What Kinds of Books Are Witches Really Seeking?

Author: Quill ofQuillsOccultSupply / Labels: ,

This is a question that I've been pondering for some time.  I find that it becomes all the more important at this time of year as we rapidly approach November and the National Novel Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo).

I have completed the challenge three times so far and with each manuscript I felt (as does every author, I'm sure) that it was the perfect remedy for what passes as literature on the lifeless bookstore shelves.  Now that I'm in the middle of seeking a publisher (yes, still) I'm wondering if I could have been horribly wrong.  So I think the best thing is to ask the book-hungry masses themselves--what is it you really want to see in print?  Where are you in your practice that hasn't been addressed?  What books need to be written?

I normally don't divulge information about my books, even to those who know me fairly well in person, but I'll give you here all that I can say.  My first NaNo win was with the manuscript I'm currently trying to get published.  I'm changing the title to something with a little more spice, so I don't even have one to offer you at the moment.  It's non-fiction, of course, about 250 pages plus illustrations.  The crux of the book is as a guide for intermediate to advanced practitioners who want to be connected to their surroundings, the land and its resources, and their communities both magical and mundane.  And all this is to further their magic. But we're not talking mental exercises and meditations to meet with the fairy queen; I prefer real-life instructions, getting your hands dirty, and actively working with everything available to you.

It's definitely a biased statement but I think this manuscript is amazing and needs to be on every occultist's shelf from the city walk-up to the country farmhouse.  I've been working on it, refining it, adding, subtracting, and shifting since I completed it in 2011.  But its information goes all the way back to the beginnings of my practice in 1996.  I would dearly love to see it in print, not so much for me but to see if my ideas might raise the level of discourse about advanced practices.

My second manuscript--which was, oddly enough, the first thing I wrote back in 2001--is a spellbook, The Book of Brass Mirrors.  It's 150 pages of all-new and unique spells, formulas, and charms.
Even at the time I knew that was cliche.  It seemed back then that everyone was working on their own "Book of Shadows" that would shock the world with its brilliance.  But I never claimed that.  My only claim to originality was that these were spells for odd situations, daily occurrences, and issues that don't neatly fit into the standard boxes of "love, money, health, protection, and power."  It was written with an eye toward the thrill of classical spells, an adoration of legends, and the feel of a talismanic book. 

I originally wrote it to pass down to my children.  That is still a worthy cause in my eyes and I would like to see my personal works remain in our family even if our children choose to stop practicing once they become adults.  But after this book was underway I began to think a little wider: I would share it with our coven...I would self-publish it and distribute it to our covenmates...I would make it the standard text of our coven...I would sell it to witches I know and travel to meet with new ones...--and finally--I would try to have it published and distributed by a real publishing house.

As you can see, my delusions grew to the point of so many other writers--"You will, nay, must love and adore and crave my book!  You will stare at the blank ceiling at night, sleepless without it!"  With a generous eye-roll to my former self, and maybe a little pat on her wildly optimistic head, I can say now that this is not at all the case.  I still think it's interesting, maybe even discussion-provoking, and I know firsthand that all of the spells in it work quite well, but it's not about to be one of those books that claims to be the only one you need.  I don't think any book in the world can truly manage that.

My third win was just last year and was a first for me--a 140 page work of fiction.  I wrote a selection of all new magical fairy tales, but with the same feel of the classics, called The Thousand Fruit Tree.  I can't say very much about it as a whole because each of the stories are so different that it's becoming something of an unruly collection.  I don't read fiction, either, so the likelihood for error in fundamental story construction may be dangerously high.  But the stories were great fun to write and, in true non-fiction writer fashion, each contains a unique and helpful magical moral.  I don't like things without a point.

But now summer is ticking away and fall is filling in its leftover spaces, making me think more and more about what my project will be this November.  I have several ideas in various stages of organization, but nothing that dazzles me right now.  And then I thought of it.  Perhaps you can tell me if it sounds worthy.

Many years ago I had a strange occurrence.  I was staying up late reading and working at magic, as I often did then, and I felt compelled to make a simple little book of folded paper and staple it.  Now here's something about me that you would only know if we met and managed to be under particular circumstances together: I absolutely love blank notebooks.  The idea that it's a book not written, a journal of experiences not yet felt, just thrills me.  It's like the missing eye of Wodan/Odin that sees the unmanifest of the world.  It's such a wonderful thought that I often keep a new notebook untouched for weeks before doing anything besides running a hand across its cover.

