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Witches, Druids, and Sin Eaters, by Jon C. Hughes with Sophie Gallagher

Witches, Druids, and Sin Eaters: The Common Magic of the Cunning Fold of the Welsh Marches, by Jon C. Hughes with Sophie Gallagher
Destiny Books, 9781644114285, 296 pages, September 2022

Witches, Druids, and Sin Eaters beckons one to the Welsh Marches – the ancient borderland of Wales and England. It is a brilliant collaboration between Jon Hughes, a fifth-generation Druid living in a remote part of Wales and Sophie Gallagher, a Welsh-born witchcraft researcher with a deep knowledge of the ancient witches of the Welsh Marches. 

Seeking to explore and bring to light the “treasure trove of untapped information relating to the ancient Druids and arcane witchcraft that evolved in the Welsh Marches”1 while incorporating the current practices in this area, Hughes and Gallagher looked at artifacts, texts, museum archives, and even the natural landscape. They soon discovered that there were more similarities than differences in the practices of the Druids and the witches. The book delves into regional practices such as sin eaters and eye biters and even includes the area’s influence on the writing of J. R. R. Tolkein.

Accompanying photographs of artifacts, sites, and buildings bring to life the artifacts and markings of these people. The most widespread witch marks found in the area’s buildings are of taper burns, intentional in their making and not by the random flicker of a flame too close to a wall. Photographs of items such as a curse doll, a wooden witch’s coffin curse, and protective amulets and devices found in walls and floorboards, illustrate the influence of the witches and Druids in this region.

“People have secretly hidden objects in their houses for centuries (things like bottles, shoes, and bodies of cats) to protect themselves and their families from various forms of supernatural menace (evil spirits, witches, hostile magic, malign influences) to influence events or to take revenge on people that have wronged them.”2 

The work is comprehensive in its exploration of the significance of the earth-based practices of the Druids and witches in the Welsh Marches. The Druids have lived in this area for over 6,000 years, from around 3,800 B.C. The region, of course, experienced tumult since the first ancient people arrived there. The book also details encounters of these people with the Romans in their first invasion, with reminders that the Romans were also pagan until 313 A.D.

Historical references put things into context. I was particularly struck by the reading about the Walton Basin, on the Welsh side of the border, which archeologists believe was a national ceremonial center. A timber henge, approximately 328 feet in diameter, was discovered that is felt to be a prototype for a stone henge that was not built. There were similarities between the deposits found at this site and Stonehenge.

Tolkein enters the picture in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, England, where he joined British archeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, at Dwarf’s Hill in the late 1920s. Dwarf’s Hill contained a labyrinth of tunnels and was thought to be the home of little people. A tablet bearing a curse was also found. Silvianus, a Roman, had lost a ring and cursed all who bore the name of Senicianus, the supposed thief.

Wheeler invited Tolkein to examine the site of Noden’s Temple at Dwarf’s Hill after which Tolkein contributed to a report on the origin of the name, Noden. When Tolkein later wrote The Hobbit “it became impossible not to speculate upon the connection between his experiences at Lydney and his epic tales of Middle Earth,“3 including Hobbits and a ring.

The book provides simply fascinating information and insight. Sin eaters and eye biters….oh, my. Sin eaters were unique to the Welsh culture and the region of the Welsh Marches. The sin eater (always male) took upon himself the sins of the newly deceased so that the departed could find his/her place in the hereafter. A sin eater was retained by the family of the deceased and would consume a cake called a dead cake which had been placed on the breast of the corpse at sunset. It would remain there until sunrise the following morning where it was thought to absorb the sins of the departed. The sin eater would then consume the cake along with ale.

Eye biters were found among the powerful witches of the Welsh Marches who were thought to have the ability to cast evil curses simply by looking at their victims. Their gaze was as effective as if they were to “bite the jugular vein (of the victim) and watch them bleed to death.”4 Beware the brathwyr llygaid, or eye biters!

As a reference, the book provides a comprehensive list of five prominent occultists (alchemists, astrologers, and occult philosophers) who “influenced the kings and emperors of much of Europe and beyond.”5 These men, while famous, reflect the many unknown practitioners, who live/lived in the Welsh Marches:

“There is little doubt that the unique and extraordinary culture of the Welsh Marches has had a lasting influence upon the history of the occult within the Marches itself and further afield around the globe.”6

Hughes and Gallagher remind the reader that the lore of the Druids and witches was an oral tradition. They bring the reader into the modern era of witches and Druids. “A Druid is a learned pagan, well versed in the oral tradition of paganism and the role of the Druid as a teacher and spiritual leader within it.”7 Like the Druids, witches maintain an ancient understanding of natural magic. The authors write extensively about Neo-Paganism in its many forms.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section, “Witchcraft and Druidic Lore of the Welsh Marches” focuses on all that was written about above. The second section, “Grimore of the Welsh Marches (Yr Llyfr Swynion Gororau Cymru)” opens the reader to the book of spells of the Welsh Borderland. It is a valuable companion to the first part of the book and allows the reader to investigate this natural magic. “While this grimoire is the result of a detailed comparison of witchcraft practices and Druidic lore, it must not be considered an erroneous conflation of the two traditions.”8

The reader is reminded that there are fundamental differences between the two and also varying beliefs and practices within each tradition. “…It is a subtle blending of selective beliefs and practices that have an underlying unity that resonates within both traditions, allowing the merging of both without compromising the fundamental principles of either.”9

There is information on preparing the work space and crafting components, casting a circle, use of botanicals, invocations, protection against malevolent energies, amulets, talismans, and charms. 

Also introduced are witch marks (burn marks), various types of spells, the casting and lifting of spells and curses, the use of wands and the crafting of wands, working with waters and oils, creating poppers (a small doll representing the recipient of a curse). I particularly liked (and was relieved) that the second section of the book ended with elixirs of love. As the authors remind, “in the case of inanimate objects they of course have a material manifestation and are also imbued with a communal spirit; however, they do not have a personal spirit that all living things receive at conception.”10

Overall, Witches, Druids, and Sin Eaters is a very comprehensive look at this unique area of the world, one with a long and deep history of Druids and witches. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a deep dive into this all-important region, particularly if you feel drawn to the aforementioned spiritual paths of Druidry or Witchcraft. There’s so much valuable history revealed in this book that is sure to expand your background knowledge, particularly the impact these lands have had on writers such as Tolkien and those dedicated to exploring the mysteries, such as alchemists, astrologers, and occult philosophers.

