Nostalgia for Tisane

I just made myself a cup of tea while working on papers, and had a Proustian moment.

When I was young, maybe nine or ten, I decided that I would be a witch.  My family’s reaction was not what you might imagine.  My father gravely informed me that there wasn’t any such thing as real magic.  My mother informed me that, in fact, there was.  I remember I made the announcement at the dinner table.  It seemed important that I let them know, since it would, no doubt, involve — umm — something noisy or messy.  Hopefully both.

I made some rather arbitrary decisions what was necessary for witchcraft.  Among the things necessary were tomes of forgotten lore.  Our local library had exactly one such tome.  And I could only keep it for a week.  Fortunately, there was a bookstore in our little town, and I used to order books by name (carefully copied out of the backs of other books).  The proprietor’s name became a household word, and he seemed quite willing to order the most outlandish and age-inappropriate books for me.  The only time he ever choked was when I ordered The Function of the Orgasm.  He also taught me to pronounce Machiavelli.

In any event, I had other things on my list of things a witch must do:

  • Burn incense.  I remember the first scent was coconut.  I burned the hell out of that incense.  Our house no doubt smelled like Copa Cabana.
  • Read books.  I read everything, all the time.  At one point, my mother asked if I’d bring a book to my first date when I got old enough, and I believe I said yes.
  • Burn candles.  Fire figured heavily in my view of witchcraft.
  • Drink tea.  Actually, technically, tisanes.  Herbal teas.  These, like the incense, were chosen largely for scent and not for purpose.  I didn’t know anything about correspondences.

Obviously, what I was doing was being a hippy, not a witch, but close enough.  My mother did her best to teach me some actual magic — visualization, affirmations, that sort of thing.  When I wanted to do some magic and didn’t know how, I would squint on my incredibly inadequate books (in the ’80s, there were a string of occult books promising vast power and great wealth and listing “spells.”  They were risible, but I didn’t know).  I’d squint until something looked like it made vague sense, and then I’d just — make it up.  And sometimes, it even worked.

Later, in my teenage years, I discovered the Qabalah.  Became an instant fan.  Studied Hebrew in college, Latin and Old English in graduate school, etc.
But the thing is, I wonder . . . Yeah, coconut incense, a blue candle, and a cup of apple cinnamon tea are not exactly the way to vast and terrible power.  But there was something in the beginner’s mind of the whole thing that, sometimes, I miss.  After all, I didn’t just light a stick of coconut incense; I lit a stick of incense, brewed my tisane carefully (I had a peculiar ritual involving the saucer on top of the cup; I don’t know where I got that from), and paid attention in a way adults rarely ever manage.

When was the last time a cup of tea was mysterious, dangerous, and forbidden?  When was the last time an air freshener might open the way to Power?  When was the last time I excitedly carried a book home, expecting to find a Great Secret in its pages?  Most people grow out of a belief in magic.  I never did.  My belief in magic became more and more sophisticated, complex, and philosophical.  I think, instead, that I grew out of wonder.  Damn.

5 Responses to “Nostalgia for Tisane”

  1. No, I don’t think that you grew out of wonder, or you would have outgrown magic, as well. You have become more decerning, perhaps. And that is probably a good thing-people who don’t become more decerning also have trouble with coherent thought and expression.

    And, be grateful to both of your parents for their reactions to your announcement, at least they took you seriously. When I made a very similar announcement (at perhaps a year older) it was met by gales of laughter-much more injurious to the adolescent ego.

  2. Oh, I am quite grateful to my parents. They put up with a lot of weird notions, and that they *let* me read some of the rather weird books I was digging through as a kid was a miracle.

  3. The Big Scary Unnamed Book of Magical Wonder won’t work for a title?

  4. Proustian? Proustian. Well ok then.

    How about:
    Get Rich and Have Great Sex: 10 Secrets of Magick Words that make you Dead Sexy and Fabulously Wealthy!

  5. Anarchrist Says:

    Well, good to know somebody else had to tune in on their own in the eighties. And wonder, well, part of the problem with education is the rote inculcation of reality. The more you learn, the more real the means to that knowledge have become in your preconscious mind. The habits of academia (like all the rituals of habit we play through hour by hour) are the grooves of worldview. In order to find wonder, you need novelty- not expected reproducibility, believable impossibility or cynical practicality.

    But you already know that…

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