction that peels back my inhibitions and false beliefs, and just like an onion makes me feel things. I want poetry that lingers in my hair like smoke. I demand that a book take me on a journey, short or long, and I want to be changed when I finish it.

When I thought about the first recommendation to offer you, I could only think of one series that would best introduce us. I’ve been a reader and “armchair student” of Thorn Coyle’s (she/they) since the publication of Evolutionary Witchcraft in 2005. I’ve gone through three physical copies of the book, wearing through the spine and even losing a few pages. In this book I found the language for so many of my personal beliefs around witchcraft and magic that I didn’t know others experience.

I’ve followed Thorn’s publishing history and now own several of their books. Recently they moved from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest, and with that move announced the release of their new series of fiction books, The Witches of Portland . I might be biased because I live in Portland, Oregon. But what shows up in these books is a roadmap for using our magical tools to combat the bigotry and racism burning through America (and the Western world) these days.

The series begins with By Earth, the story of Cassiel and the ghosts who speak to and through her. Using her gifts, she and her coven Arrow and Crescent take down some major developers who are cutting corners and negatively impacting the housing market. With shoddy materials and ever-rising rents, this is not an issue unique to Portland. What is truly universal about this story (and this group of powerful, passionate witches) is the way we need our communities to heal our communities.

In the second (non-consecutive) novel By Flame, we learn more about the members of Arrow and Crescent Coven and the issues being faced by the community: poverty, houselessness, racism, police violence against vulnerable communities. We also witness the challenges the coven itself faces from other community groups – namely an “interfaith” religious organization that chooses to exclude the coven from certain activities. In looking at these issues through the microcosm of Portland, Thorn offers wisdom and suggestions from over 20 years of magic and activism on the West Coast and around the world.

At this time, there are five books published in the series: By Earth, By Flame, By Wind, By Sea, and By Moon. Each novel builds on the others, but they don’t need to be read in a certain order to be enjoyed. At the center of each novel is one of the nine members of the Arrow and Crescent Coven: Cassiel, Tobias, Brenda, Raquel, Selene, Lucy, Moss, Alejandro, and Tempest. Through this interconnected series we learn more about each member of the coven, the world around them, and about ourselves.

The Witches of Portland is not Thorn’s first fiction series. The Panther Chronicles is a four-book alt-history series that reimagines the late 1960s in American history, and what might have happened had things gone different. It combines the Black Panthers, J. Edgar Hoover, community-building, and magic into a series that gives us a glimpse of what might have happened – and hope for what could be.

Because the core of Thorn’s work is community and connection. It shows up in their fiction, in their non-fiction, and in their activism. They’ve been arrested “at least four times,” and they are regularly visible on social media and on the front lines standing up for causes they champion. They recently spent several days in the #AbolishICE encampment in Portland, Oregon fighting for the closure of the private building being used by ICE to question and potentially detain individuals seeking asylum. They don’t just write about activism and community – they live it. Between cups of tea and writing sessions they teach magical practice around the world.

So pick up a cuppa, curl up under a blanket, and let yourself recover from this heady eclipse season by sinking into Autumn with an good book!

Note from the Editrix: We are working on paying our contributors for The Archive, but in the meantime, if you love Sara’s work, please consider buying her a cup of tea to say thanks.

Going Under: A Podcast Recommendation

Allison Carr Waechter is a witchy woman living in the bold North, with a naughty red lynx-cat, a perpetually grumpy old pup, and a partner who consistently refers to her as his "feral wife." She is a storyteller by trade and provides council to struggling writers. If you're a writer who needs help, visit her here, if you're a reader who needs a tale, visit her here. She is also the editrix of this publication and dearly loves to recommend good stories to others. 

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Despite the fact that some of my own writing has been considered "scary"-- I am a big fraidy-cat when it comes to creepy stories. Which frustrates me to no end, because I love the delicious feeling of being creeped out-- an eerie finger of fear sliding down my spine, a sharp intake of breath at a surprise -- all feelings I enjoy. 

Being grossed out, unable to sleep, or simply too terrified to be alone in the dark are not among my favorite feelings though and so that makes anything in the horror genre automatically a little dicey for me. Especially because so much horror seems to be geared towards a cis-male audience (often written by cis-men, even when the characters are primarily women). So it's been hard for me to find a creepy fictional podcast that had all my favorite elements: 

  • Moments of spine-tingling tension and an eerie vibe 
  • Great writing: Great plot, great pacing, great characters, engrossing worldbuilding
  • Written and lead by women/femme/non-binary/trans folks 

Maybe it was too much to ask, I often pondered -- maybe fictional podcasting just hadn't quite reached the place where stuff like that was being produced.... But I know how this works. The best stuff, created by the folks I love to read and consume isn't being talked about the way podcasts like The Black Tapes, Limetown and Welcome to Nightvale are. I was going to have to dig deeper.... And there I found Mabel, the podcast I always wanted. 

*Very* minor spoilers ahead - As Mabel is going into its 5th season, a tiny bit of spoiling is necessary to tell you why I love this story -- it won't ruin anything for you, but if you hate to have *anything* spoiled, just go check out Mabel now and start listening

Mabel is "a podcast about ghosts, family secrets, strange houses, and missed connections." But it's more than that -- it's a love story between its main characters Anna and Mabel. It's a marvelously creepy tale about what haunts us, whether it's our past, love, a house that won't stop interfering, or a mysterious force luring you underground.  

The podcast has the same kind of gothic vibe that Shelley Jackson is able to evoke in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with a hefty dose of what feels like scary local lore about what happens out on that hill, or that house, you know the one. Plus, it's a sapphic love story and there's not much of that out there, so I am beyond pumped to be writing this recommendation. 

There are many things I love about Mabel, but if I had to pick out just one, aside from what I've already said... If I had to pick out just one thing to say: "This is why you should listen," I would say this: the writing is beautiful. It's literary, poetic, mysterious, lyrical and haunting. There are twists and turns that are there for the obsessive listener who loves to solve a mystery, but not so many that you cannot keep up with the story. 

If I could tell you one other thing to love about Mabel, it would be that I love it when women/femme identifying characters are allowed to be angry, without the implication that you should hate them, or be frustrated with their anger. It's a beautiful thing, and Mabel executes this perfectly. Hats off to Becca De La Rosa and Mabel Martin for writing such a wonderfully engrossing story and creating a world I love to get lost in. 

The next season of Mabel comes out in June 2018 to give its creators time to get married (yes, to each other!) Read their misty-eye-inducing announcement about their good news here and support them on Patreon. Just go listen and support these amazing creators... I mean honestly, what more could you want?