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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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: 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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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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15 Magickal Self-Care Ideas for Witches

Now that we’re in the dark half of the year, ’tis the season for self-care.

I was very intrigued when the concept of ‘self-care’ came to my attention; I teach all day, which I enjoy, but being around people left me feeling drained (classic introvert). At first I thought that self-care meant laying in bed or hiding in the dark for an entire day, so I did just that, but it didn’t help me feel recharged.

In reality, self-care is more empowering than giving in to your impulse to never move. Self-care means that you need to make yourself a priority and push yourself to take care of yourself. The guiding principle of self-care is, in other words, to do something that fills you back up rather than something that drains you. Below is my list of witchy self-care activities, some of which can be done at a moment’s notice, and others that need minimal magickal preparation.

1. Active Meditation – This is doing something that puts you ‘in the zone’ versus traditional, passive meditation (see #13 below). Active meditation can be anything from art projects to walking the dog, but if you lose yourself in it, then it’s active meditation. Active meditation means that you are lost in the moment, that you don’t feel time passing, and doing the activity that enables it can feel very rewarding.

2. Aromatherapy – I don’t know many witches who don’t have at least a few candles around, and filling your space with fragrance can really lighten a mood. I like seasonal smells since the weather doesn’t change much around here, but you can use any scents that help you feel positive emotions. For a magickal boost, use incense that has been charged or has a specific benefit (ie: lavender to calm). Carve sigils into the candles or write affirmations on them to focus their energy release as they burn.

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Dia de los Muertos for Witches and Pagans

My birthday happens to fall on Dia de los Muertos, which has invited many sugar skull themed items into my house, but I’ve never explored the holiday in much detail. Last year, when I told someone my birthday was on the Day of the Dead, they said, “Oh, November 1st?” I didn’t answer, but thought it was odd.

I did a little research and found out that Dia de los Muertos is, as I has assumed my whole life, November 2nd, but that it was a holiday to honor deceased adults. However, November 1st is also a holiday, Dia de los Inocentes (aka “Day of the Innocents”) designed to honor dead children and infants (angelitos). Traditional gravesite visits are reserved for the 2nd, though the spirits of the infants and children are given 24 hours to return to their families, starting at midnight on October 31st. Decorating family altars is common during this time, and I added photos of both of my grandmothers to our altar on Samhain last year.

Below is a list of Dia correspondences that you can add to your magickal journal, and below that is a list of suggested Dia activities that you can participate in.

Some Dia Correspondences

– Altars (ofrendas, family and public)
– Cleaning and Decorating Graves
– Epitaphs (written for yourself or friends)
– Food (nuts, fruit, or the deceased’s favorite meal)
– La Calavera Catrina (circa 1910)
– Marigolds (the flower of the dead, thought to attract souls to the offerings)
– Pan de Muerto (special bread)
– Sugar Skulls (made only as offerings, not for consumption by the living)
– Water (or alcohol, for the adult departed)

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A Witch’s Guide to Full Moon Magick

I’ve been writing Full and New Moon rituals for witches for over a year, but I have also been wanting to change how I write them for just as long. A lot of Full Moon and New Moon rituals that I write have a lot of the same components to them and, because of that, I’ve decided to take the framework I use and make a basic Full Moon Esbat that can be used any time. Witchcraft is very personal, so pick and choose things that you like to do, test it out, change it, and find something that works for your Craft.

What is Full Moon Magick?

A Full Moon ends a lunar cycle that last roughly six months (aka lunations) long. A New Moon is the beginning of the lunar cycle and each New Moon occurs in a specific sign of the zodiac. Two weeks after that New Moon there is a Full Moon in a different sign, but six lunations (months) after that there is a Full Moon in the same sign as the original New Moon. That Full Moon is the end of that lunar cycle. While New Moons are used for setting intentions, Full Moon are manifestation points. Full Moons are an excellent time for cleansing, charging, reflection, and spell work, all of which will be explained in more detail below.

Be aware that a lot of people do Moon work without being witches at all. Ezzie Spencer’s Lunar Abundance practice has nothing to do with witchcraft and is closer to The Secret. This guide, and all of my Moon Magick posts, are based on my own practice of witchcraft; while they can probably be used by anyone, they are designed specifically for witches. Hopefully, this guide can be used by any denomination of witch, but if anything feels like I’m excluding anyone, please leave a comment and I will do my best to remedy it.

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Tanabata Star Festival 2017

It’s hard to believe that it’s Tanabata once again, the year has flown by. Also known as the Star Festival, Tanabata occurs on the evening of July 7th to celebrate the one night that the stars Vega and Altair can be together. In China this festival is called Qixi Festival or The Festival to Plead for Skills which is held on the seventh day of the seventh month. Traditionally this was determined using a Lunar calendar, but more recently it has been celebrated using the Solar calendar. My Tanabata spell in 2016 was the first spell that I posted online, so it’s a bit of an anniversary for me as well.

Tanabata Spell for Witches

In celebration of that anniversary, the Tanabata Wish Spell that I wrote last year has been completely updated. It has been rewritten in a style that makes it easy to put in your Book of Shadows or Grimoire.

Tanabata 2017 Google Doodle

Stories of Tanabata

Additionally, one of my coven traditions is to tell different versions of the same seasonal story for each sabbat. In that same spirit there are many versions of the folktale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” available; the moving story is the inspiration for Tanabata festivals in multiple cultures.

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How to Spot Fake Witches Who Just Want to Sell You Something

Every time witchcraft becomes popular (the 70s, the 90s, the 20-teens) there are people and companies who want to sell us something witch-themed. Necklaces, buttons, shoes, and even tube tops emblazoned with the word “witch” suddenly appear, and for the most part, it’s great. However, if you’re actually a witch, sorting out people who are also actually witches from people who never have (and never will) do magick can be rather difficult. I’ll buy my tube tops from anyone (note: I won’t buy tube tops at all for any reason), but magickal supplies I’m picky about. If I’m buying a spell candle, for example, I’d rather buy one from a fellow witch. This is because the energy of a magickal tool is important, I want to support my community, and a witch is going to know what a witch needs.

Additionally, around the same time the tube tops show up, tons of people will crop up to sell classes, pdf files on ‘the divine feminine’, coven memberships, bespoke tarot decks, or a myriad of other magickal (or vaguely magickal) things. Basically, when witchcraft is popular, people who aren’t witches will try to make money off of us, even if that means pretending to be one of us. I thought it would be helpful to post some tips on how to spot phony witches in the wild and, if you choose, refuse to support them. Disclaimer: I’m not saying that non-witches can’t make awesome witchy stuff, but there are a lot of people who are low-key pretending to be witches just to sell to us. That’s worth being skeptical of, in my opinion.

No Experience or Baby Witch Turned Expert

Some people try to sell us witchcraft decor or supplies when they themselves have no experience with witchcraft. The first type will have “Get your witch on!” emblazoning their website, or they may also start posts/social media blasts with “Hey, coven!” or “This goddess/priestess is wearing our new x, y, z,” or something equally pandering. The brand or marketing is ‘witchy’, but the person or people behind is not. The second type are people who may actually be practicing witches … of a year or two. Sharing baby witch opinions/growth/experience? Great. Claiming to be an expert and teacher when you’ve just started out? Nope. If someone is still learning, their advice can be quite bad, and will likely hurt more than it helps. If they’re pretending to be an expert when they have very little experience, you can bet they’re trying to make money, and will almost certainly disappear in a few years when the trend passes.

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Eight Beltane Season Celebration Ideas

The Beltane season is upon us! Whether you celebrate on May Day Eve (April 30th) or May Day (May 1st) the light half of the year has officially begun. Beltane is generally treated as a fertility festival with a heavy emphasis on sexuality. That’s not my interest in this Sabbat, however. In fact, fertility in the traditional sense is about the last thing that this Pagan couple wants. Additionally, I wanted to come up with a list that works for families with kids and LGBTQ folks who (must) feel excluded from traditionally hetero/Wiccan celebrations, especially Beltane. Witchcraft and paganism is for everyone folks, not just heterosexuals. I know a lot of people celebrate Beltane without the kids, as well, but we try to include them in some type of seasonal activity for every Sabbat.

