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What Fantasy Books Can Teach Us About Magic | A Christian Witch's Walk with God

Maybe this is why mainstream Christians are so scared of this genre.

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Slovenia, Slavic Culture, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality

Yeah, I know I said I'd get the chapter I'm working on done last week, but...


I sincerely underestimated how much research goes into discussing just a few verses of Scripture. In fact, I have learned more about this stuff than I ever thought I reasonably would—hearing about everything from how King Solomon actually exorcized demons to learning about the nuances of words like kashapu, kishpu, and mekhashepah. Even learning more about the character of God through books like Ezekiel, and how God is explained as having given bad rules on purpose to shame Israel (likely a way to explain why syncretic pagan traditions found their way into traditional Israelite religion at the time. Wild, I know.)


It's a lot to parse, but the good news is that I'm on basically the last difficult chunk, and then it's a matter of breezing through the last couple verses (two from Leviticus, one from Galatians), and then the "clobber verses," as I call them, are all done, and we can move onto talking about the magic Jesus and His contemporaries were doing instead.


But let's get into today's blog and save all that for another time!

 

It's no secret that a lot of evangelical or fundamentalist Christians really dislike fantasy as a genre. Does it matter that some of our most iconic fantasy around has been written by Christian authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis? No. What matters is that there are mentions of witchcraft and magic and worlds that aren't ours, and that just triggers something in their brains that makes them short circuit a bit. The whole Harry Potter debacle remains legendary.


But for people who understand the place of magic and mysticism in religion (because truly, no religion can even operate without it), there's something about fantasy books that can help you actually fine tune the philosophical aspects of how magic works in the first place. And as a fantasy writer, these philosophies then help me write new magic systems and ways of weaving it into the storyline.

Sara Raztresen, The Glass Witch, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Magic, Christian, Reading, Slavic Culture, Slovenia

For instance, in my book, The Glass Witch, the magic has two modes: nedzuring, or low magic, which is the most intuitive use of magic that I based off the concept of energy work. The next level, which requires education on arcane science and theory, is helzuring, high magic. This has steps, and it can do a lot more than the more intuitive magic our main character learned with the few scant books she could get on it.


Among magical practitioners, a similar idea exists between witches and ceremonial magicians. Whereas witchcraft is very much a "use what you got" methodology, with no set rules, ceremonial magic has a very specific, almost scientific procedure. There's a link. Let's talk about another book like that first as we go on.


NOTE: I am really trying my best not to spoil things in these books, but there are some points where to explain it requires at least a hint of spoilers, so if you haven't read these books and don't want to be spoiled... you've been warned.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik, Uprooted, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Magic, Christian, Reading, Slavic Culture

Like The Glass Witch, Naomi Novik's work follows a similar idea between the two main characters. Agnieszka learns how to use magic from the Dragon, a wizard who has spent years learning and practicing and understanding the theory of magic, and who can weave perfect, beautiful, deadly constructions. While Agnieszka tries to follow this strict, stiff understanding of magic at first, however, she finds much more value in a different method and philosophy of magic: one by the old witch, a near legendary character in this book, known as Jaga.


(Baba Yaga, of course.)


For Baba Yaga, magic wasn't about specific methodology or saying just the right words. It was about doing what you could reasonably imagine. It was about putting your intention into the flow of your energy, trusting that your power would grow and twist into the shape it needed to be. Rather than training a little bonsai into the perfect shape through careful application of wire and skill, it was about understanding only the bare basics of how to access magic, and how to get resourceful when conditions weren't ideal.


From slurring spells to get the effect Agnieszka wants to curing ailments thought impossible to fix without exactly the right ingredient, Uprooted has something to say about these differences between "high" and "low" magic. It has its distinctions drawn in the sand, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of both. As witches, we might see ourselves in Agnieszka (and by extension Baba Yaga): it's creativity, resourcefulness, and, when told something won't work, asking "why not? Did you try it already?"


There's a value to ceremonial magic. There's a great discipline and power and grounded aspect to it, making it perfect for chasing esoteric secrets and growing one's spiritual and mental capacity to swallow the secrets of the world. But like a world class chef against your grandmother, there's an aspect to witchcraft that draws on more than method: it draws on ingenuity, ancestral and intuitive knowledge, and a healthy dose of "what's the worst that could happen?" attiude.


