✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot, by Russell Strugess

The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot: The Cathar Code Hidden in the Cards, by Russell A. Sturgess
Inner Traditions, 1644110563, 368 pages, 2020

In The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot: The Cathar Code Hidden in the Cards, author Russell A. Sturgess presents the story of a medieval group of Gnostic Christians who are later referred to as the Cathars. The Cathars originated in France in the 11th century.  Not well liked by the Catholic Church, Cathars were considered a threat and were removed from Western Europe by the Catholic Church around 1350.

They called themselves “Troubadours of God” and their theology was based on the Beatitudes from the New Testament Sermon on the Mount. They lived a life based on agape love and also espoused a theology of duality, one where both good and evil existed.   Their beliefs professed a “formula for escaping the world of the evil God and the journey that one had to undertake to return to the Kingdom of the good God.”1

No one really knows how the Cathars worked together to preserve the mysteries of this formula, which was their program of ascending to the good God. Sturgess admits that it is unlikely that the Cathars produced any tarot cards. However, they were weavers and may have woven small tapestries with the symbols of their theology or created small paintings of the symbols.  None of these remain due to the Crusades and Inquisition — all such artifacts were destroyed. 

One of their key tenants was the idea of “being a fool for the sake of Christ.”2 The Fool’s Cap symbol and watermark would have been a mark of the Cathars. And, of course, the first card in the Major Arcana of the Marseille Tarot, as well as many other decks,  is a Fool.

What interested me most about the concept of this book was the melding of religious and metaphysical theologies. The idea that a religious group of Gnostic Christians could have hidden symbols that show the way to God in miniature paintings or small stained glass images that later became tarot cards is intriguing! When you consider that the clergy was among the few who were able to read and write in the 11th to 13th centuries, you might begin to understand their role in preserving these symbols.

The Marseille Tarot appeared in the 17th Century and told the Cathars’ story of the Fool and his transformative journey to Christ. Sturgess shares a complete history of the tarot and features many color plates of Major Arcana cards in various styles of cards.  One plate that I found fascinating follows the Fool’s Journey as the Major Arcana cards are laid out in an infinity symbol shape (Plate 30, The Cathar Code key, the cards by Jean Noblet, circa 1650).

Sturgess provides a thorough review of each of the cards of the Major Arcana, sharing key symbols, their meanings and how the cards both differ and mirror each other. My birth card is The Empress, so I was especially interested in learning more about this card. According to Sturgess, the symbols of the shield she holds, the cockscomb on her left side and her scepter all point to key characteristics of The Empress.  As both masculine and feminine symbols are shown, the Empress embodies the combination of male and female.

“This is a Cathar invention, symbolizing the hieros gamos, the sacred union of the masculine and the feminine that was Christ here on earth. In the world of the Cathars and that of the good God, when governed by Christ consciousness this was symbolic of the sacred marriage resulting in the androgyny of Sophia.”3

Sturgess goes on to say that the Empress is all about “the impending birth of the Fool, who is the Christ Incarnate.” 4

Another aspect that I found fascinating was the idea that there was no Devil card or Tower card before the 17th Century. These two cards may have been kept secret because of the role they play in revealing the “portal to the kingdom of Heaven.”5 And did you know that the Tower card was initially called the “House of God”? A common belief contends that the named changed to the Tower due to the structure shown in the center of the card.6

Sturgess employs a very scientific and thorough writing style. The photos of key pieces of Cathar history, the beautiful plates of tarot cards from various centuries, and important documents from antiquity make this story come alive.  After a history of the Cathars, Sturgess covers each card in the Major Arcana through eleven chapters of the Fool’s Journey. This book will appeal more to the Tarot aficionado, rather than a novice, who might be overwhelmed by the depth of the information.

I really enjoyed The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot and look forward to reading it again and doing an in depth journey into each of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. My knowledge of the symbolism of the Major Arcana was enhanced greatly by what I learned. I’d recommend this book for Tarot teachers, expert readers, and others who study Tarot history and meaning.

To conclude, I will share one concept that Sturgess wrote that really touched me is the Cathars’ theology of love:

“The Cathars’ theology of love could be described in one word:  kindness.  As much as they understood the deep mysteries, in terms of how they were expressed in day-to-day life, it was simply about being committed to being kind.”7

Deva, by Jacquelyn E. Lane

Deva: Our Relationship with the Subtle World, by Jacquelyn E. Lane
Findhorn Press, 978-1644110741, 320 pages, June 2020

Deva: Our Relationship with the Subtle World by Jacquelyn E. Lane is a title that anyone who is serious about the undertaking of engaging and communicating with the natural world should read. Lane is an educator by profession and this is quite apparent in the organization of the book. She has also been involved in the study of metaphysics for 50+ years, and this experience is the underpinning of this particular title and its teachings regarding the work of collaboration with the laws and spirits of nature through the development of a relationship of mutual respect, stewardship, and care.

…. Life is a great song. From the rocks that seem to be still to the bubbling water of a stream that flows over them. From the uncurling leaves of small plants to giant trees. From the quiet hamlets to the teeming cities. It’s all singing-notes within tunes, tunes within themes, themes within symphonies.1

These words flow from the pages and are the first lines of the Introduction. Simply reading them draws the reader in for a closer look and the journey that is about to unfold in the voluminous content that follows, if truly heard and appreciated, becomes a timeless and timely composition of nature. 

Deva is a fitting publication for the Findhorn Press and the mission of the Findhorn Community. To fully appreciate the need for this book a little history of The Findhorn Community will offer some background. The Findhorn Community developed from the resettlement of Peter and Eileen Caddy, their children, and Dorothy Maclean to the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park in 1962. The three had dedicated their lives to the pursuit of esoteric studies and applications and the barren soil of the caravan park provided the setting of opening to the land spirits and guidance in how to “live” in harmony on the land. All that was planted in accord with the aid of the Devas, elementals, and other nature spirits grew beyond expectation, and the garden became a marvel within the horticultural world.2

This book will please both the scientist and the esotericist in its content. Science and the esoteric philosophies are fast becoming great friends and supports to one another as we learn more about quantum physics and the nature of matter and energy. There is still quite a bit of ways to go in the overlap, but more books such as this will help in creating that bridge of cross-pollination. In reading the biography of the author we learn that Deva, was shortlisted for the 2019 Ashton Wylie Unpublished Manuscript Awards: an affirmation of the need for this material to be given the proper consideration it is due. 

The Introduction holds the keys to everything that the reader needs to know regarding what to expect from this book and what is required from the reader by way of open mind and willingness to become “involved” in the world that surrounds us in a more authentic way. So, for some this book will definitely be one of those slow and steady reads that leaves you with questions and wanting to know more-and do more-with each paragraph. And, for others it will affirm everything they have known and are currently working towards. 

