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Author Archives: Alanna Kali

About Alanna Kali

Alanna Kali is an astrologer, numerologist, and pioneer spirit that loves to explore life through the lens of depth psychology. She has a passion for studying the humanities and social trends. Her academic work is centered upon reuniting body, mind, and spirit through eco-psychology. She loves reading, spending time in nature, and travel.

The Relative Tarot, by Carrie Paris

The Relative Tarot: Your Ancestral Blueprint for Self-Discovery, by Carrie Paris
Weiser Books, 1578637627, 96 pages, 82 cards, November 2021

Ancestry has been a prominent theme for me this November. I’ve taken an ancestral astrology class, while also curating book club questions on Hiero for Badass Ancestors. The Relative Tarot: Your Ancestral Blueprint for Self-Discovery by Carrie Paris came along in perfect harmony with these other happenings. So far, it’s one of the most unique tarot decks that I’ve ever worked with. I’m just loving the bridge it opens between past, present, and future.

And this is exactly what Carrie Paris does best, as her work often allows for divination across the barriers of time and space. She holds a Masters in the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination from the University of Kent, UK. Paris also has recently published Generations Oracle with Lisa Bonnice, which uses casting pieces, such as charms and coins based on the Lenormand Oracle, and a pendulum to connect with ancestors.

One of my favorite divination systems created by Paris is the Magpie Oracle, which uses small charms to cast divinations. I’ve always found her approach to divination very out of the box. It’s refreshing to have new ways to connect with spirit, and it’s clear Paris puts a lot of thoughtfulness into her creations.

The methodology for The Relative Tarot is just as unique. Paris asked her readers to send her photographs of their ancestors, and thus this deck was born of their images and stories. Initially, she planned for it to only be Majors and Court cards, but she received so many portraits and requests to be included that she decided to also include the Minor cards as well.

A sturdy box holds the cards. It has a side-flap for easy opening. Right when flipping it open, a mysterious woman with a mask and wings catches the eye, piquing intrigue and igniting curiosity in the reader. The potency of the deck can be felt as a glittering shimmer of magic that is decades old, now recreated to continue to flow through the veins of time.

The cards are absolutely stunning with their golden edges and beautifully crafted imagery. Old photographs are laid over colorful starry backgrounds with traditional tarot symbolism intermixed too. They feel of a different time, and this out of the ordinary sensation heightens the connection to the slip-space in the cracks of time, where intuition shines.

As I look through the cards, I wonder who these people were and what their story was. It’s like discovering a treasure chest of photographs in the attic, enchanted with memories, hopes, and wishes. You can see the personality of all the ancestral relatives on these cards shining through the looks in their eyes.

I am someone who enjoys historical non-fiction books because I enjoy the sensation of putting myself in someone else’s shoes and seeing what their life was like to live. I listen to their story and then integrate it into my own life, filled with the wisdom of those I have taken the time to learn more about. I feel like this deck gives me the ability to do this, only now these relatives are guiding me in regard to my spiritual path and potential future outcomes.

However, The Relative Tarot is not like a usual tarot deck, and as soon as you look at the guidebook you will see this. This deck is intended to help the reader “to create a divine Tarot Blueprint that will illuminate who you are, and what you’re here to do.”1 Paris writes this deck was created to experience your soul’s truth through an ancestral filter, helping one to see how ancestral influence is affecting one’s personal evolution and ancestral line.

Paris uses three types of cards for this ancestral and self-discovery method: Birth Cards, Annual Cards, and Significator Cards. Birth Cards are Major Arcana cards that represent one’s soul expression, including their personality, core ideals, challenges, unconscious urges, and ancestral agenda.2 Annual cards are also Major Arcana cards, but these change each year, offering a glimpse of the energies of the upcoming year, including opportunities for growth and key lessons. Then Significator Cards are Court Cards that connect the reader to their ancestral imprint, showing what might be impacting our choices and behavior.

To make it easy to navigate these calculations, Paris provides detailed instruction on how to find your cards through numerology. Then the Major and Court Cards in the deck are labeled with numbers to make pairing the cards together easier. The bottom left show the Birth Card numerological patterns and the bottom right indicates the corresponding Minor Arcana Cards with that Birth Card pattern.

For example, my Birth Card pattern is Universe, Hanged Man, and Empress. This pattern pairs with all the 3s in the Minor Arcana. However, it goes even deeper than this because within the Birth Card pattern, there can be shadow cards, whose energy is often unconscious or not tapped into.

To be honest, at first I found the entire system a bit confusing. I had to really concentrate and do the calculations and read the guidebook thoroughly for about an hour to start understanding this system. But Paris does a fairly good job of making this complex system approachable for readers. There’s even a Blueprint Review on pages 50-51 of the guidebook that is a fill-in-the-blank page for all the calculations.

In the end, I did get a lot of meaning out of using this process to learn more about my soul’s path and ancestral influences in my life. I think it would be especially helpful if readers also used this deck in combination with Mary K. Greer’s Archetypal Tarot, which focuses in-depth on birth cards. It’s also worth noting, this system is very different from simply doing tarot spreads to learn more about your ancestors, such as the process described in Ancestral Tarot by Nancy Hendrickson.

While this deck is phenomenal in what it offers, readers should be aware that it doesn’t give any descriptions of the tarot cards in the guidebook. For this reason, I recommend it to more experienced readers that are already comfortable with the traditional meanings of each tarot card, in case they want to use the deck to do spreads or read for others.

But it’s for this same reason that I DO recommend it to advanced readers because it’s a deck tailored to a different system of reading that can yield rich insight. Even though it takes a bit of time to learn it, I think once the general meaning of the Birth Card, Annual Card, and Significator Card is understood, this becomes a potent way to connect more deeply to one’s soul purpose, current lessons, and their ancestral line.

One last thing that really impressed me about the deck was how Paris designed it to have 82 cards, and this isn’t because she added new cards. Rather, Paris offers a much-needed option for tarot decks: the choice of three Lovers cards (one male/female, one female/female, and one  male/male). I thought this customization was just lovely to make the deck more inclusive to all relationships. Then Paris also allows readers to decide if they want Strength and Justice in the Major Arcana to be 8 and 11 or 11 and 8, depending on the system of reading they use.