So, there I was, brand-new book in hand with nothing to put in it.  I laid it aside for another day but then suddenly picked it up again.  I flipped it open and started to write.  It all sounded great (which usually means that it will be, in the harsh light of day, absolute garbage) and I wrote without stopping for more than an hour. Then I went to bed.  When I woke up the next day I remembered the book and opened it to see how comical it might be.  But I was surprised to see that it was still decent information: multiple lists of exactly how to go about a complex task--attaining a preeminent status in the magical community.  When I had finished it the night before, I'd written with a flourish its title on the front: On Becoming a Legend.

This is definitely an overblown title--and may turn out to be an equally overblown book--but I think it's something to get the mind working.  Though the original is only 10 or so pages long, it might be a fun project to expand into this year's NaNoWriMo.  But now I leave it to you, reader.  I don't know if I'm really interested in continuing to write and write with no clear plans of what to do with the results.  It's pretty standard to see publishers openly state their disinterest in "revealed text," as this may be.  But I don't know what else to do with it besides sit on it.  So what do you think?  Are you interested in becoming a legend? Do you know a legend and are ready to prove me wrong?  I'm open to all opinions and suggestions, here and elsewhere.  And, naturally, I'm open to accepting writing partner requests from fellow NaNo-ers as I traverse the rocky road to November.

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Your First Time is Always Special

Author: Quill ofQuillsOccultSupply / Labels: , ,

This is the story of magical firsts.  We've all got our tales, some treasured and some regretted, but the stories we keep of our early works of magic are especially telling of the casters we would later become.  They are lessons, experiments, and the basis of our own mythology.  Would you like to hear mine?

The Story of My First Spell

At age 16 I began reading spellbooks out of curiosity (and the freedom that comes with being socially disinterested as well as home-schooled).  I spent my days in libraries, thrift stores, and bookshops.  My classwork was something I dealt with on my own (my mother was not inclined to play Teacher or Book-keeper so I did it all myself) no earlier than 11:00 PM, so I had plenty of time to myself during the day.

Cruising through my favorite section of the library ("133.0-133.9" Oh, how the very numbers still thrill me...), I enjoyed titles about spirit contact, mysterious events, and the zodiac.  Then I saw, in white print on a black spine, the words What Witches Do.  What an exciting title!  I read it that day, took it home and read it again, not quite sure of what I was seeing.  The next time I made the long drive to the nearest chain bookstore (the only place in my area at the time to find a single working book on the occult) I passed over my usual poetry and art books in favor of seeking more like what I had found.  And I was amazed.

Shelves of books on witchcraft, divination, dreams, potion-making...on and on.  I bought a few of the most regrettable titles (one of which, I'm ashamed to say, was this brilliant work) and read them with excitement, but, notably, without casting a single spell.  I enjoyed only the idea of magic at that time; the thought of throwing myself into it was beyond my scope.

But then, one day, that scope widened and focused.  I would do it--I would cast a spell.  Not being in any predicament I could identify as desperate or dangerous, instead I chose to cast something fun and innocuous: I would capture a wild bird.  This comes from Sarah Lyddon Morrison's Modern Witch's Spellbook. On a bright summer day I sat in the side yard of my family home to work the spell.  Shaded by a Horse Chestnut tree and ushered on by distant birdsong, I mixed my carefully gathered rainwater with white sugar and poured the syrup into the only silver I owned: an old sugar bowl.  I plucked three long hairs from my head and laid them across its mouth.  Then the whole of it was arranged on a weathered old stump to await results.  I cast the spell with an eye for perfection, if not passion, but soon after began to droop.  The instructions said a little bird would come to you  if it happens to drink from your prepared cup.  If.  It was that rotten little "if" that did me in.  Evidently no bird drank or they drank but were not so inclined to be mine.  Oh well.  We would have had nothing for one another, anyway. To this day I have no idea what type of person would feel much inclination for this spell, and definitely no pressing need of it.

Afterward I discovered a few things:

  • Going through the steps is not enough.  Even if you are truly focused on the pleasure of doing "witchy stuff," as I was.
  • Spells must have a clear outcome.  Without a way of knowing if the spell has worked it is nearly pointless to cast it.
But I was not discouraged despite the failure; there was a lesson:

This experience taught me that I still had a lot to learn.  I believe that one's first spell should always teach that lesson!

The Story of My First Big Misfire

Now that makes it sound as though there have been many, but I will only (humbly) admit to a few.  This one, though, was impressively bad.  Enjoy!

