Book Review: The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

The Witch's Cauldron by Laura Tempest ZakroffLlewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series contains six small books, one for each of the major tools in witchcraft (athame, book of shadows, broom, cauldron, mirror, and wand) though I hope more are forthcoming. 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 Cauldron: The Craft, Lore and Magick of Ritual Vessels” is sixth book in the series and was written by Laura Tempest Zakroff. I am happy to say that I enjoyed this book far more than The Witch’s Book of Shadows, which is the only other book in the series that I have read thus far.

You may notice that this book looks different than the others in the series, and that is because Llewellyn decided to change how the covers looked before the publication of this installment. All of the covers are going to be changed as they are reprinted, so if you like the original covers, buy the first five books as soon as you can. By the by, I know this because of an Amazon comments conversation with a Llewellyn rep that I jumped in to because I really do care that much about book covers.

Strange as it may sound, I really love the original covers; it was the cover of “The Witch’s Mirror,” which features a tattered crow looking at a magickal, beautiful version of itself in a mirror that made me pick up the first book. Alas, the eternal bane of book collectors is the non-uniform set, which seems to be part of our destiny. The original cover, for the record, is super cute; I put it below so you can decide for yourself, but I like it much better than the final release version of the cover above.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s 2017 Magical Almanac

Llewellyn's 2017 Magical AlmanacLlewellyn’s 2017 Magical Almanac: Practical Magic for Everyday Living is one of the publisher’s annual offerings and contains a series of interesting articles geared toward pagans and witches. It is Llewellyn’s longest running annual and is similar to the Witches’ Companion, though it differs in some key ways.

The Almanac is divided into four sections: Earth Magic, Air Magic, Fire Magic, and Water Magic. In the center there is an Almanac Section that has information on Moon signs, Sabbats (Northern and Southern Hemisphere), and a calendar that contains Moon information and various festivals. The Elemental Magic sections are filled with 8-9 articles each with a total of 35 articles in this edition. Each article has a different author and are around 5-10 pages long apiece. There are many different kinds of articles, not all of which work for me, but there’s plenty to like. Below are my favorite articles from each section along with some information about them. At the bottom you will find some issues and concerns, along with my final recommendation.

Earth Magic

“Luminous Labyrinths” by Natalie Zaman

This article discusses labyrinths, but also provides a lot of practical activities. There’s a guided visualization, a May Day labyrinth, and a tabletop version, all of which look intriguing. If you’re looking for something a little different to add to your coven’s celebrations, there are a lot of ideas here.

“Ten Essential Herbs” by Deborah Blake

Just a continuation of my Deborah Blake obsession; seriously, though, she pretty much always writes excellent articles. Frankly, the longer you’re a witch, the simpler your craft tends to get, so Blake’s list of essential herbs and their uses is very helpful. Many herbs have multiple purposes, and a lot of these are ‘catch-alls’ that can be found in any kitchen. All of them are affordable, as well, which is always a plus.

Honorable Mention: “From Care to Karma” by Hannah E. Johnston whose food blessing we used for our Thanksgiving.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s 2018 Witches’ Companion

Llewellyn's 2018 Witches' CompanionLlewellyn’s 2018 Witches Companion: An Almanac for Contemporary Living is the 10th installment in their Witches Companion Series, which started in 2008. Per usual I absolutely love the cover and want to have a backyard and then make that crescent moon flower bed. For those new to the series, “almanac” is a bit inaccurate, as the book is really just a set of short articles with a calendar in the back. My reviews of the 2016 and 2017 installments are on this site (click years to view). The articles range between six and twelve pages long with the average article being ten pages, very digestible if you are looking for a book to pick up and read casually. They’re divided into four sections: “Community Forum,” “Witchy Living,” “Witchcraft Essentials,” and “Magical Transformations.” The final section has a calendar from September 2017 through December 2018 that has the same information as Llewellyn’s Witches’ Calendar and Witches Datebook in a monthly grid format. Per my tradition I will be discussing my favorite articles below.

“Exonerating the Warlock: A Brief History and Revision of a Misunderstood Term” by Storm Faerywolf

I love linguistics and revision, so there was no way I was going to be able to resist this article. While ‘witch’ is a catch-all term with no gender, it can feel like there’s no term for witches who identify as men. In this article Faerywolf (I can’t with the name, I’m sorry) talks about how he identifies as a Warlock. The term, which means “oath breaker” is often not used or frowned upon, and the author argues for an attempt to reclaim it. I wasn’t completely won over, but I do admit that the umbrella term ‘witch’ doesn’t work for a lot of people, including my own partner.

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Book Review: The Magickal Family by Monica Crosson

The Magickal Family by Monica Crosson“The Magickal Family: Pagan Living in Harmony with Nature” by Monica Crosson was published in early October 2017. It caught my eye, but I didn’t read it for a new months because I assumed there wasn’t much that I would be able to get from it. We have a teenager who is magick-curious, but that’s it. However, my coven mate will be having a witchling soon, so I decided to get her this book for Yule. Of course, book nerd that I am, I couldn’t just wrap it without looking through it first, and before you know it I had read the whole thing. Even though this book does have a lot to do with raising Pagan children, an opportunity that our magickal household has missed out on, I still found myself getting a lot out of this book. It’s an excellent read, both informative and extremely engaging, and full of good ideas. While a lot of it works for families with witchlings, this book could also easily be used by adult witches without children, since there are a lot of ceremonies and magick for adult life events too (handfasting, recipes, cottage witchery).

The book is organized into two parts and has a total of fourteen chapters. Part 1: “Family Magick” has six chapters and is more general, while Part 2: “Family Sabbat Celebrations” covers the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year.

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Guide to Llewellyn’s Pagan and Witchcraft Annuals

Ever since I was a baby witch, even before I worked the counter at a local metaphysical shop, I have been a Llewellyn fan. They’ve been publishing books for our magickal community for decades, and they have their annuals perfected. Even with new magickal publishing houses brings excellents texts to the market, you cannot get away from Llewellyn. There are quite a few annuals, too, so I thought it may be helpful if I listed them and explained their contents and uses to you all.

These annuals release in the summer, usually in very early July, but there’s often a sale in June on Amazon. This list covers Llewellyn’s witchcraft and paganism annuals, not their astrological ones, which may be a separate post at some point. They are listed in alphabetical order, and all covers open larger when clicked.

Llewellyn's 2017 Herbal Almanac Llewellyn's 2018 Herbal Almanac Llewellyn's 2019 Herbal Almanac

Herbal Almanac – The annual Herbal Almanac is perfect for green and kitchen witches, or anyone who is intrigued by our plant friends. It’s a series of articles written by various authors, but all of them are about plants and herbs. Topics include planting, gardening, cooking and home remedies, and poisonous plants. This annual has been published since 2000 and the covers are very clean and attractive. Unlike the other volumes here, many non-magickal folks read this annual.

Llewellyn's 2017 Magical Almanac Llewellyn's 2017 Magical Almanac Llewellyn's 2019 Magical Almanac

Magical Almanac: Practical Magic for Everyday Living – This annual, published since 1990, is organized in sections by element: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. It’s similar to the Witches’ Companion in that in contains a series of short articles, but they are paired with specific elements (though some don’t match their element as well as others do). The articles are not connected to specific dates, so, aside from the calendar section, it can be read any time. The calendar section, located in the middle of the book, covers Full Moons, New Moons, and holidays, both modern and traditional. The vibe of this book is different than the Companion in a lot of ways, and I would say that the Almanac is more pagan and practical with its emphasis on activities and education, whereas the Companion mostly deals with philosophical issues or current debates within the witchcraft community. I find that the Magical Almanac is a lot more accessible to newcomers, as well. The covers have always featured a magickal creature of some kind, and a best-of collection was published in 2015. A list of all Magical Almanacs is on Goodreads here.
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Book Review: Basic Witches by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman

Basic Witches Book CoverBasic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell with Your Coven by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman was published in 2017 by Quirk Books. I pre-ordered the book because it’s illustrated by Camille Chew, whose work I’ve followed for a bit. I’m so excited that she’s getting magickal book illustration gigs, so I actually bought this book to support her. It’s very modern and ‘hip’ looking, designed to attract, presumably, young women. The color scheme of the book, especially the internal illustrations which don’t have any gold, is exactly the same as the Little Paper Forest Zodiac Deck that I just reviewed. The book itself is hardcover with gold foil details (all the yellow parts shown are metallic in person), and a much appreciated ribbon bookmark built in. It’s divided into seven sections with illustrations throughout, some of which are very funny. Every chapter ends with a set of spells related to the content that was covered therein.

The book is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, in part, and absolutely not for real witches. At the beginning of Chapter 1 the authors define “a witch” as any woman who is rebellious: “For our purposes witchcraft means the kind of mundane pursuits that might once have resulted in accusation: … not caring what men think, … and just knowing stuff” (15). They continue, “If you speak when you’re told to be quiet … you’re practicing witchcraft” (15). Then I put the book down for four months.

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Book Review: Brigid by Courtney Weber

Brigid by Courtney WeberBrigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber was published in 2015 by Weiser Books. I picked it up in 2016, but only got around to reading it recently. The book is divided into ten chapters ranging from about 15-30 pages each. I picked this book up off my shelf as Imbolc loomed large over the horizon. Having already read a couple of books on the Sabbat itself, I decided to learn more about the goddess associated with it: Brigid.

On the whole my feelings about this book are positive, but I did struggle to read it at points, and for multiple reasons. I found myself getting a little bored at parts, forgetting what I had just read, or letting my eyes flit around the page. I started out really enjoying the book, but early on, the author confides that the book is part of a ‘deal’ that she made with the goddess. Forgetting the deal and not holding up her end of the bargain, the author says that Brigid became cold and vengeful, culminating in the priestess doing Weber’s dedication hitting and berating her. Finally, a friend channels Brigid who, again, vengefully leaves the newly-pregnant woman with twins who resemble the goddess as punishment for the friend’s resistance. There’s something about 1) speaking the mystical aloud, and 2) this vengeful idea of Brigid, that cooled me on the book somewhat. I’m all for warrior goddess – all for them – but the idea of Brigid as petty and cruel over what amount to human error or misunderstandings just doesn’t resonate with me. Also, as witches and pagans we all have unusual mystical experiences, but when they’re stated aloud they lose something to me. I feel like the author’s personal stories about Brigid were a roadblock to me fully appreciating the book, and the research that went into it. All that being said, there’s quite a lot of good in the book as well, so let’s get to the content of the book itself.

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Book Review: Imbolc by Carl F. Neal (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials Series)

Imbolc Llewellyn Sabbat EssentialsLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan Wheel of the Year. The author varies by Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Brigid’s Day was written by Carl F. Neal. Neal is not an author with whom I am familiar; researching him it appears that his area of expertise is incense.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your Book of Shadows.

The Old Ways section is as interesting as always, and contains a lot of helpful information about the history of the Sabbat. The section discusses what winter meant to people throughout history, and why that meaning makes Imbolc so important. Roman, Egyptian, Native American, and Asian traditions are discussed, as well as Celtic traditions and the goddess Brigid. The New Ways section discusses the difficulties of the Sabbat, and Brigid’s importance to Imbolc as well as modern paganism. Secular holidays are examined, and there is a brief examination of activities that can be done during the Imbolc season. Both of these section are quick overviews.

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Review: Coloring Book of Shadows Planner for a Magical 2018 by Amy Cesari

Coloring Book of Shadows 2018 by Amy CesariColoring Book of Shadows Planner for a Magical 2018 is written and illustrated by Amy Cesari, who also self-published this planner. Getting the book I had no idea that it was not traditionally published, which was really cool. After reading it, I only had a few inklings, which deserve a mention. At one point the author makes the assumption that all witches are pagans and uses the terms interchangeably. Also, on the November page, Cesari refers to Scorpio energy as “selfish,” and as a Scorpio you can guess how I took that. A broader issue is that the reader is encouraged to “channel” various entities at different times; using channeling as a harmless or simple concept is probably something a witchcraft editor would have advised against. The Mabon “Flaming Pumpkin Sacrifice” spell seems flat out dangerous, as in, burn your house down dangerous. Those are all of my complains because I actually really like this planner, so let’s move on to the good stuff.

The Coloring Book of Shadows Planner for a Magical 2018 measures 9″ x 6″ and the cover of the book is matte black. It has a clean-yet-magical vibe to it that also fills the pages inside. While I got the bound version of the book – which was much cheaper – a spiral bound version is also available. This is very much appreciated since I love to have a planner that I can fold in half on a desk or lay completely flat for writing. It has a total of 156 pages, and there are illustrations on every page.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s 2017 Sabbats Almanac

Llewellyn's 2017 Sabbat AlmanacThe Llewellyn’s Sabbats Almanac was started in 2009 and is published annually. The book is divided into eight sections, one for each Sabbat, starting at Samhain 2016 and ending with Mabon 2017. There are seven articles within each Sabbat’s section that repeat: an introduction, Cosmic Sway, the Old Ways, Feasts and Treats, Crafty Crafts, All One Family, and a ritual. This is consistent throughout all the Sabbats Almanac books, though occasionally the features are swapped out. For example, for the 2018 Almanac, All One Family has been taken out, and a plant feature has replaced it. Even though it’s rather late for this review, I marked more pages in this edition than the 2016 and 2018 volumes combined, so it’s still well worth picking up. Each section is about 30 pages long; I read each after the previous Sabbat has ended to get new ideas to add to my own coven’s celebration.

Aside from the Cosmic Sway section, which discusses particular cosmic timing, this Sabbats Almanac can be read any time. Because the Cosmic Sway section has essentially ‘expired’ by now, I’m leaving it out of the review, though I will say that I found the articles really useful at the time. The recipes in Feasts and Treats usually use meat in some way; there are multiple recipes provided, but since I’m vegetarian I don’t think I’ve ever used a recipe from a Sabbats Almanac. The Old Ways sections are always brief (about 3 pages) and go into Polish, Slavic, Russian, and Lithuanian traditions. I always really enjoy this section, but writing that under each Sabbat heading would be repetitious. Below are the highlights of each section, organized by Sabbat.

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Yule by Dorothy Morrison (Llewellyn’s Holiday Series)

Yule a Celebration of Light and Warmth by Dorthy MorrisonLlewellyn’s Holidays Series was published in the late 90s and was eventually replaced by the Sabbat Essentials Series. The Holidays Series was what I had as a baby witch, and I decided to start collecting them a while back. This was partially out of nostalgia and partially in the hopes of supplementing some of the weaker Sabbat Essentials books. “Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth” by Dorothy Morrison is the second book that I read in the Holiday Series, and it’s excellent. This book’s Sabbat Essentials counterpart is “Yule” by Susan Pesznecker, which is also great.

While the information in many of the Holiday books is outdated, there is still a lot of good information in them. In fact, some of the Holiday books are better than their more contemporary Essentials Series counterparts. One of the quirks of the Holiday series is that some books are titled the Christian or secular name of the holiday, which is a little odd. I think it was done so that you could read the books in public and/or give them to muggles, but it’s not consistent throughout the series. Thankfully “Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth” by Dorothy Morrison is not one of those.

Morrison’s “Yule” was first published in 2000 and I have a first edition, 11th printing from 2011. I absolutely love the cover, it’s so festive and pretty. A few more notable differences between the Holiday Series and the Sabbat Essentials Series are that the Holidays Series does not have consistent covers/spines (though they are all the same size), or a uniform chapter structure, and that the Holiday Series books are much larger in size than the Essentials Series books.

“Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth” is divided into four sections with a whopping twenty total chapters; in the interest of economy I will be review each of the four sections, rather than each sub-section, which would be tedious.

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Book Review: Yule by Susan Pesznecker (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Yule by Susan PeszneckerLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan Wheel of the Year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Yule: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for the Winter Solstice was penned by Susan Pesznecker and is one of the best books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your book of shadows immediately.

The Old Ways section is extremely interesting and has a lot of helpful information. The section covers the origin of December as a month, the Yule log, traditional festivals, the gift giving tradition, the solar new year, as much more. The New Ways section discusses basic activities, different traditions in their modern form, and details important correspondences and activities. This section also addresses the living vs. artificial tree debate that seems to be an inevitable part of the pagan household, as well as what to do when only one half of a couple is pagan. Happily enough, so many ‘Christmas’ traditions are actually pagan in origin that you can openly celebrate Yule and still stay in the ‘broom closet’ without a lot of effort.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s 2017 Witches’ Companion

Llewellyn's 2017 Witches' CompanionAfter I enjoyed last year’s volume so much that I was looking forward to reading the 2017 installment of Llewellyn’s Witches’ Companion: An Almanac for Contemporary Living; apparently the reviewing part just took a little while. However, my goal was to get this review up before the end of the year, and I did, but expect a review of the 2018 edition much sooner next year. This is the 9th installment in the Witches’ Companion series, and it has a very lovely urban witchcraft themed cover illustration. Can we get a foldout poster? The Companion series is a set of interesting articles, ranging between 8 to 13 pages long, that take up debates and interesting issues in the pagan and witchcraft community, and explore them in a well-written and thoughtful way. Not all of the articles will resonate, but the wide variety of articles means that something will almost certainly interest you, and you might learn about something you have never considered before. It’s also diverse enough that an eclectic pagan witch, like myself, will feel welcome. Instead of speaking in endless generalities I’ve decided to give more information and specific reviews of my favorite articles, just like last year. They are reviewed in order of appearance in the book.

“The Dark Aspects of Bright-Siding” by Charlie Rainbow Wolf

This article discusses a concept known as ‘bright-siding’ ie: always looking on the bright side of things despite that facts that life isn’t always so sunny. This article addresses the many downsides of having a relentlessly positive attitude, including the ways that it can lead to failure. This article is definitely worth a read, and a lot of it can be applied to non-magickal folks. I am decidedly not a ‘look on the bright side’ kind of person, and it’s nice to see someone extolling the virtues of this view. Everything in moderation, though, of course. If you don’t like this article you can read “Good Vibe Badass” in this same annual instead for the positive side of positive thinking.

“The Dark Goddess as Initiator: Reading into Fairy Tale and Myth” by Jane Meredith

I absolutely love fairy tales and teach them in my classroom whenever I can, so this article resonated with me. It explores the way dark goddesses appear in myth and fairy tale, and offers a lens through which to re-interpret them, not as ‘bad women’, but as dark goddesses. The article sets up a much more interesting reading of these characters, not viewing the young princess as opposite the ‘bad’ queen, but seeing them as connected and existing on the same path. This was my favorite article in the collection.

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My Current Magickal Book Wishlist

One of my proudest accomplishments of 2017 (the year’s not even over yet, but whatever) is that I started reading more. I’m a teacher, so I’m reading for work constantly, which means leisure reading takes a back seat whenever school is in session. Happily, I found a place for regular reading in my day-to-day life, at the gym of all places, and I’ve been steadily working my way through my magickal book shelves ever since.

This is essentially a Top 10 list of witchcraft and paganism books that I’d like to read before the end of next year. To be on the list it has to be on my Amazon wishlist and I have to not have a copy of it yet. You could use it as a guide to bulk up your own reading list/magickal library, and if you have read any of these, I would love to know what you think of them! They are organized alphabetically by book title; clicking on images opens the cover image larger, and book title links go to Amazon.

Ancient Ways by Pauline Campanelli

Ancient Ways: Reclaiming the Pagan Tradition by Pauline Campanelli (2014) – There are two Pauline Campanelli books on my wishlist, the other is Wheel of the Year: Living a Magical Life. This book is for the whole Wheel of the Year; most of the books I have are for one Sabbat, so I’m interested in adding another book to my shelves that covers the whole year.

The Hearth Witch's Compendium by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day by Anna Franklin (2017) – I am always wanting to learn more about witchcraft, especially around the home, which is where I do the majority of my magickal work. This book is an assemblage of recipes, spells, and tips and it has excellent reviews. I leafed through it at the bookstore and it looks like a really good reference to have around.

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Book Review: Practical Protection Magick by Ellen Dugan

Practical Protection Magick by Ellen DuganI picked up Ellen Dugan’s book, Practical Protection Magick: Guarding & Reclaiming Your Power, over a year before I read it, then once I did read it, months passed before I wrote this review of it. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reviewing this book because my views of it are, on the whole, quite positive (you all know how critical I can be of witchcraft books), and I think it deserves a spot in the library of anyone who is interested in the subject of protection magick.

