Sage, Smoke & Fire

An urban/supernatural fantasy by Ryan Kurr

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The world and its people are out of balance. When the earth’s gravitational pull activates a gene that makes Nina capable of magic, she is called to duty in southern Louisiana to lead a coven of witches and restore equilibrium to the world.

Soon after she arrives, Nina witnesses extraordinary powers beyond those of any known witch; she sets out on a magical quest through the dark and sultry swamps, voodoo shops, right-wing churches and alternate planes of consciousness to uncover the source of the dangerous gifts; all while trying to create peace not just within the coven, but with the people who knew her in the life she left behind in New York.

After Nina forms a coven of six, she teaches them about magic and sorts them into two groups, Primordial witches and Transcendent witches, each with their own unique set of gifts. They learn about the Advisory, a group of witches elected to uphold the law of balance.

Joshua and Edie Bonner, the pastors of an influential, radical, right-wing church, team up with Nix, a self-proclaimed “messenger of God” who is in possession of a witch-hunting tool.

Merlot is the leader of another coven, one that has no interest in restoring balance, instead preferring to use their powers for their own gain.

What follows is a war of beliefs that turns deadly.


I can do this. Doubt slipped away from Nina’s mind as she carried out magical preparations with skill and ease, like a well-practiced baker making chocolate chip cookies. Her front teeth bit into the flesh of her lip in speechless admiration of her natural talent. Nina threw back her curls, rubbed her hands together vigorously and allowed herself to abandon any sort of pragmatic approach to how she’d continue, allowing the voice of her intuition to instruct her. It was a warm and enigmatic voice, one that she had grown to trust and rely on in the most precarious of situations. Every now and then she would try to tune her intuition in response to everyday situations that ranged from which baggage carousel her luggage was at to what time the first witch would arrive. That voice was like a muscle, and like any muscle, it needed to be exercised to grow strong.

The center island was covered with tiny bowls, each filled with a different ingredient for her summoning oil. She held the energized palm of her left hand over each bowl and recited a charging incantation:

I cast away all that is not in harmony with its own nature.

I amplify your characteristics,

I instill you with the power of magnetism, for the good of all.

Let me see what is not seen, let me hear what is not heard, let me feel what is not felt.

In a marble mortar and pestle that lived on the kitchen counter, she pounded and mashed together datura flowers, dandelion roots, sage, rosemary, chamomile and the peel of an apple she had stripped away in one long spiral. Her conviction—unswerving. She placed a pot on the stove and poured in enough olive oil to cover the bottom. As the heat warmed the oil, the peppery and grassy scent hit her nose, and she inhaled deeply. There’s nothing like an excellent, fresh olive oil. Nina’s love for a simple pasta in olive oil came flooding back. Although an innocuous and fleeting thought, she let it go as quickly as it came and continued to focus on the task at hand—magic, not dinner. Certainly not with the assortment of ingredients she was about to add, ranging from calming to toxic, if ingested. Nina dumped the ingredients into the hot oil and gave the pan a few swirls with a flick of her wrist. The makings of the summoning oil muddled together and hissed in the pan.

While the oil was coming to room temperature, she grabbed hold of a four-inch indigo candle and held it to her third eye to connect with it. She lowered the candle to her mouth, closed her eyes and licked up the side to the wick to form a deeper bond with it, something she never could have imagined herself doing back when she was completing her MFA at Yale twelve years earlier, right before she became aware of the magical role she would embody shortly afterward. Nina strained the oil and discarded the sautéed components, leaving a deep ochre-colored oil behind. She dipped her finger into the oil and anointed the candle from the bottom to the top, around the entire circumference. Onto a pewter saucer, she poured a mound of sea salt and secured the candle in the center of the white hill. She brought the saucer into the great room and sat upon the floor, facing out toward the backyard. From her pocket, she drew out four chunks of cerussite and four shards of magnetite and encircled the saucer with the crystals. She lit the candle and gazed into the fire’s hypnotic fluttering. Within an instant, the flame stopped flickering and stiffened. Nina, stone-faced, succumbed to the mysteries within the flame, closed her eyes and ascended into the higher consciousness.

