Witches are very real in Lyra's World and are mentioned to exist in other worlds also. The witches of Lyra's world live far longer than humans, perhaps up to 900 years old. Witches are only ever women. They sometimes take mortal men as lovers, but the pain is too great as the long-lived witches must ultimately watch their male lover wither and die, whilst they live on.
Witches wear strips of black silk and fly on branches of cloud pine. Serafina Pekkala wears a crown of red flowers and Ruta Skadi wears a crown of snow tiger fangs. Serafina Pekkala tells Lee Scoresby that they do not feel the cold, but she tells Lyra
|"Serafina tells Lyra that the witches feel cold but don’t mind it because they will not come to harm. If they wrapped up to protect against the cold, they wouldn’t feel other things like the bright tingle of the stars or the music of the Aurora or best of all the silky feeling of moonlight on our skin."|
|The Golden Compass|
Witches do not own anything nor do they have any means of exchange except mutual aid from other witches. They can't be insulted. Flying is the most important thing to witches.
Witch society is organised by way of various clans, which at any time may be engaged in warfare against one another, or in alliance. Lyra is almost caught out by this in the North when she greets the sight of witches with joy, only to be fired upon by their arrows - for not all witch clans are fighting against the Church. The Taymyr clan is one that was allied with the "child-cutters". A witch from that clan was tortured to reveal the details of the mystery about Lyra. No other details about this clan are known.
- Serafina Pekkala - Queen of the Lake Enara witches
- Lena Feldt - member of Lake Enara clan
- Ruta Skadi - Queen of Lake Lubana witches
- Sara Leiro - Queen of Keitele witches
- Juta Kamainen - Queen of Lake Visha witches
- Tanja Lentana - Queen of Lake Umalese witches (one of Lord Asriel's lovers).
- Reina Miti - Queen of Tikshozero witches (enemy of Katya Sirkka)
- Julia Ojalan - Queen of Navia witches
- Paula Pyhajaron - Queen of Lake Ladoga witches
- Katya Sirkka - Queen of Miekojarvi witches (enemy of Reina Miti)
The list above is from John Parry's papers in the appendix of the 10th anniversay edition of The Subtle Knife. Since the papers are shown in hand-writing, I have had to guess at some of the spelling for the witches names and locations.
Witch dæmons are capable of travelling far away from their witches without compromising their unique person-dæmon relationship. This is possible through a great separation at puberty as a rite of passage. A girl must cross into a desolate, abominable region in the north land where no life has existed since a great catastrophe in the childhood of the world. No dæmons can cross into this area. Once the girl returns, now a witch, she and the dæmon can be separated long distances and still survive. Lyra and Will gain this ability after visiting the Land of the Dead and undergoing a similar separation at the docks. Serafina Pekkala tells Lyra and Will's dæmons
|"the two of them will not fly like witches, and they will not live as long as we do; but thanks to what they did, you and they are witch in all but that."|
|The Amber Spyglass|
In other worlds
Witches are known to exist in other worlds also. Ruta Skadi visits Lord Asriel's fortress and later reports to her fellow witches that there are witches from other worlds; some are male while others have a normal lifespan.