067. Everyday Black Magic
Dr. Maria DeBlassie joins me to discuss three contemporary romance novels that explore everyday, practical magic with Black heroines: Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon, A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. Maria shares her experience as a practitioner of Brujeria, and explains how everyone can manifest some everyday magic.
Dr. Maria DeBlassie joins me to discuss three contemporary romance novels that explore everyday, practical magic with Black heroines: Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon, A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. Maria shares her experience as a practitioner of Brujeria, and explains how everyone can manifest some everyday magic.
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Co-Host on this episode: Dr. Maria DeBlassie
Check out (what's basically) part 1 of this conversation: 066. African Diaspora Conjuring Practices in Popular Culture
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
[00:00:00] Andrea Martucci: Hello. And welcome to episode 67 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought provoking critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre, romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And my guest today is Dr. Maria DeBlassie. Maria is a writer and an educator and is a full-time faculty member at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as a part-time faculty member in the University of New Mexico's honors college.
Maria joined me in episode 41 to talk about pleasure activism, courtship novels, and The Kiss Quotient. She also joined me very recently in episode 66, where we both learned so much from Dr. Margarita Guillory about African diaspora conjuring practices in popular culture. That episode was a prelude to this discussion and we reference some of the things we learned in this episode.
In this episode, we talk about three books that share a common theme. All three are contemporary romance novels with female main characters who are Black and either identify as witches or practice everyday magic. And they are not paranormal romances.
The three books we discuss are Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon, A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L Harrison, and Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. We're going to talk about some of the common themes, how these books differ and also how you can practice everyday magic. It's not quite as woo woo as you think it might be.
I also have to fess up that in this episode, Maria and I say that Sonja, the main character from A Taste of Her Own Medicine, identifies as a witch and upon closer reading and also upon asking the author, Tasha L Harrison, uh, it turns out that's incorrect. This is especially ironic given the whole extended conversation with Dr. Margarita Guillory about how some practices are described by outsiders as witchcraft, but would not be described as such by practitioners. I don't think it invalidates the things that we talk about from the text, but FYI, Sonja does not identify as a witch and I apologize for the misidentification in this episode.
Maria DeBlassie: My name is Dr. Maria DeBlassie I am a professor at Central New Mexico Community College and the [00:02:30] University of New Mexico. This year, at the University of New Mexico's Honors College, I'm teaching a course on the legacy of witchcraft in popular culture. So in that class, we look at, the history of witchcraft, both in terms of specifically the history of witchcraft in America. And a lot of people are familiar with Salem witch trials and that sort of stuff. But we also look at how that played out in the American Southwest, where I'm from, in terms of Spanish colonization and the Catholic church and how that, demonized or villainized other forms of spiritual practices, particularly through Latinx and indigenous, lenses or cultures.
And then we also look at really fun stuff like movies that shaped the way we think of witchcraft, TV shows, books, popular culture, which influences people for better or for worse. Um, and when I'm not teaching, I'm a writer and I'm a practicing Bruja. So as I said in a previous podcast I identify as Mestiza, which is, claiming mixed race identity.
Specifically Latinx, indigenous, and European ancestry. So I come from a really big mix. I'm a product of colonization, basically in New Mexico, which is a very intense history to carry in your bloodlines. So part of my, Brujeria practice is letting go of the violence of Spanish colonization, reclaiming the indigenous roots, the Latinx roots and a lot of those spiritual practices.
Curanderismo, which is like a folk healing, a Curandera is like a folk healer, but also contains elements of like spirituality and magic, for lack of a better term. So reclaiming those Ancestral ties, what we have knowledge of, because there's also been a tremendous amount of white washing and assimilation and erasure.
So, as Mestiza, you reclaim what you can and also what is safe for you to do, because it can be dangerous to dig too deep into those histories of trauma. It can, trigger things. We take what we can and then we build our spiritual practices through that.
I also just want to say before we dive into this, and I say this in my own writing, I don't speak for all Brujas or Mestizaje because we are a wide, a large and eclectic bunch. We are not a monolith. so when I do speak about things, it's more through my own lens. And I tend to focus more on what I call everyday magic, which is natural spirituality, things that we think of in our everyday life that we don't think of as magical that really are. Like, brewing a cup of tea is really making your own medicinal potion.
So there's a little bit [00:05:00] of pop culture in that, there's a little bit of my own background with Curanderismo and different ties. But that's a little bit about me. So I am really excited to be talking to you about witchcraft and romance novels and popular culture.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And we just got off our fantastic conversation with Dr. Margarita Guillory, who spoke to us about conjuring practices with people of African descent who live in America. And, even there's just so much to unpack in your introduction, because I think that there's elements of pleasure activism that you're talking about, which is a major topic that you spoke about last time you were on Shelf Love and that sense of acknowledging the situation of how you came to be oppressed and sort of like not denying that, but then trying to also then move forward and experience pleasure, enjoy and reclaim, right?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. So part of it is definitely about, yeah, pleasure activism and I call it, pleasure, magic practice, you know, it's like a nice way to think about it. But when you do have that history of colonization in your blood, when you are an othered body, it can be really difficult to access pleasure because your sexuality, your right to joy, it's demonized or suppressed. Mainstream religion can suppress it. People have all sorts of ideas about the you know, hyper-sexualized Latina or the whatever. And so part of Brujeria is reclaiming that, and your own autonomy and saying, I have a profound capacity for joy, for pleasure, for abundance. And that is separate from other people's perceptions of what that should look like for me.
And of course, part of that practice, that pleasure magic practice is figuring out what that even means or what joy or pleasure feels like, because if you haven't had access to it or you're realizing that there's a lot of white norm, social norms that you've internalized, you're undoing that work and relearning your relationship to pleasure.
So it's an exploration. It's also, Brujeria - and something I talk about with my students in my class - it's a form of social justice. So you're making yourself visible. You're making yourself loud and saying you deserve to take up space. Minority bodies, other bodies deserve to take up space. And not necessarily [00:07:30] so that the white gaze can take us in. So we're not there for the white gaze.
