I’m really excited today for this interview with Pam Grossman, who is the author of the book Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power. She’s also the host of The Witch Wave Podcast – which if you are not familiar with, go over right now and check it out. You will not be disappointed.
Her writing has appeared in places like the New York Times, time.com, and HuffPost. Pretty much everywhere you can imagine. So I am so excited for this interview with Pam Grossman. Pam, thank you so much for being here with us today.
Pam Grossman: Thank you so much for having me. It’s so nice to be here.
Ashley: As many of you listening know, I actually own a new age shop called Mimosa Books and Gifts in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re always looking for great new books to carry in our store. Not long ago, when I came across Waking the Witch and read the description, I immediately fell in love. I really wanted to have this book on the shelves for our customers. Lo and behold, when I was checking my calendar for podcast guests, guess who was here… none other but Pam. It was divine timing. I’m thrilled to carry your book in the shop. The staff were drooling over it when we got it!
Could you tell us a little bit about what this book is all about? Why did you write it? What is the story behind it?
Pam: Absolutely! Well, first of all, thank you so much for carrying it in your shop. I am such a proponent of small businesses and indie shops. So, of course, order the book wherever you can get it, but if you can go to a shop like that one, please do.
Waking the Witch has the subtitle ‘Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power.’ I chose those words with a lot of intention because, to me, the archetype of the witch is one that is inherently related to our feelings about feminine power. I should clarify – people of all genders can be witches, and this book is for people of all genders. However it really does trace the history of how witches and women became interlinked.
For most of human history, witches were associated with evil and malevolence. Starting around the 14th and 15th centuries, they were associated with the devil himself. And yet, today we have a much more positive association of witches with women and with people of all genders.
I really wanted to celebrate the positive aspects of witches, which I think need to be celebrated more.
It’s really exciting to see that witches are more popular than ever now and are being celebrated. I also wanted to really trace the history of them and explore the ways in which we, by which I mean society, depicts witches. Often, this is a reflection of how that given society or those given people feel about female power.
Spoiler alert – now that feminism is growing (and we still have a long way to go), people have a more positive association with complex, dynamic, powerful women. And guess what? Our witches are more positive now. That’s kind of the thesis statement of the book. But it really is fun and it touches on the history and pop culture and some of my own story as to how I started identifying as a witch.
My book is a real amalgamation of a lot of things, but all surrounding that idea of power, femininity, and magic.
Ashley: I love this because it doesn’t just focus on one thing. I think so many of the books in this area are so focused on just ritual, or just magic, or just that this or that. The thing is that this is so deeply ingrained into all parts of our culture. You can’t separate magic or ritual or art or creativity out from any of the other things. They all blend together and the lines kind of blur.
I love that you’ve just looked at this concept, an archetype of this energy and you’re taking it to a place where it can be really profoundly thought about and talked about in a way that I think is pretty illuminating. It’s very exciting to dive into history, pop culture, all those different things at once, and be able to get a broader and deeper understanding of what the concept of a witch really is.
What was your personal journey that led you to realize that this work needed to be put out there?
Pam: Thank you. That’s such a lovely thing to say. Honestly, the points you just brought up are the reasons that I felt compelled to write the book. As somebody who not only identifies as a witch but who’s studied witches, specifically the image of the witch and fine art – that’s an area of my specialty. But as someone who’s very interested in gender and archetypes overall, I was hungry for a book that kind of wove everything together.
As you said, there are so many wonderful books about history. There are so many wonderful books about the witchhunts or Salem, or about Wicca. There are all of these different fragments. Of course there are also lots of books about the practice and spell books and how-to books, which this book is not.
I’m someone who not only identifies as a witch for spiritual reasons but also for political reasons. I also happen to love witches in pop culture. I have no problem with Sabrina and Hermione and I think even witches in horror movies are valuable and have something to teach us. As I said, I love witches and fine art and I love artists who identify as witches. So all of that, to me, feeds into our notion of what a witch.
Our notion of witches evolves over time – it really depends on the context.
Someone like you or myself might talk about witches in a literal sense now, where people who– I mean, I don’t want to put words in your mouth –
Ashley: Please do. [laughs]
Pam: – so, we practice, we engage in magic, we have a real, literal spiritual engagement with that identity. But then there are a lot of people who are just, really into the movie, The Craft, and I think that has value too. I really do, because there are a lot of interesting lessons that The Craft has to teach us about, such as our fear of young women who are coming into their own sexuality and power. So yes, I really just wanted to write the book that I wish existed, and it didn’t exist. I had the — frankly pretty difficult, and certainly challenging — task of having to write it myself, but it was also such a gift to get to do.
