✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

Tag Archives: book review

Astrology of the Shadow Self, by Maria D’Aoust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seiðr Magic, by Dean Kirkland, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runes for the Green Witch, by Nicolette Miele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mindful Garden, by Stephanie Donaldson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, by Kenneth Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magdalene Frequency, by Adele Venneri

 The Magdalene Frequency: Become the Love You Are Not the Love You Seek, by Adele Venneri
Bear & Company, 1591435005, 192 pages, November 2023

The Magdalene Frequency: Become the Love You Are Not the Love You Seek by Adele Venneri was not at all what I was expecting, and in retrospect, I am so glad it wasn’t.

When I first received this book, I thought it was going to be another one of those self-help visualization books where you write affirmations to yourself and look yourself in the mirror to tell yourself how wonderful you are. However, The Magdalene Frequency is….something different. Deeper. More concentrated. It’s not about telling yourself you’re good enough. It’s about becoming the best version of yourself all the time. You become your best partner. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about the lore surrounding Mary Magdalene and much less about the teachings that have been developed as a result of her influence. I thought she was simply a bit player in a religious book that I personally have shied away from for most of my life. Part of my reason for wanting to read this book was to find out what I was missing. I struggle with books that are heavy with religious overtones and undertones, and this book has plenty of those. But is it worth the discomfort? YES.

An expert in esoteric psychology and the expansion of consciousness, as well as a researcher and professional counselor, author Adele Venneri decodes the mythology and stories around Mary Magdalene and presents a whole new frame of reference. She offers the idea that Mary Magdalene (or Myriam as she is often referred to) is actually an ancient frequency of the soul that provides a blueprint for both accessing that frequency and working with it.

So what exactly is The Magdalene Frequency  about? In the introduction, Venneri explains:

 “In the pages of this book you will not find the story or the pseudo story of Mary Magdalene that during the centuries has been made up and altered, depending on the historical context or on the needs and interests of those who were writing. Mary Magdalene is a controversial figure, concealed and vilified by the occult power of the church with the goal of keeping hidden not only the secrets about who she really was, but also hiding the secrets of the history of humanity.”1

This is more of a spiritual journey that the reader takes with themselves in an effort to find their own specific resonance within the context of the universal framework surrounding the frequency. This isn’t something to be taken lightly; the work encompasses a great deal of personal introspection as well as practical reformatting around previously held beliefs.

Thirteen chapters delve into the mysteries surrounding Mary Magdalene. From the first chapter that details the author’s personal encounter and subsequent journey with the frequency to the final words that bring the book to a radiant closure, the information is presented in a way that encourages questions and rewards patience. There is an undercurrent of an invitation to go deeper if the reader chooses to, and that’s where the discomfort creeps in.

To be clear, this is not a book for someone who is casually interested in the esoteric vibrations of the universe and learning how to use those vibrations to better themselves. This is some really intense information that for some might not be easy to grasp. I found myself looking up terms and unfamiliar words only to find myself standing at the top of a rabbit hole so deep and dark that had I jumped in, I would still be going in circles in order to understand this book.

Would I recommend The Magdalene Frequency  to others? Yes, with the caveat that they have a pre-existing desire and thirst for the knowledge embedded in these pages. If you don’t know the topic and aren’t prepared to do the work needed to process the information contained in these pages, then I would respectfully invite you to pass.

Magic for Change, by Cerridwen Greenleaf

Magic for Change: Spells and Rituals for Social Transformation, by Cerridwen Greenleaf
CICO Books, 1800652623, 144 pages, October 2023

When I first started reading Cerridwen Greenleaf’s Magic for Change: Spells and Rituals for Social Transformation, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect. I had read other books with similar themes in the past, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the concepts that were going to be introduced; however, I know that there are some methods of discussing social justice and social change from a (very) narrow perspective, so I didn’t necessarily have high hopes that this book would be different.

