The Author's Corner
The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft
The Element Encyclopedia of
Earth Mother Magic
The Element Encyclopedia
TWPT: Having wandered around your website you seem to be a person of many interests. Tell me a little about your interest and your involvement with the occult and the metaphysical aspects of life. What was it that first sparked your interest in these fields of study?
JI: That's a very good question, what first sparked my interest, one I ask myself sometimes. Honestly, I donít know the answer, other than I was exposed to metaphysics and the occult very early, as a young child and my immediate response was passion, love and a recognition that this was something I wanted to pursue.
I have an
older sister who brought home a deck of tarot cards one day and I, of course,
like any little sister, wanted to see what new thing my older sister now
possessed. As the song goes, just one look, that's all it took: it was
passionate love at first sight, a very visceral response. I knew, at first sight, that those cards were
meant for me and I just took them from her. She was generous and perceptive
enough to let me have them. My sister attended art college near the old Samuel
Weiser's metaphysical bookstore in
That passion and fascination I felt on first seeing that first deck of tarot cards still remains. So, you know, the bigger question becomes why do any of us fall in love with whomever or whatever we fall in love with? What made a six-year old react so intensely to a deck of cards? And you have to appreciate that the first deck I ever saw was not the brightly colored Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, which presumably might attract any child but the more formidable and very esoteric B.O.T.A. (Builders of the Adytum) deck. Children often display passions very early, whether towards the occult or spirituality, music, art, dance, science or whatever and too often these interests are squelched or discouraged, leading to all sorts of problems, not least being self-doubt. I was very lucky in that, although no one, with the exception of my sister, really encouraged me, no one ever really discouraged me either. No one tried to make me feel sinful or misguided because of my interests, which is what happens to so many children who demonstrate magical or metaphysical gifts and aptitudes. My interests were tolerated and I was left alone to pursue my path.
TWPT: How would you describe your current spiritual path and how has that evolved since you first started to explore your spirituality on a personal level?
JI: I am the sum and result of all my influences and a pretty diverse bunch of influences they are. Some of those influences are ancestral. Some derive from people who've influenced me or from books that have had a profound influence on me and also from my own personal experiences, direct personal experience of the sacred. I went looking for some of those influences but some of them found me.
I come from an eclectic background and I've always lived in extremely ethnically and spiritually diverse places and so was exposed to lots of teachers from a vast variety of traditions. In my own life, I'm the crossroads where all those influences meet and so it's an ever-evolving journey to see where these influences and experiences transport me. I strive to integrate my various experiences and influences into a cohesive path that works for me. It's an on-going, active process.
I have a very independent, individualistic nature and my spiritual path reflects that. Like many urban practitioners, I don't hew to one official school of spirituality, religion or metaphysics. I can't speak for anyone else but speaking only for myself, I really hate labels, they make me feel boxed in. I have a pretty international family with strong nomadic tendencies. I have family living all over, speaking different languages and not all subscribing to the same spiritual path or religion so I learned fairly young to respect other people's differences, to trust people to make their own spiritual decisions and to find our commonality, our common denominators, rather than concentrating on our differences.
I think, in
terms of recently published metaphysical authors, I'm somewhat of an anomaly:
my strongest spiritual,ancestral and magical influences are not from Western or
Divination was what first attracted me but over the years, what has been most profoundly spiritually meaningful and satisfying for me involves direct personal communication between people and spirits. If you want to name that process, you could call it spirit-working or shamanic witchcraft or shamanic spirituality.
TWPT: For many writers it starts with journal keeping, creative writing classes or just making up stories to keep yourself and your friends entertained. When was it was that writing became something special to you and what channels did that writing find to express itself?
JI: Okay, I have to confess: I love reading: books, cards, you name it. I love researching. I could do that endlessly and if I didn't have publication deadlines, I probably would. Researching is a journey of discovery and an act of spirituality for me. The spirits will guide and direct you if you let them. Frankly I donít love writing. Writing is what I know how to do, it's my skill. Some people have a natural aptitude for athletics or music. Writing is my natural aptitude.
The act of writing is work for me, not pleasure or fun. I do keep dream diaries and other journals but, for every single entry, I have to force myself to pick up the pen. I'd much rather read than write. I'm a compulsive reader: I don't only read metaphysical or spiritual works, although I do read alot of those. I also love William Faulkner, Robertson Davies and Tennessee Williams. I love mysteries and noir novels. I read comic books and graphic novels as well as lots of history, travel and cook books. I read books about music and film. Because I love to read and I read alot, I appreciate and value fine writing and so I work hard at providing a pleasurable experience for my readers. I have a high standard of what constitutes good writing. Magic, witchcraft, history, metaphysics: these are all innately fascinating topics and I'm always frustrated by books that are so dry and dense that these topics are rendered boring and lifeless. The writer should do the work, not the reader: it's very important to me that my work is accessible and entertaining, as well as informative and thought provoking. I've also worked as a teacher and educator both in classrooms and in correspondence situations and I'm conscious that writing is a form of teaching. I try not to be boring when I teach in a classroom and I try not to be boring when I write and hopefully I accomplish those goals. I work to express difficult and esoteric concepts in such a way that the reader can understand it, rather than emerge from the book confused and frustrated.
Among the cosmic ironies of life is that I write these huge books because I really donít enjoy the writing process. Writing The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells and The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft means that I wrote virtually non-stop for about three years but the size of those books is more of a testament to my love of research and my spiritual obligations to the information in the books than to any pleasure in the writing process itself. I do enjoy sharing fascinating, crucial and endangered information. I write in order to preserve and transmit information. I write to entertain and to serve as a tour guide to a realm that never ceases to fascinate and interest me. I'm very aware that I'm part of a community that historically hasn't been able to tell its own stories, that much of the information that I'm privileged to share has often in the past been written down by authors who are either inherently unsympathetic to the topic or maybe don't really understand it. I may not love the process of writing but I am passionate about what I write about. I feel an obligation to the community I represent, to those who came before me and weren't able to tell their own stories and to the information itself. I also write because I come from a tradition where telling stories and transmitting information is a sacred process, a magical conduit to the divine and because you can reach more people and preserve more information via books than orally. But if I have a day off, believe me, it's spent reading, not writing.
