[This month, we sit down for an interview with witch, author, and activist, Laura Tempest Zakroff. Here, she discusses her personal spiritual tradition, her published books, her work with sigils, and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual tradition? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Laura Tempest Zakroff: I am a Modern Traditional Witch. My practice pulls from the traditions and especially the folklore of my family background, but is also deeply connected with the contemporary culture and where I live. It’s a carefully curated, intuitive practice actively guided by lived experience and research.
ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers are honored in your tradition?
LTZ: I work with a wide variety of deities and spirits, particularly acknowledging the spirits of place, ancestors, and the Mighty Dead. Who and what depends on the work that needs to be done.
ev0ke: How has Covid-19 affected your spiritual life? Have you turned to online rituals? More quiet time for creative endeavors?
LTZ: I normally travel a fair amount of the year teaching, performing, and vending at festivals, conventions, and other events for magical practitioners, so the pandemic has really affected that aspect of my life. I’ve turned to teaching online and doing virtual gatherings — even filming ritual performances — which has been helpful in many ways, but I still miss traveling and interacting with people in person.
I am grateful that it has made many experiences more accessible for folks who rarely can travel or attend events for any number of reasons.
Also, because we’ve been home, my partner and I have been able to focus on our new home (we moved in late Spring 2019) and we got a lot of work done, especially in making the backyard more of a sanctuary space.
ev0ke: You have published several books with Llewellyn. First, congratulations! Second, how did this come about? Did you submit a manuscript to Llewellyn? Did they approach you with an idea?
LTZ: I think it was in 2014 that I proposed a book project to them at PantheaCon during one of their “meet the publisher” sessions, and they were very interested in it. But I got sidetracked and didn’t follow up right away — probably because the subject was near-and-dear to my heart, so there’s a fair amount of trepidation that comes with putting something like that out there. But then I saw a call out from Elysia (the acquisitions editor) for proposals on a book about cauldrons for their Witch’s Tools series. Definitely a subject that I love, but I felt a lot less intimidated about throwing my hat in the ring, so I submitted a proposal. They loved it, so I got the project. Since then, it’s mainly been me going, “hey, so I have an idea for a book/deck about …” and they’ve been game. At this point I’ve published four books and one oracle deck with them, with my next book coming out in June 2021 and another oracle deck slated for early 2022.
ev0ke: You wrote The Witch’s Cauldron as part of Llewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series. What sort of research went into the book? Lots of trips to the library? Hours online?
LTZ: Definitely a lot of research was done for the history and myth sections. I have a pretty extensive occult library, but yes I did request a lot of books from the library and scoured the internet for archaeological and anthropological data on cauldrons — articles, research papers, and other academic presentations. I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible — or at least as much as you can be on a book that had a word limit of 50,000. Which sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. There’s still some things I wish I could have included, or had someone who is an expert or elder in their tradition bring some of their expertise to the table (as the format of the book allowed for contributions from others) to round out a few more practices. But that’s more about me wanting to include all of the info.
ev0ke: You also co-wrote The Witch’s Altar with Jason Mankey. How did that collaboration come about, and how did you go about creating the manuscript together?
LTZ: So The Witch’s Cauldron initially was also going to include cups and chalices. But then Llewellyn decided they would likely to do a separate book on just those. Jason had submitted to me a piece on cups as a guest contribution for the book — so that unfortunately got cut with the change. He had written two other books in the series (The Witch’s Athame and The Witch’s Book of Shadows), so we played around with the idea of taking our lost material and proposing the book on cups. Then whiskey got involved (as it does), and we realized we were far more excited about writing about altars. Our editor thought we were crazy, because we were each working on separate books at the time, but they accepted the proposal. Jason and I discussed with parts we wanted to work on, sectioned it all out, did our separate chapters, then worked together to wrap everything up.
ev0ke: Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols includes not only a history of sigils, but also guides and practice exercises. How did you become involved with sigils as a specific form of magick? And what advice can you offer those who are just starting out?
LTZ: Art is my primary form of magic. Mixing art, myth, and spellcraft is something I’ve been doing pretty much my entire life, back to some of my earliest memories involving drawing and painting. So I naturally developed my own system over all of that time — as most artists do in some way. They create their own world of symbols, meanings, and processes — whether they see it as magic or not. So when folks got curious about the images and marks in my artwork and asked how I did it, I had to go back and reverse engineer how I made them. Then I tried it out in a workshop format — which made me a bit nervous to present something that wasn’t based in the more well-known methods found in ceremonial or chaos magic — but people absolutely loved it! That workshop spawned the book.
My advice to folks just starting to work with sigils: realize that there are a lot of methods out there. Some may work well for you, others will not be as effective or comfortable — because our brains all work in different ways. Just remember that regardless of what you do, practice combined with experience builds strength and understanding. You don’t have to be an artist to make sigils, you just need to need to be able to draw in some way. If you can sign or scribble your name with some part of your body, you can make a sigil.
ev0ke: The New Aradia: A Witch’s Handbook to Magical Resistance teaches us that “we don’t need to look to or watch for a savior – we are the ones we have been waiting for.” Was there any one event that inspired you to take a fresh look at Leland’s classic text? And how much more important is magical resistance now, two years after The New Aradia was originally released?
LTZ: One of my primary magical mentors contributed vital material to the Phoenix Publishing edition of Aradia in the late 90’s, so I’ve always had a pretty radical view of the text. So when the discussion came around in late 2016/early 2017 of “we need an Aradia for today” — it was clear that the natural answer to that was “we are the Aradia for today.” That set off another wave of research and a new focus. With so much on the line as we come to the next US election, magical resistance combined with physical actions is crucial. We need everyone and everything we can muster on deck. I’m also hearing from other folks in other parts of the world that they are working with The New Aradia and building magical resistance awareness in their communities to help stimulate positive, effective, and lasting change.
ev0ke: The Liminal Spirits Oracle was just released this summer. How did you go about creating the artwork for each card? Meditation? Intuition? Consultation of books on animals and plants?
LTZ: I made all of the artwork in the space of about ten days — all forty-two paintings. I had tried to go about it sanely, prepping all of the wooden tiles, et cetera, and I had thought I would do a couple a week. Nope, didn’t work that way. I needed to be fully immersed, so that’s all I did for that whole period was paint and work with the spirits. Some days yielded just one to two pieces, and other days I did four to five. For many of them, I did an extensive amount of research of both folklore as well as biology, and let that help guide me in selecting which spirits to work with. But the art-making aspect was largely following my gut and vision.
ev0ke: Was there any one card that proved particularly difficult, but ultimately satisfying, to create?
LTZ: The Mushroom card. When I did the paintings that inspired the deck in the first place — a series of six pieces I did for a show that I really had fun with, the first piece I had painted was the Mushroom. Now the deck required a very different scale and format, so I needed to start from scratch for everything. I figured I’d start with the Mushroom again, but it would not come. It ended up being the very last painting I did, looking quite different from that original piece, but coming out perfectly. So you could say the Mushroom was the alpha and the omega.
ev0ke: Where can people find your work?
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
LTZ: My next book, The Anatomy of the Witch: A Map to the Magical Body, will be out from Llewellyn in June 2021. This book is not quite a sequel to Weave the Liminal, but it definitely is a deeper progression in the practice of the Witch. I also just signed the contract for an oracle deck that’s based off of the concepts I address in Anatomy. And there may be a Tarot deck in the nearish future as well. 🙂