✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

The Persistence of the Soul, by Mark Ireland

The Persistence of the Soul:  Mediums, Spirit Visitations, and Afterlife Communication, by Mark Ireland
Inner Traditions, 9781644117187, 288 pages, October 2023 

Mark Ireland’s book, The Persistence of the Soul:  Mediums, Spirit Visitations, and Afterlife Communication, marks his journey from the death of his 18-year-old son to the creation of a group to support grieving parents called Helping Parents Heal. Ireland is the son of famous psychic Medium Richard Ireland, who was a medium to the stars in Hollywood. Ireland grew up going to many of his father’s meetings and appointments. After the passing of his own son, Ireland decided to do research and learn more about psychic phenomenon and after-death communication. 

This is his second book on this topic; he has also published a manuscript written by his father.  He runs a medium certification program where he tests mediums in blind studies. You can learn more about this at his website.

In his “Note to Readers” Ireland does a great job of laying out the book, offering several different ways to enjoy the material. He lets you know that the book is about real people and real situations and that real names have been used. He begins the Introduction with his son Brandon’s story and shares his journey of grief. He also shares a story about his conversation with a woman who came to him during her grief:

“I explained that I had written down my feelings, visited with close friends and relatives, and openly shared my emotions with other people. I told her that writing about my son and telling people about his nature as a person, allowed me to purge my feelings–fully exposing them and embracing the essence of my grief. Family members, Brandon’s friends and I each wrote a letter to him, explaining what we loved about him and how much he meant in our lives.”1

Ireland goes on to say that he wrote Brandon’s eulogy and began writing a series of emails that became the basis for his first book. Soon he began to share these practical tips as well as refer people to mediums that he knew and trusted. In 2011, he founded the group Helping Parents Heal, which now has 24,000 members.2

This book has a little of everything, ranging from research and history to personal stories of people that have lost children, siblings, or other friends and family members. The chapter titled “Psychic Phenomena and Mediumship in Religion and History” is a chronicle of everything you need to know about this subject. Within this chapter he hopes to “address the fear and apprehension that some people harbor towards psychic phenomena and spirit communication as a result of their religious upbringing.”3 It was interesting to learn that his father never really understood the fear and negative connotations of mediumship. Ireland is interested in not only understanding this fear but also dispelling it for the grieving people that he ministers to.

In another chapter, Ireland presents his thoughts on reincarnation and includes a personal story of a conversation he and his dad had when he was between three and four years old. In this conversation Ireland recounts a past life where he lived a full life and died at 83.

Ireland also sprinkles in information about research and scientific studies regarding mediumship. Early in the book he quotes Julie Beishel, Ph.D. who is director of the Windbridge Research Center. The results of her study indicate that mediumship readings may be helpful for grieving people. Beishel relates:

“The combination of traditional psychotherapy and mediumship readings may prove to be more beneficial than either intervention separately. … Spontaneous and induced ADCs (after-death communications) can have tremendous impacts on the grieving process, and my observations as well as pilot data we collected at Windbridge suggest similar positive effects after readings with mediums.”4

My favorite chapter is the one entitled “Robin’s Flight”. Ireland tells the story of his sister Robin– her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and the journey they took together before her death. Although he had only previously read about deathbed visions and near-death experiences, he came to know first-hand about both through his sister and her passing.

I love the structure of the book and the personal stories of actual people that are woven throughout the narrative. With the Table of Contents, the reader has a great way to refer to chapters or passages of interest. He also includes a nine-page index with additional ways to find information, people, or stories. Additionally, Ireland includes a section called “References” which is a type of bibliography, where you can go to find more specific information. The book is easy to navigate and easy to read. It is written in a conversational style that is almost like sitting across the desk from Ireland himself.

The Persistence of the Soul is great for anyone who is interested in mediumship or after-death communication. It would also be a comfort for someone who is grieving a loss. The stories that Ireland shares of hope and optimism are very encouraging. I plan to give this book to a friend of mine who is beginning her training to become a psychic medium. I feel that the book will inspire her on her journey to learn how to support those who are grieving.

Your Book of Shadows, by Cerridwen Green leaf

Your Book of Shadows: Make Your Own Magical Habit Tracker, by Cerridwen Greenleaf
CICO Books, 1800652968, 144 pages, April 2024

Mastering your magic takes time, focus, and dedication. Especially when just starting a magical journey, navigating the vast and intricate world of spells, rituals, and energies can quickly feel like uncharted territory. Getting to know what works best for you is a practice of trial and error, a journey where each misstep is as crucial as every success. In Your Book of Shadows: Make Your Own Magical Habit Tracker, Cerridwen Greenleaf teaches readers all they need to know about tracking their own magical practice, refining it by figuring out what did and did not work well, in order to chronicle a repertoire of the wisdom gained from magical experimentation.

Right off the bat, I was drawn to this book for the bright colors and many images throughout the pages. Each section is short and sweet, covering the necessities while creating the space to engage with the book by performing the suggested spells and rituals along the way. The layout of the content makes it easy to engage with the text as you move through the book–there’s a lot of places for your eyes to roam, helping your mind to take in Greenleaf’s wisdom through the sensory appeal of color, font style, and text organization. The design of the book makes me feel inspired, playful, and crafty!

Greenleaf begins by covering the history of Books of Shadows and their importance to a coven or solo practitioner. She then moves into how to choose and design your Book of Shadows, consecrating and protecting your Book of Shadows (as well as creating a shrine), and creating organization through a Table of Contents. She offers advice on how to select a book, decorate it, and keep it magically protected.

As one moves through the process of creating their own Book of Shadows, Greenleaf provides easy-to-follow rituals and spells  to assist with the process: a ritual of thanks, inscription rite,  pendulum spell for choosing the right book, self-assurance charm for creativity when decorating, and safeguarding spell to clear away unwanted energy from your Book of Shadows. There’s also parts on color magic (one focusing on the associations of each color and the other a correspondence chart of each zodiac sign with colors), along with crafting tips for adding pages and creating a book lock.

“… making a Book of Shadows is a very personal endeavor–let go of that fear of making mistakes. Always remember that perfection can be boring–something that is real and unique is much more appealing and special. Keep an open heart and mind, and your Book of Shadows can become a stunningly beautiful work of art.”1

Greenleaf’s emphasis on personalization is particularly noteworthy, encouraging readers to see their Book of Shadows as a living document that evolves with their spiritual journey. This approach not only helps one to build confidence in one’s practice but also makes the process of creating and maintaining a Book of Shadows a deeply personal and fulfilling endeavor.

The following chapters cover cyclical energies of nature that can influence one’s magical practice. Greenleaf first writes about moon spells, specifically focusing on the phases of the moon. For each phase, she gives an overview of the best type of spellwork to do at that time, a table of magical correspondences for the energy of the phase (days, colors, herbs, incense, essential oils, crystals, and metals), and a spell, ritual, or magical craft one can do for that phase.

For instance, Greenleaf describes how new moons are best for new beginnings and offers an incantation for new ideas, while noting waning moons are a “time to conserve our power, to turn our attention towards home and inner peace and wisdom”2 and sharing a recipe for spiritual scrub to cleanse energies from one’s home or ritual space.

Next, Greenleaf covers The Wheel of the Year. Beginning with the Celtic New Year, the high holiday Samhain, she details the eight sabbats, sharing recipes, rituals, divination spells, prayers to the god and goddess, and more. The descriptions of each sabbat aren’t too long, just an introduction, but each one contains enough information for readers to familiarize themselves with the energy of The Wheel of the Year to then further their own practice.

Now that readers have an understanding of the quick-paced moon cycle and the overarching Wheel of the Year, Greenleaf delves deeper into astrological energies. She describes the twelve zodiac signs, along with the correspondence stone for each time period. Later in the chapter, she also provides herbal correspondence for every sign too.

There’s also a very helpful table of the magical planetary hours, which shows the ruling planet for every hour throughout the week. This table is extremely useful for those who are at the level of fine-tuning their spell work to correspond with specific planetary energies, such as doing a love spell during Venus hours or an abundance spell during Jupiter hours. Greenleaf also delves into the elemental power of signs, highlighting which each element is best suited to perform certain magic.

