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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.

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.

Sex Witch, by Sophie Saint Thomas

Sex Witch: Magical Spells for Love, Lust and Self-Protection, by Sophie Saint Thomas
Weiser Books, 1578637201, 240 pages, February 2021

The idea of a powerful woman, who is sexually liberated and enjoys her own pleasure, has always been seen as taboo and a threat to those who would seek to subjugate her. In Sex Witch: Magical Spells for Love, Lust and Self-Protection, Sophie Saint Thomas takes us on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately treads the path of self-empowerment and pleasure, with plenty of naughtiness along the way.

Saint Thomas has written about sex and the occult for years in various roles at many publications. Her distinct writing style immediately makes you want to call your friends and put her on speakerphone, which is ridiculous because this is a book. After reading this though, I know what my close friends are getting for their respective festive holiday seasons and it isn’t going to be fruitcake. 

Saint Thomas makes sure the reader knows what they are getting into right off the bat in the introduction, where she describes a candle magick session for love involving a red, penis-shaped candle and a conjuration of Lucifer. While the spell didn’t go precisely as planned, she did point out the red flags she discovered in hindsight and that’s very helpful for those of us who tend to plunge ahead with only a loose idea of how it should go. The reinforcement of preparation and self-awareness is refreshing, as some authors merely give you the spell and leave you to it. Saint Thomas doesn’t and says, “To manifest what we want, we must integrate knowledge and reason. We can’t just dance under a full moon.”1

Saint Thomas writes through a lens of someone who has been there, done that, and is now sharing what she has learned. From the table of contents, a pattern emerges: the journey begins with the basics covered off in Magickal School and Sex Ed. From there, we head into subsequent chapters on self-love, seduction, and sex. Once the basics are established, we move into deeper waters of seduction, sex, love, protection. The last two chapters are perhaps the most powerful: revenge and healing. To be clear, the section on revenge isn’t about hurting your ex because they left, it’s about obtaining revenge through healing yourself and being successful, which is much better in my opinion.

The order of the chapters makes perfect sense: you need to learn how to walk before you can run. In Chapter 1: Magickal School, Saint Thomas says that “… sex magick is not just spells for attracting more sex. Sex magick is harnessing your orgasms for manifestation.”2 She also touches on Chaos Magick, which is something I personally ascribe to, as well as sections on colour correspondences and, of course, candle magick. This section is truly meant for those at the start of their magical journey, with instructions on how to cast a circle and what the four elements and their correspondences are. Still worth a read as far as I am concerned, as each interpretation reveals new knowledge.

The detail that Saint Thomas goes into is staggering. While undoubtedly meant for those not familiar with witchy terminology or supplies, Saint Thomas goes above and beyond to include nuanced tidbits for even the most seasoned of witches. I could literally write an entire review about the first chapter but since that’s not why you are here, I will tear myself away from it and move on to the rest of the book.

Subsequent chapters dealing with self-love, seduction, and sex are well written and fulsome. It would be easy to get lost in this book except for the fact that there are many spells sprinkled throughout that makes the reader want to stop and try them out along the way. There is a lot of Shadow work in here, especially in the Self-Love chapter.

There is one particular spell I tried out on page 88 called Break Toxic Cycles. It’s a cord cutting ritual involving a length of black string. You basically tie knots as you call out patterns you want to break. Things like “I ignore red flags” and “I expect people to change” and such. You go down the length of the string, calling out patterns and making knots, until you’ve called out all patterns. This is where it gets interesting: you tie the ends together to form a loop and drape it over your hands like shackles. You are encouraged to feel how toxic the patterns are, and then taking scissors, snip between each knot, freeing yourself. Take all the bits of string and knot and burn them, removing the residue from your home once done.

I’ve been in therapy for a few years now dealing with my own baggage and trying to free myself from toxic patterns that keep plaguing me. I did this spell during the waning moon and although there was no bolt of lightning at the end to show that I’d broken each pattern, there was definitely a lightness within me that hasn’t been there in some time. Simple, effective, and to the point spell casting is my jam, and this book is full of spells like that one.

