I’ve got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

The lyrics of Irving Berlin’s 1946 song written for “Annie Get Your Gun” tell us what the singer doesn’t have but then say, nonetheless, that s/he has the sun in the morning and the moon at night. The story, as Wikipedia says, “is a fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860–1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and her romance with sharpshooter Frank E. Butler (1847–1926).”

MGM’s feature film by the same name appeared in 1950 with Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley and Howard Keel as Frank Butler. While Merman, Hutton, Keel, Oakley, and Butler have almost faded into the mists of obscurity, the song maintains its traction through recordings by Reba McEntire and others.

But, on this Thanksgiving Day, I wonder how the sentiment survives, that the daily comings and goings of the sun and the moon are enough. Is there beauty enough to sustain us, or the fact that as long as we’re seeing them we’re still alive, or perhaps the symbolism behind the images. To be blunt–along with the often-quoted line, “You can’t eat the scenery”–seeing the sun and moon in the sky doesn’t put food on the table.

Perhaps the song is a bit idealistic, then.

And yet, maybe the beauty of the sun and the moon in the sky has an impact on us, feeding our hungry souls. We can be thankful for that even if the food is metaphysical. Such food gives us the power to persevere and perhaps triumph, as Ollivander, the seller of wands in the Harry Potter series told the originally down-and-out wizard, “I think it is clear that we can expect great things from you, Mr. Potter.”

Seeing the sun in the morning and the moon and night gives us hope, and there’s little nourishment or incentive more powerful. We can be thankful for that on this day.

Malcolm

Writers want to sweep you up into their stories

“Magic doesn’t sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine — to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.” – David Abram, “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology”

An ancient campfire beneath a fetching moon. Trees standing close, listening to a storyteller spin out a tale that captures the imaginations of those sitting around the fire so completely that the listeners see no boundary lines between themselves and the characters within the story. Truly, there is no outside at this point, no separation between the words and the trees and the moonlight and the derring-do of the far-away people whom the storyteller conjures into the world of that very moment.

As Wikipedia says, “Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story.”

Creating such shared moments is more difficult in a book because the storyteller and reader are worlds away from each other physically until or unless the words are strong enough and vibrating powerfully enough to dissolve the illusion of physical distance. When the book works for a reader, the experience becomes as powerful as the campfire scene where all is connected.

To be sure, the connection between writer and reader depends not only on the skill of the writer, but the a reader’s (often) long-time experience with books (how they work), the subject matter, the reader’s state of mind and (probably) physical comfort. When conditions are optimal, the reader is swept up into the story as though s/he is sitting with the storyteller next to a fire in a quiet forest or within cabin’s sweet shadows.

Books for prospective writers try very hard to teach us what we need to do while researching and writing to ensure that conditions are optimal. My approach–which doesn’t necessarily work for all writers–is that the writer must first be swept up by the story and its characters before s/he can produce a novel that sweeps up readers in the way David Abram suggests.

No matter how a writer connects with his/her story, getting those conditions right takes practice. Nobody sounds like Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, or John Coltrane the first time they pick up a tenor sax. Nobody writes like Stephen King, John Hart, or Neil Gaiman the first time they pick up a pencil or sit down at a computer. All of these people evolved into the people they became. 

Time seems to fly while writers are becoming comfortable with words, plots, techniques, character development, and magic. In a world where many people want everything right now, it’s difficult to submit to the necessity of practice. Even the wizards at Hogwarts needed to practice their spells. So do storytellers dreaming of campfires and writers dreaming of books and short stories.

After that, the magic begins to work behind the scenes and become second nature to the man or woman with the pencil. 

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism series of novels that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and ends with “Fate’s Arrows.”

 

My books take me by surprise

Writing books is fun because once I get into the story, I want to know how it’s going to end. I promise I have no idea until I get there.

I thought of writing Fate’s Arrows because a new character named Pollyanna showed up out of nowhere in Lena, my previous novel. She had a lot of sparkle and energy, so I thought, “Hmm, maybe she has enough spunk to carry a new novel on her own–rather like an actress with a small role in one movie who ends up staring in the studio’s next movie.”

While I planned for Fate’s Arrows to be a standalone novel, I set it in the same fictional town (Torreya) where the Florida Folk Magic Series was set. It’s not surprising, then, that the characters from the series began showing up and found important things to do.

Fate’s Arrows relies less on conjure and more on Pollyanna’s skills, skills that readers learn about as the story moves along. I can’t mention them here because they would be spoilers. Suffice it to say, she is a lot more than she appears while sitting behind the counter in the Mercantile balancing Lane Walker’s books. If you’re a bad person, don’t mess with her.