There’s an entire chapter to tracking your magic as a solo practitioner too. Greenleaf recognizes that it can be hard to find community at times or that one might want to keep some matters private, but she still assures readers they can grow their magical practice through their personal Book of Shadows. She advises “keeping a list of personal intentions”3 as these are the key to success in magic. She shares a visualization to create an inner temple, how to make your own DIY wand, meditations for centering yourself, and a candle ceremony to invoke a deity

Then the final chapter is a real gem because it is filled with different correspondences to help readers discover more about subtle energies. There’s a list of trees and what else one can assist with spiritually; flower, herb, essential oil, and color correspondences; correspondences and enhancement abilities for gems, stones, and crystals; totem animal correspondences; significance of numerology; planet correspondences and colors; metal magical correspondences; and a list of magical domains and deities one can work with.

Overall, Your Book of Shadows is a compelling guide for those embarking on or furthering their journey into the realm of witchcraft, Wicca, or other pagan paths. This book serves not just as an introduction to aspects of these spiritual paths, but as an interactive tool, encouraging readers to actively engage with their practice by creating their own Book of Shadows. Greenleaf skillfully demystifies the process of starting a Book of Shadows, presenting it in a way that is both inviting and profound, providing all the essential guidance and spellwork readers need to take this step of connecting with their magical practice on a deeper level.

Lessons from the Afterlife, by Matthew McKay, PhD.

Lessons from the Afterlife: A Deep Knowledge Meditation Guidebook, by Matthew McKay, PhD.
Park Street Press, 9781644119402, 142 pages, April 2024

In this beautiful book, Matthew McKay shares channeled messages from his son Jordan, who passed from this life at age 23. He has titled this information Lessons from the Afterlife and not only gives us the messages, but he also tells us how to go into a type of meditation that he calls “Deep Knowledge Meditation”1. In this deep, meditative state, you may also obtain answers to a question or receive guidance. It’s a way to work with the book, as well as use it later for guidance about life’s problems.

McKay Is both a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. He co-founded the Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic, where he works with clients and trains graduate students, as well. McKay has authored or coauthored more than 40 books. This is the fourth book he has channeled from Jordan. McKay has also published a novel and two poetry books. He resides in Berkeley, CA.

In the introduction, McKay tells the story of Jordan’s death, which was a senseless shooting in San Francisco. He also shares, “I began instinctively searching for Jordan, and he started reaching out to me, within a few weeks of his death …. He made himself known in waking visions (once for me and for several others) as well as through messages from mediums, musicians, and psychically attuned friends.”2

To deal with his immense grief, McKay consulted a past life regressionist, a psychologist who taught him a technique to talk with Jordan, and a medium who “gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received — the ability to communicate at will with the dead.”3

McKay shares how to practice Deep Knowledge Meditation in the opening pages of the book. This prepares the reader for reviewing the channeled information from Jordan and then utilizing the prompts on the facing page. The workbook is structured in seven sections, each containing a page of beautiful prose from Jordan and a facing page of questions and prompts for your own exploration.  In the Appendix, the author shares more information on channeling, from how to do it, to questions to ask and “things not to ask for while channeling.”4

In his communications with Jordan, McKay learned that Jordan uses the term “All” to represent God, which he describes as: 

“All is God but not the conventional idea of God – a perfect, all-powerful entity that created and is the prime cause of all events on Earth. All created the material universe… All is neither perfect nor all-powerful. All is learning and evolving. All constantly grows in knowledge and awareness, and much of what All learns comes from us – souls who incarnate into the physical universe.”5

With this introduction to All, the author begins the journal with prose from Jordan regarding how All “sets the Universe in motion but doesn’t exert control over the events of our lives.”6 On the facing page, the reader sees four questions or prompts for personal exploration. At this point, you are invited to practice Deep Knowledge Meditation and ponder the questions. 

I did an experiment with the book and asked All to share a passage with me that would most benefit me at this point of my life. I picked up the book and opened it to page 28, which is entitled “Why All Creates.”  After reading Jordan’s channeled information, I reviewed the prompts and sat with pen and paper. What I learned was both surprising and calming.  After answering the questions posed, I was filled with the knowledge that it is okay for me to be different from my ancestors and family of origin. It is not only okay, but it is my right and that The Great All is rooting for me! This answer came from very deep inside my being and it has grounded me in a new way.

The book is very easy to read and simple to navigate. You might want to pick it up and read it from front to back, or you might want to look at the Table of Contents and select a section and a topic.  For example, if you want to explore the concept of Time, you can look at that section and choose a topic like “When Time Stops” or “Observing History.” The book is a nice size to put into your backpack or carrying case to enjoy anywhere.

Lessons from the Afterlife would be great for anyone who wants to explore the concept of God, how we came to be on Earth, and other philosophical questions. Someone who is grieving may also find comfort in this book, as the channeled information came from the author’s deceased son. McKay’s journey to reach and communicate with Jordan really helped him grieve:

“The heavy stones of grief lifted a bit. Jordan still existed; his love continued to be a force in our world. I could feel it.”7

Also, anyone who is interested in mediumship or communication with those on the other side would benefit from this book. The steps to channeling are concise and so helpful. I plan to keep this book on hand to share passages with clients who are grieving or struggling with life. The journal prompts are a fantastic way to talk with the Divine or your own Soul to get guidance and encouragement.  As McKay says:

“Remember that what Jordan says is just a spark, a place to begin your own process of discovery. Let the questions germinate and open your mind. The truth is in you; it is in each individual soul.”8

Embody Your Inner Goddess, by Lauren Leduc

Embody Your Inner Goddess: A Guided Journey to Radical Wholeness, by Lauren Leduc
O-Books, 180341362X, 216 pages, December 2023

The changes in our society are opening new doorways to break the mold and discover what it truly means to be a woman without the societal condition hampering our spiritual pursuits. Increasingly, this is leading people to acknowledge the long overlooked feminine aspect of divinity. Embody Your Inner Goddess: A Guided Journey to Radical Wholeness by Lauren Leduc is a gateway for readers to deepen their spiritual connection to themselves by learning to listen to and honor the goddess within through exercises that awaken the sacred connection to the divine feminine.

It’s one thing to know the names of goddesses such as Aphrodite, Kali, Hecate, The Morrigan, and more, or perhaps going a step further, to have a relationship with a goddess, which is often part of one’s magical work. But what about your own sacred divinity? This is the real gold of this book–discovering more about what  makes your spirit unique. Leduc describes the Inner Goddess as “your personified personal connection to the sacred feminine… In her infinite power, wisdom, and compassion, she is YOUR higher self.”1

The core of the book rests on the premise that everyone possesses an inner goddess – an innate strength, wisdom, and compassion that guides us through life. The chapters are then structured to help readers peel back the layers of societal conditioning and self-doubt that often obscure this powerful inner truth. As you progress through the chapters, the journey becomes deeply personal. The exercises prompt introspection and self-exploration, allowing for a unique and intimate connection with one’s inner goddess. This process is aimed at fostering a sense of wholeness, where the reader learns to harmonize their mind, body, and spirit.

“Your life is a sacred journey and I invite you to leave no stone on this path unturned. I invite you to break past your walls that you have built to protect yourself and let the world see the beauty of your vulnerability. To let it be messy. To let it be ugly. To let it be human. Invite every part of you to the dance of life. Embrace all versions of you, past, present, and future, and bathe in her wisdom.”2

Leduc guides the readers through 49 days of inner transformation based on the chakra system. Starting with the root chakra and culminating with the crown chakra, each day there is a new affirmation related to the chakra of the week. As Leduc shares her own stories to paint a picture of what the meaning of the affirmation is intended to convey, she also talks directly to readers, inspiring them to take a look at their lives and own their power. She’ll often use the word “sister”, making it feel like she’s speaking right to you and there’s a special bond. I like her direct address, as it did wake me up to the words a bit more.

Following the insight related to the affirmation of the day, there is a reflection and an embodiment practice. The reflection is questions you can ask yourself for further clarity, while the embodiment practice is something actively do to integrate the energy. I really enjoy the reflection questions as I used them for my journal prompts to keep me on track for the full 49 days of reading this book. It’s easy to want to skip ahead to the next chapter, or likewise skip a day and tell myself I’ll catch up later. But I feel like making the commitment to move through it as intended, one day at a time, helped to create the space to honor their journey. The reading, reflection, and embodiment practice is quick enough to do daily and helps to attune me to my inner self each day. 

