The Shamanic Witch by Gail Wood

The Shamanic Witch: Spiritual Practices Rooted in the Earth and Other Realms
Gail Wood
Weiser Books, 2008
244 pages

I’m always leery of books that claim to mix shamanism and witchcraft, or that the two systems are one and the same (or nearly so). While I understand the tendency towards saying “Hey, these two flavors go great together!”, I also think it’s valuable to emphasize the differences as well. This book, like most others of its niche, integrates witchcraft specifically with core shamanism, which is not traditional shamanism, but rather a somewhat diluted creation of Michael Harner’s. I will, however, attempt to set aside my personal bias against core shamanism for this review, since others may find it more useful than I do.

Wood does present a thoroughly blended combination of core shamanism and witchcraft. A large portion of the book is dedicated to the foundations of core shamanism, everything from basic journeying to working with power objects. A lot of it follows the usual core shamanism patterns–power animals in the underworld, spiritual humanoid teachers in the upper world, and the idea that you only have one power animal which can apparently serve many purposes (as opposed to traditional shamanisms in which the shaman may have numerous helper spirits of all sorts).

The latter half of the book presents a number of more witchcraft-style rituals, complete with circle casting and other hallmarks of Wiccan ritual structure, with some shamanism sandwiched in the middle. Sometimes the combinations are a little clumsy; I’m not sure, for example, whether it’s really necessary to journey and then raise a cone of power, especially when journeying can be exhausting in and of itself. Additionally, there’s a lot of repetitive material–the full opening and closing rites (which take up a few pages in and of themselves) are reprinted in full with each ritual. The same could have been accomplished simply by presenting the basic ritual structure (which Wood did do), and then discuss more briefly the specific differences among each of the rituals presented. I am glad, however, that unlike many “shamanic” authors, she doesn’t try to script journeys as though they were guided meditations (and there is a difference between the two), nor does she limit the reader only to the usual journeys (finding power animal(s), basic soul retrieval, etc.). This is a definite bonus as far as I’m concerned.

My other gripes tend to be specifically with core shamanism, not with the book. If you like core shamanism and would like to integrate it with Wiccan-style witchcraft (or vice versa), this is a decent book for doing so. Wood does leave a lot of room for personal experimentation and growth, too. It’s well-written and well-organized, and while I would definitely not recommend it as one’s only source on shamanism (or witchcraft for that matter), it’s good for what it is.

Four pawprints out of five.

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