✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

The Sorcery of Solomon, by Sara L. Mastros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Alchemists, by Tobias Churton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Grids, by Nicola McIntosh

Crystal Grids: Master the Secrets of Manifestation, by Nicola McIntosh
Rockpool Publishing, 9781922785510, 185 Pages, March 2024

I was recently at a local health and wellness festival, and the most memorable display table there was a woman selling gorgeous crystal grid paintings. The energy of the crystal layouts was palpable; I could feel the different effects of the alignment radiating outward as I took my time gazing at each one. Immediately, I knew this was something I wanted to do for my own home and altar space. Crystal Grids: Master the Secrets of Manifestation by Nicola McIntosh synchronistically was sent to me right after; the Universe quite literally brought it to my doorstep!

“My intention with this book is to give you the necessary information to guide you in making your own grids, strengthening your communication abilities with your clair senses and helping you manifest what you wish to create in your life.”1

McIntosh is a magical writer and oracle deck creator, as well as a Chinese and Western herbalist and practitioner of Celtic shamanism. She has previously published Apothecary Flashcards, Celtic Spirit Oracle, and Mushroom Spirit Oracle. Even with her success, she is very attuned to the readers she serves, sharing her story of budding passion for crystals and the circumstances in which she began creating her own products. I enjoyed this introduction to the book because it made me feel connected to McIntosh, feeling inspired that I too could use the power of the crystals and other energy-changing tools to bring my own dreams to life.

There is a nice foundation laid in this book, with each chapter building upon the next to provide a holistic understanding of how crystal grids work and how to create your own. McIntosh begins by teaching readers about  what she calls Source, “the term I give to the energy that creates all life; that is all life, the all that is, or God if you like to name it thus.”2 She explains how vibration is what gives everything form.

“You can start to imagine that we are walking in a sea of energy. We are in a state of constant flow; nothing is solid, and we are all fluid. If you can push your thinking out further, you can begin to imagine how you would then be able to interact with other energies around you, for they are also the same.”3

McIntosh then moves onto the language of spirit and the ways in which readers can communicate with other realms, specifically focusing on the honing clair sense, listening to intuition, and connecting through meditation as methods that can be utilized. This section is helpful for those looking to enhance their ability to hear the messages of spirit.

Once this underlying belief system is explained, McIntosh moves into explaining what crystal grids are, including their historical significance, and how they work through geometric resonance. Above all McIntosh encourages readers to listen to their intuition when creating their grids, but she does share how she likes to keep it simple, use ritual, and intentionally select colors with energies and colors aligned with the intended outcome of the crystal grid. She describes how crystal grids can be used for healing, health, prosperity, divination, and more.

There’s even an entire chapter on chakras so that readers understand the energy of each chakra. McIntosh details the energy within the body and soul each chakra influences, providing readers with insight into which chakras might be the best for them to focus on for their manifestations. For example, if someone is seeking to feel more confident expressing themselves, creating a crystal grid enhancing the energy of the throat chakra would be beneficial for them. McIntosh includes crystals that correspond with each chakra too.

There’s a general overview of crystals, but the focus is more on connecting with the crystal spirit rather than going by traditional meanings. McIntosh does a quick overview of crystals, most notably describing the different crystal formations and their significance, but those interested in working with crystals will definitely want to seek out supplementary information about the healing properties of various crystals to fine-tune the energy of their crystal grids.

My favorite chapter in the book focuses on the geometric templates based on sacred geometry. McIntosh talks about the power of ley lines and the earth’s grid, as well as geometric patterns such as the flower of life, medicine wheel, fibonacci spiral, and infinity symbol. She also teaches how you can create a grid for your home or room by placing crystals in different corners, which I think is so neat! Another fun thing in this chapter is creating elixirs by infusing water with the crystal grid. McIntosh teaches how to place the crystals and includes plenty of pictures for inspiration!

The final chapters focus on the art of manifestation and setting intentions and how to actually create the grid (preparing the space, cleansing/charing/programming the crystals, activating the grid). This is the real how-to, hands-on section of the book, and McIntosh does a lovely job of providing the readers with all they need to know to begin their process of manifestation with crystal grids.

All in all, Crystal Grids is a wonderful resource for those feeling called to working with crystals in a meaningful way. McIntosh’s process of manifesting perfectly blends intuition, the power of crystals, and the sacred geometry, allowing readers to better communicate their desire with spirit and bring about the changes they wish to see in the physical world. The colorful photographs alongside McIntosh’s gentle and easy-to-understand writing make this book perfect for beginners. I especially recommend it for those who already have an interest in crystals but have yet to take the steps to learn how to commune with the crystal spirits and direct energy through divine alignment. For those who enjoy McIntosh’s crystal grids, consider also checking out her Crystal Grid Oracle!

Cats, by John A. Rush

Cats: Keepers of the Spirit World, by John A. Rush
Destiny Books, 1644117460, 208 pages, October 2023

Cats are polarizing creatures. People tend to either love them or hate them, and while many cultures, most notably the ancient Egyptians, revered cats, their Christian associations with witchcraft and the Devil made them the target of persecution in medieval Europe. In the thirteenth century, Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) even issued a papal bull condemning cats as agents of Satan.1 Superstitions about cats, especially black ones, being unlucky or demonic, persist to this day, and humans who spend too much time around felines are often ridiculed for being crazy cat people.

In Cats: Keepers of the Spirit World, author John A. Rush, Ph.D., N.D., explores humanity’s complex relationship with cats as both pets and spirit animals, which goes back in time over thirty million years.

“This book is about origins, human and cat, for it is by looking at our ancient past that we can identify our deep connection to cats and our eventual attachment of spiritual characteristics to them,” Rush says.2

Rush is a retired anthropology professor and naturopathic doctor with an impressive oeuvre of published works on a variety of topics, from Witchcraft and Sorcery: An Anthropological Perspective of the Occult (1974) to Biological Anthropology: A New Synthesis (2023). He and his wife manage a colony of about fifteen or more feral cats, and over the past thirty-five years he has gained deeper insights into feline behavior through observation. 

“Cats are apex predators and our ancient ancestors, emerging in the Oligocene (thirty-four to twenty-three million years ago) and Miocene (twenty-three to six million years ago), were prey animals for millions of years,” Rush says.3

The anxiety and fear cats produced in our primitive ancestors influenced human evolution by altering our genetic coding. The rise of bipedalism in the late Miocene may have evolved as a response to these predators, so hominids could appear larger and avoid predation.

Over time, the relationship between cats and hominids became more symbiotic. Following the example of feline predators, our ancestors learned to supplement their diet of nuts and berries by scavenging the carcasses left behind by cats, using stone tools like teeth and claws to rend flesh from bone. “Not only are the cats eating our ancestors,” Rush says, “but they are also leaving us food in our time of need.” [19] He suggests that this gruesome exchange may be the origin of the concept of human and animal sacrifice. As the saying goes, you are what you eat, and some prehistoric cave paintings depicted humans with animal traits in order to create a spiritual link between hunter and hunted through sympathetic magic

The development of weapons and other primitive technology by Neanderthals and early modern humans flipped the script, and our ancestors became apex predators. A simple stick may have been the weapon of choice for millions of years, and Rush notes that his own cats are wary when they see him wielding a broom or a rake, which cannot be a learned behavior, since he doesn’t “whack” his cats.4 He sees their wariness as evidence that they have an instinctive aversion to sticks preserved in their genes.

