‘Every Day Is Powerful’
Interview with “Daily Magic: Spells and Rituals for Making the Whole Year Magical” Author Judika Illes
A Cancer with her sun in the sixth house and a Scorpio moon, Judika Illes was destined for a writing career. But first she was a freeform radio deejay, she sold small leather goods in a deluxe store on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. She’s a certified aromatherapist. Until her first book was published, she sold makeup in the mall (because if you gave her a jar of skin cream, she understand the ingredient list, such as boswellia is frankincense. She was a card reader and dream interpreter on a psychic hotline. Now she’s a mother and an editor. She loves cats and dogs.
Her latest book, “Daily Magic: Spells and Rituals for Making the Whole Year Magical,” [reviewed in last month’s issue] is a perpetual calendar that could almost count as her fifth well-researched encyclopedia.
She took time out of her day recently to have a conversation with me for PaganPagesOrg. We talked about how she doesn’t read her reviews, how the first book she had published was not the first book she wrote, the calendars she kept, and how she was blessed to come from a family interested in, but not practitioners of, magick.
When transcribed, the interview read much like a letter. It was slightly edited for brevity, but every word is hers. May I suggest you brew a cup of tea and sit down to read words from a distant friend. She’s about to catch you up on this and that and more.
My sister was twelve years older. I started first grade the year she started college. She went to Cooper Union in New York City. It’s really been a full circle. I have a day job. I’m an editor at Weiser Books. And her college was around the corner from the old Weiser Bookstore, which is a little serendipitous. [Samuel Weiser Bookstore, now Weiser Antiquarian Books, is the oldest and most famous occult bookstore in the United States.]
When I was out of school, I could help myself to my sister’s books and things until she got home. She would buy things. My mother never said, “Oh leave that alone.” I spent my afternoon in her room playing with her stuff. Tarot cards, astrology books, numerology books. I had a family who was interested in spiritual, mystical matters. I was left to my own devices. And tarot cards, I just fell in love with. I’m still in love with them.
I loved [Samantha], I loved [“Bewitched”]. I’m old enough to remember watching it the first time around. I watch it now and it’s very interesting because I’ve watched it with my children. And my daughter, also a Scorpio moon, right away, said, “This is about male oppression of women,” and she’s right. But the first time I saw it, just to see a magickal person be charming and responsible and kind and look normal. Clearly she was smarter than her husband. There was relatively little stereotyping there and I think even as a child I appreciated that.
I love “The Addams Family.” Those were my role models from when I was a child. My influential female figure was Morticia Addams who was smart and kind and stylish, all these things.
My mother taught herself English by teaching me to read and so we spent a lot of times at the library and we went through all the fairy tale books. My mother told me many Baba Yaga stories. … [She] had a poetic soul.
She taught me spells that she learned as a child from older people. I feel very lucky, I was very blessed … alone with her and her sisters. I may as well have been the puppy.
I have a very complicated publishing history. I have an unpublished book. The first book I ever finished and attempted to publish is a book that I call “Fox and Pomegranates.” It’s a working title. It’s a book on basically getting pregnant – if you are having trouble – using natural, holistic methods, using herbal methods, spiritual methods, magical methods – everything except the fertility clinic. In my attempt to publish it, a publisher liked the chapter on magic spells. I did not expect to be a metaphysical writer because there’s so many. But he asked if I could turn [that chapter] into a book and I said, “Sure.” And that book was “Earth Mother Magic: Ancient Spells for Modern Belles.” When “Earth Mother Magic” went out of print … Weiser published their own edition and called it “Pure Magic.”
As books get older, they tend to sell less. At that point, publishers will let the book linger, put it out of print, or sometimes they’ll do a new edition and treat it as if it’s a new book which was done with that book. It was published as “The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic That Works.” Essentially, those three titles all refer to the same book. There are slight differences: there’s a source guide in the first one; there’s a preface in the third one. There will be a new edition coming in the spring because Weiser Books has brought it back for Weiser Classics. It’s now “Daily Magic.” You know, it’s not the authors who come up with the titles. This book was originally “365 Days of Magic.”