Lane gives a clear and simple (ironically, for a very complex subject) introduction to who/what the deva are and the use of that term in the content that follows…

…. Deva is an ancient Sanskrit word from India meaning “Being of Light”… They sing ideas into form. It is the deva that cause us to exclaim, “Wow, this is a special place. It feels so alive!”…. they are within every atom. Deva are the faeries in the grass. They are the vast energy of sea, wind  and mountains….To really (understand) deva, we need to realize that deva is a kingdom of substance and form-the world of matter both solid and subtle.3

Deva is separated into three parts comprising a total of eighteen chapters. In some cases more is more, but this is one case in which it feels after reading that there were too few chapters — meant in the most complimentary of ways. There is a strong infusion of Theosophical principles throughout the book, but these are incorporated in such a way that the reader does not have to be a student of Theosophy to understand what is being said. The Bibliography is filled with resources of books, articles and recordings sourced from some of the most prominent and respected presenters of physics, botanists, metaphysicians, theosophists and more. I would consider this work as a required text for a course in how to become a participant in the worlds shared by humanity and nature. 

Part One: Elemental Tunes dives right in to exploring the inhabitants of our greater etheric planes of Earth that are the pure expression of energy from densest to the more rarified. Each chapter contained within this section opens the reader to a new experience of the devic kingdom and provides the basis upon which the individual can extrapolate and come to their own conclusions regarding how the energy of what is unseen is often more powerful than that seen as we become more aware of what is within and surrounds us…

… The deva kingdom is everywhere, say the ancients-an Intelligence infused into matter at every level of density.4

Part Two: Who’s Singing Your Song encompasses the aspects of emotion, thought  and those forms of deva that we create. I particularly enjoyed chapter eight “Emotion” and Lane’s attention to the power of our emotions as fueling many of the components of the spiritual evolution of devas, humanity and all of the sea of matter, formed and formless. This chapter really calls to the reader to examine their emotional baggage and presumptions that create patterns of illusion that are in contradiction to the organic nature of the deva and humanity. As I moved through the information in Part Two, I was reminded of the deep connection we have in mind and heart and the impact, not only upon ourselves, but everything from the densest of matter to the most subtle. These also inherently include the discordant relationships and often-resultant ill effects that communication with the deva kingdom may have if the individual is not aligned within him/herself.

Part Three: Symphonies could be compared to the final movement of a stirring orchestral composition. All of the instruments have a role that is both profound and subtle in their impact. The climax reaches its peak and we are left in the after-glow of a symphonic masterpiece that is inspiring and has reached deeply into the fibers of all of our being. These final chapters of Deva speak to active participation in the natural world and those aspects of the deva kingdom we are more familiar with as iconic representations of nature. Trees, plant life, geographic regions, climate change and planetary deva are some of the topics discussed. 

The final two chapters, “Deva, Religion and Pan” and “Consciousness,” were appropriately placed in the organic flow of this writing. These are topics that are usually captured at the beginning of a discourse such as this, and in doing so, feel like the perfunctory ‘getting that out of the way” manner in which they are often treated. In this case, this very important material punctuates the final notes of this symphony, and it is always those last notes that are remembered, even if the rest is forgotten. 

Lane offers these thoughts as conclusion and calls us to re-member our true state of being…

…The Great Song dances out of the One from the highest to the lowest. We can see its effects all around using every kingdom (animal, deva, mineral, etc..) beside us. We can hear it directly when we cease to place our individuality before that One Life. Yet, from the beginning it has called on our inner ear relentlessly until we have learnt to listen and, in listening, we hear the song of our own Light as well.5


Deva: Our Relationship with the Subtle World has been an immensely satisfying book to read. and I am looking forward to the many re-reads I will give as my own journey in connecting more deeply to the Deva continues. We are at a crossroads of choice and the next steps we take collectively, but most importantly individually, will determine so much more than what we see of the physical world. The more reminders we have about our place in this “symphony of life,” and the more books that are brought forward that will speak to all levels of engagement and practice will be steps in the right direction.  Open your eyes with new wonder and call out from your highest intention and you may just be surprised at who/what calls back in reply.

Finding Home within the Heart of the Earth, by Eagle Skyfire

Finding Home within the Heart of the Earth: Creating a Harmonious Space with the Energy of the Earth, by Eagle Skyfire
Llewellyn Publications, 0738760067, 231 pages, November 2020

Finding Home within the Heart of the Earth: Creating a Harmonious Space with the Energy of the Earth by Eagle Skyfire felt more to me words to be practiced rather than a book to be merely read. It provides guidance to creating a “harmonious space” in your place of dwelling or working that works in concert with the earth’s energy. A trained shaman, Skyfire is well-positioned to share with the reader what she’s learned from Native American teachers with whom she’s trained – with their permission.  

To begin, Skyfire introduces the reader to the “Heart of the Earth” method, a way of living in harmony with the earth. The purpose of the book is to be a “hands-on, step-by step guide in order to enhance harmony, wellness, and overall greater sense of well-being in many environments.”1 To be clear, it is not a Native American interpretation of the Chinese practice of feng shui. Heart of the Earth is a system that Eagle developed which is a “synthesis of Native American spiritual principles and shamanic practices, current resources, wisdom gained from experiences in the field, and intuitive gifts.”2

I remember when I took Home Economics in high school (is that even still a part of secondary curriculum?) and the teacher advised us to always read the recipe in full before starting to cook or bake. It was a way to make sure that you had the correct ingredients and cookware and that you followed the steps in order to have the recipe turn out correctly. Just like my Home Economic’s teacher, Skyfire rightly recommends reading the book in its entirety to familiarize one’s self with the concepts discussed, the methods described, and the explanations behind the principles before beginning to incorporate the principles to design or re-design one’s space.While it was a bit challenging to hold off diving into the exercises, I did follow the advice. 

The book is divided into two parts. Part One is an introduction of basic concepts of why we need to connect with nature, universal Native American spiritual principles, energetic principles, and being aware of the lay of the land including physical features, human-made features, and nonphysical features. 

In this section, Skyfire encourages the reader to remember that we are children of the earth mother, that we are affected by the cycles of the seasons, and that feeling the “current of sacred energy and the cycles of natural time”3 is empowering. I recommend taking one’s time in reading Part One as there is a lot to digest and familiarize one’s self with, especially if one is new to these concepts, such as the Good Red Road and the Seven Arrows, as I was. These concepts form the basis of actually creating one’s space that is the focus of Part Two. 

