Rant: These Witches Don't Burn

Last week, I chatted about the very cautious “Are you a witch?” question that people sometimes lob at me. I also had a brief Salem rant on Twitter recently. Both of these things are because of this:

He’s a Reg. Whatever power he feels, whatever rush he got from his ritual–and given his reaction, I’m almost certain it was his–that’s nothing compare to what I can do. Less than nothing.

These Witches Don’ Burn, pg 60

Good grief, I am sick of this narrative.

Thus, I want to break down this rant into a few different pieces. ONE: the Salem vibe. TWO: witches vs “normals”. THREE: this book as a whole. Shall we?

the Salem vibe

Preface: I live on the North Shore. Like, Salem is fifteen minutes, with traffic, from my house. I spend every single weekend there.

And I get that Salem is the place to go. Like, it’s complete mayhem from mid-September to October. I honest to goodness avoid the city until November, though I’ve got a few back ways to sneak in so I can get my tea fix. And though almost none of the witchy stuff actually happened there, it still stole the witchy vibe.

(Seriously, guys. If you want to celebrate Halloween in the most historically witchy place on the North Shore, GO TO DANVERS. I literally spent Halloween at the memorial for the women who were hung, and no one? else? was there??)

Salem is awesome! I love Salem. I want everyone to go there. What I really, really want, though, is for authors who are writing in Salem to not go during Halloween. Go right now. March is miserable. Half the time it’s raining, and the other half, it’s freezing. The wind is crazy, there’s no one in costume jumping out at you, and it’s dead empty. Like, legit. I usually walk through with my headphones on and just do my own thing. Salem is amazing during the off-season, and PLEASE, I BEG YOU, if you’re going to write your story in Salem, don’t just write it based on the vacation you took during October.

Now, I have no actual idea if Isabel Sterling did that, but it definitely reads like that. I think now is a good time to insert my Twitter rant.

WE LOVE TOURISM! Seriously, guys, this whole mentality that Salem hates its tourists is so outdated and I hate it because it makes us sound crotchety and rude to outsiders, and that’s just awful. Tourism is a good thing, and I promise you, no one is actually mad about tourism. Sure, do I avoid the city during October? Yes! But that doesn’t mean I hate tourists. I want you to bombard Coven’s Cottage and buy up all their supplies because that means their word of mouth grows and more people are going to fall in love with them so they can continue to stay open and provide excellent, local products to those of us that live here year-round.

I want you to make Jolie nearly impossibly to navigate because that means, right now, when they’re working on opening their new location, they actually have the funds and the success to do that! I want you to make the city a living hell for me in those twoish months because when I come back in November, I’m going to appreciate it even more than usual.

witches vs “normals”

Also, and I talked about this a lot more in-depth in last week’s post, witchcraft is, hands down, the most inclusive thing in the world. This narrative that we don’t like “regular” or “normal” people? Dude, that’s gross, and it’s racist.

Look. Every single witch in this book is white. Scratch that. Every single character in this book is white. But this whole “he’s a reg, whatever he felt is nothing compared to what I’m capable of” is RACISM. It’s also just not how we think? Not even a little? Again, witchcraft is inclusive. It really doesn’t matter what you believe in. Actually, that’s another thing.

He may be desperate enough to break one of the fundamental tenets of Wicca…

pg 63-64

WITCH ≠ WICCA

I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation. Wicca is a religion. It’s a very specific practice. Witchcraft is a completely separate thing. It’s kind of like saying, “Oh, you believe in Jesus? You must be Christian, then.”

lolllllllllllllllllllllllllllll hi to more religious persecution

Like, to just throw every single magical aspect ever under the Wiccan bus is so early 2000s, and I really thought we’d all come to terms with that, and I just can’t believe I’m still having to explain this. It’s fine if you practice Wicca and want to write your book about Wiccans, but do not market your book as about witches and then label everything Wiccan. That’s not how this works.

