The Witch Ways: Which Witch?

Which Witch: Considering Modern Magic
It’s the beginning of October and the Witching Hour is close at hand. Everyone is getting in the mood for a bit of hocus pocus. And, 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. So, grab your pumpkin spice latte and read on — it’s practically magic.

In the Witch Ways, there is a sound reason why Grandma Hettie Way refers to the sisters’ witchcraft as ‘Strengths’. Hettie Way is a wise woman and understands that ‘power’ brings a very different feel to the gifts bestowed upon her granddaughters.

Power can be abused, can give you an inflated sense of your own importance. Power makes bullies and despots. It can go to your head like brandy. Power can also be turned on you, especially in witchcraft circles. There are many avenues of the craft that decree that what you throw out there will, at some point, be thrown back at you. What Grandma Hettie wanted to convey to the girls was that their gifts are particular and need to be used wisely. She calls them Strengths and that conveys the idea that they have to be worked on and exercised, like a muscle.

The Witch Ways are not sent to a witch academy. I liked the idea of the sisters learning without knowing that’s what they’re doing. They learn it like breathing. My logic for this was that it is much harder to take this away from them. My view was and is, that if you were a witch, you just are a witch. It’s there, in your fingertips, in your thoughts. I suppose it is what I always thought about in fairy tales, that the power was something innate. This person plays great netball, that one plays the trumpet, oh and this one is a witch.

It has been illuminating to research the Witch Ways series. I started out making a lot of things up and going for a ‘feel’ that felt right, so therefore I want to include it. Then I began to expand my magical library. As I started to read I discovered that some of the things I thought I’d made up were in the books. Red thread for instance, which seemed to pop into my head with a loud bang, is an actual thing. Although I suppose there are some who would question the use of the word ‘actual’ as they snigger into their coffee. Magic? What? LOL.

Not LOL at all. The witchcraft research is some of the best and most engaging I’ve ever done for a book. I see the world differently because of the books I’ve read on the subject. I admit I’m a ready audience for all of this. I’m keen on the idea of Other and of the supernatural. That said, it has been interesting to find that there are some branches of magical thought and theory that I don’t connect with. Some books have adamantly said ‘Nope. Not for me.’ Other books have been like coming home. The books I’ve read are not strictly practical magic either. There are strands of folk history and anthropology, of history and archaeology in all of this. At one point in history, Magic and Science were considered to be the same thing. There was no distinction. Division came later. Religion stuck its crozier in.

It is interesting to look at other fields of witchcraft and magic and folklore and see where we all connect up. There are basic elements, the fundamentals of forest and water, of sky and rock, and the animals that we share the world with. I always had the idea that the Way sisters were connected to the wood, and that connection to nature and feeling part of the world is essential to all forms of magic. It’s about an idea of what home is too, to some extent. I love archaeology and the forensic side of things where the place where people grew up can be found in the fabric of their bones. People emigrated and took their folk magic and beliefs with them, and the gods and monsters and faeries were transformed and transported to new lands.

I feel that Havoc Wood is tattooed into Anna, Charlie, and Emz, and they carry it with them, even outside the wood. It is an essential part of themselves.

Witchcraft and magic, or whatever name you want to pin them with, are essentially about widening your mind and your outlook and not being dismissive. At the heart of craft, whichever path you’re on, it is fine tuning yourself to pick up and receive. It’s about focus and observation. It’s about questioning and feeling and trusting to those primal alarm systems: your gut instincts. People give off a ‘vibe’, so do places. If you don’t believe that they do, then that is just because you’ve got the volume turned down. It takes as simple a step as that to enrich your life. Look. Listen. I dare  you.

Darkness and light; the eternal argument. Are you wicked or good? There is no such thing as black magic, as Melusine Draco writes, there is just intention. There is just the magic itself and how you decide to use it. It’s like a car, you can use it to take your grandma to the tea dance or you can use it to do wheelies on the dual carriageway and run over badgers. What becomes important is how to decide when it is necessary to do the wheelie. That’s the wisdom of it, and that’s what the Way sisters are learning.

The Way sisters have especial magical talents. They can’t avoid this because of their heritage. Their father, Lachlan Laidlaw, could not avoid his fate and neither can their mother, Vanessa Way. The Fates are at work, the web of Wyrd is out there vibrating. I also realise that I made the Gamekeepers be something that is passed down a female line. In Viking times, it was women who were thought to have Seidr, the sight, the magic. It was a specific female skill, and there are burials of women of high status who have their magical staff with them. I like the idea of a female skill that is imbued with wisdom and power. In my head, this is where the Way sisters come from. What they have in their blood and hearts and minds is ancient. It has come a long way.

There are many people who don’t believe in magic, who mock witchcraft and Druidry and all the other different spiritual paths. There is scepticism and scorn and sometimes fear for all things not of the established church or temple. The general idea is that witchcraft is silly, it’s a pointy hat and a broomstick. In my book, there’s no difference between Wicca and The Church of England. You can believe whatever floats your spiritual boat. In reality (yes, I’m going to use that word) it is about connection, about being open to the things that exist outside the box. Throw away the box. Modern life has crushed us all down to the blinkered sight of a screen, to the laws of this, the rules of that. What witchcraft is about, is looking up, reaching out. My research has enriched my spiritual life and enlarged my historical knowledge.

Let’s just, for a laugh, consider Science and Magic once more. We just need to swipe this screen and watch a YouTube video on our smartphone or tablet. Which is it? Science? Or Scrying? Electric witchcraft?


Come back next Wednesday for a profile of Charlie Way – the brewster of the the Way Sisters.

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