Witches Abroad
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

This page:

Witches Abroad



index pages:

Witches Abroad

Copyright © 1991 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

Once upon a time such a universe was considered unusual and, possibly, impossible.

But then . . . it used to be so simple, once upon a time.

Because the universe was full of ignorance all around and the scientist panned through it like a prospector crouched over a mountain stream, looking for the gold of knowledge among the gravel of unreason, the sand of uncertainty and the little whiskery eight-legged swimming things of superstition.

Occasionally he would straighten up and say things like ‘Hurrah, I’ve discovered Boyle’s Third Law.’ And everyone knew where they stood. But the trouble was that ignorance became more interesting, especially big fascinating ignorance about huge and important things like matter and creation, and people stopped patiently building their little houses of rational sticks in the chaos of the universe and started getting interested in the chaos itself – partly because it was a lot easier to be an expert on chaos, but mostly because it made really good patterns that you could put on a t-shirt.



It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.

It takes a special kind of person to fight back, and become the bicarbonate of history.



All across the multiverse there are backward tribes* who distrust mirrors and images because, they say, they steal a bit of a person’s soul and there’s only so much of a person to go around. And the people who wear more clothes say this is just superstition, despite the fact that other people who spend their lives appearing in images of one sort or another seem to develop a thin quality. It’s put down to over-work and, tellingly, over-exposure instead.

Just superstition. But a superstition doesn’t have to be wrong.

* Considered backward, that is, by people who wear more clothes than they do.



‘People whose wishes get granted often don’t turn out to be very nice people. So should you give them what they want – or what they need?
If you wanted to get anywhere in this world – and she’d decided, right at the start, that she wanted to get as far as it was possible to go – you wore names lightly, and you took power anywhere you found it. She had buried three husbands, and at least two of them had been already dead.

Artists and writers have always had a rather exaggerated idea about what goes on at a witches’ sabbat. This comes from spending too much time in small rooms with the curtains drawn, instead of getting out in the healthy fresh air.

For example, there’s the dancing around naked. In the average temperate climate there are very few nights when anyone would dance around at midnight with no clothes on, quite apart from the question of stones, thistles, and sudden hedgehogs.

Then there’s all that business with goat-headed gods. Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.



‘You can be as self-assertive as you like, I said, just so long as you do what you’re told.’

Granny Weatherwax didn’t like maps. She felt instinctively that they sold the landscape short.



They rose tier on tier, speckled with snow, trailing endless pennants of ice crystals high overhead. No one ski’d in the high Ramtops, at least for more than a few feet and a disappearing scream. No one ran up them wearing dirndls and singing. They were not nice mountains. They were the kind of mountains where winters went for their summer holidays.



[...] she says she wants to make it a Magic Kingdom, a Happy and Peaseful place, and wen people do that look out for Spies on every corner and no manne dare speak out, for who dare speke out against Evile done in the name of Happyness and Pease? All the Streetes are clean and Axes are sharp.’



The Yen Buddhists are the richest religious sect in the universe. They hold that the accumulation of money is a great evil and burden to the soul. They therefore, regardless of personal hazard, see it as their unpleasant duty to acquire as much as possible in order to reduce the risk to innocent people.



‘That’s fairy godmotherly thinking, that is! Goin’ around inflicting happy endings on people whether they wants them or not, eh?’

‘There’s nothing wrong with happy endings,’ said Magrat hotly.

‘Listen, happy endings is fine if they turn out happy,’ said Granny, glaring at the sky. ‘But you can’t make ’em for other people. Like the only way you could make a happy marriage is by cuttin’ their heads off as soon as they say “I do”, yes? You can’t make happiness . . .’

Granny Weatherwax stared at the distant city.

‘All you can do,’ she said, ‘is make an ending.’

Granny Weatherwax always held that you ought to count up to ten before losing your temper. No one knew why, because the only effect of this was to build up the pressure and make the ensuing explosion a whole lot worse.

Despite many threats, Granny Weatherwax had never turned anyone into a frog. The way she saw it, there was a technically less cruel but cheaper and much more satisfying thing you could do. You could leave them human and make them think they were a frog, which also provided much innocent entertainment for passers-by.

