The Insurrection Interviews podcast is part of Magic and Ecology, a year-long series of talks and online events where we invite researchers thinking about magic in relation to ecology, and practitioners working with magic to transform modes of earth-living in order to enable collaborative thinking across disciplines and practices. In this episode your host Simone Kotva talks witchcraft, landscapes and spellcrafting with Dr Alice Tarbuck.
Alice is a writer, editor and academic based in Edinburgh. She read English literature at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and received her doctorate from the University of Dundee. Her work on witchcraft has been featured in 404 Ink’s Nasty Women and The Dangerous Women project, and she runs Toil and Trouble, a witchcraft course. She has been invited to speak on witchcraft as feminist practce and her debut, A Spell in the Wild: a year (and six centuries) of Magic (2020) is an intimate portrayal of magic in the modern world.
Ecological thought is a focus of Alice’s work, which discusses the significance of modern witchcraft and feminist spirituality for the development of the Green movement, but also digs deep into the environmental awareness implicit in cunning craft, folk magic and traditional spellwork. Alice shows the ways in which practices surrounding spellcrafting invariable depend on detailed knowledge of weather, animals, plants and place. But she also resists the idea of presenting witchcraft as a “nature” spirituality, insofar as the natural world which, historically, witchcraft engages is not composed merely of the sublime but of mundane everyday objects. Indeed, for Alice it is the attention to the abject and forsaken that makes witchcraft a form of ecological thinking for our times:
We bring things into relation with ourselves, to help us practice effectively, but those things can be, well, almost anything. Empty pizza boxes, our child’s crayons, whatever we have to hand. Witches are pragmatists.
Alice is also a published poet, and the relationship between language and spellcraft plays an important role in her approach to magic. As she writes in A Spell in the Wild:
Witchcraft starts happening when our bodies come right up to the edge of their sensory and linguistic abilities and life keeps going away….The edges of language are sharp and pervert our meanings sideways. What the edges tell us, if we listen to them, is that there are experiences we can have that we cannot talk about using normal means, or at least not satisfactorily.
In Alice’s work, exploring magic and writing about it means also exploring the far-from-normal in one’s mode of expression, letting language open itself up to the unexpected. These are challenges that have be voiced many times in previous episodes, and it was a delight to have this conversation.
MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is hosted by CRASSH the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, and co-convened by Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe and Simone Kotva.