Cory shares some thoughts on being a published author one year (plus a bit) after releasing New World Witchery, why publish witchy books in general, and what’s coming next from him in terms of writing.
It’s been a loooooong time since I did one of these (like seven years!). Partly that’s because a lot of our social media now fills the purpose that these cartulary posts used to, and partly it’s because I usually wind up trying to write more in-depth examinations of folk magic for the website that are finished and complete, so these peek-behind-the-curtain posts slip my mind. Oops, my bad, and sorry in that order!
For those who haven’t run into these before, a cartulary is essentially a scroll of information where new material gets added by attaching it to the bottom of existing scrolls, functioning as a sort of hodgepodge of ideas that get rolled up together because they don’t belong anywhere else. Given that the dominant reading mode for the internet is scrolling, I use these posts as a sort glimpse into my working notes on current witchcraft research, as well as showing you some things that may be of interest to you as well (since you’re here, you probably like at least some of the same witchy things I do, right?).
A lot of what’s here is piecemeal and incomplete, or at least a bit rough and unfinished, and some of it may not have to deal with witchery directly but will give you a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes between episodes/posts/books/etc. And you may discover something new that you love, too!
Let’s start with what I’m reading, which is always “everything,” I suppose. More specifically, though, I’ve got a slew of witchy books in my “just-read,” “now-reading,” and “soon-my-preciouses” piles. I was gifted a book from the Ackerly Green publishing house called The Book of Briars by my friend Heather, and I’ve been exploring the tangled world created by author C.J. Bernstein (essentially the engine behind the press) through the book The Monarch Papers: Flora & Fauna as well. This whole press and the world it’s creating are INSANE and delightful. It’s a fusion of fairy tales, lost magic, Mandela effect, murder mystery, and more. There are elements of Neil Gaiman, John Bellairs, Margaret Atwood, Charles de Lindt, and Diana Wynne Jones in these pages, and what’s even more wild is that you, the reader, can directly interact with the world as it is being written, helping to shape the story that already exists and the books yet to come.
I’ve also been working through some folklore collections that I’ve loved a lot lately. I picked up a really interesting collection called Myths of Magical Native American Women by Teresa Pijoan, who worked with tribes like the Lakota, Hopi, Cheyenne, and Creek to retain some of the tales that were potentially about to be lost with the passing of elders. Most notable are the “Salt Woman” stories, which can be very hard to find and which tell of the tragic-but-generous figure of the Salt Woman in several tribal mythologies who brought the gift of salt to the people. I also received a wonderful signed copy of the Tel que Dit stories done by podcast guest Erik Lacharity, which recounts a number of magical tales and legends from French Canadian history and lore. Many read like fairy tales, and there’s a wonderful series of stories about the folk hero/clever trickster Ti-Jean as well. For my birthday in June, I was incredibly happy to finally receive a copy of the Greenwood Handbook on The Pied Piper, which is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales/legends (it has some very strange elements of historical fact within it). It was edited by my folklore colleague Wolfgang Mieder, and goes through dozens of variants, sequels, artistic representations, and the historical context of the story as well. Finally, my kids turned me onto a whole series of graphic novels that are collections of world folklore, called the Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales books. They feature collections like The Night Marchers (Oceanian lore), The Nixie of the Mill-pond (European lore), The Girl Who Married a Skull (African lore), and The Tamamo Fox Maiden (Asian lore). They are SO GOOD, and each volume features a variety of storytellers and artists to keep things varied and interesting. Great for both adults and kids ages 8+ (some stories are a little spicy or scary).
I also should mention that I’ve been on a bit of a mushroom kick lately, too. I’m enthusiastically listening to the audiobook for Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, which explores in depth how fungi are inextricably interwoven with every aspect of life on earth. It’s a science book, but it reads like a travelogue, a meditation, and an adventure tale at times, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I…I think I might be bordering on obsessed with mushrooms and fungi, and actively looking to join a lichen cult if possible. In that same vein, I recently watched the Netflix documentary called Fantastic Fungi, which does a nice job giving a mile-high overview of some of the same things Sheldrake explores in much more depth.
On to the world of witchy books, of which there are so many in my life right now, I have to say I’m delighted at how many people I consider friends or colleagues are putting out good work at the moment. I’ve read and recommended Fire Lyte’s forthcoming book, The Dabbler’s Guide to Witchcraft, which essentially takes his skeptical, critical eye and looks at witchcraft in a way that can help a newcomer to separate the useful bits from the bunkum claims and absolute dreck that sometimes winds up in intro-to-the-craft type books. In a similarly scientific vein, I am absolutely in love with J.D. Walker’s book A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft, which walks the reader through exploring their local flora both as a witch and a gardener (she’s a Master Gardener and spent thirty years running her own landscaping business, so she knows what she’s talking about).
On the more esoteric side of things, I also really loved Star Child, by Bri Saussy, which demystifies some of the complicated elements of astrology by also looking at what a parent might be able to glean from looking at the astrological placements of their child. There’s also Anatomy of a Witch, by Laura Tempest Zakroff, which dives into the sort of visceral experience of witchcraft by looking at it through the lens of a person’s body, breath, and movement (Zakroff is also a long-time professional dancer, so those elements are very important to her and it shows!).
