✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

Witchcraft on a Shoestring, by Deborah Blake

Witchcraft on a Shoestring: Practicing the Craft Without Breaking Your Budget, by Deborah Blake
Crossed Crow Books,1959883194, 180 pages, March 2024

Calling all thrifty witches, Deborah Blake has some great ideas in Witchcraft on a Shoestring: Practicing the Craft Without Breaking Your Budget. It’s easy to feel like we “need” to have all the things for our magical practice to be a success–statues, crystals, wands, attire, essential oils, tarot cards, and more–but this can quickly take a toll on one’s finances. I for one have found myself wanting to do a wealth spell, only to get carried away with acquiring what I thought I needed to make it a success, forgetting in the process of gathering my supplies the intention I was working towards. In this book, Blake reminds us what’s most important in our magical practices and covers the ins-and-outs of how to pursue our craft without going overboard on unnecessary expenses.

“No matter what your budget or how you decide to spend your money, there are no limitation on how well you can practice Witchcraft besides the ones you put on yourself.

You can be a powerful, talented, wise, and warm Witch without spending a penny. And you should never feel that a lack of money is an excuse for being anything less.”1

Blake’s resourcefulness comes through in each chapter. While she assures readers to practice witchcraft one only needs are belief, will, and focus, she also goes in-depth providing ways to lower costs for all the aspects of the craft that can add up to cost money. She starts generally with knowledge, providing ways one can learn more about their spiritual pursuits through books, internet, and local in-person resources, such as events and festivals. What’s extremely helpful for readers are Blake’s own personal recommendations for books on common witchcraft topics (herbs, gemstones, gods and goddesses, sabbats, etc.).

From here, she moves on to the home and sacred space. She offers suggestions for making an affordable altar and how to resource items like statues, candles, and chalices, and more without breaking the bank. She also shares tips for gardening and tending to one’s yard. There’s an entire chapter on inexpensive substitutions that can be made for items commonly used, such as fire pits, quarter candles, cauldrons, and witchy garb and jewelry. There’s even specific sites listed that sell reasonably priced items, so you can add these as go-to sources if you are looking to purchase something rather than thrift it or craft it yourself.

For those who do enjoy crafting, the chapter “The Crafty Witch: Thirty-Five Simple and Thrifty Craft Projects for Magical Purposes” is such inspiration. I like to craft my own things because I feel it infuses them with my own energy, and I couldn’t be more excited to do some of the projects Blake suggests! She divides the recipes by material used, which is very useful for those who are partial to a specific medium. For instance under the Clay section, there’s directions for crafting one’s own god and goddess figurines, rune stones, and pentacle plaque, while the Fabric section has directions for a poppet, sachets, and charms. Just to share some more, the Paper section has a spell for parchment paper, creating your own herbal paper, decorating a book of shadows, and DIY tarot cards. There’s tons and tons of ideas for projects one can do using common household items, enhancing their craft without splurging.

My favorite chapter was “Feeding the Masses: Forty-Five Feast Dishes for Less” where Blake shares options for cost-efficient ingredient sourcing to make recipes for each sabbat. She even uses dollar signs ($) to denote the level of expense for each dish. Here are some of the delectable recipes: Tres Leches Pie for Imbolc, Goat Cheese Herbed Spread for Ostara, Strawberry Paradise Cake for Beltane, Yin-Yang Bean Spread for Litha, Morgana’s Tomato Pie for Lammas, Baked Apple Surprise for Mabon, Samhain Devil’s Food Cake, and Rum Cake for Yule. As someone who is ALWAYS looking for new recipes to celebrate with and share with my family and friends, you can bet I’ll be coming back to this book again and again. There’s also recipes for Full Moon Cakes and Ale. What I like about the recipes is that they’re tried and tested by Blake and people in her life; I always trust a hand-me-down recipe!

Blake concludes the book with a chapter on ways one can practice their craft for absolutely free, ranging from kissing and invoking a love god/goddess to volunteering in the spirit of service. These suggestions are little reminders that it’s how we choose to live our life that ultimately shapes our witchcraft, rather than the material possession we buy.

All in all, Witchcraft on a Shoestring is a really fun read for those looking to do more for less. Blake is a wealth of knowledge and her suggestions are sure to help you save a bit of cash whale being reminded what is most important about your practice: your intentions and belief. I’m really looking forward to using this book to get crafty this spring and to bake around the wheel of the year with all the recipes she shares!

For those interested in other works by Blake, she is a prolific writer! Other related book include The Electic Witch’s Book of Shadows, The Little Book of Cat Magic, A Year and a Day of Everyday Witchcraft, The Goddess Is In The Details, and more. She also has published her own tarot and tarot decks:  Everyday Witch’s Familiars Oracle, Everyday Witch Tarot, and Everyday Witch Oracle. But what surprised me the most was she’s also a fiction writer too. Some of her series include A Catskills Pet Rescue Mystery series (three books), Baba Yaga series (three books), and Broken Rider series (three books). You can learn more about her at her website.

The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire, by Denise Alvarado

The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire: Rituals, Recipes, and Spells for Healing, Protection, Beauty, Love, and More, Denise Alvarado
Weiser Books, 1578638135, 240 Pages, February 2024

When I went on a witchy pilgrimage to New Orleans in September 2019, the highlight of my trip was a guided tour through Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 to visit the legendary tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. A heat wave was blazing through the South, and it was in the upper nineties that day. The long walk through the sweltering maze of mausoleums felt like a fever dream, and the marble tombs were blinding white in the blistering sun. Some of the tombs cast merciful shade, and I was relieved to finally arrive at Laveau’s mausoleum towards the end of the tour without having a heat stroke. Rose quartz crystals, pennies, bobby pins, and hair ties were strewn at the base of the tomb as offerings to her spirit. The hair accessories may seem like strange offerings, but they pay homage to her occupation as a hairdresser. The tour guide said that even though this practice is prohibited, and the offerings are swept away daily, people continue to leave them anyway.1

Having had this memorable glimpse into the cult of the Voodoo Queen, I was excited to read The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire by New Orleans native and rootworker Denise Alvarado. She has written over twenty books on Southern folk magic traditions, including The Magic of Marie Laveau (2020), Witch Queens, Voodoo Spirits, and Hoodoo Saints (2022), Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook (2011), and The Voodoo Doll Spellbook (2014). She offers courses on Marie Laveau and New Orleans Voudou at Crossroads University.

In the introduction to The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire, Alvarado gives a brief summary of the origins and permutations of Voodoo, from its roots in West African Vodun to the tourist voodoo of modern day Louisiana, and an intriguing biographical sketch of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Marie Catherine Laveau (1801-1881) was born a free Creole woman of color in New Orleans on September 10, 1801.2 She is well known for commercializing Voudou and Hoodoo, making these illegal magical folk practices profitable and more palatable for public consumption.

“New Orleans Voudou and Hoodoo are closely related,” Alvarado says. “In Marie Laveau’s day, the two traditions were essentially one and the same…Each tradition is a resistance response to the harsh realities of slavery and the oppression experienced following emancipation.”3 

I first became interested in Hoodoo during a time in my life when I felt forced to conceal my identity as a witch, so I was researching magical practices that could be performed under the guise of Christianity. Even now I still feel a need to be discreet and keep my practices indoors so I don’t attract negative attention from nosy neighbors. I think a lot of people today take for granted religious freedom, but there is still a lot of stigma around practicing any form of magic. Even though Voudou is deeply woven into the fabric of New Orleans culture, Alvarado points out that it was illegal during Marie Laveau’s time and is still illegal today, even though the law against it is rarely enforced.4 She suspects that many practitioners “prefer to stay out of the public eye due to the stigma attached to Voudou and the safety issues that can arise when a person is known to be a Voudouist.”5 Alvarado’s historical reflections deepened my admiration for the resilience and adaptability of the Voudou faith, and Marie Laveau’s courage and audacity in openly practicing and commercializing Voudou.

