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Elizabeth Barrette

 

 

 

 

Your Magical Library
by Elizabeth Barrette


Excerpted from the class “The White Wizard’s Library” in the Grey School of Wizardry,
by Elizabeth Barrette,
©2006


Think of a Witch’s room, and one of the first things you see is a wall of books.  Witches rely on esoteric knowledge to accomplish their goals.  A magical library provides detailed correspondences, diagrams, ritual schematics and so forth.  Magic also lends itself well to focusing the energy of a library to help empower spells, and to protecting books from loss or damage.  Of course, a single article can’t cover all the different kinds of books that belong in a magical library, but these books will give you a good place to start. 

Books for Spell Design

The books in this section form the foundation of your library, the raw materials of concepts that you will shape into spells and rituals.  They include titles on magical correspondences, alphabets, and other information.  Magical encyclopedias and dictionaries and other such reference books fall into this category.  So do books on high theory of magic, spellcraft and design, grimoires and other collections of spells.

Use these books in the early to middle planning stages.  Once you have a theme in mind, pull out an armload of books and sit down with a piece of scratch paper.  Write the theme at the top of the paper.  Underneath, jot down everything you can find that relates to your topic – elemental correspondences, sigils, names of Witches or deities or legendary heroes, etc.  If you find a spell that does exactly what you want, great.  But chances are you won’t; you’ll need to customize a spell; and for that, you can pick apart spells from a grimoire and use individual parts of them that you happen to like.

Good reference books need to be clear, reliable, and relevant.  Check the author’s name and publisher’s name – do they have a good reputation for accuracy, or do they tend to put out fluff?  Look at the titles in the bibliography – are they books you respect, or do you see a lot of New Age garbage?  Examine the table of contents and the index.  One or the other of those should tell you where everything is in the book.  If you can’t look up what you need, the book isn’t much use for reference.  Skim through the interior of the book to see how well it lives up to its title.  Does it actually talk about the kind of magic you work, concepts you can use to build your spells?  Does it make sense  to you?  Books that can pass these tests are worth keeping in your library.

Here are a few books you might want to take a look at…

An Alphabet of Spells by Elen Hawke.  Llewellyn Publications,St. Paul,MN, 2003. 
An Alphabet of Spells is exactly that, a sort of magical dictionary with brief workings from “Abundance” to “Zest for Life.  This book also has some helpful supporting material.  The introduction explains basic theory and practice of magic.  The afterword includes a brief overview of circle casting.  An index lists all the topics/spells by page.  It’s aimed at beginners but contains enough insightful tidbits to merit a look from intermediate and advanced practitioners as well – it makes an excellent quick-reference manual or travel spellbook. 

The Magician's Reflection: A Complete Guide to Creating Personal Magical Symbols & Systems by Bill Whitcomb.  Llewellyn Publications, 1999. 
This book offers an extensive, detailed guide to constructing personal sets of concepts for magical use.  Opening material includes an introduction plus discussions of magical symbols, magical systems, and the reasons for constructing them.  Part One: Magical Symbolism and Exercises covers archetypes, ritual processes, colors, numbers, shape and form, natural phenomena, places, metals, stones, substances, living things, mythological creatures, the human body, objects and tools, plants and herbs, and trees.  Part Two: Putting It All Together covers personal symbols, symbol systems, magical alphabets, and energizing the system.  Part Three: What to Do with a Magical Symbol System covers the magic circle, rising on the planes, pathworking, the magical name, magical tools, naming a magical being, telesmatic images, spirit talismans, evocation, and invocation.  The back matter includes the NAR Alphabet of the Primordial Elements, the Alphabet of Dreams, a nice glossary, a terrific bibliography divided by topic, and a comprehensive index.  Throughout the book there are lists, tables, diagrams, charts, and other helpful tidbits to support the text. 

Books for Ritual Design 

The books in this section build up your library.  They provide the structure for your ceremonies.  This category includes books on ritual planning and pacing, and ceremonialism in general.  There are collections of rituals for specific purposes, such as handfastings and marriages; and collections on broad sets of rituals, such as sabbat rituals or rites of passage.  Other books discuss the setting, timing or other background circumstances for ceremonies.

Use these guidebooks during the middle to late stages of planning a ritual.  After you have your theme and a bunch of notes on such things as correspondences and components, you can begin organizing your material.  Group together similar ideas.  (Circle them on the page if that helps.)  See if a logical progression through time, or a spatial arrangement, suggests itself based on those groupings.  For a group ritual, jot down the names of any people who seem like a good match for specific tasks, tools, or other things in your notes.  Look for numerical patterns – do you see several sets of three, or four, etc. in your notes? 

Based on these things, decide a framework for your ritual and organize everything accordingly.  You might base a ritual on the Four Elements, with everything in sets of four and displaying an elemental affiliation, going around the circle from Air in the East to Earth in the North.  Or you might base a ritual on the legend of King Arthur, with a test to represent the Sword in the Stone, followed by acclaim and coronation.

Look at sample rituals and analyze how they work.  What patterns can you see in ritual flow?  What activities or motifs appear the most often?  You can take portions of a ritual from a book, but it’s a better idea for you to identify the structure of a ritual you like, and create something original using that same structure but different phrasing and details.

Dancing with the Sun: Celebrating the Seasons of Life by Yasmine Galenorn.  Llewellyn Publications, 1999. 
This book begins with some handy guides: a list of recipes, a list of spells and rituals, the preface and acknowledgements, and a discussion of ritual and the Wheel of the Year.  Parts 1-4 cover the four seasons and the eight Sabbats.  Part 5 introduces rites of birth and Part 6 handles rites of death.  Part 7 offers some rites of love.  Part 8 covers celebrations and traditions.  A great resource section explains about holy waters, pentacles, and correspondences; and tells how to find supplies, periodicals, and organizations.  At the end you’ll find a fine glossary, a brief bibliography, and a terrific index.

The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens by Julie Tallard Johnson.  Bindu Books, 2001.
This book touches on lots of different life challenges.  Chapter 1 “The Way of the Spiritual Warrior” introduces the values of assertiveness and self-respect.  Chapter 2 “The Wisdom of the Crows and the Power of Story” talks about oral tradition and written stories alike.  Chapter 3 “Thunder Power: Bringing Forth Your Creative Spirit” discusses creativity and obstacles to expression.  Chapter 4 “Nature as Your Oracle” explains how the world can speak to people through signs.  Chapter 5 “The Ceremonial Circle: Rituals and Rites of Passage” meets a deep-seated need for recognition.  Chapter 6 “Meditations for the Mindful Warrior” presents benefits and techniques of meditation.  Chapter 7 “Dream Weaving by Dr. Laurel Ann Reinhardt” offers suggestions on dream recall and interpretation.  Chapter 8 “Natural Highs andAltered States: Shiatsu to Drum Making to Reaching the Zone” explores some safe methods of experiencing the world in a whole new way.  Chapter 9 “The Thunderers: Acts of Outrageous Compassion” delves into social consciousness and ethical codes.  Chapter 10 “Wisdom Seeking” looks ahead to the continuing journey with notes on self-guided study and finding a mentor.  The book concludes with a message from the Dalai Lama.  A bibliography of quoted wisdomkeepers and a handy index make it easier for the reader to find specific items.  The Thundering Years holds great appeal for young Witches.  Parents, event organizers, and other adults who work with magical teens may want to pick up a copy for themselves to use as inspiration.    

Books for a Witch’s Workshop

A Witch’s workshop is an extraordinary place.  It always seems to be full of books.  This is partly because, unless you are very lucky and live in an enormous house, your workshop and your library will probably be the same room.  And even if you are very lucky and live in an enormous house, where you can have a separate room for working magic, you will find that your books demand a larger and larger share of your house over time, until they have crept into every room of the place anyhow.

Setting the stage is important in magic.  Therefore, you need some books that discuss various aspects of arranging your space.  There are books on energy flow systems, like Feng Shui, and on home decorating with magical themes (mostly aimed at children but star stencils are star stencils).  Then there are floor designs, magic circles, mosaics, sand paintings, and other surface embellishments.  (If you can’t permanently modify your floor or walls, consider tapestry sheets with magical designs.)  You’ll definitely want something about arranging altars and shrines. 

Retreats: Handmade Hideaways to Refresh the Spirit by G. Lawson Drinkard III, with photographs by Jon Golden.  Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1997. 
This guide explains how to create personal sanctuaries.  Beautiful full-color photographs illustrate the amazing diversity and ingenuity of shelters that people have built.   It covers the purposes and potential uses of a retreat; different options in building methods and materials; portable vs. permanent structures; custom vs. modified structures, and other decisions.  One chapter showcases thirteen retreats and their builders; several have pronounced magical overtones.  Finally, a handy resource section in the back lists books, magazines, suppliers, organizations, and other opportunities for further investigation. 

