In a breathtaking display of keeping up with the times, I’ve been watching Motherland: Fort Salem on Hulu. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick summary.
Puritans: “You’re a witch, and we’re gonna execute you!”
Witch: “I mean, you’re half-right.” [glares in witchcraft]
Puritans: “Change of plans. How about we don’t execute you, and in return, witches run the US military complex for the next 300 years or so?”
Witch: “Okay, sure. We could probably get two seasons out of that.”
According to the show, witch power is passed from mother to daughter, which got me thinking about my own mom, who died on Samhain 2018. Seeing as how tomorrow is Beltane, the only time of the year when the veil between worlds is as thin as it is in late October (which means her spirit is probably right behind me, sighing passive-aggressively at my grammatical choices), I thought I’d tell you guys a story about her.
A little over a decade ago, my brother and sister-in-law announced that they were going to have their first child. They’re both doctors, so we had no reason not to believe them, although I did my best to remind the rest of the family that their cat had been diagnosed with clinical depression the week before, and that it was now trying to actively murder the semi-feral kitten they’d brought home to keep it company, so maybe it would be best to get anything they spawned into foster care as quickly as possible.
It was a losing battle, though, so instead, I convinced my mom that new parents have no business naming their own children. (I’m not even going to get into what they named the cats, but as head guncle, I had to draw the line somewhere.) We were sitting around one day, sipping coffee and debating our favorite binary appellations (her: Graeme and Caroline; me: Oscar and Savilla), when out of nowhere, my mom said, “Your grandmother was a gypsy fortune-teller.”
I should preface this by explaining that my mother had a long history of saying weird shit at odd moments. “If you were going to murder someone, how would you do it?” she once asked, in the middle of a crowded Mexican restaurant. Then, while everyone else at the table was choking on their enchiladas, she added, “I’d use an organic poison that metabolizes as an innocuous waste product. But that’s just me.” So the fact that she causally mentioned that my grandmother was a fortune-teller in the middle of a discussion on baby names isn’t as bizarre as the fact that my grandmother was, apparently, a fortune-teller.
Understandably, I asked for clarification. And she explained that back in the day, decked in Mediterranean scarves and oversized hoop earrings, Gammie ran a wildly popular divination booth at her small town’s annual Halloween festival.
“Well, was she any good?” I asked.
My mother shrugged. “I honestly haven’t a clue,” she said. “The lines were always too long, and I never got to see her. But she didn’t give real readings. She just said nice things to people to make them happy.”
I was both disappointed and relieved to hear her say this. Disappointed, in that how freakin’ cool would it have been to be able to say, “My Irish grandmother had the Sight! The Sight, I tells ye!” Relieved, because the whole “grandma was a witch” thing has been done to damn death within NeoPaganism, starting with Alex Sanders and rolling steadily downhill from there. So I was mulling over those emotions, and right on cue, my mother said (I swear to the Gods I’m not making this up):
“Your grandmother also had a flux in her personal electromagnetic field. She could never wear a wristwatch; they just stopped working as soon as she put them on.” She took a sip of her coffee. “You know how computers crash around you? You get that from her.”
Then, while I reeled from that little revelation, she asked, “Do you honestly want to name this poor child Savilla?”
The poor child ended up being Lauren (Everyone else: “Welcome, Lauren!” My mom: “Eh. I’ll just call her Caroline anyway.”), a bright, beautiful little girl who inherited her grandmother’s artistic abilities. In fact, inspired by her love of Percy Jackson novels, Lauren recently decided to draw a deck of cards that she could use to tell her own stories:
She’s probably too young to watch Motherland, but once she’s old enough to flip channels unsupervised, I’ll get her started on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. And at some point in her mid-thirties, when she’s about to get initiated herself, I’ll be like, “What about Savilla as a witch-name? Because I’ll bet your great-gammie would’ve loved it.”