Even though we are now at the top of the food chain, the primal fear of cats is still hardwired into our genetic coding. Rush proposes that humanity’s atavistic fear of being devoured by wild cats has been preserved in the myths of cannibalistic monsters like the baby-killing demoness Lilith, who could shapeshift into a cat, which brings to mind the myth of cats sucking the breath out of sleeping infants, a superstition that persists today.

Cats still see us as a form of food, and they certainly have a way of bewitching us into caring for them. With the rise of agriculture, domestication of cats may have occurred because cats were drawn to the rodents raiding our grain stores and humans valued their companionship and talent for pest control.

Rush dispels the popular belief that cats were worshiped in ancient Egypt, and emphasizes that their otherworldly characteristics were associated with gods, while the cats themselves were not deified. From Rush’s anthropological perspective, worship entails demeaning subservience to a deity.

“In my opinion, there is nothing divine or spiritual in worshipping a god to whom you are enslaved (Yahweh, God the Father, or Allah),” he writes. “Identification with various animals is what brings out our spiritual nature.”5

The concept of animal worship was used by cultures that claimed to be more civilized in an attempt to denigrate the Egyptians as foolish and primitive. Rush emphasizes that Egyptian deities depicted with cat heads, such as Bast and Sekhmet, were not deified cats, but goddesses with feline characteristics.

Rush devotes most of this book to providing a wide survey of cat folklore and mythology throughout the world. In “Issues of Cat Identity and Behavior in Spirituality” which is the longest and most captivating chapter, he demonstrates that the cat is, cross-culturally, a potent dualistic symbol, imbued with great power, for good or ill.

The physical power of cats was both admired and feared by our ancestors. The muscular legs of domestic cats and leopards enable them to climb trees and leap from branches, and Rush says that South African leopards “could snatch one of our Australopithecine cousins and drag him or her up a tree.”6 Trees often grew out of cave openings, and the chewed up bones of our bipedal ancestors have been discovered in the ancient lairs of leopards.   

Cats, as symbols of prowess and power, are often the guardians of thresholds:

“Along with the ability to see in the dark and their acute hearing, the cat’s tendency to seek out secluded, dark, protected places to hide and sleep connects the cat to role of guardian of the Underworld,” Rush says.7

He shares a cute anecdote about his own cats guarding the entrance to his bathroom “like the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau,”8 and any cat person can certainly relate, since most cats like to follow their owners to the bathroom. Almost every time I leave mine, all three of my cats are waiting for me outside the door. I have a long-haired black cat who was a stray I adopted four years ago, as well as two orange tabbies I adopted a little over a year ago from my next door neighbor, who oversees a cat colony. As a fellow cat lover, I was touched by the heart-warming personal anecdotes Rush shares about his own cats to elucidate his points about cat behavior, which he presents with the emotional detachment of scientific observation.

The sections of this book that interested me the most explored shamanistic beliefs involving humans shapeshifting into cats and the transmigration of souls:

“From Burma and other areas of Southeast Asia we hear that cats are keepers of souls,” Rush says. “In Laos, for example, souls are souls and they can migrate, and it doesn’t make any difference what animal they go into—they become part of that animal’s life force. I call this soul-shifting, somewhat like organ transplants.”9

Since souls can shift shape, a shaman can replace the soul of a sick body part with that of an animal. “Let’s say the soul of your legs leaves you, and you have trouble walking,” Rush says. “In Laos, the Hmong shaman can replace it with that of a cow or even a chicken.”10 Coming back to cats, Rush then shares a soul-shifting story he heard about a Hmong tribesman who died and his soul entered the pet leopard cat of the shaman who was trying to heal him. The shaman later left Laos and brought the cat with him to the United States in 1975, where it continues to haunt the streets to this day, exacting vengeance on anyone who harms Hmong people.

This urban legend demonstrates how, in modern times, mythological cats have persisted in the field of cryptozoology, and sightings of strange cat monsters still occur today. One of the weirdest examples Rush shares comes from the Pueblo and Navajo Indians of the southwestern United States, who claim that cacti-shaped cats with knives for paws get drunk off of cactus juice and cause trouble.11

Cats: Keepers of the Spirit World is a compelling exploration of the biological and spiritual evolution of humanity’s relationship with cats. Rush eloquently demonstrates how the mutual struggle to survive shaped the evolution of both of our species in profound ways, and even though we know very little about our primitive ancestors, his academic background as an anthropology professor lends an air of authority to this work. Cat lovers and armchair anthropologists alike will enjoy journeying with Rush into the mists of prehistory, and will no doubt learn something new from his comprehensive survey of cross-cultural cat folklore.

Meeting the Melissae, by Elizabeth Ashley

Meeting the Melissae: The Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter, by Elizabeth Ashley
O-Books,1803412496, 360 pages, October 2023

It’s more than likely you’ve heard about the Eleusinian Mysteries, a secret ritual which lasted for more than 4,000 years in Greece kept hidden by the threat of death if revealed to outsiders. Maybe you’ve read about the famous people who ventured to undergo this rite–Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Aeschylus–and questioned the impact it had on their contribution to the world. Or perhaps you’ve wondered if hallucinogens, such as kykeon or ergot, were involved in the divine experience those who were initiated into the mysteries came away with.

But have you ever stopped and wondered who the people were overseeing the ritual? If you look up the Eleusinian Mysteries on Wikipedia, there’s a whole page dedicated to the priesthood, yet absolutely no link for the priestesses. All that’s mentioned on Wikipedia is that these priestesses were the High Priestesses of Demeter and Kore (Persephone), one of the highest religious offices that enjoyed great prestige, but there’s scarce information about who these women were or the role they had within the ritual. As someone who is fascinated by ancient priestesses, I certainly wanted to know more!

In Meeting the Melissae: The Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter, Elizabeth Ashley has done a beautiful job of unveiling the long-forgotten priestesses of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Melissae. The Melissae, which translates to “bees”, were some of the most influential priestesses of Ancient Greece, but modern scholars, just like Wikipedia, have largely neglected their role in the secret ritual. Unbeknownst to Ashley, her curiosity about the latin name of Lemon Balm, Melissa officialis, would spark a sacred journey as she set out to learn more about these fascinating women and their mysterious cult.

“Mystery work – as in the Mysteries of Eleusis, the domain of Demeter’s Melissae priestesses – is drawn from one’s own internal revelations. Peeling back layers of femininity, it reveals your part in life’s mystical pattern. Through it, one recognises the sacred privilege of being chosen as Earth steward.”1

The book begins with Ashley’s description of how she began to explore these priestesses of Demeter, including her initiations to the shamanism of the bees. Next, she spends a good amount of time teaching readers about bees themselves: different roles  in the hive, their life cycle, how they communicate, pollinate, and reproduce – and so much more! I learned a ton about bees from reading this book; I had absolutely no idea of the complexity and synchronization of inner workings of the hive. I have an entirely new appreciation for bees and now see them in a whole new light, especially after reading about their sacred symbolism in both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece.

