[Our Bonus Content for March 2022 is this exclusive interview with author, sculptor, and witch, Via Hedera. Here, ev0ke contributor Laurelei Black sits down with Hedera to discuss American witchcraft, folklore, and Hedera’s various writing and artistic projects.]
ev0ke (Laurelei Black): How do you describe your personal spirituality? Does it have a name, or is it more free-flowing and eclectic?
Via Hedera: I would describe my spirituality as deeply animistic. I hold an intense and intrinsic respect for life in all its many forms and value the cycles of life and death in both a local and cosmic sense. To me, the world I know is one that is populated by spirits seen and unseen, and all that lives (and even some things that are inanimate) can hold or develop their own spirit.
From my perspective, there is no need to reach for a deity or Creator that is far up and away. Most of my gods are tangible; a Sun that warms me and is responsible for spurring on the evolution of life as we know it — the first fire; a Moon that balances the planet in our ballet around the Sun and brings constancy to our tides; a sea and sky that provides me with the waters and winds I breathe and bathe in; and a land that is ripe with food, fabric, and curious medicines that gives me shelter and healing. Every season has its spirits, and every land has its personalities. These are the old gods I speak of.
My spirituality lies in seeing the balance in things, in the illuminating light and the consuming darkness. Somewhere in the middle path is the place I walk and is the place I choose to serve the spirits of the land and the dead. I do not fear the darkness that we all march to in our mortality; I choose to follow the path of the stars as they move through the void, always remembering that I am irrelevant in the grand scheme of things … which makes this brief life I have all the more precious to appreciate.
ev0ke (LB): When (and how) did you discover your interest in folklore, folk magic, and witchcraft?
VH: I’ve never not had folk magic and spirits in my life. I was blessed to grow up in a deeply spiritual, superstitious, and open-minded environment in which I was exposed to the faiths of the world, and one thing that always seemed to hold true in my upbringing is that the spirit-inhabited world is simply a fact. People with perceptions beyond their senses was a matter of fact. The power of prayer, protection charms, and proper respect for the otherworldly was simply a part of life and so it never really occurred to me that there was some great separation between magical beliefs and everyday survival.
Superstitious — that word doesn’t have the negative connotation in my world that it may have in others. To me, these superstitious folk-charms that existed in my everyday life were just the way of things. Some people take Advil, some people rub eggs on their head; some babies are christened in a church, others are passed through smoke wrapped in a button blanket; sometimes you call an exterminator, other times, you call for an exorcism (depends on the infestation). Little sorceries and basic folk superstitions were so entwined with the mundane in my childhood, that it just became part of my development as a person. So naturally, finding myself dancing in the shadows and serving the dead, witchcraft was the natural progression.
I’ve gone through many paths and directions (as I think most humans tend to do) and quickly discovered I had a good base of magical knowledge just from growing up with magical-minded people, and so I like keeping to the roots of the simple, natural, “low” magics of the common people, the magics that we make everyday. My life has been filled with some wonderful magical traditions, and the tradition of witchery I’ve fallen into at this point strongly emphasizes practical applications of magic and focusing on one’s own environment — their region, their slice of the world and the history there. I save the ceremonial occultism for when I’m feeling extra fisky!
ev0ke (LB): Your book is superbly researched, and you show the same scholarly care in your blog and social media posts. Do you have any favorite sources of research and inspiration?
VH: My favorite sources are story-tellers. I love to pull at threads and go down rabbit holes of research so I find talking to people and connecting to elders who have fables to tell and stories to share make for an inspiring resource. It’s amazing how quickly you can disarm a person, connect to them, and gain their trust when you can share scary stories or superstitious fables. It’s a way for us to connect the past to the present and to each other, simply through the power of lore.
I’m also particularly fond of regional folklore collections; when I travel I always stop in local libraries, museums, and archives just to rummage through their local magic, getting my greasy little fingers on every strange, rare, hidden bit of occult wisdom that makes towns, communities, and regions of the country so unique.
I always try to find links to what I know, subjects that have a touchstone of familiarity in my life already. I find familiar threads (funeral rites, divinations, spirit-veneration) and follow them wherever they go; exploring what these arts look like to different people, in different eras, on different lands. I spend a lot of time trying to cross-reference collections, searching out the lesser known sources and exploring how the lore of mankind connects and intersects with each other. The more I research and the more I listen to the stories of others, the more I see the complex web of connection between human beings and our histories, our cultures, our shared spiritual senses, and it’s at those places, where many threads meet, that I find my happy place.
ev0ke (LB): What does your process look like for bringing folklore out of a theoretical, literary place and into your embodied practice?
