Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.

Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.

But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

12 COF stories our readers couldn’t put down this year

In 2015, Coming of Faith turned from an outlet for Muslim women’s stories to a major digital media site where the world goes to hear the voices and stories of underrepresented women, churning out daily content on everything from tech to politics to food.

Let’s take a look back at some of the most popular posts we’ve shared with you this year.

Here’s why those Suffragette shirts are incredibly tone-deaf

I'd rather be a rebel than a slave shirt

Co-founder and creative director Shayan Farooq wrote a handy guide to understanding the backlash against the controversial “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” T-shirts worn by the cast of Meryl Streep’s equally controversial historical drama “Suffragette.”

While the slogan “might sound revolutionary and badass to a white woman…it is insulting and exclusionary” to women of color, Shayan explains. By now, Streep and her crew have been widely criticized for this move, but the piece remains a good primer on white feminism and the perils of erasing women of color’s struggles and feminism.

Talking to Taylor Swift about race is like talking to a brick wall


Speaking of white feminism, let’s talk Taylor Swift. Remember the Swift-Minaj drama earlier this year? Swift has since apologized for her Grade A white feminist tweets on the VMA nominations, but former editorial fellow Caressa Wong wrote a thorough takedown of Swift claims that discussing racism and sexism in the music industry is “pitting women against each other.”

Oh, and if you’re craving some more controversial pop culture, here’s SaVonne Anderson’s latest on why accusing Minaj of being a rape apologist is lazy feminism.

Five reasons Donald Trump would be the worst president ever


Honestly, I’m exhausted of talking about and hearing about and reading about Donald Trump. But our traffic shows that you, apparently, are now. Here was our first piece on him, written in June by editorial fellow Erum Jaffrey right after he announced that he was running once again.

Unfortunately…well, at least one of the reasons is no longer true. Polls saying that he’s unfavorable among Republican voters? Ummm. I’ll let you live in your happy little bubble.

If you’re still craving Trump coverage, here was a massively popular post from November, rounding up hilarious and powerful responses to his call for Muslim ID cards.

Friends of the Chapel Hill shooting victims share their memories


Our former staffer Jillian Pikora, who studied at Athens Drive High School and UNC Chapel Hill with some of the victims, published a poignant collection of photos and memories from the friends of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha.

“She had that smile that is contagious, that forces you to smile with her and so did her other half, Deah,” remembered one of Yusor’s close friends. “[Yusor’s sister Razan] was also very close with Yusor. I never seen sisters so close. Maybe that is why Allah took her with her sister because she would not have been able to live happy again.”

The piece honored our three heroes by documenting the young victims’ legacy of love, a moment of warmth in a chilling time for all Muslim Americans.

The White Girl’s Guide to Not Being Ignorant

Karlie Kloss In A Native American Inspired Bikini

In April, Mona Ghannoum compiled some tips on steering clear of cultural appropriation and staying the safe zone of cultural appreciation. It’s not rocket science: for instance, learning to speak or read a new language is appreciation. Getting an artsy tattoo of it without understanding the language? Not so much.

We’re still getting comments on it today, from “Don’t repeat history’s mistakes and stop degrading an ethnicity to a single stereotype,” to “Please write your next self righteous post to non-westerns.”

Dear White Girl With A Bindi

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 6.44.43 PM

Speaking of cultural appropriation, Boston-based comic artist Sara Alfageeh created a succinct illustration of the issue with bindi appropriation. The same society that taunted young Hindu girls for their bindis and clothing and food now sees these same cultural relics as a way to get more Instagram likes. The comic, to no one’s surprise, was hugely popular on Tumblr.

ZaidAliT is a sexist idiot


In February, cofounder and creative director Shayan Farooq wrote a piece lambasting desi YouTube comedian Zaid Ali’s popular 2012 video “If you’re a Girl, WATCH THIS!”

The title alone is enough to make me twitch, but Shayan bravely takes us on a sentence-by-sentence tour of the rampant sexism and mansplaining within, from “Girls, I respect you and everything, but there’s one thing about you I don’t understand,” to “And then you say all guys want sex, but in general, it’s your fault.”

Unsurprisingly, the video has since been removed from YouTube.

Who invited the black kids?

“It baffles me why some of my black peers would put forth so much effort to squeeze their way into these parties, just to be forced into the middle of a circle of people when ‘Teach Me How to Dougie’ comes on,” race section writer Kassidi Jones wrote in early September.

In an important short essay about campus culture and white privelige, Jones discusses how some white frat parties use less than subtle tactics to refuse to let her and other people of color in, and why black students have created their own safe spaces as a result.

Bollywood, Indians aren’t that light-skinned


Former editorial fellow and current section writer Nidaa Mungloo‘s piece on the unrealistic representation of skin color in Bollywood – and what that means for both South Asian beauty standards and her own relationship with Bollywood movies – struck a chord with our readers.

“There is not a SINGLE leading actress in Bollywood today with dark skin,” Mungloo wrote in June. “…why should I, or any other brown-skinned person, continue to glorify an industry that demeans us, that tells us we’re not good enough simply because they said so?”

A Congressman was among the 1,000 alleged KKK members revealed

KKK rally

While vigilante hacker group Anonymous later announced that these names were an early release and the list was later corrected, Twitter went crazy over the possibility that two Congressmen and two mayors could be members of the KKK. CEO Laila Alawa wrote this piece up quickly when the names were put out, and was updating the editorial department all day as traffic multiplied. When we had 80 people on the site simultaneously reading this post, we could only cross our fingers and hope the site wouldn’t crash. All in all, this single story made up 9 percent of our site’s total traffic.

9 angry reactions to that Jeep ad


Remember the Super Bowl Jeep ad back in February? You may have also forgotten about the drama that erupted the moment Jeep showed a woman in a hijab, smiling as the American classic “This Land is Your Land” played poignantly in the background.

CEO Laila Alawa collected nine responses to that one scene that were so angry it was both depressing and hilarious. Look back and have a laugh.

You might also be interested in her massively popular roundup of #MuslimMeeting tweets that same month, reacting to a group of Muslim American leaders meeting with President Obama to discuss issues like the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in America.

Meet five brave patriots fighting to keep America free of Islam

Islamophobe standing in front of Confederate flag

In a hilarious listicle, community editor Yasmeen Abdellatif took on America’s greatest Islamophobes with a satirical bite. “Muslims are taking over the world, and now they have their sights on destroying America,” Abdellatif declares. “Luckily, there are some brave Americans who won’t give this country up to Sharia law and halal hotdogs without a fight.”

What’s hilarious is that, despite the obvious sarcasm and the massive (and frankly unnecessary) disclaimer at the bottom, some people were still shocking offended by the piece. We get your good intentions, but really. C’mon, now.