It is late October, so naturally the best time to publicize Diana Helmuth’s The Witching Year: A Memoir of Earnest Fumbling Through Modern Witchcraft.
It looks to me like she took A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2008) and Wiccan-ized it.
Instead of avoid cloth of mixed fibers (no polyester-cotton blend for him) or seeking an adulterer to stone, Helmuth decides to celebrate the feast of Lammas:
I realized this while reading a book, flipping through some pages, and I go, oh crap. I don’t have the sacred knife. I don’t have an altar. I don’t have anything.
Like Jacobs, she was a “none” who wanted to venture among the savages — actual believers, as she told National Public Radio interviewer Mallory Yu:
I wanted to be thought of as intelligent. So I rejected most religion and most spirituality throughout most of my life.
And then during COVID, and in general, as I got older, the idea of a self-directed religion that promised me a way to have some control over the universe – I think increasingly we find ourselves facing things that really affect us deeply that we have very little control over – right? – climate change, housing prices, health insurance bills, pandemics, who’s going to become the president?
And here’s this religion – this spirituality – that says, you can have an effect on these things that feel so much bigger than you. You just need a couple of candles and some willpower.
There is a long tradition of “among the savages” writing in America. As a young reporter in the 1980s I briefly met a tall but baby-faced guy who, having graduated from Colorado College, as I recall, went back to high school and passed himself off as a senior in order to write about high school from the inside. (At least one female writer has done that too.)
Maybe the best example is a book that was a classic of the Civil Rights Era but would probably never get published now, although it is still in print after sixty years: John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me (1961). A white writer from Texas, Griffin, who lived from 1920–1980, decided that the only way he could write about African-American life was to temporarily become one. His experiment was underwritten by the black-oriented magazine Sepia in return for first publication rights. From Wikipedia:
In late 1959, John Howard Griffin went to a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen, and spent up to 15 hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp for about a week. He was given regular blood tests to ensure that he was not suffering liver damage. The darkening of his skin was not perfect, so he touched it up with stain. He shaved his head bald to hide his straight brown hair. Satisfied that he could pass as an African-American, Griffin began a six-week journey in the South.
But even Griffin was following the footsteps of another white journalist who made a similar journey eleven years earlier.
So there is a pretty good way to get a book: pass yourself off as a member of Group X and write about it. If you do in graduate school, it is ethnography; otherwise, creative nonfiction.