A Collective Gathering Place for Readers, Writers, and Seekers

Author Archives: Sarrah October Young

About Sarrah October Young

Sarrah October Young is a writer and practising witch who wished she could do stand-up comedy. When she isn't writing or witching, she can be found posting about her cats on IG @therealoctober.

The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots, by Nigel Pennick

The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots: Folk Magic in Witchcraft & Religion, by Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books, 9781644112205 , 352 pages, May 2021

Nigel Pennick is the author of over 50 books on various esoteric topics and an authority on ancient belief systems, traditions, runes, and geomancy. His latest book, The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots: Folk Magic in Witchcraft & Religion, doesn’t disappoint: this weighty tome is an absolute must have for anyone even remotely interested in those topics.

This book seems a bit intimidating at first due to its size, but please do not let that deter you from picking it up. Anything, and I mean anything, you ever wanted to know about talismans and amulets is in this book. Pennick provides a visual narrative as well as a written one, and that additional information is invaluable.

The amount of information in this book is staggering and thoughtfully presented. The table of contents clearly lists the various topics being covered and provides the reader with an opportunity to jump right into whatever strikes their fancy. For me, that chapter was “Animals and Their Images”. In this chapter, Pennick states:

“Animal amulets and mascots take three forms. There are amulets made from part of the actual animal, like a rabbit’s foot or toad bone; there are amulets made in the shape of a lucky animal, such as a pig or cat; and there are live animals that serve as mascots, especially for military units.”1

Pennick goes on to explain the significance of the pig, ram, cat, fox, dog, bear, elephant, and tiger. Not only is the information in this section incredibly useful, it’s also very current. There is a photo (Fig 23.4) of the mascot of Motörhead, War Pig which according to Pennick, is “an emblem of resistance”2.

This differs from the usual interpretation of the pig symbolizing luck and fecundity, and with the inclusion of War Pig, Pennick is able to capture the entirety of the symbolism behind the pig. This kind of well-roundedness is what makes this book so fascinating; it doesn’t just focus on one area that might be more relevant in today’s society. Pennick drills down into the very core of the subjects in this book and provides a vast array of uses, both past and present, that are more relevant than one might think.

Another chapter that truly resonated with me was Chapter 21: “Trees, Plants, and Seeds”. Having grown up on a farm surrounded by forests and growing our own food for part of the year, I found this section to be particularly relevant to me personally. Our forest was mainly cedar and oak trees and as children, my brother and I would quite often spend the majority of our time outside up in the boughs of one of the larger oaks. I’ve always felt an affinity for oak trees and still collect acorns for use in my own magic.

Pennick distills the essence of the mighty oak into knowledgeable bites that present the leafy giant in a very magical light, saying, “In the European tradition, the oak (Quercus robur) is the most powerful tree of them all, sacred to the sky god variously called Zeus, Jupiter, Taranis, Ziu, Thunor, Thor, Perun, and Perkunas”3

To me, this is a perfect example of what this book is: a reference tome to be pulled down and used when exact information is required. Honestly, I can’t think of another book that does this so well and with such precision. I’ve never heard of Perun or Perkunas until this book. #alwayslearning

While the actual structure of the writing might throw some people off due to its clinical directness, I find it to be in line with the information presented. This isn’t a how-to book: you will not find spells or meditations or any sort of magical direction here. This is a research book of magical items and while there is some information on how specific items have been used magically over the centuries, that isn’t the point.

Some people pickup books such as this with a view to bypassing some of the work they need to do to strengthen their own magic. This book won’t do that, as it is not meant to be a supplement to personal practice. The multiple page bibliography at the back of the book is a clear indicator that this is a reference book and not a practical magic volume. While there are some charms and incantations included in the various chapters, they are not meant as actual spells but as examples of what would be done or said at the time of the amulet being created or activated. This distinction is important.

This book is meant for those who have a genuine interest in the history around amulets, talismans, and mascots and who are willing to spend a bit of time in the investigative space. I found that I went down many a rabbit hole while reading this book, in that I would turn to the extensive bibliography at the back and be drawn into another book on the same topic and then all of a sudden it’s five hours later and my cats is squawking at me to be fed. That is the sort of book this is — beautiful and mind-opening.

I have made amulets and talismans my whole life; as a child I wasn’t aware of what I was doing until much later and now I’ve refined my practice. In reading this book, I understand more clearly why I make the things I do and why I am drawn to specific materials time and again. As Pennick says:

“The amulet is more than a mere “object” or “artwork”. It’s a transcendent communication between human beings and the powers of the natural world that manifest in myriad ways.”4

As witches, we have an innate need to create a symbol of our will: be it for protection, wealth, love, health, or any other reason. Having a tangible object to imbue with our will is how many of us ‘do’ magic. I will be keeping The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots handy as a reference tool for many years to come.

Earth Energy Meditations, by Susan Shumsky, DD

Earth Energy Meditations: Awaken Your Root Chakra – The Foundation of Well-Being, by Susan Shumsky, DD
Weiser Books, 978 157863 703 4, 224 pages, 2021

In her book Earth Energy Meditations: Awaken Your Root Chakra – The Foundation of Well-Being, Susan Shumsky sets the stage for personal work on a level that is both sustainable and achievable. A highly respected teacher, author, and founder of Divine Revelation, Shumsky’s goal is to educate those who feel called to explore their chakras and learn how to both bring them into and keep them in balance. Beginning with the first chakra, known as the root chakra, Shumsky shows how to reconnect with the earth and humanity through a series of readings and meditations.

