Though I am an unapologetic fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, not to mention the upcoming theme park at Universal Studios, Florida, I have been a fan of sorcery and magic for most of my life.
I can trace this fascination back my discovery of the 1975 Disney flick Escape to Witch Mountain and the Brain De Palma classic The Fury, though both story lines dealt with telekinetic matters rather than witchcraft. The Fury tells the heinously enjoyable tale of a young woman who can cause any old scar you might have to burst open if you’re around her when she gets agitated. Let’s face it, watching Samatha breeze through her housework with the twitch of her nose in Bewitched couldn’t really hold up against the ability to make people bleed out of their eyes by looking at them.
No, my hard-core interest really kicked in when I read what remains one of my top ten favorite books of all time, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. It lavishly follows the history of the Mayfair witches from 1689 through modern times, documenting decades of consequences connected to the family’s innate abilities, as well as the fortune and misfortune brought on by their guardian demon. It was also the book that started my love affair with New Orleans.
The story attracted the attention of Warner Brothers, who optioned the rights, but alas, the movie version descended into development hell where it continues to languish. But from that point on, tampering with a little practical magic became a bit of a hobby for me.
Recently I came across a gem of a book, Le Grimoire Enchante (“A Sorcerer’s Cookbook”) that is not only beautifully bound in coffee-table format, but is printed in an opulent Victorian style with intricate illustrations. Each dish produces a particular result and has a list of easy-to-locate ingredients, along with the context of the spell and preparation instructions. Recipes such as Borage Bread, an ancient Greek treat slipped to those from whom you wish to extract a confession, and Raspberry-Hawthorn Jam, used by the Celts to protect loved ones, fill 231 pages of this historically fact-filled volume. And with no “eye of newt” to be found anywhere, you can quickly cook up your own love or money potion just in time for dinner.
For more traditional charms there is The Book of Spells, another one of my favorites, which I received as a gift when I was between jobs. This hardcover pocket book contains magic from all parts of the world including the Middle East and Asia along with fascinating background information on both the spell itself as well as the ingredients. When I received the book there was a ribbon marker between the pages called “A Ritual to Pave the Way to a Good Career.” Come on, you’d have tried it too.
The items needed to perform this ritual are a green candle, a piece of green paper, a silver coin and two acorns. Check on everything but the acorns which I couldn’t seem to put my hands on in January, no matter where I looked.
Then I remembered I had a shoebox of items collected from my travels when I was in school, which included two acorns picked up at the New Salem reenactment village in Springfield, IL. The fact that I had held onto these things since I was ten seemed to increase their magical qualities, as mangy as they now looked, so I was definitely ready to go.
As directed by the spell instructions, on a Thursday morning I lit the green candle and wrote my name and my ambition (“to land a job”) on the green piece of paper. I then carried the paper, the coin and the acorns around in my pocket all day (what the HECK is that smell??)
At the end of the day I relit the candle, passing the acorn and the coin swiftly through the flame, wrapped everything together in the green paper and buried the bundle in the yard. Then I waited. Maybe this is how the whole Jack and the Giant thing got started.
Whether it was the spell, the timing or the power of positive thought, I did land a very good job two week later. The opportunity was not one I had been pursuing previously and came, as it were, out of the blue.
I must admit I was a bit freaked out by this and put away my spell books for a time, having been haunted night and day with visions of being burned at the stake.
In the years since, I have logic-ed away my misgivings and gone back to collecting other spell books while carefully and deliberately steering clear of anything that hints of the “black arts” – just to be safe. These include, The Good Spell Book, The Learned Arts of Witches and Wizards, and Witchcraft for the Solitary Practitioner.
Mostly these books make it obvious why, in a time before doctors and medical science, individuals practiced in herbs for their healing quality were sought after during periods of illness, and reviled shortly thereafter. Anyone who has ever cooled the pain of a burn with aloe or eased a cold with mint tea has practiced a little of the same magic. And if you happen to find your dream job or your dream partner in the process, then the town elders are probably going to need a whole lot more kindling.
PS: The amazing, original “witchy” artwork at left is by my new find and latest obsession, fantasy artist Hal Loo. Check him out on Facebook here.