Especially meaningful to me in Part One was absorbing what Eagle wrote about understanding that there is an energetic landscape that surrounds us, which we inhabit. Attitude and core beliefs play roles in how we view ourselves and the world. Change is the only constant in our lives as is true with nature. It’s easy to notice the physical landscape that surrounds us, but idea of an energetic landscape that one could tap into… of course! Why hadn’t I ever made this connection of the existence of an energetic landscape? I was aware of the energy contained within a physical space like a home or office – but not to an energetic landscape per se. 

This section also contained exercises to facilitate connecting with one’s inner child, remembering what made us excited and lit us up! She writes that “in order to know what you want to create for your well-being, you must understand yourself better.”4 This was a fun exercise to do – but also very revealing as to how far I’ve strayed from what truly excites me, buried beneath reason and adult obligations. Another exercise asks the reader to reflect on what truly makes you happy, discerning whether this happiness comes from one’s heart or mind.  Also exercise shared in Part One I enjoyed is the Waterfall Meditation, which I found very relaxing, receiving sacred Power in my heart and returning it to the earth, much like the cycle of water

My favorite chapter in Part one was the Lay of the Land in which Skyfire write about natural elements such as bodies of water (above and below the ground), trees (my favorite) and wildlife, stones, and crystals, and the air. She opens our eyes to man-made surrounding that the effects they have, such as buildings, roads, power lines, parks, and graveyards. Nonphysical features include sacred ancestors of the land, nature spirits, and one’s own sacred ancestors. Part One increased my awareness of my surroundings, made me look deeper within, made me look higher up, and below the surface, made me listen, and see, and feel energy.

Part One concludes with a guide to looking at the indoor features where one lives or works – the layout of rooms, whether they are serving their purpose (for example, is the bedroom relaxing?), and whether they are clutter free. Taking stock of the spaces, actually taking a physical inventory of what the spaces hold, and then identifying if the space is serving one’s needs was a much-needed eye-opener.

Part Two covers the actual creation of one’s space based on the evaluations taken in Part One using the Heart of the Earth method. There is a lot of information covered such as “the qualities of each of the directions…and the function of each room in relation to the five elements.”5 Ultimately, one will “learn how to set the Heart of your place, which sets the energetic tone and maintains the health of your home or workplace.”6

Eagle asks the reader to understand how one’s core beliefs provide a “framework of energy that causes people and things to be attracted to you”7 and that understanding your core beliefs is necessary to designing your space. She encourages one to “work with your nature and not against it. You need to embrace yourself for who you are and from that choose what you need in order to thrive.”8

Part Two offers “the necessary information to see what you are working with in order to build your space in harmony with your own desires, as well as those of the land you are on.”9 To realize that we are not separate from our surroundings and that our needs or wants do not supersede that of the earth mother is vital. The steps outlined involve notetaking, use of a compass, and organization. As Eagle points out, some of the initial steps are “tedious” as one advances to the more enjoyable activities that incorporate creativity.

Topics covered include “gridding” one’s space, use of color and light, how to set the energy of a space, and decluttering. To be most effective, one should do all of the steps and exercises. And, if you are feeling overwhelmed or out of your element with the concepts, I recommend taking a pause. Give yourself time to digest what is being asked of you – and then carry on. I found the need to take breaks and re-group before proceeding with the next step. As Rome wasn’t built in. day, please don’t expect to be able to absorb and then accomplish everything that the book offers in one reading or in a finite amount of time. Give yourself latitude and you will make great strides. It’s been about a week of me actively shifting this energy, and I’m only getting started.

The Heart of the Earth method is truly an agent of change. I highly recommend Finding Home within the Heart of the Earth as a way to bring “abundance, peace, and contentment”10 to your spaces. It puts you in harmony with “nature and your Sacred Self.”11 It can sometimes be a heavy carry to understand and absorb the concepts and principles outlined. The self-centered exercises are beneficial and if one is truly honest with one’s self, they will put you on the path of creating beneficial spaces. The steps provided to work with one’s space that involve instruments such as a compass or grid might take time and dedication. But all in all, the Eagle’s Heart of the Earth method offers the reader a path to harmony, peace, and abundance.

Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches, by Ellen Canon Reed

Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches: Rituals, Meditations & Magical Tools, by Ellen Canon Reed
Weiser Books, 1578637379, 288 pages, February 2021

..In Wicca, our approach to magic is usually through the Gods. Having done all we are capable of doing on this plane, we turn to magic, and will often ask for the help, guidance, and blessing of specific deities….Egyptian legend says that Ra invented magic. The Gods were too busy to do everything, so Ra gave humankind magical powers, heka, so that we would be able to handle the unseen world ourselves.1

The writings of author, Ellen Canon Reed (1943-2003), have been widely accepted and long used as foundational points of reference within the Craft and practice of Wicca. Her teachings have been noted as holding true to the philosophical approach of the Witch as well as serving as a foundational path towards increasing one’s knowledge beyond the basics of witchcraft, including the Qabalah, Egyptian Magic and more. During her lifetime she was considered to be one of prominent resources regarding the Craft and even after her death her books are used widely within the pagan community.  

Her book Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches: Rituals, Meditations & Magical Tools fills all of the check boxes in creating a read that is both informative and able to be used in practical application. Although it is not as robust as some of the many titles we are finding in more abundance about the spiritual practices and religious philosophies of ancient Egypt, it is true to and in keeping with informing a Wiccan practice. This is one of the things that set this book apart from the others in offering a “way” to the Egyptian deities that is compatible with any system you are already employing, especially that of the  witch.

Something the reader will encounter throughout is the use of the term “Tamerans” in place of Ancient Egyptian. This serves both a pragmatic approach for the author and offers an alternative to the readily used term of Khemtic that we often encounter around writings of Ancient Egyptian magic. And, I believe the statement below illustrates Reed’s very simple and authentic approach in a desire to share the knowledge and offer a point of path for any who seek the wisdom…

…I discovered very early in writing this book that typing “ancient Egyptians” became tedious. If it’s tedious to write, it might well be tedious to read. Here’s how I solved the problem. An ancient name for Egypt was Tamera, which means “Beloved Land”… I will refer to ancient Egypt as Tamera and to its inhabitants as Tameran.2

This book lives up to its title in content. Reed provides the reader with enough information to begin the journey of spiritual connection for more than two dozen Egyptian Deities, and in doing so also expands the baseline of the more traditional gods/goddesses that are more prominently served. At 288 pages there is not nearly enough space to even scratch the surface of the cosmic view embedded in all of ancient Egyptian life, but the structure of the book lends itself well to a satisfying sampling of ways to engage in the profound energies of this pantheon, its culture, and its magic

Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches is separated into three parts, beginning with an introduction to the deities that can be called upon. Part 1: Gods and Goddesses of Egypt begins with one of the most well-known goddesses, Nut…

…The ancients portrayed Her stretched across the heavens with her feet to the East and her head to the West. The stars, they said, were jewels on her body, and the Milky Way was milk from her breasts.3

The hieroglyph representing the deity being discussed graces the top of the page and some basic information about the energy offered by that deity follows. I appreciated the image of the hieroglyph(s) because it lent an additional layer of use for connecting with that deity utilizing the strongly visual nature that humans inherently have.

