Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The New Aradia” by Laura Tempest Zakroff

Full Title: The New Aradia: A Witch’s Handbook to Magical Resistance
Author: {edited by} Laura Tempest Zakroff
Published: September 2018 by Revelore Press
Genres: Nonfiction, Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Occult, Magical Resistance
Edition Details: 106 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

This summer I went hunting for books about magical resistance. With America being full of unrest and injustice, I wanted to do something! This book came up on more than one suggested reading list, so I decided to grab a copy.

Positive Bits

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, this book is for you. Thanks to the variety of writers who pitched in their works, the handbook serves as a pep talk across diverse angles of approach. There are rituals and sigils to work toward change, but there are also reminders of our inherent power laced throughout.

I’m pleased to say that the focus isn’t so targeted to 2020 that the book will lose value with time. While highly applicable to today’s problems, I feel like the writers made smart choices in providing ideas and spells that can be molded to any working angled toward justice, positive change, and community. When I bought this book in June, I imagined I’d make the most use out of the sigils included. However, here I am in November embracing the self-care rituals and reminders of my personal power as a witch. Clearly, the topics covered flex with your needs.

As a poet and longtime witch, I don’t often use other people’s spells as written. I tend to rework the wording, paraphrasing the original in my own syntax. However, I found myself impressed with several of the workings as written; I find myself wanting to use them “as is” rather than transforming them, and that’s a good thing. Well-written magic is beautiful and powerful!

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book should be three times bigger than it is! In all seriousness, I wish the book had been delayed a bit longer to allow for more content inclusion; the introduction mentions how rushed the creation process was, and I feel like we missed out on an opportunity to truly build a social justice handbook for witches everywhere.

The title made me think there’d be more of an embrace of Aradia’s mythos, but she was minimally included. As I don’t connect to her story, it didn’t bother me; however, newer witches less familiar with her might wonder why she was used as a lens to view magical resistance through in this book. Aradia’s mythos is very focused on using witchcraft to fight oppression, particularly when wielded by the minority against a powerful majority. I think including a bit more explanation of her history might’ve been helpful for some readers coming in blind.

There’s no organization to this handbook. My brain works the same way, where most thoughts are only tangentially tied together. If you prefer linear thoughts and patterns, then this book might frustrate you. Fair warning!

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Calling oneself a Witch is in itself an act of defiance, a statement of going against the grain and the status quo of society. – page 16

Set your face against the gathering cold, the meanness of spirit that threatens to wither us before our time. Dig your heels into the good old Earth. Remember who you are. Consider your deepest birthright as witches. Gather your allies. Sharpen your tools. – page 25

Go ahead and burn me. The fire will change me, transform me to ash. […] Burn me and I shall be everywhere. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the earth that nourishes you, and the fires that keep you warm. These will all bear my mark. – page 90

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I needed this. Of all the books I purchased with magical resistance in mind, this is the first one to give me something back: hope.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The Complete Book of Moon Spells” by Michael Herkes

Full Title: The Complete Book of Moon Spells: Rituals, Practices, and Potions for Abundance
Author: Michael Herkes
Published: July 2020 by Rockridge Press
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Moon Magic, Goddess Worship
Edition Details: 218 pages, trade paperback
Source: Won via Instagram Giveaway
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I won this book from an Instagram giveaway hosted by @fatfeministwitch (Paige Vanderbeck) and @the.glam.witch (Michael Herkes) in July. They asked for affirmations based on a moon phase prompt, and mine was “I am a child of the universe, my bones and blood are stardust!” I’ll admit that I hadn’t run across Michael’s Instagram prior to the giveaway, but his posts are always colorful and inspirational.

Positive Bits

Right off the bat, I was impressed and excited by the book’s plan to break down the lunar cycle into eight different phases instead of the standard four. Even moon-focused books often direct your energies to the New and Full Moons, with basic details on the differences between waning and waxing moon energies. Here, we get spells and rituals designed for all phases of the moon, taking us deeper into the practice of lunar magic.

Each section starts with a journaling prompt, helping you to form your magical intentions before you start working your magic. I think this provides real guidance for working through your magical goals with focus, rather than a complete set-it-and-forget-it approach. Also, your journaled notes will be there later for reference, so you can look back and see what works for you personally. As someone who struggles to journal regularly, I think these prompts are pure gold! They give just enough of a push to guide me into writing down my thoughts throughout the lunar cycle.

The layout of this book is perfect for active use! Each ritual and spell only covers two pages, facing each out. That means you could prop it open on your altar and work from the pages without having to flip back and forth for details. It prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by an ungainly mess of ritual instructions, which is often a problem with pre-made rituals. All in all, the aesthetics and functionality of this book put it high on my resource list. Rockridge Press once again used colors and formatting choices to enhance the book’s message, and I’m starting to think they’re a publisher to keep an eye on.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I get a little disappointed when anyone shortcuts their ritual closing process. The ritual outline for starting your magic is nicely detailed, from casting circle to calling quarters to raising energy. But when we’re all done, the closing of the circle turns into a quick description of giving thanks. I feel like you need to either be general in your instructions for both calling and releasing the elements, or you need to include full descriptions for each piece of their participation. It’s a pet peeve I notice in a lot of pre-made ritual descriptions including the processes used by my old coven, so it’s not a deal breaker. It’s just frustrating.

There are a few times that random ceremonial or hoodoo magic practices are pulled in without explanation, but this is the nature of being a witch outside of a standardized path. I’d likely research symbols and actions with more detail if they weren’t familiar to my personal practices, so this didn’t make any spells or rituals stand out as malformed. Instead, I reread the spells that had these kinds of details and looked for the why.

