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An Interview with Misha Magdalene

1. Your new book is Outside the Charmed Circle. To what does the "charmed circle" in the title refer? And what inspired you to write the book?

The title is a reference to the work of cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin, specifically her 1984 essay, "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality," which was one of the foundational texts of queer theory and queer studies. In that essay, she posits the idea of the "charmed circle" of sexuality, meaning the kinds of sex and sexual identities of which society approves, which are set in opposition to things in the "outer limits"—the stuff outside the charmed circle, all the sex that society doesn't like.

The book was initially inspired by my own experiences as a queer, non-binary, gender-nonconforming witch and magician working in traditions that were intensely gendered, and asking myself, "What if we expanded our ideas about gender and sexuality in a magical context? What would our practices and our traditions look like?" I revisited those questions while I was in the process of completing my degree in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. Rubin's essay hit me like a lightning bolt, and prompted me to apply the framework of the charmed circle to questions of gender and sexuality within the Pagan, polytheist, and magical communities. Once I turned an analytical eye, one grounded in feminist and queer theory, to those issues, the thesis of the book—that magic is queer, and that queer people of all sorts have a place at the "big table" of magical practice and polytheist spirituality—basically fell into my lap.

2. The book explores gender and sexuality in Pagan and other magical communities. Do you feel that this discussion is more necessary today that it has been in the past? Why or why not?

I don't think it's "more" necessary today, exactly. We've needed to have this discussion for decades, but the Pagan, polytheist, and magical communities haven't really been in a place where they were able or willing to engage with issues of gender and sexuality in an open, honest, and inclusive way. I think what's changed is that we're finally starting to be ready, as a culture, to have those conversations. Our communities are a microcosm of the world around us, and we're grappling with the same issues within our little subcultures that the overculture is dealing with, from the #MeToo movement to trans rights. As grim as things often look, I'm actually quite optimistic about our communities' ability to engage with these issues and respond in compassionate, inclusive ways. My belief is that our spiritual traditions are sufficiently robust to embrace people of all gender and sexual identities, all forms of embodiment. The first step, though, is being willing to sit down and have the conversation, and to accept that "the way we've always done things" isn't the only way, nor even the best way.

3. Are the book's meditations, exercises, and rituals grounded in any specific spiritual path? Or are they useful for any spiritual path?

The practical workings in the book draw from my experiences as a witch, magician, and mystic, as well as my academic background, but they're not specifically grounded in any particular traditions or paths. They probably lean more towards the "witchcraft" side of my practice, and sharp-eyed readers might note some influences from Wicca, Feri, or ceremonial magic, but they're created to be tools to help you work out your own spiritual path, rather than to teach any specific tradition.

4. Do readers need to identify as being "outside the charmed circle," that is, part of the LGBTQ+ community, differently abled, or otherwise marginalized, in order to use the rituals and meditations in the book?

Not at all! The practical work in the book was largely written for readers who are LGBTQIA+ and are dealing with the specific issues that we face as a group around embodiment, gender, and sexuality, but readers who identify as straight, cisgender, or able-bodied are cheerfully invited to engage with the practices as well. In fact, my hope is that doing so will be invaluable in helping them to explore their own identities and experiences, and to expand their understandings of the lived experiences of people who might not be like them.

5. What do you hope your readers will take away from Outside the Charmed Circle?

That they belong. Whatever their gender identity, sexual orientation, or way of being embodied might be, they are real and valid, their magic is real and valid, and they have a place at the table. It's a big table, and there's enough room for all of us.

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About Misha Magdalene

Misha Magdalene (they/them) is a multidisciplinary, multi-classed, multiqueer witch. They are an initiate of three lineages of traditional witchcraft: Anderson Feri, Gardnerian Wicca, and Central Valley Wicca. They hold a ...

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