Real talk: I have a hard time with meditating, simply because of the guilt that arises each time I try and sit and do ‘nothing’. I think we all have a degree of that sense of ‘I should be doing something productive instead of sitting here breathing’ and for me, I find I spend more time fighting that than actually visualizing the sphere of light or whatever I am supposed to be focused on. I do my best to stick with it as I understand the benefits, but I’ve never been able to do it for any great length of time.

Knowing this, Shumsky chose to take a different approach using the introduction section of the book. She explains that the book contains a series of guided meditations, carefully written out with pauses built in and encourages the reader to record their own voice. Jumping ahead in the book is discouraged, however. Shumsky says, “The book is written in a particular order to help you gain increasing strength and integrity. So it is best to practice these meditations in the order they are written.”1

Despite that, there is a provision for those who wish to explore a specific topic in their meditation, and Shumsky encourages focusing on the related chapter. With chapters on such topics as healing ancestral entities, developing inner wisdom, and living your truth to name a few, it’s easy to see how one might want to dive into a later chapter that could offer more of a robust lesson in meditation.

Personally, I did something I never do: I started at the beginning and worked my way through the book as directed. I recorded my own voice as suggested and did my best to try and relax and breathe through the various stress-filled moments where I felt like I should be doing laundry or cleaning or something more important. I think a big part of meditation is learning how to put yourself first, and that idea of putting myself before other things been something that has not come easily or naturally to me.

One meditation that completely resonated with me to the point of tears is around releasing your false self. Shumsky says:

“Human being generally identify themselves with the false self, a.k.a. the ego – limited and bound by ignorance. When I say “ego”, I am not referring to “egotism” or being “egotistical”. I am referring to how you define yourself, i.e, who or what you imagine yourself to be.”2

After the passage, Shumsky then asks the reader to record the affirmation that follows in a strong voice with conviction and I have to tell you, this specific affirmation worked wonders for me. I am not much for the ‘love and light’ crowd as I feel deeply that things need to be balanced and too often we strive for that balance on the side of lightness. There is something to be said for coming to a deep realization that we are beyond what our conscious mind believes.

Meditating and working with the root chakra unlocks a bunch of hidden stuff that can either be allowed to overtake you or can be used to gently strip away that which is no longer needed. Personally, I like shadow work in all forms and I liken this book to that practice completely. Learning how to connect and ground through simple mantras and other techniques is incredibly helpful for times when I need something concrete to hold onto. In the middle of a panic attack, I don’t have to think about too much outside of deep breaths and palms pressed together. That to me is a comfort. As I become more practiced, perhaps other techniques will surface for me to use but for now, this works brilliantly.

Shumsky writes with a practiced ease and answers questions you didn’t know you had until you started reading. Her style is open and gentle and is both accessible and reachable in terms of who can practice. There is no feeling of needing to catch up nor is there any shaming if you aren’t able to perform the simplest of meditations. This is meant for the reader to experience as they will and is not meant as another tool with which to beat yourself up over.

Anyone interested in learning chakras but feeling a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing would do well to read Earth Energy Meditations. I am very much for foundational readings, and, as this book covers the root chakra, this is a great place to start. The writing is approachable and the book itself set up into chapters that clearly identifies what specific area is being explored. I would caution that some of this work gets a bit heavy and if you find yourself sinking too deeply, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Asking for guidance is an act of bravery and does not mean you are unable to look after yourself. We all need help from time to time and the best way you can show yourself how much you love yourself is by getting the help you need.

Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Gardening, by Elen Sentier

Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Gardening, by Elen Sentier
Moon Books, 9781789043730, 143 pages, 2021

The introduction alone is worth picking up this book. Even if you don’t get past the first ten pages, the front section of Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Gardening by Elen Sentier is a robust read packed with useful information. Elen Sentier is a magical woman, born of magical people, and her writing is imbued with the cunning craft of her lineage. Passing on her knowledge through writing books on British native shamanism and in magic/mystery/romance novels, Sentier also offers training in the old British ways. This book captures her experiences working with the land and is an absolute pleasure to read.

Straight out of the gate, this book is a metaphor. Does it include gardening tips? Sure, but it’s really about reconnecting with nature using the various growth, death, and rebirth cycles of the year. Sentier says this book “leads you through the eight seasons of the Celtic pagan year and gives you guidance on how to work with each season.”1 

With the number of books already on the market about this very topic, it might seem futile to add to that pile. I respectfully suggest taking those other books and throwing them in the donation bin and keeping this one on the shelf to hand down to those who come after. Being able to tie seasons and moon phases with planting and harvesting is precisely the kind of magic that resonates with me personally, and I can tell you this book is never leaving my collection.

Working with the cyclical rotations of nature is great, but what about actual plants? While it’s tempting to just go all in about the metaphoric essence of this book, I am happy to tell you that there is indeed actual information about actual plants and a very interesting bit about hedges. Completely random, I know but hear me out. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have hedges might not really understand the boon they have been given, especially if said hedges surround a garden.

Sentier explains, “Hedges work because they don’t ‘stop’ the wind but ‘filter’ it. Moving air does get through but because it’s had to fight its way through a tangle of branches and leaves it’s lost 80 or even 90 percent of its energy. So, what was an 40mph wind on one side of the hedge is barely a 5 or 10mph by the time it gets through…and has also lost its wind-chill factor.”

Not only is that practical advice, it also metaphorically dials into the fact that surrounding yourself with people who love and support you will also filter out the rest of society in a way that leaves you feeling protected, supported, and able to flourish. We all need some hedges in our spiritual lives to filter out the intensity of things going on around us. Not to block it out completely, more like a provision of space to catch our breath before moving forward. 

