"A fierce and voluble refutation of the patriarchy and its soul-crushing oppression of female power. These writers make clear that as witches, femmes, and queers, they will use their own strength, ingenious rituals, beauty routines, and spells to rise above and beyond the limits of racism/classism and objectifications set by a male-dominated society. While bound by a thread of magic, these are inspiring feminist writings for readers of feminist literature, however identified.” --Library Journal
Edgy and often deeply personal, the twenty-one essays collected here come from a wide variety of writers. Some identify as witches, others identify as writers, musicians, game developers, or artists. What they have in common is that they’ve created personal rituals to summon their own power in a world that would prefer them powerless. Here, they share the rituals they use to resist self-doubt, grief, and depression in the face of sexism, slut shaming, racism, patriarchy, and other systems of oppression.
Notes from the Editors
- Unfuckable—Cara Ellison
- Trash-Magic: Signs & Rituals for the Unwanted—Maranda Elizabeth
- Uncensoring My Ugliness—Laura Mandanas
- Femme as in Fuck You: Fucking with the Patriarchy One Lipstick Application at a Time—Catherine Hernandez
- Before I Was a Woman, I Was a Witch—Avery Edison
- Undressing My Heart—Gabriela Herstik
- Garden—Marguerite Bennett
- Reddit, Retin-A, and Resistance: An Alchemist’s Guide to Skincare—Sam Maggs
- The Future is Coming for You—Deb Chachra
- My Witch’s Sabbath of Short Skirts, Long Kisses, and BDSM—Mey Rude
- Buzzcut Season—Larissa Pham
- The Harpy—Meredith Yayanos
- Red Glitter—Sophie Saint Thomas
- Touching Pennies, Painting Nails—Sim Bajwa
- Ritual in Darkness—Kim Boekbinder
- Gayuma—Sara David
- Pushing Beauty Up Through the Cracks—Katelan Foisy
- Ritualising My Humanity—J. A. Micheline
- Simulating Control—Nora Khan
- I Am, Myself, a Body of Water—Leigh Alexander
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About the Author
Katie West is a writer, photographer, editor, director, and executive assistant. She was recently published in The Secret Loves of Geek (Dark Horse, edited by Hope Nicholson). She has published several volumes of a photographic magazine called Babefest that brings women together to create, share, and support one another. She also directed the music video for the Seven Saturdays single "Au Revoir," and she has a comic with Ray Fawkes in the upcoming anthology Haunted Tales of Gothic Love (Bedside Press, edited by Hope Nicholson).
Jasmine Elliott is a freelance editor and writer. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Windsor. She is a lapsed tarot reader and perpetually annoyed queer person currently based in Toronto. You can read her reviews of young adult literature at dictura.com.
Kristen J. Sollée is the author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists.
Read an Excerpt
Scotland is unfuckable.
Scotland cannot, will not, be fucked. It has always been, and to this day is, in a total and complete lack of having been fucked, fucked up, fucked over, fucked with.
I say this in defiance of a history of its misery and domination, poverty and neglect — though it has been bought and sold and barely any of its land is owned by anyone who really lives there. For certain, Scotland has been fucked on: Robert Burns and Edwin Morgan wrote down, in beautiful detail, the desiring of a woman's and man's body, respectively. But the way that the accepted canon of literary men talks about land, ownership, territory — Scotland is unfuckable because it is inhospitable.
I am become the land I stand on. I cannot remember exactly when the transformation took place. But I would like to tell you about where I realised it had, and the powerful ritual it gave me.
It is the grand masculine colonial tradition to talk about women as if they were a conquerable landscape — from Sir Walter Raleigh's naming of Virginia after a virgin queen, through the way that residents of the Kingdom of Fife adoringly call the Lomond Hills the 'paps of Fife', or the 'breasts of Fife'. In the pale teal mornings I would lie back on my grandmother's cold garden lawn and compare my growing chest bumps to the horizon.
But as I look closer at the history of Scotland, that very early history before and enduring the Ancient Romans, I learn that in the beginning, women were never the tilled, the claimed, the fertile land that the Romantic poets made them. They were wild: the crags, the bursting river; the unpredictable, the dangerous; those who may at any point take it all away. We might one day lash the world like a cat surprised, break the skin of natural order, and have the contents below burst into mess. It was that part of the land metaphor we occupied. We were not known as the passive but the prickly. The spiky. The terrifying. The vicious.
Scotland did not behave. Scotland will not behave.