I was pleasantly surprised. Greenleaf discussed several different manners and topics for activism, including chapters on climate change; peace, which featured not only country-level conflicts but also gun violence as a whole; ending hunger, not only in the world, but also in your local community; witchcraft for feminists; and ways to manifest money and other material gains for the benefit of all. According to Greenleaf:

“This book stems from my years of activism and is based on the magical intention to provide practitioners with the tools, ideas, and inspiration to make this a better world.”1

Out of everything in their book, I was particularly interested in some of the concepts and practices that Greenleaf discusses in their chapter about feminist witchcraft. Their section on Solidarity Shrines was especially interesting to me because I can’t always have an obvious shrine set up in my space; their suggestions for small things to use in place of a full altar that will still attract like minded people motivated me to set up a small Solidarity Shrine of my own! (And if you’re curious, I think it has worked so far; I’ve met several more writer friends both in-person and online, and have even found a local group to go play trivia at bars, which is something I’ve never been able to do before!)

Greenleaf’s discussions about tea were also some of my favorite parts of Magic for Change. I’m a huge tea drinker, so it seemed natural that I would gravitate toward these recipes, especially since I could very easily translate them into my morning or nighttime rituals. Most of the herbal teas that they discussed were equal parts magical and delicious, with their herbal money brew being one of my favorite new recipes that I tried. As to whether I’ve been able to manifest more money, that remains to be seen… but I have found money in unexpected places that I must’ve stored away and forgotten about, so if that counts, then the herbal money brew works quite well!

Throughout the book, Greenleaf’s writing style was very approachable and accessible for all levels of practitioner, from beginners to those who are more advanced in their craft; the content seems to be more geared toward beginners and early-intermediate practitioners, though. If you’ve been practicing witchcraft for years, you most likely will know a lot of the information that they discuss already, though you may not know exactly how to apply it in the context of creating social change, which could make this book an interesting addition to any witch’s bookshelf.

Another aspect of Magic for Change that made the book very accessible to read was the fact that it wasn’t all simply blocks of text; rather, there were a lot of illustrations included, many in what would be considered the borders or margins of the page, but that served to break the text into easily digestible pages.

It seems that they have a very strong understanding of kitchen and home/hearth styles of witchcraft, which is what a majority of this book focuses on; I would have appreciated if they included some material on more diverse forms of magic that could also be used for change, protest, and resistance, but it did not impact my enjoyment of the book in any way. It’s probably just a personal preference, but if you’re like me and something like divination or ancestor worship are at the forefront of your practice, you might find it a little difficult to fully immerse yourself .

I also would not recommend this book for anyone who is unable to practice openly or who doesn’t have any safe spaces to practice, also known as being “in the broom closet.” A lot of the rituals Greenleaf suggests will leave physical evidence or will require the practitioner to acquire supplies that may raise some red flags for nosy individuals in their life.

However, if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of magical practices that can very easily be adapted to activism, Magic for Change would be a good choice. There were a lot of examples of rituals that I had never thought to apply to the context of activism; if you have a coven, this book will give you ideas of how you can all work together to manifest change, but there are also plenty of rituals and ideas for a solo practitioner to develop their craft.

Secrets of Santa Muerte, by Cressida Stone

Secrets of Santa Muerte: A Guide to the Prayers, Spells, Rituals, and Hexes, by Cressida Stone
Weiser Books, 1578637724, 256 pages, August 2022

The inevitability of death haunts the living. Ancient Roman philosophers valued daily contemplation of their mortality as a source of inspiration, a motivation to live with integrity, and an incentive to prioritize what truly matters with the Latin motto memento mori: remember that you must die. Motivational speakers today still use this phrase to inspire their audiences to follow their dreams and lead authentic lives.

While mortality motivation honors death in a philosophical and abstract sense, there are those in the contemporary occult community who personify and worship death as a powerful spiritual ally who blesses them with love, prosperity, and good health. This vibrant and alluring modern day personification of death is Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint who takes the form of a female Grim Reaper. Her name means “Holy Death”1 in Spanish, and a vast underground cult is dedicated to her honor. She holds a scythe in her right hand and a globe or the scales of justice in her left, and an owl sits at her feet. Her iconography was no doubt derived from the saturnine skeletal figure of the more popular Grim Reaper, who emerged in fourteenth century Europe during the Black Death, and blended with the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of Mictlan, the Aztec underworld.

Secrets of Santa Muerte: A Guide to the Prayers, Spells, Rituals, and Hexes by Cressida Stone is a comprehensive guide to working with the skeleton saint. In lucid prose, with simple yet potent rituals and prayers, this work focuses on authentic Mexican praxis, and includes several orisons Stone collected from native practitioners while conducting research in Mexico. A doctor of religious studies and a devotee of Holy Death herself, Stone spent six years in Mexico studying with Santa Muerte curanderos and compiling this work.

