On the one hand, you have actually zero sustainable evidence in favor of the existence of the supernatural—but on the other hand, you have movies like The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins, based on an actual Father Gary Thomas’ actual life spent performing around sixty actual exorcisms. You have books like The Field Guide to Demons, half-instructional-pamphlet, half-guidebook, complied by Carol K Mack on the subject of various demons and demonic entities; and countless Tumblr witch blogs, which expound countless rituals and prayers and (un)successful spells. There’s that girl Megan from high school, who had the best job at the coolest coffeeshop and allegedly performed some prosperity spell to get it—and who would hire her, you wonder, without some kind of magical coercion going on? There’s also me, beginning my essay with in favor of, although all artistic reasoning would place the positives at the end of an evaluative paper. It all belies partiality on my part.
Maybe what’s so immortally attractive about witchcraft in particular is that it can’t be dissociated from the baggage of femininity. A witch is a woman who essentially fails to fulfill the expectations of her sex—she is unchaste, unpassive, and ugly. She is the worst-case woman. The archetypical crone is so exempt from the status quo that she becomes monstrous, although what is most fearsome about her is how she wholly embraces this darkness. She is willfully anti-feminine, passionately unpleasant, and absolutely threatening. It offers an interesting subversion to any young girl just starting to panic about body odor.
But outside of the theoretical discourse, why has the practical aspect of magic persisted? My sister used to read these “teen witchcraft” books back when she was a tortured teenager. She had these naked black candles that drooled stinky, sticky wax everywhere, and all these kooky books fawning over the right phase of moon to perform a love spell under—she must have tried them out? And they didn’t work. So that should put to rest the entire notion of witchcraft.
And we can reason it out, too. Like in the Mahabharata, literal sister wives Ambika and Ambalika (the third sister is named Amba) are widowed without heirs, so the late king’s viciously-unkempt brother, Rishi Veda Vyasa, is conscripted to father the next princes. When he first approaches Ambika, she shuts her eyes in fear, so her son is born blind. He comes next to Ambalika, who blanches, and her son is born white. This story has always made a lot of sense to me, because it’s so reasonable. If you’ve never learned Punnett squares, how are you going to make sense of genetic abnormalities like albinism or sightlessness? You pin it on the mother—in this case, two grieving widows who had to fuck some allegedly-monstrous ascetic, at the behest of their mother-in-law. Magic isn’t real and never was: it’s a term we use to describe a guiding force we can’t perceive, like genetics, and love, and the luck of getting a really cool job.
And yet none of this is satisfying. It could be that maybe one story in a thousand is true— maybe there’s one demon in the whole of Colorado, lurking deep in the snowed-over forest, agitating dogs and frightening hikers; maybe one young woman is afflicted with genuine possession in the entire United States, every fifty years, and only during the heavy-flow stage of her first bad period. Some accounts could be true, but they’re so mild and vague, and so unlikely to be true at all it’s silly to even consider it, but here I am, sitting in a house that has every light on, still wondering.