Sex Witch would do well in the hands of someone who isn’t afraid to explore their sexuality or who is firmly grounded in who they are sexually. There is no room here for kink shaming or slut shaming: it’s all pleasure and it’s all normal. I especially love how Saint Thomas just dives right in and talks about things like drugs and threesomes and how to protect yourself against STDs. She completely understands that while some will be attracted to the book based on how much sex they think they might be able to conjure, others will read it and understand the nuanced messaging around self-love, protection, and freeing yourself from the expectations of others, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Badass Ancestors, by Patti Wigington

Badass Ancestors: Finding Your Power with Ancestral Guides, by Patti Wigington
Llewellyn Publications, 9780738764986, 312 pages, 2020

Within minutes of picking up Badass Ancestors: Finding Your Power with Ancestral Guides by Patti Wigington, I felt compelled to reactivate my ancestry.com account. As someone interested in working with ancestors, I found this book to be helpful in clearing away the noise and getting down to it. Wigington’s book clearly outlines the process of researching personal genealogy as foundational work to learn about one’s ancestors in a meaningful way. Building on this, the research done in finding/naming dead relatives encourages one to honor and work with them in personal practice.

The author of several books on the topic of witchcraft and Wicca, Wigington includes examples of her own application of the processes described in the book using Pagan contexts. I have an appreciation for the depth of historical research Wigington included in the book — a nod to the author’s B.A. in History. She uses her background in history advantageously, as the chapters around veneration in world cultures is thoroughly detailed and well laid out. 

Wigington goes out of her way to make sure that the reader does not feel less than perfect if they don’t know their personal lineage. She understands the various challenges many people face while trying to discover their personal ancestral background and offers concrete resources and processes to help find answers. Her step-by-step process of using various websites to collect data and using charts and spreadsheets to keep track of it all might seem a bit daunting at first, but it quickly becomes clear that her suggestions work and make the task of discovering and cataloguing ancestors a bit less arduous.

She begins the journey by explaining various practices around the world, effectively linking different cultures to show how connected we are as a species. This leads beautifully into the chapters dealing with finding your own people and building an altar so you can work with them, and also contains various meditations and rituals for both honoring and working with the ancestors you choose to involve in your practice. I have to admit though, I jumped ahead of all of that to get to one chapter in particular: “Problem Ancestors – You Can’t Choose Your People. “

In this chapter, Wigington tackles the very delicate subject of ancestors who might be very powerful and well positioned to provide assistance, but due to their actions in life might not be welcome at your table. She is remarkably open when speaking about her own personal ancestors and the lasting effect their actions have taken on her family, which is encouraging for those who are curious about their lineage but might not be ready for what they find. On a personal note, I found this chapter to be one of the best as I have struggled with the ethics of working with ancestors based on what they have left behind as their legacy. It’s not always great, and Wigington reminds us that, much like how we can choose to deal with the living, engaging with the dead is a personal choice that we are each free to make for ourselves.

Throughout the book, Wigington provides a variety of sample rituals that could be used to call in ancestors, honor them, or just thank them for being part of the family. I subscribe to the belief that one person’s rituals might not work for another, but I could absolutely see how these would be effective in approaching ancestors with a view to building a relationship. Understanding that respect is key is helpful to those who might not be fully aware of what they are potentially getting themselves into.

While the book is appropriate for anyone who might be interested in contacting and working with ancestors, certain sections seem to be aimed towards those just beginning their journey, while others are clearly meant for those who have established solid relationships and want to deepen their connections. There is also a section of recipes that could be used when providing offerings to ancestors based on some rough cultural assumptions and time periods, which I highly appreciated as it gives a good starting point for those just entering into this practice. 

While ancestral work itself isn’t necessarily light and fluffy, the topic of personal legacy and arrangements to be made for our own demise is not usually discussed or included, and I firmly believe it should be. I was delighted to find the final chapter titled “Your Badass Legacy” deals with things like providing clear funeral instructions including a living will, keeping detailed journals, and things of that ilk to help your descendants understand your life. Subsections on knowledge sharing, family heirlooms, journals and diaries, and recipes and traditions all provide excellent suggestions on how to get started building a snapshot of your life for future generations. Wigington even includes a piece about digital legacy, something that anyone with a Facebook page or Twitter account needs to take into consideration when end of life planning. 

Wigington does a remarkable job of navigating the various levels of knowledge and provides an incredible amount of information in a way that is not overwhelming. I have been researching my family on and off again for some time and was happy to see that the resources cited pretty much matched what I’d discovered. Having said that, there is so much in this book that I didn’t know and I appreciated the opportunity to learn new things.

One thing in particular that leaped out at me was the idea of appealing to archetypes instead of actual ancestors when you can’t find your people. For me, the idea of substituting an idea of an ancestor in place of the actual ancestor was eye opening. I have been struggling for years to figure out how to fill in the gaps on my father’s side, since I have no contact with that side of my family and no way to get information. Using her suggestion of researching archetypes from my genetic heritage was brilliant and helped me to finally stop feeling like I’d failed by not being able to fill in those gaps on the tree. 