In terms of books in my “I shall devour you soon” pile, I’m really excited about a couple of new releases I hope to get my hands on in the next month or so. Thorn Mooney has just released her latest book, The Witch’s Path, and it aims for an audience that is a little different than most witchy books: advanced practitioners. Mooney looks at everything from group leadership to burnout, and apparently provides guidance based on individual learning styles, which I’m very excited about! I’m also hungrily eyeing Lisa Marie Basile’s latest book, City Witchery. I loved her Light Magic for Dark Times so much, and this one is tackling urban witchcraft, which I don’t see done nearly enough. I’ve got them both on pre-order so….soooooooon.
I’ll close up with a couple of other witchy bobbins that I think are worth spinning. Firstly, for those who haven’t been watching our live cartomancy sessions, you’re missing out! They’re a load of fun! And we’ve discovered the wickedly honest power of the Mildred Payne’s Oracle of Black Enchantment from Deviant Moon. These cards are designed to look like woodcuts taken from a nightmarish and gleeful history of witchcraft, and they do NOT play around (well, they DO play around, but in the same way a cat plays with a bird it’s just caught)! We’ve gotten some of our most honest readings from them!
I also have been falling back in love with witchy podcasts, because there have been a whole spate of amazing new ones to come out this year. I can’t get enough of Invoking Witchcraft, featuring Britton and J. Allen, who remind me a lot of Laine and me because they are exploring folk magic through ongoing conversations and interviews. I was a guest on there a while back, but I’ve been totally hooked on them for months as they cover things like shoe magic, magical bathing, and whether or not to join a coven. I also ADORE the Southern Bramble podcast, which brings traditional folk witchcraft out through a queer perspective while also digging deep into its southern roots (and getting dirty and dangerous in the process). Austin and Marshall are just so engaging, funny, and also wicked that I can’t help but be drawn in! And finally, I’ve fallen for the Jewitches podcast, exploring Jewish folk magic and witchcraft with host Zo. This is a podcast that is built upon research and cultural investigation, and it deals with topics both delightful and very, very heart-breaking. Zo explores the overlap between Jewish persecutions and the early witch trials in Europe, the myth of the dybbuk box, and the horrific Blood Libel legend (which is still in circulation today). It’s really thought-provoking and also highly informative!
So those are the things that are currently getting free rent in my brain, and that are likely to influence some of the research and show-planning I do over the next few months. You’ll probably see some of these authors show up as guests on the show, or hear me talk about topics involving new veins of folk magic or curiosity that these little rabbit trails open up (who knows, maybe I’ll even have something to tell you about fungi and folk magic someday!).
This is just a super quick update to let you know that our Patreon tiers have been updated/changed this week. We’re trying to streamline the work process for Laine and me, while also adding a few extra perks for most levels!
The new tiers are:
Tier 1 (Omen Readers) – $1/mo. – You get the monthly newsletter, early access to any shows we release, and Discord access
Tier 2 (Fairy Doctors) – $5/mo. – You get the physical #54devils #cartomancy book (after 6 mos. of support) and a digital copy of the annual #witchyzine. You’ll also get priority during our NEW live reading cartomancy sessions, which we’ll do every six weeks or so (priority means you get to submit questions early). You’ll also get bonus episodes released on Patreon.
Tier 3 (Doodlebugs) – $10/mo. – Access to bi-monthly live chats. A digital review copy of the NWW Book by Cory. Plus a physical copy of annual zine. AND you’ll get an Annual Cartomancy Report done by either Cory or Laine (as an emailed PDF)
Tier 4 (Bone Shakers) – $20/mo. – You’ll get an Annual Swag Mailer (usually a book of some kind, a physical copy of the zine, and a few other little bonus gifts). You also get a signed copy of NWW Book (one time after 6 mos of support). We’ll also be featuring one Bone Shaker as a “Sponsor of the Ep” each month, and if you’ve got a business/podcast/project you’d like us to mention as part of that we’ll be glad to do so (some restrictions apply—no racist or homophobic stuff, for example). PLUS you’ll get access to a Live Zoom Cartomancy session with us twice a year where only patrons are invited and get to ask questions and receive readings!
So, yeah, that’s it! Hopefully it makes it easier for Laine and I to streamline some of the work while also adding more benefits for supporters.
HUGE thanks to everyone who has and does support us, too! We are incredibly lucky to get that support and we are so thankful to everyone who chips in to make this possible.
I realize we’ve already started discussing some of our reading selection for the first half of 2021, Ann Moura’s Green Witchcraft II, on the show (in Episodes 183 and 184 so far). But I forgot to post the reading schedule for you all to follow along! So I’m rectifying that right now by outlining the plan below. You can follow along, and interact with us on our social media (like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) or even just leave comments on this post as you read with us!
Reading Plan for Green Witchcraft II by Ann Moura
January: Choose book, brief background and introduction to our approach.
