This weekend (which was a particularly awful one, I must say!), I was inspired with the titles of the next two books in the Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. I always knew I’d be writing a trilogy of “mid-life magic”–and have had a general idea of theme and location–but titles were elusive.
So, the second book in the series takes place in California (and that’s all the spoiler you’re going to get). It will be called The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and I’ll be starting it on November 1st, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
The third book will bring a deeper look into the history of the guild, and some of it will take place in England during the witchcraft persecution of the 17th and 18th centuries. This third book will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.
Just thought you’d all like to know what’s up with my works of fantasy fiction.
This is an excerpt from Chapter Twenty, Stalking the Wild. Elves and the human “hermits” try to parse magical intersectionality and magical identities…
So Indigo did her best to explain. We did our best to understand. Scrying wasn’t so hard. It’s just fortune telling with a crystal ball or a mirror or a plate of water. Trying to see things. The rest of it was more complicated. Finally Indigo shrugged and said, “We’ll walk you through it when the time comes. Don’t worry about it.”
Jennifer sighed, “I thought magic adventures were supposed to happen to you when you’re a kid, not when you’re a post-menopausal rock ’n’ roller!”
“Yeah,” Massive agreed. “Hermitville ain’t no Hogwarts!”
“Yep, Hashtag Muggles No More.” Tomma giggled, while the Wubbies began to squeal for food crumbs.
The funny thing was, the Fey Folk were totally digging this exchange. They were apparently all avid fans of human movies. Archie said Elven academia was obsessed with critiquing movies and literature which depicted human encounters with magical beings and powers. There were even sub-disciplines which dealt with questions of magical intersectionality—various types of oppression and privilege involving magical and non-magical beings—as depicted in human media.
Aarrf was saying things like, “So, now that I’ve learned I’m only half-human, how do I present my authentic self in a culture based on werewolves and furry jokes? A culture that doesn’t even acknowledge that people like me exist? And I don’t exactly feel comfortable with the Otherkin community either, because I tend to see them as emotionally othered, not genetically othered. What do I do with my lived experience as an actual part-phouka? And does my phouka blood enable me to know the true phouka experience, as I wasn’t raised as a phouka?”
And Tomma was saying things like, “Maybe that’s just internalized self-hatred, Aarrf, that you can’t see that many Otherkin folk might also be genetically othered? I mean, look how our culture treats animals! How would you expect it to treat people who are part supernatural animal? Denial, that’s what!”
Breadcrumb was expounding on examples of sexism in Harry Potter movies, “People make fun of Hermoine for actually working hard to get better at magic. What’s up with that?”
And Roz was saying, “Yeah, and what about all that ‘sexy witches on Halloween’ stuff? As if we can only be valuable, magically, if we’re also sexy according to the false standards of beauty foisted on us by a sexist capitalist economy! As if our only real magic is between our well-shaved legs!”
“And our well-shaved armpits,” yelled Maxine.
“Or in our well-shaved…uh, nevermind,” Tomma pretended to look embarrasssed.
The professor was giving Parsifal an earful about human perceptions of class conflicts between so-called high Elves and “lower” magical beings like brownies and gnomes. “For example, in War for the Oaks, the queens of both faery courts are consistantly overdressed, which is supposed to indicate their high status among the fey folk, however the humans equate this with snobbery and despise it.” (Parsifal just fondled his puffy buttons and didn’t say much.)
“Like Miz P?” Tomma asked.
Meanwhile Septimus was muttering, “Well, we do like to dress up you know! The magic garment industry is one of the most important in the Realm.”
The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits takes place in Hawai’i in a “not too distant” future. As I work my way through the second draft, it became obvious to me that I wanted that future to consist of a recently restored Hawaiian Kingdom, one that (within the context of my fantasy novel) is still in a state of initial transition, yet is firmly established as a international, political, plausible reality.
In other words, in the future described in my book, the United States and its military is in the process of removing itself as per agreements and treaties made with those who represent the new Kingdom government and its multi-ethnic subjects: Kanaka Maoli (“native Hawaiians”) and descendents of Hawaiian Nationals who were subjects of the Kingdom at the time of the theft and occupation of Queen Liliu’okalani’s government and kingdom (1893). (The Queen is pictured below.) Kingdom restoration is now a “done deal” (in the book) and everyone living in Hawai’i has to deal with it, one way or another, including the Hermits of Hermitville on Hawai’i Island.
Before I get into what this means for my work of fiction, please check out the reality. For historical background, political considerations, legal context, international status, and current affairs regarding the actual Hawaiian Kingdom, you can go to Hawaiian Kingdom Blog, particularly this entry: U.S. Commits “Acts of War” against the Hawaiian Kingdom (Jan. 17, 2018). My novel may be a fantasy, but there are good reasons for considering restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom as possible, plausible, and righteous, though it is not yet in a politically negotiated process with the U.S. (even if it should be).
