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 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 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 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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