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Fortuna, by Nigel Pennick

Fortuna: The Sacred & Profane Faces of Luck, by Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books, 1644116472, 144 pages, January 2024

Luck is a mysterious and capricious supernatural force thought to bring about success or failure by apparently random chance. While belief in luck may be relegated to gamblers and the superstitious, the concept is deeply embedded in Western culture. Luck was personified by the ancient Greeks as Tyche, and the ancient Romans knew her as Fortuna, the fickle and fearsome goddess of fortune and fate. “O Fortuna,” a Latin poem derived from the medieval manuscript Carmina Burana, which laments the vicissitudes of fate, was set to music by German composer Carl Orff in 1936, and the epic cantata has since appeared in several films, television shows, and commercials. Fortuna’s Wheel of Fortune appears in both the tarot and the syndicated game show of the same name, which holds the record as the longest-running game show in the United States.1

While Fortuna’s indiscriminate giving and taking is often perceived as mercurial and even cruel, her lighter and brighter side is known today as Lady Luck, and she is still alive and well in contemporary culture, from the four leaf clover marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal to Felix Felicis, the alchemical Liquid Luck elixir Harry Potter downed in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Luck can simply mean being in the right place at the right time. But beyond the superficial veneer of pop culture, who is she, really?

In Fortuna: The Sacred & Profane Faces of Luck, Nigel Pennick, the prolific author of over sixty books, including Elemental Magic (2020), Magic in the Landscape (2020), The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots (2021), and Runes and Astrology (2023), explores the origins and evolution of the concept of luck, from divination to gambling. This slim volume is a quick read, with just a little over a hundred pages, but it is packed with fascinating insights.

Contemporary consciousness tends to rationalize changes in fortune as nothing more than random occurrences, but, as Pennick says in the Introduction, “in the ancient worldview nothing happens by chance but is the manifestation of an act of divine will.”2 Feeling subject to the whims of the gods, ancient people sought to discern the divine will by interpreting signs and omens, which led to the rise of divination with various systems, involving objects with numeric values, such as dice and cowrie shells.

In the absence of the concept of mathematical probability, everything was believed to have been preordained by the divine. The belief in predestination was ripe for abuse, as it could be used to validate the unjust actions of people in positions of authority. “Many religions view the Creator in the form of an angry Bronze Age law-making warlord who decides how the natural world must behave and who issues the laws that define those behaviors,”3 Pennick says. The real power behind the scenes, however, was the goddess of fortune and fate.

In Chapter 2, titled “Lady Luck and the Goddess Fortuna,” Pennick explores the history of the Roman goddess Fortuna’s worship. Today, we tend to simplify her as the personification of luck, chance, and good fortune, but Pennick does her honor by fleshing her out as a complex goddess associated with many facets of life. She had a plethora of epithets, such as Fortuna Plebis, “of the People,”4 for she determined the fates of individuals. Many epithets include types of people and social classes, such as Fortuna Muliebris (“Women”), Fortuna Patricia (“Noble”), and Fortuna Equestris (“Horseback Riding”), which brings to mind knights in shining armor astride dashing steeds. The one that struck me as the most interesting was Fortuna Aucupium, meaning “Bird of Prey.”5 Although she was sometimes depicted as blind, this avian title seems to imply keen powers of perception and a shrewd eye for swooping down and snatching good fortune at a crucial moment.

“In Rome, the emperor Trajan (98-117 CE) dedicated a major temple to each aspect of the goddess, and on every January 1, offerings were made at the temples to ensure good luck and success for the coming year,”6 Pennick says. Fortuna’s accoutrements included a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, aligning her with the goddess Abundantia, the Roman goddess of prosperity; a ship’s rudder, which signifies her steering the fates of all mortals; and the vertically spinning wheel of fortune. On occasion, Fortuna appeared with wings, like Nortia, the Etruscan goddess of fate.

