Maia Toll is the author of the widely-celebrated and award-winning The Wild Wisdom series, including The Illustrated Herbiary and The Illustrated Bestiary. The next book in the series, The Illustrated Crystallary, is coming soon – releasing on September 1 from Storey Publishing. We sat down with Maia to learn more about the making of The Wild Wisdom books, what’s next for the series, and her words of wisdom for those walking their uniquely witchy path.
Q: The Wild Wisdom series has become a huge hit, and with good reason, so firstly – congratulations on the success of the books! What was the inspiration behind the series, and what makes them so meaningful for you?
MT: It’s been amazing to watch them take off! The first book, The Illustrated Herbiary, grew out of a memoir I was working on about my time apprenticed to a green witch and traditional healer in Ireland. Each chapter of that memoir draft started with a whimsical herb description. People were smitten with them! So I put the memoir aside for a time and focused on those gem-like descriptions. That was the start. As the herbal gems turned into a book, I became interested in expanding to explore all three of the ancient medicine kingdoms— animal, vegetable, mineral— which are all so important in modern magic and mysticism.
And so it began! Next year there will be a fourth book which shows readers how to work with these various energies as they walk the wheel of the year.
Q: The latest in the series, The Illustrated Crystallary, is coming out in just a few days on September 1. What especially excites you about this newest addition to the collection?
MT: Since I was a kid, there have always been rocks in my pockets. I collect them when I travel, and they come home with me when I walk in the woods. But I’ve had a hard time relating to a lot of the crystal books out there. So I’m most excited about this book reaching other people who, like me, deeply connect with crystals and stones, but haven’t found reading material that supports how they relate to the mineral kingdom. I’m hoping this book can be that!
Q: We of course cannot talk about The Wild Wisdom books without highlighting the unbelievable artwork from cover to cover in each. You’ve teamed up with the talented Kate O’Hara to bring herbs, magical creatures, and now crystals to life…can you tell us a bit about how you began working together and what the creation process has been like?
MT: Ha! That’s a favorite question. People figure Kate and I are fast friends, but the truth is, we’ve never even talked on the phone! I chose Kate from three artists proposed for the series by my publishing house. Kate worked with the art director while I worked with my editor. For the first book, it was a large game of whisper down the lane: me, to my editor, to the art director, to Kate, and back again. Now, the art director contacts me directly, but there’s still that intermediary between me and Kate.
At first I thought this whole set-up was a bit weird. I kept waiting for the moment when someone would propose that we all hop on Zoom. But over time I’ve come to appreciate it. Kate reads my words and interprets them however she interprets them. This adds another layer of meaning and interpretation… then the reader comes in and adds their thoughts and overtones… The end result is a layering which adds depth and richness.
Q: One very unique feature of these books is the set of oracle cards included in the back cover. Do you have a suggested method for readers to work with the cards in conjunction with the book?
MT: Readers use the cards in so many ways! Some use them as journaling prompts, pulling a card and then doing the reflection exercise. Others use them in the same way, but focus on the ritual instead of the reflection. And many use the cards as an oracle deck. I’ve even seen some artists drawing a card and then drawing their interpretation of the image! Because people love the books for so many different reasons, it’s hard to recommend one way of using the cards over another.
Q: We are obviously a bit book-obsessed here at Witch With Books, so we would love to know: who is your favorite witchy author, and what is your favorite witchy book of all time?
MT: Oh, wow. I’m a reader so this is a really hard question! I reread Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells every couple years, so that might qualify as a favorite. I jump on Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books as soon as they come out, and I pretty much swooned over Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. So those are current author favorites. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (I’d prefer to take a class) and, when it comes to mystical and witchy work, I really don’t appreciate anyone telling me “how to,” so you’ll notice there are no books like that on my list!
Q: Are there any plans in the works for more in The Wild Wisdom series?
MT: In terms of books, there is one more in the series. I don’t think I’m allowed to share the title yet, but it will come out next year. While it will still have Kate’s gorgeous illustrations, the format will be a little different. It’s based on the wheel of the year, giving readers a bit of structure for their exploration of the three medicine kingdoms (amongst other things) against the backdrop of seasonal energies. Don’t worry: it will have cards!
Beyond that, we’re exploring other products based on the series. Keep your eye out for Wild Wisdom puzzles coming this fall!
Q: As many members of our community are new to the world of witchery, what advice do you have for them as they begin to walk their magical path?
MT: Trust yourself. While the work appears to be outward facing, ultimately, it’s inward facing. In order to be a clear channel for energy, you have to keep clearing your own energies, including your feelings and thoughts. Which essentially makes walking a witchy path quite similar to working with a Jungian therapist. When you get to know yourself and your own inner-worlds of thought and emotion intimately, you’ll begin to trust yourself and your own intuition.
Q: What is next for you on your witchy journey?
MT: While The Wild Wisdom series is wrapping up, there are other book projects already simmering in the cauldron! While I’ll continue running my autumn Witch Camp, the majority of my time will be spent writing… and romping in the woods, chatting up random boulders and listening for the screech of baby owls.
Thank you, Maia!
Maia Toll is the best selling author of the Indie Award and Nautilus Award winning book The Illustrated Herbiary. While published in 2018, the seeds for The Illustrated Herbiary and the other books in The Wild Wisdom Series (The Illustrated Bestiary, October 2019 and The Illustrated Crystallary, September 2020) were planted years earlier when Maia apprenticed with a traditional healer in Ireland where she spent extensive time studying the growing cycles of plants, the alchemy of medicine making, and the psychology of working with humans and illness. These experiences reawakened an interest in natural philosophy and mysticism which had been a large part of Maia’s academic studies at The University of Michigan and New York University.
Translating the lessons of the natural world for the modern seeker led Maia to open a small shop called Herbiary in 2006. Herbiary now has locations in both Asheville, NC and Philadelphia, PA (and online!). Maia has been featured in a PBS special, had a recipe published in The New York Times, gotten photographed by National Geographic Traveler, and been called “a real life Professor Sprout from Harry Potter” by Forbes magazine. She has taught Botanical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, West Chester University, and Pennsylvania Hospital. She regularly teaches at conferences and festivals where she encourages people to use patterns and metaphors from the natural world to help them understand and grow within their own lives. Maia lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her life and business partner and their two ridiculously spoiled dogs.
For information on new releases and appearances, sign up for Maia’s newsletter at maiatoll.com.