A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca by Janine DeMartini

A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca
Janine DeMartini
PublishAmerica, 2006
194 pages

This particular text, while published via PublishAmerica, was not given any editing by that company. Unedited works (whether through such a publisher or self-published), more than any other, seem to be a bit of a crapshoot. Because there aren’t the extra pairs of eyes looking over the manuscript (unless the author hires a freelance editor), the quality of the book rests solely on the skills of the author. I’ve seen unedited works which were absolutely stunning–and I’ve seen others that simply stunk. This one is a mixed bag; I’d like to start out by extolling its virtues before getting into my criticisms.

I have to applaud the author for coming right out and complaining about some of the issues with many Wicca 101 and related books: poor research, rehashes of the same old stuff, and inaccurate presentations of deities from polytheistic cultures. She then presents her book as an alternative that avoids these pitfalls, and as someone who’s written books for similar reasons, I give her many kudos! And indeed, while she does cover some basic ideas about Wicca, as well as a small section of rituals, she doesn’t do the usual rehash of “This is an athame, and this is what red candles are burned for”, etc. DeMartini also makes it very clear that Wicca is not whatever you want it to be, and explains her background regarding traditional vs. eclectic Wicca from the beginning.

She also covers a lot of experiential information that many authors overlook, especially concerning the neopagan community as a social phenomenon. This includes things like people in the pagan community who mislead others (accidentally or deliberately), a bit of discussion about coven group dynamics, and what happens when you take oaths in more than one tradition over the years. And I really enjoyed the introduction to Omnimancy which, although not expressly Wiccan, is something that she found personally useful–this is partly a record of her own journey, and so it is appropriate to include it.

It’s very obvious that she’s done her work, and her anecdotes back it up. She’s a great teller of true stories, and she’s seen and done quite a bit. There are a lot of things of interest, especially (though not exclusively) to newbies.

However, this leads into my first criticism. The book could have been better organized. The chapters don’t always segue well from one to the next, and at times it reads more like a collection of essays on a loose theme. Additionally, the book is overbalanced towards anecdotes, which aren’t well-woven with the practical material. It’s all good stuff; it just isn’t tied together well into a cohesive work, which sometimes made it frustrating to try to put together in my mind.

The other problem stems directly from the fact that the book apparently wasn’t put through any formal editing process beyond the author’s own work. While at times DeMartini’s writing is engaging, overall the book reads like a rough draft manuscript. There are certain consistent patterns that kept throwing me off, most notably a frequent appearance of incomplete sentences. Additionally, there were a number of typos, as well as the use of the wrong word (an example being “throws” instead of “throes”).

I realize, as an author and an editor myself, that the prospect of taking one’s pride and joy and running it through the red ink of the editing process can be intimidating. I specifically went with the publisher that I did because I had a loooong discussion with the editor about keeping my writing mine, while improving the overall quality. However, the criticisms I have are things that would be readily fixable by an editor, either a freelance editor, or one with a different publishing company*. As is, the rough draft quality of the book significantly diminished its readability.

There is a good amount of material in this book, don’t get me wrong. DeMartini absolutely has the right ideas and the experience, and this could be a wonderful counterpoint to the usual re-re-rehashing of “This is an athame…” etc. If it were to be thoroughly and professionally edited and reworked, it could be one of the best–and this coming from someone who’s damned hard to impress with basic Wicca material any more.

*PublishAmerica is possibly the most notorious vanity press out there; the SFWA staged a well-known sting a few years ago.

Two and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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The Gods Within by Jean Williams and Zachary Cox

The Gods Within: The Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations
Jean M. Williams and Zachary Cox
Moondust Books Ltd., 2008
160 pages

“The Gods Within” is a small booklet including essays and evocations for fifteen deities (mostly Greek and Roman combined into one) as well as a brief exploration of theory behind evocation rituals. It is concise, though not complete, and contains some of the more basic, well-known information on the deities. Some hard polytheists may flinch at the concept of deities existing only as archetypes in our psyches, but the functionality of the evocations, as well as their beauty, are a definite bonus.