Reed engages the reader with an easily recognizable portrayal of these larger than life deities through the use of personal examples of interaction or the experience of their calling as part of her coven’s ritual workings. This approach is used throughout the book and is a style common to the writings of Reed. She was able to encourage her readers to approach Wicca and the practice of a Witch without fear and/or the need for distancing oneself from the honoring of the divine beings that are our co-creators of this spiritual path. The final section of Part 1: Gods and Goddesses of Egypt provides the reader with an additional snapshot of forty-plus lesser-known Egyptian deities, their hieroglyphs, and just enough information to prompt further exploration.

I especially enjoyed Part II: Meditations, Rituals, and Developing Relationships with Deities. The primary focus of this section is one of practical experience as a tool towards bringing these deities into your life in a meaningful and deeply connected way. Reed states…

…We’ve used these techniques individually and as a group. Those who were involved-students, friends, other covens-almost invariably gained something more than knowledge of the Gods. They gained a relationship with Them. To us, these Gods are not abstract ideas or energies. They are not distant unreachable energies. To us, They are known, and loved…greatly loved.4

This statement sets the tone for what follows as a gift of meditations, mantras, rituals, recipes for food, incense and oils, and songs with lyrics and musical score. Each of these components has been tested for efficacy by Reed’s coven, Sothistar; and its members crafted many of the recipes for incense, food, and drink. I really enjoyed the ritual “Celebration of the Birthdays of the Gods” shared that Reed’s coven enacted annually….

…. For many years Sothistar held a “Birthday of the God/dess” party , to celebrate the birth of the five Egyptian Deities (Asar, Aset, Heru, Nebet Het, Set). … These celebrations were held on the Saturday or Sunday that fell within the five days preceding July 19th, the date of the rising of Sirius.5

Part III: Magic and Magical Tools wraps everything up nicely with suggestions and instructions for creating amulets, pillows, creating a sistrum (the sacred instrument of Hathor), and more. There is a section with images of various basic hieroglyphs that can be inscribed for magical workings, another dedicated to some unique ways of using Divination with the overlay of Egyptian magic, and one about Reed’s process of trial and error. This seems a fitting way to conclude the journey that began with introduction to the Deities you would be working with, putting into more practical use the relationship that developed.

The Appendices add to the resources provided in Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches. Appendix A: Tameran Names is a wonderful addition of recommendation for those wishing to take a magical name that is in keeping with the Tameran language and meanings. We are told that Appendix B: The Calendar is a reflection of information found on the Cairo Papyrus regarding the various dates observed by the Egyptians. This resource is not one that is usually included in other books and provided another layer to be used in deepening our connection to the Ancient Egyptians. The calendar spoke to each day of the year and the trials or joys, festivals of the gods and more… 

…The Tamerans had a calendar of twelve 30-day months, with five “extra” days called the epagogemental days occurring right before the New Year.  The year began the first day Sirius (Sothis) rose at dawn after the rising of the Nile. This took place approximately July 19 on our present day calendar.6

The Glossary at the end of the book and the Bibliography provided serve as additional reference tools and opportunities to explore other writings related to the Ancient Egyptians. 

Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Witches is definitely a title worth reading whether you are committed to a path aligned with Egyptian magic or another. In fact, this book is a reminder that many of the religious and spiritual practices of the Egyptians are those that were adapted and refined to mold more easily to the cultures in which they were introduced. By gaining an understanding of these older deities and practices of the Ancient Egyptians, we gain a deeper understanding of those that have followed as Celtic, Greek, and others.

Mystical Vampire, by Kim Farnell

Mystical Vampire: The Life and Works of Mabel Collins, by Kim Farnell
Mandrake, 1869928858, 240 pages, June 2005

There’s something about exploring the past through a biography that takes you on a stimulating journey. While nonfiction is entertaining, I’ve always enjoyed being immersed in the ups and downs of a person’s life and reading about the way things unfolded for them. Recently, I’ve been extremely into reading about occultists of the past — it’s as though these older texts are now my illumination for a future path. Spiritualism and Theosophy have been front and center in my current studies, but I’ve been seeking more beyond just the popularized figures, such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB). Therefore, I was absolutely delighted to read Mystical Vampire: The Life and Works of Mabel Collins by Kim Farnell. 

Mabel Collins, who lived from 1851 to 1927, was quite a dynamic woman, especially for living in England during the Victorian era. From being a popular novel writer to a well known Theosophist (for a time!), Collins made her mark on the occultists of this time period. Her story The Blossom and the Fruit was an influence on the young Aleister Crowley, and she personally organized and edited HPB’s The Secret Doctrine. She even potentially dated Jack the Ripper, who ravaged London committing gruesome murders of women!

In this book, Farnell has done a brilliant job piecing together information to gift readers with a well-sourced biography detailing the escapades of Collins’ extraordinary life. I can only imagine the research Farnell put into writing this because it is so well-rounded, as though she saw all the possible questions a reader might have and filled in the gaps to precede them before they arise. This is most evident in the way she describes the historical background, providing ample context for what it was like in this time-period, to draw the reader fully into an engrossing experience. One is able to slip out of modernity and step right into this era, feeling as though they are within the dynamics of the Theosophists at the time.

And oh goddess, it is thrilling to read about the drama, gossip, and relationships among the “who’s who” in Theosophy at the time. The cast of characters that passed through Collins’ life include William Butler Yeats, Annie Besant, Robert Donston Stephenson, who she believed to be Jack the Ripper, and a very influential relationship with HPB. It’s one thing to read a biography about HPB, the founder of the Theosophical Society – who was supposedly the most “enlightened” and connected to the ascended masters – but it’s an entirely different experience to hear about her from Collins’ point of view, who in many ways was a foil for HPB, though still an ardent supporter and collaborator.

For a time, Collins hosted HPB at her home and attended to the variety of guests that came calling. Eventually, Collins and HPB even worked together to create the magazine Lucifer, which ran from 1889 to 1897. However, HPB ultimately expelled Collins from the Theosophical Society, citing improper sexual conduct, or more specifically, black magic Tantric rituals. Also documented in great detail by Farnell is Collins’ writing of Light on the Path, which is the book she is most well-known for among Theosophists, and the ultimate fall out between her and HPB in regard to the source of this channeled book. And I’m only giving you the basic lowdown of this all because my mind is still reeling from all that Farnell has shared in Mystic Vampire, and what I’ve included thus far is hardly the whole of Collins’ life.

