A greeting card witch from the early 1900's.

A greeting card witch from the early 1900’s.

I started this post last Wednesday, (pre-Halloween) but WordPress wasn’t cooperating, so I bailed and decided to save it for this week instead. It actually seems quite fitting for today, since it’s post Election Day in the United States and for the last week, my Facebook feed has been filled with awesome quotes and images relating to the suffragist movement and a woman’s right to vote. What does the suffragist movement have to do with witches? Read on.

A couple of weeks ago, a lovely online friend sent me a link she thought I’d like. (Thank you Kristen!) It was an article from Smithsonian Magazine’s web site titled, “Women of the Early 1900’s Rallied Behind Beautiful, Wartless Witches.” Colour me intrigued!

The author of the article, Megan Gambino put forth some interesting historical research to show that images of witches in women’s magazines and greeting cards drastically changed in the early 1900’s – from warty old hags, to young, curvy beautiful women. Sitting astride broomsticks or surrounded by pumpkins and black cats, they coyly look at their viewers as if to say, “I know something you don’t.”

Footloose and fancy free!

Footloose and fancy free!

I especially appreciated the quotes Gambino included from her interview with historian Daniel Gifford. He draws a direct line between the suffragist movement and the aforementioned images.

“This is the period of the New Woman—the woman who wants to have her say, to be able to work, marry who she chooses, to divorce, and, of course, to be able to vote,” Gifford explains. “There are lots of questions about how much power women have at this time. What sort of boundaries can they push? How far can they push them? What sense of control do they have over their own lives and their own fate?”

New Woman - New Witch

New Woman – New Witch

This idea of Gifford’s is of great interest to me, because I believe the reimagined images of witches didn’t just pop up overnight. In the research I’ve done for my next novel, The Witches of New York, I’ve found some interesting ties between the Spiritualism craze of the mid to late 1800’s and the early trail-blazing women of the suffragist movement.

Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker by birth was very interested in what the relatively new religion of Spiritualism had to offer women. While the historical record is unclear as to whether or not she ever adopted all the beliefs within the movement, she certainly associated with well-known Spiritualists of her day and explored their work and ideas with a curious, interested, and admiring, yet critical eye.

Starting in 1891, Anthony spoke at Lily Dale, a Spiritualist retreat/religious community in upstate New York every summer for a number of years. Of her 1891 visit she wrote:

“People came from far and near. Finally three thousand were assembled in that beautiful amphitheater, decorated with yellow, the suffrage color, and the red, white and blue. There hanging by itself, was our national flag, ten by fourteen feet, with its red and white stripes, and in the center of the blue corner, just one golden star, Wyoming, blazing out along. (Wyoming was the first state to recognize woman’s suffrage.) Every cottage in the camp was festooned with yellow, and when at night the Chinese lanterns were lighted on the plazas, it was gorgeous as any fourth of July celebration, and all in honor of Woman’s Day and her coming freedom.” – from “A Dale by any other Name” by Rev. Sandra P Fortmiller at nsac.org

The women of the Spiritualism movement, specifically those who spoke about and practised mediumship, greatly impressed Anthony and other Suffragist leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Their words had equal weight within the movement, their lectures were well attended by men and women alike. Spiritualism also took what had long been accepted as the traits and virtues of women (most notably their “sensitivity”) and held them up as ideals of leadership. As author Ann Braude states in her book, Radical Spirits, “The very qualities that rendered women incompetent when judged against the norms for masculine behaviour rendered them capable of mediumship. Mediumship allowed women to discard limitations on women’s roles without questioning accepted ideas about woman’s nature.”

And so grew a relationship of mutual appreciation between many Suffragists and Spiritualists. While said Suffragists admired the Spiritualist’s radical beliefs when it came to the power of women, the Spiritualists eagerly rallied behind the movement that would one day gain women the right to vote.

It’s even been said that the same table upon which the “Declaration of Sentiments” was written also hosted taps and rapping from “the Great Beyond.”

Seneca Falls Convention 1848, which led to the "Declaration of Sentiments" a woman's bill of rights.

Seneca Falls Convention 1848, which led to the “Declaration of Sentiments” a woman’s bill of rights.

“Raps reportedly rocked the same table where Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton penned the “Declaration of Sentiments,” which formed the (Seneca Falls) convention’s agenda. The table stood in the parlour of progressive Quakers (and future Spiritualists) Thomas and Mary Ann McClintock.” – from Radical Spirits by Ann Braude

That table now sits in the Smithsonian.


People, places and things mentioned in this post:

Megan Gambino’s article from Smithsonianmag.com

More on the history of Lily Dale

Ann Braude, author of Radical Spirits, Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in 19th Century America

A short video about the Seneca Falls Convention.