February: Chapter 1 – What is Green Witchcraft? (Activity – Circle Casting and/or Releasing Fears)
March: Chapters 2 & 3 – Who Are the Goddess & God? -and- Who Are the Elementals? (Activity – Meditations; Dark Moon Ritual Consecration; -or- Creating an Elemental Bottle) (Also, Appendix B on Names of Gods & Goddesses will be covered)
April: Chapters 4 & 5 – What are the Dark Powers? -and- How are the Dark Powers Used? (Activity – Meditations -or- Sidhe Moon Ritual/Companion Quest) (Also, Appendix A on Terminology will be covered)
May: Chapters 7 & 8 – What are Dark Power Herbal Magics? (Activity: Dark Power Exorcism) -and- How are Stones and Crystals Used? (Activity: Crystal/Stone Dedication Ritual)
June: Chapters 6 & 10 – How is the Celtic Ogham Used in Divination? -and- What about Familiars and the Tarot? (Activity – Elemental Tarot Spread; Passing the Midhes; -or- Dedicating a Familiar) (also, Appendices C & E on the Sforza Tarot Deck, Black Mirrors, and Ogham Sticks will be covered)
July/Wrap-up: Chapter 9 – What are Green Witchcraft Meditations? (Activity – Tree Blending) AND Final thoughts on this/retrospective
As you can see, we’re pushing through this pretty fast, but we’re also planning to try out some of the activities along the way. Sometimes we’ll do something directly from the book, and sometimes we’ll use it as a springboard into another form of practical spellwork (such as one that might show up in an episode like the one we just did on bottle spells).
Also, if you’re interested in getting the book, you can get an exclusive discount at Llewellyn’s site on that or any of her Green Witchcraft books by using the code “GREENWITCH20” at checkout.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading along with us and share your thoughts as we go!
One of the kind of cool perks to creating New World Witchery is that we often get access to lots of books coming out on magical topics, and sometimes publishers even send us an extra copy or two of some books so we can give them away. I have been very lax in doing these sorts of giveaways, but I’m chalking it (loosely) up to Fate. Well, okay, and a touch of being a little overwhelmed with all the projects I do. But why Fate?
Because I have a few projects that I need your help with, and I thought why not combine those projects with an opportunity to give away a whole bunch of books? Maybe I’ve just been stockpiling these so that I would have a good cache of verbal treasures to send out as potential “thank yous” to a few lucky folks who help me out with my work!
So how can you help (and also get a chance to win one or more of these books)?
I’m currently doing a few research projects and I need people to share their experiences with me, so I’ve decided that if you participate in my project, you can also enter to win a book! Here’s how to participate and enter:
Fill out our “Campfire Tales” survey with your favorite spooky/funny/weird/eerie tale from around the old campfire! Importantly, please make sure it’s one that you’ve actually heard told to you, and not just read (or one that you’ve told and not just read) as I’m trying to get stories from the oral tradition. It’s totally fine if they’ve also been written down somewhere, too (and if you grew up reading the Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories series, you’ll know exactly what Campfire Tales are!), but definitely tell me the story in your own words! Make sure to leave a good email address with the survey so we can contact you if you win (we do NOT share your email address with advertisers or third parties).
Fill out our “Research Survey: Slumber Party and Supernatural Games” form. It will ask you questions about any spooky, weird, or slightly supernatural games you might have played/still play, including everything from “Bloody Mary” to using Ouija boards to newer versions of games like Midnight Man or Three Kings. Again, if you fill out this Google Form survey, make sure to provide an email address if you want to be considered for one of the books as a prize; we don’t share those with third parties or advertisers).
You can participate in one or both of these surveys to get an entry into our contest! If you’re one of our Patreon supporters, you’ll also get an automatic entry as well (just one of the perks of being a patron!).
So what are some of the books up for grabs?
Making Magic, by Briana Saussy (at least three copies) – A lovely guide to working everyday magic into your life through ritual, art, craft, and intention
The Magick of Food, by Gwion Raven – A marvelous overview of magical cookery, including historical recipes, ritual menus, and more
The Crooked Path, by Kelden Mercury – An introduction and orientation to Traditional Witchcraft
Besom, Stang, and Sword, by Chris Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire (not pictured, but a great book!) – A wonderful introduction to animistic, locally-rooted witchcraft by two amazing witches
Fifty-four Devils, by Cory Thomas Hutcheson (at least two signed copies) – My guide to the folklore of playing cards and a basic system of cartomancy
I may also add more books into the mix, depending on what I get/find/mysteriously find under a rock between now and when these contests end. Speaking of, get your entries in by no later than midnight, October 2nd, 2020 by EST to be considered for one of the book prizes!
You can win a prize in both contests, but only one book per survey (and multiple survey responses don’t increase your chances of winning). I’ll be picking the books and winners at random when the contest is over, then contacting winners to confirm a shipping address for any and all books you win.
There is no cost to you to participate in this contest, and you can also choose to do the surveys and not be entered into the drawing for the books if you like (but seriously, free books, why wouldn’t you?!?!)
The madness continues (both the madness of the world in general and our own strange little plot to keep revisiting Scott Cunningham’s two “Natural Magic” books, Earth Power and Earth, Air, Fire, & Water). We’ve fallen a teensy bit behind on discussing the books on the show (just by a month or so), but we’re also a bit behind on catching up with the blog posts that let everyone participate in the discussion. Back in Book Club Discussion #3, we combined our questions and comments on two sections: Air and Earth. This time we’re doing the same for questions on the sections for Fire and Water (which balances quite nicely).