Andrea Martucci: I think this ties in so nicely to where we got to at the end of the conversation with Margarita about reclaiming witchcraft as a way for Black millennials to reclaim something that allows them to be.
And so much of that is being who you are, being an individual, not suppressing any part of yourself, but also not necessarily expecting that identity to look like any particular identity that you see, maybe you're similar, but you're also yourself and it's okay.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. And I love how Margarita said, it's about "room to be dot dot dot"
So there's that suggestion of exploration. And, it's definitely about that. It's about, taking joy in the process and the process of discovering your autonomy and a sense of self. And particularly, if you're from that mixed race background, there can be a tremendous amount of pressure to, identify with one of those cultures over the other, the kind of Spanish colonizer side wants to kind of forget about anything that's indigenous or Latinx or there's other people who are like, well, if you know you have those indigenous ties and you can connect, like you have to go back, you have to find, by any means possible to reclaim those things, or this is what it means to be Latinx. So you should be expressing your culture in these ways.
And in reality, it's a very complex issue and, everyone identifies with their cultures differently. Everyone has a different relationship to them and expresses them differently. So part of that, "finding the space to be" as Margarita said is saying, how do I explore my cultures and how do I do that in a way that is separate from either the white gaze or those various cultures telling me how I should feel about my cultural identity.
Andrea Martucci: Right? and it's a way that's not dogmatic or prescriptive. And you just mentioned the idea of the hyper-sexualized, Latina or the, the hypersexualized Other, we could say, or as I recently, learned about when Hsu-Ming Teo was on the podcast, talking about Orientalism as basically this idea of the other, people who are gendered feminine as the other, are often given this like sensual, hypersexual identity.
I also recently read a chapter in Jayashree Kamble's book where she unpacked whiteness associated [00:10:00] with, Protestantism and Protestant work ethic. But whiteness as pure almost asexual, like, you know, the Virgin mother has a child, but is chaste so then there's this dichotomy between, like white purity, not sensual, and then the Other being hypersensual. And, we're here to talk about romance, novels, believe it or not.
Maria DeBlassie: It's all part of the mix.
Andrea Martucci: We're going to get there. So, I think probably our question that we want to explore is how are some recent modern romance novels dealing with identities such as, the identity of being a witch, particularly for Black heroines in romances.
And we have three examples of characters who claim this identity and explore it in various ways. And the three romance novels are Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon, A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert.
So before we speak more about each of these novels' connection to the things that we talked about with Margarita and a connection to our own thoughts and feelings about all this stuff, let's just give people a little bit of an overview of these three books, although we're not really going to deep dive into any of them.
So do you want to start with, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, do you want to give a brief overview, particularly the characters, what tradition are they tapping into? What do we need to know about how witchcraft is explored?
Maria DeBlassie: Absolutely. So I'm gonna gloss over a lot of the major plot points and just tell the witchy part of the stories. And I will say before I give the, Take a Hint, Dani Brown overview, is one of the things I like about all three of these books. And I think why we chose to cover them, is that they look at, modern witches as like actual life practitioners and not in a paranormal setting.
So when I teach my legacy of pop culture class, I introduced my students to a variety of spiritual practices that could fall under the frame of witchcraft, because I don't think people realize that it's an actual thing and it's got very many different iterations, particularly depending on your cultural context, and each of the women in this story has such a different orientation to what that term means to her, which I think is also important.
And we'll unpack it later.
But first, Take a Hint Dani Brown. [00:12:30] So Dani Brown, she's an academic and a witch.
Andrea Martucci: I feel like we should mention that we focused our conversation earlier on American conjuring traditions.
So we should acknowledge off the bat that Take a Hint, Dani Brown takes place in England. Majorly different location, but -
Maria DeBlassie: And that's why I stopped because I was like, I have like the Caribbean and this and that. And I was like, no, it takes place in England, but she is following the Obeah tradition. And the preface starts with her basically calling on the goddess of Oshun, who is like the goddess of love. And calling for a fuck buddy. Like I really need a fuck buddy to make my life complete. And Dani has a lot of commitment issues. She's been hurt in the past.
And she meets up Zaf, who she has a crush on. He's the security guard where she works at the university. He has his own hangups, but he loves reading romance novels. And, they get together after a random incident couples them off as internet sweethearts, they go viral and they do the whole fake relationship thing slash real life fuck buddies and romance ensues.
What I think is interesting about Dani is she does have that Obeah tradition in her family. She knows it's there, but she hasn't been formally trained. So part of the story is her trying to figure out what that means and what that looks like for her.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I think that this book has the most direct conjuring, like you see it on page. It's very much embodied on the page, I think.
Maria DeBlassie: I think it's also what someone might more traditionally perceive as like a magical practice or a spiritual practice. Cause they're in front of the alter and they're giving up offerings and all of that.
Andrea Martucci: So now our second book is A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison. Would you also like to give a little overview of this one?
Maria DeBlassie: Yes. And I will just say, if you haven't read this book, it is like total good medicine. It's just a really beautiful book. So it is about Sonja. She's 40, she's newly divorced. And you kind of get the sense that her marriage is a little bit toxic, not super healthy. She's trying to find herself and she decides that she wants to open up her own potions and lotions shop, as she calls it at first. And she comes from a line of women who practice the Gullah tradition in the American South.
And her mother is a really powerful, I think you could say, conjure woman, maybe, who embodies that. And her mother has an [00:15:00] organic herbal garden where she brews her own medicines and lotions to help people, and her daughter Sonja wants to carry on that tradition, but more in a city context.
And with her own - this is what I thought was really beautiful - not just pulling on their traditions from her mother and grandmother, but putting her own magic and her own spin into it. To do that though, she takes a entrepreneur class with a young gentleman named Atlas. He's younger than her. He's 31 and, they start up a romance pretty quickly.