Her rowdy rituals drew a lot of attention, but Laveau wasn’t just a mysterious Voodoo priestess. Alvarado paints an intriguing and complex portrait of her as a multifaceted human being with snippets of biographical information dispersed throughout the text. “She is most loved and remembered by New Orleanians for her charity work, prison ministry, and services to the community,” Alvarado says. “Nonetheless, she was often targeted and harassed by the police,” but she had enough power and influence to avoid incarceration.6

She was a complicated character, who was both a philanthropist and a blackmailer, who collected gossip about wealthy patrons she overheard in her beauty parlor. Along with biographical notes from the author, each chapter is headed with quotes extracted from witness interviews compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project between 1936 and 1941, in which people who knew her as children shared their fond memories of her.7

Madame Laveau was allegedly illiterate, so this grimoire is Alvarado’s imagining of what the Voodoo Queen’s grimoire may have looked like had she been able to write one. She draws inspiration from authentic recipes and formulas commonly used during Laveau’s lifetime, as well as information passed down through the oral tradition, historical documents, and recipes from her own personal grimoires. “In addition to a strong background in New Orleans Voudou, Hoodoo, and Spiritualism, my Catholic Creole culture of origin helped immensely when writing this book,” Alvarado says. “Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole and Catholic also, and her spiritual practices reflect that.”8

Alvarado calls this blending of Catholicism with service to Marie Laveau the “Laveau Voudou tradition,”9 and she uses the spelling “Voudou” in accordance with the nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that informed her research. “Marie Laveau’s Voudou is a folk religion resulting from her intentional blending of Catholicism and Voudou,” Alvarado says. “She openly practiced both religions without conflict and confusion.”10 It is not necessary to be initiated into this tradition in order to perform the workings presented in this grimoire. They are accessible to anyone and this book also contains “tips and advice for living a magickal, spiritual lifestyle.”11

For readers who may be wary of Voodoo practices due to the negative connotations associated with them, Alvarado provides reassurance:

“This grimoire is designed to only unleash blessings and magickal mysteries, to provide instructions for protection and defense, and to unlock joy and abundance for anyone reading it,” Alvarado says. “There is no danger here.”12

In Chapter 1, titled “Materia Magica,” she shares “the essential tools of the trade to be an effective conjure worker in the Laveau Voudou tradition.”13 “If you are working within a strict budget, the only tools you really need are yourself, a white candle, a glass of water, and the ability to focus your intention and utter words of power,”14 she says. I found the table of “Kitchen witch essentials,”15 which lists the magical properties of herbs and common household supplies, and the table of “Perfumes and colognes and their magical uses”16 to be helpful resources. I was acquainted with popular formulas like Florida Water, Peace Water, Rose Water, and Hoyt’s Cologne, but many of the magical perfumes and scented waters on this list were unfamiliar to me and I’m eager to try them out.

In honor of Marie Laveau’s work as a hairdresser and beautician, Chapter 2 covers “Beauty Formulas,” such as vintage perfumed dusting powders, hair treatments, and skincare. The hair treatments are simple, involving common kitchen ingredients like bananas, eggs, and olive oil. The powders appealed to me the most, and I’m thinking about trying the “Lavender Dust” scented body powder recipe. “Even today, people who serve Marie Laveau offer her beauty-related items such as combs, mirrors, makeup, brushes, and perfumes in hopes that she will grant them favors,” Alvarado says.17 This reminds me of the coins, crystals, and bobby pins littering her tomb, and reveals the magical intention behind leaving them. 

I love to cook, and I was delighted to discover that this book includes Creole recipes! In Chapter 5, titled “Conjure in the Kitchen,” Creole dishes are listed that can be prepared as offerings for Marie Laveau and other Voudou spirits, ancestral spirits, or just enjoyed as delicious and authentic New Orleans meals. I learned that the Holy Trinity of Creole cuisine is onion, bell pepper, and celery, and onions have a variety of magical uses, depending on their color. “Onions are associated with good luck—particularly red onions—while green onions bring good luck in finances, and white onions are a curative,” Alvarado says.18

I’m really into resin incenses lately, so the chapter on crafting incense blends was one of my favorites. It has recipes for several popular formulas, such as “Cleo May”,  “Crown of Success”,  “Fiery Wall of Protection”, and “Louisiana Van Van.”  The recipes only have three or four ingredients, and measurements are not given, so the reader is instructed to use their intuition when creating the incense blends. “Altar Incense,” for example, only requires frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon, all of which I already had on hand.19

In a section titled “Hoodoo’s Shells and Stones,” Alvarado discusses the magic of natural objects, such as cowry shells, coral, and lodestones. I already work with a pet lodestone that I gave a secret name and regularly feed magnetic sand and whiskey. She currently resides on my bookshelf, attracting more books than I have time to read! I was most interested in brain coral, which I had never heard of before. “Place a piece of brain coral on your altar for Crown of Success and King Solomon Wisdom works,”20 Alvarado says. Being a Mercury-ruled Gemini, this really appealed to me, and I plan on adding a brain coral to my Hermes altar in the future.

Alvarado’s passion for her craft and devotion to Marie Laveau shines through in her writing. This spellbinding grimoire captivated me from cover to cover and has been a real blessing to my personal practice, revitalizing my love of whipping up magical recipes and inspiring me to experiment with new blends and craft my own unique formulas. With lucid prose and simple, yet potent recipes, Alvarado makes Laveau Voudou accessible to anyone, regardless of their level of experience.

A Critical Introduction to Tarot, by Simon Kenny

A Critical Introduction to Tarot:  Examining the Nature of a Belief in Tarot, by Simon Kenny
IFF Books, 1803413921, 248 pages, January 2024

Simon Kenny wrote A Critical Introduction to Tarot: Examining the Nature of a Belief in Tarot after getting a tarot reading from a woman named Jo Lluque. He then bought the Modern Witch Tarot Deck, “which sparked my interest in Tarot as a research topic.”1

“My approach here is to make the unknown known insofar as that is within my ability. It should be evident that the style I employ, while comparative, is to seek clarity of theory as informed by the available facts and compassion for those studied. My study of the Tarot has brought me on an exciting and unexpected journey through the many topics it touches.”2

Kenny’s background is in blogging about technology and political philosophy. As an author, technologist, and educator dedicated to asking probing questions to promote technical thinking, he applies his expertise to the tarot for the purpose of this book. He currently lives in Galway, Ireland and is a member of International Playing-Card Society, The Irish Writers Centre, and Writing.ie. You can learn more about him at this website.

A Critical Introduction to Tarot is very well planned and thoughtfully constructed, much like a research paper or dissertation. The reference material is always available; I found myself checking the References over and over again as I made my way through the book. He utilizes the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for all images in this book, although he mentions Aleister Crowley and his Thoth Deck in several passages.

The chapter “Randomness and Projection” discusses the practice and different forms of shuffling cards. This discussion was interesting, as he shared viewpoints from different readers, as well as statistical data on the randomness of shuffling and drawing cards. He interviewed a number of leading tarot experts, including two of my favorites:  Benebell Well and Cynthia Giles. And what book on tarot is complete without a discussion of archetypes, Jung and his influence on tarot?

“The Tarot Major Arcana are well established in the literature as representative of archetypes in the Jungian sense. For example, the above archetype of Mother is represented as the Empress . . . The Hermit often stands for solitude, wisdom and even time itself.”3

In another chapter, he talks extensively about Satanism and Freemasonry and the tie-in with tarot, including the Order of the Golden Dawn, which used tarot cards as part of their teachings:

“A divinatory reading was one of the exams taken to achieve the sixth grade of ‘Adeptus Minor”, the highest grade for which any details are known for certain, as documented by Freemason Archivist Israel Regardie. Initiates were even required to create their own tarot deck from scratch, painting or illustrating every card.”4

Kenny references all of the parts of tarot, from the importance of pairs of opposites to magic and witchcraft to randomness. On the subject of evil in the cards, he presents information on the symbols, history, and other references to evil, but refuses to assign any evil intent or significance. However, he leaves it to each reader or practitioner to find his or her own meaning in the symbology of the cards.

My favorite chapter is “Chapter 3-Layers of Meaning”.  Here, Kenny covers numbers one to ten and the meaning and symbolism of the numbers in the major and minor arcana.  The interesting facts and insights he shares about these numbers are quite interesting. For example, did you know that 10 = 1+2+3+4?  He also talks about the magical number 7 and how it relates to the seven original planets, the sevenfold path, and “an old idea that life proceeds in phases of seven years, which likely originates in the widespread notion of the sevenfold spiritual path.”5

Kenny includes a very basic Table of Contents with chapter titles. In the back of the book, he lists all of the figures or graphics that he presents in the book, including the original source, author, and page number. Next, he shares references for each chapter, with the source, author, book and page number given. This alone is priceless for those who wish to dive deeper into any of the tarot matters Kenny discusses. Lastly, he includes a seven-page Bibliography for even more reference material.

A Critical Introduction to Tarot is great for anyone who would like a deeper dive into tarot, particularly its origins and symbolism. It would probably best suit a seasoned tarot card reader or student of tarot. I plan to keep it on hand and weave some of the numerological information in my readings. I feel that I benefit from every book I read, especially those that challenge my beliefs. This book has helped me reframe my love of tarot and deepened my knowledge of its rich history.

Celtic Goddess Grimoire, by Annwyn Avalon

Celtic Goddess Grimoire: Invoke the Enduring Power of the Celtic Feminine Divine, by Annwyn Avalon
Weiser Books, 157863802X, 224 pages, March 2024

At the end of 2023, I signed up for a thirteen-moon prophecy reading with Danielle Dulsky. The intention I set for the reading was furthering my understanding of the “flavor” of my magic. I was curious about what spiritual pursuits were most aligned for me right now. A very significant piece of my prophecy was the Awen symbol, so important that Dulsky explained it was the mythic image for me to draw upon this year. In a pursuit to learn more about this symbol, I’ve been doing increasing research on Celtic traditions, particularly Druidism. I felt an instant pull towards Celtic Goddess Grimoire: Invoke the Enduring Power of the Celtic Feminine Divine by Annwyn Avalon, as though connecting with the Goddesses of the Celtic tradition is the next step in my journey.

Avalon is the perfect person to write this book. She is a Celtic witch and water priestess, who has years of study in water mysteries, witchcraft, and magic. Her previously published titles include Water Witchcraft and The Way of the Water Priestess. Currently, she serves as the keeper of the White Spring, a sacred spring in Glastonbury where she lives. As if all isn’t cool enough, she is also the sacred steward of Chalice Orchard, the former home of Dion Fortune.

Avalon begins by sharing with readers a journey of her life, from growing up in a conservative Christian home to becoming a devoted priestess of the Divine Feminine. Her story felt very relatable, as I’m sure it will be for many others who feel called towards Goddess worship. She explains how while initially she wanted to write a scholarly book about the goddesses, she realized in the process that the dynamic Celtic goddesses could not be confined to specific categories. The book took its own form, which she describes as:

“I wanted to build a bridge between the vastness of each goddess and those who seek her. In the end, I embarked on a goddess-guided journey, allowing them each to show me the highlights of their magic, and teach me what they wanted emphasized in the pages of this book–the best pathways for others to find them and experience their energy.”1

This connection to the energy of the many Celtic goddesses is exactly what I felt while reading this book! Since I am still in the beginning phases of learning Celtic spirituality, I decided to see which goddesses I was naturally drawn to while also keeping an open heart and mind in case any of the goddesses came to me. Avalon does offer some insight into the process of  connecting with a goddess, noting relationships will be different for each person, the goddess you call upon might not answer, while another goddess might abruptly come into your life. Above all, Avalon encourages listening to your own “unverified personal gnosis”2, or UPS for short, even if the information you’re receiving isn’t verifiable by outside sources.

For those new to the Celtic belief system, Avalon covers a bit of history (Roman conquest strongly impacted the Celtic cultures), the role of women in the Celtic world, the Celtic otherworld, and Celtic rituals and practices. Some exercises she shares are how to build an altar, create your own sacred image or blessed candle, and make a goddess simmer pot, incense, and bath soak. These exercises don’t require too many materials, and most could probably do them with the items they have on hand, which is something I always appreciate as a devotee on a budget.

The Part II – Part VII of the book focus on different types of goddesses: Goddesses of the Sacred Waters and Landscape; Goddesses of Abundance, Fertility, and Healing; Goddesses of Battle and Justice; Faery Women; Goddesses of Magic; and Horse Goddesses. Within every part there ranges from two to seven chapters which each cover an individual goddess. At the start of the goddess chapters, Avalon shares name variations, regions, sacred associations, offerings, and body of water. While not every goddess has each one, this plethora of information is fascinating and useful for building a connection with the goddess. It really made me want to go visit these locations and sites on a goddess pilgrimage!

Avalon delves into the history and folklore of each goddess. She covers things such as what the goddess is most well-known for, what artifacts reveal about them, the cultures that revered them, and how goddesses evolved through time, many having their names changed or Christianized by Romans. At the end of each chapter, Avalon provides customized exercises for the goddess. For example, for the Andraste, Invincible Goddess of War, one of the exercises is a prayer for justice, while the exercise for Melusine, Mermaid Goddess of the Fount, is a ritual bath to ask her blessing.

While every goddess was fascinating to learn about, the one that was most awe-inspiring for me to learn about was Rosmerta, The Great Provider. She was an abundance goddess associated with “springs, healing, prosperity, abundance, protection, and fruitfulness.”3 I was intrigued to learn in continental Europe, she was considered the consort to Mercury. Mercury is one of the primary deities that I work with, and never before had I come across any material about him having a consort. I am absolutely going to be weaving in working with Rosmerta as well, hoping the couple will enjoy sharing in ritual together! Exercises that Avalon shares for Rosmerta are an invocation to her and an abundance ritual where fruits, vegetables, and spring or blessed water are given as offerings. I am looking forward to building an altar to Rosmerta and performing the invocation and ritual!

Another goddess that I felt drawn to is The Giantess Cailleach. Avalon writes how she “is often depicted as the personification of winter” and is “variously known as a creator goddess, a storm goddess, a destroyer, and as a giantess who can move large boulders, make mountains, raise seas, and create windstorms.”4 Now, this is one incredible goddess! Exercises Avalon includes for The Cailleach are using storm water for protection and creating a harvest spirit doll, both of which I plan on doing when the timing is right.

Oh! And guess what? In the midst of being immersed in reading about Cerridwen, I flipped the page to see the Awen symbol right there! I did not realize Cerridwen’s mythology was related to this story, and it gave more insight into the meaning of Awen for me. I knew I was meant to read this book!!

At the end there are two appendices for added convenience. Appendix A is titled “Glossary of Celtic Goddesses and Faery Women ” and Appendix B is titled “Index of Exercises and Rituals”. Both make quick-references extremely easy. And one more really neat feature of the book is the maps on the front and back cover. The front cover is a colored map of modern Celtic lands, while the back cover is a map of the historical dispersing of Celtic tribes. For someone not as familiar with the Celtic landscapes, these maps are very helpful when reading about the goddess’s associated locations.

All in all, Celtic Goddess Grimoire is an awesome resource for learning more about the Celtic divine feminine. As a beginner, Avalon made the material very easy to navigate, focusing on providing ample information to provide a full perspective.Those already working with the Celtic pantheon would surely benefit from reading this book too, as Avalon’s insight add new perspectives and the exercises and rituals are good to have available. This is a book that I’ll surely be referring to time and time again, as well as sharing with others I know are feeling called to explore the roots of their Celtic ancestry.

A Floral Grimoire, by Patricia Telesco

A Floral Grimoire: Plant Charms, Spells, Recipes and Rituals, by Patricia Telesco
Crossed Crow Books, 9781959883739, 187 pages, March 2024

When I saw A Floral Grimoire: Plant Charms, Spells, Recipes, and Rituals, I was drawn to learning about the ways to use flowers and herbs in my daily, magical life.  In this book Patricia, “Trish”, Telesco weaves a beautiful chronicle of history, lore, practical steps, and magical vibes. I learned about flowers, as well as how to use the rest of the plant for potions, crafts, and much more.

Calling herself a “kitchen witch,” Telesco studied Wicca on her own and then became initiated by the Stega tradition of Italy.  As the author of over 30 books, she also coordinates spiritually oriented tours of Europe. She shares her knowledge of herbs, metaphysics, dreams, divination, folklore and magic in workshops and lectures around the US. She lives in western upstate New York with her husband and children.  You can learn more about Telesco on her website.

Telesco begins with a history of the use of flowers, mentioning the Victorians and their creation of a “petaled vocabulary”1 for secret messages. Then she goes on to share how merchants during the Crusades “often mingled magical lore and wives’ tales into their selling techniques.”2 She provides two examples that we still see today in our modern world:  sprinkling rose petals for love and using garlic to keep away “wandering spirits.”3 From here, she invites the reader to become involved in “Green Witchery” and travel with her through this practical guidebook for discovering more about nature and magic.

The book is an easy read, almost as if you are sitting with Telesco for a cup of tea and about to make a craft with flowers and herbs.  She shares more history and folklore from botany, herbology, and the magical arts, as she includes her knowledge and wisdom from more than 30 years of experience as a Green Witch too.

Telesco’s stories of the various uses for flowers, plants, and other natural elements includes the Greek myth of Hekate teaching her daughters all about herbs. The tradition says that these daughters taught other witches how to utilize this magic. She goes on to say that “this myth, which is one of many linking Witches and nature together, gives us a peek into the minds of our ancestors.”4

My favorite chapter was ”Chapter 6:  Petaled Psychism: Floromancy and Botanomancy”.  In other words, how to use flowers, herbs, stone, or wood for divination. In this chapter, she includes how to observe the plants and flowers that grow around us, as well as casting herbs or flowers on water or cloth to receive a message. She also shares how to make a flower or herb pendulum and an oracle to keep for use over time.  I want to try my hand at making a pressed flower oracle later this spring!

In this chapter, she also includes spreads for use with your oracle cards, as well as guidelines for doing readings. In fact, all throughout the book Telesco includes guidelines to help the novice better utilize the knowledge and rituals she shares. 

And what book on flowers and herbs for magic would be complete without information on edible flowers? Telesco includes recipes for all kinds of teas, beverages, oils, vinegars, and sauces, as well as a recipe for Mystic Mushrooms5 and Peace Porridge6.

An interesting list that the author includes in the book is a “List of Anti-Magic and Anti-Witch Herbs.”7 This list contains things from nature that can protect the witch in adverse circumstances. Later, she adds a list of herbs, flowers and plants that can honor and support witches and their magic.

Some other lists and information I found helpful:

“Ways to use a leaf you find on your walk”8

“How to get in touch with a plant spirit”9

“How to use the Moon by Zodiac sign”10

“Tools of the Trade”11

“Ingredients for Spells & Charms”12

That last list, in a chapter titled “Spicy Spells & Charms”, includes how to use anything from alfalfa to violets for “pleasing and powerful results.”13 And I must point out that these are just a few of the lists that are sprinkled throughout the book!

Another key bit of knowledge Telesco includes is called the Doctrine of Signatures and Law of Similars. If you do not have a particular flower or plant for a spell or ritual, “you can substitute an item of a similar shape, texture or color and still maintain magical congruency.”14 For example, a pale blue flower could be substituted for lavender.

This book has a wonderful Table of Contents that shares chapter titles and brief subheadings for the contents of each chapter.  This makes it very easy to find passages or information later. Telesco also includes an eleven-page index, which makes retrieving information even easier! She also shares an extensive bibliography for future research.

A Floral Grimoire is great for a new witch or seasoned pro.  It holds valuable information for anyone wanting to harness the power of nature in their daily life. I will refer often to the information for spells and charms, as well as the ingredients list and correspondence list.  With the various lists and the index, I have a valuable reference for utilizing flowers and herbs in practical and magical ways.  I can see myself adding this book to the resource list I provide clients who come to me for readings for their daily lives.

The Hermetic Tree of Life, by William R. Mistele

The Hermetic Tree of Life: Elemental Magic and Spiritual Initiation, by William R. Mistele
Destiny Books, 1644117444, 288 pages, January 2024

As a diagram of the macrocosmic body of the Universe, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life is a blueprint for divine embodiment. Each of the ten sephiroth, or divine emanations, depicted as spherical fruits dangling from the branches of the Tree of Life, correspond to the luminaries and planets of our solar system. Through self-initiation into the mysteries of each of the ten spheres, we can activate and harmonize the microcosmic powers within.

The Hermetic Tree of Life: Elemental Magic and Spiritual Initiation is a guide to embodying the Tree of Life and awakening our divine powers so we can transform the world around us. Author William R. Mistele is a spiritual anthropologist and a bardic magician, which means that “he uses the medium of poetry, short stories, novels, and screenplays to present modern fairy tales and mythology.”1 He has studied and meditated with over fifty masters from a variety of traditions, and this book is intended to be a user-friendly manual, condensing the universal wisdom of all the systems he has integrated, using the Kabbalistic Tree of Life as a framework. Each chapter is named after one of the ten sephiroth on the Tree of Life, and includes an initiation section, which “is about embodying the sephirah in yourself.”2

Mistele’s work is influenced by the elemental magic of Czech hermeticist Franz Bardon (1909-1958). The first book he read by Bardon was Initiation into Hermetics (1956), which emphasized mastering the elemental energies within. By integrating the pragmatism and productivity of Earth, the empathy and kindness of Water, the playful curiosity and open-minded nature of Air, and the willpower and personal drive of Fire, the initiate becomes a more well-rounded individual and strengthens their weaknesses. They can also learn how to access elemental realms on the astral plane and commune with nature spirits.

I love how Mistele incorporates the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water with the Tree of Life and gives suggestions for integrating elemental energies one recognizes in nature and in other people. Mistele recounts personal anecdotes about meeting people who reminded him of elemental beings reincarnated as humans, such as embodied gnomes, slyphs, salamanders, and mermaids. In a section called “Recapturing Projection,” he discusses how we can reproduce the elemental energy of other people within ourselves. Recapturing the good things they made us feel and reclaiming their essence as a part of ourselves that was awakened through meeting them can reduce the sense of loss we feel if our relationship with that person ends.3

Mistele works from the ground up, beginning at the base of the Tree of Life with “Rule 10: Malkuth/Earth,” the “Kingdom” of the physical realm. I appreciate this approach because there can be an airy fairy tendency in spirituality to detach from mundane reality and focus on celestial energy, when it is the earth beneath us that sustains and supports us. Just as a tree soaks up nourishment through its roots, we connect with Malkuth through our feet. Malkuth grounds us and aligns us with nature

 “If we are wise, we will first undertake the initiation of Malkuth in which we gain a solid and enduring connection to nature with its sense of inner silence,” Mistele writes. “And we will undergo the initiation of Yesod where we integrate our conscious and subconscious.”4

As a witch, observing lunar cycles and honoring the moon is a significant part of my practice, so the chapter on the sephirah of “Yesod/the Moon” resonated with me the most. Yesod, meaning “Foundation,” is a portal between the astral and physical realms.5 According to Mistele, “the initiation of Yesod is to draw together the powers of the inner self—a sense of happiness, of contentment, self-acceptance; the purity, healing, and innocence of the Water element; the ability to create feelings at will; and the bliss of the dream.”6 Mistele encourages using Yesod for shadow work, connecting with your instinctual nature, and sitting with all of your emotions, giving them your undivided attention. 

I enjoyed the exercises for Yesod that engage the senses and emphasize remembering to be present in the physical body. For example, in the “zoning” exercise, the reader is instructed to “focus on physical sensations”7, by meditating on the feet or any other body part. “The body and consciousness transform each other,” Mistele says.8 I was reading this chapter during the Full Moon in Cancer and I thought it would be fitting to focus on the sensations in my uterus, the lunar temple within my body and the seat of my feminine creative power. I also used aromatherapy to help me connect with lunar energy by wearing a lunar perfume oil called The Moon, created by an Etsy seller named Andromeda’s Curse. The fragrance is a heady floral bouquet, blooming with voluptuous notes of white gardenia, honeysuckle, and water lily.

While meditating on my uterus, I observed the strange bloated sense of fullness in my abdomen, juxtaposed with the occasional pain of cramping. I relaxed into these uncomfortable sensations instead of trying to ignore them. I noticed that focusing on my womb gave me a sense of safety and security. I had a vision of white moonlight pouring over me and it felt like rippling threads of spider’s silk, forming an ethereal cocoon around me. I became aware of the night sky as a huge, furry black spider, spinning silk from the orb of the moon. Even though I envisioned this cosmic arachnid trapping me like a fly, her cocoon felt strangely protective, not frightening, like the linen wrappings of a mummy. It reminded me that sleep is a form of death. Our bodies become paralyzed and mummified in moonlight, and the trance and enchanted dream visions of sleep are like a spell cast upon us by the dark, mysterious forces of night. 

I’ve been fascinated by spiders ever since I read Charlotte’s Web as a child, and I consider the spider to be my shadow totem. I used to be more afraid of them, but over the past decade or so I have made a conscious effort to overcome that fear and embrace them as spirit guides and emissaries of the dark goddess. I even developed feelings of tenderness towards them because I recognize that they are often more afraid of us than we are of them. This vision inspired me to do some research on ways spiders use their silk, because I wondered why I didn’t feel any fear of the spider, or being caught in her web. I learned that, while spiders may use their silk to trap prey, they also use it to create nests or cocoons to protect their children. I certainly felt a maternal energy radiating from the spider in my vision.9 

There are times when I feel restricted by circumstances beyond my control. Instead of feeling trapped in her web of fate, I have to accept that Grandmother Spider knows what’s best for me. She is either keeping me safe or counseling patience as she prepares me for something better. 

By connecting with spider consciousness, I was certainly tapping into both the shadow side of myself and the shadow nature of Yesod. “The mystery of Yesod is that, while supporting our individual ability to feel, the astral plane contains a vast range of emotional life that is as yet unknown to the human race,”10 Mistele says. Just as I was able to connect with spider consciousness, Yesod can help us imagine and feel alien realms of experience not accessible to us in our human bodies. 

After spending some time with Yesod, I climbed further up the tree, proceeding to the next two sephiroth, Hod/Mercury and Netzach/Venus, which balance each other, bringing equilibrium to the mind and heart. In the sphere of Hod/Mercury, we develop mental clarity, discernment, and eloquent speech. Mistele assigns vivacity as the common virtue of Hod, which is characterized by a liveliness and quicksilver adaptability to the ever-changing present moment. The airy nature of Mercury brings a sparkling effervescence, like bubbly sea foam, to the lunar waters of Yesod. 

Netzach/Venus integrates body (Malkuth/Earth), mind (Hod/Mercury), and soul (Yesod/Moon). According to Mistele, its virtue is “a beauty that draws together and harmonizes all aspects of oneself.”11 He describes it as a “magnetic fluid” derived from the watery realm of Yesod.12 This boundless stream of loving, healing, feminine magnetism draws us in and embraces us with the mysterious pull of an emerald sea. “One of the initiations or mysteries of Venus is to find such love in yourself,” Mistele says.13

The initiation of Netzach is “personality integration,” and the divine virtue is “purity of motives.”14 If you’re dishonest with yourself, which is a vice of Hod/Mercury, then you can’t attain Netzach’s divine virtue of pure motives. You would have to refer back to the sphere of Hod and cultivate the virtue of honesty. Sometimes people deny their true feelings and intentions with their words, but practicing the art of active listening can help us discern the truth of other people’s motives and assist us in bringing own words and feelings into alignment. According to Mistele, active listening “involves noticing incongruities—the differences between what a person is saying and the feelings expressed through body language—facial expression, gestures, intonation, or even word choice.”15

I appreciate Mistele’s emphasis on the element of Water when working with Yesod/Moon, Hod/Mercury, and Netzach/Venus because I associate them with the watery realm of emotion and how we relate to others. The Moon, which rules the tides, has the most obvious connection to water. The Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born from the foaming sea, and the watery association of her star, the planet Venus, is still preserved today in the Virgin Mary’s epithet Stella Maris, meaning “Star of the Sea.” (I personally believe that Aphrodite Urania, or Heavenly Aphrodite, also known as Venus, the Mother of Rome, is still being worshiped today by Catholics under the guise of the Virgin Mary.) Associating Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, with the element of water may seem strange to some Westerners, but in the Chinese elemental system, quicksilver Mercury is known as the “water star.”16

When Mars entered Capricorn, the sign of its exaltation, I began reading the chapter on “Rule 5: Gevurah/Mars: Self-Mastery.”17 In the fires of Gevurah, we alchemically transmute our weaknesses into strengths.

“The mystery of Gevurah is that when harmoniously integrated, the four elements become one energy field combining two opposite polarities of masculine/electric and feminine/magnetic,” Mistele says.18

Mistele notes the societal imbalance of masculine and feminine energies, made manifest in how “our entire civilization is fiery and electrical,”19 and praises science, industry, and rational thinking, while the more elusive, intangible feminine qualities of receptivity, empathy, nurturing, and intuition tend to be devalued. He believes this imbalance can be corrected through inversion. Instead of surrounding women with “masculine technology and institutions,” Mistele says we should aspire for a “magical androgyny,” in which “the feminine encircles and encloses the masculine within itself.”20

For me, this brought to mind how the metal of Venus is copper, and copper wire is used to conduct electricity (masculine energy). Mistele gives examples of this in nature, such as how the earth’s mantle insulates its molten outer core, which generates the earth’s magnetic field and is as hot as the surface of the sun. The inner core is made of solid iron, the metal traditionally associated with Mars, and it is the size of Pluto, which is an interesting comparison, considering that Pluto, the God of the Underworld, is the higher octave of Mars in modern astrology.

Mistele often uses mermaid women, who embody unconditional love, as an example of idealized divine feminine energy. “Unlike human women who embody all five elements, incarnated mermaids embody the one element of Water in their auras,” Mistele says.21 Mistele refers to himself as a “mermaid greeter,” which means that he identifies and assists “mermaid spirits who have incarnated in human bodies at birth and have grown up usually thinking that they are human.”22 He says that mermaid women “are totally in the moment, totally receptive, completely giving of themselves. There is no ego weighing them down, no guilt, no loss of innocence, and no insecurity that might awaken jealousy or bitterness.”23 Since they don’t have the emotional needs of a human, they never feel neglected, because they are complete themselves.

When describing mermaid women, I feel that Mistele romanticizes the selfless, unconditional love of the divine feminine a bit too much, and I think that he should have touched on the importance of women protecting themselves from potential harm by maintaining healthy boundaries, because it can be very dangerous for any woman, whether she is fully human or has the soul of a mermaid, to go around wearing her heart on her sleeve and pouring out unconditional love on emotionally unavailable or cruel people in an attempt “to create love where love does not exist.”24

He vaguely acknowledges this by mentioning that incarnated mermaid women have to conceal their identities to protect themselves from stalking and violence, but I would have liked the importance of healthy boundaries to have been emphasized. His anecdotes about various mermaid women he has encountered fascinated me and I’d like to learn more, so I’m looking forward to his forthcoming book, titled Encounters with Mermaids: Lessons from the Realm of the Water Elementals, (Release date: August 13, 2024) which is a new edition of his previous work Undines: Lessons from the Realm of the Water Spirits (2010).

“We all have mermaids and mermen inside of ourselves,” Mistele says. “The whole point of the ten rules and ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life is that the greater universe is reflected inside of us.”25

The Hermetic Tree of Life is an immersive guide for those who are seeking divine embodiment by internalizing the Tree. The exercises contained within its leaves will help readers recognize and harmonize the elemental qualities within. Mistele’s elemental approach will likely appeal to witches, magicians, and pagans. My personal foundational text on the subject was The Witches’ Qabala by Ellen Cannon Reed, which explores the Tree from a pagan perspective, and I found that background to be compatible with Mistele’s elemental focus. This book is accessible to those who have little previous knowledge of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, but I do think it is helpful to have some basic foundation to build upon, because Mistele doesn’t supply any background information on the Tree. Surprisingly, there is no diagram of the Tree itself in this book, but readers can easily find an image online for reference. Regardless of your current relationship with the Tree, The Hermetic Tree of Life will assist you in the lifelong spiritual quest to become your best self.

Living Wands of the Druids, by Jon G. Hughes

Living Wands of the Druids: Harvesting, Crafting, and Casting with Magical Tools, by Jon G. Hughes
Destiny Books, 1644118033, 232 pages, January 2024

I bought my first wand from Neil the Wandmaker, a well-known wand artisan in California. It took me nearly half an hour to select the right wand, picking them up and putting them down as I tried to sense which one was calling to me the most for that moment. While I’ve gotten plenty of use out of my artisan wand, recently, my exploration into the spirituality of Druidism has made me think differently about nature and the tools I use in my craft.

Living Wands of the Druids: Harvesting, Crafting, and Casting with Magical Tools by Jon G. Hughes has completely shifted my perspective into the purpose of a wand and how one might go about crafting their own. Hughes teaches readers how a fundamental principle of the Druid tradition is that the wood from which a wand or staff is crafted must be living. He explains:

“By living we mean that the wood must still contain the vital living sap of the tree from which it has been harvested so that this vital sap may impart the virtues and attributes of the chosen tree to the channeled energy of the adept, enhancing and elevating the adept’s energy and intention as they pass through the heart of the wand.”1

While the focus is on living wands, Hughes takes plenty of time explaining aspects of Druid foundational principles and lore. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to the lore of trees. He describes how Druids believe all living things, including trees obviously, have “three essential components: their physical manifestation, their portion of the communal or world energy (sometimes referred to a world spirit), and their personal energy.”2

All three components must be used when crafting a living wand, making it important to select the right donor tree, which Hughes luckily teaches readers how to do. There are plenty of things to consider, ranging from location of the tree to the season, and once the appropriate tree is selected, Hughes provides a harvesting rite to “maintain the harvested branch’s integrity and potency.”3

Hughes emphasizes how crucial it is to understand the attributes of different tree species when selecting a wand. While this topic could easily comprise an entire book and there are many more tree species than the ones covers, he covers the Druidic lore, wood qualities, and spiritual attributes of ten common trees (and even includes a handy reference chart): apple, birch (silver), elm (wych), hawthorn, hazel, holly, oak, pine (scots), rowan, and yew.

“Eventually, an intimate understanding of each tree and its place in its forest home will develop, and each tree will become a trusted friend. It is then that a connection with the ancient ways will enter the adept’s own spiritual being; a connection with the ancient pagan beliefs and the lore of the Druids will mature within the adept and with this connection and understanding she will grow and fulfill her role in nature’s partnership.”4

Now that readers have activated their connection with the trees, Hughes moves onto wand types. The main wands he covers are rudimentary, entire, compound wands, rods, and staffs. For each wand type, there is a picture provided, and Hughes shares the appropriate use for the wand and how to craft it. Occasionally included further background information to provide a well-rounded understanding for readers, such as the importance of a protective circle and how to cast one.

For more complex wand types, he also includes additional information, such as how to select “entwining botanical”5 (entwined wands) and “wood combinations”6 (compound wands) and adorn a staff. There’s also guidance on creating hooked wands, forked wands, protective bundles, and flying staffs, plus how to use feathers as wands. Lots of really great wand ideas in this section, and readers will feel fully equipped in choosing which one is best based on their intention and crafting it appropriately.

Once the natural materials for the wand have been selected, Hughes leads readers through finding and/or creating an auspicious workspace to craft their wand and then preparing the wand for use through cleansing and potentializing. In regard to finding the right location, Hughes includes diagrams to help readers orient themselves and ensure they are aligning properly with their chosen orientation.

For the preparation section and the following one on using the wand, Hughes writes out exactly what one can say for cleansing the wand, activating its potential, and then using it in bold lettering. I love how what to do, when to do it, and what to say while doing it are all clearly laid out for the reader. I find this incredibly helpful since I often get tongue-tied in ritual, and I appreciate having the structure to follow.

Topics covered for using the wand range from casting with one’s hand as a wand to making one’s own flying ointment to use with their flying staff. There’s so many ways to use the wands, and as readers experiment on their own, they’ll start gaining more confidence in their practice. From attraction to protection, curse-casting to inner contemplation, there’s so many possibilities for the intentions one can set with their wants.

One of the things I didn’t know prior to reading this book was that the original casting device should be kept “If the adept considers that there is even a remote possibility that the intention he has cast will need to be annulled, undone, or reversed…”7 Hughes notes that it’s common to see wands “labeled and stored in their protective wrappings just in case they might be needed to amend the intentions they originally cast.”8 This was helpful to know, and if one does need to do any of the aforementioned magical workings, Hughes has once again provided the ritual wording to do so.

When one feels assured that their work with the wand is complete, the Druidic way is to return the wand to the earth. Hughes writes:

“The protocol of returning all harvested material to its source location is born from the tenant that the balance of nature must be retained at all ties, and that only when botanical material is allowed to decay and reunite with its base matter and spiritual energies, as part of the world reservoir of elemental substance and spirit, may the cosmic balance resin intact, allowing all these precious resources to be used over and over again without depleting or diluting the world’s vital reserves.”9

This feels really resonant for me that the circle comes to completion by giving the wand back to nature. What an absolutely beautiful principle to live by! This sentiment is very different From the dominant materialistic culture focused on consumerism, where the purchased wands created often can never go back to their original source. And yes, there’s a ritual clearly laid out by Hughes for one to return their wand.

Overall, Living Wands of the Druids, is the perfect beginner’s guide to crafting one’s own magical wand. Whether or not one considers themselves a Druid, Hughes makes the material accessible for everyone. He shares a lot about the belief system of lore of Druidism, but there’s never an assertion that one must take any sort of oath or vow to create these living wands. A simple respect for nature and desire to be in harmony with fellow life on the earth is all readers need to draw upon the natural wisdom of the Druids for this practice of crafting living wands.

I gained a deeper reverence for the earth while reading it, as well as a better appreciation and understanding of Druidism in general. I highly recommend this book for those looking to be sustainable in their craft. The art of making living wands is also a reminder we have all we need for our magical practice within nature, emphasizing the importance of maintaining balance and reciprocity with the earth.

Tarot for the Hard Work, by Maria Minnis

Tarot for the Hard Work: An Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing, by Maria Minnis
Weiser Books, 1578638070, 280 pages, January 2024

Everyday we are confronted with choices about who we are as a collective as outdated systems are questioned and dismantled, especially those that have oppressed and disempowered Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) individuals and groups. I believe change starts within, but it’s not always easy to do the inner work, nor is there a step-by-step map about how inner work translates to external activism. Many of us turn to tarot for answers; we trust the wisdom of archetypes for our own guidance and personal growth. Can this wisdom system we know and love be used for more? Absolutely, and that’s what Maria Minnis has revealed in Tarot for the Hard Work: An Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing.

In this book, Minnis teaches how the tarot can be used as a tool for inner work, activism, and community transformation through the archetypes. Using the symbolic language of the tarot, Minnis leads readers through major arcana, providing perspectives of how their attributes can be utilized to foster change, prompt self-reflection, lead to more self-awareness, and consciously begin to dismantle racism.

Tarot for the Hard Work is a tool for passionately demolishing structural oppression. It’s a tool for white people who want to use their privilege for more liberation. It is a tool for Black and Brown people living in a structurally racist society intent on selling self-hatred and shame to marginalized people and capitalizing on their pain. It is a tool for both tarot newbies and tarot experts. It is a tool for action. It is a tool for going beyond baby steps. It is a tool that can offer great satisfaction as well as great difficulty. It is a tool to expand your comfort zone. This is a tool that requires your presence for it to work.”1

Each chapter follows the same structured pattern, which provides a nice container for the content. The chapter begins with an inspirational quote at the top and then a description of the card. The description highlights the point in the journey (ex. How the Empress relates to the prior cards–Fool, Magician, High Priestess) and also bullet-pointing the services the card contributes to the cause. Next, for every card, Minnis guides readers to form “embodied keywords” from gazing at the card, becoming the archetype, studying the imagery from a liberation perspective.

The succeeding section of the chapter focuses on the card in liberation work followed by a section correspondences associated with the card. Minnis provides lists of how the card can show up both in a balanced and imbalanced way, leaving room for readers to fill in a space about ways their relationship with the card feels when balanced and imbalanced.

The section that differs the most chapter to chapter is the next as it is information personalized to the card related to a method of dismantling racism. For instance, the Wheel of Fortune chapter section is titled “Intersecting Race and Disability Justice”, while the Lovers chapter is “Choosing to Redistribute Wealth”. These sections are followed by exercises that range from downloading a related book or podcast to doing a social media audit to thinking about these issues when creating a budget. I think these sections are my favorite part of the chapter because I’m a do-er. I thoroughly enjoy all of Minnis’s tarot information, but these sections feel like the nitty-gritty I’ve been wanting to delve into, so I really appreciate her ample suggestions of how to take direct action. Her recommendations of books, movies, meditations, songs, etc. are impressive – and I’ve already gained a lot from taking the time to do the exercises.

Moving onward, the following section focuses on identifying as the card. Minnis includes about twenty qualities and suggests readers circle ones they already embody, draw hearts around ones they want to embody more deeply/frequently, and squares around qualities they want to transmute or avoid. Once again, readers get the chance to be hands-on in their reading; there’s something about putting pen to paper in the book that feels like I’m acknowledging my qualities and calling in the ones I want more than just thinking about them. The following section is affirmations, which further heighten my connection to the card, particularly in regard to a liberation work aspect.

My second favorite section is next: magical practices to conjure the card. Minnis doesn’t give specifics, but the list of ideas is once again enough to get the creative ball rolling on how you can make a difference in your personal practice. Some suggestions are specifically related to a magical practice, such as “Perform a protection spell.”2 or “Embody benevolent ancestors.”3, while others are more focused on direct actions that can be magically inspired, such as “Review and diversify your news sources.”4 or “Offer community to isolated people.”5

The final sections are focused on becoming the archetype. Minnis offers readers the opportunity to set their own objective (personal, relational, or collective) related to the energy of the card’s archetypal energy. There is space to write down the specific intention, as well as the time one plans to embody that tarot card in their liberation work, why this work is important, and an affirmation they will repeat to support their intention. After this, there’s one last section for readers to reflect and write about their experience, noting their successes, setbacks, and other reflections that came up during their experience working with the archetypal energy.

But wait! That’s not all. Minnis is guiding readers to be fully equipped for doing the hard work of dismantling racism, and so, at the end of every chapter is a page on “Building a Toolkit” that has a specific action readers can take and questions that make them identify the situation and how they can remedy it. For instance, the toolkit suggestion for the Empress is “Defend Public Spaces” with questions such as “How can you help preserve public spaces, particularly for BIPOC?”6. This toolkit prepares to have conversations about these important topics, giving them the food for thought needed to arrive at their own opinions that can be shared with a wider community to make a change.

Even though it’s only January, I feel confident in saying Tarot for the Hard Work will be one of the best tarot reads this year and the one I will be consistently recommending to other tarot enthusiasts. Not only does Minnis unlock new insights about the archetypes of each major arcana card, she has beautifully crafted a whole hero/heroine journey for readers to undertake themselves with her activities, prompts, and space for reflection. Tarot newbies and experts alike have so much to gain from reading this book, and it cannot be overstated how relevant and necessary inner work is to acknowledge racism, privilege, and barriers to change within ourselves in order to shift the detrimental structures of our society.

For those interested in Minnis’s work you can learn more about her here on her website.

The Sorcery of Solomon, by Sara L. Mastros

The Sorcery of Solomon: A Guide to the 44 Planetary Pentacles of the Magician King, by Sara L. Mastros
Weiser Books, 1578637864, 272 pages, January 2024

King Solomon is renowned for his wisdom and wealth, but did you know that he was also believed to be a powerful magician? Many ancient texts attribute supernatural powers to him, including the ability to summon and command demons and spirits. According to legend, he used his knowledge of magic to build the Temple of Jerusalem and control the elements. Some even claim that he possessed a magical ring that gave him control over the spirits of the air, earth, and sea. While the extent of his magical abilities may be debated, there is no doubt that King Solomon was a fascinating figure whose legacy continues to guide magicians today.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced magician, The Sorcery of Solomon: A Guide to the 44 Planetary Pentacles of the Magician King by Sara L. Mastros is a game-changer in magical studies, specifically Solomonic magic. Mastros walks readers through building a relationship with Solomon, learning the Hebrew seals, and understanding how to craft your own Magic Book of Pentacles. The combination of personal anecdotes with academic information makes this a well-rounded text for those seeking guidance on how to use the seals in their own craft.

Solomon’s magic has a long, complex history. Mastros answers questions readers might have in the beginning of the book, including who this book is for and addressing concerns about cultural appropriation. She describes how working Solomonic magic requires one to be “comfortable working with the G-d of Israel.”1, while also emphasizing the book is written for both Jewish and non-Jewish practitioners alike. 

“Growing, changing, and adapting generation with generation, the Solomonic current is braided through the so-called “Western mystery traditions,” both influencing and being influenced by the many magical paradigms, culturism, and styles encountered along the way. Those cultures and practices include Babylonian astrotheology, Egyptian priestcraft, Jewish amulet writing, Greek goetia, Roman witchcraft, Arabic astrological magic, both Ashkenaz and Sefardic folk magic, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim ceremonial magic, Afro-Caribbean sorcery, and a variety of contemporary Angelo-phone magics.”2

Next, Mastros moves into the history and cultural context of Solomon, which I found to be immensely helpful as someone who is not overly familiar with this type of magic and its detailed history. She specifically details the history of Christian Europe in the Middle Ages and Renaissance from a Jewish perspective, as well as covering The Key of Solomon and The Book of Seals. This book works with the Samuel Liddle MacGregor Mathews interpretation of the Key of Solomon, specifically chapter eighteen focusing on the pentacles.

Mastros recommends a three-pill approach, SLM, for beginners of Solomonic magic: Solomon, Logos, and Magic. Part II is a deep-dive into this method. Topics covered range from working with the dead to dream incubation to the origin of writing. Mastros also teaches readers a good amount about Hebrew magic because the planetary pentacles are “undeniably Hebrew”, and as a result “they rely on the knowledgeable and skillful application of Hebrew magical words and Names of Power.”3

I had zero knowledge about Hebrew magic prior to reading this book, and while it felt a little overwhelming at times to absorb, Mastros does a wonderful job of making it accessible to a novice. What I appreciated most is how she constantly is sharing the relevance of what she’s teaching, assisting the reader in seeing why taking the time to study and learn is valuable. She doesn’t provide shortcuts, but at the same time, she doesn’t go on tangents that distract focus from the information at hand.

