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.
And why I’ve created a new social media group as a place for queer, trans, non-binary and pretty much everyone else who is “othered” and tormented by the soul-sucking, climate-changing, greed-slurping dementors of the world we live in today…
Since 2016, when I started writing The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I knew that my characters would create a safe, vibrant place for people to learn and enjoy a new kind of magic–something that today I am calling MagicQ. In my second book (close to completion), my characters–including trans guy Oyster Olson, intersex woman Babe Bump, and non-binary Tomma Bedlam–are actively engaged in creating a new Hermitville Center for Arts and Magic as a place of refuge, inclusion, and empowerment for LGBTQIA+ people, and anyone facing violence and discrimination as a result of personal bigotry and systemic injustice.
Two days ago I learned about J.K. Rowling’s most recent transphobic statement on Twitter, in support of a woman who holds hateful beliefs about trans and otherwise gender diverse people, and who believes it is fine to discriminate against them. While I never thought of Rowling as someone who had great politics (I mean, she poured money into preventing Scottish independence, for gods sake…), I was startled and dismayed by her most recent public statement. I hadn’t been following Rowling’s transphobe trajectory but others have, as early as 2018 or before.
My kids (now adults) grew up on the Potter books–along with other, better works of childhood fiction. One of my kids is trans–and I will never forget how dismayed he was when he found out he was not going to Hogwartz when he turned eleven. However, he’s since claimed his place in the worlds of magic and witchery, and has even created a church for LGBTQIA+ people. To work for social change and justice is a magical, transformational act. This is the real thing, not make-believe.
Inspired by both my own kid’s action and the mission of my own characters, I’ve created The Guild of Ornamental Hermits group on Facebook, as a home for magicQ and its practitioners and allies. Since I am also a practicing witch, as well as a writer/blogger and sexologist dedicated to gender equality, as well as a mother–I can do no less and I also pledge to do more!
So, I say to J.K. (who also writes under a male name–go figure!!!) that in my world of magic and literature, she has now become “she who must not be named.” If she ever repudiates her current stance, and educates herself, and humbly serves as a fitting ally to LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized people, perhaps I’ll reconsider giving her a place on my bookshelf again. But til then I’m boycotting. I won’t be giving her books to any more young people.
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. Now in NaNoWriMo 2018, I have officially begun work on the second book in this proposed fantasy trilogy–The Witching Work 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.
I 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.
For the second draft of The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I decided to switch out almost all of the references to various deities actually worshipped by human beings (past and present) and replace them with references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s cosmic pantheon as described in his Silmarillion. Aside from Elves, I have also now replaced other references to existing magical beings and “faery cities” with words based on Tolkien’s languages.
The idea of “Elves” has been used so often, for so many kinds of beings–from Santa’s Elves to Tolkien’s, from Norse Elves to Emma Bull’s–and everything in between, that I feel okay about including them and creating my own concepts of them.
I did this (1) to avoid giving offense to people currently engaged with a variety of Celtic, Heathen, and other pagan traditions; (2) as a homage to Tolkien; and (3) to have more freedom to create a fictitious magical foundation for the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.
Tolkien describes his collection of deities, known as Valar and Maiar, and their functions in great detail. I use a few of these figures. I’ve also used some of their names to create four elemental “cities” (Arda or Ardae) that correspond to elements: Ulmaria (water); Manwaria (air); Auleria (fire); and Yavannia (earth). (Tolkien had used “Arda” as a word for the place humans live, but I snagged it to refer to certain locations in the Elves’ Realm.)
The magical training given by the Elves of the Hermits of Hermitville also has a lot to do with these faery cities and elements. The three major characters of Babe Bump, Oyster Olson, and Tomma Bedlam are all linked with Murias, due to their astrological signs. These three characters each have unique magical gifts. Babe is a medium; Tomma has an affinity with magical creatures; and Oyster is definitely wizard material. As such he is the keeper of the mysterious Book of Moons, created by the original Guild of Ornamental Hermits.
Creating the “mythos” that matches the story is definitely one of the challenging parts of writing fantasy fiction!
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.)
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, AWitch’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.
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.)
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.
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!