In order to evaluate this book of evocations of deities, its historical context should be considered. Most of the evocations in the text were originally published in 1979, and this book adds a few more as well as essays about the processes of evocation and the deities being evoked. Pagan Pathfinders, the group for whom Williams and Cox developed the rituals the evocations were in, stems from the 1970s as well. Therefore, the very short bibliography and complete lack of citations may be partly excused by the age of some of the material—it’s tough to recall what sources you used a few decades back!

It’s advisable to take this book with a grain of salt, and also not take it as your only source material on the deities—especially as beside the eleven Greek/Roman deities, there are only three Egyptian ones and the lone Celtic representative, the Morrigan. Reconstructionists will most likely be able to pick apart the research of the book, and what is offered is nowhere near a complete system—there could have been a lot more room dedicated to the actual system the authors use. However, “The Gods Within” is valuable for the lovely evocations which may be used as-is, or provide inspiration for other writings.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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Runes For Transformation – Kaedrich Olsen

Runes for Transformation: Using Ancient Symbols to Change Your Life
Kaedrich Olsen
Weiser Books, 2008
230 pages

When I first became interested in paganism back in the mid-1990s, the very first divination set I worked with was the elder futhark of runes. I had a photocopy of a few pages with rune meanings out of a book that I suspect may have been from Ralph Blum’s questionable writings. While runes have never been a central focus in my practice and I no longer utilize them, I do have somewhat of a nostalgic soft spot for them. I am quite pleased with this brand-new text–it takes an entirely innovative approach to the runes, not only as a historical alphabet/divination system couched in venerable traditions, but also as a living, evolving set of energies and symbols that the modern practitioner will find relevant regardless of current cultural context.

Olsen presents us with a solid overview of the history and origin of the Norse runes. However, before he even gets into that, he throws a chapter on the nature of reality at the reader, asking us to challenge our perceptions and assumptions, particular with regards to magical thinking. This sets a stage for an introduction to the runes not only as symbols with correspondences, but as tools for shaping and understanding subjective reality.

While Olsen has done his research, drawing extensively on primary texts, he strongly supports the use of Unverified Personal Gnosis as a key to one’s individual relationship to the runes and their meanings. This is a much more organized and introspective process than mixing up runes and the I Ching, for example. While UPG is crucial, it is still set within the context of historical meaning, and the two are meant to complement each other, even if their information doesn’t entirely agree. In short, Olsen allows the historical material on the runes to serve as a solid foundation on which the practitioner may then build hir own extensive personal research–a healthy balance.

The runes are also not treated as only tools for divination. One of the most valuable dimensions of this book is the potential for a Western system of internal change. Olsen blends techniques from NLP and other psychological systems, as well as other areas of modern science, with runic magic and spirituality to create a wonderfully workable system. The runes are promoted as tools for understanding interconnection between the self and the world, and various elements thereof; as energies that may be utilized in improving the self in deep, fundamental capacities; and making connections with deities, among other capacities. The depth with which Olsen explores these possibilities is commendable, and I say this not only as an experienced psychonaut, but also a counselor-in-training.

Practitioners who are critical of UPG may find this book to be too UPG-heavy for their tastes. This all comes down to a matter of subjective preferences. Olsen does an excellent job of presenting his material, and beyond a certain point it’s not really possible to change peoples’ minds. The solid research may mollify some by-the-book folks; however, I can also see this book coming under fire from exceptionally conservative individuals.

Overall, this book is a winner. Whether you are Asatru, or a psychonaut in need of a system for internal exploration, or merely someone who appreciates the magic and aesthetics of the elder futhark, this text is an excellent choice.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley
Lon Milo DuQuette
Weiser/Red Wheel, 2008
262 pages

I think I must typify one of the target audiences for this book. I have no ceremonial background whatsoever, but I love getting at least a basic idea of paths other than mine. I start to fall asleep while reading Crowley and GD material, but I also don’t want to have to deal with overly fluffy, watered-down info. Here is a lovely compromise for getting a foot in the door with Enochian magick–or at least having an idea of what’s going on with all those angels.

As always, Lon Milo DuQuette has presented his information in an accessible, but solid manner. While it doesn’t have the amount of wit of the Chicken Qabalah, once again his writing has managed to help me understand a rather complex topic.

This isn’t just a book on theory, though the history of how Dee and Kelley obtained the Enochian system was appreciated for its context. Instead, DuQuette lays out what all those various charts and weird words are actually for, and then guides the reader through rituals to put them into practice. He draws heavily from the original materials, including some that have been unearthed since Crowley’s time, and I think many readers will appreciate all the sifting, organizing and slogging through primary texts that he’s done.

The really nice thing about this book, though, is that because he’s done such a good job of referencing these original items, and showing where they apply to the actual practices in the book. This means that if a reader wanted to trace things back to Dee and Kelley’s material, the road map is already in place. However, the text is also sufficient just for those who are curious, or who want to be able to practice but aren’t at a point where they’re going to dig through earlier material.

Five pawprints out of five.

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An Enchanted Life – Patricia Telesco – May BBBR

An Enchanted Life: An Adept’s Guide to Masterful Magick
Patricia Telesco
New Page, 2002
224 pages

This is one of a number of books that have come out in recent years that have attempted to break beyond the paganism/magic 101 barrier. Rather than giving all the answers, Telesco instead works to give the reader a lot to think about–something that’s exceptionally important when moving beyond the basics.

There are dozens of incredibly useful exercises in the book. Some involve self-questioning and reflection; others provide the reader lessons in shifting perceptions. They’re much more in-depth than yet another pile of precrafted spells and rituals, and the reader who makes use of them won’t be disappointed. The first two chapters of the book deal mainly with perceptions and awareness, as well as working more with all five senses, not just sight, our primary sense.

The rest of the book is dedicated to four different archetypes–the Healer, the Teacher, the Warrior and the Visionary. Now, this is just a personal preference, but I’m not really fond of directing people towards specific roles. While I understand the reasoning behind promoting archetypes as templates of the self, the problem is that people have a tendency to lock themselves firmly into those archetypes, newbies especially. I think, perhaps, it would be wiser to offer up archetypes, but then encourage the reader to learn to take them all on, rather than sticking with whatever “element” or “role’ they feel they fit the most. IMO, the more advanced you get, the more adaptable you may need to be (even as you may have your specialties).

I wouldn’t call this an advanced text; rather, it’s intermediate-right-after-the-basics. It’s the kind of book you give to a person when they’re just beginning to branch out from learning about the Sabbats, and correspondences, and some of the more common deities and spirits. Despite my qualms about the archetypes, I do think it’s a great text for bridging the way between basic and intermediate magical work, and the wealth of information and exercises in the text is the real strength of this book.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Green Hermeticism – Wilson, Bamford and Townley

Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Christopher Bamford, and Kevin Townley
Lindisfarne Books, 2007
206 pages

I cannot rave enough about this book. I forget exactly where I heard about it, but given the dearth of material on ecological spirituality/magic, especially outside of a shamanic or neopagan perspective, I fairly jumped at a chance to pick this text up.

This is not a how-to book, with the exception of one chapter. It is primarily rather dense and inspiring theoretical discussion of the links between hermeticism and alchemy, and the need for a more eco-friendly approach to life, the Universe, and everything. Rather than try to summarize the book as a whole I’ll go through each chapter independently.

Chapter 1 (Wilson) – The Disciples at Sais: A Sacred Theory of Earth – This was originally a paper presented by the author at a 2003 “Sacred Theory of Earth” conference. Wilson traces the influences of green hermeticism, focusing particularly on the works of Romantic scientist and hermeticist Novalis, whose novel provided the title for the chapter. However, Wilson also draws on everyone from Paracelsus to Goethe. However, the bulk of the chapter is dedicated to Novalis, and is liberally adorned with quotes from his works that aptly illustrate foundations of green hermeticism.

Chapter 2 (Bamford) – One the All: Alchemy as Sacred Ecology – Chapter 2 examines the basic philosophy and worldview of alchemy, while highlighting those portions that are particularly applicable to modern ecological concerns. It is also part history lesson, following the progress of alchemy from Egypt to the East and back to the West. And, perhaps most importantly, the idea of One the All is discussed–a deep, pragmatic awareness of the interconnection of all things. We are not merely presented with wishy-washy pleas to “all just get along”, but convincing arguments towards revamping how we approach the Universe, and ourselves and everything else as the All.

Chapter 3 (Wilson) – Green Hermeticissm – Here’s where the book starts getting really good. Wilson dives deeper into hermeticism-as-ecological spirituality, and shows more examples of where the green roots in hermeticism come from throughout its history and development. However, modern implications are also discussed; I was particularly delighted by the section on mycoremeditation–cleaning up toxins through mushrooms which break down the chemical compounds–as a modern form of alchemy. There’s also a marvelous interpretation of lycanthropy as eco-magical awareness and activism, but in a way that takes animals on their own terms instead of through our usual anthropocentric perceptions. While the chapter flows from one topic to another, all together it paints a picture of a very different, much healthier way of viewing reality from what we’re raised with.

Chapter 4 (Bamford) – Quilting Green Hermeticism: A Tissue of Texts and Tracings – This chapter adds texture to the previous material. It’s a delightful collection both of Bamford’s own thoughts, and extensive quotes from various classic alchemical/hermetic texts. By far my favorite part was the section entitled “Ouroborous (‘Tail-eater’) or the Coincidence of Opposites”, an excellent tool for shattering dualistic preconceptions and tendencies towards dividing the world up just so. “Perception and Imagination” is also incredibly important in its promotion of change starting in the very way we view things; unless you are able to shift your perception, none of this will be nearly as useful. By the end of the chapter, my head was reeling from all the information and paradigm shifts, and yet I was left with a sense of a greater, all-encompassing reality–not just “out there” somewhere in the heads of strange old men tinkering with antique glassware, but “in here”, “right here”, “right now”, relevant to All.

Chaoter 5 (Townley) – The Manufacture and Use of Planetary Tinctures – I’m afraid to say that while this essay was exceptionally well-written, it seemed rather tacked on to the end of this book. It’s a practical guide to creating and using planetary tinctures, with a brief explanation of various substances created through alchemy. Do not, however, skip it just because it shifts gears. Give your mind a rest for a few days from the rest of the book, and then read this chapter as its own entity. Despite the difference in styles and focus, you can see elements of the theory of green hermeticism within the processes. In fact, try reading it once before reading the rest, and once after. What I really think, though, is that Townley should author or co-author a practical, hands-on book of green hermeticism techniques. He’s got the right idea, and if there had been more practical material in this book, this chapter would have fit in much better.

I honestly don’t believe I have done this book justice. Truth be told, I’m still digesting what I’ve read, and will go back to it numerous times to re-inoculate myself. However, I wanted to get the word out there as soon as I could, because this is by far one of the most impressive and thought-provoking texts I have ever read. I can’t speak too much as far as the alchemical/hermetic purity goes, since I’m not particularly well-read in those topics at this time. However, as a guidebook for ecological spirituality and magic, and a healthier way of being, it’s beyond essential. In fact, this is another one of those “anyone magical at all should read this” texts (I need to make a list someday….). It’s not an easy read, but it is one of the best.

Five exuberant pawprints out of five.

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An Elfin Book of Spirits – The Silver Elves

An Elfin Book of Spirits: Evoking the Beneficient Powers of Faerie
The Silver Elves (Silver Flame Love and Zardoa Silverstar)
Silver Elves Publications, 2005
264 pages

My first exposure to the writings of the Silver Elves was through their Magical Elven Love Letters, writings of philosophy, spirit and magic flavored by their unique and lovely interpretation of what “elven” is to them. An Elfin Book of Spirits is exactly the sort of light-hearted, yet practical and powerful writing that I have learned to enjoy from them.

The book is a modern-day grimoire in the classic sense–a series of entries on various spirits within a specific system, along with suggested rituals for evoking them. I was already hooked on the book by the first page, when the Silver Elves explained their philosophy on evocation–cooperation rather than command (something I heartily agree with!). The method for working with the spirits involves a form of divination to determine which spirit would have the best ideas for a particular situation (if you don’t already have a particular being in mind). I approve of this open-ended method, as it allows the spirits more participation in the planning of the ritual.

The rituals and spirits are based loosely on astrology (and not just Sun signs, either–there’s a lot of work that went into this sytem). There are 360 spirits, one for each degree of the Zodiac; each entry for a spirit includes its degree, sigil, name, motto, evocation, and additional astrological information.

