Defining Magick (writing about witches part 2)

I’ve always liked to spell it ‘Magick’ it just seems more magical, doesn’t it?

Honestly, defining magic is troublesome. Once you define something it becomes limited.

Sir James George Frazer wrote probably my favorite treatise on this subject in The Golden Bough, and I can’t do that justice and won’t rehash it here. One of the many, many takeaways is that at one time science and magic were not separated, and religion and spirituality intermingled freely with them too. So that what we now call magic was then part of science, spirituality, and religion (and vice versa).

The differential was in the means by which a particular effect was invoked. For example, a spiritualist or religious leader may petition a god or some other being to heal someone, an alchemist would mix her elixir for the same purpose, an enchantress may wave her wand and recite ancient words to mend a wound, and a witch may do any combination of these things to produce the healing effect.

All of these means to an end were treated as prescriptions, as recipes, as processes – and records were kept detailing exactly how the desired outcome could be produced. Like scientists, the magic users experimented with different words, different spells, different ingredients, different prayers all the while meticulously recording the process and results. This is where the ancient tomes and spell-books come from.

Many experiments failed, but when they did not, it was magic. Nowadays we call a liquid that helps you heal quickly from an infection an “antibiotic” and we say that’s the biological sciences and medicine, but there was a time when amoxicillin would have been considered pure magic.

In writing about witches, I find myself fascinated not only by the process but also by the character of a person who would painstakingly test and record and fail and try again with her spells. A scientist-type. It came upon me that any witch I would write about would have to be a kind of ancient mastermind whose exterior self – personality, and physicality – was mostly a kind of social camouflage. These witches could not be frightening, decrepit creatures of the shadows (at least on the outside) and neither need they be alluring feminine mysteries. They needed to blend in. They needed to be normal; to be florists and teachers, veterinarians and therapists, neighbors and church-goers, awkward or gregarious, depressed or manic. Otherwise, they would not be left alone, trusted with homes and basements and garages and other convenient places to run their continuous chains of experimental projects. Otherwise, they would be hunted.

Indeed, I believe that if you would happen upon a true witch in the 21st century, this is the kind of person she would be: mostly ordinary, inquisitive, fiercely logical yet open-minded, capable of any profession, and brimming with the desire to practice and to experiment with magic.

The experimental and scientific nature of magic caught my imagination. It then became important for me to at least create a framework for the kind of magic I would be writing about. As I said, I didn’t want to limit anything by strictly defining it, yet I knew that without certain rules and boundaries, the magic wouldn’t seem real. Spells and incantations wouldn’t seem real unless they had a specific kind of language, certain symbols, and the spells had to reference “right” seeming ingredients or call upon the correct spirits.

In essence, the framework I found for magic in my writing consists of two major guidelines. 1. Magic must have its own language and symbol lexicon that consists of ancient, dead tongues and 2. There must be a process associated with the incantations. When a witch simply opens her hand and a flame appears, that is one thing – but when a witch plucks a firefly from the air, spits on it, and whispers, “Vystrelit Eya” and a yellow green flame bursts from the insect and floats, twisting above her palm – that is another.

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INTERVIEW: Jamie Clay, author

In case you haven’t heard, a group of writers (including me) were recently published in a book of short stories called Murder They Wrote – available here!

All of us were anxious to see the publication, but two of us were tweeting about it. That’s how I met author Jamie Clay. You too can follow her on Twitter @mystcwind

Clay’s story “Murdered on a Midnight Train” accomplishes in a few dozen pages the intensity, depth, and twists of a full-length novel. You just have to to read it. I was graced with an interview with the new author.  Here’s how it went |

JK – When did you first know you wanted to write? What or who first inspired you to write?
Jamie Clay – I think that I have always written since I learned how to form sentences! One of my earliest school memories is from Ms. Belle’s class in 3rd grade. We had an author/poet come to the class and talk to us. I was captivated by her. Before she left she had everyone in the class do a writing exercise. While everyone moaned about the project I was excited and took it seriously. Ms. Belle later told my mom how creative I was, how well written my story was for someone so young and that I would be a writer when I “grew up.” So I would say that my inspiration has always come and still does come from the people who believe in me.

JK – Who are your top three writers or influences?

JC – My answer may surprise you! My favorite band of all time, is “The Cure.” The lead singer Robert Smith has written all of their songs. He is brilliant. I call him a literary genius. There is so much shock value to what he says, and it flows perfectly. I truly believe that I have formed this same writing style. Of course there is also Edgar Allan Poe, who as far I know I have read every piece that he has ever written. It always bothered me that the greatest artistic minds were unheard of until posthumously. Anne Rice is another huge influence on me. She took horror and made it beautiful.

JK – Your characters are very real. What kind of character work or research do you do?

JC – I usually just go for it! I will typically come up with a title first though, no matter what I am writing. The story develops itself. I have to connect with my characters. I have to see their past and feel what they are feeling, never exactly knowing what the future holds for them. In the case of this story, I had an entirely different concept going into it, almost a different story. But, I didn’t spend enough time with my main character and I didn’t truly know her, so to me the story was garbage. Only after I connected with her through another character did I understand her and the story became what it is. This was a factual based story in many ways so I did do research, even down to the weather on one particular day! I actually don’t like to do research online though. I prefer books for knowledge.

JK – Excluding horror, what’s your favorite genre?

JC – This question continues my answer from the last, I love non-fiction! Mythology, witchcraft, organized crime, religion, biographies of Kings and Queens. I suppose anything with a cult like following. I learn so much and retain the information so well that I apply what I learn to my lifestyle. I don’t believe in boring conversation, and if you are well read it really helps with socializing. History is astounding, the writers of the past have in every way influenced today’s way of thinking.

JK – What project are you working on? What’s next for Jamie Clay?

JC – I always have multiple pieces in the works. Now that I am brave enough to put myself out there this is just the beginning for me! I have a novel that I have been working on since I was 16. So fifteen years later it has grew with me and became such a part of me that for awhile I almost forgot to try and publish it. It is a Vampire story but also so much deeper than that. You must remember though that I started this before the Vampire craze ever existed and they have been changed so much that my story literally takes you back to Vampire roots in more ways than one. So my hope and dream is to get it out there. Along with other stories and poems I have written and still continue to write, both large and small. Writing is it for me. I have done many other things but nothing is as fulfilling as seeing your name in print.

JK -Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer these questions! Looking forward to your next project!



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