Some of the questions we wound up asking of ourselves and our Patreon supporters are below, and we’d highly welcome any feedback or responses (civil, please please please!) in the comments.
What form of fire magic do you practice most often? Is it candle magic? Do you use fire as a “cleansing” force in ritual, or does it serve more of an “animating” role in your spellwork?
Where do you think incense falls in the big picture of spells? Is it just Air? Is it also Fire? Do all spell elements inherently draw upon multiple elemental energies?
Have you ever done a purification spell like the one Cunningham mentions (the ritual burning)? Did it work for you? (Feel free to share juicy details of burning an ex-boyfriend’s stuff if you like!)
Do you ever do any fire-based divination practices (like scrying)? Have you tried his “fire writing” method with bark or paper?
Cunningham warns about the potential destructive forces of Air and Fire, but is less concerned with that problem in the Earth/Water chapters. Why do you think that is? Do you work with “both sides” (or “many sides” if you prefer to be nondualistic about it) of the elements?
So many myths have fire stolen from the sky, and Cunningham also connects fire magic with solar magic. Do you do this as well? Why or why not?
Cunningham warns that we should “beware the tricks of the conscious mind” when doing things like water scrying. Do you treat the conscious mind as something that works against magic, or something that has a place in the magical process?
What forms of water magic do you do most often? Spiritual baths? Wishing well magic? Water gazing/scrying?
Do you consider any weather magic to be within the realm of water magic? Why or why not?
Have you ever heard of/used the “crossing water” folklore that supposedly puts a barrier between you and evil/ghosts?
When making offerings to elemental spirits, is it more appropriate to bring something of your own or use what you find in the area? (Thinking here of Cunningham’s use of the coin to pay the tree for leaves to use in a ritual).
Should you always “pay” for the natural materials you use in magic? Can you ever simply use something and assume it’s okay/a gift/expected to be used for magic?
Have you ever taken a “water vow” as Cunningham describes it? What was it for/about, and did it feel like it was more potent because of water’s role in the vow?
We obviously get into a good bit more detail in both of our discussions (and we even have a few questions here we didn’t really cover). We would really love to hear/read your answers on some of these, though, if you’re interested in responding!
We’ll be back talking about things like Stone magic in the next book club discussion, and moving into the more detailed, “smaller” elements of magic. We hope you’re enjoying the chance to read along with us and that you’ll share your thoughts!
It’s strange, isn’t it, that at a time when so many of us are being asked to stay home that it feels like we have so little time to do things like read? At least, that is how it’s felt around our neck of the woods of late. But we have been managing to make headway in our ongoing Book Club, featuring the work of Scott Cunningham and focusing on the concept of folk magic in connection to nature and elemental associations.
In the past two regular episodes (on Safe Hex and Dreams) we covered the first few chapters of both Earth Power and Earth, Air, Fire, & Water. Those chapters began unpacking two of the major elements: Earth and Air, as well as sharing a group of spells that Cunningham associated with each of them. We talked about the use of things like sand and dirt in jars as a common folk magical trope for keeping evil at bay, and we still see that in some forms of charm work today with people leaving bottles or jars of rice, beans, pins, or more by their front doors or windows. Sprinkling salt has a similar effect when done at a threshold and that fits well with Cunningham’s ideas. We also chatted about Cunningham’s point that getting out into spaces without urbanization can be very good at connecting us to our landscapes and our planet, but that we should also be mindful that having that access is a privilege and we shouldn’t make others feel bad if they are doing the same work in a big city by going to a park or keeping potted plants.
On the Air side of things, we talked about how odd it was to see a warning in Earth Power specifically saying to be careful with air magic–why is that admonition so strong here, but not with something like earth magic? Does it have to do with the fast-changing nature of wind and storms? That also got us into the point that Cunningham makes about Air as a “twin of Fire,” which we’re still not strongly convinced about but makes for an interesting thought experiment. We noted that a lot of air-based spells have had their own evolution, with sailors likely using knot charms a lot less in an era of non-sailing ships and a recognition that spells involving tying things to trees need to be largely adapted so they don’t damage the tree (Laine and I both suggest the idea of using hair, which works well and biodegrades easily).
In ourPatreon Discord discussion, we also tackled a few more particular questions on these chapters and concepts:
What do you think of the differences in style between the books? For example, we talked about how Earth Power is obviously pulling from a lot of very practical folk magic (such as potato/apple wart curing charms) while EAFW seems to be more focused on rituals (including more incantations and rhymes). Which style works better for you, and why do you think that is?
What do you think the magical “theory” behind some of these spells would be? For example, why does throwing a handful of dirt after someone protect them (or in a similar folk magic tack, why would throwing a handful of salt after them keep them from coming back)? What about those counting spells? Why do witches/vampires/etc. have to do all that counting? (DON’T MAKE ME DO MATH!!!)
What do you think about including knot-magic in “Earth”? Does that make sense to you, or would you put it somewhere else?
Some of these are clearly very short-term spells, but a lot of earth spells are longer-term. Do you prefer to do spells with short, immediate bursts of activity and results, or longer and more sustained spellwork (or do you mix it up a lot)?
