I don’t just write fantasy novels about magic, I also study and practice various kinds of practical and devotional magic. Sometimes I blog about this. However I’m solitary, eclectic, and I don’t adhere to any particular “school.” I do describe myself as “witchy” but I’m not part of a coven. I also describe myself as “Lokean” (oath-sworn to Loki) and though I’m a member of The Troth, I don’t identify as a Heathen. It’s probably not surprising that what I learn and do in my own life has a lot of influence on what I write and include in the books. I also feel that the writing process is an act of magic itself.
I wrote a blog in December 2017 about Western Magic Influences and updated it somewhat in April 2020. But there’s a lot that I haven’t included or acknowledged yet. I’m now in the middle of the first draft of the fourth book (The Perilous Past) and find that the Hermits (human students of the Elves) are learning more sophisticated and diverse magic “systems” than I’d originally envisioned, including elements drawn from Westernized variations of some Eastern traditions (e.g., Neo-tantra) as well as the fictitious Elven magic of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Basically, the magic “systems” in these books are a blend of Elven ceremonial magic and Earth-based chaos magic, folk magic, Eastern energetic practices, Western-style sex magic, and the cultivation of ally and devotional relationships with the “other than human” people, both seen and unseen.
Preternatural and Magical Stuff
In The Guild of Ornamental Hermits books you will find time travel and time warps (bubbles out of normal Time/Space); interdimensional beings (Vesta the giant salamander, Elsewherians, Wethrini, and the Elves of course); interdimensional materialization of objects (Septimus Sitwell is a master); shapeshifting (Elves and the Norse deities excel); cosmic devotional practices; supernatural parasites; a magic book; local wights and deities; animism; ancestral relationships; and more.
However it’s not quite “anything goes.” There is magical mentorship (Elves to humans), plus there are protocols, permissions, and care taken to understand the spiritual/energetic impacts of certain kinds of magics and magical traditions in different places and times. This is especially important with regard to their impact on the Mortal Coil (aka Earth, Midgard) and spiritual beings in various localities. The first two books, The Dire Deeds and The Witching Work, are based on the premise that winery heiress Ginger Croom’s attempts to reestablish a 17th century English/Elvish mystery school in Hawai’i was a big mistake–no permission was ever asked or granted by the local powers, including deities–and that this tradition is particularly wrong and destabilizing for a chain of volcanic islands. (This is a metaphor for missionary colonization, if anyone’s interested.)
Elf Ceremonial Magic ala J.R.R. Tolkien and The Untamed
As an homage, I use the Elf deities and Quenya language that Tolkien developed. The Valar and Maiar deities are from his Silmarillion. The deities are often mentioned (in exclamations such as “Varda’s Stars!” and “Tulkas’ Toenails!”) though only Nienna, Lady of Mercy, actually appears in the books as a character. This is because she is channeled by Babe Bump.
I have come to envision Elf ceremonial magic as complex weavings of sound (chants and instrumental music), choreographed dance and movement, and directed energy. (Back in 2016, I originally imagined quasi-Wiccan types of ceremony.) By the end of 2019, just as I was becoming convinced that Elven magic had to be very embodied, steeped in dance and spiritually energetic movements (human examples include Tai Chi, Qigong, Hula, and Anthroposophical Eurythmy), I discovered the Chinese xianxia fantasy series, The Untamed (2019), based on the novel Mo Dao Zu Shi (Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation). The Untamed totally captivated me. In this series, magic was based on cultivated practices and performed with dramatic movements, swiftly flashing sigils, animated paper servitors, and powerful sound waves from Lan Zhan’s magical seven-stringed guqin. This was close to what I had imagined for my own Elves. (FYI, enjoy the fandom at https://modao-zushi.fandom.com/).
I also realized how much the movie version of the Elves in The Lord of the Rings owed to xianxia movies. For starters, compare the costuming and hair styles!
A Little More About My Elves
My original conception of the Elves was part Tolkien and part Emma Bull (War for the Oaks, Finder). I’ve taken Bull’s Elf/Human culture clashes a step further. The Elves in my books are deeply fascinated by human cultures, subcultures, and artifacts (when you’re immortal, how else are you going to amuse yourself?). In fact, three of the Elves mentoring the Hermits of Hermitville are academic specialists in “Human Studies.” Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that the systems of magic they share with the human Hermits blends Elven and human magic traditions.
Here are some of the specific elements.