The Big Al’s Books and Pals nailed it in her review when she said, “Malcolm R Campbell is an author who has lived in the Florida panhandle (where this novel is set) and is old enough to remember the final days of the KKK. His anger about that organisation continues to burn, and this is an angry book.” 

I needed a protagonist who had the same hatred for the KKK I’ve always had and who had the guile and the grit to do something about it. If I’d tried to take the action she takes in the novel when I lived in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s and 1960s, I probably would have gotten killed–or worse.

Of course, Pollyanna has a strong supporting cast from the earlier books: Eulalie the conjure woman and her cat Lena, Willie Tate who knows how to get people out of trouble, Police chief Rudy Flowers, and others.

I admire Pollyanna and I think you will, too. She kept surprising me every with every risk she took.

Malcolm

The magic in my books

One way or the other, most of my novels include magic. Over time, this blog has often sought a comfortable niche. Apparently, that niche is magic even though I do a few book reviews, some posts about writing, conservation and wilderness, and some opinion posts.

The existence of this niche has become apparent of late when I see that most of my readers are stopping by to read posts about magic (many of those posts are old) and fewer readers are stopping by to look at everything else. My views of consensual reality and magic are more blurred than most people’s, meaning that I often think I’m writing realism and others think I’m writing something else. So, here’s how the books sort themselves out:

  1. Florida Folk Magic Series (Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, Lena, and Fate’s Arrows – Magical realism based on hoodoo (conjure) as it’s generally viewed in the South. These are set in Florida.
  2. Mountain Song and At Sea – Both of these books are realism, but with fantasy elements and (in Mountain Song) spirituality in the form of a vision quest. These are set in Montana, Florida, and the South China Sea.
  3. The Sun Singer and Sarabande – Contemporary fantasy set primarily in Glacier National Park. The Sun Singer follows a hero’s journey theme and Sarabande (the sequel) follows a heroine’s journey theme.
  4. Widely Scattered Ghosts – paranormal short stories in a variety of settings.
  5. En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom – Short story within the Florida folklore and magical realism genres.
  6. Emily’s Stories (audiobook) – Three contemporary fantasy short stories. One of the stories is set in Montana and two are set in north Florida.

So, apparently, I’m writing about magic when I’m not even aware I’m writing about magic.

Malcolm

From one magic to another

When I wrote my contemporary fantasies, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, I was following the tropes of the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey. The magic infused in these books was hermetic, that is to say, it followed old western magic traditions that were (and still can be) found in mystery schools, Tarot, the Tree of Life, and–in general–the western esoteric traditions.

Aeon Trump Card. Thoth Deck

There was supposed to be a third book named Aeon, yet I was unable to write it when I finished Sarabande because the protagonist was an avatar and I didn’t know enough to write a book from his point of view. I still don’t. But it’s time, now, to give it a try.

Meanwhile, I’ve written four novels–the folk magic series–that focus on conjure, also known as hoodoo. This magic follows some traditions that came out of Africa and, in this country, became blended with Christianity and Witchcraft. There are too many practices and beliefs here so summarize them, but suffice it to say, they are not part of western mysticism and traditions that go back to the Greco-Roman mysteries.

Apples and oranges, in some respects. Different ways of approaching the same truths, in other respects. I have a great appreciation for all the paths leading to transformation into being at one with the universe and understanding the powers we all have if we take time to find them.

I’ve been taking some time researching western esoteric traditions again as well as what I wrote in the two earlier novels so that events and intentions are consistent. I view the Aeon Tarot card (XX) as a step past the Sun card (XIX) where the seeker on the path has stepped into the arena of the actual universe “behind” the illusory universe we see with our physical senses.

Needless to say, I’m not an avatar, so I’m going to be relying on my imagination and intuition and a lifetime of experience with the Thoth Tarot deck to get this new novel into shape. Don’t hold your breath.  At any rate, I’m enjoying getting back the magic I started out with.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s latest folk magic novel is “Fate’s Arrows.

 

Review: ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke

PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine this: You live in a huge, seemingly infinite house filled with statuary and ocean tides; you have never been outside the house because the house is all you know and all you can know; your life’s mission, as you see it, is exploring this house to length and breadth of possibility and, as you walk and climb and stay away from the highest of those tides, you catalogue everything you see in a series of journals that may potentially become infinite in number and detail.

The protagonist is called Piranesi–perhaps in deference to the great printmaker of the 1700s, though Piranesi doesn’t know this–by the other living human being in the house. Piranesi doesn’t believe “Piranesi” is his real name, nor does he know the real name of the other man in the house, so he calls him “The Other.” Their researches into the ways and means of the house are, at first, beneficial. However, their co-operation begins to wear thing when Piranesi discovers that The Other is seeking advanced and secret knowledge he believes to be hidden inside the house. Piranesi thinks nothing can be more important that the beauties and scope of the house itself.

