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.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Cord Magic” by Brandy Williams

Full Title: Cord Magic: Tapping into the Power of String, Yarn, Twists & Knots
Author: Brandy Williams
Published: May 8, 2021 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft, Folk Magic, Cord Magic, Knot Magic
Edition Details: 304 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – requested via NetGalley
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I’ve been in a mood for simple magics, so I requested this book on a whim. I’m not much of a yarncraft person, as I can barely crochet and never really caught onto knitting as a leftie. With string, I’ve done some mundane cross-stitch and considered whether I enjoyed it enough to add into my magical practice… and never did. It’s one of those topics I wanted to connect to badly, but it never seemed to resonate.

Positive Bits

This book is extremely approachable! From page one, I found myself drawn in by the author’s story of how and why she felt the need to write this book. I connected to her story myself, having practiced various forms of magic for a couple of decades now. The examples of cord magic in action were all familiar situations and reasonable solutions… that just happened to involve magic! From story to finish, the author manages to treat the reader as both novice and equal as we’re guided through various activities involving cord magic.

As a deep lover of simple magic, cord magic speaks to me in the same way that candle magic and color magic both have. There’s beauty in the accessibility of cord magic as a whole, compared to something like crystal magic or the use of Tarot. Anyone can pick up a string or yarn and twist it just so! That said, I connected deeply to the idea of capturing energies in cords for later use. With various levels of mobility and mental health issues in my household, it can be a feat of master engineering to get us all involved in celebrating a full moon or solstice together. The integration of cord magic in our workings could mitigate this, as I can capture the full moon for my wife on her bad days and visa versa. It opens up a universe of magic that felt inaccessible due to health limitations, and that means the world to me.

I found myself imagining ways to use the exercises and examples with items I have in my own home, and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? While I don’t know that the author was aiming for this, her detailed description of capturing various energies (and a staggering list of examples I might not have thought up) had me considering the utility of cord magic in the time of something like this pandemic. Imagine gathering lengths of thread to weave into cords individually, knowing you’re spinning the same energies into being with your witchy kinfolk (safe at home, of course). It takes the idea of a friendship bracelet to higher levels! I’ve done similar work with candles to capture energies, but cords would be so much more practical from a cost and storage standpoint.

Less Enjoyable Bits

It’s a small thing, but I was very interested in the idea of a charging cord. It’s mentioned as something you can create, up to and including the creation of cords with the energies of certain times, seasons, and weather trapped within their threads. However, I felt like we missed instructions on what to do with a charging cord. Do I wrap it around a candle to charge the candle? If there’s a knot I want to undo to release energies into a candle, do I hold it over the unlit wick? Or do I light it and untie the knot to the side? I have ideas of my own to work with these captured energies, but my point is that the book could’ve explored the use of those particular cords in more detail with us.

There’s a lot of info dumping to cover side topics, which I think could’ve benefitted from either more or less information being provided. The book dives into some basics on planetary associations, zodiac signs, numerology, and color magic. All of those topics can apply to cord magic in some way, but I feel like dabbling in their magics doesn’t do justice to the breadth and depth of each type of energy. I’m more of an all-or-none person, so I’d prefer either a simple list of standard associations or a detailed chapter on each type of additional magic being referenced in this book. Considering this is a book about a specific type of magic in the first place, I think the former option would’ve been a better fit.

I had hoped for some interesting friendship bracelet patterns, for lack of a better description. Or at least a four stranded braid instructional. Instead, this book gave us a couple of cord crafting methods to lean on and three knots to work into the mix. On one hand, this makes cord magic feel more accessible and is a boon. On the other hand, it also left me wanting more. Cord Magic 2, anyone?

