Grimoire Issue IV poetry contributor Lisa Marie Basile is a poet, essayist and editor living in NYC. She's the founding editor-in- chief of Luna Luna Magazine, an online magazine & community dedicated to literature, witchcraft and ideas.
She is the author of several books and chapbooks of poetry, including Apocryphal, war/lock, Triste, and Andalucia. Her book Nympholepsy (co-authored with Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein) will be published by Inside the Castle in November 2018. It was a finalist in the 2017 Tarpaulin Sky Book Awards. She is also working on her first novella, to be released by Clash Books in 2019. Her work can also be found in The New York Times, Narratively, Entropy, Bust, The Establishment, and more. Her work has been nominated for the Best American Experimental Writing anthology and for several Pushcart Prizes, and has appeared in Best Small Fictions 2015.
We caught up with Lisa recently to celebrate the publication of her first nonfiction book, Light Magic for Dark Times, which was published by Quarto Books in September 2018.
How did this book come to be? What was your process in putting it together and deciding on its structure?
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, lovely Grimoire editors!
So, the book was a bit kismet, really: Last year, several people I love died. I didn’t know how to cope. Around the same time, I was also diagnosed officially with a spinal disease, which doctors suspected for about a decade. I still cannot believe it, really.
I threw myself into ritual and intentional living—just intuitively, delicately, as I withdrew, trying to find a way to manage it all. I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense, but I do believe in connecting with nature and energy (to me, this is magic) and that magic suddenly felt even more real to me, even more than when I was younger and studying it. The water, the earth, a candle, the time I’d spend alone—it all felt really alive, animated, spirited, and like it was there for me. I began writing rituals around this time (and putting them up at Luna Luna). An editor approached me after reading my rituals and some other essays I’d done, and asked if I’d want to explore a full book of self-care practices, pooling together my interest in both magic and trauma recovery.
While writing it, I looked back on my days as a teen in homeless shelters and foster care…tinkering with spells, and reading about magic, often because I felt a lack of empowerment. I wanted to create a loving book to support people in moments of vulnerability. I wanted to make a grimoire that could balance—and lean into—both light and dark.
I initially wasn’t sure if I was emotionally grounded enough to write a book—I mean, who is?—but I did it, and it saved me.
In terms of the logistics, I created a survey asking people who practiced magic what they’d want (or not want) in a book. I asked friends what sort of spells they’d fantasized about. I studied what I liked about other books, and I examined the language around self-care practices that were geared to privileged folks. I wanted to offer something accessible and different, something friendly and hopeful. I have lots of people—witches and non-witches alike—to thank for inspiration.
In the book you write, “The words we write are magical. Language has always been at the core of spellcraft.” As writers, of course we’re deeply invested in the power of language, and we were moved by your articulation of its centrality to witchcraft. How has your spellcraft practice influenced your writing, and vice versa?
For a long time, I don’t think I realized that I was actively practicing magic. I have always been interested in it and have practiced it throughout the years, but even when my connection to spirituality slipped away, I always returned to writing: journaling, making lists, scribbling little wishes onto scrolls which I’d hide or carry or bury or place at an altar of sorts (something my Sicilian grandmother did and I picked up on).
I was writing poetry in such a way that I felt it was conjuring something or releasing something. I wrote one of my book as a spell (war/lock) and another (Apocryphal) as a eulogy. They were all intentional. When I read the poems aloud it felt like a casting or incantation. I don’t think I realized how natural and magical that was until about five years ago. Now it’s all one for me. Magic and language and poetry and the electric space between the lines.
To you, what is a spell?
It’s an action with an intention behind it—it can be in a breath, a movement, a word, a sound, anything. It draws on some energy—of self, of nature, of whatever you’re feeding it with. It’s autonomy.
We love your emphasis in the book on magic and ritual as a form of play, which is something so much literature about creativity in the arts is about. Could you say more about this link between play and creativity, both in witchcraft and in art?
Thank you! Of course all writing and creation has an element of work to it. It’s not always just a moment of muse and magic. But sometimes, when we’re doing serious work—whether it’s writing a poem or casting a spell—it can be really fun to just go outside the lines. Fuck lineation up. Abandon genre. Decide green is your favorite color when it comes to love spells. Decide to rewrite what power objects you use, despite what associations tell us. Decide to do off-the-cuff spellwork, without anything but your gut. Improvising healing.
