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In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.
Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts”. Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson. Always love someone who will love you back.
When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it is here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.
Magic Lessons is a celebration of life and love and a showcase of Alice Hoffman’s masterful storytelling.
“In Hoffman’s .. luminous prose, all characters, even the villains, are not only vividly, but also compassionately, rendered. ... Hoffman adeptly highlights that how one uses a talent, selflessly or selfishly, has a sweeping impact on many lives, meaning that one should always choose courage, and that love is the only answer.”—Booklist
"Hoffman offers an eye-opening account of how single women were treated in the 17th century, particularly when their knowledge or intelligence was deemed threatening.... Hoffman’s redemptive story of a fiercely independent woman adds an engrossing, worthwhile chapter to the series."— Publisher's Weekly
"I so wanted to read this slowly and savor every page since this may be the last time we get to venture into this world of magic and the Owens family. But as if in a trance, Alice Hoffman spun her magic and the pages were turning faster and faster and I devoured this book in two sittings. No one tells a story like Alice can, and I only hope she finds a way to bring this magical family back to us again in the future. I simply loved this book - it's everything you want from Alice Hoffman - a great story of love and magic!"— Julie Slavinsky, Warwick’s
“Full of wonderfully strong women, fascinating history and a plot that doesn't stop spinning, this book is a treat.”—AARP Magazine
Excerpt from Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Hannah Owens lived apart from the delusions and bad intentions of men, as deep in the forest as possible, in a small cottage hidden by vines. She’d had it built by a local carpenter, a fellow no one would hire due to a deformity at birth, a simple, honest man who later claimed the old woman had blessed him and given him a salve she had concocted from her apothecary garden that had made his withered arm bloom and become whole again. The roof of Hannah’s house was thatched and the chimney was platted with reeds and clay, with a pot of water kept near the hearth in case a spark should catch the reeds on fire. The path to her door was made of uneven blue stones, hidden by shrubs. So much the better, for the difficult going provided protection from prying eyes. And still, women from town and from the neighboring farms managed to find their way when the need arose, setting the brass bell to ringing when they knocked on the door.
Hannah knew the woods as well as anyone. She knew that counting the knots on a lilac bush could predict the number of cold spells and that if you lit a bit of snow with some tinder and it melted quickly the snow on the ground would soon disappear. Nutmeg opened the heart, lily was useful for rashes, and arnica could make a man burn with desire. When a baby refused to be born or would not nurse, when a child was ailing and feverish, when a husband strayed, when a candle burst into flame of its own accord, marking a spirit lurking nearby, women came to Hannah Owens’ door, and for the price of some eggs, or a pitcher of goat’s milk, or, in the most difficult cases, a broach or a ring, a remedy could be found.
Maria grew up watching such transactions, always after night fell, for no one wished to be seen at the witch’s door. Hanging on the wall was the Lucky Hand, an amulet shaped into five fingers, made from moss, preserved on Midsummer’s Eve with the smoke of a bonfire, which would protect the house from bad luck and ill fortune. The women who came calling sat at the kitchen table where bread was kneaded and hens were butchered and babies were born, often after a difficult labor. By the age of five, Maria had been taught how to turn a baby in its mother’s womb, how to grind a bird’s bones into a powder to combat sleeplessness, how to identify the symptoms of a fever or a pox. She had been given close instructions on which herbs were best to gather, carrying them home in a basket or in the skirt of her long apron. Wood avens to cure toothache, black horehound for nausea and monthly cramps, salted leaves that could be used to dress and heal the bite of a dog, elderberry and cherry bark for coughs, dill seeds to be rid of hiccoughs, hawthorn to disperse bad dreams and calm a frantic heart, and nettle, which made a fine soup, to treat burns, infections, and inflammations. Maria only had to touch a clump of nettle once without gloves to learn her lesson. Even after Hannah had rubbed the crumpled leaves of the jewelweed plant to calm the afflicted skin, Maria avoided those stinging plants forever after. From the start, the girl was a quick learner. She didn’t have to be hurt twice to be wary, and she knew early on that love could be either a blessing or a curse.
The women who made their way through the woods most often came for one thing. Time and time again, it was love. Love everlasting, young love, love defiled, love that caused aches and pains, love that left bruises and red welts, love wished for desperately, or love to be rid of as quickly as possible. Often Hannah wrote down the desired result and placed the bit of parchment in her spell box. She cast her spells while lighting a candle. White for health, black for expunging sorrow, red for love. Prick the third finger of the left hand with a silver needle to bring back a lover. The power of a spell increased with the waxing moon, and decreased with the waning moon. Time mattered, devotion mattered, belief mattered most of all. Maria sat by the hearth, which was hers to tend, for she had her own tinderbox and could start a fire in a flash. From that warm and cozy spot she watched Hannah scan the pages of her book filled with remedies and spells, careful to take note of the potions and powders that were prescribed: amulets of apple seeds and menstrual blood, doses of henbane that could bind a couple together, or, if used to excess, could cause delirium or death, the heart of a deer or a dove that brought about devotion even in the most feckless and untrustworthy of men, and fragrant verbena, which, depending on its use and what the user desired, could bring a man to you or cause him to be impotent.
“Remember one thing,” Hannah told Maria. “Always love someone who will love you back.”
Essential oil. Lavender for calming. Sage to purify.
Rosemary for remembrance. Rose for love.
Salt, garlic, stones, thread, talismans for fortune, love, luck,
and good health.
Always meet and depart from inside a circle.
Honor the twelve full moons in a year from December until
November: Oak, Wolf, Storm, Hare, Seed, Dryad,
Mead, Herb, Barley, Harvest, Hunter’s, Snow, and
the thirteenth moon, always most special, the Blue Moon.
Silver coins, pure water, willow, birch, rowan, oak, string,
knots, mirrors, black glass, brass bowls, pure water, blood,
ink, pens, paper.
Nettle will give protection and return evil to sender. Apple
for rebirth and immortality. Holly leads to dream magic
but can be poisonous, Blackthorn can return evil to the
sender. Ferns call rain, but fend off lightning. Feverfew
to ward off illness. Wormwood is poisonous, but can be
used for divination. Belladonna, though poisonous, can
cause visions and give the power of the sight. Mint on your
window sill will keep away flies and bad fortune. Lavender
Hannah Owens was unusual not only for her kindness and herbal knowledge, but for the stunning fact that she could both write and read, a rare skill, for a working woman in the country was expected to have no more formal learning than a plow horse and ninety percent were illiterate. Hannah had been an orphan herself, but she had been raised in the scullery of a royal house to do kitchen work, and there the tutor for the family’s sons had taken it upon himself to allow her into the library and teach her to read. As soon as Maria was old enough, Hannah taught her precious talents to the child on stormy nights when the weather was too awful for even the most lovesick women to come to the door. They sat in the light of a lantern and drank cups of Courage Tea, a blend of currants, spices, and thyme, made for protection and healing, a mixture that needed to steep for a long time. It was an elixir that made it clear one should never hide who one was. That was the first step toward courage. In this way, magic began. The crooked black letters looked like nothing more than circles and sticks, and then all at once, after weeks of attention, they became words that took on the shape of cows and clouds and rivers and seas, a miracle on the page, drawn with ink made of oak seeds, or plant sap, or animal blood, or the damp ash of charred bones. There were sympathetic inks that few knew of; a scribe could write with one and it would not be seen until a second ink was used, or when lime juice, milk, or vinegar were brushed onto the paper, and then, after heat was applied, the message would suddenly be visible.
This was true magic, the making and unmaking of the world with paper and ink.