Ashley: Why do you think it is that our societal and cultural perspectives have been changing about the view of the witch?
Why is it that we suddenly see the witch as this more positive archetypal image when historically, we know that it was not seen in a positive light? It was often something that people were fearful of. Does that have to do– or has it been influenced by the rise in feminism? Because obviously, as we are the same, the lines between these things are blurred. You can’t say it’s just this one thing or that one thing. But where do you think this comes from? This shift into this more positive viewpoint?
Pam: I can tell you exactly where it comes from. Because a lot of that material is covered in the book. And really, we’re looking at the 19th century. A few different factors are happening during this time. I should say, we’re focusing on primarily Europe and the US, although certainly, witches exist, pan-culturally and pan-historically.
Essentially, in the 19th century, you had a few things going on that really influenced the perception of witches…
You have scholars who were starting to re-examine a lot of the texts from the witchhunts. They were looking at both the witch-hunting manuals, as well as a lot of the confessions of the people who were accused of being witches. Now we know they most likely were not witches. It was all essentially really awful propaganda that was birthed out of misogyny and xenophobia. I go into this in more detail in the book. That’s one piece of it.
A big piece of it, too, is the burgeoning feminist movement. Without going too much into the details, we already had writers in Europe who were starting to do this work. However it got popularized in America, thanks to a woman named Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was a suffragist and an abolitionist.
Matilda Gage wrote a book called Woman, Church, and State, where she theorized that witches were in fact, the most brilliant women of their age. They were only called witches by the church because the church deemed them a threat.
Other people had this theory before her, but she popularized it in the US, specifically via her son in law, L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This gave us the notion of good witches and bad witches.
Now I’m really simplifying this. There are a lot of other players in the mix, but that’s really a big one. Another big one is a scholar later on in the early 20th century named Margaret Murray. She was in England, and decided that all of the confessions of the witches should be taken at face value. Now we know this is not very good scholarship.
She put forth this theory that there was actually centuries and centuries of a lineage of what she called a Witch Cult. These people who were accused during the witch hunts were actually witches. This was debunked for the most part, but not before she started influencing lots and lots of people, including someone named Gerald Gardner. He went on to start the religion of Wicca.
There are real lines and threads that we can follow, which I try to do in the book, that show so much of our notions of witches -even today for people like me who identify as witches – is this mix of scholarship. And some of its not great scholarship, but some of it is romantic notions of women and looking sympathetically at people who absolutely were oppressed by the patriarchy and really using the witch as a symbol for this usually female rebel, who now we have a lot of sympathy for, as we want more powerful, brilliant women.
We didn’t really value powerful, brilliant women that much before the 19th century.
I’m speaking in such grand, broad brushstrokes, but those are some of the players who helped to really kind of put forth the notion of a good witch or a positive witch.
Ashley: This is really interesting to me, because I think even in the past two decades, and even more so in the past decade, our perception of a witch has continued to grow and evolve. It’s happening even quicker, with the amount of information that’s available at our fingertips.
Even when I think back to 15 years ago, people still associated witches not necessarily with anything negative, but I think as Wicca was starting to come to the forefront and be more recognized, people associated the word witch with Wicca and it became something that was exclusive to that path.
However I think that what we’ve seen and what you’ve just described really lends a lot of credence to the fact that the term ‘witch’ has now redefined itself as something much broader.
That takes me into my next question, which is that at face value, someone might pick up your book and think, “Okay, Waking the Witch. Well, if I don’t necessarily identify as a witch, is this book really for me?” But with what you’ve just told us about where we’re at with that term and what it really means as this strong, powerful, intelligent, often rebellious woman. This really encompasses most people that are at the forefront of modern political movements and modern spiritual movements, and we see more and more people taking on this role.
So, who is this book really for then, Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power? Who is this book really for?
Pam: I’m so happy that you asked that because I had a feeling that people who already identified as witches might dig the book. I mean, I certainly hope so. And this book is absolutely for us. But there are a lot of people who are just interested in gender and they’re interested in the ways in which language and symbols change over time, and how these symbols hold weight and how they then inform us about the stories that we value and the kind of values that we want to hold forth and actualize in our own lives.
It’s not just for somebody who practices magic or practices some form of witchcraft.
That’s going to be a segment of my readers, but the types of people who are reading it, in addition to that, are just people who love art, who are interested in feminism, who love movies and TV.