All in all, The Relative Tarot is a really neat deck to add to one’s collection, especially for advanced readers or those interested in learning more about their ancestral line through the cards. The imagery is stunning and the process of reading with these cards is rich and potent with soulful wisdom. Paris has made a timeless deck that moves us into the liminal realm where our ancestors can speak to us and our intuition can be heard; past, present, and future weave together to open a portal for spiritual discovery and integration.

Conform or Be Cast Out, by Logan Albright

Conform or Be Cast Out: The (Literal) Demonization of Nonconformists, by Logan Albright
Moon Books, 1789048427, 176 pages, December 2021

Conform or Be Cat Out: The (Literal) Demonization of Nonconformists by Logan Albright was the dose of reality that I didn’t even realize I needed. In a time with conspiracy-theories abound and a ravenous cancel-culture, this book takes a unique approach of examining the phenomena of attributing individualism, nonconformity, and differences from spiritual to physical as rooted in demonic evil. Albright’s critical-thinking approach to the subject, along with his candidness takes the reader on a journey from biblical times through modernity to highlight how nonconformists have borne the brunt of society’s misinterpretation of them as devils and demons to uncover a  pattern in play.

Some might be surprised to hear it’s not only in religion that this demonization occurs. Albright’s has a wide lens when analyzing this phenomena. Initial chapters include Biblical origins, but they progress to demonization showing up in bright children who excel, saints and martyrs, witches and wizards, medicine and science, notions of individualism, art, movies, and eventually modern Satanic panic of recent times. While this might seem like a smorgasbord of information, in reality, it simply shows how prevalent this recurring pattern is within human culture.

And Albright’s approach is so well-researched that despite the many directions the book goes on, the central theme is easy to follow. There’s a ton of anecdotes from throughout history that keep the reader interested and engaged. I would say that Albright leaves no stone unturned in this quest to shine light on the demonization of nonconformists. He packs a ton of historical information to weave together a very clear picture of how time and time again those who choose to walk their own path, stand by their beliefs, or advocate for something outside the traditional norms often pay a steep price.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is how Albright explains how different notions of the devil, from the imagery of horns, hooves, wings to the concept of selling one’s soul, have been perpetuated by myth, folklore, stories, and songs. As Albright points out, a very small portion of people actually worship demons or the devil. Even Satanists do not have a theology centered upon demonic worship. Nevertheless, this imagery has persisted into modern day. Reading Albright’s research helps to break the grip of this collective archetype to start exploring what the energy is that’s actually being repressed through it.

Albright even draws parallel between the Inquisition and motives of Institutional Psychology, demonstrating many of the fear-based tactics are the same thing, just different covers. While we like to believe we’ve progressed as a society, many of the same patterns repeat. From assertions that the planets don’t revolve around to the Earth to choosing to play Dungeons and Dragons, being outside social bounds doesn’t mean the intention is evil – and it’s time we start to realize this and stop inflicting literal pain and torture on those who buck the norms.

While some revel with the accusations hurled at them, far too many people have paid a high cost for their nonconformity. Since reading this book, I’ve continually reflected on all the potential snuffed out and valuable ideas lost to the tides of time due to unwarranted fear. This book feels like a tribute to them, nodding at their accomplishments, even though the praise is much too late. Nevertheless, we can continue to learn from the scientists, saints, philosophers, writers, occultists, but most of all, free-thinking individuals that pioneered their own paths.

I think we often expect books to answer something for us or provide guidance. What was unique about Conform or Be Cast Out is that Albright doesn’t really do this for the reader. Rather, he lays it all out through his examination of history, mythology, folklore, occultism, philosophy, and even the arts and simply shows examples of this demonization, sometimes discussing where they arose from or what perpetuated, but otherwise just sharing his thoughts on the subject. There is no solution proposed; if anything Albright highlights how this is still occurring now in our culture, despite advancements that make it so we no longer have to be rooted in conformity in order to survive.

I gained a lot from reading the book, even if it’s hard to put my finger on. I can best describe it as a sense of liberation. Reading through all the different examples of how this happens when people break formation, whether it be for scientific advancement or spiritual callings, made me more comfortable doing my own thing, even at the cost of judgement. And as a rather avant-garde individualist, judgement and being labeled “bad” is something I’ve come up against rather often. I think that the past few years that I’ve been trying too hard to conform to escape this demonization, but to what avail, honestly? That is at the heart of what I’ve been questioning since reading this book.

And thanks to Albright, I have so much to research further! The browser tabs I currently have open are The Manufacture of Madness by Thomas Szasz, A History of White Magic by Gareth Knight, Envy by Helmut Schoeck, and Escape from Childhood by John Holt. All of these titles and more are part of the wide-ranging sources Albright draws upon in his exploration of this topic, truly demonstrating the depth and breadth of his accumulated wisdom and level of study in regard to this phenomena of demonization.

Conform or Be Cast Out is a book that I feel is going to stick with me for a while because it woke up something within me that needed attention. Albright’s keen insight brought the topic to life through time right into my present reality. And what’s most important about the way he’s done this is that it lacks fear and judgement. The facts, plain and simple, speak for themselves, and suddenly, the reader realizes just how ridiculous these notions of demonization truly are given the life story of the individualist.

The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling

The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling
Avon, 006302747X, 320 pages, September 2021

I was in the mood for a more light-hearted book, so browsing my current stack of library books, I picked out The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling. You can only imagine the laugh I got out of the first line, “Never mix vodka and witchcraft.”1 I hate to say it, but “been there, done that”, and it has never ended up good! At least for me it didn’t turn into the colossal f*ckery that it became for Vivenne Jones.

Brokenhearted by her Welsh summer beau, Rhys Penhallow, Vivienne is doing the best to cheer herself up with a soothing bath, candles, and a bit of cologne conjuring as she laments the loss of young love. Rhys had told her that morning he had to go sort out his betrothal with his father. Clearly, that didn’t sit well with Vivienne who had no idea her summer lover was on the market for another woman. Not only did she curse at him, while tossing his pants in his face, in an attempt to magic her way out of the sadness, Vivenne and her cousin Gwen decide to put a hex on Rhys.