These are the type of books that I love discovering, when the writer seems to be leading you down one path but upon reading and absorbing the book you realize it’s about so much more. 

Sentier’s writing is comfortable, like she knows what she knows and she’s eager to pass it on to whomever is willing to listen. It also feels familiar, like a long-lost cousin that you find yourself in conversation with during a family reunion. Clear language adds to the accessibility of this book: even if the reader doesn’t identify as pagan, there is more than enough actual gardening tips included to make reading the book a pleasure. Great ideas for planting, too!

The book is laid out according to season (Midwinter Solstice, Imbolc, etc), and provides an overview of that season plus various correspondences that have been historically associated with that season. Keeping in mind that geography will dictate what can and cannot be planted, Sentier does an excellent job of using broad strokes when discussing various plants used for each season. 

She is very quick to point out that choosing what to plant very personal and that plants change just as people do: “I’m not quite the same Elen I was a moment ago, nor yesterday, nor last year, so the mental and emotional clothes I wear won’t fit now, won’t be suitable for me as I am now. And neither will the plants in my garden, nor the garden herself, be the same from one day to the next. So, there’s never any right or wrong, only what’s appropriate for Now.”2

Sentier lists a variety of herbs and their uses in their respective sections. She also continually stresses the importance of listening to the land to see what it wants. She explains, “The garden…told me in the first month after we moved in that it wanted to be a garden of the wheel of the seasons. I explored this on squared paper and offered up ideas to the garden spirit but she firmly put me in my place by telling me to go get my compass and find out where the directions are in relation to the house.”3

She sorted out where the gardens would go and what would be in them by listening to what the land had to tell her. Most of us lead such busy lives, we don’t really make the time to listen to the earth as we pull weeds or choose vegetables to put on the table. This book showed me that although I don’t have a garden physically, I could look at myself as a garden and apply the same principles. Mind-blowing.

Whether you actively garden or simply daydream about it, Practically Pagan – Alternative Guide to Gardening will not disappoint you. Being able to tie everyday actions to an overarching goal of being better people and doing better for the environment is one of the key messages I personally took away from reading this book. The magical knowledge being passed down in this book is worth picking it up, and if there is an interest in gardening, so much the better.

The Poison Path Herbal, by Cody Michael

The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, & Ritual Enthogens, by Coby Michael
Park Street Press, 978-1644113349, 256 pages, 2021

Any book that has a large warning at the start of it gets my attention. The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, & Ritual Enthogens by Coby Michael is not here to play. It’s here to teach you reverence and respect for this particular path, and above all, it’s here to transmute your life.

A practitioner of the Poison Path of occult herbalism and cultivator of entheogenic herbs, Michael is perfectly positioned to take the reader on this journey through the misunderstood baneful herbs. As well as practicing, he also contributes to the Pagan Archives at Valdost University, writes regularly for The House of Twigs, and maintains his own blog on Patheos Pagan called Poisoner’s Apothecary. Somehow in the midst of all that, he teaches classes and online workshops on plant magic, baneful herbs, and traditional witchcraft. 

Michael dives right into the subject, explaining that this book is “focused on the magical and spiritual uses of baneful herbs, entheogens, and plant spirit allies as well as their history and mythology.”1 He goes on to explain a few terms that are used generously throughout the book such as baneful which “refers to the ability of a thing to cause harm, and because of this threat, the baneful thing becomes taboo and gains a sinister reputation.”2

Baneful things, especial when talking about plants, can cause bodily harm and in some cases death if the practitioner isn’t clear on what they are doing. The book is separated into three parts, with part 1 covering off the basics of the poison path, Part 2 discussing the three ways of the poison path, and the last section which deals with bringing that knowledge together in practice. It’s very well laid out and a thoughtful path to follow if you are just starting your journey on this particular path.

Be warned though: this isn’t a gardening book, nor is it a how-to for using plants to hex your ex or find a job. Some of the information presented might be bit overwhelming if you don’t have a regular spiritual practice; as with any undertaking similar to this, you can expect to be changed by the process. Michael cautions against simply jumping in and instead recommends learning about the herbs’ chemistry and how the various plants affect human physiology. 

I had the notion of reading this book and then being able to find alternative solutions for my anxiety. Anxiety is not fun and presents different symptoms in many forms in those who experience it, and for me personally, it can be debilitating at times. I don’t like taking prescription medication because it makes me feel dull, so looking for another way to help myself is what prompted me to read this book. After going through it however, I realize that there’s much more to this than simply making a cup of herbal tea and wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket while I wait for the mind-goblins to quieten down. This is an actual path to follow and it is directly linked with Shadow Work. There is no spiritual bypassing here.

Fortunately, Michael seems to have understood this, as he writes clearly about the various families of plants and lists what they are used for. He also addresses the notion of using poisonous plants as spirit allies in magical practice despite the danger they present. He stresses the importance of personal exploration, as there is no substitute for your own counsel in such personal things. Such learnings do have a price though, as Michael clarifies, “…we learn to work with our own shadow as well as the darker forces of the natural world.”3

Having laid out the various plant families and their uses, Michael moves on to discuss the crossroads on the path of poison. This is where it gets a bit advanced; if you aren’t familiar with planetary influences you might find yourself scratching your head and wondering what the hell you’re reading. On the assumption that the reader has a working knowledge of planets and their influences, Michael writes brilliantly about Mercury, Venus and Saturn: the three paths of poison. He arranges them visually in a triangle, a shape that represents the traditional threefold worldview that many pagan cultures subscribe to. 