What I am most excited about now that I’ve finished reading the book is going back through my multiple sticky tabs of reference to further research the writings of others during this time. For instance, right now on my desktop I have a downloaded PDF of Geometrical Psychology or The Science of Representation: An Abstract of the Theories and Diagrams of B.W. Betts by Louisa S. Cook, who was Collins’ sister-in-law. Additionally, I have found PDF copies of Collins’ Light on the Path, Idyll of the White Lotus, and The Blossom and the Fruit. Now that I’ve read her story, I am eager to delve into her writing.

Like I said, I’ve been very into researching prior occult texts recently because there is something rich about what was going on during this time with the rise of Spiritualism and then later Theosophy. Luckily, Farnell has provided detailed references for all the information in the book with a very thorough list of footnotes and pages of sources, including books, periodicals, and online sites. I always deeply appreciate this level of scholarship and the way it aids me in discovering new things to read, research, and explore.

I feel like I’ve gotten to know Collins through this biography, and I can say she definitely has become one of my spiritual role models. Her role in Theosophy has been overshadowed by more popular names, but she contributed much to the movement, while also succeeding in other areas of life as well, such as writing romantic fiction and fashion columns for decades. Given the Victorian time period, her ambition is all the more impressive. Farnell has done an exquisite service in writing this book and keeping her memory alive.

Mystic Vampire is a must-read for anyone interested in occult history and seeking to learn more about the happenings in the late 19th century. Collins seems to me a feminist icon in her own right, dabbling in the occult arts and making her way in the world through her writing and activism. Farnell has brought her back to life in these pages, reclaiming her legacy and opening a channel for her spirit to carry on into the 21st century. Due to Farnell’s diligent research and writing, over a hundred years beyond her lifetime, Collins continues to inspire and guide those on a spiritual path.

Encountering the Dark Goddess, by Frances Billinghurst

Encountering the Dark Goddess: A Journey Into Shadow Realms, by Frances Billinghurst
Moon Books, 1789045994, 248 pages, March 2021

One of the most fascinating elements of human psychology is the penchant we have for self-reflection. In some form or another, we often delve deep within ourselves to try and find answers that we know lie deep within us. In her book Encountering the Dark Goddess: A Journey Into Shadow Realms, Frances Billinghurst has carved a path for us to tread in our personal search for the answers we need in order to evolve and become better versions of ourselves.

An experienced writer on this topic, Billinghurst is an initiated witch, ritualist and healer, and runs workshops on metaphysics, mythology, and the occult. Billinghurst thoughtfully divides the book into three parts which make perfect sense if you are new to the idea of Shadow Work and the Dark Goddess Herself. Bundling information together in this way is extremely helpful if you are familiar with the work and want to jump past the background information.

Personally, no matter the topic, I almost always read the intro sections provided because I feel they form the basis or foundation of what the writer is actually trying to get across. Knowing where Billinghurst sits in terms of who she feels the Dark Goddess is and how she perceives Her is valuable information to me and helps me to expand my own knowledge. No matter your knowledge level, I highly recommend reading the introduction section to ensure you gain the same insight.

Billinghurst provides substantial background on the origin of the Dark Goddess and challenges our collective fear of the darkness by stating that:

 “Darkness holds the peace which is reflected by the mother’s womb from which we all are born, and the earth’s tomb into which we eventually return. From darkness we are born and, in effect, into darkness we will all return.”1

By making such comparisons, she is effectively building the case for why we should embrace the darkness and perceive it as a helper rather than something to be feared. She also makes a valid point about balance that I happen to agree with: the need to have both light and dark in one’s life is essential for forward movement and growth, whereas too much of either is potentially limiting.

The section titled “Meeting the Dark Goddess” caught my eye straightaway, with Billinghurst delving into thirteen different representations of the Dark Goddess. She weaves together aspects of the Dark Goddess from across a variety of practices and belief systems, something that is often attempted but poorly executed.

Here, Billinghurst respectfully offers her views on 13 different representations of the Dark Goddess and offers ways in which to work with them. There is a sense of reverence that is felt through her writing about the various aspects and she alludes to deeper works that might be of interest to those wishing to go even further down the rabbit hole of history, myth, and folklore in connection with the Dark Goddess. 

The final section is about working with the Dark Goddess and there is no shortage of caution expressed by Billinghurst. She doesn’t shrink back from exploring the enormity of working within the Shadows of ourselves nor does she try and pretty up the process to make it more palatable. Shadow Work is intense, uncomfortable, and life-changing and just because you’ve dipped your toe into this work one or twice does not mean you are free from the gaze of the Dark Goddess. If anything, doing this work puts you on the radar, so to speak. Billinghurst feels the same, saying

“Just because you have worked with the Dark Goddess once or in one format, or even under the guidance of one particular teacher does not mean you have completely embraced all of your shadow qualities and therefore no longer need to undergo such work.”2

What really impressed me with this book is the appreciation for, and acknowledgement of, the fact that just because you are immersed in an excavation of the soul through shadow work, it doesn’t mean you neglect the lighter aspects of the Goddess. These labels we give to the goddess helps us to navigate through the various lessons that are provided through the interaction we have with her, but we need to understand that when you work with an iteration of the Goddess, you end up getting all of Her and not just the parts you think you need. Billinghurst expands on this this by saying, “Working with the Dark Goddess does not necessarily mean you are not working with a lighter aspect of the goddess, the divine feminine, either.”3

This means to me that while we have lots of fancy descriptors for whichever iteration of the Dark Goddess we happen to be working with that correspond to the qualities we feel we need to access at this time, we also have access to the rest of Her too. Doing Shadow Work with a Dark Goddess is not like feasting at a buffet: you have to acknowledge and accept that you will see all sides of the Goddess and adjust accordingly. Personally, working with a Dark Goddess always brings me closer to the part of me that needs softening. Working with a Goddess such a Morrigan brings about a lot of fire and intensity, but after that dies down there is a sense of peace and stability that follows that my soul craves while I am doing this work.

Whether you are familiar with Shadow Work or just contemplating starting, Encountering the Dark Goddess is an excellent guide on how to dovetail an iteration of the Dark Goddess into that work. Full of useful information on a selection of Dark Goddesses, as well as personal stories and poems, this book is going to remain on my shelf to be pulled down often for both reference and for the deeper work that the second half of the year brings.