And, this book is incredibly beautiful because she ends up calling her shop Good Medicine, and this book is all about the power of healthy relationships. The healing, sexual healing is real romantic relationships are healing. And that herbs and medicine and the energy you imbue into the products you use, the things you take into your body, is incredibly powerful.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And so full disclosure, Tasha L. Harrison is on my editorial advisory board and I speak with her often. And one thing that she told me specifically, I was checking in with her on trying to find other recommendations of romances that could fit this theme that we were talking about. And I was like, what does authentic Black witchcraft look like? And she is actually the person who explained to me part of the secrecy around some of these practices where, she told me that her background, I believe maybe distantly in her, family's past, practiced some of the stuff, but she's not learning from anyone in particular, like in her family line.
It wasn't anything that was really passed down very explicitly to her. So she's also in that process of rediscovering this. But that there are things that she is an outsider to, and can't quite get access to, and also things that she does know that she chooses not to share in her fiction, because of that sort of, holding it sacred to the people who practice it and not for consumption by others.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. And there are some things that are private and sacred and that are just for you or within the culture, or, I like what you said about how she said she's an outsider to even certain parts of that practice. So I feel the same way with a lot of the indigenous connections in my ancestry, because indigenous culture and, you know, and there are various tribes, they're so heavily appropriated.
It's terrible how much cultural appropriation happens. I feel very careful about saying, I'm an outsider to these things. I do not have the same kind of access. And [00:17:30] so I want to be respectful of that boundary, because we do live in an era of, I think, pushing past those boundaries and sometimes it's meaning, sometimes it's an effort to reclaim. But I think those boundaries are important sometimes, to have that healthy respect of certain experiences aren't your lived experiences. And so it's okay to not try and take anything back.
Andrea Martucci: And so our third book is Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon. And, if you'd like to once again, take it.?
Maria DeBlassie: Sure. Yeah. So Xeni is really interesting, because at first I should mention the Book Xeni and Dani Brown, they're both bi, as is Mason, who is the hero in Xeni. And I bring that up because, part of the conversation, cultural conversation, surrounding witchcraft is that it is, there's a whole queer subtext to witchcraft. I'll just put it that way. So it's not just reclaiming sexuality, part of it can be reclaiming, non-heterosexualities and celebrate.
So Xeni is an unexpected heiress. She inherits her aunt's fortune and house, but it's on the condition that she marry Mason, who is a lovable Scottish cinnamon roll. They have to be married for 30 days and then they can divorce. So they agree to do this marriage of inconvenience because it is helpful to both of them and Xeni tells him right away, before we get married, you need to know, I'm a witch.
Now for her, it's beautiful because she says, I don't share this side of myself with a lot of people and it's not because she's afraid or she feels like she has to hide it, but you get the sense that it's very much like she decides who deserves to know about this and it's private otherwise.
And I think that's powerful because that is definitely a part of the witchcraft tradition, regardless of whatever your cultural orientation is. Although hers is hysterical because it is definitely drawing on pop culture. So the way she talks about being a witch is through the movie Practical Magic, which is also based off of a book, but the focus is on the movie Practical Magic.
And so she takes that tonic line from that movie, "all women are witches." And so for her being a witch is, it's a given, it's just a natural part of who we are. And she says, some of us are more aware of it and can tune into that energy. And some of us aren't as aware of that. And then of course her big witchy problem is that she has "Practical Magic-ed" herself, as she says, which is that she conjured up this idea of such an impossible, perfect person for a romantic [00:20:00] relationship that they can't possibly exist. And so in her mind that means she will never find love. But of course, this being a romance novel, we know that, stuff's about to change and already is changing with her and Mason.
Andrea Martucci: And I just finished this one.
I read it explicitly for this podcast, although I had been wanting to read it for a really long time. So I was really happy as I usually am that I had a good reason to move it up the list.
I thought that there was a really beautiful line through Xeni about both Mason and Xeni, really allowing themselves to be their authentic selves.
And part of that is sexual. Part of that is being emotionally vulnerable and allowing somebody else to see you warts and all - ha that's a witch joke.
(Maria laughs to make Andrea feel better about her lame joke)
I'm so lame. But really to be authentic. I think that they're both extremely careful with each other where they're like, are they joking? I am not going to laugh until I can read their mood.
And I think this connects really well. I see kind of like a through line from that aspect of Xeni to A Taste of Her Own Medicine, Sonja reclaiming, sort of her individuality and, her authentic desires. Like she has suppressed a lot of this as being a wife and mother. And, she is separating from her husband, from whom she has not expected much sexually, in terms of identity and relationship and romance.
Maria DeBlassie: and I believe there was a statement in that book where she has never had a partner induced orgasm.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I believe that's true. And is that also true of Xeni and, or it's just very unlikely, she did not often in one previous partner.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, like it wasn't amazing sex. For Xeni she's like, I never felt comfortable enough to really talk about what I wanted or what I'd like to experiment with. And with Sonja, I think her husband was her only partner and they were together for like, I don't know, 20 years or something since high school.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Maria DeBlassie: And her friend mentioned, they have the conversation about the moment when Sonja actually have like this earth shattering orgasm, but it's not with her husband. So I think it's with a toy. And then when she finally gets with Atlas, she's like, Oh my God, is this what sex can be like?
So you get the sense that she's been very sexually unfulfilled, but never actually realized that she was because she didn't know that sex [00:22:30] could be more because she had only had that one partner.
Andrea Martucci: And I think that Sonja was wrapped up in a lot of playing a role of who she thought she needed to be.
What, what does being a mother look like, what does being a wife look like? What is my role in the economic situation on my family. And part of it, her journey is dreaming bigger. Like when she's building her business, she at first is sort of like, I don't know, maybe I'll have some tables that like craft fairs or whatever, and then starts to really like envision a bigger future for herself and expect more out of her romantic partners, her sexual partners, her business ventures.
