This interview was originally posted at Haute Macabre on July 31, 2020.
Earlier this year I read and was thoroughly charmed by Lisa Marie Basile‘s dreamily empowering Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis –which Bust Magazine refers to as “The Artist’s Way for witches” (and wow, do I love that.) But in the past year or so before having read her book, I had been already falling in madly love with this marvelous word witch via her fierce, tender poetry and her lyrical, profoundly heart-stirring writings.
A poet, essayist, and editor living in New York City, Lisa Marie Basile is the founder and creative director of Luna Luna Magazine, an editor at Ingram’s poetry site Little Infinite, and co-host for the podcast, AstroLushes, which intersects astrology, literature, wellness, and culture. Her website Ritual Poetica is a space for sacred self-exploration at the intersection of writing, ritual, and healing, and she has just recently launched her Write Well Patreon, with holistic resources & advice for nourishing a creative life that is physically, emotionally, & spiritually fulfilling.
So many of the subjects that Lisa regularly creates dialogue about and touches on in her writing –intentionality and ritual, creativity, poetry, foster care, addiction, family trauma, and chronic illness– are topics that are close to my heart, and, no doubt, close to the hearts of many of her readers, as well. This spirit of sharing both the beautiful and the ugly, with regard to the body, the world, the universe, is the shining core, and the secret-but-not-so-secret-really, to what makes her work so dynamic and relateable and what always, every single time, thrills me so profoundly when I see that she has posted something on Instagram, or tweeted about over on the twitters. If Lisa has taken the time to ponder a thought or a concern, word-witch it into existence, and share it with us, then it is a rare gem worth seeking out.
Of the elements that deeply spoke to me in Lisa’s first book, it was the rituals and exercises that involved writing I found myself most psyched about. As a bit of a word witch myself, I find that written language is the realm I am most comfortable exploring and creating in. As you can imagine then, when she announced her second book The Magical Writing Grimoire: Use the Word as Your Wand for Magic, Manifestation & Ritual (released this past April), I was over the moon!
Part guided journaling practice, part magical grimoire, The Magical Writing Grimoire explores the transformative power of writing. Each chapter contains writing prompts, writing rituals, meditations, and poetic wisdom. You’ll find shadow work, bibliomancy, automatic writing practices, incantatory poetry, and more. I don’t think I need to tell you, this is a freaking amazing resource– and Lisa Marie Basile was kind enough to field a few of our questions about The Magical Writing Grimoire, below.
Haute Macabre: A question that I might typically ask is where the inspiration for this book originated–a question which you have handily answered in the introduction! You recount how your grandfather spent a day teaching you calligraphy, and how as a child you could begin to understand how writing could become a tool to sort out life’s complexities. I love stories like this, a wisdom passed from a beloved elder to a younger you, wherein formative magics take hold and burrow under your skin, mapping an internal pathway, directing and guiding you from there on out. I don’t know how much time you spend with calligraphy nowadays, but what sort of activity would you sit with a younger person (a child the age that you were in that memory, or bb witch, or a young writer-in-training) and slowly teach them with over the course of an afternoon?
Lisa Marie Basile: First, can I tell you amazing I think this question is? So thoughtful and magical. It’s true that these memories, these seemingly forgettable flashes in our lives — how could my dying grandfather even imagine that this thing he did with his grandchild would stick? So often things tumble through our memories, until their just flashes — change us. Perhaps it’s not calligraphy that stuck, because in truth, I do not partake of calligraphy these days. I am sure I would if I had the chance, but it’s not the act of calligraphy that matters. It was the intention, the focus, and the use of language.
It was this idea that through writing we can make memories — that the word itself is a sacred, eternal thing
I suppose if I were with a child or new witch or someone young who wanted to begin writing, I’d have them write a letter to themselves; what they write would depend on their deepest need. Maybe it’s a letter of support or forgiveness or simply a letter that asked one’s future self to pave the way for something. When we write to ourselves, we usually transmit something into and from the shadowy self (even children have shadow selves), and this is important because all transformative acts require a willingness for the depths. Imagine the total freedom of talking to yourself without censorship or judgement or approval?
