Raising the Witchlings, Raising the Weirdos

Whenever my mother comes up, I refer to her as a fairytale villain.

That’s making light of the situation, but I don’t always want to go into details – and now is no exception. Imagine Cinderella. Imagine Rapunzel. But imagine it’s the 1990s and the young girl isn’t a princess at all, but some random, mildly mystical teenager living in a village in Ohio, whose mother is a witch, but one who simply cannot bring herself to love her daughter over a man who abuses them both.

It’s like the film The Craft was made for me. Only I didn’t really turn out to be Nancy Downs, a teenage girl who is a witch but whose mother also can’t bring herself to choose her daughter over a man who abuses them both. So, the daughter takes matters into her own hands in the end.

A missed opportunity, maybe, but I made my own way.

However, The Craft was – not just for me, but for so many other young women, and has continued to be for new young people over the decades, for reasons as individual as the stars in the sky – relatable. But what I want to say today is about my own parenting, how my mother and pop culture have quite unintentionally joined forces to give me the gift of the weirdo, the witch, in place of the princess.

In the film, the high school coven travel out to a more open space for their ritual, and as they alight the bus driver repeats the refrain we’ve all heard, in one way or another, always part of a modern cautionary tale, ingrained in rape culture, ‘You girls watch out for those weirdos,’ to which Nancy replies ‘We are the weirdos, mister.’ It has become, dare I say, iconic. Saint Nancy of the Weird Girls, of the Baby Witches, of the Hurt and Angry and Misunderstood. Among other things.

I have five children: three teenage sons, a two year old daughter, and a nine month old daughter. I generally do my best to raise them all the same, because gender is a social construct and so on – my lads express their feelings, are comfortable with themselves (as much as any teenager can be), and at least one identifies as queer. They boys do their own thing, they’re smart, but when it comes to witchcraft, they’re either enormously skeptical, or asking if I will do spells to bring in enough money to buy everyone a gaming laptop (the answer is: no, no I will not, I’m not that kind of witch). But my girls, as tiny as they are, seem to be in tune with everything. And most of all, the power they have inside themselves is so natural, extremely strong, but graceful, beautiful. Partly it is Scorpio Mars power; my girls both have this placement, one in the 12th house and the other in the 8th. I have been blessed with two natural witchlings.

It’s the sort of thing that has traditionally caused the mothers, the stepmothers, the evil older women – in fairytales and in the everyday lives of too many of us – to squash their daughters, to eat children, to send girls out into the forest and ask that only their heart returns in a magical locked box. However, in Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith, another useful bit of advice for witchlings comes up to counter that, in the form of Granny Weatherwax wisdom:

“A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest, Granny Weatherwax had once told her, because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”

(For those who don’t know, Granny Weatherwax is a practical, no-nonsense, but extremely powerful witch in the Discord universe. If her advice is good enough for young Tiffany Aching, it’s good enough for my daughters. Hell, it’s even good enough for me. We can all learn a thing or two from Granny Weatherwax.)

My mother did not teach me to be the scariest thing in the forest. My mother did not teach me that being a weirdo was not just ok, but really useful in keeping even weirder ones away. My mother taught me to keep quiet, to do what everyone else says, to be useful even if that means getting hurt. She raised me like a Cinderella. But when I was even smaller, before she broke me down, I was like my children: full of personality and power – but she stripped me of that and allowed someone else to do the same. (When this happens, we can find it and reclaim it ourselves, which is something I’ll talk about another time, also involving mantra-like film quotes. Nothing wrong with incorporating a bit of pop culture into your spiritual and magical life!)

But my daughters. I look at them: Saoirse, whose name means ‘freedom’, stomping around with her huge curly hair, counting everything in sight and naming colours like incantations, already able to read the word ‘witch’ on sight; Bonnie, named after a famous and fierce pirate, greeting each new human being she meets with love in her big bright eyes, laughing at the world, raging when necessary – and I’m happy to be guiding them in this life. They are kind-hearted girls, but I know that even if they want to be princesses, even if they decide never to do a spell or ritual themselves, they will always be the weirdos, and the witches. They will always be the most terrifying beings they know.

Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress. Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere. Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.