Friday, September 21, 2012

Scott Cunningham: The Real Deal

Legendary Wiccan author
Scott Cunningham
Dear Booksellers,

Anyone who is familiar with Wicca and Witchcraft undoubtedly knows the work of Scott Cunningham. Nearly two decades since his passing, he remains an iconic and revered figure in the magical community. Many of his books—including Wicca: A Guide for Solitary Practitioners and Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs—are considered classics and continue to inspire and inform those new to the Craft.

Llewellyn is proud to present a special collection of Scott Cunningham’s essays, spells, and rituals—originally published in the first editions of Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac. Cunningham’s Magical Sampler contains timeless wisdom on perennially popular topics such as the sabbats, Hawaiian magic, magical gardening, protection magic, bird charms, moon spells, Yule trees, herbal remedies, and ancient Greek oracles.

To celebrate the November release of Cunningham’s Magical Sampler, I’ve invited Donald Michael Kraig to share a few stories about the legendary Wiccan author who was also his esteemed friend and colleague.

Scott Cunningham: The Real Deal
By Donald Michael Kraig

“Hey Don, watch this!”

Cunningham’s Magical Sampler
November 2012

I was sitting in the big, ugly, green chair in the living room of the apartment I shared with Scott Cunningham. I hadn’t known him at all when I sub-leased a room from him in 1980, but in four years we had become good friends. Now, the tall, skinny, young man came out of his bedroom. He was holding a small cauldron, perhaps three or four inches in diameter, by the metal ring that looped over its top. I could smell a piece of saltpeter-laced charcoal burning inside.

He waved his hand over the mini-cauldron. As he did, I noticed his fingers moving as he dropped some sort of granulated powder onto the coal. The powder, which I later learned was made from benzoin resin, sparkled and flared dramatically. “Wow,” I said. “I think I may have something even better. Wait here.”

I was working part time at a sleight-of-hand magician’s supply shop. Yes, I was a magic geek as well as being a student of Western ceremonial magic. I had a small squeeze bottle that was filled with the powder of a dried moss called lycopodium. This combination allowed you to spray a fine, aerated stream of the powder past flame, leaving a trail of fire. The effect was called “Dragon’s Breath.” I went into my room, found my bottle and brought it out. Hiding the small bottle in my hand and squeezing out a spray of powder over the red-hot coal in the cauldron, I intoned in my best geeky magician voice, “Behold! The breath of the dragon!”

A thin line of fire lit up the room. To my surprise, Scott suddenly pulled away the tiny cauldron. “Hey!” he said, rather sternly. “That’s my ritual cauldron for personal use. It’s not a magic trick.”

I apologized profusely. I didn’t know the cauldron was a sacred ritual object and realized that he would now go back to his room and do some intense purification and sanctification rituals for this small cauldron, just the size of a coffee cup.

Scott and I knew a couple, I believe they were married, who had a concept of magic based upon what they read in novels. They said that the people they had met who claimed to be great magicians weren’t. They were looking for people they called “realies,” people who did real magic and were not self-deceived or just poseurs.

Even though Scott’s magic (he never spelled it “magick”) wasn’t the kind you found in fiction, it was definitely real. Scott was a realie.

It’s often surprising to see a true magic practitioner at work. They don’t need to show off or be the center of attention at rituals. Instead, they just do the work. They do it passionately and with intensity. I believe this intensity is a key to both real magic and creativity. It’s something I learned from Scott.

Scott passed to the Summerlands in 1993, years before the explosive growth of personal computing. Although he was using a computer toward the end of his all-too-short life, for most of the time we shared an apartment, he used an old IBM Selectric typewriter. The machine printed a very beautiful page. But because of its complexity, and his constant use, it was always breaking down. He had a repair contract so he could get it fixed quickly.

I remember many times hearing his astoundingly fast typing from behind the door to his room. Then, there would be a pause, followed by some tentative letters being pressed. This was followed by pounding on his desk with his fists as he shouted, “Damn! Damn! Damn!” He then came out to the living room where the phone was located, called the repair service, and set up an appointment.

You might think that this would give him an excuse to take the rest of the day off. Not Scott. He would immediately bring out some books from his library and start taking notes, or travel to the library to do research on books he didn’t own, or work with herbs and candles or other magickal objects to determine if some ritual or technique he was describing actually worked.

Nothing, save his final illness, would really stop him. He did everything with a calm intensity and focus—his writing, his magic, and his relaxation.

* * *

Donald Michael Kraig is the author of The Magical Life of Scott Cunningham, Modern Magick, and Modern Sex Magick. He writes The Magical Universe blog and teaches courses in the Southern California area on such topics as Kabbalah, tarot, magic, tantra, and psychic development.

Donald Michael Kraig on his favorite bookstore:

“I literally grew up at the Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood. They have in-depth sections on every metaphysical topic. Here’s hoping new owners will make the store even greater when it reopens in the spring of 2013!”

Are you a fan of Scott Cunningham? Is there a particular book of his that strongly influenced you?

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