I mean, there’s a whole swath of it, and certainly, it’s for people who are more politically engaged. The word ‘witch’ as I say in the book, is a word that people like us use to describe ourselves as spiritual beings or magic workers. But a lot of people are using that word ‘witch’ in a political way, in the same way they might have said ‘nasty woman’ as a badge of honor. To take a negative word that was said about women and to reclaim it and wear it as a badge of honor. I think that’s great too. I use the word witch about myself in that context sometimes, too. Honestly, I really think that everybody could hopefully find something valuable from the book.
Ashley: I think what will be most surprising for people who pick up this book, with the preconception that, “I don’t really identify as a witch, but this sounds interesting,” probably, especially after listening to this interview, are thinking, “Oh, that does sound interesting. I want to know more about how that shift happened from more patriarchal views toward what a witch was to this shift in modern feminism and the way that we view this.”
People might pick up this book, read through it and realize, oh my gosh, I’m a witch too. I didn’t even know it, but I am.
Pam: I think that’s great. I often say that, unlike some other religions, those of us who consider ourselves witches are not trying to convert anyone, we’re not trying to proselytize. But hey, if as an added bonus, more people feel called and more people feel empowered by this concept, then that makes me really happy.
I think we need more awake people in general and more people who are conscious and who believe in their inner power to transform themselves and the world.
Whether or not you choose to use the word witch to describe that is certainly up to you. But I think it’s a really transformative word in itself.
Ashley: That’s so true. Especially for people who feel a little bit separate. This is totally coming from personal experience here guys; I don’t have any one organized religion that I feel I identify with. I don’t necessarily identify with Wicca, I don’t necessarily identify with anything that could really have a label. But for some reason, the word witch to me feels safe in that way. I feel like it’s a label for non-labels, it just can mean so many things that it can be very personal. I really like that about it.
The word ’empowered’ is the thing that comes through for me, because it’s about you, it’s about you as a person, not any one thing that you have to be or have to do or have to act like.
Pam: Yes, that’s exactly right. A lot of people say to me, “How do you know you’re a witch?” “How do you become a witch?” And the secret of it is, yes, there are those of us who might come from a lineage of other people who were considered witches or call themselves witches. Who were healers or had some kind of special gifts of sight or divination. I think a lot of us have that in our families, especially if we go back far enough.
You see, I don’t consider myself a Wiccan. I think that there are a lot of ways in which our experiences of the Divine or the immaterial have been trivialized.
The word Witch is a word that you can use which simply means, I honor the mystery, I honor the fact that I don’t necessarily know.
Yes, of course, I should say I believe in science, I believe in medicine, I believe in vaccines, all of that. I do. It’s very important to say that – especially right now. But with all of that said, I do think that honoring our spiritual lives is deeply important.
The other thing with witches, as I was starting to say, is there’s no one path. There’s no one book to read. There’s no Pope of witchcraft, as a lot of us are fond of saying. Certainly, some of us do go through initiations. Not everybody does. I have a lot of friends who are coming from African diaspora, religions, or indigenous traditions, who call themselves witches now. It really is a word that is a wide umbrella and that can be interpreted in all sorts of ways that to your point, are very, very personal.
Yet there is some kind of connective tissue between all of us who choose to use that word. There’s just some kind of kindred spiritedness.
I know that when I call myself a witch, and if you call yourself a witch, there’s a good chance that we’re sharing some kind of perspective on how the world or the universe works.
Ashley: One of the best parts of it is that it is pan-gendered, it is pan-cultural. It is something that is unifying, and that connects people. There is this movement toward more awakened people wanting to be part of that movement, and that’s why it has infiltrated pop culture and politics. It’s not just confined to spirituality. It really permeates everything because it’s more of a way of being, it’s a way of living your life and the set of values that you hold as a person. It’s just a beautiful thing.
Okay, one last thing because we just have to talk a little bit about crystals. I know that you said you have crystals on your altar and on your desk and you use them, kind of intentionally, depending on what you’re doing, or what you’re manifesting.
Would you say in your experience, are there any crystals that would support this awakening or opening to the idea of embracing that witch archetype in yourself?
Pam: Oh, my goodness.
Ashley: What would be a crystal to support you that way?
Pam: Oh, my goodness, I feel like all of them would. Honestly just using crystals will probably support you. But you know what? The one that’s coming to mind is one that I have in my eye view right now, which I’ll grab. I’m bringing this one up because I have a little story about it…
This is Lapis lazuli – which I just love.
