INTERVIEW | Katie West on her upcoming anthology Becoming Dangerous

This fall, Katie West launched Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist, an anthology of marginalized writing about witchcraft, power, politics, and resistance.

The project became fully funded about two weeks in, and pre-orders are continuing for another week.

Becoming Dangerous includes such contributors as Catherine Hernandez, Deb Chachra, Gabriela Herstik, Kim Boekbinder, Larissa Pham, Meredith Yayanos, Mey Rude, Sophie Saint Thomas, and many more.

As a fellow participant in Becoming Dangerous, I chatted with Katie about this magical project. Her answers were both insightful and informative…

MARANDA: From the first spark of dreaming up Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist to the current stage of shaping that dream, how has your vision altered, expanded, or otherwise changed?

KATIE: Originally, this book was going to be about the secret and safe spaces women create for themselves and each other. But as I was exploring that idea, I started to notice that so many babes I knew were turning to each other in more ritualised ways. I saw my friends creating private covens on Facebook, casting emoji spells to protect each other, sharing ritualised skincare routines, using tarot readings to make their weekend plans, making offerings to the Goddess, and performing binding spells on their President.

I loved looking at the different ways in which women and LGBTQIA people; people of colour; nonbinary and gender variant people were all summoning power in a world that prefers them powerless. The world is not a fair and equal place and, for many of us, that makes it a scary place. The culture we live in is built on systems of oppression and a patriarchal imbalance of power. We’re regularly faced with threats to our agency and authority. Those with power are not keen on sharing, and those of us without power are left with discovering ways to summon it for ourselves. Discovering power that hasn’t been given to us begrudgingly or allocated sparingly makes us threatening. Power makes us dangerous.

I knew I wanted to make a book about this. I wanted a book for people who needed to discover ways to summon their own power and become dangerous.

What’s been your biggest challenge thus far, and what’s surprised you throughout the process of creating and crowdfunding the anthology?

I think my biggest challenge has been designing the cover, actually. I know that’s not very exciting, but I literally went through about 30 different ideas. I knew I wanted it to be beautiful, eye-catching, and representative of the subject matter – but I had such a hard time figuring out what that actually meant for the design. I hired a designer and just nothing was working for me. I felt terrible as she’s one of my good friends, but I just couldn’t seem to tell her what I wanted (I didn’t know what I wanted, which was the problem).

I cried a lot trying to design this cover, but as a visual person, I felt I needed something to show people before I started asking them to participate in the project. I love book design, so I was spending hours just looking at books and walking around book stores and just being angry that it was not coming easily. Finally, I drew it myself on my iPad while watching Princess Nokia’s Brujas video and Sevdaliza videos on repeat. And then my partner Jamie McKelvie helped make it look less crap!

I spent about five months or so making the Kickstarter campaign page. It was a TON of work: getting rewards in order, figuring out shipping estimates, pricing the book and printing, doing the design, contacting and organizing the authors, doing funding and budget maths for days, soliciting artists, creating all of the graphics, adjusting all the reward levels, getting feedback over and over again. I have spreadsheets like you wouldn’t believe!

I think what’s surprised me is how steady the Kickstarter campaign has been. I’ve been getting about £1000 in pledges every day, which is so amazing and makes me incredibly happy.

It’s also surprising how many people are into this niche idea of using ritual to resist the patriarchy, which is basically the concept of the book boiled down to the bones. Over 900 people have backed this book. And everywhere I go, people are telling me how excited they are to read it, so it makes me feel pretty vindicated that I should just keep publishing weird stuff.

When we met to discuss the book earlier this Summer, you mentioned that witchcraft seems to have a pattern of becoming more visible or popular during particularly despairing or bleak political shifts. I’ve always found it interesting that witchcraft is so invalidated, seen as ‘irrational’ or ‘not real’, when so many oppressed people of various intersections often turn to witchcraft, or other forms of spirituality or magic, when we’ve been hurt, traumatized, or abused, and/or are coping with related feelings of loneliness, meaninglessness, or powerlessness.

What led you to making this connection, and what has it felt like to be able to discuss it with others, to give visibility and tangibility to this phenomenon?

You mention witchcraft being irrational, and I think it’s certainly seen that way. I gave the author’s topics to a friend of mine when I was struggling to find a way to describe the book in one sentence, and they said, “It’s a book of essays of women engaging in primarily irrational, ritualistic behaviour to change their lives.” And though it can be interpreted that way, I also think these ‘irrational’ behaviours are in reaction to a completely irrational world.

The injustices, biases, privileges, power imbalances, and systems of control in our world are inanely arbitrary, and irrational bullshit confronts us in every aspect of our lives. In that way, it makes a deep kind of sense to fight irrationality with our own sort of irrationality.