Stone had a close encounter with death that initiated her into the mysteries of Santa Muerte:

“I was living in Mexico when one night, on a full moon, I had a near-death experience,” she writes in the preface. “I literally stared death in the face when my car crashed off a ridge. I survived miraculously with zero injuries. As I walked away from the wreck, I realized that my accident had taken place right by a shrine to Santa Muerte.”2 

When Stone entered the chapel, a bruja (witch) approached her, saying that she had been expecting her, as Santa Muerte had foretold her arrival in a dream. The bruja introduced Stone to an underground community of Holy Death devotees across the country. Stone’s informants wanted her to record and share their tradition for posterity and to spread true knowledge of the cult of Death beyond Mexico. Nine months later, on the night of a full moon, Santa Muerte herself visited Stone in a dream and gave her the task of writing a book devoted to her mysteries. Secrets of Santa Muerte is the fruition of Stone’s dedicated research and spiritual devotion.

I have felt drawn to Santa Muerte for years but resisted the call because I am not of Mexican descent, and I was also wary of her due to her reputation for being venerated by drug lords. However, Stone reveals that the cult of Santa Muerte is not a closed tradition, and people from all walks of life honor her.

“Death does not judge, as she comes to us all,”3 Stone writes. “It does not matter your color, your age, your origins, your class status, your sexuality, your lifestyle choices, or your nationality.”4

A few months ago, as I reflected upon my hesitation to work with her, Santa Muerte communicated a similar message to me in spirit, which inspired me to learn more about her by reading this book. I realized that my primary concern was that people might shame me for cultural appropriation if I followed my calling to work with her, and she made it clear to me that race and ethnicity do not matter to her. When her scythe rends our garments of flesh, we are all bare bones underneath. She will strip us clean of our illusions, and reveal the truth of who we really are. Since she was reaching out to me and communicating with me telepathically, I felt I was being given a direct invitation to begin building a relationship with her.

When this book came into my possession, I had a vision of a ghostly female figure floating in the air, dressed in white, and when I asked her who she was, she turned to face me and revealed she had a skull for a face beneath her long white veil. That’s when I realized that the white aspect of Santa Muerte was communicating with me. I picked up the book and flipped through the pages to the following passage: “In her white gown, Santa Muerte is caring and maternal, and she gifts great blessings of health, cleansing, and well-being.”5 In this guise, she “is known as la Niña Blanca (the White Girl).”6

Santa Muerte has three primary manifestations: white, black, and red. “This book instructs you on how to work with all three of these key attributes of Santa Muerte,” Stone says. “It also teaches you how to use other colors, such as amber, yellow, green, silver, gold, bone, brown, pink, and purple; to combine colors; and to use specific Mexican candles to reap financial, spiritual, and intellectual success.”7

Setting up a sacred devotional space dedicated to Santa Muerte is a crucial first step in working with her, and Stone offers detailed guidance on how to create an altar. She tells readers everything they need to know about selecting a statue, and details what all the different colors mean, as well as the symbolism and various postures of the statues. Ideally, the devotee will invest in a statue for Holy Death to embody, but a picture will suffice. For those who can’t afford anything more than a simple candle and a heartfelt prayer, Santa Muerte will understand and one can begin working with her anyway. 

“The folk saint needs to have items representing the four elements on her altar,”8 Stone says. One of the simplest and most important offerings is water, and “daily refreshment allows energies to flow through your shrine.”9 Fire will enliven the altar in the form of candle flames, air is represented by tobacco smoke or incense, and earth is symbolized by flowers, stones, and items made from wood or clay. “She advised me that wooden statues and those made of stone, such as obsidian, are among the most powerful, because although Saint Death is celestial, she also is deeply chthonic,”10 Stone writes.

Another reason I hesitated to work with Santa Muerte is because she enjoys offerings of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. I quit drinking and smoking a few years ago, and avoid being around it because of my addictive personality. However, Stone points out that, while Santa Muerte does not judge those who engage in these practices and will party right along with them, she also helps people overcome their bad habits if they so desire. For those who wish to break addictions to tobacco or alcohol, these may be offered up to her as something belonging only to her, and thus off limits to the devotee. By sacrificing your vices to her, she can alchemize them into positive energy.

I love this advice, as I was intuitively guided to do this in my own practice after I quit drinking. Once a few months had passed and my cravings had subsided, I made offerings of my favorite whiskey to the Devil for this very reason. I think this approach is effective because instead of repressing and denying the addiction, which was once used to escape life and avoid dealing with painful emotions, it is made sacred and set apart for Spirit. Substance abuse profanes entheogens that should be held sacred, and victims of soul loss are most likely to abuse them to escape their pain. I know in my case this was certainly the reason, and once I engaged in deep shadow work and addressed the underlying reasons for my substance abuse, I was able to release it. 

Daily devotion is essential when working with the skeleton saint. “Holy Death does not like to be ignored,” Stone says. “You must be willing to stop by and speak to her daily, as well as pray to her frequently, for her to take care of your petitions and miracles.”11 Stone also shares a few cautionary tales, in which devotees are punished for offending the Grim Reaperess. The moral of these tales is quite simple: don’t make a promise to Santa Muerte that you can’t keep. Finally, Stone shares an unbonding ritual to “break up with Death,”12 in the event that one decides this spiritual path is not right for them.

I believe that when we start thinking about a spirit and imagining what it will be like to work with them, we are already bonding with them by sending them that psychic energy. I realized that in my fear of initiating a working relationship with her, I was ignoring the fact that she was already reaching out to me and communicating with me in spirit, so I decided it was time to plunge right in and officially begin my Santa Muerte practice. While I had already acquired a framed picture of Holy Death a few months ago, I had decided to read this book first, and I was reluctant to begin working with her because I didn’t have any free space to devote an altar solely to her (the top of my chest of drawers is cluttered with statuary devoted to several other spirits already).

However, while I was reading, I felt guided to make space for her. My current altar is on a small night stand beside my bed that I cleared for her and it’s very simple, with a framed picture of the skeleton saint and four elemental representations, including a glass for water (and an occasional shot glass of tequila), a candle for fire, a tumbled piece of Mexican crazy lace agate for earth, and a stick of palo santo and copal resin incense for air. 

In the “Ritual to Awaken Your Statues and Cleansing Ritual,” Stone recommends using the “three sisters of cleansing: rosemary, rue, and basil,” which “can be boiled together for cleansing and awakening any statue and for cleansing yourself.”13 Garlic boiled in water is another potent cleanser. While Stone believes homemade herbal waters are the most powerful, devotees may also use store bought flower waters and colognes, such as rose water, orange blossom water, and Florida water. She also recommends bathing statues in moonlight because “Santa Muerte is deeply connected to the moon, which is her planet.”14

I always have fresh garlic cloves on hand, so to consecrate her image, I made a garlic wash and cleansed the black and white framed picture I have, which depicts Santa Muerte as a bride. Then I fumigated the image with white copal incense while reciting one of the prayers given in the book. As the silky veil of smoke wrapped around the frame, her skeletal face appeared to glow with an inner light. I visualized her inhaling the smoke through her nose cavity and being enlivened by it.

I appreciated the sections Stone wrote on divinatory practices with Santa Muerte, which include “Insect and Animal Omens,”15 the meaning of various candle flame movements during spell work, and ceromancy, which is the art of interpreting symbols formed by drippings of candle wax. This inspired me to incorporate Santa Muerte into my tarot practice, and I put a tarot deck called The Bones Arcana on her altar so I can channel messages from her using it. This particular deck has skeletal figures on each card and the color scheme is monochromatic with splashes of red, so it’s perfect because it honors her primary colors of black, white, and red.

The first message I received from her was the King of Wands. She was telling me to take the lead, be confident, have faith in my abilities, and trust my intuition. This message was quite fitting because I delayed beginning a relationship with her due to self-doubt and questioning my worthiness to approach her.

Before beginning spell work with Santa Muerte, Stone advises readers to light a candle and pray to the skeleton saint for nine consecutive days, which is a devotional practice called a novena. Over the course of my novena, I experienced moments of severe depression, and I realized that by asking her to “rid me of my sorrows,”16 as the daily prayer beseeches, she was bringing deep pain to the surface for me to release. One night, about midway through the novena, I couldn’t sleep and sat up in bed crying. I felt her holding me in her bony embrace as tears streamed down my face, as if she was urging me to let it all out. 