The first book was written in 1999 but was not published until about 2002. … From 2002 until 2010 I wrote nonstop. I wrote four small books plus four big encyclopedias. I was exhausted and I had personal stuff to take care of, so I did not write new material, other than a forward here and there, from 2010 until “Daily Magic.” I worked on that for a couple years. After 2016, 2017 … I got serious.
I like calendars. I like organizing time. I have my sun in the sixth house so I may as well be a proxy Virgo and I am very detailed. The writing is not necessarily fun for me, but the organizing, the research, I like that. So I started playing with calendars for years and filling them in and feeling very terrible because I would post something on Facebook and then not go on it for two days and there’d be twenty emails asking me for something that was now moot because the date was over. And I felt bad, so I started thinking, “This would be useful for other people too. It’s not just for me. And that’s the birth of that book.
It was originally completed before the pandemic and then with the pandemic there were some delays. But that was good because it gave me the opportunity to include Saint Corona. I was glad I was able to insert that. Until the pandemic, she was a very obscure saint, but as people went online searing for information about the Corona virus, [Saint] Corona emerged and literally went viral. You can’t make that up. And so a lot of people began appealing to her.
I read about illness demons a lot so when an illness like this emerges, I look at it for a spiritual aspect – after you look at all the immediate things first. I have a lot of this in the “Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells.” There are a lot of disease demons and how to deal with them and that’s very historical. A lot of smallpox spirits are now generated in other ways, so my mind was already there. But people have been involving Saint Corona and she has been responsive. That’s not uncommon.
Saints – but goddesses also – emerge for a time of activity and then they may go dormant for a bit. In my youth the goddess Diana was so important and so vital and I don’t see a lot of people talking about Diana anymore –and Hecate has emerged in her stead. I just think sometimes they’re active and sometimes they’re not and there are plenty of saints. You know, Joan of Arc is associated with EVP [electronic voice phenomenon] and there were not radios in her day, but because she heard voices, she became associated with radio when they were looking for a matron saint. She heard voices. You turn on the radio and you hear voices.
The actual writing took a long time because everything had to be double checked … over and over and over again. So many numbers. It took a long time because this was not something I could write quickly.
I had to talk them into a little pop culture. There’s a “Twin Peaks” thing in there, Buffy. I think that has become for magical people, even if it’s a fantasy witch, even if it’s a fictional witch and it has very little relationship to the truth, there is something. … It is very nice to see ourselves represented in ways that are not horrible.
My favorite days are my birthday, my children’s birthdays, midsummer lithe. All of October. I really like Valentine’s Day. People say, “Oh, Hallmark Holiday” but the roots come from because of the Lupercalia – the most ancient Roman festival we know of. At its heart it took place in the cave, way back when, when the she-wolf, the lupa, nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. It was a huge fertility festival. Fertility, in terms of pregnancy as well as creativity and such. The trees have to be fertile and the ground has to be fertile. It’s fertility is the opposite of the Evil Eye, when everything is flowing with the right kind of abundance, good abundance. I love that because the emergence of Valentine’s Day, which I’ve seen the impact in my life how seriously people take it, and then other people will go, “Oh, it’s a made up holiday. Macy’s or some chocolate company made it up.” Everybody can make up something but it may not last. I can make something up but people might ignore it or it won’t resonate. The reason it resonates is because there’s something there. The energy is already there. It plugs into that natural embedded power source and that’s why it lasts and that’s why people get so invested in it.
Every time I write a book it’s always a journey of discovery. You think you know what’s you’re going to write. A nonfiction book that involves research. Because I come in with an outline and I know how the book with be structured and I know some things that will be in it. This is true for all my encyclopedias. But as I start filling in the blanks and doing the research, the book starts to lead you and it will sometimes take you in directions that were not expected.
Because I wanted to have dates that were accurate and by doing that I found certain pantheons, the roman pantheon because the calendar was designed for them, African Deaspro pantheon and the Vatican because the Vatican inherited the Roman tradition it’s also designed for this calendar and the African Diaspora is the festival of holy days is tied to the synchronized saints. For instance, Papa Legba is associated with Saint Peter [and share feast days] so you could celebrate either. They floated to the top versus the Greek deities who have feast days, but they’re tied to a lunar calendar. They’re movable. They are not the same every year so it was very interesting and I became very aware of who was tied to the Western calendar, who was tied to the lunar calendar. There are some that I wanted to include and perhaps there are some tenuous reasons why I put them on a certain date, but there is a reason. There is a rational for why every one is on a certain date, sometimes more official than other times.
That was a bit of a discovery. I was ….lead rather than I did the leading. I think for those of us who write spiritual books, and by spiritual books I mean books that are invoking spirits, and are chronicling spirits, and are discussing spirits, I think those spirits get involved. If you are open to it, they will direct you. You’ll suddenly find material. You’ll know if something is not right because there will be a terrible computer problem. And pages will disappear. I don’t think this is only my experience. It’s true for those of us who do engage with spirits. My books serve many purposes. I am a very practical person. I try to write practical books that people can put into use and will be helpful, and that will document material. On a private level it’s an act of spiritual devotion.
One thing I do like to share with people in general, I feel very blessed and very lucky that I encountered magick at a young age. I get so many emails from people who show psychic abilities as a child and had it beaten out of them or had terrible experiences. I never had that. The worst I had was some eye rolling. I was teased at school, I was bullied for so many things, this was just one. But there is so much joy and beauty and power in magick and witchcraft and spellcasting. That tends, I think, to lose that. I think we tend to focus, especially since so much is online now, about how it’s going to fix a problem. But even if you don’t have any problems, there’s just power and joy. I mean, magick is magick. And it will make your life better. It’s something I wish more people knew.
The more you are open, the more you can receive, and the more that comes to you.
When people tell you, “Oh I don’t believe in that” or “I don’t believe in magick,” I don’t argue with them. I feel bad for them. I feel sad because there is so much that’s unique and powerful and exhilarating in the world and to put blinders on and refuse to see it or acknowledge it is a sad thing.
[I have been carrying around her “Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells: The Ultimate Reference Book for the Magical Arts” for more than a dozen years, replacing it twice when it was borrowed and not returned, and making room for it in the 140 square feet of living on my bus. When I asked her about it, she had this to say.]
The spells came from all over. Some of them were mine. When I say they’re mine I created them. And if you spend time thinking about spellcasting, there’s a rhythm to it and a logic to it and so if you immerse yourself in the process it will make sense to you. You will just be able to do it. … They’re all my words and they’re all filtered through me.
I read a lot of old anthropological studies. I read travel guides from the 19th century written by missionaries interested in magic and spirituality even though they were very negative towards it. And often they would describe things and I would try to understand what they were describing and give it back the respect it deserved. Imagine you are the holy person, you are the witch, the witchdoctor, the shaman, and you can see the writing on the wall that the time is ending. You’re time of living the way you want to and the way you’ve lived for a very long time, for centuries, is over, not by your choice. And the only person who will take your information and preserve it is someone who looks down on it and is opposed to it, but does have a spiritual vocabulary. So I try to get between them and figure out what that person was telling them. Now I cannot promise that I got it right. It’s my interpretation, my filter. But it works. The spells work.
There are some old spells from books from very, very, very old literature, and updated versions, and traditional spells that are floating around. For instance there’s a beef tongue spell to stop gossip or control someone’s tongue. There are folk spells that are just circulating. It’s an encyclopedia, so I was very lucky to write some of the variations.
About the Author:
All my life I have known magic was real. As a child, I played with the fae, established relationships with trees and “just knew things.” In my maiden years I discovered witchcraft and dabbled in the black-candles-and-cemeteries-at-midnight-on-a-fullmoon magick just enough to realize I did not understand its power. I went on to explore many practices including Zen, astrology, color therapy, native traditions, tarot, herbs, candle magic, gems, and, as I moved into my mother years, Buddhism, the Kabbalah and Reiki. The first man I dated after my divorce was a witch who reintroduced me to the Craft, this time by way of the Goddess. For 11 years I was in a coven, but with retirement, I have returned to an eclectic solitary practice. When accepting the mantle of crone, I pledged to serve and teach. This is what I do from my skoolie – a 30-year-old school bus converted into a tiny house on wheels that I am driving around the country, following 72-degree weather, emerging myself into nature, and sharing magic with those I meet. Find me at thewitchonwheels.com, Facebook and Instagram.