A Magic Book
For the human “Hermits,” The Book of Moons is their first encounter with a form of magic. Ginger Croom, Hermitville’s founder, has entrusted shy Oyster Olson with her copy of this strange text, shortly before her death. As he shares it with Babe Bump, the two of them begin to suspect a connection between Ginger’s funky “Hermitville” (a farm and arts collective in Hawai’i) and the mysterious Guild of Ornamental Hermits, created by twelve families in 17th century England. The book can become longer or shorter, changing its number of pages. It can also hide things, such as Ginger’s will. Another copy of the book appears later and is swiftly sent to The Realm (Alfheim) for safe keeping.
Spontaneous and Cultivated Spiritual Energy: Kundalini and Glamour
Triggered by a mention of the “Secret Salamander” (Vesta) in The Book of Moons, Babe Bump experiences a series of spontaneous kundalini explosions. Like a warped fairy godmother, I’ve given this character something I actually experienced myself. Later Babe is able to hold hands with Oyster and their friend, Tomma Bedlam, and share this rush of energy.
Glysandra Shaki Om, one of the Hermits, teaches Western neo-tantra and comments on Babe’s condition shortly after her first experience. We also discover that Vesta can trigger these energy explosions in humans, though Babe is particularly vulnerable.
Elven “glamour”–a powerful, glowing charisma–is also a form of cultivated spiritual energy. The Elves increase and lower their personal glamour, depending on circumstances. It’s mostly an Elven ability but by the third book Oyster Olson also begins to manipulate his own glamour. Therefore the cultivation of spiritual energy in a physical body is definitely a part of the hybrid magic system used by the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Such energy powers spellwork as well as individual transformation.
As mentioned earlier, skillful use of sound, music, and movement are also ways to increase spiritual energy. (Let’s not forget breathwork!) Plus, an act of sex magic to boost energy for a magic ritual takes place in the second book.
After her first kundalini experience, Babe Bump begins to experience spontaneous trance and begins channeling. She finds this extremely disconcerting and must learn how to manage. She most often channels Nienna (the Elf goddess) and Vesta, a (Roman) goddess of hearth and flame who is related to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), either as a mother or sister (depending on source). Vesta appears in the book as a giant, Kundalini-triggering salamander who enjoys human architecture (a lot!). In the book Vesta is also presented as “a cousin” to the Hawaiian Mo’o (water lizard spirits).
In these books, the Elves do not seem to function as mediums. It may be a magical talent or tendency of human beings. It is worth noting that in Hawai’i, there is a tradition of mediumship, which usually involves one person serving as a haka (“perch” for the spirits) and another as a kahu (caretaker) (Pukui, M.K., Haertig, E.W., & Lee, C.A., Nana I Ke Kumu—Look to the Source, Vol. 1, Hui Hanai, 1972, p. 46). I am also influenced by what little I know of the Norse tradition of obtaining prophesies and divinations from an entranced Völva (witch), which was part of the magic/sorcery tradition called seidr. The Norse goddess, Freya, was known as a practitioner and teacher of this magic. The Poetic Edda contains two poems of prophecies , Volupsa (Prophecy of Ragnarok) and Volupsa en skamma (The Short Prophecy of Ragnarok) (Crawford, J. translation, Hackett Publishing Company, 2015).
Scrying is the primary form of divination used by the humans and Elves. Norse runes are also mentioned (below). I am not very experienced with runes. I personally prefer to use tarot and pendulums, but these do not really appear in the books.
Meditation and Trance
Focused inner attention is foundational to most forms of magic. Some form of meditation is therefore “a given.” As a professional hypnotist and hypnosis instructor (among other things) I enjoy finding commonalities between self-hypnosis, guided imagery, and some types of magical workings. In the book, Babe Bump is trained in hypnosis though she mostly uses it for stage performances.
The elemental “faery cities” of Finias (fire), Murias (water), Gorias (air), and Falias (earth) are derived from Irish faery traditions and I first found mention of them on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. These cities are important as they not only inform much of the magic of the books, but Elven genders are also based on the elements and these cities (among other things). The twelve Hermits of Hermitville also work in the elemental city groups based on their astrological signs. During part of their training, each Hermit tries to get a glimpse of each of these cities and their inhabitants. And they were encouraged (via meditation and self-trance) to contact spirits that reside in these cities.
