Witches

Witches coverWitches
Jong
1981

Submitter: The story behind this find is more scary than the scans I’m sending you. This book was found in our children’s non-fiction section during a recent round of shelf-reading. Needless to say it is NOT a children’s item, despite its picture-book size, unassuming cover and numerous illustrations.

Imagine my shock when I opened the book and saw this? (By the way these images are NSFW.)

Wish I’d read the warning page. Also there was a little penciled-in note on the flyleaf, remarking that it was “the last copy in the system.” Now (after weeding) we can say that there are no longer any copies of in our system.

Holly: I’m cropping and posting one of the pictures submitted from this book, as well as the warning page that the submitter mentioned.  Trust me, this is NOT something many people would be happy to stumble on in a children’s section.  I make no judgments on what’s appropriate for anyone else to read, but I can’t imagine the fallout if it were found in a youth non-fiction section.  Nice cover – there aren’t really any clues about what awaits you within (except for Erica Jong’s name, which might make adults familiar with her work hesitate).  If you want to see more, look this book up  in Google Images.  Fair warning, though – it’s not family friendly!

Witches title page

Witches image

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22 comments

  1. My public library used to have this book in adult nonfiction! As I remember, there was a pretty vivid description of putting special herbs on a broomstick handle for. . . um. . . application to the intended spot. These things made a big impression on my mind as a child. It also contained recipes and I was more than a little bitter that I didn’t know where to find foxglove to try them out.

    Oh, the memories. I have no idea what kind of psychopath would shelve this in the children’s section, though.

  2. One library in our system has this. Not sure if they’d send or not, some libraries are picky when they have the only copy of something.

  3. I sought this book for years and could not find it anywhere. I would never have thought of looking in the children’s section; my impression was that it was written for adults. I’ve read a lot of Jong’s autobiographical writing, and never saw her refer to this as a children’s book.

    I don’t understand the logic of banishing a book from an entire library system just because it was placed in the wrong section. Why not re-catalog and reshelve? Especially if it is the last remaining copy.

  4. Oh my… My mum used to have this and it was both fascinating and scary to me when I was little…
    This just brought back so many memories… especially the last picture… 😀
    I used to look at it in secret, my mum wouldn’t let me have a look at it, I now understand why ^^

  5. Funny, I rediscovered this today and started reading it! The art is utterly amazing, that is what I bought it for. if you read the text you will find it isn’t at all ‘satanic’ or ‘evil’, but about how good concepts got subverted and changed into evil things in the popular imagination, and how that has held women back. Definitely of interest to pagan/Wiccan readers.

    Definitely not a children’s book. I think the *librarian* who filed it in the children’s section should be weeded, not the book itself!

  6. Not that I’ve actually bothered to read any of Erica Jong’s books, but I know enough to realise her importance as a writer. I am a little surprised at an American library weeding anything of hers without very good reason. Moving it from the children’s section – YES. Getting rid of altogether – why? 🙁 This book does look fascinating.

  7. Fret not, folks, this book is back in print and available on Amazon.

    And I totally agree with Stella’s last sentence. Don’t get rid of that book. JUst move it to the appropriate area. I remember reading it when I was in my teens and being very inspired by it.

  8. Holy fracking walnuts, this is the one that traumatized me at age seven!!!

    “Fair Warning: Don’t Open This Book . . . ” sure sounded like a “Heh, heh, we’re gonna tell scary stories tonight, kids” to me when I saw the shiny new book on the shelf. What kid wouldn’t be interested?

    I was the very first one to check it out. So I was the very first kid in my elementary school to see the full-page, full-color, full-frontal illustration of a woman on the verge of orgasm while having sex with a goat. Being a kid, I assumed with kid logic that this was somehow my fault, so it took me several tries to make it all the way to the counter to tell the librarian, “Um, um, um, there’s something wrong with this book.”

    She took it. She opened it. She made Bugs Bunny Sees the Monster Face. The book went away.

    Oh, and about foxglove: This book doesn’t belong in any library because it’s damned irresponsible writing. Foxglove is the original source of digitalin, an extremely powerful drug that acts upon the heart. In the right (minute) dose, it can save someone suffering from a potentially lethal heart problem. In a slightly larger (still minute) dose, it is itself lethal.

  9. Per bani’s argument that the book should be kept because it’s Eric Jong: I don’t think libraries are obligated to keep every title by a well-known author, especially when it’s not the book that they’re well-known for. Lots of writers make their name on one book, and then get lazy and churn out crap after that. And some established writers get very into writing material that is pornographic or otherwise unsuitable for a public library.