There were oracular shrines devoted to Fortuna in ancient Rome, which were located at Antium and Praeneste, in the modern day city of Palestrina. I was most intrigued by the Praenestine oracle of Fortuna, which is believed to have operated underground in a cave called “Antro delle Sorti” in Italian, which means “the Cavern of the Fates.”7 The oracle was thought to have been founded by an Egyptian priestess of the goddess Isis, and incorporated the use of wooden dice inscribed with letters, which may have been derived from Etruscan divinatory practices, and Pennick believes this oracle might have influenced the development of runic divination.

“The cubes were thrown into a silver bowl and drawn out one by one to produce a sequence of letters that were taken as the first letters of words,” Pennick says. “Interpretative skill depended upon determining what the sequence of letters stood for with regard to the question asked or the person asking it.”8 The Praenestine oracle had a revival in nineteenth century France, “when it was claimed that Charles Le Clerc used the oracle to attain prophecies for Napoleon Bonaparte.”9

Pennick then explores the history of dice as a form of divination in ancient Europe, which were originally made from the knuckle bones of sheep. He writes about the practice of gambling in ancient Rome and presents a table depicting the names and measurements of Roman dice. Chapter 4 is devoted to dice divination, complete with a chart of the divinatory meanings of possible throws.

One of my favorite chapters is on “Divinatory Geomancy,” in which Pennick gives a concise explanation of how to perform a geomantic reading and presents different methods for generating geomantic figures. Geomancy, which means “earth divination,” is a binary method of generating four-lined figures using odd or even numbers that traditionally involves making marks in the earth, although modern practitioners of the art may choose to throw dice or coins. There are a total of sixteen possible geomantic figures, and each has a Latin name with an oracular meaning and an astrological association.10

“An East Anglian technique for generating odd and even sequences uses potatoes,”11 Pennick writes. Using root vegetables sounds like the perfect way to perform an earth divination! I personally use a simple homemade deck of geomancy cards I created with blank index cards, on which I drew the geomantic figures with markers, but I love the idea of using potatoes to generate geometric figures.

“Each potato is different, for each has an indeterminate number of eyes, the places from which new growth takes place,” Pennick says. “To generate a geomantic figure, one must take four potatoes at random and count the eyes on each one.”12 A full reading requires sixteen spuds, so this might be a fun method to try if you have a sack of potatoes handy. 

The latter half of the book explores how the sacred art of divination devolved into the profane practice of gambling and became associated with the Devil. “Perhaps the ancient Jewish prohibition of divination, which was taken up wholesale and unthinkingly into the Christian religion when Christianity split off from Judaism, accelerated the desacralization of divination into gambling,”13 Pennick says. He believes that “the association of cards with the Devil is likely to be a cultural leftover from the centuries of religious fulmination against games and the religiously motivated laws that prohibited all forms of play and gambling for so many centuries.”14

I was fascinated to learn that, in medieval England, “Christmas was deemed to be the only time that games were allowed, and playing at other times was forbidden by law.”15 Hearkening back to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, “the connection of gambling with misrule is overt in writings about carnivals and mythical lands, such as the Land of Cokaygne.”16

Pennick also reveals how fortune-telling and luck-drawing magic have intersected with gambling superstitions and dice cheat rolls. “Ancient crooked dice” might have been used for gambling cheats, “but they may well have been used at oracular shrines to skew the readings of those who came to ask questions.”17 This may have been a matter of self-preservation, especially when the interpreters of omens “had to deal with ruthless tyrants and a wrong answer might mean torture and death.”18

The stakes are high in illegal gambling as well, and the sacred caves where the ancients once consulted Fortuna for spiritual guidance were traded in for the Underworld gambling dens of organized crime, which were crowded with the lost souls suffering from addiction to these illicit practices. Since such risky behavior is a flirtation with death, it’s no wonder that many gambling charms incorporate images of human skulls to represent luck in the face of adversity.

“When we dice with Death, we can be sure that Death has the dice in a special grip and throws all the shots, and the dice are probably loaded,”19 Pennick writes.