As Sharon Blackie writes in her book If Women Rose Rooted, Celtic women had social standing that most other contemporaries in the West did not, and Christianity came to change that for the worse. In Ireland and Britain, women could be leaders and were important in political, social, and religious roles. Boudica and Cartimandua, for example, lead their people into battle, and Celtic women have been reported to have been judges, priestesses, lawyers, astronomers, artists, and doctors, often with rights to property, sexual freedom, and recourse to damages if they were physically or sexually assaulted. A Celtic woman was feared and respected. The Romans are on record saying you do not fuck with a Celtic woman.
The whole Celtic world was based on the ordaining of place, of the natural world. What we might now call the 'femme' was indivisible from the land on which people lived. This land was not something considered to belong to anyone.
I leaf through the Ulster Cycle of Irish literary tradition, a sort of Marvel Universe of the Dark Ages, the stories Celts constructed together as they cooked and drank and wove and washed and stole each other's sheep. One figure in particular stands out to me: Scáthach, a famous warrior woman and prophet who lived with her daughter on the Isle of Skye. Scáthach taught the Irish heroes how to snatch life from one another and vault ramparts like giants, like gods. There is little centred upon her alone, but she has an easy traversal through the background of stories written down about more famous Irish heroes. She stands, smiling, to the side of gilt Celtic knot lettering, behind the posturing of hundreds of words of male-ingratiated prose.
She gets up every morning to sharpen spears, kick the shins of young Irishmen, wash blood out of undershirts. Her daughter is on the wall watching her, sewing, and spotting selkies in the ocean waves.
There is supposed to be failure in a woman being alone. For years it bothered me that I was not 'possessed' by another or 'attached' in some way. What are you supposed to do with yourself when the ways in which society is structured make you safe or content only if you are tied, legally or socially, to another, more esteemed gender? It is not that you cannot have it: there are many men who would marry you or would at least treat you kindly. It is that happiness and a steady attention supply are not the same thing. Happiness and a steady attention supply are not the same thing. They are not even related. And the only reason that I thought they were was because very many of my role models were operating under the same delusion.
That you might think they are the same thing is because of magazines, social media, romantic movies, people's fickle approval, the way people talk about weddings and marriage, 'he'll make you happy': those are mythology. The only things needed for happiness are a fixed abode, safety, food, water, care, and stories. The care and stories can come from anyone, romantic or otherwise. You do not need daily attention to survive; you merely only need to experience daily care. The care, if it is not forthcoming, can be sought most of the time, but it must be face to face. In person. And the greatest purveyors of it, these days, tend not to be men.
Two years ago, I stopped being subject to the woodpecker opinions of the internet, stopped reassessing my worth by the comments column, deleted my popular Twitter account, and wandered into the constant dark wilderness of my home country, far away from the cities that require that you sell yourself to keep from suffocating. There, I began to write what I wanted at length in private and work at jobs that required my physical presence. I found people nearby who cared for me and I cared for. I found people who wanted to tell stories with me. This has brought me close to my motherland in a way that I have never been: I have become firm friends with the roiling dark and grey-blue frowns of the unpredictable. In fact, I revel in downpours and thunder and fierce, ripping winds, and when they catch me by surprise, I like to linger in and try to prolong them. I try to think of all the women who knew how to thatch a roof and butcher a pig and find a spring, those who may not have had care like I can have care. Atop my neighbour Calton Hill, men have placed Enlightenment monuments that poke the sky, but when it rains, the clouds envelop and sap their power. Beneath the hill, it is said, the Pale Queen sits ready to impart to local women the gifts of how to survive.
Perhaps I have finally listened.
* * *
Perth Railway Station is a Victorian building made of red and white brick triangles and inverted U shapes. If you grew up in the United Kingdom, there's a good chance you think Perth Railway Station looks a bit like a seventies Safeway supermarket. There's nothing particularly mysterious or interesting about its iron girders if what you are seeking is a reclusive martial artist from a Dark Ages tome.
Striding out towards the car park where multi-coloured pansies sit in troughs, I remember an urban childhood spent in and out of Perth and Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland, only sometimes broken by trips to Balloch, Bennachie, Glenshee. Sometimes I'd see my aunt in Auchtermuchty, something that in proper Scots pronunciation sounds a lot like coughing twice or a compound sneeze, a place that looks like a village from Outlander.
We won't be needing postcard images where we're going. Remove all thoughts of twee Jacobite sex fantasies and Highland Toffee trim and the comfort of Trainspotting's nearby Class A drugs. My mind can't get past the sadness and massacre, old stains of poverty and airborne sea foam that will be at our destination, possible guesthouse fish and chips if we are lucky. We are going to Dun Sgathaich — a ruin named 'Fortress of Shadows' in Gaelic, like it might be some sort of Dark Souls level — and I know from thirty-two years' experience there is nothing cute about the ankle-spraining hikes of Caledonian coastal cliffs, and treating them like a lovely little jolly into Highland cow territory is what the Isle of Skye frankly wants from you before it opens up rockpool jaws and consumes you whole.