This collection of planetary influences is the basis for the Poison Path, and a profound one. Michael says, “The archetypal forces of Saturn, Venus, and Mercury are aligned with the currents of magic, witchcraft, and plant lore, providing powerful allies to one’s craft… their association with boundaries and liminal spaces in addition to their correlation with the other world and witchcraft mythos are the powerful themes expressed in this book.”4

Those themes run through the book, making the reader either cringe at the thought of having to learn more information on planets and such, or is an absolute delight to those who have working knowledge and wish to add to it. Planetary magic is not easy, and when baneful herbs are included as an accompaniment it becomes challenging for those not accustomed to specific terms and phrases. 

There is a lot of information in The Poison Path Herbal that might not be appropriate for those who live in the ‘good vibes only’ section of the chorus, as much of this book is dedicated to personal gnosis and the responsibility inherent in achieving that gnosis. I will be adding this book to my collection simply because it doesn’t coddle or coerce: this book demands your undivided attention and promises great rewards for doing so. Alternatively, if you aren’t prepared to go all in, you might want to pick up a different book. Out of respect for the writer, if you aren’t prepared to shovel your personal shit, don’t try to use this book as a way to cover it up.

Pagan Portals – Blodeuwedd, by Jhenah Telyndru

Pagan Portals – Blodeuwedd, by Jhenah Telyndru
Moon Books, 1785352126, 134 pages, August 2021

Most faith-based belief systems have similarities ranging from deities and methods of worship and ritual to their myths and legends. In Pagan Portals – Blodeuwedd, Jhenah Telyndru takes us on a deep dive into who the Welsh goddess is, where she came from, and what she symbolizes. 

An in-depth researcher who leaves no stone unturned, Telyndru has masterfully taken an enormous amount of data and compiled it into healthy bites that present an interesting tale. Like most of the Celtic Britons, the Welsh people opted to share their stories through oral tradition, resulting in limited resources from which to pull when putting together a book such as this. Telyndru has woven a magical tale of a goddess whose origin story sounds a lot like that of Eve.

One of the reasons why I love exploring religious cultures and their deities is the thread of consistency that connects most, if not all, of the religions we see today. We are all familiar with the Christian tale of Eve: a woman created from the rib of Adam, the first man, and what she has come to represent. A similar thread appears in the Welsh goddess’ story as well.

In Blodeuwedd’s story, she is created to be the wife of Lleu, a man who is forbidden to marry a human woman due to trickery. Lleu and his father create Blodeuwedd out of oak, broom, and meadowsweet flowers and the two are married. Once married, Lleu is gifted lands by his father and the two settle down.

One day, Lleu decides to visit his father and leaves the estate under Blodeuwedd’s care. He leaves, and Blodeuwedd is informed that a lord from a neighboring kingdom is on her lands. He and his party had been hunting a stag and had followed the animal onto her lands. She extends the hospitality of her hall to him, as is the custom, and sparks fly. They spend a few nights together and they come up with a plan to spend the rest of eternity together. These things never turn out the way they are supposed to, and both Blodeuwedd and her lover are found and punished.

What’s interesting to me is the fact that Blodeuwedd was not given a choice, much like the Christian Eve. They were both created to serve a function, and once they discovered that there was more to life than their specific function, they were punished. This theme carries through into real life as well, with women bearing the brunt of man’s anger and suspicion throughout the ages. You needn’t look far back in time to see glimpses of this: it’s everywhere.

The book details the circumstances around the creation of Blodeuwedd and explains why her creation story was a bit tricky to accept. Telyndru explains:

“It is notable that we don’t see Blodeuwedd give consent to her marriage…Even if we assume she has given consent “off stage”… as a literal newborn, would Blodeuwedd have even possessed the understanding or capacity required to make such a choice?…she has no family to negotiate the terms of the marriage on her behalf. She has been created specifically for the purpose of being Lleu’s wife, since her creator is Gwydion, Lleu’s uncle, it is clear that his priority is to see his nephew wed…”1

Telyndru continues:

“…Blodeuwedd is married the same day she steps into this world… it is this very lack of consent which may have stood out to the contemporary medieval audience, leading them to consider that the marriage…may not have been proper or legal.”2

This is important because Blodeuwedd’s apparent adultery was not considered to have been that; according to their customs, her union with Gronw, the lord from the other kingdom, fulfilled very specific requirements involving three nights of consecutive sleeping together as a sort of elopement. Since her ‘marriage’ to Lleu did not have her consent, and therefore did not seem legal or proper, she couldn’t have committed adultery. What a fascinating twist! Despite all that though, it should come as no surprise that this story was meant as a cautionary tale to the medieval audience: “nothing good comes of women seeking to change their circumstances, especially when it goes against the status quo.”3

This book, while fascinating and wonderfully written, had parts that really upset me. I see echoes of this story everywhere I look, where women regularly sacrifice their own dreams in order to look after the home and support her partner. Personally, I am tired of the expectation that I should shelve my own aspirations in order to support my partner in achieving their goals. I didn’t even get into the sexual repression and how women’s sexual agency is an apparent threat as the whole thing just infuriates me. Not Telyndru’s fault or anything they have done, it’s the topics that this particular legend covers that just irks me.

Having said that, I think it’s vital that we read things such as this in order to see where these ideas come form and hopefully create new ones that are in alignment with current equality expectations. And honestly, the legend of Blodeuwedd doesn’t stop with the whole adultery thing. Becoming the Goddess of Sovereignty isn’t just about agency, it’s also about creating opportunities for those who would rule to prove themselves worthy of the task. As her legend evolved, Blodeuwedd morphs into a benevolent Goddess who was instrumental in creating an opportunity for Lleu and Gronw to achieve their destinies.