Pennick’s impeccable scholarship and concise historical survey of divination and gambling has transformed my perspective of Lady Fortuna and the relationship between her sacred and profane arts. Whether you are a practitioner of divination and magic or a gambler hoping to boost your luck, Fortuna: The Sacred & Profane Faces of Luck will inspire your practice and be a boon to your personal library. Besides, with St. Patrick’s Day being just around the corner, it’s a great read for the month of March. May the luck of the Irish be with you!

The Witch’s Way to Wealth, by Jessie DaSilva

The Witch’s Way to Wealth: The Every Witch’s Guide to Making More Money—Faster & Easier Than Ever!, by Jessie DaSilva
Sourcebooks, 1728271762, 448 pages, September 2023

Let’s be honest, these days most of us could you a bit of money mojo. In fact, this is what got me searching the web for a book about improving my personal finances. Thank goodness for the algorithm that knew me well enough to suggest a magical way to do this—The Witch’s Way to Wealth by Jessie DaSilva. Nicknamed The Millennial Money Witch by Forbes, DaSilva is the perfect guide for this journey with her authenticity and honesty paving the way for manifestations to happen in your life too.

“What I’m teaching yo is every aspect of manifesting money with magic—explained with quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology, religion, personal finance, and more.”1

DaSilva beings laying the foundation for this book focusing on the nature of money and sharing the basics of manifestation. Through her antidotes, readers begin to see money as infinite and renewable rather than a scarce resource in limited quantity. She also hones in why manifesting money is different than manifesting other things in life, and she teachers readers how to hone in on what they actually want. She acknowledges the different levels people might be at from never having manifested money to having done it a few times with success and helps to navigate the pitfalls of where you’re at in your journey. She even covers the epigenetic of money beliefs, stemming back to our ancestors and how to overcome these in our genes. And most helpful are her very specific instructions to follow, though one does need to actually do the work to succeed.

But what stands out about this book is that DaSilva doesn’t expect your manifestations to work instantly. She is so open about her own journey, the ups and downs from which she’s gained her wisdom, that she more than anyone knows how things can fall apart. Your manifestations will not always work, and there’s another layer to uncover to figure out what’s going on. And this is what makes DaSilva such a good guide. She’s not writing this book with the assumption that everything will work out perfectly, you’ll hardly have to try, and instantly you’ll be rich.

There’s plenty of work that goes into figuring out the right alignment for yourself. And she encourages readers to actually figure their shit out, so to speak, in order to get in the right frame of mind. For instance, one exercise had to do with looking at our first beliefs about money as children and then again examining our beliefs about money as adolescents. It was interesting to think about what my teenage self felt about money, and how that energy was still contributing to my financial situation now.

Even more fun was doing the interview with my parents recommended by DaSilva with my parents about the financial circumstances I was born into, as she notes that our feelings parent’s about money as we entered this world can impact our money beliefs too. I was quite surprised to learn that they both agreed there was not much money coming in and they ended up living with my mom’s parents for a little bit as my dad get his career going. Well, can you believe 30 years later I find myself in a very similar predicament? If I hadn’t chosen to do this wealth-work and find out about these circumstances, I would never have realized I am unintentionally re-creating a familiar family pattern.

There’s so many ideas in the book, from exercise to shellwork, that readers can piece together their own plan of action. And this is another aspect that I love about this book. DaSilva is not trying to create a one-size-fits-all approach to manifestation, rather she’s providing tools one can use to tailor their own practice. Here’s an excerpt that perfectly captures her methodology and hysterical say-it-like-it-is way of speaking with readers:

“The issue with plans—whether they’re for your finances, diet, exercise, mindset, whatever—is that they cater to a common denominator. It’s about teaching what will work for the most people possible, not everyone. That’s not necessarily what will work for you as an individual…That’s why I’m explaining how you can create your own plan. If you know how to wot build an action plan for yourself, (a) you can feel empowered because you won’t need to rely on someone else’s judgement, and (b) my email won’t get clogged with bitchy witches complaining that my spells don’t work. It’s truly a win-win approach.”2

Another really neat aspect of this book that I appreciated is how DaSilva spends an entire section on teaching readers how to keep the money they manifest. Maybe you’ve met people who alway seem to get lucky and acquire the money they need, yet they continue to have it fly right by out the door with an unexpected bill. As important as bringing money into our lives can be, to truly build wealth, we need to learn to maintain our money once we have it. This is an aspect of money manifestation that I haven’t seen talked about much in other books, let alone have multiple chapters dedicated to focusing on. From overcoming shame to strengthening our nervous system, DaSilva provides practical ways that we can begin to keep the hard earned money, no wait scratch that, easily manifested money we make, once we do the inner work to generate it.