TWPT: What are your feelings about the old knowledge about the Craft and things occult that seems to be fading away and being replaced by the new ideas? Do you think that this old knowledge should somehow be preserved and passed down to the next generation or is it inevitable that new ideas will always replace the old ideas?
JI: Any living tradition can't remain static if it seeks to remain vital and relevant and so by necessity, there's always an evolutionary process, the new building on the old or evolving from the old to suit modern times.
That said, complaints about old knowledge fading away need to be placed in perspective. For more than two-thousand years, the history of the occult, witchcraft and Pagan spirituality in general has all too often been the story of the ruthless mass destruction of knowledge, wisdom and sacred traditions as well as simultaneous desperate attempts by a small group of dedicated people to preserve, transmit and revive that knowledge. Tremendous amounts of information and knowledge have been lost over the centuries: Augustus Caesar burned thousands of irreplaceable magical texts. The early Christian Church destroyed so many Pagan traditions. For centuries, during the Burning Times, there was a concerted attempt to exterminate magical practitioners and eradicate magical knowledge along with all traces of Pagan spirituality. My book, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, unfortunately, has a whole section devoted to what I call Libraries of the Lost, listing and describing all sorts of books that we can't read, because it was decided to eradicate all traces of those books. There are entire schools of herbalism, healing and botanical wisdom that are most probably gone forever. So comparatively speaking, the last forty or so years in the West and continuing into the present, have been paradise for metaphysicians, occultists, witches and those following a Pagan path. We live in a magical renaissance, even as we speak. The fact that my books and so many others are published and readily accessible, the fact that we're even having this discussion openly and in public, is testament to that renaissance.
There are brilliant people active today: astrologers, diviners, rune-casters, healers, mediums and occult philosophers who have the freedom to practice openly and to exchange ideas with each other. What's published isn't necessarily entirely representative of today's metaphysical community. Alot of the most brilliant people aren't necessarily writing books but they are out there practicing. Whether you're aware of these practitioners may have alot to do with what circles one travels in. The fact that there are so many circles is a demonstration of the current strength of the metaphysical community. In the modern, greater witchcraft community, there are circles devoted to magical practice and not to any organized spirituality, circles devoted to spirituality but not to magic and lots of circles that combine the two in various ways. I think sometimes people are frustrated by the circle in which they find themselves and aren't aware of how many paths are currently available but if you think about it, that's actually a wonderful thing: that there are so many of us that all of these different paths exist. Despite this magical renaissance, we still live in fundamentalist times and we need to be vigilant about our rights. There's power and freedom for Pagans and for magical practitioners in unity, rather than in dissension.
In the last several decades in the West, there has been a powerful movement devoted to reclaiming and preserving our magical and spiritual heritage and trying to fill in those gaps caused by centuries of destruction. I don't think new ideas will replace old ones but will hopefully join them.
in Western, industrialized nations. In other parts of Earth, right now, magical
knowledge and Pagan spiritual traditions remain under siege. Throughout Asia,
Africa and the
TWPT: With a massive volume such as The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft where was it that you began this project and how did you wrap your mind around the scope of the work to keep in mind what you wanted to accomplish with the completion of the work?
JI: I fell in love with witchcraft even before I encountered tarot cards. In essence, thatís when my witchcraft encyclopedia was born because thatís when I started accumulating information and actively thinking about witches and the different facets of witchcraft. The main thing I wanted to accomplish was to share that love and respect for my subject with readers. My two most recently books have been encyclopedias, reference books: I'm very aware that I'm not just writing about my own personal experiences, beliefs and preferences or writing for one narrow audience. I have to serve a broad and diverse audience who have different needs, interests, backgrounds and levels of expertise. In my experience, witchcraft and magic spells fascinate everyone, not just other witches, Pagans and practitioners so I have to be able to serve the needs of a very diverse audience. But there's also an incredible amount of misinformation out there and I felt very privileged to be able to set some records straight and maybe salvage some reputations.
was initially scheduled to be a 450 page book. Neither the publisher nor I had
done the basic math during the planning stages: how many spells can you fit per
page? It very quickly became clear that 450 pages was never going to be
sufficient. That book was a harrowing experience to write and to produce, both
for myself and for the production staff in
How did I wrap my mind around the scope of the work? Other than my children who are very patient with me, it was the only thing on my mind. I didn't do anything else. I stopped talking to people, I didn't do readings, stopped teaching classes, stopped answering my phone. I literally stayed up days and nights writing non-stop until I couldn't stay awake any longer. Then as soon as I woke up, I'd go back to working on the book.
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft was easier if only because the Element staff and I had already done 5000 Spells together. We began the Witchcraft project with our eyes open, anticipating the process whereas 5000 Spells was very experimental and unknown territory. Also, the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft was written in fairly linear fashion, which was very much not the case with 5000 Spells, which was put together like a patchwork quilt.
TWPT: Iím sure that Iím not making a very large leap to assume that the research for a book like this has to be a huge undertaking in and of itself. Did you have a plan for attaching the research associated with this book in a systematic way so that you could stay on your predetermined schedule?
JI: Predetermined schedule? What predetermined schedule? Luckily, Iím an insomniac! Basically I worked day and night, non-stop.
