the moon and lunar power

November 21, 2019

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

Erica Jong
Witches

The truth is that the witch is a descendant of ancient goddesses who embodied both birth and death, nurturing and destruction, so it is not surprising that she has both aspects. But when religions decay and gods are replaced, there is a consistent dynamic: the gods of the old religion inevitably become the devils of the new. If serpents were once worshipped as symbols of magic power, they will later be despised as symbols of evil. If women were once seen as all-powerful, they will become relegated to obedience to men and feeling pain in childbirth. The symbols remain but their values are reversed. The snake in Genesis is now the devil. The first female, Eve, has gone from being a life-giver to a death-bringer. Good and evil are reversed. This is the way the politics of religion work.

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the Middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

Erica Jong

Witches   

The Figure of the Witch

April 9, 2019

Witch-woman,
burning goddess,
every woman bears
within her soul
the figure of the witch

Erica Jong

Witches

the gift of language

December 29, 2018

Anne Sexton sometimes seemed like a woman without skin. She felt everything so intensely, had so little capacity to filter out pain that everyday events often seemed unbearable to her. Paradoxically it is also that skinlessness which makes a poet. One must have the gift of language, but even a great gift is useless without the other curse: the eyes that see so sharply they often want to close.

Erica Jong
Remembering Anne Sexton
New York Times 27th October 1974

BABY-WITCH

September 6, 2016

BABY-WITCH

Baby-witch,
my daughter,
my worship of the Goddess
alone
condemns you to the fire. . .

I blow upon
your least fingernail
& it flares cyclamen & rose.
I suck flames from your ears.
I touch your perfect nostrils
& they, too, flame gently
like that pale rose
called ‘sweetheart’.

Your eyelids are tender purple
like the base of the flame
before it blues.

O child of fire,
O tiny devotee of the Goddess-

I wished for you
to be born a daughter
though we know
that daughters
cannot but be

born for burning
like the fatal
tree.

Erica Jong

Love Spell: Against endings

September 5, 2016

lovespell

All the endings in my life
rise up against me
like that sea of troubles
Shakespeare mixed
with metaphors;
like Vikings in their boats
singing Wagner,
like witches
burning at
the stake –
I submit
to my fate.

I know beginnings,
their sweetnesses,
and endings,
their bitternesses –
but I do not know
continuance –
I do not know
the sweet demi-boredom
of life as it lingers,
of man and wife
regarding each other
across a table of shared witnesses,
of the hand-in-hand dreams
of those who have slept
a half-century together
in a bed so used and familiar
it is rutted
with love.

I would know that
before this life closes,
a soulmate to share my roses –
I would make a spell
with long grey beard hairs
and powdered rosemary and rue,
with the jacket of a tux
for a tall man
with broad shoulders,
who loves to dance;
with one blue contact lens
for his bluest eyes;
with honey in a jar
for his love of me;
with salt in a dish
for his love of sex and skin;
with crushed rose petals
for our bed;
with tubes of cerulean blue
and vermilion and rose madder
for his artist’s eye;
with a dented Land-Rover fender
for his love of travel;
with a poem by Blake
for his love of innocence
revealed by experience;
with soft rain
and a bare head;
with hand-in-hand dreams on Mondays
and the land of fuck
on Sundays;
with mangoes, papayas
and limes,
and a house towering
above the sea.

Muse, I surrender
to thee.

Thy will be done,
not mine.

If this love spell
pleases you,
send me this lover,
this husband,
this dancing partner
for my empty bed
and let him fill me
from now
until I die.

I offer my bones,
my poems,
my luck with roses,
and the secret garden
I have found
walled in my centre,
and the sunflower
who raises her head
despite her heavy seeds.

I am ready now, Muse,
to serve you faithfully
even with
a graceful dancing partner –
for I have learned
to stand alone.

Give me your blessing.

Let the next
epithalamion I write
be my own.

