Archive for the ‘Pagan’ Category

I thought it might be fun to share some of the lore that ties in with the world building in my Immortyl Revolution novels.  Although most vampire myths were spawned in Eastern Europe, a lot of evidence points to the legends first arising out of India.  When I was developing my series, I became fascinated with Indian religions, mythology, and folklore.  Indian myths and folklore give us many examples of vampire-like spirits and deities.  In the various regions are found a plethora of demons that inhabit cremation and burial grounds.  These bear a striking resemblance to the vamps of Eastern Europe.  Many of these are said to be the spirits of those who died an unnatural death, or a woman who died in childbirth.  Others are succubus-like creatures that drain men of energy, yet leave them with a feeling of euphoria.  It is likely that traders along the Great Silk Road and the gypsies carried these stories west.  In Greece, the tales gave inspiration to the Lamiae, or female vampire-like spirits.

One deity sometimes associated with vampirism is Kali, a fierce form of the mother goddess (Shakti).  Like her husband, Shiva, she both creates and destroys.  She’s often shown standing on his body, symbolizing that in the scheme of the cosmos the male principle is subordinate to that of the female.  Kali is usually depicted with dark blue or black skin and a third eye.  She wears body parts as jewelry and has a tongue that sticks out in defiance.  Her favorite places are battlefields and burial grounds.

Kali is often misunderstood in the West.  She is the goddess of time, not death as many think.  She slays only evil demons.  Symbolically, she annihilates the selfish impulses and ego that bind us to our material bodies.  Her aspect is fearsome, but she is called Kali Maa (Mother Kali) and is revered in many parts of India.  Kolkata (Calcutta) is sacred to her and named for the goddess.

Tantric cults often focus on Kali.  Tantrism is an older religious tradition than Hinduism, dating back to the time before the Aryan tribes migrated into India.  These groups center on Shakti worship and sometimes use sex and even blood in their rituals.  The idea behind this is to gain control over the body to capture divine energy and gain blessings.  The adepts of the ancient arts in my novels practice a form of tantra.

In my reading, I’ve come across only one group associated with Kali that was violent.  They were known as the Thugees.  This is the root of our word thug.  These devotees would waylay travelers and use them as blood sacrifices to the goddess.  The Thugees inspired the Kali worshipers in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  They are by no means representative of the vast majority of her devotees.

Kali is the great mother, who protects her earthly children.


Denise Verrico is giving away a free ebook of shorts to every commenter at the blogs.  

She is also doing a tour wide grand prize basket consisting of a trade paperback of Servant of the Goddess, a Cara Mia t-shirt (XL), a set of posters (one from each book), a pen, a keychain, vampire notepaper and some other small items US entries only. 

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Hi Dark Phantom, it’s been almost a year since I last joined you for a chat about my writing life. I’m really glad to be back today to tell you more about my research into witches and the witch hunts that sparked the idea for Illicit Magic and the Stella Mayweather series.

The Salem witch trials are well known for the brutality and ignorance. Many of us have heard of this period of history and the barbaric way of “encouraging” confessions. I asked myself what if the witches were really magical beings and what if the witch hunts were really to eradicate actual witches? What would happen if the years interceding then and now were quiet with no signs of witches, then suddenly there was another uprising? Would people be horrified at the accusation or the existence of witches, or neither… would they believe and be behind the witch hunts?

What surprised me most about my research was finding that a similar witch hunt had occurred in the English village of Pendle some 80 years before. Eleven people were charged with murder by witchcraft; ten were found guilty, including four members of the same family after being testified against by the nine-year-old daughter of a family, a legal precedent at the time. Pendle Hill only reappeared in the news recently when the site was being developed and a witch’s cottage was discovered along with relics of witchcraft. This period of English history is largely unknown but readers probably won’t be surprised to find that given the circumstances, Pendle has ties to Salem. Indeed, the evidence provided at Pendle was used by magistrates in Salem and it was the Pendle case that allowed the testimony of children, a crucial part of the evidence-giving eighty years later.

Finding that the Salem witch trials had roots in England was an amazing discovery for me, especially as Illicit Magic is very much a transatlantic story with roots in London and the (fictional) Yorkshire village of Hawksley, and across the pond, New York and the (fictional) US town Wilding.