The cicadas faded from her awareness, as did the dampness of the southern climate that usually managed to penetrate any defenses against it. She tuned in to the broadcast that streamed through her mind and trusted it to tell her what to do. Faint echoes and whispers from ancestors, angels, spirit guides and all the wonders of the divine filled the space in the infinite hollow of consciousness. Ego—abandoned, as spirit assumed control. Connected—moving in and through space and time harmoniously, with complete trust and synchronistic synthesis amidst all cyclic patterns and ebbs—into a flow.

After the first five minutes, the black abyss became glittered with spots of purple that bloomed into tide-like waves. Nina flushed with euphoria as she explored the depths beyond the restraints of the human mind. Slowly, very slowly, a vibration hummed inside her consciousness. The purple orbs began to cluster together like bees in a swarm and take shape. An iridescent image of a paintbrush—no, a makeup brush. Then it changed shape and became a rectangle, then an envelope, and then finally, with a little creative interpretation, a postcard with the word CHICAGO across the top. Denying herself the chance to overthink her interpretation, she searched for the next experience. Her senses awakened, listening for the next clue, in whatever form it took—a gut feeling, a buzzing in the hands, a rush of chills up the length of her back. Any information she received wouldn’t be denied or rebuffed based on how it emerged—a common reaction to those with a highly rational and logical mind. After all she had seen and encountered during her enlightenment period in the Somnium plane, she knew it was irrational to assume that information could be received only through one’s ordinary senses and analytical mind. After all, all humans are psychic, but not all are motivated to peel back the layers of camouflage that often hide psychic information, or are adept at doing so.

Then, like a match that has suddenly caught fire, a new set of images surfaced. The name of a makeup store in Chicago: Warpaint. The name of a Nigerian woman: Bisa. Along with the name came a wave of emotions. For a moment, Nina considered if these emotions and feelings were her own, but after checking in with her body, she realized they belonged to—Bisa. She could feel her emotions beyond the limitations of distance. A white flash passed over her range of psychic vision, and a detailed representation of the woman’s face manifested. Smooth skin, high cheekbones, dazzling eyes surrounded by sapphire-blue eye shadow, skinny dreads wrapped into an ornate topknot. Spirit quickly led her to the next burst of information—no name, no images, just a gut feeling, one that implied she would find what she needed when she saw the first woman in New Orleans with an actual paper map clutched in her hands, and to trust in that.

The final group came in a firecracker burst of sounds. Nina continued to breathe deeply as her body softened and remained receptive. With each inhale, she heard a first and last name, and on each exhale, she heard a location. The voice, so subtle, so familiar that it was difficult to tell if it was her own voice inside her head. Trust. Nina often carried on conversations with herself, but this was different. This wasn’t laced with judgment or criticism.

The voice repeated itself with confidence and simplicity until it became abundantly clear that the message was true. Oliver…Oliver Kemp. Mitch…Mitch Wickleby. Avery…Avery Scott. The boundaries of awareness are not rigid and structured like algebraic formulas. It is kaleidoscopic alchemy where the rules and senses combine and mix.

Nina opened her eyes and remained still, her body and mind absorbing the leftover thoughts of her experience. She was slightly disoriented, as if waking from a nap in the late evening. Exultant and ready to begin, Nina uncrossed her legs and stretched. The candle had burned straight down to the salt and extinguished itself. The odor of burnt wick hung fresh in the room. She wrote down the names and details that had come to her during her meditation. She had one more task to do before the list was complete: she needed to find the woman with the map, because she would lead her to the final member of the coven.

~Buy Sage, Smoke & Fire:

About Ryan Kurr

Ryan Kurr is an author, pastry chef, and mystic practitioner. His memoir Sugar Burn: The Not so Hot Side of the Sweet Kitchen was released in 2015, and his work on spiritual and metaphysical witchcraft has been published by Witches Magazine. Sage, Smoke & Fire is the first novel in the Esoteric Alchemy series. Kurr lives in New Orleans.

~Visit his website

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