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 [book reviews], [witchy reviews]

Magic is about manipulation?

“Magic, at its core, is about manipulation and directly attempting to make something happen. Whether it’s to heal or hurt, bind or repel, create or destroy, magic is a process by which the manipulation of either the spiritual or mundane world occurs.” – page 60 “Hellenismos Today” by Timothy Jay Alexander.

He goes on to say that Pagans show great hubris in believing they control or hold power over anything, and that everything happens as part of the Gods’ will.

I have to start off saying that I enjoyed (and devoured) his book, and I’ve started reading “Beginner’s Guide to Hellenismos” as well. But that said, I have to point out a few flaws in Mr. Alexander’s arguments (and writing…)

First, I can’t stand when someone repeats the same argument point over and over. On several occasions (as in mentioning the hubris of Pagans), he makes a point only to repeat it word-for-word on the next page. Having someone help edit his work may have avoided that issue. He also makes an unfortunate habit of claiming no disdain for a group (Pagans, Christians, etc.) only to turn around and bash said group for the next two pages. He comes off as the type of person who, in a face-to-face conversation, would make me walk away to avoid bumping into the brick wall of his “authority” over and over… and over… and over…

But the quote above had me thinking… how would I defend myself from such a claim? Can I? I spent my lunch break (and laundry time after work) examining my personal beliefs and practices, and I have a rebuttal.

As a Pagan, I do practice magic, though rarely. I find that prayers come first, because often I’m not in need of something specific (“I need money to get that operation.”) so much as something for my general well-being (“Please help me make tomorrow a better day.”) But I do practice magic, hubris-free.

Mr. Alexander says that a Hellenismos will write down a prayer, read it aloud to their deity, burn it, and then burn some incense or other offering in honor of that deity. In doing such a devotion, they please that deity and often it will in turn grant their desire (if reasonable… and yes, I know using “it” to talk about deities might feel weird… but it’s unisex!).

My personal belief is as such: When I cast a spell, I pull together my personal energies and those of elements around me and send them out with my desire. Often, my spells include a prayer to a deity; as I’ve always been most attracted to the Greek pantheon, it’s usually a Greek god or goddess. I also light incense, or a candle, as a focus and as a carrier to send my energies out to do their task.

But in my personal beliefs, we all send energies toward “the Universe” (capital U) with the understanding that It will determine what’s best for the good of all and grant us success or failure as necessary. The Universe may even let something bad we’ve cast fall back on us, as a lesson. But when the Universe is capitalized, it is like the Ultimate Divine Source. We cast our energies out to the Source with our intentions, when the Source sends back the results (success, failure, karmic ripples, etc.).

And when you or I use a specific deity’s name in our spells and prayers, we are essentially asking that particular deity to take notice. (In this, I agree with Mr. Alexander that Pagans as a whole often fail the gods in using them for a spell because they fall into a useful archetype.)

So, all in all, I guess I’m saying that my spells may be more empowered than a Hellenismos prayer, and I may be more focused than theirs. But I believe the Gods (whichever you believe in, all as One or as individuals) determine our magical “power”. They would not let us overpower Them; They are Gods. Duh. It’s not hubris to think that I’m an empowered worshiper, free to make moves with the essences around me and in me, to try and achieve what I desire. My gods will stop me or teach me a very painful lesson (or both) if I overstep. And I acknowledge that. If anything, I am empowered by my gods.

For anyone interested in modern Greek religious reconstruction, Timothy Jay Alexander’s books are a good place to leap from. His book for beginner’s is better than “Hellenismos Today”, as the first is like a rough draft version of the second (as though he published one, felt it was lacking in information, and went back for a second edition). And you’ve been warned, you prideful Pagans, that you’re full of hubris and need to be more respectful. /glare/