At the start of each week, when there is a new chakra introduced, Leduc goes into detail about the chakra and how it relates to the stage of the journey. While some might be skeptical of chakras, Leduc even addresses this in her introduction, I found the organization around the chakra system to be very impactful and intuitive. I have enjoyed focusing on balancing a chakra each week, and I notice a shift when it’s time to move onto the next chakra! I haven’t completed the full 49 days yet, but I’m making my way through quite content.

Currently, I am in Solar Plexus Chakra week. And more specifically, today, I am on “Day 17: I Am Strong AF”. Leduc describes her experience cultivating inner and outer strength, encouraging readers to overcome resistance by dedicating their inner strength to something bigger than themselves. She writes:

“Goddess, you, your life, your purpose are worth fighting for. By stepping up to life’s challenges, you are creating fertile soil to blossom and grow.”3

The reflection questions focused on what makes me feel strong vs. what makes me feel weak, as well as prompting reflection on resistances that I’ve overcome in the past that ultimately made me stronger. And the embodiment practice? PLANKS! Not my favorite, that’s for sure. 😝 But as I held the plank, I felt my core engaged and gained confidence in my own strength. This one is actually a five-day practice, so I guess I’ll be working on these planks in addition to the other embodiment practices for the rest of the week!

Overall, Embody Your Inner Goddess is a transformative book that beckons readers on a profound journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Crafted with the intention of guiding individuals towards embracing their fullest potential, this book is not just a read; it’s an experience. Through a carefully curated blend of personal anecdotes and practical exercises, Leduc opens readers with the divine feminine energy within, encouraging a radical acceptance and celebration of self. Readers will find this book a great companion on their path to self-realization and empowerment; it’s perfect for those ready to deepen their spiritual connection with themselves and live a life of authenticity and purpose.

Sacred Geometry in Ancient Goddess Cultures, by Richard Heath

Sacred Geometry in Ancient Goddess Cultures: The Divine Science of the Female Priesthood, by Richard Heath
Inner Traditions, 1644116553, 256 pages, March 2024

Sacred geometry, the divine language of geometric patterns, numbers, and shapes found throughout the natural world, has long been revered as a key to understanding the universe and our place within it. At the heart of this mystical tradition lies the belief that these geometric codes and patterns are fundamental to the creation and structure of the cosmos, embodying the unity between the physical and spiritual realms. Sacred Geometry in Ancient Goddess Cultures: The Divine Science of the Female Priesthood by Richard Heath embarks on an exploratory journey into the sacred geometry origins within ancient goddess cultures, unveiling the profound spiritual wisdom and technological sophistication these societies possessed that has been lost in modern times.

Heath begins by teaching readers about the origins of megaliths in the Mesolithic cultures, “people of the Middle Stone Age”1 who lived in matrilineal societies, in order “to study astronomical time.”2 He challenges the idea that it was Neolithic societies that created megalith in western Europe, noting how they “would have been completely preoccupied with finding and farming good enough land to feed their families.”3 IHe asserts the archaeological timeline and history point towards self-sufficient matriarchal tribes that were already established through self-sufficient foraging.

Heath delves into the symbolic significance of geometric patterns and shapes found in artifacts, monuments, and architectural designs from these ancient civilizations, noting that these geometrical designs were not merely decorative but held deep spiritual meanings and were integral to the daily practices and celestial worldviews of these societies. Heath writes, “Where megalithic art has survived, it is congruent with the art of the goddess in general.”4 He then traces the path of this sacred geometry wisdom passing from the megaliths Gobekli Tepe in Turkey to those in the southern Mediterranean island of Malta to the maritime culture of Crete, drawing the “conclusion that the matrilineal tribes build the Mediterranean megaliths and –extrapolating from that–the Atlantic megaliths, too.5

Through the book there is lots of discussion about the role of women in these ancient societies, suggesting that the reverence for the goddess figure and the use of sacred geometry in rituals and art reflect a societal recognition of the importance of women and the feminine principle in the creation and maintenance of life, most notably through a focus on birth and fertility rituals. Heath’s work invites readers to reconsider the significance of sacred geometry in these ancient civilizations, seeing it not just as a mathematical curiosity of the Pythagorean, Ptolemaic, and Platonic traditions, which have come to dominate in the realm of sacred geometry,  but as a vital component of spiritual practice and cultural identity of these earlier goddess-centered cultures too.

As readers, we need to change our vantage point to better understand how sacred geometry evolved from these cultures, and Heath does a wonderful job explaining how the world would have been seen from these ancient cultures. From pointing out that Mesolithic astronomers wouldn’t have used decimals but still relied on factorization to their focus on whole-number numeracy, readers gain insight into the mathematical mindset that was used to build their society’s megaliths to monuments. There’s a lot of nuances to understand, yet Heath moves slow enough for readers to gain a comprehensive understanding of how geometry and astronomy came together to create calculated celestial patterns that were then mirrored in the landscape.

“Using horizon astronomy, prehistory could only hope to measure average time periods between repeated celestial events. In contrast, natural science and physics has developed instrumentalities, such as the degree circle and telescope, to directly measure angels in the sky without using horizon astronomy and its limits to gain data only at those limited moments when the Sun or Moon rose or set. This has made modern science blind to how the average periodicities uniquely express significant patterns such as the Fibonacci golden mean ratios or the musical intervals between celestial periods.”6

In particular, I enjoyed reading about how the mysteries of numbers and sacred geometry shifted from goddess-centered to focused on a biblical god, as up until now I’ve mostly studied “modern” sacred geometry. Heath writes, “Modern sacred geometry discounted numbers-as-length, perhaps because arithmetic was a different department to the traditional arts. In a 3-4-5 triangle, numbers-as-lengths are sublimated through the abstract numbers and are often given in the center of each line. This shows us what number symbols are-an intensive magnitude rather than an extensive length.”7

He cover topics the Neolithic origins of the Bible, numerological calculations of Easter, sacred geometry of Roman and Orthodox churches, the Chaldean model, and how these calculations have evolved into dominant belief systems. Yet there’s so much history hidden in the ancient past, which has been carefully revived by Heath in this book, that reveals the secrets needed to restore balance once again. There’s a lot to take in, and this is definitely a book someone could take months to integrate.

“The heliocentric and geocentric models of the planetary system were two views of the same phenomenon, but the heliocentric was taken to be the only adequate view of reality, and, because of that, the spiritual view connecting the Earth to the cosmos was rejected by the recently civilized mind. This shut down the meaning of spirituality for the vast majority, who instead serviced desires for economic growth and an improved standard of living.”8

Might we need to rediscover these ancient hidden truths of the natural world in order to make necessary changes in the modern area? Seems like it is a good start!

Overall, through a rich tapestry of historical accounts, archaeological findings, and theoretical insights, Sacred Geometry in Ancient Goddess Cultures reconnects modern readers with the ancient wisdom of overlooked matriarchal cultures, offering a new perspective on the origins of sacred geometry. By understanding the principles and practices of ancient goddess cultures, readers are invited on a transformative journey to rediscover the sacredness embedded in the astronomical patterns, once revered by these societies, encouraging a deeper connection with the natural world from this ancient perspective. This exploration not only pays homage to the visionary women of these ancient societies but also illuminates a path toward spiritual harmony with the cosmos, guided by the enduring legacy of sacred geometry, to create a better aligned future for humanity’s development.

For those interested in learning more about these topics, Heath’s areas of research include sacred geometry, megalithic astronomy, and cosmology. His previous works are Sacred Number and the Origins of Civilization, The Harmonic Origins of the World, Sacred Number and the Lords of Time, Matrix of Creation, Precessional Time and the Evolution of Consciousness, and Sacred Geometry: Language of the Angels. You can learn more about him on his website.

