The Witch Ways: The Maps and Compass

Which Witch: The Maps and Compass

To celebrate the season of the witch, we’ve gone straight to the source. The wonderful and whimsical Helen Slavin, author of Borrowed Moonlight, gives us the low down on the imagination, research, and inspiration for the Witch Ways series. This week, we’re getting up close and personal with the middle child of the Way family, Charlie.

Years ago I heard a Woman’s Hour broadcast about the fact that in the far past the Brewers of Britain were all women. The brewing of beer was solely a woman’s task, undertaken by the lady of the house on farms and in castles and on homesteads across the nation. There were all kinds of household beer brewed up including ‘small beer’ which was for infants and the elderly. No one drank water of course as it was, essentially, poison. Milk was only available on farms as it does not keep much beyond the cow so, beers all round. The name for these women was ‘Brewster’. I never forgot it. This is how my mind works.

I don’t drink a lot but I do like a brewery. I think it’s to do with my love of cooking and baking. I like home-made stuff, and I like to see the process, the, ahem, ‘magic’. My trip to Orkney was enhanced by the tour we had of the brewery and also the Highland Park distillery. There is a certain hush in a warehouse full of casks. Cask. What a word. Wort. Mash. Tun. The vocabulary is a spell book in itself.

Charlie arrived in my head wearing her brewery polo shirt and jeans. She arrived with hops tangled into her hair and a puzzled expression as she considered the brew she was, erm, well, brewing. There is no nonsense with Charlie. She knows their witchcraft is real. She feels it, she sees it and uses it and she’s also wary of it. What is this? How is this a thing? are the questions always at the back of her mind. Her brewing skills are linked into her sense of smell and taste which are probably close to that of a dog. Charlie doesn’t know this because she thinks everyone can scent the world like this. Again, she brought this aspect of her Strengths by walking into one scene sniffing. I realised that her view of the kitchen at Cob Cottage is layered with the aromatics that have been there, from rosemary to sweaty socks. She hasn’t yet fully used her sense of smell in this way, except in her brewing. Possibly this comes from her father’s side of the family with its wolfish leanings.

The pathfinding is something I wish I had. I have little awareness of direction and surroundings. The issue is that I daydream a lot so I don’t look for landmarks and I can’t remember how many left turns I took. I used to rely on A-Z or mini tourist maps if I was anywhere unfamiliar. In the car I’ve always loved maps. I think it might be a paper thing, also a symbol thing. Maps have the lot. They are unwieldy (think Ordnance Survey) and they hold mysteries and hidden places. Charlie tapped into this. The map is in her head, once she looks out with her Strength. She sees where the paths are and have been and she is rooted right into the wood through this. I see Charlie as being the most grounded of the sisters because of this connection.

Charlie’s other aspect to her Strength is that she can tell when someone is lying. For Charlie, as with Emz and her real faces, the issue is with interpretation. For once it is not a scent issue, instead Charlie can hear the lie, like a bum note in a symphony. However, the message that it is a lie is a mixed one, what exactly is the lie? Is it a white lie for instance? Or a lie by omission? What’s missing? Nothing is simple. Not all lies are bad. But at least Charlie gets a heads up.

Charlie is the embodiment of the Maps and Compass card in the Paper Prophets. She’s easy about her pathfinding at first but, as more and more of the wood and the extent of her gift is revealed she is aware of the power of it and what that entails. There are places that only Charlie can go, or where people and those out of Havoc can only go if escorted by Charlie. If you were looking at it from a scientific point of view then Charlie sees all the multiverses and can hop around them. All the time and space contained, travelling through and focused within Havoc is available to her. Where the other Way sisters can learn the paths and did so from their Grandma, Charlie is the paths, it is all threaded into her, like veins.

If you’re looking for where the inspiration came then you will know that you’re heading for Enid Blyton territory, to The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree. I never tired of these books as a child, and I never pick up a saucepan without thinking of the Saucepan Man. What you read in childhood, sticks. I am also a massive Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf fan, which gives you a hint at the origins of Lachlan Laidlaw. You begin with Polly’s Wolf and before too long you find yourself loving the werewolf. Always, always the werewolf.

Whilst Charlie is obviously the Maps and Compass, she’s also The Stand. This card depicts the wood, the trees and the herbage and undergrowth. Charlie’s wound deeply into the physical and biological aspect of Havoc Wood. And she’s also The Gate, the way through balanced by the barred entrance. Charlie decides.

Charlie is the brain of Havoc Wood, practical and thinking it out.

Come back next Wednesday for a profile of Anna Way — the hearth of the the Way Sisters.

And, as always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN for all things #WitchWednesday related!