This year The Witches’ Almanac visits with author Judika Illes, whose books are devoted to spirituality, witchcraft and the occult. The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Sages; The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft; Pure Magic: A complete Course in Spellcasting and The Weiser Guide to Witches. She is also a certified aromatherapist, paraprofessional crisis counselor,public speaker and acclaimed card reader.
Judika, your books are considered an essential resource for those with an interest in witchcraft and the magical arts. What sort of life experiences or influences sparked your initial interest in these disciplines?
That’s a question I’m constantly asked, but one that’s actually very hard to answer. Why do any of us love whatever it is that we love? My interest in these topics was sparked extremely early. I fell in love with witches, witchcraft, divination and the magical arts at an extremely young age and that passion remains unabated. It’s difficult for me to say why. You could argue all sorts of reason — genetics, past life, destiny — but whatever the reason, there it is. My earliest influences include the neighborhood in Queens where I grew up — I was transfixed by the storefront windows of local botanicas. I was fed a steady diet fairytales, stimulating my devotion to Baba Yaga and Lilith. I was also a very precocious reader. I could read by the time I was three, and I was permitted to read anything I wanted. To this day, I’m a compulsive reader. Among the books lying around the house were books on astrology, tarot and other forms of divination — I just consumed them.
What made you become a metaphysical writer?
Honestly, I never set out to be a metaphysical writer. That just happened; I fell into it. My original goal was to publish a book on traditional methods of enhancing fertility and healing infertility. I have a huge manuscript on these topics that remains unpublished. This derives from my own experiences back in the late 80s. The medical solutions suggested to me were unsatisfactory and so I began researching and eventually amassed a manuscript — there’s a chapter on magic spells in it — and asked if I would write a more general book devoted to spellcraft, which eventually became the book now known as Pure Magic. I agreed in a minute — the magic art are my first love.
Is it true that The Witches’ Almanac was instrumental in writing one of your books?
That’s right. After I completed The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, which I was asked by the publisher whether I would like to follow-up with an encyclopedia of witchcraft. Initially, I was not overly enthusiastic — most encyclopedias of witchcraft , with very few exceptions are not really about witches or their craft. Instead, they tend to be about witch hunting, written by outsiders to the Craft or they are focused on very narrow visions or definitions of witchcraft. I was a little resistant. But then I received a lovely note from someone representing the Non-Wiccan Witches Yahoo Group, thanking me for aspects of 5000 Spells. They thanked me for making them feel represented. I entered into some correspondence and they were enthusiastic about my writing an encyclopedia of witchcraft — one that would encompass a greater vision of witchcraft rthater than a narrow one — and so I began to reconsider. I became more enthusiastic when I realized I could focus attention on those I considered to be the unsung hearos and heroines of Witchcraft — especially Elizabeth Pepper, the founder and creative genius behind The Witches’ Almanac. I thought she — as well as the Almanac had been very overlooked, and I was grateful for the opportunity for the opportunity to shine a light on upon her and it. In my determination to write about The Witches’ Almanac, I met Elizabeth Pepper. I feel very grateful for this opportunity to communicate and correspond with her before she passed.
Who do you consider some other unsung heroes and heroines of witchcraft?
There are so many, but among those at the top of my list would be the author and publisher Paschal Beverly Randolph. Sybil Leek is hardly unsung but she has become very underappreciated. All her books are currently out-of-print and she does not receive the credit that is due her. Marie Laveau is too often sensationalized and is not given the credit she deserves — she is a tremendous influence on modern Western magical and spiritual traditions. Then there is Dr. John Montanet who was among Marie’s significant influences. Dr. John was born in Africa, lived in Cuba, and then spent most of his life in New Orleans. He is another pivotal, but often unsung hero of occultism. All of these people and more are described in detail in both my Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and the Weiser Filed Guide for Witches.
Rumor has it that you are also the author of another Weiser Field Guide.
That’s right . The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal is credited to Judith Joyce — but she’s really my alter ego. For a variety of reasons, mainly the brief times span between publication of my tow Weiser field guides, that was credited to an alias, but it’s book. I had a lot of fun writing it. It’s a fairly open secret that I wrote that book. One of my favorites reivews was from someone who recognized the consistency of writing styles in my tow Weiser field guids.
Can you tell us about your most recent book, Judika?
The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Spirits was published by HarperOne in autumn 2011. My earliest book The Encyclopedia of Spirits was originally intended to include angels and saints, as well as a vast variety of Pagan spirits, such as goddesses, fairies, lwa and orishas. But the manuscript became too lengthy and the angels and saints were sidelined in the hopes that someday they each would have their own books. The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Sages includes saints from a wide variety of spiritual traditions. It explores the commonality of saints who are by definition, the helpful, benevolent, powerful and generous dead — those dead souls who concern themselves with the well-being of the living. Any book on saints will by necessity, be dominated by Christian saints, just because there are so many more of them — and the encyclopedia explains why this is so. But there are also Jewish saints, Sufi saints, Buddhist saints, Thelemite saints, Zoroastrian saints and wide variety of folk saints, such as Santa Muerte, Jesus Malverde and Teresita. There are also modern Pagan saints like Boudica and Hypatia. Certain countries like Argentina and Vietnam, have a particularly rich variety of folk saints. The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints and Sages, like The Encyclopedia of Spirits, is a very practical book for how direct interaction with these sacred beings. With all my books I try to make my topics as concrete and real as I can, rather than speaking in abstractions. In the same way that I want readers to comprehend who Helena Blavatsky, Marie Laveau, and the Fox sisters, and Barney and Betty Hill really were as people, I want them to have a sense of Teresa Avila or the Seven African Powers as real, true being who coexist in the world around us.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a number of half-finished books in my head that I would someday like to publish. I would really like to publish Frogs and Pomegranates, my fertility manuscript, as well as an encyclopedia of angels, which would complete a trilogy with The Encyclopedia of Spirits and Mystics and Mystic, Saints and Sages Plus I really enjoy teaching. I teach workshops on topics like divination, saint veneration, goddess spirituality and all sorts of magical techniques. Over the past decade, I’ve published four encyclopedias, two field guides and two books devoted magic spells, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time indoors and alone. I’m looking forward to getting out of the house and doing more teaching.