Astrology of the Shadow Self, by Maria D’Aoust

Astrology of the Shadow Self: Working with Oppositions in Your Natal Chart, by Maria D’Aoust
Destiny Books, 164411917X, 352 pages, April 2024

Polarities are what ultimately bring everything into harmony. However, often we wind up focusing on just one side, especially in astrology where everyone wants to read about the specifics of their natal placements, forgetting they are part of a bigger picture and creating an imbalance through neglect of the other half. In Astrology of the Shadow Self: Working with Oppositions in Your Natal Chart, Maria D’Aoust teaches readers how to discover the shadows of their natal places and through this polarity discover wisdom that yields more insight about their strengths and weaknesses.

D’Aoust is a scholar of alchemy, practicing witch, and professional astrologer with over 20 years of experience. She holds a master’s degree in transformation psychology, using her educational background to inform her astrology readings. Her previously published works include The Occult I Ching, Familiars in Witchcraft, A Witch’s Bestiary, and The White Witch Tarot.

In this book, D’Aoust teaches readers about the power of embracing their shadow. In her introduction, she describes how through embracing the “not I” aspects of ourselves, the parts we disown and do not identify consciously with, we can perpetuate oppression, superiority, and victim mindsets–all of which strip ourselves and others of power the more we refuse to acknowledge it.1 It is through embracing these shadow aspects that the full potential of astrology as a tool for healing, self-acceptance, and personal growth can be utilized.

“Here we shall try a new way of dealing with the shadow, the unwanted self, the naughty one. We shall raise it up into power so that it grows and matures. The shadow within us may then ascend and become not a more powerful shadow but rather a more powerful part of our whole self. This prevents the shadow from taking over the self and hiding, lurking in our blind spots, and gives it a chance to actually heal.”2

D’Aoust instructs readers how to create an “antichart”3 where all their natal placements are in the opposite sign and house. This is one’s shadow chart. She also explains how the concept of shadow can be used for transits as well. For instance, when the Sun is transiting Aries, the shadow exploration would be the Sun in Libra. Whether one is curious about their own personal shadow chart or looking to examine the current cosmic influences, D’Aoust’s descriptions of the shadows are a wonderful starting point to further understanding the energy in play.

For each planet–Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto–D’Aoust profiles the shadow placements of every zodiac sign. Readers are looking up their shadow placement, rather than their natal placement as they explore the book. For instance, in the Mercury chapter, as an Aquarius Mercury natally, the entry pertaining to me would be Leo Mercury Shadow.

Her entries are very thoughtful and provide great insight into the shadow placement. Each entry has the title, a few word description of the shadow, the corresponding birth planet, parasite of the shadow, a two to three page description of the shadow, and an example from nature (almost always a quote) that grounds the shadow in the natural world.

The first thing I did was read all the entries for the planetary placements in my chart, and right after I also created my husband’s shadow chart and read his entries too. Honestly, reading about our shadow placements opened up a whole new level of dialogue for us and it put a lot of things in perspective. Things that we couldn’t articulate, yet were impacting our relationship (habits, communication styles, emotional relating, etc.) were laid out bare for us to reflect on.

It’s extremely evident that D’Aoust has spent so much time exploring these shadow placements and bridges the gap between psychology and astrology in her writing. Plus, the examples from nature are also something both my husband and I found added a beneficial new layer of understanding to the shadow description. When you can see how the energies manifest in the natural world, it puts things into a context that is tangible.

Another really neat way that I’ve engaged with the book’s text is when writing my new moon manifestations. Every month, I’ll write out a manifestation list in my journal, using present tense as always recommended! Usually, I will draw from the traits of the sign the sun/moon are joining in, for instance Aries was the most recent new moon. But this time I decided to instead explore the shadow of the new moon and read about the Libra Sun Shadow and Libra Moon Shadow. Wouldn’t you know it? I was engaging more with the shadow attribute of the new moon (toxic codependency, not clearly verbalizing my true feelings) more than the Aries attributes!

This made me pause and reflect on how I wanted to attune myself to the new moon energy and write my manifestation list. Rather than just putting all Aries qualities, I choose to focus on transforming the shadow qualities coming through the opposing Libra energy. And my manifestation list felt extra powerful! I’m going to continue exploring the shadow for on-going transits to better understand the full-spectrum of the zodiac shadows beyond just what is apparent in my shadow chart.

“Why must we deal with counterforce? We live in a universe that contains opposition as a physical law of reality; nature is always seeking to reach homeostasis and equilibrium. We find peace not by destroying opposition, for this imbalances the scale, causing the weights to swing wildly; we must only equalize and neutralize.”4

My favorite chapter is “Ophiuchus Shadows: The Venom Master” where D’Aoust examines the shadow of this hidden 13th sign, which many astrologers typically do not acknowledge. I have always been fascinated by Ophiuchus though and was thrilled to see it included. As the sign is between Sagitarrius and Scorpio, D’Aoust explains how the shadows fall in the sign of Gemini. So those with prominent Gemini placements, specifically near the Orion constellation, will have the Ophiuchus shadow. Her interpretation for the shadows is briefer than the other planetary shadows, but it gives a good start point to explore. She notes “Placements here are the venom masters and poison artists, usually studying plants, healing, and medicine.”5

The remaining chapters focus on the shadow of the moon’s nodes, thought to correspond to one’s destiny or life purpose, and D’Aoust’s insight on shadow integration. There’s also the bonus of an epilogue all about eclipses and their relation to shadow. This was another favorite chapter of mine since I was immersed in the book leading up to and during the solar eclipse on April 8th. Perfect timing!

Another thing I really enjoy about this book is how D’Aoust draws from different religious traditions when discussing the shadow and the journey one must undergo to integrate it. There’s examples from Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, alchemy, and more. These examples go to show the archetypal nature of shadow work, as well as offering different perspectives about the experience. There’s also a good deal of depth psychology woven in as well.

All in all, Astrology of the Shadow Self is a must-read book for those with an interest in astrology. It was absolutely the best astrology book I’ve read in a while; none of the material was recycled, depicting the same old as countless books out there. This fresh take and unique perspective of the shadow chart was entirely new to me and already the concepts in this book have enhanced my astrology practice and lead to wealth of personal insight. D’Aoust has done a great service to the astrological community in writing such an insightful book. There is so much we can learn from the shadow, and it’s something we must face if we truly want to transform. This book is a wonderful starting point for those ready to explore their own shadow and immensely expand their astrological knowledge.

Seiðr Magic, by Dean Kirkland, Ph.D.

Seiðr Magic: The Norse Tradition of Divination and Trance, by Dean Kirkland, Ph.D.
Destiny Books, 1644119447, 256 pages, April 2024

Seiðr (pronounced “SAY-ther”) is a form of tribal shamanism unique to medieval Norse culture. Since there is very little historical documentation of this ancient practice, it’s not clear exactly what was involved, and in the modern revival of Germanic heathenry, seiðr is often inaccurately glossed over as a type of Norse witchcraft and used as an umbrella term for contemporary witchery, such as spellcasting and reading runes and tarot cards.

In his debut work, Seiðr Magic: The Norse Tradition of Divination and Trance, heathen reconstructionist and woodland conservationist Dean Kirkland, who holds a Ph.D. in ecology, argues that there is indeed enough archeological evidence to revitalize the practice of seiðr, using literature, artifacts, and the unverified personal gnosis of modern practitioners. The primary literary source Kirkland refers to is Eirik the Red’s Saga, which vividly depicts the ritual garb and practice of a völva and prophetess named Thorbjorg (völva means “staff-bearer” and is a female seiðr-worker1). He supplies a pronunciation guide for Old Norse words at the beginning of the book, and a glossary of terms in the back, which makes the foreign terminology easier to comprehend and digest.

By comparing the ancient tools of seiðr-workers to those used by Indigenous shamans, Kirkland believes we can make educated guesses about Norse shamanism based on similarities. He has devoted several years to researching and engaging in shamanic practices, and has studied Andean shamanism with an indigenous paco. He currently resides in Lincolnshire, UK, where he is dedicated to woodland conservation and restoration.

Since seiðr was considered a form of magic, it was not a common practice among Norse heathens. Seiðr-workers were viewed with suspicion by the general populace and lived on the fringes of society. Contrary to modern neo-pagan faiths like Wicca, which integrates witchcraft with religious rites, there was a social stigma surrounding practicing magic among ancient heathens. Perhaps with good reason, because Kirkland warns that seiðr can be perilous for both the practitioner and their community, since it involves contact with mighty and potentially very dangerous wights, or spirits. However, he assures readers that the introductory exercises presented in this book are designed to make the practice as safe as possible for beginners. That being said, seiðr is not for everyone; it is a shamanic path of service to both the spirits and humanity as a whole, destined for a chosen few.

