In her dance, she controlled the bright paper birds with invisible wires and threads. She played the human: heavy, tied to earth. Her dances weren't pretty or delightful, but they were magical, [...] They called her a dancer and a puppeteer and an artist. They might have called her a witch, and not the good kind either.
You are so young, Lyra, too young to understand this, but I shall tell you anyway and you'll understand it later: men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season. We love them; they are brave, proud, beautiful, clever; and they die almost at once. They die so soon that our hearts are continually racked with pain. We bear their children, who are witches if they are female, human if not; and then in the blink of an eye they are gone, felled, slain, lost. Our sons, too. When a little boy is growing, he thinks he is immortal. His mother knows he isn't. Each time becomes more painful, until finally your heart is broken. Perhaps that is when Yambe-Akka comes for you. She is older than the tundra. Perhaps, for her, witches' lives are as brief as men's are to us.
When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.
And oh, how she pitched herself into things. She would draw pictures all day long for weeks on end, then throw out the pencils and never draw another thing. Then it was embroidery with her, she had to learn it, and she'd make the most beautiful thing, fussing at herself for the least little mistake, then throw down the needles and be done with that forevermore. I never saw a child so changeable. It was as though she was looking for something to which she could give herself, and she never found it. Least ways not while she was a little girl.