My friend Cat, whose expertise in both driving and photography I have hired for the weekend, shows me her supplies in the back of the car: wellie boots, waterproof trousers, windbreakers, fleeces. Possible armour for an oncoming storm. Photographers never leave anything to chance — there's a lot of expensive equipment to abandon in a sucking bog. We look at the weather forecast: as usual, the answer comes, 'Changeable.' The Isle of Skye is more than five hours' drive away to the north-west, but not on flat, wide straights. After you leave Fort William for the islands, it is a shoulder-wrench on the steering column around steep hills, up and down narrow roads populated with spiteful sheep, the force of the usual angry cloudburst and gale force winds making it likely you will drive into a springy heather trap-ditch. If you consider Scotland an old woman's face turned west towards North America, as my Highland ancestors did, then we are driving to the edge of her bushy eyebrow to try to understand what she is thinking.
* * *
In the car, I try not to think about Scáthach. But she is all I can think about.
Scáthach the warrior woman's largest role happens in an Old Irish Gaelic tale called 'The Wooing of Emer'. In the earliest form of the tale, the Ulster hero Cu Chulainn has to prove himself to the father of his prospective bride Emer. Part of the father's approval depends on Cu Chulainn going to Scotland to train with a great martial artist, our Scáthach, who resides in a place called The Fortress of Shadows. It is such a demanding regime that it is expected that Cu Chulainn will die in training. In fact, Emer's father is counting on it.
The Fortress of Shadows has a long precipice to negotiate and a solid door at the entrance. Cu Chulainn walks across the precipice and stabs his spear right through the door of the dun, or fortress. Scáthach's daughter Uathach opens the door, presumably to find out who is damaging the door (no daughter of Scáthach fears mere violence).
Uathach is immediately dumbstruck by how agonisingly hot Cu Chulainn is. (I believe the translation in the Revue Celtique states, 'She did not speak to him, so much did his shape move her desire.') Uathach goes upstairs to tell her mother Scáthach about him (I like to imagine he looks like Hot Chris Pratt. Maybe Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven, or in that Jurassic Park movie where he seduces a pack of velociraptors).
I ruminate, from time to time, on the conversation that supposedly passed between the two women about Cu Chulainn. Scáthach is a very famous teacher of the fuck 'em up arts, and she runs what one might consider a sprawling martial arts training ground, the kind that you might see in a Bruce Lee movie, only they're all Scottish and Irish and they really like swords and haft weapons. Scáthach's by no means a stupid woman, and she's a woman who's used to huge strapping Irish heroes turning up at her door, or at least dying on the precipice before it for her entertainment. There's no direct speech suggested for what Uathach says to her about Cu Chulainn, but it's probably something like, 'Mum, there's an Irish hero at the door and he's so hot my eyes and crotch might have gone on fire.'
Scáthach's reply is something like, 'Put him in my bed then. I've been bored all this time.'
It is this ability to be completely unimpressed with the world that made Scáthach immediately dear to me.
Generally speaking, Cu Chulainn is one of the worst house guests you could possibly imagine. When he was young, he killed his host Chulainn's guard dog and had to pretend to be a guard dog for Chulainn until a replacement dog was reared, which is how Cu Chulainn got his name. At Scáthach's house, he accidentally breaks Uathach's finger and then kills one of Scáthach's guest champions. Cu Chulainn also goes out to try to slay Aoife, a neighbouring warrior woman said to be the best in the world, against Scáthach's will, and brings her back as prisoner. I imagine Scáthach's carpets, if there are any, are ruined.
Do not have Cu Chulainn round your house. He will do something awful.
And yet Scáthach seems to care about Cu Chulainn, probably because her daughter ends up betrothed to him. (I'm not really versed in Irish marriage laws, but doesn't he want to marry Emer? Doesn't this create some problems? Should it? How many children is this guy supposed to have? Didn't he swear a vow of chastity to Emer that was immediately violated when he met Scáthach? So many questions for the editor.) But she's not even ruffled by his behaviour. When he kills a visiting champion, she's just like: that is inconvenient. What are you going to do about that? It seems that to Scáthach the whole world is just teeming with impetuous young Irish imbeciles who run rampant across the land like kittens might play all over their bored, slightly sleepy mother. It's this quality that I like about her: she's the best at what she does, because she's seen it all. Scáthach is only scared of Aoife, her neighbour, but Scáthach lives in a fortress with all the heroes of the Celtic world. What has she got to worry about, really? She knows all of the secrets of the art of killing others. That's why men come to her.
