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.