By Amber C. Snider
Standing at the aged counter of New York’s oldest pagan store on a recent cold night in December, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. A kind of nostalgia poured over me as I silently flipped through the pages of the new children’s book Wee Witches. A bright-eyed, curly haired girl stared back from the cover and I couldn’t help but ask myself: What if I had this book when I was growing up?
I’d been on the hunt for age-appropriate witchy books ever since we started this site earlier this year. It’s hard to find (and recommend) magic books for young people: books that teach a reverence for Mother Earth and the mystical world around us; books that honor our Spirit, our ancestors, and the elements – and do it with a sense of play, without all the serious spells.
So when the owner of the Enchantments excitedly handed me this book (“You’re gonna love it,” she remarked), I was hopeful. But I wasn’t expecting to find such wonder hidden in its pages – that hard-to-articulate something that so rarely occurs in our busy, dollar-driven lives. Was it joy? Innocence? A remembering?
As the employees smudged, cleansed, and closed up the shop for the night, I stood fixated – transfixed – on this book. Too often, as a practicing witch and journalist, I can get caught up in the “representation” of things. I’m here to share ideas, tell stories, help others. But what about the singular joyful rapture that got me interested in magic in the first place? That sense of curiosity? The sense that – aside from the rent bills, the NY hustle, Insta-mania, and Trumpisms – the world is really, truly magical.
Folks, this book threw me. It threw me across the counter and into the seat of the soul and back to a memory of the little girl I once was. To the girl who would talk to trees and carry stones in her “magic pouch” and felt the spirit of the Old Crone everywhere. The tiny girl with a growing psychic ability but without the language to understand it; the girl who heard music in the wind and sometimes felt a little different for being "sensitive". Maybe this book would’ve helped me acknowledge my pagan-witchy side a lot sooner had I had it read as a child. I mean, the closest thing I had on my shelves in the '90s was The Witch Has An Itch – and I wouldn’t exactly call that a spiritually-woke text.
I knew I had to meet the creators in-person. And lucky for me, they were down to indulge my curiosity – and they carried a big sense of magic, too.
Illustrator Ted Enik (known for the wildly successful Fancy Nancy series) and author Beth Roth have been friends for nearly 50 years. They met as theater kids in college and continued their friendship over the years, marking the holidays with pagan rituals and communal plays, exploring cross-pantheon gods and goddesses along the way. After noticing their unusual creative spark, they began a nine year journey to write Wee Witches together.
Wee Witches depicts various young witches (one with tadpole eggs clinging to her red locks and another with glittering fairy-like charm in her gaze) in various seasonal scenes surrounded by witchy accoutrements (wooden pentacles, charms, brooms, bubbling cauldrons, fireflies, crescent moons, Goddess statues). The book uses the ABCs as an anchor for earth-based teachings, with the four elements loosely represented on the corner of each page (a nod to the work of one of America’s leading feminist Neopagans Starhawk).
It’s a playful series of poems about nature that beautifully explains the symbolism behind the Craft. There’s even a secret message to uncover: the secret name all witches are given. The co-creators described writing the book as “a golden 9 years...like a kaleidoscope. A joyous process.”
“The book is a celebration of the earth,” Beth says. Donning a black turtleneck, her soft blue eyes (not unlike the bright-eyed cover girl) convey a nurturing, yet sprightly energy. And that sense of playfulness really heats up when she and Ted (witty and humorous in his vintage button up and a cardigan complete with witch buttons) get to talking about the past together. Their bantering ease makes it clear how this book was born: through a dynamic give and take, constant play and revision, and an intuitive, trusting collaborative effort.
“For me personally, [the book] is about connecting to something that is innate –– you feel it within you. It doesn't come from an outside source, but a ‘knowing’ inside that life is full of magic....if we allow ourselves to open, captivated by the simplest beauty of life,” Beth says.
The creative choice of also including a little girl of color in the book also felt refreshing – especially when so much of modern witch imagery (including tarot cards and iconography) often only depicts the white body. We’re at a unique place in society (and within the magical community) where inclusivity not only possible, but necessary. Children especially should be able to see themselves depicted not only in literary characters, but within the magical landscape, too.
To me, it seems this book couldn’t have come at a better time. A time to reawaken and rekindle our innate magic: “Magic is everywhere if we choose to embrace it. Unfortunately we live in a culture that teaches us to turn away from our sixth sense which is our inner knowing. I want young girls to trust what they know to be true,” Beth continued.