And let it last
more than the years
of my life –
and without the least
strain –
two lovers bareheaded
in a summer rain.

Erica Jong

Witch1

When I was researching Witches fifteen years ago, it was considered rather kinky to talk about the female aspects of divinity or to attempt to rehabilitate witches from the libels perpetrated on them by their inquisitors. Witchcraft was a bog of myth, misinformation and Halloween gear. There were people who called themselves contemporary witches or Wiccans — and I met plenty of them — but they seem as confused about their origins as anyone else. Some called themselves goddess — worshippers or contemporary pagans. Some were feminists rediscovering the female roots of divinity, and their rituals were as muddled as they were sincere. Nobody could quite decide whether to be a white witch and do good with herbs or — more exciting — to be a bad witch and go to bed with devils.

The popular image of the witch reflected this confusion. There were both good and bad witches in picaresque movies like The Wizard of Oz, and only bad witches in scary movies like Rosemary’s Baby. Did witches worship Satan or did they worship a benevolent mother goddess? Hardly anyone would have posed the question that way. It fell to this book to put the question to a popular readership for the first time — and that has been a large part of its appeal.

The truth is that the witch is a descendant of ancient goddesses who embodied both birth and death, nurturing and destruction, so it is not surprising that she has both aspects. But when religions decay and gods are replaced, there is a consistent dynamic: the gods of the old religion inevitably become the devils of the new. If serpents were once worshipped as symbols of magic power, they will later be despised as symbols of evil. If women were once seen as all-powerful, they will become relegated to obedience to men and feeling pain in childbirth. The symbols remain but their values are reversed. The snake in Genesis is now the devil. The first female, Eve, has gone from being a life-giver to a death-bringer. Good and evil are reversed. This is the way the politics of religion work.

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the Middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

All over the ancient world goddesses were worshipped. These goddesses represented womanhood distilled to its ultimate essence. Ishtar, Astoreth, Aphrodite (as she was eventually known) held sway over love, procreation, fecundity — and most of the gods obeyed her urgings. Many-breasted, in love with flowers, wheat, all blossoming, she echoed something primal in the human heart. Born of woman ourselves, we find godhead natural in womanhood. Any faith that renounces the mother is bound to see her creep back in another form-as Mary perhaps, the mother of the sacrificed god.

Witchcraft in Europe and America is essentially this harkening back to female divinity within a patriarchal culture. If you insist long enough that God is the father, a nostalgia for the mother-goddess will be born. If you exclude women from church-rites, they will practice their magic in the fields, in forests, in their own kitchens. The point is, female power cannot be suppressed; it can only be driven underground.

Take a little honey in a jar. Write your deepest wish on a bit of brown paper and hide it in the honey. Focus all your energy on your intention (which must be sweet) and eventually your wish will be granted. Intention counts for everything. It must be positive. And the more witches there are sitting in a circle practicing communal intention, the more potency the magic will have. The desire for magic cannot be eradicated. Even the most supposedly rational people attempt to practice magic in love and war. We simultaneously possess the most primitive of brainstems and the most sophisticated of cortexes. The imperatives of each coexist uneasily.

We may even prefer to see the witch as an outsider, a practitioner of the forbidden arts because that makes her even more powerful. Perhaps we are slightly ashamed of our wish to control others and would rather pay a maker of magic than confess to these wishes ourselves. Perhaps we would rather not be in charge of magic that might backfire.

Since we believe witches can make wishes real, we both need and fear them. If they have the power to kill our enemies, couldn’t they also kill us? If they have the power to grant love, couldn’t they also snatch it away? Witches remind us of the darkness of human wishes. That is why we periodically find reasons to burn them.

In The White Goddess, Robert Graves asserts that all real poetry is an invocation of the triple goddess of antiquity — she who controls birth, death, procreation — and that it is the poet’s fealty to her that determines the authenticity of his work. “The main theme of poetry” Graves says, “is the relations of man and woman, rather than those of man and man, as the Apollonian classicists would have it.” The male poet woos the goddess with words in order to partake of her magic. He is at once her supplicant and her priest. Where does this leave the female poet? She must become an incarnation of the triple goddess herself, incorporating all her aspects, creative and destructive. This is why it is so dangerous to be a female poet. It is a little like being a witch.