As Damien Echols says: a truly powerful magician can work insane magic even while dropped naked on a beach with nothing but his bare ass and a functioning mind.


The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
Katherine Arden, Bear and the Nighingale, Winternight Trilogy, Russian Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Magic, Christian, Reading, Slavic Culture

This discussion is definitely going to be more spoiler-ific, because I'm not talking about the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, for the magical lesson here. Rather, it comes in the third book, and while I won't give you all the details, I will say this:


This is the first time I've ever seen anyone actually address Christian magic in a fantasy book.


The Winternight Trilogy is a historical fantasy that takes place in the Kyivan Rus, and later Moscow, incorporating a delightful amount of specifically Russian folklore (including monsters and spirits like the domovoy and the rusalka). The main character is something of a witch, yet still has faith in the Christian God to some extent; there's a lot of the concept of dual faith present, a characteristic of Eastern Slavic expressions of faith after Christianity came over.


But often in these stories, there's all this power and agency and action with the pagan spirits—the gods of death and winter, the spirits of the lake and the barn, all that—but nothing ever said about God. It's as if God isn't there, the way He's represented in works like these. And even in this book, He doesn't ever make a conscious, autonomous appearance, but at least one of His priests does something that really fascinated me as I read (and maybe had me cheering a little bit like my parents do when the Patriots score a touchdown).


Again, I won't try to spoil, so to spare the details, there's a Big Problem™ that the main character is having a lot of trouble with. Like, a ton. Even though the way her magic works, where she conjures fire by simply "forgetting" things aren't on fire, is pretty cool, it's not enough to fix the issue. It's only when a seasoned, older priest comes in and calls on the power of God that the whole problem literally just... drops. Completely resolves itself. In a flat second.


The book describes this as the priest's faith and confidence that this would work being so strong that it actually took root in the world (not unlike Vasya's "forgetting" that things weren't the way she wanted them to be with her own magic). The priest had faith that his intercession would work to the point that there was no doubt that it wouldn't, and so the magic happened.


Combine this with the actual Gospels, and you've got a powerful aspect of magic. After all, was it not Jesus that said that faith the size of a mustard seed could have you commanding mountains to jump into the sea? In this book, it seemed that very faith was enough for the priest to just wipe the floor with everybody. I'd never been so thrilled to see a clean sweep of a conflict in a book like that, let me tell you.


A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Earthsea, A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Magic, Christian, Reading, Classics

Now, I'll be honest: out of all the books I've listed here, this one was probably my least favorite. Not because it was poorly written or anything; it was lovely, a quaint and classic fantasy read. I just didn't connect with it as much as the other two. I like books that really drag me into the moment rather than the classic fantasies that feel like a tale being recounted to me, which this was. It is a classic for a reason though, so definitely check it (and the rest) out if you like that.


But one thing I did take away magically was the need for moderation. The main character realizes that he has magic at an early age, but after being sent away to master it, his mentor doesn't teach him the secrets of magic right away. Instead, they spend a lot of time doing the most mundane things: learning to build fires and trap animals by hand, meditating, carrying heavy items through the rain and cold and dark, setting up camp and weathering the elements. There's really very little magic going on for this boy in the beginning, and that frustrates him.


Eventually he gives up on his mentor and goes off alone to learn the big boy magic at an academy, and he comes to see the wisdom of his first mentor eventually: you need to know how to be self sufficient without this wondrous and beautiful power. Power is great, power is nice—but come to rely on it too heavily, to the point of forsaking all other skills and methods of solving a problem, and you'll still be weak inside. Try to grab for that level of power without doing the intense foundational work to have a solid state of mind and soul, and you're bound to become the type to abuse that power, wielding it against friend and foe alike.


There's a saying among the #witchtok community (and witches in general): mundane before magic. Never grab for magic where a conversation could do, or a simple bit of problem solving. Otherwise, it's like grabbing for a nuke every time you find one mouse in the house. A mousetrap will do instead; no need to go buck wild for every little thing. It's that kind of spiritual and magical discipline that will help you take these lessons to heart without falling victim to the idea of power (as so many people often do).


What books have you read with magic systems you can draw on? How have you incorporated some of these lessons into your practice? Think about this throughout the week—and enjoy a good book when you get the time!

 

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her spiritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.


Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.


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