Five Not Quite Witches of Menagerie

Technically speaking, in the Menagerie setting there are no human witches in the sense of women who can work magical spells in any meaningful or consistent sense. Properly speaking, the only beings that can maybe control the chaotic and dimly personal malfunctions of the natural order lumped under term "magic" (or more commonly "strong magic," though what weak magic might be differs considerably depending on who's talking) are fairies.

Still, just because there are no proper witches doesn't mean there aren't people who occupy the same narrative and thematic space as a witch, and for no reason other than my own whim I'd like to talk about five of those women, to give a sense of the range of ways in which humans can interact with (and think about) magic in this world.

  1. VICTORIA MCCANDLESS: Victoria would be deeply, deeply offended if you called her a witch. She does have what is variously called clairvoyance, the Second Sight, etc., which is a catch-all term for humans who are to some degree sensitive to magic. This sensitivity can vary from prophetic dreams (Ed Brady), to physical reactivity to magic (Saul McCandless, poor chump), to the simple ability to see invisible things and talk to magical beings--this last is the best way to describe Victoria. She has a poltergeist in her house, and arguably it's this magical/spiritual connection that provides some of the esoteric horsepower for her work. Most of what Victoria does is more mad science than sorcery. She is deeply interested in technology that can invoke magical forces (essentially, cajole or trick natural forces into doing something interesting), and spends a lot of time building flying machines in the hopes of unlocking the secrets of heavier-than-air flight in a world where combustion engines and electrical power can't be relied upon. Her poltergeist probably helps, although it's not clear exactly how.

    She's weak in the more traditional or flashy styles of clairvoyance, but she gets her living by teaching clairvoyant children the basics of how to exercise (or suppress, if they want) their sensitivities.

    Like the traditional witch (and the traditional mad scientist), Victoria is something of a loner. While she has strong opinions about propriety, her own lifestyle choices (an older single woman, practicing esoteric science) put her right on the edge of respectability.

  2. SYLVANIE WALKER: If Victoria is a clairvoyant who tries to make her weirdness as serious and respectable as possible, Sylvanie is one who embraces full-on the weirdness of it all. Sylvanie actually bills herself as a hedgewitch, tooling around the Northeast in a wagon full of herbs and potions that may or may not work. This is how she gets her living, and maybe she believes in some of it, but her real talent is dream-travel, the ability to manipulate and navigate the raw stuff of everyone's dreaming. This is probably the closest a human gets to "real" magic, and it's a power that is both valued and feared (which may explain why Sylvanie prefers the itinerant lifestyle).

    She does also have an interest, like Victoria, in the intersection of magic and technology, primarily sparked by receiving a golem from a rabbi acquaintance in payment of a pretty significant debt. She studies Boethius the golem whenever she has spare time, trying to figure out how the rabbi did it and whether there's some way to spread golem-making more widely.

    Sylvanie also takes an apprentice eventually, but that's a separate story (involving Hollow Men, living franken-taxidermy, and other fun things).

  3. MAMIE RIB: With Mamie Rib we move from the relatively well-defined realm of the clairvoyants (who are a minority, but a large enough one that the wider world must acknowledge them) to the much more obscure realm of weird women (and, occasionally, men). No one is sure that weird women are not simply another kind of clairvoyant, in part because they are so rare these days, largely confined to small villages in the southern territories (both the French and Anglo, though not the Tropic of Spain). They sometimes occupy functions similar to a witch or cunning woman, but the defining trait of a weird woman is her ability to guide the souls of the dead and the not-yet-born along parts of their various journeys.

    Mamie Rib is a weird woman living for a while in the village of Modesty, in one of the mountain counties (although she came originally from the deep north). She is a gardener and a beekeeper, an occasional herbalist and possible palm-reader, and a dedicated psychopomp. She's renowned in and around Modesty for her skill at wrangling ghosts, although these days people are starting to question the necessity of a weird woman. She leaves town mysteriously one day.

    Yes, she has a scythe. She won't tell you how it's used, though. Mamie Rib, while hard-nosed and pragmatic as they come, understands the value of mystification in such a precarious and liminal line of work.

  4. SMALL YELLOW PITCHER: Yellow is another weird woman, Mamie Rib's successor in Modesty. She inherits the role by default, because key citizens reason that since she's half fairy that might give her a leg up in the esoteric department. It's by no means clear that this is the case, but Yellow uses Mamie Rib's notes, as well as her abandoned garden and beehives, to take over the job. As someone who more or less backed into being a weird woman, Yellow knows very little about the job and isn't particularly interested in magical things; she's just doing what she has to do. She limits herself to the psychopomp duties, as Modesty only half wants her help and she's learning about plants as she goes. She does appear to have limited spurts of precognition, though whether that's related to her job or her mixed ancestry is anyone's guess.

    The fact that her hair changes color is definitely to do with her mother.

  5. THE DUCHESS: Here we move into the realm of Ancient British Nobility, and that puts us into contact with some of the humans most like fairies. The Duchess is therefore the closest thing to a sorceress you'll find in the human world. The nature and extent of her abilities are purposefully unclear, but she clearly has strongly clairvoyant powers and commands the respect and fealty of actual fairies, an unusual quality in Anglophone peoples. It's possible that much of her "magic" consists of calling in favors from fairies.

    The Duchess comes from one of the smattering of Anglophone great houses that survived not only the Great Fairy Wars, but the revolutions that accompanied the end of those wars. Although these families try to appear modern and respectable, it's strongly suspected that they have continued to intermarry with fairies in order to keep the magical sensitivities in their families alive (marrying fairies is, in general, a sketchy thing to do, although in some places people who are either rich enough or poor enough not to Matter can get away with it to some degree).

    While it's also entirely possible that some members of the nobility are very nice people, the Duchess is most certainly not one of them. She likes collecting things, and people, and does not discriminate clearly between these two categories.