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The Power of Books

So in the last post I talked a bit about how I settled upon Book Witch Blog as the name for the, er, blog, and I plan to go into the ‘witch’ presumption element another time as promised, but there was an astounding snippet from a conversation the other week which has stuck with me that I think is absurdly relevant and ridiculously important.

‘Special’
There are many people who wander in out of vague curiosity as much as anything else, looking for an overview or explanation of ‘what it’s all about’. I’m fine with that (and of course happy to point out books in that vein too!) But having done the quick intro with someone the other week (very charming spiritual seeker) his observation was “but you have to be special to get drawn into this stuff in the first place”. I was flummoxed, genuinely. I must have been at a loss for at least a whole ten seconds (which for those of you know me is something in itself). So I had to clarify – “what do you mean, ‘special’?” “Well, you have to have some sort of pre-existing talent, or have been brought up to it or something. Someone couldn’t just walk in off the street and learn all this stuff.”

Learning
I was astounded once again – for me, the whole point of books, and the bookshop, is so that you CAN just walk in and learn stuff. After all, that’s how I came to it all in the first place. My family certainly didn’t have any mystical or magical leanings, I’ve never felt myself to be particularly psychic or gifted in spiritual disciplines and I’ve never been part of any sort of formal or informal learning or practical group. Pretty much everything I learned, I learned from books (and then practised as much or as little as I needed). Now, admittedly I’m a bit of an academic type at heart, but my view is in most cases it just comes down to finding the ‘right’ book that suits your style, approach and current level.

No Such Thing as Can’t
What I don’t accept is the idea of ‘can’t’. There will be plenty of things that I don’t take to, or might never be particularly good at (don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of circumstances where natural ability helps!), or want to pursue very far but as long as there’s a book out there (and there almost always is) then it’s within my capabilities to have a go at, well, whatever I want to have a go at.  I don’t have to be ‘gifted’ or ‘hereditary’ or ‘special’ or ‘talented’.  I don’t need a mentor or a guru or a circle or a coven. I can select, design, create and inform my own education, my own path, my own practice by something as simple as deciding what I want to read next.

And that, to me, is the power of books, and of bookshops.

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What’s In a Name?

When I decided to crack on with a blog, I figured it had better have a name of some sort rather than just ‘the blog’ – seemed a bit lazy, if not downright unimaginative not to, especially when there are so many great examples of titles, nicknames and pseudonym’s out there.

Inspiration

I’d been through this before of course, when I was trying to pick a name for  the shop. Something that would at least attempt to reflect the breadth of what was covered – not too witchy, not too pagan, not too ceremonial, not too fiction-based. I was fortunate on that occasion, it sort of just came to me and I was instantly in love. I had a few concerns once I realised it coincided a bit with Kelly Armstrong’s Otherworld novels, but by then I was smitten and I’m not convinced even the most witty, inclusive, enlightening suggestion from anyone else would have persuaded me away from it.

Deliberation

Then came the job title. Every aspect of life seems to entail endless form filling and invariably I’m asked for my job title. It’s always been easy in the past, I’ve always been ascribed one (usually the kind that meant people couldn’t make head nor tail of what I actually did for a living, but there you go). The ‘normal’ options were thoroughly unappealing. Owner? Manager? Director? CEO? Bleuh. This was my chance to define myself, after a fashion. So far no joy though. I toyed with ‘Head Bibliomancer’, or ‘Chief Libromancer’, or ‘Guardian of the Tomes’, but since they all sound pretentious and, frankly, a bit daft I am as yet untitled (answers on the back of a postcard please!)

Dilemmas

So now the blog! I’ve never even had a nickname, or a craft name, or anything other than what’s on my birth certificate and ‘Claire’s Blog’ just seems… lacking. Book Witch came to me quite early on but I resisted for quite a while, firstly because once again I wanted to avoid emphasising ‘witch’ above any other discipline, path or aspect (although it seems there’s no getting away from it, I think to some this will always come across as ‘the witch shop’ no matter what titles I put in the window!) and secondly a quick check showed at least one other book witch blog in  the world already (although not along similar lines, interestingly). Still… it stuck with me, and niggled at me, and just seemed to fit.