The Witch of the Woods, by Kiley Mann

The Witch of The Woods: Spells, Charms, Divination, Remedies, and Folklore, by Kiley Mann
CICO Books, 1800651694, 144 pages, October 2022

Your relationship to your landscape is bound to influence and guide your magical practice, especially in witchcraft. In The Witch of the Woods: Spells, Charms, Divination, Remedies, and Folklore, Kiley Mann highlights this special connection to place by sharing her experiences in the northern region of Michigan. Leading readers through the seasons, folk magic, herbs and omens of this land, Mann takes the reader on a journey into the wilderness of witchcraft.

Witchcraft takes many forms, from witch wounds on the east coast from fiery trails that led to a more fierce practice in the centuries to follow to the more glitzy, New-Age “manifest” witchcraft style of the west coast, but sometimes in the process the essence of being connected deeply to nature and one’s own local folklore gets lost. Mann perfectly revitalizes this connection for readers in this beautiful grimoire that is uniquely centered upon her lived experiences. The unification of witch and land is by far what stands out the most in this book.

“These lands have lessons to teach us, unique in their own characteristics and being. You must walk the land to know it.  You cannot know her if you do not let your feet touch the ground and wander aimlessly as you please. These lessons are taught directly through the land itself.”1

There’s a reverence for the long line of witches that have come before Mann, along with a desire to know the bodies of water, plants, and spirits that share the space with her for their own inherent power, without placing upon them desires or expectations. Sometimes this connection to one’s surroundings and traditions, which is a vital part of witchcraft, can be hard to translate; it tends to be more of a lived, embodied awareness that comes from walking this path overtime. Yet there’s something in Mann’s descriptions of ancient practices, remedies, and folklore, along with her illustrations that awaken this awareness in the reading, prompting them to reflect on their own connection to the local traditions of their homeland.

The book is divided into two parts. The first focuses on folklore, including stories of the trolls, land spirits, ancestral spirits, and omens of the land and animals. The second part is the folk magic, or the how-to remedies, rituals, and divinations that have evolved from life in this region. Mann helps the reader to familiarize themselves with the properties of different herbs and crystals before delving into spell work. She offers spells to alleviate common troubles, such as releasing worry, banishing nightmares, and romantic resolution, along with ones to gain success, luck, self-love, and protection.

I found this book really interesting from the perspective of place because I rarely hear about the folklore of the midwest region. Even though I can only imagine what the energy of a swamp feels like energetically or how it might inform my practice, reading about Mann’s revelations and observations made me start thinking about the natural landscape of where I am currently living, both physically and psychologically. While someone from Mann’s locality of the midwest might naturally connect more with the grimoire, I still feel there’s so much value in exploring her process and learning about methods she’s come across to thrive as a witch in the woods even having never visited the lands she explores in this book. At its heart, nature is nature, and there’s still plenty of overlap and insight to gain no matter what region you’re from, especially in regard to the use of herbs in spellwork and divination.

Another aspect of this book that makes it a real special gem is that Mann illustrated it herself. The symbolism of the imagery boosts her power, as the images themselves convey messages beyond words alone. Flipping through the pages, noticing what your eyes are drawn to and how the colors impart feelings or sensations, makes for an engaging read. The Witch of the Woods is less of a how-to manual and more of an invitation to step inside the creativity of Mann’s own witchcraft practice while learning ways to enhance your own.

Overall, The Witch of the Woods is an insightful, earthy exploration of witchcraft that will guide others to become the witch of their own woods. Mann has done an impressive job of weaving together the elements of her craft to present readers with a beautiful grimoire of knowledge about remedies, folklore, spiritwork, and divination. From brewing your own magical tea to crafting your own wild medicine, this book reminds readers of the unity between nature and oneself – the center of all witchcraft.

The Holy Wild Grimoire, by Danielle Dulsky

The Holy Wild Grimoire: A Heathen Handbook of Magick, Spells, and Verses, by Danielle Dulsky
New World Library, 1608688003, 208 pages, September 2022

Earthy, primal, rich, and real – this is how I feel sinking into The Holy Wild Grimoire: A Heathen Handbook of Magic, Spells, and Verses by Danielle Dulsky. In this book, Dulsky has uprooted the underpinnings of harmful ideologies, created through our stories and myths we unconsciously live by according to society’s urging, to bring forth prompts and rituals that invite readers to move through a portal of death and rebirth to fully embrace their own sovereign sorcery within through magical word-craft and reconnect with the Holy Wild. For those ready to lurk in the deeper realm of mystery, potency, and power that come through embodying and rewriting the mythic aspect of the world we live within in order to expand their practice of the craft, this is the book for you!

Hopefully that didn’t all sound too intimidating! All of Dulsky’s brilliant methodology for engaging the reader’s psyche through storytelling, journal prompts, and spellwork to create their own personal grimoire are actually very clearly laid out, making this book accessible to everyone. But be forewarned there’s something about Dulsky’s writing that inspires me to play with words and discover new voices within that have yet to be explored.

The book does read at times like a long-lost ancient tale, where the dialect is just a bit different than you’re used to, as words become poetry vivid with imagery and perfectly strung together to invoke meaningful feeling. This definitely isn’t a straight-forward “how-to” manual for those seeking insight on witchcraft; hardwork and dedication is required to truly reap the rewards of the material presented, leaving room for your own creativity to emerge and guide the way.

“The time to radically revision our place in the world is now. This is the moment in the human tale when hope meets sorrow, when innocences meets wisdom, a climactic union of polarities that is birthing – and will continue to birth – a new, more heathen reality.”1

Moving through medicine the elements of earth, water, air, fire, and ether, The Holy Wild Grimoire guides readers in creating their own book of magic. Dulsky writes, “In the context of this handbook, a grimoire reflects the magick locked in our language, the spells that live and breathe in our words and symbols.”2 Moving through each element, the reader begins to craft the most personal journal of their thoughts, feelings, visions, and intuitions, reshaping their reality, reclaiming pieces of their soul that have been lost, and gaining the courage to shed habits, patterns, and modes of being – skins – that no longer fit who the reader is growing into.

