There’s Elves, and Then…There’s Elves!

Who among us does not have a complicated relationship with Elves? Who among us has not received conflicting messages about them? Are they tiny woodland sprites captured by Santa to toil 24/7 making plastic toys with corporate packaging stamped with “made in…” but we know where those destined-for-landfill toys are really from? Do we consider them as related to the Fae, or not? Are we dealing with Elves as Arthur Rackham might have drawn them? Or Elves as Tolkien wrote them? Or are we talking Western filmic Elves, haughty flaxen- or raven-haired beings dressed in Eastern robes lifted straight from The Untamed, those who have little to do with petty human doings?

Whelp, here are some more kind of Elves…

L to R, back row: Gingevus, Nar, Parsifal, Maud, Septimus, Who’s There, Professor Almond, and Hamfast. L to R, in front: Nen and Breadcrumb. With the exception of Almond, all looking pretty much as they do when visiting the Mortal Coil.

The Elves of the guild of ornamental hermits

Once upon a time (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?), the Elves grew bored. Yes, even with all their almost immortal and miraculous powers, and with all the marvels of their Realm to enjoy, a majority of Elves found themselves yawning (“ho hum…”) during the wearisome hours of their days and nights (even during the sparkling noontime hour when all of creation was wont to rejoice and even during the deepest midnight when all of creation’s mysteries opened their eyes to blink at the infinite). Who, or what, could possibly save the Elves from this dismal, existential ennui?

Hoomans, that’s what. Yep, the most perplexing and nonsensical, not to mention deeply destructive, group of beings to ever splatter themselves on the asphalt of the cosmos. That’s right. Humans. The Elves began to watch human hi-jinx from afar, glued to their scrying mirrors, fascinated by the humans inevitable “moth to a flame” trajectories toward dooms both small and large, marvelling at that one good thing that might come of all the current chaos, only to melt away again at the next turning of Time’s Wheel. For the Elves, watching human beings was like having endless streaming channel of sit-coms and horrors, romances and the worst of reality TV.

Elven academia began to take note. Human Studies departments formed. Many Elves were dispatched to the Mortal Coil itself, to perform extensive field work into all aspects of human cultures (high and low) and behaviors (the good, the bad, and the unthinkable). (Of course they had to adjust their appearances and manage their considerable glamour in order to blend in.) Thus it was that Professor Almond (of the glistening gold silk pantaloons above), found himself (they/them pronouns also ok) first in 15th century England. And there he stayed through several centuries (with frequent sabbaticals and even a few rest cures taken back in the Realm). And thus is was that Nar and Nen, members of Almond’s department, also found themselves on the other side of the Coil, spending huge chunks of their careers in the areas that Almond’s English study subjects called “the East.”

From plagues to Pokémon, from wars to witchcraft, from clowning to cribbage, and even from nuclear fission to punk rock fashion, the Elven academics watched and cataloged it all. They wrote papers, they held the Elven equivalent of conferences, and some began to write human-themed epics and create human-themed works of art, never asking themselves if they were appropriating from other cultures. Nar and Nen went undercover into 21st century Asian entertainment industries, even undergoing the rigorous training and competitive psychologies necessary for placement in a “boy band,” never asking themselves if they were weilding magic privileges unobtainable by their fellow trainees. After all, they’d risen through the ranks of many an ancient imperial court much the same way–using magic and depending on their longevity.

Professor Almond, on the other hand, found himself emotionally invested in the fate of those humans he studied and befriended during the difficult years of English witch persecution. His concerns inspired him to create a mystery school start-up, designed to teach certain human beings a hybrid form of Elven and human magic, in the hopes that such skills and perspectives would help change this particular, terrible course of human history. Many of his friends and colleagues, including Nar and Nen, eagerly took on the task of mentoring several generations of twelve human families in magical arts. This mystery school start-up would eventually become known as The Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

All was going rather well until the Professor found himself deeply in love with one particular 21st century human and even engraved her name upon his heart (literally). And when he spilled the beans (a “spillover phrase” smelling vaguely like Pan’s flute and tasting like weasel footprints… The Elves are all synesthetes. Did I mention that?), his human beloved went and did what no human beloved should have done.

But all that is in the books, Gentle Readers and Aspiring Hermits. You will just have to read them.