For the most part, it’s all fun and games, to the point where they even throw caution to the wind about Aunt Eliane’s warning to not even do magic while drinking. Their curse for Rhys to always hit just a quarter inch away from a woman’s clitoris and never to have his hair do “that thing” seem like harmless antics, but with the words “I curse you Rhys Penhallow” uttered by Vivienne, their candle bursts into flames.

It seems something has been ignited, but they chalk it up to a gust of a wind and over the years forget about it. Though, it does seem like Vivienne never truly forgot the impact Rhys had made on her tender, young heart.. I mean how could she really when the college she works out is named after his family, who also founded the town she lives in.

Rhys too never truly seemed to forget Vivienne, but in the nine years since he’d been back to Graves Glend, he had created a successful travel business for himself. Sure, clients benefited from a bit of magic that ensured on-time flights and smooth vacations, but Rhys provided a one of a kind service that always got rave reviews. With so much going on with his business in London, It is over a half-a-year since he last saw his family in Wales.

When he stops in for a visit, his foreboding father requests that he return to Graves Glen, Georgia for the Founder’s Day celebration of his ancestor and recharge the ley lines that keep magic afloat in the town. Rhys tries to protest, but ultimately surrenders to taking the trip to America for the sake of family duty. However, the moment he’s within town limits, everything just seems to go wrong.

From an ominous storm to flat tires, Rhys can’t catch a break. Before he can even make it to his family’s house, he finds himself on the side of the road when headlights come right for him, nearly running him over. Turns out, it was Vivienne on her way home from work who nearly nipped him, had he not jumped into a ditch. And here’s where their story begins all over again!

I won’t give too much further away, but I will say they have a hilarious dynamic between them. There’s plenty of banter, despite the unresolved internal feelings of each character. Together, they wrestle witch ghosts, murderous wind-up toys, and potions gone wrong. It is up to them to figure out how to reverse the curse, something former witches don’t seem to leave much instruction on how to do, in order to save Grave Glen.

As far as magic books go, this one is very typical in its approach. There’s a town college for witches, hidden on the normal campus of Penhallow University, where Vivienne teaches Western Civ to incoming freshmen. It takes place during Halloween season, and there’s the focus on haunted houses and ghosts. Vivienne and her family must use magic to improve the small things in their life, from cleaning the apartment to creating a mood setting in the storage room of their shop Wicked Ways.

Sure, there’s the academic witches at the college, but they tend to shy away from Vivienne’s family, in fact, most people don’t even know Vivienne is a witch. She was raised by her mother who chose a normal life and equated magic with bad, so it was only later in life that Vivienne learned the full extent of who she truly was when she went to live with Gwen and Aunt Elaine.

To be honest, the book is more of a rom-com with a theme of witchcraft intermixed within it, rather than a book that truly delves into the craft. But like I said, I was in the mood for something light, and this perfectly satisfied that reading-crave for me. I enjoyed envisioning the setting of the small town and all the cute festivals going on during its peak season of Halloween.

I found both Vivienne and Rhys hilarious and relatable. There’s quite a bit of built up sexual tension and eventual snogging. It does have the traditional flow of a romantic book that culminates in a happy ending. But I think most readers expect that going into a book like this, yet we still enjoy reading the whole thing to see how it plays out.

The one warning I will give is that Rhys has a bit of a charming, frat boy mentality, but not to the point where he’s obnoxious. Actually, I really liked him as a sexy male lead in the book. He rushes into things without thinking, but you can see personal growth and transformation in him, which I think adds to my feeling of reader satisfaction. And Vivienne is a perfectly relatable woman, who has her moments of doubt, but is fierce in her anger towards Rhys and doesn’t back down in advocating for herself.

It’s fun in the meantime to see all the ways the curse goes wrong and how Vivienne and Rhys do their best to extinguish the small fires of disaster in town, which only seems to fan the flame between them. The ending was a little unexpected too, which added a bit more depth to the reasoning behind the curse.

All in all, The Ex Hex is a fun to read romantic comedy filled with witchcraft, magic, curses, and love. There’s plenty of wit, comedy, banter, and… sex! It’s perfect for a few laughs and light-hearted amusement. You’ll find out how curses are reversed and what can happen when two former lovers reunite.

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L Polk
Erewhon, 1645660079, 384 pages, October 2020

Female sorceresses doing all they can to escape the confines of marriage? Um, what kind of fantastically wonderful story did I get myself into the past few days? The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk! And I certainly enjoyed this exotically fanciful tale.

The story takes place in Chasand, which sort of reminded me of a magical India. It is time for Beatrice to make her way through bargaining season, but she’s set on locating a grimoire that will teach her how to bind with a greater spirit. She’s convinced that if she can do this, her father will allow her to use her influence as a mage to restore the family fortune rather than get married.

Why is marriage such an appalling future for Beatrice? Because Chasand custom forces married women to wear a collar that strips them of their magic in order to ensure they do not conceive a spirit born baby. The mages of this world know spirits are eager to enter the material world, and when this happens it’s pandemonium; the hungry, greedy spirit stops at nothing to satiate their endless desire, often even killing those who stand in their way. The only solution thus far is to prevent women from accessing magic — a solution suitable for male socreers, but absolutely appalling for the girls with innate magical abilities.

Turns out Beatrice isn’t the only one seeking an alliance with a spirit to escape the imprisonment of a husband. Ysbeta, who is the beautiful daughter of one of the region’s wealthiest families, also has her sights set on the grimoire. Beatrice concedes the book to Ysbeta, but Ysbeta does not know the secret code needed to read it. Thus, their friendship forms on the promise that Ysbeta will allow Beatrice to copy the pages of the grimoire in exchange for sharing with her what the book says and teaching her the skills needed to complete the ritual.

Meanwhile, Ysbeta’s brother, Ianthe, one of the most desirable suitors of bargaining season, is increasingly intrigued by Beatrice. When a spirit Beatrice is letting inhabit her body begs her to kiss Ianthe, the sparks between them ignite immediately. Ianthe is kind and open-minded. He empathizes with the situation of Beatrice, who openly speaks her mind on the injustice of women’s lot in society, and is determined to help her the best he can.