“Seiðr-workers are chosen by Wyrd, which is to say fate or destiny, and made by the gods,”2 Kirkland says.

Seiðr-workers are mediums for wights, the spiritual beings they serve, and the greater community at large. The wights that are friendly towards humans are interested in collective spiritual growth and advancement, not individual progress. According to Kirkland, “the effect of shamanic work must be shared with others—if you focus solely on yourself and your own spiritual development, you are coming at this from an ego-based approach, and ego is the implacable enemy of all shamans.”3

Attempting to practice seiðr for selfish gain and to satisfy an egoic craving for increased personal power is disrespectful to the wights and may incur their wrath. Furthermore, one should not assume the role of seiðr-worker unless they are recognized as such by the community. “Titles should never be taken for oneself, but only bestowed by others,”4 Kirkland says. He sees community validation as a sign of authenticity. I found this to be an interesting perspective, because this line of thinking could be used to insinuate that an accused witch, whether they personally identify as one or not, is serving that role for the community because it has been projected upon them. 

Kirkland dispels the common misconception that only women and homosexual men can practice seiðr, and provides historical context as to why it has been perceived as a feminine art. In the warrior dominated society of the Vikings, covertly practicing magic on the battlefield instead of confronting an opponent directly would have been viewed as cowardly. The shamanic practice of channeling spirits was also seen as an intimate form of receptivity comparable to sexual penetration. Kirkland argues that, despite these stereotypes, straight men are just as capable of practicing seiðr as a woman or a gay man. It is the spiritual calling to do so that matters, not one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Kirkland clarifies the role of fate in relation to seiðr and I was intrigued by his discussion of hamingja in particular. Hamingja is often simplified as the Norse version of luck, and Kirkland explains that everyone has a limited amount of hamingja allotted to them by the Norns at birth. For those who believe in reincarnation, he suggests that this allotment may be higher for new souls who have less experience in the physical realm, so they can have an easier time adjusting to the material plane, whereas old souls are presented with more challenges in life in order to facilitate spiritual growth. Seiðr-workers would therefore have very little hamingja, forcing them to rely on their supernatural relationships with the wights to get them through life instead of materialism. This makes sense to me, because shamans tend to be initiated by traumatic experiences, which detach their spirits from their physical bodies so they can traverse the unseen realms during trance and communicate with the entities that reside there.

Hamingja is closely intertwined with megin, which means “might” or “honor,”5 and is accrued through doing good deeds for living beings and wights and keeping one’s promises to them, which builds trust with the spirit realm. Helping the Norns apply clay to the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil during shamanic trance is given as an example of a way to build megin.

Kirkland details the ritual clothing (referred to endearingly as “shaman’s armor”) and the shamanic tools unique to seiðr-workers, the most important one being a seiðstafr, or “seiðr-staff,” which, instead of a drum, is rhythmically tapped to induce a trance.6 Archaeologists have found staves of this nature in the graves of seiðr-workers. Most of them were wooden, but iron ones have also been discovered, buried with an elite few. Kirkland provides instructions on how to obtain, craft, and awaken one’s own sacred seiðstafr. He also includes photos of his personal staff for reference. 

The seiðstafr reminds me of the stang, or forked staff, of traditional witchcraft, which serves as an axis mundi, or World Tree, for traversing the shamanic realms. During trance work, Kirkland emphasizes the importance of having some sort of focal point that exists in the physical plane and functions as an axis mundi, to serve as a gateway through which one can enter and leave the spirit realm. He warns that not having this anchor to the physical world can cause parts of the soul to get lost during shamanic journeys.

Understanding the various components of the soul is a crucial part of practicing seiðr, since it includes spiritual healing techniques that involve the extraction of energetic blockages and the retrieval and reintegration of lost soul parts. Kirkland explains that the Germanic soul complex is composed of four major parts: the lík, or lich, which encompasses the physical body, and is animated by the önd, the “sacred breath”7 of life, bestowed by the Allfather Óðinn; the hamr, meaning “shape” or “skin,”8 which is the etheric body that takes flight during shamanic journeys, and has the ability to shift shape; the fylgja, or “follower,”9 which can take the form of an animal and acts as a psychopomp upon death; and the hugr, or “mind,”10 which continues on in the afterlife.

For protection during rituals and shamanic travels, Kirkland considers casting a magic circle to be ineffective, since the circle is physically present in a fixed location while the shaman’s spirit wanders. The primary means of protection is merging with a spirit ally, in a type of “low-level” possession, in which the practitioner remains in complete control. Seiðr-workers use magical chants called varðlokur, meaning “ward songs” or “guardian songs,”11 to summon spirits and raise protective energies. Coupled with the rhythmic beating of the seiðr staff, these cantillations induce shamanic trance. Kirkland does not provide any of these chants because there are no surviving authentic examples. Besides, the most powerful ones are given to the seiðr-worker by the wights themselves, and he offers shamanic techniques for acquiring them, including a ritual invocation using lyrics from a modern song by the Norwegian folk band Wardruna, which is brilliant, since anyone can listen to the song for the correct pronunciation of the words. In addition, he suggests using galdr, or runic chanting, to raise vibrations, and recommends intoning the runes laguz and algiz to spiritually clear the air. He also supports the use of mugwort as a purification incense, as opposed to the more popular white sage, which is not native to Germanic lands.

This book has been so illuminating for me because it explains the reasoning behind some shamanic practices that I have intuitively discovered through trial and error on my own. I abandoned circle casting several years ago, and I appreciated Kirkland’s explanation of why circles are ineffective for self-protection, because I couldn’t articulate why I stopped; I just felt that I didn’t need to cast them anymore. Now I purify my sacred space with incense and use deity epithets like ward songs. 

I once had a dream in which a hag spirit merged with me. She told me telepathically that she enters my body and sees through my eyes to help me. It wasn’t creepy, or anything at all like a horror movie possession. It felt more like being in the driver’s seat of a car and having a guardian spirit riding shotgun. She was observing through the windshield of my eyes and whispering in my mind, but not interfering or controlling my actions. I’m not sure who she is, but I know she is some sort of guardian spirit and she has appeared to me in multiple dreams as a witchy old woman with long silver hair. She felt so familiar she could be an ancestor or an elderly version of myself, and I’ve felt blessed by every interaction with her.

I’ve always sensed that I have mediumship abilities, but fear of possession has been a barrier to developing them further, and that dream made me realize that merging isn’t invasive and makes spirit communication easier. Learning from Seiðr Magic that wights merge with seiðr-workers really clarified the significance of this dream for me. I identify as a witch, and I don’t feel a calling to be a seiðr-worker, but traditional witchcraft is heavily influenced by Norse practices, and shamanism is universal, so I’m seeing a lot of overlap between both traditions.  

An important class of wights Kirkland writes about is the dísir, or lesser Norns. The dísir are female ancestral spirits that watch over and guide their descendants. According to Kirkland, it’s possible to have a nonhuman dís/lesser Norn. He claims to have met people who have lesser Norns that are elves, dwarves, and even giants! I now suspect that my hag spirit might be my lesser Norn.

Kirkland also discusses the often overlooked wights of place, such as landvættir, or land spirits, and the cofgodas (pronounced “COAF-goadas”), or “household gods,”12 which are the spirits of hearth and home. Although working with these entities falls under the domain of “folk conjuring”13 or trolldómr (“witchcraft”), he believes land spirits and house wights should be part of general heathen practice. He gives instructions on how to communicate with local wights, as well as how to detect whether or not you have cofgodas living in your home, and if not, how to attract them and create a hearth altar and a spirit house for them. 

