Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Anatomy of a Witch” by Laura Tempest Zakroff

Full Title: Anatomy of a Witch: A Map to the Magical Body
Author: Laura Tempest Zakroff
Published: June 8, 2021 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Witchcraft, Magic, Self-Discovery, Wicca
Edition Details: 216 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – requested via NetGalley
Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I’ve used lots of sigils created by this author, pulled from her blog at Patheos called A Modern Traditional Witch. When I saw this book and the premise of connecting to your body as the most magical tool in your possession, I figured it was worth taking a good look. Based on her writings elsewhere, I trusted that she’d consider health and mobility issues with kindness while taking us on this exploration of the physical self.

Positive Bits

First of all, I was right to trust this author to handle physical issues with a gentle touch. Time after time, we are reminded that our body does its job by holding a space for our spirit to exist. Illness and age come for us all, and that isn’t an inherently bad thing! The tone throughout this book encouraged people of all ability levels to work with their bodies and reconsider the relationship they have with different parts of themselves. I imagine for some, the idea of radial self-acceptance and self-compassion would be mind-blowing.

One section I particularly liked was where we looked at consumption and how it affects our magical body. From what we eat to what we read, the things we consume feed us at some level. This means the meals we eat can be eaten with intention, be they a smoothie bowl full of nutrients or an energy drink to get us through a long work shift. Awareness is key in both food and media consumption. If you know that your diet of media doesn’t include much variety, you can choose to diversify your content sources and pop your own media bubble. Stretch the mind, learn, and grow!

In another chapter, there was a beautiful explanation of why we shouldn’t tie our reproductive organs, gender, or sexuality to our magic. This is something I struggled with earlier in my path, as so much of that time’s magic was binary (or else!). As someone who’s fought infertility for years in hopes of starting a family, it’s always important to remind myself that my body’s ability to carry a child isn’t the start and end of its value. That might seem obvious to some, but it took embracing the idea of nonbinary magic to really internalize not being a failure over infertility struggles.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’ll start with something that bothered me, though I’m having an issue with why. One of the sections of the magical body we look at is the Serpent, and I knew going in that I’d likely find some pause here depending on how it was handled. The Serpent is essentially kundalini energy from Hinduism, but rebranded. There’s nothing actively wrong with it or the chapter describing it, but it felt borderline appropriative in a way I didn’t jive with. Kundalini is mentioned in one sentence of the chapter on the Serpent, and then we continue on to other serpentine representations in mythology and religion. I would’ve liked more acknowledgement of the source code here, I guess?

[Update on 4/15/2021: After some discussion with the author herself, I’d like to temper my thoughts on the Serpent. My interpretation of the chapter on the Serpent was based on my experiences and personal biases, particularly in anything that feels too much like a practice from another path. While I was initially left feeling as though the Serpent was Kundalini energy by another name, the author intended for us to pull from various mythos and the deeper societal symbolism of the Serpent itself in order to experience it as part of the magical body. As I reread the section, I can see how her intent and my understanding of it diverged. It still doesn’t speak to me, but it may resonate with you.]

As a poet, I’m always hesitant to review poetry books the same way you might review fiction or nonfiction. I feel that poetry and poetic prose are highly subjective. That said, I didn’t connect to the charms and poetic chapter introductions. I tried slowing down, reading them out loud, and counting syllables – all to try and figure out why I wasn’t connecting with them. I think they were just a little too wordy for me personally, but your mileage may vary.

I really wanted to find something in this book. A connection between my magic and my body strong enough to help override years of body shaming. A new look at the magical body that approached the topic outside of borrowed systems. A toolkit for some serious magical maintenance on my meat mech? While this book uses some interesting and unfamiliar focuses, it didn’t speak to me. Some references included:

  • the Cauldron of Poesy – a medieval Irish poem listing three cauldrons that control the body and spirit in different ways
  • Tarot – the first ten cards of the Major Arcana are tied into the chapters
  • Kundalini energy – while renamed as the Serpent, those familiar with Kundalini will likely understand and enjoy that connection
  • dance – as the author is a dancer and artist, she makes many references to joyful movement that may resonate with those similarly inclined

Tidbits Worth Repeating

For as the Moon affects the ocean tides with its phases, we too wax and wane, ebb and flow. We are essentially mobile oceans, and we too have tides. – 31%

It is an act of revolution to believe in yourself. To believe in the power and beauty of your own body is a riot and an act of radical self-love. – 68%

You are not always going to be successful in every change you seek to make, but if you infuse your practice with compassion and vulnerability, you will definitely become more in tune with your path. – 95%

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if none of my “less enjoyable bits” make you reconsider, then this book is for you. It wasn’t for me, but I enjoyed reading it enough to be glad I finished it.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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