The nine days of devotion got me into the habit of reciting a prayer to her each day, and I think of my daily devotion to Holy Death as a form of memento mori: remember that you must die. Facing the inevitability of my death each time I look at her skeletal visage reminds me that I fear mediocrity. I want my life to be sacred and meaningful, and Holy Death’s ethereal presence is a daily reminder to stay aligned with my soul’s true purpose.

Secrets of Santa Muerte is an excellent guide for those who want to work with the skeleton saint, but don’t know where to start, and experienced devotees may learn something new as well. This book is filled with practical information that can be applied to spirit work in general. Even if the reader doesn’t feel called to devote themselves to the folk saint, all the advice Stone gives on providing regular offerings and keeping the altar clean are good practices to follow when working with any spirit. There are also spells and prayers for pretty much any need or desire you can imagine.

This book is so detailed that one could probably build their whole Santa Muerte practice around it without needing to read any other book. Stone has done a great service to Santa Muerte and her followers, and as a neophyte of Holy Death, I am grateful for all the hard work and dedication she invested in this guide. This is one book I will be keeping on Santa Muerte’s altar for daily reference.

Celtic Cauldron, by Nicola McIntosh

Celtic Cauldron: Rituals for Self-Care and Manifestation, by Nicola McIntosh
Rockpool Publishing, 1922785709, 288 pages, May 2024

The images of conjuring done with a cauldron is a well-known magical image. This is most likely because the cauldron is one of the most versatile magic tools, taking all sorts of shapes and sizes throughout history. From teas to stews, anointing oils to potions, there’s all sorts of creations that a cauldron can bring to life. Celtic Cauldron: Rituals for Self-Care and Manifestation by Nicola McIntosh is a beautiful guide to the many possibilities the cauldron holds, teaching readers how to use their cauldron for spells, healing, divination, and more.

McIntosh blends her wisdom as a Western and Chinese herbalist and Celtic shaman together in this book, providing plenty of nature-based methods for manifestation using the cauldron. Her previous publications include Plant Spirit Medicine, Celtic Spirit Oracle, Mushroom Spirit Oracle, Apothecary Flashcards, and Crystal Grids. She dedicates her time to sharing her knowledge to help others look within, raise consciousness, and tend to themselves and the environment with care. Much of her work is centered on connecting to nature, and this book is a lovely example of how the natural and magical world can support you.

The book itself is absolutely collection-worthy. The cover is a soft fabric, and the sturdy binding makes it easy to flip through the pages and open them fully without harming the spine. All throughout the inside,  McIntosh infuses the pages with her artwork and photographs, which is a real bonus as a visual aid to the recipes and directions provided. There’s a real earthy feel to the book, and as soon as it is opened, the natural magic begins to whirl around energetically.

“The cauldron is said to contain the Awen or be the cup of Awen, or the Cauldron of Inspiration. The Welsh word ‘Owen’ means ‘inspiration’ or ‘essence’ and is the inspiration of poets and creative artists.”1

McIntosh begins with a history of cauldrons, sharing famous cauldrons both real and mythological. For instance, there’s the Gundestrup Cauldron “that dates back to approximately the 2nd or 1st century BCE.”2. Then there’s also the mythological cauldrons of Cerridwen and Magda.

Once the history is explored, McIntosh moves into the modern applications of cauldrons, specifically from the Celtic and Druid traditions. She covers how to select and care for your cauldron, with plenty of pictures for inspiration, suggesting one spiritually prepare for their new cauldron by creating space for it on your altar and perhaps even a ritual. I was pleasantly surprised by McIntosh’s practicality, as she notes that a simple tempered-glass product, like a Pyrex measuring cup can work as a cauldron.

Then, before delving into all the magical possibilities for one’s cauldron, McIntosh spends an entire chapter on the importance of ritual. She suggests making self-care a ritual, and offers ways to ritualize your intention, including creating an altar, journaling, and working with plants and crystals. She writes:

“Rituals can literally change anything within your life. When we turn our attention inwards, we make big changes in our external environment because we attract what we are. This is the key to manifestation: We must be in alignment with what we wish to draw into our life.”3

The rest of the book is just tons and tons of amazing recipes for all types of cauldron creations. “Plant Magick” is a chapter covering brews, simmers, essence, lotions, and potions.  There’s recipes for fortune telling, inspiration, love, cleansing, and more. My favorite are Dandelion Joy Lattes (dandelion root coffee with milk and honey/maple syrup) and strength potion, which is “excellent for times when you feel vulnerable or run down or need inner strength to face something.’4