The multiverse has always been my favorite feature of Norse cosmology, and I was captivated by Kirkland’s detailed exploration of the nine realms on the cosmic World Tree of Yggdrasil. For shamanic journeying, the fiery hellscape of Muspelheim and the icy wastelands of Niflheim are no doubt the least hospitable, but I was surprised to learn that one of the most dangerous realms to traverse in spirit is Midgard, our physical realm. Kirkland claims that this is because Midgard is the crossroads of the nine realms, and entities that do not belong here in Middle Earth sometimes get trapped and lash out at humans. The World Serpent Jörmungandr is the guardian of Midgard, and keeps many entities out, but earthbound spirits may stay trapped within. Kirkland therefore recommends that beginners avoid traversing the middle realms in spirit, which also include Ljósálfheim, the domain of the light elves, and Svartálfheim, the realm of dwarves and dark elves, until they have gained more shamanic experience. 

While it may be dangerous for beginners, guiding earthbound spirits out of Midgard is part of the job description of a seiðr-worker, and Kirkland gives detailed guidance on how to handle the dead. “Unfinished business” is the stereotypical reason why ghosts are believed to linger, and I was surprised that Kirkland says this is “relatively rare,” since it requires a lot of willpower on the part of the deceased.14 More common reasons for a spirit remaining in Midgard are confusion about being dead or addiction to substances only found here in Middle Earth, requiring the hungry ghost to attempt temporary possession of the living in order to get their fix. In haunted pubs, for example, restless spirits may lurk in bathrooms, waiting to hitch rides with drunks relieving themselves in the stalls, which is a creepy thought, especially if one is prone to blackouts. It definitely makes one think twice about engaging in mind-altering substance abuse, for the sake of spiritual hygiene. While entheogens have their place in shamanism, Kirkland does not suggest using them to achieve shamanic states. 

Western society’s denial of death and Christianity’s suppression of spirit workers has exacerbated the problem of earthbound spirits. Since there are few spirit workers, Kirkland warns readers that Midgard is overpopulated with wandering ghosts, and practitioners will be in high demand for the role of psychopomp, guiding trapped spirits to their proper afterlife destination. He gives instructions on how to do so with the assistance of a valkyrie, a female psychopomp who works for Óðinn. In the rare case that a seiðr-worker comes across a draugr (a restless spirit attached to a corpse, which is the Nordic equivalent of a zombie), there are instructions for dealing with that problem as well. 

Seiðr Magic is a wonderful blend of rigorous scholarship and creative heathen reconstruction. Kirkland’s lucid, honest prose always clarifies which practices are based on historical evidence and which insights have come from the unverified personal gnosis of modern practitioners. This book is a boon for those looking to recreate a traditional Norse magical practice that is as authentic as possible given the archaeological evidence currently available to us. Whether one feels a calling to practice seiðr or not, this is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Norse shamanism, spirit work, and heathen spirituality.

Runes for the Green Witch, by Nicolette Miele

Runes for the Green Witch: An Herbal Grimoire, by Nicolette Miele
Destiny Books, 1644118661, 288 pages, January 2024

Runes embody the cosmic forces that created the universe and their mystical vibrations permeate all of nature. The word rune, derived from the Gothic runa, means “mystery,”1 and in Nicolette Miele’s debut book Runes for the Green Witch: An Herbal Grimoire, the twenty-four Elder Futhark runes become energetic keys that unlock the secrets of herbal medicine and magic.

Miele is a rune worker and herbalist based in Pennsylvania, and she is also the proprietor of Handfuls of Dust Apothecary. In her online shop, she offers rune readings and handmade products, such as rune sets and ritual oils. Her line of Rune Wisdom ritual fragrance oils supplements this book well, as each blend is infused with runic energy and corresponding crystals and herbs.

“Through runes and plants, which complement each other beautifully, we will honor the wild spirit that resides in each and every one of us,” Miele writes.2

Just as the title suggests, Runes for the Green Witch combines runic mysticism with herbal witchcraft. Like most runic reference books, this work is separated into three parts, dedicated to each Aett, or group of eight runes. There are twenty-four chapters, one for each Elder Futhark rune.

Each chapter begins with an introduction to the individual rune, giving its historical and divinatory context, as well as some of the author’s personal insights into its magical uses, followed by a list of herbal correspondences for the rune, along with their magical and medicinal applications. Miele also provides lists of additional correspondences, including tarot cards, zodiac signs, planets, moon phases, crystals, chakras, and cross-cultural deities that she associates with the runes on an archetypal level. 

While I like the idea of having a long list of magical correspondences for each rune, many of the author’s miscellaneous associations did not resonate with me. For example, Miele identifies the zodiac sign of Aries with Uruz, the mighty aurochs, and I feel that Taurus the Bull would be a better fit. I also found the Queen of Swords, traditionally the widow or divorcée in tarot, to be a strange association for Berkana, the mother rune, while the Empress made perfect sense.

The deity associations felt tenuous to me as well. I see gods from different pantheons that share similar characteristics as being part of the same archetypal current, but being unique personalities in their own right, so I am hesitant to conflate them unless there is historical precedence for doing so. In my personal practice, I prefer to just let the runes be runes, whose verdant powers are nourished by the rich soil of their native Norse mythology, without imposing foreign spiritual systems on them or conflating them with tarot, astrology, or chakras. However, I think these correspondences might be useful to someone new to rune work who finds cross-cultural comparisons helpful.

In keeping with the title of this book, the plant correspondences are where Miele’s runic wisdom and wise woman herbalism truly shines. “The subtle communication between humans and plants relies on primal intuition—something many humans today have to work harder to access,” 3 Miele says. She recommends building intimate relationships with individual plant spirits by consuming their essences in teas, soaking in bath water infusions, or burning them as incense, and keeping a journal of the emotional and psychic impressions received. Ansuz, the rune of communication, can help us learn to listen with our hearts to the subtle voices of plants. 

Reading this book encouraged me to incorporate runes into my tea-drinking rituals. Miele associates raspberry leaf with Perthro, the rune of the womb, which reminded me of when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I drank raspberry leaf tea sweetened with honey to strengthen my womb. Perthro is a rune of mystery and initiation, and giving birth for the first time was an intense rite of passage and an initiation into the mysteries of the mother goddess.

Miele praises raspberry leaf as a nurturing and protective plant ally for women and children. “This lunar herb exudes compassion and seeks to comfort those who are working through traumas, especially traumas from childhood,”4 Miele says.

Inspired by Miele’s insights, I decided to include both raspberry leaf and the rune Perthro in the ritual honoring my most sacred time of the month. I drank raspberry leaf tea as a tonic to relieve menstrual cramps and infused the brew with the spirit of Perthro. With my index finger, I traced the Perthro rune in the air over my steaming cup of raspberry leaf tea and intoned the name of the rune, then imbibed the gentle, soothing potion. 

Rewilding is a common thread that runs throughout Runes for the Green Witch, which Miele defines as “the restoration of land to its natural state.”5] The rune Uruz embodies this concept the most, as it is a rune of instinctual urges and primal energy. Uruz represents the aurochs, a species of wild cattle that was hunted into extinction, and the last aurochs bull died in 1621.

So how can rune workers rewild themselves with the atavistic energy of Uruz? On a psychological level, human rewilding involves unraveling our societal conditioning and reconnecting with the nakedness of our authentic selves. As Miele says, Uruz “takes us back to factory settings.”6 By meditating on Uruz, taking breaks from technology, and spending more time in nature, we can foster a deeper connection with the green realm and reconnect with our primal instincts. Uruz is also a rune of physical strength and healing, and Miele associates it with medicinal herbs like eucalyptus and echinacea, which support the immune system. 

After reading Miele’s chapter on Uruz, I felt guided by this runic spirit to do more research online, and I was astounded to come across an article stating that scientists are working to resurrect the extinct aurochs through rewilding! Since some European cattle breeds are descended from aurochs that were domesticated in ancient times, their genetic coding has survived, and can theoretically be reactivated through back-breeding. By resurrecting the aurochs and other extinct species through rewilding, scientists might be able to restore some of the biodiversity lost through the irresponsible hunting practices that have compromised earth’s precious ecosystems. Rewilding is also less risky than attempting to clone extinct animals, since it involves selective breeding of living populations. 

