Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Mayfair Witches.

Anne Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches: A Different Model of Witchcraft
By Caroline Tully.

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
-Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 4, scene 1.
Would you like to lose yourself in a long, spooky story? One in which the characters gradually seem to step out of the pages and into your life? If you shiver with both anticipation and dread at the idea of submitting yourself to a dark, dangerous, sensual force, then the Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy may be just your thing.
Anne Rice introduced the world to the Mayfair family of Witches in 1990 with the publishing of The Witching Hour, the first book in the saga of the lives of the Mayfair Witches. This was followed by Lasher published in 1993 and Taltos in 1994. Before introducing the Mayfair Witch family, Rice was enthralling her readers with dark tales of Vampires, beginning with the very popular Interview With The Vampire published in 1976. Rice, quoted in Katherine Ramsland's Witches' Companion, says of the Mayfair story; "The Mayfair books have been written in periods of optimism, good humour and high energy. They are fun no matter how dark and frightening they become, whereas the Vampire books have almost always been produced during periods of intense anxiety and anguish. The Mayfairs are always utterly exhilarating. There is always happiness and good humour to counterbalance the darkness." The Mayfairs are not Wiccan Witches, mind you, but hereditary ones, complete with supernatural powers, a familiar spirit and ancestors burned at the stake. Rice has convincingly created a family of Witches that conform to the century old stereotype of what Witches were popularly supposed to be: incestuous murderers who delve into Black Magic with the aid of a Familiar Spirit or Demon.
The word 'Familiar' comes from the Latin 'famalus' meaning an attendant. Familiars are traditionally thought to be of three types. Discarnate human beings like a ghost; a non-human entity such as an elemental or planetary spirit, or a material creature such as a cat, toad, dog or ferret. Familiars of the non-human spirit type sometimes indwell in a particular object such as a jewel, a crystal ball or a bottle. The Mayfair's Familiar Spirit is called 'Lasher' and he is specifically linked to an emerald which has his name engraved on the back. This emerald is a Witch necklace passed down the line to his specially chosen Witches in each generation. The covenant between the Witches and Lasher resembles the pact supposedly made between Witches and the Devil. The Mayfair's pact with Lasher involves him being obedient to the Witches in return for their bearing female children who can 'see' him. Giving the Mayfair emerald to the child marks her as the chosen one. Each child becomes stronger through inbreeding so that by the time the thirteenth one is born she will be capable of bringing Lasher into the world - reminiscent of Rosemary's baby!
Lasher in turn promises that when he comes through, he will bring all the deceased Mayfairs back to life and grant them immortality. He brings wealth to the family, creates the Mayfair Legacy of money and property, reveals the future and avenges wrongdoings for them. Lasher is fed and sustained by being taken notice of; he thrives on people's consciousness of him. He has to concentrate very hard and expend much energy to exist visibly and sees himself through the Mayfair Witches' perception of him. "To concentrate was to exist. When spirits dream, they don't know themselves." The only way the Witches can get any privacy from him is to play music or wallpaper the house with highly decorative patterns which fascinate him and keep him occupied.
The Mayfairs begin their linage with a 'merry-begot', Suzanne, the first Mayfair Witch who creates the Mayfair name by adopting the words 'May Fair', which is where she was conceived at the Beltane revels. Through the following centuries the Mayfairs migrate from Scotland, where Suzanne was born, to Amsterdam, France, Haiti and finally to New Orleans, where they settle and multiply. Suzanne Mayfair was the one to first call Lasher forth out of the primeval darkness where he was floating as if in utero. She stood in a circle of stones and traced a Pentagram and summoned him from the Air. "Lasher, for the wind that you send that lashes the grasslands, for the wind that lashes the leaves from the trees."
