Judika Illes’s Field Guide to Witches

Judika Illes’s Field Guide to Witches

September 21st, 2010

Interview by Kala Ambrose: author, psychic intuitive, wisdom teacher, inspirational speaker, muse, oracle and voice of The Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show at www.ExploreYourSpirit.com

Reprinted with her kind permission.

My good friend Judika Illes has written the most sumptuous encyclopedias. Her 5000 Spells, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Encyclopedia of Spirits have been sources of endless inspiration and fascination. They are great reference books for not only magic but history, anthropology, and culture. This is a wonderful interview she did with Kala Ambrose–and she even quotes yours truly.

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Welcome to Kala’s Quick Five, where I chat with fascinating authors, artists, teachers and researchers and ask them five questions about their work. My guest today is Judika Illes, an independent scholar, educator, and author of several books of folklore, folkways, and mythology about the subjects of magic, the occult, divination, diverse spiritual traditions, witchcraft, and the paranormal. She has a certification in therapeutic aromatherapy and taught introductory courses on that subject for the Australasian College of Herbal Studies (2000-2002). She is a practitioner of taromancy, tasseography, and other forms of divination. Her published books include The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, The Encyclopedia of Spirits, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, and the topic of our interview today – The Weiser Field Guide to Witches.

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Kala: Judika, it’s a pleasure to speak with you again. I so enjoyed our conversation on the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show, where we discussed your work and your book, Magic When You Need It. We’re back again, this time to discuss your new book, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches: From Hexes to Hermione Granger, From Salem to the Land of Oz, which hits the stores on October 1, 2010.   What prompted you to write a field guide about witches?

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Judika:
My very earliest encounters with books of magic and metaphysics involved the old Samuel Weiser bookshop in New York City and so it is such a wonderful, marvelous karmic turn of events that I now find myself affiliated with the Weiser publishing house whose historic roots stretch back to that store. Last year, Weiser Publishing initiated a metaphysical field guide series: Raymond Buckland’s The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts was the first book in the series. When Weiser asked whether I would like to write a field guide to witches, I jumped at the chance. I am honored to be following in Raymond Buckland’s footsteps and I feel so blessed to be working with Weiser Books.

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Kala: The book covers famed historical legends including Aleister Crowley and Marie Laveau to popular cinematic figures such as Harry Potter and the Wicked Witch of the West. I’m excited to see that you included historical figures as well as modern day pop icons. I saw Wicked performed live this year and found it to be a fantastic twist and representation. What did you uncover during your research for this book that you found to be most fascinating?

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Judika: Did you read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Gregory Maguire novel that the musical is based upon? I loved it.  It addressed a lot of my own personal issues with the MGM movie, The Wizard of Oz. These issues are discussed more fully in one of my other books, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, which has substantial sections devoted to L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wizard of Oz, the movie versions, and Maguire’s novel. I would really like to see the Wicked musical one day.

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I’m always fascinated by twists, always trying to look at old subjects from different or fresh perspectives. I can’t say that there’s one most fascinating thing in The Weiser Field Guide to Witches for me because the entire topic enthralls me. There’s nothing about witches, witchcraft, or even just perceptions about witches and witchcraft that doesn’t interest me. But I am always uncovering new details. Researching is like intellectual archaeology and so you’re always digging up something new, something that will help you re-examine a topic from different angles.  During the researching of The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, I was able to uncover new details about people I’ve written about before- new for me, anyway.

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For example, while writing this book, I read a lot of Sybil Leek’s work: now I’ve loved Sybil Leek since I was a kid and saw her on television, I think on the Mike Douglas show but I did not know she had written a children’s book, The Jackdaw and the Witch. I also hadn’t realized that all of Sybil’s many books, many of which were best-sellers, are now out of print, which I find very distressing.

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For a change, I focused on Franz Bardon’s involvement with folk magic and herbalism, something that is rarely discussed as emphasis tends to be on his work with Hermetics. For those unfamiliar with him, Franz Bardon is an extremely significant figure in the history of witchcraft and magical practice but he was a modest man who lived behind the Iron Curtain and is all too often overlooked.

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Many of the details of Veronica Franco’s life were new and surprising for me. She was a Venetian courtesan who survived Europe’s witch hunts. She was a rarity: a well-educated, very literate and articulate woman who successfully defended herself against witchcraft charges and was freed.  When you write about the history of witches and witchcraft, you inevitably tell a lot of sad stories. Veronica did not have an entirely happy ending—she was quite poor at the end of her life—but it was a nice change to discuss a witchcraft-accusation tale that did not end in complete tragedy.

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Kala: Of all of the titles that women have claimed, the term witch I believe, has been the most misused, misunderstood and misrepresented over the centuries. I have past life memories of practicing the wise woman ways and being condemned for doing so in those past lives. It is so sad at times to still see how misunderstood the term is to this day. Can you define and bring some clarity to our readers on who witches were and who they are today?