Is there a distinct difference between “air” and “wind” as a magical element or force to you? Why or why not, and how do you use air if you’re not also using wind?
Do we also see distinctions between “elements” and “transmission” or “medium” in other forms of magic? So for example I can see water as a medium with waves and tides as transmission methods. With earth, there are the seismic waves, but are there other forms of earth “transmission” that are fairly regular? I am sure mudslides, etc. would count but in terms of the way we can let a leaf go in air or water to carry a spell is burial the earth transmission method? Similarly with fire–is fire the medium and “burning” the method? Or are light and heat the transmission forms (so a spell using light is technically a fire spell then?).
And finally, why are birds so dang smug?
We would love to hear your thoughts on any or all of these points, so feel free to leave a comment below (or you can even shoot us an email if you’d prefer to share your ideas that way).
We’ll be tackling the powers of Fire and Water next, and then hopefully summoning Captain Planet to combat the avian smugness we will inevitably encounter. Or, at the very least, posting more questions and ideas to discuss.
For now, we hope you’re getting by okay, and we wish you happy reading and magic every day!
I know that many people come here for articles on folk magic with historical footnotes and sources, and don’t worry–more of those are in the works. But today I wanted to share a more personal post about my own family life and the magic we share. If that’s not your cuppa mugwort tea, though, I completely understand, and I will not be hurt if you wait for the next post reviewing books of magic or sharing a bit of lore from North America. If you are interested in the personal stuff, though, please read on.
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Over the past few years, one of the aspects of parenthood that I’ve enjoyed most is seeing both how my children reflect their parents and how they are different. We’ve done a few episodes on the idea of magical families and raising children within a magic-inflected world, but largely I have only been able to offer a bit of the magic I experience in abstract ways–nature walks and discussions of the spirits of plants or rivers we pass, small charms to help ward off nightmares, or a steady diet of Studio Ghibli films, for example. As they have come into their personalities and selves more and more, though, I’ve started to see them take up bits of magic on their own, or to seek it out from me in new ways that transcend the “kiss on a boo-boo” level of enchantment (not that a boo-boo kiss isn’t magical; I’d hate to be pitted against that level of magic unprepared, frankly!).
Some of this has coincided with an increasing awareness of the world around them, and some subtle and wonderful influences that have led them to magic. Today, I want to pause for a moment of personal reflection and look at the influences at play in my kids’ lives. I know this probably seems self-indulgent (“hey look at these pictures of my kiiiiiiids!!!”) but I also think that there’s a lot of pressure on parents with magical inclinations to somehow “raise” their kids in specific ways. I’m hoping that by illustrating the meandering magical path my children have followed–both with and without my direct involvement–it might help ease some of that strain. It’s also helpful to remember that as children grow, the nature of how we all relate to magic in our household has changed as well.
We have often said on the show that we believe in everyday magic, and that includes magic that exists apart from and outside of ourselves. Children are really good at tracking that magic back in the house with them (along with occasional muddy shoes). Those who know me know I’m a big fan of folklore (obviously), and my kids have certainly been marinated in a vast variety of folk tales and other lore from a very young age. Up until very recently, I read to my children every night, ranging from collections of fairy tales and folklore like Perrault’s eighteenth century assemblage to Jane Yolen’s masterful world lore tome and even individual retellings like Zora Neale Hurston’s The Six Fools. And, of course, all of Harry Potter and a great deal of Roald Dahl (both of which have some lovely embedded folk materials). They have listened to some of our All Hallows Read shows, too, during car trips, along with podcasts like Two Girls One Ghost and Spooked!. They have a great fondness for Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Norse myths (and several of his other books, too). Lately, though, the flow has been slowly reversing. They bring me tales of strange creatures and legends they hear from other kids, and keep an eye out for all things sasquatch related (because he reminds them of me, for reasons both flattering and unflattering). They share digital legend lore, too, telling me stories of the mythic Herobrine of Minecraft’s lands, and helping to expand my “landscape” of magic into spaces I hadn’t considered. I’ve also been making an effort to read the books that they select for me, too, as a way to understand their inner worlds, and in doing that they’ve given me Tracey Baptiste’s The Jumbies and Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts, both of which are rich in lore.
We can’t deny the importance of other media as well. The Harry Potter movies (and one of my personal favorites, Willow) have certainly been in our world for a while now, and while the unrealistic flash-bang magic of Hollywood films isn’t an accurate presentation of how magic works, those are also not the ones they are most drawn to for magic. Instead, my daughter is deeply enamored of the film Song of the Sea, which retells Irish mythology and folklore of selkies in gorgeous ways (she often thinks of herself as a selkie, too). I mentioned the Ghibli films above, and many of their understandings of spirit-world interactions are shaped by films like Spirited Away. They see a little whirlwind carrying leaves down the street and make space for that spirit to go through, for example. YouTube has also provided surprising connection points to magic for them. Two of our family favorite channels, Illymation and Rebecca Parham’s Let Me Explain Studios, have recently done videos on magic-adjacent topics like using tarot as a form of therapy and seeing how slumber parties are like witch gatherings. It helps to normalize their own experiences of magic, and gets them interested in exploring on their own, too.