Ancestral Tarot, by Nancy Hendrickson

Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future, by Nancy Hendrickson
Weiser Books, 1578637416, 202 pages, March 2021

Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future by Nancy Hendrickson immediately drew my attention because it combined two interests of mine: tarot and ancestry. I have been working with the tarot for almost 30 years and have used it countless times for advice, guidance, and clarification. Ancestry has been a newer passion for about the past 10 years. I have an insatiable interest in learning about the different ancestors that live in my family tree, all of them coming from Southern Italy. It’s the stories of these blood ancestors that intrigue me – why they did the things they did and how they lived. I truly feel the blood of these ancestors coursing through my veins.

Hendrickson does an amazing job of illuminating how one can use the tarot as a tool for ancestral communication to: “identify and access ancestral gifts, message, powers, protectors, and healers… and use the tarot to discover ancestors you may not have known you had.”1 As one who has decades of experience in genealogy and tarot, she is well-poised to write on this topic.

In this book, Hendrickson writes that there is really no order recommended in which to read the book. While she understands that one might want to delve into issues around one’s family of origin for example, and start with that chapter, she does suggest doing the tarot spreads and journal prompts introduced at the beginning of the book to form a foundation for working with one’s ancestors

I automatically connect the term ancestor to my family of birth origin, or as she calls them, Ancestors of Blood – grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents – on down the line. Yet I was immensely intrigued to read about how she broadened the term “ancestor” to include two other types: Ancestors of Place and Ancestors of Time. Ancestors of Place are those ancestors with whom one has a genetic connection and who lived in the one’s ancestral homeland a long time ago, but those whose names are not known. Ancestors of Time are ancestors from past incarnations.2 I have this inexplicable draw to Ireland and was hoping to have a “conversation” with those Ancestors of Time to see if there may be a connection.

The book is divided into eleven chapters. Chapters one through three contain an introduction to the three afore-mentioned types of ancestors. Hendrickson also writes about how those who are adopted can work with their ancestors. She provides tarot spreads to help one find an ancestral spirit guide for the journey as well as using the tarot to ask questions about the purpose of one’s walk with the ancestors. As she writes, “Chapter 3 will load you up with a variety of tools for the journey. I hope your backpack is super-sized – because you’ll be given a lot to work with!”3

I did the spread to help me determine what type of ancestors I wanted to work with initially – those of Blood, Place, or Time. While my head was pulling me to one column of cards – that of the Ancestors of Time because it was comprised entirely of Major Arcana cards, my intuition pulled me to work with the Ancestors of Place. 

The majority of my ancestors that I can trace come from the same province in Benevento, Italy. Ironically, Benevento was through to be the gathering place for witches, a place where they would not be prosecuted. I remember hearing about the “Evil Eye” growing up and was given an amulet to wear to ward it off. In fact, when my daughters were born my grandmother gifted each of them with their own amulet. I also remember hearing about great-grandmothers who knew how to do the “overlooks” that could remove the curse of the Evil Eye.

Looking back, maybe it was from my Ancestors of Place that I have inherited some of my interests in Italian folklore such as the Evil Eye and witchcraft. When asked how I could expect to benefit in my work with my Ancestors of Place I drew the High Priestess card – inner knowing seems to be spot on. Finally, when asked what message my Ancestors of Place had as I begin this journey, I drew the Page of Pentacles – learning how to manifest, being a voracious learner – and ironically, the astrological correspondence of the card is Capricorn – which is my birth sign. So much insight just from one spread, which as you can see really helped me to reflect on the unknown ancestors from this spirit of place and make connections to present day in my life.

Moving along, chapter four, “Meet the Family,” held information on using the tarot to work with one’s present family to reveal familial patterns. Then chapters five, six, and seven deepened the work with the three ancestral types. Chapter eight covers the importance of keeping a tarot journal for this journey of discovery. The final chapters nine, ten, and eleven offer ways to create “ancestral altars, sacred space, and crystal grids.”4

While I have provided an overview of the focus of each of the chapters, one should realize that there is a tremendous amount of information offered in each one — too much to digest in one reading. I came to understand that working with one’s ancestors is not a quick walk in the park, but rather a dedication to spending time with the ancestors, more of a slow, multi-leveled revelation versus a quick answer. I realized that I had to dedicate the time to do the spreads and journal promptings, to listen for the answers that bubbled up over time, and to put the pieces together to understand the story. From understanding the story and receiving the communications I could begin to work on self-healing and to experience hidden ancestral gifts emerge.

Hendrickson’s writing style is very straightforward and comprehensible. However, I feel that having an understanding of the tarot is beneficial before diving into this book. A tarot novice might easily be overwhelmed by the spreads, especially since one needs to use one’s knowledge of the tarot for insight into the cards as a form of communication with their ancestors. 

The only downside I encountered was in chapter nine, “Pairing Up,” she writes about using an ancestor’s birth date to calculate personality and soul numbers. Unfortunately for me, the majority of my ancestors were illiterate, and their birth dates are more approximations. Many of the church records that housed information on births and christenings were destroyed. However, I immensely enjoyed the final chapter, “Ancestral Rituals,” which covers how one can honor the ancestors through rituals such as creating altars. This has always been a meaningful activity for me. I truly liked creating an ancestral altar using items that “came” to me as I was meditating on what to include on it. 

The Appendices in the book provide additional information. Appendix A provides an overview of the tarot – or “Tarot 101”5 as it’s referred to. Appendix B offers recommended reading on the tarot and Appendix  C offers genealogy resources. 


I very much enjoyed working with the exercises in Ancestral Tarot as a new way to connect with my ancestors. Through combining tarot and ancestry, Hendrickson has opened a whole new realm of possibility when it comes to communing with our family and spiritual lineage from beyond the veil. I highly recommend this book for those who want to use the tarot to work with one’s ancestors and discover a connection to their ancestors beyond those of their bloodline. I nod in agreement with Nancy’s observation that “the search for ancestors is really about a search for self. Work with the ancestors and the person you find is you.”6

Entering Hekate’s Garden, by Cyndi Brannen

Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft, by Cyndi Brannen, PhD
Weiser Books, 1578637228, 288 pages, November 2020

The Garden of Hekate, the great Mother Goddess from whom all the world flows, is the spiritual home for the practice of pharmakeia, the ancient art, craft, and science of plant spirit witchcraft.  This practice uses botanicals for corporeal purposes, the crafting of magical formulations, and the art of transcending. It is a holistic art transmitted by Hekate and her witches for our use today. 1

Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft by Cyndi Brannen is a book about plant spirit witchcraft, a craft which incorporates magick, medicine, and the mystery of botanicals through the use of both their physical properties and their spiritual essence.  This book is for anyone passionate about plants and magically inclined, ready to take a deep dive into the mysteries of the spiritual essences and consciousness of plants.  While more and more witches are carving out a career niche in the practice of clinical herbalism, Entering Hekate’s Garden takes it a step further and elevates the practice of working with plants into the spiritual realm by creating relationship to the soul of the plants and understanding their magical properties as well as there medicinal. 