My practice is very animistic, and I love that Miele treats the runes as living spirits to whom offerings should be made. “Offerings are immensely important within magickal practice as it shows we’re not just in it for the taking,”7 Miele writes. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, and I noticed that my connection to the spirit world was enhanced when I committed to a consistent practice of providing offerings on a regular basis. In a shadow work ritual involving the torch rune Kenaz, Miele advises the reader to light a candle as an offering, then “call out to the spirit of Kenaz and request its guidance and protection while you journey to the abandoned depths of your soul.”8

Prompted by Miele’s advice regarding offerings, I decided to make offerings to runic spirits when I drew daily runes. The second day of reading this book, I drew Othala reversed, or murkstave, as my daily rune. Reversed, Othala represents “displacement, lack of security, loss of possessions, enduring family trauma, family conflict, or homelessness.”9 Estrangement, poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence have been manifestations of a generational curse that I have experienced, and I asked the spirit of Othala to help me heal my ancestral trauma.

As I lit a candle and made an offering of milk and incense, I felt compelled to sing the rune’s name, which reminded me of the magical Norse practice of galdr, a shamanic form of cantillation. While I meditated on the rune, I felt that the spirit of Othala was telling me not to dwell too much on what has been lost. Instead of concentrating my energy on a legacy of generational trauma, she told me to shift my attention to focusing on breaking ties with that cursed inheritance and creating my own legacy. She asked me, What do you want your legacy to be?

During this meditative conversation, I realized that the spirit of Othala felt distinctly feminine to me. Then I remembered that I was working with an Anglo-Saxon rune set and Othala’s Old English name is Ethel. It dawned on me that Othala is a female spirit named Ethel, which means “ancestral land” and “noble” in Old English. I imagined her to be a noble ancestral spirit, or a faery queen. This may have been a flight of fancy, but I like envisioning Othala as a faery queen named Ethel, and I think I’m going to work with her under that name from now on.

Today, Ethel is a feminine name, but in Old English, it was used as a prefix for both male and female names to indicate noble birth.10] As a spirit of noble ancestry, I felt that she was communicating to me that ancestry transcends bloodline. The earth is our mother, and we are all related. The seemingly isolated family problems we experience are actually human problems that concern a lot of people in the collective. I feel this rune can help you get in touch with your innate nobility, and your divine birthright. We all have a divine spark within, and Othala/Ethel can help you to recognize your nobility and more authentically embody your Divine Self. 

What does it mean to be noble? The Latin word nobilis means “well-known,” so to be noble means you are worthy of being known, recognized and acknowledged for your deeds, and remembered.11 This all ties in with legacy, and being worthy of remembrance is a form of immortality. Reversed, Othala reminds me of a burial mound. It looks like a buried diamond, marked by an X. Othala asks, What do you want to be known for in this life? How do you want to be remembered when you die? 

After meditating on Othala/Ethel and channeling these messages, I finished reading the chapter on Othala in Runes for the Green Witch. Miele associates the following plant allies with Othala: “Avens, Babyberry, Blackberry, Coriander, Vervain, Vetiver, Witch Hazel.”12

“The plants of Othala represent ancestral connection and the energies that we wish to invite into our homes and families,” Miele says. “These plants aid in magickal workings regarding our heritage, protection of home and family, tradition, and the breaking of generational traumas.”13

I planted some berry bushes last year, so I already have blackberries growing in my garden that I can use to work with the spirit of Othala this summer. Witch hazel is an ingredient in one of my face washes, so I’m thinking about possibly incorporating Othala into my skin care routine. 

Runes for the Green Witch: An Herbal Grimoire has enlivened the runes for me in ways I never before imagined, and it will help you deepen your connection with the twenty-four runic spirits and their herbal allies too, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty. With spring just around the corner, this book will be a great inspiration for a runic garden theme! I will definitely be referring back to this herbal grimoire while I’m buying seeds and planting intentions.

The Mindful Garden, by Stephanie Donaldson

The Mindful Garden: Serene Spaces for Outdoor Living, by Stephanie Donaldson
Ryland Peters & Small, 9781788795951, 144 pages, February 2024

Stephanie Donaldson’s The Mindful Garden: Serene Spaces for Outdoor Living joins the list of items that bring a sense of peace and serenity into my life along with Palo Santo sticks, the flicker of a votive in a small metal holder, and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Donaldson offers ways for all of us – from the suburban gardener to the urban dweller with very little outdoor space – from the experienced to the novice – to create our own haven, a retreat, a place to de-stress. The book contains stunning photographs by Melanie Eclare that made me want to sell everything and move to my husband’s country of birth, England, and recreate the spaces in the book.

Luckily, Donaldson writes some words of caution, “…before making any changes it is always wise to separate the realizable dreams from the fantasies.”1 I stopped making flight reservations and settled into the book to be guided to ways that I could create my very own place of peace in my outdoor space. For as Donaldson writes, peace is a “central element in the creation of a successful mindful garden.”2

I hadn’t really ever considered the mood that I wanted to create in my outdoor space. I mindlessly go to the garden store and picked up random plants and garden accessories without any real plan. But this season, I’m becoming more intentional with how I space my backyard.

Donaldson asks the reader to consider the tone that one wants to create to support calm versus stimulation, simple rather than busy. A space where one removes rather than adds to. And she asked me a question that no one had asked me, which is what do I want from my garden? What appeals to me? What centers me? How novel!

Upon her advice, I considered how I want the garden to be used and how I want it to look. Do I want a space for meditation or contemplation? Do I want to add water features (many of which can be added for a nominal cost without running electricity)? How does the garden look in different light – from early morning to dusk? What type of seating do I want? What materials appeal to me? What style suits me – symmetrical or balanced?

She guides the reader in how to consider the use of color (recommending a subdued palette versus complimentary colors).  Suggestions are offered in creating barriers with the use of things like stones, fences, shrubs, and trellises. And to consider scents – what plantings offer scents that calm versus stimulate.

The book offers so many suggestions that any of us can use to create a mindful space. The photographs will automatically bring a sense of calm, and there’s ton of them throughout The Mindful Garden. However, what I really liked about the book was that Donaldson was aware that we all don’t have acres of land and limitless funds to create a serene space. We can use a ceramic bowl to hold a small battery-operated foundation to create a slow flowing water feature. She showed a water feature using glass bricks filled with pebbles on a rooftop without a “plant in sight.”3

We might want to do some small tweaks to bring calm into our space or we might plan something a bit more ambitious (but again, she reminds us, doable). Consider your location (it’s challenging to have a wildflower meadow on your city lot), consider aiming for creating a space that won’t need constant attention (such as weeding). You might find out, after a few changes that Donaldson inspires, that you suddenly feel peaceful in your space.

“If you feel happy in your garden and there is nothing to change, then trust that feeling. You already have your mindful space…”4

Overall, Donaldson is a wonderful guide for bringing serenity into your life, beginning with your outdoor space, in The Mindful Garden. This book allows you to discover relaxation, peruse the pages, see what inspires you, and then take those steps to bring what you need and want into your life. You can do it with whatever space and budget you have available; Donaldson will show you how.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, by Kenneth Johnson

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, by Kenneth Johnson
Crossed Crow Books, 979-8985628173, 212 pages, January 2023

From accusations of shapeshifting and spirit flight to keeping the company of bestial familiar spirits, the testimonies recorded during the European witch trials bear an uncanny resemblance to ancient and universal shamanistic practices. In his classic work Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, author Kenneth Johnson posits that European witches were indeed practicing a form of shamanism, “the world’s oldest spiritual path.”1 This view has already been well articulated in Eliade Mircea’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951), and the scholarly works of Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, such as Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966) and Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (1989), but Johnson builds upon historical evidence for the purpose of reconstructing ancient shamanic practices for modern witches.

Johnson is a professional astrologer and the author of several books, including Mythic Astrology (1993), which he co-authored with Arielle Guttman, and Jaguar Wisdom: An Introduction to the Mayan Calendar (1997). Johnson is originally from California, but currently resides in Mexico. He also spent a decade in Guatemala, where “he was initiated into the indigenous Mayan priesthood as an aj q’ij (keeper of days) in November of 2017.”2 Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey is his personal favorite among his published works.