Some of those explorations are directions different than my own. My daughter’s fascination with selkies has also led her to take an interest in other creatures like mermaids and unicorns, to the point where she is learning worldwide folklore about both that are beyond my own scope (which is more focused on North America, of course). My son is getting fascinated by hypnotism (thanks in part to the amazing Uncle Pedro character in the Big Nate book series, who uses hypnosis to help the titular Nate with one of his problems). The Illymation video on tarot sparked an interest for both of them in reading cards. My daughter–who has anxiety and emotional control conditions–uses tarot as a way to talk about her inner life with me and for herself (the therapeutic nature of the cards is one reason that my wife–an Evangelical Christian–has been open to them, in fact). My son’s interest has been more on the “fortune-telling” side, but he still sees some value in thinking of them as patterns he can detect and put together, too. I couldn’t resist, of course, and got them each their own decks (with their input, of course)–the Kawaii Tarot for my daughter and the Happy Tarot for my son (both great and very easy to read).
Additionally, I see the way that magic is infusing their lives in exterior ways as well. I mentioned making way for wind spirits earlier, and an extension of that is the reverence my kids feel for our local spring-fed creek. We make a point as a family to go pick the mulberries on its banks in early summer, thanking the trees for their generosity. The kids love to make sure the birds along the creek trails are fed, and so we bring homemade bird cakes of seeds and nuts out to leave for them (although I think we’re just as likely feeding the squirrels as the birds). They have befriended the gang of local ducks, too, who follow them around and eat from their hands. They recognize that the creek and its denizens are connected and alive, and we do things like trash pick-ups along its banks to show our appreciation. To them, the world is very animistically alive. My son has developed a deeply animistic relationship with a whole bevy of succulents and cacti on his own, too, spending his allowance on new ones or better pots for them. He names and labels each one, talking to them, calling them his “children,” and has even gotten a reputation as the “plant dad” at one of our local shops.
My son’s plant children
Seeing them find these tendrils of magic in their world, especially on their own, has been its own sort of enchantment. There’s a line in a Brandi Carlile song called “The Mother,” in which she notes that all her friends are out doing things they want to do, but that her daughter allows her the chance to experience magic, twice, saying “All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time, inside of the ages through your eyes.” That has been my own experience as well. New World Witchery–folk magic–lives because we pass it on, but we also pass it up, and around, and between. I learn new magic through my children, and offer them the magic I have to give as well. That magic changes over time, and it may not always be this way, but for the moment I am deeply grateful to share wonder with them.
As I mentioned last week, we’ve embarked on a 2020 book club looking at two of the books that got Laine and I into witchcraft in the first place: Earth Power and Earth, Air, Fire, and Water by Scott Cunningham. If you haven’t checked that post, make sure to do so and see when we’re reading each segment. We have ongoing discussions and chats with our Patreon supporters who are reading the book through our Discord server, but we also want to open up the conversation more publicly, too. So each month we’ll be posting a brief rundown of some questions and ideas that came up either in the discussion between Laine and me on the show or through the Discord chat.
This month, we tackled: Earth Power – Preface, Introduction, and Part I (Ch. 1-4)
Some questions to ponder as you read or reflect:
Cunningham often refers to what he’s doing as “natural magic,” and Cory thought that he was just using a different phrase to describe folk magic, which makes up the majority of the book. What do you think? Are there distinctions or differences between folk magic and natural magic? Are those differences present in Cunningham’s introduction, or is he using that term interchangeably?
Cory and Laine both discussed the idea of different elemental systems beyond the four-parted (or sometimes five-parted if you are reading Aristotle) Greco-Roman system. For example, Chinese metaphysics recognize a different set of elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, and Metal), and other systems get more into “hot/cold/wet/dry/moving/stable” divisions (one of our Patreon folks pointed out in their tradition they have twelve different elements, and there’s a funny XKCD comic about someone being a “Polonium bender” and thinking of elements by way of the periodic table). What exactly are the elements to you? Are they fundamental building blocks in a very material way, or simply symbolic and thus subject to change based on who’s using them and how? What elemental systems do you work with, if any?
Laine raised the point that a lot of what we see in the introduction has to be seen as a product of its time (not to excuse it, but just to give it context). One of the big points she brought up was the artificial way that elements sometimes get lumped with “masculine” or “feminine” descriptors. How do you deal with these sorts of outdated ideas when you encounter them in a book you like (especially an older one)? Do you simply dismiss the pieces that no longer work and move on, or do you process it another way? Are dichotomies (like gendered elements) even useful in an age where we understand better that gender is a spectrum rather than an either/or situation?
One great discussion that came up on our patron chat was the question of “What books were your starting point for witchcraft?” Laine and I both had several, and Cunningham’s were among our earliest, but does the book (or books) you begin with for witchcraft studies have a defining effect on how and what you study? Or is the other way around, and what you’re interested in will lead you to certain types of books (other, non-dichotomous options are welcome, too!). What was your first book of magic or witchcraft?
Finally, do we do too much idealizing of the past? Cunningham likes to paint rosy pictures at times of some sort of agrarian paradise in which nature and magic were all around the common folk (a bit like in the magic forest in Frozen II). Magic, however, always seems to be very adaptable to new situations and new eras. Some of it falls by the wayside when it’s not useful/appropriate (for example, there are some terribly racist folk charms involving stealing hair from an African American person but I don’t think anyone’s recommending those today….I hope). At the same time, while we can “yeet our woes unto the void” in a contemporary ritual, we also might still have uses for lucky horseshoes, even if we don’t ride horses regularly anymore). So what do you think? How much of the past informs your practice, and how ready are you to adapt your practice to contemporary needs?
