My Life North of San Diego
I had been living in the small town of Encinitas, north of San Diego, California. The house was on a street named Vulcan and was about three hundred feet from a frequently used railroad track and an additional three hundred feet from a Self-Realization Fellowship temple. The temple's grounds ended at an abrupt cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At the base of the cliff was "Swami's" beach, famed for its good surfing.
I shared the house with a man and his son. At the time, Michael was an electronics technician working at a company that made Citizen Band radios ("Breaker! Breaker!, Good buddy"), Single Side-Band Radios, and Linear Amplifiers. He also taught classes in Shiatzu massage from our house and was studying acupuncture. Today Dr. Turk is one of the world's most respected acupuncturists, with offices in Chico, California, and his son Joe, now married, works in telecommunications in the San Diego area.
During the time I lived there I studied Shiatzu with Michael. I took his class several times, eventually assisting him with it. I had also been studying music a few miles down the road at USCD in La Jolla, and had been studying the Kabalah and magick on my own. One day, the students in Michael's class asked if I'd teach a class on the Kabalah. They had heard I had been studying it and they were interested. I held my thumb and first finger a few inches apart and said, "But I know only this much about it."
One of the students held up his hand with his thumb and first finger just a fraction of an inch apart. "But we only know this much." So I taught a class. I went on to teach many more at Phoenix Phyre, a nearby occult shop.
The Rains Came, So We Had to Leave
One morning I awoke to a horrendous scraping sound. Our landlord, without informing us, had decided to hire some workers to resurface the roof with fresh tarpaper, tar, and pebbles. How nice. Unfortunately, when it started to rain a month later, the job had been so bad that the roof leaked in dozens of places. We had to dance around the pots, pans, and buckets that we put all over the house, as well as empty them frequently. They still overflowed.
The sun finally came out…and so did the mold and mildew. Michael could no longer give massage classes in our smelly home and we both decided we'd have to move. Michael and his son didn't move too far, but I was looking for a change. I visited a friend's occult shop and looked on the bulletin board. Someone looking for a roommate had posted a 3x5 card. "Do you know anything about the guy who posted this?" I asked Judith, the shop owner.
"That's Scott. He's a writer and Wiccan. Sometimes he teaches classes"
"Hmmm," I thought. "Well, it would be nice to share a place with an occultist, and the location is much closer to the city." I called and visited the apartment. It was on the corner of Fairmount and Orange, just down the way from the stadium used by the San Diego Chargers and Padres professional sports teams. I parked, walked around the large chalkboard that was covered with Christian evangelical verses on display to drivers passing by, and walked up the stairs. Scott invited me in and showed me what would be my room. I measured it (I had brought a tape measure with me), and it seemed like everything I had would barely fit there. But the fact that it was the exact minimum size that would work intrigued me and seemed to be an auspicious sign. We shook hands, and just like that—and for the next several years—I would share an apartment with Scott Cunningham. It changed my life.
Sharing an Apartment with Scott
At the time, Scott and I were just barely making it financially. Scott's first book, Earth Power, was just about to be printed. Scott was writing for trucking magazines as well as doing gothic romance novels using his sister's name for a pseudonym. I was working at whatever I could, including telephone sales, working in a sleight-of-hand magic shop, giving classes, working in an occult store, managing a costume shop, and being a courier for a bank.
Scott, on the other hand was constantly writing. He was dedicated to perfecting his art. Sometimes, he would get so involved in his writing that he'd forget about time. "Scott," I'd call through the door to his room, "it's almost time to turn in your trucking columns. Did you write them?" I didn't get an answer; I never did get a direct response. But the typing would stop and Scott would come out of his room and go to the library to get information for the columns.
This was at a time before reasonably priced, dedicated word processors, which came before the time of reasonably priced computers and printers with word processor software. Scott was writing on an old, red IBM Selectric typewriter. They were the state-of-the-art when they first came out, but they had one major problem: they had over one thousand moving parts. He had a contract with IBM to have them rapidly come out and repair it whenever it broke down, and with all those moving parts, and his heavy use, it would frequently do so. Many times I would hear Scott typing away with a loud clackety-clackety-clack coming from the typewriter. Then there would be a pause, a few clacks, another pause, and the sound of Scott pounding his fists on the red metal case as he shouted, "Damn! Damn! Damn!"
But even when he couldn't type, Scott was constantly working. He was always going to libraries or used bookstores to get more and more information. And that's just one of the things I really admired about Scott—and a "dirty little secret" of occult writers.