Every witch is different, and so are our ethics. That said, I took issue with one particular spell in this book. In a spell for strengthening an existing relationship, we’re told that hair is the easiest biological bit to retrieve from your partner without being noticed. However, if you’re in a healthy relationship that you simply wish to enhance, I would think you could safely ask for permission to use their hair instead of sneaking around. Call me old fashioned, but that doesn’t sound like a relationship with open and honest communication. I recognize, though, that this is my personal ethical approach to magic that directly includes another person.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The universe does not operate on our sense of time. Spellcasting is not a fast-food spiritual practice. – page 19

Not everything goes the way you think it will. Sometimes life takes a sharp turn off course, and you either back up and get back on the road or change course completely. Regardless of which way you go, I’ve learned it’s best to just enjoy the scenery of whatever detour you take. – page 88

All obstacles present new experiences for us to learn and grow from. It is through embracing these hardships that we learn just how strong we are. – page 144

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – this book would be a good resource for someone just starting their lunar practice, because it strikes a balance between simplicity and focus. For those not new to their path, the spells can provide a shot of inspiration to revive and rejuvenate your moon magic.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The Grimoire Journal” by Paige Vanderbeck

Full Title: The Grimoire Journal: A Place to Record Spells, Rituals, Recipes, and More
Author: Paige Vanderbeck
Published: July 2020 by Rockridge Press
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Magic Studies, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Journal
Edition Details: 158 pages, trade paperback
Source: Won via Instagram Giveaway
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I won this book from an Instagram giveaway hosted by @fatfeministwitch (Paige Vanderbeck) and @the.glam.witch (Michael Herkes) in July. They asked for affirmations based on one of the prompts in this book, and mine was “I am a child of the universe, my bones and blood are stardust!”

Positive Bits

I need other publishers to step up their game! The aesthetics of this journal and the other books I’ve received from them are literally magical. We get colors and artwork scattered throughout the book, lending inspiration to the reader on every page. Journals and prompt books can come across as plain or even dull, especially when the majority of a page is full of straight lines for us to write. In this journal, we get the expected lines to fill in with our thoughts, but every single page has borders with color and symbols to tickle your fancy. The overall effect of this layout is a feeling of focused creativity.

Of course, the content itself is more important that the appearance. For my first read-through, I chose not to actually perform any of the writing activities or rituals while reviewing the full picture. Yet I found myself brainstorming page after page, staring off into space while I considered the prompt or spell worksheet at hand. As someone who’s been struggling with a witchy listlessness for some time now, it amazed me to feel so focused on each idea the journal presented. Not every spell suggestion fit my needs, but enough of them did to make the collection useful to any witch who might be looking for some inspiration.

There’s also a beauty in using a journal with prompts like this completely out of order. The topics are divided into basic sections: Summon Your Spells, Record Your Rituals, Relish Your Recipes, and Make Your Magic. What this really means is that there are prompts for spells, a review of large rituals celebrating the year, some recipes to craft around the kitchen, and a combination of various magical tools. You can work to create your own magical oil recipe, then turn around and use that for a prompted spell for protection. I’d actually recommend jotting down the page numbers of incorporated items like the oil recipe on any other pages it appears in, just to make finding your recipe easily when the time comes. All in all, the ties between items are loose enough that there’s no need to move chronologically through the exercises in order to gain their benefits.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This journal may not do much for a brand new witch. Without some basic background knowledge of various topics (elements, herbs, colors, crystals, and so forth), the prompts may come across as a bit overwhelming. However, some patience and the use of a couple outside resources could overcome this issue.

In a completely personal preference, I wish this journal was bound in a spiral. As a lefty in particular, I don’t enjoy the feeling of resistance that the left side of the book applies to your hand as you write in a bound book. That’s why my own active grimoire is a spiral journal instead, because it can truly lay flat. To be fair, though, I’m not sure that many publishers have the equipment (or desire) to bind books in anything other than traditional methods.

More prompts related to personal associations would’ve been wonderful. We get into some basics throughout the journal, but we didn’t dive into the elements or moon phases as they relate to us as individuals. Considering how different my relationship with the elements has been based on location (living in Texas versus living in the Pacific Northwest), that would’ve been an interesting direction to explore together.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Magic isn’t something purely outside of ourselves; it’s equally pulled from within. We find it in our memories, feelings, and relationships, and our inner voice weaves this magic into the fabric of who we are and how we see ourselves. – page xi

The act of preparing food, for others or yourself, is inherently imbued with the energies of love, care, and healing. – page 70

The flame of your candle can release your wishes out into the universe, attract blessings and spirits with its warm light, and bring psychic revelations through smoke and wax. – page 102

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – particularly if you need some inspiration to get your magical creativity flowing. The variety of topics touched by this journal is like the rainbow of light a prism casts onto the walls as the sun hits – there’s a bit of every color mixed in!

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Green Witchcraft” by Paige Vanderbeck

Full Title: Green Witchcraft: A Practical Guide to Discovering the Magic of Plants, Herbs, Crystals, and Beyond
Author: Paige Vanderbeck
Published: February 2020 by Rockridge Press
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Religion
Edition Details: 169 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

Paige Vanderbeck is The Fat Feminist Witch, and she posts across various social media on witchcraft and related topics. She’s best known for her podcast, which is available on most podcast providers.

To be fair, though, I don’t do podcasts. I don’t have the focus to listen to someone speak without a visual, so I’ve only listened to one or two of her live shows thanks to Facebook Live. Still, between those and her non-podcast posts, it was exciting to see her publishing a book on green witchcraft. Added to that, I’m working to find new books for my personal library that aren’t a few decades old, so this definitely looked like a good option.

Positive Bits

Right off the bat, I think this book was written with the right amount of openness. What I mean is that we’re provided with just enough information and structure to function, but then we’re told to look into each topic ourselves and experience it directly. Too many books fall into the trap of telling you how energy feels or how magic works without giving any flexibility. In this book, we’re given a look at how each of our senses can interact with energies; as someone who can visualize the taste and smell of a peach but can’t visualize the image itself, I appreciated the discussion of different psychic senses being involved in your magical processes.

