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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New Moon December 29th 2016 in Capricorn

Stellarscapes by Oriol Angrill Jorda

December 2016’s New Moon in Capricorn occurs at 1:53 AM EST on Thursday the 29th, and you can do your New Moon ritual in Capricorn on either the night of the 28th or the 29th. However, if you want until the 30th the Moon will be void-of-course until 8:29 PM when it enters Aquarius.

The two week manifestation point for this New Moon is January 12th Full Moon in Cancer. The six month manifestation point is on July 9th with the Full Moon in Capricorn.

My guide, Witch’s Guide to New Moon Magick, can be found on the site here; this post is a companion to that guide. If you’re new to Moon magick that’s a great place to begin.

New Moon in Capricorn

This is the last New Moon of 2016, so it’s a great opportunity to write your New Year’s Resolution list. You can also wait until January’s New Moon (which is the Lunar New Year) or the ‘traditional’ date of December 31st. If I’m planning on champagne and watching the ball drop, I’m not going to be fixated on goals, so I usually put them on separate dates. Since New Moon’s also have an aspect of ‘letting go’ to them, this would also be a good time to list what you really want to leave in 2016. Looking back on my older Esbats from 2016 I must say, it’s taken time, but it has been working. I also have my 2016 goal list to review. That will be fun – and terrifying! – I have no idea what’s on it.

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January 2017 Dates to Remember

Grimoire Dashboard January 2017

Important Dates: January 2017

8th: Mercury Retrograde in Capricorn Ends
12th: Full Moon in Cancer
20th: Celtic Tree Month of Birch Ends
21st: Celtic Tree Month of Rowan Begins
28th: New Moon in Aquarius
28th: Lunar New Year – Year of the Rooster/Chicken (New Year’s Resolution time if you celebrate the Lunar New Year instead of the Solar one.)

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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Eight Samhain Season Celebration Ideas

Samhain's Magic Circle Print by Poison Apple Print Shop

Samhain (also known as Halloween) is often a favorite in the pagan community with many witches using it to mark the end of the year. You may choose to celebrate Samhain on October 30th, 31st, or on the closest New Moon. The veil between the material and ethereal worlds thinning on a New Moon is too beautiful for many to pass up.

Regardless of when you choose to observe the Sabbat, below are eight ideas for Samhain celebrations to add to your ritual or observance, be it solitary, in pairs, in a coven, or conducted from inside the “broom closet.” Eight More Samhain Ideas can be found here! Please feel free to post suggestions in the comments, have a beautiful Samhain, and blessed be.

1. Ancestor Work: One of the biggest aspects of Samhain’s energy is the increased ability to communicate with ancestors who have passed to the other side. Bringing photos of ancestors to the ritual or to your altar is a beautiful was to observe this connection. You can also tell stories about ancestors, research your own lineage, or send them messages. One of the best ways to send messages to the other side, in my opinion, is to write what you want to say on a piece of parchment paper (remember to address it) and burn it in your cauldron, thus sending it to the other side. In the Chinese tradition, burning Joss paper (also called Hell Money) is a way to send literal currency into the afterlife.

2. Candles: No witch is a stranger to burning candles, as they are an integral part of so many sabbats, rituals, and spells. Fitting colors and their correspondences for Samhain would be: black (banishing negative energy and acknowledging the dark half of the year, death, etc.), orange (heightened creativity and energy), purple (increased psychic awareness, can be used in conjunction with divination), and silver (you can substitute with white; representing lunar energy). For those who have issues with smoke, LED candle are just as effective.

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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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