I was about 17, a poet, short story writer, and newly-minted woodland oil painter.  I adored all things artistic so you can imagine my horror when after months of constant use I found the level of my creativity dropping. I don't recall the source, but I decided to cast a spell to increase my creativity.  The spell required gazing at a photo of yourself while chanting and picturing your immense creative powers at work.  Well, I got the gazing just fine and was impressed at my ability to stare and chant at the same time without thinking of anything else (I was still quite new, remember).  But with so much to juggle, I forgot to see myself doing anything.  I focused on my stationary image...and stationary I would remain.

I woke the next morning but I did not feel awake.  I walked through my house as though in a dream or like some Haitian zombie just dug from the grave.  I moaned, I growled, I stretched.  I thought I could shake it, but was mistaken.  And I remained mistaken for about two weeks.  After that, I was able to focus, make plans, drive a car, and speak at a normal rate.  Well done!

So by now you can see where I went wrong: I should have given attention to what activities I would be doing to express my creativity.  Instead of tapping a free-flowing power line of artistic ability, I was off the hook and dangling with a busy signal.  It was horrible.  Despite being able to look back on it and laugh now, at the time I thought it was the worst I'd ever felt in my life.  To be present but not aware?  To see but not observe?  It was maddening!

Afterward I discovered a few things:

  • "Gazing" and "boring a hole with your intent stare" are two different things.  Don't get carried away!
  • Magic can have impressively bad consequences.  
But I was not discouraged despite the unexpected outcome; there was a lesson:

This experience taught me that I would mess up eventually.  It's not a big deal.  But one's mistakes could be as directing as one's successes.  

The Story of My First Love Spell  

Age 18, engaged, and living in the city, I was a strange little country transplant.  It was an exciting time full of new people, and those people could all really use a little magic.  But as I was still "in the broom closet," I let only my very closest friends know my secret and--sometimes--how it could help them.  I saw it as a trial of my own potential because, in those days, everything felt equally possible.

A close friend wanted the opportunity for a relationship with my sister.  I knew how finicky she could be and saw instantly that without a ton of money or influence, she wouldn't give our kind-hearted friend a second glance.  So I used a talisman from Crone's Book of Charms and Spells by Valerie Worth. (Finally, I was on to spellbooks with some actual writing chops!  Sadly, Mrs. Worth was no witch and her husband denounced in her stead any magic therein, most notably the curses.  What a shame this was, especially as her spells work better than most!).  I gave one to our friend and a matching talisman to my sister, telling her it was for good luck and she was to keep it close at all times.  Perhaps this insistence came across as odd; my sister and I were more often at odds than anything and I had zero reasons to be concerned with her well-being or luck.  

But whatever she may have thought at the time, she kept it on her person for a month at least.  In only a day or two after the quiet evening of casting the spell that created these talismans, our friend announced that my sister had passionately kissed him in a spontaneous moment together, and now they were an item.  I was overjoyed!  Not only was our friend happy but my powers were excelling!  I had had plenty of experience with smaller works before this, of course, but not much that involved other people.  What a feather in the cap!

As I said, my sister must have kept the object for about a month because in that time she displayed a softness I'd never seen in her.  They had lengthy discussions and held hands constantly, went places together and made out at every opportunity (not to betray any modesty she may have had about it).  But as I would later learn, love spells cannot be counted on forever.  Her old attitudes began to resurface: stubborn, harsh, and aloof. The final straw was when she insisted he go square-dancing with her and he refused.  They broke it off soon after.  

What she felt about the relationship I will never know.  But our friend was happy just for the experience, even if it was a doomed one.  I, on the other hand, was mortified about the horrible Frankenstein I'd made of their relationship.  They never should have been together at all, and I felt sorry to have allowed even a day of it to be my fault.

Afterward I learned a few things:
  • Love spells should be as subtle as possible.  Don't allow a target to feel like a target.
  • Maintaining a poor match (as this was) takes constant vigilance.  For a good match, both parties must give each other incentives to uphold the relationship without outside influence.
  • A spellcaster shouldn't feel responsible for making a person's wishes come true.  When you do your job you should be proud of that, no matter how it plays out in a person's life.
But I was not discouraged despite the spell's impermanence; there was a lesson:

This experience taught me that a spell appears to only redirect a short span of the track; it's up to the individual concerned to keep their engine going on its new course.

The Story of My First Curse

And now we arrive at dessert--a dark, decadent dessert so sinful most writers prefer to present it only in fiction.  But let it be known that everything I describe here is completely true.  I did a most wicked thing and I'm proud of it.  But, then again, you should see the other guy...