That said, I didn’t want Stella Mayweather’s story to be a historical novel or too mired in the tragedy. Though the facts gave me a starting point and sparked the “what if?” questions, the novels are an adventurous romp with magic, mystery and intrigue. Though the magical powers are made up, other research involves reading up on common symbols in witchcraft so more familiar folklore lies alongside the new elements.

Illicit Magic

By Camilla Chafer


More than three hundred years after the most terrifying witch hunts the world has ever known, it’s happening again. 

Racing from attack by the ruthless Brotherhood in London to the powerful witch council in New York, twenty-four-year-old novice witch Stella has to put her faith in strangers just to stay alive but she might not be any safer in their midst than from the danger she is running from. 

Sent to an extraordinary safe house by the sea to learn her craft, Stella finds there is more than one dark secret in her new family: Étoile’s sister is spoken of in fear and sadness; Marc is supposed to be a powerful witch but is missing his magic; where does the owner of their safe house vanish to every day and why does Evan have the eyes of someone not quite human? 

There is only one secret that someone will do anything to keep quiet, but whose secret is it and will Stella have to pay the price for silence? 

Amazon UK Top 10 contemporary fantasy bestseller

Amazon US Top 45 fantasy bestseller

Amazon US Top 50 contemporary fantasy bestseller

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/mzGZrI

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/iFNS1c
Smashwords: http://bit.ly/lX5PLb
Nook: http://bit.ly/jmrAO9
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/iEShAn

Author bio: 

Hi, I’m Camilla and I’m the author of the Stella Mayweather Series, an urban fantasy/mystery. The series starts with Illicit Magic and a lonely young woman, Stella, who has been caught up in a terrifying witch hunt and is whisked thousands of miles away to what she thinks is safety to learn her craft. The series is a blend of magic, mystery and romance with a splash of humour – and while the girls really do go all out to save themselves, there’s always a hunky guy or two on hand to help them out. The series continues with Unruly Magic and Devious Magic, both out now. 

I live in London, England, but I try to travel as often as I can – I’ve been all over the US and Europe. In my day job I’m a journalist and editor so I write for magazines, newspapers and websites throughout the world (my favourite assignment was spending a week riding rollercoasters – if you listen carefully you can probably still hear me screaming) but writing fiction has always been my first love. 

Web links: 

Website: www.camillachafer.com

Blog: www.camillachafer.com/blog
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CamillaChafer

Twitter: @camillawrites 


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Book of Shadows
By Alexandra Sokoloff
St. Martin’s Press
June 8, 2010
ISBN 978-0-312-38471-5
Supernatural thriller

Author’s website: www.alexandrasokoloff.com

Every time I pick up a book by Alexandra Sokoloff, I know I’m in for a good treat. I was not disappointed with this her last supernatural thriller: Book of Shadows kept me reading late into the night and I ended up gobbling it in two days.

The story begins with a horrible ritualistic murder: a teenaged girl is found in a garbage dump, strange markings on her chest, her head and hand missing. Detective Garret and his partner are called into the case. Not too long after that they have a strong suspect, a Goth band member who seems to have been dating the victim. As evidence mounts and all points to the young musician, Garret is able to make an arrest. But things get complicated when Tanith Cabarrus, a beautiful woman who not only claims to be a psychic but also a witch shows up at Garret’s office and tells him the murderer is still at large and getting ready to kill again. It is her belief that the killer is a Satan worshipper with the intention to summon a powerful demon… and that the final killing will take place on Halloween, only a few weeks away.

Garret feels incredibly attracted to Tanith, but, a sceptic by nature, he refuses to believe in what he can only describe as mumbo jumbo. As the case progresses, however, he begins to doubt the nature of reality and eventually must put all of what he’s ever believed in to the test.

Is Tanith correct? Is the killer still at large—or is she trying to manipulate the investigation for her own purposes? Is there, in fact, a supernatural aspect to this case, or does it only looks that way?

I kept asking myself this last question over and over as I kept turning the pages. Just when you’re certain there’s something supernatural, something else happens that makes you wonder: is it—or isn’t it? I love how the author teases the reader in this way.