“A potted version of some of his Orphic beliefs is a person was born with Dionysian perfectly pure spirit, housed in evil, chaotic Titanic flesh. Spirits were believed to drift down from the Heavens, disturbed by the chaos of creation, moving around on the breeze, accompanied by the bees, until children were born. At that moment, the bees then accompanied the Dionysian spirit down to Earth, where it was breathed into the body at a baby’s first gasp.”2

The flow of this book is a bit like a bee’s might appear: clear direction but a little bit this way, then a little that way, moving forward though often looping back in a circuitous route. There’s a lot to piece together, but there’s an intuition to Ashley’s transmission of information. She writes:

“Not all Melissae were priestesses, and not every priestess was known as Melissa. Likewise, contrary to what herbal texts would have us believe, they were not only affiliated to Demeter, or indeed only to Greece, being found much further afield in Asia Minor and Egypt for instance. They belonged to a tradition that had originated from many thousands of years before.”3

Therefore, to fully paint a picture of the Melissae for readers, Ashley covers a wide-range of topics, such as the life of ancient Greek priestesses and how one became a Greek priestess. Then she specifically goes into detail about the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, Artemis, and Aphrodite before going even further back to the Minoan Priestesses and snake priestesses. She guides readers back in time to festivals (Thesmophoria) and rites (The Elusianian Mysteries, of course!) to highlight the connection to the Melissae.

My favorite chapter was titled “The Blood Mysteries”. She describes how M. officinalis is “profoundly involved with gynaecology, reducing period pain, balancing mood, and even guarding against post-natal depression.”4 Though she could not find any direct information association the Melissae with menstruation or sexual medicine, she came to the realizatino that Aphrodite’s girdle is the “sexual and gynaecological meridian”5, and working from this she pulls together compelling ideas about “family planning and colony control”6.

Though this book is extremely well-researched with plenty of references to follow up on, Ashley did not approach this undertaking as a scholar, but rather a woman on a quest looking for answers. The process of connecting with the Melissae involved soul-searching, opening up to new spirit guides, and piecing together bits of what was revealed to her. Ashley is very transparent about her journey, and in turn, she becomes a guide for the rest of us in the path to resurrect the ways of these lost priestesses.

“These reflections of the womb shamans have been brought down entirely from meditating and dreaming with Lemon Balm plant, with Melissa essential oil, CO2, and hydrolat, from using meditation techniques I have learnt and, of course, from spending time with the actual insects.”7

In recent news, bees have become a concern in the face of climate change. Changes in precipitation have been limiting their ability to collect food for their offspring, leading to a smaller population the following year. Bumble bees are one of the most susceptible species to the change of temperature. Concerns about bee population have led to encouragement to plant wildflowers and avoid the use of insecticides.

At the same time, one might assert in the face of patriarchy that the way of the priestess is also being threatened with extinction too. Might the bees and the priestesses of our world come together once again? After reading Ashley’s journey, I have hope that women of the world can rebuild their hive once again. For those who feel the calling to restore the divinity of both the bees and path of the priestess to its rightful place in the natural world, Meeting the Melissae is calling for you to dive in.

Entering Hekate’s Cave, by Cyndi Brannen, Ph.D.

Entering Hekate’s Cave: The Journey Through Darkness to Wholeness, by Cyndi Brannen, Ph.D.
Weiser Books, 1578637910, 256 pages, January 2023

From the artificial lights in our homes to the hypnotic glares of our televisions and smartphones, all the bright, glowing baubles of consumerism keep us overstimulated and distracted, diverting our attention away from the true healing power of closing our eyes, turning within, and facing our inner darkness. Even for those of us who are avidly seeking enlightenment, the false teachings of “love and light” spirituality can be perilous, reinforcing our collective denial of the shadow. When we focus on “positive vibes only,” we are operating from a place of fear, because we have become afraid that we will manifest our fears if we acknowledge them. The truth is that turning a blind eye to our darkness only further disempowers us, because the buried shadow content of our psyches has a magnetic quality, and we are more likely to manifest the things we don’t want in our lives if we continue to repress and deny them. 

In Entering Hekate’s Cave: The Journey Through Darkness to Wholeness, author and Hekatean witch Cyndi Brannen, Ph.D., is a psychopomp and healer, wielding her shamanic training and extensive experience as a professional psychologist like a blazing torch that guides readers through the labyrinthine tunnels of the Underworld to find the goddess within.

“Only by healing the shadow will we ever become whole,” Dr. Brannen says. “That is work accomplished in Hekate’s cave,”1 which is “a place of sacred darkness, a place where we awaken to our own souls.”2

Dr. Brannen is a leading authority on contemporary Hekatean witchcraft, and her previous works include Keeping Her Keys: An Introduction to Hekate’s Modern Witchcraft (2019) and Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft (2020). She also founded the Covina Institute, a Mystery School and Coven of Hekate, in which she is the executive director and lead instructor.

“Our journey is that of Persephone,” Dr. Brannen says, and “the journey of the cave is one of self-acceptance.”3 This resonated to my core because, when I first initiated myself, I devoted myself to Persephone, but it was Hekate who appeared to me in dreams, and in the first initiatory dream, she named me Persephone. I was already living my own unique version of Persephone’s myth in waking life, and through self-initiation, I was consciously acknowledging my archetypal identification with her. 

Based on my personal experiences and what Dr. Brannen writes, I believe that Persephone is the archetype of the witch who is initiated by Hekate and called into her service. Like Persephone, the witch has the shamanistic ability to move between the realms of the living and the dead, and communicate with spirits. She becomes queen of the liminal spaces, like Hekate.

There are fifteen chapters in this book, each one bearing an epithet of Hekate, accompanied by a unique sigil. I love working with her plethora of names because it’s like having a whole pantheon of Hekatean spirits who are each unique emanations of her multifaceted energetic current. The World Soul that is Hekate fragments like moonlight passing through a prism, bending into a rainbow of vibrant deific masks.

Dr. Brannen recommends gemstones for working with each epithet, such as “fluorite for learning and expanding awareness”4 when connecting with Hekate Triformis, the triple goddess of transformation. She also enlists one of my favorite stones, amethyst, “for awakening the soul,” “encouraging meditation,”5 and connecting with Drakaina, the ancient dragoness, or snake goddess, who “teaches us that we can shed our false skin.”6 I plan on focusing on the Drakaina epithet this year, since 2024 is the Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology.

I have always felt an affinity with stones, and I have been fond of collecting them since childhood, but it had been a while since I meditated with them, so this was a great reminder to reincorporate them into my daily spiritual practice. I have a heart-shaped green and purple rainbow fluorite that I decided to use to connect with Hekate Triformis. In numerology, my life path number is three, and I deeply resonate with the imagery of the triple goddess. The sigil also spoke to me, and came alive, like an opening eye, as I gazed upon it.

Working with Triformis, I imagined a trio of voices, saying, “We are Hekate.” This triple-voiced Hekate reminds me to think of myself as my past, present, and future selves, and what it feels like to be all three at once, living in the present moment. Through this conscious alignment, I am a multidimensional being, present in all three realms at once, seeing my past, present, and future simultaneously. The fluorite amplified my self-awareness and surprised me with memory flashbacks. I am going to continue working with fluorite to connect with Triformis and enhance my clairvoyance.

The stones are powerful allies on Persephone’s journey, because Entering Hekate’s Cave initiates a heart-wrenching Underworld descent. Maybe it’s the sigils, or the magical power of the epithets themselves, but just reading this book is shadow work, and it triggered cathartic emotional reactions within me.

