Casting Spells with Words and Symbols - Uncharted

Casting Spells with Words and Symbols

By Jessica Evans

Crafting literature in the witch lit genre is akin to stirring a cauldron of diverse cultural influences. It’s not merely an assembly of spells and incantations; it invokes universal archetypes and symbols expressed through a rich tapestry of languages and lore. Drawing from an array of traditions, be it Celtic legends or Yoruba myths, Sanskrit mantras, or Native American chants, witch lit is like the ultimate magical melting pot. In this essay, we’ll delve into the role of language, symbolism, and folklore across different cultures in shaping the multidimensional world of witch lit.

The Global Lexicon of Witchcraft

Witch lit provides a stage where words from multiple languages come to life as spells, invocations, or simple dialogues between characters. Latin phrases may be uttered to invoke the elements, Swahili proverbs can offer wisdom. At the same time, Sanskrit mantras could serve as a protective chant. It’s not just about sprinkling in exotic phrases for flair. These languages are the roots connecting us to ancient stories and philosophies, making the magic feel all the more real.

In Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Yoruba language and mythos are intricately woven into the storyline, adding layers of authenticity and depth. Similarly, novels like Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic incorporate Latin and Old English snippets, tying the magical elements to a broader historical context. In doing so, languages serve a dual purpose. They add a touch of realism and deepen the plot and characterization. For instance, a character proficient in Latin might reveal themselves as a scholar of ancient texts, thereby adding layers to their persona. Thus, the use of language goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes a tool for storytelling. Using diverse languages enriches the narrative, allowing for a nuanced exploration of magical practices from different corners of the world.

Symbols: The Universal Language of Magic

Witches, shamans, and other mystical beings communicate through symbols as naturally as through words. In witch lit, these symbols transcend cultural boundaries, tapping into the universal archetypes scholars like Carl Jung identified. Pentagrams, mandalas, runes, or Ogham scripts—each set of symbols carries a freight of meaning from its native culture yet speaks to universal human experiences of love, loss, and transformation.

While Jung’s work is foundational, modern studies continue to shed light on the universality of symbols. For example, Mircea Eliade in ‘The Sacred and the Profane’ discusses how symbols bridge the spiritual and the mundane. Take, for instance, the African Adinkra symbols in Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch, or the Native American Medicine Wheels in works like Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. While they’re deeply rooted in their own cultures, these symbols have a way of talking to all of us, breaking the language barrier in a magical conversation.

Weaving the Lore: Myth, History, and Geography

The settings in witch lit are often as magical as the characters themselves, serving as a rich backdrop often informed by real places and histories. From the bayous of Louisiana with its Vodou influences to the glistening temples of India’s mythological landscape, place serves as more than just a setting—it’s a character in itself, a repository of cultural lore and magical practice.

It’s essential to approach the rich tapestry of global cultures with respect and mindfulness. Writers must be wary of cultural appropriation, ensuring they portray traditions and settings authentically, respectfully, and well-researched. Notable works like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon use historical landscapes like the Scottish Highlands as more than just a stage for witchery; they become part of the magical equation themselves. Meanwhile, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes readers through a journey deeply rooted in Mayan mythology, with places imbued with their own mystical significance.

So, what we have in witch lit is a whole world, vivid and deeply anchored in languages, symbols, and stories from every corner of the globe. Its magic lies not just in wands and spellbooks but in its capacity to resonate universally. It also pulls from a broad range of human experience and cultural knowledge. It serves as a poignant reminder that while languages may differ and cultural contexts may vary, the quest for magic, meaning, and connection is an endeavor that knows no bounds.

Crafting Authenticity: A Guide for Aspiring Witch Lit Writers

The craft of witch lit doesn’t just require a nimble imagination and a sense of authenticity that brings the magical elements alive. Another increasingly critical aspect of writing authentically is the use of ‘sensitivity readers.’ These cultural and subject matter experts review manuscripts to avoid the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, stereotype reinforcement, and other problematic elements. From the first whisper of an incantation to the underlying symbolism of a magical totem, e chant, every symbol, needs to be more than just decorative. They’ve got to be well-researched and woven seamlessly into your story to make your magical world come alive. Here’s how you can imbue your work with authenticity through language and symbolism.

Language as a World-Building Tool

Creating an authentic witch lit narrative demands more than a mere smattering of exotic words or phrases; it requires a deep understanding of the languages you’re working with. Here are some steps to make the inclusion of multiple languages both authentic and integral to your storytelling:

Research the Language: If you plan to use a particular language for spells, incantations, or even dialogue, get to grips with its basics. Understand its structure, syntax, and nuances.

Consult Native Speakers or Linguists: If possible, consult with native speakers or experts in the language to ensure you’re using words or phrases appropriately. The last thing you want is to accidentally convey the wrong message because of a misused term.

Link to Lore: Use the language as a bridge to the culture’s mythology or magical practices. For example, if you’re using Sanskrit chants, exploring Hindu mythology and integrating relevant elements into your narrative would be wise.

Pronunciation Guide: Considering that your readers may not be familiar with the language, offering a simple pronunciation guide can add another layer of immersion.

Symbolism: The Subtle Threads of Magic

In witch lit, symbolism underpins the narrative’s magical framework. Here’s how to weave in symbols that resonate:

Identify Universal Symbols: Start by identifying universally understood symbols, such as the circle for unity or the moon for femininity, then add layers of cultural specificity to them.

Cultural Sensitivity: Ensure that your symbols are not culturally appropriated or misused. A deep dive into their historical and cultural contexts can provide a rich background against which to set your narrative.

Narrative Alignment: Symbols should align with your story’s themes and character arcs. If your protagonist transforms, consider using a well-known symbol of change, like the butterfly, and give it a unique magical twist in line with the story’s cultural setting.

Source Material: Use folklore, traditional tales, and myths from the culture you’re drawing inspiration from. Books, academic papers, and interviews with cultural experts can be invaluable resources.

Research: The Foundation of Authenticity

However, don’t forget about creative license while anchoring your story in research and authenticity. Witch lit thrives on imaginative leaps; sometimes, bending or even breaking traditional rules can result in the most compelling narratives. The key is to balance authenticity and creative innovation, always respecting your source material while exploring new magical possibilities. Immersing yourself in the folklore, history, and cultural practices relating to witchcraft and magic is key. Visit libraries and bookstores, make the internet your friend, and travel to locations integral to your narrative when possible.

Primary Sources: Manuscripts, historical texts, and even fieldwork can offer fresh insights and authenticity. Make use of digital libraries like JSTOR, or better yet, actual libraries with sections dedicated to folklore and mythology.

Experts and Elders: Speak to anthropologists, folklore experts, or even practitioners of the magical traditions you use as a framework. Their insights can bring in a layer of authenticity that mere textual research might miss.

Local Myths and Stories: Sometimes, small local tales or family stories can bring a sense of uniqueness to your witch lit narrative. These aren’t things you’ll typically find in a mainstream book but could come from speaking to people who’ve lived the culture.

Crafting a true-to-life witch-lit story is all about mixing meticulous research, a dash of cultural sensitivity, and, of course, killer storytelling chops. By grounding your narrative in real-world languages and symbols, you not only enrich your tale but also pay homage to the diverse traditions that make up the magical tapestry of global witchcraft. Remember, the devil—or in this case, the magic—is truly in the details.