The final section of the book focuses on leveling up one’s money game. And if I’m being honest, I’m not there yet! I’ve been reading this book for months now, actually doing the recommended exercises, reflections, and actions to make a difference. I’m still in the process of mastering my manifestation game, so I haven’t wanted to rush into the final section before I’m ready. But I feel confident that once I get there, DaSilva will continue to provide her wisdom about how to take things to the next level, and in that moment, the next steps will be unlocked.

If you’re ready to turn your magical prowess to manifesting money, The Witch’s Way to Wealth is a must-have resource. Her candid portrayal of the journey of manifestation is so magical yet so real, a living example of how magic is part of our reality and something we can tap into to bring wealth into our life. This has been by far the best book I’ve ever read on manifestation, as it aligns with practices I’ve tried myself and doing the exercises in the book has made a significant differences for my money mindset.

Witchcraft on a Shoestring, by Deborah Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Complete Book of Spiritual Astrology, by per Henrik Gullfoss

The Complete Book of Spiritual Astrology, by Per Henrik Gullfoss
Crossed Crow Books, 979-8985628159, 270 pages, October 2022

Those who feel a spiritual calling often need to learn new tools to help guide their journey. Some turn to meditation, others towards tarot or oracle cards, but my favorite way to connect to the divine has always been through astrology. The Complete Book of Spiritual Astrology by Per Henrik Gullfoss is a beautiful book that takes readers on a magnificent journey through the zodiac. This book goes beyond the routine descriptions of the signs and houses, as Gullfoss’s soulful communication style brings readers to new internal awareness that brings them more in touch with the special qualities they carry within.

“Only through being here, in the now, can we learn to thrive and flourish in this new time-space dimension that is opening up for humanity. And of course, the perfect map and tool to find your way through this maze of time and space is the astrological horoscope. The perfect description of how your being is manifested into time and space, and the perfect map for this being to find the magic doors into the eternal now.”1

Gullfoss is the founder of the Nordic School of Astrology, a philosopher, and spiritual guide for many. He has written books on astrology, tarot, and mythology, all with the aim of assisting others to better understand their “soul’s true intention.”2 He kindly shares his own astrological placements with readers at the start of the book, giving them a glimpse into who he is on a soul level, what he desires to communicate, and his unique approach to pursuing his goals

 What stood out for me is how he notes, “My Mercury is also in Taurus, and as such, I want to express and communicate beauty in an equally beautiful, yet practical way.”3 After reading this book, I feel that’s the best way to characterize Gullfoss’s insights–beautiful yet practical. They attune readers to their higher purpose while also providing a grounding foundation from which one can explore the nature of their soul’s intention during this incarnation.

There are four chapters in this book, which all are quite long and have many subsections. And there’s so much covered in each one. Topics in the first chapter, “The Signs”,  range from the houses to how to master astrological qualities. I really enjoyed how he puts things in terms of love, beauty, and joy. The focus for each description is how these aspects of a chart contribute to a soul’s mission of bringing about these things in the world, rather than the more common psychological focus. Gullfoss’s language is so inspiring, as he brings new meaning to the study of astrology, one in which the aim is to find balance and wholeness:

“Just as a human is one being with many shades and sides within the one, the horoscope is also one. The horoscope is primarily a description of an integrated unity. Psychology has divided our inner world into layers and compartments. We have subconsciousness, consciousness, ego, superego, shadow, anima, animus, libido, and so forth. The truth is that the inner space of a human is one. It’s convenient to use these divisions to understand what comprises a human being and their inner world. But as soon as we get a deeper understanding, we see that a being is an undivided whole.”4

Gullfoss gives special attention to the I.C./M.C. axis as well as the Ascendent and Descendent axis. For the I.C., he goes through each sign and describes the fear, the repressed, the reason, and what it means on a soul level to have this placement. Then for the Descendent, he describes the shadow, the dream, the integration, and finally the soul integration. His descriptions were very accurate for me and gave me plenty of food-for-thought about how I relate to others.

