Using Magic

Kage Baker was a firm believer in the use of domestic magic.

She said she didn’t care what other people thought. (Which was a modest understatement.) Nor did she care for cute or soulful systems of cantrips and prayers. She simply had ritual acts she performed to keep the household, the income, the writing all going on an even keel. And she learned not to discuss this with most other people, because they would get astonishingly aggressive in telling her what she was doing wrong.

But Kage was of the opinion that whether she was right or wrong was irrelevant. (And anyone else’s belief system was doubly so. We were never at home to Mr. Proselytizer.) Merely doing these things calmed her and made it easier to get things done. She was a woman of iron faith, which was her bulwark and shield against adversity. She lit candles for novenas; she lit candles for the loas. She especially like the big pink cup candles for the Madonna, for the very simply reason that they smelled like Paradise. If something worked – whether to bring in an unexpected story sale or just ease her worries over someone’s illness – Kage added it to the Approved Magic List and did it again.

She herself claimed that all these little acts were, indeed, mere superstition. They were spiritual placebos that just made her feel better. I myself, having observed them for decades, am not so sure: Kage had both an enormous reservoir of faith, and an adamantine will. I think she could and did alter probability in lots of small, homely ways; literally remaking the world to her desires. It was certainly a factor in many things she wrote, wherein were righted, avenged or corrected the myriad happenings she felt had impoverished the world.

Hats on beds were anathema to Kage. Since we did a lot of re-creator work, we had a lot of hats: I learned never to cast off my headgear on a hotel bed or a laid-out sleeping bag. Spilled salt was immediately seized and tossed over her left shoulder. Wood was knocked on. Whenever she spilled a drink, she declared it toll to the gods. We washed our faces in the May morning dew. At Halloween, our ceremonial dinner had places set for absent loved ones. In her early 20’s, Kage carved and painted a doorward in the style of the Children of the Sun – it hung beside our front doors for the next 30 years, and dispelled countless Jehovah’s Witnesses with its oddness.

Every New Year’s Eve, we sat up to watch the ball fall in Times Square. Then we stood on the porch and drank champagne. The years we lived in Pismo Beach, we would then walk down to the beach and Kage would wade knee-deep into the icy winter waves and re-dedicate herself to writing; and she hated cold water. Her last New Year’s was spent in the hospital, fresh from brain surgery – so once she was asleep that night, I drove down and waded in for her.

Objects in the sky thrilled her: fireworks, flights of birds, airplanes towing advertising banners. They were all signs from God, Kage declared. Even the advertising banners, because you usually can’t tell what the hell they’re touting anyway, and are free to make up divine messages to your heart’s content. Meteors – or more correctly, bolides flaming their way across the dark sky – were her utter favourites; and since we lived in a lot of places with little urban light pollution, she watched for them succesfully on thousands of summer nights. Comets, too – there was an entire summer in the late 1990’s (I think) where some comet was sharply visible late and low in the west, every time we drove home from Southern Faire. Kage loved that.

She loved rainbows, and thunder and lightning. However, hail upset her. Probably because it flattens plants. She was always collecting stories of enormous hail stones and showing them to me, saying, “See! I told you these things were dangerous!” It was half a joke, but half a real suspicion that someday I’d be brained by a chunk of ice – she just felt that that was the sort of thing that would happen to me.

So when I found a picture of a killer hailstone yestreday, it evoked all sorts of bittersweet memory. It was just the sort of thing Kage would have seized upon and brandished triumphantly under my nose … I wanted to tell her about it, and couldn’t. That made me very sad. I haven’t passed that border yet, where you stop saying to yourself, “Oh, I must tell So-and-so about this!”

But here it is, Dear Readers. You can alarm and amuse yourselves, imagining how Kage would have warned me about the frozen assassin …

HailstoneI must admit, that’s a freaking huge hailstone. Maybe I should light a rose-scented candle tonight. Just to be careful, you know?

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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7 Responses to Using Magic

  1. Tom B. says:

    Agreed. Light ’em up!

    Comet Hayakutake? 1997?


  2. Kate says:

    Tom – maybe. I don’t recall the name. I just remember arriving home at 1 AM on Sundays, looking to the West behind the cottage roof and seeing it there – a flying scarf of frozen lace, just above the waves.


  3. Allison says:

    1996 all summer, the Hale-Bopped comet. I have two love birds named for the comet. Not seeing g the pic of the hail here on Kindle, but I’m guessing it was from the storms in north Texa the other day, and about 60 or so miles from where I am. Hail sucks! Kage was right!


  4. Allison says:

    Hale-Bopp (leave it alone autocorrect)


  5. Miz Kizzle says: sells an Automobile Hail Protection System for $299 to protect your hot rod, muscle car, or flivver of choice. But that’s not all! The Automobile Hail Protection System keeps your car from being scratched or dinged in parking lots!
    Whether it is effective against meteor strikes is unknown. And that picture of the giant hailstone couldn’t possibly have been photoshopped.


    • Kate says:

      Photoshopped? Would have made no difference to Kage – she would have seized upon it as proof of her fear of hailstones regardless. It was a joke between us. I think …


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