The "other guy" in question is someone just barely close enough to my life now that I'd rather not name her.
But, rest assured, she completely deserved what happened to her.  Now, what I'm talking about here was not my first time pushing angry energy at a person nor my first time casting a Binding; no, the spell I gave to this target--let's call her Ms. T--was fully intended to hurt like hell and it did its job admirably.

This Ms. T had been playing her usual games with those close to me, acting most selfishly and twisting relationships so others would play along with her, until it came to a point that I could take no more.  It wasn't for me that I did this; I would much rather have given her a sock on the jaw if she had wronged me personally.  But she did involve me and that was good enough.  So I cast a brutal spell against her.

I was 20, a wife and new mother, and lady of our own house in a quiet little town.  I was more open about my witchcraft by this point but still discovering my limits.  Our neighbors knew what I was and granted me a wide birth when they saw me doing anything "weird."

It was a dark night when I cast the curse, cool and misty, and because I was dredging up misfortune, I took it outside of my happy little home.  Under the big tree in our yard, I carefully wrought the fairly elaborate spell.  By now I had learned a lot--my focus was spot-on, I knew just what I wanted, and I gave it a ton of energy for fuel.  In the midst of the spell, a tiny spider spun an invisible thread down from the crown of my head as I sat on the ground, hunched over my work.  Without missing a beat, I lifted it by the thread and replanted it to one side so I could focus on my task.  This, I thought, may be the witchiest thing I've ever done.  A very "Aunt Queenie" giggle escaped me.

When I was done, I went to the woods to bury the remains.  Though I'd been there countless times I somehow lost my way.  The fog was a thick blanket rolling along the ground and obscuring my bare feet. After wandering for a while, I found a spot where two paths met and dug a grave for my payload.  Then I stumbled home and promptly forgot about the whole matter.

It was a week later when I got the news--Ms. T and family (unpleasant, but not bad as her) were in the worst predicament of their lives.  Everyone around Ms. T had fallen horribly sick and it was up to her to take care of them, something she was never interested in nor equipped to do.  This came after a few days they spent out of state that failed miserably as a vacation--a bomb scare kept them all restricted to their hotel and they missed out on the chance to use expensive pre-purchased event tickets.  Ms. T then fell sick and could only combat her money woes by bartering household items for help from others. 

I laughed when I heard...except for the bomb.  That was scary to me and may have been a bit much.  But sometimes with magic one must simply accept how things turn out, even if it makes one look completely devoid of compassion.  But I considered the whole thing a rollicking success.  At the time, I thought it would--due to my unrefined enjoyment of it--be a secret I kept close and never revealed, but I have since openly retold the story with vigor.  It is, in a weird way, a jewel on my crown: ugly, it is true, but impressive in magnitude. 

Afterward I learned a few things:
  • One's first curse is a first like the rest.  It's not some black spot on your soul that you have tried what is forbidden by others.  If you were worried about that, you shouldn't be practicing witchcraft in the first place.
  • You must roll with the weird things that happen during spells.  They might actually help.  Let them! 
But I was not discouraged, despite the collateral damage; there was a lesson:

This experience taught me to do what needs doing, no matter what may come.  You will have to accept the results as your responsibility, but good or bad, it can't be helped.  It's just part of your story now.

All of these stories are a part of me, just as your stories are part of you.  They each have taught me valuable lessons and can be credited with making me the caster I am today.  Without such experiences--and without the awareness to listen to them--I would never have progressed.  

I would love to hear your stories!  Feel free to post tales of your magical exploits either below in the comments section, at Quill's Occult Supply on Etsy, or through the shop's Facebook page.  

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About Me

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My name is Quill and I've been practicing witchcraft for the past 17 years. 10 of those years I've been reading tarot and teaching.  I own a shop on Etsy called Quill's Occult Supply (check it out at QuillsOccultSupply.Etsy.com) full of handmade ritual and decorative items, spell components, and wild picked herbs.

I love to work with my hands.  Magic is a tool to shape our lives, and I'm using magic to shape tools to shape magic.  Cosmic! 

I use a lot of my favorite things in my shop: herbs, candles, wood, fabric, paint, clay.  And I get to carve, burn, grind, mold, think, dream ... I'm in the perfect business!

I've written 3 manuscripts for publication (2 non-fiction and 1 fiction) and am an avid NaNo-er!  I and my husband run a local coven called Orbis Prosapia, and our children are growing up surrounded by magic, mythology, fairy tales, Earth worship, art, open discussion, music, and humor. 

In addition to working on Ex Penna about my experiences as a professional witch, I also write for Scenes from the Circle about being a coven leader. 

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