By Archita Mittra
The grown-ups thought it was a game, the make-believe pretences of two lonely girls. But we knew the magic was real, as real as the changing sky and careless laughter we scattered over the playground like stars.
I have always been drawn to the esoteric and otherworldly. As a child I devoured fantasy and gothic novels, and once I’d outgrown LOTR, the seven Narnias, and all the Harry Potters, I moved onto Anne Rice, Robin McKinley, Joanne Harris, and Neil Gaiman. I assisted my mother while performing housewarming rituals and religious ceremonies to ward off the evil eye, and actively collected superstitions, folktales, and recipes from my grandparents. I was careful not to eat eggs on days I took exams, cultivated an imaginary friendship with my pet amethyst rock, and tried to communicate with my rabbits via telepathy (it worked, sometimes). I prayed to the gods and goddesses of my religion every night. At the crack of dawn, my grandma would wake to chant mantras and count the beads in her rosary, and I’d see her in a yogic posture, bathed in a purple-pink light. I’d mark out eclipses, solstices, equinoxes, and full moons on my planner-cum-calendar and diligently maintained my very own—and very secret—Book of Shadows. Magic was woven around me like a second skin, but it often wore a different name, face, and identity.
My interest in magic, fantasy, and witchcraft waxed and waned through many phases. When I was very young, I’d often see white shadowy beings in the dark corners of my home. They scared me, and after telling my mother about it and visiting the local priest, they stopped. Sometimes I still see things in the corner of my eye, but I’m not frightened as much. Once, when two of my pet ducklings died, I heard their quack-quacks at odd intervals for the next few weeks, and kept turning around dead sure I’d see them behind me or at least catch a glimpse of a yellow feather. I regularly updated my dream journal as a means of controlling my all-too-frequent nightmares, and though the bad dreams did not stop, the practice lead to a few successful attempts at lucid dreaming.
In that same year I took to reading and actively researching the Occult, carefully examining Colin Wilson’s case studies, watching ghost-hunting shows on TV, and exploring multicultural mythology. My best friend in school was interested in the same subjects, and to complement our theory reading we would spend our free periods at school practising telekinesis and telepathy, in which we discovered that my friend was a good sender and I an excellent receiver. The results of telekinesis were not as fruitful; we rarely succeeded and even when we did we attributed the slight movement and lifting of our clean-shaven pencils to the benevolence of the wind and our imagination.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years, it’s that memory is seldom linear. Like the beginning of a dream, I cannot remember exactly when it all started, but certain incidents stand out like scrapbook photos. Back when I was in middle school and bullied all too often, I almost dreaded going to class. I ended up attracting a nasty bout of malaria that was slow to heal, and so I was bed-ridden for over two weeks. Although I was happy about getting to skip class, there was also a local book fair in town I’d been really excited to attend. I asked my dad to bring me any sort of book I might like. I didn’t even supply him with my customary list of dark fantasy novels, and my dad wasn’t even aware of my intermittent curiosity in magic; he had always been the sole rationalist skeptic in my family. And yet of all the books he could have chosen, he brought home a book of magic to cheer me up in my illness.
I’ve always felt that that book was a sign from the Divine Power that magic was somehow inextricably linked to my everyday life. Two years after my initial reading, I returned to it with a dear (and discreet) friend, paying close attention to the outlined principles and spells. Around that time, my friend and I swore fealty to the Other World by means of an Unbreakable Vow (we didn’t know about pop culture witchcraft then, but we shamelessly borrowed elements from books and TV shows we loved), the terms and conditions of which we devised together. We had our own secret rituals, sigils, and secret names, accompanied by an ever-changing menagerie of spirit animals.
Our very first Books of Shadows were two ordinary notepads decorated with abstract designs, our magical names inked in elegant calligraphy on the first page, along with a warning of a terrible curse that would befall whosoever readeth our journals without our prior written permission. We included a simple lunar chart and some important dates on the next two pages, and the rest we devoted to recording our dreams, spells, and magical experiences.
At first, her dreams and my nightmares did not amount to more than one or two sentences, but as months passed our renditions of our nightly adventures began to cross pages. We forced our parents to purchase each of us an expensive dream dictionary and atlas of secret societies (which would inspire us to form our Order Of The Golden Dawn kind of coven), and spent several hours a day analysing our nocturnal visions. We noticed that while my friend’s dreams were always fantastical, set in surreal realms which rarely had any familiar people in it (for which I envied her), my reoccurring nightmares were my collective subconscious alerting me to suppressed issues of depression and loneliness. We even attempted to meet up with each other in our dreams, with partial success.
Another highlight was a road trip in our final year of high school to a quaint village in the outskirts of our city, which we named Sleepy Hollow. We had a room all to ourselves and spent the night reading each other’s futures and fortunes in the tarot spreads, promising over and over that no matter where we were in ten or twenty years’ time, no matter what fate had planned for each of us, we would always keep the spark of our magical friendship alive and burning.
But of course we drifted apart.
We are still friends, and talk occasionally, but not of magic. As I write this it’s been almost three years since that road trip, and over five summers and winters since we first began working on our Book of Shadows. Although we still live in the same city, we don’t meet as often and our dream journals still have pages to be filled, stories to be written. On optimistic days I try to see that as a hopeful sign—that my classmate, my partner-in-crime, and finally my magical best friend wasn’t just a chapter in the ever-unfolding novel of my life, but a recurring favourite character who will turn up in the sequels to come.
Somehow the Peter Pans in our hearts never seemed to realize that somewhere between copying each other’s algebra homework and playing with magic, we were slowly and invisibly growing up but not apart, never apart. Magic took care of that. We were growing into different people and the old had to leave for the new, but our threads still intertwined and pulled each other, like love.
The magic didn’t stop there. Rather, it blossomed in the most unpredictable and miraculous ways possible. My experiences have taught me that magic can indeed be fickle, for it operates with a mind of its own, and always seems to know what is best is for me, for us. After school ended, my interest in magic didn’t die out but renewed itself in my writing and art, as well as my everyday experiences, and I welcomed it not as a game, but as a way of life. I began to notice the synchronicity and the little coincidences. I was somewhat of a solitary witch, but that didn’t stop me from carving sigils and runes on the back of my notepads and underneath my clothes. It fostered my love for DIY crafts: making bookmarks out of feathers left by the roadside, setting up my own altar, and making sachets and jars filled with herbs, wishes, and pretty things. My mother and I explored thrift stores for crystals and coloured stones, and I saved up to buy incense, scented candles, and soaps. I immersed myself in learning, collected moon water, read tarot cards for those who were interested, and wrote my own spells.
What I later realized from that incredible journey was that witches need a coven to thrive in. That without a sisterhood of encouraging and optimistic members, it is mightily difficult to reach our full potential. Without the support of my mother, my grandma, and my best friend, I wouldn’t have been able to be the person I am today. When I recall those magical years, I simultaneously call to mind the memories we created together, and the ones I am making right now. And for that I am ever grateful.
Archita Mittra is a writer and artist residing in India, with a love for all things magic, vintage, and darkly fantastical. Her work has been featured or profiled in Thought Catalog, Gurl, Maudlin House, Luna Luna Magazine and Rising Phoenix Review, among others. She is a white witch, occasionally practises as a tarot card reader, and likes learning new things just for the heck of it. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and check out her blog at https://architamittra.wordpress.com/