Pam Grossman is the kind of witch that we aspire to be. Smart and artistic without ever compromising on warmth or generosity, the New York based Grossman is the founder of online culture publication Phantasmaphile, the author of What Is A Witch, and Associate Editor of Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies (and if you think that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she’s also a talented writer and curator whose Language of the Birds: Occult and Art was shown at NYU’s 80WSE gallery). Grossman’s latest project is The Witch Wave, a podcast where she and her guests discuss magick, creativity, and culture. We took a peek at Grossman’s Brooklyn home as she told us about the magick that inspired her as a child, her spiritual training, and using Björk in her rituals.
What was your entry point into spirituality?
For me, it wasn’t just one grand gate that opened, but rather a series of small, lovely doors that keep opening onto larger and more beautifully strange vistas as I go onward. When I was a child, a few of the keys for me were in the form of fairy tales and myths, as well as some seriously psychedelic toys like She-Ra, Strawberry Shortcake, and Star Fairies. It may sound a bit silly, but looking back I realize what a lucky thing it was to grow up in the 80s, when there were so many fantastical female protagonists for children who were at the center of their magical stories. All of that was coupled with a tiny but seriously charged patch of woods behind my house where I could get lost in my imagination and do intuitive rituals and engage in deep play. There was more conscious inquiry into the otherworldy as I got older, which I pursued in libraries and new age shops. But it all began for me in my backyard, my toy chest, and my bookshelves.
How did you learn about (and train in) witchcraft?
One of the things I love most about walking the path of the witch is that it is self-directed. There isn’t one book, one set of dogma, or one leader to follow. I was a solitary practitioner for most of my life, doing lots of research and experimentation and following enchanted breadcrumbs for many, many years. But things definitely sharpened for me in 2009, when I found my teacher, Robin Rose Bennett. She’s a green witch, which means she has a specific focus on herbalism – a topic which, I confess, I wasn’t as interested in initially as much as I was interested in learning from her. But once I became more in tune with the natural world and with my body, my magic absolutely leveled up, and my world view – and my understanding of my place in it – changed dramatically.
What changes or movements have you noticed the most within the community of alternative spirituality?
Most of the changes I’m seeing are extremely positive and heartening. The fact that over the last 5-10 years, magic and the occult in general are being talked about more openly, and even starting to be taken seriously by academia, museums, and other institutions is very exciting to me. Whether or not one believes in them, magical beliefs have been held by people for thousands of years, so it’s important that we acknowledge the influence that these ideas have had on culture throughout our history. But the most inspiring thing to me right now is witnessing how the witch is being reclaimed as a feminist icon, both by practitioners and by people who might not do witchcraft per se, but who are identifying with the witch as a figure of feminine independence, subversion, and freedom. In these dark times, it gives me hope for the future.
What is your approach to those who are wary or skeptical of mystical subjects?
veryone is entitled to their opinions. I’m not here to proselytize. As long as people respect my right to to have my own interests and beliefs, they can think whatever they want. I just want everyone to be compassionate and kind, no matter what path they follow.
How has your spirituality developed or changed over time?
When I was much younger, I used to think I had to compartmentalize more. But things have gradually become more integrated for me, in small ways, like choosing a Björk song instead of an Enya song to play during a ritual as a teen, and in large ways as I got older, like being far more public and outspoken about my passions and beliefs. I think the biggest change for me has been learning to trust myself, my instincts, and my tastes. And to trust that the best people will accept me and love me as I am, in all contexts of my life.
What’s your favorite Tarot card?
That’s a tough one. The High Priestess is pretty hard to resist. All of that resplendent, potent female power! But lately the Star card has been coming up for me a lot in readings. I was recently told that it’s because I’m moving toward a very hopeful, shining place, even though I’m working a bit in the dark and don’t know exactly what’s next for me. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, and moving toward the light.
Who is your favorite pop culture witch?
My favorite witches are the protagonists of some of my most beloved novels: Lolly Willowes in the Sylvia Townsend Warner book of the same name, Juniper from Monica Furlong’s Wise Child series, Marian Leatherby from Leonora Carrington’s remarkable novella, The Hearing Trumpet. In terms of pop cilute witches, I love Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vanessa Ives from Penny Dreadful (Patti LuPone as The Cut-Wife in a couple of the episodes needs a mention, too), and Rowan Black from the comics series Black Magick.
How do you integrate ritual into your daily life?
Lots of ways, some outward, some internal. I have an altar in my bedroom I work with very actively. I wear certain talismans, scents, and colors every day with a great deal of intention. I meditate. And of course when there are holy days or certain phases of the moon, those evenings get lots of extra activity and attentiveness.
What are you working on right now?
In terms of personal projects, I just launched a podcast called The Witch Wave
, which has been occupying a ton of my time and a giant chunk of my heart. An entire ventricle even. It’s a biweekly show where I interview some of the most magical and creative visionaries on the planet, and it has been an utter joy to work on. I’m also writing a book about the archetype of the witch and what she’s meant to me over the course of my life, and that has been a thrilling and humbling venture, in equal measure. In general, I’m working on how to out-create the destruction, as Tori Amos said recently. There’s not point in fighting evil with more negativity. I’m trying to make more, give more, love more.
What’s your go-to spiritual tool?
In all honesty, my first go-to is art – both the consuming of it and the creation of it. I’m very fortunate to have been brought up by two artists who took me to lots of museums when I was growing up, so I’ve always seen art as a portal for imaginal and spiritual flight. Work by painters like Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Agnes Pelton, and Marjorie Cameron, to name but a few, have brought as much illumination to me as any ritual or magical device. That said, I will never say no to a candle. Fire magic is so simple, so focused, so elegant, and so effective.
What is your sign, and how do you embody it?
I’m an Aquarius with a Cancer moon. Like a typical Aquarius, maintaining my independence and individuality is a huge priority for me, and my brain is always whirring with visions and ideas (sometimes too many). But the moon in Cancer brings me solid helping of sensitivity, sensuality, and centeredness in my home life, so I think it keeps me from being too impersonal. It’s a bit of an odd combo, because it means I’m comfortable communicating and leading in pretty public ways, but I also need a lot of recharge time and breaks. So it’s a constant balancing act, and one I’m always looking to refine. It’s a big reasons that images of equilibrium appeal to me, such as the alchemical rebis. Balancing my inner queen and king, moon and sun, shadows and light rays is something I’m always striving for.
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