We all carry our little old “self” inside us, whether we let them shine or not. And sometimes we forget them entirely. But they’re still there, waiting for us to remember. Over this past year, countless pagan families and little witches have asked for book suggestions, but only one has stopped me in my own tracks and made me remember the magical girl I was and always will be.
Scroll through slide show below for never-before-published, original sketches of the book by illustrator Ted Enik
Limited edition signed copies available at Enchantments. For more magical children's book, check out our roundup here.
Doing some last minute gift shopping? Our official holiday guide is here with the best Pagan-friendly gifts ideas to make your Yuletide season a little more joyful and a lot less stressful.
Female Empowerment Kit – Perfect gift for your femme friend who’s looking to invite more positive empowerment back into their life. The kit includes our Goddess of Love Incense, Venus Oil, Bad Ass Bath, and a copy of the classic tome Women Who Run With the Wolves. ($30)
Earthy Essential and Fragrance Oils –– Cedar, Oak Moss, Patchouli, Cinnamon, Bay, and Frankincense are all good oils to mix and blend for the Yuletide season. Available in the shop in drams, ½ ounce bottles, or full ounce bottles. (Price varies according to size. $10 and up).
Yule Incense – Hand-blended in the shop, the Yule incense brings in warm, inviting vibes and welcomes in abundance and joy. Keep burning during parties, during the Winter Solstice, or anytime you want to add a touch of winter wonder magick in your home. ($1.25 – $9)
Wee Witches Children’s Book –– Hands down the most delightfully perfect children’s book on the market, Wee Witches is richly illustrated ABCs book complete with pagan symbolism and earth-loving messages for the little witch in your life. Limited autographed author copies available in-store. ($14.95)
Witchy Jewelry by Sarah Sparkles –– Handmade exclusively for Enchantments by jewelry designer Sarah Sparkles (known for her spectacular window displays at Bergdorf Goodman), each one-of-a-kind piece features magickal gemstones and Swarovski crystals. Only available in-store. Prices vary ($28 and up).
Spell Kits –– These intention-based, DIY spell kits are perfect for Yuletide giving. If you’re not ready to commit to a large custom-carved candle, these spell kits come with two carved 120 candles, a dram of hand-blended oil, mini incense, and a packet of sea salt. Choose from Uncrossing, House Blessing, Success, Money Draw, Love Healing, and more. ($16)
Tarot for Troubled Times – Let’s face it: Sometimes the holiday season brings more stress than cheer. With all that pressure to “be happy,” awkward family exchanges, crowded shopping areas, and non-stop travel, it’s okay to not feel your best. Tarot for Troubled Times teaches you how to work with your shadow side, empower yourself, and cope with these crazy modern times. Hang in there, 2019 is almost over ($16.95) (Bonus: Read our interview with the authors here.)
Frankincense, Myrrh, and Copal Resin –– These sacred holy resins produce an earthy, rich aroma and aid in purification, cleansing, healing, and welcoming in good spirits ($2.50 and up, depending on size).
Oil and Incense burners –– With all that incense and sacred oil, you're gonna need something to burn it in. We have a variety of soap stone oil burners, mini-to-large cauldrons, and small porcelain dishes to help. Our iron cauldrons also come with pentagram or triple moon symbols. ($6-50).
Runes –– Runes are the perfect "throwback" divination gift for your Norse mythology loving friend or family member. We have a variety to choose from, including hand-carved wooden runes and gemstone runes. Available online or in the shop. ($25 and up)
Tarot Decks –– Gift the gift of divination. Need help deciding which deck to choose? We’ve made it easier with a roundup of our favorites here (each deck can be purchased in-store). What good luck and fortune will 2020 bring? (Decks start at $16)
For more gift guides on the best books for the Yuletide season, check out this link.
Interview by Ana Vice
Kristen J. Sollée’s most recent book, Cat Call, explores the cat archetype, feral feminine, and the allure of the cat throughout history. Here, in an intimate interview, she discusses the power of feline glamour magic, female sexuality and cat kink, as well as demystifying the so-called “cat lady” trope.
Ana Vice: Why name your book Cat Call and what can readers expect to get out of this book?