These might seem like lofty goals or mere promises, but I can assure you that by moving through The Holy Wild Grimoire with an open-mind and heartfelt intention, you will notice shifts in how you relate to your own narrative and how your narrative merges with the on-going story of the world, inviting synchronicities, realizations, and connections that previously you may have not had the discerning energetic eye to notice and in the process creating new potential realities.

Each element contains an introduction to its energy medicine, a word-spell, an artful invocation, a story lantern, follow-up questions to the story lantern for reflection, an opening spell and element spells, multiple reflection questions about your experience with the element, writing prompts to attune you to the element’s presence in your life, and prompts to assist you with visioning through the energy of the element. All together this creates twelve journal entries. Then at the end of the chapter is a testament to the element, where the reader (or more like writer once you get going with this book!) goes back through their reflections, presences, and visions for the element to create the thirteenth entry, which become the verses for that element. It really is a beautiful, culminating process once you get to the verses, especially because so much has been put into the prompts to lead you to that point.

After reading this book, and making my way through the grimoire creation over the course of two months, I have a bit of advice. First, though anyone can jump right in, for the best results I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with Dulsky’s other publications, most especially The Holy Wild, which lays out more of a foundation for creating one’s Holy Wild grimoire. The Holy Wild has quite a bit of spellwork in it that some readers might find more practical and grounding. The Holy Wild Grimoire is definitely suited for those who enjoy reading and writing, and if you are someone who doesn’t readily embrace the written word or symbolic imagery, you might feel more comfortable exploring The Holy Wild first to ground this book a bit.

Second, prior to reading this book, I’d also suggest brushing up on your knowledge of archetypes, depth psychology, and the power of myths to fully embrace the content of this book. You may want to familiarize yourself with the work of Carl Jung, Marie-Louise von Franz, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, another great book for exploring oneself through stories and myth.

Finally, my third recommendation is to move slowly! There is so much packed in each element that it can feel overwhelming at times. Remember that there is no rush; you are not being timed. This process of communion with the Holy Wild will happen in natural timing that is aligned and right for you. You can skip around to different sections, work through an element for months, and only need to do the prompts that call to you. As odd as it sounds, sometimes I’d have to remind myself this isn’t a magical homework assignment, I’m not working towards an “A”, and that it’s intended to be fluid and connected rather than prescriptive and forced.

Sometimes, as I worked through a particularly dense emotion, memory, or experience, I’d put the book down for weeks at a time, not ready to move forward to the next exercise and needing room to breathe and reorient first, allowing what was unfolding to happen on its own without further conscious prompting or trying to rush forward without allowing the proper time needed to acknowledge what was going on and creating space for transformation.

This might not make sense prior to reading The Holy Wild Grimoire, but I have no doubts that if you delve into the work, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. There’s enough content in this book to last the reader years in regard to inner exploration, and the stories and prompts are something one can return to time and time again for one’s responses will surely always be changing. The potency of this book comes through what you’re willing to put in to looking within and exploring the uncharted depths of the Holy Wild.

Even if this seems a bit intimidating, there’s ways to start slowly, such as reading the hand-crafted stories, called story lanterns, Dulsky has written for each element, which are intended to open a new lens for the reader to access answers within through the imagination. I’ve found that a fun way to connect with the stories is to have someone else read them to you, so you can receptively receive their messages, though active reading too has its own merit. Once again, there’s a multitude of ways to play with this book, just like all mythological stories, and limitless wisdom that can be gained through experimentation.

All in all, The Holy Wild Grimoire is an all-in-one creative writing journey for readers to make their own grimoire, filled with personal revelations, visions, reflections, and mythology that is theirs alone. Doing the journal prompts is a deeply fulfilling and insightful process, akin to magical therapy, as the reader delves into the hidden parts of their psyche to discover a hidden richness: their own wild unknown. By connecting to these parts of oneself through the elemental energy, a whole new realm of possibilities emerges, cracking open from within the reader’s spirit to begin composting what’s no longer needed and feel comfortable sitting in the void before shapeshifting into the next vision.

Secret History of the Wild, Wild West, by Daniel J. Duke

Secret History of the Wild, Wild West: Outlaws, Secret Societies, and the Hidden Agenda of the Elites, by Daniel J. Duke
Destiny Books, 1644112299, 208 pages, July 2022

Ancestral work is very common during the autumn months. Perhaps in your own genealogical explorations you’ve uncovered some colorful characters, maybe even a person of historical significance. Daniel J. Duke claims he is the descendent of Western outlaw Jesse James, and his meticulous study further into his lineage has revealed quite a few fascinating American secrets. Secret History of the Wild, Wild West: Outlaws, Secret Societies, and the Hidden Agenda of the Elites explores how Jesse James and other Western outlaws were part of a secret society that has influenced politics by pulling strings behind the scenes.

It is believed that James, Duke’s great-great grandfather, faked his own death in 1882 and lived out the rest of his life in Texas. His book, The Mysterious Life and Faked Death of Jesse James, details evidence he uncovered from state and federal records, photographs, diaries, newspapers, and even DNA tests to confirm this. And while it might sound a little bit like National Treasure, Duke further discovered that James’ diaries and treasure maps indicate connections between James, Freemasons, the Knights Templar, the Founding Fathers, and Jewish mysticism, which is explored in his book Jesse James and the Lost Templar Treasure.

Secret History of the Wild, Wild West further expands Duke’s research to showcase how Jesse James wasn’t the only Western outlaw to run in these circles and fake his death. Based on James’ diary, Billy the Kid also did the same a little over eight months after James, settling into a new life with an alias “Oliver P. “Ollie” Roberts a.k.a. “Brushy Bill” Roberts of Hico, Texas”1. As if this isn’t intriguing enough, Duke even asserts a family connection between James and Clyde Barrow, of the famous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

Admittedly, this book probably should be prefaced by Duke’s aforementioned books because he does discuss the role James played in securely hiding Templar treasures, as a main thesis in this book is that interconnected, influential families in the West also played a role. He quickly gives a synopsis of the role of the Freemasons in protecting James and James’ role in burying Templar treasure on gridlines in America, but I felt myself longing for more information.