So, full disclosure: I don’t believe in anything. Like, nothing at all. I’m not a practicing witch, I’m not religious, I’m not spiritual, I don’t read my horoscope. Not because I think it’s ‘not real’ – I think whatever you believe in is as real as it gets for you, and I don’t doubt the power in other’s beliefs – but because it’s just never been who I am. However, I can get behind the effects ritual can have on our lives. I think what makes something a ritual is the purpose you put behind it. I mean, even religious rituals don’t mean anything on their own, separate of any context; it’s the intention that backs them up that makes them powerful.

But unlike religious rituals – which are prescribed by someone else and must be performed in a certain way – the rituals we discover and create for ourselves can grow out of our own bodies, spirits, and desires. I think this act of deliberately choosing to apply meaning and significance to our actions and to cultivate a deeper meaning to them is powerful.

I recently wrote about the ritual I use most to summon power, and like you said, it came out of a kind of trauma to deal with my feelings of powerlessness, so there’s certainly truth to that. The way I use ritual to resist in my life is to use it to gain control. And it’s not just any kind of control, it’s a specific type of control that requires no one else’s approval or permission. It is completely self-wrought and that makes me feel incredibly powerful. I think this is exactly why marginalized practitioners are drawn to magic and ritual; it offers an outlet where we can celebrate all the parts of ourselves the dominant society sees as weaknesses – our emotional sensitivity, our non-conforming bodies, our rage – and uses those things as instruments to summon power. When so many forces outside of ourselves are trying to take away our rights and freedoms and agency, adhering to a philosophy that centres us as fully realized people dependent on and owing only to the earth and the development of ourselves, instead of to elected officials or systems of oppression and those who uphold them, a lot of marginalized people are going to find that resonates with them.

I feel like this book is tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment; I’m getting great reactions to the project, mostly people mentioning how badly they need this book and how necessary it is. ‘Need’ and ‘necessary’ are two strong words; to have people feel that way about a book feels like I’m doing something right.

When we were hanging out, you’d just found the title you wanted to use for this project: Becoming Dangerous. These words were inspired by something I’d written in my essay, How Magic Helps Me Cope with Trauma and Pain: “I remember the ostracization I faced as I became crazier, and I remember when my parents and my friends’ parents stopped allowing my coven members to speak to one another. We had become too dangerous. I remember having the audacity to call myself a witch…”

What was it about these words that spoke to you, and how has it felt to witness how each contributor feels about those words? (For example, I really like the word ‘becoming’ as it denotes a process rather than a static state.)

That idea of people looking at a group of young women and being afraid of them? I want that to be normal because I always felt the opposite. I’ve always been afraid of things like being raped, having my ideas stolen by mediocre men, being passed over in favour of a man, being evicted, being killed if I said the wrong thing to the wrong person, not having enough to eat, letting my family/partner down: these things vary greatly, I know, but all these fears are borne from experience, and most people I know have also experienced the same fears, and worse. So the idea of young people not having that fear really spoke to me.

Though you and I may have had experiences that intersected, we’ve probably also had many that differed, and it’s probably why we have different feelings about the word ‘dangerous’. But you’re right, the word ‘dangerous’ is a contentious one and brings up diverse feelings for people. ‘Dangerous’ can mean violent, and a lot of marginalized people grab onto that, and need that violence in order to survive violence done to their own lives and bodies. Others see ‘dangerous’ and just see an enemy, and steer clear of identifying with that word. This is partially why I like it; I like things that are ambiguous and complicated.

J.A. Micheline, one of the contributors for Becoming Dangerous, answered my submission request email by telling me that, as a black woman, she does everything she can to not be dangerous – for her, being seen as dangerous has been something she’s tried to get away from her whole life. She wasn’t sure that idea was what I was looking for, but I knew immediately that this book would be bullshit if I didn’t have her essay in it.

For me personally, I’ve striven to be dangerous probably because I’ve always felt afraid, as I mentioned earlier, and because I have never liked not being perceived as a threat to power.

I’ve always inhabited this privileged space of being white, of projecting a patriarchal ideal of beauty, of being middle class, of being cisgender and passing as straight – so according to society, I was never going to be a threat to the established systems. This made my life easy, and also put me in an excellent position to fuck shit up. I’ve spent a lot of my life just trying to grab as much power as possible from anyone who didn’t think I should have any. My rituals were usually related to sex and money, to be honest. I’ve always felt that having control over sex and money made my dependence on harmful ideas and systems less necessary. Being able to extract myself from the patriarchy in that way has allowed me to start giving the power I’ve acquired into others’ hands.

The kind of ‘dangerous’ that I want marginalized people to embody is one that comes from summoning our own power. I don’t want us to have to wait for it to be given by those who already have too much. And when I talk about this power, what I’m referring to varies. It can be having the power to use our privilege to confront oppression, or to resist the male gaze, or to communicate to our lovers what we like, or to advocate for ourselves when people wrong us, or to fight injustices in either our wider communities or our book clubs, or to confront our racist relative, or to cut toxic people out of our lives, or to just survive the bullshit we all have to go through every day living under late-stage capitalism operating in a Christian-centric white supremacy. We can hope for things to improve, but we also have to learn how to survive what we have today, and for me, using ritual to summon my own power is how I do it.