Alexandra Sokoloff has penned another page turner. The protagonist is a sympathetic cop with a sceptic nature and a dark Catholic upbringing, making him a perfect character for the story. The pace is quick, the dialogue sharp and natural. Sokoloff doesn’t waste time with long description or narration. Action and dialogue dominate this story, so if you’re looking for a fast suspenseful read, this is the book for you. I also found all of the myth fascinating. Book of Shadows combines the excitement of a supernatural thriller, the chills of a horror novel, and the mystery of a crime story. Add to that a sprinkle of romance and how can you go wrong?

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California native Alexandra Sokoloff is a professional screenwriter, director, choreographer, and author of the supernatural thrillers, The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, and now the latest, Book of Shadows. The first was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel and for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. She’s also an International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award winner. She has adapted numerous novels for film for companies such as Sony, Fox, Disney, and Miramax. Sokoloff is a regular blogger at Murderati, a collective of dark suspense authors.

Thanks for this interview, Alexandra. All your novels are supernatural thrillers. What got you into the realm of the paranormal?

I grew up in Berkeley, California, which was a paranormal experience all on its own! I’m not really joking, either — people in that city are very dedicated to pursuing altered states of consciousness, whether that be chemical, spiritual, psychological, or occult. Very early on I developed a fascination with the question of whether a paranormal event was a psychological experience, a supernatural one, or some blend of the two. That’s what I’m always writing about. And of course, my favorite books and movies of all time are the ones that explore those psychological/supernatural mysteries and hauntings, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, and Stephen King’s The Shining and Carrie.

Let’s talk about your latest one, Book of Shadows. What was your inspiration for it?

I’ve always wanted to write a story with the backdrop of the modern practice of witchcraft. Being a California native, I have friends who practice the Craft, and it’s so rich in visual and archetypal imagery and power. And you may have noticed I am fairly obsessed with gender issues and differences. I wanted to write a book that would pit a very outwardly rational, logic-driven man, in a very male profession (homicide detective), from a very rational city (Boston) against a very otherworldly, psychic, subconsciously driven woman (a practicing witch), from a much more mysterious town (Salem) — and play with the contrasts and the line between what is real and what is supernatural as the two of them investigate what he thinks is a serial murder which she insists involves a real demon. I thought I could create some great chemistry and distrust between the characters there, a paranormal noir, if you will. Then I was also working with my constant theme of people, especially young people (in this case a troubled college student) opening doors that they really don’t understand and having to deal with what might be supernatural consequences.

A new aspect of this novel, not really present in your earlier ones, is having a detective as your protagonist. This adds a touch of crime/mystery to the book. Why did you decide to make your protagonist a police officer?

I’ve written quite a few police procedurals as a screenwriter, and I read a lot in the genre, I love it. For Book of Shadows I wanted the protagonist to be a cop because as I said, it’s outwardly such a male, rational profession, and would provide the biggest contrast and conflict with the witch that he is forced to team up with to solve this murder. He is also constantly fighting his own unwillingness to believe there is a supernatural element involved in the case. The interesting thing about cops, though, is that they’re really very intuitive, so he has more in common with the witch than he would initially be inclined to admit.

Did you have to research police procedure for the story?

I’ve interviewed all kinds of law enforcement professionals and done a lot of forensics research for scripts that I’ve written, so I know how a homicide investigation works. But for Book of Shadows, when I was visiting Boston and Salem for research, I was very lucky to find a criminalist in the Boston Police Department who gave me an extensive tour of police headquarters and the crime lab and was very generous about answering my specific procedural questions.

There’s a lot of fascinating—and scary—information in the story about witchcraft. Having written about this subject before, you must have been familiar with most of it. Is there anything new you learned about the ‘dark forces’ while working on this novel?

I don’t know about the dark forces, but I am learning both in writing and in life that we human beings are much, much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. Our intentions can create our reality, so it’s important to be clear and conscious about what we’re thinking and what we want, so we focus always on the positive and don’t unconsciously manifest something with negative consequences. That, in a nutshell, is practical magic.