VH: I am a firm believer in “Start with what you know” and I had the blessing of knowing a good deal of minor magical practices before exploring occultism on a deeper level. When I study folk magic and lore, it comes from a place of familiarity — I’m mostly trying to untangle the origin of the practices and rituals that are familiar to me in my family, cultures, community, even in entertainment.
ev0ke (LB): What advice would you give to a person who wishes to honor and explore the folk magic of their cultural, ethnicity, or regional heritage, but who feels disconnected or unsure where to start?
VH: Start with service! Being of service to your community, to your region, and the people who live there is a perfect way to ground your understanding and bring something into the community you wish to learn from. Serving the land through volunteer efforts, sitting with community elders and experts and learning by listening to their stories, their knowledge of history, their superstitions, faiths, customs and curiosities — this wisdom is invaluable. After all, folk magic is the magic of the common folk, of the everyday people. It’s the little sorceries and yes, superstitions, we turn to every day that add to our lives in mysterious and obvious ways; health, protection, peace of mind, we find what we seek through the art of change, through the work of magic. So, reach out to the people around you, and dive headfirst into all the research you can. Get acquainted with your local library and history museums, your local archivists and volunteer circles. Community can support you along the way of discovering what magic and practice means to you. Mostly, trust that gut intuition, trust that you have the power to create magic just through your will alone. Being your own magician is the most important practice. Whatever you learn, show it respect and regard, and you will build something strong and precious from that foundation.
ev0ke (LB): You create some of the most stunning Plant Spirit statuary I’ve ever seen! Can you share a little about your process?
VH: First, I let the plants speak. Their language is green and lyrical and manifests in my dreams and in my everyday life in ways that inspire a spiritual connection. Those herbs I work the most with or find the most personally pleasurable are usually where I start, and so some of the first statues I did were the essences of plants like Theobroma cacao (the cocoa tree), Cannabis sativa (cannabis/hemp/marijuana), and Salvia divinorum (salvia/diviner’s sage). I first start with a face; placid, serene, in prayer, and then I let my hands tirelessly work, usually in one sitting. Before I close up the chest, I push the seed of the herb I’m sculpting into the center of the clay, where the heart should be. There’s an immense satisfaction in completing one of my ladies; they embody things in life I most love; tasty delights, delirious nights, and beautiful feminine faces, haha!
ev0ke (LB): Which branches of (or topics within) American witchery are drawing your interest right now?
VH: I can’t possibly get enough divination. As a diviner, it is my passion and the more research I do on the common fortune-telling practices we’ve come to know, the more I want to understand its history. What began as a fascination with tarot cards has turned into an obsession with hunting down all forms of sortilege in its ancient and modern forms. It’s an unfortunate habit of mine to become deeply focused or fixated on particular subjects until I’ve exhausted all areas of exploration within my purview, and so I find myself deeply entrenched in the world of love-fortunes and their long, common-place history in the holiday practices of early and modern America.
Who knew that apples, nuts, candles, and horseshoes would be such popular remedies and tools for finding love? I certainly didn’t appreciate these things growing up; apple bobbing was just a game, counting daisy petals was just good fun, and tossing coins was just a way to settle indecision. Now, I see these games and little sorceries for what they are and want to see more witches bring these fortunes back into our holiday practices, to keep them alive, to teach the next generation to appreciate the silly mysteries of life, to train their minds to find meaning in the mundane — even just a little.
ev0ke (LB): Tell us about your current or upcoming project, please (and thank you).
VH: At the moment I’m focusing on book two and three. The next one will focus on the magic of a particularly popular yet underrated familiar friend of witches that plays a deep role in my personal craft, and the other … well that one is a secret, but it relates to my tradition of North American folk-witchcraft and its rituals, rites, and lore.
ev0ke (LB): Where would you like readers and listeners to find you and your work?
VH: Please feel free to stop by my website which follows my fascination with folk magic and includes tarot reviews, statue commission galleries, artwork, and folklore research. You can also find me on instagram and Facebook!
ev0ke (LB): Anything you’d like to add?
VH: Thank you for having me! And thank you, to our entire community of practitioners, dabblers, and dreamers who work to share their wealth of wisdom with the masses, with the folk.
ev0ke (LB): Thank you, again, for taking the time to share with us about your work and witchcraft!