If you search for Lisa Marie Basile’s name online you’ll read that she’s an author, the founding editor-in-chief of the self-expressive online publication Luna Luna magazine, and a “poet-witch”—but what the internet doesn’t tell you, is that Basile is an inspiration and an advocate for those who are suffering, whether it’s from loss, a chronic illness, or being thrown into the foster care system.
I met Basile while I was in grad school; she was sort of like my mentor. At the time, I didn’t realize how much her writing would eventually help me understand and cope with the things I was forced to deal with in my senior year. Now, she’s helping others the way she unknowingly helped me with her newest (and very first nonfiction) book, Light Magic for Dark Times.
In the book, Basile opens readers’ minds by offering a glimpse at both darkness and light with more than 100 rituals and spells that have been carefully crafted for those in need of healing. In hopes of irradiating the importance of what she’s doing with her books and essays, I reconnected with Basile to talk about her new ventures, witchcraft, and the importance self-care.
COOLS: What was the thought-process behind Luna Luna?
Lisa Marie Basile: “I was working in a horrific job right out of graduate school. Oh my god. The environment was toxic, mind-numbingly boring, and soul-draining. I was out of touch with myself in a deeply real way. I lost my personal magic, my will to create, and, to an extent, my community—which had changed after my friends and I parted ways after school. I was broke, restless, and lonely. I started Luna Luna to explore the things that I’d always had interests in darkness, desire, poetry, art, feminism, social issues, and magic. I built Luna Luna so it had two sides like life: the dark and the light. What do we keep secret? What do we talk about out loud?
“Luna Luna grew from a blog with 10 writers to a popular niche destination for all things magical and poetic. It’s its own animal today; a beautiful one. It saved me, too. I ended up leaving that job back then because I had new confidence and community and even management skills. I found new friends through Luna Luna, and my life is where it is today because of it.”
COOLS: You and I both have a chronic illness; I too lost two jobs because of it. Do you have any advice for others who are struggling with their jobs or personal life due to a medical issue?
LMB: “Anytime I hear of anyone who has had professional issues because of chronic illness breaks my heart, so I’m sorry. To be perpetually sick or deeply unwell or weak and fatigued constantly is not only personally exhausting, it can wreak havoc in your life. I left a job recently because of the destructive toll it took on my wellness. I was commuting hours and hours each day to and from the job and just couldn’t cut it. My advice is to a) learn your rights as an employee, both on a state level and with regards to your employer, and b) be SUPER self-compassionate. You’re not defective, shitty, worthless, or any less valuable as a person.”
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I have been thinking about the impact that our family's mental health issues have on us, how deeply their wounds embed into us—a sort of ancestral trauma, or blood memory. For #WorldMentalHealthDay, I want to recognize a lineage of hardship—because it's given me resiliency, empathy, and insight. . . 1985, I was born to two parents who were (and are) loving, kind, open-minded, artistic, empathic, and cool as fuck. They still are two of the raddest people I know. Classic rock-blasting, occult-interested, judgment-free. They both battled with depression, and past traumas, and they turned to drugs as a way of coping when I was kid. Things broke down, and I have lived with moderate to severe PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder ever since. I don't talk about it much, but it's ever-present. . . I think back on my father, whose entire family, mother and father, came to the U.S. They dealt with never being/feeling American enough, feeling a need to make do, raise seven kids. There was a lot of anxiety. I believe it was deeply internalized. . . My mother grew up with two parents who were dependent on alcohol,both of whom also lived with depression. I think of what was passed down to them—the addiction, the depression, the anxiety, the silence. How they likely all had no one to turn to. . . For many other families and people, the story is different, but the effect is much the same. Not all mental illness leads to addiction. But a lot of addiction is a result of mental health issues. Not all families endure trauma in the same way. Sometimes it's just a quiet, looming depression. It looks & feels different for everyone. . . I can generally see the result *and also* the root. I see the way unchecked, stigmatized, silenced mental health issues can eat away at not only a family but a bloodline. A culture. . . I am so grateful that this generation has decided to try and destroy the shame and stigma. I'm grateful to live in a city where we openly discuss these issues, but I know that there are MANY people in many cities and states that do not have the bubble of safety around them. There are still many people who can't openly discuss their struggles. Let’s change that.
COOLS: You’re the author of several books and poetry chapbooks—Apocryphal, war/lock, Triste, Andalucia, Nympholepsy—but Light Magic for Dark Times is your first nonfiction book. How similar or different was the thought-process/writing process for your first nonfiction book in comparison to the other books you’ve written?
LMB: “Totally and completely different, in that nonfiction requires a lot of structure, organization, and clarity. Poetry allows you to get away with the experimental, with the in-between, with any voice. With a global nonfiction publisher, which was the case for Light Magic for Dark Times, everything from my proposal to my book had to be tight and clear. That was very different for me, but it felt somewhat natural because of Luna Luna, where I’d published rituals and pieces about wellness. Poetry (shhhh) is still my first love, and it will always be my home.”
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💗 In LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES, I start the book off with “Love.” This was an important and necessary chapter for me to write, of course, but I didn’t want to only include traditional practices for romantic love. It’s not that I don’t find value in that—I do!—it’s more that this book isn’t a traditional magical book. It functions as a guide for doing inner work, creating empathy, building community care; it’s about working on the mechanisms of self, honing in on the poetry of our hunger and our reflection and building self-worth. The magic here is about self-love, turning negativity into love, loving your younger self, and being receptive to care. I do not tell you HOW to be or do anything; rather, my book prompts you to explore all of this and lays a foundation for ritual work that depends entirely on your intentions & energies. 💗 pssssss: preorder link in bio, babes.