All throughout the story I could feel how careful and almost methodical you were in creating doubt in the reader—we never stop wondering, is it or isn’t it supernatural. Was this easy to create from a technical point of view?

Hah – what about writing is ever easy? In this story I was very committed to leaving everything ambiguous; I wanted the reader to decide — or not! — whether there was anything truly supernatural going on. That’s my experience of what real witchcraft is; it’s subtle, not one thing or another. I never deviated from that mission statement, which I guess made the writing easier because I was so clear about what I wanted to do.

I read online that of all your books, this one is your favorite so far. Why is that?

I think it’s because I love all the characters and the mysterious story world so much. The main characters are all flawed people truly trying to do the right thing, and risking themselves to save other lives.

I hear you have a nonfiction e-book out to help writers plot their novels. Tell us all about it!

When my first novel, The Harrowing, came out, I was really surprised at how in demand I was to teach writing at conferences because I had worked for a number of years as a screenwriter and now had written an acclaimed book as well. I very quickly realized authors had never heard of the film techniques that are the bread-and-butter of Hollywood writing and filmmaking. So I started teaching workshops and writing blog posts explaining the process of film writing, and demonstrating how to watch movies to pick up story structure and film techniques that are a huge help with novel writing. The workshops and blogs evolved into a workbook, Screenwriting Tricks For Authors, which is available now on Amazon.

You also give workshops online. Will you be giving one in the near future?

I have a two-week online workshop coming up July 15, and one in November. Details and sign-up links are on my website and blog.

What’s next for Alexandra Sokoloff?

I have my first paranormal coming out in November, The Shifters, part of a trilogy set in New Orleans, with co-authors Heather Graham and Deborah LeBlanc. And I’m working on a very dark young adult paranormal thriller and another, yes, dark, supernatural adult supernatural thriller for next year.

Thank you, Alexandra!

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I am very grateful for the unique opportunity I have been given here in that it is so very rare that writers are asked about the writing process itself. As someone who has taught numerous poetry and creative writing workshops the process of writing or the craft as I have always called it was a major aspect of helping aspiring writers learn how to hone their writing skills.

My book, HER GODMOTHER, is a magical story that addresses the presence of an alcoholic parent that ultimately causes the breakup of a little girl’s family. Firstly, this was a book I had to write as I am the adult child of an alcoholic. I know how this disease impacts on a child but I also know first hand the scars that remain into adulthood. I have met numerous other adults who had a parent that was an alcoholic as they were growing up. Some of them carry scars far deeper than I carried.

It was very important to me to bring this message forward so that children would find a special place within this story to journey with Allie on her road to healing and in so doing touch something magical within themselves to begin their own healing process. As Allie’s mother plans relocation to start a new life she sends Allie to stay the summer with her godmother, Brigid who is very colorful. Brigid sees everyday life as a magical adventure. And in introducing this new insight for Allie into the book, I crafted what is to be a better understanding of real magic and yes, Witchcraft. As a Witch myself and a fan of Harry Potter as well I wanted to demonstrate the magic of every day life that Witches observe, are grateful for and celebrate. You see by being able to see and feel the magic of everything around you, you simply have to heal. Many call these experiences miracles and I believe in miracles. I simply call it magic. A misunderstood belief system, Witchcraft (which in no way is Satanism) is often maligned or grossly misrepresented (no offence to Ms. Rowling for her work is both wonderfully entertaining and provided a venue for interest and even tolerance.) I wanted to help people understand that Witchcraft is a gentle path which I know will surprise many and that it is not flying on broom at all.

In HER GODMOTHER, Allie learns that the responsibility for her suffering is not hers but her father’s because he has a disease and an inability to choose treatment. This subject of accountability is a primary tenet of Witchcraft. Allie’s father must assume responsibility for his actions with a sound treatment plan as pivotal to the hope of recovery. In HER GODMOTHER, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is also a major factor in helping Allie heal. Many children who read this book that may have someone in their family that is an alcoholic may not know about AA. This book will help them realize that there are programs that do insist the alcoholic take responsibility for his/her illness. This is very important for children to acknowledge for I myself, like Allie, always felt that somehow it was my fault that my dad drank. It makes no sense but that is the mechanism of the dysfunction. Adult lives are often impaired by the “ghosts” of self judgment that can haunt the adult child of an alcoholic.