Beatrice has a lot to balance in her life. The pursuit of her goal to bind with a greater spirit while still going through the motions of bargaining season adds to the need to handle situations with delicacy and care. Most of all, she has her family to consider; their reputation, their fortune, and their future rest upon her finding a wealthy husband immediately. Much of the plot reminds of a Bridgerton, where competition is fierce and stakes are high, but with sorcerers and mages as eligible bachelors and bachelorettes.

This is one of those reads where you know the author has some background occult knowledge and isn’t just capitalizing on the popularity of magic-themed fiction. The description of the rituals and the spirits is unique, but also very detailed and similar to how it would be done in real life. Polk describes the importance of breath, hand signs, and visualization. I also really liked the mediumship aspect of the characters hosting lesser spirits in their body.

I grew really attached to Beatrice’s lesser spirit, Nadia, who was really funny and cute. It was very interesting to read about how Beatrice cast her circle for protection and bargained with Nadia. Nadia is a lesser spirit of good fortune, so in exchange for the luck she brings, Beatrice would lay out very clear terms of their bargain. For instance, Nadia’s luck for three cups of punch, star gazing, and a kiss until midnight. I think anyone who’s done this type of spirit work, which unfortunately always seem to be men rather than women even in real life, would find the writing very accurate.

Plus, it’s really kick ass to read about women choosing a life of magic and independence over the confines of marriage, even if it’s completely taboo to do. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be to live in a society that would take away my magical ability, forcing me to be nothing more than a dedicated wife and mother. There’s definitely a theme of fighting for women’s rights, but I enjoyed how Polk didn’t set men against women. The book showed that men can be a huge support for women and part of a greater change.

All in all, The Midnight Bargain was a really wonderful read that I highly recommend, especially for women who are interested in summoning and working with spirits! This is one of the only books I’ve ever read with a main character that is a woman using this type of magic. I’m all for finding fictional role models, so if you’re considering pursuing a summoning ritual, this would be an entertaining book to read.

Even if you have no interest in this type of magic yourself, it’s still a fun book. There’s a lot of focus on the pomp and circumstance of bargaining seasons, adding the flair for romance and drama within the greater story of women’s right to choose their own path. It has made my soul very happy and fulfilled the next few days, so much so that I haven’t even raced onto another book because I’m still savoring this story!

Cackle, by Rachel Harrison

Cackle, by Rachel Harrison
Berkley Publishing Group, 0593202023, 304 pages, October 2021

I was in a mood yesterday, but a quick trip to the library always changes that. Cackle by Rachel Patterson had arrived for me. As soon as I got home, I dove in. Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down, and I finished by the early evening. This book was just the reminder I needed of how empowering it can be to fully utilize my own magic and not shy away from power.

The basic premise of the book is the main character, Annie, is going through a break-up with her beau of a decade. It’s rough and she’s truly on the struggling bus trying to cope, drinking too much and feeling very despairing about her singledom. Since she can no longer afford New York City rent, she takes a job in upstate and moves to a small town named Rowan. Immediately, she loves the charm and small-town feel of Rowan.

Her impromptu meeting of Sophie, the most well-known woman in town, helps her to establish herself in Rowan. But there’s something odd about the way the townsfolk treat Sophie. Annie chalks it up to a mixture of reverence and fear, but Sophie is so doting towards her, she enjoys the company regardless. Annie is one of those people that seeks validation from others and prefers company over being alone.

When she’s not putting herself down, she’s usually crying over her ex-boyfriend Sam. Honestly, at times her depressed, self-depreciation did seem a little old at times, but I think it had its place within the overall context of the novel. And Annie is at least funny, so at times her distorted self-image is a nice comic relief. If we’re honest, many of us have gone through what Annie is experiencing, feeling lost, confused, and unsure of ourselves and the path forward.

Despite all of the emotional turmoil in her life, Annie quickly becomes best friends with the mysterious Sophie, who happens to live in a giant, haunted house in the middle of the woods. Sophie loves sweets, often baking for Annie, and Britney Spears. She’s caring, wise, and just a little intimidating with her subtle jokes of eating hearts and all-black wardrobe. But Sophie looks out for Annie, taking her under her wing, and even curses those who are unkind to her.

Sophie also has the ability to control spiders, so this book will definitely make you see arachnids in a new light. Just an FYI, in case you’re not a spider person! I for one loved all of it and just can’t stop imagining having a cute spider pet now.

As Annie’s relationship develops, she discovers new parts of herself. While she still pines over her ex, just like many modern women who had dreams of a marriage and family, she also starts to realize she has her own power. Power to indeed cause harm to those who bother her, as well as making objects float to her. As if this all isn’t enough to contend with, Annie realizes there are those in town who do not trust Sophie. She must decide for herself if her new bestie is honest and trustworthy, as some townsfolk say otherwise.

Like I said, I read this book quickly, and that’s mostly because it’s one of those chick-lit fiction books, which I have to say I love. Annie has a typical “basic” girl attitude and through surrender is able to discover a whole new power within her. The term “witchcraft” is barely used, as Sophie doesn’t like the stigma associated with it.

In reality, she’s nothing more than a woman who truly owns her desires, doesn’t settle, and is content to be fully in her own power. She’s unafraid to stand up for herself to those who seek to hurt her and finds no reason to shrink herself to please others or make them more comfortable. As Annie learns to do the same, she realizes there might be no turning back.

The revolution of women deciding they want to claim their happiness and be powerful, whether it intimidates others or not is the most potent magic. And Harrison has captured this journey perfectly in Cackle.

Another aspect of the book I really liked is that Sophie and Annie enjoy playing dress-up, dancing, baking or getting drunk together, and simply spending quality time with each other. Cackle celebrates modern-day female friendship, not through bonds of solidarity, but through simple care, nurturance, and honesty.

Sophie is a friend who knows when Annie needs psychedelic mushrooms, whiskey, or simply hot tea. She also doesn’t mince her words and is quite openly against Annie’s pining over Sam, making her new clothes and even cutting her hair. Cackle portrays all the small ways female friends support each other that make all the difference. While it might be hard to see how one is changing post-break-up, with the support of Sophie, Annie emerges a new person. At its heart, this story has a strong theme of friendship, women’s empowerment, and a sprinkle of magic!