Watch this new video about my Elves!

As they look in the Realm. L to R, back row: Septimus, Almond, Hamfast, Who’s There, Nen, Gingevus, Maud and Parsifal. L to R, front: Nar and Breadcrumb.

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Magical Mentoring in The Guild

Here are the Elves (on the right) and their human students (at left). Artanaro Nar and Who’s There work with two Hermits each. Hamfast started working with Frank first, but when Frank leaves in the second book, Hamfast ends up working with the newest Hermit, Sophie Lokisdottir. The rest of the Elves teach magic to only one person apiece.

In The Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy novels, these Elves have also worked with one or more of the ancestors of each of their human students, dating from the 17th century onward. These ancestors were members of the Twelve Families who helped the Elves to found the ancient mystery school, The Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Sophie Lokisdottir is the exception. Hamfast has not worked with her ancestors.

All character images created via HeroForge.com.

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“The Queerest Quest” Has Begun!

November 1st (my birthday) is also the start of each year’s National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo.

In NaNoWriMo 2016, I launched my fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, and continued to write all year. In NaNoWriMo 2017, I continued work on Dire Deeds and then revised and completed it this last summer. Then my publisher asked me to cut it in half, and the second half became The Witching Work.

Now in NaNoWriMo 2018, I have officially begun work on the third book in this proposed fantasy trilogy–The Queerest Quest of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

I’m off to a good start! By the end of November 3rd, I had over 8,000 words logged in to my NaNoWriMo author page.

2022 Update: Here is the cover of The Queerest Quest, publication date TBA.

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2022 The official book cover.

Why a Tale of “Mid-Life Magic?”

'Fairy_Islands'_from_the_book_Elves_and_Fairies_1916_by_Ida_Rentoul_OuthwaiteI grew up reading fairy tales and fantasy fiction. I always wanted to see myself as one of the characters in whatever I was reading and/or have that character’s abilities. Childhood examples include: Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (for having the coolest submarine and for being disgusted with humanity); Doctor Doolittle (for being able to talk with animals); and pretty much any fairy princess you can name (for magic adventures and caskets of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds) – except the Disney variety, thank god. I’m too old for that to have had much, if any, impact on my childhood! I loved and devoured books by Edgar Eager, E. Nesbit, Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis–and of course J.R.R. Tolkien (in my teens). By the time I was eighteen, I had most of the Andrew Lang collections of fairy tales, each volume a different color. And the only relic of my late father that I possess is a book of Japanese fairy tales he sent to me after the divorce, when I was about four years old.

My children of course went through the Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis Narnia books, and Tolkien. My ex and I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to each kid, more than once. (Tolkien really wrote for the breath and voice. It’s astonishing when you read those books aloud.) And there were other writers and other books. For my oldest, a number of brave girl warrior type adventures, and Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Finder. For my youngest, the Redwall series (Brian Jacques) and Bartimaeus series (Jonathan Stroud).

So my life has been steeped in such tales, and now, as I am older (much older), I want the magic adventures to continue, with characters that are my age or thereabouts. One of the few stories that has come close is A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.

Plus, I have had my own true-life collisions with “mid-life magic” and this has been an unexpected and fascinating development. Sexology (I’m a sexologist) pales somewhat by comparison.

So, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is a story about (mostly counter-culture) people over the age of 40, and some who are much older. The Elves, for example, last a lot longer than humans and don’t age at the same rate. And I, as the writer, am able to wave my magic word wand around and grant attributes and situations, as well as varied genders, sexual preferences, and magic “superpowers” to the characters who have come to populate the Hermitville and The (Elven) Realm of my imagination.

And in that way, the magical adventures continue!

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Western Magic Influences

Image via InKarnate.com

[Updated and revised yet again, April 5, 2020.]

Since 2016, I have been researching magical knowledge, neopagan traditions, and other esoteric resources for The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and the sequel, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. (A third book is also planned.)

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Creative Commons/Wellcome Images. A grotto containing a magic circle, books and mythical creatures. Etching by J. Vezzani after G. Rocchetti.

Here are some of the sources and teachers who have been and are important and inspirational since I began writing these fantasy novels. I absorb ideas from these and other sources, however I combine what I learn in a fictional way to create my own version of an Elven magic tradition practiced by the secretive Guild of Ornamental Hermits. This tradition is eventually passed on to the ragtag residents of the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, much to their surprise.