Adelaide Crapsey’s poem “The Witch,” evokes this well:

When I was a girl by Nilus stream
I watched the desert stars arise;
My lover, he who dreamed the Sphinx,
learned all his dreaming from my eyes.
I bore in Greece a burning name,
And I have been in Italy
Madonna to a painter-lad,
And mistress to a Medici.
And have you heard (and I have heard)
Of puzzled men with decorous mein.
Who judged–the wench knows far too much-
And hanged her on the Salem green.

Adolescence is a time when witchcraft exercises a great fascination. Disempowered by society and overwhelmed with physical changes, teenage girls fall in love with the idea of forming covens. Whatever bric-a-brac of magic is around, they will pick up and shape to their own uses.

This book has made me a heroine to my friends’ daughters. It has also been the most banned of all my books — probably because the idea of female godhood is still anathema to many people. Once, I received a Polaroid picture of this book showing it burned around the edges. The letter accompanying it said: “My father burned this book. Could you send me another copy?” So much for the efficacy of censorship.

The more disempowered people are, the more they long for magic, which explains why magic becomes the province of women in a sexist society. And what are most spells about? Usually procuring love, with the hexing of enemies running a close second. When men turn to magic, they are more likely to seek knowledge and power (Dr. Faustus), or immortality (Walt Disney). The men who spend fortunes to assure that their corpses will be frozen are not likely to be attracted to love spells. Their love is self-love. They want their own DNA to endure singly, not to commingle with a lover’s.

So witchcraft remains a woman’s obsession. John Updike captured the nature of the beast in his novel The Witches of Eastwick. Disempowered women use their coven to become the secret legislators of their little town. Their magic cannot be separated from their sexuality. That is, of course, the point.

Erica Jong
Witches

SMOKE

September 3, 2016

flyingwitches

Smoke, it is all smoke
in the throat of eternity…

For centuries, the air was full of witches
Whistling up chimneys
on their spiky brooms
cackling or singing more sweetly than Circe,
as they flew over rooftops
blessing & cursing their
kind.

We banished & burned them
making them smoke in the throat of god;
we declared ourselves
“enlightened”.

“The dark age of horrors is past,”
said my mother to me in 1952,
seven years after our people went up in smoke,
leaving a few teeth, a pile of bones.

The smoke curls and beckons.

It is blue & lavender
& green as the undersea world.

It will take us, too.

O let us not go sheepishly
clinging to our nakedness.

But let us go like witches sucked heavenward
by the Goddess’ powerful breath
& whistling, whistling, whistling
on our beautiful brooms.

Erica Jong

Porn Films…

April 25, 2015

dribbling

My reaction to porn films is as follows: After the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first 20 minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live.

Erica Jong
Playboy Magazine, September 1975

Sick of being a woman…

March 18, 2015

heartforyou

I was sick of being a woman,
sick of the pain,
the irrelevant detail of sex,
my own concavity
uselessly hungering
and emptier whenever it was filled,
and filled finally
by its own emptiness,
seeking the garden of solitude
instead of men.

The white bed
in the green garden—
I looked forward
to sleeping alone
the way some long
for a lover.

Even when you arrived,
I tried to beat you
away with my sadness,
my cynical seductions,
and my trick of
turning a slave
into a master.

And all because
you made
my fingertips ache
and my eyes cross
in passion
that did not know its own name.

Bear, beast, lover
of the book of my body,
you turned my pages
and discovered
what was there
to be written
on the other side.

And now
I am blank
for you,
a tabula rasa
ready to be printed
with letters
in an undiscovered language
by the great press
of our love.

Erica Jong
Beast, Book, Body