When I wrote my first book, The Elements of Ritual, it was like a brain dump. I had been teaching classes and working in Wiccan groups for almost twenty years at that point, and writing was like downloading all those years into a word processor.
My second book is a different matter. The Way of Four was a labor of love. I wasn't sure, at first, what I was going to write, but I knew it would be magical for me, and I hoped for you.
Ever since I started as a wee little Witch back in 1981, the four elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth have been the touchstones of my occult understanding. The Wiccan circle is structured around them, the Tarot is built on them, astrology grows out of them—to me, the elements are what you go back to when you've forgotten everything else. In fact, in my many years of teaching, there would emerge from time to time an evening when I was ill-prepared for a class, and just too tired to throw something together. On those occasions, we'd always work on the four elements, exploring different permutations of them, and they were always worthwhile classes.
Certain points kept coming back around—the need for balance, the need to add elements in when imbalance occurred (rather than subtract them out), and the need for exercises that would bring forth weaker elements. "I need Earth (or Air, or Fire, or Water), what do I do?" was a question I heard many times. Even more often, I would see the need myself; I would see someone who didn't know what the problem was, and I'd say, "YYou need Earth, let's figure out what to do."
When I began to write, I started contemplating different topics to address, and came up with a rough outline. I knew that I wanted the book to be fun. Although there are some very serious parts, I think the entertainment value shines through—what's more fun than magical beauty treatments or redecorating? But the most fun of all, I suspect, is in the quizzes.
Everyone loves quizzes. A friend once remarked that people like to answer quizzes about themselves because people love being the expert, and on that topic, they are. I wanted The Way of Four to have quite a lot of quizzes, and it does. There are quizzes about your personality, your good parts, your flaws, your work, and your personal style; enough to dull even the sharpest pencil!
It turns out that quizzes are tricky to construct. When you give someone multiple choices, you have to give those choices equal "weight" for the answer to be meaningful. For example, if I asked you "Would you rather have your own private Lear jet or a small sailboat?" and you chose the jet, it wouldn';t indicate that you favored Air over Water, because a Lear jet is so much more expensive and fabulous than a sailboat. I'd have to come up with an Air thing and a Water thing of equal value and then see what you chose.
One of my favorite parts of The Way of Four is the chapter on the elements in daily life. This is the part that includes home décor, food, clothing, beauty, and perfume/cologne. The perfume research was especially interesting for me. It's a small part of the book—a subsection of a single chapter—but for a couple of months, I was completely obsessed.
You see, no one (to my knowledge) has ever taken the occult knowledge often applied to essential oils and simple blends, and used it to analyze modern perfumery. That's because modern perfumery is veiled in mystery—ingredients are secret and many are derived in the laboratory. In fact, Coco Chanel was the first to decide that modern perfumes should smell like themselves, not their component scents. To that end, her perfumers developed aldehydes, artificial scents used to blend natural scents.
With diligence and a lot of time for research, most of the ingredients of popular perfumes can be discovered. The next part of the problem is figuring out what some of the more mysterious ingredients actually are. I was frustrated by "muguet" for several weeks before finally learning it was a kind of lily-of-the-valley.
The coolest part for me, though, was enlisting a friend in my obsession. He actually designed a database for me, so that I could dump a perfume's ingredients in and derive its elemental attributes. I had to spend many hours entering things like "Rose: Water; Jasmine: Water; Cinnamon: Fire," and then spend many more hours entering the perfumes themselves. In the end, I sat back and looked at my results and smiled.
So that's The Way of Four—a labor of love, a lot of fun, cool quizzes, decorating tips, recipes, spells, things to do and things to think about. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Deborah Lipp (Jersey City, NJ) has been teaching Wicca, magic, and the occult for over 30 years. She became a Gardnerian witch and high priestess in the 1980s, and she's been published in many Pagan publications, including ...