* * *
The five-hour drive to Fort William feels like being in the first season of True Detective, the passing landscape like some ticking timebomb and the serial killer is the weather. The sky quickly blows past grey clouds and covers us in fine mist, then solid rain, then mist again. Most of Scotland's motorways pass by fields of cows or sheep or horses, pine trees, telephone poles, telephone poles, giant mountains, heather and heather and heather, cottages, squat grey villages, and sometimes a couple petrol stations. Cat, a seasoned Highlands driver, has planned to stop at the Fort William Morrison's supermarket to get lunch and a break from looking at the road's white Morse code before she stick shifts around winding single track roads. The hard part. The difficult part. The part where you might fuck it up entirely.
We have been mostly silent. Cat and I don't know each other well, but we are happy in each other's company. Anticipation feels like a person sitting dourly, dark-browed in the back, like a murderer of hopes and dreams. Probably we are both wondering what might go wrong or trying to think about what we might see from that coast. We are definitely thinking about the weather and how it will piss it down the closer we get. We are both thinking about where we will sleep and what we will eat.
The further you get to the edge of the Roman Empire in Britain, the less comfortable everything gets. They used to build us roads, you know. Straight roads Britons still use. But the Romans were not used to the water-based army Scotland kept in the sky, and they didn't care to face the land army either.
I'm telling you this because ancient history has had a direct effect on Scotland and how it works. Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, we all have what anyone in the United States has in terms of, well, stuff. But sometimes there are places that even Amazon won't go. It doesn't make fiscal sense. The ancient Romans worked this out early. Probably the Romans built the wall against us because they disliked the idea of fighting men and women hardened on the absence of tiled, heated floors and steam rooms, and whose primary idea of intimacy was telling each other the most heart-wrenching stories they could think of, then duelling each other to the death over them. (If you have ever wanted to live in a society entirely made of warrior-poets, this is the logical endpoint of one.)
I always think about a game the Roman soldiers used to play when they kept watch on the ramparts of Vindolanda at Hadrian's Wall. They would throw a red ball over the wall into Scotland, and every soldier would try to throw their ball closest to it. The closest ball to the red ball would win. The ball furthest away from the red ball would lose: the owner would be lowered into Scotland to pick all the balls up. I laugh to myself, every time, at the idea of a Roman soldier, in full leather armour regalia and winter fur, running about the bushes, frantic, before the Scots arrive to pick him off. Probably this was the main entertainment of the game for the not-losers, like Ancient Roman Takeshi's Castle. Only if you fell, a Scot jumped out and stabbed you.
* * *
Cat and I sit in the cafe of Morrison's over mugs of lukewarm brown coffee with that thin layer of milk fat glinting on the top of it, looking out past the last vestiges of what one might call 'urban' life on our way. Next to us are the bright yellow arches of a McDonald's restaurant, strangely not that far from the actual Clan MacDonald outposts. Scots like to brag about what we gave the world, but sometimes it bites us in the arse.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Becoming Dangerous"
Copyright © 2019 Katie West and Jasmine Elliott.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Notes from the Editors xviii
Content Warnings xx
Unfuckable Cara Ellison 1
Trash-Magic: Signs & Rituals for the Unwanted Maranda Elizabeth 19
Uncensoring My Ugliness Laura Mandanas 37
Femme as in Fuck You; Fucking with the Patriarchy One Lipstick Application at a Time Catherine Hernandez 45
Before I Was A Woman, I Was a Witch Avery Edison 56
Undressing My Heart Gabriela Herstik 71
Garden Marguerite Bennett 81
Reddit, Retin-A, and Resistance: An Alchemist's Guide to Skincare Sam Maggs 94
The Future Is Coming for You Deb Chachra 112
My Witch's Sabbath of Short Skirts, Long Kisses, and BDSM Mey Rude 130
Buzzcut Season Larissa Pham 140
The Harpy Meredith Yayanos 151
Fingertips Merritt k 171
Red Glitter Sophie Saint Thomas 182
Touching Pennies, Painting Nails Sim Bajwa 199
Ritual in Darkness Kim Boekbinder 212
Gayuma Sara David 225
Pushing Beauty Up Through the Cracks Katelan Foisy 238
Ritualising My Humanity J. A. Micheline 253
Simulating Control Nora Khan 263
I Am, Myself, a Body of Water Leigh Alexander 276