If you have even an inkling of an interest in this type of legend, you should pick Pagan Portals – Blodeuwedd. It infuriated me in parts and made me happy in others, and that’s really what I want in a book. Telyndru did a remarkable job in putting together a ton of information in an easy-to-understand way. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a patriarchy I have to topple.

Pagan Portals: Hellenic Paganism, by Samantha Leaver

Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism, by Samantha Leaver
Moon Books, 9781789043235, 104 pages, March 2021

When I first got my hands on this book, I thought I knew what it was going to be about. I mean, it’s Hellenic so it’s about Greek Gods and Goddesses, right? Let’s be clear: Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism by Samantha Leaver is not the typical book that lists the various Olympian deities and provides a basic framework for how and when to worship them. No, this book goes much deeper than that. 

Citing a life-long fascination with Greek mythology, Leaver has crafted a beautifully written book that details the many participants in the Hellenic pantheon. A self-proclaimed Kitchen Witch, Leaver has always felt drawn to the Mediterranean and this book is her personal journey through the various deities and how she works with them in order to foster a connection with the divine. 

Chock full of useful information around the practice as a whole, the book starts with an artfully crafted introduction that explains the society of the Hellenes and gives a brief overview of what Hellenic Paganism is. Leaver makes points on how things have changed since those times, noting that some of the Hellenic practices are no longer viable choices in today’s society. She suggests a variety of ways to do the same things in today’s context, something I found to be quite helpful in aligning myself with the practices in a modern time.

Written simply and with a profound sense of reverence, this book is a delightful entry point into the mythical world of the Greeks and the way they performed their rituals. Leaver clearly enjoys herself as she writes and is eager to share all that she has learned in her personal journey through the pantheon, while at the same time making distinctions between their world and our time. She notes that the psychological aspect of Hellenism differs from other well-known forms of religion, saying:

“Hellenism is more about connecting with and understanding the relationship you have to the natural world, it is all about living the best life you possibly can, with virtue, rather than sin, punishment, and redemption.”1

I really appreciated the depth of knowledge imparted by Leaver, as she delved into many aspects of ancient Hellenic life. Maybe some would find it tedious and want her to get on with the spells already, but I want to know where the rituals and ceremonies come from and why they were done. To me, that fleshes out the ‘why’ of the practice and I feel that is a vital piece of the ritual puzzle.

Leaver points out that much like Wicca, there are multiple paths in Hellenic Paganism and details a few to show their similarities. With that comes different names for deities in the pantheon, something I had not considered much to my chagrin. Of course there would be different names for deities depending on where you lived. Why would everyone use the same name? We don’t even have the same for a spatula in today’s society (seriously, it IS a spatula, not a lifter, and I will fight you). 

What I loved about gleaning this particular nugget of information is that Leaver also expresses her own double-take. She says, “To be honest, I thought I had a good handle on the Gods, until simple things like, ‘wait, the Hellenics call them Theoi’ happened, or ‘wait, there are numerous versions of each mythology out there by different writers at different times.’”2

This admission of disconnect solidified that this was the book for me. The honesty with which Leaver presents her journey, flawed as it was, is an absolute dream to partake of. It also made me feel much better about my own personal journey, as I have experienced similar things while bobbing along trying to figure out what kind of witch I am and who I should devote my time to. There is a difference between knowing that these things happen with others and then actually reading about an experience, and while it’s uncomfortable to watch others struggle in their search for sovereignty, it’s comforting to know that despite what path we find ourselves on, we are all having similar experiences. 

The book is cleverly divided into four parts and a section called “Closing thoughts from a Modern Hellenic Pagan.” The four sections clearly divide up the vast knowledge Leaver has on Hellenic Paganism: the introduction is both straightforward in laying out the structure of the information that will be presented and Leaver’s own journey along this particular path. Subsequent sections titled “Living the Path”, “Relationship with Deity’” and “Magic and Mysticism” are equally well laid out and written in a very approachable manner. 

It’s always interesting to take something like auspicious days and try to make them relevant to today’s society. Leaver does this admirably, making connections to more modern tactics rather than leaving you to figure it out on your own. The best example of this is listed in Hesiod’s Auspicious Days: Day 4: a good day to bring home a bride, begin building narrow ships, and open jars. Leaver offers another way to look at it, saying, “I like to think of this day as the day to begin building projects, a crafty or creative day. This is also a good day to take care to avoid troubles that eat out the heart. I like to use some time on this day to concentrate on all that is good in my life.”3

Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism is a great jumping on point for those interested in Hellenic Paganism or just want a deeper dive on the Greek pantheon. I found the information to be very helpful and detailed in a way that was not overwhelming. One thing I did not expect was how many gods and goddesses are considered to be part of the Greek pantheon: there are literally too many to name. If you have even a glimmer of interest in knowing more about this particular branch of paganism, I highly recommend picking up this book. I am happy to add it to my growing collection of books.

Permission Granted, by Regina Louise

Permission Granted: Kick-Ass Strategies to Bootstrap Your Way to Unconditional Love, by Regina Louise
New World Library, 1608687268, 320 pages, June 2021

In a world filled with many voices claiming to be able to easily and quickly show readers the pathway to self acceptance, Permission Granted: Kick-Ass Strategies to Bootstrap Your Way to Unconditional Love by Regina Louise is really the only book you need ever pick up. Packed full of information and actual real-life strategies that make sense, this book cuts through the noise and provides the tools needed to go on this journey and find the pot of gold at the end.

As a speaker, coach, author, and teacher, Louise is no stranger to hard work and dedication. Her frank prose allows you to connect instantly with the source material and to make connections within yourself that previously you might have overlooked. With fourteen “Kick-Ass Strategies” in the table of contents, readers can jump to whatever they need in the moment or go through the book in a methodical way. Personally, I always read the whole thing front to back, although in this case I was sidetracked by Kick-Ass Strategy #6: Be Big (and Small).

In this chapter, Louise explores what it means to take up space and to lean into it. Having been told for much of my life that I need to tone down, be quieter, watch my language and all that, this chapter resonated with me so much I needed to put the book down and take a few breaths  Louise pinpointed precisely what I feel during those moments, saying:

“…if you’re anything like me, and you’ve been told that you’re a big personality, that you’re too much, which you translate as ‘I’m not wanted’ and ‘I’m about to be abandoned’, then the next thing you know, you’re lost in a big-ass trauma response.”1

I hadn’t thought of it like that, in terms of a trauma response. In reflection, it makes sense, and it’s these moments of realization that makes this book so worth the time investment. Louise writes with such authenticity and awareness that only comes from someone who has walked this path before.

Along with this is the sprinkling of personal anecdotes, a skill that not all books in the same realm as this one can say they’ve mastered. I find that in most situations, anecdotes can be overused as the writer might not have enough content for the actual book, and so it ends up reading more like a memoir. Not that I mind reading about other people’s journeys: I am completely interested in hearing about their challenges and how they overcame them. I just want the book that is sold to me to be the actual book I get after purchasing. This book is precisely what it says it is and I couldn’t be happier.

Subsequent chapters deal with big topics that could actually be books in their own right. This meaty book delves into a lot of muck that we tend to ignore in our quest for happiness and security and love: things like championing yourself, reconnecting with our inner child, fully engaging in our messiness, and giving ourselves permission. In Kick-Ass Strategy #5: Compose a Permission Statement, Louise takes us through the challenging exercise of drafting a permission statement that ultimately gives you mentorship of yourself. Louise says:

“Drafting a permission statement is an act of enormous generosity toward yourself. It’s evidence of your willingness to get on board with who you are, and it offers you the chance to examine your values and beliefs and to own your inherent right to flex your personal power.”2

It’s writing like this that pulls you in and helps you bypass some of the resistance you might feel around doing the exercises. This chapter also raises interesting questions around being fully seen and feeling psychologically safe in those moments and challenges the reader to fully engage with the material.

Part of this exercise includes selecting words from a list that best describe you. In doing this particular exercise, I found it hard to pick only the suggested number of twelve adjectives, and harder still to reduce that number down to six. Challenging, but not impossible.

It meant I had to sit with myself and really dig deep to find out which words actually resonate with me and which ones I wanted to be. There is a huge difference there. It’s exercises like this that teach us how to connect with who we really are and to start to accept ourselves as just that: not good, not bad, just who we are. 

The combination of anecdotes and writing exercises makes this book an absolute treasure. Louise’s way of taking the reader through the self-discovery process is delightful, if a bit painful at times. Part of this process includes uncovering those parts of the self that might be resistant to change and helps to uncover the roots of why that might be. If this sounds like shadow work, it absolutely is. While it might not take the usual form of what would normally be classified as shadow work, Louise’s book most definitely falls into that category.

If you thought you could bypass doing any actual work just by reading a book, Louise’s book will change your mind and encourage you to engage with the material. Honestly, digging deep into your own psyche is not fun, but feeling like Louise is right there with you, telling you how they managed to get through it and what the results were make a huge difference and helps you to feel less alone while you root around in the darkness. Trust me.

Those who identify as being on a journey of discovery through self-awareness of behavior and societal triggers would benefit from this book. In fact, I would suggest that most people even interested in the idea of being self-aware would derive a lot from Louise’s fantastic book.

Permission Granted is about more than just accepting yourself. It’s also about finding space for otherness, for those who aren’t like you but exist in the same space. Once we discover that those around us aren’t really that different, perhaps that knowledge could lead to a better, more stable foundation upon which we can build a more sustainable society. 

Pagan Portals – Raven Goddess, by Morgan Daimler

Pagan Portals – Raven Goddess: Going Deeper with The Morrigan, by Morgan Daimler
Moon Books, 1789044867, 104 pages, October 2020

Heavily researched books get a bad reputation for being stuffy, boring, or just too damn long. When something has been researched to the point where it’s just a collection of facts with no soul, that’s where I check out. Fortunately, Raven Goddess: Going Deeper with The Morrigan by Morgan Daimler provides an abundance of thoroughly researched and cross-checked facts, coupled with a flair that only an accomplished storyteller could achieve.

Having authored many books on the subject of the Irish Gods and Ungods, despite not being part of that heritage, Daimler has captured the respect of fellow authors and scholars by their clarity on the subject matter and the depth of their research on the topics. A blogger, poet, teacher, witch, priestess and the author of more than two dozen books, Daimler’s Pagan Portals – Raven Goddess is a shining example of this depth of research as this book takes you beyond the normal space of explaining who The Morrigan is and explores the mystery that surrounds her.

The Morrigan has been misrepresented in many books, mostly due to the rapid spread of misinformation through opinion-based writings. I am not in any way suggesting that people may not have an opinion on how they identify or interact with any particular God or Goddess, but I do believe having the facts should precede any sort of opinion-based writing. Having said that, while Daimler does inject their own opinion on a regular basis throughout the book, it’s done in a simple and satisfying way that adds layers to the information being presented.

The opinions expressed by Daimler are based on their exhaustive research and their ability to translate the old texts that are referred to throughout the book. Having tried learning Gaelic exactly once in my life, it is impressive to see the original text plus the various translations already made compared to Daimler’s translations. This added touch lends a layer of authenticity to the book that is both refreshing and downright amazing.