The fact that this book limits each category (stones, plants, etc) to fifteen examples is the perfect balance between being informational and being intuitive. By giving us a handful of examples and their basic magical information, we’re shown what potential different plants and stones have without being spoon fed associations to use. I think we could all use more intuition on our magic! Paige specifically tells us to consider the local flora for our magical workings, which is something I’ve been inspired to do now that I own a house. Having lived in half a dozen climates around the world while growing up, I can see the obvious benefit of looking at your specific location for plants, stones, trees, and other creatures to work into your magic.

Each spell and mixture of ingredients is satisfying as well as powerful. I love the simplicity of things like magical bath salts, because it’s important to bring your magic into your mundane moments like bath time. There’s also a note on several of the spells that explain optional additions to the working; this allows the caster to remain as simple or complex in their magic as they so desire. All in all, nothing felt inaccessible due to cost or content.

Less Enjoyable Bits

If you’re looking for a deep dive into the details of green witchcraft or a huge compendium of magical stones and plants, you’re going to be disappointed. This book is an introduction into green witchcraft and ways to incorporate it into your life, not an intensive guide into the dark corners of earth-based magic. Keep that in mind.

It would’ve been nice to see more information on how to find or discover the magical uses for different plants and stones. Sure, you can go buy a random collection, but I think there’s more power in figuring out magical associations yourself. The book tiptoes next to this idea, but we’re presented with things like elemental and astrological associations for items without any reference as to where or how to find those details. It was a missed opportunity to look a little closer at the intuitive side of green witchcraft.

I’ll be honest. I’m wracking my brain to find things I didn’t like about this book, and I can’t really think of any good reasons. I mean, I wish it was longer?

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The most important plants, herbs, and flowers for you to learn about are the ones that grow locally. What kinds of trees grow where you live? What are the native flower species? Are there poisonous plants and fungi onto which you might stumble? Their energy is all around you, and you have the privilege to be able to interact with them at all stages of growth, learning exactly how they work. – page 27

Your morning coffee is already a magical potion that energizes you and brings mental clarity. – page 79

As you go forward, creating your own path as you go, remember to remain curious and humble in the wilderness. – page 160

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – With two decades of witching under my belt, I can get a little annoyed at the repetition found in beginner’s books. Not this time! This book is perfect for a beginner, but it’s also inspired me to take a renewed look at my own path.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Badass Ancestors” by Patti Wigington

Full Title: Badass Ancestors: Finding Your Power with Ancestral Guides
Author: Patti Wigington
Published: September 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Witchcraft, Magic Studies, Angels & Spirit Guides, Spirituality
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – requested by me
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know you don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but a good cover design can get your attention long enough to have you reading the description. That happened here, where the cover art drew me in and then the details had me requesting an advanced readers’ copy on NetGalley.

I don’t work with ancestors in my current practice. My family is a far-flung mess of people, with my biological father’s side completely unknown to me. I’ve always wondered where you would begin to work with ancestors in that kind of situation.

Positive Bits

To be honest, I only made it to the end of Chapter 3 before pre-ordering a physical copy of this book. In the introduction, the author already drew me in with a discussion of chosen family, adopted family, and purposefully severed family ties. She then followed through with that promise from the start, covering different definitions of family and ancestors than just blood relatives.

This book provides both research guidance and ancestor rituals with equal balance between spiritual and mundane methods. I found myself browsing some of the suggested resources just to see what I could find, losing a few hours just poking around online. Thanks to prior family tree work, I know there’s one branch of Filipino heritage I can trace back to ship records, but the author provided suggestions that led to a local ancestor’s grave and a marriage to an actress in the 1930s. Neither of those details came up in previous searches, because I didn’t know where to start.

Meanwhile, the rituals are very approachable and intuitive. Her suggestions for tying in culturally relevant foods resonated with me the most, as I’m a foodie at heart and love trying unfamiliar recipes. The idea of integrating that love into something I can share with my ancestors to show them appreciation just made sense. Again, I found myself down a research rabbit hole as I looked into traditional Filipino recipes and clothing (prior to colonization), but I enjoyed every minute of it.

Less Enjoyable Bits

As with most books, there were parts that didn’t speak to me. As a polytheist, I couldn’t connect to Chapter 8 as the author discussed calling archetypes in place of unknown ancestors. The idea hadn’t sounded strange when it was mentioned prior to that chapter, but then she used deities as if they were archetypes throughout this section. That may work for a non-religious witch or someone who believes deities are archetypes of the Unnamed Divine. However, as a person who’s worked to develop relationships with individual deities along my path, I can’t connect to the idea of treating them like ancestors or symbols instead of actual gods.

I’ll admit that I felt a little lost and left out at times, though it’s not the author’s fault. My family is a tangle web of marriages and divorces, immigrants, lost records, and poor folks. I don’t have family heirlooms or anything older than my grandparents’ generation. We have almost no pictures older than that, either. And don’t get me started on how being poor means not putting down roots! All of that is to say, sometimes the author’s descriptions of how her research progressed (talking to elder living relatives, asking about family heirlooms or where traditions started, looking up local newspapers) felt unfamiliar and almost impossible.