I read a previous edition of this book, published by Llewellyn under the title of North Star Road (1996), and I didn’t realize this was the same book until I started reading it. It was nonetheless a pleasure to revisit this superb work, as it contains a wealth of information and was one of the most influential texts in my transition from mainstream Wicca to the more shamanic practices of Traditional Witchcraft. This new edition, published by Crossed Crow Books, includes spiritual exercises inspired by Johnson’s tutelage under Russian shamans. It also has a foreword written by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, author of Craft of the Untamed (2014) and Seven Crossroads at Night (2023), and a preface by Robin Artisson, the author of An Carow Gwyn: Sorcery and the Ancient Fayerie Faith (2018) and several other works on Traditional Witchcraft.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey is interspersed with beautifully written fictional vignettes that capture glimpses of shamanic witchcraft practices throughout Europe, such as “Greenland, AD 1000,”3 which features a priestess of the Norse goddess Freya practicing seidr; “Northern Italy, 1600,”4 which dramatizes the spirit flight of an Italian benandante, or “good walker,”5 who protects the harvest by fending off evil spirits with a fennel stalk; and “Scotland, 1662,”6 which glimpses the trial of Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie.

In the introduction, Johnson provides a brief historical survey of the environmental and cultural factors that led to the witchcraft trials, “a holocaust that, we should remember, took place not during the so-called Dark Ages, but during the more ‘enlightened’ age of the Italian Renaissance and the early years of the scientific revolution.”7 In the tumultuous 1300s, the Black Death, crop failures, peasant revolts, and the uprising of radical religious movements, such as the Cathars and Waldensians, contributed to a widespread fear of “an epidemic of witchcraft.”8 Inquisitors believed heretics were members of a diabolical cult, “formed about 1375, which called upon demons who often bore the names and attributes of old pagan divinities, and which met by night in ceremonies called Sabbats.”9

These so-called witches anointed themselves with flying ointments made of hallucinogenic herbs and took flight in spirit, either astride animals or riding broomsticks, riding the night winds to the Sabbat where they danced in orgiastic rites with a horned devil. Johnson suspects that there could have indeed been a witchcraft crisis cult, which arose in response to the drastic decline of medieval society. By returning to traditional shamanic beliefs and blending them with folk Christianity, members of this hypothetical cult may have been attempting to end “aristocratic dominance through magical social revolution.”10 One of the most fascinating theories Johnson presents is that the medieval dancing plague was the shamanic dance of a crisis cult.11

The ancient spiritual practice of shamanism involves the practitioner entering trance states and traversing the spirit realm, from the heavenly heights of the gods to the Underworld of the dead, in order to bring back knowledge and healing wisdom to the benefit of their community. Although the word “shaman” originated in Siberia, Johnson claims that shamanic practices are the spiritual foundation upon which many world religions were built.

In “Part 1: Otherworlds,” Johnson explores the shamanic view of the cosmos.

“According to the cosmovision of the shaman, the North Star is the axis around which all things revolve,” Johnson says.12 “When shamans depart upon their spirit journeys, they often take the road to the North Star.”13

According to the Buryat people of Siberia, the sky is a great tent punctured with stars, and the North Star is the central pole which holds up the heavens. The stars themselves are a herd of galloping horses tethered to the polestar. In various cultures, the axis mundi, or world axis, is envisioned as the central pillar of the cosmos, embodied in the World Mountain, the World Tree, or even the Maypole. Using this axis, the shaman can navigate the three realms of Heaven, Earth, and Underworld. When depicted as a tree, the branches are imagined to reach up to the abode of the Sky Father, and the souls of unborn children roost in the boughs, as well as an eagle, the primary totem of shamans, and the “Bird of Prey Mother,” who lays the eggs from which shamans are born. The roots of the tree burrow deep into the Underworld, where a great serpent dwells.

Through comparative mythology, Johnson provides compelling evidence of similar shamanic beliefs throughout the world, citing examples of several World Trees, such as Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the Vikings; the great ceiba tree of the Mayans, which grew from the back of a crocodile; the Kabbalistic Tree of Life; and the Underworld cypress tree of the Orphic mysteries. The World Tree even appears in the witch trial of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), as she was accused of dancing around a “fairy tree”14 when she was a child, suggesting the survival of ancient shamanic practices in early fifteenth century Europe.

Variations of the World Mountain also appear in many cultures, from megalithic monuments, volcanoes, and Mayan pyramids to the abode of the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus. In the witch trials, the World Mountain appears as the home of the witch goddess. In the early 1500s, an Italian peasant accused of witchcraft named Zuan delle Piatte confessed that Venus had whisked him away to the Sabbath upon black horses, and he had visited Herodias in the mount of Venus. In 1630, a German witch confessed to traveling in spirit to visit the goddess Holda in a mountain called the Venusberg.

“All our images of the Goddess in the Mountain or Tree are ultimately metaphors for the kundalini or ‘serpent power,’ a feminine energy both sexual and spiritual that has its origins at the base of the spine and, during spiritual practice, travels up our own internal World Tree or Mountain to the crown of the head—at which point we experience enlightenment,” Johnson says.15

Just as the shaman’s tent is mobile, so is the center of the universe. The moveable axis mundi, or World Tree, corresponds to the upright spinal column unique to human bipedalism. The skull, which is the spirit house of human consciousness, is elevated to the heavens, and the earth goddess or Fairy Queen slumbering at the base of the spine is the kundalini serpent.16

According to Buryat mythology, the first shaman was born from the union of an eagle and a human woman, “which, symbolically, tells us that shamanism is ‘born’ from the union of the enlightened consciousness which dwells at the top of our own internal World Tree with the feminine potency that sleeps at its base.” 17

“Though one may be born to a shamanic vocation, one attains power and mastery only through initiation,”18 Johnson says. Shamanic initiation may manifest as being called by spirit voices and having a vision of death and dismemberment, followed by a rebirth experienced during a physical illness or a bout of madness, which we would perceive in modern times as a psychotic break. In European mythology, the Norse god Odin is the most obvious shamanic figure, as he was wounded by a spear and sacrificed himself to himself on the World Tree. There are also Welsh legends of Merlin in which he was once a warrior who went mad and lived in the woods like a wild animal after a traumatic experience on the battlefield. The Orphic myth of the death and dismemberment of the Greek god Dionysus is another striking example of shamanic initiation. As a child, the Titans murdered him and cooked him in a cauldron, which echoes the inquisitors’ grotesque fantasies of witches have cannibalistic feasts, involving the boiling of unbaptized babies in cauldrons and the use of their fat in flying ointments. 

“The Old Bone Goddess,”19 with her cauldron of death and rebirth, is the one who resurrects the shaman. She is the “Bird of Prey Mother”20 of the Siberian Yakut shamans. When the shaman’s magical powers have ripened and are ready to be activated through initiation, she dismembers him and feeds his body parts to demons. Then she reassembles his bones and resuscitates him.

I wonder if modern society’s disassociation from traditional shamanic practices can cause such initiations to manifest through traumatic life experiences, rather than just dream visions. After I performed a formal self-initiation ritual, I had initiatory dreams and visions, but my waking life also catastrophically fell apart, and it coincided with my Saturn Return. I lost everything, from material possessions to family members, and experienced frequent psychic attacks by a shadowy demonic entity that appeared to be attached to an abusive boyfriend. When it finally withdrew, several months after I escaped that toxic relationship, I heard it tell me that it was sorry for what it had put me through, and I never felt its presence again. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realized that the ordeals I experienced were part of an initiatory dismemberment and I came to terms with the fact that the Dark Mother to whom I was devoted had allowed those horrors to happen to me as part of the process.

Wicca, with its sugar-coated love and light Mother Goddess, did not adequately prepare me for the brutality of my shamanic witchcraft initiation, and reading the previous edition of this book, North Star Road, revealed the harsh truths of my spiritual path. I share what happened to me as a cautionary tale, because I initiated myself not fully understanding what I was getting myself into. I thought I was adequately prepared after studying Wicca for over a decade, rather than the customary year and a day, but the witch’s path is riddled with rose thorns, and true wisdom comes through suffering.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey fills in the gaps of knowledge that are missing in mainstream pop culture witchcraft. Johnson elucidates how ancient shamanic practices infuse the folkloric witchcraft of medieval and Renaissance Europe, and are the backbone of witchcraft today. This is an essential text for any serious practitioner who has been called by the spirits and seeks to reclaim their shamanic roots.