Letter from the Editor: Missing Witches

Posted by – March 26, 2021
Categories: General

The Earth balances on its axis for a moment, and then the days lengthen on one side while they shorten on the other. Scales tilting on the distribution of light and dark. Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s the spring equinox, and things that have lain dormant over the last several months are becoming visible again.

The third chapter of Missing Witches takes up the theme of the spring equinox, Ostara, through the stories of two women who “planted themselves like seeds to change the future.” As authors Risa Dickens and Amy Torok explain, “To ritualize the reproduction of our common memory we put true stories on our altars.” The chapter closes with a ritual that describes how to build and care for an altar in your home. In the theme of spring cleaning, of fertility and growth, they discuss cleaning and caring for your altar, and visiting it before going to sleep as a way of incubating your unconscious, those things in you that dwell below the surface: “Let that clean and waiting energy enter your dreams, where your subconscious can work on how to flourish and fill.”

In many traditions, altars are a place to honor ancestors. Among other things, an altar can be a place where, if you don’t have a guiding cosmology of symbols in your life or you’ve become alienated from that cosmology or you don’t know what the symbols are, you can discover and create your own. I’m personally not someone who has a guiding cosmology or spiritual practice or set of symbols, but I find myself building altars in my house anyway: little spaces where objects that I love can live, loosely grouped by invisible associations. There’s something appealing in an intentional space that exists resolutely opposed to purpose or utility, a space that claims itself for nothing but itself, resonating with the unconscious. A place that can make a home for “items … that carry the strange lovely light of dream worlds.”

Whether it’s ancestors we didn’t know we had or things in our unconscious worlds that we didn’t realize were true, Missing Witches offers a cosmology of knowledge and transformation ordered by the seasons and the turning of the year, a cosmology that all of us on this planet share, though it may take a different order or shape depending on where you are. 

As the authors write, “Common ground—both metaphorical and literal—can root us in the fact of a shared Earth.” As this hemisphere tips toward the sun and daylight begins to overtake nighttime, it seems an apt time to introduce a book that dedicates itself to bringing that which has been maligned and erased, left in darkness to dissolve or be made into an unwelcome specter, into the warming light of visibility and understanding. And where or whenever you encounter this book, however the balance of light and dark is falling, there’s a place on the Wheel of the Year where these authors can find you: some thread to pull, some root to uncover, a nourishing connection to the deep and enduring rhizome of magic that interweaves these histories.

Like the sun itself, that magic may not be omnipresent for everyone at all times, shifting in and out of our line of sight, between the obvious and the implicit. But the pathways to it are diverse and numerous, and there is always an opening to be found somewhere. Dickens and Torok assure us that this shared power is there for all of us to access, even if we can’t see it all the time, even if it doesn’t always feel like it lives inside us: “We are here to shepherd the immense. We are here to open the book.”

—Gillian Hamel, NAB Acquisitions Editor


About the Author

North Atlantic Books (NAB) is an independent, nonprofit publisher committed to a bold exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in Vermont, in 1974, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of original books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality, with a pioneering publishing program that encompasses somatics, trauma, raw foods, craniosacral therapy, shamanism, and literature.