Efforts were made to pull in options for those without steady family trees. They were imperfect, but I appreciate the attempt. By the end of the book, I could tell I’m still out of luck on some fronts when it comes to ancestor tracing and the related spiritual workings. Thankfully, there were plenty of other parts that spoke to me and gave me guidance for working with the ancestors I can reach.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Our ancestors were survivors of things far more frightening than our first-world problems. They were strong. How do we know that? Because you’re here. Your bloodline survived millennia of plague, war, pestilence, famine, infant mortality, and just plain old bad luck… just to make you. That means your ancestors were badasses. – in the Introduction

It’s not that a rebel is unaware of those constraints; they simply don’t allow themselves to be held by them. The rebel brings about freedom by way of dissent and justice by way of rebellion. – in Chapter 8, Connecting to Archetypical Badasses

Family traditions tend to have other benefits as well. In our hectic and chaotic, non-stop busy lives, a ritualized tradition offers a feeling of comfort. They give us a constant. – in Chapter 11, Your Badass Legacy

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – because I had a free digital ARC and still pre-ordered the physical book. This is the best introduction to ancestor work in a spiritual context that I’ve come across, and there’s value for both the traditional family person and someone like myself with a less structured family tree.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Werewolf Magick” by Denny Sargent

Full Title: Werewolf Magick: Authentic Practical Lycanthropy
Author: Denny Sargent
Published: September 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft
Edition Details: 240 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Requested by me
Rating: {2.5/5 stars}

First Glance

As a therian and animist, I enjoy any opportunity to delve into magic related to shapeshifting and spirit work. This book clearly focused on wolves, which happen to be one of my favorite animals, so I decided to ask for a first look. I received an advanced readers’ copy (ebook) through NetGalley. As usual, I get paid nothing to give my honest opinion.

Positive Bits

The overall idea behind werewolf magick is that we need to (and can) embrace our wild side and go a little feral if we want to really connect to our own power. I’ve written and participated in several different versions of this kind of magic, where you reach deep down to find your inner wildness; it’s a powerful piece of energy work.

The author clearly runs with this wildness, as the majority of the rituals included are wordless. Howls and yips and growls are the only magical words used, and I think that’s a smart approach. It makes it a little harder to plan your ritual, as there are no cue cards, but sound is a good carrier of energy regardless of its form.

I appreciated the notes on animal parts and meat usage throughout the book. As someone who prefers to be an ethical omnivore rather than a vegetarian, I respect the balancing act it takes to honor the animals who obviously had to die in order for you to eat or wear them. There are different ways to approach animal parts (fur, bones, or meat) and they all start with an acknowledgement of death and your role in the process.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’ll admit that this book is too eclectic for me. There are repeated notices that the author makes no claim at being a shaman, which is all well and good. But then there are random pieces of the Greco-Roman pantheon, modernized versions of old Nordic ritual, and a surprise visit from an Egyptian god. Throughout that mix, we have Gaia used as a name for the Earth as a being (but not as Gaia, the Greco-Roman goddess) and a liberal smattering of mantras from Hindu practices (without any explanation about their source or purpose). The author could’ve used a bit more explanation between rituals to tie together his eclectic pieces, but they were presented as disjointed mosaic pieces.

In the history of werewolves presented, the author travels a familiar and well-worn path of pretending that witches (and, therefore, werewolves) have always existed and were hunted down during the Burning Times. And yet, enough witches and werewolves hid to bring their practices to us today. The truth is, we’ve recognized as a community that the “history” we were taught was a tool to loan authenticity to new practices. After all, everyone respects an ancient teaching, right? Each example of werewolves in the past is dubiously tied together in a string, and it’s supposed to guide us from ancient werewolves to today’s shifters in an unbroken line… that I’m not buying.

Based on personal studies and experience, I found his entire section on Fetches to be misguided. Take it or leave it as you will, but I find that a Fetch or similar thoughtform isn’t an alter ego (wolf or otherwise) of myself. Rather, it’s a separate and directed entity. The author treats the animalself (his word for your animal side) as both a part of you and something apart from you, depending on the working presented. I feel there’s no ambiguity in what is Self versus what is outside of Self, and this makes the entire use of animalself as a Fetch an impractical process – one that I would expect to cause you some discomfort, if not exhaustion. There’s a reason we practice magic with the help of external energies and items other than ourselves.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The names are less important than the truth behind the powers.

We are smart, feral, amazing beasts who can dress in a suit for work and later that night run naked and howling in the woods under the moon.

Our wild gods are not spiritual metaphors or cosmic entities, they are the dirt beneath our naked paws, the rain that tastes sweet on our tongues, the lunar dance of the tides within us and the fresh scented air of Spring that fills us with green energy.

Is it worth the coin?

No – there are other resources on wolf mythology and shapeshifting that can be found, and I would pick up something more focused if I were studying either topic.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Aradia” by Craig Spencer

Full Title: Aradia: A Modern Guide to Charles Godfrey Leland’s Gospel of the Witches
Author: Craig Spencer
Published: August 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft Religion & Spirituality, Mythology
Edition Details: 240 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Requested by Me
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

In my early witchy studies, I tried to get my hands on anything written by older sources in an effort to understand the foundation of what witchcraft had become. At that time, I was a Wiccan and read through the writings of Gerald Gardner, Dion Fortune, Doreen Valiente, and other Big Name Pagans.

I tried to read Aradia, Gospel of the Witches multiple times, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. From the random inclusion of Lucifer to the rambling stories, I just couldn’t see anything of value for my personal path in Leland’s work, especially as I have no ties to Italy or its traditions.

Thankfully, someone who has those ties has taken the time to retranslate and discuss Leland’s Aradia. I requested a copy of the book when I saw it was available, because I hoped this time someone had made the Gospel make some kind of sense.

Positive Bits

I’ll start off by saying that Spencer made a good decision to write this book. Period. When you realize something is needed and you have the ability to provide it, I think it’s wise to step in and create a resource for others. He did a wonderful job on citing sources and noting where he changed the original translation (as well as why). It’s always a good sign when someone explains their process to you, because you can retrace their steps and see the clear delineation between points A and B.

Pointing out the Catholicism flavoring different portions of the Gospel makes the stories easier to follow. I hadn’t considered it before, but clearly local stories and folktales are colored by the cultures they live inside of; as those cultures change, so do the details of the stories. As I’ve never been Catholic, it was helpful to see the pieces that fit into the Catholic worldview separated and explained throughout the Gospel.