In chapter two, “The Planets”, Gullfoss moves through all the planets, providing a description of the energy for them in each element (water, fire, air, earth) and then each quality (cardinal, fixed, mutable). I appreciated this approach because it gave me a better understanding of how the energies blend, instead of trying to hone in on a very specific energy signature (ex. Moon in Scorpio) like many astrologers tend to do. Seeing the planets through this lens softened my stance, as well as opened new doors of perception for my interpretation of the placements in a chart. One of my favorite descriptions was Mercury in Air, part of which reads:

“There needs to be a balance between stillness and through, a gap where inspiration can rise. As strange as it may seem, Mercury in Air needs to surrender to the flow of inspiration and trust the mind of the universe in order to find the way to enlightenment. If it tries to always think and understand, it becomes caught in the outer web of life. It ahs to allow itself to open to the greater mind of the universe, to immerse itself in the collective mind of being.”5

Another really fascinating part of this section was about the rulership of planets. Gullfoss notes the difference between the traditional rule and esoteric ruler. He writes, “The rulers normally work within astrology and are esoterically connected with a person/horoscope operating from the level of ego consciousness. If you start to operate from a level of soul consciousness, there will be a change in rulership for most signs.”6 In revealing the esoteric ruler, I felt Gullfoss was peeling away a layer of the planet to provide more insight on the deeper energetic significance of the planet.

The third chapter, “Aspects”, goes into more nuanced astrology. There’s not really any background information provided for beginners, so it would be good for those unfamiliar with aspects to do a little bit of research on their own. Just like in the former chapters, Gullfoss provides a spiritual perspective in regard to the aspects, going into extra detail about septile and quintile placements. Then he discusses aspects between inner and outer planets and planets in retrograde. This whole section is very helpful for those who already have an understanding of astrology to tune into the energies from a soul level consciousness, embodying a deeper meaning of the planetary relationships in play.

The final chapter “Astrology and Time” is by far the briefest. Gullfoss notes the changing of time in the modern era and asserts “the time has come for a new faculty.”7 He reviews the three steps our consciousness has been built upon–instinct, emotion, and thought–and proposes cultivating intuition as the next stop. He reminds readers, “The only thing you have to do to develop thai reality is to develop your capacity of awareness in every moment – awareness of yourself and awareness of all the smaller aspects of life that you are a part of.”8

Overall, The Complete Book of Spiritual Astrology is perfect for those seeking to learn more about their soul’s purpose in life. Gullfoss does a wonderful job illuminating the multifaceted nature of the astrology chart, providing ample material for readers to reflect on as they continue to cultivate a meaningful spiritual path. Gullfoss’s writing is esoteric and deep while still being extremely applicable to daily life. Beginners and seasoned astrologers alike will benefit from the profound insights and thoughtful reflections about the esoteric nature of astrology.

A Critical Introduction to Tarot, by Simon Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Marie Laveau Voodoo Grimoire, by Denise Alvarado

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

When I went on a witchy pilgrimage to New Orleans in September 2019, the highlight of my trip was a guided tour through Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 to visit the legendary tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. A heat wave was blazing through the South, and it was in the upper nineties that day. The long walk through the sweltering maze of mausoleums felt like a fever dream, and the marble tombs were blinding white in the blistering sun.