Maria DeBlassie: Absolutely. so that sounds like a really, simple concept, but I do just want to point out that's that's a really good example of everyday magic or conjuring and thinking about giving yourself permission to dream bigger. So for even thinking about it through the lens of pleasure activism or pleasure magic it's, Hey, I am allowed more. What if I dreamed about wanting more? Because what happens is we start internalizing the limitations that get placed on us.
So it takes a little bit, and you see this in Sonja's work. It takes her time to work through that. Even her sisters. She wants to go into business with her sister. She feels safer to her and her sister's no, you can do this on your own. Like you are fully capable. So her family members see that she has this potential, but she has to grow into it by taking risks.
Andrea Martucci: And not to put too fine a point on the sexual aspect of it. But I feel like there is this story of trying to fit in to this idea of heteronormativity, of prioritizing male pleasure, and/or your partner's pleasure. In the case of Xeni where she has been afraid of really tapping into and then vocalizing what she really wants. And so prioritizing others, needs above your own.
Maria DeBlassie: Right, And Mason too, in that. So he's bi, but his father is really homophobic. He shames him. And so that's something Mason always feels like he has to keep a secret. He tells Xeni before they're getting married, she just says, you need to know I'm Bi, I'm a witch and that's so liberating for him. So he's like, yeah, I'm BI too. And so not only do they have the opportunity to be really open with each other, and vulnerable, as you said earlier, but I think the important thing is that they know they're in a safe space, even though they're still trying to [00:25:00] feel each other out, they're realizing because they've been put in such a strange situation by her aunt who clearly loves them both, there's a little bit more of a built in trust and the sense that they have nothing to lose by being very open and honest with each other. And they've both said, even though I'm sexually experienced, I've never really felt safe enough, comfortable enough to really explore with someone. And so that's one of the first moments where they bond together, where they're like, and not just sexually, but also like I've never been able to have this transparent a conversation with someone. This is liberating.
Andrea Martucci: There's this really interesting part towards the end of Xeni where Mason has made himself smaller by falling back on family expectations of who he should be. And he has throughout the story and sort of his backstory, after this situation with his father, really been forced to also make his life small. Like he has these dreams and, he has let his father shut those dreams down and, shut him down from exploring other paths and really committing to any of those paths. And before they reunite, he has this conversation with his mother, about witchcraft and apparently he gets quite a lecture. They're Scottish. He gets quite a lecture on like Celtic magic and like this is, they're Catholic and this is bad, bad, bad, bad. But also, this conversation with his mother about it somehow helps him clarify his own list of what he wants to conjure as a perfect partner.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. He's like, I'm sort of done with a lot of the really conservative negative stuff. Like Xeni's a witch. She accepts me for who I am. I can talk to her. I really don't want to be around the other vibes that tell me who it should be or how I should behave or put such heavy restrictions on other forms of self expression, including witchcraft.
And I think, you know, it's so interesting because in the same way that like Xeni and Mason have this, sexual awakening, emotional awakening. You see the same thing happening with Sonja in A Taste of Her Own Medicine. And what I think is so beautiful about Sonja's is that she's an older woman and in, in many ways experiencing a sexual awakening for the first time. Like,
Andrea Martucci: I mean, she's basically a crone as they say in the witch lore. (I'm joking!)
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, a little lady, right? At the ripe old age of 40, but she's realizing wow, I don't think I've ever had a sexual awakening. At least not like this. And it's [00:27:30] different for her because she's had children. Atlas is younger. But so I think it's really powerful that in both Xeni and A Taste of Her Own Medicine, it really is like an example of sex magic or sexual healing.
It's wow, just to feel this overwhelming pleasure with someone I trust is amazing.
Now Take a Hint, Dani Brown is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Dani is very comfortable having very good sex with whatever consenting adult she's attracted to.
Her journey is feeling safe to open up emotionally. It's not addressed quite as strongly in this book, but I think because she's a woman of color in academia, that gets addressed when she meets her idol and her idol gives her advice on how to survive in this climate. And the idol tells her, you know, find joy wherever you can.
And basically just gives her permission to be a human being. Zaf, reading romance novels, kind of exposes her to this world where emotions, feelings are valued over needing to be super logical and have it together all the time. And it's interesting that she's a witch who is also struggling with that, which is not uncommon, I think.
Andrea Martucci: Right. And I think that for Dani there is that concern that a partner will be demanding and will try to make her stray from her goals. So it's a sense of protection. Like before I get too emotionally involved with somebody who then is going to pressure me or make me feel guilty about how committed I am to my work. I'm going to just say this isn't for me. I can't have it all.
Maria DeBlassie: And then she internalizes the idea from an ex that like, she can't do relationships or that she's no good at it because she doesn't know how to do the girly things.
But you realize like, she thinks of it as I don't know how to do the girlfriend stuff. But by the end of the story, you realize, actually you really do. You were just with a jerk who cheated on you. That's not your fault, but his, so it's a lot of her coming to terms with the fact that there's nothing wrong with the way she is. She was just with someone who was expecting her to be someone else.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It does seem like that is the through line of all three of these stories, right?
Maria DeBlassie: Absolutely
Andrea Martucci: Pressures, self-imposed, cultural, from intimate relationships, the message that these people are getting is that there is something wrong with them. They have to fit a mold and they are breaking out of that mold and reclaiming and asserting their power and [00:30:00] individuality too. Like I'm going to do this my way.
Maria DeBlassie: Absolutely. And that's like witchcraft 101, whatever your tradition is, It's "I'm going to do this my way." That's the ultimate spell or however you want to identify it. That's the ultimate thing where you say, I have been told to think and feel and express myself in certain ways or to perform in certain ways. Brujeria for me, for example, is about taking that power back and saying, but what do I want, what feels authentic and healthy to me?
