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Lessons from the Empress, by Cassandra Snow and Siri Vincent Plouff

Lessons from the Empress: A Tarot Workbook for Self-Care and Creative Growth, by Cassandra Snow and Siri Vincent Plouff
Weiser Books, 1578637937, 224 pages, October 2022

I’d been contemplating how I wanted to honor Venus retrograde from July 22nd to September 3rd of this year. Since the retrograde is happening in my first house of self, I settled on examining my relationships to self-care and creative pursuits, which admittedly have been low on my list of priorities after the past six months of postpartum life tending to a new baby. This retrograde feels like a sacred time to nourish myself and my creative pursuits, and luckily, I found the perfect book to guide me through: Lessons from the Empress: A Tarot Workbook for Self-Care and Creative Growth by Cassandra Snow and Siri Vincent Plouff.

“… we can recognize that creativity is not just for the chosen few but that it is our own birthright to create. In fact, creativity as the ultimate form of self-care is self-expression exalted.”1

This book opens news doors for self-care and magical practice with the tarot. The authors describe how the Empress teaches how to nurture ourselves through physical senses into our lives, working “in partnership with the materia” and through “taste, sight, smell, hearing, and touch”2. The prompts, tarot spreads, and rituals help to create the grounded life structure for our abundance, creativity, and self-care to flourish.

Divided into three parts, readers are led through preparation, journeying inward, and arriving at self-acceptance through the tarot. The slow and steady build anchors the reader in their own body as they open to receive the wisdom of the Empress. There’s no need to rush through. And being a workbook, Lessons from the Empress requires time and space for the reader to truly dive in and do the tarot readings, writing prompts, and integrate their reflections.

The journey begins with discovering one’s own inner empress. The authors offers creative ideas for self-care, a tarot spread to learn more about your current self-care practice, and a dedication opening ritual. Then she provides the tarot basics for readers who don’t know much about the tarot: picking out a deck, the general meaning of the suits, and how tarot reading is really a form of story-telling. Once the foundation is laid for generally understanding tarot, the focus switches to using tarot cards to create rituals, specifically self-care rituals.

“Some people struggle to create healthy routines for their self-care, but you are worth the time and effort it takes to establish them.”3

After some initiatory tarot spreads, the journey deepens as the reader enters the major arcana. The authors tells the full story of the major arcana from The Fool to The World to help readers understand the archetypal and spiritual journey of tarot, framing it in different ways for readers to see connections between the cards. Then there are major arcana spreads, self-care prompts, and creative prompts for the reader to do, along with a ritual to spark fresh ideas.

Finally, the third part of the book focuses on the minor arcana, and it is by far the longest section! Just as the readers were guided through the story of the major arcana, the authors now turn to telling the story of each suit (wands, cups, swords, and pentacles) from beginning to end with the court cards described separately. Following the same format, there’s a spread for each suit, self-care prompts, creative prompts, and a culminating ritual.

Throughout the book are tools for the readers to further their tarot knowledge and magical practice. For instance, there’s “get to know the cards“ charts for the major arcana, minor arcana cards by suit, and court cards by suit that have traditional associations for the cards along with a blank column for readers to fill in their own personal associations.

The authors also offers styles of witchcraft and styles of creativity for the different types of cards. For instance, the styles of witchcraft suggested for the wands include candle magic, sex magic, trusting the gut instinct. While styles of creativity for swords include automatic writing, journaling, reading, and blending scents.

As with any workbook, you get what you put in! While the content of the book is very interesting to read, especially the stories of the major arcana and each suit, truly undergoing the journey of the Empress involves creating the space and routine to do the spreads, practice intentional creativity, and tap into your own magic.

For me, the structure of the book has been good for keeping me organized and on task! When I feel my self-care routine slipping or am feeling low (a sign I’m out of touch with my creativity), I can go back and pick up where I left off, and usually I get right back into my flow. This being said, it has been weeks that I’ve been moving through the book, and I’m only through the major arcana and one suit. But that’s okay! If I’ve learned anything from the Empress so far it’s that I can indulge in my creativity, take my time, and let things happen at their own pace.

Overall, Lessons from the Empress is a fun way to cultivate a self-care practice. It’s unique in the way it invites the elemental magic of the tarot to inspire the readers and focuses on creativity as a source of self-care. Whether you’re new to tarot reading or have years of experience, embracing the tarot with the focus of self-care is a new experience, opening up yet another way the tarot can be used as a spiritual tool for personal growth.