But while this focus on the past is covered for new readers like myself, the thesis of this book highlights the connections between modern influential families, the search for buried treasure, and the impact on American politics. Duke notes connections between both President Harry Truman and President Lyndon Baines Johnson with James L. Courtney: James’ alias after faking his death. Duke brings to light hidden agendas of finding this buried treasure and, further, a secret destiny for America might still be in progress.

“Part of that mission included the formation of the United States of America, modeled after a desire of people around the world to have the freedom and liberties that so many before them had sought, fought for, and died for. In that type of struggle, there are many grey areas, with good men doing bad things for the right reasons or for what at the time seems like their only choice.”2

One thing of note about this book is that it is meticulously researched, sometimes to the point of information overload. While I was happy to take Duke’s research at face-value, for those who are looking to confirm or deny his theory, he is very transparent about his sources and line of thinking. The Appendix, “Connections That Paved the Way,” is filled with detailed information about people and their relationship to James that helped Duke to put all the pieces of this puzzle together. There’s also extensive notes for each section, as well as primary sources such as photographs and newspaper articles. 

All in all, Secret History of the Wild, Wild West was a very fascinating read. I was impressed by Duke’s genealogical research and the way he was able to follow a trail to reveal these interesting insights. The lives of Western outlaws makes one wonder if there was a potential mission beyond just riches and notoriety. Though I know it’s the subject of one of Duke’s books, this book made me want to learn more about the relationship between the Knights Templar and hidden treasure in America. It seems they all fit together to present a well- rounded picture of a secret agenda shared by outlaws of the wild West.

Polytheism: A Platonic Approach, by Steven Dillion

Pagan Portals – Polytheism: A Platonic Approach, by Steven Dillon
Moon Books, 1785359797, 96 pages, August 2022

In Pagan Portals – Polytheism: A Platonic Approach, Steven Dillon presents a deceptively simple argument for the position that the existence of any god, even the God espoused by one of the monotheistic religions, entails the existence of many gods. To put it simply: “theism just is polytheism.”1 What’s more, Dillon intends to do this by drawing upon classical platonist philosophy? I was immediately sold on this book. But, reader be warned: Pagan Portals – Polytheism: A Platonic Approach is not the easiest reading. It is a true work of analytic philosophy: its main argument appears easy to grasp, but the proof of each step is rigorous and highly theoretical. With two master’s degrees in philosophy myself, this book still demanded great focus and concentration. And was worth the effort!

Dillon’s main argument has massive implications – not the least of which is that belief systems based around monotheism are fundamentally self-contradictory. And a similar problem would also arise for any theistic beliefs which include a hierarchy of gods: e.g. Zeus would be no more metaphysically important or fundamental to reality than Hephaestus; or beliefs which consider one group of deities (the Norse pantheon) greater or more real than another (the Egyptian pantheon). To put it lightly: this argument has very wide consequences for religious thinking. 

Dillon attempts to make all these arguments and disagreements over different gods, detities, etc. a thing of the past. Dillon puts this all to rest by – very basically – arguing that any particular god is a revelation of the ineffable subject of divine being (which cannot be a particular thing, cannot have definite properties, cannot be quantified at all). As such, any particular god contains/implies all other gods. When the implications of this position are taken to their conclusion, Dillon finds that “all things are divinely constituted by a plurality of polycentric henads.”2

Naturally, in order to understand the intricacies of what Dillon means, you’ll have to read the book to get all the nitty gritty details yourself. But for our purposes here, I’d like to point out a couple of the major ideas underlying Dillon’s argument. 1) Dillon’s starting premise, “To be divine is to transcend Nature,”3 means that the precise notion of “transcend” is going to be extremely important. 2) One of Dillon’s key strategies in formulating his argument is relying upon the analogy between (Indo-European) grammatical structure and how beings (any entity, object, mind) possess their properties. Beings have properties like subjects have predicates.

These two points will turn out to be critical in evaluating the soundness of the main argument. While Dillon has much to say on both, it’s the reliance upon these two ideas which leaves an opening for potential problems to creep in. I am not presenting a refutation of Dillon’s argument, but I wish to raise concerns so that readers can conduct their own examination. Uniting the two issues is my overarching concern that Dillon’s interpretations of theistic ideas (e.g. the transcendence of divine being) may be overly simplified, derived from commonly-held beliefs rather than deeper theological understanding. It’s completely reasonable to rely on common notions of course, but when they are so important to the overall argument, it’s worth being extra cautious in how they are borne out.

As for (1), Dillon relies on a notion of transcendence that is fairly common: to be beyond, above, or outside of Nature. Yet, this description does not fully coincide with the notion of transcendence found in many of the mystical traditions within Abrahamic religions (which were heavily influenced by neo-platonism), for instance. The transcendence of the divine may be a transcendence into the ever-rising moreness of Reality (including Nature’s part in it), rather than transcendence above or beyond.

Secondly, Dillon gives very short attention to the consideration of immanence, which is often taken as being just as important as transcendence to the divine mode of being. Dillon requires his notion of transcendence in order to later defend his position from accusations of pantheism – if the divine is completely beyond Nature, then pantheism cannot be true. It’s unclear why he is resistant to the pantheist position, as the whole argument seems to be leading there (apart from the problematic premise I’ve indicated); but if Dillon’s interpretation of “transcendence” is put into question, it would be much more difficult to avoid the pantheist conclusion.

For (2), this grammatical analogy has been a long-standing philosophical position, especially in western analytic traditions, it is not above question. Some Asian philosophical and religious traditions would not necessarily assent to this analogy; nor do all languages function in the way described in the analogy. Process theories of Reality (e.g. those of Whitehead or Buddhist traditions), or those which hold relationships as prior to the relata (particulars, objects, henads), would likely also reject this idea.

But using this analogy will force oneself into a position where “divine being” (which should not be considered some kind of being, among other beings, as Dillon also agrees) must be considered a “thing” of sorts: an entity which plays an analogous role as the subject of a sentence, but conflicts with the ineffability of the divine. Dillon argues for the polycentricity of divine being to avoid this problem (even gesturing toward Process theories, or the divine as a mode of being), but I would suggest that the analogy may ultimately trap the argument into trying to use language to express what language cannot capture.

All that said, Pagan Portals – Polytheism: A Platonic Approach is a courageous and intricate work of philosophy seeking to bridge the differences between theistic systems regarding divine being. The book is extremely well organized, clearly leading the reader through the main argument and its implications to reach the final conclusion. Each of the early chapters is dedicated to explaining and supporting just one of the main premises, so it’s easy to keep track of where we are within the argument, as well as how we got there.

Although I have drawn upon my background as a philosopher to take issue with a few of Dillon’s points, it would require a much more thorough analysis to provide any substantive objection to his position. Despite being a challenging read, I heartily recommend Dillon’s book to anyone with philosophical-theological inclinations, and I eagerly await further developments in this line of inquiry from Dillon and those responding to his great work.

Gemstone and Crystal Magic, by Gerina Dunwich

Gemstone and Crystal Magic: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Using Stones for Spells, Amulets, Rituals, and Divination, by Gerina Dunwich
Weiser Books, 1637480075, 256 pages, August 2022

After reading a book on lithomancy recently, I thought it would do me good to brush up on my knowledge of gemstones and crystals. It seemed opportune that I had Gemstone and Crystal Magic: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Using Stones for Spells, Amulets, Rituals, and Divination by Gerina Dunwich sitting on my shelf just when I needed it! Delving into this book has give me tons of insight into the magical properties of gem and crystals, much more than I initially anticipated, to help me discover all the ways I can use the potency of them in my practice. Combining history with personal experience, Dunwich has brought to light all various forms of magical workings one can use gemstones and crystals for, presenting a full-picture of their potential.

What stood out to me the most at first was how this book went well beyond the far too common “New Age” descriptions of  crystals and gemstones. Once I started to learn more about Dunwich’s background, the way crystals and gemstones are approached made a lot of sense – she is an astrologer and occult historian! And to me this really makes this book on the topic standout from the rest because there’s so much information woven in from ancient texts and grimoires that situate the discussion in a more historical context, amplifying the timehold traditions and beliefs about different crystals and gemstones.

Dunwich is also a dedicated paranormal researcher, who is clearly very comfortable with the idea of spirits, demons, and curses, which are some topics not shied away from in the book. For instance, she goes into detail about the tragedies surrounding the allegedly cursed Hope Diamond and the paranormal phenomena of lithoboly. This valuable information contained in Gemstone and Crystal Magic that is often overlooked in other books that only superficially cover the topic. For experienced magical practitioners, this book can take your crystal and gemstone to the next level by teaching how to reverse curses, neutralize harmful energy, and use protection magic in combination with healing, spellwork, and manifestation.

Throughout the book many sources are referenced, which gives the reader plenty of avenues to explore if they are inspired. While Dunwich’s personal experience has certainly provided her with knowledge to write this book, the objectiveness in her writing is what really stands out. This isn’t a “how-to” based on Dunwich’s personal practice, but rather a compendium of knowledge she’s collected through research and study. This is a book that is filled with lore, history, anecdotes of magical practitioners, and well-sourced information about the use of crystals and gemstones.

My favorite chapter was “Stones of Zodiac” which had very interesting tables of correspondences that certainly would be useful in magical workings. There was a table of the gemstones associated with the guardian angels associated with each sign, the twelve apostles, animals of the Chinese zodiac, hour of birth, and monthly birthstones according to different traditions (Modern, Traditional, Mystical, Ayurvedic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Roman). Even if you’re not very familiar with astrology, this section could help to connect to your planetary energies through the gemstones.

I was also especially impressed by the six appendices at the end of the book, which includes tables of pagan gods and goddesses and their gemstones, gemstones for the eight sabbats, and gemstones for the parts of the Tree of Life, along with a calendar of daily stones for the entire year and different gemstone correspondences. It is arranged for the reader to easily be able to identify which gemstone they might want to work with depending on the day, time of year, or the deity they are inviting into their practice.

Aside from the resourceful tables of Gemstone and Crystal Magic, Dunwich also features guidance for making one’s own wand or talismans, tons of spells for all sorts of things from dream work to invisibility to love and money, picking a gemstone as an amulet, creating lunar tonic and other elixirs, and cleansing your stones. And this is only a small sampling of everything featured in this book!

One thing I will point out though is this book seems geared towards those with an existing foundation of magical experience. Yet while it’s not “hand-holding”,  I wouldn’t shy away from reading it either if you’re a beginner interested in learning how to deepen your magical working through the use of gemstones. Just keep in mind it focuses on the actual magical aspects of gemstones rather than how they can be used for energy enhancement or visual appeal in one’s craft, which is to say it goes deep into the heart of magic, bypassing the more superficial aspects working with gemstones many books focus on now-a-days.

Overall, Gemstone and Crystal Magic is a wonderful go-to reference book for those who are looking to incorporate gemstones into their magical practice. There are so many reasons to connect with gemstones and a variety of ways to do so, all based on what your magical work is calling for at the moment. This book is brimming with magical potency! You can feel the history and folklore is well-bound within these pages wanting to be passed forward and kept alive, which Dunwich has certainly done through her thorough compilation of gemstone knowledge!

Pagan Portals – The Art of Lithomacy, by Jessica Howard

Pagan Portals – The Art of Lithomancy: Divination with Stones, Crystals, and Charms, by Jessica Howard
Moon Books, 9781789049145, 104 pages, May 2022

A few years back, I had my first lithomancy reading without even realizing it. I sat down with a  woman at a psychic fair reading small pebbles and stones, who then accurately shared insights about my past, present, and future. Even since then I’ve wanted to learn more about this art form, but there was scarce information I could find about it. Therefore, I was absolutely thrilled to discover Pagan Portals – The Art of Lithomancy: Divination with Stones, Crystals, and Charms by Jessica Howard, which has completely sparked my interest in developing my own lithomancy practice.

Howard is an eclectic witch, blending Water, Kitchen, Celtic, and Green Witchcraft into her practice, adding to the well-rounded approach to this topic. She explains to readers how lithomancy is the art of divination done by reading stones, crystals, charms, or even seashells. A caster, who is doing the divination, tosses the stones and then interprets the reading based on where everything falls, noticing patterns, geometric designs, and even the texture of the stones.

“So, what exactly can lithomancy tell us? Like many forms of divination, lithomancy can help us understand our past and our present. It can help us divine the future, uncover ancient knowledge and wisdom, connect with our higher selves, and unlock the secrets of our subconscious.”1

Step-by-step Howard lays out all the reader needs to know to begin their practice, prepare for a reading, and then perform the reading. There are so many little details she covers, such as how to choose your stones, followed by how to cleanse them and later ascribe meaning to each stone. I learned all about how the casting can be done with either a personal stone, imbued with your own energy, or simply by observing the stones that fall closest to the querent.

What I like about Howard’s approach is that she provides the foundation to begin a practice but emphasizes how individualized one’s lithomancy practice will be. She leaves a lot of room for the budding lithomancer to develop their own style, interpretations, and intuitive guidance along the way with just the right amount of support to make one feel confident this is a divination style they can learn to use successfully.

For instance, one of the lithomacy sets described is an “Astrological Correspondence Set” based on the planets. Howard goes through all the planets and provides readers with their keywords and meaning to help discern which stone might be best to use to represent them in a set. She also covers the additional stones included in this set, which are stones for place, love, luck, magic, life, and commitment. As an astrologer, I was fascinated by this set and felt it was one that could bridge my knowledge of astrology with lithomancy. Howard even describes how the diviner could divide the casting circle into houses for further insight – pure genius!

Another section that I found very insightful was the chapter about performing a reading. Howard covers how to cast the stones, the use of casting boundaries (or not, depending on the reading style), and reading with segments, where you divide your casting space into defined areas, such as months, seasons, or past-present-future for more insight. I loved being invited to think about all these little nuances and have options to explore as I develop my practice.

Most helpful to me as a beginner was all the information about interpreting one’s reading. Howard shares a bunch of things to take note of when determining the reading’s message, such as the distance between stones, where they fall in relation to the reader/personal stone, the meaning of various patterns and shapes (ie. square vs. circle vs. straight line), and the stone’s physical characteristics (if a jagged or smooth part of the stone is facing upward, if a pointy edge of the stone is facing a certain direction, etc). Her thoughtful details make the reader feel a lithomancy practice is quite accessible, and this section serves as a great reference when casting one’s stones for the first time.

One of the final chapters, which Howard claims she just had to include due to the good results she’s had with this type of reading, is called “The Chakra Stone Set for Healing”. Just how Howard greatly expanded my perception of what was possible with lithomacy in regard to astrology, she did once more in this section where she teaches how lithomacy can be used in combination with energy work as well. This stone set is really unique in that it has one stone for each chakra, plus one for each element, and a personal stone. She teaches how to read the stones to determine where one should direct their energy or where there is an energy blockage. The mixture of the chakras with the elements yields really interesting insights about how to realign or direct one’s energy, making this a reading that can be done daily for energy attunement.

Overall, Pagan Portals – The Art of Lithomancy is the perfect start to developing one’s own practice. Howard provides the foundation needed to get started while also empowering the reader to trust their intuition to discover for themselves the stone’s messages. After reading this book, I am feeling very inspired and eager to begin creating my own stone sets. There are so many neat directions this form of divination can take that regardless of your magical style you’re bound to find a way that lithomancy can be used to enhance your current practice.

Twist Your Fate, Theresa Reed

Twist Your Fate: Manifest Success with Astrology and Tarot, by Theresa Reed
Weiser Books, 1578637686, 272 pages, August 2022

Astrology and tarot go hand-in-hand if you ask me, but prior to Twist Your Fate: Manifest Success with Astrology and Tarot by Theresa Reed, I had never seen a book that combined the two. Twist Your Fate does a wonderful job of synthesizing the intricacies of these two mystical systems into easy to practice exercises and inquiries that are sure to have a lasting impact on one’s spiritual journey. Beginners and experts alike have something to gain from this book, which is bound to call in the magic that happens when you align will with the forces at play.

Reed, also known as The Tarot Lady, has formerly published books on both tarot and astrology, including Tarot No Questions Asked: The Art of Intuitive Reading and Astrology for Real Life: A Workbook for Beginners, making her the perfect writer to introduce readers to the dual-system of using astrology and tarot in combination. Her other works include Tarot for Troubled Times, The Tarot Coloring Book, and Create Your Own Tarot Cards for those who are inclined to get creative with the tarot.

It often seems the amount of studying and dedication that goes into learning tarot and astrology make people pick one or the other to focus on. It’s common for expert astrologers to only have a basic knowledge of the tarot, and vice versa with skilled tarot readers only knowing their Sun sign. Plus, even for those who are drawn to both, there’s little information about how to use the two in combination. But with Twist Your Fate, Reed helps readers go beyond the either/or and do a deep-dive into both astrology and tarot before integrating the two together, opening a whole new world of possibilities.

Divided into four parts, Reed leads readers through lessons on astrology, tarot, listening to their intuition, and bringing it all together in the end. The longest section of the book is the first one, humorously named “Part One: Cover Your Ass-trology”. I was pleasantly surprised with the range of astrology topics Reed included: the midheaven, nodes, transits, retrogrades, influence of the moon, and even vocation and life calling. She did a wonderful job of making these astrological concepts approachable, and it’s for this reason this has become the book I would recommend to beginners to astrology above all other books on the topic.

Even if the astrological terms or process of reading the chart feels intimidating, Reed’s gently direct approach helps readers to gain their own footing. She provides her own interpretations for all the different astrological placements, feeding reader’s insight about their own chart, but also leaves plenty of room for everyone to connect with the chart in their own way and form interpretations from within. Throughout the chapters there are plenty of “astrocises” which are exercises intended to help the reader examine their chart further to facilitate integration of the chapter topic.

These astrocises are quite creative and are good for creatively engaging with one’s astrological chart. I’ve been a professional astrologer for many years, and sometimes I’m tempted to gloss over others’ interpretations of the houses, signs, or different planetary energies. But Reed caught my attention and kept it through and through. Even though the astrological topics covered are something I am quite familiar with, her approach was novel and engaging. The way she presents the material was an invitation for me to do a check in and truly deep dive into my astrological chart, which I honestly hadn’t done for quite some time. As I worked through the astrocises, certain patterns coming up for me right now were illuminated, and I felt like I gained a better perspective about the blessings and challenges emerging in my life at this time.