There were countries in foreign parts, Granny had heard, where they chopped off the hands of thieves so that they wouldn’t steal again. And she’d never been happy with that idea.

They didn’t do that in Genua. They cut their heads off so they wouldn’t think of stealing again.


Capital punishment

It is a universal fact that any innocent comment made by any recently-married young member of any workforce is an instant trigger for coarse merriment among his or her older and more cynical colleagues. This happens even if everyone concerned has nine legs and lives at the bottom of an ocean of ammonia on a huge cold planet. It’s just one of those things.



‘And I mean some proper food, not somethin’ scraped off the bottom of a pond. And I don’t want any of this cuisine stuff, neither.’

‘You ought to be more adventurous, Granny,’ said Magrat.

‘I ain’t against adventure, in moderation,’ said Granny, ‘but not when I’m eatin’.’



The wages of sin is death but so is the salary of virtue, and at least the evil get to go home early on Fridays.

There are various forms of voodoo in the multiverse, because it’s a religion that can be put together from any ingredients that happen to be lying around. And all of them try, in some way, to call down a god into the body of a human being.

That was stupid, Mrs Gogol thought. That was dangerous.

Mrs Gogol’s voodoo worked the other way about. What was a god? A focus of belief. If people believed, a god began to grow. Feebly at first, but if the swamp taught anything, it taught patience. Anything could be the focus of a god. A handful of feathers with a red ribbon around them, a hat and coat on a couple of sticks . . . anything. Because when all people had was practically nothing, then anything could be almost anything. And then you fed it, and lulled it, like a goose heading for pâté, and let the power grow very slowly, and when the time was ripe you opened the path . . . backwards. A human could ride the god, rather than the other way around. There would be a price to pay later, but there always was. In Mrs Gogol’s experience, everyone ended up dying.




She hated everything that predestined people, that fooled them, that made them slightly less than human.

He had not been a particularly good man, she knew. Genua had not been a model of civic virtue. But at least he’d never told people that they wanted him to oppress them, and that everything he did was for their own good.

Around the circle, the people of New Genua – the old New Genua – knelt or bowed.

He hadn’t been a kind ruler. But he’d fitted. And when he’d been arbitrary or arrogant or just plain wrong, he’d never suggested that this was justified by anything other than the fact that he was bigger and stronger and occasionally nastier than other people. He’d never suggested that it was because he was better. And he’d never told people they ought to be happy, and imposed a kind of happiness on them. The invisible people knew that happiness is not the natural state of mankind, and is never achieved from the outside in.

‘Look at the three of you,’ she said. ‘Bursting with inefficient good intentions. The maiden, the mother and the crone.’

‘Who are you calling a maiden?’ said Nanny Ogg.

‘Who are you calling a mother?’ said Magrat.

Granny Weatherwax glowered briefly like the person who has discovered that there is only one straw left and everyone else has drawn a long one.

‘The good are innocent and create justice. The bad are guilty, which is why they invent mercy.’



‘You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage. [...]

‘But progress –’ Magrat began.

‘Don’t you talk to me about progress. Progress just means bad things happen faster.’



‘You can’t make things right by magic. You can only stop making them wrong.’

‘But you hate godmothers, Mistress Weatherwax,’ said Mrs Gogol.

‘We’re the other kind,’ said Granny. ‘We’re the kind that gives people what they know they really need, not what we think they ought to want.’

‘You should never have done that. You shouldn’t turn the world into stories. You shouldn’t treat people like they was characters, like they was things. But if you do, then you’ve got to know when the story ends.’



Nanny Ogg and Magrat came up onto the roof like avenging angels after a period of lax celestial quality control.

‘Ah, well,’ said Nanny. ‘It’s all according to the general and the specific, right?’

‘What does that mean?’ Magrat lay down on the bed.

‘Means when Esme uses words like “Everyone” and “No one” she doesn’t include herself.’

‘You know . . . when you think about it . . . that’s terrible.’

‘That’s witchcraft. Up at the sharp end.’

‘Well, I suppose there’s no place like home,’ she said.

‘No,’ said Granny Weatherwax, still looking thoughtful. ‘No. There’s a billion places like home. But only one of ’em’s where you live.’

text checked (see note) Apr 2005

top of page