Hello, beautiful creatures.
My mailbox, inbox, and shopping cart have been insidiously delightful places of late. Some of this is due to the number of ridiculously talented people I’m privileged to know, and some of it is due to the fact that they all seem to know one another. To give you an example of what I mean, my partner and I went to Norwescon 41 a couple of weekends ago and came home with a paper sack quite literally full of books. Some of them were books written by folks we know (hi, Kace and Jennifer!), while others were written by authors we saw on panels over the weekend whose works we decided to check out (hello, Joseph and Lish!), and dropped more than a little dosh on a strongly (and justifiably) recommended Tarot deck and an utterly gorgeous role-playing game. By the time we got home, both our bookshelves and our pocketbook were both groaning.
And then, Monday’s mail brought me my Kickstarter reward copy of Becoming Dangerous, the new anthology of witchy-queer-femme essays and rituals edited by Katie West and Jasmine Elliott. I had a quick glance through the book, then set it aside. I felt that curious mixture of anticipation and foreboding that often accompanies important books, and I wanted to give it the time and attention it deserved.
Becoming Dangerous is not, I think, the sort of book most Pagans, polytheists, or magical practitioners tend to read when they’re looking for “witchcraft.” It’s utterly devoid of mystical diagrams and ancient incantations, and makes only a few passing references to gods. The casual reader, glancing through the book, could be forgiven for missing the rituals and magical techniques to be found, especially since they’re usually coded as something else. This isn’t a book on how to become a witch. Rather, it’s a book about what it means to be a witch, written by women and femmes for whom the word “witch” is as much a part of their identity as their skin, their sexuality, and their gender. As Katie West writes in her introduction, Becoming Dangerous addresses “the ways in which queer conjurers, witchy femmes, magical rebels, and people like you (or maybe nothing like you) resist the onslaught of a world of irrational happenings and the normalisation of their world on fire.”The book starts as it means to go on with “Unfuckable,” Cara Ellison’s paean to Scotland as personified both by the warrior woman Scáthach and by her own warrior-woman self. It’s a smart choice for an opening essay, establishing the book’s bracing, sympathetic-yet-uncompromising tone out of the gate. The twenty essays which follow cover a lot of topical ground: alchemical self-care routines in Sam Maggs’ “Reddit, Retin-A, and Resistance,” the deep work of gardening in Marguerite Bennett’s “Garden,” embracing demons and demolishing shame in Meredith Yayanos’ “The Harpy,” learning and owning the power of physical conflict in Deb Chacra’s “The Future is Coming for You,” and the witchery of sexuality of Mey Rude’s “My Witch’s Sabbath of Short Skirts, Long Kisses, and BDSM.” As you might expect, the subjects also span a range of potentially triggering issues, including but not limited to mental illness, suicide, sexual assault, gender dysphoria, disability, racism, sexism, and much more, each mercifully noted in the content warnings following the table of contents.
Ultimately, though, this is a book about magic… real, operant magic, the kind which changes reality. It’s a book about where that magic comes from, and how queer women and femmes, women of color, and trans women have used it since the dawn of humanity to survive in a world which would just as soon have them enslaved or dead. As such, it’s an intensely, often uncomfortably personal work which, by its very nature, calls into question many of the assumptions p-word folks have about what magic is and is for. I suspect that many readers—especially readers who identify as straight, cisgender, and/or white—will find a lot of challenging material in this book. Some will find that it’s not to their tastes, insisting that it’s not what they mean by witchcraft… and they would quite correct. The witchcraft of Becoming Dangerous is an unapologetically femme, unapologetically queer magic full of what Maranda Elizabeth’s “Trash-Magic” rightly calls “signs and rituals for the unwanted.” It’s found in the garbage, in glitter, in sexual fluids and tears, in moments of utter despair and ecstatic exultation. Rather than retreating into hollow repetitions of the dogmatic ritual and orthodoxy of the past, the voices in this anthology exhort us to live in the real world of the present, to embrace our own true natures and step our own power: to become dangerous.
And really, what else is witchcraft for?