There are some dead in the house, not many, and where and when they died is unclear. Piranesi has taken care to arrange them in an orderly fashion and to keep them out of reach of the tides. The Other says there’s somebody else in the house, a person who hides, perhaps, in unknown rooms, and he suggests that that person wishes to harm Piranesi. They refer to him or her as “16,” since–when you include the dead–that’s the number of people in the house.

There’s deep and quiet magic in this masterpiece, and it becomes more evident as Clarke’s novel unfolds. There are hints that there may be a past Piranesi has forgotten or misconstrued. He becomes unsure of some of the entries in meticulously kept journals. There’s a growing worry about The Other’s truthfulness in some manners. Is anything what it seems? Piranesi can only wonder and proceed from room to room and tide to tide with due care.

For those who don’t require fire-breathing dragons or the snap of lethal energies flung from the hands of protagonists and antagonists in epic battles, this book is a treasure to be savoured like fine wine.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, including the novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” and (NEW) “Fate’s Arrows.”

View all my reviews

New novel released today, ‘Fate’s Arrows’

Click here for Amazon editions.

Thomas-Jacob Publishing and Malcolm R. Campbell announce the 9/3/20 release of Fate’s Arrows in paperback and e-book. The hardcover edition will be available soon, The novel is the fourth in the Florida Folk Magic Series.

The novel is also available at Barnes and Noble (web site),  Apple, and Kobo, and will be available soon to bookstores via their Ingram Catalog.

Fate’s Arrows Description

In 1954, the small Florida Panhandle town of Torreya had more Klansmen per acre than fire ants. Sparrow, a bag lady; Pollyanna, an auditor; and Jack, the owner of Slade’s Diner, step on fire ants and Klansmen whenever they can while an unknown archer fires fate-changing arrows at the Klan’s leadership. They are not who they appear to be, and while they take risks, they must be discrete lest they end up in the Klan’s gunsights.

When Julia and Eldon, a married couple from Harlem, New York, run afoul of the Klan because of Eldon’s pro-union stance at the sawmill, they find themselves down at the ancient hanging tree where two policemen, hiding their identity beneath white robes and hoods, are the ones holding the noose.

Meanwhile, Sparrow seems to have disappeared. When the ne’er-do-well Shelton brothers beat up the Klavern’s exalted cyclops because they think he harmed Sparrow, they, too, find themselves the focus of a KKK manhunt.

Bolstered by support from a black cat and an older-than-dirt conjure woman, Pollyanna persists in her fight against the Klan, determined to restore law and order to a town overwhelmed by corruption.

Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘The Black Pullet’

The name “Grimoire” is derived from the word “Grammar”. A grammar is a description of a set of symbols and how to combine them to create well-formed sentences. A Grimoire is, appropriately enough, a description of a set of magickal symbols and how to combine them properly. – Internet Sacred Text Archive

While grimoires are typically associated with so-called high magic or ritual magic, the term has lost some of its focus because some people use it as a synonym for the craft practitioner’s Book of Shadows.

The Black Pullet, also known as the hen that lays the golden eggs, is a grimoire and a story combined. Purportedly, the book was written in the 1700s. The book relates the story of a French soldier serving in Egypt with Napolean’s army who is wounded and left for dead next to one of the pyramids. An old man emerges from a secret entrance to a pyramid, takes the soldier inside, and treats his wounds. The soldier discovers that there are a vast library and living quarters within the pyramid. All are richly adorned in the manner one would expect of royalty in those days.

The man says that he has long been the guardian of the deep secrets of the universe and, if he is willing, the soldier will now take his place. The guardian begins to teach the young man about prayers and meditations that will transform him into one who is worthy of the sacred knowledge. Subsequently, the soldier learns of the sacred symbols and words emblazoned on rings and talismans, and how to use them to control nature and the numerous beings that inhabit the universe, most of whom can be very helpful to the one who holds the sacred knowledge.

The book is filled with drawings of talismans and amulets accompanied by the words of power one uses to invoke the desired powers, and that includes creating the black hen that lays golden eggs.

from the Black Pullet’s Preface

The work which we offer to the public must not be confused with a collection of reveries and errors to which their authors have tried to give credence by announcing supernatural feats; which the credulous and the ignorant seized with avidity. We only quote the most respectable authorities and most dignified in faith. The principles which we present are based on the doctrines of the ancients and modern, who full of respect for the Divinity, were always the friends of mankind, endeavoured to recall them to virtue, by showing them vice in all its deformity. We have drawn from the most pure sources, having only in view the love of truth and the desire to enlighten those who desire to discover the secrets of Nature and the marvels which they unfold to those who never separate the darkness which surrounds them. It is only given to those who are favoured by The Great Being, to raise themselves above the terrestrial sphere, and to plan a bold flight in the etheric regions; it is for these privileged men that we write.