Okay, I’m straying into territory where I start explaining the differences between subsections of witchcraft, and we’re so not here for that, so drawing back to the original topic. I hate this narrative of people with magic being better than people without. And this is not knocking on Muggles because non-magical people in Harry Potter get a lot of respect. Sure, they’re not capable of magic, but they’re capable of a hell of a lot else, and it’s important to note that. You know what, I think it’s even fine if you just talk about the magical people in your book and don’t discuss the non-magic ones at all. Whatever. Just show the magic. That’s awesome.

But to actively pursue a story line that says “we’re superior than you because of we have magic and you don’t” is literally the same thing as saying “we’re better than you because we’re white and you’re not.” Replace the magic/white with anything, and it’s a pretty racist statement.

And if you don’t believe me, well, this book does.

“Please stop calling me that.”
“Calling you what? A Reg?”
She shudders again. “Yes. That. It makes me feel pathetic. Like you look down on me or something. It’s gross.”

pg 225

“…but soon we’ll be able to save you. Instead of killing you, we can make you human.”
“We are human. We’ve always been human… We’ve never done anything to you.”

pg 296

Case and point.

a review

Look, do I hate These Witches Don’t Burn? No, I think it’s a fine story. It’s got really amazing queer rep in it, and the plot line is mostly interesting. But it’s also very clearly lacking any actual research beyond a fast Edain McCoy Google search, and I’m just over it. It was pitched as queer teenage witches in Salem, and sure, all of those elements ring true, but of the three important things there, only one was actually given any credence.

Isabel Sterling does a fantastic job with the queer rep. I really appreciate her discussion on #ownvoices and how she’s stepped away from that tag because she’s bi & Hannah is lesbian. So many kudos to her.

But the witches in Salem part? Nah. These witches tote the same Christian theology that people who think all witches are Satanists do. They assume we think we’re better than everyone, and that’s just a blatant lie. Thankfully, there was no assuming we also do ritual human sacrifice to worship Satan, but like, there was animal sacrifice in this, so? Pretty close? And I’ve already done my rant on the Salem bit.

I don’t know. I’m tired. I don’t want to talk about this book anymore. It gave me a headache, and I’m not reading the second one.

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Mary RYT 200 Tibetan Buddhism Gryffindor Part-time witch, full-time novelist. Lover of words, planets, dragons, and mountains.

9 thoughts on “Rant: These Witches Don't Burn

  1. Oh gosh, I feel you on this rant. I’m a pagan and even though I’m kind of a reconstructionist (not strictly because, really how strict can you be in modern day) stuff like this drives me bonkers. I’ve only been to Salem once, briefly! I think we went to a maritime museum while we were there? (it was very small and I could maybe be mixing it up with somewhere else because this was over 13 years ago now lol).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The worst part, for me, was that the book referenced the witch museum in Salem SO MUCH, and as a local, I honestly have no idea where it is? So I took myself on a field trip one day to go find it because it seemed odd to me that I didn’t know based on the way it was described in the book. IE: it’s supposed to be on a super busy street around lots of normal foot traffic, and it’s on a one way back street that no one goes on? When I discovered that, I was even more frustrated. But we do have a maritime museum! I’ve never been in it, but I’ve definitely walked past it, haha.

      Yeah, it’s just, like, come on. If you’re going to base your story in a real place that real people go to and exist in, Google maps and a single day trip can only take you so far.

      And yikes, don’t even get me started on the whole Wiccan = literally everything overtones, it’s just BAD.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, yeah that would annoy me! I mean, just a bit of research maybe? Ugh.
        Oh, maybe it WAS the one we went to then! I can’t remember, we went to a ton of museums on that trip but I’m PRETTY sure it was a maritime one we went to in Salem.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I haven’t been to any of the standard museums in Salem (aside from the PEM, and even then, only once), so I’m always jealous of people who have even though they’re right there for me. I’m just always downtown for other things and never think about checking out the sites.

        Liked by 1 person

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