Author of the new fantasy novel The Torque of Kernow (Galde Press, 2008), Raymond Buckland knows his magic. In the early '60s, he left his native England to go to America and take a leading role in introducing Wicca, the modern religion of real-life witches, to the states.
He's written nearly 60 books, and with over two million copies of his works in print worldwide, he's one of today's leading authorities on magic, the occult, and all things witchy. His latest effort is entirely new to him - The Torque of Kernow is his first ever fantasy novel, set in a land based loosely on the southwest of England. The book follows a small band of adventurers as they pursue a quest to find a lost torque and restore peace to their war-torn homelands. The magic described in the book is genuine, based on Buckland's decades of personal magical practice. Melanie Harris recently caught up with this legendary occultist to find out more...
You're best known for your occult non-fiction - what inspired you to write The Torque of Kernow, a fantasy novel?
Raymond Buckland: "I've always loved fantasy. For years I'd been wanting to write a fantasy novel and was greatly inspired by Tolkien's work, which I first read in the 1950s. However, I was kept very busy with demands for my non-fiction books. I finally decided to go ahead. I plot fairly thoroughly, then finally started the actual writing and did about fifteen chapters before I had to put it aside because of a contract for another book. I wasn't able to get back to the fantasy for nearly fifteen years! I finally did, and determined that I would finish it without further interruption."
In fiction magic is often portrayed as supernatural. Can you describe the difference between fantastic, supernatural magic and real, natural magic as is practiced by witches and occultists today?
RB: "Magic is not supernatural. It is really quite natural. It is – as Aleister Crowley defined it - causing change to occur in conformity with will. In other words, making something happen that you want to happen. I believe very much that we create our own realities, and this is really all that magic is. It is creating your own reality; making happen what you want to happen. The type of magic often presented in some books, in many movies, and in much television, is supernatural in that it is highly improbable. The wave of a "magic wand" to turn a salesman into a toad is most improbable! Yet to work on a person to the point where they become very toad-like, is possible (though I encourage positive transformations, not negative ones!). To take someone who is extremely ill – has perhaps been given up on by the medical establishment - and then to bring about a cure would seem like magic to many, yet is a form of healing magic performed regularly by many Witchcraft groups and individuals, for example."
Your book features scenes where characters communicate with spirits of the dead. You're a Spiritualist - did any of your real-life experiences influence how you describe the process?
RB: "Yes, definitely. I always try to make things and events as authentic as possible, though often putting a slight 'twist' on them! So it was with the spirit communication. It's simply trying to write so that even though the type of event may not be known, it sounds as though it could be possible. The way the spirits appear, in one scene, to Sannungor (one of the main characters) is consistent with how spirits could communicate with physical beings. There is a hint of the 'ghost' type of image, along with the materializations obtained by physical mediums, and along with the psychic 'hearing' of voices known as clairaudience."
One of the characters in the story is adept at psychometry, the practice of sensing energetic impressions stored in a physical object. Can you describe more about what psychometry is, and explain why you chose a single character in the book to be especially proficient in the art?
RB: "We all have the ability to psychometrize, though with many of us it needs a lot of practice to bring it out. It is, as you say, picking up 'vibrations' from an object to the point where you can tell who has handled it, where it came from, events that have taken place around it. I deal with it in many of my non-fiction books (Buckland's Book of Spirit Communication, for example)."
"In creating characters for a novel, whether fantasy or any other fiction, the author tries to make each character memorable by giving to each particular characteristics. In Kernow it seemed to me that the ability to do psychometry would fit this particular character very well. Although the other characters should have been able to do it, the practice fitted the rest of the make-up of this particular character so that the others could be shown with other strengths or weaknesses."
Are there any places in the Torque of Kernow where you had to compromise what you know about practical magic in order to better suit a fictitious fantasy storyline?
RB: "I made a point of not having the 'Hey presto!' type of magic, in Kernow. There are spells of the type that bring about change through repetition; through working on the inner person. There is, in one instance, the creation of what is very much like a hologram, but could as well be a form of group hypnosis. There is a lot of divination, in various forms, used in the book. But all of these are possible; in fact have been done in real life. The closest to compromise is the 'magical' entry into the wizards' towers, but even there it is within the realm of possibility... just too complex to cover here!"
There's a scene in this book where the band of companions encounter a group of "Rooters," a people that seem to be reminiscent of Gypsies - you are of Romany descent yourself and an authority on the subject; how did your knowledge of negative Gypsy stereotypes help shape how you wrote that scene?
RB: "I didn't want to use the word Gypsies so I came up with the term Rooters. I felt that they would 'root' about for what they needed. As I described them, however, I think it's obvious that they are the equivalent of the Romani. I've tried to make that parallel by drawing somewhat on the stereotypes of Gypsies yet without making them negative. I do, incidentally, use actual Romanes (the language) for their speech."
You coined some interesting new words in this book, like the word "threll" used to describe your heroine. Can you explain how you came up with such terms?
RB: "I spent many of my early years in England, in the theatre. This, I think, brought me in touch with a wide variety of names and – especially through Shakespeare – with unusual words. I have always, since a child, been an avid reader and loved words. Later, in America, I got involved with movies. I found it relatively easy to come up with names for characters, especially names that seemed, somehow, to fit the characters. I was also able to invent words that sounded right. For example, in one scene in Kernow, the group encounters some flesh-eating creatures I call 'scrabs'. The word scrab came from the Egyptian dung beetle – the scarab. It sounds vaguely familiar yet is unknown. 'Threll' was a similar thought process. I rather enjoy creating names, whether for characters or creatures."
And you created a unique language, as well, for the fictional land of Kernow?
RB: "I did (and am still working on it) – the 'Old Tongue'. Kernow is the old name for Cornwall, in the southwest of England. There once was a Cornish language. It almost died out but was rescued in recent times and is now taught in various schools in that area. I obtained a large dictionary of the Cornish language and am presently going through it creating a Kernow 'Old Tongue' that follows the form and syntax of Cornish yet is new. I have had to come up with things like consistent endings of words and related words, and also have created two variations on the main language, to be Dwarvish and Elvish. It's a project that will take quite some time but I have been able to incorporate some of the language in the book."
Did you always have a vivid imagination even when you were little?
RB: "I was drawn into the theatre very early (I played my first part – in Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' – when I was about ten or eleven) and was able to live out a lot of fantasy in that way. But as a child I shared a room for many years with my older brother and, from quite early on, he would insist that I tell him a story as we lay in bed. I would make up these wondrous fantasy tales only to find that, at some point, he had fallen asleep! So I told tales and wrote stories probably a lot more than I played."
Will sequels to the Torque of Kernow be out soon?
RB: "I'm anxious to get to the next Kernow book, but I am presently deep into a novel set in Victorian England and France, dealing with the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Illuminati. I'm thoroughly enjoying writing it, as a change from the fantasies, but at the same time I'm anxious to get back to Kernow!"
SFX: Thank you Raymond and Melanie!
Article kindly contributed by Melanie Harris, assistant editor of Tarot Reflections .