  10. My public library system has two copies, properly shelved in the adult section. I have no interest in reading it, just wanted to chime in with that.

  11. Personally, I would have been horrified to find this in the children’s section, and I’m no conservative, either! But, removong it entirely from the listing was a bit much, and certainly has an odor of someone’s personal opinion ruling over what should be available. This is something the majority of librarians are against–just because material is personally objectionable to you does not mean you have the right to insist no one else should read it.
    I worked in the children’s section of a Southern library and was involved in pulling a surplus of books at times. The assistant librarian was a very religious, very conservative person and I know she objected to many of the books there, but she was willing to allow people to have the option of reading what they wanted.
    We do not have the right to decide what belongs in a public library or what doesn’t–though I think good taste should work on some things. I know many libraries are having problems with what is or isn’t pronography, and so on, but the main thing is people should have access to anything they want to read without someone trying to tell them what they can or can or can’t read.

  12. I’ve got to agree with the commenters you are saying that it was not appropriately shelved, but should not be weeded. It is still a reasonably important work for the modern Pagan community. To weed it for content is simply religious discrimination.

    That being said, it was written at a time that the witch-craze was interpreted within the modern Pagan community as the Woman’s Holocaust, and witchcraft was regarded as an uninterupted survival of a pre-Christian European religion. Both of these ideas have not fared well in Pagan scholarship in the subsequent decades. We have come a much more nuanced and realistic position particularly through the work of Hutton.

    There’s still a bit of foundness for Jong’s book within the Pagan community, but we Pagans have moved beyond it a bit, and certainly have a much more responsible view of the herbalism Jong was suggesting (see Beyerl’s books, for instance). I’d say that not every library needs a copy for their Pagan readers, but at least one copy needs to be available within a given library system.

  13. @Polly: fair enough, I worded myself badly – can never write anything at home without distractions. It’s a surprise I string any sort of coherent sentences together… A Swedish library would always try to keep a fairly full selection of the works of any Swedish author deemed important (note: my impression of things, I’m not a librarian). Even if a lot is less good the author’s complete works are available for study (and comparison, I guess? Maybe it’s just some sort of patriotism. We don’t have any sort of literary canon here, no obligatory high school reading, which I think means that those unwritten rules about which writers are a big deal are all the stronger ….). I think Erica Jong would count as a groundbreaking and important writer, even though I’ve mostly read about her. She’s on my to-do list. 😉 So from my point of view a library would strive to keep a very broad selection of her books.

  14. After reading the comments I thought I should clarify.
    1. The book was ::miss-shelved:: Our copy had a plain hardback cover and we’re assuming one of our many volunteers shelved it with the children’s fairy tales by accident. (Its call number was in the 398.2’s for those familiar with dewey.)
    2. We did not choose to weed it because of where we found it shelved nor did we solely weed it due to the content. The book hadn’t been checked out in over ::6 years:: If stuff doesn’t circulate at our library it goes, regardless of how “cool” you may find it or if its the “last copy.”

  15. Yeah, but…is the reason it didn’t circulate because it was misshelved for 6 years in the children’s section?

  16. @Amber – If anyone had wanted it in the past 6 years they would have searched for it and it would’ve been found long before now. I know from past experience where I work.

  17. Erica Jong is a long-standing favorite poet of mine. Becoming Light, which is a great example of her work, was the first I read from her a few years ago and I really loved it. In that book, in fact, she has several poems referring to witchcraft and identifying with the historical persecution that Pagan people, or anyone female who did not subscribe to Christian ideals, may have suffered. Her work is great. That being said, this definitely shouldn’t be shelved with children’s literature. However, I do want to point out that as a kid, I was never stopped by anyone’s well-intentioned sectioning of the library because I was always extraordinarily curious about adult books. I had an accelerated reading level as a child and would not be deterred from any section of the library by anyone. So, no matter where you put it….consider that a kid like I was may find it anyway.

  18. Tis not mere twaddle.
    Twaddle and balderdash however, it is.
    And Balderdash more than a pinch.
    My grandmother was born with a veil.
    Her mother, and her mother before her were all considered something like witches.
    They knew some “Doctoring”, some mixing of herbs for various ailments.
    They understood which seeds to plant, what eyes to cut.
    They kept the seasons, and the hour.
    They were not steeped in black mystery.
    Though one great upon great aunt was drowned here, to my knowledge most witches were drowned or hanged in those bad old days.
    My sister was not adept at learning, but I was a happy student.
    I use no mirror to scry, I sacrifice no virgins (ok, maybe ugly ones every now and then).
    Just kidding.
    Though I do Hie me to Wilkson’s Hill time to time, it’s not on flaxseed nor straw broom.

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