Kristin J. Sollée: Two reasons: First, to reclaim something negative from patriarchal clutches. The “cat call” is most often an utterance on the street directed towards female bodies that lauds, critiques, and polices those bodies. Second, it’s like the way cats call to me. It is the pull of the feral feminine and the magic of cats and feline energy. I wanted to play on those two things. It is definitely a feminist book, but also a magical book – and those things go hand in hand for me.
Ana: Could you tell us more about the politics of liberation and the cat archetype?
Kristen: You can’t separate this new wave of feminism and the popularity of the witch archetype from our ideas about cats and cat ladies. Cats and witches are inextricably tied to women and femininity, and feminism is the best theoretical framework we have to address the associations between cats, witches, and women and the political implications at play when you’re talking about this trifecta. Cat iconography has been used in Leftist and liberal politics for decades, from the Industrial Workers of the World’s “sabo-tabby” to the pussy hat. It makes sense that movements looking to liberate people from class or gender oppression or the chains of capitalism would think of the feline as a model of aspirational defiance given that cats pretty much have no gods and no masters.
Ana: How do you define the “feral feminine”?
Kristen: The feral feminine is a nebulous concept. It’s slippery. It’s a femininity that is not necessarily attached to any one kind of human body, but is definitely linked to feline bodies for sure. The feral feminine is a femininity that is not controlled; it’s bodily autonomy, freedom of sexual expression, it’s a response to the way femininity has been denigrated throughout history. It’s taking femininity back on our own terms by looking to the cat for inspiration.
I think we can look to Catwoman as an icon of the feral feminine, or the shape-shifting vampiress Carmilla and the female protagonists of the classic Japanese horror film Kuroneko. It’s basically femininity with bite and women who aren’t afraid to engage their claws.
Ana: Which Goddesses are associated with cats?
Kristen: Bast (Bastet), Isis, Freya, Durga. Also possibly Artemis who was once said to shapeshift into a cat. And then – this is not a goddess but more of a fairy or witch – the Cat Sidhe of Celtic mythology. There could be a whole second book about the magical and spiritual workings you can do with cats and feline deities, since Cat Call is not a how-to per se.
Ana: I perceive Cat Call as a definite gateway into deeper insights and spiritual workings with cats and feline deities.
Kristen: I’m glad! I’m honored because I wanted that and I also wanted to appeal to people who just were into intellectual stimulation without the spiritual aspect. As far as what you can do to work with these goddesses or energies, I think using cat amulets, charms or figurines as jewelry or magical objects on your altar is one simple way.
I personally have a little black obsidian cat in my home watching over me from a high place. I have all kinds of cat jewelry. I think even doing simple sympathetic magic (by having these things on you or in your home) can draw powerful feline energy in.
The power of wearing something that mimics feline coats allows you to take on feline power.
Ana: In the book you discuss transformation by way of appearance and make mention of the cat as a shapeshifter. Could you tell us more about the significance of this?
Kristen: For me, I’m an animal prints wearer, particularly leopard or tiger prints. They make you feel powerful! I quote Jo Weldon in the book (who wrote Fierce: The History of Leopard Print) about how leopard print signifies you’re definitely not prey. You may not be a predator, but you’re not prey either.
Then you take that a step further and there’s the magical aspect, again going back to sympathetic magic. The power of wearing something that mimics feline coats allows you to take on feline power. You don’t need to literally wear cat skin to take that energy on (although many of our ancestors might have for magical practices long ago), but it can be really transformative if you do it with intention.
Ana: What was your fascination with Catwoman from the Batman series growing up and how did it shape you into the person you are today?
Kristen: In the book I talk about wanting to dress as up Catwoman when I was about nine years old, and my interest in Catwoman inspired my interest in kink many years later. I went to my first fetish shop when I was in high school and saw all these “cat costumes” but knew they weren’t exactly that. So I wondered, 'why is there so much cat stuff here?' I would buy Skin Two and Marquis and see all the catsuits and cat ‘o’ nine tails and wonder why. So I looked into it further and besides the fact that cats are sensual creatures on a cursory level, early BDSM literature by the Marquis de Sade and Leopold Sacher-Masoch positions cats as the grand dame of dommes.
Cats are so elegant and powerful and brutal in the ways they dominate their prey – and so that’s used metaphorically in all kinds of power play relationships and easily fits into kink. Fast forward to today and we have these large communities built around people’s identities that are cat and kink-related.
Ana: I like that you brought up Toxoplasma Gondii and the science behind how it plays a role in human-cat interactions. Please elaborate?