If this makes me seen as dangerous, I gladly accept.

You’ve intentionally left men out of the conversation in Becoming Dangerous. How and why did you make this decision, and what’s been the general response? Would you still like men to buy and read Becoming Dangerous, or are you content for them to keep their distance?

Ha! I know I told you to ask this question, but it would be way better coming from a man who would be like, “Katie, why are there no men in this book?” And I’d be like, “What?! There?’ no dudes!?! WHAAAT?!?” And that’s it. That’s my answer.

Because no one asks an editor of an anthology full of men why there are no women or non-binary writers in it. No one except women or non-binary people, who ask because they’re angry at being continually left out of the conversation; they’re angry about having to continually ask that question! But no one has asked me this, which makes me feel like either a) most of the people backing this project don’t identify as men, b) men have assumed it’s not for them so haven’t commented, or c) no one cares? Also, it’s not so much that I intentionally left men out of the conversation, I just intentionally included way more women and non-binary people, and then there just wasn’t any room left. ¯\_(?)_/¯

But yes, I would love it if men bought Becoming Dangerous. This book isn’t made for women and non-binary people, it just happens to be made by women and non-binary people. I was talking to a friend about this and they said, “Aren’t you worried that by saying this book is for witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels in the Kickstarter video, that you’re alienating the men in your audience?” (Back story: I’ve been naked on the internet for almost 15 years, and yeah, there’s a lot of men in my audience demographic.) But I’m not sure why the men who have supported all the different types of work I’ve done over the years can’t be witchy femmes, queer conjurers, or magical rebels.

Those terms don’t exclude specific genders. I’m also not sure why a man who doesn’t identify as any of those terms can’t read a book about using ritual to resist and still get a lot out of that. This book is for anyone who feels they need to summon more power into their lives, and that can surely describe the way men feel. The patriarchy and toxic masculinity hurt everyone, men included.

There’s a ton of value in representation and reading work that you can see yourself in, but there can be just as much value in reading work that you can’t find yourself in at all and then listening carefully. Creating books that bring people outside their own experiences is part of what I want to do as a publisher; it’s why I strive to include so many diverse voices in my books. I hope that Becoming Dangerous does this for people.

What do you feel has been missing in coverage of Becoming Dangerous? What are some questions you’d like to be asked that haven’t come up yet?

To be honest, the coverage of Becoming Dangerous has been interesting. When I was talking to my publicist the other day, we were discussing articles and press strategies, and it dawned on her that this is not a light book. It’s not a pop culture book about witches. It’s a serious exploration of marginalized people doing whatever they can to summon power in this world, and that’s not cute or very marketable. But based on the feedback I’ve gotten, it’s also terribly necessary.

Becoming Dangerous is a complicated book. I was able to whittle away the concept until I could fit it into one sentence, but once it’s written, it’s going to be complex and challenging. And that’s the kind of book I like to make. I want to make books that make people question themselves and the world around them. With my last book, SPLIT (an anthology about divorce), the essays I chose were the ones that all represented lived experiences that were as far apart from each other as possible. They were essays written with nuance and intelligence about complicated issues that surround the institutions of marriage and divorce. And when people read it, that’s one of the things they always tell me: the book showed them realities about divorce that they never knew existed. I want to do the same thing with Becoming Dangerous, I want to show people realities about ritual and how it intersects with oppression and resistance that they never knew existed.

Check out Becoming Dangerous and support the Kickstarter here!

Katie West is the owner of Fiction & Feeling publishing company; a photographer who’s been posting self-portraits online for over a decade; a writer who writes non-fiction and comics and has been published by Dark Horse and Bedside Press; and an executive assistant to the creators of the Image comic The Wicked + The Divine.

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  1. Nico says:

    The link to the Kickstarter page doesn’t seem to work, and I’m interested in learning more about the project itself. Help? Thanks!

  2. Heidi says:

    Honestly this book keeps popping up for me, like the universe is screaming out YOU NEED THIS! (And I scream back, ‘I backed the Kickstarter ages ago, what more do you want from me?!)

    I discovered it through Jamie Mckelvie posting about it, was recommended it through Kickstarter, backed it, was shown it by a friend, and then here it is again popping up on an email linked to one of my favourite sites.

    I’m so excited to read it; the names attached and the concept just speaks to me on so many levels. It’s just meant to be!

  3. I adore Katie West, been a huge fan of her photography for years, & was a first day backer of the Kickstarter! So pleased something to witchy, & queer is going to exist for real very soon!

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