XXIX. North to Sonoma II
“That’s enough about me,” I said. “What kind of hereditary Witch are you?”
She laughed. “It’s our family tradition. We believe we’ve always followed our own religion, not Christianity, though sometimes we had to pretend in order to survive. It was our enemies who labeled us Witches—that’s not what we called ourselves—but many communities have adopted the name used by their critics: Quakers, Mormons, Cathars, perhaps even the term Christian itself. Our tradition is carried by the women in the family. Each girl is trained by her mother, or sometimes her grandmother or aunts as well.”
“Aren’t the men in your family Witches?”
“They consider it their religion. In modern times some have been merely tolerant and supportive of it. But they don’t get the training that the women do, and they can’t carry on the tradition by themselves.”
“So your tradition makes second-class citizens of men?” I asked.
“It’s poetic justice, isn’t it?” she replied. “There are compensations. No man has ever chosen to divorce a woman in our family, though several have been thrown out by the women for cause. We also don’t allow the men to touch the finances. We have enough money invested that each woman gets enough to live comfortably on; she doesn’t need to work or depend on a man to support her. My foremothers learned the hard way, centuries ago, that we needed to make and keep our own fortune.”
“Your family invented feminism long before it was fashionable.”
“Yes, we’ve been blessed with a line of incredibly powerful matriarchs. My branch of the family immigrated to America about 1800, and set up a farm and winery in upper New York State. When the depression of the 1830s hit, they relocated to Staten Island and have been there ever since.
“Let me tell you about my great-grandmother Dorothy, or Dotty, as we called her. And she was rather dotty. She was born just before the turn of the century. You wouldn’t expect hereditary Witches to be conservative and respectable, although there’s always the imperative to preserve the family tradition, but Dotty went beyond all previous bounds. When she turned 21, had her own money, and had finished college, she took off for Paris. She met Mathers and Moina Bergson and their crowd, but didn’t like them much. She proceeded to sleep with every talented painter, poet, musician, and writer she could lure into bed and promptly got pregnant with my grandmother, Alicia. She would never tell anyone who she thought the father was. For all I know I’m related to Picasso. Soon after Alicia was born, she was out partying again.”
“It’s a wonder she survived that kind of life,” I commented.
“Not really. She didn’t drink, and there were no drugs around then that she liked. No, she got high on sex. She stayed in Paris until the mid-30s. At that point she could see that the Nazis were going to start a war; so she moved to England. When Alicia turned 18, Dotty sent her home to the family mansion on Staten Island, to start college. Dotty had gotten to know Dion Fortune’s crowd, and through them she met the occult circle in the New Forest area, including the Druids, Crowley, the Woodcrafters, and so on. There was an occasion when all of them got together, in about 1939, to discuss the idea of reviving the Pagan religion that Margaret Murray thought lay behind the witch-hunts.
“I thought historians had proved that Murray’s theory was bunk,” I said.
“No, they simply don’t want to believe that we existed—and still exist. We know what questions the witch hunters asked and what answers they demanded. She looked at all the bits and pieces that can’t be explained that way and saw that there was a pattern to them. Anyway, when the war broke out, plans for starting a coven had to be put on the shelf. Dotty stayed and worked in the war effort. When the war was finally over, she found that Gerald and Edith, who had been carrying on a wild romance for years, were still determined to create a coven, so she gave them all the help she could. That’s why Gerald’s original initiation ritual resembles ours.”
“I don’t know what constitutes either of those.”
“Maybe I’ll be able to show you in the not terribly distant future. My grandmother Alicia had gotten married during the war. My mother was born just before it ended, so Dotty began commuting to New York once a year to see her daughter and granddaughter. Gradually the stays in New York got longer and those in Britain shorter. At some point in the 1950s Dotty admitted that she had moved home.
“She was at loose ends for a while. She had some fun razzing the Red-hunters and got into some civil rights work. She was furious that my mother decided to go to Santa Theresa instead of Hunter College, her own alma mater. Then she discovered that Ray and Rosie had brought Gardner’s type of Witchcraft to America, specifically, to Bay Shore, Long Island. She contacted them, explained who she was, and offered to serve as an advisor to the coven. Gardner sent a letter confirming what she said, so they accepted her offer. Dotty advised and occasionally circled with the coven for the next 20 years. She supplied the ideas for a lot of the innovations that were introduced by the High Priestess who took over when Rosie retired.
“The last time I saw her was on my fifteenth birthday, which is always a special occasion in our family. We were living in Los Angeles then, and she flew out from New York. She was still as full of piss and vinegar as ever, even at 90, and she was so annoyed with me . . . I’ll explain why some other time. It’s a little complicated.”