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 magickal proclivities 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, perhapf more than 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 bunch of books out).

The beginning of Chapter 1 was when I knew that it was a volume that I would connect with. Blake writes: “Witchcraft today is different than it was in the distant past, when most of the people we would call Witches might not even have used that name for themselves. … Their Witchcraft may be where ours gets its roots, but it was not our witchcraft” (1). It might sounds strange, but that passage struck me forcibly. While we, as Witches and Pagans, do have information about “the old ways,” we do not live how they lived, and our Craft does need to adjust to this new world. Before I go on I have to say that there’s something about Blake’s authorial voice that I really connected with. I felt like I was talking to a friend, and that may be her writing, or it may be me reacting to her words, so keep that in mind as I continue to gush about this book.

Chapter 2 is where the title of the book comes in: The Everyday Witch. Even though the whole book is on this topic, this chapter especially focuses on living witchcraft every day and how that can be accomplished. I have added small, morning-time rituals to my day because of it, and I’m already seeing the benefit of that addition. In Chapter 5: A Simple Pagan Practice, Blake gives helpful advice on how to simplify the way you practice so that it can easily become part of everyday life. I think many of us fall into the trap of being pagan on “special occasions” like the Sabbats, being witches on the Esbats, and not really thinking about it every single day.

My absolute favorite chapters were clustered together near the end of the book. Chapter 6: With a Little Help From My Friends makes a compelling argument for being “out of the broom closet” and how to present yourself as a pagan/witch. As someone who has recently “come out” as a witch, I thought this was a great chapter, because it argues that we need to consider ourselves as ambassadors for the Craft. Chapter 7: Fur, Feather, and Fang is about familiars and addresses the “spirit animal” debate that’s so heated right now, including a helpful and culturally sensitive solution. Finally, Chapter 8: Your Magickal Home includes very helpful tips for infusing your house with magick, something that I am particularly interested since we might be moving soon. That’s a rundown of my favorite chapters; I really couldn’t help myself from including a bunch of them here.

If you are a witch, new to the Craft or a veteran, who needs practical ideas on how to better make witchcraft part of your everyday life, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Cross posted on my new website, Crystal Court Coven.

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.

“Why is Journaling Such an Angsty Process for So Many People?” by Susan Pesznecker
An excellent article about the merits and difficulties of journaling in the pagan community. Pesznecker explains the neuroscience behind journaling and why it is so important (the article is so well-written that I want to give it to my students) and explains that handwritten journals are “better” than online because the act of writing with a physical object transfers what is written into long-term memory more effectively. There is also a magickal dedication provided along with “best practices” and a list of recommended reading. This article absolutely made me feel that journaling was essential to my magickal practice and made me want to come up with journal prompts to help other pagans struggling with the journal keeping process.

“Easy Guide to Guided Meditation” by Blake Octavian Blair
Helpful tips on guided meditations as well as how to write them. This article reminded me of when I was a younger witch I would conduct guided meditations all the time without any self-consciousness. Now that I’m older I feel more anxious about this and I have no idea why. This article rekindled my interest in guided meditation and made me want to write and conduct one again.

“Recognizing and Combating the Evil Eye: Putting It On and Poking It Out” by Esthamarelda McNevin
This article gave me some really excellent visualization techniques to deal with negativity and ill-wishes. As an energetically sensitive person who is also a classroom teacher I often walk through the day feeling bombarded and leave my workplace feeling so drained that I go home and sleep. The techniques McNevin discusses are immediately useful and, of course, I am very drawn to eye jewelry, so that didn’t hurt anything. There’s some great history in the article too, as well as ways to combat and recognize the evil eye. There is nothing about how to cast one, however, since that is black magick, so just put that out of your mind right now.

This is just a small sampling of articles that had a particularly strong impact on me personally. The entire collection is very well-written and, as we expect from Llewellyn, beautifully illustrated. There were only a tiny handful of articles that I didn’t feel that I got that much out of, and a few out of twenty-eight is pretty impressive. I highly recommend this book for pagans of all paths, new practitioners and seasoned witches alike.

Blessed be!