“This book is also part memoir,” Dr. Brannen says, “recounting my own journey through a difficult upbringing, sexual trauma, addiction, disease, and more.”7

Brannen’s raw vulnerability and transparency is part of the healing magic. By being open and confiding with her audience, she creates a safe space for readers to do the same, and I felt prompted to journal about my own experiences. The goddess Hekate walks through fire with us. She knows our darkest secrets and feels our hidden pain. 

I read this book during Mercury retrograde in Capricorn, which, in my natal chart, is the Underworld of my 8th House, and it was an intense experience. The most poignant insight I had was that I still suffer from a childhood abandonment wound that I never fully processed because I didn’t give myself permission to grieve.

When I was eleven years old, my mother left me and my father for a man ten years her junior. I’m now almost 40 years old, and in the dark womb of Hekate’s cave, I realized that I still haven’t healed from this wound because I have refused to acknowledge it. When my mother left, I was glad she was gone. My dad and I decided we were “better off,” and he acted like he was celebrating. He stumbled through life drunk, partying and blasting music. Both of us were in denial about how painful the abandonment had been. Soon after, he moved another woman into our house and proposed to her, but they didn’t stay together long because she couldn’t tolerate his alcoholism. That was left for me to deal with alone.

I was supposed to embrace the narrative of being better off, and side with my alcoholic father (it was us against her). Yet on some level, he probably resented me for looking like her, and he was abandoning me too. He was never present because of his addiction, and through his example, I learned to escape my own problems through alcohol. I never grieved when my mother left, because acknowledging how deeply it hurt would have conflicted with the affirmation that I was “better off without her.” I now realize that, as an adult, this abandonment wound has had a long-term negative impact on my self-esteem, my romantic relationships, and my attachment style.

Societal conditioning doesn’t permit us to properly grieve and process our wounds. We are discouraged from dwelling on our pain and validating our emotions by experiencing them. We are taught to bury our pain and pretend to let things go, to forgive and forget. The very thing we need to do to heal, we are denied, because of our own shame for being wounded, and because seeing our pain inconveniences others.

Up until she left, my mother had indoctrinated me with Christian values. I was taught to love my parents unconditionally, to turn the other cheek when people wronged me, and forgive them for their trespasses. If I showed any sign of anger or defiance, she condemned me for being resentful, and told me that I should forgive her, for my own sake. But it was really for hers.

In Chapter 9, Dr. Brannen illuminates the cathartic powers of Borborophorba, an epithet that comes from the Greek Magical Papyri and means “Filth Eater.”8 This is one of my favorite epithets because it reminds me of earthworms, the tiny chthonic serpents that eat decaying organic matter and animal waste and transform it into nutrient-rich soil. “The Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl also ate the waste of humans, then defecated it as flowers, symbolizing the transformative power of the goddess to turn filth into gold,”9 Dr. Brannen says. Borborophorba assists us in the process of eliminating the spiritual toxins that burden us and finding the hidden treasures buried within them.

In the myth of Persephone’s abduction, picking a narcissus flower initiated her kidnapping and Underworld descent. “Narcissism is yet another pitfall for some Persephone women,”10 Brannen writes. Both the personality disorder of narcissism and the flower were named after Narcissus, “who was fated to stare longingly at his own reflection but never see his own interior depths.”11 Women who embody the Persephone archetype often worry over their image and have people-pleasing tendencies, because they want to be liked and their sense of self is based on what others think of them. They may also be more vulnerable to narcissistic abuse. 

I grew up with a poor sense of boundaries due to the toxic enmeshment of my narcissistic mother. When I was little, I was sheltered and overprotected by her, so the abandonment was a relief in the sense that it gave me the breathing room I needed in order to individuate. Being abandoned by my mortal mother was also a blessing in disguise because it led me to my divine mother, Hekate, the goddess of witches. Up until that point, my strict Christian upbringing had been stifling, and in her absence, I was free to explore other spiritual paths. Ironically, after my mother left, she decided she was a witch too, and stole the thunder of my spiritual rebellion, but it was only a passing phase for her, and she ended up returning to monotheism.

When I was a teenager, my mother used to tell me how funny it was that I’m a Gemini, because “we’re just like twin sisters!” (I have a Gemini Sun and Moon and she is a Scorpio Sun with a Gemini Moon). She told me we looked alike, and that our lives mirrored each other’s. Since she saw me as her “twin sister” and best friend, she confided in me about all of her problems and traumatic experiences, and the combination of over-identification and trauma-dumping created a toxic empathic bond, which Dr. Brannen identifies as “secondary traumatic stress.”12

Now I realize that she was a narcissist who saw me as an extension of herself, and she didn’t want me to have a separate identity of my own. If I got angry at her for her behavior, she would gaslight me and say that I was the one doing whatever it was that she was doing. This confused me and conditioned me to question my perception of reality, to blame myself for any problems I encountered in relationships, and to tolerate boundary violations made by romantic partners. 

My mother abandoned me and my father to be with her “true love” because she was a selfish narcissist. Even when she was around, she wasn’t present, mentally or emotionally. When I reached adulthood, she continued to abandon me by obsessing over that “true love” who in turn had cheated on her and abandoned her. Throughout my life, we went through cycles of her smothering and abandoning me, which gave me an anxious-avoidant attachment style.

Shadow work involves deep soul searching and self-reflection, which is sometimes shamed in our society as narcissistic navel-gazing, but this is a healthy form of narcissism that dives deep into the well of the soul, bringing us into alignment with our true selves.

The irony of narcissistic abuse is that the narcissist manipulates their victim into believing that they are the selfish one. Any attempt made by the victim to break free and assert their independence is perceived as narcissistic by the narcissist. Persephone’s narcissism is actually a natural part of her individuation process and represents her quest for personal autonomy. The narcissus flower symbolizes her blossoming self-awareness, but because her identity is still so wrapped up in her mother’s, it becomes an Underworld journey expressed through her forced marriage. It’s like she traded one narcissist for another. Or at least, that’s how it manifested in my life, because I found myself in relationships with narcissistic, abusive partners who reminded me of my mother.

Chapter 7, titled “Chthonia: The Descent,”13 focuses on protecting your boundaries and honoring the sacredness of your personal space. This chapter was the most triggering for me because of my personal struggles. I grew up with a poor sense of boundaries as a result of the toxic enmeshment of my narcissistic mother, as well as bullying I experienced at school, and the cumulative abuse groomed me for intimate partner violence. 

While reading this chapter, I felt a lot of repressed rage surfacing as I reflected on the multiple instances of betrayal, abuse, and trauma I have experienced throughout my life. I felt enraged by the initial bullying and abuse that crippled my sense of personal boundaries and made me vulnerable to repetitive boundary violations. I found myself yelling and cursing all the people who have disrespected me and violated my boundaries in the past (I was alone in my home at the time), and it was a primal scream, like the roar of triple-voiced Hekate. I felt an immense sense of cathartic relief afterwards.

Beneath all the rage is the heartbreak of giving someone unconditional love and forgiveness and being punished for it with repeated disrespect and gaslighting until you are forced to cut them off for good. The last time I saw my mother, which was a few years ago, I had a vision of her as a zombie, grabbing me by the ankle and trying to drag me down to hell with her. That’s when I knew I had to make a choice: it was either her or me. I’ve been catering to her emotional needs and ignoring my own for most of my life. I felt toxic levels of empathy for her personal pain and traumas while neglecting my own. It’s time to choose me.