The areas of influence for the spirits are generally positive and constructive, with practical, everyday applications. Don’t, however, interpret this as being “overly white light” or “fluffy”. The Silver Elves and the spirits they work with don’t turn a blind eye to the fact that there’s negativity in the world, and they don’t try to gloss it over with New Age Band-aids. You won’t find spirits of vengeance here, but instead beings who will help you find a constructive, healthy way of dealing with bad situations and making the most of good ones. This book also isn’t exclusively for elves; any magical practitioner who is interested may find something of use here.

Pretty much my only complaints (and they are minor overall) are technical. There are a number of typos and misspellings throughout the book, but nothing terrible. Also, the binding of the book doesn’t leave quite enough margin on the inside edge, which makes reading the first few pages rather difficult without breaking the spine of the book. However, these are tiny things, and the fact that I enjoyed reading the book is much more important than a couple of physical flaws.

And one warning–there are a number of photographs of practitioners and other elfin folk in the book, a couple of which pay no heed to current prohibitions on uncovering the body. They’re no worse than other books on magic that include an occasional picture of a nude Wiccan in ritual, etc. And the photos in general are nice accents to the text.

Five pleasant pawprints out of five.

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The Wiccan Mystic – Ben Gruagach

The Wiccan Mystic: Exploring a Magickal Spiritual Path
Ben Gruagach
WitchGrotto Press, 2007
256 pages

The Wiccan Mystic is author Ben Gruagach’s answer to the complaint “I’m TIRED of Wicca 101 books! Where are the Wicca 201s?” With a few exceptions, he’s created a book that fits the bill.

The basic premise of the book is that Wicca is a mystery tradition, and the practitioner a mystic. He does a wonderful job making the argument that a mystery tradition doesn’t necessarily have to be group-oriented, and that the mystery is between the practitioner and the Divine. Those who are looking for good perspectives on Wicca as a solitary initiatory religion will definitely find useful fodder, and traditionalists may end up disagreeing. Gruagach holds his own, though.

The bulk of the book beyond the initial definitions deals with various topics of interest to the Wiccan who already has the basics down and wants to go further. There’s not a bunch of prefabricated spells and rituals, though; other than some pathworking templates in one of the appendices, it’s thankfully free of pre-crafted material. Instead we’re offered a wide variety of food for thought. Gruagach covers critical thinking skills, thoughts on balancing group and solitary work, philosophy and ethics, and even guidelines for critiquing a book in a balanced manner. All the material is aimed towards getting the reader to think about hir path, why s/he’s there, and what s/he’s going to do with it–without dogmatically flogging the author’s personal agenda (which doesn’t even come into play here).

There’s a bit of what initially looks like 101 material in here, but it’s approached from a 201 perspective. Rather than giving a list of deities, Gruagach offers up ideas on actually connecting to the Divine (rather than a “stereotype”, as he puts it). In other places he could have gone into a little more detail; the two paragraphs dedicated to familiars was pretty scant, and could have used a little more definition of what he was considering a familiar–it sounded a bit like he was considering all pets to be familiars. A little more elaboration on the various points that didn’t get so much attention would have helped to flesh the text out more.

I would also like to have seen more personal anecdotes to back up some of his thoughts. How have these ideas worked for him? What processes helped him learn what he passes on to others? Additionally, I think the appendix with the pathworkings could have been made into a standalone chapter.

There’s a terrific bibliography in the back; Gruagach has most certainly done his homework. It’s not all just neopagan source material, either; I saw Aldous Huxley in there, as well as a translation of the Greek Magical Papyrii. What I would really liked to have seen, though, is in-text or footnote citations of the material that didn’t come right out of his head (for example, his historical research). There are a few endnotes, but they tend to be more commentary on the material than actual citations. A big long bibliography is a lot more useful if there are citations in the main body of the work showing exactly where the author got a particular piece of information. Not only does it show the author’s work, but it also helps others who want to do more research on a given point or check the research against their own.

The only other quibble I have is with the layout. Maybe it’s just me, but the styles of fonts used for the headers seemed a little inconsistent, with a mixture of italics and bolds at various font sizes. The text also wasn’t justified, giving the right margin of the text a ragged look and giving away its self-published origin (though, to be fair, in both content and style it’s one of the best self-published works I’ve ever seen, and better than some of the traditionally published works out there!).

