16 November 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Maggie Anton on ENCHANTRESS - A NOVEL OF RAV HISDA'S DAUGHTER

 This week, we're pleased to welcome author Maggie Anton with her latest release,  ENCHANTRESS -  A NOVEL OF RAV HISDA'S DAUGHTER, part of her award-wining series of novels. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Enchantress. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia. The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.

Praise for Enchantress

"A lushly detailed look into a fascinating unknown time and culture ... and a most engaging heroine." -- Diane Gabaldon

**Q&A with Maggie Anton**

How were Jewish women who practiced sorcery viewed in ancient societies?
Judging by the ubiquity of amulets, incantation bowls, and magic manuals that date to the first six centuries of the Common Era, the practice of sorcery was a large-scale enterprise back then. At the same time, the Talmud is adamant that sorcery is the province of women yet never condemns them. Indeed there is a section of Talmud on amulets that explicitly explains how to ascertain if the scribe is an expert and if a particular spell is proven. Rabbis consult various women with magic expertise, including the “head sorceress,” and recommend many of their incantations.
Why don’t more people know about the role of magic in the Talmud?

 Until recently, Talmud study was limited to those few scholars who were fluent in Aramaic and attended yeshiva, advanced Talmud academies. They concentrated on the sections debating Jewish Law, and paid less attention to the others. Still, scholars aware of the passages on magic preferred to ignore them, embarrassed to admit that the great Sages engaged in such “nonsense.”

What was Jewish sorcery used for?

There seems to have been two types of Jewish sorcery. Based on spells found on amulets and incantation bowls, most was for healing the sick, protecting children and pregnant women from harm, guarding against demons and the Evil Eye. This benign magic, for the purpose of helping others, was practiced predominantly by women. Magic to help oneself–that is to retain your learning, to influence opinions in your favor, to silence your enemies [and my favorite, to win at chariot races] was performed by men.

Over the centuries, magic has been closely identified with evil, malice, or the devil.  What is the provenance of Jewish magic?

Contrary to this stereotype, the Talmud saw Jewish enchantresses as in league with the angels.  They looked to the beginning of Genesis, Chapter Six, where it says the divine beings saw that the daughters of man were beautiful and took wives from among them. The sons of these unions were the heroes of old, men of renown, but what of the daughters? The Talmudic sages say that these divine beings taught their wives healing magic that calls upon angels, which most do, and these women taught their daughters, who taught theirs, and so on. Such spells were sanctioned by the Rabbis, who declared that any Torah Law might be broken in order to save a life. And not only to heal the sick, but also to prevent sickness.
Are there traces of Jewish sorcery in modern Judaism today?

There are more than traces. Some prayers and blessing said in synagogue today are based on incantations found in the Talmud. In addition, modern versions of ancient Jewish amulets can be found in most Judaica shops.

Although your novels are set in ancient times when women weren’t given the same opportunities as men, your heroine struggles with some modern women's issues--the right to women's independence, acceptance to participate in religious life, and the freedom to love whom she chooses. How were you able to work within her circumstances to create such a strong-willed and independent character?

Rav Hisda's daughter is the woman mentioned more often in the Talmud than any other, one endowed with wealth and learning. Thus she has opportunities not available to the average poor and illiterate woman of her time. Still she is constrained by her gender in that, despite all her knowledge, she can never be a rabbi or a priest. By learning to be an enchantress, she enters a profession where women are esteemed and powerful.

The incantations and spells you use in your novel are real.  In fact, many come from Babylonian Incantation Bowls, Jewish amulets and magical instruction manuals that archaeologists excavated from Iraq, Israel, and Egypt.  Can you tell me how they inspired you to write this novel?

At first I hadn't expected magic to play a significant role in Rav Hisda’s Daughter. My initial glimpse of this world came when, looking for historical sources of names for female characters, I discovered research on something called Babylonian Incantation Bowls. Thousands of these bowls, written like the Talmud in Aramaic in Hebrew script, have been unearthed in what is now Iraq and dated to the 4th-6th century. Clearly the product of educated Jews, they called upon Jewish angels and contained biblical verses.
When I read in the Talmud that the Rabbis consulted sorceresses, it made sense that these incantations might have been written by literate women from rabbinic families. When I also read that Rav Hisda knew spells and that his daughter knew how to protect her husband from demons, it gave me the idea that she was an enchantress herself. Which meant I'd be writing about her training and the kind of magic others were using.