“As you move deeper into Hekate’s cave, your ability to discern between truly toxic people and those who are nourishing you amplifies,” Brannen says. “This may result in a cutting away of relationships with those who offer nothing but a steady diet of toxicity.”14

I have realized that, deep down, I’m terrified that if I love myself, it will make me a narcissist. I’m scared people will think I’m selfish and mean, because any time I have tried to set boundaries or stand up for myself, I’ve been accused of that, or the person offending me lashed out in anger and I felt that my physical safety was threatened. I’ve always identified as an empath, and concerned myself with the feelings of others, while disregarding my own. I was selfless, meaning I had no sense of self, because other people’s feelings were more important. I always tried to be caring and considerate of others, and I too easily forgave people who mistreated or disrespected me. 

I was leading an inauthentic life. The harder I worked, the more impoverished I became. The more I tried to please people, the more they shamed and abused me. I reached a breaking point in 2019, and completely withdrew from society. I became a ghost, hiding in the shadows. I have been in Hekate’s cave ever since, feeling like I’ve completely lost my mind, despairing over my inability to function like a normal person, and only receiving the repeated message from my oracles that I need to heal. I hated myself for no longer being able to find a place in society. This passage revealed to me the reason why I’ve had such a lengthy stay in my personal Underworld: 

“In the tales of Persephone, there is little told of the time between her entry into the Underworld and her ascension. We can imagine that Hekate pulled her into the cave so that she could adapt to her calling. During this period, she transformed from the naïve maiden to the sovereign queen.”15

Like Persephone, I need to remove the societal mask I have outgrown and embrace my soul’s true essence. I need to shed the false skin of familial and societal expectations that were projected upon me so I can be my authentic self. Just as flowers return from the Underworld in the spring, I will be able to step back into the light when I am ready to blossom into the wholeness of my personal sovereignty. 

I can’t praise Entering Hekate’s Cave enough. This book came to me because I needed it. It also validated some of my personal revelations about the relationship between Persephone and Hekate, and blessed me with new insights as well. Dr. Brannen is a gifted healer and her work is a boon for all of those who have been called to serve Hekate and illuminate the darkness.

Natural Beauty Recipes, by Karen Gilbert

Natural Beauty Recipes: 35 Step-by-step Projects for Homemade Beauty, by Karen Gilbert
CICO Books, 1800653085, 145 pages, January 2024

This year during my annual holiday shopping at Lush, I decided in 2024 I want to learn how to create my own beauty and skin care products, most especially massage bars. Just a few days after that, I saw the newly released Natural Beauty Recipes: 35 Step-by-step Projects for Homemade Beauty by Karen Gilbert, which I soon discovered is the perfect book to support my new year initiative! This beautifully crafted book has all the information I need to get started, and after reading it, I feel confident and excited about my first projects I’ve planned out.

Gilbert is an expert in the field of natural skincare and fragrance, creating award-winning formulas for Neal Yard Remedies. She currently runs artisan perfumery workshops both locally in the UK and online and has previously published Perfume: The Art and Craft of Fragrance, teaching readers how to train their noses and layer scents to create body products and home fragrance sprays.

Before delving into the projects in Natural Beauty Recipes, Gilbert gives an overview about beauty and skincare overall, sharing the different skin types and a three-step skincare routine to follow and the “do” and “don’ts” of diet necessary to maintain a good complexion. She writes, “You would be surprised how many people with skin problems do not even think about changing their lifestyle, and try to fix them with cosmetic products instead.”1

With this in mind, Gilbert turns towards setting readers up with all they need to know about creating their own recipes, starting with the equipment required, ingredients, preservatives and antioxidants, and information on shelf life. I really enjoyed reading this section because often when I look at the back of a bottle, I have no idea what the ingredients are or why they are necessary, but now I understand better how different parts of the recipe work together.

And, oh my, all the things these ingredients can create is incredible! The recipes are divided into three different chapters, focusing on the face, body, and, finally, bath and shower. For every recipe, Gilbert neatly lists the ingredients and equipment required and provides a full description about the recipe, explaining why the ingredients are used, expected shelf-life, and other alternatives to ingredients or things that can be removed/added, depending upon one’s intended outcome.

She also includes a textbox on how to use the recipe, which, depending on the recipe, makes suggestions such as how long to leave on one’s face, how to prepare the skin for application (cleaning face, dampening skin, etc), or amounts to use (ex. 2 cups of bath salt). Gilbert wants you to have the best outcomes, and it’s clear she’s giving you every little detail to ensure you know not only how your product is created but its most efficient use too.

But do you want to know the absolute best part of this book? The pictures of every step! It is so incredibly helpful to be able to see pictures of each step to make sure I’m doing things correctly. Alongside the photographs, are Gilbert’s step-by-step instructions, which are thorough and fully convey what to expect/what is happening at each increment in the process. There’s also always a picture of the final product too, so you know what you’re making from the get-go.

Other very nifty and useful parts of this book are the glossary and resource section. The glossary defines terms used–the words I’m grateful to now understand when reading product labels! For instance, cocamidopropyl betaine is defined as follows:

“A mild surfactant derived from coconut oil. It is often used to make the product foam more and to improve the viscosity (thickness) in shampoo or shower gel formulations.”2

Then the resource section has lists of virtual workshops and tutorials, further reading (websites and books), website for a lye calculator, and what I find to be most valuable, lists of ingredient suppliers for both the UK and USA. I’m so grateful for Gilbert including these resources because finding reputable ingredients was on the forefront of my mind as I am preparing to start creating my own natural beauty recipes.

Here’s a list of the recipes that I’m most excited to try, which showcase the range of projects Gilbert teaches readers in this book: Rose & red clay cleanser, Lavender & witch hazel skin freshener, Rosehip treatment balm, Argan eye mask, lip balms, Vetiver & vanilla body cream, Shea butter & lemongrass hand softener, Pumice & peppermint foot scrub, Geranium & orange massage bars, Dead Sea detox bathing salts, Skin-softening milk bath, Herbal bath bags, and most of all, Mint-choc bath melts! I can already envision feeling luxurious, fresh, and radiant in 2024 when using these products. (I’ll just have to get my husband to share the excitement, as I have no doubt these ingredients add up quickly in cost! 😀)

All in all, Natural Beauty Recipes is a marvelous resource for those interested in getting started with making their own products. Gilbert gives readers her all; her expertise in fragrance and natural beauty shine through. Whether you’re a novice like me, beginning from step one, or someone who has some experience under their belt, Gilbert’s carefully curated set of recipes is such to delight the senses. I’m really looking forward to doing my first batch of a few of these as soon as my ingredients come in the mail. Until then, I’ll just keep doing my research and referring to this beautiful book for inspiration.