Wicca and Witchcraft to the surprise of many are truly tolerant paths and in HER GODMOTHER, this gentle belief system is exemplified through the example of Brigid, Allie’s godmother. To bring the belief system home, so to speak, the location of this story is in Livingston Manor where I live. The Manor has been a magical experience for me in that it is rural and it is here that I am fortunate to experience the magic of a sunny day and the hardship of the force of winter but each of these and so many other things are magical! Witchcraft is living in appreciation and respect for all things and in harmony with the environment as much as possible. Choosing a country setting and taking the time to go into great detail about what Allie sees and experiences there was my way of assisting the reader in traveling from wherever they are to where Allie is.

As an animal lover I was sure to make HER GODMOTHER rich with interesting animals and in fact one pet is a major character with a story of her own! In this regard I wanted to help children see the soul of animals and pets as I know them to be which is an amazing experience in unconditional love.

These were the points I worked very hard to impart: education on programs that treat alcoholism, religious understanding and tolerance, an awareness of the everyday miracles and magical experiences that are all around us as tools for coping and healing and a sensitivity to other entities that share this home called earth.

I had test readers that were children and adults alike as I continued to rewrite because although HER GODMOTHER is classified as a children’s book, the writing style, while age appropriate for the target audience is also of the quality of many novels adult read.
I knew what my storyline was and simply focused on telling it in a way that would be fun for anyone to read. This was deliberate on my part because I also wanted adult children of alcoholics to experience a respite from their “shadows” and if unfamiliar with AA groups to perhaps begin to research them and ultimately join to facilitate further healing. I very carefully selected words that would make this book fun reading for children and adults alike and based on feedback I have succeeded.

The bottom line is I am extremely proud of having accomplished what I set out to do. I created a book that is well written. It provides insight into healing on different levels that also offers readers the opportunity to experience a catharsis from their demons while delivering entertainment. To this end HER GODMOTHER has not, to date, received less than a five star rating!

Cate Cavanaugh is the author of HER GODMOTHER, available at fine bookstores, including Barnes and Noble, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. If you want to read a bit about everyday magic, visit Cate’s blog and, if interested in the science of magic, please visit quantumspirituality.tripod.com

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Fantastic Literature is UK's largest online supplier of out of print, rare and used books in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, thrillers, ghost stories, weird tales and the macabre. Currently, their store has over 19,000 titles for sale in paperback, hardcover, and magazine formats. Through their Ebay shop, signed limited editions of hard-to-find books are available, perfect for gifts or the collector. The bookstore is run by husband-wife team Simon & Laraine Gosden. Visit their website for the latest news on the horror literature scene and consider signing up for their newsletter. In this interview, Simon talks about their store, the horror market, and some of his favorite books and authors.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Simon. Tell us a bit about your online bookstore, Fantastic Literature. How did it get started?

We started when I began reading horror, sf and fantasy as a schoolboy, used to go the library and pick out the latest yellow jacketed Gollancz titles and devoured them, as well as mythological books and adventure stories. I was one of those kids who took a book and a torch to bed to read through the night when I could. When I graduated and started work I began to see that there were some titles that you couldn't get hold of and put an advert in Exchange and Mart, a weekly paper, and started printing booklists. Eventually we were sending booklists out 5 or 6 times a year to 700-800 clients, very expensive! Then along came the internet and we had a boom but now things have levelled off. We produce lists every month but the numbers who receive them by mail has dropped to less than 100, and the others can see them posted at our website. It's different but still great fun.

Do you think the horror book market is declining, thriving, or at a plateau?

There is always a market for quality horror, at the moment we seem to be going through a lull, if you simply look at our sales on e-bay for example then Fantasy and SF come above Horror. I have to say though I am looking forward to the Harry Potter generation discovering adult fantasy and horror – I think the market will pick up again

What type of horror seems to be most popular with your customers?

Vampire horror is always good, and there are some strong writers around, the classic authors like King never lose their appeal. New horror writes like Simon Clark and Joe Donnely impacted on the scene strongly and have now faded a tad.

