Everyday Magic: Lady Lazarus and the Book of Raziel

By Michele Lang

Lady Lazarus is both a historical fantasy and a magical history of my family. My mother’s childhood in Communist Hungary was filled with séances, mediums, and prophetic dreams, and everyday magic was part of the cultural fabric.

Even in America, the technological, I find magic all over the place — it comes up out of the ground, like oil in the Caucasus. And that magic invades my writing. I mean to write straight up stories, but the magic hides in plain sight, and before I know it characters are working spells, flying by night, dreaming of demons.

Let me give you an example of something magical from the everyday world that infused Lady Lazarus. The protagonist, Magda Lazarus, is a witch who hunts for a book called the Book of Raziel, written by her angel Raziel to console humankind after the expulsion from the Garden.

The thing of it is, the book exists—I’ve held it in my hands. The Book of Raziel is an amulet, a benevolent Jewish magic that you can find in Brooklyn, in Jerusalem, even in Budapest. The book protects the bearer in childbirth, during surgery, and from fire, and I first learned about this book when grateful patients gave it to my husband to protect him, too. My husband is a surgeon, and he has found the Book of Raziel taped over his Hasidic patients’ hearts.

A page from the Book of Raziel

According to legend (not my imagination), the angel gave the book to Adam, and it contains angelology, magical astrological formulations, incantations, and amulets. Other legends say that after a period in which the book was lost, the angel Raphael rescued it from the deep and gave it to Noah after the Flood.

It is forbidden to read the Book of Raziel—but fortunately, for reckless people like me who have tried it, the Book is written in the Angelic tongue and has never been properly deciphered, so it is impossible to read and understand the version of the Book that exists. The first bound and printed edition appeared in 1701 in Amsterdam, and reportedly the pages were scrambled on purpose before publication to further render the book unreadable.

I think magic, an emanation of the One that made us, is a way to strengthen people’s native power to transcend the evils and dangers they confront in the world. It’s lying around like a weapon, like gold, like radium. It’s up to us to figure out how to use it.

My family survived the war through a combination of courage, luck, and sheer determination. I’d like to believe that a dash of magic, the intercession of angels, gave them the strength to save themselves, too. Because what is survival in the fire, but a miracle of the first magnitude?

Lady Lazarus (978-0-7653-2317-0) by Michele Lang will be available August 31 from Tor.

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