The final thing I’ll note that I enjoyed is how magic was not portrayed as malevolent or benevolent. Sophie openly feels comfortable using her power to curse, choke, and probably even kill those who seek to do her wrong. Soon, Annie is learning how to do the same thing. I liked that Cackle wasn’t afraid to show women standing up for themselves and that the full range of supernatural powers was acknowledged without judgement. Sure, at first Annie was a bit taken aback by what she could do, but in time, she learned to wield it wisely.

I think it’s important to know how to both manifest your desires and use your energy to keep that which seeks to harm you at bay. Inevitably, there will always be something a little bit scary about a woman who is fully in control of herself and willing to own this power. It’s the classic witch motif that has caused men to shiver for centuries, but is that a reason to stay small?

Us modern-women of the 21st century think not! And for those of us who need a little self-esteem boost, or a reminder that we can choose who we give our energy to and rewrite our story at any time, Cackle is the book for us! Harrison has done a marvelous job of mixing modernity and magic to inspire us to believe the two can co-exist, even if only in fictional tales that inspire us not to seek our happily ever after, but the true witch within.

Spellbreaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Spellbreaker (Spellbreaker, 1), by Charlie N. Holmberg
47North, 1542020093, 303 pages, November 2020

I will admit, I love 19th-century period pieces about magic. Therefore, it was no surprise I picked up Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg to read this weekend, as it is set in England in 1885. However, England is quite a different society with magic making the world run smoothly, but also contributing to societal class divide. Therefore, Elsie Camden doesn’t feel bad about using her spellbreaking powers to knock the English nobility down a few notches to help out the common folk.

The world Holmberg writes about is filled with mystery, intrigue, and most of all spells to make the world go around. All magic users and spellbreakers must be licensed by governing bodies, and the spells are kept closely guarded, only passed down to those who prove they can be trusted with the power. The whole process of how magicians level up their magic and incorporate spells is absolutely fascinating! It involves these drops of magic which glisten and then are absorbed by the aspector’s skin, permanently making the spell a piece of them. When an aspector dies, a magnum opus of their spells is left behind.

The interesting thing about these magnum opuses is that anyone can use the spells in them once by tearing the page out. Therefore, these books are often handed down to other aspectors or guarded by the magical governing bodies. Recently though, there’s been a string of murders of master aspectors involving stolen magnum opuses. The tension is high as no one can figure out who is behind the ghastly crime of murdering magicians for their spells.

Elsie Camden finds herself smack dab in the middle of the action. Day to day, she works as an assistant to a stone mason, but she also does secret work as a rogue spellbreaker. After being orphaned as a child, Elsie was left to fend for herself in the world. As a fire burns down her workhouse, leaving her to wonder what’s next for her, she is approached by a woman who realizes what she truly is: a spellbreaker.

From this point on, Elsie spell breaks for who she calls the Cowls, though she’s truly never known exactly who these people truly are. She enjoys feeling needed by them and also views herself as a modern Robinhood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Since she’s not registered as a spellbreaker, she’s in both an advantageous and dangerous position for doing this discrete work.

On an assignment gone wrong, Elsie winds up getting caught by Bacchus Kelsey, a man dedicated to earning his aspector mastership. Bacchus is an aristocrat, but he’s different from the others since he’s from Barbados and not of usual English breed. Rather than turn Elsie in, Bacchus decides to capitalize on Elsie’s spellbreaking abilities, as there’s some things about the Duke of Kent’s estate, where he’s staying while in England, that he’d like to refurbished. It’s easier for Bacchus to apply new spellwork once the the spells currently there are removed, thus begins Elsie’s indentured work to pay off the asking price for his silence.

That’s all I will give away for the plot summary, but this is only the beginning of a very neat story. I more want to focus on how this is one of the best magical stories I’ve read in a while. What I liked most about it was Holmberg’s skill at world building. I felt very immersed in this version of 19th century England, which blended the historical cultural values of the time perfectly interwoven with this dimension of magic added into it.

From the different types of magic described to how the process of spellcasting worked, Holmberg really adds the details to make it extremely easy to get lost in without feeling too fanciful. I was surprised to see the book is actually classified as science-fiction rather than fantasy, but this being said, it’s a wonderful mixture of both genres in my opinion. I would perhaps label it science-fantasy, though it’s much more focused on magic than any science or technology.

I also found the character immensely relatable. Elsie is funny, honest, and has a good head on her shoulders. While she loves her readers, she avoids gossip and focuses on her work. She has a sense of identity, which I think is one of the most important things for me in a character. And the other main character, Bacchus, likewise has depth, intelligence, and general relatability. Though they come from different worlds, they are both outsiders in some sense who have their own views of how things are in the world. It’s quite exciting to see what happens when a spellmaker and spellbreaker team up together!

And I just have to say how unique the concept of a spellbreaker was to me! In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about the application of spellbreaking in magical works and did a deep dive in reflecting about the role spellbreaking has in my own magical practice. In fact, it was quite a revelation to realize all the ways I identified with the main character Elsie. After just discussing how fictional works can inform one’s magical practice, I experienced it first hand in reading this book. I now plan on labeling myself as a spellbreaker and seeing how this evolves my perception of the type of magical practitioner that I am.

I also found it refreshing to read a magical fiction book that still had a woman lead that wasn’t focused on witchcraft. I liked Elsie’s ability to break spells, and furthermore how she didn’t rely on magic. In fact, she often broke spells that were cast upon her, preferring to have clarity without magical influence. She clearly understood how magic could be used for both benevolent and malevolent purposes, and she did her part to ensure it was used for the latter. She wasn’t enamored with it, nor seeking fame and glory for herself. She used her abilities for a greater cause with intention, and otherwise primarily kept to herself and focused on her mundane tasks without complaint. I like her very much as a role model.

Overall, Spellbreaker was captivating. It ended on such a cliff-hanger that I just requested the next book in the duology, Spellmaker, from my library. Holmberg has done a wonderful job crafting a unique plot that captures the reader’s attention and opens the imagination. Whether one is interested in a good read or to gain insight into how they might incorporate spell breaking into their own magical practice, I appreciate this different point of view. For now, I am eagerly waiting to see how the rest of the story unfolds!

