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My Mother, the Witch
May 13, 2012

"So, what -- you're telling me your mom performed an EXORCISM?" Dr. Mathra asked me last night as we popped corn.

"Yeah. I mean, I guess that's what she did. At the time, I didn't really think about it because to me, it was just like when she dealt with bats neighbors' attics. A family had a problem they couldn't deal with and she went over to fix it," I mused.

I've been on a bit of a magic book bent. It started with The Night Circus, after which I transitioned to reading all of Sarah Addison Allen's novels, but it was the first few chapters of Signe Pike's Faery Tale: One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World that got me thinking about magic and enchantment in my own life and whether or not I had any left.

In her book, Pike chronicles her search in this country and across the pond for proof that fairies exist, but the magic that flowed in and around my house in Minneapolis was not centered around gossamer-winged creatures who drank out of acorn tops and used spotted toadstools for umbrellas. The Vander Weide magic was the black and white stuff. The kind that called for seances and voodoo dolls and tarot cards.

My mom surrounded us with that kind magic. Literally. She had books on the subject and she had a Ouija board. When my elementary school had their yearly carnival, Mom tricked herself out as a fortune teller with a wig and a crystal ball and spangled shawls and fortune cookie handouts. In addition to Halloween party appearances that scared the pee out of the neighborhood kids, Mom also made voodoo dolls that actually worked, and, in this recently remembered instance, she was called in to consult about a poltergeist.

If I recall correctly, the presence wasn't evil or dangerous or malicious, it was just annoying. The house belonged to one of my sister's Catholic school friends. (We're not Catholic, but at the time it was the best junior high in our area, just like the best pre-school for my little sister was at a Jewish synagogue. At one point, my older sister was at St. Thomas, my younger sister was at Temple Israel, and we all went to Westminster Presbyterian on Sundays. Vanessa used to tell people, "Jennie's Catholic, I'm Jewish, and everyone else goes to church.")

The poltergeisted family was a large one, so some bedrooms were shared, but the oldest got his or her own room until they moved out, after which the next oldest moved into that coveted room. Adjoining the room was a bathroom where the taps would turn on and off or the toilet would flush all night, but no one would be there. Plumbers had come and scratched their head over the problem and left without being able to fix it, so they called in the big guns. The spiritual guns.

"Okay, so they called your mom in for the exorcism? What did she do?"

"I don't know. They were Catholic so maybe they also called a priest. Those guys handle that sort of thing, too."

As for where that magic went, well, Mom passed it along to us. I've been known to attempt a spell or two. When I went away to college I packed a Ouija board and had seances with intrigued sorority sisters. Just like she did. A few years later, I made a voodoo doll that, freakishly, totally worked.* Just like she did. Even these I mark each cat with lavender oil and mutter a protection spell into their fur whenever we leave them for longer than 24 hours.

I can also show you a dark, dusty cupboard in the bedroom where a single shelf holds two decks of tarot cards, spell books, amulet satchels, and a heavy, softball-sized crystal ball drawstringed in a velvet pouch the color and sheen of wet tree bark. Earlier this year, I thought about tossing the lot of it. I tweeted something along the lines of how since David Bowie wasn't going to show up to make me his goblin queen, it was probably time to ditch the crystal ball. I'm a grown-ass woman, why am I still holding onto decks of tarot cards and books of spells?

Well, for Bug, I realized, putting my hand on the cold smooth glass of the crystal ball and wondering how in the world you donate a crystal ball. Maybe the day will come when I'll put on purple scarves and spangled shawls and transform into a fortune teller for his school. Maybe I'll hold seances in the living room for his little friends while Dr. Mathra hides under the table and raps out yes or no answers to questions just like my dad did.

Plus, it dawned on me that as a mom, I also have another kind of magic. I possess the magical powers of healing with touch; the power to stop tears with a single kiss. Remember how as a kid you didn't just believe, you knew that your mother's kiss instantly took all the stinging pain away from a scraped knee or pinched finger? It never crossed your mind to stop and ponder the existence of The Mom Power any more than it did to question that going to bed when it was still light out was lousy unfair, or that rocks were a perfectly serviceable sidewalk writing implement after you smeared your last chunks of chalk down to knuckle-scraping levels in completing a hopscotch game board. There's no reason to question that which is a universal truth.

Even beyond the superficial cuts and the odd bee sting, The Mom Power had even deeper healing effects. When I had my rash of bad earaches and strep throat before the medical community finally relieved me of my tonsils and adenoids, my mother would sit on my bed and stroke my bare forearm until the pain was muzzled and I finally fell asleep. Sometimes the stroking would make me ticklish, and I had the urge to twitch my arm away from my her fingers but I fought it because away from my mother's touch, I knew the stabbing pains would come back and I wouldn't sleep.

The Mom Power is the reason why when, at our most vulnerable or sick, we still want our mothers. Though we might be grown and married and maybe with kids of our own, we still recognize that strength of that power.

Today, when Bug bumps or stumbles or gets a vaccination needle stuck into him, wimpering, he brings his wound to me to kiss and his tears disappear.

Like magic.

*No humans were harmed in the making of these voodoo dolls. But confessions were made.

Originally published on February 6, 2012

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Copyright © 2002-2012
Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic