Book of Witchery by Ellen Dugan

Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms and Correspondences for Every Day of the Week
Ellen Dugan
Llewellyn, 2009
321 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

I am thoroughly enjoying this guest review gig here; I’m going to be sorry when Lupa runs out of books for me to review!

Next on my pile is Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms & Correspondences for Every Day of the Week by Ellen Dugan. I wish she’d written this book in the mid-1980s when I, a new Pagan, was struggling with correspondences and magick and trying to get some sort of regular personal spiritual practice started – preferably one that didn’t involve my almost burning down my own house during a solitary Lammas ritual (which is another story for another day).

Dugan refers to this work as her Book of Shadows. However, unlike most Books of Shadows, this one is organized by the day of the week rather than by season or by Sabbat – which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense, especially for beginning ritualists and spellcrafters. There is also an extra section on full moon workings for each day of the week; If the full moon is on a Monday, do this, if it’s on a Wednesday, do this. Why overwhelm readers with long, complicated sabbat rituals that they can only do once a year and promptly forget when they can cut their teeth on small workings that can be done fifty-two times a year. Frequency breeds familiarity and competence; the more one does a ritual, the easier it becomes to do it, and Dugan had a stroke of genius to make magick, spells and kitchen witchery accessible to all with this format. Kudos!

As a quick reference for correspondences, this book has some value for the more experienced practitioner as well. I’ve never memorized correspondences beyond the basics, have you? However, devotees of the various deities connected with each day of the week may wince at the oversimplification of their Patron’s/Matron’s aspects and history. Fortunately there is enough material about the mentioned deities elsewhere (including the Internet), so anyone who wants to know more can easily research them in depth.

Overall, though, this is a useful, well-written, logically organized book. Alas, my current living situation is such that I cannot try any of Dugan’s spells or rituals for myself and report on their efficacy. If I could, I definitely would!

Four and a half paws out of five!

Want to buy this book?


Llewellyn’s 2010 Sabbats Almanac – Various

Llewellyn’s 2010 Sabbats Almanac
Llewellyn, 2009
312 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

I am honored to be a guest reviewer for Lupa’s book review blog, eager to read something closer to my “field” than the erotica and science fiction I normally critique for a national book review magazine. I bravely told her to “send me anything” only to receive the most random collection of Pagan books I’ve ever seen!

First on the stack was Llewellyn’s Sabbats Almanac: Samhain 2009 to Mabon 2010. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say upfront that I am a relatively new member of the Llewellyn author family. That being said, this latest addition to the Llewellyn annuals (Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac, Witches’ Companion, etc.) is, I think, a useful and worthy one. I may not feel comfortable pulling out a Llewellyn Witches’ Datebook out of my backpack when scheduling my next dentist appointment in this small Kansas town, but the Sabbats Almanac is something I will likely refer to from time to time throughout the year – in the comfort of my own home, of course.

Contributing authors to the Almanac include a deliberate mixture of relatively new writers and Pagan “celebrities”; Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Kristen Madden, Ann Moura, Dan Furst, Raven Grimassi, Michelle Skye, and Thuri Calafia (plus others) all add their expertise and voices.

The history of each sabbat is thoroughly discussed, including an astrological section by Fern Feto Spring. I would have liked a little more explanation of astrological terms for the zodiacally-impaired reader. Kristen Madden provides seasonal recipes for an appetizer, main course, dessert and beverage for each holiday far beyond the usual “bread at Lammas, apple pie at Samhain” fare. Every sabbat section ends with a holiday ritual that can either be done as a solitary or with a group (except Mabon, which definitely requires several people).

In further interest of full disclosure, I’ve never once opened any of the Llewellyn Almanac series until Lupa sent me this one. If the Sabbats Almanac is any indication, I’ve been missing out on a basic, useful source of inspiration and ideas. The Sabbats Almanac, at least, may just become a permanent addition to my holiday book-buying binge.

Four and a half paws out of five!

Want to buy this book?

Witches & Pagans Magazine, Issue 19

Witches & Pagans Magazine
Various authors, editors, artists and other contributors
BBI Media, Autumn 2009
96 pages

First, a little background: Witches & Pagans is what happened when BBI Media merged their prior publications, PanGaia and newWitch. PanGaia was their more “serious” pagan publication, with a heavy eco-friendly slant and a target audience interested in ritual practices and spiritual experiences. newWitch came about a few years ago, and was met with some skepticism since its general themes were “sex, spells and celebs”. Some feared that newWitch would manifest all the worst stereotypes of image-obsessed teenybopper witches, and yet the publication managed to hold a fine balance between entertainment and facing controversial topics head-on. As a disclosure, I have written for both publications, so my potential bias should be noted.

