The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic That Works - Judika Illes 2016



I revisit certain books over and over again; Mikhail Bulgakov's novel, The Master and Margarita, for instance, a book I first read in childhood. Every few years, I read it again. Every time I read it, I see something that I missed in previous readings or something that, over the years, I've gained the capacity to comprehend in a different way than before. Through experience, over time, our inner eyes open and we are able to “see” what once we couldn't.

For an author, though, re-reading your own work is a totally different experience: it's a form of time travel. Memories of where you were and who you were and what life was like while you were writing flood back to you as you read.

When I wrote the initial manuscript of The Big Book of Practical Spells, I was living in Los Angeles, my children were small, and my parents were alive. The Twin Towers still stood. Social media did not yet exist.

The Big Book of Practical Spells is the third incarnation of what was my first published book. The opportunity to write it was a beam of sunlight during a particularly bleak period of my life. The manuscript sprouted from my still-unpublished book devoted to fertility. A publisher rejected that book, but liked the chapter I had written on magic spells intended to counteract infertility and asked me to expand it into a book on magic and spell-casting to be called Earth Mother Magic. The title was given to me, as was a deadline, and I was set loose to write.

I desperately wanted to write this book. I had been learning, studying, and practicing the magical arts since my earliest childhood and so I was not being asked to do anything particularly difficult for me. I don't exaggerate when I say ’earliest childhood’—my mother taught herself English by teaching me to read when I was three. There was no censorship in our household. My mother was not a practitioner, but she was a mystic and she never prevented me from exploring and developing my own magical path. We had metaphysical books on our family bookshelves—astrology, numerology, palmistry, and more—and I consumed them all voraciously.

However, although I didn't tell the publisher, I secretly hated the title. Earth Mother Magic seemed hypocritical to me. How was I to write a book that implicitly praised the sacred powers of Earth and natural magic, while, simultaneously being very aware of how many trees are cut down to make paper? I agonized about this for a bit. The only solution, I determined, was to write a book that attempted to be worthy of the sacrifice of the trees, a book of honest, true, experiential magic in clear, comprehensible language, the book that you now hold in your hands.

At the time I was writing that initial manuscript, the phenomena that was Harry Potter was in full swing. The first couple of books had already been published. My children were in that first generation to read them or, more accurately, to hear them: we read each book aloud. We'd go to parks, playdates, and classes, and Harry Potter was on everyone's lips, not just the children's, but the parents' as well.

Magically-speaking, I was very isolated when I lived in Los Angeles. I had left compadres and coven sisters behind in New York City. In Los Angeles, I became a solitary practitioner, not necessarily by choice, or at least not initially. This was, as I said, before social media and so the concept of the ’virtual community’ did not yet exist.

I was solitary and I was discreet. I did not reveal my metaphysical interests to very many people. (It would be the publication of my first book that thrust me from the broom closet.) However, listening to those parents discuss Harry Potter, I was struck by the longing expressed by so many, most of whom had never previously had a serious discussion about witchcraft or the existence of magic power.

What I heard from these Muggle mothers was their hunger for magic. Occasionally, someone would whisper a story to me about some unusual experience, typically with anticipation that I would respond with mockery. When I didn't—when I instead shared a mystical experience of my own—the floodgates would open. I witnessed how hungry so many were for true magic, not fantasies, but the real deal that I knew existed. They yearned to be reconnected with their own personal power. I realized then how blessed and lucky I was to have made this connection so early in life. And so, faced with my challenging title, I determined to write a book that would ring true to those who were already experienced in the ways of magic, but which would also provide a bridge and a clear, easy-to-follow path for those embarking on their first magical journeys.

I wasn't sure if I'd ever publish another book, so I put a lot of myself in the pages, probably more than in any of my subsequent publications. I didn't want to blow a chance to share what I love: not just the more obvious aspects of witchcraft and magic, but also blues music, the city of New Orleans, and henna. With the rise of the internet and social media, these topics, once obscure, are now celebrated and embraced, as they deserve. Conversely, the brick-and-mortar witch shops and botanicas where I learned so much—once so common that there was literally a botanica on every other corner in some New York City neighborhoods—are now endangered species.

Dear reader, this book is intended to serve as a road map for your own personal magical journey, to provide signposts to mark the way. Finally, there is an accurate title: The Big Book of Practical Spells, with emphasis on the word ’practical.’ Adept or novice, if you have questions or doubts regarding how to do something during the spell-casting process, this book will show you how. May it bring you every good fortune.

Judika Illes

Samhain, 2015