Again, I emphasize: nothing that I am writing in my fantasy novels should be considered an accurate portrayal or reflection of the teachings and sources below.

Even so, I want to take grateful note of the teachers and books which have helped me create a fictional magical system and who have led me to a personal passion for magic and witchery and the development of my own esoteric practices.

The first important source was Ariel Gatoga’s recordings of his course, A Witch’s Primer, which provides basic instruction in “non-denominational witchcraft.” Ariel is an engaging teacher and I always find his approach refreshing. His was a cheery voice during a very depressing period in my life (late 2016-2017). I’ve enjoyed his Druidic Craft of the Wise podcasts as well, especially A Charmed Life. In addition to his website, Ariel can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. He has a wealth of offerings–videos, lectures, classes, and a forum–so please check him out and follow him on social media.

The second important source was Dr. Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine website, lectures, book, and classes. His work conveys a practical, accessible path for working with ancestors. Foor’s work is grounded in animism (among other things) and I am so glad to have found these teachings. Now in a world turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic, I plan on taking Foor’s newest offering, Bring Out Your Dead–Ancestral Healing for Poxy Times.

Gatoga and Foor were two of my most meaningful discoveries during the first year of writing and learning.

Podcasts such as Missing Witches (hosted by Risa Dickens and Amy Torok),  Bespoken Bones (hosted by Pavini Moray), Witchwave (Pam Grossman), and Down at the Crossroads (hosted by Chris Orapello and Tara Love Maguire) continue to provide thoughtful conversations with practitioners and authors. Orapello and Maguire recently published their own book, Besom, Stang, and Sword: A Guide to Traditional Witchcraft, the Six-Fold Path & The Hidden Landscape.

Also influential:

Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic, particularly with regard to working with non-visible beings.

Sex, Sorcery and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic and The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery, both by Jason Miller. Very practical!

Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols by Laura Tempest Zakroff. (Frankly, I need to spend more time with this book.)

• Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice, by Misha Magdalene, published in 2020, is an extraordinary help in thinking through these topics and relating them to magical practice.

• For tarot divination, I rely heavily on The Ultimate Guide to the Rider-Waite Tarot by Johannes Fiebirg and Evelin Burger.

I have a lot more magic books in my library of course (ditto for tantra and hypnosis, which are also influential) but the above are the ones I seem to go to the most.

For historical perspective, I have enjoyed Magic in the Middle Ages, taught online by instructors at the University of Barcelona, via Coursera. This class provided some wonderful background on one period in the history of European magic, as well as the criminalization of witchcraft and spellwork.

In 2017, I discovered “inclusive heathenry” and “Northern Tradition Paganism” via The Troth and Hrafnar, and various Lokean websites and groups. I currently have a devotional practice that includes a few deities in the Norse pantheon: the trickster god Loki Laufeyjarson (my “most trusted one”); the Vanir deity, Freyr, and his Jotun wife, Gerda; and Freyr’s sister, Freya. (In daily practice, I also honor the Celtic Brigit and the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet.)

Cosmic Muses

Though not at all a part of the “Western Esoteric Tradition,” I have to say that the Hawaiian “volcano goddess,” Pele, was a major inspiration while writing The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. In fact, I read an early draft of the book to her, aloud, as an act of devotion and gratitude for the time I spent in Hawai’i. Much as I am awed by this powerful being, I can’t help feeling somewhat relieved that I moved from Hawai’i seven months before the 2018 lava eruption in the Puna district, which took place not far from where I used to live.

Once I started working on the second book, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, Loki Laufeyjarson emerged as the book’s patron and muse, as well as a major character. In fact, his search for his missing son drives the book. I have also read much of the first draft aloud, as an offering to Loki.

Finally

Like most writers, I could probably write a novel-length list of influences but I’ll stop here. The Guild of Ornamental Hermits novels are “a work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools” (as Oscar Wilde wrote of his character, Mrs. Cheveley). But in this case, I hope this isn’t a bad thing!

August_Natterer_Hexenkopf_Vorder_und_Rückseite
August Natterer: Witch’s head, c. 1915, Prinzhorn Collection – public domain.