What’s For Ye…

I know there’s a lot of stigma about labels, rightly or wrongly (more on that another time), but I was watching the film Pride with my mum when she was here last week and there’s a point in it where, having been ‘shamed’ the response was “When somebody calls you a name … You take it and own it.” I may not have set out to be a Book Witch, or a Witch Shop (or that weird magic place, either) but I’m comfortable with it, and I think it suits me.

And thus the Book Witch Blog came to be!

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Summertime Blues

The featured books are up this month on the theme of ‘What I Did on My Holidays’, although it seems less fitting with the interminable downpour forecast to continue through the day! Hard to believe it’s July, let alone halfway through the year…

Last year, I’d picked a selection of ‘holiday reads’, easy-osey fiction with a magical theme because, when I’m on holiday myself, I generally want something interesting but not too demanding – my breaks (when I get them) are usually about relaxation and enjoyment. I’m not particularly well-travelled but when I do get somewhere I like to balance in a little bit of culture and exploration though (another should theme in there, I don’t like to feel I’m wasting opportunities). So I do generally do a bit of reading before and / or after I go somewhere about the sites, the history, tradition – preferably before so I know what to look out for when I’m there! Not during though – the whole point is to actually have the experience of course.

I haven’t ventured too far afield with the selection – there’s one on various sites in Lothians and the Borders that may have connections (or influences) with Arthurian legend; one that’s a beautiful selection of postcards showing ancient sites and accompanying stories; and one on Glastonbury and Avalon. Naturally there are others in the shop around world mythology particularly, more on various sites in Britain and even one on Mystical France, but I limited myself to the usual three!

So whether you’re looking to plan an adventure or (given the weather) just daydream about sunny explorations there’s a few choices. Escaping into fiction is still always a good option, and plenty of fodder in previous Featured Books segments for that too.

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The Great Craft Debate: Tools of the Trade

In the last post, I mentioned how much I love writing spells and ceremonies and rituals. I’ve always loved wordsmithery. However, present me with a selection of physical materials and ask me to produce something even vaguely serviceable and I’m afraid you’re going to be left thoroughly disappointed (or at least highly amused – my high school tech and home economics teachers always were!) It’s created a bit of a predicament for me over the years, particularly when met with the muted horror from certain corners at the proposition that you bought something you could have just made for yourself. Or, more to the point, should have made for yourself.

“I was told I have to…”

I hear it a lot in the shop, and it’s one of the (few?) things almost guaranteed to make me physically cringe. “Someone said I should only get this particular tarot deck” or “I was told I must read that particular book” and, frequently, “how do I learn to do this because I was told I have to do it myself”. It’s been a massive personal predicament for me over the years because when I was starting out (and there was a lot less info generally available anyway) I read endless amounts on things I had to have for my craft usually alongside the edict that the ‘best’ way was to make it yourself – buying it or acquiring it would never be ‘the same’, or ‘as good’. Some were helpful enough to outline how to go about this – patterns, recipes, instructions – and over the years I’ve made numerous well-intentioned forays into various crafts but it has rarely ended successfully and has resulted in a wake of disintegrating amulets, splodgy herbal soaps and odd smelling tinctures. It left me very much exposed once again to the ‘not a proper pagan’ worry – I might be magic with colour-coded spreadsheets and a walking reference library, but what use was that if I couldn’t whittle a wand without serious risk to life and limb?

What Goes Around

Of course I could spend months, years, decades (and potentially a lot of money, and loss of blood [seriously, I’m that clumsy]) to become a master tailor, potter, carpenter, blacksmith, herbalist, cook, chandler and gardener to craft all the things I should have and should be making myself. I’m not convinced I’d take particular pleasure in the pursuit – it’s simply not where my passion lies. Then again I’m fortunate enough to know plenty of people in the community who are creative and talented and who, at the end of the day, can actually make something beautiful and serviceable and absolutely fit for purpose (which is kind of a major consideration at the end of it all). Who are passionate about producing it (another big deal). And I think that’s what a community ideally is about – recognising the talents and contributions in others and supporting that and, perhaps even more importantly, recognising and valuing your own contributions.  Not feeling like you have to be all things to all people, that you have to take everything on yourself, that you should do something because you read it in a book or an article or a blog somewhere, or someone else (however well intentioned) told you that you have to. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of areas in our lives where there are obligations and responsibilities, things we genuinely ‘should’ or ‘have’ to do, but I don’t think it has much of a role to play in our spirituality. There are so many paths, so many options, so much information and inspiration to absorb and consider to end up trapped in the cycle of ‘should’.

