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Finding Comfort in Witchcraft
Editors' Note: An earlier version of this interview and the book review was previously published on Archita's blog.
Lisa Marie Basile is a poet, essayist and editor living in New York City. She’s the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and most recently is the author of Light Magic for Dark Times, a collection of practices and rituals for intentional and magical living. You can read my review of the book here.
In this interview, Lisa tells me (and now you!) how she found her calling as a witch, her writing and magical practices, the social backlash that witches often face and her favorite spells:
When did you first identify as a witch? How would you define your witchcraft?
When I was a teenager, I took great comfort in the archetype of the witch. As a former foster youth, I found spirituality, folklore, and magic empowering; I wasn’t necessarily practicing elaborate rituals (because I didn’t have the tools), but I was connecting with nature, setting intentions, and writing little spell-statements. I felt very much like a teen witch, especially when the 90s popularized the archetype and her story. Although this was a bit silly, it did pave the way for my own practice. I lost touch with it for a few years in my mid-twenties, mostly due to college and extreme stress levels and PTSD. Once I realized the void, I tapped back into the practice. Today, I feel very comfortable identifying as a witch; my practice is rooted deeply in meditation, earthing, and shadow exploration. It’s secular, eclectic, a little chaotic, and rooted in intention above all.
Who are your favorite feminist or witchy icons that you look up to? How have they impacted your craft?
Part of me thinks a ‘witch’ is very much a symbol—someone who lives on the fringes, who makes change, who rebels. I have long been interested in the goddesses, like Hecate, who oversees the underworld, and liminal spaces. She has always appealed to me because I have long felt that I straddle both spaces—the light and the dark. I feel comfortable there. She, as a symbol, allows me to work with those spaces—write about them, inhabit and explore them—without thinking they’re fearful or bad.
Tell us a bit about the writing of this book. What circumstances led you to writing it? Are there any topics you consciously chose to include or avoid?
I published a piece on rituals for grief at Luna Luna, and an editor approached me about writing a full-length book of rituals and practices. She and I talked at length about what would resonate, and it was so important to me that the book allowed readers to honor their trauma and pain but also celebrate and encounter joy and selfhood and creativity. I fought for the book’s appeal to new practitioners, and for its accessibility and inclusivity. I consciously avoided it being an instructional guide to magic (as I am not authoritative enough, I think, in that area) so I avoided it being strictly a witchcraft book. Instead, I wanted it to be guided by and inspired by the principles of magic and the archetype of the witch, but useful for anyone on any path. I also wanted there to be a heavy literary element, like journaling and poetry.
I also wanted to avoid the “if you manifest hard enough you will earn 10,000 dollars” mindset, or the “you didn’t manifest hard enough” feeling. To me, the overly saccharine positivity element in some magic can be actually quite limiting. People feel ashamed if they’re not able to be resilient or intentional enough. I wanted this book to feel like a friend; you can only do your best. And that’s enough.
Are there any particular magical family traditions or superstitions from childhood that you hold on to? How important do you think is witchcraft in preserving family traditions and histories?
When I think back on the things my Catholic, Sicilian grandmother did—writing intentions and leaving them as scrolls on an altar, storing her hair in a box, and speaking blessings over food—I realize that folk traditions played heavily into her religious life. My mother also does lots of things—she thinks birds are symbols of dead people, and she is also very sensitive to energy shifts, while my father has always been interested in the occult.
I do those things too, and I think it’s amazing to keep traditions alive if they speak to you—and are yours to perform. Many traditions are performed by closed cultures, and I think it’s important to know what is yours and what just isn’t.
I do not come from a lineage of witches, even if my grandmother was performing folk magic, so I can’t speak for others, but if someone feels it important to preserve their family traditions and histories, I think it’s beautiful. Enough stories, narratives, identities, and cultures are erased; I hope people find ways to keep theirs alive.
If you had to choose the three most magical things that happened to you this year, what would they be?
I had the MOST magical year of my life this year. On Halloween, a group of witches and I did a guided earth-based meditation and when we awoke, birds began cawing at our window as if to welcome us or acknowledge us. Truly, it was spooky. I think it’s magical to be able to connect with my readers; it was as if this lifelong dream of mine manifested by way of my giving energy and belief to it. Literal magic. I also have been connecting with my body in a more intentional way in my management of Ankylosing Spondylitis, a chronic spinal disease I have. I love to ritualize my self-care practices: warm baths, stretching, meditations, and crystals play a part in this.
As a feminist and a witch, what is your advice for those seekers who are interested in the craft but are afraid of any backlash that they may face?
If you’re afraid of familial or social backlash, my first piece of advice would be to PLEASE stay safe. I’m so sad that people aren’t always free to publicly participate in their beliefs. Witches, and lots of people at the margin of society have long been punished and silenced for their beliefs. And still in some countries the idea of the witch is so punishable that little children are starved to near-death because villagers think they’re evil. The witch’s legacy is volatile, empowering, and different from culture to culture.
If you want to begin learning, join a community group or see if your local occult shop does events. Read magical online journals, peruse an esoteric bookstore and ask for beginners recommendations (but also just see/feel/touch books and look for what calls out to you). Begin to research cultural traditions that are part of your heritage. Keep a diary of your dreams and gut feelings to connect with your intuition. Light a candle each night and set an intention. Think about what you’re passionate about and then see how you can build ritual around it.
If you can find one safe person to connect with, do it.
What are your favorite spells/rituals? How did they come to be your favorite? What is the story behind them?
My favorites are usually any spell or ritual involving water. I’m a water sign (Scorpio) and my moon is in cancer, so water feels like home to me. It’s fluid and dreamy, and fragile yet strong. It is adaptable, changeable, and it’s the basis of life. I often feel my most powerful when swimming, or at the edge of the sea listening in. I have gone to the ocean when facing grief or pain, and its bigness has always given me perspective and also foresight. I love to write my intention in the sand and watch it be cast by the sea.
You can purchase Light Magic for Dark Times on Amazon.
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