Some of the tombs cast merciful shade, and I was relieved to finally arrive at Laveau’s mausoleum towards the end of the tour without having a heat stroke. Rose quartz crystals, pennies, bobby pins, and hair ties were strewn at the base of the tomb as offerings to her spirit. The hair accessories may seem like strange offerings, but they pay homage to her occupation as a hairdresser. The tour guide said that even though this practice is prohibited, and the offerings are swept away daily, people continue to leave them anyway.1

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

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

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

I first became interested in Hoodoo during a time in my life when I felt forced to conceal my identity as a witch, so I was researching magical practices that could be performed under the guise of Christianity. Even now I still feel a need to be discreet and keep my practices indoors so I don’t attract negative attention from nosy neighbors. I think a lot of people today take for granted religious freedom, but there is still a lot of stigma around practicing any form of magic.

Even though Voudou is deeply woven into the fabric of New Orleans culture, Alvarado points out that it was illegal during Marie Laveau’s time and is still illegal today, even though the law against it is rarely enforced.4 She suspects that many practitioners “prefer to stay out of the public eye due to the stigma attached to Voudou and the safety issues that can arise when a person is known to be a Voudouist.”5 Alvarado’s historical reflections deepened my admiration for the resilience and adaptability of the Voudou faith, and Marie Laveau’s courage and audacity in openly practicing and commercializing Voudou.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In honor of Marie Laveau’s work as a hairdresser and beautician, Chapter 2 covers “Beauty Formulas,” such as vintage perfumed dusting powders, hair treatments, and skincare. The hair treatments are simple, involving common kitchen ingredients like bananas, eggs, and olive oil. The powders appealed to me the most, and I’m thinking about trying the “Lavender Dust” scented body powder recipe.

“Even today, people who serve Marie Laveau offer her beauty-related items such as combs, mirrors, makeup, brushes, and perfumes in hopes that she will grant them favors,” Alvarado says.17 This reminds me of the coins, crystals, and bobby pins littering her tomb, and reveals the magical intention behind leaving them. 

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

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

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

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

Astrolations!, by Jill Carr

Astrolations! A Unique Astrological Guide For You and All Your Relationships, by Jill Carr
O-Books, 1803414200, 736 pages, March 2024

Holy moly! It feels only proper to begin a review of Astrolations! A Unique Astrological Guide for You and All Your Relationships by Jill Carr with an exclamation, given that even the title has it in there. I did not expect such a thoroughly engaging and hefty text, but when I opened my package and felt the weight of this book, I knew I was in for a real treat. Carr teaches readers how Western and Chinese astrology blend to provide a well-rounded understanding of the energies of your own astrological signature and that of those in your life. This comprehensive text is sure to shed light on why you are the way you are and how in turn your relationships are energetically with others.

The book begins with a long, long list of birthdates, ranging from January 1900 to February 2032, to help readers figure out their Western and Chinese astrological signature. For Chinese astrology, there is both an animal and element for each year. I quickly scanned all the birthdates to see I am an Aquarius Metal Horse, my husband is an Aries Earth Snake, my son is a Capricorn Water Tiger, and my mother is a Capricorn Earth Dog. While I wanted to quickly skip ahead to read the meaning for each one, I took the slow route and proceeded as planned by Carr through the sections.

In the Western astrology section, Carr covers the four elements, offering key words, the signs of each element, and a description of the essence of each element. She also covers the three qualities–cardinal, mutable, and fixed. There’s a description of how the elements relate to each other in Western astrology, and then she moves onto each sign. For every astrological sign, Carr provides its element and quality, planetary ruler, the part of the body it rules, and an overview of the sign’s attributes.

Next, the Chinese astrology section covers the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac, the elements in Chinese astrology, and the interdependence of the elements and how they influence personal relationships. Chinese astrology has a lot more positive/negative aspects, or yin/yang, which Carr covers to give readers a full perspective of how the different zodiac energies, between both the animal sign and element, can manifest. There’s even a helpful little table of the twelve animal signs in just one word for the categories upside, downside, and gone rogue for those looking for quick references to better understand the signs. As someone who has studied Western astrology for years, it does take a bit of time to open to the system of Chinese astrology, but Carr does a good job of breaking the system down into bite-size bits for readers to learn quickly.