Then the tarot section was just pure gold because Reed has been reading cards for over 30 years! She shares her interpretation of the 22nd Major Arcana cards and the 56 Minor Arcana cards – both upright and reversed. Additionally included is the numerology and planetary correspondence of each card. The images used are the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which I think helps readers, especially beginners, to see all the subtleties of the cards since it’s a very popular deck that many other decks are based on.

My favorite chapter in the tarot section was “Taking Your Cards to Work” where Reed guides readers through asking the right questions and using spreads to get the most out of one’s reading. Some of the spreads she shares are The Astrological Wheel, The Horseshoe Spread, and The Options Spread, which I found to be great for decision-making! A real perk of the chapter is how Reed uses sample readings so the reader gains an understanding of how she puts it all together to come to an interpretation of the cards. Plus, along the way there’s plenty of “tarotcises” that once again facilitate an opportunity to connect with the lessons of the chapter.

“I have always said that astrology creates the map; Tarot shows you the detours. But there is one more crucial element – your intuition.”1

Before the culminating section, Reed binds astrology and tarot together with insight on how to discover, develop, and trust one’s intuition. This section is essential for all readers, as astrology and tarot both ask you to learn to have confidence in the answers you receive, both from your chart, cards, and most of all, from within. I appreciate that in this section Reed doesn’t sugarcoat the intuitive journey though, making it all “love and light”, rather she provides advice about what to do if your intuition is wrong or if there’s no meaningful insight coming through in a reading. This section definitely helps readers to feel better about the bumps in the road on their intuitive journey, while providing guidance and advice about how to make it a bit smoother.

The final section invites the reader to grab their chart, get their cards, and use their intuition to divine insight into a present situation. Reed aptly calls it an “astro-tarot-intui-cise”2 To be honest, I haven’t worked my way up to this fully comprehensive spread yet! I wouldn’t say I’m intimidated, as Reed has prepared me well, but I feel like this is going to be a meaningful reading, so I want to give it the time and space it deserves to truly delve into the reading. I like knowing I can pull out the “big guns” aka this thorough reading when it’s needed most, and I’m trusting the time to use it will present itself sometime down the line!

All in all, Twist Your Fate is a fantastic resource for deepening one’s connection to astrology, tarot, and intuition. Reed’s experience and wisdom shines through the text as she guides readers on the journey of learning how to manifest success, which many agree is no easy feat! Without even realizing it’s happening, readers will start to gain confidence in themselves as they reveal new facets of their astrological make-up and gain the ability to interpret what life presents through a lens of empowerment, rather than discouragement. The tools taught in this book are sure to have life-long value, especially the more you practice and trust the messages you receive.

Hearth & Home Witchcraft, by Jennie Blonde

Hearth & Home Witchcraft: Rituals and Recipes to Nourish Home and Spirit, by Jennie Blonde
Weiser Books, 1578637737, 211 pages, September 2022

A balm. A comfortable chair that offers you the ability to relax in order to dream, to conjure, to recharge. A friend, a companion, a motivator. This is what Hearth & Home Witchcraft: Rituals and Recipes to Nourish Home and Spirit by Jennie Blonde, the self-proclaimed “Comfy Cozy Witch”, was to me. I’m sure it will be the same for you.

Blonde succeeds in combining witchcraft for the hearth and home with hygge, the Danish and Norwegian lifestyle concept that translates loosely into “hug.” I’ve often written on the topic of hygge, so it was a quite “coincidence” to begin the book by reading how Jennie incorporated hygge into her practice to create something “comfy, cozy, and witchy.”1

This wonderful, informative book guides the reader into finding and practicing comforting and nourishing hearth and home magic for every season. As with hygge in general, one is asked to keep in mind that what is comforting and cozy to you may not be the same to another person. You are called to create a home and hearth that reflects you, that nourishes you, and comforts you. Jennie also reminds the reader that “everyone’s idea of comfort within witchcraft differs.”2

Blonde has been practicing witchcraft for over two decades. In addition to this book, she has a podcast called… you guessed it: Comfy Cozy Witch. She writes in a way that is both informative and casual; she writes as if we are sitting in her kitchen talking over a cup of tea. The book is “a blend of story-telling, witchcraft, and warmth…accessible to any witch, at any point of their journey. A book filled with information, personal anecdotes, rituals, spell work, and recipes to nourish yourself, nourish your home, nourish your spirit.”3

Hearth & Home Witchcraft is divided into seven sections, each focusing on places (hearth and home, kitchen, garden and nature), one’s self, and everyday rituals. Also included is a reference to the book’s rituals and recipes as well as a glossary of terms and references for future reading. The Wheel of the Year is detailed with corresponding delicious, easy to make recipes including mini bread loaves (Lughnasadh), honey butter (Imbolc), and sangria (Litha). The recipes ensure this is a book to keep out year-round.

Readers are introduced to the concept of choosing a household deity (if one feels so inclined) to work with. Blonde offers a few suggestions for household deities, such as Hestia, Vesta, and Brigid but leaves open to choice what resonates with the reader, noting it could also be a spirit of local lands of an animistic deity. There is a corresponding house goddess ritual too. 

There are also suggestions on ways to make one’s home both magical and homey, inviting and nourishing. There are magical cleaning tips, everyday magical items with which to “work,” and suggestions for making areas of your home both reflect and sustain you. Here Blonde focuses on the basic tenants of the home of a hearth witch:

“Hearth craft begins and ends in the home, there is a focus on cleanliness, there is positive nurturing energy with subtle touches of magic, and there is a respect for all of nature.”4

In turning one’s attention to the hearth, or kitchen, Jennie writes about the kitchen altar, herb and tea magic, as well as kitchen rituals for meditation and balance. There is a large focus on food and recipes, for as she writes, “the kitchen of a home is a place of gathering. Food, in and of itself, is magic.”5 Some of the ones I’ve tried so far are the pumpkin chocolate muffins and herby biscuits, which were both delicious.

