10 Questions with Judika Illes

1. I’m sending you these questions right after you got back from the Sacred Space Conference in Maryland. How was the event?

It was wonderful. I hope to return for next year’s event. For those who are unfamiliar, Sacred Space presents an annual four day conference featuring diverse spiritual and metaphysical presenters, workshops, and rituals. Personally, I really enjoy lengthier, more relaxed events where people have time to socialize and exchange thoughts and experiences. Sacred Space has great vendors, great teachers, interesting people. And it was in a hotel! Four days in a hotel crowded with metaphysical people- it doesn’t get much better!

2. The other featured presenters were Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor. I’ve interacted with Christopher a few times for The Magical Buffet and have always found him to be unreasonably nice. How was it to meet Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor?

We had actually met before. I love their work and I love them. Raven, Stephanie, and I did an event together in Salem last October and will be reuniting this coming October for the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball, which I’m really looking forward to. http://www.festivalofthedead.com/witchesball/

But Sacred Space was the first time I had the opportunity to attend one of their workshops. Raven and Stephanie are great, insightful, and very interesting teachers—very clear, very articulate and dynamic, and very generous with their wisdom.

3. Okay, I’m dieing to talk about the encyclopedias! I own “The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells” that you authored and it is behemoth! What made you decide that you could compile so much magical information into one gigantic tome?

Insanity? Neither the publisher nor I realized how large that book would turn out to be until we were already deeply committed to the project and it was essentially too late to turn back. Just prior to writing “The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells”, I had written a very lean book of spells, “Magic When You Need It”, which has one-hundred fifty spells. My publisher knew that I collected spells- I had boxes and boxes of notes- and asked whether I could write a massive compendium next, something like “The Joy of Cooking” but for spell-casting rather than recipes. The publisher was playing around with numbers- could I write a book with one-thousand spells, three-thousand, five-thousand? At one point, we were up to ten thousand.

In the beginning it was all very theoretical for me. I was asked, “Could you write a book with five thousand spells?” and I replied that theoretically we could do any number. Spells are infinite—they’re like grains of sand on the beach, stars in the sky. There’s always another spell or another variation. Even though five thousand is definitely a lot of spells, it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

Writing that book in some ways was a luxury for me. As an author, I’m always conscious of the information that has to be left out because there isn’t space to include everything. With 5000 Spells, I was able to include variations of spells, demonstrate the incredible variety of spells, trace the way some spells have evolved over time and through cultures, which, with a smaller book wouldn’t have been possible.

4. You also wrote “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” and “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”. Can you give us a rough idea of the process you use to compile so much information from varying sources into one cohesive reference book?

Well, simply put, I work around the clock. I’m very focused on whatever I’m working on. It’s complete immersion. When I was writing “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft”, I didn’t watch or read anything in my spare time that didn’t involve a witch. Likewise with “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”.

In terms of selecting content, there are three components. Once a book is designated an “encyclopedia” it has to be comprehensive. It can’t include only my favorite aspects of a topic. Certain things must be included. For example, you can’t write an “encyclopedia of witchcraft” without including Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, Harry Potter, and the witch hunts.

Then I consider who or what should be better known: who are the unsung heroes of witchcraft, for instance, or what spirits aren’t getting the press they deserve. For example, there’s currently a very vital goddess tradition in Vietnam that not many Westerners are aware of—I made sure to include those goddesses in “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”. And then the third component evolves into a voyage of discovery for me. As you begin researching, one thing leads to another and you arrive at some very unexpected places. I learn something new with every book I write and I hope that my own enthusiasm and excitement translates into the pages.

Each of my other encyclopedias, to some extent, derives from the experience of writing 5000 Spells. Although each book is a stand-alone, they also complement each other and serve as companion volumes. Spell-casting is more successful and more pleasurable if you understand all its components. Books by their nature offer only limited space. There are only so many pages. There’s always more information that didn’t fit or was discovered after the book went to print. So although my books are huge and packed with information, I’m very conscious of what’s not in the book, what information isn’t discussed as fully as I would like. Those are things we can discuss more fully during my workshops but sometimes other books also create opportunities.

I began writing “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” immediately after completing 5000 Spells. One of the things I really wished to expand upon was the magical nature of many plants incorporated into spell-casting. In 5000 Spells there wasn’t always room to discuss in great detail why certain plants are used in certain spells, the significance of individual botanicals. One of the first sections of “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” that I wrote was a large section devoted to witchcraft-associated plants.