The way Carr organizes the rest of the book is going in traditional Western astrological order of Aries to Pisces and covering the Chinese astrology for each sign. Within the section which might be labeled “Aries Dragon” or “Cancer Rat”, Carr breaks it down even further by talking about the elemental nature of the profile too. In regard to the balance of elements, Carr writes:

“Each person has three elements in their basic sign combination: their Western Zodiac sign element; their native element of their Chinese sign; the element of the Chinese sign in their own birth year.”1

Essentially, it’s not about just one element in someone’s astrological signature, rather it’s more about the component of elements and how they work together. Someone could have all fire elements, which can indicate an imbalance of energies, or similarly, they might have elements that neutralize each other and provide balance.

In total, there are 144 Western and Eastern main combination types, and the majority of this book (over 600 pages!) is dedicated to covering each one in regards to compatibility and as a child. For every combination type, Carr provides the element of the Western sign and Chinese sign, plus information on the Chinese element of the year the person’s birth. For instance, my husband is an Aries Snake; there could be an Earth, Metal, Fire, Water, or Air snake, depending on the year of someone’s birth, but he is an Earth snake. She also lists the attributes of the signs (positive/negative, cardinal/fixed/mutable, yin/yang). I found this information helpful because just beginning to understand the energies of the combination helps to attune yourself to the nature of the astrological signature.

Though Carr does provide a good deal of information for each combination, and her keen insights from decades of professional experience in both Western and Chinese astrology are spot-on. She compares and contrasts how the different yearly element will manifest for each combination (i.e. how a Metal Scorpio Horse will different from a Water Scorpio Horse), noting the overall similarities of the combination while also highlighting subtle differences. For every combination, she offers an assessment of their personality overall, how they are as a spouse/partner/significant other, and how they are as a parent/grandparent/sibling/friend/colleague. It’s a great deal of information, but it’s also cramming a lot into a small section (there’s two to three pages for each combination).

The depictions of each combination were spot on as my family sat around reading them aloud to each other. We had quite a few laughs at Carr’s insights due to the accuracy that was easy for everyone to see, even if the person being assessed didn’t like hearing some of their shadow qualities! She nailed me to a tee in the line:

“The Aquarius Horse colleague is a mixed bag of energy, innovation, and inconsistency. They are hardworking and have lots of stamina, but can get carried away by their own enthusiasm at times. The Fire AqH and the Metal AqH in particular enjoy a fast-paced working environment, and become impatient with plodders in the workplace.”2

I really enjoyed the section on the combinations as children since I have a one-year old son. I was amazed by the accuracy of him as a Capricorn Tiger. It literally matches him perfectly, from being on the move EARLY (he started walking at 8 months) to requiring “presence and attention to help them into a sleep routine”3 (he only falls asleep when snuggled or held). I am definitely going to be sharing these insights with friends who have children!

My only complaint is that only the overarching sections are listed in the table of contents, so when you’re looking for a specific combination, you really have to flip through the pages. It can take a minute or two to find what you’re looking for, and I often find myself wishing I could check the table of contents to simply see which page to flip to. However, once you start understanding the general order of things, the flipping becomes easier.

Overall, Astrolations! is an immensely insightful guide to the unique blend of Western and Chinese astrology that shapes personality. Carr does a fantastic job of explaining the two astrological systems and seamlessly blends them together to provide well-rounded portrayals of each combination. This book absolutely will enhance your self-knowledge as well as give you a better understanding of the people in your life. From your significant other to colleagues to siblings and children, you’ll better be able to see the elements that make the person who they are and recognize how your own elemental signature interacts with theirs, fostering new awareness within your relationships.

This book would be great for anyone seeking to learn more about the intersection of Western and Chinese astrology, or for those who simply seek to learn all they can about who they are for personal insight and the meaningful people in their lives to enhance their bonds. And if you’re seeking even more guidance, check out Carr’s website, where she shares regularly on her blog.

Celtic Goddess Grimoire, by Annwyn Avalon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Floral Grimoire, by Patricia Telesco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other lists and information I found helpful:

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

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

“How to use the Moon by Zodiac sign”10

“Tools of the Trade”11

“Ingredients for Spells & Charms”12

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

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

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

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

The Hermetic Tree of Life, by William R. Mistele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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