Practical Alchemy: A Guide to the Great Work, by Brian Cotnoir

Practical Alchemy: A Guide to the Great Work, by Brian Cotnoir
Weiser Books, 1578637473, 160 pages, July 2021

Alchemy has been beckoning to me for quite some time, yet it was hard to know where to get started exploring such a vast art with centuries of history. Where should I start? What essential things should I know about this work? How can I implement this into my daily life? These questions and more were all answered in Practical Alchemy: A Guide to the Great Work by Brian Cotnoir. In this extremely useful guidebook, Cotnoir does a wonderful job of contextualizing alchemy and providing a foundation one can start their journey from.

To begin, Cotnoir offers the motto of the Mutus Liber of 1677: “Ora, lege, lege, lege, release, labora et invenies. “Pray, read, read, read, reread, work, and you shall discover.””1 He reminds the reader that “alchemy is a living process and is always working with living substances.”2 It very much feels like this sentiment has been imbued into the book itself, which seems to have a potent energy to it, similar to that of a well-used grimoire.

This could be because the book is a compilation of so many different alchemist’s work along with pictures, tables, and illustrations of different cycles adding to the substance of the text. Practical Alchemy is definitely a good starting point for one’s own research for this reason. Cotnoir does a good job of showing how alchemy has evolved by looking at the different approaches to it over the centuries, and therefore, this range of various references does not feel generalized or superficial. If anything, it demonstrates an excellent weaving together of a huge body of knowledge to show it’s evolution through time.

What I most appreciate about Cotnoir’s writing is that it’s not cryptic, nor intended to conceal. As he describes, alchemy is filled with “ways[s] of concealing from fools the precious knowledge of transmutation.”3 While I certainly appreciate the lengths alchemists took to conceal this esoteric knowledge, it nevertheless makes it a daunting task to start putting together the different pieces of the puzzle. Cotnoir is such a kind mentor, describing how the information was obscured, such as in different texts or by switching the names of materials, and provides guidance on how to overcome these barriers when undertaking your own alchemical work.

Practical Alchemy is divided into two parts: “Theory” and “Practice”. The first section, “Theory,” covers topics such as the elements (and how their rotation is integral to alchemy), the Three Principles (Mercury, Sulphur, Salt), prima mater, alchemical cosmology (planetary spheres, fixed stars), alchemical timing (lunar months, planetary hours, ways to divide the year), interrelation of micro- and macrocosmic, and the inner work to achieve gnosis. The section concludes with the tabula smaragdina, or “The Emerald Tablet”, translated in both Latin and English.

I was happy to realize that being an astrologer already has prepared me for certain aspects of alchemy, such as planetary days and hours and lunar months, which I had never realized were components of an alchemical practice. I appreciated the historical information about how these aspects of alchemy blend together to be part of the greater cosmology. To be honest, it’s only recently I had the realization that I can break free from current cosmology, as in I can explore beyond the Big Bang theory.

With all the advances since medieval times, I sometimes think that former cosmologies are written off as primitive or no longer relevant, but I feel like shifting the paradigm to embrace an alchemical mindset about the world is an important part of getting started on this path. Cotnoir gently guides readers into expanding their perception by detailing how other alchemists came to understand the world in this way through time and provides a wonderful overview of alchemy’s foundation as a living body of knowledge.

The second part of the book, “Practice”, is where I started to feel simultaneously in over my head and astounded that there’s so much for me to learn. 

“Here we enter into the body of alchemy–the physical process. Nature must lead both in material and in method. Nature is your true book. Study it well.”4

In this section, Cotnoir delves into many ways to manipulate matter through rotating the elements, from calcination to dissolution and fermentation to sublimation. Up until now, I primarily have related to the spiritual dimensions of these techniques, but this section brought them to life in the material world for me. I began to notice the relationship between alchemy and chemistry and think about how I might go about doing some physical alchemical experimenting. Let’s just say, if you saw my holiday wish-list, you’d think I was setting up a small lab, which in many ways it seems like I will be in order to pursue alchemy on this level.

Cotnoir suggests starting with the basics: water, wine and vinegar, and Salt of Tartar. For each one, he provides detailed instructions about the process, including temperature needed and amount of time required for steps. From there, he describes how to distill water, wine (to make Spirit of Wine, followed by instructions on how to rectify this), and vinegar. For further work, Cotnoir describes the process of creating Archaeus of Water, Angel Water, and Spirit Wine of the Sages. He also includes directions to purify salts using calcification, crystallization, and sublimation.

One of my favorite chapters came next, “The Herbal Work”, in which Cotnoir details how the Three Principles can be obtained by plants through fermentation, distillation, and calcification. “The herbal work consists of separating the Principles, purifying them, and then recombing them.”5 The process of doing this is called spagyry. Cotnoir once again provides thorough instructions. This time he describes how to create spagyric tinctures, herbal Magistries, and spagyric Plant Stone. Furthermore, he provides background information on how to use these plant-based alchemical preparations as medicines and initiatory substances on one’s alchemical journey.

The rest of the book includes information on working alchemically with minerals, aurum potabile, the Opus Magnum, and a highly informative appendices. The appendices cover laboratory safety and equipment, more techniques (including information for making essential oils), and a long lists of plant correspondences for all seven planets. Cotnoir makes it very easy to find what one is looking for in the book, and the resources are so incredibly useful as reference. 

For those who do feel the tug to learn more about alchemy, I highly recommend following the calling to read this book. It’s a must-have for beginner alchemists, and I’m sure it would be enjoyed by someone who’s been alchemically experimenting for some too. The recipes alone make it worth adding to one’s book collection! I am eager to begin my journey into the physical side of alchemy, more assured than ever before from the information in this guidebook.

I believe Practical Alchemy will naturally draw readers ready for its information at the right time. And honestly, there’s no rush for the Great Work. It would be highly discouraged to start upon this work if one did not truly feel ready for what it may yield. Preparation is an important part of the alchemical process. Reading Practical Alchemy was a fantastic way to gain the preliminary information needed, as well as the confidence, to move forward on this path. Cotnoir has done a truly exemplary job of writing a useful, relevant guidebook packed with practical information.