Back to the book. Like everyone else who is not an actual descendent of a Kingdom citizen circa 1893, the Hermits of Hermitville have been living in Hawai’i as settler/colonists in a belligerently occupied nation (until the restoration of the Kingdom, of course). This status is at first unknown to them, as they’ve drunk the standard American “Hawai’i statehood” Kool-Aid. This is a status that Hermitville’s founder, winery heiress Ginger Croom, doesn’t understand either until she’s about ten years into her settlement on two, twenty-acre agricultural lots in the Puna District of Hawai’i Island. While she still doesn’t quite understand the land title issues, she does come to understand that a great wrong was done and she’d like to do something to give back to the community. Her way of making amends–or reparations–is to give over one of the twenty-acre lots to five Kanaka Maoli families who have direct ties to that land and she also establishes a building fund for them (in keeping with American philanthropic tradition). She keeps the remaining lot for the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective. Like most people who purchase real estate in Hawai’i, she believes in her fee simple ownership. As a wealthy person, she also still thinks of what she’s done as a “gift.”
This means that when Ginger writes her will (and this is important to the plot), she assumes she can transfer ownership of this remaining twenty-acre plot to whomever she chooses, in the first case, to her brother Sidley.
But Ginger and the rest of the Hermits never reckoned on the actual restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom in their lifetimes, and now the question is whether to ask to become naturalized citizens of the Kingdom–and if granted this and if permitted to stay, to renounce U.S. citizenship–or to return to the continental U.S. The Hermits, being a fairly progressive bunch, are strongly considering asking to stay, but they too don’t understand that even if they are granted citizenship, that the twenty-acre land base of Hermitville may very well be given back to its original owners, who are most likely Kanaka Maoli.
I asked a couple of my Kingdom activist friends for some guidance as to what might happen in a restored Kingdom government, regarding a will created by someone who is not a descendant of a Kingdom subject (on or before 1893) but who has made provisions for transferring ownership of Hawaiian land to an heir. One friend [a former lawyer–waiting for permission to use his name] talked about the initial seizure of much of Hawaiian land by (1) the U.S.-backed, so-called “provisional government” (an act of war) and (2) the later U.S. “territorial” government (there was no treaty of annexation, by the way), and (3) the “state” of Hawai’i. He said:
“There were raids on estates, the government, etc. I would EXPECT that these deceitful and fraudulent land transactions will be examined and evaluated AND, when good reason is found, that these deeds and/or other methods of conveyances will be reversed AND the lands returned to their rightful title owners, or if none can be found, to the valid konohiki of those lands OR, if not valid, to the government.”
Note: Wikipedia defines konohiki as “a headman of a land division or ahupua’a of the Kingdom of Hawaii who administered the land ruled by an ali’i chief.” This definition is in accordance with that found in the Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert (p. 166).
Lynette Cruz, Ph.D., Kupuna at Hawai’i Pacific University, commented, “Might have an issue with title transfers after 1893.” [Update: thank you, Lynette, for correcting my terminology – “subject” is the correct term, not “citizen.”]
In present day Hawai’i, complex discussions of the validity of land title after 1893, based on the Hague World Court of Arbitration’s affirmation of the continuing existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom (but not the government) as per Larsen Vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom, have featured in some cases of foreclosures and defective title.
Unknown to the Hermits, however, forces even more complex and mysterious than Hawai’i land title matters will soon force them into an even more complicated relationship to the question, “Should I stay or should I go?”
Oyster Olson is a resident of the fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective near Pahoa, Hawai’i Island. He is one of twelve “hermits” (musicians, artists, and oddballs) invited to live at the intentional community by the founder, winery heiress Ginger Croom. At the beginning of the book, Oyster has been a resident at the farm for about six years. And he’s probably the most introverted member of the community at that point.
Oyster didn’t start out in my mind as a main character in my work of fantasy fiction, but he, along with Tomma Bedlam and Babe Bump, have grown to become the three main human protagonists. Babe does most of the first person narration, but Oyster and Tomma also narrate chapters, and the friendship between the three is one of my major pleasures in writing this story.
At the start of the book, Oyster is shy, reserved, and somewhat unfocused–unless he’s playing music! In the second chapter, during the farm’s monthly “Community Emergency Response Training” (CERT) drill, Oyster has trouble remembering the meaning of the triage colors* (red, yellow, green) as Tomma, participating as a mock “disaster victim,” is carried to the medical tarp on a repurposed surfboard. Babe notices his distraction, but also takes note of his “swoony” brown eyes.
Oyster is a talented multi-instrumentalist. He plays blues harp (harmonica), synthesizer, keyboards, and even harpsichord, with The Incredible Unstrung Band (the farm band). While skilled on keyboards, his real joy is playing the blues on his harp. At one point in the book he’s delighted to find that Babe recognizes a Charlie Musselwhite tune that he’s playing (Sorcerer’s Dream). Babe, a neo-burlesque artiste, tells Oyster that she’s been a fan of Musselwhite since her teens, and that blues and burlesque go together like “poke and poi.”
Oyster is a transgender man. He’s been keeping this private at Hermitville for personal reasons, but eventually confides in Babe, who is very out as an intersex rights activist. (Tomma, a gender variant person with ze/zir pronouns, figured out Oyster’s secret on zir own, but discreetly never mentioned it.) One wonders why Oyster didn’t confide in Babe and Tomma before, but as I said earlier, the guy is shy!
Oyster’s growth in the book is a result of his growing friendship and intimacy with Babe and Tomma, along with his training in magical arts, and through the magical, multi-dimensional challenges and dangers they all face together.
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.
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!