Every Family Has One (One Witch)

I was ten when I discovered that I have the blood of a witch.

Now THAT is how you start a story about a witch in the family!

For Vogue, Megan O’Grady writes about her ninth-great-grandmother, Sarah Towne Cloyce, who attempted to posthumously acquit her sisters after they had been hung for witchcraft a decade earlier. Vanessa Redgrave played Sarah in a television movie!

In O’Grady’s essay, there is the thrill of being close to such a mythologized part of modern history, but it also is an excellent portrait of growing up with two options: you can be a good witch, or a bad witch, but there is always someone who wants to label you a witch.

Authority was a man in a suit or clerical robes; women were the makers of church bulletins and fudge — good girls, in short. I was encouraged to pursue typing and Spanish, essential tools for my imagined future in the corporate sector.

In fact I ended up becoming not a good girl but a skeptical and secretive one, fond of closets and the woods and, later, of wandering into unfinished homes in our neighborhood, which was still rising from the cornfields. But what Sarah meant to me at that point was still pretty remote. By the 1990s, witches had lost some of their mojo. They were the most anodyne of children’s costumes. They were the three camisole-wearing sisters on the TV show Charmed. Sarah’s example had to do with being an outlier, one on whom nothing is lost, but it was also bound up with my sense of the dark matter in life. And there were, even in our stucco–and–strip mall suburb, things that were genuinely spooky: the neighbor’s doorbell not to be rung on Halloween; the silently imploding marriages in my parents’ circle.

For me, this unspoken space was soon filled by novels, the place so many children turn to learn those essentials they’re protected from. I couldn’t help noticing that it was the bad girls who made their mark — the Hester Prynnes and Lily Barts, fictional witches who acted on their desires and paid dearly. Years later, after I became a book critic — finally, my opinion was sought and heard — I saw a lineage of women whose stories challenged the accepted narrative, many of them long forgotten.

Read the whole story here.