It often surprises people to learn that I write my books and blogs by hand. Computers and phones have become so ubiquitous that I think it just doesn’t occur to us that this might be an option that some writers still choose—it sounds so antiquated and needlessly difficult. Maybe even pretentious. I admit that I was inspired to give it a try after hearing that this is how Neil Gaiman writes his novels, and because I once had the privilege to see the original manuscript of Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and I literally wept like a giant nerd (In public! Surrounded by worried colleagues and friends!). I had a similar reaction to seeing Ray Buckland’s beat-up wirebound notebook at the Buckland Museum a few years ago, containing the earliest draft of his Complete Book of Witchcraft (not to compare Buckland to Dickens, but both have been instrumental in the course of my life for very different reasons).
Like, holy shit, friends, people used to have to write everything by hand. I think that’s incredible. I remember learning about monks and illuminated manuscripts in middle school and thinking, “I want that job.” Being a Gardnerian—with our penchant for hand-copying the Book of Shadows and writing our own over the course of our lives—is about as close as I could manage.
The second book is complete and in the hands of the good folks at Llewellyn! The tentative release is September 2021, and I hope to see the first round of feedback in a few weeks. I confess to being a little nervous about this one. Will they like it?
People always ask me how I go about researching my books, and it’s kind of an awkward question because, well…I don’t. There’s zero research involved in basically everything I write because I don’t write from the perspective of a historian or any other kind of scholar. I’m trained in scholarly techniques, and I’ve done academic work that is research-based, but that’s not who I am when I’m publishing as Thorn Mooney. My style is confessional. I write from my personal experience, I use anecdotes, I share a lot about my life and the people I’ve met, I draw conclusions based on what I’ve seen out in the wider community, and I make arguments for certain perspectives based on my own teaching experience and leadership. On a personal level, I’m interested in theology and contemporary religious culture, not in how-to manuals or histories. Where I do write how-to’s, it’s usually about widely applicable, not-very-sexy stuff like how to evaluate magical books and websites, how to find and approach a coven, how to avoid predators at Pagan events, and how to respond when someone on the witch Internet tries to feed you some hot nonsense.
So I tend to write very few spells and rituals. I’m more likely to offer mundane solutions than magical ones. I think most problems could be solved if people were better communicators than anything particularly mystical. I believe most people skip the guided meditations, so I don’t write them. I’m just not very woo, as a writer. Other people are way better at that, so I leave it to them.
That makes me self-conscious, though. What if my editors don’t think I’m spooky enough for the woo shelf?
But I believe that too often we neglect some of the more mundane skills that go along with advancing as a witch. They key to building a stronger personal practice and taking those next steps isn’t usually to just do more or learn more techniques. I think that being an advanced practitioner has a lot more to do with how you approach material, how you integrate it and evaluate it. Taking things to the next level usually means learning how to shift your routines, how to become a stronger reader, how to move in magical communities to get the most out of them, and how to incorporate magical techniques into meaningful regularity, rather than just throwing in a bunch of new or complex ones. So my chapter on ritual, for example, doesn’t contain the usual checklist of what goes into ritual and how to write a good one. Rather, it explores why we bother with ritual at all, how to integrate it into the lives we’re already leading, how to capitalize on failure, and why it might be worth throwing out some of the stuff we’re always told is so critical. Other chapters touch on devotion, notions of the sacred, community, study, and our most basic definitions of what it means to be a witch. It was challenging to write, too, because it’s written broadly. It’s not about Wicca, though certainly Wiccans will find it useful. The aim was to be relevant, regardless of one’s specific brand of the Craft.
I think it’s an important book that does something that hasn’t been done before. I’m proud of it. I also know that in ten years I’ll have new ideas about the things inside, and I’ll probably disagree with myself and have to write it again. That’s just how publishing goes, near as I can tell.
Anyway, I’ll post updates here as I have them! I’m sharing excerpts on Patreon, too, so take a peek if you have an inkling.