Entering Hekate’s Garden reads like a sacred text. It begins with a poetic portrait of how the dark Goddess of Nature surrendered her guard to her lover, civilization, and was betrayed. This prologue is called “Medea’s Truth.”  It sets a tone that this text is a reclaiming of a lost art. That lost art is the tending of Hekate’s Garden. Medea is the darker of the two daughters of Hekate, an underworld Goddess and Queen of Witches known also as Regina Maleficarum. The other daughter is Circe. As Brannen write, “Medea’s energy and archetype speak to our shadow selves. Circe summons us to speak to embrace the transformation found by speaking our truth boldly.”2

In “Medea’s Truth,” the author channels the words of her Goddess’s despairing truth.

“Jason came to me, not out of affection, but out of greed.  He had heard of my powers…Jason’s gods preyed upon his ambitions.  They instructed him on how to seduce me.  Not only did I welcome him into Hekate’s garden, but I put a spell on…the Tree of Knowledge…. Now the time has come for you to remember the magick, the medicine, and the mystery. Return to Mother’s Garden.”3

 The book’s narrative spirals open like an actual initiation. The chapters following, each named in Latin, lay out a sacred system of working with 39 specific plant species which Brannen has selected to present – 39 being 3 x 13. Three for Mercury, God of gathering information, and 13 for the 13 moons in a Witch’s Year.  Though all plants have sacred properties, according to Brennan, for the purposes of this book, which is meant to be an introduction to the way of Hekate’s Garden, 39 was a sufficient number to work with. Throughout the book, Brennan offers detailed recipes for medicines and spellwork (and for her, medicine and spellwork are one) that the reader can replicate at home for their own journey.

The book unfolds as follows:

·      Origio: Meeting the three Goddesses through purification ritual instructions

·      PraeparatioA brief introduction to holistic healing and the practicing of true medicine.

·      Ratio: Understanding the language of archetypes, specifically the four elements, the seven planetary correspondences, the three worlds (lower, middle, and upper), and Seven Sacred Forces (passion, strength, sovereignty, power, discipline, awareness and integrity)Plus, there is a powerful initiation ritual called the Sacred Seven Ritual.

·      Practica: Physical formulations of plant medicine, such as how to tincture and make syrups and oxymels.

·      Gnosis: The 39 monographs of plants used in sacred plant magic.

For each of the 39 plant monographs, from basil to foxglove to saffron to walnut, Brennan offers a bit of lore about the plant. For example, “Thyme has been associated with the bumble since Greek warriors used them both to decorate their battle gear”.4 She includes a thorough list of properties and correspondences, such as zodiac sign, stones, and animal.  She also includes indications, formulations (for example, “Cats are often fond of thyme and it is safe for them”5) and a yummy recipe for goat cheese crescents.

The book concludes with Magikeia, and here reads very much like a classic grimoire with specific instructions on using plants in particular spellwork. She includes a long list of common types of spells and how to make basic formulations for them, which can be further customized as a practitioner gets more comfortable using the monographs.  The list includes popular spellwork topics like abundance, binding, attraction, and protection.

In sum, this book is absolutely beautiful!  It is easy the glean that Brennan is a true devotee to her path and her spirit possesses aeons of experience with her subject. The book has heart and what it offers is no less than an actual tangible portal into a magical realm, if you are willing to follow her steps and do the initiations she outlines. For a more casual fan of plants and gardens Entering Hekate’s Garden is full of fascinating and rare information about common plants – like that yarrow is one of the most powerful plants for honoring Venus! I strongly recommend this book.  It will remain a treasured piece in my own book collection for years to come and I hope to see a future hardcover addition with glossy photographs of all these wonderful, magical plants!

Advanced Tarot, by Paul Fenton-Smith

Advanced Tarot: An In-depth Guide to Practical & Intuitive Tarot Reading, by Paul Fenton-Smith
Blue Angel Publishing, 0648746829, 556 pages, May 2021

The next time someone asks me for a book recommendation about reading tarot, I am hands-down suggesting Advanced Tarot: An In-depth Guide to Practical & Intuitive Tarot Reading by Paul Fenton-Smith. I keep wanting to refer to this roughly 3.5 pound book (yes, I weighed it on my scale because I was curious) as a “tarot bible” because it is one of the most all-inclusive guides I’ve ever read on reading tarot cards. Even as a professional tarot reader for nearly a decade, I am gleaning pieces of wisdom from this book, rejuvenating my skill set, and incorporating new perspectives into my readings.

Within this book, Fenton-Smith has crafted a handy and resourceful guide to the entire tarot deck for beginning or deepening one’s practice. While this may seem like his magnum opus, he is already quite the renowned author and teacher who has been sharing his practical insights for over forty years. In 1985 he created the Academy of Psychic Sciences and has been teaching for decades on topics such as palmistry, astrology, clairvoyance, and hypnotherapy in addition to his work with tarot. Needless to say, Fenton-Smith has a large repertoire in a variety of metaphysical topics, and it clearly shines through in Advanced Tarot.

What immediately stood out for me with this book is the way all the information is organized and presented. Pages four through twenty-one feature the striking imagery of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, sorted into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana suits. I absolutely loved looking through all the images: though I know them by heart, it’s always pretty to see them all lined up next to each other. I liked the way it was arranged by suit so one can see the storyline within the Major Arcana and get a visual of all the cards in a suit together. As I gazed at the images, I thought how helpful this would be to a beginner just familiarizing themselves with the cards to have this for references.

Now here is where we get into the heart of the book, which at 556 pages you can imagine there’s a lot to absorb. The first 176 pages of the book are dedicated to the art of reading. Fenton-Smith addresses many topics that I feel other tarot books gloss over or neglect to include, such as answering yes/no questions, giving distance readings, what to do when more clarity is needed, and how to read well under pressure. I think what I enjoyed reading about the most is Fenton-Smith’s acknowledgement of the limitation of tarot:

“It is important for a tarot reader to resist the temptation to override the free will of a client. Professional readers predict the future, detail the past and illuminate the underlying causes of events but they don’t dictate what a person should do. Everyone has free will in choosing a preferred destiny.”1

In this beginning section, Fenton-Smith also includes a variety of different layouts. For each one, he gives immense clarity about the position and meaning of each card. It was very easy to follow along with the spreads, and many were ones that I had not tried before. My favorite was the horoscope spread, which is a 13-card spread to give insight into different areas of life and the year ahead based on the house placements in astrology. I loved how he was able to translate the house system into an information tarot spread, perfectly blending astrology and tarot. Additionally, there is information on how to create one’s own layout, which is beneficial for those who are ready to try this out.