This book really introduced me to how I could work with my ancestors, despite not knowing who they are or where they might be from, and gave me a foundation upon which I can create my own ancestral practice moving forward. One of the better books on this topic, I would recommend Badass Ancestors for anyone wanting to start building relationships and connecting with their ancestors in a low stress and highly effective way.

Existential Kink, by Carolyn Elliot

Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power, by Carolyn Elliott, PhD
Weiser Books, 9781578636471, 224 pages, 2020

How much of our behavior is driven by our sub- and unconscious minds? In Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power, Carolyn Elliott, PhD, explains why we are drawn to specific situations and provides clear guidance on how to harness that energy for better uses. As an author and teacher who specializes in helping people achieve dramatic positive change in their lives through shadow integration work, Elliott has been practicing what she preaches and is proof that her method works. But what exactly is Existential Kink?

Developed by Elliott through many years of teaching her courses, Existential Kink (EK) is “an amazing, rapid-shadow integration process”1 and a “specific meditative practice … that’s all about dissolving negative patterns by being willing to uncover and celebrate the previously unconscious pleasure that we actually – paradoxically – derive from those patterns.” 2 Elliott earned her PhD in Critical and Cultural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh, during which time she immersed herself in psychology. The result of her deep dive into psychology led her to realizing one very important insight. She explains that “by recognizing and empowering the darkness of my shadow and in the end taking “pleasure” in my yucky stuff … I could completely integrate my “good” self with my “bad” self and become a whole person.” 3

As you might expect, Elliott’s method for shadow integration is not for the faint of heart. While most self-help books focus on the visualization aspect of manifestation, Elliott realized that what’s actually needed in order to break free of specific unhelpful patterns is an excavation of the psyche. To walk the reader through the process, she has separated the book into three parts that deal with existential basics, getting kinky (more on that later), and questions and answers. Interspersed throughout the sections are specific lessons that help define the practice, provide valuable information in relation to EK, exercises for the reader to engage in the material, and interludes that detail personal stories of transformative experiences had by both the author and those who have taken her courses or been coached by her.

A big chunk of the book lays out the basics, including an interesting take on the legend of Persephone. I won’t ruin it for you because I feel everyone who feels stuck in some sort of recurring negative patterns needs to read this book, but suffice to say, Elliott’s spin resonates deeply. She states that the Persephone/Hades myth is not of two separate people, but of one all powerful being who chooses to experience both positive (Persephone) and negative (Hades) aspects of the human experience. This idea of bringing together both halves of ourselves (positive/light and negative/dark) is the very essence of the work Elliott describes in this book.

Elliott doesn’t try to smooth anything over; she is quite emphatic about how hard this work is and states clearly that most people are not able to do this kind of deep shadow work because of the trauma is brings up. In addressing that, Elliott goes out of her way to mention her own mental health journey to illustrate how deep the work is and also how rewarding. There’s a level of comfort in knowing that others have successfully travelled this path and reading their experiences is helpful in setting personal expectations. Similar to physical exercise, you will get out of this book exactly what you out in terms of steadfast work and deep introspection.

So how exactly does one conduct this type of work? This is where the kink part comes in: Elliott maintains that by “getting off” on our dark desires (things like scarcity, feelings of not being good enough, seeking out those who keep us small, etc), we give ourselves permission to enjoy the sensation of being bad. We often forget that we can choose how to experience sensation, be it a gentle stroke of a lover’s hand or a rap on the knuckles for taking too many cookies. Elliott states that choosing each sensation to be pleasurable, no matter what it is, primes the consciousness for accepting its darker sibling nestled in the subconscious. And that is precisely what we need if we are to fully integrate our shadow selves into our conscious selves.

Shadow integration sounds like a lengthy process, but Elliott’s book is full of testimonials of those who have done the work and seen results within a short amount of time. Elliott refers to this specific work as solve et coagula: “to first utterly dissolve (solve) an existing form and then to carefully bring the dissolved and purified elements together again (coagula) in a whole new … permutation.”4 In terms of timing and success, I think it depends on how willing you are to burn it all down: this is serious psychological work and whenever you muck about in the mud you will get dirty. Is it worth it? I think so, but if you are experiencing some mental health issues around trauma or depression, you might want to think twice before starting this type of exercise.

Full disclosure time: I have taken a couple of Elliott’s courses and this book is a wonderful accessory to the information already provided through the lessons. Personally, I think everyone can benefit from a little soul searching, especially when it means that you can potentially dump some of the unhelpful patterns that you’ve been stuck with through adulthood. By choosing to break down our inner psyche and fully examine our desires, and then completely accepting them as a vital part of ourselves, we can reconnect our divided wills and reunite ourselves in a way that helps us move forward with less baggage and more happiness. Honestly, the sheer delight of being able to accept personal darkness as an integral part of the whole is what pushed me forward into pursuing this type of integrative work.

While Existential Kink is geared towards those who might lean towards the left-handed path in magical terms, the concepts presented are easy to digest and relatable. I personally would not recommend this book to anyone who has strong religious views as it might be potentially upsetting to them to see their doctrines disassembled and reformed into a new version of reality. Although, come to think of it, leaning into discomfort is kind of what this book is about so perhaps Great-aunt Martha should get a copy.

Esoteric Mysteries of the Underworld, by Jean-Pierre Bayard

Esoteric Mysteries of the Underworld: The Power & Meaning of Subterranean Spaces, by Jean-Pierre Bayard
Inner Traditions, 978-1644110621, 320 pages, 2020

One of the first things I noticed about Esoteric Mysteries of the Underworld: The Power & Meaning of Subterranean Spaces was how incredibly dense it is. This book is not a light read; it’s meant for those serious about exploring the hidden symbolism and meaning found in the deepest recesses of the Earth. Perfectly poised to craft such a tome, Jean-Pierre Bayard was a prolific esoteric scholar and authored more than 50 books on topics such as Rosicrucianism, secret societies, symbolism, and the spiritual aspect of Freemasonry. Bayard passed away in 2008 leaving behind a legacy of gorgeous writings that are multilayered and diverse in their objective to share his vast knowledge. This specific book explores the spiritual aspects of the underworld; with many ancient cultures sharing similar beliefs around the power of underground spaces and natural rock formations, Bayard weaves together the similarities in a way that breathes life into these places often thought devoid of life.

This book called to me instantly, as the myths of humans and demigods traversing through the underworld on their various journeys to find themselves is an appealing theme. Included with this thematic exploration of myth, symbology, deities, and beliefs is a guide to the spiritual energies that ebb and flow beneath our feet. Reading this book caused me to become more aware of my surroundings and to pay attention to subtle shifts in energies around me, as often they are telltale signs of things to happen. Not to say I accurately predicted lottery numbers; this was more of an awareness of present energies and their patterns. Birds suddenly flocking around me signaling an approaching predator (a cat), a squawking crow alerting me to a changing traffic light, and so on. Situations like this may seem mundane, as most of us have experienced some form of what I mentioned at some point, but when taken in a spiritual light as a form of an all-encompassing connection it becomes so much more.

The book is separated into two parts: “The Symbolism of the Underworld and the Cave” and “The Cavern.” Dealing with topics such as telluric currents, underground water, underground gems and so on, the book lays out very detailed explanations of each topic and why it’s relevant. The meaty stuff is where I turned to first: underground temples, initiatory passageways, underground labyrinths, and more. This is why you buy this book: these topics are so thoroughly explored you feel as thought you’ve just earned a degree. Bayard references his previous books as additional sources of information, not out of megalomania but because he really does know that much about these things. There is no bravado here, it’s all just information presented in a very high level manner that is a joy to read. An in-depth bibliography, endnotes presented by chapter, and two appendices (one listing definitions from the Mytho-Hermetic Dictionary and the other a two page piece on Hollow Earth Mysticism) are nice additions to the book. These provide great resources for those who may require further explanation. I love when writers include their notes on the resources they used and referred to in their work as quite often it leads to discovering more information and new writers. Everything is connected.

Perhaps my favorite section of the entire book is lucky chapter eight, “Descent Into Hell.” This chapter delves into the notion of hell. It does not focus on the Christian aspect of the region, but instead goes into vast details about the symmetry of the place as an idea — one that is described using similar vernacular across various cultures and time periods. I appreciated this shift away from the whole “lake of fire and eternal damnation” imagery immensely. Bayard explains his choice to explore other aspects of the realm by reminding the reader that this has already been explored in a previous book. Again, this does not come across as bragging, merely a statement that if one wishes to know more about that specific topic, there is another book by the same author that could give you what you are looking for.

What I also love about this book is how Bayard takes all of this information and somehow manages to not only make it interesting, but to also leave space for the reader to question. There is no feeling that the material presented is the final word on any of the subjects contained within: this is more of collection of writings on a variety of topics that all have an esoteric thread linking them to one another. Each section blends seamlessly into the next and there is enough information in each section that links to the next, something that I found kept me on track and engaged despite the vast amount of information being presented.

Bayard’s style of writing might be off putting to some who may be used to more humor in their reading material. He writes in a tone that imparts the information in a very straight forward way, almost like a lecture but with more depth. Personally, I found his voice to be very to the point and without any frills, something that is rare when dealing with esoteric topics. I will admit I haven’t delved too deeply into the topic of the underworld previously, as it seemed unavailable to me, and now after reading Bayard’s Esoteric Mysteries of the Underworld, I think I am ready to have another go at it.

The Call of Intuition, by Kris Franken

The Call of Intuition: How to Recognize & Honor Your Intuition, Instinct & Insight, by Kris Franken
Llewellyn Publications, 978-0738765938, 256 pages, 2020

Trying to find that elusive unicorn called work-life balance has many of us burning out and not able to focus on the task at hand. Attempting to find time for ourselves, while also taking care of others, and in some cases juggling a job has many of us cut off from ourselves and our intuition. Finding a pathway back to ourselves in terms of honoring our vast inner worlds is precisely what Kris Franken sets out to do in her beautiful book The Call of Intuition: How to Recognize & Honor Your Intuition, Instinct & Insight. In this book, Franken sets out workable sections on how to reconnect with our inner selves, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

With the turmoil society is in right now where many people feeling cut off and alone due to the pandemic, this book is a breath of fresh air. Not only does Franken reiterate what we all know intrinsically in terms of being always connected to our inner guidance, she shows us how to access that well of guidance through basic exercises designed to strengthen our link to ourselves. Woven through the chapters that are simply and directly named for what they offer (“Breathe,” “Surrender,” “Connect,” etc) are wonderful self-practices in the guise of prompts designed to provoke a deeper awareness that reflects back to the chapter topic. The first one, titled Self Aware Soul Prompt, took me to a place of deep calm and serenity that I greatly needed. It also reminded me that I need to take responsibility for my own empowerment, which surprised me because I totally thought I was doing that. Guess not!

The book is written simply and is a pleasure to read. Not that it’s an easy read: whenever you deal with personal transformation books there is always an element of difficulty in that you are called to face some aspects of yourself that you thought you’d dealt with. This isn’t to say that there is an abundance of Shadow Work here; while there may be a call to do that later on your own, this book is more about re-establishing contact between you and your higher self while leaving space for miracles to occur.

Franken doesn’t make the reader wait to get into the meaty stuff. In chapter two, she deftly explains the three inner guides that influence and inform each person: instinct, intuition, and insight. This forms the basis of the rest of the book and the detail she goes into about each one of these guides is beneficial for even the most seasoned and self-aware reader. Personally, I love it when the writer tells me exactly what they mean when they use specific words, as I feel it gives me another facet to a topic I might already know something about. Take intuition and insight for example. I would have thought that these two things would be quite similar based on my personal experience. Franken explains insight as “when you receive new information that merges with what you already know and provides a new understanding or a fresh perspective.” 1 Something I now have in conjunction to these two ideas, thanks to her explanation.

The second part of the book deals with the “how-to” of reconnecting and is the real reason why you pick this book up. While the first part provides a deep understanding of intuition, insight, and instinct, the second part provides six ways to fortify the bond with self through practical, hands-on, and playful approaches. Franken encourages the reader to think of this entire section as fluid and not treat it as a solid six-step program to follow diligently. I like that she goes out of her way to state that — quite often authors mean for this to be apparent, but it isn’t always that clear. In this case, the way the book is written invites the reader to jump around and try things at their own discretion. Perfect for someone like me who gets distracted by shiny things!

I especially enjoyed the section on surrendering, as I have a difficult time letting go and releasing things that no longer serve me. Part of this is because doing so invites real and drastic change into my life, and that is sometimes daunting and scary to consider. I know — why is this my favorite part if it causes so much discomfort? It’s precisely the discomfort that attracts me. Honestly, Franken’s writing makes me feel safe to move forward with this work despite the amount of fear I feel while contemplating the changes that need to be made. Empowerment: it’s already working!

If you are looking for a book that clearly lays out the basic principles behind acknowledging and accessing your inner guidance system, pick this book up. Ditto if you already have that knowledge but are looking for ways to strengthen the bonds already in place. There really isn’t anyone I can think of who wouldn’t benefit from reading The Call of Intuition, as it’s full of wonderful insight and anecdotes that resonate with their honesty and relevance. Franken has written a beautiful book that will lead you back to your center, if you are willing to take some time and reinvest it in yourself.