Recapturing the Magick


As some of you know, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with all things ‘occult.’ This is an interest that blossomed in me back in the Mesozoic Era (yanno, when I was kid). Actually, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in anything that fell under the umbrella heading of “supernatural” or “occult.” Where did this interest come from? Who the hell knows? I think it’s somehow encoded in my DNA.

When I was growing up, the racks by the checkout stands in just about any store were full of little 3”x4” books on all manner of things: numerology, palmistry, astrology, ESP, etc., as well as other non-occult subjects. I must have had quite a collection, but they are long since gone. I read books like “The Occult Explosion” by Nat Freedland that were surveys of the entire metaphysical movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. What a revelation, I wasn’t alone, there were lots of other people feeling the same way. I got my first Tarot deck, a 1971 Rider-Waite, which I still have. I discovered Alexandrian Witchcraft through the writing of Stewart Farrar in “What Witches Do”. For years after that book was the gold standard to me in building my own practice.

I was absolutely mad for anything about the Salem Witch trials, which is silly since none of those people were witches (with the possible exception of the slave Tituba, but that’s conjecture). Also, please note, no one was burned at the stake in Salem. Nineteen people were hanged, and one man was pressed to death. This was a horrific death, with a board being placed on the victim’s chest, and stone after stone placed on top of it, causing the chest to be crushed. It was an attempt to extract a confession, but Giles Corey was mum and so went to his death without confessing to try to save himself. Don’t feel too bad for him, though. He’d been a witness against his own wife Martha Corey at her trial. She was one of the ones hanged on September 22, 1692. Others died in prison awaiting their trials, but the exact number is not known.

laurieLaurie Cabot, dubbed “The official witch of Salem”  and profiled on “In Search Of…” and written up in National Geographic Magazine was another source of inspiration. Sneer at her if you must, but she was an inspiration to me, and paved the way for many of the witches who came after her. She did a lot to raise the profile of Wiccans and made it easier for us to practice without persecution. Laurie long ago vowed to the Goddess that she would wear her ritual robes every day, so that’s why she dresses the way she does. I can hear the eye-rolling from here, but it’s her thing and I say bravo for being that brave. Society has never been kind to non-conformists. I can only imagine what she and her daughters went through.

The famous psychic and witch Sybil Leek, with her jackdaw familiar, Mr. Hotfoot Jackson, sybil06was another high profile witch of those days and another role model for me. She faced a lot of persecution, including having leases cancelled, and being hounded by the media. Even the tv show “Bewitched” got some good stuff in, like the Halloween episode when Samantha related how Endora used to take her out of the country every Halloween so she wouldn’t be subjected to the hideous hook-nosed warty hag stereotypes of witches for the season. The show didn’t have much truth in it, but there were a couple of episodes at least that painted witches in a much better light than any other show or movie had at that time.

I feel lucky to have been introduced to the Old Religion in those days. It was a heady time for the magickal and neo-pagan community as things became more open and information became readily available, occult shops sprang up to cater to the needs of practitioners. Just the sight of the full moon inspired feelings of excitement, like an electrical circuit switched on and I could feel the current surge through me. Ok, so I’m weird. So sue me.

What’s the point of all this? The point is, I’ve been trying to create that sense of wonder, mysticism, ‘otherness’ about the whole scene from those early days in my writing, and I’m not having a lot of success. Having been a part of the pagan community for so long and it being part and parcel of my daily life, seeing up close and first-hand the reality of life as a pagan . Not entirely, to be sure, or I wouldn’t still be in it.  I suppose this is the root of my general gothiness. I like the aura of mystery, the sense of magick, the feeling of connection to the Otherworld. There is a wonder and beauty to it, but trying to work that into my stories is proving to be an amazing challenge. Without falling back on stereotypes it’s a difficult atmosphere to create. Maybe not all stereotypes are  bad or to be avoided. It may be partly the new convert zeal that someone experiences when they stumble onto a path that speaks to them, but it’s more than that.

I wonder if being there in the early days of the neo-pagan movement was the same as being in on the early days of any endeavor. I can imagine those who participated in the early days of the space program at NASA felt much the same way about that. I think there’s a special excitement to something that’s new and groundbreaking, something that will affect the course of future events. Ok, so being a witch isn’t putting anyone on the moon or colonizing Mars, but it was a seismic shift in my world view. I’m not a very ‘out’ witch. I’m still largely ‘in the broom closet’ as we say. Most of the time I could more easily pass for a Sunday school teacher than a witch, and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’ve suppressed it to the point where even I can’t find it.

I have no idea what this song is about, but it always sounded to me like it was describing a bunch of witches out dancing around the esbat fire in the moonlight.

P.S. The spelling of ‘magick’ throughout is deliberate. Aleister Crowley is said to have added the ‘k’ on the end to distinguish esoteric practices from sleight-of-hand stage tricks. Since then, it’s gone into general use in the pagan world.