You note that one of the most important things you’ve learned is that doing something (ie writing a book, casting a spell, etc.) is a process of both “work” and “the occult”. Can you and define and maybe give an example of what you mean by the two of them in that sense, and why it is that this is an important differentiation to you?
I have always viewed writing (or, as you said, anything) as this sort of hybrid thing. Half of the act is occult; it comes from some channeling or transmuting. It is connected to the divine, or the higher self. Sometimes when I write it feels like I am connected to something electric, something cosmic. It pours into me and I take the tabula rasa and make it into something. I know so many creators feel this way. The other aspect is the Work or Craft. You take what you get from the unknown, and you chisel into a shape. You apply knowledge or years of training to the raw thing you made.
You have to work with the gift or the magic. I believe — and maybe this is just me, it’s possible — but you have to combine an intention with actionable energy. You have to speak an incantation and do the work to make space for something to manifest.
But in the end, I believe both are necessary. You can feel when something doesn’t have a soul, when it’s all math or function. And you can see when something is so raw and so in need of time and space and craft.
“Write when you don’t feel like working on yourself. Write when you do. The grand ritual is returning to those sacred moments.” I’d love it if you could share what this process looks like for you when you just aren’t feeling it? And how to maybe turn an “ughhh I don’t wanna do this today” into a sacred act?
I think there are certainly days when you need rest. As someone with a chronic illness, it’s important to just lay in bed, to daydream, to sleep, to read poems with the window open. I don’t really mean this literally, as in every single time. I do mean if you find yourself again and again coming up against some resistance to write or self-explore, it’s probably a good reason to do just that. In life. But yeah, if I’m feeling particularly exhausted, drained, emptied, or uninspired, I turn to water. For me, a shower is always sacred — and I try not to rush it. I envision the energy that is being cleansed and renewed under the water. I think of the drain as a physical symbol of what I’m letting go. I think of water as luminous and electric and giving me what I need.
Maybe I’ll turn bedtime or just being in bed as a sacred thing: Herbal tea, a good ASMR video, some essential oils in the diffuser, a few candles. I love the idea that luxuriating and resting can be a sacred thing; it’s rest, yes, but it’s also a recharge, and a healing process.
I don’t believe sacredness or magic always has a big a-ha shift; I believe that it’s found in the things that keep us going, keep us feeling alive.
You make this distinction between a practice that is “process-oriented” vs. “results-oriented.” Can you talk about this as it applies to your magical writing practice?
Ah, this sort of touches on the question above. For me, results-oriented magic is of course beneficial. A spell for this. A recipe for that. But I’ve found that (and this is likely a personal thing, or some sort of hyperintense Scorpio thing) that the long-game works better for me. A process is something I return to again and again — whether it’s a ritual I perform monthly or a meditative state I get back into regularly in order to write and sort of self-question. Almost all of this returning – to without immediate results leads to a massive shift in my life — in terms of joy, health, abundance, etc. That said, of course I do “xyz spell for zyz result” in the short term!
Like, yes, I’ll do a writing spell to manifest something I want immediately — a response in the affirmative, a sense of clarity when I wake up in the morning, a release of toxicity. But I will also return to the page for The Great Work — of healing old traumas, identifying patterns or getting in touch with an archetype or ancestral wisdom. That takes returning-to.
You speak to receptivity or conjuring the muse, as well as generative energy (being able to translate those musing energies) and that writing is a ritual of give and take between the two. I wonder if in your practice those energies shift or lean heavier to one side or another? How do you tempt an elusive muse? How do you interpret garbled transmissions? How do you get those synergies to sync, and what do you do when they are out of whack?