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches, by Frater Barrabbas

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches: Advanced Liturgy Revealed, by Frater Barrabbas
Crossed Crow Books, 1959883267, 250 pages, February 2024

In the Digital Age, witchcraft has become more popular and accessible to the public than ever before. Social media is a hot conduit for witches to spread information and personal gnosis through posts and video shorts, leading to the rise of practitioners who are sometimes referred to by the derogatory term “Tiktok witches,” because the quality and validity of this bite-sized content is often questionable. These days, it seems that witchcraft can be whatever a person who identifies as a witch believes it to be. A lot of witches, perhaps due to religious trauma from monotheism, are squeamish about applying the word religion to their craft, and many focus on self-deification, with a tendency to see spirits as archetypal forces they can activate within their psyches rather than as real, conscious entities with personal agendas of their own. If every person who identifies as a witch gets to make up their own definition of what witchcraft is, claim godhood by their own right, and discard the foundational teachings just for the sake of rebellion, then I feel there is a risk of clashing egos compromising the structural integrity of witchcraft as a spiritual path.

In this era of self-serving pop culture witchcraft, it’s refreshing to come across a book that both grounds readers with the religious roots of modern witchcraft and advances them to the next level. In Sacramental Theurgy for Witches: Advanced Liturgy Revealed, author Frater Barrabbas, who has over forty years of experience as a practicing ritual magician and is “an elder and lineage holder in the Alexandrian tradition of Witchcraft,”1 offers a solid foundation, taking readers back to basics while still leaving plenty of wiggle room for creativity, personal gnosis, and experimentation.

His lore blends the theurgical practices of pagan magicians and Neoplatonic philosophers with the magical rites of Catholicism, which feels deliciously blasphemous, and brings to mind the myth of witches attending Black Mass, even though no sacraments are stolen from the Church or defiled. Frater Barrabbas claims that he has “appropriated what is no longer sanctioned or used by the Catholic church,” such as the Tridentine Mass, “and resurrected and transformed them to the service of Witchcraft liturgy and magic.”2 He proposes “that Witches and Pagans can repurpose the tools and beliefs that were once an important part of the Catholic faith from a completely modern Pagan magical perspective.”3

I love Frater Barrabbas’s incorporation of Catholic elements because I see the vast pantheon of saints as thinly veiled paganism, and I occasionally work with saints that I believe were originally pagan deities appropriated by the Church. I also take mischievous delight in rewording phrases from Christian prayers in blasphemous ways. For example, I might bless a ritual implement on my altar with the menstrual blood of Lilith instead of the blood of Jesus. I feel that a little bit of inversion and blasphemy in one’s witchcraft can be a wonderful way to break the chains of traumatic religious programming from childhood.

I was raised by a charismatic Christian, and have found that incorporating Judeo-Christian elements into my practice has helped heal my own religious trauma. By disowning monotheism, it became a part of my shadow self, so to deny that aspect of my spiritual heritage did not bring me to a place of wholeness. Initially, I wanted nothing to do with anything even remotely Christian and focused only on working with pagan spirits. But over the years (and it has taken many years of conscious effort to work through my religious trauma), I have gradually welcomed a few angels, saints, and even the Devil into my practice.

I was initially drawn to Sacramental Theurgy for Witches because I prefer a traditional approach to witchcraft. While I don’t strictly follow any specific tradition, my current practice is more strongly influenced by Robert Cochrane’s Traditional Witchcraft than Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, and I love that Frater Barrabbas incorporates the use of traditional ritual tools, such as the besom of spirit flight and the stang, a forked staff that is iron-shod like a steed for Otherworld travels, which is an implement derived specifically from Cochrane’s craft.

Theurgy is a crucial element of this book, which Frater Barrabbas defines as “a magical operation that induces the Deity to perform a paranormal operation to benefit an individual or a group or to refrain or block an occurrence that would cause harm.”4

“Witchcraft Theurgy consists of two distinct categories,” Frater Barrabbas says, which are “sacramental magic and magical Mystery rites,” and the book is divided into two parts to cover these practices.5

Sacramental magic encompasses workings that bring the witch into union with a chosen deity, such as rites of transubstantiation, statue animation, and godhead personification. Magical mystery rites align the witch with the cycles of nature through the observation of lunar phases and seasonal rituals. In the chapter on “Lunar Mystery and Moon Magic,”6 I appreciate that Frater Barrabbas emphasizes the uniqueness of each Full Moon from an astrological perspective. There is also a chapter on establishing a sacred grove outside, if one is blessed with a private outdoor space that can be dedicated to the gods. The theme of honoring divinity made manifest in nature is complemented by beautiful illustrations, many of which depict the various guises of the Horned God as naked men with horned animal heads.

Frater Barrabbas analyzes the theurgic practice of godhead assumption in witchcraft, in which a priestess or priest becomes a vessel, or medium, for a deity. The most well-known example of this practice is the classic rite of Drawing Down the Moon. One of the potential risks of godhead assumption is ego inflation, in which the vessel over-identifies with the deity beyond the scope of the rite, and Frater Barrabbas suggests that this can be prevented by working with a specific deity with a very distinct personality rather than being vague and calling upon an amorphous archetypal figure. He refers to the vessel as a medium, emphasizing the fact that they are channeling a specific spirit, not an aspect of themselves. I appreciate him addressing this hazard of divine possession because I’ve noticed there is a tendency to obsess over personal power and self-deification in the occult community, which I consider to be dangerously delusional. I have the traditional perspective that a witch’s power comes from spirit allies, not the ego. I feel like this attitude keeps me grounded and protects my sanity.

In one’s personal practice, godhead assumption can be used to work magic by channeling the power of the deity through oneself. For example, when the witch temporarily becomes the embodiment of a deity during a ritual, they become a mouthpiece for that deity, granting the witch greater authority, because it is not the witch speaking the spells, but the higher power of the channeled deity speaking through them. In Chapter Six, titled “Art and Ordeal of Deity Personification,” Frater Barrabbas instructs the reader on how to proceed with the “Witch’s Ordeal of Godhead Union.”7 Godhead assumption requires intense dedication and an intimate relationship with a specific deity. The devotional practices of sacramental theurgy create alchemical transformations within the witch that lead to “union with the One,”8 a choice of words reminiscent of the language people use when talking about coming into union with their true love, soul mate, twin flame, or whatever term of endearment they have for their ideal romantic partner.

“This ordeal is a magical love spell that you are going to cast on your God, and it will powerfully affect both you and your deity,”9 Frater Barrabbas says.

Self-love is an important part of this process. Just as one would take good care of themselves to attract a mate, the witch is instructed to become an object of desire for their deity by bathing often and beautifying themselves with fine clothes, jewelry, makeup, and sweet perfumes.
I love this approach to godhead assumption because I’m fascinated with the biblical story of the Watchers descending from heaven and mating with mortal women, which can be interpreted as symbolizing the Holy Guardian Angel uniting with the witch as a divine lover. This also brings to mind the ancient concept of having a God Spouse, in which a priest or priestess becomes symbolically wedded to the god they serve. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Greek mythology, in which the Cretan princess Ariadne, the Lady of the Labyrinth and half-sister of the Minotaur, marries the bull-headed god Dionysos. After helping the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur, Ariadne flees Crete with him, but he abandons her on the island of Naxos, where she is rescued by the god Dionysos and made immortal through her union with him.

I personally believe that the New Age concept of going on a Twin Flame journey, which entails seeking union with one’s Divine Masculine or Divine Feminine counterpart embodied in an unavailable human partner, is a corruption of the idea of a God Spouse. Before Ariadne married Dionysos, she was heartbroken and left deserted on an island by the hero Theseus, and heartbreak can be a major catalyst for inner transformation and seeking a higher love with a divine counterpart.