I'm not complaining. Iím a very lucky person: I love what I write about. There is almost nothing I'd rather do than research these topics. I came into these projects, having already accomplished alot of the research. When, years ago, I first began studying, researching and exploring these topics, I did it for myself, not because I ever thought I'd turn the material into a book. I read grimoires, collected spells, watched movies and read novels featuring witches and studied the history of witchcraft for myself, because it interested me. I did not deliberately set out to be a metaphysical author: I have a huge storehouse of fertility-oriented information that I sought to get published years ago because I know that that information would be valuable to many people. Greg Brandenburgh who was then at Element Books saw that manuscript, which included a chapter of magic spells and rejected it but asked me to write Earth Mother Magic for him and that started me on this path.
TWPT: With a task like this before you I would think that you might feel like a director who had 50 hours of raw movie footage in the can and had to cut it down to 2 hours to make the movie. Given the scope of the material that is available out there how did you handle the difficult task of deciding what stays and what goes when it came down to the final edit of the book?
JI: That analogy is much more accurate than you realize. Even though my books are really big, there's still always a finite number of pages to cover what are genuinely limitless topics. There's so much more I wanted to include if only we had more space. I would write second volumes of both my encyclopedias in a minute, given the time and opportunity.
When writing the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, I was conscious from the start that some material had to be included because of historical importance. You can't call a book an encyclopedia of witchcraft and not include material about Gerald Gardner or the historic persecution of witches. You can't omit the Salem Witch Trials or Aleister Crowley no matter how many other books discuss them. However, there was also information that I felt was crucial to include precisely because in the past it's been too often excluded: I wanted to include information on the unsung heroes of witchcraft, people of tremendous significance yet who remain largely unknown like Pascal Beverly Randolph, Franz Bardon or Cecil Williamson. It was also very important for me not to merely replicate information that is easily available in other books, other encyclopedias of witchcraft. People who are interested in metaphysics tend to be avid book-buyers, often on a limited budget. I know how frustrating it is to buy a book that merely reproduces information that's already in a bunch of other books and doesn't offer anything new. So I wanted to take a fresh approach and present some fresh material as well as the information without which an encyclopedia of witchcraft isn't complete.
Because of the deadlines involved, the publication schedule, there were things that I really wanted to include but couldn't. For instance I originally planned to include entries dedicated to a host of modern practitioners and witches. But who knows? Maybe that will be another book.
So there's an editing or elimination process that begins before you start writing. In your mind, as an author, you're already sifting what you can include from what may have to be saved for another project. However, in the case of my most recent book, there was a secondary elimination process after the manuscript had already been completed. The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft was originally scheduled to be around 1200 pages but just before final submission of the last pages of the manuscript, the publisher determined, for cost-cutting reasons, not for reasons of content, that the book had to be shorter. It could not be more than 800-some pages including a lengthy bibliography and very necessary but lengthy index. So it was exactly like editing a three hour film into a two hour one. Had I known earlier, I would have written shorter entries but because of scheduling it was impossible to go back and re-write. The production manager and I literally went through every line of the book trying to minimize the cuts as much as we could, weighing what was possible to remove without destroying the integrity of the book versus what we felt absolutely had to stay. One thing that was very gratifying for me as an author was that because the production staff had been involved with my manuscript as it was being written, they had become attached to the material as well. I wasn't the only one with an emotional involvement with it. So there was alot of discussion about what we could best afford to cut. For instance, I was ready to lose the entry on Virgil but people on the staff felt so strongly that it should stay, that it ended up remaining in the book.
Someone complained to me that there wasn't an entry for the movie, Practical Magic. Well, originally there was but that was one of the entries that ended up on the cutting room floor as well as entries for Hocus Pocus and several other Disney films. That decision was made because it's fairly easy to find information about those films, they're included in other witchcraft encyclopedias versus some of the other films in my book where it's difficult to obtain information about them, especially from a witchcraft standpoint. But every one of those cuts was painful to make.
TWPT: Another area of interest that you speak about in your bio is aromatherapy. Is this an underrated area of study in your opinion and why should folks spend more time learning this skill? What was it that drew you to this field of study and motivated you to spend over a decade studying it and earning a certificate?
JI: In the
I fell in love with essential oils the same way I fell in love with tarot cards: love at first sight. In general, I have a real fondness for small potions. I'm drawn to little bottles. I really enjoy working with flower essence remedies and condition oils, too. (I make my own condition oils using essential oils.) As for what drew me to essential oils, in particular, I first encountered them in the 1980's. I read about them somewhere, I can't remember exactly where but I have a real occultist's brain: I'm always curious, always trying to learn something more. I first began exploring essential oils purely for my own pleasure: I loved them and so I kept studying. I saw for myself how effective they are: I had some minor scars that were completely removed through the use of essential oil of frankincense.
Northridge Earthquake in
TWPT: Lets talk a little bit more about the process of researching the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. For those readers out there who might be inspired by your book to delve even deeper into the sources that served as the basis for your Encyclopedia how hard would it be for them to follow in your footsteps in regards to researching the material themselves? I guess the question is what resources exist out on the net or in local libraries around the country that will allow the curious to seek out the information?
JI: There is alot of information available on the net and the net is also invaluable as a source to meet other scholars, researchers, practitioners and students. It's sort of a big salon where you can meet all these wonderful, accomplished, fascinating people. In my experience, people with specialized interests tend to be happy to meet others with similar interests so don't be afraid to contact someone who may have information that you seek or who may be able to point you in the right direction.
Unfortunately, many public libraries still refrain from
carrying books that deal with the occult, metaphysics, witchcraft and
Neo-Paganism, especially in any kind of serious way, although happily this is
starting to change. In some cases, although obviously not all, this policy is
not based on any serious philosophical
issues but is merely force of habit. These aren't the kind of books they've
ordered in the past, so they're simply not thinking along those lines.