When the Norse god, Loki Laufeyjarson, arrived in the third book (The Queerest Quest) (in the guise of Lucky LaFey, “a handsome drifter,” several Norse references came along with him. However, rune work is the only Northern-derived skill or tradition that the Hermits use (so far). (FYI, Tolkien’s writing was influenced by Northern traditions and he created a set of runes.)
The persecution of European witches forms the background of the fourth book as the reason for the creation of the original Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Some forms of folk or kitchen magic, as well as other forms of contemporary American witchery, may be found throughout the books. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Ariel Gatoga’s Witches Primer was super helpful as I began writing in 2016.
Hypersigils and Other Forms of Chaos Magic
These days I’m particularly influenced by Aidan Wachter’s two books, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic and Weaving Fate: Hypersigils, Changing the Past, & Telling True Lies. I am currently exploring methods described in Weaving Fate, particularly the hypersigil journaling. I’m including this form hypersigil work in my fourth book, as something that the Hermits must begin to learn and use.
Magic Ingredients and Tools
The Hermits are given special substances from The Realm, as well as tools to use. However, the Elves insist that tools aren’t really essential, though they are fun to use.
Ginger Croom secretly researched and recruited her residents of Hermitville and made sure that twelve astrological sun signs were represented. Otherwise, Earth-based astrology doesn’t play much of a role in the books. However star positions are one of several factors that determine an Elf gender (there are 29 in all).
The Guild of Ornamental Hermits was originally formed by the Elves and twelve human families in England. The themes of complicated family and ancestral ties are fundamental to the books. I won’t say too much about this as I don’t want to give any spoilers.
In Hawai’i, among the Hawaiian neighbors of Hermitville, there are also some heavy duty ancestral themes, as well as ancestral relationships with the ‘aina (land). A kapu (sacred) child may be one of the reasons that the Elves have been called in to do damage control at Hermitville after Ginger Croom’s death. The Elves even assist in creating an ancestral healing ritual to rid Hawai’i Island of foreign ghosts who are ancestors of four of the Hermits. This is one of the ways that “the Powers” (deities) of Hawai’i ask the Hermits and Elves to “clean up their mess.”
Personally, I’m heavily influenced by Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine work and his courses in animism. (The influences of ancestors and ghosts is also one of the things I notice and resonate with in The Untamed.)
“Other Than Human” Relationships–Seen and Unseen
Of course my human Hermits form close relationships with their Elven mentors (sometimes jokingly called “Elven Overlords”). The Elves are very tangible and “human” (though their actual appearances are quite different). The Elves have previous associations with the “Twelve Family” ancestors and this determines which Hermit they work with.
Other examples: Tomma Bedlam becomes keeper of the “Wubbies,” magic peach children of great power. Ze loves them dearly. Babe has close associations with Nienna, the Elven goddess, and Vesta, the giant salamander. Breadcrumb (an Elf) bonds with a portion of the “membrane” left behind when Vesta “mates” with Ginger Croom’s cottage. The Elves also encourage the humans to be aware of and conversant with local deities, land wights, and the spirits of objects.
The sacred “Powers” of Hawai’i are not opponents, but they are insistent about the necessity to undo the harms caused by Ginger Croom’s spiritual colonialism and land purchases. The Elves and Hermits do their best to comply. The Powers never interact directly with the Hermits. Instead the Elves serve as intermediaries, as they are experienced with protocols.
As mentioned above, ancestors are among the unseen communities that the Hermits begin to know and cultivate.
The Elsewherian foe known as The Lawyer™ has a devotional relationship to the cosmic goddess, Mal-i-Bu Bar-Bee (who is not an Elsewherian). This is an example of relationships between two “other than human” characters. The selfish Anna Phylaxia (human), who has hired The Lawyer™ to help turn Hermitville into a posh “eco-resort,” has no idea that her lawyer is a preternatural being so this is an example of an inadvertant “other than human” relationship.
The humans and Elves face some dangerous preternatural foes, including the Elsewherians and the Wethrini. But their combat is seldom designed to inflict physical harm. Battles are often contests of wits and reality performances which seek to overwhelm the opponent’s sense of reality or banish them to other dimensions. The theatrical and musical talents of the Hermits are often put to good use in these battles.
Wards and protection rituals are also essential.
This covers almost all of the types of magic and magic traditions found in the four books so far. I can’t promise though that other things might not make their way into the fourth book, which is still in progress. Look to FuturesPastEditions for ebook publication of the first books in early 2021.