Frater Barrabbas explores the possibility of “a sexual encounter with an embodied deity”10 in rituals of sacred sexuality, such as the Great Rite, which “is used to confer upon an initiate the third degree of a consecrated priest or priestess,”11 which is the highest degree in British Traditional Witchcraft. He also conscientiously addresses the importance of taking precautions regarding the safety and well-being of those practicing sacred sexuality, which must always honor mutual consent.

I appreciated the occasional personal anecdotes Frater Barrabbas shares that humanize the experience of being a witch. For example, before revealing a ritual titled “Erotic Mass of the Fourfold Goddess,”12 he tells the story behind it, and it really impacted me emotionally. He relates how this rite was revealed to him by deceptive coven leaders who claimed it was an ancient secret ritual. “What I found out later was that this beautiful and supposedly ancient ritual had been completely made up by the leaders of my group and passed off as legitimate lore to the members,” he says. “Since those times, these same leaders left the Craft in the early 80s and became ardent fundamentalist Christians who targeted Witches and Pagans, telling the public that we were merely dupes of Satan.”13 He shares this ritual with readers because he doesn’t feel oath-bound to keep it secret, considering its true origins.

I’m a solitary practitioner and I’ve never been in a coven, so the group rituals he shares in the book are beautifully written and inspiring, but will not be of practical use for me. One reason why I’ve never been in a coven is that most of the people I’ve met who have shown an interest in witchcraft lack commitment and sincerity. It’s a passing phase to them, and they can easily turn back to monotheism. It’s even more astounding to me, that in the author’s experience, these traitors were elders in his tradition.

I really resonated with this passage because it reminded me of times in my life when I felt betrayed by romantic partners, friends, and family, who either pretended to be accepting of my practice, or once identified as witches themselves, and then went back to Christianity and completely turned on me, condemning me as a devil worshiper and calling my gods demons. It hurt me deeply, but I think these experiences can be blessings in disguise, because tests of faith can deepen commitment.

In an initiatory vision I received well over a decade ago, I had a sexual encounter with the Horned God in the guise of Cernunnos. I remember vividly that it happened on a Winter Solstice. That night, I felt a strong calling from the spirit world to cast a circle and go into a trance, though I didn’t know why. During this impromptu ritual, I had a vivid vision of being in a vibrant green forest drenched in sunlight, and an erect Cernunnos approached me. I was so surprised by what was happening that it shocked me out of trance, and I immediately became afraid that the Christians were right, and witches really do have sex with the Devil. I identified as Wiccan at the time and up until that point I had denied the existence of the Devil, as did most, if not all Wiccans, probably due to the Satanic Panic, but this experience shifted my perspective and caused me to reevaluate my entire belief system. I had reached a dead end with Wicca, and my spirit allies were guiding me to Traditional Witchcraft. It took me several years to unravel the
religious conditioning of my childhood and I gradually understood that this experience was an initiation into the mysteries of the Horned God as the folkloric Devil, who is a shapeshifting spirit of nature, and not the personification of absolute evil. Embracing the title of devil worshipper helped me to do necessary shadow work for my personal and spiritual growth.

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches is not for the faint of heart or those who think of witchcraft as a passing phase. It’s for serious devotees who have established their own consistent practice over the course of many years and wish to deepen their relationship with the divine by not only becoming a medium for their chosen deity, but by elevating their relationship with their god to a sacred romance, and love is the greatest mystery of all. By weaving together the seemingly disparate threads of multiple traditions, and integrating their wisdom into his own lore, Frater Barrabbas promotes a sense of wholeness, rather than separation, in witchcraft. This book will be a wonderful resource for those looking to reconcile Christianity and other traditions with their practice.

The Torch of Brighid, by Erin Aurelia

The Torch of Brighid: Flametending for Transformation, by Erin Aurelia
Moon Books, 178904281X, 144 pages, June 2023

As someone not too familiar with the tradition of flametending, my ideas around what I thought it was versus what it actually is was both surprising and enlightening. In The Torch of Brighid: Flametending for Transformation, author Erin Aurelia takes us into the realm of the Goddess and shows us precisely what it means to be a flametender.

As an author, poet, spoken word performer, editor, and book coach, Aurelia has tended Brighid’s Perpetual Fire for 20 years and is the founder of the Daughters of Brighid flametending order. Author of numerous books on the subject, Aurelia also runs an editorial services and book coaching business where she offers her services to authors in a variety of self-help and spiritual areas that focus on women writers and voices in the heart-centered and spiritual coaching space.

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you will know that I love introductions as I feel they set the tone for the entire book and also impart the flavor of the author’s tone. In this book, Aurelia provides both a preface and an introduction and I couldn’t be happier.

The preface sets the tone for the book, clearly setting out the author’s goals and direction. It’s explained here that this book is not “reconstructing a past pagan practice, as there is no known pre-Christian flametending practice to Brighid which can be reconstructed”1.Aurelia is very clear that this book is not making any direct connection between any sort of mystical links that might have been suggested previously by other authors’ works, and instead chooses to focus on “presenting an inspired practice, like spiritual poetry.”2

At first blush, this whole book feels like a poetic love letter from the author to the Goddess Herself. It’s well written in a style that is approachable for those not familiar with this specific realm of spirituality yet doesn’t feel dumbed down for those who are seasoned. The concepts presented resonated deeply with me personally, and I was a bit surprised at the depth of my feelings as I read through it. This practice feels like coming home to oneself in the context of using deity as a conduit, which is of course what the purpose of this book is. It’s empowering and fulfilling and inspirational and I am so glad I picked it up.

The topics discussed in the book range from the history of the practice to an in depth transformational journey through the seasons. While it sounds like a lot of time needs to be invested, the book states that the reader can experience the sensation of flametending through a twenty-night period. Considering how often we subject ourselves to fad diets and other modes of “bettering” ourselves, I would respectfully offer that twenty nights of this practice could be far more beneficial than counting calories or fasting. But I digress: we each walk our own path.

The introduction gives the reader some background on how Aurelia first came to know Brighid. I find these origins fascinating as we have all walked our own paths to the various deities that we work with. Aurelia’s story resonates not because of the deity she observes but of the way she has integrated the lessons into her personal journey. She states:

“Her burning torch lit and guided my way, and where she led, I followed. I followed her from being one who burned myself out for others to one who learned to tend her flame from within. I followed her in my spiritual practices from celebration to devotion to contemplation to transformation.”3

This path described by Aurelia is precisely the one laid out in the book. I would humbly offer that burnout is often something experienced by those in caregiving or mothering roles, whether or not they have additional responsibilities outside the home or facility in which they provide care. Speaking personally, I often find myself in positions where I give too much of myself and then have nothing left for myself. This book is instrumental in discovering why that happens, and, more importantly, how to identify when it’s happening so that the energy can be shifted inward to where it’s needed most.

One of the most powerful concepts in this book is the idea that spiritual exploration and growth need not be done using external methods. While helpful at times, it’s also easy to become lost in a sea of voices and practices that might not be what’s needed. This is a personal practice and while you could share this journey with others at some point along the path, this feels very much like a task for one.

