A friendly enquiry from a fellow witch sparked my interest the other day and the question she posed in the interests of casual debate played on my mind until it eventually turned into this week’s blog post. The question she asked me was this – If you had to give up working magic or writing novels which one would you choose to give up?
(For those of you around in the eighties you may remember the TV advert where the little girl is asked if she likes Daddy or chips the best. For me Magic v Art is a similar dilemma though much much harder. I mean my father is a fine man but....chips...!)
Magic V Art is a hard question to answer. The thought of giving up anything so integral as to who I am rather goes against the grain. I'm generally for the pursuit of self interest and I rarely practise self denial so the thought of giving up either something that allows my life to function as I wish it or something that gives me great emotional satisfaction isn't one I relish. But I’m rather fond of hypothetical questions and I didn’t want to leave this one unanswered if for no other reason than my own peace of mind. Truth is once my curiosity was sparked, I wanted to know for myself.
The simplest thing might just be to give up the one that I am the least proficient at. If that's the case then I should have no hesitation consigning my pen to a lifetime of redundant oblivion. I’m not a bad writer - in fact my romance novels wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf with most of my peers in the genre – but if I’m honest I’m mediocre, my books wouldn’t jump off the shelf and smack you between the eyes either. I’ve read books that have kept me up all night crying and I’d love to have the kind of skill to inspire that level of response in a reader but I’m simply not that talented. I'm neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad. When it comes to writing romance I’m just Miss Average… I am however a rather successful witch. Were I to base the choice between Magic and Art on what I happen to be very good at - it would be witchcraft all the way. Miss Average quickly turns into Miss Achievement when the working of spells is involved.
But there is a lot to be said not for pursuing what you happen to be good at but what you genuinely love doing. I happen to be brilliant at designing organisational spreadsheets (really, I'm quite unnaturally good at them - not the maths bits but the planning and structuring...) but I have no passion for Microsoft Excel. Being good at it doesn't make me enjoy it. To an extent it is similar with magic. I'm good at it and it is something it benefits me to utilise but I don't spend all day looking forward to casting a spell the way I feel giddy with delight when I know I've got the house to myself and an uninterrupted evening to add a new scene of pirate lust to the latest novel. I like what magic brings me but I'm not necessarily passionate about the process. (I do have to point out here that I'm talking specifically here about magic and not witchcraft as a path. I do look forward to my meditation evenings, to working on my shields, that sort of thing. But the question was Magic or Art so I'm not counting all the peripheral things that my craft path involves...)
But I balk at the idea of giving up a passion in favour of a talent and although I enjoy working with magic I view Witchcraft not necessarily as an end in itself but as a means to managing my life and the lives of those about me. To me it isn't a passion, it's a utility. It does interest me that this view isn't shared by the majority of witches that I meet, most of whom seem to take the view that being a witch is an end in itself. A lot of newer, younger witches in particular seem to view the craft as a life cycle of - I perform magic to be a witch and I'm a witch because I perform magic. But for me the reality is different. Witchcraft is something I do not to actualise myself as a witch but something I use to make my life (both magical and mundane) more pleasant. I don't practise magic for the enjoyment of casting spells, I practise magic for the very deliberate purpose of getting a tangible result out of it. I use magic to get my own way in the world. It follows from this that as I don't practise magic in order to be a witch, there is a me beyond the craft that must be more or something other than witch. Being a witch is something I am by natural virtue of the fact that I practise witchcraft but it is not my defining identity. I could stop practising magic tomorrow without losing the essence of who I am.
Another simple way of looking at the matter could be to take the altruistic view and examine which out of witchcraft and novel writing does the most to serve others. Here again the craft would have to win out as it sadly must be acknowledged that as far as writing goes, romance novels really are the lowest common denominator (believe me fellow romantic novelists I feel your pain on this one…). My writing doesn’t change the world, stimulates little philosophical thought and has little intrinsic worth as an art form. It hurts to say it but my books don’t really matter.
I have however on lots of occasions been instrumental in helping others with the use of witchcraft. I've helped people get jobs, improve themselves, become happier and healthier and with "Ask a Witch of Question" I've put a fair bit of my advice and assistance back into the world. I'm pretty certain my novel writing has never helped anyone (except possibly my husband who gets watched with less of a beady eye when I'm in the midst of a masterpiece...) If I had to choose to keep the craft or the novels for the sake of others and for the worth of the skill itself I would have to prioritise being a witch before being a novelist.
Then there's the concept of perception. Leaving aside would I rather be a novelist or a witch would I rather be viewed by the world as being a novelist or a witch? Perhaps if I was another Dostoyevsky the answer might be different but if the truth be told there's not much kudos in being a romantic novelist. It's not a greatly admired art form and people tend to be quite scathing of it (I mean would you admit to reading Mills and Boon...?) But people can't ask enough questions about what being a witch involves. If I cared about my image (and I think my readers know me well enough to know that I don't) it would be out and proud witch all the way and the novels hidden in a discreet pile under the bed.
Some people might be reluctant to give up magic because of the power it involves and it's true, anyone with a good understanding of magic does wield a fair bit of power. But the power I command as a witch is nothing compared to the power I command as a novelist. As a witch I manipulate and influence an existing creation but as a novelist I give birth to my own creation. I take an idea or a concept from my imagination and I bring it to life in a way it can be shared with others. As a witch I'm no threat to the Gods, I'm working in their world on their terms. As a novelist I'm playing them at their own game - I'm having a go at creating life. That is real power.
Being a witch for me is all about balance. I use magic to carefully eradicate anything from my life that might disrupt my balanced equilibrium. I balance dark and light workings, demands on my time and I even use magic to balance out my moods. The better I get at spell work the more content and placid I become. Spell work for me is almost akin to tranquillity... Novel writing however has quite the opposite effect. When I'm immersed in a novel and I neglect the magic that makes my life run so smoothly I turn into a demented hair twisting tangled and snarling mess, crying, drinking, riding the euphoria and the despair of my poor tortured characters and suffering right along side of them. And I love it! I do, I love it. I love being awake at three in the morning near dead with exhaustion and checking my word count to find I've written over ten thousand words since I last checked. I love to read back on my books to see that I did manage to transfer that stubborn mental image of a character into actual black and white words on a page. And most of all I love being able to step onto the emotional rollercoaster and be able to feel things as intensely as I did as a teenager. Nothing in real life could do it and nor could any amount of magic. Through writing I have emotional experiences that only art could ever inspire.
So possibly not the answer that most witches would give but after giving it a lot of thought if I had to give up magic or art I would give up magic. I can't deny that I would miss magic greatly, it plays a big part in my life and it really does help me get my own way (and I do like that). But ultimately magic is a utility, a means to an end...
Simply put - Magic is what I do. Writing is who I am.
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