Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Research, Or How to Create A Modern Witch

A guest post by Juliet Blackwell.

One reason I love being a writer is that I can spend a lot of time doing things like shopping in vintage clothing stores, and call it “research”. But when I set out to write the Witchcraft Mystery Series, I wanted my main character, Lily Ivory, to be not only the owner of a vintage clothing store, but also a believable modern witch…so how could I make that happen?

Of course, Bewitched reruns were among my favorite shows when I was a kid. But I didn’t want my protagonist to be silly, someone who could simply wiggle her nose and make things happen.

So while researching the Witchcraft Mystery Series, I have attended coven meetings in the Bay Area (yes, the Bay Area is one of those regions where a person can find covens open to visitors!), and I’ve spoken not only with women who identify as Wiccan, but also Feri and other pagan traditions. I’ve interviewed people who make their living as witches and fortune tellers; people who brew and cast and read tarot cards and crystal balls. I have met with psychics and ghostbusters, and learned some extraordinary things about their world, and about myself!

I also draw on my academic background in “medical anthropology”, a field that focuses on health care throughout the world, or “folk medicine”. This includes what many refer to as “witch doctors” –trusted members of the community who are experts in botanical and ritual cures for both physical and mental problems. Locally, I have consulted with midwives, naturopaths, and acupuncturists who specialize in traditional herbal remedies.

Finally, I turned to family. My mother-in-law is from a small native (Nahuatl) village, and
she’s a font of information and stories from her traditional background. My sister-in-law put me in touch with a practicing Mexican witch who scared the pants off of me! And my nieces are able to give me an insider’s view of their experiences of curanderismo, or the healing arts, in modern-day Mexico.

Lily Ivory’s world grew out of all this research. As I learned more about the history of witchcraft and the treatment of powerful women (and some men) over the years, I came to understand that a magical lineage would be a complex, fascinating, and sometimes fraught background for anyone to carry in their mind and heart. I kept asking myself: what would it be like to grow up with the knowledge that “your kind” has been mistreated throughout history, and that you might be hated and feared as well? And further, what would it be like to know, for instance, that you have the power to avenge the taunting of your classmates at school? What kind of restraint and strength of character would it take not to abuse that power?

When Lily lands in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and opens her vintage clothing store…well, let’s just say that neighborhood is so full of iconoclasts and freethinkers that a misfit witch doesn’t stick out much. It’s the first time Lily’s been able to find community, and to open up to friendship.

Lily and the gang have led me to more research than I ever thought I’d do, and I’ve learned so much about the ins and outs of San Francisco, and the many worlds of witchcraft. I’m a lucky writer!

How about you? Have you been led on any research adventures? Any coven visits in your past (or future)? Have you ever been with a natural healer or fortune teller who seemed to just know things?

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