It’s a beautiful blue stone. It’s really great for communication, for finding your words. I think in this day and age, finding our words and finding our voice is so important. For such a long time, I was what’s called a solitary practitioner, I was just practicing by myself. There are some of you who are watching this or hearing this now, who might never choose to share the witch side of you publicly and that’s fine. Absolutely. If you want to keep this just solo or you just have to because there isn’t anyone else around for you to practice with, that’s totally fine.
However there is an aspect of the witch archetype that I love in that, yes, she’s solitary sometimes. But she also can be in a coven and join with other kindred spirits. For me, this stone really helps me in those scenarios when I’m meeting with other kindred people like all of you. I want to find the right words to make sure that my intentions inside are coming out. And also we know that words are magic. I mean, think of spells and all the magic words and the magic of writing.
This is a stone I worked with a lot when I was writing the book. I think everybody could benefit from more Lapis lazuli in their lives.
Ashley: Now because you have this experience of having written the book, and obviously that takes a great deal of creativity, right? I’ve written a few books, I know how much you really have to be tapped into that.
In your opinion, how are magic and creativity really intertwined? Or at least, how did that kind of come through in your own life and your own journey?
Pam: I think they’re deeply related because both of them involve having a vision or an intention that you are then trying to manifest and bring life to. So, is all creativity magic? I’m not sure. But I am sure that creativity with intention and a ritualized mindset is magic. There is a difference between sitting and writing a poem, and sitting down and lighting a candle, and then writing that poem or casting a circle or intentionally having a stone beside you. It allows you to enter into a different frequency or different level of consciousness, that is a deeply magical transformational space.
When I was writing this book, I was working very actively. I still am, as I talk about the book actively to work with spirit, capital S. To make sure that this book is not just about me and my ego, but that there is a bigger message that I am letting myself be a conduit for. And it’s not just passive. There’s a relationship there. That’s why it’s a craft, right? That’s why it’s witchcraft.
I think that that’s a really useful way of looking at creativity; that it is magic if you approach it with magical intent.
I think your work will be different, mine certainly is for sure. The amount of candles and altars and rituals and things that I was doing throughout writing this book, I think, make it a different book than if I had not been engaging in magic while I was doing so.
Ashley: I’m so glad you said that. It makes me think about the difference between my first book and my second book. My second book is coming out in a couple of weeks, and it’s all about Crystals and Lunar Energy and really working with the moon. It’s really ritual-based, but it’s easy rituals that anyone can do, although you could make them more elaborate.
For me, that book is so different than just like the, “Here’s the A to Z of what crystals do.” Because of that point of co-creation that you were saying is a craft. It’s something that you’re actively doing. It’s not passive. You’re not just sitting back and watching this thing happen or unfold, but you’re really taking part in something greater in that form of creativity.
No matter what you do – whether it’s writing and journaling, or if it’s art or painting – to feel creative and express that creativity, magic can absolutely take a part in that. I so appreciate that perspective.
Pam: Thank you. I like to remind people, and also myself, that creativity doesn’t just have to be art, right? You know, I know accountants who are creative. I know small business owners and lawyers that are creative. Whatever your vocation is, there’s a space there for you to infuse it with more intention and magic and to bring it to a higher level of service and of generative energy that hopefully makes the world a better place, which is ultimately what it’s all about, in my opinion.
Ashley: Absolutely, Pam. Thank you so much for being here. This has been so enlightening.
Can you tell everybody where they can find the book and how they can stay in touch with you online and through social media?
Pam: Absolutely. The book right now can be found pretty much everywhere in the US and in the UK. All the usual websites, certainly all the usual bookshops, and of course, the small bookshops. Please, please support them. And if they don’t have it in a local bookshop, please ask them to order it because they would be so happy to do it. And I would be so happy to have the book spreading its wings. Beyond that, it’s coming out in a few other languages. More info on that soon. I think it’s coming out in German. Gosh, well, probably not relevant to this audience – but I think it’s late September. And Spanish language after that, and so on. So, hopefully, it has a bigger life to come.
Pam: It is exciting! If you want to know about my events, because I’m always bopping around doing workshops and presentations and talks and readings and all of that, just go to my website, pamgrossman.com and you’ll also see my social media accounts there. I have kind of a funny handle, which is Phantasmaphile, which is based on a blog that I’ve been running since… oh my God forever. It’s been that since 2003 or something like that.
I would love to hear from you. We can make some magic together.
Ashley: And of course, Also be sure to check out Witch Wave Podcast – you’ll want to check that out in whatever your podcast streaming app is because it is phenomenal. So again, Pam Grossman, thank you so much for being here.
Pam: Thank you so much for having me, be well.
Did you enjoy this interview with Pam Grossman? Grab yourself a copy of her amazing book HERE!