The word ‘composing’ immediately conjures a world of classical music, where great composers direct symphonies in a brilliant emotional upheaval of sound- a perfectly apt word to set beside ‘magic’, that mysterious force of the divine encircling the universe. For all that I can barely read sheet music, the idea of being asked to write it would seem impossibly daunting, and writing anything more than an email, only slightly less so. Composing Magic by Elizabeth Barrette offers an empowering practical guide to noticing and turning words into effective tools for spiritual practice. Presenting a very do-able approach through increasingly complex forms and specific samples and resources, Barrette offers a truly useful guide to magical writing for people with varied levels of writing skills.
Composing Magic offers first and foremost a practical road map to navigate the creative process of writing poetry for spiritual uses. Each chapter offers numerous exercises designed to get readers learning through practice, not just reading about structure and form. Barrette also has a keen sense of the pragmatic influences beyond the writing itself. For example, in the chapter The Writing Process, Exercise #5 asks writers to consider their preferred sensory input mode and compare their writings with and without something stimulating that particular sense. This is a very elegant way to teach about the subtleties of how environment influences the outcome of a creative process without bogging down readers with pages describing the phenomenon, and turns the consideration into something of a natural habit rather than a purely cerebral meta-analysis. Beyond the numerous exercises, Barrette also organizes the magical writings she explains by what each type does. Need to raise energy -- use a chant. Asking for specific intervention -- compose a prayer. Need a big punch -- put together the whole ritual but break it down like this. This focus on the doing, on the functionality and practice of writing, transfers a kinetic sort of energy to readers to get up and do for themselves in addition to the confidence to make the attempt and the practical guidance produce something truly powerful.
Not only does Composing Magic offer extremely useful guidance to writing, it breaks down some overwhelming knowledge towers into accessible, easy-to-grasp building blocks. Barrette starts with writing basics, strategies and approaches that get you started, even if you have no experience with writing. The chapters regarding poetry forms bring focus to the varied ways words form art through more than just the ideas they convey by definition. Barrette points out how we draw information from sound patterns, from the way words form shapes and patterns on the page, and from subtle tones of language. Barrette then challenges writers to layer these information strategies with appropriately simple or complex poetry forms to create powerful spells. Even the chapters regarding specific uses of spell-writings work up from a simple repetitive chant formula to the increasingly complex prayer and blessing, culminating in composing entire rituals. Again, even the complex tower of the ritual is built on smaller easier to manage bricks, which Barrette explains with an easy to understand basic outline (p. 200). This way of building skills progressively makes the overwhelming and daunting task of writing for spiritual practice a simpler, far more attainable goal, something practical and doable.
Perhaps the most telling sign of Barrette’s expertise on magical writing is the frequent references to specific examples throughout Composing Magic. The bibliography cites almost 100 other resources referenced throughout the 240 page guide. Each chapter has specific examples of how relevant skills play out in an actual piece of poetry, many of them well-known and well-studied. Including examples from famous poets like Thoreau and Dickinson among many others suggests a subtle message that readers can achieve similar heights. No doubt, with dedication and Barrette’s logical pragmatic approach it is more than possible. Composing Magic even includes recommendations about how to share and publish works.
Undoubtedly Composing Magic offers one of the single most useful guides to creating effective magical writings. Through a highly pragmatic approach, Barrette breaks down the daunting and complex into building blocks that anyone can use for spellwork. Her specific examples and comparisons elevate the reader’s understanding of core concepts and makes great writing attainable at any level. This isn’t just a once-and-done introduction to writing for spellcraft; Barrette includes numerous practical exercises along with new spin ideas for repeated practice. Composing Magic is the book to reach for to develop and improve writing skills both magical and mundane.