Lasher's manifesting causes a hot disturbance of the air like a mirage, and he comes because he has a great desire to be alive. He can possess people and things such as plants and animals, living or dead; he just wants to be corporeal. He is a shape-shifter and can cause genetic mutations in whatever he chooses to possess. When he finally succeeds, after hundreds of years, in being born in flesh through the thirteenth Witch in the Mayfair line, he chooses to come through at the Winter Solstice as he believes it is the time of greatest earth energy.
I hear your voice low in the dark
Like the notes of the harp player
That carve the still air
Into a sensuous and subtle imagery of sound
And my senses are drowned
By the scent of the oleander and the musk
Of the datura dimly shining in the dark
While your voice troubles the still air.
- Jack Parsons, Witch Woman
Anne Rice doesn't pretend to be writing about contemporary Neo-Pagan Witchcraft practices and does not claim to be representing Wiccan belief. She says herself that she knows very little about the modern Neo-Pagan movement. In the question and answer section of her website, www.annerice.com/ques_wch.htm she had this to say: "Now when it comes to real Witches and people who claim to have a tradition in their family of occult practices, you are on your own. I don't know anything about that. I will say that one of the most unpleasant letters I ever received in my life ... one of the few really unpleasant letters was from a Wiccan Witch who did just accuse me of everything under the sun for writing The Witching Hour. It was like receiving a letter from a member of any fundamentalist religious group - she was just furious that I had not described Witches in a way that conformed to her beliefs. But I was a bit chilled by that experience, it was bizarre".
The distinguishing factors of this non-Wiccan Witch family are:
1. They use unseen forces to their advantage whether healing or harming and have mental control over matter.
2.They have an hereditary familiar called Lasher with whom they have sexual relations, making him therefore an Incubus.
3. An emerald Witches' necklace is passed down to most powerful Witch in each generation along with the familiar spirit Lasher.
4.Inbreeding via incest is used to keep the power within the family.
5.Lasher provides the family with wealth beginning with a never ending purse of gold coins.
6. There is one chosen Witch in each generation who controls the family and consorts with Lasher.
7. All the chosen Witches are female except for one.
8. There are thirteen Witches who are so chosen and have Lasher as a consort
9. Dolls made of the hair and bone of each chosen Witch are kept by their successors for use in contacting the deceased predecessor.
10. The 'keyhole' shape is a recurring theme throughout the book, the Mayfair house has a keyhole doorway and the family crypt is decorated with a keyhole also.
You will probably begin to want a 'Lasher' of your own as you read this book, I certainly did. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches mythology provides a good, dark counter balance to such popular Witchy tales as the ethereal Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Terry Pratchett's funny Witches from Discworld - loveable as they are. The Mayfair saga provides a Witch image for those who like a little more fear and risk in their vicarious supernatural sexual exploits!


Caroline Tully said...

I am so f**king bored. If a supernatural being actually did come and want to impregnate me it wouldn't be scary..... just entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Rice become a Catholic? I doubt I will read this series, except if I want a devilish laugh. My impression is she is using the typical Christian fear of hell and sex. Ah, repression. Where would we be without it?
I do enjoy your blog. Thanks.

Thalia said...

Well, supposedly we all have a daimon. Not daemon, the animal spirit, but daimon, lover, friend, Muse, soul guide, magnetic beautiful person who appears in dreams and visions.

I've only read the first in the Mayfair series, and it was some time ago, before I think the others were out. I remember Lasher scared me to death. I gather he did get better in the following books. Sounds like he was stuck in the 'demon' phase of things and worked his way to the 'daimon' phase. Not that I would ever trust Anne Rice to model a healthy relationship, oh ho no!

And I am sorry you are bored, but it's damned nice to see you writing again.

Aline deWinter said...

Caroline this is great and so funny because I just wrote using the Mayfair Witches. I'll link to this one.
Rhonda, Anne Rice doesn't create what you are thinking of. Lasher is a trickster and the book is a tale of horror. catholic themes run rampant in all of her books when she thought she was an atheist. It is definitely not about repression.
I always enjoy this blog.