The next chapter, “Anointing Oils, Salves, and Melts” covers infused oils and homemade salves for all types of intentions (meditation and calmness, visionary and divination, protection, cleansing and clarity). The melts are lovely too because you can burn them in your cauldron after you make them in your cauldron—things coming full circle! Many of these involve certain spices, herbs, and essential oils, all of which McIntosh covers in detail. Once again, her understanding that not all readers will have access to all ingredients comes through, showcasing her desire to be inclusive in sharing her knowledge with all.

“Fire Magick” focuses on candles and incense. As mentioned before, there’s ton of pictures, which I found especially helpful for this section. I loved the idea of making a small cauldron into a candle that can be infused with herbs and crystals to add to one’s spellwork. I also loved McIntosh’s directions for making a mullein, or hag torch. For those interested in making their own incense blends, McIntosh provides wonderful step-by-step instructions with plenty of visual aids, along with ways you substitute ingredients if needed.

As a kitchen witch, my absolute favorite chapter was “Magical Meals”. For my birthday recently, my husband and I went to the Melting Pot where we did a bit of three-course cauldron magic. This experience was what inspired me to learn more about using the cauldron in my own craft. And in perfect alignment, McIntosh dedicates a whole section to chocolate cauldrons! Absolutely delicious. The recipes include Chocolate Love Bombs, Chocolate Knowledge Bites, and Chocolate Fondue that can be used as a base for one’s own chocolate crafts. In this chapter, McIntosh also teaches how to use the cauldron to make damper scones, rosemary and salt bread, cinnamon and sultana bread, stew, and mulled wine.

The final chapter “Miscellaneous Magick” covers spell bottles, spirit bottles, medicinal pouches, salts (ritual salts, bathing salts, etc.), and scrying. I definitely plan to make the Refresh Bath Salts, which combines basil, eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree.

One of the best parts of this book is the immensely helpful appendices at the end. There’s an herbal reference table that spans nearly 35 pages that covers the associate element, planet, polarity, edibility, spiritual use, medicinal use, cauldron use, and caution for hundreds of plants and herbs. It’s astounding how much information is shared in these pages, and it’s a true marvelous resource. There’s also an appendix on crystals, offering insight into the chakra, color, and element of the crystals. The final appendix is the Ogham tree alphabet.

All in all, Celtic Cauldron is perfect for those looking to incorporate a cauldron into their magical practice. McIntosh provides so many ways one can utilize their cauldron magically, from candles to culinary treats. The quality of this book makes it worth the investment, and readers are sure to turn to it again and again when crafting their next ritual. Those new to working with a cauldron will appreciate all of McIntosh’s advice for getting started, while seasoned practitioners will love the informative tables and recipes that make it quick to decide on ingredients for manifesting their intentions.

Throwing Bones, Crystals, Stones, and Curios, by Mystic Dylan

Throwing Bones, Crystals, Stones, and Curios: Includes 20 Unique Casting Boards for Divination and Insight, by Mystic Dylan
Weiser Books, 1578638364, 128 pages, April 2024

The art of casting lots, also known as cleromancy, is an ancient practice that involves interpreting patterns formed by throwing bones, stones, and other trinkets. This method of divination has been used by many cultures throughout history as a means of seeking guidance, insight, and answers to important questions. Different types of bones, dice, shells, crystals, or other significant small objects (curios), are used in this practice, each carrying its own symbolic meaning. In Throwing Bones, Crystals, Stones, and Curios, Mystic Dylan provides readers with all they need to know to begin their own cleromancy practice.

Mystic Dylan is a seasoned occultist, skilled in palmistry, tarot, and other mystic arts. He is a professional witch who utilizes his gifts to help others in their personal lives. He currently teaches classes, runs a coven, co-hosts Life’s a Witch podcast, and co-owns III Crows Crossroads online store.1 He also is the co-founder of The Olde World Emporium in Santa Clarita, California. In this book, he draws upon his research and experience to teach readers about different forms of divination, in particular cleromancy.

