By Joanna C. Valente
Lisa Marie Basile is a lot of things. She's a writer, witch, and community maven. As the founder of Luna Luna Magazine, she spearheads its online community, which is focused on traversing the world if you feel a little outside of the status quo - with a heavy emphasis on modern witchcraft. Basile recently wrote a book, available for preorder now (and officially launching in September), called Light Magic for Dark Times.
The book includes easy and daily spells and rituals anyone can use. Because of its accessibility, in an often complex world, I interviewed Lisa about the process, daily rituals - and how social media affects her identity.
Here's what she said:
1. What was the process of writing this book like? What were the challenges?
A publisher (the lovely Jess Haberman at Quarto/Fair Winds Press) reached out to me last fall to see if I'd be interested in writing a full-length book of practices around moving through hard times. She'd seen some of the stuff I'd written for Luna Luna about magical practices to honor the self and the dead, and they'd been looking for something in that vein. We discussed the idea of light and dark, and how it was that space in between light and dark that I was really was interested in - the shadow, the liminal.
We also discussed where the U.S. was at regarding politics and social crises and how that intersected with self-care during these times. I'd been deeply re-exploring ritual and intentional practices last summer when they contacted me...because I was experiencing body trauma due to new chronic illness symptoms and grief because of deaths in the family. I'd also been experiencing the hardships of the new presidency. The book, which was born from a general idea of "healing," turned into a kismet opportunity for me to create a grimoire of regenerative practices for everyday life.
The book focuses on grief, trauma, creativity, writing magic, body and identity, and developing one's own practice. Plus, it's fully illustrated by Ada Keesler!
The challenge, straight up, was that they wanted to release it the coming fall, so it would have to be written fairly quickly. Anyone who knows me knows that writing quickly is my FAIL, so it was an obstacle. The good thing was that I'd been literally stewing in feelings of grief and rebirth, trauma and strength, and the ideas of how ritual intersected with healing. I'd been writing a lot about it for The Fix, Ravishly and Luna Luna, too - so it was all right there for me to pull on.
The book (due out September 11 in the U.S.) can be preordered right here or right here.
When did you start to do rituals and magic - and identify as a witch?
Without the proper language for what it was, I started feeling the witch in me as an adolescent or maybe even younger. I was always pulled to cinema or books about magic and witchcraft (Strega Nona was a childhood favorite). I used to talk to trees as a kid or bury little notes in the ground to make a wish. I'd pick flowers and crush them up and use them for "magical potions," often resulting in poison ivy! None of this is surprising, though: My Sicilian grandmother absolutely merged her country's folk magic with, of course, Catholicism. I shouldn't overshare, since she'd never call herself a witch, but she'd keep her hair in boxes as a way to keep her youth, whisper over her food, set up altars all over her home, and send me bottles of holy water inscribed with little prayers and spells. My father was always interested in the occult and I was even allowed to play with Ouija boards. I had no idea what it all meant. I just knew that there were worlds beyond ours that my family was interested in.
Later, when I got into foster care, and when my family split apart and we'd suffered homelessness and poverty, I turned to the library. I read hundreds of books about magic, witchcraft, mysticism, philosophy - and somewhere in all of that I found autonomy in developing my own practice. I really tried to do this for the reader in Light Magic for Dark Times - I make it clear that although what I've written is one way of doing things, they are fully able and encouraged to adapt to their needs and beliefs. It's even made for folks who are secular or atheist. I know that spiritual practice and magical living can be intimately tied up with our cultures, how we were raised, our identities, our needs, our finances, our interests, our creativity - and I really tried to honor this in the book.
For beginners and newcomers, what advice would you give? Where should they start?
I suppose I'd suggest a mixture of two things: Identifying your needs as a person. Is it to be more grounded, more confident, more creative? Identify what sorts of power objects or daily rituals help you feel the way you want to feel. Is it a bath? A quiet room? A stretching session? A walk outside? Turn to those ordinary behaviors and realize the magic (that quiet force we can't explain) within them.
Additionally, I would suggest reading some books and joining communities where people openly discuss their magical practices. Occult bookshops can help you find books you feel drawn to, for one. It's hard for me to say which books a person should read because every book is different and inevitably rooted in some specific practice that may not be right for a reader. Also, feeling pulled to a book is very personal and subjective.
Recently, however, I've read the following newish books, and they're wonderful: Witches, Sluts, Feminists (by Kristen J. Sollee - who wrote my book's foreword), Craft (by Gabriela Herstik), Lunar Abundance (by Ezzie Spencer), Italian Folk Magic (by Mary-Grace Fahrun) and Crystal Healing and Sacred Pleasure (by Vanessa Cuccia, of Chakrubs--also my publishing house!). As a teen, I loved books by Paul Cunningham, Aleister Crowley, and of course Silver Ravenwolf (I wouldn't recommend starting here). I loved Practicing Sigil Magic (by Frater UD). Today, there also a lot of amazing websites, shop publications and magazines out there that are catering to magical voices, and some of the ones I've loved recently include: Catland's Venefica Magazine, Sabat Magazine, Hoodwitch and Hauswitch.
On this note, I'd caution anyone who is interested in witchcraft to a) ask lots of questions, b) be careful of appropriating cultures in your practice, c) not take everyone's advice SO seriously - because everyone's path is different, and d) stay safe. There are always people who won't understand.
What are your daily rituals?
They can include something as simple as getting my coffee and listening to one song I've designated for my morning commute meditation song or something like setting up an altar to manifest something specific. I keep a wish book on my altar and I surround it with power objects that can infuse my wishes and ready them for manifestation. I am very much someone who likes to use beauty and design to represent my intent, so my house is usually covered in small altars that have some deeper meaning. I infuse perfumes and oils with intention and wear them. And I shower nightly, using that time to connect with the water (which I use as my guide). Water reminds me to be fluid, to always move and flow, and to be able to take new forms when needed. I very much need that, since as a Scorpio (and a neurotic writer) I can be stuck in my ways.
Describe your favorite meal.
An earthy super Tuscan red wine, and a simple fish dish with white beans and bread and olive oil.
What music do often you write to, if at all?
I write to a lot of Spanish classical music. Lately I have been listening to Paco De Lucia, which my dad played often as a child. (My father is also a virtuoso guitarist).
What are three books that you've always identified with?
I would say The Lover (Duras), The House of the Spirits (Allende), and every single sentence written by Anais Nin. Maybe Marosa di Giorgio's History of Violets. The verdant prose, the exploration of body and desire and heat, the feminism, the magicality. I love it all.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
I've always found myself drawn to one painting by Sargent: She's just walking, as a dream, hazily, through this street in Venice, covered in a shawl. What is her story?
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
About the subway in NYC:
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Haha, I love that you included this, no big deal. I'd want to die in my sleep, or maybe by IV drip with everyone I love. Maybe the end of the world comes when we've bombed the shit out of one another and we slowly die from atomic poisoning. The earth will live on. So metal. So sad.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive
Guiseppe Tornatore's Malena
Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi
How would you describe your social media persona/role?
So, I've gotten to a good place with social media. I used to be preoccupied with fear about it: How to be authentic but also market my work? Do I really need to take a thousand posed pictures (Hint: I'm not going to)? Do I need to grow my audience? Deciding to be wholly myself - sharing stupid jokes about watching Vampire Diaries on Twitter, being upfront about things I love and hate on Instagram, just being real and not taking it all too seriously - has helped.
Of course I've got to market my work (we all do), but I don't want to change who I actually am to fit a social media mold. I love pretty pictures, long captions, storytelling, and poetry. I like sharing pictures of my altar just as much as I like showing off my new workout pants. I am multilayered, and my social media "persona" should be reflective of those things. That said, curated accounts are great. I don't knock it.
What's your favorite animal and why?
I would have to say a cat. My cat. Lolo.
He brings me joy and makes me think about the beauty in existence. That we are all creatures on this earth and we should love one another.
What do you carry with you at all times?
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (Operating System, 2017), Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente