Today I’ll be doing a more in-depth version of a post I did on Tumblr about why Merricat Blackwood from Shirley Jackson’s amazing novel, WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, is a witch, even though the book never explicitly states that she is a witch. Before we get to that, I’ll share a synopsis of this book, because I really loved it and it is a new favorite that I want everyone to read.
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
- She uses “magic words” and sigils
“I decided that I would choose three powerful words, words of strong protection, and so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come.”
Some spells use words, but others do not. In the novel, Merricat picks the words melody, Glouchester, and pegasus as her magic words. She says these words in her head and writes them on foggy cups and glasses like sigils. In witchcraft, sigils are drawn symbols or words that are believed to carry magical power. The power of what the sigil can do when drawn on whatever you choose to draw it on depends on your set intention. Intention is also very important in witchcraft. Sigils can be used for positive or negative intentions. Sigils can also be charged, whether in sunlight, moonlight, between your hands, or various other methods, to become more powerful to achieve your intention.
- She buries lots of things
“I had always buried things, even when I was small; I remember that once I quartered the long field and buried something in each quarter to make the grass grow higher as I grew taller, so I would always be able to hide there. I once buried six blue marbles in the creek bed to make the river beyond run dry. ‘Here is a treasure for you to bury,’ Constance used to say to me when I was small, giving me a penny, or a bright ribbon; I had buried all my baby teeth as they came out one by one and perhaps someday they would grow as dragons. All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us.”
Merricat likes to bury things. At one point in the novel, Cousin Charles gets very angry at Constance for letting Merricat go around burying things, specifically money, on the castle grounds. In witchcraft, burying things has a couple of uses, namely deployment or disposal. Deployment would be using and burying items close to the subject to aid in spellwork and even for curses. Burying an item can also be used in banishing spells. Some witches also use burying of objects to dispose of ritual items, though ideally they would be biodegradable of course. Burying something is also symbolic of putting it to rest.
- She has Jonas, her cat familiar
“All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this…”
Witches often have familiars, or animals with whom they have a spiritual connection. Familiars are seen as companions and protectors. They are also seen as healers and guardians. But basically, a familiar is a witch’s loyal companion who protects a witch’s home and protects them spiritually.
- Merricat loves to frolick in the woods
Many witches feel a connection with the earth and with nature. Many grounding spells and other activities involve natural elements, particularly the moon.
- Merricat has an extensive knowledge of plants, especially poisonous ones
“I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom.”
In the book, Merricat does this thing to Charles at dinner often where she starts reciting the names of poisonous plants and what they do if you consume them and it really freaks him out. My guess is that Merricat would be a green witch. Green witches are witches whose magic and power comes from connecting with the earth and nature. They are often very skilled herbalists with extensive knowledge of plants, like Merricat. Also like Merricat, they often use outdoor activities like gardening to enhance their practice.