My son, Jonah in the loving care of midwife, Louise McDonald.

My son, Jonah in the loving care of midwife, Louise McDonald.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about midwifery on my blog, but it’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, and never far from my mind. My homebirth baby, Jonah (pictured above) is now thirteen, and in 2016, my novel The Birth House (inspired by the midwife who once lived in my house) will be a decade old. Time flies!

In the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed there’s a new hashtag popping up in my Twitter feed, #MidwifeMondays. I have to say, I’m really enjoying reading the tweets from the Canadian midwifery community and beyond. They feature everything from links to birth stories, to messages of support for midwives, to calls for provincial action when it comes to expanding midwifery services and care.

The status of midwifery in this country still greatly varies from province to province. While some provinces offer midwifery services to all women as part of their health care system, other provinces have a long way to go before midwives are truly a part of the medical community at large. Nova Scotia took some important steps forward in 2006 with the Midwifery Act, but the implementation of the act has been (and is still) undergoing a long evaluation/testing process that has sadly resulted in limited services for many expectant mothers in the province. While the Midwifery Regulatory Council has done their best to see things through, there’s also been a fair bit of struggle and stress along the way. Discouraged by the current state of midwifery in NS, some midwives have given up their practices or left the province for greener pastures.

That said, the Midwifery Coalition of Nova Scotia presses on in their ongoing work to lobby on behalf of mothers, children, families and midwives, ever stalwart in their efforts to “convince various governments that midwifery is necessary, desirable and cost-effective care.” (Happy 30th anniversary MCNS. Thank you for your devotion to the cause!)

J. taking in Louise's words.  She spoke to him when he was in and out of the womb. :-)

J. taking in Louise’s words. She spoke to him when he was in and out of the womb. :-)

To cheer our dear midwives of Canada on (as well as all those who support them in their efforts,) I thought I’d share an amazing video that was sent to me the other day. It comes from Aube Giroux, formerly of the Gaspereau Valley. She produces a gorgeous food blog for PBS called Kitchen Vignettes and recently she featured her sister making a “groaning cake” (a la The Birth House)  to celebrate the birth of her baby! It’s a beautiful tribute to the traditions, anticipation and joy surrounding childbirth.

Here’s the video (and check out the end of this post for a link to her blog.)

Resources and People related to this post:

CBC Radio’s Dr. Brian Goldman of “White Coat Black Art” recently devoted an entire episode to discussing the state of midwifery in Canada. It’s worth a listen. “Haves and Have Nots: Midwifery in Canada” 

If you value midwifery in Nova Scotia, contact the Midwifery Coalition of Nova Scotia to see how you can help.

To read Aube’s full post on Groaning Cake (including her delicious recipe) and to discover my new favourite food blog, visit Kitchen Vignettes .

Happy #MidwifeMondays !

It’s nearly Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and aside from spending time with family, visiting a pumpkin patch, and stirring pots of bubbling goodness on the stove, I’ll probably end the holiday by curling up on the couch with pillow, popcorn and cozy blanket to watch a few movies. Since it’s also Witchy Wednesday, I thought I’d list my top movie picks featuring, you guessed it, witches.

In no particular order…

Dorothy Gale, (and Toto too!) caught between two witches.

Dorothy Gale, (and Toto too!) caught between two witches.

1. The Wizard of Oz. 

This classic film was shown on national TV in the US every year throughout my childhood. Strangely enough they aired it right around Easter which also coincided with tornado season in the Midwest, leaving this Hoosier girl quaking with fear from the get go. Still, despite the fierce storm, the menacing green-faced wicked witch, the grumbling apple trees and flying monkeys, I fell in love with the movie. To this day, I watch it any time I get the chance. It’s a true cinematic masterpiece, especially when you consider it premiered in 1939.

Mary, Winifred and Sarah - the Sanderson Sisters

Mary, Winifred and Sarah – the Sanderson Sisters

2. Hocus Pocus.

The story of the wild, wacky Sanderson sisters of Salem (played by Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker) brings its own special brand of magic to the silver screen. Panned by critics when it was released in 1993, it quickly became a cult classic and has had a special place in my witchy heart ever since. There’s something wonderfully entertaining about their over-the-top, irreverent antics that begs for repeated viewings of this film. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll sing along with the Divine Miss M’s rousing rendition of “I put a spell on you.”

Kim Novak as Gillian Holroyd, a Greenwich VIllage witch.

Kim Novak as Gillian Holroyd, a Greenwich VIllage witch.