As someone who has read a lot of grimoires, I really enjoyed the openness of this book. I especially appreciated your insistence that one doesn’t have to have expensive or rare materials to practice, and that creating your own path and improvising with what you already have and feels good to you is completely valid. Could you say more about why this emphasis on openness and accessibility is important to you?
People have been doing simple nature, kitchen, and household magic for a long time—many of them to manage systemic oppression and poverty and erasure. I wanted to honor that, in part.
When I was kid, I got my first witchcraft book, by Silver Ravenwolf, at Mandee’s Clothing Store, haha (up until then I could only really borrow books from the library). My mom didn’t have any money, and that book was a splurge for her. I think on all the people who want to connect with nature, or who feel that intrinsic pull to magic, but feel discouraged by the perceived difficulty or price of things: candles in certain colors, herbs that you can’t find.
There is a time and place for more ceremonial and elaborate magic with those materials, and I respect it, but I think self-care and self-healing is already too steeped in privilege. For people who can’t afford therapy and fancy tools, there should be options. A magical lifestyle is not impossible.
This is NOT “lite,” “lazy,” or “half-assed” either. The heart of it is intent, not expensive goblets and crystals.
You’ve written so meaningfully about trauma in your own life, and how magical practice has helped you heal. The very title of the book (“for dark times”) points towards the healing and protective qualities of ritual. We think that’s how so many people come to witchcraft and the figure of the witch, particularly, as you point out, those who have been pushed to the margins by society. Could you say more about that?
I think being watching my parents suffer from the illness of addiction really pushed me to find an inner source of power. I was surrounded by powerlessness and the ground was always dropping out from under us. My grandparents were Catholic, but even in Catholic school, my young mind—like many young minds—was malleable and in tune, and I just felt like organized religion wasn’t listening to my voice. I felt, if anything, like my pain and worry was something I wanted to control—rather than entrusting it to a divine source with a predetermined path.
Coming to magic was like that Tori Amos song, “Silent All These Years.” I discovered that I could build a set of actions that made me feel good and empowered. I remember, in my teens, lighting a candle before bed, and writing a little wish on a tiny piece of paper, staring into that candle, and focusing so hard on it coming true. Almost all of my wishes came true. I did this for years, and for a long time it was just natural—I didn’t consider myself a witch or a practitioner of anything, really.
People who are marginalized and systemically oppressed, from what I’ve experienced, align with the witch’s rebelliousness, her connection to nature—something we ALL have access to—and her iteration across cultures and times. There is always a witch to feel at home with.
Why do you think more and more people are turning to witchcraft at this historical moment?
I think part of the reason is that we are deconstructing the binary of this versus that, good versus bad, sacred versus profane, and looking at things in a more liminal, nuanced way. The witch straddles all of these lines, and she’s a powerful archetype of transformation, nature, and self-truth. It helps that so many people are writing about her, and destigmatizing her.
In addition to writing, you also edit Luna Luna Magazine and have a very active online presence. How do you think the age of the internet, in particular social media, has influenced growing interest in witchcraft in this particular moment?
There is the “aesthetic” witch, which is the image/iconography of the witch that we see all the time—and I think, even if it’s more about the look versus the act, it’s reminding people that we can design a life for ourself using power objects and archetypes and creativity.
Then there’s the fact that so many people can come together and bond over their interest in the witch. There are whole communities. Luna Luna is one such community, but there are lots more!
I am so grateful to all the people who create a dialogue not just around witchcraft but around self-care and empowerment. This cross-section is what my book is all about, and it’s given me so much peace.
What has the response been to the book so far?
The book has been met with SO much love! I’ve also found that’s a very Instagrammable book, ha! I’m still totally in shock, and feeling the impostor syndrome pretty hard. People are recognizing its balance of light and dark, which was important to me—because I came to it holding light in one hand and darkness in the other. I believe that liminality holds answers. I’m just so thankful and hope people use it as a tool for wellness.
What future projects are on the horizon?
My next book, Nympholepsy, is coming out this fall. It’s a book of poems co-written with poet Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein! Other than that, I’m working a lot on Luna Luna and developing & launching an online course about writing & journaling magic for healing and manifestation.