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20 thoughts on “Recapturing the Magick

  1. jmgershom says:

    Great post, DD. I too was influenced at an early age. I was really into ESP, telekinesis, Astral Projection (OOBE), etc… I loved the tv series, The Six Sense, with Gary Collins. If I remember right, it was loosely base on the Rhine Institute, in NC. Boy, I hope got that right… In junior high and high school, I had friends that would get together, and we have seances. I even had a deck of ESP cards!

    One of my earliest memories about NASA was the Xmas broadcast from Apollo 8 in 1968. My parents and older sisters sat in front of our “console” B&W tv (oh my, I’m dating myself) and were awed by it.

    Now, as you know, I have been getting interested in my Celtic heritage, along with their beliefs. I’ve spent my whole life trying to find meaning. I have come to realize that those years in the wilderness were not pointless…trying to find the answers I needed from man-made religions showed my that THE meaning is not found from up above, but quite literally, all around us.

    Thank you for igniting my current involvement with this! And yes, I’ve recent bought my first Tarot deck. It’s the same one that you mentioned earlier, that was your first one…now, it’s my first one too. Wow. A lot of this is for my writing too. Since my feeble attempts at Urban Fantasy, my research in Wicca and Paganism has enriched me. Also, your kind words and advice has let me realize that I’m not a misfit!

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      Congrats on your first Tarot deck! 🙂 Good choice to start with, there are more books that use that than any other deck. It’ll be easier to find books to study on that deck.
      No you’re definitely not alone! Seems like interest in one aspect of the paranormal leads to interest in lots of other areas. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess 😉 You have my email if you have any questions or want to talk about it. Welcome to my obsession!

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      • jmgershom says:

        Thanks, DD, for all your help! I see from your comment on my blog that you got the job. That’s wonderful news! I wish you all the best! 😀
        Since your time will be limited, I’ll try not bombard you with a lot of questions. Just promise me that you’ll make sure that you’ll take the time to enjoy life! We only have one to live…or maybe more? So, take care and again, thank you! 😉

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  2. Susannah Bianchi says:

    I totally get your fascination with all that is spooky. I have it too and really believe in another stream of entity floating around. I keep it under my hat most of the time since I’m perceived as nuts enough, not that I think that’s the case. It’s so interesting if you’re not freaked out by what you learn. Great essay.

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  3. Eric Syrdal says:

    This is a great post, D.D. I’ve a good bit to say about it. But, as with most of my comments, I’ll have to compose what I want to say completely.

    I can say though, that I share a good bit of fascination with things considered, “Occult”. Voodoo being something that is richly represented and, unfortunately, mis-represented here in Bayou Country. I’ll get back to you ASAP.

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  4. Eric Syrdal says:

    Study of the “occult” is fascinating to me. Not just because of authors like Lovecraft who’s stories I adore. But because a lot of time if you read enough about certain “cults” or “ancient religions” you begin to understand so much more about what we call religion today.
    I, like many others, don’t blame you for hiding your interest and practice of Pagan religion. It is astounding to me how many people today will shrink in terror from any mention at all of witches or pagans. I have a handful of friends who are pagans and have yet to be ritually sacrificed by any of them.
    (I distinctly remember an incident where I was confronted by some “saved souls” on a college campus, we began to talk about religion and I happened to mention, “Hecate”. Watching them quickly shuffle away and avert their eyes was hilarious, however I was actually impressed that they knew who she was!)
    As with most things in history, humans are terrified of anything they don’t understand. The real disappointment comes in when there is so much wealth of knowledge out there to be able to understand it, yet they won’t put forth the effort.
    And like other religions, there are of course sick people who do sick things and call themselves witches.
    Being raised catholic I was, and still am, astonished and fascinated by how much of the Christian faith comes from Pagan roots. Even still astonished at how many people refuse to admit that it is.
    I remember at a very young age (possibly 8 or 9) hearing someone refer to God as a “She” instead of a he. Don’t know if it was a joke or what context it was in, but I remember thinking, “That seems more likely.”
    My wife has done extensive reading on religious origins and continually surprises me with things she finds and interesting theories on the subject. Recently she read a wonderful book about Goddesses and told me all kinds of interesting facts that can be found across ALL religions in relation to female gods in particular. If I remember correctly there was actually a mass “deletion” at some part in the late B.C. part of the timeline of anything to do with Goddesses or Female religious figures. I’ll have to go back and ask her what book it was.

    As far as recreating the sense of mysticism in your writing. I find it always easier to just write from the character’s point of view. How would they envision themselves. And whether or not they would maybe embrace some of those stereotypes as being part of who they are. Possibly the woman who sits on her front porch with a broom nearby her because she knows the kids in the neighborhood believe she’s a witch and she likes that it makes them wary of her.
    Or a Viking who actually wears a horned helmet, even though historical records and archeology have shown us that they didn’t actually. I guess staying away from negative stereotypes is best and is a good thing. Much like not writing about a group of pagans worshiping Satan or even making pacts with evil spirits to do others harm.
    Which leads me to my other point. VooDoo here in New Orleans is represented correctly by those that practice it and understand it. And, of course, as a ridiculous cartoon by those that don’t. Black Magic, Curses, turning people into Zombies….all of it can easily be found on any street corner in the quarter as well as lots of “tours” offering to take to you Marie Laveau’s grave site. But when you study about it you find that, like all religions, it has good points and bad points but it’s ultimate goal is good and welfare. It centers around belief of spirits and the spirit world and death as not an evil, but simply a powerful natural force that can be tapped just as easily as life.