3. Bell, Book and Candle. 

Based on the original Broadway play by John Van Druten, this 1958 romantic comedy is a sexy, well-dressed tale of a love spell gone wrong. Kim Novak is brilliant as the slinky, scheming Gillian, and Jimmy Stewart is (as always) perfect in his portrayal of the unsuspecting Shep. The supporting cast is equally delightful with spot-on performances by Jack Lemon, Elsa Lanchester and Pyewacket the cat. (It’s a fun film to pair with Vertigo…also starring Novak and Stewart, albeit in a totally different light.)

Kiki and her talking black cat, Jiji.

Kiki and her talking black cat, Jiji.

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service.

If you’ve never seen a Hayao Miyazaki film, shame on you! As someone who was raised on Disney animated films, I have to admit that the first Studio Ghibli film I saw completely rocked my world. Kiki’s Delivery Service is an enchanting tale about a young thirteen-year-old witch in training (Kiki) who hopes to find a sense of belonging and place in the world as she learns to master her powers. Miyazaki’s enduring obsession with flight shines through in this film, making the scenes where Kiki flies on her broom especially breathtaking.

Nancy (Fairuza Balk) casts a spell in The Craft.

Nancy (Fairuza Balk) casts a spell in The Craft.

5. The Craft.

And now for something completely different. As with Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Craft features a teenage girl (Sarah Bailey, played by Robin Tunney) who’s trying to fit in, but that’s where the comparison ends. This film’s plot centres on a group of high school outcasts at St. Benedict’s Academy who take up witchcraft as a way to gain power and control over their messed up lives. Filled with invocations, spell casting and glamour magic, The Craft was a hit among the teen goth crowd of the mid 1990’s. What makes this film for me isn’t so much the plot, but the music that serves as the soundtrack to this angsty coven’s activities. With songs by Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Tripping Daisy, Elastica, Mathew Sweet, Our Lady Peace and Jewel, you’ll be transported back a few years when you watch it, (and maybe even swear you smell the scent of clove cigarettes in the air.)

The Owens sisters in full witchy garb.

The Owens sisters in full witchy garb.

6. Practical Magic.

Based on the Alice Hoffman novel of the same name, this 1998 film has a bit of everything when it comes to it witchery. A family curse, herbalism, witchy bloodlore, potions, poisons, small town gossip, and a whole heap of sisterly tensions/love. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock are a lovely bad-girl good-girl pairing, but there’s far more to this movie than that. Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest are kick-ass witchy aunties who make midnight margaritas while helping to set things right.

Oh, and I can't forget Stockard Channing's glorious hat...

Oh, and I can’t forget Stockard Channing’s glorious hat…

Anjelica Huston as The Grand High Witch

Anjelica Huston as The Grand High Witch

7. The Witches.

A wonderful blend of fantasy and comedy, The Witches (based on the Roald Dahl book) does a lovely job of capturing the essence of Dahl’s original tale. (Dahl himself wasn’t a fan because the ending of the film strayed from the book’s.) Anjelica Houston is delightfully wicked in her role as The Grand High Witch, and the creations contributed by Jim Henson’s creature shop bring the fantastical elements of the story to life. It was the final film that Henson personally worked on before his death. Although it struggled at the box office, critics gave it raves, calling it “ambitious and inventive.”

Jane, Alexandra and Sukie take aim...

Jane, Alexandra and Sukie take aim…

8. The Witches of Eastwick.

Another adaptation, The Witches of Eastwick is based on the first of John Updike’s novels about a trio of witchy female friends, Jane Spofford, Alexandra Medford and Sukie Ridgemont. (His sequel, The Widows of Eastwick was published in 2008.) In the 1987 film the women, (played by Susan Sarandon, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer) dissatisfied with their lives, soon discover that their latent witchy powers have been sparked by their weekly get togethers and their mutual longing for “the perfect man.” Jack Nicholson appears in the form of a mysterious stranger and mayhem ensues.

Bellatrix threatens Hermione.

Bellatrix threatens Hermione.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Pt. 1)

Technically all the HP movies have witches in them (and thus are on my long-list of witchy watches,) but when it comes to the portrayal of an all-out evil sorceress with an axe to grind, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange in Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 takes the cake. “I’m going to have a conversation with this one, girl to girl…” she says before she gets poor Hermione alone. What happens next always makes me squirm.

Can't wait to see Meryl Streep as the Witch in Into the Woods.

Can’t wait to see Meryl Streep as the Witch in Into the Woods.

10. Into the Woods

I know it’s not out yet, but Into the Woods is one of my favourite musicals, so the film version is automatically on my must-see list. I pray the powers that be haven’t messed this one up!

Which witchy films are on your list?


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