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Teaching Romance Writers About “Real” Witchcraft

This post was written by Elysia
on April 19, 2010 | Comments (8)

ellen duganTons of authors are writing magical characters into their novels these days, whether romance, sci-fi, fantasy, or any other genre. But how much do they really know about real-life witches? Today we have a very special guest blog by bestselling Llewellyn author Ellen Dugan, talking about what happens when you teach a group of romance authors about witchcraft…through hands-on experience. Take it away, Ellen!


I am just home from the WRW (Washington Romance Writers) Retreat where I was one of the featured guest speakers this year, lecturing on the folklore and language of herbs and flowers, and on the topic of “An Intro to Witchcraft for Writers.” Just shy of 300 people came for the retreat (that must be why they call it the ‘Mega Event’) and it was a fabulous time. I also got the opportunity to sign my three latest Llewellyn books at Turn the Page Books in Maryland with Nora Roberts and Charlaine Harris and a dozen other romance authors on the day before my lectures.

My first class, the language of flowers, went very well. The language of flowers is a hot topic for Regency and historical romance novels, after all. But the main lecture on witchcraft was scheduled for the late afternoon, and I was pleased to see a nice amount of people and even a few romance writers whose names I recognized immediately. So there I stood with a smile, standing up at the podium and representing the “real life” modern Witch to the romance novelists. I was excited by this opportunity, and very determined to teach them the facts, so that they could pull from good information when they created their characters. Plus…I had an ace up my sleeve.

What was that ace? Well consider this. As Witches we all know that if we do not visualize, our spells will flop. You have to be able to see the spell’s outcome and envision in your mind the positive change that you wish to create. As a writer myself, I know that to be able to write a book or even an Almanac article, you also need to be able to visualize what it is you are trying to communicate to your reader. It may be to teach new information, or it may be to tell a story and to make your characters believable.

So, I took them through the basics. What witchcraft is and what it isn’t. I explained the difference between a Witch and a Wiccan. I talked about what Paganism meant, and explained that Witches have no dress code, and typically do not flounce about in flowing black every day of the week. I explained that Witches can be both male and female and that, most importantly, we are normal.

I discussed the Rede, the law of three, and the concepts of “as above, so below.” I talked frankly about ethics, honor and responsibility, and how Witches strive to work from a neutral, balanced state in order to create a positive change. I also told them with a smile that in everyday life we do not crack fireballs out of our…hands. And that there was so much more to being a Witch than what Hollywood loves to portray.

I also carefully explained that magick, like nature, is a neutral force. Magick can be classified as either positive or baneful, depending on how you use this force. I gleefully watched as the romance writers took copious amounts of notes and noticed that they were all animated, eager and really getting into the topic. You could almost hear those wheels turning in their brains.

Then I pulled out that ace.

I taught them how to raise energy with an energy ball exercise, the same technique that is in my Natural Witchery book. It was priceless watching all those faces light up. Then I went in for the money shot. I had them all get up and make a big circle and explained that we were going to raise energy together as a group. Yes indeed, non-magickal folks were doing a magickal exercise.

So I had them build a circle together in the simple, friendly way that my own coven always does. It’s the classic method of saying “hand to hand I cast this circle” as you take the person’s hand to your left—and on around the circle it goes, clockwise with each person repeating this line with intent until the circle is closed. Once all hands were linked, I stated, “The circle is cast. We are between the worlds,” to seal it up.

As we all stood there with our hands linked, I explained that I wanted them to, one at a time, send positive energy to the person on their left. This was to be done one person at a time with a gentle squeeze of their neighbor’s hands. I told them to picture those chasing holiday lights so that the energy would be passed quickly. The energy would light up each person briefly, and then build as it went around the circle from person to person.

I started the pass, and around the large circle of writers the energy went. Watching the expression on their faces change after a couple of passes around was fun. I told them to keep holding hands and to continue, and then asked them if they all noticed anything different about the temperature of the room. Everyone’s eyes got big as I casually inquired if they had noticed that their faces and fronts were warmer than their backsides.

An author called over to me that her face and chest were really warm, and another commented how her hands, had at first, felt really cold, and now they were very warm and tingly. Another writer laughingly stated that her butt was much colder than her front! Everyone started to get into it, and to laugh, which I encouraged. I told them that it was okay to smile and laugh as this was building even more positive energy, and of course that laughter helped build the energy even higher. As we kept working, I coached them along. And finally had them stop the squeezing of hands to pass the energy—and to instead visualize it spinning around out in front of them at chest height.

Then they stopped laughing and all became very quiet. I explained that now that this energy was raised, we would release it together and so I carefully explained the steps so that as we finished they would know exactly what to do, and when.