Referencing old texts, parts of poems, and scholarly writings, Daimler is able to piece together a very deep and revealing portrait of who The Morrigan is and how we can work with Her as individuals if we feel called to. Beyond the normal listing of various correspondences, Daimler provides an in-depth examination of various sources of the material from which the correspondences associated with The Morrigan are derived. This cross referencing could be tiresome for folks if it weren’t for the way Daimler writes. 

In one chapter, Daimler provides irrefutable proof that Morgen Le Fay and The Morrigan are two separate entities. They explain:

“The Morrigan and Morgen Le Fay are often associated with each other in modern paganism… both certainly were vilified and demonized over time as stories evolved, the Morrigan going from a goddess to a night spectre and Morgen from a priestess of Avalon to an incestuous and usurping sister of the king.”1

That is perhaps one the most common misperceptions of The Morrigan that I have personally come across. I didn’t think that the two shared any roots, but over the years as I did my own reading and found others who made connections, it made me wonder. The biggest point of contention is the fact that the Morrigan is Irish and Morgen La Fay is Welsh, so that should have stopped the connection there. Fortunately, this book cleared all that up as Daimler says without reservation, “there’s no evidence that the Morrigan and Morgen La Fay share any roots or that historically the two have any connection to each other..”2

There are other pieces to the book that enhance the journey through the history of The Morrigan. The correct spelling of her name, for example, as well as an explanation of why it is “The Morrigan” and not simply “Morrigan”. Daimler goes into this briefly, stating “It may help to keep in mind that her name translates to a title — either the Great Queen or the Phantom Queen, so try thinking that you are saying that.”3

References to other works abound, if you aren’t careful you will fall down a rabbit hole of personal research and cross checking. As I write this, I have four other books on the subject including Daimler’s first book on The Morrigan titled “The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens”. I love reading books that give you additional resources to look up your own information and this book does that perfectly. Daimler’s writing is clear and concise and carries a hint of reverence for the subject matter. This book is an absolute pleasure to read and conjures up many questions that no doubt I will spend time finding my own answers to.

For me, as someone who follows The Morrigan and has for years, this book provides a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t have and more importantly, didn’t know I was missing. Yes, it’s scholarly and a bit repetitive at times, as Daimler is constantly drawing upon their vast knowledge of Irish paganism in order to provide clarity around the Morrigan, her associations or correspondences, and her activities, but still Pagan Portals – Raven Goddess is perfect for those wishing to dive a bit deeper into the lore behind The Morrigan in order to deepen their understanding of her and strengthen their own connection to her.

Lunar Alchemy, by Shaheen Miro

Lunar Alchemy: Everyday Moon Magic to Transform Your Life, by Shaheen Miro
Weiser Books, 1578636907, 224 pages, 2020

Anyone who has ever looked up at the moon and felt a stirring in their soul understands the importance of lunar magic in a spiritual practice. In Lunar Alchemy: Everyday Moon Magic to Transform Your Life, Shaheen Miro takes us beyond the basic parameters of Moon Magic 101 and shows us a path that not only forms the basis of a solid practice but also includes new facets of shadow work that point the way to personal power rather than simply providing a list of rituals to perform to help with manifestation.

Miro’s other writings through his blog and weekly newsletters focus on healing, empowerment, and transformation. His personal practice for clients includes energy-clearing, intention setting, and intuitive readings. The author of The Lunar Nomad Oracle, Uncommon Tarot (reviewed here), and co-author of Tarot for Troubled Times, Miro’s intention through his work is to help people navigate themselves to uncover their own personal power. 

One thing that struck me is the lack of how-tos in this book. While there is a comprehensive table of contents that includes the four basic moon phases, Miro dissects each phase and relates it back to the Great Work. He explains:

“…this isn’t simply a book about moon spells or moon magic. It is a book that ultimately will familiarize you with the phases of the moon as steps on the alchemical path – the Great Work – so that you can learn to internalize that alchemy as a transformative force in your own life.”1

Personally, I have felt inadequate at times when comparing myself as I am to the idea of who I thought I was. It’s interesting to see how our impressions of ourselves change over time, and Miro not only recognizes that but expands on it:

“Your life’s path is, like the moon’s, a series of phases – times of abundance, times of thin scarcity, times of light, times of darkness, times of feminine intuition, times of masculine action. The cycle repeats. Like the moon, you change day to day. No one phase is “you”; no one phase is right, or better, or more moral than any other. You are the sum total of all your phases – and like the moon you are on a constant alchemical journey of change and transformation.”2

I can’t tell you what an incredible relief it was to read those words. Something I’d felt but couldn’t put into words just magically appearing before me in the book I am reading. That’s magic! Miro is completely right: we are works in progress and we never stop changing. This book is a huge asset in learning how to navigate those spaces between what you know about yourself and what you’ve hidden from yourself.

The book is set up in three parts. Part one deals with the alchemic concepts behind lunar magic and a great jumping off point for those new to the concept of the Great Work. Part two deals with the four lunar cycles and contains exercises and ceremonies for working with each phase as it resonates with you. Part three provides a selection of ceremonies and exercises for specific intentions. 

Reading this book feels like a rebellion of sorts. Not because it is outrageously scandalous, although some might feel that way given the attitude of “If I thrive, you thrive. If we are well, the planet is well”.3 Miro writes in a clear, concise way that conveys his ideas of how we could move forward as a species if we were able to embrace a shift in power away from the actionable masculine energy that is dominating currently and bring it into balance with the deeply intuitive and self empowerment of the feminine.