What genre sells better at your store–Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Horror?

Put simply it's Fantasy, SF and then Horror but there's an awful lot of crime fiction which is really horror and sells extremely well.

You also sell rare and out of print books. What does your site offer the book collector?

We offer the book collector real choice, we will scan any title that isn't imaged and of course we have our 100% customer satisfaction guarantee, if the customer isn't happy we refund.

When it comes to rare horror books, what titles are your customers often after?

It's the classics really, Stephen King is always in demand, but also the rarer early editions are often asked for like Dracula, etc.

Do you stock books published by small presses, or mostly by the large publishing houses?

We like to stock a selection of titles from across the board, we like small press stuff and will stock it fi we can. At the moment we have books from PS publishing, tartarus Press, GreyFriar Press, TTA Press, Humdrumming books, Necessary Evil Press, Elastic Press and of course Whiskey Creek Press in the very near future.

How would you compare horror books produced by the large publishers as opposed to those by the small presses?

Some of them are exceptional in quality, the care in production is of major import. The quality of the binding is superb and the selection of authors is excellent.

What would you say is the most important element of a great horror novel?

Atmosphere and characterisation I think are crucial, forget the blood and gore descriptions it's getting under the skin of the character that counts. A great story is always useful as well.

Any tips for authors who are signing their horror books this Halloween?

Don't sign them in blood, well at least not your own.

You probably have read a ton of horror books… what is the scariest book you've ever read?

Scariest, mmm that's tricky. Firestarter was an emotional read for me, as I had a young child at the time, I've always enjoyed Dracula,The House on the Borderland, The Sheep Look Up (which I think transcends genres) The Wolfen, The Keep, The Wasp Factory, Song of Kali, Swan Song, The Shining, The Stand, Valley of Angels, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs – recenlty read Let the Right one In by Lundquist which I thought was really good. Joe Donnelly's books are good.

Who, in your opinion, are the horror fiction masters of the 20th century?

King, Straub, McCammon, Simmons, Campbell, Masterton, Simon Clark, Thomas Harris, Joe Donnelly, Basil Copper, Richard Lymon, Christopher Fowler, and the dark fantasy and horror of Geroge R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Also Dennis Wheatley, The Pan Books of Horror Stories, Roald Dahl and Lucius Shepard.

Thank you again for this interview, Simon!

Interview by Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author and reviewer. Her paranormal books include Embraced by the Shadows (romantic horror/vampire) and Dark Lullaby (atmospheric horror). She is also the co-author of the nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

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Editor, teacher and Pagan priestess Elizabeth Barrette writes articles, essays, short stories, reviews, interviews, and poetry. She’s the author of the reference book, Composing Magic, a must-read for fantasy authors. In this interview she talks about magic spells, Paganism, and writing fantasy, among other things.

Welcome to the Dark Phantom Review, Elizabeth. For those readers who are new at this, I’d like first to start with the basics. What is a magic spell?

A “magic spell” is a combination of tools, actions, and words by which the caster seeks to influence reality. It provides a better grasp on subtle energies, so that they may be directed with greater precision and power to achieve the desired effect, much as the handle of a hammer increases the usefulness of the striking surface. As such, a magic spell is a working of human Will.

What is the difference between a magic spell, a ritual, a blessing, a chant, and a prayer?

“Magic spell” has been defined above.
In magical/spiritual context, a “ritual” is a formal activity with specifically prescribed steps (often repeated identically on subsequent occasions) used as a frame for magical or spiritual processes. A ritual can involve casting a spell, but can also involve other goals such as worship, rites of passage, meditation, etc.

In a “blessing,” someone calls on a Higher Power to bestow some benefit(s) upon a person, place, goal, or other recipient. Usually the person giving a blessing is a priest or priestess, but can be a parent or someone else. Typical blessings include health, fertility, prosperity, happiness, and good fortune. This is a request for divine energy, not an application of human Will.

A “chant” is a heavily rhythmic, usually rhymed vocal performance which may be spoken, declaimed, or sung. Chants have many purposes, from timing oar strokes to worship to raising or directing energy in a spell.