And it's a very simple thing to think about and something that all these books talk about, but I think what all these books show is that it's also really hard to go on that journey because it does require, having to let go of so much. And having to unlearn so much, and take that risk, which can feel really frightening.
Andrea Martucci: And I'm thinking specifically of the conjuring spell that Dani practices at the beginning of the book, Take A Hint, Dani Brown. And, I asked this question with Margarita, basically, what is the difference between magic and a prayer? And I want to just like unpack for a second.
So I grew up in a family that practiced Catholicism, although I am atheist and I probably identified as an atheist from the age of 16. And then when I left my parents' home was finally able to like, stop practicing Catholicism. So anyways, that's my religious background and what I'm most familiar with. And also I exist in a society that is completely Christian-centric. I'm thinking about how religion, specifically like Christianity, might be layered into a romance novel where you might have a character pray for a particular outcome. And that would be seen, particularly in a Christian romance, like a inspirational romance, but even like in romances not explicitly marketed as Christian, like praying for something would not be out of the ordinary. Like you, you might see that, right?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. I mean, it can be as simple, as transparent as yeah. Like an inspirational romance and you know, the hand of God does whatever he's going to do to, someone like, Oh God, I pray. So-and-so's okay, the idea of prayer is so mainstream. It's interesting because as you were talking about the prayer with inspirational romance, I think the difference there is that God is all, so the power is with God versus the individual, even though they're the ones praying, which is, I think how a lot of like [00:32:30] more of the religious stuff is set up. Whereas witchcraft is more empowerment of the self and, so Margarita was talking about the power comes from like spiritual powers, maybe some higher being, there also is within the self. and that's something that you don't necessarily see in some of the like religious romances. The power is always outside and gifted upon you.
Andrea Martucci: You earn that power by being a good person, not by doing anything in particular towards that goal.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And, and by being a good person usually means that you're like white, hetero, cisgender able bodied, and neuro-typical like a lot of elitism.
Whereas witchcraft is taking the power back and saying, no, the power is within me and I'm not beholden to anyone. To express that. There are larger energies out there in the universe, but, they are within me as well as outside of me.
Andrea Martucci: So I've heard the term manifesting used before. And so I'm curious if you could explain a little bit about what that looks like, because it strikes me that manifesting is you identify this desired outcome. And then manifesting is the practical steps you're taking to create the environment under which that can occur.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. So there's a lot of different ways to look at manifesting. And so I'll talk about it, how it's maybe thought of in more, I was going to say mainstream witchcraft culture, which sounds like a
Andrea Martucci: oxymoron?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, an oxymoron. But, I think the way people traditionally perceive it within witchcraft, and then I'll give you my own spin on it. But, um, manifesting, it would be like what we see in Take A Hint, Dani Brown, where she's like, I want a fuck buddy. I'm going to ask the goddess Oshun for it. I'm going to do my ritual and then I'm going to keep my eyes out for it. So I am saying, this is what I want. I'm focusing my energy on it. On Instagram manifesting is, I want my dream job, so I'm going to light my candles and do my spell work, and then I'm really gonna go after it and figure out what I need to do to get it. So it's not just asking the universe or whatever gods and goddesses you want to call to, but then you have to do the work.
So one thing I'd like to point out is sometimes I think what gets lost when people talk about witchcraft is like, it's this idea where you have this really cool spell book and you light your candles, or you pray to this deity. And then people are like, why isn't it working? It's cause you also have to do the hard work.
So in a lot of my writing, I talk about how magic is a hard, gritty thing. So I tell my students this story of, I always wanted to be a published author and I [00:35:00] manifested that I put that energy out into the world, but I also read constantly. I wrote constantly, like I put in the hours. And so the universe, whatever, it needs to know that you're doing the work as well.
And that's the manifesting, that's the real conjuring or everyday magic, or, so I call it everyday conjuring or everyday magic. That's the real work. If the spells or the lighting of the candles helps you focus that energy. That's great. But actually being at the desk, typing, reading the books, informing yourself. That's what produces the results. That's kinda how I read my own expression of Brujeria. It's not as glamorous as a lot of the Instagram expressions of witchcraft. But it's not that one is wrong over the other. It's just a different way of looking at the same thing.
Andrea Martucci: And some of that, like the ephemera seems to be about creating the environment under which you feel you have that power.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And, yeah, exactly, if like you need those tools to get in that mindset, that's completely great. But then you have to ask yourself too, should I be manifesting this? Is this something I should be pushing for? In Take A Hint, Dani Brown. I mean, she basically asked for a fuck buddy. The universe or, you know, Oshun the Goddess of love. She's like, that's not what you really need. So what I'm going to give you is true love and the guise of a fuck buddy. Or, however you want to really read her relationship to Zaf that she ends up in. She's like, this is not what you really need, but I'm going to give you what you need in the guise of what you think you want.
So sometimes you have to be careful what you're asking for. So like, I've definitely been in situations where I've said, I want this job or this thing, but the manifesting feels like such an uphill battle. this is taking way more energy than - there's hard work and then there's, I'm drained. And so you have to decide, is this the path I should be going down and every time I've let go of those things, I always find out something weird, like some sort of synchronous thing happens and it's Oh, this is why this situation wasn't right for me. I didn't know it at the time, but you could totally interpret it as the universe saying, you don't really want this. You think you want it, but let's go over here instead. I'll make this energy really hard for you. So you will leave it alone.
Andrea Martucci: That was one thing, that Margarita was talking about sort of the intent behind what you're trying to conjure. So I thought that was super meaningful, right? And this is actually related to Practical Magic, right?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely!
Andrea Martucci: Like if you're trying to get rid of an abusive partner who law enforcement can't help you [00:37:30] and there is no other power to call upon and you want this person gone and out of your life. Is it bad to - I mean, I forget how in the movie or the book, it's based on a book, I forget exactly what they request, but he is dead.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. The book is very different from the movie. The movie is like very much a sparkly romantic comedy. And I haven't made it all the way through the book yet, but it's definitely a heavier book, but in the movie, yeah, it's billed as a romantic comedy, but they kill off this guy. They, put too much, I think, nightshade in his alcohol.