Scott vs. the Not-So-Good Writers
Unfortunately, not all writers are as dedicated as was Scott. Some—especially those who get one book published from a major publisher then disappear—follow what I call the "it should work" model. This is where they base rituals and spells on their previous knowledge. They don't try it out, they don't test it, but from whatever they have learned they think that "it should work."
Even worse, some writers think they can get away with simply making things up. I have seen this with certain rituals; if you actually tried to perform them would make no sense. Actions wouldn't work. People would try to move in a circle according to instructions and end up bouncing into each other. I have a book from 1971 that claimed to be a legitimate book on Witchcraft. It primarily consisted of doing evocations of spirits who would appear to you in forms such as a large dog, a New York taxi cab driver, and even a beautician!
I can tell you from experience that Scott never did this. He always did research, and when giving instructions, he tested things out. For example, in one book he suggested getting small statues of monsters, charging them as guardians, and putting them near your doors and windows. We had toy dinosaurs in every corner of our apartment. And even though we lived in a high crime area, we were never burgled, never had problems, and sometimes, by accident, left the apartment with the door unlocked. When he wanted to share how to make a Corn Dolly, he searched everywhere for the stalks of straw that were needed. He ended up driving all the way to Mexico to get the straw—our bathtub was filled with straws soaking in water for days! Toward the end of his too-short life, Scott was preparing a book on the magic of Hawaii. Even though he was quite ill he would visit the Islands a couple of times a year to do research. Scott's work was either historical, personally tested, or both. If Scott wrote it you can assure yourself that it is true. I believe this is one of the many reasons Scott's books are so honored and revered.
Scott and I used to sit in the back of each other's lectures and heckle each other. In fact, we'd often make snarky comments about each other and about some of our friends. But it was never said in anger, nor was it done toward people we felt could not handle such ribbing. It was always done with a good sense of humor.
I eventually moved away to become a manager of a courier service. Scott and I remained good friends. We still told jokes about each other because we respected each other and knew our joking wasn't true. We also realized that if anyone heard it they wouldn't believe it. Scott's last joke on me was that he left this world on March 29, 1993—my birthday. Now, whenever I have a birthday I just have to remember him. He needn't have worried. I will never forget him, nor will the many tens of thousands of people he has influenced.
Scott and the Season
Scott wrote about so many different topics that it's easy to find spells and rituals to cover just about anything. As we come to Thanksgiving and the end of the year, there are a few things that most people think about. First, there is food! Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Year's Eve seem to have foods as a focus. Two other concerns are health (either getting healthy or staying healthy) and finances. Scott puts all of these together in Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen.
From that book, here are some things you can try for health and healing. The first is based on Scott's belief that everything in every day life could be magical and dedicated to the Goddess. Do you have a glass of apple cider around? Try this:
"Place a glass of apple cider between your palms. Visualize health and healing energies flowing into it between your hands. Visualize your body's natural healing ability gaining in strength. See yourself as being healed. Then drink the cider."
It sounds easy, but it can be powerfully magical. It seemed like Scott would get a sunburn every year. He'd take a bath with apple cider vinegar mixed in to remove the burning sensation. It worked every time.
One of my personal favorites, however, was this tasty delight, again from the book:
Healing Apple Crisp
Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C).
Visualize yourself in glowing, radiant health as you peel and slice the apples, squeeze the juice, and crush the graham crackers. Turn prepared apples into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Mix the lemon juice into the honey and pour over the apples. (If the apples are very tart, use slightly less lemon juice and slightly more honey.) Combine the crumbled graham crackers with the butter and sprinkle over the apples. Bake at 375° F (190°C) for thirty to forty minutes (until the apples are tender). Serve topped with cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Moving away from apples, Scott also researched other healing items:
When it comes to finances, here is a delicious soup recipe from this Encyclopedia that can be used to make your coming year a greater financial success:
This Money Soup recipe is inspired by the rites often performed on New Year's Eve to attract money during the next year. This version, however, can be used at any time and is quite delicious. The silver object is not eaten, of course, but is retrieved after it has infused the cabbage with money-attracting energies. The same object can be reused as often as desired.
Boil the quarter or silver object in the water to sterilize it; set aside. In a saucepan on low heat melt the butter. Add the minced onion and sauté until light brown. Add the shredded cabbage and cook until tender. Toss in the silver object. In a separate saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add boiling chicken stock to sautéed vegetables. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 6 servings.
There are several other items that interest people at this time of the year. However, perhaps the most important remaining topic for magical actions is in the area of romance. Scott gives many spells and recipes for this in Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen. You'll have to get the book to discover these and many other spells and rites for a wide array of useful and fun purposes.