The practices in this book are presented in an easy to understand way with various supporting modalities, including runes. Aurelia says that the book is geared towards devotees of Brighid and those curious about the practice, stating:

“The depths can be dark, but her torch ever shines to illuminate a way for us toward our own illumination, healing, and growth. The practice in these pages is an invitation to follow this lit path through the forest of ogham trees in search of your true self, your unbreakable and remarkable soul hiding behind and beneath your fears.”4

If you are at all interested in any of the concepts presented here, pick The Torch of Brighid up. In fact, even if you aren’t interested, pick it up anyway and thumb through it. I guarantee something in these pages will leap out and whisper to you as it did to me.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice, by P.D. Newman

Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, by P.D. Newman
Inner Tradition, 164411836X, 224 pages, December 2023

Theurgy is a Neoplatonic form of ritual magic in which the practitioner seeks mystical union with a divine being. The term theurgy, which means “to work with deity”1 in Greek, was first coined in the Chaldæan Oracles, a fragmented collection of dactylic hexameter verses, written in Homeric Greek, that were believed to have been channeled directly from the gods by either Julian the Chaldæan, or his son, Julian the Theurgist, during the late second century CE.

In Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, author P.D. Newman, who has practiced theurgy for over two decades and is also a member of both the Masonic Fraternity and the Society of Rosicrucians, supplies a solid scholarly background on the development of theurgical practices. Even though the Chaldæan Oracles are the fundamental text on theurgy, he argues that the practice itself can be traced all the way back to Homeric times. 

In Part I, he demonstrates how the ancient Greek version of shamans, called iatromanteia (“healer-seers”), and the Presocratic philosophers laid the foundation for theurgical practices.

“Theurgy,” Newman explains, “is a process of anabasis or magical ascent whereby practitioners, such as the Neoplatonists…achieved henosis or mystical union with a deity, the Demiurge or the One,” while katabasis is “a dreamy descent to the domain of the dead and to the dark goddess who rules over that realm.”2

Plato and his followers aspired to ascend through the planetary spheres and unite with the One, the paternal Monad, using theurgical practices, while their predecessors, the iatromanteia (“healer-seers”) and Presocratic philosophers, sought Underworld descent, or katabasis, and union with the terrifying goddess that ruled there.

“For the Platonists, katabasis was understood as the descent of the soul into a body upon incarnation,” Newman says. “Hades, additionally, was allegorized and viewed as the very world that we, as embodied beings, inhabit.”3

In Plato’s teachings, the body (soma) is a grave (sema), and a prison for the soul. Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave” in the Republic demonstrates how the focus of theurgical practices shifted from the Underworld to the heavens. “The goal of the theurgist is not unlike that of the prisoner in the cave—to escape the sensible world of duality and penetrate the realm of ultimate, unitive reality above,” Newman says.4

I was fascinated to learn that the Sicilian stratovolcano Mount Etna was believed to be an entrance to Hades, and sacrifices to the goddess of the Underworld were thrown into the mouth of this fiery cauldron. According to legend, the iatromantis (healer-seer) Empedocles threw himself into the volcano to prove his divinity, and it erupted, vomiting out a single bronze sandal. Through self-immolation, Empedocles achieved henosis (mystical union) with the goddess Hecate. A single bronze sandal is one of her attributes as the Lady of Tartaros in the Papyri Graecae Magicae, and the Greeks associated bronze with the Underworld. This was a profound insight for me because I didn’t know that Hecate was associated with volcanoes, and this explains her fiery epithets. 

Part II explores possible theurgic elements in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In Chapter 6, titled “Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs,” Newman demonstrates how philosophers often saw Odysseus as a spiritual hero, on a path of return to his celestial abode. For example, he says the Pythagoreans interpreted the song of the sirens to be the music of the celestial spheres, which is so beautiful it has the power to “lift the soul in its theurgic ascent to the Good,”5 and the Neopythagorean philosopher Numenius of Apamea saw “Odysseus as escaping genesis, the realm of ‘becoming,’ symbolized by the waters of Poseidon.”6

I loved this chapter, and the passages about Witch Queen Circe really blew my mind. According to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, Circe symbolizes the cycle of metensomatosis, or reincarnation, in which eternal souls change bodies like clothes. Aiaia, the island over which she rules, is part of the land of the dead. Bewitched by the pleasures of the flesh, Odysseus’s men drink the witch’s brew and are reborn as beasts. Only Odysseus himself, who is on a path of ascension, is immune to her powers. Now that my perspective has been shifted to view the Odyssey as the tale of a hero’s apotheosis, I will never read it the same way again. 

Part III, titled “Theurgic Telestikē,” analyzes the practice of animating cult statues. This section was the most relevant for me because I have written my own rituals to awaken my deity statues in the past and I am looking to incorporate more traditional methods of doing so in order to infuse my rituals with historical authenticity. I also recently wrote a ritual to enliven a scrying mirror for Lilith, because in Jewish folklore she was believed to inhabit mirrors. One passage in particular really resonated with my intention, in which Newman quotes Plotinus, who compared the consecrated cult statue to “a mirror able to catch some image of it.”7 

In order to animate the statue, a sympathetic link is created with “theurgic talismans called synthēmata (tokens) and symbola (symbols),”8 which are similar to the planetary correspondences assigned to plants, animals, and minerals in natural magic. However, there is more to statue vivification than simply following a list of correspondences recognized by the intellect. Rather, the tokens and symbols help the theurgist align with the deity by making their divine essence become conscious, or awakened, within themselves, especially if they have psychoactive properties that alter one’s consciousness. For example, in fragment 224 of the Chaldæan Oracles, the goddess Hecate instructs the theurgist to animate her statue with wild rue, or Syrian rue, an entheogenic plant that the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder associated with vision, which is still burned today in the Middle East to repel the evil eye.

My devotion to Hecate inspired me to learn more about theurgy because of her exalted status in the Chaldæan Oracles, in which she is referred to as the World Soul, or at least she is according to my copy, translated by Ruth Majercik. Before reading this book, I wasn’t aware that there is conflicting scholarship about whether or not this epithet applies to her, and I was surprised to find that Newman presents the argument that Hecate is not herself the anima mundi, or World Soul, because her position in the Chaldæan hierarchy is too elevated.

“Indeed…in the Oracles, Hecate is said to be the cause of soul—but not soul itself, “Newman says. “Rather, Hecate is acknowledged as a goddess of liminality who exists in the space between two realms, such as she served when acting in the role of psychopomp for Persephone in the Eleusinian mysteries.”9

In an initiatory dream I received over a decade ago, Hecate stabbed me in my right side with her dagger and pomegranate juice flowed from the wound. “You are Persephone,” she said. Several years later, the dream made more sense to me when I read Fragment 51 of The Chaldean Oracles: “Around the hollow of her right flank a great stream of the primordially-generated Soul gushes forth in abundance, totally ensouling light, fire, ether, worlds.”10 If Hecate is so elevated that she transcends the epithet of World Soul, then I wonder if perhaps her lowest aspect, the maiden Persephone, should in fact hold that title.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice is an astounding work that combines shamanism, various schools of Greek philosophy, and theurgical praxis that can be integrated by modern occultists. The many branches of Greek philosophy can be an overwhelming topic to explore, but Newman does an excellent job of diluting the common theurgical elements, and a wealth of information is condensed into under 200 pages. Both modern theurgists and devotees of Hecate will appreciate this work, especially if they are interested in learning more about her significance in the Chaldæan Oracles.