Andrea Martucci: Like you do.
Maria DeBlassie: So yeah, exactly. As long as one does. And so it's a little bit of an accident, but then they're like, we got to cover up the evidence. So they buried them in their backyard, as you do. But what's always interesting to me watching the movie again, is that it's billed as a romantic comedy. We think of it in lighthearted terms. But basically they kill a man and get away with it. (Andrea laughs rather evilly) And no-one is sorry about it. No one is sorry. They're like, yeah, he needs to go. He's in an abusive guy and he's a super freak, goodbye. So yeah, that's a moment where it's like, he's a terrible man. He was gonna kill them. They just did what they needed to do to protect themselves in the world at large.
Andrea Martucci: That feels like justice to me.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. Yeah. And it's specifically because you know he's leading up to basically saying he's going to kill them both and you know, that's going to happen the second they pull over, he does whatever he wants.
So they're protecting themselves and their family. They're good people. He did a whole bunch of other terrible crimes to other women. So you're like, he should go.
However, you know, you see the movie, The Craft, which was done about two years before I think, or around the same time. And it's the same thing. You have this group of young teenage girls, they're doing witchcraft but what they do is they start enacting revenge on the people in the school. So the creepy dude predator, the racist person and, so they enact all their fantasies and that's a really good example of it's all fun and games. And then they start realizing that their actions have consequences. And they're wondering like, should I have enacted this? And it's less about the people they enact revenge on and more about wondering, who am I becoming when I'm playing with these forces that I don't even really understand.
Andrea Martucci: And in that case, in particular, the intent to start was wanting something better for themselves, but then actively maliciously wanting to harm, [00:40:00] not to harm to save yourself. Actively bring harm to these people, which I think is very much in line with I think Margarita was talking about, how that used to be how witchcraft was - like the original practitioners would not call it witchcraft because witchcraft was harmful practices and they were not practicing that.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And self defense is something a lot different than saying this person pisses me off, I'm gonna make them suffer. And it's definitely justifiable. Like you take pleasure in their magical practice in that movie, when they do get revenge cause you're like, yeah, those people suck, but then it becomes a slippery slope. I mean, they kill someone off.
Nancy the witch who goes crazy, kind of has like a nonconsensual scene with the guy she ends up killing off. And so he's the predator and he becomes a person preyed upon. And that's the moment where you're like, Whoa, you crossed a line.
You're becoming the thing that you were fighting against. And so I think it looks at that slippery slope of yeah, the malicious side of witchcraft.
Andrea Martucci: And I really like what you were talking about earlier. Even just coming back to the word "practice" where, I believe that, the same way we want our doctors to practice medicine so that they are on this journey of always improving, always practicing their craft. Using it, they're using the muscle, it's staying strong, getting stronger, et cetera.
What you were talking about with, sort of setting the intention and then doing the work, putting in the effort to make whatever it is that you want manifest. In the white Christian tradition, there's two things. There is a) that some people are more deserving of good things to happen to them. And, if something good happens, it must be because you're a good person and you deserved it. And if something bad, Oh, it must be because you've sinned or you're not worthy of this in some way.
So there's a sort of determinism there, like you're either worthy or not. And, but then there's this like, weird, Protestant work ethic thing, right? Just keep working and work, work, work, work, work, and just be happy with that.
Maria DeBlassie: Their work ethic is like, you're not manifesting. That's just what you do.
Andrea Martucci: Right, it's waking up and pushing a rock up a hill, but with no meaning, with, with no personal satisfaction.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: You don't want to roll the rock up the hill.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, exactly. And so when I taught, American literature, early American literature, a couple of years ago, through the Norton and I hate those textbooks.
But basically it was Eight weeks of American Puritanism and it's like, I'm going to rot in hell unless God blesses [00:42:30] me. And I don't know how that's going to happen. Cause he just kinda chooses whatever. But I got to work a lot too, so that I'm not a sinner. and it was just like, eight weeks of poems and little stories about that. And it was like so depressing. And then we got to Edgar Allen Poe and there's this like uptick in interest in the class like, Ooh, this is interesting.
But one of the things we talked about was like it's so oppressive, that ideology, but it is such a strong foundation today in our country, regardless of your culture orientation or religious beliefs, so much of the indigenous culture has been erased. The foundation is that Puritan core.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Maria DeBlassie: And it affects everything even today.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And then there's like ties to capitalism. Who does this benefit? Who does the meek inherit the earth benefit? The people who have the earth while they're alive.
I obviously have issues with, uh, Christianity.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think too, like you see this now with a lot of the anti-maskers. If we're talking about the pandemic. They just want to pray away the problem. And that's a form of manifestation. They just want to give it up to God.
There's this house in my neighborhood that has a sign like, Lord, if you decide that you want to free us of this plague, please do so. And it's like a little visual prayer, but they're not thinking like here's the work we can do to stop that by like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. So it was really funny when the whole pandemic unfolded, you had that side of things and then all my pagan and witchy friends who you think would be like super out there were like ,wear your mask.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Maria DeBlassie: Social distance, here's all these ways to keep your immune system healthy. So you're less susceptible and so in many ways they represented a more rational perspective.
Andrea Martucci: And is it any coincidence that the people who do not feel concerned about this are not people who are vulnerable because they are in, communities where a large percentage of people are essential workers, or are vulnerable in other ways, because of systemic issues that, have, harmed them in their communities.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, so the people who are less likely to believe it are the people who are also less directly impacted.
Andrea Martucci: And most protected by systemic advantage.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. And I still know people who think that it's a hoax, I've done a lot of unfriending of people over this, but they think it's a hoax because they don't know anyone who's directly impacted or has been a directly effect. So it's a very different situation.