Regardless of how you choose to observe the Sabbats, below are eight ideas for Beltane celebrations to add to your seasonal activities, be they solitary, in pairs, with kids, in a coven, or conducted from inside the “broom closet.” Remember that Beltane is a season and not just one day; these activities can be done any time in the six weeks between Beltane and Midsummer.

1. Ancestor Work: When you think of ancestor work you are probably going to think of Samhain. However, in the southern hemisphere, Beltane is Samhain. The veil is just as thin on Beltane as it is on Samhain, and each kicks off their respective halves of the year (Beltane for light and Samhain for dark). Because of this you can still communicate with the departed, ask for their blessing, or give them an offering. It’s a nice time to check in and update your ancestors on how you’ve been doing over the last six months. One way to do this is to write them a letter, address the envelope with their name(s), and then burn it in your cauldron or a fire safe container. Offerings to the deceased are traditionally burned as burning items releases it into the ether.

2. Aromatherapy: When you live in a place where the seasons don’t change much, using seasonal fragrances can make it feel like the Wheel of the Year is still turning. We aren’t super strict about it, but generally lavender is a spring/Imbolc scent whereas patchouli is used in the fall/Samhain season. Some suggested scents for Beltane include gardenia, honeysuckle, jasmine, lilac, lily, rose, and any other floral that you enjoy.

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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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Muggle-Friendly Holiday Cards for Witches and Pagans

Yule is one of the Sabbats that blends almost seamlessly with its Christian holiday equivalent: Christmas. Christians have appropriated so many pagan things from Yule, but left them so relatively unchanged that even your Catholic mother-in-law won’t suspect a thing. The noticeable exceptions to this rule are the date (Yule is the 21st, four days before Christmas) and holiday cards.

This year I really wanted to send out Yule cards, so I went on a quest. My first stop was Barnes & Noble. There I found an amazing selection of cards, one of which had a great image of the Holly King (I mean, SANTA CLAUS) on the cover. Unfortunately, on the inside it erroneously declared: “Merry Christmas!” Whut? Why is the Holly King celebrating Christmas? I digress … I then turned to the internet for help; here’s what I found.

Winner! The Yuletide Blessings card from Amber Lotus Publishing. A set of 12 is available on their website for $13.99 (I paid more than that on Amazon, but it ships free, so do your research). Inside it reads, “Warm wishes for this Winter Solstice.” They have a lot of other cards which means that I will be able to buy Yule cards from them for years before I have to find a replacement. Amber Lotus has cards for many different denominations as well and they range from serious to humorous. I think the card I selected works even if you’re in the broom closet, but they have some good, vaguely-pagan holidays cards that are even less suspect than this one.

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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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The Magick of Tanabata

A few mornings ago I woke up and felt inspired to pick up my Llewellyn 2016 Witches’ Spell-a-Day Almanac, and that’s when I realized that July 7th is the holiday Tanabata. It is a traditional Japanese holiday also known as the Star Festival and was inspired by a Chinese folk story. This festival has magickal elements easily adapted to pagan practice, which you know is a pet project of mine. Below is the history of Tanabata and suggestions for how you can adapt this festival to your own pagan practice.

If we were in Japan, the July 7th this year Google doodle would look like this:

Tanabata 2016 Google Doodle

Tanabata occurs every year on the seventh day of the seventh month (July 7th) and commemorates the day that two long-separated lovers – the stars Vega and Altair – are briefly reunited. If it sounds like a familiar the story, it was referenced on Big Bang Theory in the form of Raj’s “romantic Astronomy” discussion (Season 7 Episode 19 specifically). The Chinese myth that inspired the festival is called “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl,” which you can read in full right here (it also has a Japanese equivalent, but with different names). This festival (or matsuri) day is also called the Qixi Festival in China or The Festival to Plead for Skills.

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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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