The Witch’s Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey

The Witch’s Book of Shadows
Jason Mankey
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Lisa McSherry.

For so many witches, the Book of Shadows is a tool fraught with nervousness. My first BOS — a hardbound journal with a black cover — was deeply pretentious, written in Theban with an inkpen and using carefully chosen inks, a setup that lasted about a month before inertia took over and I stopped using it for several years. My near-daily journal of the time instead contains all of my memories and witch plans, along with typical musings about school and my relationships. For many reasons I love my first BOS but it wasn’t until the pretentiousness was eliminated that it became an actual tool. I suspect my situation is one many newcomers face, a suspicion borne out by my many students over the years who worry a great deal more about how their BOS looks, and less about what goes inside. A few authors have taken on the “How To Do a Book of Shadows” topic over the years, but not until Jason Mankey produced The Witch’s Book of Shadows do I think that it has been well done.

One of the best aspects of this book is that Mankey does a great job describing how a witch will have many Books over time, that they aren’t permanent but meant primarily to capture data that isn’t easily tracked. Practically speaking, his rituals for releasing old Books were good, as is the whole notion that you can start a Book and then transfer that data into a new Book as need arises or as new technologies become available. This is a great approach. Maybe Mankey’s words will help put a stake in the trap of perfectionism and get on with the real Work. He certainly takes the time to describe the pros and cons of many types of Book: journal, binder, cut-and-paste, and handwritten; all of which allows the reader to consider what will work best for them.
Mankey also does a good job discussing the many different options one can take when constructing their own Book and while construction and usage of the BoS take up a large part of this book, Mankey also delves into a brief history and talks about what the future may hold for them in this electronic age as well. I found the “Alphabets, Fonts, Inks, and Symbols” chapter helpful, as well as the “Cleansing, Consecrating, and Other Rituals” chapter. The chapter discussing the history of the Book (“Out of the Shadows”) was interesting and as a witch who works a great deal in a virtual environment, “New Frontiers and the BoS” was a oft-overlooked addition.

I do have a few small criticiscms: the focus is strongly Wiccan, although includes a surprising amount of Christian imagery and language. I call this out especially since it is part of a series (#5, in fact) of books for Witches in general. Many witches, including myself, are not Wiccan, so placing an emphasis on that path feels more than a little off-putting.

Of all the Witch’s tools, the Book of Shadows is the most personal. Mankey has done a great job making it accessible as well.

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The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic by Owen Davies

The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic
Edited by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 2017

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Review by Jason Mankey.

This is a challenging — and mostly academic — look at magical traditions over the last 3,000 years. I’m a huge fan of Davies’ contributions to magical history, especially Grimoires: A History of Magical Books and Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History, and this volume is a solid supplement to that work. But because it’s a collection featuring several different scholars, the tone throughout is uneven, and some essays feel far more relevant and enlightening than others.

While reading Witchcraft and Magic, I couldn’t stop wondering who the intended audience for this book is. It’s far too academic for casual readers, and probably not in-depth enough for academics. Topics I was intimately familiar with (such as the emergence of the Modern Craft) felt like they were given short shrift, while things I was less interested in seemed to take up more space. Often times I felt as I were reading a text-book designed for college students enrolled in Religious Studies 101.

Readers looking for a history of Modern Witchcraft along the lines of Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon will be mightily disappointed. Modern spiritual Witchcraft covers just eight or so pages, with no mention of Victor and Cora Anderson nor of the rise of “Traditional Witchcraft” over the last ten or so years.

I also found a chapter on “Witchcraft and Magic in Anthropology” somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps it was fashionable to call the magic of the Azande people of Sudan “witchcraft” in the 1920’s, but I think we can do better today. I’m sure they have their own name for it, and translating native interpretations of magic to simply “witchcraft” feels limiting and reads as a desire to place everything in a Euro-centric box). We can and should do better.

Despite these criticisms, there are things about this book that I genuinely enjoyed. It’s an absolutely beautiful book: the images alone make this book worth flipping through, with many far outside the realm of “the usual” pictures one sees in books and articles about magical traditions.

The book is at its best when discussing the modern period, and the majority of the text covers the last 600 years or so. I once read that it takes about thirty years for new academic information to reach the masses, and anyone looking for up to date academic interpretations of Europe and North America’s Witch Trials will find them here. Davies’ own chapter on “The World of Popular Magic” is a welcome antidote to much of the unscholarly information currently floating around about cunning-craft and other forms of folk magic.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an academic approach to society’s views on magic and witchcraft over the last several hundred years.

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Queer Magic by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin

Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries
Edited by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin
Mystic Productions Press, 2018

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Review by Anthony Rella.

While the term “queer” has veered closer to being mainstream, it continues to retain the layers of trauma, danger, and transgressive excitement layered into its historical uses. What is “queer” is that which could not fit into the norms prescribed to us, and thus needed to find its own space to grow on the edges, in the cracks and corners. Queerness exists for itself, and it is medicine that heals and brings wholeness.

Thus queerness is elusive, evolving, and pluralistic. So, too, is this collection of pieces gathered together by editors Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin. They have accomplished an impressive feat, publishing the voices and images produced by a wildly diverse and fascinating array of individuals.

One significant theme threaded throughout these works is the queer magical power of embodiment. In the essay “Living with Attunement with Sensation Rather than Identity,” Z Griss offers a queer praxis in which the sensory body leads in anchoring and producing the self in all its emerging complexity. Rather than encasing our experiences in labels and identity scripts, Griss shows a productive arc in which the body teaches and reveals mysteries of the self. Yin Q’s “Blood, Body, Birth, and Emptiness: Queer Magic in my Life and Work” articulates power and possibility within stigmatized experiences around cutting and BDSM, transforming her experiences of cutting into “rituals that affirmed life, whereas in prior years, [she] had focused on the thrill of annihilation.” In “The Endlessly Unfolding Mirror: An Introduction to the Queer Sex Magic of Traditional Witchcraft,” Troll Huldren offers body acceptance and eroticizing the Abject as a path to magical power.

Another queer theme emerges as the multiplicity of identity and porousness of self. M.C. MoHagani Magnetek’s “thaMind-Sol Lady’s Revenge” tells of an experience of duality between the speaker and an alter-ego, in which both strive to seek effective strategies to maintain dignity in the face of transphobia. The Reverend Teri D. Ciacchi articulates an experience of self as multiplicity, using the pronoun “we” “to express my internal experience of being an individual embedded in an ecological web of relatedness.” Ade Kola and Aaron Oberon in their respective essays explore the fluidity and multiplicity of identity through experiences of ritual possession, articulating ways in which deity contact becomes an unexpected site of queer transformations.

In an anthology of so many gifts, one of the highlights are the interviews of wolfie, who brings in the perspectives of First Nations queer elders Clyde Hall and Blackberri. wolfie’s “Chapter 23: The Plague Years” speaks to their own history and experience of living through the height of the AIDS epidemic. Kulystin and Harrington dedicate this anthology “to our queer ancestors and magical forebears,” and reverence for those who came before permeates the work, particularly in pieces such as Pavini Moray’s “The Glitterheart Path of Connecting with Transcestors.”

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