Andrea Martucci: I was thinking [00:45:00] about on a very like, personal level about like practice and like manifesting and doing the work towards the thing you want.
I definitely grew up with, through a variety of cultural messages, I don't know how much of this is religion or just, American culture or whatever. This idea that you are imbued with what you are imbued with. You have some sort of natural talent - actually this has a little bit of overlap with being in a gifted and talented program and told - this was a conversation I had with Nicole Falls - being told that you're special then creates this paralyzing fear that you're not going to live up to this thing. And the way I phrased it is like, "well, I'm so fucking special, how come I can't do anything?"
And I think that one personal development, that I think helped me grow a lot as a person was realizing that, instead of sitting around and like festering about the things that are not happening, decide what I want and move towards it. And day after day practice, do the thing.
Maria DeBlassie: exactly.
Andrea Martucci: And it's also that idea of how do you become the thing you want to be? Not just by wishing really hard for it. You just do the thing every day and then you become the thing.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. And it's, if you think about the like, I'm gifted or I'm special or whatever, that's parents literally trying to manifest that abundance for their children, or that sense of being able to do anything. What happens. And I say this as a, when I was in graduate school, part of my bread and butter was tutoring students like that. And I think part of what gets left out of that equation is no one's really showing them the day in, day out work and the messiness of that, that like, yeah, you can be really smart, but part of being smart is making a ton of mistakes and putting in the work.
And what they miss is the blood, sweat, and tears of that kind of magical practice. Or I want to be healthier. Okay. You can't just wish it, you gotta like
Andrea Martucci: Do it every day and
Maria DeBlassie: exercise and whatever better health looks like for you. Drinking eight glasses of water, whatever it is. It's like, you gotta follow through with that. And I think that's one of the things that becomes less fun for people. I think they'd like the kind of beautiful Instagram pictures of witchcraft, and there's nothing wrong with that. But it can sell this illusion that it's as simple as, wishing on a crystal ball or, wearing crystals. And then you magically get this.
It's like, Nope, you also have to do the day in, day out. And it's, funny because one of the things my students have learned in the class is like what they think of- I gave him some resources that showed actual witches. And how they define their practice and what that meant to them. [00:47:30] And from, a variety of different backgrounds, contexts, even would you practices, from Pagan to Wiccan to Brujeria, all these different things. And a lot of it was like, "I take time to commune with nature. I go for a walk every day. I have too many Mason jars, I just honor my own power." And a lot of it was very mundane stuff that people didn't really perceive to be magical.
Their pop cultural perceptions of magic are very ritualistic, very over the top. Lots of really fancy tools. And a lot of practitioners are like, yeah, maybe I might do some of that, but I'm also just like really focused on putting good energy into the stew I'm making, because that is healing. So a lot more of a grounded practice than I think people realize.
Andrea Martucci: I don't even know like how we wrap up this conversation . There's obviously some commonalities between these romances that portray contemporary Black witches in romance. There are these obvious ties to like, romantic relationships with other people, relationships to yourself, sex. But I think the biggest thing is that sense of identity.
Maria DeBlassie: Right.
Andrea Martucci: And, I wish that there was a cleaner answer about like why now? Like why Black witches now in romance.
I mean, I think that there's been a good number of European representations of witches, but like more in that paranormal sense. Like I know Nora Roberts has had a ton of vaguely paranormal - like I think a little bit of like, is it magic or isn't it, we're not sure, but it's like vaguely paranormal.
There's obviously lots of very paranormal in the European tradition of witchcraft way. Why now for Black witches who are practicing more in the vein of what Margarita Guillory is talking about, in the populations she's studying? Maybe in part that's the answer, right. Is there's like increasing visibility of the subculture and then it makes its way into romance.
Maria DeBlassie: Absolutely. Cause I think, like my students. They talk about wow, there's such a resurgence of witchcraft now. And it's one of those things where it's actually it's always there.
It's, you know, like, Margarita was talking about, these things were always there historically. It was always going on, but it might just feel more visible to people who aren't part of those communities, because maybe it's getting more play in popular culture or the media, but like, if you are a part of those communities and you know where to look. This is an ongoing [00:50:00] conversation, so it's like nothing new under the sun.
But I do think, Margarita talked about it. It was the coolest, what was it, the phrase? Digital religion or those digital covens. I think there's so much more accessibility and it's easier for people to find information.
So it is more prevalent. So it's easier for people to find that information. I will also say if we're looking for a way to tie these all together, I want to briefly fangirl about A Taste of Her Own Medicine and then show you my connection.
But when I read A Taste of Her Own Medicine, I identified with it so much because it's obviously very different spiritual traditions, but she's talking about, there's this great scene where Sonja imbues this like body butter or oil with like sensuous feelings and it's particularly meant not necessarily to attract a lover, but to make you feel sensuous in your own body.
So it's like reclaiming your own sensuality, separate from needing to be desirable to someone else. And the way she described it and the oils and the scents, and then the success scent that she shared with the class. I was like, Oh my gosh, that reminds me of the Curandera practice so much, that I practiced where it's like really intentional about the energy you're putting into the oils and soaps and body butters you make. You're harvesting herbs from reliable sources or what you grow from your own backyard.
So it's a very earthy practice and it's about being intentional about what you're putting in and on your body and why you're doing it
Andrea Martucci: and like what you're taking out of the earth or environment
Maria DeBlassie: exactly. And also recognizing that sometimes you could put like negative stuff in there and you're like, why does this soup taste like crap? It's because I was in a really bad mood when I made it. So let's get rid of it. So really being conscious of your energy, your mindset, what you're putting into the earth, what you're giving back. So it's a very natural, grounded way of looking at things.
So I think, that's a story where people might not have directly realized that was part of a magical practice. But I think a lot of people have had those experiences where they felt just really wonderful after putting on some amazing smelling lotion or, smelling fresh herbs or going out for a walk in nature and just feeling revitalized by that.