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Solstice Musings: Thoughts on Celebration

The Wheel Turns

Summer Solstice is upon us! (For those in the in the north anyway, wave to those reaching midwinter) It’s a fleeting moment embodying both balance and transition, as the Wheel of the Year continues in it’s onward cycle.
At the risk of sounding trite, I feel like I’m just registering it’s summer, only to realise we’re halfway through. I’ve been feeling very out of sync with the festivals in general so far this year and, while I can make a fairly educated guess as to the reasons for that, I’ve still been finding it… unsettling. It’s much harder to give due acknowledgement when you’re not tuned in, not feeling it. And as someone who’s never particularly been one for religion by rote, it begs the question: to what extent should we feel obliged to celebrate when we don’t really feel like celebrating?

FOMO, Pressure & Perception

Thousands will be flocking to Stonehenge and similar sacred sites, and for many it will be much like a pilgrimage, for others a big party, for most somewhere between the two (and I do love a good party). As is usually the case around now, in response we’ll see a lot of, er, ‘commentators’ declaim this choice as too crass, too commercial, too crowded to be suitably spiritual. There will be  those who post about their beautifully bedecked altars, sanctified and dedicated ceremonial spaces (replete with handcrafted tools) and rituals that have been created and passed through a distinguished line of adepts. And there will be, er, ‘commentators’ who will denounce this as missing the point of a nature based religion, who will be taking themselves off to woods and streams and dells and groves, no crowds, no tools, no preparation, simply prepared to go wherever the spirit of the season takes them.
I won’t be doing any of those things, at least not uniquely. Does that mean I’m not doing enough? Missing out? Does it mean I’m not a ‘proper’ pagan? Less than? Or, worse, a bad pagan?
To clarify, there are a great many who are genuinely sharing their practices, their beliefs, their views with others to provide them with ideas and information, but at the same time with each festival that passes I’ve been noticing a worrying rise in the volume of “more-magickal-than-thou” themed offerings, in tone inasmuch as content, and it concerns me that this is creating the (incorrect) impression that there is a single,  ‘right’ way of doing things that could be very misleading to those who are new and trying to find their own way.

They Be More Like Guidelines

I love composing spells, ceremonies and rituals. Absolutely love it. Weaving words, colours, concepts, smells and sounds to craft an experience that is at once richly symbolic and deeply personal. It’s where not only my passion but my skillset best comes through (though whether I’m good at it because I love it, or love it because I’m good at it, I couldn’t say!) But like any labour of love, it requires more than simply the demands of the calendar to do it full justice. It takes energy, focus, inspiration and while, even when demanding and difficult, it may be possible to “make time” the rest is not so readily produced or procured. That’s true of everyone, particularly if it’s something that doesn’t come as easily to you. There are fallbacks of course – there’s certainly no shortage of resources available through forums, discussion groups and, of course, books that you can borrow, modify (or use wholesale!) to make the process easier (although the sheer density of material out there  can make picking through it as much of a chore as starting from scratch). And I can always rely on forms I’ve used before.

If I want to.

What I won’t do is something half-hearted, because I feel I have to. Because I feel I should. Because I feel I’ll be judged, or be missing out, or be letting the side down.
There will always, every single festival and full moon and special occasion, be a part of me that wants to be dancing around a bonfire in ecstatic communion with the sublime. But if I’m exhausted, or uninspired, or even resentful, it won’t have the desired effect anyway.
So if come tomorrow night it ends up just being me, a candle and a cuppa in quiet contemplation, that’s OK too.

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Blogging On!

So that’s two weeks in a row, yay for minor but notable successes!

