“So technically, Jesus was a zombie?” I said to my husband as we sat in our customary TV-watching spots. Wisely, he ignored me. He was also largely ignoring the program about zombies that I was trying desperately not to hate. It was really silly, and, despite being on The History Channel, was not very historical. I learned a couple of interesting things, like the Chinese tradition of binding corpses into coffins so that they would not be able to get out again, but got so disgusted by an attempt to link the Donner Party to zombies that I gave up and turned it off. Later, as I lay in bed reading YA fiction about witches and vampires, my husband made a casual reference to my “vampire thing.”
“It’s not a ‘thing,’” I snapped, “and besides, it’s not just vampires.”
“Okay,” he said agreeably, yawning, “vampires, witches, zombies and werewolves. Better?” I put down my book.
“Not really…I’m not interested in werewolves at all, or zombies. I was just trying to watch that stupid show because zombies seem to be so popular right now and I wanted to see why.” He turned his light out.
“Okay,” he said again, “just vampires and witches. Good night, I love you.”
I turned out my own light and lay in bed thinking about The History My Husband Doesn’t Know. My fascination with the supernatural actually predates him by 26 years. Although it goes subterranean from time to time, it’s always in there somewhere.
As a little girl, I read Eleanor Estes’ The Witch Family over and over, captivated by the idea that there might be potions, spells, and real magic in the world. When my oldest half-brother came to visit from New Hampshire, he was charmed by my interest in magic and bought me a copy of a (very adult) book of spells. My best friend Isabel and I used it one Saturday afternoon to hex Mrs. Gore, a neighbor who called the dogcatcher every time my Airedale escaped and streaked through her yard. We did not have any newt eyes, moonwort or ground wolfs bane, so we made what we deemed sensible substitution – Lavoris, baking soda and cloves. After mixing the potion well in a used pickle jar, we ran through the backyards and lobbed the jar over her back fence and into her yard. Within a week, Mrs. Gore died.
I know now that she had been terribly sick for years, and that her dog-related crotchetiness was largely because she was in a great deal of pain. For a few days, though, my ordinary life as a fifth grader was eclipsed by a combination of guilt, panic and a sincere concern about using my evident powers in a more responsible way. If I could kill Mrs. Gore, I would need to be careful about things like wishing my little brother permanently silent. When I told my parents what I had done, they were adamant that no one could be killed by potions (particularly those containing Lavoris and cloves). I felt much better but, also, a tiny bit sad that they were so very certain that witchcraft wasn’t real.
A few years later, I returned to The Craft because I was in love. Will, the object of my affection was the son of my parents’ closest friends. Our fathers were in the same department at the University, he lived in the neighborhood, and we went to school together. On Saturday mornings, our parents took turns ferrying the collective offspring to campus, where we took art classes. When I was in sixth grade, and Will in seventh, he and I were enrolled in Silk screening. Although my memories of the screen and squeegee method are vague, I remember every sweater Will wore, and the shininess of his chlorine-sparkled hair as he bent over his own hinged screen. I needed some of that hair to make a love spell, which also involved wax, and an incantation in some kind of pidgin Latin. During class one Saturday, I asked to go to the bathroom and sidled past the coat rack, reaching bravely into Will’s pocket for his comb. I retrieved a few strands of hair and put them in my jeans pocket. At home, with my bedroom door closed, I dripped candle wax onto my desk top, pressed the hair into it, peeled it off and rolled it into a ball. I chanted. I waited. Although Will continued to be as courteous and charming as always, there was no palpable spark of romantic interest. I gave up, dejected, and returned to worshipping him silently.
Between then and now, my interest in the supernatural world has mostly been buried under the pressing business of school, marriage, motherhood and my largely un-magical life. I read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and dreamed about a shop of potions and amulets, I learned to read Tarot cards, and I devoured the Anne Rice novels with melancholy yearning for the possibility of dark, sexy intrigue. In law school, I was mesmerized by a Haitian classmate who genuinely believed that voodoo was legal murder. Mostly, though, I lived in the brightly lit world of the never-dead, without the remote possibility of casting spells or interviewing a vampire. It was a safe, conventional place to hang out for a few decades.
Now, I find myself caught up in a the pop culture current of vampires, witches, zombies, and werewolves, reading the Twilight books (blech), watching “The Vampire Diaries,” and sorting the utterly ridiculous from the maybe, intriguingly possible. I don’t believe in zombies, werewolves, voodoo, Ouija boards, séances, mediums or vampires, and I probably don’t believe that one can change reality with a crystal or a hand full of herbs. I do, kind of, believe in ghosts. There are things we can’t explain, that occur in the twilight median between preposterously fictional darkness and briskly pragmatic light. That strip of metaphysical real estate has given us Count Dracula, silver bullets, stealthy mummies, and enchanted lovers. I’m going to hang out there for a while, at least until Halloween. I might even stock up on Lavoris and cloves.
Image: Illustration from The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes