Books: On borrowing and buying and keeping and returning

I just have to share: I’m rediscovering the joys of the local library and inter-library loan. This is a story about how I get books.

When I was first studying Paganism and witchcraft as a college student in the early 2000s, I read every book on the topic I could get from the university library, so obviously I knew all about borrowing the books I needed. However, right around that time, Amazon (and free shipping!) became popular. Folks on Pagan email lists (yep, that’s how I first learned) spoke with astonishment about all the hard-to-find books that were now readily available on Amazon. Buying my witch books has pretty much been a habit since then. Why would I not, especially when I can get them used for cheap?

But six or seven years ago, when my first daughter was born and my attention span dropped off sharply because infant, in stolen moments I started reading way more fiction and very little nonfiction. (I just did not have the brain cells left for history or theory. It happens.) That’s when I discovered ebooks and, specifically, that the reading experience and the quality of the books themselves and had gone way up while the price had gone down. Joy of joys! The future is awesome.

Within the past year or two, however, enough of my bitterness had faded and my heartbreak healed that I was ready to pick up witch books again, and I do have a few ebooks. But they’re largely priced around $10, and when you get used to snagging ebooks for free or cheap ($1-2), laying out $8-12 for a book starts to look like an investment.

I’d also been thinking about what I wanted to do with my books when I was done reading them, rather than just indiscriminately collecting them. Did I just want to read this book once, and maybe I didn’t care if I kept it after that? Did it end up being shitty, and added to my pile of shitty books no one else wants, either, so I can’t sell or donate them? Or was this book so good, I wanted my daughters to read it, too, without having to ask permission to use a tablet? Did I want to loan the book to anyone else? Did I want to make sure I had it forever and ever, no matter what changes ereaders and apps and publishers and sellers went through? (I started out buying Nook books, and it is now a process to get to them on my Kindle, let me tell you.)

There’s one more factor at play here, too. When I had resolved to start a coven (or, given my current status, a weird not-coven maybe-study-group thing) and I started developing the Resources page here, I went to the libraries closest to me to evaluate the books they had on the shelf. Could I tell my future students to go get this or that title from the library? Or would I need to loan out my own books instead? Also, could I test-drive being “out” locally by borrowing books that were very obviously about Wicca and witchcraft? (Librarians could hardly give someone my contact info, but maybe they could tell some lonely seeker that someone else was borrowing witch books too, and they weren’t alone. Or maybe that lonely seeker would see me checking out the books and strike up a conversation with me.)

Side note: The Greenville library has a small but decent Wicca-specific section. The Lakeview library has a few mythology books and only two on Wicca, both by Steve Russo and published in 2005: Protecting Your Teen From Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult and What’s the Deal with Wicca? A Deeper Look into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft. So, you know. Not particularly friendly.

Instead of trying to find cheap used copies of books that were recommended to me but that I didn’t know for sure I’d want to keep always… enter the library! And thanks to the MelCat interlibrary loan system, it doesn’t matter if my local library only has books that are antagonistic to Wicca. If a participating library anywhere in Michigan has a copy of a book I want, I can borrow it. It’s not quite so broom closet-friendly as Amazon, because you can click buttons to request books online but you do have to interact with another human to pick them up. It is free, however, and that’s hard to beat.

This post was brought to you by the books I’ve read recently that were interesting, but not worth keeping on my shelf or in my ereader, and books I’ve just requested that are similarly interesting but I’m not sure I’ll love them (and if I do, I’ll buy a print copy to keep). If I’d paid money for the books I just finished, I’d be cranky. But I didn’t! And they simply go back to the library! Off you go, mediocre books! May you be just the thing someone else is looking for.

Further wand update

So, in my last post about wands, I’d made tiny kid-size wands to make sure I knew what I was doing when it came time to make the one I wanted. I carved the bark off, made one rounded end and one pointy end, then used 100-grit and 220-grit sandpaper to make the finish silky smooth.

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They came out super tiny — and I want to reiterate that this is the result of starting with a stick that’s about as wide as you think you’ll want the end result to be. Go bigger! Your wand will lose width as you remove bark and sand it smooth. Start with one that seems a little too thick, maybe the size of your thumb. The piece I ended up working with was from a long stick I’d intended for a staff, but once I started this project, it became clear that this stick was too skinny to be a staff (and one end was starting to rot anyway). I cut my wand from a long, straight section in the middle.

A little while after Ostara — so, these sticks had had a few weeks to dry indoors — I carved the bark off my wand, shaped the rounded end, and shaped the point.

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I’ve left a lot of time in between steps here. Partly, that was because I didn’t want to rush things; another part was that I had my Chthonioi Alexandrian dedication over Beltane and wanted to finish the wand sometime afterward. I did not, however, wait to find out if there were tradition-specific elements that needed to be included. I’m sticking close to published information about wands in Traditional Wicca, so I don’t think I’m way off base. (If I am, I know how to make wands now. I can make another if I need to.) Also, I feel strongly that this is my wand, of my own creation, and I don’t want to carve or burn any symbols into the wood or wrap it in anything or attach crystals or feathers or anything else. I like simple and straightforward witch’s tools.