Personally I rely on libraries alot, especially for older, out of print books
but I've always been lucky to live in areas with well-funded libraries and very
open-minded librarians. If there are specific books that you want and can't
find or afford, it may be helpful to request that the local library obtain them
for you. Often the library is simply unaware of serious interest in these
topics and will be happy to accommodate once they're made aware, especially if
they receive requests from more than one person.
The crucial point that I was taught when I was learning how to research is never to rely on only one source. This can be very difficult when you're studying witchcraft or those spiritual traditions that have been persecuted for so long and which have only survived through the secrecy and discretion of their practitioners. You'll find alot of information is encoded or inferred and you have to learn how to interpret what's been written, to really think about what you're reading, to read between the lines and sometimes to read with a grain of salt. For instance, I read alot of old anthropology books from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In many cases, these are the only surviving descriptions of certain practices so they're valuable but they're also typically written by authors who lacked respect for their subject, who were writing about magical and spiritual traditions from a position of contempt and prejudice. So as you're reading these books, trying to understand the practices that are being described, you have to be constantly aware of the author's bias.
It's also really crucial to realize that not everything is written down. Not everything can be learned from books. It's only in recent years that much of this information has been published. Most of it was passed down orally or traded back and forth between people and was and is constantly evolving. It's not just history, these are living, vital traditions. There's still lots of stuff that, at least at present, can only be learned directly from other human beings. Alot of the research that went into 5000 Spells in particular didn't come from books but directly from other practitioners.
My advice really is to read everything that you can get your
hands on and talk with anyone available to you. Whether or not you agree with
everything you read or hear because the issue isn't necessarily finding
information that confirms what you already know but finding information that
broadens your horizons and furthers your path. Sometimes it's beneficial to
read something that you disagree with if only because that helps put your own
vision and beliefs in sharper focus and perspective.
TWPT: Was there a certain percentage of the information contained in the Encyclopedia that came from your own experiences or your personal collection of books or information?
JI: Is it easier or harder to take your own experiences and integrate them into a project like the Encyclopedia? Well you really can't help it. You bring yourself to the project. Every author brings their own background, their experiences, education and sympathies to their work. That's something I address very directly in the introduction to the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. An author always has certain sympathies whether or not these are acknowledged openly. My books are written from my perspective as a life-long magical practitioner. I'm not ambivalent towards witchcraft or spellcasting; instead I have tremendous love, respect and affection for witchcraft and spellcasting in general and also for the cultures, traditions and individuals that produce and nurture these practices. I do my best to write neutrally and open-mindedly but I do have deep residual anger against those who have persecuted and suppressed magical practices and practitioners over the ages. So that's my bias.
The seed for 5000 Spells came from my pursuit of fertility lore. I have a huge collection of information regarding traditional approaches to enhancing fertility and healing infertility that I have now been collecting for over fifteen years. Initially I was very single-minded in my approach,only looking for information about that specific topic. But I kept coming across really interesting information regarding other topics and after a while I just started saving whatever interested me. I just thought it was rare, valuable information and shouldn't be discarded or forgotten. I began collecting Maria Padilha spells at that time, for instance, whether or not those specific spells were relevant to my own personal life. Or I'd write down things that people taught me even if it wasn't relevant to me personally on the off-chance that someday I'd need it or that maybe someday it would be useful to someone I knew. That turned out to be true because that was the personal data base with which I began 5000 Spells. And I am a pack-rat by nature. I find it very difficult to discard anything, information as well as physical items. I think I still have every postcard that anyone's ever sent me.
I realized, as I was writing them, that those encyclopedias had to, by definition because they're encyclopedias, encompass more than just my personal preferences. So the researching aspect is a learning experience for me, too: I was learning and expanding my own horizons as I was writing. I hardly ever watch television for instance. I had never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer before embarking on the Witchcraft Encyclopedia but I knew that once we were discussing images of witches on television that I would have to sit down and watch it because it's significant to the subject.
My goal was really to share and preserve information rather than to integrate my own personal experiences into the work. But the very first filter the information had to pass through was whether I thought it was interesting so that's my personal influence. By necessity you have to choose which details to emphasize or present, if only because the information is endless but space is limited. One of my goals when discussing the various historically significant magical practitioners was to bring them to life for readers, to emphasize that these often mythic figures like Cagliostro, Blavatsky or Edward Kelley were really living, breathing individuals, to give a sense of who they were as real people because they're so often sensationalized so I tried to emphasize details that would help accomplish that goal. So I included John Dee's vision of how a perfect day would be spent and details regarding Helena Blavatsky and Dr. John's financial travails and Aleister Crowley's childhood religious experiences because those are details that help us understand them as actual people, not merely as legends.
JI: That's such a tough question to answer. To paraphrase what Louis Armstrong said about jazz, once you have to explain it to someone, they won't get it, you know? That quest for knowledge is just a driving force; some of us were just bitten by that bug! Who knows exactly why? It's very hard to describe the experience without resorting to what sounds like really cliched, fuzzy New-Age type language. Exactly as you say, pursuit of wisdom and knowledge provides a thrill. That's it in a nutshell.
Ultimately, pursuit of metaphysical wisdom is a pursuit of ecstasy. The more you search, the more you find. The searching process is simultaneously a method of plugging into the sacred. The ancient Greeks used to describe it as "coming into your power." The more knowledge you accumulate, the more connections that you make, the more powerful you become as an individual and the more you appreciate the beauties and mysteries of Earth and all her inhabitants and mysteries. So ideally you improve with age rather than deteriorate. Ideally life is constantly becoming more interesting and stimulating. And there's always a mystery to explore. You never run out.
There's a shamanic quality to this pursuit of knowledge. Because what's that other old saying? That which you are pursuing is causing you to pursue. Are you seeking it or is it seeking you? The knowledge you seek tends to show up at significant moments. That pursuit of knowledge could also be understood as a dialogue with the spirits: they provide clues and information to set you on a path.
Plus this pursuit of wisdom and knowledge bestows really priceless gifts. You eventually develop a way of experiencing and appreciating the world around you. It's a very stimulating, joyful way to live. Everything around you is vibrant with life: it's a very exhilarating, ecstatic, spiritually and sensually rewarding existence. I think this is revealed in the youthful nature of so many magical practitioners. Boredom is banished and there's a real sense of being connected to all these mysteries and powers.
TWPT: As an author and as a follower of an alternative
spiritual path what kinds of advantages do you feel you have by having been
born and raised in a city like
JI: Ready access to other practitioners and to metaphysical bookstores, which I know was not the case elsewhere. At a time when mainstream bookstores would not carry a metaphysical book, when people had to mail-order books that arrived in plain brown paper wrappers, in those pre-Amazon.com days, those of us in New York could just walk into Samuel Weiser's bookstore and find whatever we were looking for.
I remember walking into Herman Slater's Magickal Childe and it was like entering a magickal world. There was a community waiting behind the doors of these stores and it was a very warm, welcoming, sharing community. Urban magical communities tend to be very tolerant and to expect everyone to bring something to the table. So from the start, even as a kid, I understood that I had something to share with others, just as they had something to share with me. You also have the opportunity to meet and learn from a wide variety of people with very diverse experiences and knowledge. And because of the vastness,the sheer number of people and traditions, different paths have the opportunity to reach you because sometimes you pick the path but sometimes the path picks you.
People of all kinds of orientations have traditionally run away to big cities seeking tolerance and hoping to find communities of like-minded individuals. This is as true of magical practitioners and spiritual seekers as it is of anyone else.
I spent alot of my adolescence and early adulthood just
hanging out in local botanicas, which are Latin American herbal/spiritual/
magical supply stores. In
TWPT: You talked about your beginning with the tarot cards earlier in this interview but what role have the cards played in your life since that discovery as a child?
JI: They bring me joy virtually every day. Something as simple as a deck of cards can serve as a direct conduit to the sacred anytime you feel the need or desire for it. Tarot cards are particularly versatile: beyond divination, you can meditate with them, use them as a tool for visualizations, dream incubations and spells. The whole divination process is incredibly fascinating, especially, I think, if you read for other people. Even though you are focused on the other person, even though they've been choosing the cards, not you, inevitably there is something in the reading that is simultaneously beneficial for the reader, too. That's the little bonus you get as a reader. Also on a very personal level, it took me a long time before I felt confident in my ability to read cards well enough to read for other people. It was something I really worked at for a long time and so when I finally felt that I had achieved a mastery, that gave me a tremendous sense of self-esteem, so that was another gift from the cards.
TWPT: Do you feel like your pursuit of a wide range of occult and metaphysical wisdom has given you a broader perspective of your path and how it fits within the framework of other paths and beliefs?
JI: As you assimilate more and more information on these various disciplines do you start to see patterns emerge that move from one path to the other? Absolutely. Particularly if you're interested in spirit-working, in communications between people and spirits, what you learn is that there is such commonality between all the traditions and cultures that describe these experiences and techniques. What fascinates me is that real primal, bottom-line mystical experience that's shared by humans everywhere.
Writing 5000 Spells was particularly educational for me. Because although the spells came from all over, from lots of different sources, I had to reformat almost all of them so that they would be written in a clear, simple, consistent, instructional fashion. For those who aren't familiar with that book, it's written in the style of a cookbook. Most of the spells in that book are broken down into numbered steps, similar to the way a cookbook presents recipes. I wrote out each of those spells, breaking them down into steps, all day, every day for months, spell after spell after spell. Although the spells derive from many sources, traditions and eras, eventually, when you examine them like this, you begin to perceive and appreciate underlying rhythms and patterns and you gain a better understanding of the whole process of spell-casting. I developed a real sense of the inner-workings of spell-casting and also spell-creating, the nuts and bolts of it.
With the Witchcraft Encyclopedia, the more research I did, the more certain common themes became apparent. Certain motifs like hair and horns are entwined with the mythology of witchcraft fairly universally. Issues like how comfortable a culture is with women expressing anger also consistently appear.
TWPT: We have established that writing is your skill but not a love for you, was it any more difficult writing your first two books than the Encyclopedias simply because the process was unfamiliar to you at the time?
if only because they're so much smaller. You know, I don't love the process of
writing but I do love books very passionately, especially magical books. I felt very blessed to be given the opportunity
to write Earth Mother Magic, my first published book. I had not initially set
out to write a book on witchcraft and spellcasting. I have a large manuscript
devoted to traditional approaches to boosting and healing fertility, which
includes a chapter on magical spells devoted to that topic. Greg Brandenburgh,
who was then the publisher at the original Element Books saw that manuscript,
liked that chapter and asked if I'd write a more general book devoted to
witchcraft for Element. I felt very honored and privileged to be able to pay
tribute to the traditions, techniques and spirits that I loved and that had
sustained me. There's alot of myself in that book, probably more than in any of
the other books: my love of botanicals, oils, blues music and the city of
Books went bankrupt just before Earth Mother Magic was published and there was
a point where I wasn't sure whether it would ever see the light of day. So I
was very happy when it was finally published and delighted when I was asked to
write Emergency Magic! That's a really little book: from the start, the
publisher envisioned it as a very small, lean book. At the beginning, it wasn't
tied so closely to the concept of those worst-case scenario books, that came
later with the design aspect, I wasn't involved with that aspect. I had just
moved back to the East Coast after more than a decade in southern
TWPT: Tell me about the topics that you chose to write on for those first two books and why it was that you decided to write about them?
