Witches in Real Life

While I love the idea of fiction that depicts modern-day Pagans and their everyday lives, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Madness and the Magic. I certainly wasn’t prepared to be laughing aloud while reading - but I often did!

The main characters of the book are Minerva, a menopausal witch in a small English village, and her college-age daughter Ronnie, who lives at home. Author Sheena Cundy deftly weaves the small and large mishaps of daily life with a group of women (our main characters and their closest friends) who not only accept, but actually use magick to help with their goals and challenges.

I will admit that, as a woman of a certain age, the details about menopausal symptoms, or those “meno-what-sit moments,” as Minerva terms them, were spot-on. In fact, the “hot flushes,” er, flashes and their remedies were some of the most laugh-out-loud-worthy passages of the book.

Cundy tells a fast-paced, forward-moving tale, while giving plenty of time to the often deep emotions the characters are experiencing. Without giving too much away, there are some life-or-death moments within these pages. There are also mystical encounters, which Cundy explains just enough, while leaving some details and questions open to the reader’s imagination.

One of my favorite things about the novel is that Minerva’s love interest, the village’s new guitar-playing vicar, David, knows that Minerva is a witch and accepts her anyway. It was refreshing to me that the author didn’t rely on the old “Christians vs Pagans” cliche. The vicar seems to understand the commonalities between spiritual traditions and allows Minerva, who is a larger-than-life character, the space she needs to be herself.
He doesn’t even seem to mind that she’s worked her enchantments on him. “David looked at her...this wild woman, plugged into the national grid, flaming hair on end, skin beaded with sweat, reddened with bloody scratches and not a stitch on. She was a woman on fire...a marvellous sight to behold. ‘A spell?’ he said. ‘Well, it’s worked, Minerva… You’ve got me well and truly under it.’”

As the mother of a newly-grown daughter myself, I also enjoyed the relationship between Minerva and Ronnie. I would say it is a positive relationship, but not without the occasional misunderstandings and worries that make it realistic. Early in the book, Ronnie hesitates to confide in Minerva about her pressing problem, worrying what her mother might think. Once she has settled in for a heart-to-heart, with her mother’s trusty Tarot deck as an aid, she dives in. And she’s not disappointed - Minerva not only understands the dilemma, but is very supportive.

That doesn’t mean that the characters have an easy ride. In fact, the story is full of crazy mishaps and complications, which to me only makes it more endearing. A book about Pagans in modern life runs the risk of relying too much on stereotypes or becoming so fantastical that the reader can’t identify with it. The Madness and the Magic finds the sweet spot, with believable characters and just enough magick to enchant the imagination. Well done!

~review by Nikki Starcat Shields

Author: Sheena Cundy
Moon Books, 2015
pp. 160, $14.95