Queering Your Craft, by Cassandra Snow

Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft from the Margins, by Cassandra Snow
Weiser Books, 1578637218, 288pages, November 2020

From now on, whenever someone asks to me to recommend a book about getting started in witchcraft, this is the book I am going to recommend, whether or not that person is queer.  I say this because Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft from the Margins by Cassandra Snow breaks the practice of witchcraft down into simple components that can be picked up by anyone, anywhere and used however they wish, making the craft of magick much more of a personal celebration of creativity, passion and power.  To make the craft of magick-making accessible to a diverse, marginalized population, Snow guides their readers on how to customize their craft so that it can hold meaning and be powerful, even when practiced individually, on a budget and with limited resources. 

This is a “how-to” book on making magick and living a magickal lifestyle. First though, Snow tells us why we need a specifically “queer” magic textbook. The two most influential craft-based magical lineages in the West, Gerard Gardener’s Wicca and Alistair Crowley’s Thelema use symbolism and themes strongly rooted in gender-binaries, which can be alienating to the growing population of the magickally inclined who identify as non-binary. 1

For Snow, queering magic is recreating symbols, themes, and sacred space for a wide variety of gender and sexuality variance.  Their first step on this path is offering a “Queer Witch Manifesto” in the introduction of the book, which Snow refers back to repeatedly throughout the book as an ethical framework for practicing magickal craft and identifying as a witch.  Snow’s “Queer Witch Manifesto” acknowledges (in sum):

✨Infinite genders and sexual identities. (Throughout the book Snow uses the abbreviation LGBTQIA2SP+ whenever referring to queer-identified individuals)
✨The need to dismantle white supremacy and patriarchal power and the need for this dismantling to come from the non-white community.
✨The positivity of all expressions of consensual sexuality.
✨That anyone can invoke Goddess energy regardless of whether they have a uterus.
✨Physical, emotional, and mental disabilities do not make a person unable to practice magic.
✨Personal healing is a precursor to collective healing.
✨We must protect and heal the Earth.
✨We are all equals in magic.
✨All bodies can be magical, regardless of ableism.

I kind of want to needlepoint this onto a pillow! How about you?! 

Laying out this list (with much clearer articulation and more detail than my summary here) at the beginning of the book, the rest of the book is about practicing the craft of magic-making.  Snow knows history and as a result is able to deconstruct magical rites, rituals, and practices from their origins in order to present them as something simple anyone can start to practice. For example, they note the transformative magick of making lists, ““My money magick usually… starts with a list of my financial goals and immediate needs and then I add a list of long-term goals.” 2. Then for the the transformative magick of prayer to a spiritual being, Snow writes “Prayer is so easy, free, and accessible that anyone can do it…. A quick prayer that is literally just ‘thank you’ when you get unexpected luck or a despairing “please help” when you’re feeling your absolute worst is enough.” 3

Snow strongly advocates a DIY Witchcraft, which is making your magickal craft out of what is available to you and infusing your magick with intentions specific to you.  While she does discuss some examples of collective magick, such as covens or working spells in a group context for political aims, Snow acknowledges that for queer people, the most powerful accessible magick may be that which they create on their own from their own hodge-podge of wisdom, creativity, desire, and power. Snow even offers a “how-to” worksheet for designing one’s own spells.

My personal favorite parts of Queering Your Craft is the section on “Fashion and Style Witchcraft” where your magickal intentions can be enhanced by dressing a certain way. Snow writes, “I might pull out a purple outfit for creativity.  I also might pull out a long pencil skirt and a button-down to give myself that “professional writer” feeling.”4 Then later in the book, I also really like Snow’s list of LGBTQIA2SP+ aligned gods and goddesses, including Athena, Loki, and my personal favorite discovery — a Drag Queen God from the Voodoo tradition named Ghede Nibo.5

For the seasoned practitioner, this book may seem elementary.  Snow summarizes common methods of divination such as tarot, astrology, and runes.  They explain the significance of the Four Elements (five including “Spirit”) and how to call them in. They offer a guide to the Lunar phases and Sabbat holidays. This is truly an inclusive essential starter handbook, inclusive on all fronts! However, the manner in which Snow explains the cornerstones of witchcraft and presents them in regard to the Manifesto outlined in the front of the book widens the lens through which these practices are understood and used — and this is exactly the point.  For the purpose of this book is to make magick accessible to anyone and to make magick empowering to those who may not feel at so at home in straight cis-gendered spaces. 

Queering Your Craft concludes with a queer grimoire, including spells “A Protection Spell for Trans People in Small Towns,” “A Protection Spell for QTBIPOC,” A Spell of Protection Against the Patriarchy,” “An Anti-Gatekeeper Spell,” and “A Spell to Protect Activists,” plus many more spells to fill all categories.