What I liked most about this introduction section is all the examples Fenton-Smith supplies. I always enjoy hearing about others’ experiences as a reader, such as what clients ask and how the reader handles the different questions of the client, which he has provided in spades. Reading how he interpreted the cards in his layouts, or handled the self-denial or conflicting feelings emanating from his client, really helped me to think about how I can handle situations more skillfully.

This method of teaching through example also really resonated with me because it built a sense of relationship between Fenton-Smith and me, the reader. It was as though his wisdom was streaming through in all these stories of the experiences he’s had, and I for one very much appreciated being on the receiving end of this storytelling, intently seeing it in my mind’s eye and learning vicariously through him. It’s something used through the entire book that remains useful as we enter the next section of delving into card meanings.

Now, keep in mind we’re only about a fifth of the way through the book at this point – and so much has already been shared! The heart of the book is what comes next: the Minor Arcana, Court Cards, and the Major Arcana. For each and every card, Fenton-Smith provides a predictive meaning for a general reading, career layout, relationship question, and health query. I cannot even begin to express how helpful it is for a specific message to be provided for all these domains, especially health which has been the focus of my questions recently, and had me searching for guidance in other books.

Not only is Fenton-Smith’s interpretation provided for upright cards, he provides just as much information of every card reversed as well. This is yet another humongous bonus to this book, which greatly sets it apart from (and above, in my opinion) other tarot books. And let me tell you, he does not skimp on his interpretation. Each card’s description is detailed, clear, and immensely accurate from the readings I’ve done so far.

In the tailend of the book, Fenton-Smith offers guidance on becoming a tarot reader. Then there are handy reference charts for the meaning of cards in combination, the Minor Arcana upright, and the Minor Arcana reversed. 

One thing I like a lot about the way the cards’ meanings are presented is the organization of the Minor Arcana. Rather than going by suit, Fenton-Smith categorizes the cards by number. Beginning each section of the cards, such as The Nines, he provides an overview of what the cards represent. For instance, “The nines in the tarot represent a period of reflection before a final commitment in a goal or purpose.”2 From there, he explains how the message shows up in each of the suits, which provides an interesting compare and contrast between the suits of each number.

For a seasoned tarot reader, it may seem a book like this may not be useful, but I don’t think that assumption could be further from the truth. There’s something reassuring about reading someone else’s viewpoint, particularly when doing a reading for oneself, in order to maintain objectivity and openness to the cards. I also enjoy reading Fenton-Smith’s definitions because they make for good journal quotes and prompts as I log my readings.

Another way I’ve benefited from the book is through doing readings with my husband, who only knows a little bit about the card meanings, and reading the descriptions to each other for discussion after we pull a spread for an inquiry. The book seems to be a leveling ground for us to communicate about the reading, rather than me having to interpret the cards for him, which has been very useful in making some recent decisions. It facilitated a sense of teamwork between us, as well as a stronger connection to the messages coming through the cards.

Overall, Advanced Tarot is a worthy investment for readers, both novice and expert, that is sure to be of great use. Fenton-Smith has packed so much wisdom into these pages that it in many ways reminds me of a tome. However, his direct, relatable, and practical writing style make the information accessible and able to be integrated into one’s reading with ease. As I’ve already said, I highly recommend this book to all tarot readers. I certainly plan on directing everyone to it with the praise that it is a wonderful, foundational book on tarot for those looking to take their readings to the next level.

Witch Hunt, by Kristen J. Sollee

Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch, by Kristen J. Sollee
Weiser Books, 1578636990, 256 pages, October 2020

Kristen Sollee has written several books on the legacy of the witch, a subject that is hugely interesting to me. Yet I have to say, the thing that excited me most about Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch is that not only was it a book about witches and history, but it was also about travel. After this past year of pandemic lockdown, a virtual tour of the world and of witchcraft was just the thing I needed to bring a little adventure and magic to my cabin feverish soul.

Sollee records her travels throughout Europe and North America as she visits significant sites connected to witches, witch hunts, and the persecution of witches. Somehow, she manages to write about episodes in this history that are terrifying, violent – and at times harrowing to the degree of being unimaginable – with grace, thoughtfulness, and insight, as well as second sight.

The author deftly weaves her own imaginings of witchy characters, their voices, thoughts, actions, and motivations into her telling of historical periods, beginning with Giovanna, a sultry fifteenth century sex witch proficient in glamour magic that takes a seat next to the author on a park bench in Florence, Italy.

As we move through Italian cities and witchscapes, we arrive at Vatican City in a chapter chock full of the most delightful descriptions of surprisingly witchy art pieces and artifacts, including a fresco of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, a statue of the Egyptian lioness goddess of war, Sekhmet, and a ceramic kylix depicting the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Also spotted: “…another beautiful Roman mosaic from the third century AD where Medusa makes an appearance with her glorious snaky mane unfurled.”1 I have never desired to visit Vatican City until now.

We continue our trek moving through France, meeting Joan of Arc in a wonderful telling of not only how she affected her current time, but also how The Maid’s legacy is still influencing diverse groups of people today, being not only the most famous “witch” figure to have ever lived, but the most famous saint as well.

Our visit to Paris is bedecked with not only the history of The Affair of the Poisons but descriptions of alleged Satanic rituals that were reported in confessionals and resulted in executions. The confessed sins, as well as the execution methods, are truly horrifying (and for me fell into the unimaginable category).

Sollee’s journey then takes us up onto German mountaintops (where witches were accused of arriving via flying broomstick), where we visit a witch themed amusement park complete with museums filled with torture devices, before traveling on to Ireland, England, and Scotland.

In the last five chapters we meet the witches of America with visits to Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.

Sollee does a wonderful job connecting history with the present, and this was probably my favorite aspect of the book. Her way of presenting how past events influence us today and her vivid characterizations of place, which not only include visual descriptions but energetic ones as well, I found captivating.

The author recounts that as she was settling into bed while in Virginia, she turned on the TV to see the 700 Club with Protestant preacher Pat Robertson. She watched until she could stomach no more; she turned the TV off and found herself pondering how much and how little the American religious landscape has changed since the days of King James. I found myself having similar thoughts through the entire reading of this book. How much and how little, indeed.

I also found myself ready to hop on a plane, and much of the time the desire I had was to revisit places in Europe that I have already been, but was previously never aware of these specific places or history. For me, reading this book was like seeing all these places anew. My travel wish list has now doubled in size.

The book concludes with nearly two dozen pages of travel resources and a lengthy bibliography for those inclined to book a witch trip or do further research.

I enjoyed Witch Hunt and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in witch lore, witch history, and travel. It fits the bill and ties all three of these interests together into one enchanting tome.