While some conjure men and women use seals and symbols taken from this book for protection and as an aid to spell casting, the book appears to stand more as a curiosity than a useful, working grimoire. Many old grimoires and other ancient texts are pulled into craft (witchcraft) and conjure work for power with probable benefits; however, the intent of the book is for use by students of high magic rather folk magic for summoning entities rather than as, say, a strong rabbit’s foot.

Malcolm

If change were as simple as a witch’s ladder

Witches ladders are made by tying a series of knots in thread, yarn, or some other material and that include, at each knot,  a feather, a strand of human hair, leaf, jewelry, pine cone or object that symbolizes the purposes of the ladder. The purpose is generally the creation of a spell or a meditation.

The ladders are known to have been around since the 1870s, but I suspect practitioners of the craft have used them for centuries. Typically, one sings, chants, or recites a specific of general spell element with the tying of each knot. A “simple” ladder often has nine knots and often uses this chant:

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, the magic comes true.
By knot of three, so it shall be.
By knot of four, this power is stored.
By knot of five, my will shall drive.
By knot of six, the spell I fix.
By knot of seven, the future I leaven.
By knot of eight, my will be fate.
By knot of nine, what is done is mine.

Anyone with patience or the slightest affinity for arts and crafts can make a witch’s ladder, though the example shown here from the Wikipedia article probably shouldn’t be the first one attempted. However, a properly done witch’s ladder is not really simple because for the spell or meditation to manifest, the creator of the ladder must have strong faith/conviction the spell/mediation will work, must maintain a powerful focus upon each knot, and then do nothing to doubt the power of the ladder and the intentions behind it once it’s been completed.

Those who have read this blog for years know that I’m not a big fan of affirmations, statements one repeats daily with the belief that this repetition will bring changes into their consciousness and then into our consensual reality. Émile Coué (1857-1926) was a proponent of this so-called “self-suggestion” and is probably best known for the affirmation “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Yes, I think affirmations–like the steps in a witch’s ladder–can work if they are not recited more or less by rote and if we live the affirmations after making them. That is, we activate them by doing something in our lives (even symbolically) in support of the statements. That is, if–in the moments before you fall asleep–you say “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” then you aren’t really living that self-suggestion if you continue to smoke a pack of Marlboros and drink a quart of whiskey every day while thinking little or nothing about what you would look like or act like or think like if you became better.

So much of what we say and do when confronted with the need for change–as protests around the nation are bringing to our attention–is often (as people have said) little more than lip service to new ideas or a BAND-AID® applied to an old and festering problem.  Saying to the protesters (in person or figuratively), “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is meaningless unless you focus your intent and will power on those thoughts and prayers and then take positive action to back up your intentions.

The real witch’s ladder is not simple, though it need not be considered too complex to utilize effectively. Yet, the ladder is simple if the alternative is doing nothing. The trick, if there is one, is living as though the spell/mediation has come to pass even before you see it with your physical eyes.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include magic because that’s how he sees and lives in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Time machines really don’t cost that much

In 1960, one of my favorite movies was “The Time Machine” based on H. G. Wells’ novel. Perhaps it was the slight crush I had on Yvette Mimieux (unrequited love) or perhaps it was my attunement with old legends about time travel, but the film remains a favorite even though it’s very dated by now.

Now we’re learning more and more about how astronomers’ observations are verifying Einstein’s theories of space/time. My focus on time is more mystic and speculative than science, but I have always thought that one day we would figure out how to do it without breaking Star Trek’s Temporal Prime Directive that prohibits interfering with cultures in a time frame earlier than our own.

For now, though, I’m content to use my imagination as a time machine when I write as well as when I read. My work in progress is set in 1955. Whether it’s the writing or the ongoing research of the period, I feel like I’m bouncing back and forth between 2020 and the 1950s. I feel the same way when I read whether it’s Southern Gothic, which I like a lot, or mainstream historical novels.

I believe in past lives, though I do think they’re occurring simultaneously with our current lives and “future” lives. Aside from that, books do have a powerful ability to transport us to other times and places. How easy it is to fall under the spell of a book or film set in another time and (while reading/viewing) take everything we see and hear as a reality we want to experience.

Do you feel this way when you read? Do you suddenly “see” a period in our nation’s past (or some other nation’s past) as more real than you did before you began the novel? I usually do. It’s almost like magic.

Malcolm