COOLS: What exactly is Light Magic for Dark Times? In my mind, the book is a spell book for self-care. Is this correct?
LMB: “Exactly! Light Magic for Dark Times is a collection of practices and rituals for self-care and shadow work and magical living. It covers several topics: love, regeneration, trauma, negativity, shadow work, everyday magic, and more. In each section, there are pages dedicated to spells and rituals and easily accessible and feminist practices. It’s for witches, magic makers, creators, rebels, dreamers, and anyone who wants to give their life a bit of electricity.”
COOLS: Do you have a favorite ritual/spell in the book?
LMB: “I think my favorite is the “Bathing Ritual for Moving Through Feelings of Grief,” as I wrote it after I’d lost someone and it was originally published at Luna Luna. This was actually how the publisher found me; she read the ritual and emailed to see if I’d do a full book. It’ll always have a space in my heart.”
COOLS: You’ve been referred to as a “poet-witch,” how do you feel about that description?
LMB: “To me, the label of ‘poet-witch’ suggests the archetype of someone who exists on the margins of society—following their own rules and creating beauty and making shit happen. I will fucking take it.”
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I am alight in all things unpure; see my vein, see my marrow, see my afternoon body moving in toward the trap. . . I am the trap and I am the bait. . . I am found inside the words that mean something else. . . I am found inside the promise that we are good. . . I am found inside the small tuck of stare, stare, stare—but-not-for-too-long. . . From “Lacrimosa,” a collection I’m working on. 💀
COOLS: What is witchcraft, really? Some see it as a dark art we shouldn’t mess with while others see it as a trend. What does witchcraft mean to you personally and how did you get involved?
LMB: “Witchcraft is a lot of things to a lot of people—and it’s been practiced across the globe in many cultures for a long, long time. In short, witchcraft is the practice of manipulating or working with energy to bring about the result of your will. I don’t think of it as good or bad. I think of energy as neutral.
“Witchcraft is a lifestyle deeply rooted in nature and self-care, and it’s doing so much good for the world. It brings about community, it resists the status quo and puts the power back into the hands who have lost it or have had it stolen. It’s about reclamation.
“It’s true that witchery is trendy, but lots of things are trendy, right? If witchcraft is creating a space for people to explore their inner magic, I think that’s fucking gorgeous. As long as people take the time to read about the history of witchcraft (across cultures) and perform their practices without thoughtlessly coopting others’ closed beliefs, it’s great. Also, the witch archetype—at least in the west? Rebellious, sex-positive, powerful, autonomous. I suggest reading Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring The Sex Positive. (She also wrote the intro my book!)”
Why did you choose to go to The New School when there are so many options for writers in the city?
LMB: “I made a poor choice, in all honesty. I thought I needed an MFA and it turns it out I really didn’t. I thought taking out loans would make me more ‘valuable’—another internalized shame message via capitalism!—but it really just fucked me over financially. The classes were okay, though I would have preferred a less homogenized environment. I did have one or two great classes, and I am most grateful for meeting Jennifer Michael Hecht, my professor, who I will look up to forever.”
COOLS: I read your story in The New York Times and I was blown away. You wrote that you once lived in Jersey, but you traveled between foster homes when you were younger. Where are you from originally?
LMB: “Thank you, Tabitha! I appreciate it. I grew up in New Jersey, and my foster homes were also in New Jersey, although before my second foster family came through I was set to move to Texas. I lived with extended family—my family’s family—and then two strangers, both in Jersey. My brother was separated from me and moved in with another family also in NJ. I then moved to New York City in 2005 when I graduated from high school and aged out of foster care. Shortly after that, my mother regained custody of my brother. The timing was sort of fortunate.
“My foster care story definitely shows one side of the coin; it could have been—and is for many—so much worse.”
COOLS: How did you keep yourself from completely falling apart? Is there any advice you can give others who might be in a similar situation?
LMB: “I’ve learned this the hard way many times. I started falling apart in graduate school but didn’t realize it. I hadn’t processed the trauma from foster care and an abusive relationship that was born from my low self-esteem. In fact, graduate school was a way for me to prove myself, my worth. That meant working myself to the bone and not giving myself space to grow authentically. I was experiencing the first symptoms of my chronic illness then, which was a sign my body and mind were depleted.
“Today, I take extreme care to practice self-care: I sleep enough, eat well when I can, exercise regularly (my disease affects my spine and requires me to move to keep my mobility). I say no to plans, block trolls on the internet, and disengage from any situation that doesn’t add to my life in a positive way. I meditate, listen to ASMR, and use magical practices to stay steady. I’m not perfect, but I try!
“Please please please do NOT be afraid of FOMO. Put yourself first. Be kind, be compassionate, and treat yourself lovingly.”
COOLS: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
LMB: “I’ll have finished a memoir. I’ll have moved out of New York City. I’ll be teaching workshops online and offline in writing and journaling for wellness. I’ll have started an organization that supports foster kids’ and former foster youth creativity and writing.”
COOLS: Who inspires you, professionally, personally, spiritually?
LMB: “Frida Kahlo for her dedication to art and exploration and identity despite living with such deep pain and unimaginable health issues. When I think of giving up, I think of her.”
COOLS: Just for fun, how would you describe your personal style?
LMB: “Dolce and Gabbana Monica Bellucci. Southern Italian Jersey girl. Lots of gold crosses, black dresses, lace, Bardot shoulders, and red lips.”