Every year as we approach Halloween, I have the same odd sense that something is not quite right with my life. It’s a stirring, a bored restlessness that has nothing to do with the change of seasons. It speaks to the nature of my small existence and other Nietzschean head-scratchers that might help give my adult life more meaning if I had actually paid attention during that part of college.
And then I read Stacy Schiff’s fantastic new book—The Witches: Salem, 1692—and suddenly think I know what it’s all about. After years of vague unease, I now understand: I want to be a witch.
Why witchcraft? And why now, when I have settled into a comfortable suburban working-mom life, with three kids, a dog and a husband who is definitely not a warlock, unless the English Premier League is secretly a coven? Blame Salem. I didn’t realize how comfortable (boring) my life was until I read Schiff’s book. I mean, holy cow! Or, rather, unholy cow! There are lots of demonic animals in The Witches, although most of them are cats. And there is little comfort and absolutely no boredom. How can you be bored when teenage girls are flying like geese and a grown woman can turn a dog into a keg? That was 71-year-old widow Susannah Martin, who could also turn herself into a black hog and a ball of fire and could walk for miles during the muddiest time of year without getting her shoes wet. Now that every woman in America wears those giant rubber Hunter boots–well, it’s much harder to tell who is a witch. But more on that in a minute.
Except for the fact that they were always convulsing in the church pews, I could identify with those Massachusetts ladies. Just like restless suburban working moms of today, witches in Salem, circa 1692, simply had too much to do: “The first person to confess to entering into a pact with Satan,” Schiff writes, “had prayed for his help with chores.” Not sure I would go to such limits to get my children to do their own laundry, but still: Amen, sister.
And despite the unattractive green-face-black-hat image (thanks for that, Wizard of Oz), Schiff’s book reminds all of us that witches are highly imaginative and smarter than you and disrupt the patriarchy wherever they go. Message to men everywhere: if you think an overwhelmed working mother is scary, try tangling with a witch. A witch doesn’t want to hear why you’re not taking out the garbage; she just doesn’t like you. Per Schiff, “When she visited men in the night she seemed interested mostly in wringing their necks.”*
As for how to tell who is a witch these days, well, good luck with that. They are everywhere. Just ask my sister about her actress friend who–faster than you can say “Double, double toil and trouble”–went from struggling New York artist to Los Angeles star right after she said she was a witch. Coincidence? You decide.
Now that I’ve discovered the cure for my restlessness, however, I’m faced with a dilemma. Which witch should I be?
Pros: can make suspiciously good linen and cheese; can shout at the minister when his sermon goes on too long. Cons: no hot showers; have to share the spotlight with people named Increase and Cotton; may be hanged in the public square.
(See Witches of Bushwick, both a nod to Updike and an actual group.) Pros: get to live in the present day; get to have a bunch of tattoos; Brooklyn. Cons: present day; tattoos; Brooklyn.
ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY WITCH
Pros: closest to actual self so may not require complete wardrobe overhaul; house is always really clean; can constantly outwit husband, and he will just love me more for it; Uncle Arthur. Cons: immortality; mom.
MINERVA MCGONAGALL WITCH
Pros: Dumbledore as boss; amazing free food at work; never a dull moment. Cons: have to dress like Stevie Nicks; Professor Snape.
TECH ENTREPRENEUR GENIUS BILLIONAIRE WITCH
This, I’ve decided, is the witchy ideal. To wit: 31-year-old billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, who at age 19 founded the blood-test company Theranos and disrupted the entire medical-testing industry. Is she a witch? Advanced intelligence + blood + teenage disruptor … again, you decide.
*Note to my husband and three sons: Of course I would never, ever hurt you, even once I become a witch! Just don’t cross me or I’ll turn you into a keg.
Van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple
This appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of TIME.
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