(The podcast version and shorter video version of this review are on this page, you can also find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the bottom of this page - you can also search on your usual podcast platforms.)
Have you ever said a silent or whispered wish? Or maybe you have a little routine that’s like a ritual? Then perhaps - like me - you’ve inadvertently been exercising your magic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what “magic” is and what it can mean after listening to this series. And before I get into reviewing it, I’m gonna give you a heads up that until you listen to this show - you’re probably going to think I am being a teensy bit over the top. Well, ok, lot over the top.
But…I can’t remember a podcast series ever having such a profound effect on me than this one.
I saw the podcast series Witch recommended on social media by writer Melissa Harrison and didn’t even read any blurb or listen to any trailers and dived straight in. Based just on the title and gorgeous folksy artwork I was kind of expecting a light jaunt through history and perhaps some interviews with people who are carrying on some witchy Wicca like traditions.
And yes, we meet some modern witches but it is far more varied, and deeper and at times shocking than I was expecting. From kitchen Witches to sisterhoods, to an architect who uses the wheel of the year and the phases of the moon to help him plan work and lifestyle changes. Do you want to hear how greed and capitalism radically altered communities and sidelined the role of women? No problem.
How about why the witch trials were not as prevalent in northern Scotland and Wales and Ireland? Cool, got you covered.
Why does digging in soil help your mood and what magic helps elite athletes or why do big businesses pay hundreds of thousands for their own witchy guides?
You get all of that and more as thoughtful, inquisitive, and genuine host India Rakusen and her team create a spellbinding series with each half an hour episode artfully exploring different aspects of what “Witch” can mean. There is revelatory insight into how the words “witch” and “hag” have been corrupted and she also reveals what “gossip” originally meant - I’ll let you experience the joy of hearing that one but it will definitely make you rethink how it is used.
The series is sprinkled with beautifully surprising moments like that and part of its charm and joy is that Rakusen is warmly inquisitive and open with everyone she meets. This gentle curiosity opens up far more dialogue than some other journalists who might utilise a more challenging or antagonistic approach. There is real rigour and depth as historians and academics are nudged to help unpack something of a mystery centuries in the making. Because at it’s heart this series takes preconceived ideas of hat a witch is and uses it as a way to explore how a drive to industry and material wealth led our society away from its connection to community and nature and how this redefined the role of women within these new societies.
It also sounds fantastic: the original music by The Big Moon and sound design by Olga Reed is a perfect brew and they help add depth and character to the stories we hear and people we meet. The trips to watery graves and icy rivers make this an immersive listening experience and the use of sound actually makes this one of those series where you really don’t want it to be a TV show as it is such a treat for your ears.
A couple of things happened after listening to this podcast series that have never happened before to me. Firstly, I incorporated new rituals into my everyday life that have stuck and have made a difference to my well being. I’m super curious if it has had this effect on other listeners - please let me know if that’s you! And secondly, I finished the final 13th episode and went right back to the beginning to listen to it all again. This is a series that made me think, but more importantly it really made me feel - whether it is the centuries old murders or injustices or the joy of learning about the effect of nature and “awe” on our brains - it was an emotional as well as educational experience. The horror of some of the history is contrasted with the present day joy of the people we are introduced to that have embraced the natural world in their everyday lives - there were times when I was listening as I wandered the countryside and I just beamed with a sense of happiness for others.
My biscuit rating? Look, this needs its own category as it can’t just be one biscuit: it is like your very own selection pack of all your favourite biscuits. A tasty cookie of history, a delicious sciencey shortbread, and a chocolate bourbon of mystery and much more.
Biscuit rating: A MAGICAL SELECTION BOX
All your favourites in one place and you can't help but keep going back for more.