I stumbled across an article this morning about a new witch being hired at a place called Wookey Hole Caves in the United Kingdom. Wookey Hole Caves is a show cave and tourist attraction in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, England. The cave is noted for the Witch of Wookey Hole – a roughly human shaped rock outcrop, reputedly turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury.
Apparently someone decided once upon a time to cash-in on the notion that a witch was once turned to stone there by a monk, and it’s been something of a gaudy tourist attraction ever since. I mention this because I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be offended by all this. I mean, if one assumes that the mythical story actually happened, is this not a celebration of the murder of a witch (possibly one of my ancestors) by a representative of the Christian Church? Of course, no one ever thought about Wiccans, Pagans or genuine witches when they erected this cash cow. If anything, their estimations about who and what a witch is seem to have been drawn from The Wizard of Oz, not anything remotely near reality.
In typical British fashion, there was some general “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” wherever the word “witch” was used, and the story was written with an apparent undercurrent suggesting that anyone who thinks of themselves as witches is just having a bit of dress-up. But there was humor to be had here, depending on who you were and from which perspective you read the story from. For me, the following was funny.
“Wookey Hole advertised for a witch after the incumbent announced her intention to move. More than 3,124 people requested application forms, 278 ‘volunteered’ their mother-in-law and 23 church groups sent in letters of complaint. Inquiries came from 401 male witches and one London banker.”
The following wasn’t so amusing;
“Most of the candidates opted for traditional witchy garb of pointy hat, black cape and green greasepaint. They came in carrying cauldrons, broomsticks, plastic frogs and a live raven called Bran. It was easy to distinguish the ‘real’ witches from the pretenders: they were the ones not wearing pointy hats and crooked plastic noses.”
“The broomstick was passed by Jane Brenner, Wookey’s witch for the past six years. Mrs Brenner said: ‘We didn’t want anyone who would scare the children. We wanted a good witch to meet and greet people and act as an ambassador for the attraction.'”
Carole Bohanan, a real estate agent from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, will now be known as Carla Calamity, the Witch of Wookey Hole. The article reports “Miss Calamity, who admits to being several hundred years old — it would be impolite to ask how many — beat 300 other witches to the most coverted job in covendom.”
The more I read this article, the more I was annoyed. I wasn’t bothered that there were some people out there having some fun. What bothers me is that people like me are generally going to suffer for it. To my knowledge, I’ve never performed a ritual while wearing green greasepaint on my face. The closest thing I have to a pointy hat is a baseball cap which tends to pook up in the center a bit. My broomstick gets used to sweep the kitchen. My cauldron gets used to cook stews. Okay, so I have a small cauldron on my altar, but that’s beside the point.
I suppose this article bothers me because I spend every day of my life pushing back against the popular conception of who and what I am because I am a witch. It’s not rare for someone to hear I am a witch and then tell me “I don’t believe in witches”. I usually ask those people “Do you believe in Jews?” And speaking of Jews, is this issue here so far removed from the notion of having an actor play the character of a greedy Jew at the New York Diamond Exchange? Is it so far removed from the idea of having a black actor portray a laughing, Sambo-ized lynching victim at an attraction in Birmingham, Alabama?
I’m sure there are people out there who tell me to “lighten up”, that it’s “all for fun”. You’ll have to forgive me if my life experiences have left me feeling somewhat targeted because of my faith, or if my religious beliefs leave me feeling sympathy for the witch in the story of the Witch of Wookey Hole. Forgive me if it hits too close to home that a Christian monk takes it upon himself to smite an ungodly heathen witch for her blasphemies, because I’ve been targeted by Evangelicals and even moderate Christians my entire life. My mother was indirectly murdered by the actions of Christians, and so when I think of the fantastical notion that some witch was turned to stone by a monk bent on revenge I wonder if that woman had family who loved her.
Of course, this is all in good fun, isn’t it? We’re all just having a bit of dress up? Well, forgive me if the following summation from Wikipedia chills my bones.
“A man from Glastonbury is betrothed to a girl from Wookey. A witch living in Wookey Hole Caves curses the romance so that it fails. The man, now a monk, seeks revenge on this witch who – having been jilted herself – frequently spoils budding relationships. The monk stalks the witch into the cave and she hides in dark corner near one of the underground rivers. The monk blesses the water and splashes some of it at the dark parts of the cave. Catching the witch off guard, the monk splashes the water at the dark corner she is hiding in. The blessed water immediately petrifies the witch, and she remains in the cave to this day.”
Yup. That all sounds like good fun to me.