We welcome (civil) discussions and deliberations on these points in the comments, and if you have a question raised by the episode or this post that you’d like to explore further, feel free to comment that as well!
Lately I’ve been doing a good bit of cleaning and organization of my library and my altar spaces (all one in the same room) along with my annual New Year’s cleaning, and that has me in a reflective mood. I’m sure you’ve seen any number of “Best of 2019” lists or “Year/Decade in Review” sorts of posts, but I wanted to take a moment to look at what’s gone on in the past year or so for me in my study of witchcraft (as well as my broader witchy reading trends). I’ll also look a little bit forward to what’s coming this year for us at the end, so if you are sick of retrospectives, feel free to bounce to the last few paragraphs instead. Go on, I won’t mind, I promise!
If you are sticking around for the look back, I will say that many of the books I’ve read are not “new” in 2019, although some are. Some I also was lucky enough to read in advance of 2019, even though they came out this year officially (one of the perks of having lots of great, bookish occultists in my social circle is being asked to do advance readings sometimes). A few of these books I’ll want to review in more depth at some point, and several I’ve reviewed already (I’ll link to those reviews when I mention the books). So let’s pull some of those spines out and dog-ear some pages! (I know, I’m a monster).
In the category of practical witchy books, there were a few that really stuck with me this year. I got the opportunity to do advance readings for bothBesom, Stang, & Sword, by Chris Orapello & Tara-Love Maguire, andSouthern Cunning, by Aaron Oberon. We did shows and interviews with those authors this year, and I’ve got a full review ofBesom as well (sorry, Aaron! I did mean to review your book, which is excellent, but just haven’t found the time–for those who haven’t read it, if you have any interest in Southern folk magic, it’s one to pick up posthaste!). Both of these books tackle personal systems of folk magic rooted in particular traditions, folklore, and practices. At the same time, the authors all write about these systems in ways that are flexible enough to offer insight into any practical system of witchery or magic a reader might be pursuing. I read several other books that do similar work this year, including Bri Saussy’s Making Magic, Lisa Marie Basile’s Light Magic for Dark Times, and Mallorie Vaudoise’s Honoring Your Ancestors. Saussy’s book takes the idea of magic as a daily practice and wraps that in an enchanted worldview, one informed by fairy tales, to transform personal and domestic spaces. The home becomes a locus of lived enchantment, with doorway altar spaces and connecting a magical kitchen with potential plant helpers and ingredients from the front and back yards. It’s very much written in a self-guided tutorial way, and governed by a retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” at its heart, which is a charming lens through which to view the work in the book. Basile’sLight Magic was something of a revelation when I read it, pulling from a type of contemporary feminist witchcraft rooted more in the inner world of the practitioner than the old dirt-and-bones magic I usually write about. Yet, I was very much impressed by the way Basile made rituals and spells action-driven rather than purely reflective exercises. Her “Make your own Underworld Spell” is one that will stick with me for a long time to come, I think. Finally, Vaudoise’sAncestorsmay well be one of the best books I’ve read on a lived spiritual practice. I was absolutely thrilled by the combination of research, narrative, and practical work found in her pages. Her framework of ancestral practice is not condescending, but serious and thoughtful. She isn’t afraid to ask the reader to get a little uncomfortable and she doesn’t coddle them, but she also refuses to browbeat anyone for not doing things exactly as she does. Ancestral work happens on the reader’s time (and on their ancestors’ time, presumably), rather than by running through a checklist or exercise worksheet.
In a more historical and research-heavy vein, I also did a good deal of reading as I researched my own book (more on that in a bit), but a few new (or new-to-me) sources are worth mentioning here. Firstly, I should start with the Oxford Illustrated History of Magic & Witchcraft, which is exactly what it purports to be. Edited by one of my scholarly favorites in the field of witchcraft writing, Owen Davies, the book covers (mostly European) witchcraft studies from Antiquity to the twentieth century (it goes just a little bit beyond those markers in both directions, too, but the bulk of the book covers about 2,500 years of history). The material is dense, but useful, and while I quibble with a few specific points here and there (which I will hopefully get into with a fuller review sometime soon), as a handy reference it’s quite good. The “illustrations” are photo reproductions of various engravings, artifacts, and other similar ephemera, and it isn’t particularly heavy on images, but again, there are some real nuggets of gold in there, too. I was also absolutely bowled over by the truly excellent Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky, by David Bowles (who we interviewed last year about borderlands lore). In this book, Bowles essentially weaves together the Mesoamerican mythology of the Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, and others to create a loosely unified story following two rival siblings as they pass from civilization to civilization in different forms. It reminds me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythologyretelling, and while it’s not exactly a direct transcription of the Popol Vuh or any of the other surviving codices, it does a marvelous job of enlivening these often-overlooked myths. I also felt that way about sections of The Annotated African American Folktales, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Maria Tatar. This is a collection of several major groups of folklore found in African American sources (both oral and literary) with some excellent notes by African American historian Gates, Jr. and fairy tale scholar Tatar. The section on Boo Hags is absolutely marvelous, and much of the material on Zora Neale Hurston made my heart sing. My only complaint with this book is that I want more of it, and a wider variety of tales, but truly this is essential to African American folklore studies in so many ways.
