BY SIAN FERGUSON
When it comes to fiction about witchcraft, the canon is limited. That much is obvious.
Up until recently, it mostly consisted of broomstick-straddling, fuzzy-haired caricatures, like in Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Macbeth. A great deal of witchy fiction also deals with a centuries-old history of persecution, like in The Crucible or Salem.
We live in a world where witchcraft is one of the fastest-growing religions (or philosophies), with witchcraft rapidly growing through platforms like Tumblr. Along with the rise of intersectional feminism, the empowering, inclusive and female-centric nature of witchcraft has endeared the philosophy to many young people. We’re using social media to find covens and communities; we’re blogging about spells and tricks.
Witchcraft is adapting easily and beautifully to our modern society. Surely, fiction about witchcraft needs to do the same.
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading JT Lawrence’s new novel, Grey Magic. The novel prompted me to think deeply and carefully about the representation of witches in pop culture. The protagonist is Raven Kane, a burnt-out witch that’s dealing with way too much: a selfish sister, a dilapidated house, a menagerie of needy animals and a rebellious coven of young witches. Her ‘business’ of performing spells is run through social media, where she connects with potential clients. One day, a stranger turns up with a weighted accusation – one that forces her to take a look at her past in order to heal.
Grey Magic does a wonderful job of humanizing the modern-day witch. Raven’s witchiness isn’t the only important thing about her character: she has a past that she has to address in order to move forward both as a witch and as a human being. She has flaws and quirks that make her ultra-relatable. There is no black-and-white to her: she lives in the margins, performing grey magic, living by her own personal moral code.
In other words, JT Lawrence achieves what all good writing must do: it creates characters that are as complex as real humans. And for a character who is a witch, that sort of complexity is canon-altering. The book is clearly well-researched, as it really dispels some common myths about witchcraft and asks the questions many of us have asked ourselves.
Reading Grey Magic made me realize how badly we need modern witchy fiction. Modern witches need to look at literature and see a reflection of themselves, and not just a caricature or tragic one-dimensional representation of our foremothers.
Grey Magic is thought provoking. As a witch, I was prompted to think deeply about the difference between magic, and manipulation and deceit. It made me ask myself how we should take responsibility for hurting people with witchcraft, especially if we’re trying to adhere to the ‘first, do no harm’ rule.
Grey Magic doesn’t necessarily answer these questions. It doesn’t have to. But it acknowledges that those questions exist – and as a community where our moral conundrums are seldom explored in fiction, that’s invaluable.
Moving into the future of witchy fiction, I hope to see more literature like Grey Magic, and I hope our generation of witches leaves a mark on the canon. Through art, we need to explore our differences and opinions together, tackling issues that are deeply controversial to us witches, creating a community and dispelling stigma and myths.
Sian Ferguson is a full-time freelance writer based in South Africa. Her work has been featured on various sites, including Ravishly, MassRoots, Matador Network and more. She’s particularly interested in writing about queer issues, misogyny, healing after sexual trauma and rape culture. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Read her articles here.