Do you remember playing “red rover” when you were a kid? Remember how you swung your arms as you chanted “come on over”? Using that movement, I explained that as we said the closing line together, we would release that energy simultaneously. So in time with the words I had them swing their clasped hands gently at about shoulder height, into the circle and then back out. We all chanted “By all the power of three times three, as we will it so shall it be!” On the final word they all swung their arms into the circle and over their heads and released hands in unison. It was as if they had done it for years.

The timing was perfect. As they all released their hands and threw them up and into the air simultaneously, it was like watching twenty-five kids see a holiday tree for the first time. They all stood there silent, grinning and breathless. Then on cue, they all dramatically shivered at the same time. Which made them all a bit startled, that a shudder had been their group reaction. Almost as if it had been choreographed.

So I stepped into the circle and to break the silence. I grinned at them all and said, “That’s some pretty cool stuff, eh?” Everyone burst out laughing and all started talking at the same time about how amazing it had felt when they released that energy.

After everyone eventually returned to their seats, they all grabbed their pens and attacked their notes like crazy for a while. I answered some more questions, and in closing I encouraged them to use this experience wisely. Now that they all had a personal frame of reference and understood how it actually felt to raise and to work with energy, it should give them new, positive and clearer insights into the magickal characters they create.

Sometimes change comes in unexpected places. Like at a romance writer’s convention. Each of us can impact our community and other people’s perceptions every day in simple and profound ways. But I have to admit, I can hardly wait to see what fabulous magickal and fascinating witchy characters come to life in the next few years in the mass market paranormal and fantasy genre. This is gonna be great.

– by Ellen Dugan

Reader Comments

Written By Deborah Blake
on April 19th, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

Hey Madame!
This sounds like fun. Romance writers are a great bunch of folks. I teach an online writing class on a number of Romance Writers of America loops called Witchcraft for the Paranormal Author, and I have had a great response. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to do in person!

Written By stacey
on April 19th, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

That sounds wonderful, I’m sorry I missed it. What a great experience for them all. 🙂

Written By Stacy
on April 19th, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

I liked this post, though I think I would have liked attending the event even more! I have been reading a lot of “witchychicks” lately (mostly cozy mysteries, though certainly a few romances), and I am always amused at their amazon reviews criticizing their use of magick (not enough, too much, not real enough), but generally those reviewers have a very fantasy-like worldview of witches and wicca. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Written By Shawna
on April 20th, 2010 @ 12:09 am

What a great time you had! Thank you for representing our pagan/Wiccan community in such a positive, normal light. You are an amazing writer and I am so happy that you had this opportunity to spread knowledge and hopefully some tolerance and understanding to people who might not have ever met a real live honest to goddess witch! Thank you for handling this with such grace and humor and honor. You rock!

Written By Karen Schumann
on April 20th, 2010 @ 7:54 am

Oh,Ellen! What a wonderful experience for all of those writers! I enjoy reading romance novels (okay, guilty pleasure), and I bristle when the characters are too magically unrealistic. (I adore Nora Roberts, but, really, rue tea?! {{shudder}}) So, thank you for a lovely article, and thank you for sharing the magic. I’m looking forward to seeing some marvelous new work from some of my favorite authors.

Written By Mickie Mueller
on April 20th, 2010 @ 9:58 am

It sounds like a great time! What a great opportunity to teach fiction writers a little bit about who we really are and what we really do! It’s a win/win situation. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Washington Romance Writers with us, I hope we see some of this common sense, practical witchcraft in books soon.

Written By Jeanne Adams
on April 20th, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

Ellen, what a wonderful recap of the weekend! You were a fabulous addition to the Retreat this year and a wonderfully practical teacher as well. I’ve heard over and over from participants that they were wowed by the depth of your knowledge, delighted by your willingness to share that knowledge, and really excited to learn about the real Craft that is magick. I know wonderful stories will come out of this weekend, and I expect a lot more realistic portrayals – from our group, at least! Ha! Everyone in the afternoon Magick class was totally psyched about the exercise. As you know, I was silly enough to have my hotel keycard in my pocket – I KNOW better! – so I fried it. Snork. Oh well! Llewellyn has a real gem in you as an author. Thanks, again, for being with us and for your tremendous classes. Best, Jeanne Adams, Author and Retreat Programs Chair, Washington Romance Writers

Written By Heather Dewey Pettet
on May 5th, 2010 @ 11:45 am

Whoa! That was amazing to read. I almost got chills reading it. I’m a writer down in Florida, and was researching information on Wicca for a couple of characters in a novel I’ve started. I’ve been researching Wicca and Celtic Pagan traditions, as well as the fairy tradition of Wales.

I love all of the LLewellen books; they’re so interesting and well-written [I’ve been studying the Welsh language as well-now I know how to pronounce the name! Well, sort of. 😉 ].

I am on Facebook.

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