Witches & Pagans has managed to blend elements of both magazines. This issue, for example, features interviews with musician S.J. Tucker and author R.J. Stewart (the faery AND initial issue!), something that newWitch was keen on. However, articles on 19th century mystic Ella Young, a surprisingly well-researched article on Cherokee fey beings, and several other in-depth writings on a central theme of Faery hail back to the best of PanGaia.

The regular columnists provided me with some of my favorite reading overall. Isaac Bonewits explored the practice of magic at different stages of one’s life, and how factors ranging from physical health to years of experience and knowledge can shape one’s energy and thereby one’s practice. Galina Krasskova did an excellent job of tackling the practice of celibacy as part of the ascetic’s path, something that a heavily hedonistic neopagan community may not often give much thought to. And I love Archer’s article on connecting to the wilderness through forests and their denizens, both physical and archetypal.

Those who were used to reading only one of the parent publications that merged to create this one may feel disappointed that there isn’t more of “their” stuff in there. However, one thing I appreciate about Witches & Pagans is that it brings together two potentially separate demographics in the pagan community–the more “serious” practitioners who look askance at the supposed “fluff” content of newWitch, and the energetic (though not always neophyte) envelope-pushers who might see their counterparts as muddy sticks. Both groups have much to offer in their own way, and Witches & Pagans does a nice job of showcasing the best of both worlds.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to subscribe to this publication?

Ancestral Magic by Moondancer Drake

Ancestral Magic
Moondancer Drake
P.D. Publishing, 2009
176 pages

I was contacted about reviewing this book because of the theme of magic and mysticism in it (as the title suggests!). And as it’s from a small press that specializes in LGBT themes, that gave me extra incentive to want to check it out. That was a good choice on my part, because not only have I been introduced to a new publisher, but I just got done with an enjoyable read!

The three main characters throughout the book are single mother Sky, her son Drake (who happens to be blind, though this is treated realistically and respectfully throughout the book), and their friend and Sky’s former sister-in-law, Meg. The story starts out pretty quickly, with Sky receiving notice (amid financial woes) that she has inherited an estate from an aunt she never met–which is a bit of a trope, but I was willing to keep going with it. Meg is asked to go along for the move, which of course leaves things open for the crush that Meg’s had on Sky for, well–a while, anyway.

This isn’t just some instant happily-ever-after story, though. Once these three end up in Green Grove, their new home, Sky finds a potential new male suitor, Meg has to deal with her jealousy–oh, and everyone in town is magically talented. Not stage magic, but the sort with wards and healing and invisibility. It’s a rather Wiccan-flavored magic, even using common Craft phrases like “She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes” and “So mote it be”, which should appeal to a certain demographic. (There’s also not the sometimes-preachy “Here is what Wicca is and isn’t” dialogue that too many Wiccan-flavored novels go into–bonus!) I won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you; needless to say, it’s a good setup. (Do be aware that there is one mild, nicely-written, sex scene.)

Unfortunately, if I could find any fault in this novel, it’s the pacing. Of the three main characters, only Drake seems at all surprised the first time he’s told about magic. Meg seems to have known all along, but that’s not made very clear until later in the book, and it seems rather abrupt. I think the author could have done more background and buildup of this particular twist in the plotline and made the transition from “Magic? What’s that?” to “Wow, magic IS real!” a bit smoother. I also found the ending to be a bit deflated compared to the buildup, though it did make me happy (I got very invested in the characters–what can I say?)

That being said, it was still a great read; the author has a particularly good skill for characterization and description, and her dialogue is realistic. If the plot was a bit wanting, it was still a good story. I would definitely recommend this to my readers as a good plane ride book, a nice afternoon curl-up-and-read, or a commuting companion.

Four pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Between the Worlds – Stuart Myers – April BBBR

Between the Worlds: Witchcraft and the Tree of Life – A Program of Spiritual Development
Stuart Myers
Llewellyn, 1995
230 pages

I generally find mashups of Wicca/witchcraft and other magical systems to be somewhat clumsy affairs, usually because the relatively new interpretations of witchcraft sometimes seem to water down the much older systems that they’re paired with. I can understand the desire to draw together elements of multiple magical/spiritual paths, but all too often the results come across as contrived if they’re presented as anything more than the author’s own personal blend. (Plus it’s irritating to hear over and over again how everyone from Siberian shamans to Jesus of Nazareth was really practicing witchcraft.)

The author of Between the Worlds made a worthy attempt at blending Wicca and Qabalah; considering that a lot of the correspondences and other elements of Wicca stem from Qabalistic symbolism, they’re a much better pairing than others I’ve seen. The text is highly practical, composed entirely of exercises, meditations and rituals for growth and personal evolution using the Tree of Life as scaffolding. While much of it is based on Qabalah, Myers manages to weave in odd bits of witchcraft here and there, particularly as a way to show how the tools and techniques of that system can be used in conjunction with the more complex symbolism of Qabalah.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by the attempt to take the duotheistic/soft polytheistic theology of Wicca and juxtapose it with the monotheistic (or hard polytheistic, depending on who you talk to) theology of Qabalah. Granted, Qabalah is pretty flexible in and of itself, but I find the God/Goddess thing to often be oversimplified. That’s where most of my issues with the book stem from, and if you can work around it, you’ll probably find it more useful than I did.

Overall, it’s a highly useful book, and offers much to the reader who is willing to go through and utilize the tools offered in its pages. It’s been out of print for several years, though used copies are fairly easy to find. A good book for a Wiccan/witch wanting to incorporate more Qabalah, or simply wanting a more detailed and structured method of personal evolution than what your average Wicca 101 book offers.

Four pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Make Merry in Step and Song – Bronwen Forbes

Make Merry in Step and Song: A Seasonal Treasury of Music, Mummer’s Plays and Celebrations in the English Folk Tradition
Bronwen Forbes
Llewellyn, 2009
264 pages

I’ve been in the pagan community for over a decade, and while I haven’t been a part of any formal group for any length of time, I have seen numerous examples of attempts at creative, unique group rituals. Some of these end up being rehashes of the usual Cunningham-mixed-with-something variety. If you’d like to avoid that fate, Make Merry in Step and Song is an excellent choice.

Not all Morris dancers are pagan, or even familiar with modern paganism. However, the traditional English dances are becoming more common at pagan events and rituals; incidentally, I was just at a festival this past weekend that featured one of Portland’s Morris dancing troupes. So this is a wonderfully timed text. Forbes does a lovely job of presenting well-researched information on historical Morris dancing and related practices, a tradition that her own family has been involved in for quite some time.

The book is divided up into the four seasons, along with some other miscellany that didn’t fit into any of those. I was surprised that there wasn’t an introductory chapter on the basics of Morris dancing/etc., its history and context, and so forth. Instead, the history is neatly woven into each of the sections as Forbes describes the relevant dance and celebration. This isn’t just a theoretical text, though. She goes into great detail describing the ritual format, the play scripts, the songs, and the dances themselves.

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the Spiral Dance, the back-and-forth-winding bane of the uncoordinated (individually and collectively). While the dances that Forbes describes do take some choreography and rehearsal is recommended, she does about as good a job of illustrating them on paper as one can hope to do, so no complaints there (though if you truly are clumsy, you may want to take the suggestion of using something other than blades for the sword dances). Also, because the rituals are largely dependent on dancing, one’s physical ability may prevent them from fully participating in that regard. However, the songs and other non-dancing portions of the rituals are well-fleshed-out, so adaptations may be made as necessary. And you will need a group to perform these rituals, not surprisingly; this is not a working text for the solitary practitioner (unless you have some friends!).

I think my only complaint (and it’s a small one) is a wish for footnotes or endnotes. Forbes does offer a select bibliography, but no real indication as to which books provided which information in her own writing. This doesn’t adversely affect the functionality of the book, but it does make it frustrating if you want to do more research on Morris dancing and related topics and aren’t quite sure where the best starting point is. (She does offer an appendix with information on where to find further resources, however.)

Overall, though, I really, really loved this book. It’s nice to see a practical text that doesn’t fall back on tired formulae (there are no spells or correspondences awkwardly shoehorned in) and that shows good research as a general rule. And it’s even better to see a topic that isn’t commonly covered, rather than the usual rehashes. I would most definitely recommend this to any neopagan group that works with English folk practices, those who want to try new styles of participatory ritual, and folks who are curious about the application of old traditions to the 21st century.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Lllewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac – various

Llewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac: Herbs for Cooking and Crafts, Health and Beauty, Growing and Gathering, History, Myth and Lore
Llewellyn Publications, 2007
312 pages

People often assume that because the Llewellyn almanacs are dated (and are called “almanacs”), that most of the information in them isn’t relevant beyond the year they’re published. The truth is to the contrary. While the 2008 Herbal Almanac does include a few pages of lunar information that can be used with herbal magic and growing, this is no Farmer’s Almanac. Instead, it’s an anthology of informational essays on a wide variety of topics related to herbs and plants, sure to be relevant for years to come.

The book is divided into sections: Growing and Gathering Herbs, Culinary Herbs, Herbs for Health, Herbs for Beauty, Herb Crafts, and Herb History, Myth and Lore. Each section contains anywhere from three to eight essays of a nice variety. While overall I enjoyed the quality of the writing and information in here (albeit as someone who does not work extensively with herbs beyond cooking), here are a few of my favorites:

Endangered Herbs by Patti Wigington: Because some of the most commonly used herbs in magic are often ubiquitous (and even weeds) it can be easy to forget that not everything that’s an herb is easy to procure, or has a healthy population overall. This essay details a few herbs that, while used frequently in magic, are endangered from habitat loss, overuse, and other reasons. The author offers some excellent alternatives, as well as tips on sustainable consumption (culinary and otherwise) of these plants.

Shadowplay: Herbs for the Shady Garden by Elizabeth Barrette: You don’t need full sunlight to be able to have a garden. This excellent essay details what may be planted in the shade, as well as some ideas for helping the herbs to grow.

Organic Gardening Practices by Lynne Smyth: Another one of the gardening essays, I liked this simply because it’s a good, basic introduction to ways to garden without chemicals, and in a sustainable manner. Those who claim to be close to the Earth would do well to adopt as many of these practices as possible.

Henna for Hair by AarTiana: I love henna, and have been using it for a few years to dye my hair red. This was a nice guide to using henna, and while I already knew a good bit of the information, I learned a few things (including the fact that Lucille Ball used henna!)

Paracelsus, Plants, and the Doctrine of Signatures by Mark Stavish: This was a little denser read than most of what was in this book, but still quite accessible. A good introduction to a hermetic/alchemical take on magical herbalism, and a more thorough explanation of why we use correspondences than most short writings offer.

Crafts for Kids Unfold Outdoors by Sally Cragin: I’m childfree, but I wholeheartedly support exposing children to nature as soon as possible. This lovely article not only promotes an Earth-friendly approach to using natural items in crafts, but includes a number of how-tos on some very simple creations that can be fun for kids and grown-ups alike!

Overall, this is a great collection. Some of the essays are more 101-level, so this would be an excellent choice for a newbie, but there are some interesting things for the more advanced as well.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Goddess is in the Details by Deborah Blake

The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch
Deborah Blake
Llewellyn Publications, May 2009
240 pages

Everybody knows by now that there are entirely too many paganism 101 books out there, especially in the arena of Wicca and witchcraft. There’s a growing number of advanced texts on specialized topics as well, though nowhere near to the point of exhaustion and rehashing. And there’s a niche in between–bridge books that, like 101 books, cover a variety of topics in one text to give the reader a taste of what’s next, but don’t just go over the basics one more time (but with a new hat!). Deborah Blake’s newest title, The Goddess is in the Details, is a part of this latter niche.

What do you do once you have the basics down? Well, for one thing, you start thinking about where all this new information and the practices you’ve been developing fit into your everyday life. Blake isn’t the first person to write a book that addresses practical matters, but she does it in a wonderfully open manner that will go far in assuaging the fears of folks feeling a bit intimidated to take the next step. She covers a lot of important ground with regards to ethics–not just the reality of “harm none”, but things like healthy relationships in regards to common pagan ethical guidelines. She also explores other sorts of relationships, to include what to do if you live with people who aren’t pagan, and what to do about the whole broom closet conundrum. There are some interesting writings as well on stretching one’s wings in magical practice, and again thinking about the whys and hows, as well as what to do besides light another candle. And self-care is a strong theme; one of the first things Blake talks about is how harmful it can be to say mean things to yourself, and that they aren’t “just words”.

There are some sections of 101 material; for example, the Sabbats are covered yet again–though this is within the context of a chapter that takes celebrations beyond just those eight days. Also, there are a number of topics where I wish she could have dedicated more space to explanations; for example, I really liked her intro to animal familiars, but she didn’t really do much beyond give the reader a method for attracting a familiar. I would have liked to have seen a little more how-to info on what to do once you have a familiar in your life–it’s obvious from her anecdotes that her feline helpers have been strong influences on her. Granted, this is one of the limitations of the “cover a little bit of a lot” format, but there were places where I was left hoping for more, just because what she did present was intriguing.

The best audience for this book are the newbies who have gotten the basics down and feel ready to at least begin exploring the next step. Traditionalists may find the eclectic nature of the material a bit off-putting, but many readers won’t mind so much. Use this book as a resource for branching out–she cites a lot of source material, though do be aware that the majority of her sources are specifically in the pagan/metaphysical/etc. genre as opposed to root sources such as history, psychology, etc. This isn’t necessarily bad, but eventually readers will want to get into things that aren’t necessarily of this genre.

Overall, a great book for branching out beyond the basics!

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to preorder this book?

Bell, Book and Murder by Rosemary Edghill

Bell, Book and Murder: The Bast Novels
Rosemary Edghill
Forge Books, 1994
448 pages

Okay, so a lot of folks who read these reviews most likely have already read these novels at least once. I read the first one years ago, and just now got around to hunting down the omnibus edition including the entire trilogy. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so here’s my review, just in case there are pagan folk who need a good tip-off on a thoroughly wonderful piece of pagan-flavored fiction.

Bast is a thirty-something Gardnerian Wiccan in New York city. She works doing book layout as a freelancer, and has a “coffin-sized and shaped” apartment. Active in her local pagan community, she also ends up being a key figure in solving three separate murders, one per novel. Her fellow pagans and magicians are realistic, running the gamut from flakes to uber-serious ceremonialists, and all points in between. Bast herself is well-grounded and mature, but not without her flaws.

The mysteries themselves are well-paced and inventive, and while they incorporate the pagan aspects of the novels to one extent or another, it’s in a believable style. I never felt like any of the stories were strained–I think the latter two books, particularly their endings, were better than the first, but even the first was a great read.

You know all those recent novels where authors try to add information about paganism in the duration of the storyline? This is the book that they aspire to be (and only a few achieve similar quality). Instead of clumsy attempts to have a lesson on neopaganism at one point in the book, Bast does what any good writer does when introducing niche material into a storyline–she weaves it in seamlessly with the narrator’s commentary. Details on paganism are integrated fluidly along with the basics of (pre-computer) book layout, and what it’s like to live in the Big Apple. I learned a good deal about the latter two, and thought the former was quite well handled as well.

What I loved the most about her portrayal of neopaganism, though, is that never once is there anything unbelievable. There’s no Harry Potter-esque magic. There’s not even speculation in the vein of the famous British Wiccan ritual during WWII that may or may not have been actually effective (and may not even occurred for that matter). There aren’t any incarnated angels or cross-planar spirits physically materializing or voices of deities in the middle of New York. Bast does spells and rituals in the course of the novels, but none of them are shown to definitely cause anything out of the ordinary. In other words–the world of Bast could just as easily be this one.

These novels have a lot going for them–well written, excellent integration of specialized material, and believable characters and settings. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, they’re probably one of my most highly recommended fiction pieces on this review site to date.

Five pleased pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Wicca Unveiled by J. Philip Rhodes – February BBBR

Wicca Unveiled: The Complete Rituals of Modern Witchcraft
J. Philip Rhodes
Speaking Tree, 2000
192 pages

While I’m tired of Wicca 101 rehashes, at least this one is on traditional rather than eclectic Wicca. Rhodes has many years’ experience in British Traditional Wiccan (BTW) covens, and uses this book to pass on information about the rituals and beliefs involved. Granted, I’m not BTW myself, so to an extent this review isn’t quite as informed as, say, Mike Gleason’s, but here are my thoughts.

On the plus side, the book is a fairly complete overview. It includes different initiatory and celebratory rituals, such as those for handfasting, and initiations in the Wiccan degree system. There’s also the prerequisite Sabbat and Esbat rites, and even planetary rituals which hail more towards modern Wicca’s ceremonial magical roots. Basic correspondences and incense recipes are to be found in the appendices, though they’re rather sparse.

However, there’s nothing that really makes this book stand out. It’s basically BTW for people who want a basic idea of its rites, but don’t want to slog through the Farrars’ massive black book. There are also some assumptions made that have essentially been discounted–the concept of an unbroken line of witchcraft going back hundreds or thousands of years, the “black/white” dichotomy of witchcraft, and other outdated things. The first chapter, which includes the history and theory of witchcraft, could be much more fleshed out as well; the book is mostly rituals.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not great, either. If you want an easy introduction to BTW rites and don’t want to spend too much time researching it, this will work. If you want something more substantial, read the Farrars.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

« Older entries Newer entries »