Matt Beeson: Modern & Progressive Takes on Witchcraft & The Book of Witches

Matt Beeson is father to Brandon, husband to Nola; these are the things he knows for certain. He works as an engineer and primarily writes reports and the occasional technical paper (he even does some engineering from time to time). The Book of Witches is his first foray into fiction and he very much hopes that it won’t be his last. In his spare time he likes to read lots of things (while sitting, preferably, although sometimes just sitting will do). He was once a musician and hopes to be one again someday. Until then there is always chocolate and coffee.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @Phaeduck.

Where does our fascination with witchcraft come from? Why do you think it lingers in the present day?

I think our fascination with witchcraft comes from the same root system as our preoccupation with conspiracy theories. We’ve always needed to believe that someone or something is manipulating the chaos in order to make sense of it, to ascribe purpose and value. Consciousness is a tough ask without agency and the more powerless we feel, the more we need origins and causes that are attributable.

I think on the whole, folks and social structures haven’t really changed all that much over the centuries. We find new ways to empower people, for example, through universal suffrage and education; then we go and find new ways to take that power away, for example, by gaslighting people with the myth of social mobility and meritocracy. 

There’s another level to it though – people want to believe there’s a possibility of something beyond the banality of our daily existence. Witches aren’t always the bad guys in stories — Helen certainly wasn’t in my story — and modern media certainly wants to treat witches with a bit more nuance. Your witch has undergone a bit of rehabilitation in recent years. There’s a mix of the sinister with the mischievous and the just being a woman who casts spells with no sense of predetermination of good or evil intent.

Witchcraft is just magic after all. And who doesn’t want to believe in magic?

Your favourite fictional witches?

I loved The Worst Witch as a kid and The Wyrd Sisters when I was bit older. I think though, my favourites are the stories my Granny’s boyfriend Harold (Grandad no. 3) used to tell me when I was a kid about the Fairbourne Witches.

He died when I was seven, so these days the stories are just wisps at the edge of my consciousness, but if I try really hard I can still remember the excitement I used to feel when he told them.

Witchcraft comes with a loaded history tied to feminism, the perils of superstition, and persecution. Do you think stories need a message or is immersion (and, ultimately, entertainment) more important in stories?

Stories are the most important thing about stories. I don’t think there needs to be a message – although admittedly my story in The Book of Witches was less clubbing one over the head with the message than running one over with a message dumper truck then reversing repeatedly over the battered remains – but there does need to be a story. Probably, there’s a message in not having a message too.

Picking up on (ok, not so) recent portrayals of witches in the media, Willow in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer springs to mind. She was a witch who ended up being a baddass but she wasn’t evil (all the time), she wasn’t stereotypical. There’s the Harry Potter series, where the only difference between Witches and Wizards is which gender pronoun you prefer. I decided you use my witch as an object of persecution, to tell the story from a male perspective as I expect they were traditionally told.

Folks and societies really haven’t changed that much; we still like it when there are others onto whom we can project our grievances-with-reality. I wanted to use my story about a witch to do the same, but I don’t think I really needed to. Humans are more about stories than we are about anything else, after all; just add nuance and stir till it bubbles.


Many thanks to Matt Beeson.

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