Spencer made sure his Part Two section included enough basic framework to point in the direction that Aradia’s witchcraft would travel without bogging it down in details. In “Attending the Sabbat”, he broke down ritual into individual portions that each tie together to form the great working. I’m always intrigued by new breakdowns of the ritual process, as the differences are often where a ritual’s magical flavor comes in.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I disagree with the premise that witchcraft is inherently a religious act. In the Gospel, I can understand and agree with the idea that the witchcraft of Aradia is meant to be a religion. However, there are so many paths of witchcraft out there that don’t interact with any higher beings, focusing instead on the use of personal and elemental energies to perform spells and rituals. I feel it’s often easy to slip on blinders as a religious witch and fail to recognize this. (As a hard polytheist and animist, I get it.)

Other than that disagreement, I actually found no issue with this book. Spencer set out to provide a better translation and context for Leland’s Aradia, and he did so. Period. I didn’t find his revelations (i.e. interpretations) to be overly invested in a personal agenda or attitude. Instead, he took the time to explain any interpretations he had that didn’t line up with Leland’s original, and he included enough sources to make checking his work possible for those so inclined.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The moral of this story (and it could also be said of Italian witches) is that we should never attack what we do not understand. We should never attack a divinity just because our own  personal path does not lead in their particular direction. Looking at the world today, this is a lesson that many people could benefit from learning – witches included. (56%)

The spirit of witchcraft is the driving force and power behind the words, not the rigid dogma of a set formula. (92%)

Be the witch you are meant to be, and let the magic of the Old Religion guide you, guard you, keep you, and show you its deep secrets. (98%)

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in historical (traditional) witchcraft, particularly of Italy. It’s a good resource for anyone focused on the “Old Religion” style of witchcraft as a religious path, particularly if you’re drawn to the European and/or Wiccan paths due to their ties to a historical context.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “In Focus Numerology” by Sasha Fenton

Full Title: In Focus Numerology: Your Personal Guide
Author: Sasha Fenton
Published: August 2020 by Wellfleet
Genres: Nonfiction, Numerology, Fortune Telling, New Age,
Edition Details: 144 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC – Requested by me
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I hadn’t heard about this book in particular until I ran across it on NetGalley as an ARC. In my personal experience with books on numerology, I’ve been disappointed by a lack of depth. However, I decided to take a chance and try another volume on the subject.

Positive Bits

Aesthetically, this book is appealing. While not necessarily important to the topic itself, I think it’s always a sign of focus when a book is designed to be pleasing to the eye as well as informative. Think of it as an artistic investment in seeing the book reach more readers.

The author managed to cover far more numerology applications than most books I’ve run across previously. The usual suspects based on your name and date of birth are present, but then she dove into using numerology to check on specific times and dates, as well as your karmic focus for this life and your hidden passion. It even had a section on higher numbers, something I appreciated as some food for thought (particularly in a system that usually condenses all numbers down to single digits). The tidbits of historical references were well integrated, giving my researcher’s brain a place to look if I’m curious about where the basis of each practice evolved.

Another small but important feature is the inclusion of the alphabet-to-number table at the beginning of each chapter. I don’t know how many books require you to write it somewhere, memorize it, or keep a finger on the page that has that information while you move forward to learn about using it. Not having to flip back repeatedly is convenient.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This is more my personal preference than anything else, but I wish there’d been more detail on the history of numerology and the references to historical sources were explained with more depth. I like knowing the where, when, and why behind practices I use today (particularly in an effort to respect source cultures and avoid appropriation). Some of the referenced materials are familiar, like the Hermetica, so I knew more about the topic than the author shared, but overall it felt like crumbs when I wanted a full loaf of bread.

I didn’t do a word count, but it felt like some numbers received less detail in various sections. It wasn’t enough to render their information unhelpful, but it was just noticeable enough to make me wrinkle my nose. However, it might’ve also been a formatting issue, as I’m looking at an ARC. Perhaps the numbers will be formatted into individual pages, in which case an extra (or missing) paragraph will be moot (or at least less obvious).

While the overall style of the book is aesthetically pleasing, I did find some of the clipart out of place. Most of it is in the minimalist line-art style, so there’s a flow to it. But here and there, we get random pencil sketches? In Chapter 9 on The Birth Day Number, for example, there’s a section called “Day Number Crystals” with a sketch of a crystal cluster and then below that a section called “Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs, and Spices” with a sketch of a couple of apples. They aren’t bad sketches, but I flipped back through the book and found zero other sketch-styled art among the minimalist images used in other chapters.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Sorry! This book is relatively focused on defining numbers based on what aspect of your life you’re trying to divine details from. Other than sharing the numbers that applied to me personally, I don’t think there are necessarily quotes I felt the need to share. I will note that I read all of the numbers rather than just my own, and I found them to each have a balanced amount of positive and negative details included.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you want a starting point in the topic that’s not just the bare minimums, I think this book is a good resource.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Modern Witchcraft” by Deborah Blake

Full Title: Modern Witchcraft: Goddess Empowerment for the Kick-Ass Woman
Author: Deborah Blake
Published: July 2020 by St. Martin’s Essentials
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Witchcraft Religion & Spirituality
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC [requested by me]
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

I was curious about this book, as I haven’t picked up many beginner-focused books lately. I figured it would be a good peek into that side of available witchy literature, and luckily it was available on NetGalley as a reviewable ARC to request. I’m not receiving anything for this review, other than having a digital copy of the book in my possession.

Positive Bits

This book is for those interested in goddess worship and Wicca. I’ll get into that shortly. However, from that perspective, the information it contains is just enough to wet your whistle. The topics all have a minimal amount of details provided, but I believe this works to give an overview of each topic rather than a deep dive that would come with later research.

My favorite section had to be Five-Minute Rituals to Connect with the Feminine Divine. Contrary to the title, the suggestions lean toward small acts of spirituality you can add to your mundane moments in life. I personally love these kinds of lists, because I’m a firm believer that you’re a witch in and out of the circle. Using an evening shower as an opportunity to cleanse both physically and energetically just makes sense, as does the simple act of thanks in the morning. When you first approach Wicca and/or witchcraft, it can feel like everything is loud and big and bright and overwhelming. The Five-Minute Rituals are ideal small steps to bring spirituality into your life without getting bogged down in checking every single box.