A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #0), by Alix E. Harrow
Tordotcom, 1250765358, 128 pages, October 2021

I was so enthralled with The Once and Future Witches by Alix. E Harrow that I decided to read her most recent book, A Spindle Spintered (Fractured Fables #0), over the weekend. Talk about a fairy tale for modern young women! Harrow has a knack for capturing the heart in her tales of romance, magic, and self-discovery.

Zinnia Gray expects to die shortly after her 21st birthday. She suffered the ill effect of lax corporate environmental regulations, which caused a group of children in her town to have incurable health issues. No one has made it past 21. Nevertheless, Zinnia lives by her “Dead Girl Rules”, one of which is to move fast, and pursues a study in folklore. Sleeping Beauty was alway her favorite fairy tale, ever since seeing a photograph of her emerging wide-eyed and alive after death-life trance. Despite her resignation to the reality of her situation, a part of Zinnia hoped to change her story and emerge from the curse of her illness.

On the night of Zinnia’s 21st birthday, her best friend, Charm, throws a surprise Sleeping Beauty party for her – spindle included! As per the traditional fairy tale, Charm encourages Zinnia to prick her finger just like Sleeping Beauty. What happens next is most unexpected!

Zinnia hops dimensions and is transported INTO the bedroom of Sleeping Beauty, called Primrose in this tale. Primrose has yet to prick her finger, as her father has burnt all the spindles, but the tug to fulfill the curse is still strong. Primrose is utterly miserable. From the curse that puppeteers her when she sleeps, beckoning her to succumb to a century of sleep and a life in the palace that narrows her options to marriage to a less than superb knight, there seems to be no escape. Zinnia’s unexpected arrival turns out to be her moment to help Primrose change her story – and that is just what they do!

I won’t go further than this, but the book is AMAZING. Zinnia has a really down-to-earth attitude that still seeks to believe in magic. And the portrayal of Primrose and her world was like reading a real fairy tale. Together, Zinnia and Primrose realize they are living out the same story, but they also have the power to change the narrative. I really liked this concept because I have studied the power of archetypes within the psyche, and I’ve learned the power of identifying the mythological/fairy tale story one is living out. For real change to occur, both individually and on a societal level, requires a change of narrative, and this is exactly what Harrow has given readers.

For instance, Charm is very into women and Zinnia is super open about her own sexual preferences, at one point saying she’s ¾ straight, but acknowledging there’s a piece of her that also finds women attractive. I enjoyed how the characters weren’t type-cast and it embraced the whole spectrum of personality. There’s a lot of blending, rather than fixed edges. From Charm and Zinnia’s friendship, colored with mutual attraction, to the ability for characters to merge with others living out their narrative and work together to change it.

And that’s what is cool about the tale: the bonds of women. While the typical “hero’s journey” is often an individual pursuit, this book portrays fairy tales as a teamwork effort. I think it’s more in-line with a feminine way of being; opening up, trusting, finding allies, and choosing to stick together until everyone is out of harm’s way. There’s an element of choosing to help another over helping oneself, but not in a self-sacrificing way. It is in the spirit of cooperation and seeing that one person as an individual can make a huge difference for someone else, and in doing so, overcomes their own obstacles.

A Splintered Spindle invites us to reconsider what a hero looks like and reimagine the fairy tale so that it’s not only a prince that saves us at the end. True love’s kiss, well that one is kept for the story, but in the spirit of female friendship. And ultimately, sure it’s a happy ending, but also a very heartwarming, honest ending. And I think those are the best kind in real life  because they are not fake. Sure, we can’t outrun reality, but we can always believe in the magic within ourselves.

I sincerely hope that Harrow keeps on writing these revised feminist stories of fairy tales, magic, and witchcraft. This one was short and sweet; I read it for only about 2 hours. I highly recommend it to women of all ages, but particularly young women, because I think it provides a new narrative to live out. For those of us who still hold dear to our fairy tale dreams, this book will be perfectly satisfying too. It’s a wonderful mixture of reality and magic, hope and despair, and the choices we make to forgo saving ourselves to help a friend.

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix Harrow

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow
Redhook, 0316422045, 528 pages, October 2020

Embracing the season of the witch, my book club picked The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow for our October read, and I am in love! This is such an empowering tale of women finding their strength, courage, and magic to change the world. It’s a reminder of what happens when women from all walks of life embrace witchcraft and join together to raise hell!

At a whooping 528 pages, this book wasn’t just a rinse-and-repeat story with the typical exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. There were so many twists and turns along the way, which made it a really lovely read to sink my teeth into. I knew this wasn’t a book I was going to tear through, and this opened me up to embracing all the characters that I’m sure will live on in my heart for quite some time.

This is a tale of the three Eastwood sisters, Agnes, Beatrice, and Juniper, who are reunited in New Salem under magical circumstances. Having all escaped the wrath of their abusive father, the girls are each making their own way in the world: Agnes as a mill girl, Beatrice as an assistant librarian, and Juniper as a good-intentioned suspected criminal on the run. As fate would have it, Beatrice chants secret hidden worlds that bring back the lost tower of Avalon, a place that was banished the last time it was called back by witches in Old Salem, leading to the great purge of witchcraft.

Suddenly, the sisters are brought back together, though not without their share of quarrels and hard-feelings between them. Juniper, who has taken up the cause of women’s suffrage, is set on using magic to further the rights of women. Bella, though hesitant to be drawn in, is obsessed with collecting witch-stories and tales. As witches know, all that is required is the will, the words, and the way. Together, the sisters use their strengths to create their own group of witches and start to wreak mayhem in the town.

Mayoral candid Gideon Hill is dead-set on capturing the witches and bringing them all to justice. There’s an oddity about him, and the shadows of the town seem to obey his will. However, this doesn’t stop these women from advocating for the ways of witchcraft to be brought back. And there’s just so many twists and turns, with a whole lot of love — both romantic and sisterly!

