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My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts"

I bought an old favourite of mine from my childhood called "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts" by Edna Barth. First published in 1972, I came across this book in my school library when I was around 10 years old (not in 1972.) It purports to be a history of various Hallowe'en symbols such as Witches, ghosts, pumpkins, owls, etc. Actually, the history in it is terrible: it claims that the ancient Celts worshiped a God called "Samhain"and that organized covens of Witches existed back to the Stone Age! However, it's still an enjoyable read and as a child it was HUGELY influential on me because of how it portrayed Witches. This book was the first I ever came across that discussed the idea of the Witch Cult as a Pagan fertility religion focused on the worship of a Horned God. Clearly taking a page out of Margaret Murray's books, "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts"offered a sympathetic, relatively positive view of Paganism and despite its flaws did give a fairly accurate portrayal of magical practices and the origin of the Witch's  broom, cauldron, and familiars.

Prior to this book, the only Witches I'd managed to read about had either been portrayed as fictional or Satanic. To find out that there was (by this time, anyway) a Pagan religion based around Witchcraft that offered a more joyful and organic alternative to Christianity was  a huge "ah ha!" moment for me. This was one of the first times that my own feelings and beliefs had been validated, and I cannot overemphasize the effect this had on me. The rest of the book, which goes into detail about owls, toads, and cats as well as the history of trick or treating, is also a fun read. Above all, the book is very atmospheric and is definitely a good one to read in the Hallowe'en season.

I've been spending a lot of time recently tracking down copies of the first Witch books I came across as a young person, and I'm finding that I was very lucky to have come across the works I did. Such books definitely had a huge influence on me, and to this day I still draw upon the spirit of them even if some of the history wasn't always the best.


  1. ARGGggg! Don't torment me with thoughts of Halloween! Bad enough that I am already wishing Summer away because of the heat. Mentioning October, even in a whisper, is almost cruel. That's it. I'm just not going there. Get behind me Satan!

    1. I know the feeling. I'm SO ready for it to be Fall. I cannot take the heat any more.

  2. Ha. I recognize myself in this post.

    I also came across this book in my school library in elementary school in elementary school. I checked it out over and over again in 3rd and 4th grades (1994 and 1996). I had been obsessed with magic and witchcraft since I could talk. For example, when I was only four, I was so obsessed with witches that my parents had to compromise and let me wear my sister's Halloween witch hat throughout the year, so that there are some surreal family reunion photos with me wearing the hat.

    Throughout my childhood I had somehow believed in magic and witchcraft, but it wasn't until I found Witches, Pumpkins and Grinning Ghosts that I got some kind of validation. I also realize that it's not the most historically-accurate book, but since I grew up in a totally Christian environment in Louisiana, the book was like a bombshell for me. I tried starting a coven in my 3rd grade class, and had six or seven people playing along with me for a couple of days. I was entirely serious, even if they weren't. Then one boy, who was also ostensibly serious at first, freaked out, told his parents, and then his mom told the teacher. She talked to me about the issue, but was clearly not very interested in the matter. It's pretty funny, looking back.

    Still, this book has incredible emotive power for me. It fueled my dreams, and in my mind it is almost synonymous with my late childhood. There's nothing quite like those illustrations.

    Because of my earliest inclinations, I'm sure I would have ended up practicing magic whether I had found that book or not. But I can't imagine how differently my path would have been. This Lammastide I'm joining the local coven for a ritual celebration. If my 10-year-old self could see me now!

    1. I know what you mean! I've come a long way from having to make up my own spells and hiding Witch books under my bed. I tried to interest others, too, as a child, but it was rare to find somebody actually serious about it. I still well recall sitting bored in class, or doing mundane things, and thinking longingly of the magical world I knew MUST be out there.