“Most divination techniques require the reader to interpret different patterns, or to pay attention to the system and base the answers on what it is the reader seeks and feels.”2

Right off the bat, this book caught my eye with the many full-page, color photos. This isn’t a long, text-filled read. All the guidance is direct and to the point, often written out step by step with information shared in bullet points, tables, and lists. The style makes it very easy to absorb Mystic Dylan’s wisdom, while also having an aesthetically pleasing read. The book is nice enough to keep on a coffee table to spark conversation or magical moments when company comes over, though there’s a good chance you’ll also want it nearby your altar once you begin to practice your own hand at casting lots.

The book begins with an overview of divination, including how it even appears in the Bible, but with time was banned and became associated with witchcraft and magic. Mystic Dylan is very encouraging about it being a personal process of finding what works best for one’s own intuitive gifts, noting that not all forms of divination will appeal to each reader. Fortunately, the list provided is broad enough, encompassing divination forms alphabetically ranging from abacomancy (“to read the patterns of dust, dirt, sand, or the ashes of the dead”3) to tasseography (“reading with tea leaves and interpreting their patterns”4). He also offers insight into the types of psychic senses, or the avene which one’s psychic gifts may appear, such as through hearing (clairaudience) or empathy and emotion (clairempathy).

From here, the focus shifts to the specifics of throwing bones and building one’s cleromancy set. Mystic Dylan covers where to store your casting kit, giving the items meaning, noticing position and direction, and many other how-tos to feel confident getting started. While it’s important for the practitioner to build their own meaning, there are lists of commonly associated meanings for certain items, such as ribs being related to protection/withholding, coins being related to money, and seashells being related to feminine energy, emotions, and fertility. This guidance helps readers to be aware of the energies they want to bring into their casting set as they begin to put it together. There’s even a list of types of animal and the associations with their bones. Alligator bones are associated with “strength, determination, protection, and stubbornness”5, while fox bones are associated with “cunning intelligence and diplomacy”6.

Necromancy and scrying are also covered, but in much less detail. There are rituals for protection, connecting with one’s bones through necromancy, and cup reading, along with instructions to make a Venus glass for scrying and doing oil and water scrying. For those who are new to scrying, there’s also a very long list of potential things one might see and the meaning.

There’s also guidance on divination with pendulums, dice, eggs, astrology, runes, and playing cards. For those unfamiliar with astrology, there’s really helpful tables for the planets, houses, and zodiac signs. Only a page or two is offered for each type of divination, but there’s enough information to get started and see if the method suits you. If you are feeling connected to the method, you can always follow up with other sources to learn more.

For me, the best part of the book was the second half which features twenty boards that can be used with your casting set or pendulum for more insight.

“The main purpose of a board during a cleromancy or pendulum reading is to have a reference of possible images, letters, numbers, and symbols that might come up when those specific elements on the board are touched. This adds more detail to a reading and helps us connect with our intuition in a deep way.”7

There’s all types of boards! Some of my favorites are the Druid Circle, Wheel of Fortune, Wishing Star, Venus Vibes, and The Sybil’s Circle. The boards take up a full page, and the book bends enough to fold them down flat and cast right on the book. The key thing is noting which bone, stone, crystal, or curio falls where to blend the meaning of the trinket with the placement on the board. So far, each cast I’ve done has been very insightful. Mystic Dylan notes how it’s important to also notice if a trinket goes off the board, as well as the patterns the cast lands in.

While the first half of the book was quite informative, getting to know the boards requires actually practicing cleromany. It definitely takes a little time to gather the materials, especially if you’re trying to put together a very specific casting set with certain types of bones, stones, crystals, or trinkets. But I suggest starting simply to get a feel for casting lots. Most people have crystals and trinkets laying around, perhaps even shells and stones from time spent in nature. Do your best to not overthink it, and have the courage to work with the boards sooner rather than later. They’re a great tool for beginners getting used to divining the lots cast. And remember you can always begin with a pendulum on the boards first too.

Overall, Throwing Bones, Crystals, Stones, and Curios guides readers on a journey through the mystical art of casting and interpreting symbols to uncover hidden truths and receive guidance from the universe. Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or a curious novice, this book offers a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to enhance your divination practice and connect with the spiritual realm in a meaningful way. Get ready to explore the mysteries of the unseen world and unlock the secrets that lie within the patterns of bones, crystals, stones, and curios as you embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. You’ll find a diverse range of techniques to tap into your intuition and gain deeper insights about what the future holds.