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Cords are easy to incorporate into clothing or to hide in a pocket or bag. They’re the ultimate portable tool. – 3%

A cord is a talisman made from a string. The fiber of the string is the body of the talisman. The physical material adds both practical and energetic qualities to our magical intent. – 39%

Cord magic is a flexible way to capture the energy of time and place. […] Cords can be folded, labeled, and stacked in a box. – 76%

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – the ideas presented in some of the exercises were enough to justify purchasing this book, but they’re also packaged in an informative and approachable package.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “New World Witchery” by Cory Thomas Hutcheson

Full Title: New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic
Author: Cory Thomas Hutcheson
Published: April 8, 2021 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Witchcraft, Folklore, Mythology, Magic Studies, Folk Magic, American Culture
Edition Details: 480 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Request via NetGalley
Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

As a long time witch, I’ve studied various paths and cultures to see what speaks to my spirit. American folklore and practices are, I admit, one of my blind spots. I don’t connect to any one region because of being a military brat, so I lack the personal history and ties to a place that others might find spiritually relevant. When I saw this book available for review, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to look into my own country and culture for spiritual inspiration.

Positive Bits

The premise of this book is outlined very early on: “In some ways, I am hoping that picking up this book will be like unearthing a box buried at the crossroads for you and finding it stuffed full of folkloric odds and ends – a veritable treasure trove of witchery, if you will. Each little piece will tell you something about magic, and let you put together your own picture of folkloric witchcraft here and now.” As you explore this book, it truly dives into a variety of sources, from local tribal traditions to immigrant practices from other countries that settled here. The details are also regularly tied back to the current occult movements that match them, allowing you to draw the line between past and present with ease.

I enjoyed the author’s take on magical ingredient correspondences. I’m a big fan of finding your personal connection and symbolism in magic, and they took the time to mention something they get out of each item rather than rehashing the correspondences you find in every other sourcebook. In the same section, there’s an exercise that involves looking at your favorite foods or recipes and considering what magicks they would represent based on their ingredients – which is something I’ve done before, and it’s fascinating to look at your food in a magickal light (particularly if you’re an avid cook)!

Each section has interesting tasks to try, called The Work. After you’ve been exposed to one type of magical folklore, you’re invited to explore it within your own spiritual path. Several of them contained great questions to meditate or journal on, and I found myself pausing to consider how they related to my practice. I enjoy interactivity in books, so this is a major bonus point to the book as a whole.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book is very heavily focused on folkloric knowledge, with much smaller sections tying it back to modern witchcraft. While intriguing if you like history and folklore as topics, I found myself a bit disappointed to slug through 480 pages of folklore when I had thought there’d be more active rituals and practices to explore. Considering how often folklore related to witches dips into talk of worshipping the Devil, I found myself less interested in the information provided when it was steeped in stories from that angle.

On the flip side, there were mentions of folklore that greatly intrigued me… only to be presented in one or two sentences and then never referenced again. For example, I live near the Chehalis tribe in the Pacific Northwest, and they were mentioned in a section about moon folklore. Apparently they see the moon as masculine, but we get one note to that effect and then nothing further. Living so close to multiple tribes, I wish more Native culture had been included as part of American folklore. Too often, we treat Natives as “other” and less American than the immigrants who supplanted them.

I think this book is geared toward an audience who wants to explore American folklore and folk magic but doesn’t want to dive into research alone. If that’s your focus, then it’s a good guide to jumping off points for exploring our history. If that’s not your cup of tea, then this book is a long and difficult trek through a portion of American history.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Be a magical magpie if you wish, and gather the shiny and beautiful things you like, but acknowledge that you are a magpie and not a bluebird or a cardinal, even if you add a few of their twigs or feathers to your nest. Be grateful and humble towards the magic and the people behind that magic, and you will find that magic opens up all sorts of new possibilities for you. – 8%

Being seen and heard, and feeling that spiritual forces are available to you – that is a kind of magic all its own. Witchcraft is a nuanced craft, and magical healing can go well beyond easing the symptoms of a cold or buying away a wart. It can reach into the very heart of us and work its transformations there as well. – 22%

As we reach the end of our journey here, I invite you to take a look at the rising popularity of the witch in a different way: she is hiding something. She is glamorous and beautiful, bold and unapologetic, standing up for rights and demonstrating ferocity to all who see her. And in between all of that, she may light a candle or turn over some cards to see what part of the future she can change. – 96%

Is it worth the coin?

No – unless what I described is what you’re looking for. It wasn’t the guide to American folk magic that I had hoped to find, but it had value for someone exploring folklore for folklore’s sake.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Amelia Unabridged” by Ashley Schumacher

Full Title: Amelia Unabridged
Author: Ashley Schumacher
Published: February 16, 2021 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, Books About Books
Edition Details: 304 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I thought this book looked pretty while scrolling through NetGalley for my next set of ARC requests, and then I saw that it was published by Wednesday Books. So far, the books I’ve read from that publisher happen to be very poignant in their themes and the authors’ voices. Added to that, this is a book about books (or more specifically, a book about the author of some books). I’m a nerd for that!

Positive Bits

This is clearly a book about grief. The description tells us that Amelia’s best friend dies after an argument, leaving her hurt and lost. Grief is a deeply personal thing, but I think the author does an amazing job at showing us Amelia’s grief rather than telling us she’s grieving. To put that into perspective, I teared up within the first few chapters of the book and continued to ache and cry with Amelia throughout her story. When you look at the quotes I chose to share below, you can see pieces of how we’re handed the hurt of loss and being lost.

If we didn’t follow Amelia through her journey to find healing, the grief might’ve made this story unpalatable. Instead, we get to watch her rediscover herself without her best friend or the future they thought they had planned out together. The author wove healing into Amelia’s life without skipping the way grief returns unexpectedly, again and again. It was amazingly real (and better for it).

I happen to enjoy realistic stories, particularly when there’s romance and family involved. The way Amelia’s relationship exists with her own family, her best friend’s parents, and those she meets in her travels are all authentically flawed. People are allowed to fail. Some are even given opportunities to grow beyond their failings, only to fall short of personal growth. Maybe that’s not for everyone, but I appreciate the honest approach to relationship dynamics, especially as someone with similarly complicated relationships.

Less Enjoyable Bits

While I enjoyed the imagery and weight given to Amelia’s grief, I imagine this book will be a difficult read for anyone who’s recently experienced their own loss. Consider this your fair warning.

The characters are all very dynamic, whether they’re part of the main cast or not. However, the locations we visit with Amelia might as well be Anywhere, America. I had issues with remembering whether the nearby body of water was a lake, river, or ocean. I couldn’t remember the layout of a repeatedly visited building, other than one or two small details that I found quirky. Setting didn’t play a huge role in Amelia’s story, even when it might’ve had the need to do so.

While it was written in an entertaining style, I didn’t enjoy the epilogue. It felt rushed and unnecessary to the story itself. Then again, I generally expect a realistic story like this to end in a similar vein. Life doesn’t give us epilogues, because the story doesn’t end until we’re dead.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

While some kids waited for their letter to be delivered by owl or for their closet to one day reveal a magical land with talking animals and stone tables, I’d waited for the other shoe to drop. Because if there’s one thing I learned from books, it’s that life is fair and unfair, just and unjust.

I imagine whales swimming in the air between the trees, the forests of Orman rising up with their dark branches to mingle into the Michigan landscape. I pretend I am not real; Wally and Alex are not real. The world is one giant story and I’m only a figment of some author’s imagination, a discarded character that never made it onto a page. Strangely, it makes me feel a bit better.

I am different, but like the stories, I will hold up to more readings, even if those readings are drastically changed in my after.

There are a hundred thousand ways to tell a story. Medical students help people live longer and continue their own stories. Engineering majors tell a story of technology that goes back to caveman with rocks and sticks. Marine biologists piece together shreds of plot until they know where whales sleep at night and where fish live in coral reefs. Everything is a story, not just writing. You need to find the story that means something to you, a story you like telling.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – this story will make you ache to your bones and then soothe the hurt.