Likewise with the Encyclopedia of Spirits: in 5000 Spells, spirits are constantly referenced. Those spells are easier to understand and accomplish if you really understand the nature of these spirits, if they’re more than just names and superficial legends.

5.I know you love tarot. In a recent article I said I was a fan of more traditional in appearance tarot decks, such as the “Universal Waite Tarot” and the “Smith Waite Tarot”. What are some of your favorite tarot decks?

I call the Ride-Waite-Smith my “old reliable”—I was a telephone psychic for a couple of years and really came to depend on that deck. I love the Albano-Waite Tarot, too. Oswald Wirth’s deck is a favorite as is Kipling West’s Halloween Tarot- I really, really love that deck. Another deck that I’ve been working with lately is Robert Place’s Vampire Tarot—that one really intrigues me. I pull a tarot card almost every night on twitter using whichever deck is closest to hand. I find that’s the deck I reach for most frequently.

6.I saw on your website that you wrote a popular monthly feature, Beauty Secrets of the Ancient Egyptians for TourEgypt, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism’s on-line magazine. How did you land that gig, and any simple beauty tips of ancient Egypt you can pass on?

They had advertised that they were looking for writers and I responded. The concept of ancient Egyptian beauty secrets was my idea. The ancient Egyptians had a very holistic outlook- they didn’t separate beauty from health from magic. It’s all intertwined. So fragrances, for example, are simultaneously evocative and seductive, magically powerful and potentially therapeutic. A very simple anti wrinkle treatment involves placing two drops of essential oil of frankincense into a teaspoon of sweet almond oil and applying it to the cleansed face before retiring for the night. As an added bonus, many people find frankincense to be aphrodisiac plus, if you inhale the fragrance, it creates a relaxing effect and frankincense, like essential oils in general, is antiseptic.

Now that’s a modern adaptation of an Egyptian formula. Back in the old days, the Egyptians would have used goose fat as the base but modern sensibilities probably prefer sweet almond oil, available at virtually every health food store and plenty of supermarkets, too. Another light vegetable oil could be substituted too, if preferred, such as apricot kernel or grape seed.

Link to TourEgypt articles:


7. You’ve researched thousands of different cultures for your books, what is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in your research?

The virtually universal existence of a magical culture that transcends ethnic, national, political, and religious boundaries. There is a culture of spell-casting that despite all kinds of regional and cultural differences shares so much in common. I am very proud to belong to this greater metaphysical community.

8.What are your thoughts on how magic is portrayed on television and in film?

Well, I’m an easy sell- if you stick a witch or magical practitioner into any sort of entertainment, I’m fairly guaranteed to watch it. But you always have to keep in mind that these portrayals are intended as entertainment. In most cases, what you’re viewing is fantasy and so you have to suspend expectations of reality. This is true even when what you’re watching on-screen superficially looks ‘real’ such as Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. That’s a work of fiction loosely based on a historical event, not an accurate depiction of the events in Salem. This may sound obvious if you’re already grounded in the realities of magic but I receive a lot of email from frustrated people who are sincerely attempting to learn practical magic by watching “Charmed” and “Buffy”.

What I look for personally is the essence of what’s being portrayed. The way that essence is portrayed makes the difference between something I enjoy watching and something that disturbs me. I like my witches fun, empowered, and unrepentant. My favorite movie witch is Veronica Lake’s Jennifer in “I Married a Witch”. I really like “La Sorcière”, although it’s tragic. The way Bellatrix LeStrange is portrayed in the Harry Potter films fascinates me for reasons that will probably end up in a book someday. I like Marge Simpson and her sisters in “Tree House of Horror VIII”.

I can enjoy watching something but still have issues with it. I think Kim Novak is gorgeous in “Bell, Book, and Candle”. I covet her wardrobe but I’m impatient with those old falsehoods about witches not being able to cry or fall in love or wishing they were mundane mortals. I love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” even though I resent the way that witchcraft is used as a metaphor for addiction.

9. What projects are you working on now that my readers can look forward to?

I just completed “The Weiser Field Guide to Witches”, which should be out later this year. That was a lot of fun- it’s sort of a mini-encyclopedia. Right now, I’m working on another thousand-pager, an encyclopedia devoted to saints, holy people, and miracle workers from around the world and spells and rituals associated with them.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Any suggestions for books or classes I should be working on?

I love your encyclopedias! If you can keep finding themes for them, I’ll keep reading them.

About Judika:
Judika Illes is the author of . She is a tarot card reader and a certified aromatherapist. Learn more at www.judikailles.com.