JI: When I was first asked to write Earth Mother Magic, one of my initial thoughts was, who really needs another book about magic, there are already so many. So I had to think about what I could write that would be unique, that wouldn't just reproduce what was already available. So my goal became to write a book that would explore different facets of magic and that would enable a reader to actually put the material into practice by the time they finished the book. A real hands-on, how-to book; a non-judgemental book that would explain what to do and how to do it, rather than what to believe. A book that would be written in plain English, so that complex concepts could be readily understood by someone with little experience. Because in a classroom situation, you can ask questions, you can ask the instructor to clarify their language but as a reader you can't do that with a book.
A book that would express the realities of being a spellcaster. Because so many of the books that I had been reading at that time, although I'm sure these were very beneficial books for someone, didn't reflect the reality that I was familiar with as a modern, urban practitioner. I had become very frustrated with what I had been reading: things with a real consumerist focus, that emphasized what you had to buy, what you had to wear or how you had to decorate your space and were very, very adamant and specific. If you didn't do it this way, then you were doing it wrong. And you know, beyond anything else, I was a broke single mother. I was struggling to pay for food and shelter-- I couldn't afford half the stuff these books told me was required. I didn't have the privacy or space they claimed I had to have. And when I first started as a teenager, I had had even less funds and privacy!
I kept thinking that if I had read these books when I was first beginning, maybe I would have been discouraged and never have pursued my interests. Luckily I knew my reality wasn't unique: most of the other practitioners I knew were also financially challenged. They didn't have unlimited budgets, they lived in tiny, cramped apartments. But they were living their magic, as was I, on a daily basis, regardless of these obstacles and I thought that this experience and perspective was something that I could express in my book, that would be valuable to other people, that would encourage readers to experience the joys of magic, rather than be frustrated and discouraged.
Almost all of what I've learned about hands-on spellcasting, I've learned directly from other people: how to dress candles, how to build an altar, how to feed the spirits and so forth. But I realize that that's a privilege that not everyone has. More and more people are practicing solitary by necessity and are trying to learn from books, which can be a very frustrating experience. And you have to appreciate that I'm not only a writer, I'm a teacher. Over the years, I've taught all kinds of topics to both adults and children. I teach spellcasting and aromatherapy but I've also worked as a math tutor. So I understand that whole teaching process. My goal with Earth Mother Magic was to provide a complete instructional course, from basic theory to mechanics to a source guide telling you where one might find ingredients. And also not least to share and expose what I loved.
Emergency Magic! was written after I had emerged from a real period of desperation and crisis. Earth Mother Magic was written during the tail end of that period but by Emergency Magic! I had enough distance to develop some perspective. There were a few years where I may as well have been living in a soap opera, just disaster after disaster. But those emergency-packed years were what really transformed me into an experienced, skilled spellcaster. Because magical spells are intended to help you take control of your destiny, to help you protect yourself and those you love and to help you avert disaster. And that had very much been my personal experience and so I wanted to share what I had learned: the key to magical success isn't the emergencies themselves but the intense focus that they evoke in the practitioner. Ideally you want to summon up that focus without having to wait for a crisis, to be pro-active rather than merely reactive. I was also working very intensely with condition oils , really researching formulas and so that was a primary focus of that book as well. Those formulas can be incredibly hard to find and in some ways the formulary in Emergency Magic! was the most important part of that book for me. And that little formulary eventually expanded into the larger one in 5000 Spells.
There have been many definitions of magic(k) over the years so I am curious as to what your working definition of magic was in regards to your books Earth Mother Magic and Emergency Magic! How does magic integrate into a personís day to day life and do you think that is the case for the majority of the followers of this path?
I know that I integrate magic into every aspect of my life as do the people who taught me and those who I personally work with and those whose practices I'm familiar with. Because magic isn't about the individual spell, it's about a way of approaching, understanding and looking at the world. It's a way of living in the world. I strongly believe that if there were more practitioners, for example, we'd have better environmental policies because magic teaches you to value and preserve all forms of life, botanical as well as animal. Because everything has a power of its own and all our powers are interconnected and interdependent. But that's an awareness that emerges with extensive magical practice.
Here's a not uncommon scenario: many people are fascinated by magic and so they dabble: they practice a little divination, they cast a spell here or there. But then something happens: they have a genuine mystical experience, a needed spell actually works, there's clear communication from some sort of spirit and so then there's that profound eye-opening moment of epiphany. The person realizes that this isn't made-up, there's really something there, it isn't just playing. Now some people get scared at that point, they withdraw or refuse to believe in their own experiences but for many others that's the starting point: the moment where you realize that Earth is just full of all these powers and mysteries that are willing and able to interact with you. You also begin to discover and explore the magic within yourself, your own personal magic power and so magic begins to become integrated into who you are rather than what you do. And in general, I must emphasize, despite propaganda otherwise that originates amongst those opposed to both independent magical practitioners and magic-friendly Pagan traditions, most magical practice is very positive and beneficial. Historically, magical practitioners have been persecuted; they're not the evil-doers and that's still true today.
Now there are alot of definitions circulating and many different philosophies. It's my policy not to argue about beliefs. As I understand it, as I was taught and in my practical experience, magic involves the awareness and manipulation of various natural Earthly energies. Everything that occurs naturally in our universe radiates some sort of energy, including words and language. These energies interact in different ways. People have been studying, analyzing and experimenting with these energies ever since people have existed. A magic spell is an attempt to harness these energies for the spellcaster's benefit. The type of magic that personally interests me most is very primal folk magic, the type of magic that cuts across other human boundaries but is understood wherever there are people. I like finding the common denominators between people, cultures and traditions and that definition of magical energy and power is one that cuts across many boundaries and is found worldwide.
TWPT: How was it that you hooked up with Thorsonís as your
publisher and is it any more difficult working with a publisher that is located
JI: At the time I started working with what was then Thorsons-Element and is now
Harper-Element, they had an office in the
TWPT: As an author what is it that you wish for those who find your books and read them? When all is said and done what do you want your readers to take away from your books and carry with them along their individual paths?
JI:Well, ideally you hope to satisfy readers or at least provide something of value for them, something substantial. My readers are pretty diverse: they're not all interested in the same thing nor are they all coming to my books from the same place or with the same desires so hopefully I fulfill their varying expectations.
My fellow practitioners are pretty tough customers: most are already really well read so you can't waste their time with nothing more than recycled information because they will recognize it. So my goal is to provide those readers with fresh, useful information that can actually be put into practice.
For those readers who are fascinated by witchcraft or spellcraft and think they might wish to enter or explore that world, I hope that my books provide a lucid, functional, welcoming doorway. And, you know, for those readers who are just interested in spells and witchcraft but have no interest in practicing whatsoever, I hope that I'm able to provide them with some entertainment, fresh information and new perspectives. The history of witchcraft, spellcraft and the magical arts is absolutely packed with fascinating, interesting stories. Magic and witchcraft aren't obscure, marginal subjects: they are entwined into virtually every aspect of human history, spirituality and culture including modern science, medicine and the creative arts even though their influence is usually ignored or denied. Witchcraft and magic have had tremendous influence on all sorts of things that many people wouldn't necessarily associate with them.
My own personal goal, as an author, what I personally wish for and what would satisfy me, is for all my readers, regardless of what brought them to my books in the first place, to carry away with them a fresh and accurate perspective on witchcraft and spellcraft. So many negative, malicious misconceptions regarding witches, witchcraft, magic and its practitioners still survive and remain deeply engrained and so my wish is, that when all is said and done, that my books help dispel these misconceptions and expose the truth. For instance, there is this terribly pervasive misconception about witches, practitioners, whatever you want to call them, being wicked,evil and generally malevolent. Now obviously you will find corrupt individuals in any profession-- doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, politicians, just for starters. Magick is no exception but in general, this misconception couldn't be farther from the truth. That stereotype of the wicked witch derives from propaganda created by those who have historically persecuted Pagans, practitioners, witches and who have used those lies to justify their cruelty. But those lies remain entrenched in popular belief.
Another common misconception that hopefully my books help dispel is that if you are a genuine practitioner of witchcraft, spellcraft, divination or any of the magical arts,then you can't possibly be smart, you must be uneducated, ignorant, misguided or unintelligent. That's really commonly believed and teenagers, in particular, who express interest in these traditions are so vulnerable to mockery but that misconception is so blatantly untrue, it's almost laughable, if it weren't so tragic. Historically as well as currently, Earth is full of undeniably brilliant people who practice and master these traditions. The standard example is Sir Isaac Newton, who was a dedicated astrologer, although that's a little factoid that's left out of a lot of textbooks . I'm very proud to be part of the magical community and I hope that's something that comes through in my writing.
TWPT: What kind of feedback have you been getting about The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft from readers and reviewers and how much does this feedback influence what you will do next as an author?
JI: I received some very kind words from Raymond
Buckland. I can't even begin to express
how much that meant to me. Words fail me. I felt so honored to hear from him.
The feedback that I treasure most is from those who I consider my teachers or
my elders or those who are masters of the arts. I received some very, very
kind, positive e-mails from several masters of Latin American magical
traditions and that, too, went straight to my heart. It's kind of like being
back in school and getting good grades or positive responses from highly
respected teachers. I realize that, with my books, I'm teaching others but I'm
still a student, too and so feedback from the masters and elders is
inexpressibly precious and valuable. The review of 5000 Spells that I treasure
most is the one in the most recent issue of The Witches' Almanac. That has
always been among my favorite publications and I absolutely was not expecting
to see any review, let alone such a positive one, so, again, I can't even begin
to say how much it meant to me. I literally cried when I saw it.
JI: I received some very kind words from Raymond Buckland. I can't even begin to express how much that meant to me. Words fail me. I felt so honored to hear from him. The feedback that I treasure most is from those who I consider my teachers or my elders or those who are masters of the arts. I received some very, very kind, positive e-mails from several masters of Latin American magical traditions and that, too, went straight to my heart. It's kind of like being back in school and getting good grades or positive responses from highly respected teachers. I realize that, with my books, I'm teaching others but I'm still a student, too and so feedback from the masters and elders is inexpressibly precious and valuable. The review of 5000 Spells that I treasure most is the one in the most recent issue of The Witches' Almanac. That has always been among my favorite publications and I absolutely was not expecting to see any review, let alone such a positive one, so, again, I can't even begin to say how much it meant to me. I literally cried when I saw it.
But, in general, I don't really read reviews unless someone specifically tells me that I should read one. Because everyone is entitled to their opinion but if you start worrying too much about pleasing everyone--whether they've given you a positive review or a negative one-- you can become paralyzed. It becomes very hard to create and to listen to your own inner voice and your spiritual guides.
Obviously an author- or any creative person- hopes that their work will please and satisfy their audience. Books are kind of like an author's children and you hope that, just like your human children, the universe will give them a kind reception but you must appreciate, as an artist, that it isn't possible to please every single person, every single time, no matter what it is that you have created.
Readers pick up a book with expectations and your work may or may not fulfill those expectations. You know, I had someone complain to me that Emergency Magic! was only a spell book. And what could I tell her other than it is a spell book, that's just exactly what it is, there's no pretence of it being something else. I appreciate that she was frustrated but that had nothing to do with the book, it just wasn't the right book for her needs. That's like complaining that you opened the refrigerator and found nothing inside except food. You hope, as an author, that your books are able to find the readers who will find them beneficial.