Stone Circles: A Modern Builder’s Guide to the Megalithic Revival by Rob Roy.  Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999. 
Have you ever wished that you could ownStonehenge?  While the original may remain out of reach, this book offers a selection of enticing alternatives.  How about a ring of thirteen knee-high stones in your back yard?  Or a desktop moss garden with a miniature dolmen, arranged in a clay saucer?  This book describes ancient sites and the neolithic love affair that inspires new ones; the fascinating folks who establish modern sites and their fabulous creations; the nitty-gritty details of designing a stone circle; and a guide to modern stone circles (and other monuments) along with a thoughtful look “backward and onward.  Finally, a lavish resource section features a handy source guide, a fine glossary, a splendid annotated bibliography broken down by topic, and an extensive index. 

Books for Specific Tools & Techniques

Effective magic requires knowledge of the many objects and activities that make up a ritual.  One way of generating power is by setting the stage.  All of those gorgeous ornaments and arcane diagrams aren’t idle decoration – each one connects to the others in a great web of power that gathers energy and funnels it to the Witch.  Books can help you learn the arrangement of magical items, the preparation of self for ritual, and the handling of energies raised.

This part of your library features books with an extremely tight focus, on esoteric topics or on prosaic topics that can be put to esoteric use.  There are books on a single type of magical tool – candles, wands, incense, and so forth.  There are books on an individual skill or talent – meditation, energy manipulation, chanting, and the like.  These give you a comprehensive knowledge of the material that allows you to make subtle choices in selection and use to enhance the power of your spells and rituals.

Meditations on Everything Under the Sun: The Dance of Imagination, Intuition, and Mindfulness by Margo Adair.  New Society Publishers, 2001. 
This book takes you on a tour of meditation, and there’s a lot more to it than what “everybody knows.  Explore the anatomy of consciousness, signposts for inner travel, ethics and connection, receptivity, and other practical points.  Learn how to adapt the meditations for specific needs, single or repetitive use, classes and groups, and so forth.  There are complete meditations plus motifs that you can mix and match as needed.  Then there’s the appendix, another hefty section with lots of details.  Contents include the principles of applied meditation, your beliefs, negative thought-traps, and positive affirmations.  Then there are pages of notes to accompany the chapters.  A guide to the meditations by ID number and page, along with a meditation use index, helps you find what you need easily. Meditation is a basic skill that all magical and spiritual practitioners should learn, and Meditations on Everything Under the Sun has something for everyone.   

Sacred Smoke: The Ancient Art of Smudging for Modern Times by Harvest McCampbell.  Native Voices / Book Publishing Company, 2002.
Sacred Smoke is a concise yet detailed guide to one particular aspect of ritual, the burning of plants for purification or prayer.  “Smudging” appears in most Native American traditions, has quite a following in contemporary Pagan circles, and relates to similar customs like the burning of incense in Catholic churches.  McCampbell provides a thoughtful introduction to the basic theory and techniques of smudging, gathering of plants, preparation of smudge materials, related rituals, and some safety precautions.  The main body of the book presents some of her favorite smudging herbs with the plant’s scientific name, one or more common names, a description, its uses in smudging and other applications, growing tips, and gathering tips.  The back matter is a whole extra resource including an insightful discussion of the pros and cons of purchasing smudge materials, a discussion about using herb books and Websites, a wonderful annotated book list, and a list of Websites sorted by plant type.  A handy index makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. Sacred Smoke covers both the magical and spiritual uses of smudging and incense.   

Books in Reference Sets

Previously we explored the kind of books you need for when you want a lot of information about one specific thing.  Here we’re going to explore the kind of books you need for when you want a little  bit of information about a whole lot  of different things – but more than you’d get in a single “survey” book about various topics.  Reference sets are groups of books based on a particular format but exploring many different things.  Each volume of the set investigates one individual topic related to the set’s overall theme.

You may find it valuable to acquire a reference set dealing with Pagan, magical, metaphysical, and other alternative traditions.  There are many such sets in print, including the Thorsons First Directions Series (Thorsons), Piatkus Guides (Piatkus), and Simple Wisdom Books (Conari Press).  Alternatively, you may wish to collect a mundane reference set for herbs, animals, natural science, or other topics – and augment it with an extra volume or two on magical nature.  Golden Guides  (Golden Books) and Peterson Field Guides (Houghton-Mifflin) are especially good for this. 

There is a certain aura of authority to a row of matched reference books, that nothing else quite equals.  It is one of the things that distinguishes the private library  of a Witch or other scholar from the personal collection of books that an ordinary person might have.  This adds to the overall energy pool of your library, which you can use to support your magic.

A Field Guide to Irish Fairies by Bob Curran, illustrated by Andrew Whitson.  Chronicle Books, 1998.       Looking for something a little more whimsical than the Audubon guides?  Try this.  An introduction explains about the basic nature of fairies and their relations with humankind.  Then come individual chapters for nine of the most common fairies: the Grogoch, the Grey Man, the Sheerie, Changelings, the Pooka, Merrows, the Banshee, the Leprechaun, and the Dullahan.  Each entry gives the fairy’s alternative names, region of origin, known powers, habits, and other useful information.  Finally a separate section covers lesser-known fairies: the Butter Spirit, Skeaghshee, Far Darrig, and Watershee.