Kristen: There are so many aspects to this and it’s great you bring up the science. So there are cultural stereotypes based in religion and culture and gender, and [then there's the science aspect]: the quantifiable thing that might make you attracted to cats (i.e. toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat feces that is always trying to get back into a cat’s body) and makes the people infected by it driven to be near cats.
Ana: Where does the archetype of the cat come from?
Kristin: It has origins well before the early modern witch trials in Europe and America, with Aristotle beginning this negative association between femininity and cats with his History of Animals in the 4th century B.C. Then you have early Christians equating Satan with cats. Then the early modern witch trials cement this cat-witch-woman connection, so by the 1700s you’re starting to see Old Maids and cats. But of course, even in the 1300s, nuns (another type of “old maid”) were keeping cats.
Ana: Is there a way to demystify, debunk, or defy the so-called “cat lady” trope?
Kristin: If you really look back into history you see witches are the archetypal hated woman, and the cat and witch are a total pair, so if you remove the supernatural element you’re kind of left with the cat lady. The “cat lady” is reviled because of her refusal to be sexual in certain ways, and because she doesn’t care for children as a woman is “supposed” to. She is devoted to cats rather than to children or a husband, etc.
Not every cat is a super wise crone out to take you to different realms, but we can all absolutely learn something from the history and magic of cats.
Ana: How does this differ from the “queer cat lady” and “sexy cat lady”?
Kristin: But when you talk about the queer cat lady it’s totally different. People aren’t mad at the queer cat lady. If you’re a lesbian and you have cats you’re not wasting time with cats that you could be dedicating to a man. It’s celebrated instead of denigrated in lesbian and queer culture. Just learning the history of this pejorative archetype is how we can begin to embrace updated ideas about cat ladies. BriAnne Wills’ Girls and Their Cats book and photographic series, and CatCon, for example, are both doing their part to demystify and modernize the way we look at the archetypal cat lady.
Ana: Could you describe feline glamour (magic) and the allure of the cat?
Kristen: I feel naked today because I don’t have my cat’s eye makeup on! But as far as glamour magic goes, the more we can paint ourselves to become cat-like creatures the better. Going back to our discussion about wearing leopard prints, that’s powerful glamour magic there, too.
I’ve done intentional spells by creating sigils about embodying feline grace and power and then carrying them with me, drawing them on my skin with oils, and the like. Those also helped me throughout the writing process, as did staging a ritual with my cat to bring the power of Bast into my life. Everywhere I go now, strange cats seem to be a bit nicer and more attentive in ways they never were before. I did a reading where a black cat literally ran up to me purring while I was signing books!
Ana: In folklore about witches there is the concept of a familiar. Would you go into more detail about this?
Kristen: In the book I also write about ailuromancy and divination with cats. I write about a tarot reading I got with my cat and the strange things that happened. So many people I interviewed for Cat Call said that every time they pull cards their cat is turning them over. Every time they cleanse their space their cat is there.
Some people have lucid dreams where they communicate with their cat. Almost every practitioner I interviewed for this book had a wild story about doing magic and their cat involving themselves. But every cat relationship is different. Sometimes a cat is a familiar and sometimes it’s just your buddy. Not every cat is a super wise crone out to take you to different realms, but we can all absolutely learn something from the history and magic of cats.
Ana: How does Cat Call differ from your previous book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive?
Kristen: Cat Call delves into a lot of the same issues as Witches, Sluts, Feminists, but through a different lens. There’s an emphasis on bodily autonomy, gender politics, and sexual politics, but of course cats are at the forefront instead of witches. I talk about fashion and film in both books, but the focus is different. There’s also a bit of spellwork in both books, as well as interviews with magical practitioners.
Ana: What will you write next?
Kristen: I have a new book coming out in fall of 2020. It’s a travel guide to significant sites from the early modern witch hunts in Europe and America. I’ve always wanted to write a book combining myth, history, art, culture, and my love of travel. The book will delve into a lot of the same issues addressed in Witches, Sluts, Feminists and Cat Call, but through the lens of place.
In addition to being a writer, educator, and curator, Kristen J. Sollée is the founder of Slutist and teaches a course called "The Legacy of the Witch" at the New School here in NYC. Her previous book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive was released in 2017. To purchase Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine (An Untamed History of the Cat Archetype in Myth and Magic) click here or visit the Enchantments store in New York City to pick up a copy.