The same applies to a section on Practical Suggestions for Creating Positive Change. Blake describes the ways we can use our own focus to build our experience of the world. If you think negatively all of the time, you reinforce the negativity around you. By working to change your inner thoughts to something positive (like affirmations and noticing the positive around you first), you can gain a more positive outlook. This, in turn, pulls more positivity into your life – like attracts like. My favorite affirmation reminded me of the witchy animism I currently practice: “I come from the earth and the stars. I am filled with elemental power.”

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book is for those interested in goddess worship and Wicca. It isn’t for secular witches or polytheists, as it has a hard focus both on the spirituality behind worship and the idea that all goddesses are faces of the same Goddess. Considering the modern witchcraft movement and overwhelming amount of information online, this book is written in a way that would help someone interested in Wiccan-flavored goddess worship and witchcraft as a focus. I don’t think it’s good for a broader audience than that.

That said, I started off my witchcraft journey as a Wiccan and trained in a Wiccan-derived coven, so the content provided fit into my past experience. Actually, this book comes across like those from the early 2000s when I started my studies; the attitudes and beliefs match with the Wiccan witchcraft of that time period.

The resources in this book are dated. Based on my own experience, I’m going to guess that Blake stopped buying/reading introductory books after a certain point as they were no longer necessary. However, that means she references WitchVox (a defunct website that used to be helpful for finding fellow witches nearby) and no books other than her own that were published in this decade (the newest is from 2008). This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, as Wicca itself has a core of beliefs that haven’t changed since its introduction to the public, but Witchcraft has evolved and changed in so many ways that these aged resources don’t represent the variety and depth of information now available in print.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

When Witches talk about the power of words, it is another facet of the idea that what you put out into the universe is what you get back.

The goddess loves you. Even when other people let you down, the goddess accepts you just the way you are. She doesn’t care that you aren’t perfect. She doesn’t care what color or size or age you are, whether you are gay or straight or bi or asexual. No matter what gender you were born to, if you consider yourself a woman, so does She.

And when I feel powerless or frustrated or angry, I can listen to the rain and the wind and remember that in the smallest element, there can be found the potential for incredible power. After all, a drop of rain seems innocuous until it becomes a flood, and a gentle breeze can change into a tornado that wipes out everything in its path. We may seem as tiny as a single drop of rain, but together, we can move mountains.

Is it worth the coin?

No – There are plenty of well-written books on Wicca, including many focused on specific traditions within Wicca itself. This book is just too broad in its focus to be useful, especially with the lack of current resources for a new witch to look into after reading.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Old Style Conjure” by Starr Casas

Full Title: Old Style Conjure: Hoodoo, Rootwork & Folk Magic
Author: Starr Casas
Published: September 2017 by Weiser Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Tribal & Ethnic Religious Practices, Occultism, Spirituality, Folklore, Witchcraft
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

As a witch, I’ve researched and explored many different kinds of magic. Somehow I’ve managed not to end up looking into Conjure at all, by no purposeful attempt to avoid it. That said, we visited a local witchy store on my birthday earlier this year, and apparently it was time for me to learn. There was a large display of Conjure books and implements that kept drawing me back, and I knew I had to look into it. I spoke with a gentleman there who works Conjure as part of his personal practices, and he suggested a couple of books to get started. This was one of them.

Positive Bits

One of the allures of Conjure is how practical and natural its works are. Having spent over a decade in the South, I can attest to some of the practices Casas describes as “just what you do”. There are plenty of practices you do because you’re supposed to, without having any real explanation as to why. Folk magic is often passed along in this subtle way, and through “old wives’ tales” or other stories used as instruction.

The works involved in Conjure are largely built to be easily done around others without being noticed. This comes from the roots of Conjure (and its related practices of rootwork and hoodoo), where slaves had to work around those oppressing them without getting caught. With that history in mind, Casas makes an important point about power: “Folks need to remember that anything that has blood shed on it is powerful.” Being simple or easy doesn’t make Conjure any less powerful than bells-and-whistles rituals in witchcraft.

I appreciated the description of crafting your petitions, as it reflects a similar attitude found in other paths I’ve studied (and my own practices). In general, the idea is that simplicity is key, but so is specificity. You get what you ask for, how you ask for it. If you’re not specific about the how, you can’t complain about the methods used to fulfill your requests.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This is not a book I would’ve recommended to anyone new to witchcraft in general or Conjure in particular. With my background knowledge, the various works Casas shares with you make some sense; after all, if you know the magical associations often given to certain herbs, you can make some educated guesses as to the reasons for each item involved in a work. But for the most part, you’re left to follow directions blindly, a thought that makes me cringe and opposes all of the lessons I’ve experienced in using magic.

I didn’t grow up going to church. My dad’s an atheist, and my mom’s an agnostic. I have no innate familiarity (or comfort) with Christianity as a religion, and my main experiences with Christianity haven’t been positive (witch + LGBTQ + woman = trouble in the South). Perhaps others may speak differently, but Casas made it abundantly clear that the constant Christianity within Conjure is required. While changes can be made to works in order to fit modern issues and legalities, changes to the use of biblical verses are sacrilege.

While I respect the reason why Christianity was used in Conjure’s origination (i.e. slavery and adaptation), I don’t understand the insistence that the folk magic aspects cannot be used without the Bible and still be Conjure, yet Conjure isn’t a religion and doesn’t require you to be a Christian. Why couldn’t someone worship the ancestors in a non-Christian format and use Conjure works without the Bible? Wouldn’t that still honor the history of the works? Why is it okay not to follow through on one part of a work (throwing a war water jar at someone’s door) but not another (praying to God for your petition instead of, say, Zeus)? I will always struggle with anything that fails to explain the why.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

What is an altar? The altar is nothing more than a home for Spirit to sit. It’s the place between places where this world meets the spirit world. – page 35

An offering can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. An offering can be a stone you found somewhere and felt drawn to bring home, or maybe a bird’s nest that had fallen out of a tree, or just a simple glass of cool water. – page 41

Words are power, and Spirit listens to our prayers and petitions. – page 181

Is it worth the coin?