In the meantime, I also read The Witch’s Wand by Alferian Gwydion MacLir (from Llewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series). There was rather a lot of silliness about Harry Potter–style astral phoenix feather cores, as well as information about pairing stones and woods for those who do want to add to their wand, but there was also some solid info about using the wand that made the flow of energy really click for me. I couldn’t wait to finish my wand to practice with it.

Last week, I gave in to the feeling that my wand was too big somehow. Too thick, certainly, and too long as well. I took my knife again (the Opinel No. 7 that’s pictured above), cut about an inch and a half off the tip, and remade the point. (No photos of this, unfortunately.) Now the wand feels right, both in length and thickness.

This week, I began sanding it. The weather has been quite warm for May, so two days ago I sat on my back patio at sunset and spent a good hour with my wand. First I sanded it with 100-grit sandpaper, feeling the surface of the wood as the light faded until I sensed very little roughness in it. And then I tested it out energetically: letting the energy gather in the rounded end from the chakra point in my palm, then sending it through the shaft of the wand and out the tip. (I was careful to make the point in the very center of the wood for best flow. You can see the tiny core of heartwood right at the tip.) Then I cast a satisfying circle with it and just sat holding it, joining with it, falling in love with it, to be honest.

Today: Sanding again with 100-grit sandpaper, to get any rough spots left because I was working in low light last time, then 220-grit. This only took about 20 minutes of meditative work.

Six months ago, this was a living branch on a tall maple tree that’s not 20 feet from the office where I now sit, typing. When I finished sanding today, my wand was really starting to feel like a wand, not a glorified stick. I’m showing you all the photos I can, but nothing about them is as inherently magical as experiencing the process of making this tool.

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It’s so smooth now — and I’m not even done. The fine-grit sandpaper pack I bought had some 220, 320, and 400, so I’ll give it a pass with each grit before I start finishing.

The kids’ wands were finished with a coat of boiled linseed oil every day for 7 days, then a coat of beeswax polish that I’ll use to maintain them. Or, at least, that was the plan. To apply the oil, you’re supposed to rub it on with a rag, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess. I don’t think I did the wiping off excess part right. Either that or I didn’t let it dry completely before applying the beeswax, because the kids’ wands are still the slightest bit tacky to the touch. I may take another piece of wood and test applying the oil, then waiting a week before applying the wax, to see if that prevents the sticky feeling.

Here’s what the kids’ wands looked like after finishing, next to my wand before sanding (and a quarter for scale).

I’m thoroughly enjoying this process.

Merry Beltane!

This weekend I’m off to MoonFire’s Beltane celebration. There’s so much going on! It’s like a mini festival! Which is doubly exciting for me because I don’t usually get to go to festivals (from some combination of brokeness, lack of ability to take time off work, and anxiety about traveling there or attending alone). This time, however, I’ll be there! Possibly with bells on, in a very literal sense!

In other news, I’ve borrowed The Witch’s Athame by Jason Mankey, The Witch’s Broom by Deborah Blake, and The Witch’s Wand by Alferian Gwydion MacLir (all from Llewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series) from my local library, and I’m currently reading through that last one. All three are tools that I’m currently making or working with, and I’m enjoying the deep dive.

Spring cleaning also continues, possibly a little harder because the whole family will be away this weekend and I like to come home to a clean house (as much as possible with little kids; I’ll settle for being caught up on the laundry and the dishes before we go). When I was at the library I saw The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on the shelf, and the KonMari trend has mostly passed (I think?) but I hadn’t actually read the book yet. I’m giving her folding method a chance — so far I kind of love it; every time I open my dresser drawers, it’s like picking something new from a store, just because every piece of clothing is now visible — and I’ve gotten a little ruthless about tossing or donating items that we don’t need. (Like sheets. We do not need 10 sets of sheets. Five or six of those sets are just taking up space.) And as many jokes as the “does it bring you joy?” thing has spawned, I honestly love the animistic approach Marie Kondo takes to considering each item in your household and where it would best be happy and useful. If you are the least bit sensitive, you can make this same kind of connection to your stuff and think about who you are, deep down, and whether you need or want this item, what its function is in your life. If it’s worn, you can thank it for its time in service to you and send it to the trash; if it’s still useful to someone, just not you, release it to the Goodwill bin or maybe an eBay buyer with gratitude. (Also I totally am throwing out my electric bill. I don’t need to keep the past four years’ worth of bills — and shouldn’t I be getting them as PDFs anyway? Go online and click that e-statement option.) And I do personal transformation as sort of a hobby, so the challenge for me right now is to go through all my stuff without the pressure of moving, to reinvent myself while remaining rooted to the house and the family I’ve worked hard for.

OK, back to packing. Overnight bags for two adults (for a ritual weekend) and two kids (at Grandma’s) are about as much work to pack as a camping trip for one adult.