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Judika: I have similar past life memories, Kala. My absolute favorite definition of “witch” is from author Aline DeWinter—I quote it in The Weiser Field Guide to Witches: “A Witch is a person who sees everything as alive and powerful. We walk in a sacred manner and all of nature responds.” I can’t possibly say it any better.

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For me, a witch is a person possessing both spiritual freedom and personal power. A witch has a kind of freedom of soul and mind, even if she sometimes finds herself oppressed by life’s circumstances in other ways. A witch is in touch with her own personal spiritual and magical power and makes conscious choices and decisions regarding when and if and how to access and use that power. I think those are eternal definitions that apply now and forever.

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But the word “witch” also gets very carelessly thrown around a lot: it’s evolved into an umbrella term encompassing incredibly diverse, often contradictory definitions. That’s as true now as it was in the past. The word “witch” has historically been applied to healers, priestesses, magical practitioners, shamans, and practitioners of polytheistic faiths. It’s also used as a derogatory term for people interested in the occult, unconventional people, and also as a misogynistic term for women in general, especially uppity women who don’t display sufficient submissiveness.

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I am constantly asked whether I’m a witch and my consistent response is to ask the questioner to define the word “witch” for me, which usually really annoys them.  Now I’m not a particularly confrontational person but it’s crucial that the word “witch” be defined: you have to be careful because one person’s definition is not the same as another’s.  I define “witch” very positively. I have always loved and admired witches: as a child, I perceived Hansel and Gretel as a tragedy because the witch was murdered. Hansel and Gretel was a really stressful story for me to hear but I was worried about the witch, not the kids. However, I am well aware that not everyone shares my perspective. So when someone asks you if you are a witch, for safety’s sake, before you answer, you need to know whether they perceive witches as role models or as servants of Satan.

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>High Priestess by Thomas Dodd

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Kala: In your book, you also explore the ancient goddesses including Isis, Hekate, and Aradia among others. Do you feel that the calling of the high priestess is returning? Many express an awareness that the Divine Feminine energy is rising at this time, how do you feel this will affect the world?

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Judika: Lilith, Kybele, Yemaya, and Oshun are also among those included in The Weiser Field Guide to Witches. And Naamah and Nephthys, too. I can’t overlook my Ladies! I create field guides and encyclopedias and so I try very hard to write from a neutral position. I present a lot of diverse information, I’m not writing only about my own personal experiences but, that said, a lot of what I write about is very personal to me. I write from within the traditions, not merely as an observer.

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I think the calling of the high priestess has never gone away—the difference is that in the 21st century more of us are now in a position to heed that call and to demonstrate our devotion in a public fashion and thus serve as inspiration and encouragement to others. So the response to the calling can expand exponentially whereas previously, for reasons of safety, these practices had to be maintained under deep cover, very discreetly and secretly and on a much smaller scale. If the Divine Feminine energy is nurtured and allowed and encouraged to rise, then that will be humanity’s salvation.  We are in trouble without it.
But it is very much a calling.

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There is a basic shamanic tenet that the Call of the Spirits—or a specific deity or goddess—can only be ignored at your own risk. If you feel that call in your heart, mind, or in your blood or bones, you must respond. The alternative is depression, illness, general frustration and unhappiness. But the wonderful thing is that the spirits—and I use that word as an equalizer, I write about so many of them from so many traditions that I very consciously try not to impose a hierarchy—the spirits do respond. They speak with us and will negotiate methods of veneration and communication that suit each of us. So just as there are many ways to be a witch, there are many ways to be a high priestess. And new paths are being forged all the time. We are blessed to live in a magical and spiritual renaissance and it is crucial that we nurture and protect it.

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Kala: Judika, looking back at your life thus far in review, how has your practice of the metaphysical arts enhanced and affected your life. Have you been surprised by the journey along the way?

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Judika: Kala, it has enhanced and affected every aspect of my life. I cannot even begin to imagine who I would be without it. I do believe in the concept of the witchblood. My fascination and identification with witches, witchcraft, and metaphysics manifested at such an early age: it was just there inside me from the start. I can’t even begin to explain it otherwise. I have personally had a very circuitous spiritual journey, a surprising and unpredictable personal path. For example, what I am working on now is another massive encyclopedia, this one devoted to saints of many spiritual traditions. If you had told me twenty years ago that I’d be working with saints, I would have laughed. I wouldn’t have believed you. And yet here I am.

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Kala: Judika, thank you for joining me here on Kala’s Quick Five. More about Judika and her book The Weiser Field Guide to Witches at www.judikailles.com

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Judika: Thank you so much, Kala! It’s always a pleasure speaking with you!
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