Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Treatise on Folklore, Belief and Lucky Socks

It constantly shocks me that this blog is being read. To my own mind, I wander around London buying mystical teabags and getting into arguments with myself about whether Southern Fried Chicken counts as seasonal eating (the answer is no), I work on the edit of Burnt Snow and even, occasionally, do a bit of writing. I hang out with the Boy Next Door, who always makes me toasted cinnamon and raisin bagels for breakfast (being awesome) and whose passion for discussing conceptual art may never wane.

But I've started getting odd calls from people... and they arrive like bolts into the ocean of unawareness that I write this thing. "I need a potion!" demanded a pal on the phone the other night. "You know potions, don't you?". Another pal emailed in a request for a curse-breaking concoction. And then I got an upsetting message from someone suggesting that I was messing with ancient elemental forces, and to be careful.

Eh? Oh, she said, remembering; I write a blog about folk traditions and magical belief systems, plum cordial and this interesting green stuff that I spray on my hair, made in my blender. Occasionally, I talk about writing and I think about food PLAINLY ALL THE TIME.

I did make the point in my earliest post that it amazes and inspires me that in the post-industrial 21st Century our reality is still one where hushed whispers reveal that aunts can locate missing objects through visions, children talk openly about past life experiences and a lot of people swear to make contact with dead people in dreams after funerals.

I like a world where this happens. I find it exciting, unpredictable and romantic. As a paid storyteller, you can imagine that testimonies to the paranormal are ripe source-material for my creative work. My book is a work of fiction about witches and witchcraft, true love and the awesome power of personal will. Burnt Snow has shapeshifters, storm-summoners, indelible curses and lovespells and, you can imagine, that makes it very, very fun to write. I love the paranormal genre of literary fiction, because it indulges a yearning for the mysterious, unexplained and supernatural that a day-to-day life of weather forecasts, scientific reports, balance-of-trade figures and death-tolls in Iraq has long squeezed from our conscious minds.

There was a time, not so long ago, that the majority of people living in what we call "The West" genuinely believed in hexes and curses and Evil Eyes and lover's knots and passion potions and nifty uses for shed snakeskin. A lot still do - not because any concrete science informs hanging a blue glass amulet shaped like an eye on your front door to ward off evil... but perhaps in spite of it.

Science may be interesting - but folklore, folk traditions and folk belief are *fun*. Noone forgets how much fun they had as a small child, when they believed there was a giant rabbit hiding chocolate in the house, a fat man delivering presents from the rooftop or a fairy who replaces lost teeth with cash money.  This is why these beliefs and traditions are handed down from parent to child - because when fun is not harmful, of COURSE you want to share it with the people you love.

Decorations, ceremonies, symbols and rituals are fun, too. If they weren't, there'd be no weddings, no birthday parties, no naming ceremonies, no Christmas trees or Passover feasts, no boat launches or theatre opening nights, just to list a few. There was a reason that the Puritan interregnum didn't last particularly long in Britain; from 1649-1660 Christmas puddings, Easter eggs, the theatre and just about everything else that was fun to do on the weekend was banned. The English replaced the Puritans with the debauched Charles II at least in part, one suspects, because he could throw a good party.

To believe that a ritual is evil just because it is a ritual is a bit Dark Ages and silly. That kind of mentality would get a cricketer who attributes match success to lucky socks executed in a witch trial. As with anything else, a judgment of good vs evil must must be in the context of a.) motivation and b.) effects. No-one gets hurt if you make a wish about your future while blowing out birthday candles, and doing so may help you focus your energy towards the realisation of an important goal. Alternatively, sacrificing your neighbour's dog on an altar made of cheese because you want them to get pimples before the Year 12 formal is harmful behaviour for all concerned, not least for the dog.

This blog is my direct response to a suggestion to do something with the immense amount of research that I've compiled for Burnt Snow. One of the things I wanted to do with the book was to harvest the rich lore of witchcraft, mythology and symbology to give the story a level of detail that already exists within our literary and folk history. I didn't want to reinvent the witch - I wanted to locate her within a thriving, living narrative tradition, use the supernatural as a metaphor for the teenage experience and see what the witch did next.

It's a rewarding choice. The most wonderful surprise about writing my book is that everything I wanted to make up - about magic circles and flying ointment and passion potions - is already there, existing in fabulous dusty almanacs, and New Age magazines, and glossy spellbooks with art photography, the miraculous internet and anecdotes from wizened old women. The surplus of information I accumulated, I expanded; I just find this stuff fascinating.

This isn't for any religious or spiritual reason, but because I am a storyteller in love with the human capacity to believe the fantastic.

Ooh, it's getting exciting with the book now. There's a rumour that I'm going to get an invitation to a real, grown-up writers' festival - now that is *magical*. Watch this space...


Feargus said...

Lovin the blog....lovin yr voice...so clear and confident at the moment...tres attractive

And most important...lovin u :-)

Big hugs and kisses from the south coast.


Van Badham said...

Aw, Fearg, you're a bit awesome - aren't you?

Can't wait to get down to the South Coast. That's witchin' country!

Q said...

Oh yeah, you have readers!

It's like a fascinating digest of everything I love, Van. Plus some new stuff I never really thought about but which seems perfectly at home among the rest. Loving it.

Van Badham said...

Shucks. Guess I'd better keep writing then. :@)

This is fun, this.