I won’t get too far into the plot, because as mentioned already, it’s a long book. But I will rave about it from the stance of a witch. It did a really good job of portraying witchcraft as inclusive, open to everyone regardless of their social status, ancestry, and even gender. The book is filled with spells, fables, and fairy tales – all with a witchy spin to them. It makes one proud to be a witch, and I wish more women could unite under common causes to protect one another.

The book also draws heavily upon the maiden, mother, crone archetype, as well as the united three-circle witch’s mark. There’s a mixture of academic witchcraft aka grimoires and arcane spellwork with witchcraft that is only spoken and passed down through oral traditions. I especially liked the focus on the Daughters of Tituba, which is an African-American group of witches that the Eastwood sisters become involved with.

Another aspect I liked was how magic was used for social justice. As many women in the book acknowledge, small spells are mostly for mundane things, such as whitening the laundry or keeping one’s hair in place, but as the women share their words and ways with each other, they discover that bigger change can happen through magic. I love reading about women working together, understanding each other’s plight, whether it be as a mother, abused daughter or wife, or part of the LGBTQ community .

There’s a strong acknowledgement of the desperation that often leads one to tap into magic in order to create a path where one was not before. This book isn’t about girls who “do the right thing”, it’s about the women who decide to claim their power in a world that refuses to give it to them. I felt very sovereign reading about these badass witches who didn’t back down and kept witchcraft alive even in the face of adversity. They didn’t adhere to stereotypes, but were happy to throw them in other’s face with their pointed hats and broom flying.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book for anyone who’s into witch-fiction. Once and Future Witches one of the best books in this category I’ve ever read. There’s so much beauty, love, and magic interwoven in the pages; every reader’s heart will certainly swell, as their magic grows. This powerful read will remind you of what can happen when you choose a life of magic and decide to stand in solidarity with a community to achieve so much more than you ever could on your own. All the while, teaching the importance of healing old hurts, forgiving the past, and opening one’s heart to learn to love again. <3

The Tree Horoscope, by Daniela Christine Huber

The Tree Horoscope: Discover Your Birth-Tree and Personality Destiny, by Daniela Christine Huber
Earthdancer, 9781644113226, 144 pages, October 2021

Did you know that everyone has a birth-tree based on the day they were born?  In The Tree Horoscope: Discover Your Birth-Tree and Personality Destiny, Daniela Christine Huber describes the 22 different archetypal trees that shape your personality and lifestyle. As someone who absolutely loves nature, especially trees, it has been a pleasure getting to know more about my signature tree horoscope. The best part is how Huber makes it easy to jump right in and get started!

The book starts out with an introduction to Celtic tree mythology and Daniela’s experience of working with these energies. Previously, I had learned the Celtic tree-months while reading A Spell in the Forest by Roselle Angwin, which covered the Ogham calendar and the 13-month wheel of the year in which tree-months were connected to lunar cycles. Huber has created horoscope profiles based on the archetypal Celtic tree energies. She reminds us that “Following the path of this connection with Nature with our hearts will lead us to the Source, the roots within us.”1

In Huber’s system, each Celtic tree appears twice in the cycle of the year, with the expectation of Oak, Birch, Olive, and Beech that have just one day assigned to them. Every birth-tree also is assigned an earth element (earth, water, fire, air, ether) and Huber offers a short description of the energy of each. She also discusses how connecting with the element of our birth-tree can help restore balance and fulfill emotional and psychological needs. She describes how “Our birth-tree is the guardian of our individual potential; it will always remind us of that fact and help us to become aware of our gifts and talents.”2

There’s an easy to follow chart in the front of the book that makes it easy to find one’s birth date and look up their birth-tree. Mine is Cedar of Lebanon, so I went right to that page first. Immediately I was struck by the beauty of the photograph featured. I think the pictures in this book are one of it’s best attributes. It’s one thing to read about the different trees, but to see photographs of them really helps with identification. I like having a visual when connecting with the energy of my birth-tree.

For every tree, there is information about the elemental family, gifts and talents of those with the tree energy, the tree’s mantra (called “Carpe arborem” by Huber), the tree’s symbolism, and the path of life for people born with this birth-tree. The path of life is the longest section of each horoscope. Then there is a general overview of the personality of people with the birth-tree, healing powers of the tree, birth-tree power, and inspiration for someone with the tree’s personality. It’s quite a bit of information packed into just a few pages!

I really resonated with my tree horoscope. It highlighted my personality pretty well. I especially liked learning more about the healing powers of my birth-tree, and I loved my carpe arborem:

“I am freedom of choice, the core from which the creative powers in my life can take effect. I free myself from the limitations of my understanding with humility and reinvent myself over and over again.”3

This was very affirming for me because I feel like I am constantly reinventing myself as I continue to learn and grow. Creativity is a big part of my life, and I felt the connection with the Cedar of Lebanon tree in this regard. To deepen this solidarity with my birth-tree, I decided to order Cedar incense that I can burn to remind myself of the special powers associated with this birth-tree: courage and self-confidence.

I have shared the tree horoscopes in this book with some friends and family. They too have all been delighted with the insight it’s given them. Another neat feature of the book is the birthday calendar in the back, where you can keep track of everyone’s birthday . It lists their birth-trees, as well as famous people also born with that particular birth-tree. I really like how easy it is to keep track of birthdays, while also learning more about the birth-trees and reflecting on how they reflect the energies of people in my life.

Earth energies, such as flower essences and herbal remedies have always been an important part of life. For years, I’ve focused on bridging heaven and earth by teaching how our energy is always reflected in both the natural world and celestial bodies. The Tree Horoscope does a beautiful job of demonstrating this idea by giving readers insight into who they are based on their corresponding birth tree. I absolutely love how the book fosters an ecocentric view of human’s relationship with trees, acknowledging how they influence our development.

All in all, this is a wonderful book for those hoping to learn more about their personality and discover how it is shaped by their birth-tree. I think The Tree Horoscope would make a great birthday gift, though it’s also useful to store birth dates of loved ones to make sure you never miss their special day. The beautiful photographs are a wonderful way to practice tree identification. While this is only a small snippet of the mythology of Celtic trees, the book is a good starting point for those who want to learn more about the different symbolisms and energies of these mighty connectors of heaven and earth. I’ve really loved reading this book and will definitely be referring back to it as the days of the year go by to see which tree energy is present.