Book Review: The Witch’s Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey

The Witch's Book of Shadows by Jason MankeyLlewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series currently contains six small books, one for each of the major tools in witchcraft (wand, broom, mirror, athame, book of shadows, and cauldron) though I assume more are forthcoming (familiar, I hope, will be on the list). The author varies by the book with no author having more than two books in the series at the moment, similar to the Sabbat Essentials series. The Witch’s Book of Shadows was written/compiled by Jason Mankey, who also wrote The Witch’s Athame. Unfortunately, I was not thrilled with Mankey’s book, and I think it was largely due to his own magickal proclivities and writing style.

“One of the reasons that I don’t particularly like this volume is that it’s so heavily Wiccan, and I prefer these books to have a general pagan path.” I used this exact same statement for the Samhain Sabbat Essentials book, and it applies here as well. Further, like the Samhain book, the author adds in a lot of Christian stuff that I feel does not belong, talking about Jesus and angels. Christians have their own religion, and I’d really like to keep it that way. Mankey himself started on a Christo-pagan path, but that certainly doesn’t mean it belongs in the book. Unfortunately, he can’t keep himself out of the book, constantly talking about his wife, his coven, and the many books of shadows that he has used, created, and manufactured. Additionally, he breaks the third wall way too many times, talking about his editor’s suggestions, as though he thinks so poorly of them that he needs the reader to know what things he was forced to add. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are contributors who aren’t identified until after their section has ended, and there seems to be no way of knowing who added what. The result is a mish mash of voices and a feeling of meandering inconsistency.

The “Alphabets, Fonts, Inks, and Symbols” chapter was somewhat helpful, as well as the “Cleansing, Consecrating, and Other Rituals” chapter. However, these don’t appear until the end. The template is very Wiccan-hetero (a God and a Goddess) and there are no templates for other paths. Other chapters feel rambling, thrown together, and way too personal. In the “New Frontiers and the BoS” chapter, the author opens by complaining that a lot of people offered suggestions for this book. He says that when people do this he “get(s) the feeling that they don’t trust me as a writer” (259). The insecurity that leaks through in this statement permeates the whole book, which includes everything from Jesus and cave paintings to the glaring omission of distinguishing a Book of Shadows from a Grimoire. A little history would have been nice, but it’s at once too wide a net (things that aren’t pagan) and too narrow (things the author finds interesting) as if he was up against the deadline with only a third of the book done.

I’m disappointed with the book, which I had hoped would structured something like basic definition of terms and uses, (relevant) history, construction guide with examples, and further reading. Of all of the books in the series it’s arguably the most personal since you create the Books of Shadows yourself, which makes it so anxiety producing. Side note: Mankey got a Book of Shadows handed down to him as well, but most witches are not initiated into master covens anymore because, in part, it’s so Christian. I’m not looking forward to his Athame book because it’s going to be all about how the knife represents the phallus and the male God blah, blah, blah and the idea of the stabby knife phallus is just unnerving. Like, read into it just a little. If I buy it, Athame will be the last one that I pick up; I’m pretty sure Deborah Blake will save the day with her Broom book though. I’ve already ordered it, of course. Hold on while I go and buy every Deborah Blake book ever published …

All of my complaints aside, I do think that there are still things that you can get out of this book; I certainly did. In my case, Mankey introduced the idea of multiple Books of Shadows over time; moreover, the idea that they don’t have to be permanent, which helped me. I’ve been struggling with my own BoS and perfectionism, so I am reconfiguring it now from a planner to a spiral. In that way, at least, the book was helpful. Additionally, how to “let go” of an old BoS (including rituals for release), and the idea of taking the best from an old or baby witch BoS and transferring it into a new one. I felt that the last half of the book was much better than the first. Witches are used to sorting through things and picking out what they want to use.

The smirky cat illustrations are adorable.

Do you own it? I would love to hear what you think of The Witch’s Book of Shadows. Leave me a comment and we can debate.

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