Into the Woods

By Elisabeth Krohn

When founding Treadwell’s Bookshop in Bloomsbury in 2003, academic and Witch Christina Oakley Harrington also established a sacred space for London’s Witchcraft scene. A purveyor of everything from esoteric texts, candles and ceremonial oils to books on amazing ancient art and penetrating psychoanalysis, Treadwell’s is a real haven, not only for the magically inclined. Sabat caught up with Christina to learn the full story.

Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.

EK: Have you always been a Witch?

COH: Yes and no. I’ve always been drawn to the mysterious, so always had a calling to the forest where Baba Yaga dwells. So yes in that sense. But I trained in Witchcraft as a young woman, was initiated into it, and so in that sense I wasn’t a Witch before I was initiated: I took a vow, made a compact with the mysteries.

EK: What kind of Witch do we meet in fairy tales and folk tales?

COH: The Witch Baba Yaga has to be one of my favourites: she’s the woodland witch of Slavic lore, who can bestow favours or curses. Baba is ‘old woman’ or grandmother, and Baba Yaga is the crone who dwells in the forest in a hut which stands on chicken legs. You don’t get more surreal than that.

EK: Do you think Witchcraft and feminism are related concepts?

COH: Fear of Witches, indeed the image of the scary Witch, arises from the fear of female power, particularly women’s engagement with the unseen realms. For a woman to reclaim Witchcraft is to invite that fear to be projected on her. And she dares to dive into the supernatural realms of the occult, the hidden herself.

Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.
For a woman to reclaim Witchcraft is to invite that fear to be projected on her.
Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.

EK: Could you tell us about your journey in Witchcraft?

COH: The wood where I met Nicolette for this photo shoot is the very same woods where Witches gather, and have for many decades. I first came to this wood almost thirty years ago, as a young Witch and met others in a clearing here, for a ceremony at sunset. Practising Witchcraft is something I do, and it’s a spiritual vocation to the mysteries, and these woods are very important to my story in that.

EK: What made you decide to open Treadwell’s Bookshop?

COH: The most valuable thing, in the world of the occult, is to find people of genuine knowledge experience, wisdom and kindness. Good books are teachers of equal importance. I opened Treadwell’s in 2003, on May Day, to make a meeting place where people can find wise old-timers and good books. I was inspired by the idea of the grand cultural salons of the 18th century.

Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.
I took a vow, made a compact with the mysteries.
Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.

EK: What are your thoughts on the resurgence of Witchcraft in mainstream culture?

COH: It’s very invigorating. There was a big presence in children’s culture in the 1970s, when I was a child, and before that there was a big occult cultural upsurge in the Edwardian period, so it is cyclical. I feel lucky to be at a shop which is at the heart of so much activity of this renaissance.

EK: Do you think it’s different from the communities in the US and online?

COH: I love how Instagram brings alive an aesthetic of the revived, reclaimed Witch which hearkens back to folk magic. Its imagery feeds into our inner landscape. It’s fabulous for that. My life as a Witch is actually about practice, so sometimes my kitchen or my study will look very much ‘the part’, but often it may not. Sometimes my outfit will be a bit witchy, but most often I blend into the crowd. Yet, at the full moon I’m always doing my rites and practices, even if it’s in trainers and a track suit.

Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.

EK: Could you tell us about the London and UK Witch scene — what was it like when you first set up and what is it like now?

COH: London’s Witchcraft scene was and is mostly underground, even less visible than the wider occult and pagan scene. Most Witches over the age of thirty are invisible, anonymous, and yet doing amazing creative things. This is the case not only in London but across the UK. But there are little signs peeking out, trails you can follow.

London’s Witchcraft scene was and is mostly underground, even less visible than the wider occult and pagan scene.

EK: What makes the London scene special?

COH: Like all cities, London attracts misfits, creatives and visionaries who couldn’t fit in in the suburbs. This is why it’s so alive. Add in all the art schools, museums and universities, and you have a place that’s got the most awesome population in the world. Because of this population, London’s got an occult community and magical history which is unrivalled.

Images courtesy of Nicolette Clara Iles.

EK: What is your favourite ritual?

COH: It’s done at the full moon and it’s called Drawing Down the Moon. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it (*laughing*). You’d have to shut me up, actually. Once I start on things I adore, I have a hard time stopping.

EK: Lastly, do you have any witchy recommendations or discoveries to share with our readers?

COH: Two books: What is a Witch by Pam Grossman, and Natural Magic by Doreen Valiente.