Thorsons First Directions Series: Druidry by Emma Restall Orr, Feng Shui by Simon Brown, Reiki by Kajsa Krishni Borang, Tai Chi by Paul Brecher, Tarot by Evelyne Herbin & Terry Donaldson, and Wicca by Vivianne Crowley.  Thorsons,London,England, 2000. 
Thorsons, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, offers a handy series for people interested in alternative traditions.  Druidry introduces a Celtic tradition of magic and religion; the book explains its history, modern diversity, the sacred circle, the magical cycle, celebration, and the gods.  Feng Shui explores a traditional Oriental system of organizing your home or office for beneficial energy, with attention to history, finding a consultant, what to expect, the elements of feng shui, applications and solutions, a checklist for buying a home, and guidelines for practice.  Tarot takes a look at this ancient divinatory system including the cards themselves, the minor and major arcana, how to use them, and several sample spreads.  Wicca examines a contemporary magical/spiritual tradition through its origins, why you might want to practice it, the elements, nature, spellcraft, the gods, and ritual. 

The Magic of Bookmass

Libraries, bookstores, studies, and the like are intensely magical places.  They are so magical that even ordinary people get a sense of that subtle tingling energy.  This energy is partly generated by the books themselves, and partly gathered by them from the global consciousness.  Whenever someone reads a book, they take that book and its thoughtforms inside their aura, so that 1) the reader feels the book’s energy, which is a thrill, and 2) the reader contributes to the pool of energy attached to that book and its ideas, by paying attention.  (The thrill of experiencing the story is what you buy with the attention that you pay.) That energy follows all the books around; each individual book is a link to all the energy associated with that book.  When you pack a lot of books together – call it bookmass – they invariably build up a substantial amount of power.  It’s like listening to cars idle their engines: those books are ready and eager to take you somewhere.  You can tap into that power for spells and rituals.

You can enhance the energy of bookmass by adding extra-powerful books to your collection.  Heavy old leatherbound tomes, such as antique dictionaries, are marvelous for this.  Magical texts and grimoires have an extra charge too, as does your personal Book of Shadows.  Autographs from the author, artist, or other people associated with a book add to its power.  Handmade items usually have more energy than mass-produced items, so handmade journals or handwritten books add a lot.  Rare objects have power because of their scarcity, and so rare books are valuable magically.  You begin to see how a Witch’s library grows so vigorously!  For as the bookmass grows, not only does the Witch always want more books, but the books themselves want more books as well.  Power at your fingertips.

Many authors have written about this concept, or similar concepts.  Among the most famous of these is Terry Pratchett, who has written about it in Guards! Guards! and it also appears in the Discworld Companion.  This excerpt is from the latter book:

Even big collections of ordinary books distort space and time, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves  that end in little doors that are surely too small for a full sized human to enter. 

The relevant equation is Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.  Mass distorts space into polyfractal L-space, in which Everywhere is also Everywhere Else. 

All libraries are connected in L-space by the bookwormholes created by the strong space-time distortions found in any large collection of books. 

If, like most Witches, you combine your magical workroom and your library, one advantage of that is you don’t have to do much to put bookmass energy into your ceremonies.  It’s already inside the same magical container, your wards.  Just pay a little extra attention to gathering what energy is pouring off the books, as well as what you draw from the Elements or other sources.

If you are working outside of your library/workroom, the easiest method is to move a magical focus from your library to your altar.  You might keep a stone sphere or obelisk for this purpose (which also makes a handy paperweight).  Alternatively, you could take one of your old books off the shelf and put it on your altar.  Then all you have to do is visualize the item as the narrow end of a funnel, with the wide end being your library.           

The more you know about Witchcraft in particular, and magic and spirituality in general, the more effective your spells and rituals will be.  A good library collects both knowledge and energy, providing a valuable resource for you to draw on at need.  With the right attention, it will grow with you throughout your explorations of Witchcraft.

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Bio 

Elizabeth Barrette writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in the fields of alternative spirituality, speculative fiction, and gender studies.  She serves as Managing Editor of PanGaia  magazine ( http://www.pangaia.com  ) and Dean of Studies for the Grey School of Wizardry
(
http://www.greyschool.com ). 
Her favorite activities include gardening for wildlife and public speaking at Pagan events and science fiction conventions.  She is currently working on a nonfiction book, Composing Magic: How to Write Rituals, Spells, and Magical Poetry.