The rune workshop is on Thursday evening so looking forward to that again – for anyone who’s concerned or dismissive that it’s ‘just divination’ or ‘just Northern Tradition’ or ‘just Shamanism’… well, you should probably come along and discover otherwise for yourselves…
I reference it in divination of course but to reduce it to that would be far too dismissive. I love the scope of runes and runelore – they’re not only academically fascinating but beautifully practical and wonderfully versatile. Seriously, you should come!

Otherworld is now international! I spent far more time than is healthy last week being exposed to the intricacies of Royal Mail v. Post Office, but at least it spurred me on to getting the non-UK delivery settings sorted (it didn’t help with the parcel problem, but at least made me feel productive). Now the online side should be functional so I no longer have to do anything outside the UK on a case-by-case, get-in-touch-first type basis (but of course if you come across any gremlins, sprites or hobbits sabotaging the process please let me know!)

Have a good week Otherworlders, as ever just pop by the shop,  the Facebook / Twitter / Instagram or email / contact to say hi or ask any questions!

 

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Let the Blogging Commence!

Welcome to the first of the Book Witch Blogs!
Been pondering mailing lists and such for a while now but a) didn’t have anything to report regularly enough, and, b) didn’t want to start something only to find I couldn’t sustain it! A bit further down the road now, particularly with the Events side now in place, so giving this a try and if it works out can use it as the basis for a (monthly) newsletter or similar (or that’s the thought process anyway!)

Thanks to much help from my ever-so-glamorous assistant the website has been flooded with new additions this past week – both “new new” and “new pre-loved” including some very amazing rare and limited editions as part of the ongoing cataloguing process (for more see Special Finds). Brief glitch on day one when we hit some memory issues (the website’s not ours!) but fortunately resolved quite quickly.

June’s workshop will be a re-run of Runes (try saying that ten times fast) and will be on  the 15th – as usual you can book online or in the shop, see Events for further info. I’ve been absolutely loving doing them, and looking forward to some of the new topics I’m hoping to cover in the coming months.

I also managed to de-Americanise the website (apologies to Americans, but some of the terminology was driving me crazy) so no more ‘Cart’ and ‘Newness’ nonsense, it should be Baskets and Date Added all round now!

Another new addition is ‘Book Prescriptions’ – more designed for ‘distance customers’ since (hopefully) anyone who pops in the shop knows they can always have a blether about suggestions and recommendations,  but this gives everyone the opportunity the chance to fill in a wee form to do the same (or even just for days like this when it’s chucking it down and you don’t want to venture forth…)

Seems like most of the past week involved minor skirmishes with the website – I think it largely came out a draw but time will tell whether it’s all working properly and it might take me a while to get it as ‘pretty’ as I would like (if any WP gurus want to volunteer their help I’d be more than willing to accept, done a not-bad job at bodging through myself so far but know my limitations!)

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Otherworld Needs YOU!

This isn’t my usual sort of post, so please bear with me.

I’ve had absolutely amazing support from so many people over the last year or so – I can’t even start to say how grateful I’ve been for it, and I need to continue to ask for your help and assistance. In part that means buying stuff and coming to events – I’d be lying if I said otherwise!

But even more important is helping me to continue to get the word out about Otherworld as far and wide as possible. Please, please, please tell friends, family, sympathetic strangers. Share posts, write posts, leave reviews and comments, link people into the website and FB page, Instagram or Twitter. Let me know your thoughts, ideas suggestions, I’m always delighted to hear them (even if I’m not in a position to do much with them right away). If you hear of anyone looking for talk or event space, or with an interest in rare occult titles, or an addiction to incense – point them this way!

The online shop is fully functional so location isn’t an obstacle and I’m happy to post outwith the UK, or sort delivery on items not currently in the online shop (scarves, plaques, runes etc) by individual arrangement. I’m also happy to do customer orders on ‘normal’ books and DVDs, or you can order through the Hive bookstore and if Otherworld is nominated as your local shop (which you can do regardless of where you actually live) we get a little reward.

Everyone has been genuinely wonderful in helping me on this adventure and, as much as I might like to think otherwise sometimes, I can’t do it all by myself so your ongoing support is massively appreciated and free hugs and excellent book craic will always be available as a token of my thanks!

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