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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.

Sleep & Sorcery, by Laurel Hostak-Jones

Sleep & Sorcery: Enchanting Bedtime Stories, Rituals, and Spells, by Laurel Hostak-Jones
Crossed Crow Books, 195988333X, 220 pages, August 2024

How often do you scroll social media on your phone or watch television before falling asleep? I would bet there’s a good chance that’s the default habit of many—and what does it do for your sleep? Restlessness, fitful wakes ups, dreams influenced by the content we’re consuming. But what if there was a better way to drift off to sleep? Dreaming of enchanting encounters with dragons, goddesses, and other magical beings, just like when we were young. For those looking for a new nighttime routine, Sleep & Sorcery: Enchanting Bedtime Stories, Rituals, and Spells by Laurel Hostak-Jones is the perfect bedside companion.

Hostak-Jones is the creator of the Sleep & Sorcery podcast and YouTube channel where she tells original bedtime stories blending fantasy, mythology, and folklore. This book is a compilation of her most popular stories for readers to enjoy in book form, along with additional rituals and spells you can do to bolster your sleep sorcery. Drawing up her background in theater, interest in high and late medieval texts (think Arthurian Legend), and bath as a Druid and nature lover, there’s so much magical inspiration within these stories.

“I strove to create welcoming, safe worlds inspired by the stories and themes I love most—folklore, fantasy, mythology, Witchcraft, and Druidry. Realms woven together through poetry and voice that could become cozy dreamscapes.”1

All the stories are written in second-person voice (the “you” voice for those unsure about the term). Hostak-Jones describes how she does this so “listeners can, in a sense, choose their own adventure, infusing the world with their own identities and histories.”2 For some, this style might be better suited to have read to them, either by someone at home with them, recording their voice, or in the form of Jone’s podcast. But for the readers, who prefer to world-build on their own without external audio stimulus, this book does a wonderful job immersing you fully in the story and setting.

And what absolutely incredible stories!!!! The places Hostak-Jones takes us ranges from the Dream Weaver’s Palace to the Midnight Carnival. We get to discover selkie secrets, the ruins of Atlantis, and fairies in the forest. There’s tales of being blessed by a unicorn and riding dragons. You can also deepen your connection to The Holly King, Oak King, Green Knight, Persephone, and Cerridwen.

What I thoroughly enjoyed is how Hostak-Jones has loosely correlated the stories with the Wheel of the Year. She notes, “While you may read or perform the exercises in this book at any time they call to you, you might find increased connection or potency by seeking correspondences with the rhythms of nature.”3

Ostara is just a few days away, so this weekend I plan on adding the story “Magic in the Moon Garden: Ostara Seed Ritual” into my nighttime routine and also doing the ritual before I go to sleep. Here’s a snippet of this story to provide a sample of Jone’s creative and engaging writing style:

Tonight is the night, says a whispering voice, an incantation on the breeze. Tonight is the night for flowers, tonight is the night for frolicking, tonight is the night to work in the light of the moon… The trouble that you’ve grown used to winter, accustomed to the snug safety of the home like rabbits snug in their warrens, hidden away from the wilds. To welcome spring again is to step beyond the threshold, to open your heart on certain more to the wildness of the earth, and to shed layers that have become a second skin.”4

This is exactly how I have been feeling; I’m feeling the blooming within and yearn to play outside, but it’s taken a bit of effort to overcome my wintery inward solitude. I find it really potent to work with these sleep stories, as they seem to activate my subconscious mind, right on the precipice of sleep. Whether I’m activating a sense of subliminal acknowledgement of the change or seasons, or opening portals into new worlds where I can do magical things, these stories prime my mind before bed and activate the dreamscape and imagination.

The exercise for this story, Ostara Seed Ritual, involves choosing seeds  and planting them along with a piece of paper with my intention for the season under the moonlight on the vernal equinox. Hostak-Jones provides a list of suggested materials and step-by-step instructions, which makes it easy to follow along and complete all the steps. For this one, she writes:

“Let your hands get a little dirty. Feel the earth, thank it for its blessings, and let this seed, this intention, be an offering to the alchemy of spring.”5

How amazing! Now, obviously, I’ve skimmed quite a few of the other stories. And I can confidently say that you don’t need to follow the Wheel of the Year and can simply read the stories you feel called. Being a devotee of the Unicorn, that was the first story I chose to work with, while my husband’s preference was to ride a dragon. After I work with the Ostara stories for a while, before it gets close to Beltane, I plan to add The Song of Persephone to my bedtime routine, which is paired with the Maiden, Mother, Crone Meditation as its exercise.

I also really like the range of exercises and how they’re nicely customized for each bedtime story. There’s a ritual walk for the summer solstice,  journaling and automatic writing practices, ritual baths, meditations, building a fairy garden, and creating dream tinctures, sleep sachets, healing salves—just to name some of them! Since these exercises would most likely be done when more awake, I hope, the combination of the exercise and story work together to align the conscious and unconscious mind in true alchemy.

“For those of us who practice magic, rest and sleep can become as integral a part of our craft as anything we do in our waking lives.”6

All in all, Sleep & Sorcery is a wonderful way to make your bedtime routine a little more magical. In just the past week, I’ve noticed that my sleep has been more restful, despite still waking up numerous times with my toddler, who seems to be experiencing night terrors. While this on-going situation has the potential to make me dread nighttime, Jone’s brilliant stories have helped immensely as I prepare for bed; there’s something for me to look forward to as I shift from day-mode into night-mode. We never know what we might encounter during the night, but when we open the doors to otherworldly discovery, we remember the imaginative, healing, and restorative nature of sleep. I highly recommend this for all magical practitioners looking to add a bit of sorcery to their sleep routines.

Witchcraft on a Shoestring, by Deborah Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Complete Book of Spiritual Astrology, by per Henrik Gullfoss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Floral Grimoire, by Patricia Telesco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other lists and information I found helpful:

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

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

“How to use the Moon by Zodiac sign”10

“Tools of the Trade”11

“Ingredients for Spells & Charms”12

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

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

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

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

Sacramental Theurgy for Witches, by Frater Barrabbas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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