No – unless you’re a Christian, in which case this book might be a bridge toward using magic in a context that is comfortable and compatible with your personal path. Without that base knowledge and worship, I’m not sure how to connect to the magics offered in this book.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Revolutionary Witchcraft” by Sarah Lyons

Full Title: Revolutionary Witchcraft: A Guide to Magical Activism
Author: Sarah Lyons
Published: November 2019 by Running Press Adult
Genres: Nonfiction, Women in Politics, Democracy, Occultism, Witchcraft, Social Justice
Edition Details: 168 pages, flexibound
Source: Purchased
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

With the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality raging (rightfully) across the country, this book is part of half a dozen resources I decided to purchase. I’m working from home and fully self-quarantined for safety, but I wanted to make some kind of difference. Part of that has been a decision to put my magic where my mouth is, so to speak.

Positive Bits

The premise of this book is set from the start, that activism is a form of magical action. If magic is about directing power (energy) toward a goal, so is politics. There aren’t necessarily as different as you might think. That said, this book is clearly for direct and physical activism, rather than magical works. If you’re looking for a way to merge action with magic, then you’ll find it.

I appreciated the section on getting in touch with your ancestors, as the author took time to point out that ancestors of spirit (i.e. non-familial beloved dead) are valid. As someone from a small and scattered family, I don’t have the ability to trace back my bloodlines very far. However, there are elders that came before me who directly shaped me as a witch (like Scott Cunningham). With found family being such a bit part of both the witchcraft and LGBTQ+ communities, it’s nice to be reminded that it’s not always about blood.

The book also describes the reality of Trump as America’s Shadow. He’s the culmination of our darkest urges and realities, not an outlier. In discussing this, the author points out how unsurprised some oppressed groups were when Trump got elected; after all, when you spend so much time being mistreated by your country, the idea that there are enough people who think like Trump to elect him isn’t that far-fetched. I can definitely relate, as someone who lived as an LGBTQ+ witch in Texas for a decade… it’s exhausting to face the societal Shadow day in and day out, but some people don’t have the luxury of ignoring it.

In the ritual portion of the book (the appendix), the author explains how you can take premade spells and make them your own by localizing your magic. For example, you can look at the native plants in your area and figure out their magical associations. Once you have a list of local magical herbs, you can use them in place of hard-to-obtain or unfamiliar herbs in spells. Being tied to your area makes your magic more effective, because you’re literally harnessing your homeland (i.e. the land around your home) for assistance.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book is not about witchcraft for the revolution. As mentioned in the Positive Bits, there’s an appendix of rituals and spells; however, there are only a handful offered and nothing particularly useful for those of us trying to help the activists from home. To be fair, the book was written in the pre-quarantine life we once had, but it was a disappointment to have the focus largely be on direct, in-person activist works.

Occasionally, the tone of the author is dismissive in places I found unpleasant. They brushed off the use of beauty products in a dismissive tone, ignoring the cultural aspects of cosmetics that have existed in mundane and magical life for centuries. They also brushed off deity worship in general. As someone who practices both animism and hard polytheism, I find it a bit disrespectful to dismiss gods and goddesses as a whole due to the vague belief that some worship Mother Earth as “a white woman with long hair and conveniently placed leaves”. The attitude is sporadic in a few topics rather than existing throughout the book, so it’s not a deal breaker if you’re interested in the rest of the book. Just be aware that some areas might make you irritated.

One magical issue that I found questionable was the entire section on “Magic in Action: Shape-shifting and Soul Flight”. Call my old school, but I don’t think one of the few magical practices you introduce in a beginner’s witchcraft book should be leaving your body. Period. It’s mentioned without first considering the processes of grounding and centering, and it comes before even basic meditation instructions are given(!?). While I don’t have a deep need to hold off on astral travel, soul flight, shape-shifting, and similar topics until you’re initiated a dozen levels into a coven, I *do* feel like there needs to be quite a bit more work toward basic self-awareness before leaving yourself behind.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Just like in magic, politics is about feeling the flow of power, finding it in yourself, and combining it with other people’s to make something happen. – page 7

Initiation is any ritual or event that sort of breaks open your brain and makes you realize the world is a lot weirder and bigger than you previously thought. – page 39

Reality is malleable, like the code in a computer. It’s both highly structured and highly able to be fucked with. – page 96

Is it worth the coin?

No – this book isn’t about witchcraft so much as it’s about finding a spiritual tie-in between activism and witchcraft. The pieces I enjoyed are all available with more depth in other books, and the rest is just a really big protester pep talk with witchy sprinkles.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The Holy Wild” by Danielle Dulsky

Full Title: The Holy Wild: A Heathen Bible for The Untamed Woman
Author: Danielle Dulsky
Published: September 2018 by New World Library
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Gaia-based Religions, Comparative Religion, Spirituality
Edition Details: 304 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

First Glance

To be candid, I bought this book based on the cover. My mate and I have matching hoodies with that wolf-woman image on it, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at a book with the same art on the cover. Since it was in the New Age section, I took a chance and grabbed it without looking up reviews or skimming the contents.

Positive Bits

Right off the bat, let me applaud Dulsky for how easily equality slipped into the story. Even though the title would imply this book is focused on cisgender folks, she immediately makes it clear (less than a dozen pages in) that she chose to emphasize the pronoun She/Her while seeing that divinity as “irrefutably pan-gender”. Again and again, she makes it clear that all feminine-leaning folk are welcome, regardless of physical form, to include mentioning their ability to use a Prayer for the Energetic Womb without having a physical womb (as it is about the energies of creation). This isn’t a common practice in books, which are either actively cisgender in their focus or passively so.