Practical Protection Magick was published by Llewellyn in 2011 and has kind of a ‘look how witchy I am’ style cover, which I hope won’t deter you from reading it. In the introduction Dugan explains that this book on protection magick and psychic self defense exists in the ‘middle ground’ between so-called white and black magick. A lot of purists don’t believe in protection/defense magick, while others don’t feel comfortable with this, shall we say, shadier side of the magickal path. That’s partially because, as Dugan points out, witches either like to consider themselves invulnerable, or pretend that no one in our community is sketchy (yeah, right). The book contains information, spells, and exercises divided into nine chapters that include four elemental-themed (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) chapters, amongst others. The level of this book is definitely intermediate, though there are things in here that both beginning and advanced witches should find helpful.

I really enjoyed Chapter 1: “Psychic Awareness and Witchery,” which includes a self-assessment to help one determine what their psychic strengths (and, by association, their weaknesses) are. The four types of psychic strengths analyzed are clairvoyance, clairaudience, empathy, and intuition. Most witches consider themselves to be one or more of these things, but having a survey to take and analyze was very helpful. The results that I got provided me with some interesting insights. The section that follows discusses strengths and weaknesses of each type, which I found extremely informative. Chapter 2: “Knowledge is Power (Air)” also begins with a self-reflection; a series of questions to help the reader understand their own magickal background. This is followed by an exploration of psychic attack, including how to notice it, symptoms of it, how to deal with it, and a section on different types of hauntings.

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Book Review: Ostara by Kerri Connor (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials Series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Ostara: Rituals, Recipes & Lore of the Spring Equinox was penned by Kerri Connor; this is one of the strongest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your book of shadows immediately.

The Old Ways section in many books can feel rambling, but this one is brief and covers some interesting information. Ostara – the Vernal Equinox – was traditionally the New Year, even in cultures that didn’t celebrate Ostara. In fact, we are unsure who did celebrate Ostara at all, the holiday is one of the most pieced together of all the pagan sabbats and the one most open to debate. The New Ways section gives advice on activities for the Ostara season. Yes season, not just sabbat. This is so important and often ignored: the sabbats are seasons, six week long periods, not eight days spaced six weeks apart. Connor suggests day trips, egg activities, herb gathering, and gives a little history on the egg hunt. There are a lot of useful tidbits in these small sections.

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

The Witch's Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey Llewellyn’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: The Craft, Lore and Magick of the Witch’s Grimoire 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 the author’s personal magickal path more than anything else.

Since the book series is presented as a general guide to major tools in witchcraft, I feel that it’s important to not have one particular path emphasized. In this book, the author adds in a lot of Christian information that I feel does not belong, talking about Jesus and angels frequently. Mankey himself started on a Christo-pagan path, but that certainly doesn’t mean it belongs in the book. The book is based heavily around Mankey’s own experiences, perhaps more than it is on research on the Book of Shadows and/or Grimoire tradition, and he uses more examples from his personal life than I feel is appropriate. In that same vein Mankey is Wiccan, and much of the book is influenced by Wicca due to that fact. There are many witches, myself included, who are not Wiccan at all. Since these are general guides, or at least are presented as such, it would be nice if it wasn’t so specific as to a certain path. Additionally, and this is a writing gripe, he breaks the third wall and talks about his editor’s suggestions, letting the reader know that he was forced to add things. It felt out of place, but clearly the editor had no issue with it, since the passages were published. Still, it felt odd.

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Book Review: Everyday Witchcraft by Deborah Blake

Everyday Witchcraft by Deborah BlakeThis year one of my goals was to read more, specifically about witchcraft and paganism. Most recently I finished reading Deborah Blake’s Everyday Witchcraft: Making Time for Spirit in a Too-Busy World. I am so pleased that I got this book and read it immediately instead of stuffing it in the back of my magickal book pile. I ended up really loving it, flagging dozens of pages, transferring quotes to my book of shadows, and generally thinking about living witchcraft everyday in a much more serious way.

The level of the book is probably not beginner, but is pretty much every level after beginner. Blake doesn’t explain witchcraft or paganism to the reader (thankfully), nor does she lean too much toward one path (thankfully). What she does do is gives lots of ideas for altars, elemental correspondences, home protection, and daily witchy stuff, none of which is fluffy nonsense. The chapters were around 20 pages each, which made it very digestible, and it’s organized into ten chapters with a bonus chapter of book recommendations (yes, please!). I ended up adding a whopping eight new magick books to my wishlist thanks to this reading, including one of Blake’s other books, which she plugs just a tiny bit too much (I don’t blame her though, if I had a book published I’d work it into every conversation, and she has a lot of books out).

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Book Review: Samhain by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials: SamhainLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Halloween was penned by Diana Rajchel, who also wrote Mabon. At the risk of being a downer: those are the two weakest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

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. This is because the books are presented as “essential” guides to the Sabbat, so I feel that they have a bit of an obligation to be more general. The other complaint, which is far more important, is that the rituals included in the Rituals of Celebration are quite weak. Generally, a good book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series has a ritual for a solitary, a couple, and a coven; this is a great formula. This volume’s solitary ritual is “A Solo Ritual to See Beyond the Veil,” complete with a full page list of supplies, which is just excessive. The ritual feels excessive, too, with all the anointing and chanting that pushes me away from Wicca. Then, if that’s not enough, she invokes Christian angels to assist. Seriously? Finally, it’s not really a ritual for Samhain, but more of a pseudo-Christian ritual. I was so insulted when I read it that I was beyond words (temporarily, obviously). The two person ritual is the Wiccan “great rite,” which I guess is so great because you have heterosexual sex in the circle, and which I also find very troubling. Are you alone and doing a handfasting? Great, go for it, and for some Sabbats this is very appropriate (though I do think it should be private). Wiccans seem to advocate (public) sex as an integral part of pagan worship, which I could not find more off-putting. Finally, the group ritual is an underworld maze, which isn’t a full Samhain ritual by any means, and is again endowed with all the hokey theatricality you’d expect.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s 2016 Witches’ Companion

Llewellyn's 2016 Witches' CompanionThis year one of my goals was to read more, specifically on witchcraft and paganism. I picked up several 2016 full-year books to see which would resonate with me the most. Llewellyn’s 2016 Witches’ Companion: An Almanac for Contemporary Living is the first I’ve read through completely and I have to say that I love it. I have also decided to post reviews here to help other people sort through the huge amounts of pagan/witchcraft books available and assist you in making decisions about which witch books to add to your magickal library.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from the 2016 Witches’ Companion, but whatever I was expecting it definitely wasn’t that. The Companion is a series of interesting articles that range between 8 to 13 pages long that take up debates and interesting issues in the pagan community and explore them in a well-written and thoughtful way. Not all of the articles will resonate with you, but that’s okay, because the wide variety of articles means that something almost certainly will touch you, and you might learn about something you have never considered before. It’s also diverse enough that an eclectic pagan like myself, who does not follow one path religiously (pardon the pun) will feel welcome. Instead of speaking in endless generalities I’ve decided to give more information and specific reviews of my favorite articles and how they impacted me and my practice (reviewed in order of occurrence in the book):

“The Path of a Priestess” by Stephanie Woodfield

This article discusses what it truly means to become a priestess and dedicate oneself to one particularly god/dess. Woodfield is a priestess of Morrigan, who does not resonate with me specifically, but my High School best friend and coven leader did follow Morrigan (if I’m remembering correctly). What I got out of this article was more diaphanous in that it made me consider dedicating my work to one goddess specifically. Woodfield also wrote a book called Drawing Down the Sun that I picked up at Barnes and Noble yesterday because I’m extremely drawn to sun goddesses.

“We Are Everywhere: Finding Pagans in the Wild” by Laurel Reufner

This article made me think seriously about “coming out of the broom closet.” Like so many pagans I’ve had some uncomfortable experiences because of my beliefs, but as an adult I feel more of a pull to be an example for young witches, and part of that is being out in the open. Amazingly, coming out to my father (who is gay) was great, he was so much more supportive than I expected. Even more surprisingly, one of my good friends practices as well, and I had no idea! I have this article to thank for giving me the push I needed to inch out into the open.

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