I’ll also note that I read Sabine Baring-Gould’sCurious Myths of the Middle Ages this year–a very old book dating back to the late nineteenth century and containing a wide variety of myths about everything from dowsing detectives to wandering Jews and hidden crusaders and kings. It was a bit out of my wheelhouse in some ways, and Baring-Gould is delightfully opinionated (one might even say salty) about some of the sources and stories he shares. It’s a fun read, however, and will reveal to a discerning mind just how long certain stories have been in circulation.
Somewhere between the researched witch study and the personal memoir falls Pam Grossman’s Waking the Witch. I’m sure a lot of people know Grossman for her podcast The Witch Wave, and she’s done a lot of good bringing contemporary feminist witchcraft to the forefront along with writers and social media personalities like Kristen Sollee and Bri Luna. Waking is an exploration of the witch as an icon more than any sort of deep historical dive or spellbook, although I definitely liked the way Grossman pulled from historical sources and connected them to literature and popular culture (and folklore at times). I’ll be doing more of a full review of this one at some point, but I can definitely say this book will have some impact and likely be cited and referenced a lot in future conversations on witchcraft.
Bridging to the world of fiction, I had the joy of reading several great pieces this year with an abundance of witchy ambiance. I already mentioned The Hidden Witch, by Molly Ostertag, when I wrote about graphic novels and witchcraft a few months ago, but if you want a brilliant illustrated story to connect folk magic, witchcraft, inclusion, diversity, and empathy (as well as something you can share with kids in your life), I’d highly recommend it. One of the best books I’ve read this year (and I know I’m late to the game here) is Children of Blood & Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. It’s a fantasy novel, primarily geared at young adults but really for anyone, and it focuses on the quest of a magically gifted young woman named Zelie as she tries to restore magic to the land of Orisha. It’s heavily influenced by African religious, spiritual, and magical traditions, and both the telling and the world are completely engrossing (spells in Yoruban feel incredibly natural the way Adeyemi writes them). The sequel just came out, so I’m excited to continue in this series this year. I also cannot recommend The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste highly enough. Another work aimed at a younger audience but really ready for anyone to read, Baptiste’s book uses the Haitian tale of “The Magic Orange Tree” as its source, but manages to expand upon that story and make a marvelous story of a girl named Corrine who must defend her island from the local spirit beings known as “jumbies.” In the process, she learns a great deal about just how complicated spirit relationships (and human ones) can be. It’s rife with Caribbean folklore and a thrilling, sometimes even scary, read.
I also wandered into the pages of history with my fictional reading this year, too, and finally dug into Shirley Jackson’sWe Have Always Lived in the Castle. Jackson is probably best-known for writing “The Lottery,” about a small New England town with a hellish secret, but Castle is astounding. I don’t want to open up too much of the story here, because it is so twisted and subtle and strange, but I will say that if you are a fan of folk magic, this book is stuffed with it. The rituals and spells used by the narrator are hauntingly real. This book may well be one of my absolute favorites now.
So that’s the year that was, but what about the year yet to be? Well, we’ve got a lot of good things in store. Most of you probably know that I’ve been writing a book, which is due out from Llewellyn sometime later this year (probably sometime in Fall). I posted a photo of me with my enormous stack of research books on social media (see above), so you can probably guess this one is jam-packed with footnotes, and will be looking at North American folk magic from a folkloric, historical, and practical perspective. If you like the blog and the show, you’ll probably enjoy the book. With that coming, it’s likely I will also be showing up on a few other podcasts as the year wears on, so I’ll try to keep everyone up to date as that happens. We’ve also got a few authors on the docket for interviews in the coming months, ones with newly released books or books that will be released in the near future (and some of them are VERY exciting). I’ve also got a stack of books on my shelf that I plan to plow through in the next couple of months, and at that point I may start seeing if any of the authors are interested in coming on to talk about their work (I’ll put a little hopeful energy and a hint of who I might be asking in a photo of my “to read” stack below).
Finally, Laine and I have decided to add a fun segment to our show this year (it’s our ten-year anniversary of podcasting, so we’ve got a few fun things planned, so stay tuned for more in the coming months). We will be discussing Scott Cunningham’s books of folk magic–Earth Power andEarth, Air, Fire, & Water–and reading through different sections of those books each month. We’ll post up a reading plan in the next week or two so you can join us if you like (and we’ll have a chance to win a copy of both books, plus a discount for ordering them, so definitely keep an eye out for that post). We chose Cunningham because he in many ways represents where Laine and I started, and we each grew in distinctly different but complementary ways from his roots, so looking more closely at his work feels like both a homecoming and a new frontier for us. You’ll hear all about that in our next podcast episode.
That’s a lot of words about things that are already full of words, so I’ll pause for now. We hope you’ve had some great witchy reads over the past year, and if you have any recommendations (or have read some of the ones I mention here), please leave us a comment below and let us know!