A “prayer” is any communication addressed from a mortal person to a divine recipient. Types include daily, thanksgiving, propitiatory, and intercessory prayers.

A key difference between magic spells vs. prayers and blessings is that they are two separate ways of producing change. Magical workings such as spells require the caster to control and direct energy through force of Will. Spiritual workings such as prayers and blessings require the priest/ess to keep their Will out of the way so that divine energy can flow through them to work divine Will (hopefully in accord with the human request).

What is the difference between Wicca, Paganism, and witchcraft?

Wicca is a specific denomination of the wider religious family of Paganism, with its own subdivisions including Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic, and others. Wicca descends from European Pagan traditions; it remains one of the most popular and structured Pagan religions. Wiccan beliefs include honoring the Goddess and the God, celebrating the passage of seasons, protecting the Earth as sacred, and rejoicing in human sexuality as a sacred gift of life and love. “The Charge of the Goddess” and “The Wiccan Rede” are widely held liturgies.

Paganism is an umbrella term for Earth-based belief systems and nature religions in general, although it most often refers to such systems descending from European or contemporary American origins. Pagan religions are typically polytheistic, often animistic, with beliefs in the sanctity of the Earth, human fertility, and personal experience of the divine. Pagan religions include Asatru, Druidry, Eclectic Paganism, and Wicca.

Witchcraft can be either a synonym for “Wicca” as a religion (when capitalized as religions are: Witchcraft) or the name of a magical system (when not capitalized: witchcraft) used by Wiccans and other Pagans. The latter use includes the casting of spells, charging of magical artifacts with energy, creation of protective barriers, and other beneficial applications of subtle energies. Wicca and some other Pagan religions prohibit the use of magic for destructive purposes. Some other traditions have different rules which allow magic in combat and other offensive uses considered appropriate by their home culture.

What is the origin of Paganism?

Paganism in general originates from the Earth, its plants and animals, its cycles, and its natural processes. This is a religion which honors life and the world around us. Most religions commonly considered Pagan have their roots in ancient Europe or modern America. Indigenous religions in the Americas, Australia, Africa and elsewhere share many similar tenets and practices; but those religions often don’t describe themselves as Pagan. The term “pagan” comes from Latin, originally meaning “rustic;” Paganism thus referred to the old nature religions surviving in rural areas, while the newly fashionable Christianity swept through the cities.

When did you first become involved with Paganism?

I’ve always practiced Paganism of one form or another. I discovered the modern Pagan community in 1988 or thereabouts.

I found your book, Composing Magic, to be a wonderful reference work for those authors who write fantasy. When you read fantasy novels, or other works of fiction with Pagan elements, do you encounter a lot of mistakes as far as the ‘real’ magic goes?

That depends a lot on the author, the magic, and the Pagan content. Some authors are excellent. Jean M. Auel, Mercedes Lackey, Anne Bishop, and M.R. Sellars have all written stories with different, respectful portrayals of Pagan or similarly flavored religion and/or magic. Other authors are less respectful and accurate. Frequent flaws include equating Paganism with devil worship and using magic to cover deficiencies in plot, characterization, or worldbuilding. Magic has its own parameters, but is not devoid of consistent behavior.

For fantasy authors (or game masters) wishing to present a plausible, realistic, and plot-solid system of magic, the essential sourcebook is Authentic Thaumaturgy by Isaac Bonewits. His mastery of nonfiction in the magical field allowed him to explain the many different types of magic, magical laws, techniques, and so forth in terms useful for creative applications. However, this is also one of the secondary audiences for my book, because I’ve had writer-friends ask me for help in devising a prophecy or other important tidbit of poetry to support their fiction. If your characters are casting incantations or bestowing blessings, and you want them to sound like experts, reading Composing Magic can help you understand how those things work and figure out what your characters would say.

What compelled you to write this book?

There was a gap in available materials; I have a knack for spotting such things. The Pagan/magical books widely recommended writing your own spells and rituals, but none of them explained in detail how to do that. The writing books detailed many types of writing, but few spiritual types and no magical types. I’m good at figuring out how I do what I’m doing, and explaining things step-by-step so someone else can follow suit; so I wanted to fill the gap. It wasn’t until I saw the reviews for Composing Magic that I realized this is apparently not that common a skill. I’m trying to make more deliberate and frequent use of it, now that I know how high the demand is.