We see these shifts happening already. This book is a tool to help that change occur within us, by healing the disconnect between the Solar and the Lunar aspects we all carry as part of who we are. Healing ourselves leads to collective healing on a global scale, and this book is a step in that direction.

I found this book to be deeply satisfying on a number of levels. My brain loved the linking of moon phases to corresponding alchemical phases, and the deep dive into “As above, so below. As within, so without”4. That phrase has been tossed around a lot and it is so refreshing to see pages devoted to exploring the concept behind the words.

More than just a phrase, it’s a way of being in harmony with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world and being in alignment. Miro takes the time to delve into it and coaxes the reader to answer a series of questions throughout the section, not as an exercise but as a way to get you to think. Lunar Alchemy takes common themes and ideas around the moon and cycles in general and reinvigorates them with brightness and curiosity. Wondrous reading!

Lunar Alchemy is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about moon cycles as they relate personally and isn’t afraid of doing shadow work. Shadow work is hard, but the payoff is well worth it! The spells and ceremonies in the third part are designed to support and assist the self empowerment techniques and aren’t meant to help you get your lover back or find you a new job. What this book can do, however, is provide you with the tools to do those things for yourself. Plus, the list of reading resources at the back of the book is a fantastic gift. There are some great readings suggested, and I highly encourage checking a few out at the very least. 

Horse Magick, by Lawren Leo and Domenic Leo

Horse Magick: Spells and Rituals for Self-Empowerment, Protection, and Prosperity, by Lawren Leo with Domenic Leo, PhD
Weiser Books, 1578636983, 208 pages, 2020

Using animals in magical practice is a familiar theme (see what I did there?) that resonates with most practitioners. Many of those who follow some form of occult practice have some type of helper to either guide them through their spiritual work or simply act as a companion. In their book, Horse Magick: Spells and Rituals for Self-Empowerment, Protection, and Prosperity, both Lawren Leo and Domenic Leo draw on their own experiences to illustrate and detail the art of practicing magick with the Horse Spirit that resides within all of us.

Both brothers have ample experience in both dealing with horses and practicing magick. Growing up, they were introduced to horses and riding and never looked back. As a psychic, Leo has authored many books and owns a metaphysical store that Domenic is head buyer for. Additionally, Domenic holds numerous degrees in a variety of subjects and is widely published. Together, they have created a unique reading experience that results in a book that is difficult to put down once started. This book is their shared experience, with one delving into the historical background of various horse deities and the other crafting specific spells designed to procure whatever it is needed.

This book is not laid out in the typical fashion. Its nonlinear approach is comforting to me personally, as I like jumping around from section to section. Here, you are not penalized for doing so; in fact, jumping around is encouraged! Here’s the difference though: in order to find the spell you want, you need to know what type of horse it relates to. The table of contents lists the different types of horses: Ancient Horse, African River Horse, Marble Horse, and so on. Not familiar with any of the horses listed? A brief skim of each chapter signals the kind of spellwork that coincides with the spirit and the spell that follows makes it crystal clear. 

The introduction is a wealth of information if you are patient enough to read it all the way through. The temptation to jump ahead and let spirit guide your reading selection a la bibliomancy is hard to resist. Case in point: when I randomly opened the book to a page I found precisely what I was looking for. Although I don’t have horses anymore I do have cats, and the spell I found on page 64 brought me to tears. Called “Spell for Bonding With, Protecting, and Remembering Animal Companions,” this beautiful ritual does precisely what it says. Maybe I’m totally reading into things but I swear my normally aloof cat was a bit more affectionate after I did this ritual. It’s hard to tell with cats, but I am choosing to believe.

Thoroughly researched horses and deities provide the backdrop for this magnificent book. While there is a lot of information presented, it’s done in such a way that you are grateful for the information. Every chapter of this book brings new ideas for personal spellwork and although I am not a high ritual type of witch, I can absolutely appreciate the amount of care and thought that each spell clearly has built into it. These are not spells to be done off the cuff: these are the type of spells that you need to prepare for and make sure you have everything ready prior to beginning. Horse spirits are akin to real horses in that they have no patience if you don’t know what you are doing and aren’t prepared. 

Having said that, Chapter One is designed to prepare you so that you are ready for the spellwork. In explaining what the Horse Spirit is, Leo offers “The essence of the Horse Spirit is freedom… the horse’s intimate relation with spirit and nature… are compelling reason to use equine magick.”1 Using equine magick involves partnering with the horse spirit within, something that many of us yearn for but simply don’t know how to access.

Leo takes the reader through the process of connecting with this inner guide by offering a spell to provide freedom from burdens and stress. This simple spell involves sitting, something that I enjoy very much, and a chant that can be repeated as many times as needed. The rhythmic chant is relaxing and invigorating at the same time and could bring on an altered state of consciousness called the alpha state. I won’t go into those details here as it’s something that can be easily looked up. The fact that there is no prescribed amount of times to chant or direction on how many days to chant is not by accident. This is a spell of freedom, and if being burdened is something you struggle with, this spell gives you a starting point to taking back that power and freedom to choose for yourself.

Horse Magick is perfect for those who love professionally researched subject matter that is presented in an easy to read fashion. The spells are designed to be thought provoking and deliberate, with not much room for improvisation in terms of the actual ritual of performing the spellwork. If you prefer your spellwork to be more fluid and open, these spells might be a good jumping off point for you to create your own. I feel anyone who practises any form of magick would do well to flip through this book as it’s well written and laid out in such a way to encourage the reader to find their own inner Horse Spirit.