For those who feel ready, she provides plenty of guidance for invoking and working with the Great Seal and then making one’s own Book of Pentacles. I wasn’t ready to go there yet, but I highly enjoyed reading about the Great Seal, where Mastros describes the characteristics of the number five and significance of the pentacle. Here’s one thing I learned that I found fascinating:

“However, before writing a pentacle, please recall that, once enchanted, they are people, not objects, and must be treated as such. As people, they must not be thrown out, but allowed to live out their natural life space and then their remains must be interred respectfully. If they are drawn on the body, you can’t scrub them off (or otherwise intentionally efface them). They should be allowed to naturally fade and decay.”4

The longest section, Part III, covers all 44 of Mather’s pentacles. As an astrologer, I was eager to delve into this section since the planets are such a big part of my life. I wanted to learn more about planetary pendants to see what insight about the nature of each planet might be revealed. Additionally, I’ve been looking to enhance my celestial magic practice and learning to work with the seals has long been on my to-do list. I was so grateful to have Mastros as a guide to arrive at this point, as I would have been very naive in simply sketching them not realizing how to properly invoke their power. Mastros writes:

“However, in my opinion, by far the most important component in empowering the pentacles of Solomon is to carefully attend to and understand the sacred Names of Power on which the pentacles call, and to hold kavvanot appropriate to those names while writing and speaking them.”5

I highly enjoyed reading about each seal. Mastros very clearly explains each one, sharing both Mather’s description and her own experience working with it. For instance, Mastros explains how The Seal of Sheba can be worn as a pendant on the heart or arm, while The Wheel of HaShem Adonai can be placed “in a container of any vision-supporting herb to provide a bit of a boost.”6She sometimes includes exercises to aid readers, as well as additional reading material to better round-out their understanding. Another immensely helpful thing Mastros provides is the translation of the Hebrew writing on each seal, so if one wants to create their own seal, they can use the translation rather than the Hebrew script.

Overall, The Sorcery of Solomon is an extremely user-friendly guide to the 44 planetary pentacles, providing practical instructions on how to use the pentacles to their full potential while being sensitive to their historical and cultural significance. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced magician, this book is a game-changer in magical studies and Solomonic magic. Mastros’s extensive knowledge of history and experience as a magical practitioner enriches the reader’s understanding of these magical seals and provides the foundation to create one’s own Magical Book of Pentacles. While you could absolutely power-read the book and glean a great deal of information, a slow and  savory read could last you a long time of in-depth study.

The First Alchemists, by Tobias Churton

The First Alchemists: The Spiritual and Practical Origins of the Noble and Holy Art, by Tobias Churton
Inner Traditions, 1644116839, 320 pages, November 2023

Alchemy can sometimes feel like a buzzword, especially in modern times where it has taken on a heavily psychological context due to Carl Jung’s work and been co-opted by every influencer promising instant change. For those who begin to research alchemy in a more historical context, it quickly becomes exceedingly clear that the path is long and jumbled. Weaving through the different strands throughout time and global cultures amid intentional secret-keeping become a quandary. In his introduction to The First Alchemists: The Spiritual and Practical Origins of the Noble and Holy Art, Tobias Churton writes:

“Well, it is hardly surprising that confusion has inhibited understanding of alchemy. The term has perhaps simply come to mean “too much.” When confronted with something akin to a Gordian knot, I feel an urge not to annihilate the puzzle by putting my sword through it as Alexander the Great did but rather to retire and try to figure out how the knotty phenomenon actually came about. And that is my explanation for undertaking this investigation into the first alchemists. The job needed doing.”1

I absolutely agree with Churton’s assertion that someone had to conduct more thorough research about the origins and alchemy and piece it together for others. So much of what I’ve read about alchemy’s history focuses on Hermeticism, particularly in the 1400s and beyond when ancient texts prompted a revival of the art, which is fascinating, but many books neglect the deeper history, the roots of alchemy.

In laying his foundation, Churton begins by teaching  readers about the oldest surviving texts on alchemy (Stockholm papyrus, Leiden papyrus). While these texts were mundane rather than mystical in nature, focusing on things such as dye recipes, making and whitening pearls, cleansing stones, and creating imitation gold and silver. He also covers Pseudo-Democritus’s Four Books, the oldest texts on alchemy that have been lost to history but were summarized in surviving treatises Physika kai Mystika (Natural and Secret Questions) and Peri asēmou poiēseōs (On the Making of Silver).

These texts situate early alchemy’s origins in Roman Egypt. Churton shares sources that claim Pseudo-Democritus was influenced by Ostanes, a great Egyptian priest. In addition to Ostanes, these early practitioners include Cleopatra, Mariam (a Jewish woman known in alchemical tradition as Mary the Prophetess), and artisan Theosebeia–notably all women. Churton spends time on each woman, detailing pretty much all that is known about them, particularly from the writing of Zosimos of Panopolis.

“Early alchemy has something of a cosmopolitan, if not multinational and above all practical, rather than ideological air about it.”2

Three whole chapters are dedicated to Zosimos, and he continues to be the prominent focus of the rest of the book, because there is more written testimony from him than any other early alchemist. Titled “father of religious alchemy”3, his contributions can hardly be understated. Churton describes how, “Zosimos’s alchemy is a natural divine path to God, in which pious practitioners are called to identity with all elements and transformations, so as to experience harmonious union, or “gold”…”4

Working off of Zosimos’s writing, Churton guides readers through chapters on what the first alchemist actually did, how they did it, and where they did it. And, since I’m sure this sparked your curiosity, it mostly focused on creating dyes and working with metals. There’s pictures of early apparatuses, as well as details of the chemical components of minerals and other substances used to achieve their aims.

Additional chapters include “The Myth of Transmutation”, “Forbidden Knowledge”, and “Legacy” which clarify more about the aims of the early alchemists. Churton shows that the “first alchemists did not operate with the end in mind of fabricating a philosophical stone or philosopher’s stone to transmute base metals into gold”5. This realization throws into question the traditional definition of alchemy, as this is what most assume alchemy is all about based on later alchemical history. Churton notes, “Modern writers then have often simply backdated what they learned about post-Zosimos alchemy and projected it onto Zosimos.”6

Churton often references the work of Shannon Grimes, professor and head of the Department of Religious and Ethical Studies at Meredith College. She has recently published the book Becoming Gold: Zosimos of Panopolis and the Alchemical Arts in Roman Egypt, which would be another great resource for those interested in this subject matter. In a similar vein, readers might also feel more comfortable with the topics covered in this book after delving into some of Churton’s other books, in particular The Lost Pillars of Enoch, The Golden Builders, and The Gnostics.

For those new to reading Churton’s work, you can expect a lot of detail! I find it helps to take notes to process and organize the new information I’m reading, as he is a very erudite writer, who draws upon multiple sources to weave together his assertions but sometimes assumes his readers know more than they actually do, especially if this is your first introduction to the topic. For these reasons, I always get so much out of Churton’s writing because I am left with many avenues of interest to explore, but this can delay me finishing the books due to being sidetracked or feeling like I need additional time to digest what I’ve read before proceeding. The note taking helps me to stay focused on the topic at hand and then go back to what sparked my interest afterwards!

All in all, The First Alchemists is an illuminating read that delves into the “who, what, where, why, when” of early alchemy. Drawn from the original sources and scholarly work about these texts, he brilliantly depicts the origins of the Royal Art, which vary greatly from our modern notion of what alchemy is, its purpose, and its practitioners. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the history of alchemy, especially if they feel called to traditions that utilize alchemical in modern times, such as Freemasons and Rosecrucians. While there’s no doubt secrets to uncover, it’s interesting to see the initial practical value of alchemy, in particular recipes and methods for making dyes, and the evolution through time.