Imagine tales in which the witches toil over a cauldron to create magic – Blonde helps the reader create similar magic in a modern kitchen with tried and true items such as tea, cinnamon, honey, and mint. There are sprays and rituals for things such as energy cleansing and lessening anxiety, which I made for one of my daughters. It was simple to make, yet I felt the potency of the mixture as I blended it together. So far, she’s loved the calming effects.

Blonde encourages the reader to set up one’s own sacred space – be it in the home itself or on the property surrounding the home. “A sacred space is personal in nature and the location varies depending on who you talk to.”6 One can engage in “witchy self-care” in these sacred spaces – ways to ground, relax, recharge, and reconnect. For extending the interior space to the natural world, there are tips for setting up a witch’s garden, and working with Fairies. I am especially looking forward to trying out the Ancestor Honoring Ritual for Samhain.

Overall, Blonde helps the reader identify ways to find “magic in the everyday things, no matter how big or small.”7 The biggest suggestion is to find time – no matter how small – to participate in one’s rituals. She reminds us to find the magic that surrounds us, and that “It isn’t the length of a ritual that matters, it’s the quality.”8  To settle into the magic so that it supports us, comforts us, grounds us and activates us, Hearth & Home Witchcraft is the book to read. It’s the small things we do with meaning that matter. I highly recommend this book to settle into the comfy, cozy routines of your life that make it magic.

The Big Book of Candle Magic, by Jacki Smith

The Big Book of Candle Magic, by Jacki Smith
Weiser Books, 9781578637638, 309 pages, July 2022

Jacki Smith, founder of Coventry Creations, the largest magical candle company in North America, has written the most enlightening (!) book on candle magic, aptly titled The Big Book of Candle Magic. Described as a “comprehensive, in-depth guide including instructions for casting your own spells”1, this book opens with the most important question to consider before delving into the material: Do I really need a spell?

I loved being challenged by this question at the opening, as it made me sit up and take notice. I was no longer a passive reader, I was a participant. “Aunt Jacki”, as she refers to herself throughout the book, creates a conversational atmosphere in which she engages the reader and guides them through candle magic. How can you be intimidated into delving into this topic when Aunt Jacki is right there beside you?

She provides guidance on defining what a spell is – a “shifting of energy toward an intended goal.”2 She continues by writing that “the impact of that spell depends on your prep work, your intention, and your commitment to a shift in energy”3, while reminds the reader that “magic at its core is healing.”4 To help you answer her original question as to whether you need a spell, she writes that “if you are ready to manifest a change and heal a need both in yourself and in the wider world, then yes!”5

The book is divided into four sections, all providing guidance, tools, suggestions, and exercises including, most importantly, getting clear on whether you need a spell or a reality check. Again, your Aunt Jacki is going to lovingly help set you straight.

“Law of Attraction and magic. Is there a difference? If so, what is it? When you add the ritual of magic to your intent…your intent will manifest faster and cleaner. And that is where candle magic comes in. Candles provide an easy, powerful ritual within themselves.”6

Section One, The Magic Hour is Now”, provides exercises such as the “Why is That?” exercise. She encourages the reader to start and maintain a Candle Magic Journal, again with instructions provided. She details the difference between basic candle magic of lighting a candle versus advanced candle magic that includes casting a spell. Other topics included in the section include setting intent and casting for guidance.

Section Two, “Joy of Spellcrafting”, provides guidance on choosing a candle, prepping your candle for magic, and accessorizing your spell. Jacki delves into different types of candles (such as pillars, votive, and tea lights), blessed and dressed candles, sigils, color, and casting. I tend to not speak my spells out loud, but Jacki writes that a candle spell needs words to activate it and these words must be spoken out loud. She provides different phrasings of a spell, showing how one way is more valuable than another. Jacki prompts the reader to include boundaries of a time frame in the spell with an attainable due date, or else the spell is just a wish. 

Section Three, “Art of Cocreation”, focuses on inviting in the divine energies in the Universe. She encourages the reader to co-create with the spiritual realm. There is focus on setting up an altar and the types of altars such as an ancestor altar (my favorite), a purpose altar, nature altars, garden altars, divinity altars, and big magic altars – whatever you’re drawn to. She provides information on lighting the candle and ceromancy, the spiritual language of candles. Wondering how to “read” a candle? It’s in the book! And again, in this section she prompts the reader to return to their Candle Magic Journal with a list of questions on which to focus. 

Section Four, “Index of Inspiration”, is the reference section of the book. It provides a sample candle spell index (prosperity, love and relationships, protection, and clearing) that includes candle colors, candle types, dressing oils, and accessories such as stones or photographs.  There is a moon sign index as well as a color index, a magic herb index, a crystal and stone index, a tarot index, and a Magic 5 index of ingredients. While the first three sections are more conversational and action-oriented, this section is more informational and one that you’ll turn for reference as you delve into candle magic. 

Plus this book contains guidance, exercises, prompts, and recommendations on things such as creating a spell (the best spells rhyme!), different types of spells, use of color, stones, and tarot. Encyclopedic in the best way to describe some of the chapters.

In addition to its wealth of information, what is also unique about the book is its conversational tone, with craft projects, confessions, clarification, musing, and tips from our Aunt Jacki. What I most valued about Jacki’s writing was that it challenged me through prompts, journaling, and exercises to commune with the candles.

I was invited to set intentions, get clear about what I was calling into my life and why. Aunt Jackie helped me to define what I want and what I’m willing to do to get clear, as well as helping me to tune into if I was truly ready to act when I cast a spell. All of this was new terrain for me. To be honest, I never gave these questions much thought. But as Aunt Jackie reminds the reader, spells are actualized by my action. “Build your spell with clear intent and then pay attention to the outcomes. And there is always an outcome.”7 

“The goal of candle magic – or any magic of that matter – is to move your own limitations, fears, blocks, and beliefs out of the way so your intention can become real. “8

After reading The Big Book of Candle Magic, I continue to carry with me Aunt Jackie’s words that magic demands change. She reminds us if there is no need for change, there is no need for magic. I highly recommend this book if you are ready and willing to change. It will light the way for a new way of living with the magic of candles for years to come!