But what I will say about these three books, to tie it all together after my fan girling moment, is that I think what they all have in common, and I talked to my students about all three of these books, cause I think what they really do is they normalize witchcraft. So to go back to what I said earlier, they normalize and they celebrate it. So they aren't villainized for being witches, it's not something they have to keep hidden, which is like a huge theme in paranormal [00:52:30] romance.
They're just like, this is just another part of who I am.
Andrea Martucci: And they're not bestowed any particular magical power. They just, they claim it themselves.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And they're also not there to save the world, which I think is great
Andrea Martucci: That's - we don't all have to save the world.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. They're just like, this is just part of who I am and I'm living my life.
So I think, you know, if we go back to what Xeni says, vis-a-vis Practical Magic, all women are witches, or, if you identify that way, then you are that, I think it's about taking back your power, right? And if the romance genre at its very best is about women or more feminized genders taking back that power, being front and center, the protagonists of their own story, claiming their autonomy , claiming their sex positivity. There's quite a bit that overlaps between romance, novels and witchcraft. And I, what I tell my students, it's you'd think they wouldn't necessarily have a lot in common, but they do, um, is they're grappling with those same issues.
Andrea Martucci: I've been thinking a lot about the "women and marginalized identities," framing.
Maria DeBlassie: No, That's why I stumbled over it. I was like, ah, how do I say this? I'm just going to keep going.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Would you agree with marginalized genders?
Maria DeBlassie: Marginalized genders! Yeah, that sounds really great. Cause the other part of it is that, Yeah, it's a complex issue. And we're talking about in these three books, especially like intersectional identities. So I think it's important that it's not like white women witches which I tell my students, like a lot of it can be a placeholder for white feminism and all the problems of that so it's important to show like POC witches.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, the great part about what romance as a genre I think is trying to do is it is focusing on the lenses of those who are traditionally not allowed to have their story told and be in a position of power. And so, increasingly I've been thinking about it as like stories. Bye and for people with marginalized identities.
Maria DeBlassie: Oh yeah. That's perfect. And specifically, I would say that's romance at its best, like most like fulfilling, or manifesting its deepest potentials, right? Yeah. Yeah. By, for, and about people with marginalized identities. That's great. I'm going to start using that.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It definitely took me a while to get there. I think what I forget is it's not that I don't ever read romances now that are problematic because they are not challenging the worldview in power, but I tend to actually read mostly things that are doing that and challenging the right things, I think. But I forget sometimes like [00:55:00] how much of the genre really is not doing that.
Maria DeBlassie: Even like the legacy of witchcraft, where we're looking at the original Charmed this week, with my students. And, we look at some shows that are very much about white feminism. So I am empowering myself as a feminist, which really means like white hetero cis woman. And it's often at the expense of other marginalized bodies or, you get the rhetoric in Charmed One of the. sisters literally says in one of the intro, like first couple of episodes, "it felt really good helping people." It was right after they helped, I think it was like an Asian character from like an Asian magical background and you're like, Oh, white savior. And then it becomes like a who's who of cultural practices that they don't really understand and they're helping those people.
And then they're appropriating too. And it's supposed to take place in San Francisco, but it's not really that diverse in terms of like sexuality or POC representation. There's a whole genre of witch media that's very much like as radical and empowering as it's supposed to be, it's actually quite concervative.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Ummmmm
Maria DeBlassie: Hashtag also Romancelandia.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, for sure. For sure. But yes, I think we can talk about the promise of the genre and then talk about individual failures and/or successes or some things are a mix of both.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. Yeah. And I loved how you rephrased that it's, at its best genre by, for, and about marginalized identities, because historically, we think of it as like the woman's genre. And I think now we're in a really interesting area where we can say, it's not just a woman's genre anymore. In fact it shouldn't be, that's part of the whole toxic patriarchy when it's like women are only, so yeah, that's pretty cool.
Andrea Martucci: Maria, thank you so much for coming back for like round two and three, all in one go. Where can people find you and how can they keep in touch with you and what you are up to?
Maria DeBlassie: Thank you so much for having me again. This was super fun. I loved our conversation with Margarita too. Hugely enlightening. There's so much I'm looking forward to looking into now. If you want to learn more about everyday magic - so I will say I practice Brujeria, but a lot of the stuff I write about on my blog is not Brujeria exclusive because I'm careful about cultural appropriation issues.
Like I'd make that claim because I don't want people to take stuff from my blog and assume that they're practicing Brujeria and then deal with maybe issues of cultural appropriation on their part, depending [00:57:30] on their cultural orientation, which is a roundabout way of saying you can find me on my blog it's just Mariadeblassie.com , and if you're interested in exploring your own kind og witchy side, I do have a lot of tips, and explorations there, recipes and potions and lotions, that are not necessarily culturally specific, but they're a way for people to explore everyday magic in their own lives.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you for listening to episode 67 and thanks to Dr. Maria DeBlassie for joining me. Thank you again to Dr. Margarita Guillory from Boston University for sharing her thought provoking research and expertise, which informed this episode. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com
If you are looking for spooky romance recommendations with witches, ghosts, et cetera, check out my list of curated recs on shelflovepodcast.com.
The next episode of shelf love might be coming to you in two weeks. We're going to have to see how this week goes. For those of you listening to this episode in the future, I am recording this outro on October 29th, 2020, and next Tuesday is a presidential election. And I'm a little on edge right now.
I'm not really sure if I'm going to feel like putting an episode out there, we're going to have to see. But never fear, I have some exciting recordings happening and you'll just have to be surprised when they come out.
Thank you so much for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to [email protected]. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci, and a huge thanks as always to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison. In addition to advising me, they write books.
Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.
(music starts, this is an outtake)
So let, let me wrap this up. Maria. Thank you for joining. I always do this like super cheesy. Hold on. Let me try to be like less cheesy (suuuuper cheesy) Maria, thank you for joining me today (Maria laughs) sorry, now I can't - get out of your head, Andrea!
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