The writing portions throughout the book encourage you to write your own mythology, and to recognize the God-Goddess-Mystery within yourself in each story. As a writer myself, I find guided journaling to be an important tool for spiritual growth. The appendix at the end includes further questions and meditations to ponder, all of which fit in nicely with the path she outlines throughout the book.

I think there’s a lot of beauty in the poetic-prose Dulsky used to tell her tale. She built the book to be used out of order, and it shows in the way she allowed each elemental section to stand alone in its own story.

Less Enjoyable Bits

As someone who has never been a Christian, I have a hard time connecting to biblical stories. Unfortunately, the main myth that’s retold in each section is based on a feminine figure from the Bible. Salome, Mary Magdalene, Lilith – they all have interesting pasts and are retold with a beautiful shift to the focus of each story, but I’m not familiar enough with the Christian mythos to really connect with them on the level Dulsky likely hoped I would.

Another issue came in the form of an unexplained reference to “the Red Road”. After getting about 50 pages in, I finally looked onto for what she might be talking about. I assumed it was Christian, but it actually comes from a loose interpretation of various Native American beliefs. Considering how often it came up, I’m surprised to say she never explained it from start to end.

I don’t think this book is made to be read in one sitting. I read it all at once, and the poetic-prose became a little foggy after too much flowery imagery. If you read it in pieces over a few days, though, I think that’d be mellowed out to something more enjoyable.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

I am sucking the poison of patriarchy and privilege out of the soil and spitting it moonward, for these are the dire days of the fallen kings and raising queens. – page 44

There are few things in this world that cause more anguish than realizing that you are not who you thought you were, and, quite often, such a realization comes on the heels of a great wounding. The sword of the Dark Goddess hits us in the belly, the seat of our sense of self, and forces us to release the parts of our outward identities, the masks we show the world, that have become restrictive to our souls, the truest parts of ourselves. – page 130

The skeleton of any spell is formed from intention and energy raising, with its specific shape, the flesh laid over the bones, sculpted from the infusion of energy into the intention. – page 193

Is it worth the coin?

Yes(ish) – if you’re looking for a guide on exploring your ties to divinity and your personal mythos, I think this is a great starting point. If you’re looking to explore goddess worship, I’d find a simpler and more focused resource.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Magic for the Resistance” by Michael M. Hughes

Full Title: Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change
Author: Michael M. Hughes
Published: September 2018 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Human Rights, Magic Studies, Occult, Witchcraft
Edition Details: 264 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4/5 stars

First Glance

In light of the social and political turmoil following George Floyd’s death, I mentioned to my wife that I had a list of witchy books related to activism and magic resistance. I had originally started a wishlist based on several Patheos posts. When she asked me why I hadn’t purchased any of them yet, I didn’t have a good reason. Half a dozen books were ordered immediately, and this was the first to arrive.

Positive Bits

To start, I appreciate the author’s choice to include a large section on the history of magic and activism before touching the magic itself. I think context is key to understanding magical workings, and the added knowledge gives additional strength to your magic. It was also interesting to note that he was the creator of the “Bind Trump” ritual that went around in 2017 and hit the major news networks. I had no idea!

The histories presented are done so in an entertaining and informative way, and I appreciate that sources are listed as footnotes. Some of the events are familiar, if only in a word-of-mouth kind of way; however, I like to look up details on events, particularly if they sound outlandish and have no specific sources.

In the section that includes spells and rituals for your magical activism, the variety provided allows for a “different strokes, different folks” approach. In fact, more of the rituals lean toward what I would call generally pagan or Wiccan-flavored than I expected, considering the author’s description of his own spiritual path and history. However, I found the less delicate options (like the spells “Calling Bullshit” and “Hex the NRA”) fit the more offense-vs-defense attitude the book seems to suggest. There’s a good balance.

I’ve personally set aside notes on a couple of projects for upcoming moon workings, so I definitely gained some ideas from this book that I didn’t have before. I’m glad this book was written to be so approachable, even from a non-witch perspective.

Less Enjoyable Bits

No book is perfect. I’ll admit that part of my issues stem from differences in paths. The author made it clear that he’s not a witch or pagan, but rather a magician with a relaxed attitude toward methods of magic. In some cases, you can see the ceremonial magician leanings, particularly when he tells you to do a thing, but then tells you “it just works, not sure why”.

When my previous training covered some basic ceremonial magic, we were told the same thing: if you follow the instructions, with or without belief, you will get the results. Actions matter more than intent. That never really worked for me, considering how often we’re told that intent matters more than tools, herbs, and stones – because we’re the source of magic, and they’re just a focus.

Unfortunately, the author gets a little preachy in the middle as he discusses “Self-Care and Resilience” and “On the Casting of Circles”. I don’t mind someone suggesting a no-kill fast for magical purposes, but implying that your magic will be negatively impacted by eating animals is a step too far. (To be fair, he does say to “trust your intuition and what your body tells you”.)

When we get to the section on casting circles, he dismisses the entire process without discussing the benefits of a circle; clearly, he has a hard preference for no circles in magic. He then immediately follows that dismissal with a watered-down ceremonial magic circle that takes up several pages of instruction, rather than anything familiar from witchcraft and circle casting methods in general. I feel as though the pages of complaint against circle casting are a product of the author’s experience in ceremonial magic and its structures. To each their own?

Tidbits Worth Repeating

A good rule of thumb to use is this: Would you endorse a legal action to stop the target’s harmful actions or policies (say, against a minority group, a forest, or a person unjustly accused of a crime)? If so, then a magical action is absolutely ethical. – Page 7

The more you do magic, the more possibilities you see for its use. Always look for ways to blend your magical workings with your practical activism. – Page 118

Now light a candle and get to work. – Page 222

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think this is a good place to start, if you’re wanting to use your magic as part of our activism. The overall accessibility of the spells and rituals makes it ideal for a beginner in this kind of work.