Still, the positives much outweigh the negatives here. Gruagach has created a much-needed text in the corpus of Wiccan knowledge beyond 101. I applaud his efforts, and encourage his writing career wholeheartedly!

Four pawprints out of five.

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Magical Ritual Methods – William G. Gray

Magical Ritual Methods
William G. Gray
Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1980
301 pages

I’d been hearing hype about this author for quite some time, particularly from my husband (who has historically had excellent taste in occult works). So I finally sat down and read Magical Ritual Methods, which was suggested to me as an excellent introduction to Gray. It took me several weeks, but I got through it–and what a great read it was!

I’ve been practicing magic (primarily from a neopagan/neoshamanic viewpoint, with a healthy dose of Chaos magic) for a little over a decade at this point. It’s hard to classify this book, because although it goes through the basics of magic, it does so in an incredibly thorough manner. This is by far the best explanation of the mechanics of magic I’ve read–why and how it works, from the connections to the Inner World, to the psychological implications, and so forth. Rather than passing magic off as solely the result of symbols (as is so popular in postmodern magical styles), Gray allows for the independent existence of entities, focusing on the creation of links to them through the internal self.

I can definitely see the groundwork of Chaos magic in this text. Rather than dogmatically adhering to a particular paradigm, Gray explains that what’s important about the symbols used is that they are relevant to the individual magician. He boils magical ritual practices and tools down to the very bare bones, and shows us their inner workings–which really are nowhere near as complex as one might think (or fear). He teaches with both authority and humor, and this makes it an excellent instructional text.

The writing style is a little older than most of what’s available today; I had to read the book in increments and give it time to digest. It’s not impossible, though–I got plenty out of it so long as I took it slow and gave it time to sink in, and after I got used to the style I was fine. However, for those raised on modern writing styles and content depth, the text may be a bit difficult. My basic understanding of magic is part of what helped me to grasp the concepts described here, and I know I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it had I read it a decade ago when I was just getting started. So I’m not sure whether I’d recommend this as a beginner’s book or not. It depends on the individual; some may have no problem diving right in, while others may want to wait until they’ve read a few simpler texts to give them the very basic context of magical practice.

I only have a couple of small complaints, primarily dealing with a bit of dogma. Gray seems to be under the impression that ritual magic is a superior form of the art, and occasionally makes disparaging remarks about more “primitive” forms of magic. While I can see his point, for instance, that certain styles of magic are less efficient, and that dedicated ritual practice has refined the techniques, I don’t think that less formal styles are to be discarded entirely. In fact, I intend to take the lessons in this book and use them to refine my own practices, combining ideas from this with my own neoshamanic/etc. work. I also disagree with his dualistic approach, particularly in the very last chapter where he expounds on the differences between Cosmos and Chaos and brings up the old White vs. Black magician/lodge thing. Granted, he handles it in a MUCH less sensationalistic manner, and he makes some very, very good points about the current destructive nature that humanity as a whole has adopted. However, the White/Black connotations may interfere in some minds with the actual message–that magic can be used to evolve humanity to a higher point, help us get past the wars and pettiness and cruelty that are so commonly demonstrated.

This has definitely joined an elite shelf of my favorite books, and I believe it’s going to be one that will be in my most-recommended list when people ask for suggestions.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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Practical Solitary Magic – Nancy B. Watson

Practical Solitary Magic
Nancy B. Watson
Weiser Books, 1996
288 pages

A good friend of mine first recommended this to me a few years back, and I’m glad he did!

This is a wonderful guide to elemental magic–not just how to evoke sylphs, gnomes and the like, but working with the elements internally as well as externally. She opens up with a common-sense guide to general magical practice, including affirmations, deities and other entities, and ethics. She then goes on to explore both internal and external elements, going beyond Paracelsus and into psychology.

It’s an incredibly thorough work, more from a magical that a worshipful point of view. I highly recommend it as a basic multi-purpose guide to magic for those who like the natural feel of paganism but want more practicality than burning a candle.

Five pawprints out of five.

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