Posted in [poetry]

my favorite book [poem]

I treat my heart like my favorite book
thumbing through the happy memories from time to time
retelling those stories with a smile
but like my favorite book
I’m both incredibly cautious
and amazingly careless with my heart
I might dog-ear the pages of my favorite moments
but I’m so nervous to let anyone borrow this love
who knows what kind of condition they’ll return it in
or if they’ll return it at all

Posted in [poetry]

friends in strange places [poem]

I had a tree friend once
and by that I mean
I once had a friend that was a small oak tree
his branches barely hitting the roof of our two story building
he wasn’t much of a talker
but he was the best at lending an ear
he wasn’t any good at hugs
but he grew a branch directly over the sidewalk
just to give me a high five every day
his leaves whispered loudest in the autumn breeze
and he caught the rain in his leaves the best
and I miss him
when it’s too sunny outside
and there’s no tree to greet me when I get home

Posted in [poetry]

writing a book [poem]

it’s hard to write a book
the kind that’s supposed to teach a stranger things
without ever looking them in the eye
you’d think it the ideal way for an introvert to share her knowledge
but instead it’s a struggle
to spell out important concepts
in self-contained lessons
with no interaction
or discussion
or signal that anybody’s getting it

Posted in [poetry]

Dad it’s your birthday [poem]

and I didn’t bother asking Mom for your number
I love you
but I prefer this silence just the same
it’s been years since I came out to you
half a decade since you told me
not to bother coming home
and I haven’t Dad
I love you
but this silence is my gift
wrapped in distance and disappointment
today I turned on the radio to wash the dishes
and I almost cried
[because a warrior gave up his place in Valhalla
to save his Valkyrie daughter]
because a song played
about a father sacrificing everything for his daughter
it’s one of my favorite songs Dad
one of the songs where
I blame my daddy issues for the tears
you were an amazing father once
I grew up loved
I never forget that
my friend worries that he’s a terrible father
and I use your love as an example of why
he’s doing everything right
because you loved me like your own flesh and blood
and what can you call a man
who loves his stepkids like their own
but a good father?
Dad you were a good father once
so good I never guessed I was a stepchild
until Mom decided to tell me so
every year I think about reaching out
about being the one to bend and break the silence
but I did nothing wrong Dad
there’s nothing wrong with the way I love
or the life I choose to live
maybe one day I’ll be able to forgive you
for not seeing it the same way
until then
I can only wish you happy birthday
in less than happy poetry
and relentless silence

Posted in [poetry]

taking care of you [poem]

I want to keep you forever
I want to tuck your heart into the safety
of my own rib cage
I want to run my fingers through your hair
I want to hold the world at bay
until you’re rested and ready to face it again
I want to bake you cookies
I want to fill you up until you’re not hungry anymore
be it for food or fun or affection
I want to curl up in the circle of your arms
I want to love you so thoroughly
that you forget what being lonely felt like

Posted in [poetry]

hopeless romantic [poem]

I’m not a hopeless romantic
my heart is full to the brim with hopeful optimism
instead I consider myself a helpless romantic
the kind of person who can’t help but want to love you
I will paint a lover’s every action with romance
but I will do the same to the actions of a stranger
love is in every moment
in every smile
every word
I can’t help but want love to be
all-encompassing and ever-present

Posted in [poetry]

embrace [poem]

I’m trying to find things to embrace
rather than continuing to float here
moved only by the current of the waters
and never with any effort to steer
toward or away from anything
I’m trying to stir this listless body into action
knowing it feels so good to dance
once you get started
but lying here unmoved is also good
and easier to not do
I’m trying to choose anything and everything
that pulls me away from inaction
even if it’s uncomfortable or awkward to get started
better to stumble than stand still
always so struck in my own head