    Commercialization has completely ruined its image. And any hope, I believe, of people wanting to learn more truth than myth about it.
    And when you referenced Tituba in your post, it made me instantly think of Voodoo. It did when I read The Crucible as well. And if she was Haitian that’s probably what it was…though the young girls didn’t understand it and were just intrigued by doing something that they perceived as “naughty”.

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      That’s awesome about the fundogelicals knowing who Hecate is 😉 I bet they had to take a course on demons and false prophets and that sort of thing.

      The ones who twist the Old Religion into ‘devil worship’ are generally teenagers going through a rebellious phase and doing anything they can think of to piss off their parents. There is no devil in the Craft, as I’m sure you know.

      I wonder if the book your wife read was “When God Was a Woman” by Merlin Stone?

      I agree, what Hollywood and marketing have done to Voudon is awful, but the Celtic festival of Samhain suffered the same fate from Hollywood. I hate that it’s been turned into a gorefest with movies like “Halloween” and all the other slasher flicks. None of that has anything to do with it. I get really tired of it. And the stereotype of the hook-nosed warty old hag… Ugh. I wish I could leave the country like Samantha did 😉

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      • Eric Syrdal says:

        http://www.alphabetvsgoddess.com/
        This is the particular book I was thinking of. Of course when I asked her “What was that book you were telling me about where written language basically killed off the godess cults.” She laughed at me and asked, “which one”

        This one was really good from what I remember. She used to tell me interesting stuff from it all the time!

        LOL, I remember learning about Samhain from my friends. And how they laughed when I pronounced it Sam Hayne. 😉

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  5. Bunny Blumschaefter (@ottermoonski) says:

    Just talking about it with kindred spirits seems to be bringing the magic(k) back for you, DD! In terms of your writing, consider this: pick any scene – one of your own, an incident you heard about on the news, something going on at work -and imagine how it would me more intriguing with the forces of the occult at work. Like what if Andre helped you unclog the drain that time, or one of the animals really was your familiar and really did talk over your job search with you, or you could research a scene by getting on a bus that drops you off in 18th century Prague? Don’t worry about writing about it yet – just light some candles, put on some spooky music, and let your imagination run amok. If nothing else, it’ll help you relax after the first week of the new job…

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      Haha, indeed 🙂 Helps people to know they’re not alone with stuff like this. It’s not the sort of topic that usually comes up at dinner parties in the ‘burbs among yuppies! I’m definitely going to need some downtime this weekend. I plan to spend every possible minute writing since I’m getting nothing done during the week.

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  6. D. D. Syrdal says:

    The commute is proving to be worse. At the old job I got in earlier, but left earlier and so got home earlier. Now I don’t get up as early, but get home later, so there’s less waking time available. Plus, at the old job if things were slow I could steal a little time or write during lunch. I can’t really do that here. Even over lunch, if I don’t leave the woman training me will find stuff to talk to me about. I’m actually considering hauling my laptop to work and doing some writing away from my desk at lunch.

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  7. gypsyscarlett says:

    This post made me grin. Like you, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in all things occult. At nine years, my dad would have to help me carry out all my library books because I had to run to the kids section and grab a slew of Nancy Drews, AND run over to the adult section and grab anything on Witchcraft, paganism, esp, etc…

    I’ve never been either in or out of the broom closet.

    Regarding Laurie Cabot, I went to Salem once on Samhain. That was a a blast. 🙂 However, there were a few fundamentalists about. A couple of young ones asked to speak to my friend and me. They weren’t pushy, so I agreed. Funny thing is, we ended up having a pleasant, intelligent conversation. As it went on, I noticed them becoming more and more quiet, really listening to me. And at the end, they agreed that as long as I was happy and at peace with myself, that was all that mattered. And we wished each other a good day.

    So I’m glad I sat down that day. It showed them that not everyone had to follow their path to be happy. And it reminded me that sometimes people (the last ones you’d expect) can surprise you by their willingness to open their mind a bit.

    As for Vodou- I’ve been studying that for a few years. Fascinating and beautiful religion. And yes, probably the most misunderstood by the masses, and misrepresented by Hollywood.

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    • D. D. Syrdal says:

      My own parents were not open to it, I had to study in secret. My mother went ballistic when she found my little altar in my room when I was around 11. If my dad had ever found out… I don’t actually know if she ever mentioned it to him or not. And my mother was Lutheran, my dad was the Catholic. I suspect it would not have been pretty.

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