I do correspond with many readers and their opinions can be very influential to me. Often I solicit those opinions because those readers are my sounding-board. My final decision to go ahead and write the Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft actually came about because of e-mail I received from readers. When 5000 Spells was complete, Greg Brandenburgh suggested that the next project should be an encyclopedia of witchcraft and I was initially very resistant. For a whole variety of reasons, I wasn't sure whether that was the right project to take on..
But then I received a very thoughtful e-mail regarding 5000 Spells from a reader who is a member of the Non-Wiccan Witches listgroup at Yahoo.com. I e-mailed her back and asked her opinion as to whether she thought there was a need for a new encyclopedia of witchcraft and if so, what sort of information that book should include that maybe wasn't readily available elsewhere. She distributed my e-mail among the list-group and so many people took the trouble to write such insightful, heartfelt responses that that's when I decided to go ahead and write the witchcraft encyclopedia. I realized that I could write a new book that would be of value. So if it hadn't been for reader feedback to 5000 Spells, maybe I never would have written the Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft at all. And 5000 Spells stems partly, not from reader feedback but from interactions with my students. In the years just before writing that book, I taught a series of classes on various types of spellcasting. Inevitably a student would stump me by asking for a spell for a particular situation that I hadn't considered, particularly very specific health crises. The research those students inspired me to do eventually contributed to 5000 Spells.
TWPT: Are you burnt out on doing encyclopedic kinds of books after doing two of them or do you still have something else in mind that you might like to give the encyclopedia treatment?
JI: Yeah, you would think I'd be burned out by now, wouldn't you? I really should be. Sometimes I have some serious doubts about my sanity but I actually wouldn't mind doing more. Given the opportunity, I'd be happy to do a really encyclopedic treatment of any of the individual sections in the Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft because what's in the book is substantial but the more you research, the more you find and there's alot more that could be included. I'd also love to do an encyclopedia specifically devoted to the modern magical, witchcraft and Pagan communities. Or an encyclopedia specifically devoted to divination systems. Several readers have written to me suggesting an encyclopedia of ritual. And then, of course, I have an encyclopedia's worth of fertility and infertility lore that I'm still hoping to have published.
TWPT: When you finish a project such as the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft do you just settle back and enjoy the fact that you've successfully finished a long term project or does your mind start thinking of what should I do next? Have you decided what that something next is going to be yet?
JI: I have some irons in the fire, I even have some manuscripts kind of partially ready, but nothing is decided yet. It takes me a while after I've finished to settle back and enjoy the accomplishment. It's not easy for me to detach from the last project: I need some time and distance before I stop kicking myself about what I couldn't squeeze in or feeling frustrated about information that I uncovered after the book went to print but wish I had found earlier.
I wrote those two encyclopedias pretty much back to back and so when I finished the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, the most recent one, I honestly didn't quite know what to do with myself, without having all that writing to do. But it was time to take a break. Writing is such a solitary process. I've spent the last couple of months getting out, traveling a little and just being with other people. I really enjoy meeting my readers. I have some bookstore signings and workshops scheduled through the end of the year. They're posted on my website and then, hopefully, maybe at the beginning of next year, I'll start writing again.
TWPT: Looking back on your works to this point in your life what satisfaction is there for you personally for having written the books that you did and having them in print?
JI: For starters, for a writer, writing a book is very much like birthing a child: there's this wonderful satisfaction when that process is complete and the actual book exists as an independent entity. And if you can bring other people happiness through your work, then that's incredibly satisfying. Because it's such a harsh world, if you can do anything to make life happier or easier for others, then that's an accomplishment. People write to you and tell you that you've made a difference in their lives and that's tremendously humbling and gratifying. Plus, specifically as a metaphysical writer, there's tremendous satisfaction in feeling that you've contributed to the community, that you have earned a place in that community. (My Aquarius rising isn't too obvious, is it?)
But the absolute greatest reward of being a published metaphysical writer are the people that you are privileged to meet. You meet and get to know people that maybe you never would have otherwise been able to meet. There's not necessarily alot of fame or fortune in being a metaphysical author. It's not like being an academic writer, either: you're not necessarily going to receive alot of respect from anyone outside the magical community. But publishing metaphysical books brings the opportunity to meet the most interesting, wonderful, dedicated, accomplished, generous, brilliant people. I've met all kinds of practitioners, (both published and not published), shared some thoughts, stories and experiences and made some good friends. I correspond with people who live at a great distance from me, whom I'm sure I never would have met had I not written my books. I treasure those relationships.
draw people to you but your books also give you the opportunity to contact people
you'd like to speak with, for the benefit of your work. People are willing to
talk to you because you are an author. For instance, I was so blessed to have
met Elizabeth Pepper, publisher of The Witches' Almanac, shortly before she
passed. When I started writing my Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, I knew I wanted
to include an entry for The Witches' Almanac, because even though it's such a
long-standing influential publication, it's modest and very unheralded. There
was very little information elsewhere and so I contacted
Also as an author, you're invited to come into stores to sign books and meet readers: the dedicated people who run independent bookstores, witch stores and occult supply stores are true heroes of our community, too often unsung and unappreciated. It's a financially precipitous thing to do and it's very public; they often take the brunt of anti-magical prejudice in conservative communities. Owning an independent metaphysical store is a very brave thing to do. These stores provide books, supplies, education, and places to meet other like-minded people. They hold down the fort, so to speak. I've been privileged to meet, get to know and work with many of them over the last few years.
TWPT: Lastly do you have any thoughts, wishes, hopes or wisdom that you would like to share with our readers before we say goodbye?
JI: Blessings to all!
TWPT: Thank you Judika for taking the time to share with our readers your thoughts about being an author and what that has meant to you. You've put a lot of thought into these answers and I do appreciate your efforts. May your path be fruitful and may your words never fail.