How important is the power of words in a magic ritual?

First, the space must be reasonably safe and comfortable. Precarious footing, bloodthirsty insects, etc. reliably kidnap people’s attention.

Second, you must create a powerfully moving effect – that means it excites people’s sense of wonder and gets the energy moving as desired.

Words are among the most powerful tools for doing that. Some rituals don’t have words, relying instead on music or dance or other nonverbal methods. But almost all rituals do use words, and for them, words are vital. The right words can make a ritual that people will remember forever; the wrong words can bore or offend people. Worse yet, poorly chosen words can make the ritual misfire or cause undesired side effects. If you talk about “the rains of the West,” don’t complain if you get wet!

Harry Potter created a lot of controversy, with many people wanting to ban the film. Why do you think some people are afraid of portraying young protagonists in children’s books as witches or wizards?

Some people follow a religion or philosophy that discourages free thinking in favor of faith and obedience; that inclines towards child-raising practices which maximize control. If people want their children to be like them, and they believe that magic and/or other religions are evil – and they know that many children enjoy reading those kinds of books, and that reading encourages thought in general – their best bet is to attack the books and keep children from reading them. Adults are free to believe what they wish, but it is harmful to force their beliefs on children who cannot freely choose otherwise. Children should be free to learn and explore and read. Adults should be grateful that children are eagerly reading anything in an age more given to video games and television.

What are your favorite Pagan authors or novels?

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop
Harm None by M.R. Sellars

I understand you’re a student of obscure languages. What languages are those?

First, I’m a hobby-linguist, and thus a student of all languages. I have some formal education in Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. Privately I’ve browsed Gaelic, Cherokee, Lakota, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Tlingit, Quechua Mayan, and many others. I’m especially interested in Native American, Australian, and African languages.

Second, I’m a xenolinguist. I study and invent artificial languages – model languages made for fun, auxiliary languages of sizable construction, alien and fantasy languages in fiction. There I’ve gone through Klingon, Tenctonese, Sindarin, Láadan, Esperanto, and many others. Of those, I probably know Láadan (from Native Tongue and A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan by Suzette Haden Elgin) the best, having written a class about it … though there’s also Ai-Naidari, and I’ve done three classes on its contextual fiction (The Aphorisms of Kherishdar by M.C.A. Hogarth), which contains a handful of very enlightening alien vocabulary.

I’ve also constructed numerous alien and fantasy languages of my own. Seshaa is the oldest and largest of those; I’ve been writing about it and its home culture, the Whispering Sands desert, since I was in junior high or high school. Glimpses of it appear in my story “Peacock Hour” slated for publication in the anthology Taking Flight. I’ve also posted some samples of Seshaa on my blog and in the LiveJournal community “conlangs,” where it’s very popular. Other languages have smaller files – the tongues of elves, centaurs, aliens, and other folk.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

The best option is my blog, “The Wordsmith’s Forge,” where I talk about writing, Paganism, magic, speculative fiction, gender studies, gardening, nature, current events, and many other topics: http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com

My old website, “PenUltimate Productions,” is no longer updated but still visible; it contains archives of my earlier work. There’s a lot of Pagan poetry and articles, some speculative fiction, and other things.

For the editing half of my wordsmith work, see “Academic & Clerical Editing.” The ACE site is here: http://www.acediting.com

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

1) I host a poetry fishbowl every month on my blog. Drop by “The Wordsmith’s Forge” and give me ideas for writing poetry. The next one will be June 11 with a theme of language, linguistics, and linguists.

I collect quotes. I also make my own, and I’m a memetic engineer interested in building and promoting healthy memes. Here are a few of mine:

“You can’t keep spending water like money.”
“Meditation isn’t something you do when your mind is quiet. It’s something you do to make your mind more quiet.”
“Don’t borrow trouble. The interest is a killer.”
“If you’re not making any mistakes, then you’re not learning, you’re coasting.”

Thanks for the interview, Elizabeth! It was very enlightning!

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