For me, the most important thing to do is give it space and to let garbled mess be. More often than not, the shit that comes out somehow ends up revealing a pattern — or even getting to the point where I realize I’m preventing myself from being receptive for some specific reason. It’s okay to write a few words, to incorrectly interpret, and to let there be times when things are unclear and messy. Usually, there’s a message there. It might mean you have some work you have to do outside of the ritual setting (for me at least).
Because so much of my magical life is informed by my writing life, I feel a need to think as a writer in both ways. Sometimes it’s better to get anything onto the page than to abandon ship because you feel the muse isn’t there. I tend to turn to rituals of beauty and creativity (cinema, music, movement, scent) to trigger/tap something in me that gets the flow going — and I do this with magic and with writing (I mean, it’s all one!).
Reading your passing mention of the Egyptian goddess Seshat was pretty uncanny. Literally, the day just before, Seshat came up in conversation with a friend and I was floored, never having heard this divine scribe and celestial librarian. I am curious as to whether or not there is a particular deity that you feel a connection with in your personal magical writing practice? And has that changed over the years with the changing of your own life’s story?
I love that. I believe that these synchronicities happen for a reason, so maybe Seshat wants to commune with you in some way? I don’t typically work closely with deities, gods, goddesses, etc, in an ongoing way — I take a more secular approach and see deities more as lesson-offering archetypes or representations as parts of myself — but I have always felt a deep kinship with Hecate.
I think growing up in foster care and watching addiction, imprisonment and homelessness happen in my immediate family made me yearn for a figure that stood for strength even in dark times. I wasn’t drawn to figures who didn’t have an intense understanding of darkness, the underworld, that dank underbelly of human pain. Hecate not only is that, she bears a torch to light the way. Today, I’m connected to Parthenope — a siren who lives in the water off of Naples. She’s been following me around, and she found me in Sorrento in Italy, in her waters. She is a symbol of love and vulnerability and water and the ancient world.
Writing is a form of reclamation, taking ownership of your pain, that there is power in your vulnerability– I love this idea…in theory…but what advice do you have for someone who is afraid of their own voice?
The voice blooms at its own pace.
Sometimes you don’t even realize that you are releasing it, that what you’re writing is the deepest truth. It’s okay if it doesn’t come natural or if it is frightening. I would suggest lovingly for everyone to lean into the discomfort and to know that your practice can be private and be entirely controlled by yourself. Create a beautiful and safe writing area to write; follow with self-care. Return to it weekly or under each new moon. Ask yourself what the fear is about and be willing to hear the answer. Is it ego? Is it that you were once punished for it? Is it fear of your own power and autonomy? Not fearing your voice is probably not going to happen in one cinematic moment; it will be gradual for some. But not resisting is key.
Resist the linear! You decry. Why? But also: I wish I could! I am so tied to my structures and my routine, and I fear they are a bit of a crutch. I am curious as to what a non-linear day of writing or, just a non-linear day in your life might look like and what you might suggest for someone mired in the habitual and familiar.
If linear works for you, who am I to argue?! But I stress this because we all communicate and create differently. Perhaps you want to write a poem one day and a formal incantation, complete with rhyme scheme, the next? Maybe you want to journal here and there but can’t bring yourself to complete an entire ritual. I think it’s okay to do what feels right and what you can.
For me, I’ll write a poem, and only poetry for a while. I’ll write poem-spells and little lines and I’ll put them on my altar and I’ll hide them in my purse. Sometimes I’ll read them for a dose of magic. Then maybe I’ll write an essay or lists or whatever. I let my intuition guide me
I would say if what you do is working, don’t change it. But if you feel like structure is a crutch, maybe examine why? What does it feel like to let yourself be out at sea? If it’s scary, is it the sea — or is something you’re doing in the water? Thank you for your time and your beautiful, thoughtful, deep questions.
Images courtesy Lisa Marie Basile except for the mermaid blanket photo via Emily X.R. Pan